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Learning the Ropes

October 8, 2015
Dancing with them what brought ya

Dancing with them what brought ya

So, Robo4ce is my first screenplay. Or the first one since that class in Writing for Television I took in the mid-1980s at UMSL, and technically that was a pilot for a teleplay anyway (I wonder if that prof ever tried to pitch it to that guy he knew from CBS, the way he said he would…). It raises eyebrows when I tell people that, given the early success it’s having with contests and such. The question that follows is always some variant of “how/where did you learn to write screenplays?”

Mostly by reading other people’s examples, especially the folks at WUTA: Cindy Fehmel, Robert Hazel, Emily Hu, and the sorely missed Blair Dalton. Do enough read-throughs and the rhythms become clear. Sure, a good story is a good story, but grasping the specific needs of a form requires familiarity, and hearing the words will always supply something readily that reading can only with effort.
One thing I do thing carries me through generally is my love of dialog, of how people sound when they talk, or rather, how we all wished we sounded with the ums and ahhs expunged or at least corralled. If I had to tell someone who wanted to write where to start, I’d suggest actively listening to other people converse, to what they say and what they don’t. Follow that up (assuming you can get away with it) by watching them while they talk. Learn to read facial expressions and body language as glosses on the text of speech…or perhaps the other way around.

Be a total snoop, in other words. And that includes your own conversations. There you can even experiment with what reactions you get when you deliver mundane information in unfamiliar ways (all writers are frustrated actors, after all, some to the point where they won’t even admit it). Just don’t experiment your way into small claims court.

The best shorts at Sunscreen West were the ones that got that stuff right. And other stuff too, obviously, but penning plausible exchanges between human beings will take you a long way, whatever your form of choice.

Next on the agenda–exchanging work with the other Contest of Contest Winners people. See “other people’s examples” above.

Okay, thus endeth the lesson. Free-floating bullet point time:

  • I miss the mango mimosas at The Rockefeller.
  • I hope the young lady from St. Louis who was waiting tables at American Junkie does well in SoCal.
  • Exit row seats are worth the extra money, if only for the fact the poor souls in front of you can’t recline their seats.
  • Whoever came up with the white noise generator app for smartphones is a saint.
  • Actually, I ran into a lot of nice young people in retail and food service in Hermosa. Good luck to them all.
  • I need to rent a bike the next time I’m out there and use the path next to the beach for a while. Except I fear I’d become addicted.
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