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Monday, June 16, 2008

Prize Fight: Inertia v. Momentum

Screenwriting is a peculiar thing to do. I think we can all admit that. We plan, we obsess, we outline on cocktail napkins. We launch into pitches with our friends, we have sudden flashes of brilliance in the middle of the night. And we have that terrified feeling when we stare at a blank page. We flip back to our outline. What is supposed to happen here? Uh - right. But what does that opening scene actually look like? So we go check the fridge in case there's anything good to eat and oh wow, the dishwasher needs to be emptied. Oop - gotta put some laundry in.

45 minutes later that blank page keeps staring at us balefully.

But once we crack that first page - that first slugline even, it begins to flow. In fact, for the Wave-inatrix, it began to flow to the tune of 17 pages yesterday alone. Not perfect pages, not brilliant pages (it's too early to ask that of myself) but pretty okay pages. And now I can't wait to steal a few minutes and finish the scene I was working on. And I had an idea for the scene after that. And I can't wait to go back to page three and tweak a moment there to make it scarier. And - the ball is rolling.

But what a Sisyphean task getting that ball rolling is. You know - the guy who had to keep rolling a boulder uphill only to watch it roll back down again - forever.

Have Wavers shared that feeling: EXT...... exterior what? Where? Uh - the guy's apartment building AGAIN? A park? The outline didn't really indicate where or how x beat would play out, only that it does. An outline is a comforting blankie but it doesn't meet all of your needs. We still need to imagine the cinematic shape, weave and weft of the scene itself. And our characters surprise us by blurting out things that we hadn't foreseen. Why, my antagonist said some very nasty things on page two and I was taken aback. Whoa - that's an R rating, for sure.

So for any Wavers out there about to embark on a new project, or who might have rolled back down the hill and are stuck in inertia, just open the script and stare. Stare right into your fear. It will come - eventually. Something will come to you while you're folding laundry or unloading the dishwasher.

And when it finally does come, instead of rolling the boulder up a hill, you might just wind up like Indiana Jones - running for dear life in front of it.


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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

So true! Thanks for reminding me that I'm not a freak and I'm not alone! (Okay, maybe I am a freak, but I'm not alone.)
2 things that help me:
1. A quote from a writer I can't remember right now: "Just show up for the muse."
2. Reminding myself that I should not be questioning anything during the first draft. Just write the first thing that comes to mind as inspired from the outline and remember that I will put my "editor's hat" on later during the rewrite stage. Only the writer or the editor can show up to any work session -- not both! ~ Trina

Screenwriter Shep said...

I can't remember who did this, but there was a novelist who always stopped while he still knew what would come next and how he was going to do it.

The theory was that getting started is the hardest part, so he would purposely leave himself off at a place where it would be easy to get started, build momentum, and roll right through the obstacles.

kahapeterson said...

17 pages in one day! Im jealous! 10 or 11 is a good day for me. I normally knock over about 5 pages in an evening.

Anonymous said...

Um, it's Sisyphean.

rachel said...

Julie - are you reading my mind again? This weekend was devoted to the mid-point of my current project. I redecorated, cleaned windows and vacuumed the car while I circled the act two turning point. i usually just walk the dog, but this one required a whole lot more housework. and i think i got it late last night!

shep, i think it was hemingway who would stop mid-sentence or mid-thought to help kick start the next day's work.