Sunday, June 28, 2015

Don't Blame Software for Your Lack of Talent

Woody Allen writes everything on a manual typewriter. Eric Roth uses an old DOS screenwriting program called Movie Master. George R. R. Martin writes on a DOS computer with WordStar 4.0. Quentin Tarantino hand writes all of his first drafts, as does J. K. Rowling. J. J. Abrams, Tom Hanks, and James Cameron use Final Draft. Countless published authors use some variant of the standard word processor such as Microsoft Word — the exact program I’m using to write this blog post.

“I don’t want any help. I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lower case letter and it becomes a capital. I don’t want a capital! If I’d wanted a capital, I would have typed a capital. I know how to work a shift key!” - George R. R. Martin

Writers who write for a living have a workflow that works for them and change it only if there is a compelling reason to do so. Unfortunately, many writers spend more time “testing” software and following the latest writing app trends than actually writing. It fascinates me a little bit when I hear the reasons why “writers” can’t seem to write in Word (Google Docs, WordPerfect, etc.) or Final Draft. Most point to one of two “problems” with the industry standard software. Either the program is “too distracting” — my copy of Word 2013 is pretty minimal when I’m writing — or they complain Word or Final Draft lack the tools writers need.

Maybe the real reason is a lot simpler. Maybe the real reason some writers have such a hard time writing with Word or Final Draft is because they would have trouble writing in any program or on any piece of paper. If you can’t write a screenplay in Final Draft or anything else in Word, then maybe you can’t write. Don’t blame the software for your lack of talent or mastery of craft.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Let's Talk About Beats

Beats drive a story forward, and without them a story just hangs around, boring the living daylights out of readers unlucky enough to stumble across such a thing. So, in the simplest terms, the beats of a story are nothing more than the major plot points -- anything that happens to drive the story forward. All good stories have beats spaced throughout the story. However, not all writers approach the idea in the same manner. Stephen King claims not to plot -- he doesn't create an outline or in any way identify the story's beats before writing. Other writers take a highly methodical approach to identifying the story's beats in great detail before writing a single word.

My own approach is something in the middle. I don't create a full outline, but I do identify the major beats for the main plot and any prominant subplots. OK, but how do we identify our beats?

Some writers have detailed methodologies to identify their story beats. However, for me it's not methodical at all. I tend to use mind maps and free writing a lot early in my process, particularly when fleshing out beats.

Once the beats are fleshed out I'll usually create beat sheets for the main plot and major subplots. For me, having the beats identified and making beat sheets helps verify the story as well as let me write in the non-linear fashion I prefer.

Creativity is a Messy Process

I find the whole idea behind the No Photoshop Campaign both understandable and dangerous. It's understandable that people are tired of seeing almost cartoon versions of supermodels from heavy handed photo manipulation. However, photography is an art that has always relied on creative darkroom techniques -- take a look at any Ansel Adams print and you will see a work of art created ten percent in camera and ninety percent in the darkroom. Adams spent countless hours in the darkroom experimenting, changing exposure, dodging and burning, etc. When he was happy with his work he created a new negative from which he could make prints in the future.
In 1778 Mozart wrote to his father,
You know that I immerse myself in music, so to speak—that I think about it all day long—that I like experimenting—studying—reflecting.
Unlike the myth propagated by the film *Amadeus*, music didn't just fall out of the sky and into his mind -- around 320 of his sketches and drafts were not destroyed by his wife after his death. Mozart found it necessary to create drafts, sketches, and snippets precisely because that is how creativity works. You create art by getting your hands dirty. By making a mess.
The public loves the idea of artists magically snapping a camera shutter and creating the perfect photograph, or writing a perfect book in a single draft. The reality is much different.
Every creative person has their own approach to working through the messy process that is creativity. Some writer plan their work in the most minute details, while others claim to write completely from the seat of their pants -- something they may do, but also tend to go through more drafts than their planning counterparts.
My own process is somewhere in the middle. I like to know the major beats before I start writing, but I don't outline. How I get to the beats is it's own messy process that I might discuss in a future post. I cannot write in a linear fashion. The first scene I wrote for American Anarchy was the Tag. The second was the teaser. These scenes give me a solid starting and finishing point for the film -- I also spend quite a bit of time on them, since they are the first and last things the audience will see.
After the bookends are in place I write in a completely non-linear manner. I may start with the major beats, but I'm just as likely to write a scene that may or may not even fit into the story. Sometimes it's a scene that just keeps popping into my mind and is just demanding to be written. If I tried to force myself to start at the beginning and chug along until I reached the end, I would never get to the end.
Creativity is a messy process, so embrace the mess. After all, you don't create art that stands the test of time by churning out copious amounts of low grade junk.