Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Writing Week (Vol. 6) part 279 - The Collaborative Writing Experiment

For over a month now, we've been conducting a little experiment here at League Headquarters. We're trying to see if, as a group and without discussing or outlining, we can write a coherent, well-structured screenplay. There are six of us participating. We take turns (based on the roll of a die) to assign placement each round of six pages and then, when each writer is up, he or she adds one and only one page to the script. There's no discussion about what should come next, what's off limits, or what the direction of the script it. In short, it falls to each individual writer to follow the tone, guide the plot, introduce characters and elements, and adhere to the rules already established by the previous writers. The goal: a completed script, with each of us having taken 16 or 17 pages over the course of the project.

The experiment has been pretty fascinating so far. In the first couple pages, two of us established a particular tone and characters' voices, but we left the direction of the script very ambiguous and open for the next four writers. On page three, the third writer really took the reins and very clearly pointed the script in a clear, perhaps a bit extreme, direction. In all honesty, the rest of us were a bit shocked, but in the spirit of the game, we knew we had to honor the genre and story that had been determined. Page four saw a very well-written wrangling of the scene, reverting a bit to the previous tone, while still adhering to the new reality of the project. 

From then on, the group has pretty much operated as one. Sure, there are temptations we succumb to. As individual writers, we all have ideas and objectives for the piece. However, since we'll only write one sixth of the material (at best), we sometimes feel compelled to cram a lot into our own page to further our individual agendas. I'd be lying if I said there were no pages where this happened; on the contrary, there have been a few instances of one writer (beyond the third page) essentially saying, "This is what I want to do" and doing that, regardless of how well it honors what precedes it. Still, we've sallied forth.

I, myself, have been guilty of another error that's popped up a few times throughout the fifteen or so pages we have to date. Because we're writing so piecemeal without a treatment and with only a fraction of the direct knowledge for why certain things have been introduced, it is too easy to loose sight of minor elements. For example, in the page directly before my third installment, characters disarmed. I inadvertently overlooked/neglected that as I continued the scene into my page, which resulted in a shootout. Guns (that shouldn't have been there) were a-blazing. Opps, my bad. Hopefully, minor inconsistencies like this one will be removed in the collective editing process, which is still TBD.

One of the major take-aways for the project, though, I think will be the ability to write a filler page. No page should ever be boring, but as we all know, there are certain beats within a screenplay that serve as a cooling off period after a major reveal, action beat, or dramatic moment. These in-between scenes further the plot, but they might not be the heart-pounding scenes that surround them. When writing a script as an individual, these scenes are no cause for worry, because one has just had the enjoyment of writing a major beat. However, when writing only a fraction of a script, it becomes easy to fall into the trap of wanting to force a scene to be more than it should, so as to get the full effect of one's turn at the helm. The six of us will each inevitably write a few of these softer, quieter pages. Hell, my second page was muted, compared to the ones that came directly before it. For the sake of the script, though, I know I have to suck it up and write an in-between scene. 

By and large, the group has handled these in-between scenes deftly. In fact, I think the beats and pages in question have become more intriguing in the group project than they might be in a script written by a single writer, because the person responsible still wants to imbue some flare where possible. When I write an in-between scene in my script, I might do so quickly and with less enthusiasm than with other scenes, so that I can advance to the next big beat. When I write the in-between scene in the group project, though, I accept my task, but I take extra effort to make that scene more engaging than it might otherwise be. This drive to instill even the less riveting pages with a sense of excitement has paid off in the league project so far, and I hope it is something I am able to bring to my own writing going forward.