If I were to distill the description of writing into two words, I might select observation and recitation. As writers, we observe the world around us, and then recite these observations in the form of a story. We add elements of imagination, structure, style, voice, but at the beginning of the day, in order to write well, we must write what we know and if we wish to know this world and those that people it, we have to live in it.
It’s a bit of a vicious circle, for writing is, by nature, a solitary sport. Even if you write with a partner, in order to get to completion and being the process of the rewrites, you have to spend countless hours locked in a room, in a sort of self-imposed solitary confinement until you type FADE TO BLACK for the last (haha) time. The isolation of the craft is what can be its own worse enemy. It’s a bit of a Sisyphean system; it is difficult to write authentically if you limit your view and experience of the world, but in order to write you must shut yourself off… and so on, and so on, and so on.
Screenwriting is a highly specialized form. I still struggle, each time I type FADE IN, to hit it out of the park. It’s lean. The language is distilled. Dialogue must be layered and complex. On the nose text will cause the reader to pull the lever; the guillotine drops and it’s off with your Recommend. Structure must be absolutely perfect, and, if you are playing with the form, perfection should be quadrupled, for it will need to hold up to the test of time. Gone are the days of the rich, fecund literary screenplay. Brevity is the new black.
And then we have Twitter. A fascinating little experiment in social interaction and consumer trends, limited to 140 characters or less.
Twitter has been a remarkable tool for screenwriters. Bret Easton Ellis (@BretEastonEllis) and Ed Burns (@edward_burns) have been turning to the Twitter Twibe for years, tweeting out story ideas, live events, even engaging in interactive campaigns with their followers to help develop and market their works. Carson Reeves (@Scriptshadow) has held “Tweet Me a Logline” contests; Burns also wrote a script on Twitter. As did Jeanne Veillette Bowerman (@jeannevb).
I’ve written about Jeanne and how her observation and recitation of a series of events led to the birth of her film IMPASSE; yesterday, I had the fortune of watching an impasse of my own.
I was sitting in my car in a Bank of America parking lot, when I heard a commotion. I looked up, and over the next 7 minutes, two hispanic women engaged in the most brutal, venomous, heartbreaking and at some moments, strangely funny breakup I have ever borne witness to.
Unlike Jeanne, I did not have Twitter up and running. I simply observed, and when I returned home, recited what I saw on Twitter. The fight was so brutal. Emotions were naked and raw. The level of co-dependence between these two women was palpable, and the manifestations of their physical selves whispered terrible secrets of lives spent on the mean streets of L.A.
After I finished, I looked at what I had. I really liked it. Unlike IMPASSE, this isn’t a film. It’s missing the poetry, the grace of the clash that Jeanne witnessed, not to mention an identifiable protagonist. Instead I see a story of urban angst, and within it, a scene in which this emotion-riddled breakup occurs.
I’d like to encourage you all to keep Twitter open. Unless, like me, you upgraded to iOS6 and nothing works on your phone. Can someone channel Steve Jobs please so these bugs can get fixed? Observe the world around you. Find the story in it. Recite it on Twitter… and see what happens. The brevity in which you must write will force you to tell it in a new way. You’ll cut out the fat. You’ll find the emotional impact within each moment, each Tweet. Feel free to mention it to me – @princess_scribe. I’ll be with you all the way, and if I’m in a writing session, I’ll catch up with it. It’s a fantastic exercise and one that may make you a better writer.
Now, go write.
HRH, Princess Scribe