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Write On!

With the Writer's Guild of America strike in it's third week, I couldn't help but think of all the different ways we are entertained and informed by the words of others. In a stroke of destiny, while I was pondering the immense reach of writers into and through our daily lives, I received an email from youth services librarian and educator, Stacey Martin, with a request from one of her students, Anna. Anna asked that I take a look at screen and script writing.

Stacey is running a writing workshop for 12-15 year-olds over the next several weeks and they have been exploring how story translates to the stage and screen. She shared an excellent article from TheaterSeatStore (discovered by Anna and her mother) which introduces writers to the required nuts-and-bolts of script writing. (You can read the article here.) While the article is aimed specifically to screen writers, many of the pivotal points are relevant regardless of genre and purpose. For instance...

  • What kind of story are you telling? Sad? Uplifting? Comedy? Drama?

  • Are you trying to entertain or teach?

  • Who is your primary character?

  • What is their motivation?

  • What happens to the character and supporting cast?

  • Where does your story take place? City? Deserted island? Restaurant bathroom?

  • What additional elements will you use to set the scene or mood? Music? Nature sounds?

These are just a few of the essential questions which must be answered when composing a narrative. The article goes more in depth and provides links to additional information for aspiring screen and script writers.

When I think about my favorite television shows and movies, I can't help but be amazed by the talented writing which went into their creation. Sweeping, gorgeous landscapes and set designs wouldn't have been enough to catapult Peter Jackson's LOTR to legendary motion picture status without the excellent script from Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson. Likewise, Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean would have sunk to Davy Jones' locker without the genius of Elliott, Rossio, Beattie, and Wolpert at the wheel. Jason Sudeikis garners most of the credit for Ted Lasso but the writing team there is top-notch and work together beautifully. There are more than twenty writing credits on IMDb for everyone's favorite undersea naif, Spongebob Squarepants. The list goes on and on and I can guarantee you that each film or episode is approached with the same questions proposed by the TheaterSeatStore.

You can use this approach in your writing as well, whether you're a micro-fictionist or novelist. This doesn't mean you have to be a plotter. It just means you have to know your story. Know your characters and what makes them tick. Understand their relationships with each other and the world they live in. Know your setting and be able to explain why the sky is green or there are four moons. Where are they going? Why does it matter?

But where do you start? Marcel Proust developed a questionnaire which I've found to be a helpful starting point when I'm working out who my characters are. (The 35-question list is easily googlable.) It isn't all-inclusive and not every question will necessarily apply to each character. Still, approaching them like an interviewer can nudge you in the right direction. All it takes is sitting with your characters and interviewing them, noticing their behaviors, their mannerisms, their tones. Feel free to "ask" follow-up questions. If Bob talks with a southern drawl but your story is set in Nova Scotia, how did he get there?

At any rate, the point of all this is to simply say, thank you to Ms. Martin and Anna for sharing the screenwriting article and for encouraging me to appreciate how very fortunate we are to live in a world where writers exist and want to share their stories with us. And how bright our future is with young people like Anna writing the way forward.

***As a final note, I hope the WGA wins.

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