– 7 min –
And I’m stuck. Yet again. It feels like my very first post, when I was on Day 3 of my journey. Sure, it’s great that you now know how to write a screenplay and have actually written one. And pretty good too, but still just technically and not your own (by the way, after having checked the original script by the Coen Brothers (which was a shooting script, and even longer than mine, so comparison is a little different), I am even more happy with my version! Not to sound cocky, but I think even they would’ve been proud of me. And I seemed to be right, that indeed they take a lot of liberties in their description of certain things, because they are the directors also. I did learn from a few things they had described and I hadn’t. But there were other things, they had not described at all, which I thought really did need description and I have seen overwhelmingly in other scripts. So, I knew I did good. Overall I am still happy and a good conclusion to that phase). But now writing your own, despite knowing a gazillion things more than only a few months ago, still is a whole different ballgame. Or so it feels. And it’s because of one thing and one thing only. You need to have a good idea for a story. It’s pretty essential. And in my case, not having an idea forms a pretty big obstacle to getting started. Not to mention, frustrating and tiring. Boy, it feels tiring even writing about it.
But, hold on a second, didn’t you already have one? You know, the one you have been attempting to write since February? Which already had sort of an opening even? Surely by this point I should be able to take off flying effortlessly with that one, with all my new acquired tools and know-how under my belt and embroidered in my brain. But no, alas, since I have concluded, as I wrote earlier, that that idea, that story is… I am not ready for that one yet. It’s too complex. It feels it still needs much more, too much development and research. And if I am completely honest, it has no convincing storyline right now, too many gaps and holes. Too many ‘why’s’ to resolve. And I dread having to deal with at this point. And the assignment for this final stretch, Phase 3: Creative Screenwriting, is to write your own screenplay within 30 days. Not a completed version, not even a great one, but simply the first draft. And after that, the re-writing starts. This screenplay idea isn’t ready for that, not even for a first draft. I have come to see that now. And the advice is too, that you start with something fresh. At least not something that is already half written. Well, mine isn’t by far, but still.
So I thought, let me then look at other ideas I have collected over the past years, just small ideas, not worked out yet at all, and start afresh. But when trying to even remotely think of the total story of any of them, at least have some kind of overview, including the ending, where the story is going and its message, I got stuck on every single one of them. Frustration galore! During reverse screenwriting, in the last 15 days of it, we got a pre-assignment for this phase. Questions to ponder on, to get ideas for your story. You write down a statement, things that are important to you about this script, you want to achieve, together with brief answers to the questions, which will help you form your story, if all goes well. And although they are great questions, and I know what they mean and what that should look like technically, they aren’t right for me at the point where I am at. And that is without a good idea, that works in my head. The questions are more about who your main character is, what’s the main event (inciting incident) and other similar questions, related more to story structure, those important moments in the story. Very similar actually to Syd Field’s approach in his books Screenplay and The Screenwriter’s Workbook. Which I found hard to do. Because if you ain’t got no story idea in your mind, no solid idea, those questions don’t work, at least not for me they don’t.
I was telling a friend about my ‘stuck’ feeling and what it comes down to is that I simply cannot write anything less than the truth. Robert McKee’s famous quote, which he writes in anyone’s copy of his book Story, when you ask him to sign it (as he did with mine), is ‘write the truth’. And he explained that it has to be the truth of that story. That doesn’t mean it cannot be fiction or a made-up story, but it has to be the truth within your story, the story you are writing. There can’t be any lies in it, not that no one can lie in it, but referring to things that don’t add up, things that don’t make any sense, don’t compute. For your audience. And that’s the feeling I very strongly got, when thinking of all the ideas I had. I could not think of the truthful story of it, that made sense, that is the truth. With some I had the beginning and even the ending of it, but they were weak. They were lies. With each and every one of them, I thought ‘but why’? Flashback to my original story idea, right? Where I so often still had and still have that reoccurring question, ‘why’? And ‘because’ just isn’t enough. It is not the truth.
