By guest author Calix Lewis Reneau, writer/director of www.childthemovie.com and producer and creative of features, television, print, music, and new media.
“You’ve probably heard the writing advice to “murder your darlings.” This means to be ruthless in deleting clever writing that doesn’t serve the greater purpose of your work. I’ve learned that a writer must take this a step further. To get the best story on the page, we must be willing to kill the story in our minds.
If you’ve ever tried to explain a dream you’ve had after waking up, then you can understand this. In your dream everything was vivid, real, logical, connected – a complete story. But as it immediately fades, even the simplest narrative detail slips from your grasp. Worse, when you can remember the precise details, they sound pedestrian and disconnected in the telling.
The same is true of the story you have in your head which you’re so passionate to tell. For reasons too complex to relate in a short article, we humans don’t think in a simplistic, connected, linear fashion. On simple fact can help reveal to that complexity: there are more than one hundred trillion synapses (neural connections) in your brain, at a minimum. That’s a thousand times more than the number of stars in our galaxy. And your connections in your brain are unique in all of history to you alone. What you think, what you see, what you feel, what you dream – your story – has never been before, and will never be again.
The story you want to tell is meaningful to you for the same reasons you are so invested in your dream when you’re having it at night. It’s immediate. It’s real. It’s consists of more than what can be put in words on a page, or images on a screen. The story is made up of your unique emotional connection to the material which drives you. It finds meaning in your personal history. It finds context in your life and worldview.
In short, the story in your mind is your story alone. It can never be anything more than that.
As writers, we’re compelled to share that story, impossible though it might be to do so. That’s where the skill, the talent, the hard work come in. The job of the writer is not to tell the story in our heads. It’s to translate the unique inner experience into a tangible form which will hopefully lead others to a similar journey. To laugh, to cry, to learn, to grow, or just to be entertained.
This translation requires that we understand the connective elements that we share. Functional communication requires two parties: someone to say something, and someone to hear it. You have something you want to say, need to say. As a writer, the fundamental task at hand is to say it in a way which will clearly give your intended audience what you want them to have. It’s no use to complain that others can’t enjoy the dream you had last night in the same fashion as you did. The hard work that sets successful writers apart from all others is the learned ability based on innate talent to take that powerful inner experience and craft something that leads others to their own unique powerful inner experience that is reflective, that is connected through our common humanity.
To do this, we must be ruthless in “murdering our darlings” at the most fundamental level. This means recognizing from the start that the story in our heads can’t ever function as the story we want to tell. But that’s okay, because once we accept that, the story in our heads can become the powerful inspirational genesis for the stories we put out into the greater culture using our skill and talents of translation as writers. Your focus, passion, ability, and self-discipline is the refiner’s fire which will burn away the dross of self so you can change the world with the stories you have to tell.”
Calix is a full-time creative working in features, television, print, music, and new media. He has written professionally for just about every type of media imaginable, including a stint as a top-selling greeting card writer. These days he spends most of his time juggling projects at his own production company which are in various states of entropy, from nascent ponders to completed features winding their way through post production and into distribution. His job title at Calix8 Productions – “iconoclast gadfly” – pretty much explains his approach to work, life, and the mysteries of the universe.
You can learn more about Calix at his poorly-maintained personal website – www.calix8.com – and see the trailer to his most-recent completed feature film (as writer/director) at www.childthemovie.com.
In Ian’s previous articles, we’ve seen how technologies of the future (and present!) can quickly invalidate our future-writing efforts. But the easiest thing for writers to misjudge is how people themselves will be different, within the future worlds we create.
We may be very happy to accept any implausible or kitsch elements in your future-writing if they make for a more vivid and exciting world than our own – but if people (and the way they live) don’t seem to be changed, then you’re missing out on one of the massive appeals of writing the future: that it offers audiences a vision of how we could be different if we lived in such a different world, and how we could make different choices in life if they see life in that new light. The future is, ultimately, a place to play out our dreams of what life today really could, or should, look like, if only we had the chance. Future-writing creates a rare, neutral space in which to play out our conflicting visions, and fears, for the present and the future, all within the safety net of someone else’s story about a totally different world to our own.
