Saturday, 30 September 2017

Writers need to believe in themselves and their work


Writing can  be -- and is -- a hobby for many people. It  helps them de-stress and relax, connect with readers and writers and provides immense enjoyment.

Writing can be -- and is -- a profession for many others. It helps them earn a living. Screenplay writers, authors of best selling novels, content writers fall in this category.  For them, writing is not only an enjoyable endeavour but it is a form of livelihood. I belong to this category.

In August, I found myself in the happy position of having my script COACHING CLASS placed as semi-finalist in the reputed Academy Nicholl Fellowship (2017). It was a major milestone in my writing journey. From a professional point of view, it meant that it was a kind of a stamp or certificate if you will, for filmmakers who are on the look out for professional screenwriters.

Sure enough, I began to get requests from talent management companies almost immediately and one of the top Indian production companies showed interest too. All very exciting, believe me.

A few weeks later the production company got back with feedback on the script. They were interested and would like to take it forward subject to some conditions.

Changes in one's work is inevitable--especially if you are writing for movies. Film-making is a collaborative business and it's necessary for different departments -- such as direction, cinematography, editing -- to work together to translate the writer's vision into a feature film.  So, some things, while they work on the page might not work on the screen and a writer needs to (based on inputs from the film-making team) make changes to her/his script.

I realized that the production company's feedback and the changes that they sought in the script would be necessary to make the script morph into a movie. However, while I was willing to do that there was a bigger problem with the company's T&Cs.

Their bottomline: they wanted me to make the changes as per their brief without a contract and without being paid for my time and work. Moreover, if they didn't like the changes I made, they could wash their hands off it and I would be back to square one! They would sign a contract only if and when the whole team had approved the rewritten script and I would have to keep working on it till it was considered greenlight-worthy!

My bottomline: My work as a professional writer was being undermined.

You might wonder what's the big deal in rewriting a script for free when there is a chance of bringing it to life on the celluloid screen? Well, look at it this way... suppose you had a legal battle on your hands and you approached a lawyer to fight the case for you? You would be expected to pay the lawyer for his work and time whether or not he/she won the case for you. The lawyer is providing you with a professional service for which he/she needs to be compensated. The same rules should apply to creative professions as well. But unfortunately they don't.

Given that the story is the foundation on which a film is built, it is neither fair not right to undermine the writer's work by suggesting that she work for free and without a contract. Sadly, writers continue to undermine themselves and their rightful position in the industry by agreeing to write for free to get their projects developed into films.

I tussled with the decision but I decided to pass up on this so-called "opportunity". I believe that as a writer we need to respect ourselves and our own work before we demand respect and dignity from the industry.

Did I do the right thing? Would love to hear your thoughts....



Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Story = Conflict

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash.com


Life imitates art. Or does art imitate life?

Whichever way you may look at it, you can’t get away from the fact that in life and in art, there is conflict. 

While in real life you do your best to avoid conflict, if you did the same in your writing, your story would be dull, drab and downright unreadable or unwatchable. 

Imagine a movie where all characters live happily and there is no conflict.  Or a novel where page after page is a no-conflict-zone?  Boring, right? 

Conflict in your story ENGAGES your reader/viewer. That’s the top reason why you need conflict in your story.  It keeps them watching the movie or turning the pages.  It gives them reason to root for your hero, fear for him and hope that he will be able to bring down the villain or triumph over the obstacles. 

Different types of conflict

Having conflict however does not mean that every scene needs to be a ‘fight’ scene. Conflict can be  about  one person against another.  But it may also be about man/woman vs nature or man/woman vs self. 

While external conflict (man vs man) often is more visual; internal conflict (man vs self) is also needed to help build character arc. 

When you think about your story, make sure you have conflicts of both types—external and internal. If you are writing a superhero story or a Wonder Woman kind of movie, there will be big-bang conflict scenes. Keeping the readers on the edge of their seat. Will she save the world?

A romance will have external conflict as well as internal conflict and that’s where reader engagement will happen. Will they be able to get over their differences and live happily ever after? 

Building conflict into scenes

Design your scenes so that that you can play with the dynamics of “tension”.  Because conflict creates tension. And tension leads to the interplay of hope and fear. 

The best scenes are always those that have an underlying sense of tension. For instance, your scene may be about  a girl leaving her office and taking the bus home. But if you introduce a small bit of external conflict (example: her interaction with a co-passenger who knocks against her) or you have her struggling with a decision—aka internal conflict—(example: should she tell her sister that she lost her favourite pen?) the scene becomes more interesting. 

Layering of conflict

Conflict also plays a critical role in the story’s ‘plot progression’ and the hero’s character arc. For instance if your story revolves around a man hunting down his wife’s killer (like in the movie The Fugitive), you would see him face obstacles at every level.  As his hunt takes him closer to the villain the obstacles that he has to overcome become more and more difficult. That is plot progression. The impact that these events/obstacles have on the hero and how he changes (or not) is his character arc.
And you have your reader/viewer asking: what happens next?

Ultimately then, story is conflict. 

Here’s what Robert McKee, screenwriting guru says:  Story is the fundamental conflict between subjective expectation and cruel reality. Story is about an imbalance and opposing forces (a problem that must be worked out, etc.). A good storyteller describes what it's like to deal with these opposing forces ...calling on the protagonist to dig deeper, work with scarce resources, make difficult decisions...and ultimately discover the truth.

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