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More on Fiction Writing…and Some Other Stuff

I find it odd how all of a sudden I don’t hate Fiction Writing. I’m warming up to several of the students in the class, even the ones I initially despised (and still do, albeit to a lesser extent), the professor is becoming generally less irritating, and I actually almost dig the structure that I originally hated. Granted, the structure of the class—which, in simplest form, is designed to force a writing process on the students—doesn’t actually work, and I’d be much better off writing, reading, and/or discussing for four hours instead of playing shitty games. But as I get to know the others in my class, I sort of like the shitty games better. It’s more fun, I guess, when you know the people you’re playing with. Like, in geek terms, a LAN party for Unreal Tournament instead of finding some random open match online in the wee hours of the morning (in addition to knowing the people, you get a better framerate!).

I had a conference with my professor on Tuesday after class. I dreaded it all week, but when it came time for the conference, it wasn’t so bad. And she actually displayed a remarkable respect for my work that I admired. That’s not me being cocky, necessarily—it just surprises me that, considering 90% of what I write for that class is either an insane rant or something incredibly sarcastic and offensive, she totally gets it. And she doesn’t mind my somewhat extreme opinions, even if they aren’t actually opinions that I really hold.

She also had me read through some of the work I turned in, and when I looked over it, I was kind of surprised by how good it actually is. Again, this is me being less arrogant than flat-out surprised. I wrote most of this stuff in the hour between taking a shower and leaving for class, and the writing is surprisingly clear and effective.

My strength is usually dialogue, but when I sat back and looked at the pieces in their entirety, I was kind of surprised by the quality of the “filler” I would insert to get to the next significant passage of dialogue. Not overwritten, but still with enough description of actions, gestures, and locations to really get the points across. I guess it surprises me that I can still do that when I haven’t honestly tried to write a short story that wasn’t just a lengthy joke in about five years. I’ve been putting all my eggs in the screenplay basket, and I sort of forgot about all those skills I have as a writer that generally go untapped as a screenwriter.

As a requirement of the format and the page limitations, in a spec script I have to be as sparse as possible with everything, including the dialogue. It all comes out sort of rigid and terse, but that’s necessary. In the event that I ever become established as a screenwriter or some type of filmmaker, I’ll basically have carte blanche to do whatever the fuck I want. But as a lowly wannabe sending out a steady stream of query letters to try and find an agent or a studio that’ll at least read one of my shitty screenplays (that’s another entry in itself), I need to play by the rules.

E.g., in my most recent Fiction Writing story, I wrote this passage: “He stood back, leering in the shadows, a habit from his early years at the job, before he requisitioned an invisibility belt (also black, and they only took 50% of the cost out of his salary) from St. Alexius. He saw the perfect group: five tourists strolling down 43rd. They had stopped at the corner, waiting for the light to change so they could cross. Five beautiful people: Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, Dad, and some little tyke. Every single one of them wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the hilarious slogan ‘IT’S A DRY HEAT,’ accompanied by an equally hilarious photo of a skeleton playing golf or a skeleton swimming in desert sand or something equally comical.” (Note: I did go to the trouble of looking up the patron saint of belt-makers, and it is St. Alexius.)

If I had written the exact same material in a screenplay, it would roughly translate as this: “He stands back and sees a group of FIVE TOURISTS stopped at the street corner, waiting for the light to change.” It’s just a tad different, and to be totally honest, now that I’m back and shaking my groove-thang, unrestrained by the confines of the screenwriting format, I’ve sort of turned on screenplays as a whole. They frustrate me. For a medium that is entirely visual, I find it ridiculous that the writer, the guy inventing everything that will be put on the screen is not allowed to include any more visual information than is absolutely necessary so as not to step on the toes of the director, producers, actors, costume designers, production designers, caterers, union teamsters, etc. It makes my skin crawl.

I can’t wait to get out to L.A.

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