I’m still in the stage wherein every time I embark upon a new project, I’m teaching myself something about the technical process of writing and also about the human experience. I think the greatest gift a writer can give is in illuminating the human experience in a fresh or unique way, and in the experience of connecting with that story, we the audience are learning something new about life and our experience of what it means to be human. I suppose, as writers, we’re fueled by an inexhaustible curiosity about life and the specific nature of the human experience that drives us to do what we do.
I’m a story/plot writer. I love brainstorming ideas, breaking story, coming up with story ideas. Story for me always starts with the big “what if” and explodes from there. It’s generally situationally based, and specific to circumstances. I think you can have many “what if” situations and place different personalities in those situations – such is life. To me, the specific uniqueness of story comes less from the individual’s experience of the situation than the situation and how an individual experiences it (if that makes any sense). That’s why I don’t write from character. A single character could experience any million-fold variety of situations – that’s too confusing for me. Too many possibilities. Story always starts with the situation, and then I consider how various personalities would experience that situation. The more interesting story comes then from a juxtaposition of a particular personality within a specific situation, and that’s where the screenplay begins for me.
What I’ve realized specifically with my latest project is that even though I know all of my story beats before I hit the page, I discover my characters more intimately once I’m on the page and give them voice. Many writers who are character writers write in the reverse: they intimately know their characters and then discover the story/plot as it unfolds before them. It really doesn’t matter in the end what our process is because we all have to rewrite. I think it’s really only once we get the story on the page that we can see exactly where our characters are taking our story, and in this, we must craft. It’s the crafting part that’s the real work, but that’s where the gold is mined.
Every writer has a natural voice. We have strengths and gifts that flow effortlessly onto the page. We carry a mood, a tone, a pace, a theme that is intrinsically unique to our writing and the kinds of stories we want to tell. However, the craft of writing insists that we hone our work and we’re constantly struggling to balance our strengths with our weaknesses.
Just as prose writers must craft an organic balance of the narrative modes (description, action, dialogue and exposition), so we screenwriters must find balance in the plotted story (action) and the emotional journey of the characters. As screenplay is written primarily in action and dialogue with almost no exposition and very little description, our focus thus rests with finding the balance between the action and dialogue, or plotting and character.
The strengths of my own stories lay in the story/plot component, but then I have to work twice as hard with the emotional component of the character arc to make it viable and emotionally resonant for the reader. It’s not to say I can’t do it, but it doesn’t come as intuitively for me as for some character-driven writers I know. It’s work for me. It’s hard. Sometimes, it’s pulling teeth. But, then, I know my character-driven writer friends struggle just as much with plotting. We’re all working to create that thoroughly complete story world, and it only comes through balance and believability.