Thursday, 13 February 2020

Diary of a Spec Script Day 35-38 (Feb 4th-7th)

And well, as to be expected with any creative journey, we come to the first major roadblock. I don't view these as negatives - annoyances, but not terrible things. Instead, they are challenges, obstacles to force you to interrogate your process and beliefs in a story.

So, I got to work, rejigging the step outline, following a round of reading and notes. All going well - expanding the teaser, clarifying the action and what each specific character was doing. I was looking to recreate a style and vibe reminiscent of Secret of the Unicorn - nice, creppy house, mobsters and quick wits. All very nice and dandy... until I came to the first big scene in my first act. This is where things started to spin out: I was trying to effectively introduce the core family and give the audience a sense of who they are and what their respective conflicts are. The mum's an overworked nurse struggling to hold the family afloat; the older child is on bad terms with Dad owing to life choices; the younger child is disabled and wants to gain some kind of approval, and Dad's a deadbeat whos given up his real life goals.

At first, I simply streamlined and reordered the scene - it was a before-school/breakfast scene, so just shifted up the arrival of the bus and tightened the time to make it more of a rush. Nothing like a bit of time pressure to get people to reveal themselves. But then, as I progressed from there, more started to come undone from the treatment - the conflict with Dad made less and less sense. Why was he a deadbeat in this way? How did the reason given provide enough justification? What's stopping him from going away or being a workaholic to get away from that reason? This has bigger knock-on effects as the tension between him and the older kid was the backbone of the story - their coming back together again gave the story a heart, beyond the adventuring and treasure seeking shenangians.

I tried to just power through it (in line with past strategies I had used) and, well, it only got worse: the mum had less and less agency in the plot; the disabled child got lost in the shuffle of everyone else; the treasure clues became more archetypical and less inventive. Slowly, the whole thing was falling to pieces and no amount of raw gut determination could change that.

Something author and writing instructor Lucy V. Hay has discussed came to light here: I hadn't interrogated my concept enough and, worse, hadn't pushed my characters enough. It was eitehr too generic, driven more by nostalgia, or too disjointed to make sense or be emotionally gripping. The family are the key to this story: if they don't add up or do enough, what's the point? Treasure and history are nice and all, but what's the glue? What's the reason to care? Why watch/read this and not someone else's adventure?

Naturally, as a fellow writer (possibly a newer one), you might wonder: how did you not notice this in the treatment? In fact, what's the point of any outlining if you can't see mistakes ahead? A valid question, but one which is a bit simple: creativity is not a scientific formula. You cannot just plug in a and b and get c - it can change and vary alot, depending on what you're writing about. Plus, writing about something in broad overviews and prose can create a presentation of events that, when put into a more action-y format don't work. Like I said before: it's easy to tart up weak treatments.

So, I put on the breaks for a few days. I need time away from the project, make notes, brainstrom, and just reconfigure my approach. I have some notions rattling around in my head, but I need space to properly crack it. Rest assured, the fight ain't over...

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1 comment:

  1. I always think of the outline as a bird's-eye view of the story. You can see the whole thing from up there. Not in great detail but an overview. Perhaps the most helpful thing about an outline is it helps you 'get started' in actually writing the script (too daunting a prospect without it). From your bird's-eye view saw the house, you saw the Mum in the garden, Dad at the kitchen window, the kids moving around behind him. But now you are in the script. Now your characters are alive - and not from distance viewed. Now you are in the kitchen at breakfast time and someone just poured boiling tea on their lap. Park the outline, follow the action. Your bird has landed.