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Great article. It mentions two of my favorite films (Rashomon and Memento) as being rule breakers for flashbacks and a recent favorite Hell or High Water as an example for overwriting. Bravo. Sometimes you've got to break a rule or two to get your vision understood.
This reminds of John Truby, and his utter persistence to the pre-writing tedium that, according to him, is necessary for any iota of hope of your product maybe kinda approaching the possibility of being good.
I heard Spielberg had to look at the sentence "it's about a shark" for two months before putting his finger on the typewriter. Turns out there's a lot of science in the fact that Jaws was about a shark.
Forget all that pointless hindrance people. Just write.
At the risk of contradicting myself...I think these books are VERY useful. "Just write" is not a good approach. That would be like someone who builds bridges going "just build", and refusing to look at other bridges that have been built.
Truby's work is helpful. The problem with Truby is that he turns rules of thumb into absolutes. For example, he says the main purpose of ANY story is to show character change.
Not that character change isn't important to most stories. It is. But many stories don't emphasize character change, In many stories, the whole point is for the character to RESIST change.
People that want to teach these things, and want to get paid to, are under pressure to simplify, to break things down to rules. And that's where the trouble begins. This applies to writing format as well as to story structuring.
However, "just write" is a mistaken approach. Don't you want to look at various movies and dissect why they work or don't work? And there are some general commonalities that are very useful...as long as they are not turned into absolute rules.
In Jaws, the chief has to overcome his fear of the water. He also has to wrestle with guilt over giving in to political pressure and not shutting down the beach when he knew it was the right thing, and a boy died as a result. One doesn't necessarily need a book to understand these things, but I think it's helpful to get under the hood of what makes story work, and the books can...can...help with that.
It's an age old debate, and one I'm not going to get into. You sort of get to a point where you either get it, or you don't.
You need to get to a point where you know WHY you are doing something...which is to tell the tale effectively to the audience you are writing for in a way that's suitable for the medium you are working in.
In terms of the article...my personal thoughts would be that the Schindler's List example does not show anything that can't be filmed. The stuff about the kingdom suggests scale, perspective (height...looking down on all he surveys..type thing) acting (superiority and a certain smugness)and a wide camera angle...to show the expanse of the kingdom. It even makes a cinematic juxtaposition with Schindler, emphasising the similarities between the two men, and the differences.
To me that is pretty much perfect. It's visual, cinematic and gives the whole layout of the film, effectively and efficiently.
The Hell and High Water example goes a little too far for my particular tastes with the part about it being a miracle they haven't been robbed...it doesn't add much for me in terms of visuals or performance. The next line of dialogue basically says the same thing. Take that line away and there's nothing much missing. ..but it's not really important.
The danger is when writers start using that kind of writing to tell the whole story, rather than using it as a flavour on top. That's when so many amateurs end up with scripts that aren't even really scripts and are more like novels, or streams of consciousness where all the important action, character development, backstory is presented in those kind of asides and they haven't actually formulated a visual scene.
A novice has to understand that there is a certain form required to create a cinematic experience. You can add whatever spice you want, and find novel ways of presenting what's on screen, but you have to have that basic structure underneath which is presenting a pseudo audio/visual experience on the page.
I'd also point out, just for the sake of it, that as much as he is right about amateur Academics opinions, Pros can also subconsciously adopt knowledge from working in the industry, working with other pros, or just through having innate abilities and they are not always aware that they are following certain "rules" even if they are.
A lot off the best writers do "just write". Dean Koontz, for instance, just gets a couple of characters he likes in his head and sets off. However, he will still be doing all the structuring, character development etc that a more methodical writer will do...it's just that he's internalised the process to such a degree he might not even realise he's doing it.
I think "just write" is a fine approach if you don't take it so literally. Of course, you have to come with some ideas to the table, but if you're careful, I think you can guide the elements along as they take shape, without having some master plan to do. I don't vouch for the method personally; it's not one that's worked well for me in the past. But there're plenty of writers out there who make it work. Some of them are great.
I think George R.R. Martin said it best. There are two types of writers: architects, and gardeners. I think it's worth keeping in mind that a gardener doesn't just plant seeds and hope for the best; they tend to their garden as it grows. Of course, not everyone takes to gardening or "just writing." But everyone's got their own approach.
There is an old contrast in novel writing between the seat-of-your-pants method and the plotting out approach. But I don't think the present debate is about that. Even the seat-of-your-pants writer has internalized these forms, crafting set ups and pay offs to keep the reader turning the page.
Dean Koontz does this very, very well.
I am not advocating one way or the other. I myself never stick to plots constructed too far in advance. I always end up replotting as I go.
But when I warn against the "just write" approach, it's based on my experiences here in this forum, and in my writing group at home(prose, not script). It strikes me that people who put in no time studying other works and thinking about the structures they employ tend to be, I'm afraid, very undeveloped writers. Not only that, it becomes difficult to give them notes, because they have not thought about any of the basic and common concepts.
For example, if I read a script or a novel written by a fellow amateur, I don't approach the story with any rules. If the story is grabbing my interest, I consider it effective. But if it's not winning me over, THEN I start to dig into why it isn't. Certain things tend to come up often. Maybe the main character is not constructed in a way that makes me want to follow it into the story. Or maybe the character is fine, but nothing interesting is happening to it, or it has no goals that compel me to read on. There are standard structure forms that CAN help create these page-turning qualities. However, it's harder to discuss these things with a writer who has never explored them before. A writer that "just writes".
If you've studied this stuff long enough, you may reach a point where you can "just write". I doubt Koontz was born just writing.
I am not arguing with Rick, his comment is insightful and articulate, and what I am saying does not apply to him, he has always studied these forms, far longer than I have.
What I am saying is that newish writers DO benefit from studying both the works themselves, and experts analysis of the work. Jaws is not just a movie about a scary shark. Watch the film and observe the intricate set up and build of the story. A new writer who thinks it's just a movie about a monster is missing out.
Watch movies like A Bronx Tale, or Groundhog Day. These are entertaining movies, but there is much to learn. Every aspect of every scene is very carefully crafted, every word of dialog.
In my experience, 98% of aspiring writers, prose and screen, have literally no curiosity about any of this. They just want to write. And in a field where the odds are already stacked against success, that approach almost assures failure.
In the novel world they call it "pantsing" and "plotting".
Those who write by the seat of their pants, and don't know where the story is going to go, and those who plot everything out....and of course, you can be anywhere in between.
There are pros and cons to both.
Like you say, even if you're just making it up as you go along, there has to be some kind of evaluation process along the way, decisions and realisations about what you're really trying to say, what effect you want to have on the audience etc etc that become a form of plotting. Otherwise it's likely to get very random.