This past week has been super busy!
As a writer, I’ve found that finding a way to be creative with other people is a huge boon to my craft. To that end, I’ve begun an eight-week course at Upright Citizen’s Brigade with a wonderful teacher, Patrick Noth.
The class has sixteen students, and for three hours we played improv games and laughed. I’m fortunate to be with a talented group of comedians! Patrick’s basic teaching is that you have to be yourself in the moment. It’s a lot harder than I thought, but worth the effort.
The games are designed to both help you define yourself, and form a connection with the person or people you’re working with. From this state of being comes a story or “game” as it’s called in improv jargon, and since stories always have a beginning, middle and end, it’s easy to find what the scene you are enacting is about.
In my writing method, I teach writers to work from character into plot, and so find improv delightful, and relaxing. The comparison to the way I teach led me to think about an important aspect of becoming a professional screenwriter: understanding what you’re doing with our words.
Improv is like the first draft of a story, but is also an end in itself. This seeming paradox led me to thinking about screenwriting versus writing. Writing is always about rewriting and perfecting the words. Screenwriting is about using the words to make pictures that can become something else.
This article about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s adventures in Hollywood demonstrates the heartbreak and failure that can come from being confused about the purpose of words.
His trials and tribulations are a cautionary tale about what can happen if this difference between the forms is not clearly understood. I recently worked on a screenplay with a writer who’d worked on a script for three years and never corrected the main problems of character development and proper structure, although it was beautifully written. Once I’d helped her re-imagine the story to correct the structure and dug more deeply into the main character’s motivations, the revised version was completed in less than six months, and is on it’s way to finding a viable producer!
To be a successful screenwriter, remember to use our words to paint pictures not to be perfect in themselves.
Here’s to your successful writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz