Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Whose Structure?

Last night, Onyx was hanging out at our (Captain Undead and my) place, chatting and killing some pixilated terrorists with us. We stumbled upon an interesting discussion, which really got me thinking.

As I mentioned in the pervious post, the Writing Week part 3, I started having some doubts as to where exactly my first act was ending, and whether or not it was becoming too long. Captain Undead interjected that he, too, was having some thoughts about the project he’s working on, since it won’t adhere to traditional act structure, per se (I don’t really want to speak for him, so if he wants, he can elaborate later).

But, that got us thinking; do we really need to feel compelled to follow act structure as it’s been taught us? There I was, sitting, talking with other Leaguers, worrying about whether I was going horribly off track because page thirty had hit and act one was still, possibly, not over. (Mind you, that’s a bit of an exaggeration…but not much.) I have an idea, which I think could be really sound once I get it written, an idea which we’re all excited about, and somehow, when Act Structure comes into view, the idea has to become putty and work around that.

I know that we are not forbidden to color outside the lines, so to speak. Plenty of writers and filmmakers have strayed beyond the three act structure and have made wonderful films. However, as a young writer, Act Structure is still quite a helpful, guiding force for me. I think it is for older, well established writers, as well. And there’s a reason for that: usually, it works. It took me quite a long time to figure that fact out for myself, but once I did, my screenwriting progressed tremendously.

But now, I find myself wondering if, perhaps, I’ve let the idea of Act Structure become too overbearing. Maybe I’m not letting myself work freely enough of it to really accomplish what I’m trying to do in my scripts. At the end of the day, I do revert, rather instinctively now, I might add, to the three act format. I suppose there’s really no solid conclusion I’m going to draw here, other than that I have a vague inkling that, as helpful as three act structure is, it’s taken a bit too literally as the way of the trade, that someday, I’ll be able to work outside it and progressive instructors will help students see teir way beyond it, when such a time is necessary.

The Writing Week part 3

A lot happened this week. For one, I missed a day of writing. To be perfectly fair, that happened the day of our meeting, so while I wasn’t writing for an hour that night, The League and I discussed my script for nearly that long. It wasn’t a waste of time by any means. While I left the meeting feeling more confused about certain things, I was able to digest the feedback and suggestions I got and turn them into something more workable a few days later. So that was good.

Additionally, I finished Act One! (More or less.) By that, I mean that I had outlined everything and wrote up through (roughly) the end of the first act. I got to a point where I was pretty sure Act One had ended, and I have not progressed past that. However, besides the obvious reason that this is a first draft and therefore an unfinished first act, I also have a lot of re-working to do in the pages leading up to the inciting incident. Once I hit that tent pole moment, the film becomes an adventure that can breathe on its own. But, I have a lot of work to do within those first ten or twelve pages.

Part of what happened at the meeting is that I realized just how much more I have to do than normal. Whereas in most scripts, the first ten pages are vital in setting up the characters and establishing a bit of their situation, with this script, I also have to lay the groundwork for an entire world. It’s not unusual to have quirks here or things that must be established within the world, but with this project (again, so as to not give it away, I must be cryptic), there is an immense amount of set up that must be done alongside establishing the characters.

So, this week, I should get back to those early pages and make them work within the new context of the script. I’ve answered a lot, in no small part due to suggestion from the other Leaguers. LoKor articulated it particularly well when he said, and I quote, “you're asking the audience to accept a lot about the world, try to keep as much of the other stuff as simple as possible.” Good point.

Until next week…(or the post I’m about to make).