I know that most writers will tell you they write every day. They will encourage each other to do the same. Well, I don’t write every day, but every day I do perform some kind of activity that will help me improve my craft. Sometimes that’s reading. Other days that’s keeping my senses open to the world around me and taking notes. Still other days, I follow through with lessons in one or two writing courses.
I’m very interested in learning about screenwriting. I feel like maybe one day I’d like to write a screenplay. Maybe. Maybe it’ll be an After School Special (do they still have those??) or a Lifetime feature presentation. Maybe. In order to make that happen, however, I’ve decided I need to learn about screenwriting, since I have zero knowledge of the craft. I found a promising online intro course, but although I was super psyched about it, I was a bit disappointed by it. It was only two weeks, each week about 16 lessons, but it was filled with theory. And on top of that, the four instructors all had differing perspectives on those theories. I still have a few lessons left before I complete it, and I believe they will focus more on the mechanics of screenwriting, but I’m really hoping that this will give me the bases I was hoping for. I did learn, however, that screenwriters actually leave OUT a lot of detail. The instructors repeatedly stated that the screenwriter has to leave room for the director’s vision and the actor’s artistic expression. This was news to me, to be honest with you. I kind of see the writer as the main creator of a film. I know directors get the most attention, but I always found that rather strange. But I’ve learned that’s part of the business; the writer gives the story, but so much of the details are simply left out, waiting for the director’s touch and actor’s grace. (I have decided to continue to disagree with this notion until I find myself in the position of a director and have to tell the writer to back away. But that’s just me.)
The second course I’ve been taking is a sort of intro to writing fiction. I was looking for something more advanced, but I figured I should see what’s being said at the intro level. And I am very glad that I did. There is one very important piece of knowledge that I’m a bit embarrassed to confess that I didn’t know: every great story must begin with a great character. Character comes before everything else. So far, in all my fiction writing, I have first focused on the plot, then on who would fit the role. But a great story, one where your readers are emotionally invested, will always be fully focused on the character; plot will just naturally follow.
I am implementing this very staunchly in the novel I’m now working on. I know what my protagonist looks like, I hear her when she speaks, I know what kind of ice-cream she likes, that she hates slow drivers, I know her favorite childhood memory and favorite cartoon character. I know her inside out. Okay…so…that’s a lie. But I WILL know all this stuff (and so much more) real soon!
Another important thing that I was very aware of before the course but had ingrained in me even more is the importance of carrying a notebook and taking notes on our surroundings. You never know when you’ll meet the perfect character; perhaps while you’re waiting in line at the bank and his bright green pants catch your eye. Or while you’re pulling into the grocery store and the little girl’s bouncy curls distract you. Or the smell of freshly baked bread leads you into the bakery and you discover that the heavenly loaves and pink flowered cakes were perfectly designed by the most muscular arms you’ve ever seen. Take it all in. The sights, the smells, the sounds, the tastes. Take it all in and write it all down. You never know when your next character will reveal herself to you.
And here’s a bit of writing advice from me. During the online launch of my book, one attendee asked me what I would advise my younger self. Well, my advice to my younger self, and my advice to all aspiring writers, is to own that title of writer. There is no minimum age to be a writer. There is no minimum number of published works necessary before you can use that title. The only thing needed to use that title is that you write. So write. Be a writer. And DECLARE it. You will find that you will be more dedicated to your craft once you start seeing yourself as a writer.