I recently received the worst and at once most positively reinforcing piece of writing advice ever. It came from someone influential within a public organization which funds film projects. The advice was in response to the latest synopsis of a multi-protagonist script I’m working on with my writing partner.
The advice was basically: Don’t aim too high. Or, in subtextualese: Don’t take the risk of tackling such a complex concept, try something simpler and more familiar in order to improve your chances of getting funding.
Now, if there’s one thing I believe in, it’s aiming high, sticking to whatever it is you feel passionate about. The more you stretch yourself, the more you learn, the better you become. That is, unless you’re deluded and jump off a high-rise wearing only home-made wings.
By trying to encourage us to write something less demanding, to play it safe, this person was in fact giving us precisely the confirmation we needed: Our concept is ambitious and daring. It stands out.
To me that’s already good news.
In recent years the multi-protagonist or multi-plot structure has gradually moved into the mainstream, but it’s still a fairly rare bird. And there’s a reason for that. It’s very hard to write well. Take a look at the award-winning screenplay for Crash by Paul Haggis at Script-o-rama if you don’t believe me. Quite a screenwriting feat.
I wouldn’t compare myself to Mr. Haggis in any way. But I do acknowledge that he’s at the top of his game, someone to emulate. So I study his writing and try to understand how he works his magic.
That, to me, constitutes a very healthy form of aiming high. Much preferable to the notion of avoiding risks by choosing to write something more generic.
All advice is useful, as long as you know how to take it.