Prepare yourselves. With this post, I'm going to do one of two things:
1) Synthesize two previously incompatible strains of thought in my psychic economy of creativity, or
2) Make a fool of myself.
I did some shelf-cleaning the other day, and discovered a book that I didn't realize had survived my last change of address: Writing Screenplays That Sell, by Michael Hauge. It is what I would once have called a "formula-fiction-process" guidebook, the kind of thing that breaks down a story into beats and arcs and attaches labels to all the moving parts so you can see how they mesh.
Anyone who's read this blog for more than a few months — hell, days — knows I don't think too highly of what could be called fill-in-the-blank storytelling. More like, I'm not fond of the idea of using story analysis as a way to expedite story construction, because then you get stories that feel, well, constructed and not written.
But the other thing I've been coming back to, and with about as much constancy, is the idea that constraints on creative work can be positive and not negative. Screenwriting, especially the mainstream Hollywood variety, has rules that are as rigid as any form of poetry, but those same rules can produce either doggerel or masterworks.
To that end: Re-discovering the book, and re-reading it, has left me mulling over the idea of taking some ideas that I've had in cold storage for a while and trying to turn them into screenplays. The idea is to be self-conscious about how this is an experiment — that the point isn't to worry about whether or not it's a masterwork, or whether or not it gets made, but simply to follow the process and see what that's like.
I did try to do this before, once upon a time, and I didn't get good results. And I suspect a big part of why I didn't get good results was because of what I brought to the table — which was a good deal less than what I have now, I think.
You see why this sounds like I might be going back on myself, right? Or why it might also be a way to meld what seemed like two previously incompatible strains of thought?
Something else is worth pointing out that I hope will lend some perspective. I'm rather self-consciously trying to separate all this from the actual mechanisms by which many movies get made. Most films are neither very good nor very bad, just sort of humdrum and in the middle, in big part because they're really expensive to make and you want to get your money back, and so it's easier to play it safe.
What I'm trying to do is see if within the constraints of what would be offered to such a system, whether or not I can produce something that I wouldn't be ashamed of if it were in fact picked up and distributed widely. That's a criterion I hope most anyone would want for their work — that they made something they're not ashamed to have their name on — but with this particular variety of work it's all the more crucial.
Think of it also as an experiment in detachment. No question in my mind that I can, and do, work on things that I'm deeply committed to seeing through in the form that I want them to be in. Now I need to play a little more over my head, and in a way that I've not really done before — by seeing if I can work on things that I am okay with ultimately serving as raw material for something that might not look anything like the finished product.
Again, this isn't something I'm doing because I want to abandon my existing path, but because I want to augment it. It's something where I want to stick my foot in the water and see how hot or cold it is. If it turns out that the amount of work needed is detracting from what I think would be more satisfying projects, then I'll scrap it, because (as I'm also in the habit of saying) life is short and I don't know if I'll be able to work on all the things I truly give all my damns about. By doing things this way, I may well glean previously unappreciated lessons on storytelling that I can apply back to the rest of my work, just in a less deliberately constrained way. The whole point is to see it as an experiment, where there isn't necessarily any one overarching, final goal.
Right now I don't have anything concrete I can talk about as a possible candidate for such a project. More like, candidates, plural — I want to have a pool of possible ideas I can draw on, and then pull from that something that looks workable. Besides, I still have Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned to finish; that's going to keep me plenty busy through the rest of the year and possibly beyond. But there's nothing that says I can't plan ahead.
Hang tight, gang. Let's see where this takes us.
Since it'll take a while for me to even begin a screenplay, in the meantime, check out my (new!) novel Welcome To The Fold, and showing your support for it by registering at Inkshares and adding the book to your "Follow" list! Failing that, you can always buy one of my existing books, available on Amazon Kindle and in dead-tree format.