Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Write 'Til it's Right

How do you know when you’ve got a great story? And once you’ve started working on it, how do you know when it’s finished?

Our film company, FireGate Films, just finished shooting a feature film called Among Thieves. It’s a story of three friends who reunite ten years after high school and uncover a global oil conspiracy. The team entrusted me to write the script, which, as any screenwriter will tell you, is a privilege beyond privilege. I originally pitched the prodco on five ideas that I thought had potential. We discussed them and agreed on the story that was right for us.

I began writing and provided updates to the team on the progress. The thing was, the story kept changing. While the basic idea remained somewhat the same, the story kept evolving until it became a very distant cousin to the first layout. Why?

Because it’s the story and not the writer who dictates the line of action. Depending on the circumstance, writing (story-telling) is often an investigation of truth instead of a proclamation of it. Writing the script became an adventure to see what these characters would do and how they would react. After 10 different story concepts we settled in on the final draft. In fact, there were only two lines from the original concept that survived to the shooting stage. In the end, we as a team (i.e. the prodco, actors, crew etc.) really gravitated to the story. In this way we have a better chance at providing a unified vision to the audience.

Sometimes that feeling of knowing a story is right comes in the first draft. Sometimes it takes 10 tries (or more) to get it right – and often this requires the help and advice of people who are at ‘arm’s length’ from the project so as to provide an objective look. So how do you know when your story has ‘arrived’?

That’s not an easy question to answer, because it usually requires a subjective response. Somebody once commented about how you can be sure you are falling in love when they said: “When it happens, you know it.”

And I think that’s often the way it is with writing. To a large extent, whether we are story tellers using novels and screenplays as our medium, or if we are non-fiction writers working on articles, what we do as writers is a mystery. We keep working at, tossing out scenes or paragraphs here, adding scenes there, working on the characters to ensure they are honest and not simply fulfilling a predestined function, and then all of a sudden the story takes on a life of its own.

And the coolest moment is when your story actually starts speaking to you. That’s when you realize that there’s something going on that’s larger than yourself.

So be encouraged. It’s done when it’s done. And not before.

Blessings and happy writing to each of you.


Deborah Gyapong said...

Great post, Paul.

I love it when a story or a character takes on a life or his or her own. It is a process I find can't be hurried. Sometimes you have to wait to discover things about your character.


sandra reimer said...

Hi Paul,
I am so excited for you! That is amazing that you are working on feature length films. Let us know when the film is available for purchase--I would like to get a copy.

I totally know what you mean about a story evolving. It takes courage and a secure identity to let your words be sacrificed because they don't serve a story. You must have a high level of trust in your group to be able to hash it out until the story comes shining forth.

Sandra Reimer

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