In an earlier post, I explained why I thought every writer should own a manual typewriter; in this post, I will explain why I think every writer—especially the struggling novelist like I was—should write a feature script to build a solid foundation for writing fiction, in particular the novel.
Description—or lack thereof—became a major weaknesses in my writing and may have been why I could not exactly write the Great American Novel, having to settle for the Great American “Short” Novel—that and had been told that I could have embellished my thoughts more, which, I thought, could have been purely subjective.
Well, like I have said, lacking in description was a major weaknesses in my writing; the other—I am more so convinced—my lack of understanding structure as in “story structure”—the beginnings, middles and ends of stories, inciting incidents, character arcs—all that good stuff that involves writing fiction.
Back in the 90’s when I was still laser-focused in the pursuit of writing that Great American Novel, I would say for the most part that I really did not know what I was doing. In flight school, student pilots begin flying with a “visual rating”, meaning that they are only permitted to fly during daylight hours, but, once they get their “instrument rating”, they are permitted to fly at night and navigate their way through bad weather, too, when all you have is your instrument panel to guide you through it.
Well, in aviation terms, I wrote with a visual rating; I could only write during daylight hours. No, I am just kidding. What I mean when I wrote, I really only saw the words on the page. If something I wrote was not working like, for instance, with structure or theme, I was not aware of it. I did not know how to check the “math” of my story. I wrote with more style than structure with things like alliteration, or what I sometimes called “broken alliteration”. Structure would have been one gage on my writing instrument panel I could read; the other would have been theme.
It was not until I was in college, again, this time to pursue a teaching degree—which I did not attain—that I really began understanding things like structure and theme. It had come through the novella I had been writing called “Bad Blood” which eventually became one of three novellas in a collection I published called “Three by the Sea” now entitled “Jamaican Moon and Other Stories”.
I am not saying that during this time, when I wrote “Bad Blood”, that I had mastered structure, but it was beginning to sink in. I was becoming aware of it, which is why I thought my fiction up until this point, even though I had to settle for novellas, was good enough to publish.
Then there was a brief period, a year or two, where I spontaneously wrote and published two children’s books—“Finny the Friendly Shark” and “Timmy the Timid Dolphin”—the later I had illustrated as well.
Several more novellas had followed, which, of course, I had hoped would be long enough for novels; sadly they were not.
Like the children’s books, the phase of my writing that followed next I had not planned for. It involved writing a script—not a short script but a feature script.
But it was not until I had written my second feature script “This Ain’t No Vacation, Sweetheart” that I had to and got officially acquainted with what is formally known as the “Three Act Structure” in Hollywood. It is, I think, the formidable foe at first, the organic chemistry of screenwriting, and I also think it is used to describe screenwriting more than it is to describe novel writing.
Anyway, it was through the second script that I wrote that I officially formed a somewhat solid foundation for structure through the theory of the Three Act Structure—that and, of course, script coverage—when your script gets critiqued by a professional screenplay reader, and more often than not, you are offered or served up several pages notes.
I think screenwriting is more of a technical art that it is a literary form like writing novels. It is like writing a story in code—not, of course, to take away anything from screenwriting. Screenwriting is a “visual art”, and it was in this “visual art” that I got a good stronghold on structure.