01 February 2010

My Writing Commandments (sans Charlton Heston & Beard)

by Tyler Weaver.  Follow me on Twitter. 
Spurred on by last night's ScriptChat (wonderful chat and gathering (what is it with me and Gatherings?) of screenwriters on Twitter) discussion re: the rules of writing, and at the request of Scriptchat PimpAngel (wonder what fun new Google term I'll find this blog classified under?) @jeannevb I'm going to list out my rules/commandments/good ideas of writing.

This isn't meant to be a resource, just a little pontification on the things that race through my mind.  If you find agreement with any of these, yay.

Perhaps someday I'll look back on this post and say "wow, I was young and full of shit," or maybe I'll look back and say "wow, I actually knew what I was talking about when I was young and full of shit."  Or, I'll look back and forget I ever wrote this.  Who knows?

To take a page from my favorite writer/director/producer multi-hyphenate, Billy Wilder, here are my Ten Rules for Pen to Paper Contact in Story Form - in no particular order.

One. There are exceptions to every rule.  Except rule Two and rule Ten.  
And this one. 

Two. You have to know the rules before you can break them.

As a runaway from music school, I was trained in all forms of composition.  I remember none of the "rules," but I can still compose music that is pleasing to me (for the most part).  It's through knowing the rules that we learn what has worked before, and we can then build on that to explore our own creativity.

Besides, what (hopefully) made you want to become a movie writer was the form in which you were writing. Learn it.  Love it.  Use it.

True creative freedom is found by having all the tools needed to do the job, not taking a guess.  Sometimes you'll get lucky, more often... not so much.

Three. Arrive fashionably late to each scene and leave before you wear out your welcome... 

... preferably when you'll be missed the most, and the topic of tantalizing conversation after you leave. 

No one wants to be "that guy" at the party.  The one who shows up before anyone else, and sits awkwardly on the couch while the host/hostess prepares stuff, nervously asking if they can do anything to help.  This is the same guy who will ask to stay the night after drunkenly asking the host/hostess if he can help clean up after everyone else has gone.  

Begin your scenes with "Hi how are you?" and you've just become "that guy."   Unless there's a DAMN GOOD REASON.  I mean REALLY good.  Über good.
Four.  The simplest idea is always the best idea.

In the case of Tyler's brain vs. a great idea, I make Jack the Ripper look like Mary Poppins.  I can't count the number of times I've ruined my own ideas and thoughts by over-complicating them.  I'm getting better about it, but it's a struggle I'm always fighting.

Simple is universal.  Simple is primal.  Primal is drama.

Five. Stop trying to be the next "(insert famous___ here)." 

Concentrate instead on being the first YOU.  Bring your experiences, your life, your views, your thoughts, your fears, your foibles, your "you-ness" to your work.  The greats didn't become great by imitating.  Just be you.  You're more interesting than you give yourself credit for. 

Six. Accept that the first draft will be shit, and that no one will read it. 

The only critic you have to answer to is your inner critic for draft one.  So gag the prick, tie it to a chair, and allow yourself to write SHIT.  Once draft one is complete, you may remove the gag from the inner critic, and let it have its way with your brain until you have something you're happy with.  Rewrite.  Rewrite.  Rewrite.

Seven. You are writing stories, not standing on a soapbox. 

Sure, there may be a message there, and stories should be about something,  but if you want to preach, go to seminary.  Just tell a story, entertain, and get out. Don't beat your audience into submission with your point of view.  That's what blogs are for.

Eight.  In life, you have two ears and one mouth.

Use them in proportion, and you'll be a better writer.

Nine.  Don't write to please an audience. 

I can barely predict what I'll be interested in two years from now, let alone waste time worrying about what an audience wants to see.  Because the truth is - they don't know what they want until they've seen it.  If it interests you, chances are, it'll interest someone else.   And besides - its through your enthusiasm for the subject that they become interested.

DO NOT attempt to capture lightning in a bottle.  You'll get electrocuted.

Ten.  The most important rule of all, the only one that matters:   


There's also RULE 11:  These work for me.  If they don't work for you, that's just groovy.

My rules go all the way up to 11.

Tyler Weaver is an independent filmmaker, currently writing two feature films, producing two music videos, prepping two short films, and is the founder and EIC of Multi-Hyphenate... which you're reading right now.


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