by Jeff Kitchen
I shake things up early and often when creating and developing a new story, challenging the ideas, the conflict, the ending, the scope of the story, characters, tone, energy, pace, genre, period, budget, setting, and key moments. Part of my job inventing great stories that work dramatically is to explore the extremes, just to see how far I can take it. What are its limits? And what if you go way beyond that? What is the single craziest possibility for your story? That extreme is usually well beyond what works for the story, but such fearless exploration and reckless abandon can sometimes catapult you into wildly unexpected realms. It will routinely make your story deeper, with more power, substance, and complexity. And as a bonus, the cascade of new possibilities often triggers ideas for entirely new scripts.
You need good attack as a storyteller
Not only does this kind of attack as a storyteller generally make your scripts better but it also makes you a more robust, imaginative, and versatile writer. The key word in the entertainment industry is Outrageousness. And that doesn’t necessarily mean to blow more things up or have bigger car chases. Look at the Best Picture Oscar winner in 1980, Ordinary People, a small drama that goes right for the jugular vein, digging deep into how our destructive patterns can cripple us. It pulls no punches, and it won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor, plus five Golden Globe awards in the same categories.
Playing with dynamite instead of firecrackers
So when I throw hand grenades into a developing story, I’m making suggestions that deliberately torpedo aspects of the story, with the intension to add depth, complexity, color, unpredictability, adventure, entertainment value, danger, comedic aspects, thematic intensity, fun, magnitude, and more. It’s just playing What If? I’m not trying to damage the story’s shape, I’m just challenging its trajectory, poking it, exploring cracks, seeing how fast it can go, monkeying with key elements, and experimenting with painting way outside the lines. Sometimes it changes everything, sometimes it warps the third act in a fascinating way or turns a forgettable character into an electrifying one, and sometimes it has no effect at all. But I feel better as a creator knowing that I’m playing with dynamite instead of firecrackers because the audience wants a story to change their world.
Are you a domesticated animal or a wild animal?
You can’t rail against the homogeneity of Hollywood while at the same time staying safely in your lane and making timid choices. Did you become a writer to be a domesticated animal, easily restrained and submissive? Be a wild animal and make explosively fearless choices. Make questionable choices. Hell, make disastrous choices, but take us somewhere we’ve never been, shake us up, turn us inside out, shock us to our core, make us fall madly in love, rewire our brains, and change our lives forever. We hunger for that.
Challenge your idea, then construct your script
Never let anyone tell you that every story has been told. Shatter the perceived limits of your idea. Refuse to think small. Violate your own rut as a storyteller. Don’t stick to what you know. Start at white heat and build from there. Play Mad Scientist with dangerous story chemicals. Go as deep and as far as an idea can take you, and then construct your script. Play Crazy What If and deliberately make your job as a writer harder. The more craft you have as a dramatist, the more fearlessly you can plunge off the deep end as a storyteller. They say that a writer is like a show horse, not happy unless they’re trying to jump over something that might kill them.
“Mania is as priceless as genius. Dissipation of energy, fragmentation of vision, the lack of follow through—these are the vices of the herd.” Dr. No (from the novel, Dr. No by Ian Fleming)
My website is http://script.kitchen