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Trusting Your Gut: Writing Passion vs. Structure |

Trusting Your Gut: Writing Passion vs. Structure

I’m visiting with one of my best friends now whose son, my godson, tragically died in October. This is a part of why I haven’t been writing since that time. I’ve also been trying to prioritize my own creative writing, but I’ve not had an easy time getting those pages in, either. It’s cold and gray here – oppressive – seems fitting for the occasion.

This morning I am haunted by an ongoing rambling conversation with a girlfriend from the CineStory retreat about writing from a space of structure vs. writing from a space of passion. If we write mostly from passion, how do we find the structure? If we write from structure, how to we get the passion onto the page?

Last night, as regards my little godson’s death, I experienced one of the most horrible-but-magical conversations I have ever had to go through in my entire life. It was at once something that seeded within me the desire to capture it, put it in a bottle, and start weaving story into and throughout it. I did come up with a short story idea based around the concept. However, this morning, it has sparked again within me the notion that we write from passion. Our specific passions need to find universal ways to share themselves, but the spark is always something about which I feel passionate. Something that resonates inside. The things we cannot let go of, that haunt us forever.

When I was reading scripts for Mutual, I would read these broad-sweeping, action-packed summer blockbuster scripts – some of them had a good hook, some not. But, mostly they were fluff pieces. No character, no heart, no soul. The cumulative effect was like eating a complete meal of air: no taste, no substance. I felt I’d gone through the motions of eating, but in the end was left completely unsatisfied.

I actually believe that these writers started those screenplays from some spark of passion. There was some seed within that story that they felt passionate about – and that was why they gravitated toward writing those stories. However, at some point in the process, they stopped connecting with that passion or didn’t mine it deeply enough and got tangled up within the structure and plot points. It lost the soul. But it’s that soul that calls out to the reader saying, “Make me. Run, run, run to your boss and insist they read me.”

It’s a part of our job not only to write to plotting but to mine that plotting to get to the meat underneath. Your writing should be, at best, incredibly intimate and absolutely reflective of you. Even if you’re writing in a genre that on the surface requires less character (summer blockbuster action), think back to the best ones, such as Die Hard. Why do we all love Die Hard? Because John McClane is such a motherfucking bad-ass with hilarious dialogue. He’s an urban cowboy. And there is a real emotional story there.

You can ride that wave of passion and structure just by trusting your gut. As for myself, I wrote a highly structured draft of my last screenplay that was a little on the cardboard side. I hadn’t yet dug into the passion of it. The passion is there for me, I feel passionately about the story and characters and their journey, however it wasn’t connecting with the reader on the page. Now I am going back and superimposing new layers of passion over their journeys. I am overwriting the passion onto the blueprint that I had crafted with that first carefully outlined story. And that process is working.

This next draft will likely be overwritten, and I will most likely throw in there every scrap of passionate detail that my heart desires. And in the next draft I will go back to find the structure within it and reign it in. That is intuitively what I am feeling called to do – and it’s probably exactly what this project needs.

If I’ve learned anything from my godson’s death, it’s that I need to stay firm with my gut feeling. Always trust your gut. There will come a time when you need to stick to your outline and follow that form and structure. And there will be days where you will feel you simply need to free write – simply write only what comes to the page with no form or structure whatsoever. They’re very different places to be creating from. However, in the end, it will be the layering and combining of the two that will get you to that polished draft you desire.

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2 Responses to Trusting Your Gut: Writing Passion vs. Structure

  1. Jeff January 8, 2010 at 10:16 pm #

    Thanks for this, Monica. I’m glad you’re back. Was worried you had been taken out by an errant champagne cork on New Year’s. 😉

    I like what you’re saying here. Sounds like you have a plan. Any plan is a good plan if it puts words on the page.


  2. pat August 26, 2010 at 10:12 am #

    Gnarly article. I’m slowly getting hooked on your site…