Hey Writers! I’ve been doing a lot of reading of screenplays lately and it seems that the majority of what I’m writing is way out the writer’s league. What do I mean by this? It’s simple really and I don’t mean this in any way but a constructive one but sometimes you’ve got to curb your imagination.
By no means does it mean you shouldn’t embrace your imagination and let it fuel your work, but it does need to be harnessed at times. The first tip towards this is to write about what you know. You’d be amazed how freely writing will come and how realistic it will read when you are writing about something you have experience with, It’s inherent in you, you have personal stories about, anecdotes, ways of speech, and characters you already know. It is always clear when someone is writing from experience and that comes forth in the page. One of the reasons that James L. Brooks’ character of Shirley MacLaine’s legendary character, ‘Aurora Greenway’ in Terms of Endearment was so amazing was because he and Larry McMuurtry (who wrote the book the film was based on) clearly knew that person. There are some things you cannot make up. It showed that she came from experience.
Now obviously, people who write James Bond or Bourne Supremacy scripts don’t live the life of secret agents and spies. However, they do research around the locations and the professions of the hero and the villains and they make it become what they know. Too often I am reading screenplays that are too big for the writer’s britches. Some things come from your imagination and that’s great but it doesn’t mean they should be gooble-de-gook and not make sense. Reality, even in fantasy or sci-fi scripts is necessary. I had a client who wrote great cop scripts. He wasn’t a cop but he had friends who were and he’d sit for hours with them asking questions, going on ride-alongs and having them consult on his stories. They were so on the money that networks and studios thought he was a retired detective. No, he was a writer in his office, and due to his work on building their reality, they sold. He could tell you anything you need to know about being a cop. Just as some actors study for a specific role they’re going to play, so can a writer enter the world they chose to explore.
The fact is that one’s imagination needs to be curbed. I read a fantasy script that came from someone’s imagination recently. It couldn’t have made sense as it was about aliens, and had various people bouncing about space in clown costumes, etc… but it didn’t even make some kind of sense in that realm. Let’s pretend there are aliens and then create some order. This is shown in scripts through formatting and creating the proper structure. Unless you’re throwing all caution to the wind, you can’t have complete silliness and mayhem in the script that has no foundation of plot structure and character development. No matter whether the story is a small character piece of a huge action/adventure or sci-fi thriller, there must be a semblance of possibility and reality in it. Show your imagination in clever ways, not big, broad ways. Unless you’re Tim Burton, it doesn’t work and honestly, it doesn’t always work for him either. Nonetheless, whatever he writes is written with proper form and structure with story and characters in strange worlds. They may do creative and wacky things, they may have scissors for hands but in the world he’s created, they survive and make sense; we buy it. He has had to curb his imagination just enough for the sake of telling a story that makes sense.
Few people have the imagination for reality – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Even stories that we think may not make sense, such as ‘Inception’, have been painstakingly constructed so that if we as an audience can allow our brains to ‘go there’ it actually might make sense that we are able to enter our dream state and all these unbelievable things can happen. It’s called suspension of disbelief and of course, much of what happens doesn’t make sense to the naked eye but it’s created in the proper setting, the proper structure and the proper stage.
If you are writing a script in seriousness you must be serious. Comedies are some of the best developed and most seriously written pieces there are. It’s painstaking to be funny and to create a rhythm and dialogue and tone that works for the reader. It’s not just a bunch of jokes on a page and go! Too often I am reading material that seems to have been created in order for the writer to purge some crazy idea they have in their mind. That is fine if you don’t want or get sold or if you’re content to be a bad writer. Imagination is wonderful but it must be curbed and put in its place so it can thrive in a healthy environment.