“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.” — George RR Martin
I’ve always liked this quote from GRRM. He along with Stephen King share similar ideas about writing. King is much more demanding, pretty much dismissing planning a story at all. Considering King, Martin and quite a few other writers that I love all talk about letting stories grow, seeing where they go and the like, I figured that was the only way to do it. Or at least the only way to do it well. I even started, or at least tried that “let it grow” method here at Kaufmak’s. I still haven’t worked up the courage to show the world what that looks like. However, a funny thing happened on the way to writing something new. I got inspiration and validation all from reading a book.
First to come clean. If not squeaky clean, at least washed behind the ears. Ok, here goes: I’m writing a screenplay. Just putting that out here is liberating and nerve wracking all in one swoop. I’m not ready to divulge all of the details just yet, but I’m almost 50 pages in so I’m pretty sure I’m going to, at the minimum, finish a draft. I’m also going for it as it were. I know the odds of any screenplay getting read, let alone optioned, let alone produced are slim at best. But why the hell not give it the full go? Another lesson from that aforementioned book.
So, the book? It is a book I first picked up back in the 1990s (which gives you some idea of how long I’ve thought about doing this sort of thing), maybe a decade or so after it was first published. It is called Screenplay by Syd Field. It’s been updated a number of times, but the main body of it has remained the same. The great thing about the book is that for the first time ever reading about writing, the idea of being an architect, of planning things out, was wholly embraced. Field goes so far as to insist that you plan out a screenplay, otherwise you’ll never finish.
For me, that idea was so freeing. I think it is the extensive background in academics, history specifically, has made planning in writing second nature. Trying to be a gardener just didn’t work. Also, and probably why I like history and also kind of how I write, I like to have a plan. Furthermore, when I come up with an idea, it usually isn’t a “what if?” kind of scenario, but is much more formed if that makes any sense. I not only see the beginning, but a good bit of the middle and usually the end.
Which is exactly what Field preached*. He talks about paradigms and outlines; notecards and markers; know the beginning, plot points and the end. So many of the ideas, those very tools are the same ones I’ve been using my entire writing career. So as I got through my research (which, get this?! Field also finds essential to writing!) I was reading Screenplay and nodding my head all the way. I finally found my instruction manual.
*I’m sorry to say preached, Syd Field passed away a couple of years ago. I am truly saddened by this. Even if I find no success in this, I’ve gained so much from his book. As I said it liberated me, validated me. I would have loved to attend one of his seminars. He seemed like a very good teacher. He wrote in Screenlay about dreaming, about having a full time job and the realities of life. Again, things I deal with in all my writing. I never met him, but I will miss him.