The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Q is for Question

Q is For Questions

There are times when you simply get stuck, when
the literary road you are traveling seems to have
come to a dead end. The answers simply will not
come.

And this is when it is important, in fact vital, to be
certain that you actually understand the questions.
In truth, I find that correctly formulating a question
will place you closer to the answer. In fact, a
properly formulated question will often jar your
mind from its stagnant track and get you moving again.

A recent example:

I'm working on a film treatment for a major action
star, based on elements created by other writers,
who had been developing the story for about two
years.

Where do I start? Well, I have to identify the most
important aspects of the project. What is my end
point? Well, how about a movie that is well-received
by both critics and public, and is deeply satisfying
to me as well.

What is the point previous to this? To create a
script that will excite a studio, stars, the technical
and financial people necessary to produce,
complete, and distribute a film.

What is the point previous to this? To create a
script that will excite the executives who evaluate
the projects that come through the door of a
studio, so that the higher-ups will take it
seriously, and set up face-to-face meetings in
which the possibilities can be discussed. And
the script will be purchased.

What is the point previous to this? To create
a treatment that all of the producers involved
in the project can agree upon.

Now, this is where the very human element
comes in. The people who originally created
the project are just people, with egos and
emotional needs. They invested themselves
in this work, and although there are aspects
of their vision that are...shall we say non-optimal?
There are other aspects that are quite
impressive, ingredients that could actually
make a tasty cinematic meal.

This situation (and at least one person reading
this knows EXACTLY what I'm talking about.
Hi, Sweetie!) is delicate, somewhat akin to
entering a kitchen after three other cooks
have half-finished a meal, and being asked
to make an exquisite dinner.

If feelings are hurt, people will kill deals just
for spite. Happens all the time. So I have a
"stew" of odd parts, that doesn't work as a f
ilm. But... what if I had to make it work?
What if someone offered to blow my daughter's
brains out if I didn't make it work? Or to put
a million dollars on the table if I did?

Then...another question. What if I look at the
treatment I was handed as a newspaper story
about actual events that happened. Some of
the facts may have been garbled. Some of
the witnesses interviewed may have been
wrong, or their words distorted or
misremembered. They may have lied.

But SOMETHING actually happened.
Something very similar to what was written
down. If I can dig deeply enough, think
broadly enough, I can reconstruct the actual
event.

And then find the way to tell it most creatively
and honestly and entertainingly...
##
Do you see how this process all began by
asking questions? And that if you follow
the right questions to their conclusion, you
can dismantle a creative log-jam? Try it.
Try writing five vital questions about the
project you are currently working on. Until
you get your own, try these:

1) What is my climactic scene?
2) What is the dominant emotion of this piece?
3) What is my lead characters great desire,
his grand obsession?
4) What is the hidden truth of the lie my
lead character uses to justify his existence?
5) Who is the audience for my story, and
how can I most deeply satisfy them?
##
There are more questions. Infinitely more.
Start with these, and keep going.

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