I had an epiphany last night. I spent the day reading The Inhabitors aloud in preparation for entry into the 2014 Page International Screenwriting Competition. Then, before bed, I decided to check out the top entry in the 2013 Blacklist. That screenplay is called Holland, Michigan and was written by Andrew Sodroski. The logline is as follows: When a traditional Midwestern woman suspects her husband of infidelity, an amateur investigation unravels. I did not get very far into the script due to the late hour, but I really enjoyed what I read.
This led to my epiphany: I am a good storyteller but an average (possibly below average, depending on what you’re comparing to) writer. I can’t say much on the story yet, but I can tell you Mr. Sodroski is an excellent writer. I mentally compared his writing to the style I used in The Inhabitors and immediately felt inadequate. However, my confidence with The Inhabitors lies in its story. I love the story and the characters, which for a screenplay is more important than the writing. If it gets produced, that is.
There are plenty of examples of great writing paired with subpar stories, and great stories paired with subpar writing. Great writing can save a crap story and a great story can save crap writing. But both of those scenarios only work to a point. The ideal situation is a great story paired with great writing. That is the bar every writer should shoot for. It’s unfortunate I hadn’t thought much about it until recently.
Part of this is finding your voice. I was reading writing advice recently (if I could remember where I’d link to it, but I don’t so instead I’ll apologize – I’m sorry) that talked about writers adopting what I’ll call a “narrator voice.” The narrator voice is what we write in while writing a story in the third-person. It is basic, cliched, and sounds like what we expect a narrator to sound like instead of what we, as individual writers, sound like. I realized that I have a tendency to do exactly this. My stories all sound the same because I adopt a specific narrator voice that isn’t unique to me while writing. It’s most egregious in my prose writing, but I tend to do it in screenplays as well. It’s just less noticeable there because screenplays, by their nature, rely more on description than metaphor and the like.
The solution? Read and write more, I suppose. I’ve taken it on myself to write 1,000 words per day for the year. Hopefully within those 365,000 words I’ll find 70,000 or so that make a good story. I also hope that within those words I can overcome my narrator voice and create something more interesting, more involving, and all around better than what I’ve been doing so far.