If our technologies – or destructive tendencies – smash the way of life we know, then the post-apocalyptic visions of many popular future-stories (MAD MAX, THE BOOK OF ELI, etc etc) may prove a good guide – because people whose lives are a step backwards from ours, are likely to play out in ways that life and history can help us recognize today. So I’ll focus instead on how people are likely to change if that doesn’t happen, and if other historic trends continue instead. Here are some trends I’ve noticed which are extremely likely to continue to change our personalities and choices. If you’re looking for subjects to inspire your next script, the answer might be somewhere here!
- Ever-presents of human nature, like family bonds and tribalism and attraction, will continue to forge our key relationships and allegiances and priorities – far more than rational reasoning would like to admit. We will never actually want to be “one unified world community” – whatever we might tell ourselves, we’ll choose to keep dividing ourselves into tribes and sub-tribes. I’ll write about these in more detail another time.
- Almost every medical condition will become treatable, and most will be fully curable. People will develop ever-more-perfectionist expectations of themselves and others for their health, capacities and looks. Technologies will become better integrated within people’s bodies too, with far-reaching implications, first for treatments and then for enhancements. These trends will create losers as well as winners, mainly due to economic factors that give or limit people’s access to these treatments.
- Almost every conceivable aspect of life and the world will become connected to, or monitored by, our grand digital networks. Going ‘off the grid’ will get harder and harder, with important consequences for thriller stories in particular – many scripts we receive feel quite dated to me already with this in mind. The ‘internet of things’ will pose significant risks for privacy and security, with our everyday lives utterly interconnected with single networks that put us all at risk of having our lives invaded.
- The culture war of the 21st century will continue to be that between fundamentalism (of all kinds), against relativism and tolerance. Western countries may need to start reining in more of the free-for-alls that have risen since the 1960s – because if we can’t, fundamentalism may offer many people a much more reassuring vision than the issues that they perceive in the world around them. I notice that few sci-fi writers want to embrace religious believers into ‘their’ visions of the future. But those people will be there anyway – how will they feel about the world they’re living in? How many of those wonderful 1960s visions of the 21st century (THUNDERBIRDS, etc etc) predicted a global surge in religious fundamentalist terrorism? Perhaps, comparing modern trends to the worldview and expectations of religious fundamentalists, we should have seen it coming.
- War will also be designed to keep actual human beings (from our own country, anyway) completely remote and safe from the intrinsic dangers of the battlefield. This is already basically the case for headline conflicts, we just haven’t invented a way to occupy hostile territories without ground troops yet. I reckon the next major war between global powers will be won or lost by technology (such as cyberattack) within hours without a single bullet being fired. All this has big implications for action stories – where we want to see our heroes put their own lives on the line for the story, without getting immediately cut down by some drone-robot fly.
- Power and knowledge and the ‘moral high ground’ will continue to decentralize away from governments and religious institutions, through technology and the continued trend towards individualization of modern job roles. Improved technologies will also make it harder and harder for anyone to maintain lies and secrets (and foment conspiracies successfully). However, at the same time, we will all be relying on common technologies and platforms, such as the internet, ever more, and so the risks will grow that would-be tyrants and hostile powers will turn our powers and everyday devices upon us.
- Supposedly ‘ignorant’ patterns of thought and behaviour (from racism to superstition to religious bigotry) will continue to decline, but will keep persistently recurring in new forms in every generation, and the continued migration and tourism of people to other countries will ensure that old issues like these will never become ‘a thing of the past’ anywhere.
- Controversial cases that come to light in the news will continue to stiffen public opinion and the law against people who create injustices and avoidable suffering for other people (from our own culture or countries!). Proliferating devices like smartphones will continue to make it easier for victims and others to record and prove that these injustices are happening – albeit via networks and platforms that many governments and others may be demand to control.
- People will continue to intensively map, scan and explore any areas of life or the universe that could be described as ‘the unknown’. Fewer people will believe in the possibilities that rely upon it (such as magic, monsters, aliens and direct ‘divine intervention’) – though interest in stories about them might conversely rise as a result of their ‘otherness’! But people will continue to interpret things in the ways that feel most natural to themselves, so don’t expect religion and superstition to die off anytime soon.
