Sunday, March 18, 2007

Write What You Love

Write what you know.

My very first script had me writing what I loved. Politics. I did a good amount of research, and had written a script that explored themes that I was very familiar with. I passed it on to a few people, and they were quite surprised at my very first attempt at a screenplay. Looking back at this script now, I see that it was an extremely rough draft that needed so much work. Also, to see a few years later a movie with the same theme, as well as many set pieces that were eerily identical to the ones I had written, confirmed that I wasn’t so far off track.

However, there was one piece of feedback that got to me more than I ever realized until recently. I was basically told to stick to what I knew. Now, this sounds like an innocent comment, but after letting a few others read the entire set of notes, I knew I wasn’t wrong for getting a bit pissed.

You see, I had written a political drama, which followed the campaign of a gubernatorial race. Had I gotten it right? I can’t say for sure, as no one in the field of politics gave me feedback indicating I screwed up the process royally. Did any of the feedback I had received point to scenes or situations that were wrong or inaccurate? No.

Then what was this about? This person thought they knew me. In fact, they had been privy to a lot of my past. They had seen me grow from a scared child to a scared adult. So, when they picked up that piece of writing, they didn’t see ME in it. What THEY expected did not come through. It was almost like, “What would you know about this and how could you know?”

Now I know some might feel that this is bull. But how many times have you written something and someone close to you questioned you about it in a way that said they were “getting” you for the first time?

Come on, women writers are expected to lean towards romantic comedies. If I read another thread on one of these websites that lists the differences between men and women... jeez. If you believe it, it makes it so. Remember, belief is a powerful, powerful thing.

We’re okay with talking about the differences between men and woman openly. We even tend to become very detailed with these differences - offering examples that are so drenched in stereotypes. Some writers constantly turn to these blueprints of what makes up men and women when putting together their characters.

But what about those differences we’re not so comfortable talking about openly? Like race and/or religion.

A few posts back, I talked about culture having an effect on how people TELL certain stories, and I believe this is true. What I’m talking about here is pigeon-holing a writer because of who they are. Again, this is bull, right?

I’m guilty. You see, not realizing it, I keep falling back to writing what I know, instead of writing what I know I love.

I’ve written 11 scripts, and not all of them were “black scripts” about inner-city life. But I must admit, some of them are, and I keep coming back to those because I feel it fits into the mantra of write what you know. Am I passionate about these stories? Yes, but no less passionate for them than for those stories I have written that have white protagonists or all white characters. I love stories. I love movies.

As a black woman, I can’t deny that race is still an issue in this world, and it creeps into all parts of my life - even screenwriting. But I live in a complex world and I’m a complex person. I’m black, I’m a woman, I’m American, I’m human, I’m a mother, I’m a New Yorker, etc. All of these parts make up the whole, and when I sit down to write, any one of these parts can be leading the pack.

I want to write stories. Stories that I love and stories I want others to love. I also want to write stories that give us memorable characters that we have seen far and few on the screen. I would think that most writers have something personal driving them to write, but I would also like to believe that as writers, we can’t help but to love stories that are just plain, great stories, regardless of race, religion or sex.


Scott the Reader said...

I've found that when most people read a script and then say "write what you know", what they are really trying to say is "I didn't feel you were the expert of the world here". So it might be more a reaction to your handling of the material than his expectations of you.

Though I don't know him, and maybe he's just a jerk. Especially if he couldn't cite actual scenes.

I can say, for what it's worth, I read your last script and I had no idea you were a black woman; had I not seen your name on the cover, I wouldn't have known what sex you were either. So I think you've trancended all genre/race expectations there.

Tracy said...

Yeah, might have been a problem with the world I created. However, his suggesting to just stick with what I know – well, that’s really his problem, as I see it. He’s not really a jerk, just a product of his times and environment.

Again, really solid notes. I’ll be using them to tackle a fresh outline in a couple of weeks. I’m still working on my other script.