Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 212 - Writing the Rules

Rules are one of the most important part of any screenplay. If you're setting your story in a new, original world, then what are the rules there? Is gravity different? Is society? Are the laws? If it's set in this world, but there are people with special powers or knowledge or abilities or allegiances, then what are the rules that govern their actions, strengths, and weaknesses?

The Matrix is a perfect example of the utter necessity of rules. What can one do in the matrix that can't be done by ordinary people? How do Neo and his allies learn new tricks and skills? What are the agents' limitations? The rules are integral to effective story telling in a case such as this. As an audience, we certainly won't know all the rules going in, but things such as, "if you die in the Matrix, you die in real life" are fundamental to the plot and the world. We - by hearing that - know the stakes. So do the characters.

Even simple seeming stories have rules. They have to. Otherwise, what's to stop the writer from relying on a crutch or a deus ex machina to expedite or wrap the story? With my demon thriller, the rules were something I had yet to solidify when I showed an outline to my manager. I'll admit that was a bit of a rookie mistake, and then move on to a point where I can learn from it.

After talking with the League last month, I took some time recently to hammer out the rules. They might not all be down there on paper, and those that are perhaps seem quite obvious, but I think it's essential to put them down in writing. And, after a prolonged period of inactivity, I have to admit that it also felt very rewarding and refreshing. I wound up writing out about two pages of bullet-pointed rules. Though I have the ability to alter them later, their presence will really prove a very solid guide to hold my hand through the upcoming re-outlining stage. I think that, from here on out, getting the rules down on the page is going to prove a necessary part of my writing process.

On another note, I read on Done Deal Pro today a bit of unsettling news. I hadn't read the site in a while, and what with the month over at the end of the day, I wanted to get caught up on January sales. Unfortunately, something I'd been dreading came a bit to a head today - there was an idea that was disturbingly similar to my post-Apocalyptic spec. I figured that had to happen at a certain point, and the stories are not identical, but the basic premise (i.e., the Apocalyptic event) is close enough to my own to warrant nervousness. I immediately emailed the discovery to my producer, and she reached out to the rest of the team. The sale in question is actually the acquisition of book rights to a novel that is slated to drop this summer. In some respects, that's good news: a) the script for the adaptation is almost guaranteed not to have been written yet, so my project could land first and b) just because the film rights were picked up, that doesn't mean a film will actually get made from it. 

I'm looking at this two ways. First, and least desirable, is that this will effectively quell any interest or heat regarding my script. The more optimistic alternative is that a rival production company will be in the market now for something similar, and the emergence of this novel will light a fire of urgency not only under my team, but under buyers. What with this project now on the table, buyers might come back to my script with renewed interest. I'm sure there's a right way to spin this in our favor; I don't know what it is exactly, but that's what my team is there for. Fingers crossed that this book isn't one of the last nails in the coffin on my post-Apocalyptic spec. While I've prepped for that, I'd hate to see it come to pass.