Rebelling with Tchaikovsky

The concept of time off: I don’t seem to have it. But I keep looking for it, and maybe one day I’ll succeed.

After having not blogged since before Thanksgiving, I find I’m equal parts short on time and rebellious toward my editorial calendar. In case you’ve yet to hop on the latest fad, editorial calendars are these things writers are supposed to make so we know what to write on which day. Which means we have to figure that out weeks in advance.

Which, if you know me at all, you’ll understand this is simply not the way I operate. But I keep trying anyway, because I’m really good at feeling inadequate when I can’t do the stuff everybody says I’m supposed to do.

Which seems to mirror my screenwriting life at the moment, because after forcing myself to slog through yet another outline in preparation for my second draft, I now find myself passionately opposed to writing the script that goes with it.

They say women are mysterious, and I am proof.

I heard this quote from Tchaikovsky last night (composer of fantastic works such as the Nutcracker Suite), and I think we would have gotten along:


Then he also said:

If we wait for the mood, without endeavouring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.”
― Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

So this is me, attempting to meet the mood halfway. Against my will, against my better judgement, but with a little bit of hope… I’m sitting down to write and it might get ugly.

And it most certainly bears no resemblance to my editorial calendar.

The Making Of A Scene

A screenplay is just a bunch of scenes strung together. Anyone who says otherwise has clearly not read this blog post.

To completely oversimplify it, you write some scenes to set up your story, then you write a BUNCH of scenes to complicate your story and make everyone think the lead character is screwed, and finally you put a few more scenes to rescue the lead and end your story satisfyingly. That’s whatcha call a 3-act structure.

Needless to say, your scenes need to be incredible. So incredible that the thought of writing them completely cripples you with fear and self-doubt.

But when you’re taking a class, you got these things called deadlines. So you figure a way to skirt around the inevitable mental obstacles. I’d like to share mine with you, if you don’t mind.

Step 1: Take the “What Do I Care About?” Quiz

Question: What do I care about less, the possibility of writing a crummy scene, or the certainty of falling behind in my work and hating my own guts tomorrow morning?

If you chose ‘writing a crummy scene’ then proceed to Step 2. If you chose ‘hating my own guts’ then go ahead and put on sweatpants because it’s gonna be a Ben&Jerry’s-in-bed kind of day.

Step 2: Do a dance

Seriously. It will help you loosen up and make you feel a little more creative. Music is optional. If you must take six minutes to scoot through your playlist for something suitable, then skip it.

Step 3 (and most important): Think

Do you know what this scene is about? If not, think about it a little. Feel free to let your thoughts come out on the page, so you can read what you’re thinking and save any thoughts that might otherwise get away from you.

Say you need to write something about your lead character, John. John is about to do four hundred hours of community service, but something has to come right before that. Once you have some sort of idea of the transition you want to make, move along to Step 4.

Step 4: Outline

Just three lines: Beginning, Middle, End.

John tells Peggy he is really looking forward to community service. Peggy’s boyfriend Butch appears and gets the wrong idea. John gets a black eye and has an epiphany about the relationship between observational conclusions and underlying realities.

I have to say, employing this step in my writing process has been so freeing. It gives me a bony structure on which to drape the eloquent folds of my action and dialogue.

Step 5: Expand

Put in the stuff people say or do, and tada! You have a scene.

Just add like fifty more, and you’re all done.

The end result might be brilliant, it might be terrible, but that is what editing is all about. At least you have something! And really, I believe the motivational power of ‘something’ is really quite synergistic.

I’ll end with this piece from my new favorite artist, Ceslovas Cesnakevicius, because I think it is cool and adventurous. And I love elephants.

Art by Ceslovas Cesnakevicius

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