Musings on writing

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  • Musings on writing

    Picking up on the "are your later scripts better than your first" thread.

    The general consensus from that thread is that the more you write, the better you get but as film buffs, who know what we like, who can break down the films into acts, arcs and sequences, why is this the case? Why are our first scripts full of bad plots, weak characters and bad pacing? If we can identify these things in other scripts and films then why not our own? That is what I don't understand.

    I concur with what was said in that thread, that questions like this don't aid our writing but it is a question that pops up whenever I see threads like that one. I've improved tremendously since my first but looking back I can't fault the pacing, the story (generic though it is) etc.

  • #2
    Re: Musings on writing

    No matter how many times you read the driver's ed manual, the first time you get behind the wheel you are not prepared for the jolt of your foot on the gas, or the sight of the jerk who swerves into your lane, or the sudden slide of the car when you slam on breaks. You have to drive it a few times before you know what you're doing.
    Chicks Who Script podcast

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    • #3
      Re: Musings on writing

      Well, isn't this the same as teaching someone the mechanics of painting and then expecting them to produce a masterpiece?

      Sure any fool can be taught to draw, mix colors etc. He or she may even comprehend the intricacies and themes behind the great works. But the gulf between them and the greats they seek to emulate will never diminish. I could study with Van Gogh, Picasso or Monet for every day of my life but the likelihood that I'd create a masterpiece, or even a great work, is zero...

      You're making a common mistake. One that flows from our desire for everything to be comprehensible...for everything to be explainable and attainable...Essentially that mistake is assuming that writing - screenwriting etc - can be reduced to a formula; that, conscious of formula, anyone can create a great story. That is the conceit that fuels a parasitic industry that preys upon the gullible, and the conceit that creates dreams only to break them...

      Writing is about rhythm...the musical gift that shapes words, plot and characters into one coherent whole. It's also about finding something to write about, finding something to say; that which breaches the dam walls and allows the music to flow...

      Read Arthur Miller's introduction to his collected works. He describes how he had written seven or eight plays, all crap, all rejected. Finally he found a subject that awoke that music within him...With "All My Sons" he found his rhythm. He talks about it like it was a religious revelation. He now experienced all the wonder and music in the Brothers Karamazov. And the tempo of Beethoven's music was now revealed to him with stunning clarity, its rise and fall, the artistry behind the climax...

      The unfortunate truth is that most will never be able to write a great work. They don't have that X factor, that music within them. And they'll never have it, no matter how many screenplays or films they deconstruct, no matter how many courses they attend. They'll never have it on their first screenplay, or their last...
      jdef75
      New User
      Last edited by jdef75; 06-18-2011, 04:48 PM. Reason: wrong word

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      • #4
        Re: Musings on writing

        Originally posted by jdef75 View Post
        You're making a common mistake. One that flows from our desire for everything to be comprehensible...for everything to be explainable and attainable...Essentially that mistake is assuming that writing - screenwriting etc - can be reduced to a formula; that, conscious of formula, anyone can create a great story. That is the conceit that fuels a parasitic industry that preys upon the gullible, and the conceit that creates dreams only to break them...

        Writing is about rhythm...the musical gift that shapes words, plot and characters into one coherent whole. It's also about finding something to write about, finding something to say; that which breaches the dam walls and allows the music to flow...
        Completely agree. It's the reason a lot of great writers like McCarthy and Irving get irritated when people ask how they write. There's this belief, especially outside of writing, that there's a way to write, and once you know how it's done, you can write. Technique and understanding of structure and format and to an extent style, while important, are just mechanical skills that are internalized in order to be able to produce the writing, but the essence of what is written comes from within. It's an embodiment of the writer's persona, perspective and experience, and it can't be taught or learned. Which is really unfair. But the belief that it can be has spawned an industry of gurus, and a generation of writers who know Save The Cat backwards and can quote McKee with precision and yet remain baffled that their work struggles to achieve mediocrity.
        "Friends make the worst enemies." Frank Underwood

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        • #5
          Re: Musings on writing

          The T Word.

