The Handcuffs Of History

Had a conversation with a student today about a script he wants to write. A short film, that he’ll write in the spring and make in the fall. He was writing about an incident that happened with his father, a chore that his father wanted him to do, never mind the fact that in real life, the chore was very dangerous and part of the conflict came out of the fact that he didn’t want to do the dangerous part… Which means that he won’t be able to film it, because it’s too dangerous!

But, forget that.

The point of this thought, and what I told the student, is that “you are handcuffed by history. Your first, second, and third natural motivation is to reproduce what happened in the past. This is not a good idea. It is not the best way to tell a story.”

What I told him, and what I tell you, is that you need to tell the emotional story, the true story of your emotions… Not blindly reproduce what happened in the past, “just because it happened that way.”

Your job as the writer is to tell the best story you can. Your job as the writer is not to reproduce what happened to you in the past, even if you think what happened was amazing. Your job is to tell the absolute finest and best story about the finest and best characters you can come up with… Not necessarily you and someone else who is also real.

The other thing, among the 1,000 other other things, is that you need to write something that you are going to be terrified to show to the person who was involved. If you are basing something on real life, you want to be so real, so deep into the guts of your own feelings, that if you showed it to the other people who were involved in the real life story, they will want to shoot you.

If you’re operating at that level of personal involvement, that means your story is probably going to be pretty emotionally sound. The funny thing is, the people who are really involved, most of the time, don’t recognize themselves in your story. They just say, “wow, how do you think up your stuff?!”

Reproducing history is dangerous. Going into your soul and ripping your guts out and putting them on the page is an excellent way to approach a story.


1 Comment

Filed under Good Writing, Screenwriting, Uncategorized, Writing Process

One response to “The Handcuffs Of History

  1. William

    Bill Johnson says almost the same thing word for word:

    When two clever guys such as yourselves both warn us to avoid this I am inclined to give it a lot of weight. 😀

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