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What I Did in my Latest Screenplay

October 11, 2014

I wrote an Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi that’s light on action.  At least, the fighting, exploding, bigger than big kind.  I did it purposefully.  In the first Act, when the antagonist faces off with the male protagonist, it’s swift.  Unexpectedly swift.  There’s not the kind of fight you’d expect if you’re expecting a Jason Bourne sequence.  Why?  I’ve seen fights in movies a million times.  They kind of bore me.  My screenplay’s not about fights.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of action/adventure stuff, but I’d classify it as different.  There’s not one big explosion.  There’s not one car chase.  I actually managed to eliminate cars altogether.  Right within the premise.  I eliminated a lot of stuff I didn’t want to write about with my premise.  My premise simplified things, although it also complicates the story.  No one’s said anything bad about my premise.  It’s kind of a killer premise.  Anyway…

There are many ways my latest screenplay is different.  It purposefully breaks tropes.  Goes against the grain.  By the end, that male protagonist actually becomes the damsel in distress.  Women save him.  Women save the day.  And some girls.  And some boys.  But, you get the idea.  That male protagonist becomes the damsel in distress by sacrificing himself, and by placing trust in people more than he ever did up until that point.  And, actually, it’s not so much placing trust in “people” as it is girls and young women.  Three of ’em, to be clear.  One of which is a Chinese girl who speaks Appalachian.

Yes, I challenged myself to write a Chinese girl who speaks Appalachian and get away with it.  And, it was a challenge.  It was also fun.  It also made sense within the story and served as a relevant plot point.  One of the people who claimed to read my screenplay said that character’s dialogue was “tough to follow.”  I guarantee you, it’s not.  A Nicholl reader said their “language is the best in the script.”  They called it “understandable and strange.”  I agree.  It is strange.  And, it is understandable – quite the opposite of “tough to follow.”  And, if you’re wondering, yes, this means this screenplay advanced to third reads in the Nicholl.  But, not beyond.  It was one of the 12% of screenplays that was read a third time, but not one of the 5% that advanced to the Quarterfinals.  Of course, I think if level of difficulty was taken into account like in gymnastics or diving, I think the level of difficulty for what I tried to accomplish was a 10.  Out of 10.  Maybe it’s a 9, but I attempted something difficult.  I challenged myself.  I went against the grain.  I thought people would see that and say, “here’s a writer willing to challenge themselves, do something different, go against the grain.”  Now, I feel like it’s hurting the screenplays chances.

But, I feel like I wrote what I set out to write.  Oh, and that dialogue, according to another reader, “plays an especially vital role in the story.”  They enjoyed the “unique vernacular.”  So, why am I hung up on the readers comment of the dialogue being “tough to follow”?  Great question.  It’s not the comment.  It’s the reader.  It’s what the reader represents.  The hurdles that must be overcome.  Hurdles I don’t want to overcome, because I wrote what I set out to write.

The problem is, I understand how my screenplay how can be hard to enjoy if you’re looking for more of the same.  And, my screenplay starts out pretending to be kind of more of the same… and it slowly shifts throughout.  It wants the reader to shift.  It wants the audience to shift.  It wants society to shift.  Maybe I failed in creating that shift in an effective way.  But, I think it’s the only approach that one can take if one is trying to shift tectonic plates.  You have to have an appearance of something familiar.  And, I started with that.  You can’t just sledgehammer something brand new into place.  It takes a little yarn un-spooling.  That’s what I aimed for.  I thought I performed fairly well in accomplishing what I aimed for.  I know it can still be improved, but, I don’t think it’s as far off as some people seem to suggest.  I think, perhaps, the people reading it and saying that might be far off from where they should be.  Whatever that means.  They’re not ready for the shift.

So, I’m left trying to match my screenplay with people that are ready for that shift.  But, here’s my issue.  It starts off seeming similar.  It starts off feeling like a bit of the same old thing.  That’s purposeful, to bring the same old people along for the ride.  But, those that are wanting to shift, might leave before the shifting even occurs.  That’s the issue at hand.  I fear that the people who would get on board with the totality of the screenplay might not stick around long enough through the familiar seeming opening and set-up.  So, what to do?  I don’t know.

Maybe I just need to hone it more, as one reader suggested the “script fits right in, but does something fresh.”  Maybe I’m trying to convince myself to keep working on it.  It just seems impossible to be a professional screenwriter these days and make an actual living at it.  That’s how I feel.

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From → Screenwriting

2 Comments
  1. Ya know, I was thinking about your comment on swiftness and it reminded me of the demise of a key character I saw in a television series (no name to save spoilers for those who haven’t seen it).

    The leading man is a badass and also the romantic lead, but in the finale he is shot and killed. One minute he’s yelling orders, the next he just drops to the ground in the middle of a battle and the rest of the folks have to keep fighting and get to cover. No flapping on the ground, no drawn out speeches, no lamenting girlfriend, just someone cutting the strings and him dropping like a brick.

    I think it was amazingly effective and wish more people would avoid the cliché action sequences.

  2. I definitely tried to be mindful of cliches and tropes when writing this screenplay. Most of the time, trying to avoid them, or asking myself how I can spin this differently or, on rare occasion, set something up that looks like it’ll be tropey, only for it to turn out quite non-tropey.

    Of course, in asking yourself those questions while writing (is this cliche?) it helps to have an awareness of what actually is cliche. When you’re mindful about it, it can be funny how many ideas pop into your head because they are cliche. Like, when it first pops into your head, you might think, “this is a great idea” but, then, if you really ponder it, you soon realize, “wait a minute, I’ve seen that a lot.” Then, you realize it popped into your head through some subconscious osmosis BECAUSE you’ve seen it a lot. I think a newer writer realizes this less. I’ve grown in my writing to a point where I’m always asking myself why the idea popped into my head. Is it because I’ve seen a version of it a lot? If so, something needs to change. I always find myself wondering and asking, “how can I make this different?” Okay, I’ve made it different. Now, how can I spin it more?

    The end result, hopefully, is a screenplay where not one scene seems like something I’ve seen before. Obviously, there are familiarities, because there are only so many stories, etc. But, it’s amazing how the right premise can really help to reduce – by matter of necessity – the number of cliche scenes, characters and events.

    Of course, one must enter the process with a supreme mindfulness. And, I guess that’s part of what pisses me off when someone says this Appalachian accent is “tough to follow.” I put a lot of effort into the work. I specifically and purposefully chose to write a character with an Appalachian accent. Not one single other person has had an issue with it; they’ve actually applauded it. So, that “reader” is lazy, disrespectful and quite the opposite of mindful. They don’t want to put in an ounce of effort and, if you ask me, they don’t deserve a job anywhere near the industry.

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