Friday, August 25, 2006

The limitations of unfocused ambitions

I have taken away one lesson of principle importance from my screenwriting class yesterday, and that is my own woeful inability to meet my artistic expectations. That is not necessarily very surprising; it was only the first class. Still, I cannot escape this persistent, if pessimistic, sensation of impending failure. The problem, you see, is dialogue.

Screenwriting had always held two great interests. First, I had hoped that the firm structure would help focus my often disparate aspirations. And second, crafting dialogue and conveying the nature of a person through their words has always seemed like an engaging challenge.

My estimations of the genre's dimensions have proven accurate, but my particular talents may not be well suited to the task. I find myself extremely dissatisfied with my varying efforts constructing conversations. The words just feel stilted or artificial, the characters far from engaging. In large part, I blame my own writing style.

Some people are kind enough to remark favorably on my literary endeavors, and I think it within the bounds of respectable modesty to admit that I harbor some degree of pride in my writing. Even so, my voice does not seem well suited to that of others. This style that now characterizes my composition, for whatever pleasant particularities may arise in prose, has not carried over into dialogue.

I do not write as people speak. I don't even write as I speak. In fact, my own conversation is marked by nothing as cumbersome, nor as when it may arise, as elegant, as comes from my pen. How this happened I'm not quite sure, but it is now a matter of some frustration.

Of course, it is not necessarily a fatal defect, the application of aberrant discourse. Some of my favorite movies and television shows are stocked full of characters unusually and perhaps even impossibly erudite. So if it were simply a matter of big words or clever phrases, I should be okay. Unfortunately, my limitations are somewhat less forgiving.

Aside from any inability to actually write in the manner the genre demands, I also seem to suffer from a distinct lack of concept. Everyone else has apparently entered the class with some long cherished storyline. Although they naturally vary according to the talents and dedication of the authors, the best offerings are wonderfully intricate, and bring my own inadequacies into stark focus.

I knew, coming into this, that I would have a lot of work ahead of me. But to be perfectly honest, I had not expected to be so completely unprepared. Perhaps my own expectations were unrealistic, and certainly it would not require the fulfillment of standards to which I hold myself simply to pass (although the grade and credits are in every way irrelevant). However, I first took this class in order to satisfy my own artistic desires. Now that I am faced with the possibility of failure, in personal if not absolute terms, I cannot help but regret the enterprising inclination that led me to try in the first place.


Erin said...

There was a guy in my scriptwriting class in college who had a similar problem. I couldn't stand him. But he was a jerk to begin with.

Dialogue has never been a problem for me. I've always enjoyed it, I've always had a knack for it. But we all need help every now and then. I've got some techniques I would be happy to share with you if you're interested, but since no one can accuse me of giving unsolicited advice, you'll have to let me know.

MathiasTCK said...

I've increasingly been wondering if Ray learned some vital lessons by majoring in Literature.

I saw lady in the water recently (I may be one of the few people that loved it). What struck me was how much of the plot was carried forward by the characters describing the plot to each other. IE, each was telling the other part of the story.

Life is pretty similar, throughout our lives we constantly sum up events for each other, telling each other stories.

All stories exist within a framework that matches how we humans expect the world to work. Stories are mostly intuitive, the non intuitive sup rises are the exceptional parts of a story.

So we each go out, examine the world, then translate it into a framework understandable to each other, a story.

My Boss at MySpace is a great storyteller. We keep going to meetings, he's the manager, I'm the tech guy. So it's my role to point out technical impossibilities, or answer technical questions.

That basically means I sit there and listen to him. So I've heard him tell the same stories mannnnnnnnny times. He uses his stories to: show his competence, break the ice, make a point, fill awkward pauses, and sometimes just kill time waiting for a more important person to make it to the meeting.

I have decided I need to learn that skill.

Grafxgurl said...

gotta think up of plots...take it from life.. read up on other screen writers.. see where they get their inspiration from..

we had to write scripts for film class and for theatre as well.. and thats how i did well...

you dont have to have the perfect writing style....its the idea.. the plot..the way you lead to it...surprises are good too. although underlying subtlety is better.

youll do things always take time to grasp.

Erin said...

I could not disagree with you more, grafxgurl. Beginning any story with a plot is a huge mistake. Stories should instead begin with characters. If a story is plot driven, the writer gets stuck on the plot path that becomes too predictable. What makes your favorite book or film your favorite? Is it the plot: a sequence of events which can be reduced to simple games theory? Or is it the characters that bring it to life?

thethinker said...

When something's new to you, you don't have to be perfect at it right away. It's just something you have to work at a bit. Maybe you haven't found your inspiration yet. Don't give up on yourself too early. I'm sure you'll do just fine.

(I also have to agree with Erin. When I watch movies or read books, I look to the characters to draw me in, not the plot. If the characters can't hold my interest, the book/movie is ruined for me.)

Alpha-D said...

Everyone has already given you great tips, but I think the easiest way is to write is to write about yourself. Not directly, but put yourself in your work. Whether it be your morals, hopes, dreams, troubles, or anything else. The only way to keep the script realistic is to keep the script real to you. Not what you think others would approve of.

You got a fancy writing style, everyone knows that. I'm the opposite. I talk better then I can write, but that's because of my history in Drama and Improv. Maybe even try talking aloud and try putting yourself into the character's shoes.

I always had a knack for creating conflicts, characters, settings and putting it all together in a plot. Every single line I write, or act on stage (improv specifically) I try to become the character. I imagine the setting arround me and create it. I become the character, and I act.

The same way you can write down the actions and lines of a fictional character.

And heck, you should never regret trying something new. How else would you know if you were good at something or not? I wish you luck in your class, I know you'll do just fine!

Spacecake said...

I love writing, but if someone tells me that I should think of a plot I just can't do it; the whole thing comes out as a piece of crap and then I get seriously pissed off. But I can't think of plots even when I'm not told to do so...

All I can really write about is a certain situation or (try to) describe a place or something... Long things just don't work. Yet. (I'm gonna have to work on that).

Moon Goddess said...

I'm so excited for you that you are taking this class and making time for your artistic drive.

Personally, I don't do screen writing. I write prose -- long prose. However, I find that within my prose, my dialogue is one of my strengths. I have done some scriptwrighting in my time, for stage only.

Care for a suggestion from a fellow writer? Go check out some theatre. Nothing flashy -- not a big broadway show, or some huge play... something modest, with little or no special effects. I suggest this so you can go see how people are able to make a story come to life with little more than just the words in their script. There's no effects, not much flashy music, or montages, or anything of the sort, and you're forced to pay attention to the writing. They're bringing the words to life. You want to learn how to write words that can live. It seems a fitting match to me.

I like the elegance of your tone in your blog. I'm sure with hard work and a creative frame of mind, you can accomplish something rather nice.

MathiasTCK said...

Plot versus Characters:

A lot of the golden age sci fi stories had very little characterization, but were chock full of good sci fi plots. The main character was joe everyman perfect scientist/engineer.

On a similar vein, I don't think Tolkien wrote very interesting dialogue, but he created huge believable worlds.

It is better to both write an interesting story, and write a good one. But some of the greats just did one thing very well.