The following is a look at the styles of different writers.
Alright, so if you’re following along hopefully you enjoyed Roma and did some journaling. If not, that’s okay – this lesson should still help anyway.
First, let me say that I’m a firm believer of lead by example. If I’m going to teach something, I must practice it as well. As such, here’s a bit of how I organize thoughts in my head. The little journal entry I wrote and a lesson in how I found my voice.
Skip to LESSON 2: WRITING WITH STYLE immediately if you want. I know I can run on.
My Story Journal
I spent most of my childhood struggling to fit in.
I was different in appearance than other children and there was no way in changing that, so I’d go out of my way to demonstrate my self-worth. Bend over backward. Show that I was useful.
I sought validation. More than anything, I sought acceptance.
As such, I spent most of my youth trying to make friends. My teens, trying to get girlfriends. I wanted to be normal. I felt stuck and I wanted someone to love me… Mostly, because I didn’t love myself.
It took a while to figure out that dreadful feeling was longstanding clinical depression. Something that took me years to figure out how to manage in my way – especially once I stopped going to therapy.
Went to county college. Did surprisingly well and had a choice: what do I study? At this point in my life, I felt that all I ever did was self-reflect. Thinking was my forte. Thus, I concluded:
“I think therefore I must major in it.”
I studied psychology and I was good at it. Real good. Like, PhD graduate student level good. I think mostly it was because I finally liked what I was doing, but also, I was secretly finding a way to fix myself. Remember that deep depression I was talking about? Well this is when I started finally treating it.
I graduated with all these honors and connections and opportunities… Had a plethora of University professors and students I had befriended over the years. I was going to do great things in the field…
Then, in a depressing out-of-shape touch football accident, one where I was performing quite admirably catching three deep touchdowns and outrunning the competition left and right if I do say so myself…
I tore my Achilles tendon completely.
Have you ever had an unfortunate accident you had to recover from?
7 Months recovering, mostly alone, while all my friends went on to get jobs, go to grad school and started living their lives. Suffice to say, I learned a lot about what was important to me.
When I recovered, I gave up grad school. Mostly, because I was doing it for the wrong reasons. The fixing myself part was good, but… I think I was just trying to find another way to be valuable for other people. Demonstrating “Hey, I understand people, can you accept me as a person?”
I should also mention that around this time, I was working with kids with developmental disabilities in one job, patients with former drug habits diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in another job, and doing at-home assessments as a behavioral intervention aide for troubled families. Had to find a way to pay the bills after my recovery so I dove headfirst into the field and I didn’t like what I saw.
So, I started writing. Movies, at first, because I thought it would be easiest. I kept one of my mental health related jobs, but I wrote on the side. Because of my brief time in academia, I found screenplays to be more relaxing than academic journals.
So, I bought some books on how to be better at writing and took some classes too.
Then, somebody saw my writing and thought it was good. We started a business. And I got to know the industry and how it works. Even got a major pitch or two… at least, until things went sour – as many creative ventures do.
After a few months of moping, I’d decided that I wanted to get better as a writer, not just a screenwriter.
So, I took classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade, the same one where many SNL alumni’s got started.
Then, I met a new writing partner through a movie production that didn’t come to fruition (After the first business failed, I started pitching/applying wherever I could in movie writing). We worked on some wonderful screenplays together, and though it didn’t work out in the end, this time we’d remained friends.
When that was done, I took classes at Gotham’s Writers Workshop, to foray into learning how to write short stories and the novel. I also made some writing friends and wrote daily. More than anything, I’d learned how important it is to receive feedback and have a community.
And after that, I eventually took classes with Serena Valentino, the wonderful author behind the Disney Villains line, who taught me the art of writing comic books – but more than anything, how to get better in developing the things I thought I’d thought I already mastered. How to build characters with so much more depth than ever thought possible. How to be brave and believe in yourself when nobody else will.
Because life is a never-ending learning experience. And you can always find new ways at looking at old things – even your everyday routines.
About My Voice
Here are some things I picked up about my voice:
For starters, I noticed that I liked writing characters who are outcasts. Usually, very damaged people who don’t fit in – mostly because it resonates with my own story.
