Somewhere in the depths of childhood’s dreams or adolescent angst or adulthood challenges, a spark ignites in the brain of the Creative. The view of the world shifts to periodic episodes of “What if . . . .” Some Creatives paint or sculpt while others wander in the land of musical notes and yet others write, struggling to put into words the magic that drifts across the imagination. Many a book or philosopher has tried to explain the creative process. I haven’t found a satisfactory discussion yet. I don’t even understand exactly what happens in my own mind when a character or story “pops” in my imagination. I simply know I must find the words to translate the image so I can share it will others. It is a compulsion. If I resist, ignore or procrastinate, my mental and spiritual lives niggle at me until my physical life is disrupted. I HAVE to write.
The first time I admitted to the need I was only seven years old and wrote my first short story.
Books and television fed my hungry imagination. I wrote my first stage play in Third Grade. My reading habit grew into an obsession and television and movie images took over my nighttime dreaming. I wrote a novella at age 12 then at 16 I had the audacity to correspond with a Paramount writer who ignited a new passion, scripting for TV and movies. The practical world intervened and I didn’t get to actively return to that passion for over 10 years.
Since those early years I have written screenplays, novels, novellas, short stories, more stage plays, poetry and lots of nonfiction material. Each discipline calls to a different part of my creativity with a variety of demands. But none haunt me like screenwriting. I’m working on #30 right now. It matters not what gets optioned, sold and eventually made into a film. I “see” the film in my mind and that’s what I transform into words on the page. My creative urge is satisfied with that script when I can type FADE OUT.
Now, the transformation from mind to actual words has never been simple spewing. I had to learn so many, many concepts about the difference between novelistic storytelling and cinema. After all, my mind was trained by reading novels long before I even saw a script. And I’m not talking about just the formatting or “look” of the manuscript. I had to learn the necessary story structure that allows a logical unfolding of a satisfying story with the actors portraying vivid characters in the confines of 100 pages. I had to learn “Hollywood-speak.”
Screenplays represent a method of prescribed pacing that can drive a writer insane with questions like “What is extraneous dialogue?” and “What can the audience deduce versus what do they HAVE to see as the events roll forward?”
My original mentor was a working screenwriter, not a teacher.
His role was only to motivate. I had to try to analyze on my own until I discovered the world of books on screenwriting. My first book in that arena was Screenplay, Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field. Aha! I had a viable tool . . . but it was only the beginning.
Of course, now there are a plethora of books on the subject of screenwriting (I’ve written three myself, released in 2012). There are also a plethora of practitioners and academics who present seminars and offer on-line courses (like the one I have coming in September here at Savvy).
Besides reading other screenplays on a regular basis, I also read at least two books on screenwriting by others every year. No two people “see” the cinematic process the same. THAT concept triggered my habit of looking for what agreed or disagreed with my own perceptions. I perpetually ask myself “Will this approach enhance my own writing process?” And that’s the bottom line of ANY learning about creative endeavors. What is right for one artist may not work for you. If you accept that then you also have to acknowledge that your process can ALWAYS be improved.
It also means you probably need to re-read and re-think any material you intend to market, including yourself to a signatory agent or producer in the film industry, a print literary agent or traditional publisher or even direct marketing to the reader when you self-publish. Never be complacent. Be a force of nature these people want to interact with.
Sally Walker’s published credits include literary, romance and western novels, a nonfiction essay collection, several creative writing textbooks, stage plays, poetry, and many magazine articles on the craft of writing, including staff contributions to two international film magazines for 10 years. With 30 screenplays written, several under negotiation at three different studios and her novel-to-screenplay adaptation on her plate, Sally has a well-respected manager representing her in Hollywood. In addition to long time active memberships in such national writing organizations as RWA, WWA and SCBWI, she was president of a state-wide writers organization 2007-2011. She keeps to a strenuous writing schedule and still has time to work as Editorial Director for The Fiction Works, supervising acquisitions and sub-contracted editors, as well as Script Supervisor for material sent to TFW’s affiliated Misty Mountain Productions. Sally has taught writing seminars, both on-site and on-line, for over 29 years and is the facilitator for the weekly meetings of the Nebraska Writers Workshop in Ralston, NE. For more information on her works and classes go to her website at http://www.sallyjwalker.com.