Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sin tax heir ore

This entry is all over the damn map, but I've got a work deadline.

I said yesterday that screenwriters spend far too much of their online time discussing formatting issues, rather than the vastly more important content issues. There are, of course, issues with discussing content. But first, a lengthy digression:

I'm a mild-mannered web programmer by day, and a marginally less mild-mannered screenwriter by night. And sometimes by day. Or even in outer space, where no one can hear your forehead bleed.

Over the years I've learned a bunch of ways to solve particular types of problems. Most of this knowledge has come from simply attacking those problems, over and over, in a variety of contexts. In 1999, it would have probably been impossible for me to code the project I've been working on for the past two months. These days, it's nearly trivial. There's a lot of small logic problems that come up, questions of whether I should build a data structure this way, that way, or some other way entirely. But I have enough experience that solving most such problems is second nature.

The flip side to all this is that I spend very little time discussing programming or programming theory with other people. I only discuss those topics with cow-orkers in the context of the particular problem at hand. And in absolute terms, we don't discuss them very much, because each of us have our own little code-fiefdoms. Very, very few projects here ever involve more than one programmer.

How does this apply to screenwriting? The best way to get good at writing is to write, but I think you can catalyze the process by making good use of discussion with other people -- not just (or even at all) about your own screenwriting problems, but rather by analyzing extant stories and figuring out what does or doesn't make them tick. This is the good way to spend your time.

The bad way is to waste it talking about formatting issues. Why is so much of the screenwriting discourse online about formatting issues?
  1. Formatting is trivial to professional screenwriters. They spend very little time dealing with it, thinking about it, or discussing it.
  2. Non-professional screenwriters can be split into two groups: the lazy and the hard-working.
  3. Lazy non-pros latch onto the easy things, like formatting.
  4. Non-lazy non-pros work on the hard stuff, and become pros faster. They also aren't spending all their time on the Internet, because they're writing instead.
  5. The population of non-pros becomes disproportionately full of lazy non-pros, who spend all their time talking about formatting.
May I humbly include myself in the group of non-lazy non-pros. Here's some guidelines that were freshly hand-pulled from my ass this morning:
  1. Don't waste time discussing formatting.
  2. Write, god dammit.
  3. If you have to waste time discussing screenwriting on the Internet, for the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, talk about specific movies and tear them apart. That'll do you some good, builds character, puts meat on your bones, etc.