Thursday, September 1, 2016

#6 Writing Unchained

#6 Writing Unchained

Based on feedback from having pitched a screenplay to a “real” movie producer (see previous blog entry), I decided to take a chance and try writing a novel. Like all writers, I had fallen in love with my writing, this time with my two science fiction (SF) screenplays. 

(Note: I’m old school. SF is the appropriate abbreviation for science fiction, Sci-fi pronounced “skiffy” is an abomination).

I began in a totally thoughtless, stupid manner. It’s how I usually do things: dive in without any learning or research and just “do it!” Fastest way to learn, for me. Ironic given that I had been a teacher for more than 20 years. But, there it was: I hated classrooms.

Since my two science fiction screenplays covered exactly the same story from two different points of view (humans vs aliens) and in two different styles (action/romance vs comedy), I decided to interleave scenes from the two screenplays in strict chronological order.

That was a disaster. Going from serious to comedy and back to serious as I progressed through the chapters was confounding. I toyed with the idea of writing two novels, one for each SF script. That didn’t feel right as the comedy in the second script relied on what was going on in the first script. While I had made that work in the second screenplay by incorporating (repeating) scenes from the first, that approach wasn’t effective in narrative format. It certainly would have annoyed the reader. It would have annoyed me in something I was reading.

I finally hit upon writing a single novel, with the first half being based on the first screenplay and the second half being based on the second with the second half told by the aliens to the lead human character of the first half, tying it together with an on-going murder mystery she was trying to solve with the alien’s’ help. That seemed to work.

What didn’t work very well was relying too much on the original material. Simply dumping dialog and scene descriptions from a screenplay into a novel format was lame. No, it was pathetic. I suspected that there might be a lot more to a finished movie than what was in the screenplay. All those lovely visuals, dramatic cuts and such had to come from somewhere. 

(Little did I know)

Then, about two chapters in, I realized I needed to add to my rather sketchy screenplay material. What was the setting? “Noon at a beach town” really wasn’t enough. Also, why were characters acting the way they were? What did they want? What were their background stories? Such things are thought about when writing a screenplay, but generally merely hinted at in the script either through dialog or flashbacks or - mostly - the character’s motivation and actions.

I began with my protagonist, a theoretical physicist named Diana. In the opening scene, she is lecturing at a conference on string theory. A scene given fairly short shrift in the screenplay but now… now I could get inside her head and let her mind wander through all kinds of thoughts as the scene unfolded. She became more nuanced and interesting. She came alive!

All my characters suddenly came alive. Her husband Phil became a thoughtful partner instead of a walk-on boy toy. Her friend Tafetta, a clerk in a salt-water taffy store, had her own dreams and thought seriously about the meaning of life. 

Characters were jumping off the page and in some creepy cases grabbing the plot and dialog out of my control and writing themselves. One character, Rachel, an alien in human disguise, was meant to be a minor character until she decided she wanted to become a primary one. Little had I imagined that she was a member of the alien high council and a potential mutineer.

Well, I could go on. I usually do. The point is that I suddenly fell in love with writing. Especially writing novels. What had been a hobby and a form of therapy became a passion. I spent the next ten months creating my novel “Mission Glitch.”  

As I wrapped up “Mission Glitch” and mentally outlined several more novels and screenplays and short stories, my director friend and I strategized as to how we might get funding to make a movie from the screenplay about community television (original title: “The Weather Report”).

I purchased several lottery tickets that didn’t win anything. I know, that was stupid. 

We knew this screenplay was unlikely to attract interest from Hollywood, being a comedy about a local TV station. If it were going to become a movie, it would have to be independently funded and produced. We began calling it a “little movie.”

Then, it hit us, to raise money for the project, it might help to create a teaser, a “little movie,” like a movie trailer to attract potential funders.

The two of us met at a sports bar in July, 2013, to plot strategy.

Next: Budgeting


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