Monday, March 15, 2010

The Writing Week (Vol. 3) part 115 - Talk it Out

Writing is often viewed as a solitary pursuit, something that people do in the quiet of their apartment, office, or in the hubbub of a coffee shop. Story lines, character arcs, structure, plot, back stories, and all related elements that go into a script are devised by the scribe alone, with no outside help. At the League, we all believe that to be far from the case. And when I was incredibly stuck on the new outline for my post-Apocalyptic spec, I new I needed help in the form of someone that I could talk it out with (because sometimes, instead of writing, I actually make more progress when working my story out verbally).

On Tuesday night, Onyx and I met up after work at what is fast becoming one of our regular (maybe even weekly) haunts. We went to a restaurant just off Broadway down by Houston Street, saddled up to the bar, pulled out our notebooks, and each ordered one on the night's special $2 pints. That night, we had an agenda, so we didn't spend too much time on unrelated chit-chat. There were three things we wanted to discuss.

First, we talked a bit about a collaboration idea Onyx came up with that we've been talking about working on. He'd sent me an email with some basic thoughts on character, theme, and premise over the weekend, and Tuesday was our first chance to talk about it in person. I'm glad that we began the night with this idea, as I was hoping that beginning some very preliminary talks about one project would help get the wheels turning quickly by the time we moved onto my script. We discussed some of the main characters, tentative relationships they might have with one another, and the general idea of what the script would be. We didn't try to outline anything, nail down any concrete scenes, or even cement who our protagonist would be. Rather, this was a much more basic, building from the ground up type of meeting. I think we made some good progress, too, agreeing on the basics and what our next step would be (some character work and settling on a loose direction based on that).

With the creative juices flowing, we moved on, focusing on my project. As you might recall, I've been asked to attack the second act of my script again. I'd spent the past few days writing a lot of notes down on paper (not something I normally do - I typically make my notes on the computer, since I've found it easier to adhere to my writing schedule when I'm staring at a blinking cursor). Despite all of my notes, some of which were helpful, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was scratching at the surface of the breakthrough I needed to make big strides, but that I wasn't really getting anywhere. There were a few pieces falling into place, but I was feeling far too reluctant to get rid of existing elements from the story without having a really solid reason to do so. There was one character in particular who I was finding difficult to keep in - despite her somewhat large role - but I needed a reason to get rid of her.

While talking with Onyx, he helped me work out the issues I was meeting. Whether he meant to or not, he helped me see a way to take the script in a new direction, one that would make that carry-over character irrelevant. More importantly, though, he helped me ground my character in his setting. My protagonist spends most of the film trying to track somebody down in an unfamiliar land. The problem was, though, he had nowhere to turn when the clues he got led to a dead end. After all, it was unfamiliar land. by talking with Onyx and working on the script out loud, I realized that this lack of familiarity with the setting was one of the big problems I'd been facing, and I figured out how to address it.

With the taste of a big breakthrough in my mouth (and another $2 beer to compliment it), we finally talked a bit about something that Onyx was working on. We threw around a couple more ideas, further proving just how useful it can be to have someone to talk to your scripts about, someone who has read that material and knows what you're trying to do with it. For days, I had been staring at a blank page or blinking cursor, getting nowhere. An evening at a bar after work with someone from the writers group who has been following the project closely proved more valuable than the past few days combined. Granted, those few days of seemingly little progress were integral to me starting to see what I had to lose (or had to prepare to lose) from the old drafts. But that night out talking about the script was the eureka moment I needed to push forward with my work.

Even if you only have one other person to talk to about your writing, I'd highly suggest that any aspiring writer find someone to share every draft of their script with and be able to talk about the project with out loud. It can be such a more productive use of time than watching the seconds tick past as that page in front of you remains untouched.

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