Tuesday, July 31, 2007

To TREAT or not to TREAT: a note about PROCESS

I think one of the most important things one can discover as a writer is how one's own process works best. We can take courses, read books, get advice from experts, but in the end we will have to find our own way.

My process is a combination of things I've learned over the years from mentors and books and writing practice. There is no one way to go about writing a poem, story, novel, or screenplay. I'm not talking about the genre or form or the story itself, I'm talking about the physical act of getting it down on the page.

We don't dress alike, behave alike, or think alike so why should we create the same way either?

I was once interviewed by a gentleman who was working on a degree in poetry. He wanted to learn HOW to go about being a poet. He asked 20 poets what their rituals were and how they proceeded to write. I was the last poet he interviewed and I asked him what he discovered.

He said: Some poets write every day, some write only when the muse strikes, some write first thing in the morning, some write at night. Some poets edit their work 50 times, some never edit their work. Some poets read their work out loud to themselves. Some are formalists, some are cavalier. Some poets carve out their poems line by line, some are completely spontaneous.

I'm paraphrasing, of course, but this made me laugh. He was really kind of bummed he hadn't found the answer. I said, "I guess you just have to try everything and figure out what works for you."

I was cruising around writer sites and found this post on Laura Reyna's Writing and Building site about writing "mini-drafts" of her scripts before she writes the whole thing. She adapted this method from something James Cameron does. Very cool. She pointed to David Anaxagoras's blog as well, which talks about the difference between outlines, treatments and scriptments.

Want to hear a secret? I don't always write outlines or treatments for my spec scripts.* It could be that I'm lazy, but I don't think so. I think my process is just more organic. I think a lot about the story, tell it out loud to myself and others (something Alex Epstein recommends) and then complete a bunch of writing exercises and brainstorms around it. Then I write the whole thing from start to finish in as short amount of time as possible. 10 Days is my favourite length of time. I like being totally immersed in the story.

Basically, I start with a situation, visualize the end result, then create some characters and let them loose. To me, it's always been about the characters. I think if you create great characters, throw them into a situation with secrets, goals, wounds and needs they're bound to do something interesting.

I absolutely think structure is important. And it seems that if I keep asking myself the right questions, and keep moving the story forward, the structure emerges as part of the process. I simply prefer getting it all down and seeing what I've got. Then I mold it in the rewrite, making sure it all works and everything is revealed in the most effective way possible.

I am a stickler for rewriting/editing. Don't think my organic approach means I'm sloppy. I have a different process for the creation and the edit. After I've got it all down, I organize it, tighten it, and throw out what I don't need. No matter what I write, I've always preferred writing MORE than I need and trimming it down (carving it out), rather than not having enough and trying to fill it in. There's more to my rewrite process, and I'll tell you more about that when we get there.
If you prefer outlines before you begin, write them. If you'd like to try the scriptment, by all means. But if they don't feel right (i.e. they feel false, dishonest, not useful), take it from me, you can write a successful story without them. I've met several other screenwriters who don't write them either.
If it makes sense to you, do it. If it works, keep doing it.

*NOTE - since writing this post I have fallen in love with beat sheets and scriptments. I have found them both very helpful. If you want to know more about either of these, just leave a comment below.


Vicki said...

Great Post!! As you know part of my process right now is the 100x100 and I'm loving it. My CP, however isn't doing it.

Even though it's only 100 words (always hopefully more)each day it makes her feel confined and gives her total writers block.

She still ends up with as many words each week as I do (sometimes more, sometimes less).

Everyone's process is different and
finding out what works for you is what will propel your work forward.

Anonymous said...

I am a firm believer in outlines before I start. I need to have my thoughts organized first before I begin or else I feel lost. I am a virgo. I do get what you're saying, though, and I never tell anyone they need to do it my way. I cut and paste my outline into my document. Sometimes I even write my plotlines on a long piece of paper and hang it on the wall for reference.


OpenChannel said...

I really like that 100x100 process, Vicki. It makes it easier to approach what seems insurmountable sometimes.

It's like saying you're quitting smoking for today (one day) instead of indefinitely. Then you wake up and say, okay, I'm not smoking for this day... suddenly, you've quit smoking.

OpenChannel said...

JT - thanks for cruising in. I've always admired you uber-organized types. I like the plot-line on the wall idea, I'm just not sure I would actually use it. Haha.