Sunday, May 27, 2007

Writing from the heart, not just the head

Last couple of weeks I'd been having a crisis of confidence about the story I was planning to write as my final project for the MA Screenwriting course. Friday just gone was the deadline to submit our final piece of assessed work for the Script Workshop 2b module. We had to send in either our treatment for a feature [ideally, the feature we plan to write next trimester as our final project], or the first draft script for a television project of our devising. [You could also submit a design for an interactive project, but nobody was planning to do that from among the second year part-time students.] I hadn't been to enough classes this trimester, and hadn't been able to roadtest my proposed feature with the other students or my tutor.

Yes, I'd submitted a synopsis, but that mostly proved how much work I still had to do on my idea. The past two weeks I've been desperately trying to imrove upon my synopsis and not making much progress. It was getting slicker, the structure was improving with each fresh iteration - but that's all head work. My heart wasn't in it, and I certainly wasn't writing a story that I cared much about. The proposed screenplay would have been an exercise in writing for a specific genre, not telling a story about which I cared passionately. No doubt there'll be times in my career when I don't have a choice in the matter, but in this case I do.

One of my reasons for undertaking the MA course was to write projects that didn't need to satisfy strict commerical criteria. I don't expect anything I write for the course ever to be made, but that's not why I'm writing them. I want a portfolio of calling cards that demonstrate my voice, my worldview, the sort of stories I like to tell. Hopefully they'll be distinctive enough to secure representation. I already know I can write genre material, can elaborate and expand upon other people's characters and plots - I've had 18 novels like that published, and a dozen audio dramas. I want to show what I can do, want to write about subjects that excite and interest and concern me. The MA's my best chance to do that right now.

So, after consultation with my tutor, I pulled the plug on my proposed feature. In its place I submitted the TV script I've been developing outside the course. It fits the criteria for submission and it's a story I do care passionately about. Fingers crossed, it'll get a decent mark and nudge me one step closer to an MA. This week I've got to finish off my research dossier for the other module, and submit that online and in person by 3pm on Friday. No shortage of work still to be done on that. Happily, I'm going away on holiday from Tuesday June 5, and grud knows I'll need a holiday by then. It's a year since I had any time off and it's sorely needed.

Setting aside my planned screenplay lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. Learning to identify when a project isn't working is a valuable skill to have, and one I'm slowly but surely developing. However, exercising that skill has created a new problem to resolve once I get back from my holiday: what the hell am I going to write as my final project? No prizes for guessing what'll be exercising my mind while I'm lounging by the pool...


Lucy said...

Good points here. Too many new writers write what they THINK producers etc will want. Those scripts are easy to spot. Heart goes a long way and is so much nicer to read than a plot that's had the latest ISSUE shoe-horned in for no other reason than to appeal to a certain prodco, competition or initiative's sensibilities. However, if you REALLY CARE about a particular issue or story, it shines through like a beacon and shows how you re/oresent your voice. Always a good idea.

Lucy said...

*Re/present, even. Argh.