I’ve been finishing up some projects and starting others, the last couple of weeks. Another thing I’ve been doing is a lot of reading. Some books have been relevant for research, but one has been about writing basics.
For awhile, I’ve been fascinated with screenwriting, it’s something I want to do. I had several people recommend that I get The Screenwriters’ Bible by David Trottier.
In this book, Trottier really breaks everything down to the basics. He assumes you know nothing about the craft and that he has to spell everything out.
When’s the last time you went back to the basics like that?
For me, it’s been awhile. I’m either reading for fun or reading to research these days. I’ve read some other screenwriting books but they, to an extent, work on the understanding that you grasp the craft.
Maybe it’s a good idea to go back to the basics. You can realize things you’re doing wrong, and catch a fresh perspective on something you don’t think about anymore.
- What is a genre?
- What is backstory?
- What makes a compelling character?
These things are the basics, the bare bones aspects of storytelling. And, sometimes, we take them for granted. It’s so easy to do. Sure, you’ve got books out; sure, your stories might have won awards; sure, you know what you’re doing.
I’m glad one of us does. Because I’ll be honest, I don’t feel like I do half the time.
Trottier’s book is massive. It’s around 400 pages and huge. And it’s full of good advice. Every time he makes a point, he gives you several examples of movies and how they do what he’s talking about. (The one thing I wish is that it talked more about television. He does mention that this is more about feature-length scripts but occasionally nods to television shows.)
I was reading the bits about characters and there was a line about how writers focus more on format, on structure. In focusing on that, characters can be dull and lifeless.
I’d been working on a script a few months ago and I had that problem. What Trottier warned me about is exactly what I did, and I should’ve listened. I was so focused on making sure the pacing was good, the act breaks packed a punch. and that it worked as a script that I neglected one of the most fundamental pillars of writing.
I forgot about characters.
And boy did I feel stupid. A few weeks ago, I may have skimmed this first section because it truly is about the basics. Dialogue, plot, genre, dialogue, subtext, exposition, captivating characters – the most basic of all basics.
But I’m so glad I didn’t. It’s been fun to re-explore this. To adventure into things I haven’t really touched in ages. To take time to study these basic concepts and to remind myself of what they are. To re-discover the elements of the craft you’re sure you have down pat.
What Basics Will You Go Back To?
So I ask again, how long has it been since you went back to the basics? How long since you let yourself be a newbie and appreciate all that goes into making a story?
At times, I feel like I’ve gotten complacent, that I write inside my comfort zone because it’s easy, it’s safe.
This year, I’m wanting to push myself with my writing. Not only to make my stories bigger and better but to hone my craft a bit more. I want to dive a bit harder into screenwriting and develop that this year as well.
But for all of that talk, the most important thing to going forward…is going back.
But to push myself, I do feel like getting back to the basics is important. They’re the foundation of writing and if you want to build on it, you should make sure the foundation is solid.