I’ve been tinkering with some rough ideas for my next screenplay. The lead contender was a “superhero” story that was more ‘Hancock’ (the original script, not the dreadful movie) than ‘Superman.’ But I wasn’t really able to find the story in the world I’d been creating. Sure, it was a great idea, but a screenplay is more than a great idea. It had to be a great story. And I just wasn’t putting together characters and a narrative I was satisfied with. I knew, somewhere, inside, was the story I wanted to write. But wherever it was, I wasn’t having much luck finding it.
That’s part of the creative process. You go down a lot of rabbit holes. Sometimes they lead to Wonderland. Sometimes they lead to a Walmart distribution center. You can’t tell which is which just by looking at them. You’ve got go inside and get your hands dirty. Most of the time it won’t pay off. But when it does, it’s wonderful.
This weekend I went down a rabbit hole… and I think I found Wonderland.
It hit me like a Mack truck on Saturday night. I didn’t just have an idea. A whole God damn story just showed up out of no where. I’m sure it’s been influenced by some of the stuff I’ve been watching on Netflix, but suddenly there it was, just sitting there in my head. Acts one, two, and three just ready to go.
So I did what any good screenwriter should do, I started writing. Notes. Plot points. Backstory. Story beats. Whatever came out I just put it down, not caring if it would make it into a story or not. When I was done I was left with a massive backstory, an interesting world, and more importantly a lead character I was really starting to get into.
And that was the difference between the “superhero” rabbit hole and this one… Conner Morse. That’s my protagonist’s name. I have a face. I have a person. I have someone to explore this story with. It seems silly, but that’s what it took this time, a name.
Once I gave my lead a name, the rest just fell into place. I knew his back story. I knew his motivation. I knew his fears. I knew the kind of women he was into. What types of music he’d like. If he liked reading. Writing. Working out. I knew everything about him, and it wasn’t because of any sort of back story I’d written for him… I just knew.
You read a lot about how to “craft a story.” How to “create characters.” How to “create drama and conflict.” But the more you write, the more you realize that stuff is a lot of bullshit. There’s some valid exercises in there that can help you clean up she rough edges. But really, everyone writes their own way, and figures things out their own way, and there’s nothing wrong with any of it.
In this case Conner Morse just sort of happened. Just like Ryan Fisher just sort of happened. And a lot like how Ira Black just sort of happened. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this past weekend is that for me, I need my lead character. If I can’t find him or her, I don’t have anything. But at least now I know… and I can put that into my personal stash of exercises about “how to write a screenplay.”
Until next time, keep writing!