- Automation and robotizing of all aspects of life will continue to render more and more job roles obsolete. The more this continues, growing numbers of people may lean towards anti-globalization movements, backward-looking politicians or authoritative voices. Meanwhile educated, versatile people may find themselves in a minority for remaining economically active and having a secure sense of their own identity and purpose in the world. Which impacts significantly upon my next point…
- While globalization will continue to make countries ever more interdependent, but sociopaths will continue to find ways to take power (click HERE to understand what I mean by ‘sociopath’ – it’s perhaps a much more widespread personality type than you realize). Pacifism will remain naïve in the face of this, and the proliferation of technologies that can empower them in new and ever-more-pervasive ways. But in economic terms, centralized nation-states will be unable to keep up with those that don’t try to maintain full control of all aspects of the economy.
- The environment everywhere will continue to be carved up and predominated by human activity at an escalating rate, until technological changes make it possible (and convenient) to live far more efficiently than people currently choose to. Changes of power and circumstance will keep upsetting whatever is agreed to protect the environment; people will have to innovate within their own spheres of influence instead, to make any difference, but this won’t change the overall direction of travel. Anything that environmentalists achieve can be easily reversed by breakdowns in international or local law and order, and crippling population pressures on resources, not to mention reverses of government policy.
Here are some things that could go either way, but won’t just stay the same.
- Our attitudes towards the suffering of other people (especially those we don’t have any connections to) and animals or nature. – Humans would mostly like to be compassionate, but they would also like to be able to take things for granted so they can get on with life uninterrupted. Economics and politics play a massive role here – and people who are struggling to maintain their way of life have a much less compassionate attitude towards outsiders and those whose inferiority makes their own way of life possible.
- The spread of decentralized media platforms such as the internet means new challenges for debate and decisionmaking. ‘Truth’ and ‘lies’/’fake news’ are heading for an interesting clash which may set in law what ‘truths’ or ‘accuracy’ can be stated or published, and what the punishments will be for those who go against that. This will be an interesting showdown between delusionals, tyrants, sociopaths and their allies (click HERE to see who I mean), and the institutions of the 20th century liberal West. It may have different results in different places, influencing the ideological wars of the century ahead.
Alright, so there’s my two cents. Hope it helps you future-proof your writing and keep clear of some of the mistakes that we see so often. Maybe you can even find the central question of your next script here! If so, let us know where you take it and how you get on…
Read more of Ian’s insights right here and check out the previous entries to this future proofing series…
© WriteMovies 2017. Exclusive to WriteMovies – To syndicate this content for your own publication, contact ian (at) writemovies dot-com.
Our pick of the web for July 2017 – From the @WriteMovies Twitter Feed!
Our @WriteMovies Twitter feed has been sharing lots of exciting things giving our tips of the best new articles, insights and offers for screenwriters and producers on the web. And in case you’ve missed anything there, here is our pick for July 2017…
WriteMovies Writing Tips – Robert McKee and being secure as a writer
“Secure writers don’t sell first drafts. They patiently rewrite until the script is as director-ready, as actor-ready as possible. Unfinished work invites tampering, while polished, mature work seals its integrity.” – Robert McKee
This is so true for everyone, especially those involved in our contests. For those of you who missed out on the Semi-Finals last week, this is your chance to go back to your script and get it as “director ready, as actor ready” as possible. No script we receive in our contests is the finished article, and our consultancies can help you figure out why your script is placing where it is, and what improvements can be made next – but this shouldn’t be something to be anxious about, it’s something to challenge yourself with, to come back next time stronger.
Even our eventual winners’ scripts won’t often be production-ready on their initial entry – there is always tweaking to be done, that’s why we give winners a year of free script development. Our Director of World Wide Development Ian Kennedy says:
“I’ve always found that working as a producer and director and actor has made my scripts better, because the better you know what those professionals will need in order to realize your script into a production, the better you will write to fulfil those needs for them. And therefore the better you’ll write, full stop!”
We can and will help both our winners and those of you who missed out to fulfil their script’s potential. If we believe we can sell it for you, then we’ll take it another step, and pitch it to the industry…
Share this quote from our Facebook page and our Twitter feed to inspire your writer friends, too, and to motivate yourself into getting your script as perfect as you possibly can. Hard-work is underrated, but so vital…
Exclusive to WriteMovies – To syndicate this content for your own publication, contact ian (at) writemovies dot-com.
© WriteMovies 2017
Our pick of the web for April and May 2017 – From the @WriteMovies Twitter Feed!
Our @WriteMovies Twitter feed has been sharing lots of exciting things giving our tips of the best new articles, insights and offers for screenwriters and producers on the web. And in case you’ve missed anything there, here is our pick for April and May 2017…