Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Right Approach

I can understand people’s objections and reservations regarding the excessive planning method of storytelling. After all, it thoroughly demystifies the process and reduces the author’s chances of making that delightful spontaneous and emotional connection with his story (which is the joy for so many writers).

Personally, I use both methods (planning/spontaneous) depending on the project. For some scripts, I have to work out who the characters are and what the story is about, and this will usually be in detailed outline or treatment form. In others, I simply let my mind go and see what comes out.

It’s whatever works for you. It’s understandable to have reservations about either approach but I do get suspicious of writers who are over-defensive to the point of aggression on the topic. Chill out. It doesn’t matter how you get there, it’s the finished story that counts.

If you're writing for television, a scene by scene breakdown is obligatory before you write the first draft script so no matter what your preferred style or predilection, you're gonna have to get down and dirty with the rest of us.

Before I started writing the script I’m doing at the moment, I was trying to decide which approach to adopt. The idea had been with me for a while and the characters were starting to form so I thought I’d outline and be prepared.

However, whenever I sat down to do this, I found the sequences and structure difficult to summon and articulate. This continued for a while and the process turned into procrastination but still the idea and characters were bustling around in my brain.

So I decided to start writing the script to see what would happen. And to my surprise, the plot started to unfold with a clarity and purpose that for some reason, I could not put down (or maybe did not want to) in outline form.

After I finished the first twenty pages, I got very excited because I could see where the story was going and what it was about when previously I only had a vague notion of where it was headed. The key events yet to occur would follow me around while I was doing something else entirely (like watching TV) and I would be hungry to get back to the script to continue the story.

And I thought ‘maybe I should outline now’ but I said ‘sod it’ because I’d be breaking the excitement and momentum I’ve built thus far. I’m in the middle of the script at the moment and I’m eager to talk about it and the idea and the characters but I fear I’ll jinx it so I’m just going to wait until I finish and then send to my agent to get his honest opinion.

It’ll be done before Christmas where I’ll have the time and opportunity to bring myself back to reality. The realisation that ‘oh my god, this is awful’ is always a possibility whenever you review your work when previously you had enjoyed every minute of telling the story.

But that’s story for you. It doesn’t mean it’s rubbish, it just means it needs work. You’ve followed the organic process of storytelling and now it’s telling to go back to the outline stage and work it out properly, dummy. Perhaps. It’s back to the drawing board one way or the other.


Tim Clague said...

I'm a big fan of the structuring method. In fact it was my first blog entry way back when. But that's because I love complex set ups and pay offs and this is a good way to make sure it all works.

There is a danger though and that's something you talked about a little while ago - exposition. Your script can end up seeming like an excuse to join the plot dots. But then that's where the writing skill comes in!

Tim Clague
My Blog

James Moran said...

Good point - the thing I'm doing at the moment is a string of setups and payoffs, and needed a really complex, index card outline. Normally I can't stand doing them though, because they're so flat and bland, I'd rather get stuck in and see how the characters want the story to end. Whatever works for the thing you're doing now is the right way - and will be totally different to the next one...