Are You Bouncing Between Screenplays?
By Jacob Krueger
There’s one kind of writer’s block everyone is aware of: the kind where you’re just not writing. You know the drill. You plan a time to sit down in front of your computer… and somehow find yourself reorganizing your Christmas ornaments (in the middle of April).
But there’s another kind of block that’s far more insidious… I call it The Bouncing Block. And many of you will recognize it. Writers who’ve got The Bouncing Block often fool themselves into thinking they’re not blocked at all. They write all the time, a new idea every day. They just never finish anything.
The Source Of The Problem Usually Looks A Little Something Like This
You start out with and idea you just can’t wait to write, and you dive into it with everything you’ve got. You’re so excited. The words are flowing. The characters are talking to you. And you love what you’re writing. But then after a few days or a few weeks or a few months, you wake up to find that the thrill is gone.
There are all kinds of problems you didn’t anticipate when you first sat down to write, holes in your idea you have no idea how to fix. And as exciting and original as your premise seemed when you started, you’re now realizing that it’s full of clichés, and really not so exciting or commercial or original after all. You feel disconnected from your characters, you can’t figure out what happens next, and any ideas that do come to you just seem boring and cliché…
Luckily, just when you’re starting to question if you really have what it takes, you get another idea.
And this one is really good. I mean, amazing. I mean, so much better than that other crazy idea you were working on. And it starts to seem like the problem all along was just that you picked the wrong premise. So you drop that terrible old half completed script into some buried file on your computer, and jump ship to the new idea. And it’s so much better… for a few weeks. Until the whole thing happens all over again.
Before long, you’re bouncing from script, to script, to script. Trying desperately to find that one truly worthwhile premise, and never seeming to get there. You’ve got The Bouncing Block.
Here’s why you can’t ever seem to find the right premise.
Because all premises are bad at some point in their development—before you push through and see what’s on the other side. All ideas, no matter how simple and clear they seem when you first sit down to write, are going to reveal every flaw to you once you actually get to know them.
Think about a movie like Lars and the Real Girl. The premise is probably one of the “worst” in film history. Ryan Gosling falls in love with a sex doll. And get this, it’s supposed to be a character driven drama, and we’re supposed to take it seriously. Yeah, this could have been a really terrible movie. In fact, back in the 80’s the goofiest possible version of this premise actually was made (a little movie called Mannequin). But Lars and the Real Girl takes this crappy premise, and turns it into a beautiful work of art. Not by running away from the problems, or falling victim to its limitations, but by pushing through them to find the true beauty of the idea.
Writing a Screenplay Is Like Falling In Love
Falling in love with a premise is a lot like falling in love at first sight with another person. At first, we all go through that magical honeymoon period where we can only see the best in the other person. But once we truly get to know them, we start to see all the flaws, incompatibilities and contradictions that make us wonder if the kind of love we dream of is really possible.
Some of us make the same mistake in our relationships that we make in our screenplays, bouncing from relationship to relationship to relationship, imagining that some day “the right one” is going to magically appear and fix everything in our lives, rather than doing the work that it takes to have a real relationship with a real person, and make that relationship beautiful, despite all the flaws.
People who are successful in relationships, like people who are successful in screenwriting, know a secret.
The premise that’s in your head is always perfect. But the one that’s on the page is always flawed. Your growth as a writer, like the growth of a truly beautiful relationship, comes not by running from those flaws, but by dancing with them. Doing the work on yourself, trusting your initial impulses, investing in each other despite all the crappy things about you both, and working toward the dream of something beautiful together.
That doesn’t mean that every lover is going to be the one you spend your life with. Just like every script you write isn’t going to be the best one you’ve ever written. But it does mean that every single script you write is going to make you a better writer, and bring you closer to your real goals and the life you want for yourself.
So next time you’re thinking about bouncing to a new script, take a moment to imagine what might happen if you stuck around.
Stay tuned for the next installment of this series, in which I’ll be discussing how to know the right time to stay, and the right time to go when you’re working on a script, as well as some helpful tricks to bring your projects to a completion.