In a recent review, Frank Kermode discusses a book called How Fiction Works by James Wood. Here’s a quote from the book which caught my imagination:
Literature makes us better noticers of life; we get to practice on life itself; which in turn makes us better readers of detail in literature; which in turn makes us better readers of life. And so on and on.
I really like this image of literature as a kind of ongoing university of life. And when I transpose it to the realm of screenwriting, it makes perfect sense too:
Screenwriting makes us better noticers of life, we get to practice on life itself, which in turn makes us better readers of detail in screenplays and films, which in turn makes us better readers of life. And so on and on.
The more you notice about people and the world around you, the more you’re able to layer your screenplays with meaningful and original detail.
Indeed, the difference between good screenwriting and great screenwriting, is attention to detail. Details such as the subtle nuances of language, which make the difference between a generic description and an intriguing, captivating image.
The screenwriter must never agree to settle for “good enough.” I’m not talking here about getting an idea down on paper, beating out a story, or even writing a first draft. I’m talking about the end result. The document you want influential people in the industry to read. Your calling card.
The annoying little voice in the back of your head telling you that some beat or line of dialogue might still be a little bit of a cliché, even after seventeen rewrites, is actually you noticing. Isn’t it weird how the human mind can ignore its own sound advice when heeding it means more work?
It’s very tempting, especially under pressure, to overrule your intuition and hope no one else notices. Of course, they will.
So the thing to do is allow yourself to notice. More and more. Notice what goes on around you, notice what your intuition is telling you, notice what you’ve written.
What transpires is, pleasantly enough, this: The more you notice, the more you notice. And being a good noticer of life is one hell of a valuable asset for a screenwriter.
I’ve just noticed the time ….