If You’re Not In The Forum…You’re Missing The Turman

Turman smash!
These days, we’re clocking nearly 30,000 unique visitors a month at The Artful Writer. That’s great, but a lot of you are missing out on one of the best parts of this site: the Forum. Registering is free and easy, and the forum features one of our more popular offerings—the Ask A Pro section.

Right now, John Turman is our Pro, and he’s doling out advice and answers far more valuable than the stuff people pay for…be it in books or conventions or script analysts.

You can join the Forum and check it out for yourself, but for those who are lazy, here’s some of John’s insights and advice…

  • …it’s important to respect genre. Genre is just another word for audience expectations. You can cross them, mash them up, violate the expectations, but do it judiciously and know what you’re doing when you break “rules.”

  • Seriously, the only thing that gives you an edge is writing. Finishing marketable material. If you’re writing, you should produce 3-4 projects a year, finished works. For pay, or on spec if you’re not paid. These are the closest a writer comes to having a work force. They go out and circulate and maybe come back with money or a job.

  • Storyboard work helps a bit when you’re mapping action. Legal background hurts when you’re starting out. Any lack of ignorance hurts when you’re starting out. You should be naive and enthusiastic and wildly productive but if you know a bit of what actually goes on in the business, it’s easy to self-censor and that’s bad.

  • Protect your process. Whatever your process is, whatever you need to do to organize your life so that you can finish 3 projects a year. I was speaking at USC and sharing the session with an agent, who went on about how a writer needs to protect his process — the things he needs to do and organize his life and routine to make writing as regular and primary as possible. A great speech. I wish early on that I had an agent who told me those things.

  • I recommend that you don’t go out with your script for feedback, to agents, to the market, until you’ve at least begun your next project. An outline, notes, the actual script. This is protecting your process. It’s easier to take negativity, rejection, or even smoke blown up your ass when you’re engaged in another creative work. It keeps the focus on what matters - the work. If someone trashes your script, that’s okay, because the one you’re working on now… that’s the brilliant one. It helps you survive.

  • Writing is not about waiting until you’re inspired to create magic. The people who think that aren’t professional writers. They teach candle-making at the Bodhi Tree bookstore. Inspiration comes to the prepared mind. Sit down and work. We all need to write a lot of bad pages to get to the good ones.

  • There are useful storytelling theories. You can come up with some yourself. But the paradigms and graphs and charts of rising action… that stuff is mostly crap and has probably overcomplicated the process for more writers than they have ever helped. I have plenty of theories of various sorts and problem-solving tools, that I’ve found for myself, but there’s not the time here for that. Read those books, they can inspire and give an idea or two, but don’t follow them. Most of them are written by failed or lousy screenwriters. See movies, read scripts. Just tell a story and make sure it’s in the right format.

  • What we usually miss when we talk about films is the sense of newness and innocence through which we viewed films 10 or 20 years ago, more than the films themselves.

  • That’s why an obsession with convention, with how the big writers write certain scenes or handle certain situations, will hold you back. Study them, learn technique and craft, but you had better have something unique of your own to say with that genre and a unique way to say it.

  • I don’t believe in the concept of writer’s block. This can make for some awkward times when I’m not getting done. I think it’s all less mysterious and mystical than that. I just think it’s an indulgent concept. And even if it does exist, it serves no good purpose to believe in it. I don’t buy into ‘Demons”. Issues and psychological motivational problems maybe. A decent book on the “problem” of procrastination is THE WAR OF ART by Stephen Pressfield. Treat it like a real job, not magic. Same as living a moral life. Religion is superstition, in writing as in anything. It may give added ‘meaning’ but it creates magical thinking which is ultimately pretty disempowering.

  • Conflict is the method of drama. It arises from character. Going back to Aristotle (read ‘Poetics) and before (Plato, Socrates), the Greek philosophical model seeks to resolve conflict through discourse. This is dramatic story-telling in essence. This dialectic is an exchange of propositions. The thesis is the first proposition. It can be a question or plan or idea/value the character holds. The antithesis is the counter proposition or obstacle, an opposing force. The synthesis is what results or resolves, transforming the material and the conflict between the thesis and antithesis into something new. This is where the idea of 3 act structure comes from. I use ‘thesis-antithesis-synthesis’ as philosophical short-hand for the basic structure of drama. As Syd Field would say, get your character up a tree, throw rocks at him, get him down. Going up the tree is the thesis, it’s the character’s solution to some problem. In the tree he has rocks thrown at him (antithesis), complicating the action. The synthesis is how and why he finds a way down from the tree. It’s the under structure of the play or movie, as well as being repeated internally as the basic structure of the smaller units contained within, the scene.

Pretty good stuff, I think, and you don’t even have to buy a pricey ticket to the Screenwriting Expo or anything. I hope to see you there.

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