The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible - Vladimir Nabokov

There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you - Zora Neale Hurston

23 September 2009

Dust Storms and DVDs

I had organized ages ago to take yesterday off from work. I had some errands to run in the middle of the week and thought I'd celebrate spring in Sydney with a picnic. I have a favorite spot beneath a big tree next to the river, and it also happens to be in the middle of gardens with lush wisteria, cherry blossoms and poppies filling the air with wonderful scents and delighting the eye with colours. It's a yearly ritual for me and my husband, enjoying 30C heat, watching the water dragons and skinks, the birds and butterflies...

Of course this year there was a freak dust storm carrying red dirt from the Outback across the entire city. At dawn the sky was orange and the air so choked with dust, I had to shut the windows. I couldn't even see the neighbor's houses across the street! Thus, my plans for the day were revised, and we watched a stack of rented DVDs instead. The standout of the batch was "7 Pounds".

I'm a big fan of Will Smith, and that movie was probably his best. My husband and I have been studying writing too much lately--in the first two minutes of the film, he figured out the plot and I figured out the backstory. My husband and I really are a great team. It's not that it was obvious, but it was so brilliant we hoped we were right. I'm glad we were. Even though we guessed what was happening, it didn't detract from our enjoyment one bit. If anything, each scene carried an extra significance; we understood the subtext. As a consequence, I was in tears most of the time.

The point I want to make is that it's important to have a great story, an original plot, a twist...but, just in case your audience is spoiled or guesses what's going to happen, make the journey, the telling of that story so good they don't care that they're not surprised. Quality throughout--don't rely on gimmicks.

Still Writing

I'm very proud that since I dedicated myself to writing [as opposed to a lifelong dabbling in the art] a little over a year ago, my enthusiasm hasn't waned. I'm 200 pages into my new book, and so far it's easier than the last one. Yet, I'm pushing myself to learn new techniques, try different styles and expand my horizons. I've always wanted to write novels, but I have to give credit to screenwriting for inspiring me to do it.

One day, thinking about how I've reached the pinnacle of my current career in science (as far as I'm willing to go anyway) and how frustrated I am with it overall, I started thinking about what else I could do with my life. What would give me my enthusiasm back? I ran across an inspirational article that asked, "What have you always wanted to do? Maybe that's why you've been put on this earth." I instantly knew, for me, the answer was writing. Yet, I had half a dozen stories stalled at the 10-30 page mark, one overly long sci-fi novel written in my teens that was justifiably rejected dozens of times, and I didn't know how I was going to turn that 'calling' into a reality.

My other love is movies and television (not just any television:I'm a DVD watcher and, unable to endure commercials, haven't sat through normal programming for about ten years). Then I had an honest to god epiphany--people write for movies and TV don't they? This inspired me to write a couple of fan fics in teleplay format. I starting reading more on the subject and heard mention of "The Screenwriter's Bible." I devoured it, and the book turned my whole story telling life around. I wrote a movie length screenplay, three episodes of a series of my own conception...and even though I haven't tried to sell any of it yet, considering them all writing exercises, I discovered that I had learned about plotting and telling a complete story. I now applied this to a manuscript that had been sitting around for years and finished it. Admittedly, the novel took a lot longer to complete than a screenplay (I can write an hour long drama episode in a week), but I now had the confidence to keep at it.

Since then, I've read dozens of books on writing everything from novels to plays, as well as screenplays, and I truly believe that someday, with practice and persistence, I will have a novel published. I may even get a screenplay optioned, who knows? Thank you "Screenwriter's Bible"!

Some people start with short stories, but for me it was screenplays. They taught me to focus on visuals, on story in its purest form, uncluttered by prose, and that practice has also helped make dialogue one of my personal strong points. In screenwriting, brevity and clarity and story are everything, and dialogue is the only place where the author's actual words will be conveyed to an audience. Therefore, dialogue has to have a punch, but it has to further the story, chracterizations, etc or be cut. It's wonderful.

Now that I'm focused on novels, I'm learning to flesh out my prose and to take advantage of the ability to hear a character's thoughts, to convey sensations such as smell and touch, areas where screenplays are limited. There is so much to learn and try and do, and I really feel that I'm on the right path.