My private stalker Jon Peacey (yes I did get the horse’s head in the mail, thanks) asks this in the comments section of the previous post:
Would you say that, certainly at early stages of a potential career, it comes down to trying to display absolute genius brilliance while minimizing risk idiocy? Tempering idiosyncrasy/deranged outlandish foibles with reality?
This is a difficult one. Should a writer early on in their career fold to “expectations” and produce a spec that follows the “rules” no matter what? Is it possible to produce a spec that shines with “genius brilliance” if it is constricted by said “expectations”?
My take? This will surprise you but–
As I’ve posted here and here, I don’t hold with “rules”, more the fact that we should know what those “rules” are. Why? Because there are some people out there who take them as gospel, like this reader who really got on my nerves back in April when he suggested I read Robert McKee in order to improve my dialogue in a particular script. Niiice. However, even though I wanted at the time to barbeque him (whilst still alive), later when I calmed down I could write off this feedback; after all, many people had read the script in question and not one other person had had the same “problem”; as a script it had even got me a few meetings too, so I knew it had potential and I wasn’t completely deluded. But most of all, I *knew* my dialogue did not suck because I had invested in it through major redrafts, had had tons of feedback from different readers and yes, even read Robert bloody McKee anyway. In short, this was one reader who did not like my script, end of. Perhaps it was the premise, perhaps it was my writing style, perhaps something else even outside of my control. It happens. You deal with it, you move on.
But is this an argument for doing WHATEVER you want, regardless of how it might be received?
I always say to my Bang2writers that they should do whatever they think is best for their story and I stand by this; at the end of the day, any notes or reports I write for them are suggestions, nothing is ever set in stone and nor should it be. When it comes to those “idiosyncrasies” that Jon mentions, it really depends in my opinion what those are. Good format for example is about not being busted as I’ve said before; get your reader so wrapped up they don’t care about layout or black, so yes, story is king. However, in a world where the Ten Page Test exists and you are being judged from that first page, sometimes even before it (I’ll never forget the agent who told us to flick through scripts first; those that “seemed” to have a lot of black would go back, unread as did scripts that were spiral bound or on different coloured paper), is doing what you want sometimes a barrier to success? I would argue yes, it can be. Whilst there are always those mega scripts that get through despite everything, I know there are scripts – and writers -who are getting overlooked when they shouldn’t be. This peeves me greatly.
For me, it’s about writing that “great” story first and foremost. But I think it’s important to appreciate that writing that great story doesn’t always follow through, since sometimes people don’t agree that what you’ve written is actually great. I’ll never forget going to one of my first ever meetings to see a director who is a friend of mine now and he opened with, “So I read your script… I absolutely hated it.” I nearly had a heart attack. He had me come all the way up to London to tell me THIS? Before I could splutter a reply however he says, “But you’re clearly a good writer, so I thought we could talk about some stuff.” I asked him how he knew I was a good writer if he hated my script so much and he launched into why he didn’t like it… It soon became apparent that he had disagreed with the philosophy behind that particular story, but had actually liked a variety of things about the actual writing: the mechanical stuff if you like – structure. Language use. Layout, even. That sort of thing.
Sometimes producers, directors, readers etc will not like your story, but they will like your style. I think it helps then to really define yourself, differentiate from the crowd, give them something that’s “you”. It’s no good saying loads of black is “you” ‘cos guess what – that’s probably what most writers do at first, there’s no differentiation there. It’s no good either saying you’re the king or Queen of Parentheticals or weird sluglines that go on for three lines either, since they just take us out the story and you lose your defining essence, there and then. But you can be the king or queen of dialogue. Or structure. Or reversals. Or characterisation. Or scene description. Or sex and/or fight scenes. Or cool hooks and/or surprising endings. Or even getting characters into implausible situations and getting them out plausibly. Whatever you want, it’s your script.
F*** the rules but know what they are, so you don’t beat yourself up too much if you fall foul of them from time to time. Nazi readers are out there, but more likely are those readers who are just bored of bad format. Afford format what you need so you don’t get busted.
There’s only one other thing of importance: define who you are as a writer and differentiate from the crowd.
Piece of cake, right? ; )