Despite this, I continued to look for other ideas. My main Google search this week was ‘how to find story ideas’. And not that I was completely clueless where to find them or how to come up with ideas, the articles I found reconfirmed that. “Look for ideas in the news, social media, amongst your family and friends, overhearing conversations in public transport”. That list is endless. But somehow still did not get me further and I didn’t know how to resolve it. After all, the time started ticking and has been ticking all along, since the first day of the course. Granted, with a 30-day leeway. But I want to keep to that assignment of writing a screenplay in 30 days. That timeframe is done for a purpose. The same one as with all the other assignments. So you don’t try to overdo it or take way too long to think about it. Don’t forget, this too is still an exercise! But one with a big bonus. And that is, that the teacher will pick one screenplay to read fully and give his professional feedback on. That is not to be taken lightly. The man does this for a living, successfully, and already for a long time.
I was beginning to believe that ‘since I now have proven skills I can write a screenplay technically, I should just grow into a technical screenwriting consultant, because doing one myself I simply can’t do. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!’. I really was at that point, you know. And it wasn’t nice. But then, in my discouraging frustration and despair, one idea did actually come to me, but more about hoping to find some help to get unstuck, by looking on the Immersion website. Because after you have uploaded your statement, you begin your actual writing and then for the first 10 days of it, the questions you had for the pre-assignment, will be extended, more in-depth, to help you in your writing. So, I thought, perhaps I can take a peek at them already, despite not having uploaded the statement yet. But alas. But I did see a small part of each question, and in the first one, about the main character, there was a reference to Lajos Egri and his book The Art Of Dramatic Writing (1942). And guess what I have in my book case, since this summer, but not read yet? Exactly! It was recommended to me by someone in the industry, as a masterpiece about the art of writing, one of the best in its kind. I was ecstatic! And that’s just an understatement. So, of course I dug right in, despite the recommendation not trying to read any other resources while in this course, so you won’t get overwhelmed with all the information out there, and you don’t have time for anyways, when sticking to your one hour a day. But being a good researcher and having already read a bunch of books on the topic of writing over the past years, I recognize the helpful ones from the not-so-helpful ones, plus I don’t have anything else to do right now anyways, since I am not writing my screenplay yet. So, there’s my justification. Plus, the teacher referred to it himself. So, actually I don’t need a justification. Ha!
The most important thing is that I keep moving, not coming to a complete standstill in this course, since I haven’t done the pre-assignment yet, therefore I am not writing the screenplay yet, therefore I am not able to answer the other questions yet, which I think won’t help me anyways, since I still have no idea yet. And anyone who still thinks to just start writing something and has no clue where it’s going, the purpose, the destination, trust me, that does not work. I remember Robert McKee giving this very example in his story seminar, which I took 2,5 years ago. He gave an example about a story idea: it was about a woman, fresh out of college, struggling to find a job in the big city and keeping it, forced to go back to her parents, I think due to illness it was, then that went better, she came back to the city, finding love, then losing it, etcetera. “That’s not a story”, he said “that’s a tale”. That’s just events happening to someone. A story is different. That’s what story structure so clearly shows. In which you need a clear destination, amongst other things. So, no, just writing something, without knowing where you’re going, doesn’t help. Not for me, anyways.
Well, at least I am doing something now, in my drought, and something off the beaten track, which usually helps. Not staying stuck on the obvious, blindly looking for ideas, but perhaps now also getting some clues to why I am not getting the right ideas. Or why the ones I am seeing, don’t seem to stick to me.
And although I am still ‘idea-less’ at this point, I do feel closer. I feel my brain still searching with me, as if it too feels it’s onto something, and it’s somewhere close. Perhaps as close as the expected wisdoms in The Art Of Dramatic Writing, in which Lajos Egri too puts emphasis on this very thing, a clear purpose, a clear destination, including the why, right from the start of his book. So, I have good hope now that I am on the right track to getting unstuck again, and I will be able to overcome that obstacle and really start writing my own screenplay very soon!