The finer points… the little details… the ‘how can I pretend I’m working when really I’m putting it off’!
I don’t want anyone to think I’m taking an aggressive tone here I’m not, its merely an assertive one. Stop worrying about fabricated lists of what one producer feels you should avoid when creating characters, or how such-and-such a writer structures her/his working day or top ten lists of what-not-to-do’s! These are all distractions from the actual placing of your arse (ass for those of you across the pond) onto a chair, divan, beer crate, grassy knoll… and writing your story.
What you need to know are the big fat nuts and bolts of writing. Irrelevant of which guru you subscribe to they all pretty much agree on the fundamentals. Something should happen in the first quarter of your story that upsets the balance, in trying to redress the balance our hero/es stumble/s through a sequence of conflicts until a new equilibrium is reached. That sort of stuff.
I say this because I have been reading various writers requests for advice, which always seem to smack of ‘looking for that golden formula’. You may be told there are ten ways you should never do such and such. That’s great, make a note of it, if you’re constructing a scene that could happen in a number of different way scrap the one that Mr bigshot Producer says he hates to see or that Mrs high powered Commissioning Editor says lands on her desk all the time.
But writing is all about knowing your story and if you just absolutely have to go with something that you’ve read you shouldn’t do; do it. As long as you’ve done your research and you know your story you will make that scene work. A lot of inexperienced writers (I feel) get bogged-down listening to what producers and the like have to say and take it as gospel because, ‘they are a professional’. At the end of the day its just one opinion. It may be a very important opinion because they are the ones going to be commissioning your work, but it is not gospel.
As writers we have to interpret what the real message is behind these pieces of advice. The battle against cliché is getting harder every day, because of the sheer volume of stuff out there. When a producer says ‘ten things never to do’, what she/he is saying is – “I see these things land on my desk every day and they quite literally make me want to vomit”.
And they see these things all the time; because people don’t research their work don’t spend enough time getting inside their characters and their story. Do you remember what Ibsen said? In his first drafts he described his characters as people he had met on a long train journey, with the second draft they were like people he’d spent a long weekend with and by the third they were like people he had known his entire life.
Rather than worrying about small pieces of advice concentrate on two things, researching your story and characters as much as possible and GET THE FIRST DRAFT WRITTEN. Include as many clichés as you like, just get the damn thing written and then when you are redrafting and really getting down to the finer points you can look at the minutiae and ask ‘is this cliché?’
If it has been told with honesty and a full knowledge of your story it will be an original piece of work, because your story can only be told by you, no one else can tell a story like you. Cliché only exists when we borrow what we have seen before because we have not done enough work contemplating our story.