As we put the craziness of Thanksgiving/Black Friday and soon, Cyber Monday, behind us, I figure we have a week, ten days at most before a whole new craziness starts up. During those few days of relative calm, may I suggest you take time to consider your writing goals for 2014 and begin planning for 2015? Regardless of genre, the Willamette Writers Association exists to support you and to help you achieve your goals. To that end, they offer members monthly lectures and writing workshops to find inspiration and hone their skills. This weekend, for instance, Clark Kohanek offers a two part screenwriting intensive , sure to help any writer identify theme, conflict and emotional beats.
#FiLMLaB, too, has something to offer screenwriters and really, writers of all genres. On Tuesday, January 6th, I will be addressing Willamette Writers members and the community at The Old Church on 11th and Clay, to kick off the 2015 FiLMLaB contest. This discussion will center on FiLMLaB in general and the 2015 guidelines in particular. Screenwriter Randall Jahnson (The Doors, The Mask of Zorro), director Martin Vavra and 2014 FiLMLaB winner, Jon Dragt will be there to assist and take questions in advance of the workshop they are offering on January 10th.
You may be thinking that this does not apply to you because you write Fiction, Young Adult, Mysteries or Romance. Actually, there is something in it for any genre or nonfiction writer. As more and more readers utilize mobile devices to read books, blogs, magazines, there is an increasing demand for short form in all areas. A scene from your novel, for example, could be edited to stand alone (utilizing the contest guidelines) and act as a book trailer for your website or social media pages. At the very least, writing short form helps distill your message and can be a very useful tool in developing your concept.
It is easy to dismiss screenwriting as something less than ‘real writing’. I, too, thought it would be easy back in 2008 when I first took Cynthia Whitcomb‘s eight week screenwriting class. I already had over 300 pages of a novel in hand and thought a switch to screenwriting would allow me to pursue multiple story ideas over the course of a year instead of the tedious slog of one book every couple of years.
And, naturally, I would get rich faster.
But there are distinct challenges in screenwriting unappreciated by novelists. In fiction, you can spread your story out over a thousand pages and have as many characters and backstories you desire. No editor would recommend it, but it’s your story you can do as you wish. The minute you put restraints on your storytelling, though, the harder it becomes. Imagine that thousand page book reduced to 120 pages of screenplay. What had to be left out? What was refined? Reduce it further, into a short story or short screenplay and it is even more focused and refined; sum it up in a poem and you’ve distilled it to its very essence, each word critical to its understanding.
Regardless of what you write, the ability to condense your story is a skill worth learning. The tools involved in effective screenwriting should be in every writers tool box: writing visually, writing with clarity and utilizing subtext in place of exposition.
During the few calm days in December, consider an exercise in reduction as one of your goals for the new year. Join us on January 6th and step into the lab at the Old Church. See what’s on the slab at our workshop on January 10th.
We quiver with antici–pation.