          There was a discussion on another board I frequent about the T Word and if there is such a thing as talent and whether it's important.

          I think you can learn all of the mechanics - the techniques - of writing a screenplay... and whether that's by books or classes or reading screenplays or all three - you need to learn those things. No one is born knowing how to put together a sentence and do the physical side of writing, we go to school as kids and learn how. Same with the technical side of writing a screenplay.

          But once you know how to write a sentence doesn't mean you will write nothing but great sentences - that takes that talent thing we don't seem to want to talk about or even acknowledge exists. And there are plenty of people who have taken every class and read every book and still can't write a screenplay that gets them anywhere.

          Just as there are people who think it is all about connections - if they only knew someone! Yet there are people with a ton of connections who can't seem to get anywhere with their scripts. Oh, they may get reads (that I am jealous of), but then nothing much happens. I know a guy who used his connections to get financing for a film he wrote, got some semi-names in the cast, etc - but that film has had no distrib for a couple of years, now. Eventually you hit some point where the content matters more than the connections.

          I don't know why it is that some people can have the knowledge and the connections but still can't get anywhere. Is it that they read the books but don't get it? Is it that they don't work hard enough? Is it that they don't have that T word thing? Can we take something creative and cut it into smaller and smaller pieces until we *can* learn the talent part? I don't know. I do know that I am tall, but have no ability to play basketball. Just no talent for it. If I worked at it, I could get much better - but still never be good enough to play professionally.

          But I know a lot of people who play basketball just for fun. They enjoy it.

          I think that's what it comes down to - if you are only writing scripts to make millions because it's easier than working for a living and less chance of getting caught than robbing banks, you are going to burn out when you realize it's not as easy as it looks and there's a chance you'll never make a cent. If you enjoy writing, even if you end up making nothing you'll be enjoying yourself. Obviously, everyone wants to earn a living doing it.

          To me, when somone posts that they've sent 10 query emails and nothing happened, I have to laugh. Yet, we get those posts sometimes.

          Do what you love, love what you do.

          - Bill
          Free Script Tips:
          http://www.scriptsecrets.net

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          • #6
            Re: Musings on writing

            Originally posted by 1mper1um View Post
            The general consensus from that thread is that the more you write, the better you get but as film buffs, who know what we like, who can break down the films into acts, arcs and sequences, why is this the case? Why are our first scripts full of bad plots, weak characters and bad pacing? If we can identify these things in other scripts and films then why not our own? That is what I don't understand.
            Well, let me put it like this:

            Can you name any activity at which most people don't improve with experience?

            Sure, physical stuff - sports and music and whatnot. But mental stuff, too - the 50th time you tried to calculate an integral you were probably a lot better at it than you were the 10th, even though you "knew how to do it" already.

            I think one of the big things writers learn is how to see what's on the page honestly. It's a very, very common problem for writers to not understand that what's on the page is not having the effect then intended it to have. Maybe they tried to write a scary scene, and so when they read it they think about the scary scene they wanted to write, and they don't see that it's only in their head, not on the page.

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            • #7
              Re: Musings on writing

              It's a very, very common problem for writers to not understand that what's on the page is not having the effect then intended it to have.
              Isn't that pretty much where the actual hard work of writing is - in learning to manipulate words so they communicate the stuff in your head to someone else in words? And new writers need to grasp that if the reader doesn't get their idea, then it's because you haven't written it well enough for that audience. Period. If the reader's thick, or inattentive, or semiliterate, then you have to write with that in mind. That's your job.

              Part of my living is from copywriting, which can involve translating stuff that corporate managers have written into ... well... comprehensible English. And it's the concept of communicating something, rather than spewing out what's in your head in your own terms, that marks the difference between a pro and an amateur writer. The managers think writing down the stuff in their heads is enough. They don't think about how their audience will react.

