Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Script Writing

I am taking a script writing workshop at Rice U this fall. Seemed the thing to do after I read the fall catalog for the Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.  The course description:

"Distinct from narrative prose writing, script writing requires writers to visualize their stories as they would appear on stage or screen.  In this new workshop, participants will gain concrete experience in the creation of scripts and in developing short works that can be expanded to create a full-length theatrical work or screenplay...Participants must bring a laptop to each class." Instructor: Cressandra Thibodeaux.

I paid my money and signed up. Cressandra is leading me through new territory, a whole new approach to writing.  I am becoming just a little bit familiar with Final Draft, the new software I bought for the class. It formats the script as you write. Quite nice.

Our assignment for next week is to take a current newspaper or magazine article and develop a strong Antagonist and an equally strong Protagonist in a 3 -5 page scene.  Well, I tackled that assignment last night and completed it - or the first draft of it -  after several hours spent both in front of my lap top and indulging in that habit of jumping up to wander into the kitchen 'to think.'

I chose a story from the front page of  yesterday's New York Times titled "After Ruling, Hispanics Flee an Alabama Town." I read the article several times, picking out quotes given by several people about the effects of the state's new far reaching immigration law.  The story got to me. A week ago, a federal judge in Birmingham  upheld several parts of the new law: police may ask for immigration papers during routine traffic stops and schools are required to ascertain immigration status of newly registering students.  Hispanic families are pulling their children from school.  Quietly in the night, they are leaving their trailer homes for other states.

The quotes from a white unemployed man and an immigration lawyer from neighboring Decatur became the kernel for my scene writing exercise. And here's the interesting thing about this new kind of writing I am doing. I am comfortable writing expository stuff, personal essays, press releases. I write dialogue only if I've heard it or lived it. The memoir piece I wrote for The Transition Network memoir collection (which has just been published, by the way) was filled with dialogue straight out of my life, lifted from yellow legal pads where I'd written it down almost as it was spoken.

This script writing exercise is different. I spent an hour making notes about the two characters, piecing together how their lives might be.  I looked up the lawyer on line and perused his Facebook page. Made assumptions about his life. A strange thing began to happen. I was creating two characters, fleshing them out, so to speak. Something very new for me. And I could do it. After reflecting how these two men might speak to one another, I began to write. And it was easier than I thought. After all that preparation.

Now, I realize that the two characters I created from snippets in The New York Times, may not at all reflect the 'real live men' who gave quotes to the newspaper, but it doesn't matter.  I was story telling, putting words in the mouths of two characters. I am not accustomed to writing or thinking in this way.  Last night, I was writing fiction in a script writing format.  This is new.

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