An industry friend went through something at the weekend that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone: a photoshop file he had worked on all day corrupted. The work, gone. I’ve had this happen (which is why now I save a ridiculous amounts of copies) and it can be a real kick in the pants.
But… it’s always easier the second time around. Not only is it easier, but I find that I notice there are steps I just don’t need the second time. I might even get better results without all the steps I took the first time. Sure, it’s silver lining thinking and doesn’t undo the disaster, especially if deadlines are tight, but it’s true.
I had a last-minute rewrite thrust upon me last week with no almost no time to get it done. Some requests required pulling the story apart. By the end of Saturday, I was at crisis point. It was like my script was once a beautifully detailed Lego town and I had taken the entire thing apart and the bricks were thrown all over my house and some were probably lost and I had no instructions. That’s how it felt.
Sunday was about rebuilding. And it was tough. Like building Lego, for a long time, it just looked like bits and pieces. Then it started to come together. Pieces clicked together, sometimes in surprising ways. And sure enough, it turned out that a whole bunch of scenes I felt were essential to the previous draft just weren’t needed any more. There were simpler, better routes to the end. And if you can cut something, you probably should.
I couldn’t help but think of a story I read years ago about a working TV screenwriter who would type every required draft out himself on an old typewriter. Why? Because he hated typing and it would force him to look for parts he didn’t really need. Sounds crazy but, like losing a file and having to start all over again or having to tear your script apart and rebuild it, it forces you to ask yourself: do I really need all these pieces?
We talk about story a lot, and for good reason. For many forms of media, story is key in so many ways to engaging kids. But for me, story is the start. Not the end goal.
Story provides the framework on which everything else sits: look, feel, setting, comedy, emotion, wonder, discovery and so much more. All put together, the idea is that we offer kids an experience. One they feel a part of. One they relate to, one that seems familiar and yet also one that can surprise them and get them thinking. An experience.
And one of the best ways to offer young children an experience is to show them young children experiencing, just like them.
I had a dream a few weeks back about a movie series I’m writing on. In the dream, I met with the producers and they talked me through two movies and all was fine. And then they got to movie number 3. This one was to be set in space. That was unexpected but fantastic, I thought. Yeah, but you’ve never been to space and, really, to know it you have to live it so we’re sending you to space. Umm… when? Well, right now this second.
I wasn’t ready to go to space. I wasn’t prepared.
The rest of the dream was mostly me gripped with fear about this trip into the unknown being forced upon me. There are many ways I can interpret it but I think the producers in it had a point.
‘Write what you know’ is nice advice but we don’t always follow it. We can’t always follow it. Often what we know doesn’t make for great stories. So we make things up (see previous post). Making stuff is awesome. I love it and can’t recommend it highly enough and there is certainly nothing wrong with it.
But research can really inform your work. Little moments of life from whatever it is you’re writing about can bring the soul into your work. And it can suggest stories, scenes and even individual lines. Some of this you can get from books, articles, movies, documentaries. But to get the best from it, sometimes you just have to live it. So where possible, see if you can. If a story is about a trip to the zoo, take a trip to the zoo. If it is about bike ride, go on a bike ride. If it about going to space… well that may not be an option. Not yet.
Just a quote today for the writers out there. This is from William Froug, writer and producer and head of the UCLA filmic writing programme. Consider it when putting together your story.
“If you’re a little old man, sitting in the park, and you want to feed the pigeons a bag of bird seed, how do you do it? If you dump the whole bag out, the pigeons will cluster around you in a frenzy for 45 seconds, eat all the bird seed, and disappear. However, if you throw out a little seed at a time, the pigeons will stay there all day.”