Carson here. Been feeling lousy all week, therefore I am, sadly, going to take a sick day today. Luckily I still have something to post. The other day when I was talking about the age-old screenwriting question of which kind of script you should write (something personal or something commercial), commenter Tom gave the best answer to the question I think I’ve ever seen. So I’m re-publishing the comment below. — I like the idea of rewarding good comments so I’m thinking of making this a possible monthly thing. Publish the 3-5 best comments of the month. Thoughts?
From Commenter Tom:
The question of “commercial vs. personal” is not black and white. There’s a Goldilocks zone to it, and it’s one that some writers never reach. Ultimately, there’s an artistic side to your brain and a mathematical side to your brain, and unless you have unbridled raw talent, you have to find a way to get Pappa Bear and Mama Bear to play together.
I see a common progression in amateur writers.
1. The Sum Is GREATER than the Parts
Many writers start out with personal, artistic projects. Stories about their life experiences, or their high school friends, or some small article they read that sparked their imagination. And the scripts? Unreadable. The dialogue is stilted, the scenes are cliche, the conflict and pacing is scattershot. These scripts suck. But there’s an undeniable heart at the core of them. Although the individual components suck ass, there’s a purity to the overall story. But no one can bare to read more than 10 pages.
The writer then retreats. He/she reads other scripts, modeling the voices of those writers. They buy copies of Save The Cat and Story. They follow the industry and see what kind of scripts are selling, modeling their next effort on some of the trends. They log line, beat sheet, and outline. The result is:
2. The Sum Is LESS than the Parts.
Welcome to 95% of the Amateur Friday entries. Each individual scene is adequate, perhaps even exemplary. Dialogue is clean. Characters have flaws. Act I turning point hits exactly on page 25. The lead is a 35 year old male who has a mentor, a love interest, and a cat that he saves on page 4. The concept, while not “blow your mind” is solid. Yet, these scripts are… soulless. It’s all calculation. Commercial, yes. But forgettable.
A lot of writers never leave this stage. They marvel at how easily their early scripts flowed, and they can’t seem to replicate that old creative vision. Every time they start setting a script in an early period, or with a female lead they block themselves. These writers, while not hitting home runs, get a few singles or doubles. They get repped by baby managers who have them submit 10 log lines a week to determine their next project. They get stuck in this mathematical, calculating style of writing. Their projects never gain traction.
But after some time in this zone, a few finally say “Fuck it. I’m going to write what I want.”
3. The Goldilocks Zone
These are the writers who finally get noticed. The commercial side of their brain is no longer boxing out the creative side. The stories are personal, but with a larger, worldly-accessible twist. The story flows naturally, and yet subconsciously matches up with the 3-act structure.
The time spent in Zone 2 was invaluable because now they know and understand structure. They know how to bottle Blake Snyder and put him on a shelf, away from the process, but always ready to help. They can step back and see their story not as disassociated gears on a clock, but as a full living organism.
And the real key is they LIKE the stories they’re writing.
The Zone 1 scripts were hard to read. The Zone 2 scripts were hard to write. But these Goldilocks scripts are fun. And as a result, the writer’s voice begins to seep into the pages.
That’s the balance all writers have to find. You MUST know structure. You MUST know what’s commercial. You MUST be able to forget it all.