What's the Best Approach to Working out Your Story?
As a screenwriter, one of the top three goals when I begin a new project is what I will label - Originality/and /or Creative Invention within a Genre ("O/and/or/CIG").
More often than not, when writing a screenplay, I fail in attempting to maintain a high standard of O/and/or/CIG. It does not give me any comfort that I believe most other screenwriters also similarily fail.
As a Film Producer, I admit when reading other writers' scripts, the creative standard listed above is high on the list when judging what I read.
I believe O/and/or/CIG to be the most important creative factor for an unknown screenwriter to eventually become someone who's name and work the industry notices.
For professional screenwriters this factor is what should be at the top of the list when writing a spec script. The originality of the project will give those who work on the development side something they can champion. The inventiveness of the writing could be the special something that a producer will carry with him (for years if need be), because it could be the project that defines their career.
And no matter what, writing with an original slant increases the odds that years from now, the work will be judged in a positive way by critics and audiences... and by other filmmakers.
Therefore, what I find unforgivable is for a writer, especially one trying to gain access to the industry, to begin a project waving the white flag from the outset.
Keep in mind, that during the process of writing a screenplay and getting your work produced inevitably there will be plenty of obstacles along the way dooming initial efforts at originality and genre inventiveness.
So why not start with this key goal in mind?
Professional Screenwriters know the obvious answer -- Creating with the standard of O/and/or/CIG is very challenging, especially at the first stage of the process when one is working out the basics of the story.
Why is this true?
I believe the most important factor (one of many) is biological --
The human brain is lazy.
And most of the time, the human Creative Brain is even Lazier.
For a brief summary of how the brain works, I want to quote from the recent bestselling book, "Thinking Fast and Slow." The author of the book, Daniel Kahneman, describes two independent, but also very interactive/interlocked parts of the human brain as the foundation of how we think. He calls these two distinct parts of our brain "System 1" and "System 2."
System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.
Like everyone else, creators use both the System 1 and System 2 parts of our brain, but because our brains are lazy (like everyone else) we end up primarily drawing from the System 1 part of our brains.
And this is why we often times end up with regurgitation rather than originality.
Problems can occur even when one is very successful at tapping System 2. For instance, a writer can create a work generally acknowledged to be original and inventive. But then a problem comes up -- Now what?
Repeating a creative sucess can be difficult because when drawing repeatedly from System 2 using the same creative path one can often end up with diminished creative returns. This would explain why a creative artist with a huge success winds up being considered a "One Trick Pony."
Sounds complicated... only because it is complicated.
But the bottom line is this - our brains want to default to what is comfortable... and then repeat it over and over again.
This means the creative process in the brain should be treated with care and special handling at all times.
As an evolving artist/writer/creator there is nothing wrong with being influenced by the art/craft that gives us joy/inspiration. The problem arises when we allow what we love to dominate our creative thoughts. And not just dominate, but end up excluding any other original thoughts from getting into the picture when one is trying to conceptualize a creative project.
This is a huge problem because of the easy access to a ton of artistic work. At a certain point the 24/7 barrage of media can cause a disruptive influence on the creative mind. Rather than having a collection of movies (or an artist's work) influence one's creativity, instead an overload of media intake could restrict the way our creative brain synapses work, resulting in many potentially talented artists regurgitating rather than creating.
For the professional screenwriter, when tackling any new creative endeavor, the goal should be to access the System 2 part of the brain. This is where creative originality will be buried, waiting to be discovered. Of course, when one goes this route, it means traveling the road not often travelled on because it is usually unpaved and inevitably will lead to a dead end.
But this is still the road to take if you want to discover the Creative Cliff, where those who are brave enough, take the dive hoping the size of their splash will be large enough to grab the attention of the people standing on the beach.