Monday, May 12, 2008

Finding Stories

Writing is a chaotic process. Writers, especially screenwriters, usually bring as much structure as they can to their process. Strong structure doesn't necessarily make a story better. But it does help a writer sort through the huge and varied mess that the creative process inevitably coughs up as you sit down to write. Structure helps a writer more than it helps the story.

My own process has been more chaotic than usual. I've been deeply engaged in student and client scripts. It skews things for your own work sometimes. I've also been working and reworking on several scripts that are moving toward production. So there hasn't been enough time for something new.

What's worse -- what new stuff I've been writing hasn't been screenwriting. The little demon that sits behind my inner desk has been drawing with crayons. It's been hitting the page mostly as poetry and sketches of plays. It feels unproductive. It *is* unproductive. But I don't think that voice is going to come to heel until I let it run free for a while. Maybe it's time to knock off with the hopes for a nice series of shorts and just listen to myself write for a while.

Like a lot of writers, I think in narrative. My brain creates a story that becomes the framework for all my thoughts, feelings, and memories, both in real life. I can't remember actors' names -- or even connect them well to what other movies they were in. But remind me of the character, and I remember him as well as the day I saw the movie. I have trouble remembering the names of movies I saw six months ago. But drop the slightest hint of the plot into the conversation, and I'll rebuild the plot from end to end.

So it hurts a bit when your creative voice keeps you on a ration of little blips and images rather than something you can really sink your teeth into. It's hard, even a little disorienting. I was struggling with this when I came across this quote in CS Weekly:

"Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don't see any."
– Orson Scott Card

I walked out of my house and found a juicebox laying on the sidewalk, still dripping. I wondered what the story was. And as I walked down the street, I found out. I saw a young mother with a screaming four-year-old and a sullen 12-year-old. The younger child had dropped the juicebox and then picked it up again. And the mother had thrown it down on the ground and screamed at the little boy. Now the 12-year-old was finding a moment of weakness in her mom -- blaming her for the problem. And as I watched, mom broke down and started to cry, and the whole thing turned on a dime. The daughter shifted gears. They held each other. And the child got a new juicebox. The mother and daughter saw each other in a whole new way. I think this story is called Mother's Day.

Next time you're struggling for a story, just remember to look. There's a reason you're a writer, and chances are it's right in front of you.

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