On Writing

Posted Sunday, July 27, 2008, 7:15 PM


I like to write stories. I remember the first time I realised I had the power to create any story I liked, without the limits that restrict creativity. I was ten years old, and the Teacher said we could write a story with a particular theme (in this case it was a treasure map). Up until then I always struggled to write anything, I found it a chore because the motivation was forced, and the story ideas were on subjects that didn't interest me - usually based on some dull dramatic incident I didn't care about, or even a non-fiction event that had actually happened to me that I had to dredge up and write about. Dull dull dull.

But when I began this story, I suddenly saw opportunities open up each time I wrote a new paragraph; I knew I could introduce a new character whenever I wanted, someone who then would take the story in a new direction when it needed it; I could also invent a location, so that it would look just the way I needed it to, so that certain incidents could occur to serve the story; I could have a conclusion that made a certain amount of sense and which related back to the beginning of the story; and best of all, I could add humour that was natural and real.

Now, this was when I was ten years old. The finished story was only six pages long, and wouldn't exactly set the world alight with my incredible grasp of the written word. But when the story was finished I realised a very important concept: that when you write, you can create anything you want, and have things happen in any way you want, and that kind of freedom, where you aren't restricted by the kind of rules that would mean a boring result, makes writing fun and exciting.

Throughout my teenage years I continued to write stories - some short, some long and involved - and I became quite well known for it. Most of them were silly and absurd wacky stories, inspired by my love for Spike Milligan's Goon Show, but then later, after I gained an interest in Mediaeval Fantasy, a few of my stories started to turn into epic magical adventures.

My biggest problem, though, was completing what I started. And in fact, I still have that problem.

Unfortunately I don't write very often anymore. Partly due to having no time to commit to it, and partly because I am discouraged by my lack of motivation to finish anything I start. But also because I find it hard to be inspired enough to actually commit myself to something like this. I know I really enjoy writing when I get started, so I wish I could find the time to sit down, force myself to self-motivate, and actually get something done a lot more often than I currently do. I need to lock myself away and force it out, even though I know it's not really "forced" once it starts flowing. In fact by the time it gets going, it's usually impossible to stop myself.

In the past I've written many different kinds of work: short stories; long stories; play scripts; TV scripts; movie scripts; even songs and poetry. The most fun I've had, and most motivated I've been, is usually when I am co-writing with another person, because you get to bounce ideas around, complement each other's strengths and weaknesses, and just have a laugh together. In that situation I'm happy to do the actual typing up of what we come up with, as long as I have someone to go to when we see a hole in the plot, or need a new event.

My biggest storytelling weakness is plot - I tend to be very derivative and linear and find it hard to come up with an original idea to bridge a gap. But my biggest storytelling strength is dialogue - I can move the story along with some good naturalistic conversations between characters, along with sparkles of humour. That's my belief, though it's a rare occasion when I can prove it to myself, I write so infrequently these days.

So anyway. Last week, when I was over at Rob's house after my toothy surgery, we talked about movies, as we always do, and watched a couple of DVDs. One of them was a low budget fantasy film that didn't really zing with amazing visuals, or have a particularly clever plot, and the fight scenes were uninspired. But it did have some nice character moments, and there were a couple of good ideas buried in there. However, when viewing those many flaws it made me think "I could do a better job than this!" and when Rob agreed on a few of its weak points, I was somewhat inspired to give my own version a try.

These kinds of films have very low budgets, and so can't have expensive visual effects or epic action sequences. But that doesn't matter - if it's written well enough, has some fun characters, and has the right tone, it will be looked on favourably, be handed a budget, and will be given an opportunity to be made. These films always find an audience at the local DVD rental store, and will easily make their money back. And it occurred to me that I want to be in that position - to be able to write a good enough story that it will at least get made and be watched. It's a great way to get a start in filmmaking, and even easy to make a career in it if you are willing to work in the low budget arena.

I was in something of a state of dizziness after my dental surgery, so I wasn't able to articulate myself to Rob very well that afternoon, and what I wanted to say to him was we should work together on our own fantasy film. Sit down, nut out a plot together, and write it - just for fun. But I never got the chance to articulate my idea properly, I was still a bit dazed and uncomfortable to talk properly, so after getting home, I spent a few hours thinking about what kind of movie I could write that had all the elements I like in an adventure, fit within a low budget, and was better than the one we watched. I even started noting down some plot elements, characters, situations, etc, that I would like to see.

And what amazed me is this: I looked at this list of ideas, and I thought about ways to have them fit together, and I saw a few possibilities and considered them. I saw a few ways to fill in what was missing with some more ideas. Then I assembled them together into something resembling a beginning. Suddenly, from there I saw what the next scene should be. And the next. And then I saw a middle, and a way to bridge them all together. I even saw a possible conclusion.

Next thing I knew I had enough to start writing something down, what's known as a "treatment", which is a rough but complete description of the storyline. I got about two pages into it and got stuck - I realised I had a D and an F but didn't have an E. I also had a pretty good idea what my H was going to be, so had to think about the G.

So I took a break, lay on the couch, and thought about what I'd written so far. Within an hour I had come up with ideas that filled the gaps, perfect Es and Gs, which also sorted out what my N, O and P would be. I leaped up and started filling in my alphabet even further, and was going great guns, until eventually I realised I needed a twist. I knew why the twist was needed, where it would go, and what it would involve, but not what would motivate it.

So I stopped and lay on my couch again, and just thought about what I had written so far... and this is what surprised me the most of all - I came up with something, and this is the point of this whole post, that not only worked as a twist, but fit into the beginning of the story, the middle, the ending, and, most amazing of all, even made the temporary title make sense. All of it suddenly snapped into place, worked so perfectly with each other, filled in all the plot holes I had, and completed my entire story satisfactorily. What's so odd about this is it was an idea that I came up with really late in the game, and yet now it looks like it should've been what the entire story was inspired by!

Writing is a strange beast sometimes. But it is so satisfying when it works.

Now, whether this is actually a good story I'm writing is another matter entirely. First I have to finish the treatment, I'll need to play around with some of the pacing, and then of course actually write it as a script, before I will know if it's all worth it. After that it is extremely unlikely it will actually be made (I have no illusions there. I certainly have no money to make a mediaeval fantasy movie).

But that's not the point. I'm just enjoying the act of writing. It's so much fun!

2 Reasoned Responses:

medvol said...

I was perplexed by your term "Reasoned Response".
Does this imply an "Unreasoned Response"?
Is the idea of writing a tale and taking a rest while the subconcious fleshes out the plot holes
seem unrealistic?
I got to this site from "Men without safety hats". Which was a stretch from the get go.
Nice to read that you can capture the dreams that most of us imagine as we sleep but awake to a WTF was THAT all about!
Now the ??? de jour: is this a reasoned or unreasoned response??
Enjoy.

GuanoLad said...

I consider spam to be an unreasoned response.

Your response seems very reasoned.

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