I’m a writer who knows her own strengths. I’m also the female who strongly believes in facing the shit out of fear—running through, not around, the storm. When I was on the varsity soccer team in high school, Coach Paino had us lap the school as our first warm up before practice (The irony is not lost on me that I had a coach whose name began with pain). Watching me run was like watching Chris Farley sleep. There was panting, pools of sweat, random fits of screaming; I might’ve stuck my finger down my throat just to tell the coach I ran until I puked. But I knew there was no getting around it. So, it became my mission to finish with everyone else, to face it, even if it meant I was the first on that field, with the rest of the team still in the locker room trading boy stories and Salon Selectiving their bangs. Brace and bit, I’ll say I even got good. -ish.
Now, with writing a screenplay, I’m doing the same thing. I’ve been struggling to work on my running, which for me, means plot. And it’s tough because it doesn’t feel like writing. It feels like deciding. Brainstorming, by myself. It’s all about ideas, trying a direction, seeing where it takes me, then scrapping it when it feels like I’ve seen it before. I’ve always had the sauce, but I haven’t always known how to plate it. Writing a scene-by-scene beat sheet of an entire movie is basically like writing the entire screenplay without a scrap of dialogue. There’s no judging, no realizations, no inner world. If you can’t see it on "the stage," it doesn’t belong on the page. Nothing at all like writing a book, which is so much about your judgments, thought process, history. But with a story outline, there is no wit or clever turns of phrase to hide behind. It’s all about action, conflicts, and unusual reactions. Making sure the character "TRACKS," I term I’d like to impale up the anus with a dull knife. It has nothing to do with words. It’s all about the story, and at this point, has so very little to do with the telling of it.
Whereas with the television writing I’ve been doing, it’s somehow different. I think because I’m at a place where I’ve created a whole world, whole characters, histories, a set of defining characteristics. And story is the easy part—it’s almost beside the point. We don’t watch television for the story. We watch because we love the characters or love to hate the characters, and we tune in to see what they’ll do each week. We’re along for their ride.
Working on story is living a life on post-it notes and index cards taped to a board. I have to hope to the Pope that I can take the expectations of the audience, drip-feed them just enough to lead them to the gingerbread house, only to yank away the candy cane door hinges and swing open a new, unexpected trapdoor. Get ‘em to sit up and say, "Holy hell. Now, there’s a character I haven’t seen before!" Which, as you can tell by my description alone, is work. For me. It’s thinking, not feeling. Planning. Plotting. Twisting. Teasing out tension. Suspense. Knowing when to reveal a ghost. And it comes harder for me than insight and observation, harder than sharing honestly about my own life, harder than finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. But I’m no stranger to hard. And I know I can do this. Know it. I also know, with certainty, that a romantic comedy feature will happen. I just have to keep running into the storm.