Monday, May 13, 2013
Any time you hear a screenwriter talking about HOW to write a scene, or HOW to construct a screenplay, or HOW to write effective dialogue, or HOW to develop dramatic characters, Beware! “HOW” is never the right word to start any question regarding drama, story, character or screenwriting, generally. The more useful questions, in terms of getting inside your characters, are WHAT and WHY, and some times WHO and WHERE and WHEN. “How” implies a recipe, a secret esoteric knowledge, as if there is some mystical alchemical process, the knowledge of which is only possessed by a priests class charged with guarding the formula, that sure-fire method for writing screen stories, for which the supplicants come begging. Formulas exist, to be sure, but HOW is no “open sesame” and can never address the more fundamental issues of surprise, freshness and originality - in other words, that rare quality we some times refer to as “the magic”. “How” is usura. When it is employed by the writer it already implies a repertoire of writer-centered choices.
One must FREE DRAMA from the chauvinism and tyranny of a writer-driven story. The writer is only one of the ‘characters’ necessary for finding the story. If the process is reduced to a puppet-puppeteer relationship it produces imbalances of power in the writer / character relationships - the usurpation of the potential potency of the contributions the other characters might make.
“HOW” is strategy. “WHAT”, “WHY”, “WHERE”, “WHO”, and “WHEN” are tactics. “HOW” involves goals and choices that in, film-making, are usually reserved for the director - when the writer involves him or herself in formulating a story’s goals, what needs to happen and what the happenings might possibly mean thematically, he/she is likely to ask “how” questions. But the meat and potatoes of any narrative strategy are the tactics, which are character-driven (writer, audience and tribe). Tactics refer specifically to action. Not how do they act? but why, for what purpose, and what is it that has triggered the action? Knowing how a character acts is not the same thing as understanding why they act.
For the writer that wants to work as a MEDIUM for character, it is not useful to ask of a character: “how did she make such a bad decision?” That is the sort of a question an observer might ask. Better to ask: “Why did she make this decision?” which is more like the question the character would ask of herself. To work as a medium for character, the writer must become more and more invisible. And while I could agree that the “HOW” question might get the writer THINKING - that is not usually an effective way of entering into intimate relationships with the characters. Quite simply, the the process demands that the writer disappears, as much as possible anyway, and that the characters in the story are allowed to say and do whatever they must in order to address the “WHAT” and “WHY” of what is happening to them and what they need to do in order to obtain their objective or reach their goal. “HOW?” is a spectator’s perspective.
For what it’s worth, I do an immense amount of work with writers (as a script editor) - and have done so for nearly 20 years - and I never ask the writers with whom I am working “HOW?” Not as a matter of form, but simply because it sidetracks the writer into a mind-set that separates writer from character. The writers I work with might from time to time ask me “How should I write this?” or similar, and I always respond: “‘How’ is the wrong question - what does the character want and why does the character want it and who or what is stopping the character from getting it, and why?” If you answer those questions, the “how” takes care of itself.
FOR MORE ABOUT READING AND ASSESSING YOUR SCREEN STORIES, GO TO WHERE’S THE DRAMA?
ALSO, USE THE DRAMA REPORTS TO DIAGNOSE SCRIPT AND STORY PROBLEMS.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
The Zone is all that is pure subjectivity. The Zone is composed entirely of subjectivity. Subjectivity extends into space right up to the edge of perception and thought, but it does not extend beyond perception into the Non-Zone. Subjectivity has its own type of relationship with space and time. Subjectivity is the part of the human experience that exists as happening right now to one's self. The Zone is the "inside" part of this realm of pure subjectivity. For practical purposes, the Zone is pure subjectivity itself, and pure subjectivity is the Zone itself.
Another way to get at this is to use the two words, "I am." On one level these words are quite simple, and they can be easily used without really appreciating the implication they clearly contain. If one repeats these words silently and meditates on both of them for even the shortest time, his mind will be turned so that it is pointed directly at what we are talking about--subjectivity. Since subjectivity is not an object that can be viewed or imagined directly, it will never be visualized directly. This peculiar phenomenon--the nature of one's own subjectivity and the intimate knowledge that one has that it exists--is the very beginning of the mystical experience, which is the foundation of the major religions. Having a clear understanding of that to which the word "subjectivity" refers is essential and the first step toward understanding the Zone.
Some people encounter a block when it comes to meditation and the phrase, "I am." This is quite common among regimented people, highly educated people, and people who are pathetically lost in the Non-Zone. These people struggle to capture a meaningful life. Usually they have no belief in any of the types of truths that emanate from the Zone. On the other hand, many of these people serve out their lives usefully to society as a kind of personal and meaningless sacrifice from the beginning to the end. The bottom line is that those two little words, "I am," carry more meaning and more truth in them than all the other words in the language.
The Zone is the subjectivity inside you - the SCREENWRITER. Though it cannot be made into an object and studied in that way, the nature of the Zone and its mysterious substance, subjectivity, can be known to some extent and that knowledge, when it is personal to oneself is more powerful, more meaningful, and more truthful than any knowledge that will ever come from the Non-Zone "thinking" encouraged by many of the so-called screenwriting gurus. Those who cannot understand or see the underlying truth to these statements are living their lives in a kind of continual worship of sticks and stones.
The Zone then is "within," and it is within you. In the final analysis, it is more "you" than everything else put together.
Finally, any knowledge of the Zone can only be assumed from direct, intimate experience of the Zone itself; no real knowledge of the Zone can be had from information about the Zone that comes from the Non-Zone. This predicament puts the present situation into a quandary because writing and reading require the continual intersection with the Non-Zone by both the writers and his/her audience/reader. Direct and intimate experience by the person himself is only way of entering and BEING IN the Zone. Thus, the writer must become the audience (the one that is addressed) and the one that also addresses the writer (the writer's tribe or tribes).
The Non-Zone and the Zone are adjacent to each other. On one side is the world and our physical bodies (what Martin Buber refers to as the "it"); on the other, pure subjectivity (what Buber implies by the "Thou"). A curtain of perceptions is the boundary between the two. On one side of the boundary is objectivity, on the other subjectivity. The experience of human existence includes the experience of the Non-Zone of objectivity, and it includes the experience of the Zone of subjectivity.
A relationship exists between the Zone and the Non-Zone. The relationship is important, and it has many features, not the least of which is conflict.