Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Comfort Zone

Not too long ago, someone said something that really stuck with me. As my memory is ever slipping away from me these days, I can’t for the life of me remember exactly what it was. So, I guess it didn’t stick that well.

It had something to do with not staying in one’s comfort zone, and how it’s advantageous for people to feel uncomfortable in a room.

What my feeble little brain pieced together from his comment was that I must always look to challenge myself. This doesn’t just apply to my every day life, but it also means that, as a writer, I must go the distance.

I have always been the play-it-safe kind of girl.

Naw, that’s not true.

I was wild and reckless in my younger years, but once I married and had children, I did a complete 180, and I only dip my toes in the pool of adventure whenever pushed or challenged.

However, recently I’ve started wading - not quite swimming yet. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that my children are now at the age where they are starting to spread their wings and venture out on their own. My daughter is looking to go to college overseas in two years, and my son follows closely on her heels. My children have always been my best teachers.

For the past five years, I have stuck close to home; writing from my home office and networking over the phone and cyberspace. Every so often, I’d venture to conferences and workshops, but always rushing back to the comfort of familiarity.

Thus has been the same pattern with my writing. While I’ve written more than ten feature-length screenplays, until recently, I hadn’t left the comfort zone of my writing.

What do I mean by comfort zone of my writing? I think it has something to do with the saying “write what you know”. This can be, and has been, interpreted in a number of different ways. Writing from your own experience is one way of looking at it. Or, researching and knowing your subject inside out, is yet another interpretation.

For me, over the past few years, it’s meant writing from a place that makes me feel safe. Safe to answer any questions that may be asked of my script, its characters, or setting. Writing so that I can’t be challenged by others - everything is right there on the page, every twist and turn is easy to follow. Writing so that every t is crossed and i dotted. No room for errors or mistakes. After putting the script aside, I am comforted. I feel at peace; at ease. A job well done.

Well, where’s the excitement in that? Where’s the challenge?

I love films that make me squirm in my seat, and I’m not talking about horror flicks. I’m talking about those movies where I’m not quite sure I feel totally comfortable with where it’s going. I have a little uneasiness with the subject matter, though I’m compelled to take the journey to the end. Films that challenge me to think outside the box and asks me to be totally honest when I’d rather not. Those are the films I love, and those are the films I long to create.

However, I can’t do that if I remain safely in the zone.

I remember reading in one of the many guru books that line my bookshelves that you must be able to answer everything about your script. I no longer agree. Well, at least not in the literal sense. I should know the very basics of the story - the foundation. But I must also leave room for growth, for my imagination to run free and wild. I must leave room for new discoveries and new worlds. But, most of all, I must leave room for challenges.

Yes, I should know my characters. However, I should also put them in such challenging situations that even I, the writer, become so shocked, jolted, moved, scared, or a number of other emotions, at what the character is willing to do in order to overcome or meet those challenges. I should want for the audience what I want for myself - and vice versa.

For example, if I place my character in a situation where she has to make a decision, as the writer, the choices shouldn’t come to me that easily. Or, at the very least, I should push myself - challenge myself - to make the choice(s) as difficult (if not more) as the situation. There’s a saying about familiarity - right now, I’m too lazy to go look it up. But for me, familiarity can be just plain boring.

There’s also that saying about not knowing what you would do until faced with that situation. Well, the same holds true for my characters. Yes, while I might outline like a mad woman, following it to a tee keeps me in my comfort zone. Directing my first short taught me a lot about the best laid plans - basically, good luck with that. What you intend will always be interrupted by what is. It is what it IS - not what you thought or even wanted. Yes, having a blueprint is important, but challenging your creativity is divine.

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