Writing On Spec

An award caliber procrastinator discovers a new and dangerous pursuit to keep him from actually writing another script. Why another Blog? I love to talk screenwriting. I love to talk story. I live in Richmond, VA. It's almost easier to get produced than find another screenwriter here. We are the anti-LA.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How Come Fish Travel in Schools, But They're Not Learning?

I was talking with friends tonight about writers and one of them brought up a valid point: why don't some writer's learn? I mean, in the cases where you're a writer lucky enough to have a group of earnest screenwriters critique your work, why do you assume they're out to attack you and not help you improve? Why would you come back if you thought that way?

All too often a writer puts some thing important to them on paper and then it becomes magically sacred. Lord knows how, we ALL know the first draft of anything is shit, right? Hemingway. Really, how can you go wrong with advice from somebody like him? But sure enough, somebody serves up 30 pages of dung and then expects the group to regale their power of the English language and their story prowess.

For the most part, writer's groups are made up of non-published writers. You have a few that are professional writing groups, but when it comes to Screenwriting, there just are more people interested in the art than succeeding at it. Thus, odds are, you're not writing stuff that's good enough to sell... yet. Maybe you will later, but right now, you're learning. You have to put in your time to learn the craft. If you belong to a writer's group, it's a great start. Now, to take advantage of that, actually listen to what people have to say about your work. Much of what you hear will be "what if you...?" While it's all probably earnest and well meaning, much of it is only their take on the material. What you need to pay attention to is when glaring stuff gets repeated, "the dialogue is too long and on the nose", "I don't know what your story is about... and I'm at page 20". Stuff like that needs to make an impression on you.

With that kind of honest information, you can get to work and look at story construction. What kind of beats do you need to hit? And when? Do all of us fellow writer's group members a favor and learn from your critique. We take the time to read your work and to comment on it, so the least you can do is not do the same crap over and over again. I don't care if I see the same work again, but I really don't want to see script after script with long, on the nose, unwieldy dialogue.

And what is it about new screenwriters that they don't read? I'll admit, I'm not an uber film buff. I love film and writing, I love the written word and the power it holds, but I don't know all the old writers and what their impacts have been on the field of screenwriting. I can appreciate those that do, but it's not for me. What we all should do though is look at the nuts and bolts of the art/craft we've chosen. Reading scripts by established writers is, bar none, the best way to get a feel for writing a script. You learn the way dialogue sounds. You learn what a page should look like with dialogue and narration. You get an idea of how fast connections need to be made between the writer and the reader. And all it takes is a little time to read a script.

I can remember not so many years ago when you could only get a script by photo copying it, and that meant you had to get your hands on an actual copy. These days there are script sites that have hundreds of scripts, formatted correctly, for you to download and read or even print and read.

So many people are trying to figure out ways to get around the reader. The person they envision as their guardian to the promised land. Well, you should put yourselves in the shoes of said reader. Go ahead and read 15 scripts in a week (not a day or a weekend like they do). I'll even say make it easier and read scripts of produced movies. It's even better if you haven't seen the film. Then you can go out afterward and rent the movie and compare the script you read to the final product. Is it any different?

The ultimate challenge is to find yourself one of these script sites for new writers that publishes their full script or one that offers you a critique for you critiquing another script. The ultimate in punishment is to have to read through an entire crappy script. A script where some writer has probably heard all the comments you will scream to yourself as you read, yet, for some reason, is just not learning.

So do us all a favor, from fellow writer's group member, to reader, to producer and anybody involved in the industry or love of Screenwriting. When you get the same comments from multiple people, pay attention and learn. Change what you're doing and get better. Not only can it make you a better writer, but it will help you compete with your real ultimate enemy - the kid with natural story telling talent and nothing but free time :)