Monday, December 20, 2010

Lessons from the writers group

I love Sundays because that's the day the writers group meets. We're small, and we get together in a little office where we destroy each other. When you walk into that room, you will come out with the need for a page one rewrite. Last night I ended up shredding my notes because by the time we got done with the guy's script the notes had become completely useless.

It's a great and horrible room.

Every week the notes generally boil down to a few key points.

1) Know thy protagonist. Ask yourself, what does she want in this scene? What is he afraid of? What secrets does she have? Your protagonist needs a line here and there in the beginning that distinguish them as a person. This seems common sense, but every week it seems to be a primary note for all of us.

2) Take advantage of opportunities you've created. Imagine if you wrote a story about a black belt in jujitsu but never actually had your character fight anybody? If you have a story in the Arctic, you need to take advantage of the cold. If you write a story about a dog trainer, make use of the dogs. I read a lot of scripts where someone creates this situation rife with opportunity but never uses what they've got. Think to yourself, what are all of the awesome things I can do with this scenario?

3) Know your audience. I'm lucky - in my group I'm the only one who is not also a director/producer. The cool thing about that is that I am constantly reminded of the importance of economic considerations in writing a script. If you write a story about a werewolf, your audience will skew young and expect violence and gore and sex and a lesson in duality. If your script is about a 40-year-old spinster who talks a lot but doesn't kill anybody when she wolfs out, you may love the hell out of your story but you will not sell it. You must study what works about similar films and remember why people love them.

I learned that last lesson with my script when I wrote an edgy, violent comedy and tried to keep it PG-13. The audience that loves edgy comedy is over 18, and if I want them to see my film I have to cater to their expectations. It's a good lesson to learn.

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