Likewise, I also like to give them or their environment, some sort of addictive personality trait – which I think comes from my years in Psych and looking for the dysfunction in other people.
Video games, substance abuse, self-harm, sex or gluttony – all forms of addiction. Heroin is a big one I tend to always find myself writing about as I’ve seen the lives it destroys.
I also just like the idea of someone doing things excessively. Though it’s not always something heavy or for dramatic appeal. It could even be an addiction to being organized. Or an obsession with a goal, being the best at something, or an event – like a meeting, or some sort of unrealized idealistic dream that’s nigh impossible to achieve.
Secondly, I ramble a lot. Have you seen this social media picture lately?
Because that’s how I tell a story as well. So to keep organized, I do lots of plotting through outlining ahead of time. If you have this problem, good news, reading these lessons will help you… eventually.
Most importantly, that I’m hands down a character writer. This is probably the most crucial element of my voice that I picked up. Given my years in psych/how I was as a child, I naturally think of the world from the thoughts and point-of-view of others. So when I write, I tell the story from the perspective of the character first – which is good for their development but also tricky for me because:
- I want to overshare because I love this little-fake-person I’ve created. This is good, except that it must happen slowly: showcasing a character’s traits over time… mainly, because people can only pick-up so much at once.
- I tend to overwrite. Which is difficult because there are so many things about this character that only I know about as the author, but most of it will never make it onto the page. It’s not easy being okay with that.
- It’s hard to throw your character through the wringer of conflicts when you care about them. Especially, when they’re your baby. There’s are parts of me inside them and I’m hesitant to put them through hell.
But you have to as an author. You must write about the things that make your characters uncomfortable, and often, make you uncomfortable. Because you know what it’s like to feel rejected, lose someone, and fail the worst way imaginable. You also know what it’s like to overcome this, and how cathartic these stories can be.
As a character writer, I also tend to write in first-person as it’s a great way to get into your person’s mindset. However, all screenplays are written in third. I’ll get more into POV another time.
Now character-centric writing is not the only way to get started. You can begin anyway you want, what’s important is you find that the STYLE that works with your voice best to begin.
Lesson 2: Styles
Alright, so now that we know a bit about writing using your voice, let’s talk about writing with style. The following are a few writing styles I’ve picked-up/categorized over the years, all with different sorts of writers in mind. This section will focus more on how to get started: aka where you are right now.
Some writers just sit down and write until it’s finished. Usually, it takes a lot of editing, but they eventually get there. The one thing that’s driving them: Vision. They know the story they want to tell and write it down beginning to end.
The movie ROMA, which we’ve been reviewing, is very much a Vision driven script. However, it usually takes a lot of authority to get these things made – as unfortunately, we’re all not Alfonso Cuaron.
Now let me be frank: No one writes a perfect first draft. If you want proof look at Uwe Boll and his movie BloodRayne. Yes, I’ve seen it. Like many of his films, it’s pretty bad.
Guinevere Turner’s story about her first draft getting adapted is pretty evidential that first drafts are rather awful. Usually, stories take editing – A LOT of editing. Scripts especially, because they’re looked at by hundreds of people between the production crew, executives, director, and actors (who often improvise lines).
But for vision writers, it’s not about the first draft. It’s about getting the story onto the page and then going from there. And yes, there are book authors who are notorious for this; however, I can’t provide you direct examples as personally, this is my least effective methodology. Though maybe it’s the right way to get you started on your story.
To just write the way you see it in your head.
This is very similar to the vision writer but is a lot more direct. Where vision writers are often directors themselves who know how they’d like to get a movie across, scenic writers start with humbler origins.
It starts with a scene. A moment the writer wants to capture on camera because it means something to them.
Often, it’s an opening and/or an ending in mind. Sometimes it’s an image, and sometimes it’s just a dramatic beat they’d wanted a story to work towards.
Think Superheroes: we know Spider-man will eventually become this person that will have to save the day, the question is how to we get there. What do we do to build to that scene, and then, what comes after? In superhero movies, it’s about the moment we see them become the hero.
