Writing for the screen

Before I discovered Lois Duncan in grade 9 (at which point I decided I wanted to become a novelist) I wanted to write movies. I had always had ideas for stories, but thought I would never be disciplined enough to be able to write full sized novels, so to me it seemed that screenplays were the easier option.

Skip forward a few decades and I’ve completed two novels, have another five over half-finished, and about 20 in the first-five-chapters space (where I always hit a wall). I’ve completed exactly zero movie-length screenplays. I’ve written or co-written two pilot TV shows, each about 45 minutes long, and both nearly killed me. Screenwriting is hard.

I like writing flash fiction; short, sharp and shiny prose, get the story across and cut out all the guff. I thought screenwriting would be the same. It really is not. It is so much more.

Over the years I’ve bought and borrowed many books about how to write screenplays. They haven’t helped. They talk about story arcs, ‘finding’ ideas and making believable characters –all stuff I feel pretty comfortable with, but rendering and action scene on the page in a believable and understandable way for the director, they don’t touch on that. How that Int. Nat’s House – Night bit should be configured, they gloss over. I was ready to give up.

Then I started reading ‘The Da Vinci Code’ screenplay. I picked it up from the second hand books shop for $4. It opens with a forward from the novelist, the director, the producer and the screenwriter. I learned more in those 14 pages than I have in the equivalent number of ‘how to’ screenwriting books. The screenplay itself is fascinating, with extracts from the storyboards interspersed with the text.

Finally, I feel like I know what the end goal is! Suddenly it all makes sense. I want to hug the people who produced this book, it is like it was written to answer my questions. So I’m going to dust off my movie ideas (and some simply are movies, they never felt like novels) and try my hand at my first career choice.

That is my project for WriMoFoFo.

Fan fiction?

My novel and I are having a few issues. Two of the characters are working really well with me, communicating lots, handing over great ideas and really coming alive. The other two are being a bit recalcitrant, whispering their secrets to each other and sometimes seeming to disappear off the page altogether. I think it is the wrong time to write it.

But with my October 31st submission deadline looming, and the upcoming WriMoFoFo, I needed to find a YA novel to write. So I jumped into the plans I had uncovered a couple of weeks ago and among the many ideas I discovered I had gone through a fan fiction phase.

It wasn’t your usual fan fiction; borrowing characters from other authors and living lives in other people’s worlds, instead I borrowed people. As I read the old stuff I saw me, my flatmates, River Phoenix, me, my chemistry teacher, Keanu Reeves, friends, me, my parents, Johnny Depp, me. It was a bit embarrassing to read.

The odd thing is, now I never use real people in my stories, I may use a hand gesture or a nervous tick, but I never package a whole, real person. But I can’t work out when my fan fiction writing ceased and my character writing began. There is no archaeopteryx with a few real ones and a few fakes as I made the transition.

Interestingly enough, all of my publications are stories entirely peopled with made up characters. So I’m glad I made the move, because obviously the stories these unknown people tell me are much more interesting than the fantasies I put myself in when I was younger.

Now names, that is a different story! I’m sorry, but if you have worked with me, you probably have a character named in part or full, after you. Please don’t sue; I can honestly say that they aren’t actually based on you!

WriMoFoFo 2013

Yes, it is on again, WriMoFoFo – Write More For Four (weeks). This was the brain child of one of my old SuperNova writing group members. The idea was born after a rather disappointing effort (on behalf of all of us) at NaNoWriMo –National Novel Writing Month.

The idea behind WriMoFoFo is that we pick the time of the challenge, usually when we are all going through a bit of a dry spell, or when there are deadlines we need to meet. NaNoWriMo is run in November which (especially in the Southern hemisphere) is traditionally full of lots of social engagements and pre-Christmas build up. Not a good time to be trying to pump out loads of words.

Another difference is that we set our own word targets. Yes it would be nice to write 50,000 words in a month, as required for NaNoWriMo, but that is a LOT of words, so the chances of hitting it for full time workers with families is pretty remote. And if you do reach the target you are either burnt out at the end, or half of what you have written is crap. This WriMoFoFo I am going for 20,000 words.

NaNoWriMo specifies everything must be new words, WriMoFoFo allows you to set editing word targets. Very handy for those of us who put editing up there with gutter cleaning and doing your taxes. WriMoFoFo also goes for just 4 weeks, instead of the NaNoWriMo month. Those extra couple of days are just too much.

Then there is the final part of WriMoFoFo that I love – the nifty spreadsheet that lets you plot, track and graph your words each day, so you can see if you are on target or how many words you need to make up in order to get there. Please feel free to contact me if you would like a copy of the nifty spreadsheet sent to you.

It starts August 24th – so plan what you want to work on and join in! See this WriMoFoFo page for more information and to post your progress. Writing can be a very lonely pastime, so a bit of support and sharing of good (and not so good) stories along the way can be really helpful!

Being quantifiable

This week my office did a personality test. I passed, I have a personality, but it unnerved me how close it came to who I am based on some forty random questions. What alarmed me even more was those who protested that the test got them wrong were wrong about the test getting them wrong. The test knew them better than they knew themselves. So I guess I have to conclude the bits I thought were wrong are perhaps not so wrong.

The point of it all was to get us to understand each other a bit better and help us with our team communication. I don’t know that it really will, we have been working together for a long time and pretty much had everyone pegged. It was only the outliers themselves that were surprised about their position in the group, the rest of us were always nodding.

But it got me thinking. Are we really so formulaic? Supposedly I could do this test at any time in my adult life and get approximately the same result. It is only my emotional score that could change (I was the outlier here, having the least emotion in the group. I like to think I pour all my emotion into the page and don’t waste it on the frivolities of real life).

I felt a little like a robot after the session, but clearly that didn’t upset me much as I am a bit lacking on the emotional front, but it unnerved me. While we are all being stars of our own movies, we like to think the best of everything human is secretly lurking in us somewhere and when we don’t express it that is just because of circumstance.

This test makes me wonder if maybe the truth is some of us are just assholes, some people are inherently generous, some people will always be driven and some are just passing time, and this won’t change. Is this why it takes a disaster to make some people re-evaluate their belief systems? I wonder if anyone has done one of these personality tests before and after a life-changing event?

I like to believe we can all grow into better versions of ourselves, but then again, my personality type was a bit of an idealist…