              (Almost) paradoxically, the books and courses and whatnot will help you do that to an extent by giving a load of rules of thumb and tools which generally work. But often, new writers fixate on the rules and fail to understand what they're there for, and obsess about whether it's okay to say 'We see', or whatever.

              Then again, to be brutal, a lot of what newbies write just isn't worth communicating. It's just not original or interesting - they need to think harder before they put pen to paper. I guess that's another pro thing.

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              • #8
                Re: Musings on writing

                IMO, talent and experience aside, we must have something to say in our stories. Call it theme, call it the ghost in the machine, whatever.

                A person can well be a technically skilled writer but if they don't have anything to say to the world through their stories why bother?
                Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

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                • #9
                  Re: Musings on writing

                  Originally posted by sc111 View Post
                  A person can well be a technically skilled writer but if they don't have anything to say to the world through their stories why bother?
                  Great point. Even though I fear we're headed to movies with all of the meaning of a rollercoaster, the thing that makes a movie live on - both in the audience's minds and in the profits column is that the story has meaning. It isn't just things that happen.

                  - Bill
                  Free Script Tips:
                  http://www.scriptsecrets.net

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                  • #10
                    Re: Musings on writing

                    Originally posted by wcmartell View Post

                    ... It isn't just things that happen.

                    - Bill
                    Exactly. The advice we always get is write something we would want to see. I have eclectic taste in film yet I prefer some meaning - something to think about - in the films I watch. And I'm not talking about touchy-feely drama/indie sensibility films. There are many iconic "big" films that both entertain and inspire us to think, reflect - even just a little bit - after the credits roll.

                    I guess I'm talking about a deeper level of pathos, essentially. I know I need to work on this in my own scripts -- it's not by any means easy.
                    Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

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                    • #11
                      Re: Musings on writing

                      Originally posted by sc111 View Post
                      The advice we always get is write something we would want to see.
                      I'm sure you didn't mean to discredit it, but that is still good advice.
                      "Friends make the worst enemies." Frank Underwood

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                      • #12
                        Re: Musings on writing

                        Originally posted by DavidK View Post
                        I'm sure you didn't mean to discredit it, but that is still good advice.
                        If you read the next sentence it was clear I was not discrediting the advice.
                        Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

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                        • #13
                          Re: Musings on writing

                          Watching movies isn't the same as writing them. Just because you might be able to spot a flaw in a film plot doesn't mean you could come up with a flawless plot of your own.

                          The more time you spend writing and thinking about writing, the more you learn. When I first started at this hobby, I would get an idea, rush to the keyboard with a minimum of preparation, and spew out 100 pages of crap.

                          I like to think that I've come a long way since then. I have a much stronger knowledge of dramatic techniques (i.e. how and why screenplays function). I have a better understanding of what types of material attract interest from reps/buyers and of which genres suit my style.

                          I look back on my early days and laugh at a lot of the mistakes I made. I still make mistakes, but each and every script is a learning process that improves my understanding of what does/doesn't work. I think it would be very hard to consistently produce good work without first going through a lengthy period of education and experimentation.

                          You do hear about some writers achieving immediate success, but the more common story seems to involve years of hard work, repeated failure, and incremental improvement before finally breaking into the biz.

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                          • #14
                            Re: Musings on writing

                            Originally posted by sc111 View Post
                            If you read the next sentence it was clear I was not discrediting the advice.
                            That's okay - I was just confused by what was meant by the word "yet." It's a comprehension thing. Some days my brain is more fuddled than on others.
                            "Friends make the worst enemies." Frank Underwood

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                            • #15
                              Re: Musings on writing

                              Thx for the responses. You make a lot of good points about what is required to write a good script (ie: not just watching films) but also miss the ones I was making. I never asked why people can't write awesome when they can identify a bad film but why can't they avoid terrible errors of the like they have spotted before?

                              I find it hard for someone to criticise poor pacing, read basic info on the web about something exciting needs to happen every ten pages or so, and then go and do the complete opposite. I find it hard for people to write a 100 page script where nothing happens for 20 pages and Act I is 45 of them. Just things like that.

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