Pushing the Boundaries: Learning from the Old, Creating the New

Abstract by Dr. Linda Seger

The creative writer works with boundaries and with balance. There is a balancing act between art and craft – knowing the craft and expressing the art. Without craft there is confusion and an arbitrary approach to art – which sometimes works, but usually does not. Without art, the product is derivative and obvious and on-the-nose.

There is a balance between art as expression and art as communication.
There is a balance between pushing our art into new forms, and being so beholden to what are thought of as the “old rules” that we become locked in.
There is balance between “always coloring inside the lines” and “doing what you want.”

I don’t believe in rules and formulas, but I do believe in concepts and ideas. I believe “You can do anything you want, if you can do it!” That means that any time you move away from what other people call Rules, you usually have to compensate and be aware of what you are doing and why you are doing it and how to get around it to make it work. So we will be talking about some of these sneaky techniques that are good to know and that can serve your art.

This 30 minute talk will look at the following issues and questions:
1. Momentum Issues: How do you keep a story moving if you put an emphasis on episodes and development rather than results and resolutions?
2. Focus and Orientation Issues: How do you keep focus if you put an emphasis on emotional moments and transformation rather than action points?
3. Structural Issues: what are the aspects of the Three Act Structure that can help you rather than hinder you and how do you bring these in, while seemingly “breaking all the rules?” (If you have time, watch the film Luther with Joseph Fiennes where I was the script consultant and broke two of the biggest “Rules” in screenwriting in the Third Act. I will talk briefly about what those were and how we compensated for the problem this was going to cause.)
4. Action Points: how do you diminish action points so you don’t pound the audience over the head (ala Die Hard) while still using them for clarity? How much distance do you want between your audience and your action?
5. Sources and Knowledge: How do you look for sources and work with the knowledge and insights of other artists while not allowing them to lock you in to their own formulas?

You might find it helpful to take a look at several of my books that cover these issues in different ways: Making a Good Script Great which deals more with conventional structures. Advanced Screenwriting which deals with unconventional structures. Making a Good Writer Great which deals with the creative process. And the chapter on the film Crash in And the Best Screenplay Goes to – Learning from the Winners.

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