I've spent the last year working on a screenplay. It's a feature, and carries more complex characters than my previous works. I should also mention that it's a period piece, which has added its own level of glacial slowness towards gaining momentum... but I'm trying to embrace it. In previous screenplays, I've been hurried to vomit that first draft out on the page as quickly as possible without stopping to question the material, and at that point I just close my eyes and hope that I only need to do one or two re-writes on it before it's a masterpiece. (I know, it's naive but I can't fight my subconscious on that). On this project, I'm taking a different approach and trying to have it all figured out ahead of time before putting pen to paper.
About 10 months ago, I ran into a stuck point— Writer's Block. It stemmed from what I believe is the actualization of an old writer's tale that you should never verbalize your story until it's completed in private. I had to do this, as I've been working with a partner on this project and I needed to fill him in on the details of what I'd figured out up to this point just to make sure we were in agreeance with the general direction of the story. But as I was explaining this story aloud, my confidence in what I thought was a surefire structure waned and it felt like maybe it wasn't as strong as I suspected it would be. The suspicion was confirmed when I shared the scene-by-scene story with another friend of mine who felt like the need wasn't clear enough. It deflated me a bit, and I've sat idle on it for close to a year now trying to find my point of passion to regain momentum in writing and research.
This week, I had a little time to go back over some old material and I think I'm starting to diagnose the flaws here. The character is interesting, the premise is promising, the setting is unique and the obstacles are in place, but the previous critique was right on— his intent isn't super clear. Aaron Sorkin talks about the recipe for drama is intent and obstacle. Without both, you don't have a story. Things just passively happen, or even worse, NOTHING happens. What I thought was the intent of this character is a little too hazy to carry enough weight. It's heady and is a delusion of the character. Furthermore, because I'm drawing from real life events, I had kind of an omniscient view of this character's timeline. And because I knew this character was towards the end of his life, I was assuming the character could feel that as well... but when I think about it... this guy is a fighter, his ambition is great, and he refuses to consider his mortality until it's grabbed him by the collar. So with that insight, I've got to pivot on an attitude change.
Another thing that's got me thinking on this narrative again is a little note I found while digging in the backlog of unfinished blog posts here for Living In Cine. It was a writeup I started several months ago that I had found reading a short story by Tolstoy. It was on the phrase "Respice Finem" which translates to "Consider the end", or to the character in the short story, it represents a rally cry to live so that your life will be approved after your death. After considering where I am in the writing process, the phrase changed meaning for me. I considered the end for my character, and I loved how it worked as a theme in a very tragic sort of way, but was blinded by it as a blanket idea, which now needs to be weighed against a man who wants to live and succeed.
My plan is to comb back through some research materials I had yet get to a year ago, and between that and re-arming myself with Syd Field and Aaron Sorkin philosophy fresh on my mind, I think I'll be ready to saddle back up and get this first draft written. And if it takes another year, so be it. I'm not under any sort of deadline with this, I'm not being paid for it. It's for myself, and it's timeless enough that I don't need to rush. With this project at least, I'm going to try to embrace the ebbs and flows and allow it to take as long as it needs to. I see the pitfall in that thinking... no constrictions, deadlines or accountability may mean the project won't ever happen... but I think I can curb that. The story itself is my carrot on a stick to see it through.
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