Thursday, 17 July 2008

Delete As Applicable

After having been working, then having my son's second birthday party, then being ill, then going to a screenwriting festival, being ill again, sleeping for an entire weekend to recover from said festival, then working again... this weekend just gone was my first chance to get a power unit for my PC. But I didn't.

This means I can't yet load up photos to do Jason's meme (I'm not sure of the verb here, does one 'do' a meme?) but I will in due time.

The reason for not fixing the computer, aside from sheer laziness, is that it's forcing me to fill lots of notebooks with longhand about my Red Planet entry TV series idea - character biogs, back-story, episode ideas, and so on. Despite a strong urge to do so, I can't fire up Final Draft and start typing a script. And because I don't trust my sense of discipline, I am holding off from fixing the computer for a bit to keep it that way.

This, if you don't recognise it, is part of Robert McKee's method. Predictably, McKee took a few verbal beatings in different sessions at the Screenwriters' Festival, but I like his book 'Story' - it has some useful practical advice, and it's clear and well-argued with good examples. I also loved the lampooning of some of his excesses in 'Adaptation' too. As, I'm pretty sure, did McKee himself.

I don't agree with anyone who says 'Don't read any of the screenwriting manuals'. Read them all: Vogler, Field, Parker, etc., etc. All of them. And ignore them all if you want, or ignore bits of them, and use other bits.

None of them holds a secret or formula, but I think a lot of (probably old school and self-taught) writers worry that youngsters are going to be unduly influenced by these texts, and write too predictably. But let me tell you this: if you read anything and take it all at face value and never question it - you will never be a good writer anyway. That's our job, isn't it? To question everything, to pull at the seams of the visible and obvious and discover what's hidden. Why should it be any different just because we're reading a book about screenwriting?

And anyone who thinks McKee offers easy options has not read his book. It proposes research, thorough, thorough research on all aspects of the world of your story, trying out various options and discarding them to insure you are not slipping into cliches. For a feature, I think he advises a minimum of four months amassing material before typing so much as a 'FADE IN'.

Whether this is a good idea or not is entirely up to you. But I always find my work is better the more prep I do, and the more notebooks I fill up beforehand. Of course, I'm planning out an 8 x 60 minute series and I only have two months. But that's deadlines for you.

It is possible to do too much research as well, I suppose: a whole room filled with books about Napoleon - that's just crazy/genius.

3 comments:

Jason Arnopp said...

Hello Sir!

If you can't fight the urge to write script any more, then on Unknown Screenwriter's blog there's a template for those handy script-sheets you can get, which are formatted to help you write a script by hand. Print a few off in your local web parlour, and hey presto! Scriptos, as they say in Spain.

Chris Regan said...

Good to see someone sticking up for the screenwriting gurus for a change! I understand why they get a lot of criticism but it seems to be the 'in' thing to dismiss them entirely these days. I agree that you should definitely read them all and take the parts that work best for you.

Michelle Goode said...

I'm sort of the opposite. I can't plan much to begin with. I get a burning idea and my way of exploring that idea isn't long-hand in notebooks but typed words straight into a script! I just go with my basic character ideas and relations and go straight into writing a pilot, for example. The ideas come to me rapidly as I write and before I know it, I've opened up a whole chain of possible plotlines. I did this recently with a pilot episode, and even though the finished product was far from what I would consider a good pilot, I had got to know the characters by writing them and I had a whole collection of ideas in my mind as to where I could go with it all.