Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Adventures in screenwriting

Someone over at the forum asked me a while back about my writer's block. So, I thought I'd put some of what I wrote to them, and talk a little about it here.
I suffered through about five years, roughly 1998 to 2003, without writing hardly anything, maybe a few short stories that I didn't really like. Part of it was simply bad time management on my part, but the big matter was I'd lost all belief in my ability to write well. I could crank out about 500 words, and then I'd become disgusted with everything I'd written. I felt there was no way I could ever be Hemingway, Tolkein or even Stepehn King.
This frustrated me to no end. I felt the urge to write, but everything I wrote looked like garbage.
Then one day about five years ago, I was rummaging through my pile of books that had not been read (I've always got a stack of 20 to 30 books that are waiting to be read). I came upon a Syd Field's book about the basics of screenwriting. I'd never had any real interest in screenwriting, and couldn't even remember why I'd bought the book, or if someone had given it to me as a present. Well, I was in a mood to read some non-fiction, and I hunkered down with Syd's book. Truth to tell, I didn't care much for it. It was pretty boring, but it broke down the basic elements of storytelling into logical sequences that I could understand. Syd's book was about 20 years old at the time, so I rushed out and pick up "The Idiot's Guide to Screenwriting." This was a fun book, and it followed much of Syd's advice.
Soon I was reading other books on screenwriting. I've probably read a dozen or so since, some good and some not so good. What I found was that screenwriting simplified writing to basics that gave me a new way of looking at writing, making writing a logistical puzzle for me instead of the open, freeform monster I had often considered it. I'm not saying I'm a great screenwriter, and I don't mean to oversimplify the talent it takes someone like William Goldman to write Butch and Sundance or Princess Bride. It was just that ... I'm not sure how to explain it exactly ... but screenwriting gave me boundaries and rules, where prose writing had always felt too freeform to me, too chaotic.
I went to work writing, and I pumped out two screenplays. One a simple horror and action sci-fi story based on a short story I'd written years ago, "Dark Side of Io." The second was a spaghetti western, "Day of the Gun." I placed both screenplays on for review, and I got some good feedback. Spielberg and Eastwood weren't knocking at my door, but I felt a confidence in my writing I hadn't felt in years.
Soon after that I began to tap away on my Mac keyboard. What I was writing was a fantasy novel. It originally was planned to be about 100,000 words. By the time I reached 50,000 words, I knew I was in trouble. At that point I was only about halfway through the first third of my story. I didn't want a 300,000 word novel, so I thought I'd have two novels. Then, when I finally finished a first draft of that first third of my story, at about 120,000 words, I realized I had three novels, the dreaded trilogy.
Since then I've finished a first draft of the second book and a second draft of the first book. Now I'm writing away at the third book, and finally I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The plot? I'll give a basic one of the first book here: "City of Rogues" is a story of revenge, criminal politics and a budding friendship of opposites. When ranger Kron Darkbow returns to his home city to seek vengeance for the murders of his parents, he finds himself embroiled in a war with criminal underworld chieftain Belgad the Liar. In the eruption of chaos, Kron inadvertently reveals a local healer mage, Randall Tendbones, as the son of an evil king. Randall, on the run from his murderous father, seeks Kron's aid in finally facing his father. Meanwhile, Belgad is hot on the vengeance trail after the two.

And that leaves out a whole slew of characters.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I took a playwriting course in my final semester of college that helped me in much the same manner. It was taught by a guy who'd done a ton of writing for TV, so of course we touched upon that, too.

My first completed work of fiction was actually a one-act play entitled "Blue Skies." It featured a character who, come to think of it, might be worth revisiting. Hmmmmmm...