The Screenplay: Day Nineteen & Twenty

For the past month I attempted to work my way through How to Write a Movie in 21 Days.

Twenty-odd days after I began, I have a partially finished screenplay and a lot of frustration.

I would not recommend this book if you're actually expecting to write a quality screenplay in twenty-one days.  The author gives HUGE assignments, like writing thirty pages in one day. (Yes, really.) Some writers might be able to do this, but I couldn't-- not with a project as vague and undeveloped as my screenplay concept.

But I would recommend this book as an introduction to screenplay structure and formatting. The author includes some good advice about avoiding procrastination, knowing when to push ahead, and when to quit.  (More about that tomorrow.)

The concept of death probably frightens you profoundly.  You feel that if you finish anything, it means you will die.  (I've worked with many writers who feel this way.  You are not alone.) ...It's not death that you are afraid of.  It's more life.    If you can take your character from point A to point Z and are willing for him to experience unknown adventures along the way, then he will not end in death: he will end up more alive...So put your hero on the roadway.  Give him life.

-How to Write a Movie in 21 Days, Viki King

The Screenplay: Day Fourteen

'If you were picking up stones in the dark, you would know when you picked up a puppy instead. It's warm; it wriggles; it's alive.'...Stories have lives of their own; the writer is their biographer. I don't make the stuff up: I watch it, listen to it, try to learn more about it, poke into its closets and talk to its friends: and try to write it down as well as I can. -Robin McKinley, FAQ: "Where do you get your ideas?"

At this point, my screenplay is so stuck that I'm afraid I may have picked up a stone instead of a puppy.


The Screenplay: Day Thirteen

What is big drama?

Aliens take over the planet.  A zombie apocalypse breaks out.  An asteroid threatens to smash the earth.  These movies usually have scenes with presidents and generals talking about top-secret stuff.   These movies have explosions, sweeping city-scapes, and spaceships.

I don't write much big drama.   I have never spoken with presidents or generals, and the only explosions I've seen are Fourth of July fireworks.  Writers are supposed to write what they know, so I generally avoid these sweeping thriller/action-adventure stories.  I don't really like to read them, either.  I'm not saying such stories are bad, they're just not my cup of tea.

Drama can be small: an alien lands in a small town and tries to survive.  One family locks themselves in their home while the zombies beat against their door.   A farmer anxiously watches his crops wither while the asteroid hurtles nearer.

These are the same ideas involved in "big drama": aliens, zombies, asteroids, but they're told from small perspectives.  One lonely alien.  One desperate family.  One frightened farmer.

I think these "small drama" stories hit closer to home, because if such a crisis were to happen, most of us would not be consorting with world leaders or leading mass revolts-- we would be fighting to protect our little plot of grass.

In my screenplay, a powerful family falls.  But I want to tell their fall from the perspective of a frightened girl instead of the power-hungry kings and lords.  The whole crux of the screenplay is a scene where this girl, alone in an abandoned manor, sits down and sews a torn cushion.  It's a tiny, pointless deed.  But it's her first attempt to restore order to her fallen world.