Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself. – Doris Lessing

Go forth into the unknown, explore the caves of your unconscious, fear not your “dark side,” find the gold.

— Robin Hoffman (@AuthorAlchemy)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Your Screenplay Sucks! Part II

First published 11/14/08 on the Fear of Writing Blog


Part I of this entry was my book review for your screenplay sucks! 100 ways to make it great by William M. Akers.

The review includes some of the ways non-screenwriters can benefit from reading Akers' book.

But, wait. There's more.

One of the many reasons I'm bubbling over about this book is due to today's mind-blowing coffeehouse event. Akers' book showed me a problem I didn't realize I had with my screenplay.

Panic? Disappointment? Deep sense of failure as a writer? Not at all. Largely because I already felt creatively liberated by reading this book, the solution came to me shortly after I realized the problem.

To get away from the distractions of laundry and e-mail, around noon I took carefully chosen reading material to Peaberry's Bakery & Café and settled in for some luscious reading. I intended to stay at least three, if not four hours, making considerable headway with some important goals related to my screenplay.

But first I indulged in several more pages from the delightful novel I'm currently reading, The Philosophers Apprentice by James Morrow. My breve tasted divine and I only had to move tables once (due to fellow patrons talking in megaphone voices on their cell phones). Coffeehouse bliss.

Next I read another section from The Way of Story by Catherine Ann Jones (another highly recommended book for writers). Then I turned to the most serious business of the day: allowing myself to be entertained and moved to wicked grins and laughter while learning hugely from your screenplay sucks!

My blissful long stint in the coffeehouse was cut short, however, when a brainstorm overrode all other wishes and desires. The brainstorm was the cumulative result of reading six more sections from Akers' book . . . but the part that made me rocket out of my seat and rush home to my computer was the following sentence from section 16 (“You don’t give your bad guy a Bad Guy Speech!”):

“Then, in Chapter 21—Magua's Pain—Montcalm and the reader hear what's boiling Magua's guts.”

This refers to The Last of the Mohicans, but you don't have to see the movie or read the novel it's based on to get the point. Akers makes it abundantly clear in just a few paragraphs.

What I realized from Akers’ example is that my bad guy, albeit doing well in most other areas, doesn't ever reveal the motivation behind his anti-social and violent behavior. Worse, I'm the bad guy's creator and even I didn't know how his badness got seeded. Plenty about what boils my hero's guts but no revealing history for my BG.

I drifted into daydream mode and started scribbling in my writer's journal. Because Akers already had my mind in such a fertile place, it only took a few minutes to know which scene I'll need to use to show my bad guy's motivation. I know which character’s going to talk about it/show it and what she's going to say—could even result in one of the best lines from the movie—and how the other character will react (classic case of denial).

Some of the details of the Freudian incident from my bad guy’s past are still a bit hazy, but no problemo. That can be fleshed out as I go.

At first, I was a bit ticked off about having to add anything to my script that might pile more pages onto it. My finished screenplay is currently 112 pages; screenplays for feature films should be between 100 and 120 (but a full 120 pages for a newbie might require some justification . . . namely, a killer script!).

Still, the more I daydreamed and brainstormed, the more I could see how much this short but critical addition—it should amount to a page or less—will enrich my story.

I was so gratified with this development, the world was a more thrilling place to be, the music on XM Radio sounded better than ever, and my most pressing problem with my Friday afternoon had become:

“There are not enough hours in the day to do all this fun creative stuff!”
You have to be happy at your desk, at that laptop in the coffee shop or in the front seat of your car, doing your writing, whether you ever get paid or not. Otherwise it is no fun. Getting paid should not affect what you want to do.

Because, if it's not what you want to do, why are you doing it?


—William M. Akers, page 286, your screenplay sucks!

RELATED POST: Your Screenplay Sucks (Part I)

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