Gut Feelings

I’ve been reading a lot of people’s specs recently. The usual reasons: I read whatever I can get my hands on, there are at least a few people who know I’m more than willing to read anyone’s scripts countless times and give them any help I can, and because I find reading people’s stuff is also a great way to remind me what I need to be doing with my own writing.

Scripts with problems help me remember that I need to avoid those issues myself (because constant reminders are always necessary; it’s amazing how often you find yourself in the same sand traps, distracted by the change of scenery of a new script) – and great scripts remind me of what I need to be doing right. They inspire. Always.

And recently I’ve been reading the scripts of a lot of talented people who are so mired in the rewrite stages, or so focused on the craft, or the various things they know they can do better – that they’re missing the gut of their piece.

They’re so focused on arc or voice or plot mechanics or character development or finessing the midpoint, that they're missing the full impact of the piece's emotional core: the undercurrent of their character's motivation, the central driving force of their story arcs, or a character relationship, or the reason their character is giving that big speech at the end of Act Four.

Gut feelings. The emotional discoveries, the beats that make you hold your breath and understand why so much of the world loves soap operas. We’re addicted to gut feelings.

I think in one of her posts, Amanda talked about agents looking for that Holy Shit moment. And I’m sure this may not be what those agents were talking about. They may be referring to something shocking, to Oscar clip hoo-ha. But I love these gut moments. The emotionally wrenching two line exchange, the subtextual reveal of hidden feelings, the cut to the quick. It seems small sometimes, but it’s so potent. It's such a big part of why I love telling stories. And it's what I enjoy about writing specs. You get to take a show you love and find these little moments that speak to why you love these characters. And you get to point, as if you were merely saying: "There! That's why I love this show."

I think over a year ago Jane Espenson – bless her – had a post that dealt with something similar to this. Look for it here. Never hurts to get backed up by the pros. She called it the “sigh” moment. Go for the sigh. Houdini ‘em when they’re least expecting it.

So I’ve been seeing that vacancy a lot recently. And in too many of my own outlines and first drafts. Not enough sigh, not enough gut feelings. So I’m tucking that reminder away, to make sure I don’t forget about those favorite emotional colors of mine as I get lost in the intricate problems of my own story issues.

ps. Boston Legal got renewed! I totally thought that show was clinging to its respirator. Shit. I’ve been avoiding all those episodes from this season that are stockpiling up in my Tivo because of all the feared bad mojo… And they’re hinting that next season may be really pared down to the basics, to the core cast. I think this can only be a good thing. Who ever cared about Kelley’s rotating supporting players? They just get inexplicable cut anyway. (This is , of course, assuming that they don’t cut Jerry Espenson. Cutting Rene was bad enough. You hear me? That means you David E.) Maybe this’ll get the BL brilliance back to its own emotional core. When it’s there, it’s fan-fucking-tastic.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

hey, man. thanks for the shoutout and the link! love the blog.