Finding The Scripts You Should Be Writing

You have to know human beings before you can create one.

Victor Frankenstein did not know this.

Victor thought if you understood the mechanics, then you could just cobble a character together out of spare parts, add a spark of divine energy, and shazam!

Sound familiar? Most of the screenplays knocking around Hollywood -- and many of the movies Hollywood produces -- are Frankensteins of this very variety! Well, there's a better way.

All writers (I can say this without fear of contradiction) have access to a human being 24/7.

If you are not looting your own life for material, then you're just working too hard. If you're not looting your own life for material, then you're out in the graveyard stealing corpses! Just like Victor did, you're constructing characters out of available materials -- in this case, out of cliches, stock characters, genre tropes created by people 50 years ago.

And you'll have just about the same luck as Victor did. Your characters will wind up out on an ice floe, chasing Victor Frankenstein into the icy North...okay, that's enough of that metaphor.


Write what you know!

I know, I know...all writers have heard the familiar strains of that tune over and over and over. We ourselves have written about it before. But it's the kind of subject that bears repeated treatment, from any number of different angles.

So what do you know?

You know the people who surround you as you transact your daily life. You know the aspects of your personality you show to these different people -- different subsets of who you really are. You know your own life history -- the hopes, joys, humiliations and exaltations you've experienced.

All of these you can use in your screenplays. Use characteristics of the people in your lives to bring to life the various characters who populate your screenplay. Use aspects of your personality to bring them to life, to act out the interactions your protagonist has with them. Use your own personal history as subject matter of the scripts you write.

Make yourself into your own lead character!


Well...not in a literal way, of course.

You're writing for a mass audience, and most won't want to hear about the troubles of a bunch of writers. But you're a writer second, and a human being first -- to touch that aspect of the universal that will appeal to a wide audience, you must find that within you which is universal.

Write what you know -- what you know is yourself. Abstract your hopes, fears, problems and solutions, your most cherished philosophies and your most strongly held ideals, into problems for characters in a screenplay.

And use that form, that forum, to act out dynamics you have experienced, dynamics you would like to have experienced, and to shed new light on the human condition by sharing what insights and information come to you in the living of it...and in the writing of it.

By doing this, you automatically tap into the reality of what you've experienced. You bring this reality into your writing. This is how you make make your stories and your characters real, identifiable...universal.

The more honest you are in sharing your own experiences, the more real your scripts can't help but become!

And this is how you start writing the scripts you should be writing.


What a concept, right?

There are scripts you should be writing? As opposed to other scripts? Shouldn't you just be writing about whatever you feel like writing about? About a cool idea you thought might work? A high concept that will sell? Whatever it is that turns you on?

Perhaps. But there are some stories that you are more suited for than others. Only you can answer which ones those might be, but the way to spot them is by identifying ideas that you care passionately about.

In your life, there are certain things which really get you going, which really push your buttons -- certain issues about which you simply can't remain neutral!

Put it this way -- you know yourself pretty well, whether you admit it or not. And there are things in life you care about, things which affect you deeply, which move you, which rouse you to anger, which drive you up a tree.

These can be situations, or they can be aspects of your own personality, that frustrate or conflict you. They can be tests you tried and failed, or they can be lessons you learned at great cost...or terrible mistakes you made but wish you could undo.

Whatever they are, you'll have an emotional reaction to them...which tells you that these things are the stories you should be writing. They are the stories in which you were the protagonist -- and you can be again, in the writing and the retelling.


Here's an example of the very general nature of this. You don't need to create movies about a writer guy trying to make it, a writer girl working in Kinkos and writing scripts at night, characters exactly like yourself. You take your situation and abstract it, and adapt it -- through the lens of fiction -- to some other setting or milieu.

Take "Up", a movie that seems to have nothing to do with anything. It's a movie about an old man who attaches balloons to his house to fly to South America, and meets a little fat kid, a big squawky bird and a talking dog.

How could that be about anything relatable in ordinary human terms? How could any screenwriter have taken their own personal experience and put it into this movie?

But that's all the movie is about -- despite its fanciful trappings, it's about a human being with understandable human goals. It's about a quixotic journey taken in remembrance of a loved one, about a dream deferred until it seems its long dead, and death comes to call -- about bucking the odds, a late surge, the very thing Tennyson was talking about in "Ulysses".

In the poem, Tennyson imagines Ulysses, long after the events of the Odyssey, wasting away as an idle king, conceiving of one last adventure. And this is exactly what Carl Frederickson is doing. He is having one last adventure. He plans "to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths / Of all the western stars, until I die." He plans "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

Any decent screenplay can be boiled down to something universal. It can be compared to many different dramatic entities because it is universal. And it's universal because it is human -- because it relates to things many human beings have experienced, we call it universal. It has relevance to a wide audience, even across hundreds of years.

This serves you well when you go hunting for an audience for your work. If it doesn't have wide appeal, then you're in trouble. The way to make it have wide appeal is to incorporate a universal human dilemma within it. Something you yourself have experienced, because you (and I can also say this without fear of contradiction) are human yourself.

And in knowing yourself and in simply remembering things that you have been through, you are arming yourself with all the tools you need for creating not only believable, original characters, but stories which have relevance and wide appeal.

So, learn from Frankenstein's mistakes! Write what you know, using the one human character you know better than any other -- yourself -- and playing these ideas in any fanciful way that appeals to you.

Do it right, and no matter what your stories are about, they will feel real and communicate authenticity to a wide audience.

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