The Greek gods reimagined, the grind of finishing personal projects, and the conundrum of screenwriting gurus… Here’s some different things I’ve been thinking a lot about this past month. Maybe there’s something here to interest you too?
WHICH SCREENWRITING GURU FOR YOU?
We’re all desperate for the secret, aren’t we? The one foolproof method that will give us, finally, the foolproof key to unlocking a perfect, pitch-able, award winning screenplay.
I’m often asked about books I’d recommend, or methods and approaches worth following, which script guru is the answer to all our scripting woes and so on… The messy truth is – it depends.
Every single hot take on screenwriting, from the hero’s journey to the heroine’s journey, from five act structure to the eight sequence method, from saving cats to killing your babies, are useful in different ways to different people for different projects. Some people like very prescriptive, structured approaches, others gel more with vague, big picture models. And the books and styles of writing that work for me may well be totally wrong and inappropriate for you.
So here’s the advice I usually give – all approaches have some merit, and yes, some more that others. The trick is to not feel tied down completely to any one take. Rather, try it all out, find what aspect of that approach resonates for you, take that on board, and then be on your way.
True, there is a LOT to be said for picking one approach and moving through its process thoroughly and doggedly, as an exercise. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my career, it’s that no one approach is ever going to be exactly right for every project. In fact, most projects require a little give and take in terms of how you go about getting them done. I would suggest that while one book may get you to your outline, another book may get you to your first draft. It really depends on where you’re at in your writing process, and on what kind of project you have decided to tackle.
It fascinates me that we’re all still looking to find the one true way, as though writing were a religion in need of a church. Part of this popular delusion may stem from screenwriting gurus themselves, most of whom will tell you quite brazenly that their way is the best and only real way to develop and write a screenplay. And because we’re so desperate for the one, single silver bullet answer, we believe them! At least for as long as it takes for us to read their book or finish their course. The truth we all know though it, anyone who tells you their way is the only way is usually delusional, trying to sell you something, or a liar. Sometimes all three.
Here’s the thing. You don’t have to do every single thing that one book tells you to do if it doesn’t feel right. That doesn’t mean you need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. For me, I often find I like how one particular guru approaches character construction, while I like another’s take on act structure, and then I’ll use another guru’s approach to tackle scenes, another’s to tackle idea generation. And often, the best way to use a lot of screenwriting theory is when you’ve actually written something and you’re in the midst of revising it. That’s when the theory can really come into its own, helping you work out what is helping, and what is hindering, your story being the very best version of itself.
It’s a bit like cooking (sort of? kind of?) in that not every recipe in your favourite chef’s latest book is going to be a winner. Doesn’t mean you won’t try a bunch, and doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly think that that cook is a sham either when you ruin dinner. Practise, refine, select, move on… They all have something to offer, but what they offer is going to be a little bit different for all of us.
BY THE BEARD OF ZEUS, WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME ABOUT THIS?
Clearly I have been living under a rock since March 2018, which is when stupidly brilliant Kiwi artist Rachel Smythe began publishing her webcomic Lore Olympus, a magnificent retelling of the relationship between Persephone and Hades of Greek mythology.
The artwork is staggeringly beautiful. The story and characters are compelling. I love it to pieces and I’m only up to Episode 21.
I stumbled across it after seeing an article about it being turned into a television series – which of course I now can’t find, but I don’t care. Go immediately to WebToon and inhale this wistful, wondrous and slightly disorienting concoction. You will not regret it.
EXPERT STARTER, AMATEUR FINISHER
Do you have trouble finishing things you start?
I am an expert at thinking up new ideas. Attractive, alluring ones. Ones that occupy much of my brain and soul for months at a time (occasionally years, if I’m honest), existing in a hazy, seductive, intangible state where the only thing I can see is their shining, shimmering, saliva-inducing potential.
Sometimes I’ll even start on these ideas, turn them into actual projects, giving them names and making decisions on what they’ll actually be –
You are a brilliant feature film idea! I will call you X.
You are an amazing animated television series! I will call you Y.
You will be a ground-breaking stand alone novel for intermediate readers! I will call you Z.
…the only trouble is, I rarely tackle and complete any of these apparently brilliant ideas. (I’m talking about personal writing projects here, not the paid stuff, for which I have a mortgage to incentivise me).
Even this year, after making a decision to finally see a couple of BIG projects through, I can’t stop the onslaught of seductive new ideas rushing towards me at very inopportune times, dragging me away from what I SHOULD be doing. What I WANT to be doing. They suck up TIME and BRAIN and EMOTION and sap away ENERGY that I really need to be distributing towards my existing work.
To be frank, I am not sure why I’m even telling you this. There will be no grand revelation here. I think I just want to say out loud how damn hard it is to stick the course, especially when your mind and heart have no interest in slowing down or stopping or FOCUSSING, even when you’re on the floor, scattered and exhausted and crying into your dirty carpet. Ugh.
Stay safe, lovely people x