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Permaculture in Screenplay Writing

January 25, 2013

Permaculture in Screenplay Writing

I have been educated in screenplay writing and I have been educated in permaculture. Naturally, lessons I learn from one aspect of life are utilized in other aspects of life, but I never delved deep into the concept of Permaculture in Screenplay Writing until now. In retrospect, I’m surprised it took me this long to seriously combine the two. Granted, I’ve been unwittingly combining the two in my processes for awhile, but now my awareness is heightened. I think there are many lessons to be learned from the application of permaculture design principles in the screenwriting process.

Stacking Functions

Scenes should serve multiple purposes. There are exceptions to every guideline, but if a scene only serves one purpose, it’s probably a weak scene. If a scene only serves one purpose, ask yourself, can that purpose be squeezed into a different scene? Or, what can be added to this scene to make it serve multiple purposes – stacking functions?

Most scenes naturally serve at least two purposes, so two as a threshold is not necessarily a good indicator of whether or not a scene succeeds at stacking functions.

You could merely foreshadow or setup a later event in a scene, but what would grab the audience’s attention? Such an approach would actually be a detriment, because it would bring too much attention to the foreshadowing or setup element. However, if you have a scene serving four simultaneous functions, it’s much easier to sneak in a clue or macguffin without the audience immediately catching on. Simultaneously, when that element returns to importance, it will be recognized, though not predictable.

Produce No Waste

The old adage, “enter a scene as late as possible and leave a scene as early as possible” comes to mind. Also, “widow hunting” – when you comb through a script searching for unnecessary words to eliminate – thus tightening the screenplay.

The concept to produce no waste should also be a reminder to not include superfluous introductions and departures, where people say hello and goodbye to each other. I just searched one of my screenplays for instances of the word “hi” – it appears zero times. I’m not saying you can’t use these words, but doing so may be an indication that you’re entering a scene too early and staying in a scene too late. It’s just like film editing, actually. One is taught to cut a scene mid-action. For instance, if someone is exiting a room, the cut should occur while they are moving and still in the shot.

Of course, one could linger on a shot to create a certain atmospheric feeling, but it should only be implemented with a purpose. Same goes for the utilization of mundane introductions and salutations.

I wrote a screenplay that utilizes the word “hi” – for the first time – in the middle of the script. It’s a necessary usage in my mind, for multiple (stacking functions) reasons. First, a character enters mid-scene. The character is necessary, the action is expository and the way in which the greeting occurs is important to the story.

Design from Patterns to Details

It’s true, a detail that was jotted down on a scrap of paper years ago may find a home in a new screenplay, but that home is generally not realized until the patterns are known. Think themes. But, not exclusively themes.

Traditional wisdom states to display the “opening image” in the first scene of a screenplay. What occurs in the first scene is probably mostly detail, however, that opening image cannot be fully realized until the patterns (or, in this case, themes) are known.

In a way, the concept of designing from patterns to details simply states “theme is important.” But, it also applies to character arcs, settings, tones. Basically, the more you know in a broad sense, the better off your details will be.

Use Edges and Value the Marginal

A quote about this in my permaculture handbook states, “Don’t think you are on the right track just because it’s a well-beaten path.” (David Holmgren)

I cannot think of a more relevant quote for an aspiring screenplay writer. An aspiring screenplay writer needs to stand out from the crowd; this cannot occur with “more of the same.” One must diverge from the well-worn path, as Robert Frost knew. To be unique, one must take “The Road Not Taken.”

Robert Frost famously wrote, “I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” I can echo that sentiment in my life and had I not I wouldn’t have stumbled upon the concept of Permaculture in Screenplay Writing. I just conducted an internet search for “permaculture screenplay writing” and the first page contained zero relevant results for what I was searching for. There were results relevant to permaculture and there were results relevant to screenplay writing, but there were none pertinent to the combination of the two. In other words, we are currently journeying down a road less travelled.

I have yet to touch on where I intended to go with the principle of using edges and valuing the marginal. This concept sparks thoughts of character – people on the fringes of society, people who are marginalized. Of course, it also beckons visions of settings – locations that are between locations, where settings converge.

In permaculture design, it is suggested to create more edges – it increases diversity of life in the ecosystem. Similarly, one can increase the diversity of characters in order to create a more abundant screenplay world. The more edges one creates, the more diverse interactions can naturally occur.

There are twelve permaculture design principles, but the above are the four that spoke to me today, after all, it is suggested to “use small and slow solutions.” Perhaps I’ll delve into the other eight soon. Though, the sheer presence of this piece of writing is an example of the principle to “observe and interact.” Now, I shall “apply self-regulation and accept feedback” in the comment section below.

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