It’s all about building the story based on the scene.
This is one of the most common ways to write a script. In fact, if you write with a beginning and ending in mind, it’s just storytelling 101. A thing happens, and then by the end, we take something away from it.
A lot of the time movies begin as pitches. Scenes that needs to sell the producer the movie – the rest of the film, then is later adapted into a full-on screenplay.
Take Eternal Sunshine. Charlie Kaufman started his script based on an art piece: The idea of having someone erased from memory.
It became one of the best movies ever made. And it all started with an idea captured in scenes.
This is in my opinion, the most popular way of writing a story. It’s known as the thematic approach. You have a theme, and you write a story based on conveying that theme.
Star Wars: Good Triumphs over Evil.
The Notebook: Love Conquers over All.
Eighth Grade: Coming of age is hard with the Internet.
A lot of writers write about a social cause, have a message to convey, or want to comment on life observations through fiction.
It’s one of the most grounded approaches. And when your script seems to be going off course, you can just remember the theme that you’re trying to write about.
Likewise, there can be more than one theme in a story. The story of Luke Skywalker was also very much a coming of age film about taking on responsibility and meeting one’s destiny.
The goal for thematic writing is to get you to think about important issues and build your story around it.
However… (Please, don’t hate me)
Personally, I’ve always found this method to be the team valor to my team mystic approach. The House Slytherin to House Gryffindor. The Iron Man to my Captain America.
I hate writing with themes in mind beforehand.
Because when you start with the theme, that dictates your character’s intentions, and it shifts how you approach the writing. Personally, when I do this, I tend to start forcing the character to fit in my themes and write not for the sake of the story, but to force a message down someone’s throat.
Thematic writing is great if you can fit that theme organically. Otherwise, it’s like an episode of South Park where we conclude with an inevitable moral monologue.
Now, you don’t have to start with a theme. If you tell a good story, a lot of the times your theme happens organically – as stories are the art of conveying messages. Which leads me to my last example of writer…
Character writers (such as I) start with the people. We begin by building characters who have personalities as real as can be. With ideas in their heads, needs that need fulfilling and objectives they want to accomplish. What’s great about this is It all fits however we need the scene to be written.
Because a lot of times in movies, scenes need rewrites. Character-centric writing can fix a lot of these issues, as places/situations are interchangeable… but actors – not so much.
Character writers build as real of a person as possible on paper and THEN throw them into the situation. It’s more of an actor’s approach to writing. What’s efficient about it is that instead of pondering about some grandiose vision or whether a written scene fits some morale of the story…
All you must do is think: Who are they, what do they want, and what do they need?
There is a difference. Want is more characterization. Need is more plot of the story. Here’s a video for a better distinction:
I like this because the story dictates the moral lesson naturally. You can just throw your characters into the situations. See what message they eventually convey in a Psychoanalytic Collective Unconscious sort of way… like how monomyths often unfold.
Or maybe that’s just how I romanticize my methods.
Try This: Writing Styles
- I want you to read several pages from three different movie scripts on https://www.simplyscripts.com . Just look for a movie, click on its title, and it’ll open the script. Make sure each script is of a different genre.
- Compare and contrast how different each one is. The formatting might be similar, but what they choose to emphasize is telling of style. For instance, dramas might have long action sequences, comedies shorter dialogues. Take note of this. A script’s style is very much influenced by genre.
- Now I want you to write out a moment in the life of one of the characters in the scripts you’ve read. Not in movie format, just do free-writing. No rules.
The goal is to analyze your writing process like the way you did in finding your voice. See if you’re more of a character, scenic, or thematic writer. Or maybe you even just keep going with a single vision in mind? It’s not about the words themselves for this assignment… it’s about figuring out the style of writer you are. How you naturally organize the plot of your story.
This will all help you begin your scripting journey. But more than anything else, it’ll set you up for the next lesson… which will be LOGLINES: Aka how you summarize your story the shortest way possible.
It’s an integral part of selling scripts in the industry. More than anything else, it is a lot of selling yourself, in a short time frame. So knowing your voice and style will help tremendously.