My friend had a rough writing day the other day. She had a moment of disappointment that she wasn’t writing projects that are more high-concept and commercial. I reminded her that we can only write what we love. That’s the best we can do. Sometimes we just have to write what we love just because we love it. She loves her story. It’s not high-concept. It doesn’t matter. She loved her story and she wrote it and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s a beautiful script. It’s the love that filters down onto the page.
I know, I know, write what you love, we’ve heard it a million times. But the more I read and the more I write, I realize that the best stories we write really are a reflection of us and our passion. They are intensely personal although they might not seem so at first glance. They reflect some unspoken but undeniable truth about us as individuals. We write the types of movies we love the most and the types of stories that resonate most closely with us as human beings.
My favorite types of stories are tragic romances, political thrillers, intelligent thrillers with some sort of international or horror bent, musicals, great romantic comedies. So, boiled down, we’re talking mostly thrillers and comedy with romance. I say comedy with romance because even if I wrote a broad comedy, it would likely have a significant romantic relationship. This is what I write, some combination of the above.
Not everything we write is going to have great commercial potential. Some things we must write simply because we love them. It might not be the small character drama that breaks your career and gets you work. Maybe not off that one script. But the creative process can’t always be controlled. Sometimes we just have to write that script that’s burning a hole, scratching to the surface, kicking its way out. We will write it and feel better. And once it’s written, we have it in our arsenal of work. It’s ours. Our little nugget of gold.
That said, I’m a big believer that there’s always a way to up the dramatic stakes – so even if you’re choosing to write a story that isn’t fundamentally commercial, you can find the best way to dramatize that story. A small story with small production value and huge dramatic stakes – wouldn’t many people love to get their hands on that kind of script? Yes.
Other times, we’ll be in a place where that story kicking its way out is also high concept and fundamentally more commercial. Then we should write that story and love it.
But I am a firm believer that if you sit down to write a vampire story just because vampires are the order of the day, even though you couldn’t give a shit about vampires and have no passion for anything paranormal and think that Maenads and the like are a load of horsecrap, I will read that on the page. Something you don’t have any passion for. It won’t be a story that is intimate, personal or reflective of you. Moreover, because you likely won’t be an enthusiast for that subject matter or genre, know the market and what’s ahead of the curve. And, to boot, what’s actually on screen is already years behind the trend. That trend was in the making many years before. Charlaine Harris started writing her Sookie books years even before Stephanie Meyer recreated Sookie, Bill and Alcide in Twilight.
Stories are amorphous until they truly start to crystallize and take form. A premise conceived as a horror might actually make a better thriller. Or a concept that might have been a satire might be best served as a broad comedy. The specific elements of any story might be shifted to improve the overall piece. And then once elements gel and start working together, taking on a life of their own, that’s when the magic happens.
So, learn enough to figure out what you love and then write the hell out of it. Commercial or not commercial premise, at the end of the day it’s the love that finds its way to the words on the page.