So it’s been just over six months since I had the crazy idea to go daily with this Screenwriting from Iowa blog. Like Lance Armstrong I don’t know if I’m going to return next year or if December 31, 2009 will be the finish line for the daily gig. In the meantime, I continue to hunt for helpful quotes and such. For the next couple days I’m going to go to revisit my most tattered, torn, and highlighted book on writing — The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri.
I’ve flipped through it so much over the years that it’s now two books because the spine is broken. There’s a rumor that you can’t get into the Writer’s Guide of America unless you’ve read this book — and memorized the first chapter. First published in 1946 the examples are from theater, but it fits all dramatic writing. (Hence, the title.) If you haven’t read this book do yourself a favor and order it right now.
“No two dramatists think or write alike. Ten thousand playwrights can take the same premise, as they have done since Shakespeare, and not one play will resemble the other except in the premise. Your knowledge, your understanding of human nature, and your imagination will take care of that.”
The Art of Dramatic Writing
Your living in Iowa, Alaska, Ohio or Oslo is part of where your originality comes from. Write local stories with a universal appeal. Heck, if you live in Michigan or Louisiana I have to think that’s an asset now that producers are looking to make movies there due to the great tax incentives those states offer.
Egri makes a great point. Whenever you talk about learning to be a better screenwriter there is always someone ready to shout “you’re teaching a cookie-cutter approach.” I understand the thought and probably was shouting that at teachers when I was a 20-year-old in film school, but it really is a silly thought. There are simply guidelines that have worked worked for at least a couple thousands years. Things like, say, conflict are good to have in your story.
But the originality comes from what you bring to the table. Your education and family background are things that make your see the world in a particular way. There are things you’ve seen and done that will shape your writing. That’s were originality flows from.
As I’ve mentioned before, in 2006-07 there were four movies about unplanned pregnancies (Juno, Waitress, Bella, Knocked Up ). Four movies that centered around the same subject. And all four are different. Originality in filmmaking has less to do with avant-garde ideals (or shaky camera moves or the latest digital plug-ins) than it has to do with your imagination.