We shall overcome if it kills us (and it will)

That way

Friends and family hate walking up hills with me. I have no idea how they feel about the flat regions, but definitely the hills they hate. And it’s not that they are out of shape. To the contrary, I am the excessively shaped one…and I’m lazy.

Thus, when I reach the bottom of a hill, I want to get the climb over with as quickly as possible…I power my way up the hill, leaving them to trot along or simply do their own thing and catch up with me.

But the biggest challenge, once they catch up, is that they then have to wait for me to recover from my exertion. In my zeal to get to the top, I completely ignore the fact that the trip is not over once I reach the top…I leave nothing in my tank for the rest of the trip.

I’ve done the same whenever I’ve decided to change my shape with exercise or diet. I start out incredibly aggressively…not holds barred. And for a week or two, my goals are not only met, they are surpassed. I am incredible. I am a GOD! I am also exhausted and sore…and I slowly stop my program.

And as if this behaviour wasn’t already annoying enough, I find I also have a tendency to take the same attitude in my writing.


At the end of the process, whether it is a hundred pages of a novel, another feature article for a magazine, an outline and beat sheet for a new screenplay, I am exhausted and my brain hurts. The creative wheels come off (or wobble severely), and I lay up for a couple of days accomplishing nothing, except possibly another thousand games of Solitaire.

My ultimate goal is still way over there. Whether it is within sight or not, I can’t do anything about it because I am doubled over with my hands resting on my knees wondering why my (creative) lungs have shrivelled to the size of grapes.

I can drive a car by flooring the accelerator for 30 seconds and then releasing it until the car crawls to a stop, only to repeat the cycle again and again. I can. But the car will like it about as much as the other drivers and police. And whether due to a destroyed transmission or arrest, I will lose the car.

As I reminded myself on Twitter this past week, I am not writing a novel today. Rather, I am writing a scene, a paragraph, a sentence. But I am writing.

The top of the hill is not my destination, but rather is a way-station along the journey, a landmark I will pass. And for all I know—because despite my best efforts, omniscience has not yet occurred—the hill may be the most interesting and/or important part of the journey. The upward grade itself may hold the answer to the whole damned project

So here’s to my best efforts to ease into the next hill and enjoy the scenery along the way. I’ll reach my destination eventually and who knows, I might actually enjoy the trip (or at least, not drop of a coronary).


(Images are property of owners and used here with no destination in sight.)

Do you see what I see?

How can you NOT want to describe this place?

How can you NOT want to describe this place?

Now that I have worked on several screenplays, which I have shared with a number of friends and fellow writers, I have come to a conclusion: I am a novelist.

Fret not, fellow travellers. I say this not to suggest I will cease to write screenplays but more in recognition of an inherent weakness in my screenplays, or perhaps more accurately, in myself. I am addicted to narrative.

The problem is I instinctively write what I see, even when I only see it with my mind’s eye. If I were a painter, I would own brushes that only had one or two hairs. The concept of a paint roller would be anathema.

Nothing in a scene is unimportant to me. I see people, things, phenomena in terms of metaphor, although I do my best to avoid poetry.

I cannot simply write: The boat bobbed wildly on the waves. (Even writing that line now was taxing to me.)

Instead, I’m inclined to write: The battle-weary skiff, a patchwork of wood and fibreglass, tossed helplessly on the ocean swells, each wave of its own purpose, refusing to work together toward anything resembling a current.

The former is what is happening. The latter is how I envision it. To me, everything is a character in a story—an antagonist, an ally, a victim—and as such has its own story arc, however small.

I also want to make sure that my reader “sees” the movie I would like to make—the challenge of a pictorial and aural medium presented literally. I want the reader to “feel” the scene before the first word of dialogue is spoken, both to establish the mood of the scene and give a sense of how the line is said.

Unfortunately, in my zeal to be informative, I instead become onerous or tedious. My screenplay becomes a challenge to read as long tracts of narrative slow the story to a crawl. Instead of making it easier to read my manuscript, I’ve made it more challenging and less desirable.

I was once accused of writing a travelogue of Northern Italy in a screenplay. Oh, what I had written was beautiful and made some people dream of travelling to the region—Lago Maggiore—but 90% of what I had written was completely unnecessary to the telling of the story.

So, what to do?

As of this moment, my writing process is my writing process, and I believe that any attempt to significantly change it would simply increase my challenges in writing at all. No, better to have written a first draft badly than to have never written.

Instead, I have chosen to rely on this little miracle I have discovered. They call it Draft Two. This will be my chance to go through my screenplay with a harsh eraser, and remove all of the lines or description that is not absolutely necessary to tell my story or to explain a character’s behaviour.

Sure, this may necessitate some rewriting of dialogue so that I don’t end up with mile-long verbal tracts. But in all likelihood, these speeches were too long and in desperate need of shortening.

One step at a time, though, for today, I continue to write Draft One of my screen-novel.

(Image is property of owner and is used here without permission, but plenty of description if you read my screenplay.)

Approaches not panaceas


As I said in Birth of a Reader, I am addicted to books. But even with my addiction, I must admit that every now and again, I wish there were no books on writing and most specific to me, screenwriting.

I say this not because the books available are particularly badly written, but more because they are well written by the author but often poorly understood by the reader; readers who more often than not are looking for the One True Way to screenplay writing.

The same is true in business books. If you tell me your favourite business author, I can tell you how—and possibly what—you think.

Seth Godin. Philip Kotler. Clayton Christensen. John C. Maxwell. Each of these authors has their own approach to various aspects of business, and the more you engage with each, the more your mind thinks in those directions. (It is probably more that they help you rationalize where you were going anyways.)

Linda Cowgill. Chris Vogler. Robert McKee. Michael Hague. Paul Joseph Gulino. Dara Marks. Each of these authors also has a trigger onto which student after student latches, like a remora on a shark, looking for their next artistic meal. Each offers an approach to screenplay writing that he or she found particularly useful.

Unfortunately, too many students miss the point that these are approaches or ways of thinking about screenwriting and not road maps to success. Each book offers one or more lessons that a writer can incorporate into his or her work today to make it better, but none of them are the One True Way.

In fact, too close a focus on any one author and you will never find Your True Way.

Too much focus on Dara Marks’ Inside Story and you will find yourself in a tailspin about Theme, as you struggle to force-fit your characters’ actions and dialogue around a theme that may or may not be true to your story.

If you find yourself able to quote Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, you’re likely describing your characters in terms of mythic archetypes a la Joseph Campbell and drawing parallels with The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars.

I’m not saying that novice writers should avoid these authors. I am simply saying that each should be approached cautiously as the novice writer—or seasoned writer, for that matter—can’t hope to achieve everything these authors discuss. The authors have the luxury of looking at a screenplay as a completed item and so discuss aspects and approaches for which you and/or your screenplay may not yet be ready. There is a reason that you will still find many of these books on the shelves of seasoned screenwriters…because they continue to find new lessons in old books as they develop their craft.

The authors and their tomes are more like a screenwriting buffet, offering you a variety of flavours that hopefully provide nourishment, but can also cause artistic indigestion.

So, sorry folks. The books offer no clues as to the One True Way. It doesn’t exist. And like everyone that came before you and will likely come after, you will continue to struggle as you search for Your True Way.

PS I own and have read books by all of the authors discussed here (and in Book larnin’), and every time I reread them, I find something new to apply to my screenwriting—including, interestingly enough, from the business writers.