You might have seen me mention this before, but I'm about to start on my first screenplay. If you've followed my blog(s) for a while, you might also remember that I let you follow along in my process to outline two novels (as a part of a process to compare different novel outlining / drafting methods). I'm planning to do the same with the screenplay project.
I know you won't learn a lot from me in the process, other than to observe my mistakes (and hopefully a few successes along the way). That's why I'm not going it alone. My updates will be accompanied by an ongoing interview series with produced screenwriter Xandy Sussan.
You might remember Xandy from her past interview here on getting started in screenwriting or the recent announcement about her (and Merrel Davis') Double Feature Story Analysis service. She'll be answering one or two interview questions for each update I post here about my progress with the screenplay -- on idea generation, screenwriting research, outlining, drafting, etc.
Let's get to it!
From Scaredy-cat to Screenwriter?
This isn't the first time I've wanted to pursue a screenplay. I outlined my first novel back in 2004. I shelved it because when I finished those 70+ pages of outline material, I really felt the story would be better suited for a screenplay (after trimming some of the fat). Then when I was doing the other two novel outlines for readers to follow along with, I had more ideas for pursuing that outline as a novel again. So it's still shelved until I decide what to do with it format-wise.
Fortunately that wasn't the only screenplay idea that I had, and I really didn't have to look far for one. Back in 2008 a friend renewed my passion for the horror genre. I loved it in my younger years, and then became the biggest coward about watching and reading horror for some reason (says the girl who was reading Stephen King by 10 -- don't ask me what my mother was thinking, or if she even knew, but I'm still terrified of clowns thanks to both the print and film versions of IT).
So I knew immediately that I wanted to write a screenplay in the horror genre. The idea seemed so obvious. There was this local legend in my college town. My ex-fiance told me about it (he grew up there). I got tired of hearing about the bullshit stories pretty quickly. You know the type -- juvenile males daring each other to do stupid things and thinking it's going to impress a girl. Yeah. Not so much.
Then a few months back I was reading a book with some area legends and lore, and that story was in it -- with more detail than the ex's version. The story suddenly became fascinating, not because I believed the essence of the tale, but because it turns out there's possibly some factual back story that led to the legend. That's what caught my interest.
I wish I could tell you about the specific idea, but I'm not going to. I've come across quite a lot of people online openly itching for this story to be turned into a movie, and sharing the overall idea as well as my fictional take on it would defeat the purpose of writing it myself. Besides, I can be pretty damn slow with these types of projects due to other commitments, so the last thing I'd want to do is hand over the idea to others to have them pursue it first.
What's even better is that I'm reasonably close with a professor at my old college who I worked for at the time. He'll be able to shed light on one aspect of the town like no other, and when we get to the in-depth research portion of the project and I'm ready to make a trip out there, I'm hoping to get him on a road trip to check out some elements of the story and educate me along the way. We'll see.
So anyway, that's the gist of what my screenplay is about -- it's a horror story based on a local legend. I'll tell you a little bit more when we get to the research phase so you can understand what I'm actually out there doing.
In the meantime here's some information from Xandy Sussan on screenplay ideas!
Xandy Sussan on Screenwriting Ideas
Where do you get most of your screenplay ideas, and how do your organize them?
I mostly get them from real life. I'm a professional eavesdropper and all-around-nosey-body. I love people and their stories and I always want to know everything about everybody ever. With that comes the unprecedented access to the best stories around. Strangers love to hijack me and confess their darkest sins to me in between the Sharpies and the Uniballs in Staples, in the grocery store, at the doctor's office. I listen, I remember and I mull over for later.
If you had to choose 2-3 story elements / factors that tell you an idea is appropriate for a screenplay (as opposed to another medium like a book), what would they be?
What tells you that a story is ready for the screen? If a client came to me with a script filled with pages and pages of novelized text and internal thought, you probably have a novel not a screenplay. Novels allow for a deeper exploration of feelings, ideas and inner monologue that has absolutely no room in screenwriting. Screenwriting is a utilitarian pursuit. A script is a literal step-by-step of what to do to make art. Also, novels and most film are finite stories. They take place during a specific time period (even if it spans 100 years) and they have a beginning, middle and end. A television series is open ended. It requires something producers refer to as "legs;" basically meaning, can the show, under certain parameters, maintain it's exciting adventures week after week with little forward movement? So, those are the things I immediately look for. Otherwise, the difference between a novel and a movie is really the visual component.
I don't have an exact frequency set for this series. I'll update as I move from one area to the next. The next post will cover research, and that will depend on when I can schedule in a research trip.
I know not everyone here is interested in screenplays, or novels, or other writing formats. But I hope you'll bear with us and enjoy this series as it progresses. While we specialize in freelance writing here, we want to encourage writers to pursue their own projects as well -- as additional revenue streams, or even just to flex your creative muscles once in a while.
In that spirit, I'll again put myself on display whether that means succeeding in the project or making a complete fool of myself. We're all new at something at one time or another, and these kinds of experiments are precisely why I never forget what that newness feels like. And that's why I'm able to push you to do more and be better in your career -- because I'm willing to do it right alongside you.
If I fail, that's okay too. We're not all cut out for everything. And worst case? Maybe you'll get a laugh out of it -- and any excuse for a laugh is a good one. 🙂