MONTHLY SCREENWRITING TIPS - ISSUE #17
Is the medium truly the message? Is there a difference in your material if you write it pen-in-hand versus typing it into a computer? How deeply does a writer’s signature come across via keystrokes rather than hand-held pencil mechanics?
Forensic handwriting analysts can examine a signature and determine its authenticity. Likewise, they can study unsigned text inscribed in longhand and identify its author. The loops, dips, swirls, whirls, whorls, and eddies characterizing handwriting are unique to every writer.
Did you know that experts can do the same even if the writing has been done not by hand but by foot?
Imagine that a writer tapes a felt-tipped marker between his toes and, manipulating his leg, signs a sheet of paper lying on the floor before him. Authorities tell us that the signature written by foot would be as readily identifiable as that written by hand.
This tells us that handwriting resides not in the hand but the heart.
In his flamboyantly illustrated (and totally brilliant) Writer’s Book of Wisdom, University of Hawaii Professor Steven Goldsberry urges scribes occasionally to push away their keyboard, grab a quill, dip it in an inkwell, and write by hand. (Partly kidding – I added the quill and inkwell.) Feeling the writing flow through your hand and onto the page, Steven argues, is essential for all writers, no matter how computer savvy they may be.
'We have an ancestral, even spiritual, desire to create by hand,” he says. “A keyboard will never give you that same satisfaction.”
I’ve praised Steven in the past, celebrating for example his prescription that writers consider every sentence to be a joke, and to remember that jokes end on the punch line. This wisdom informs my writing page by page, sentence by sentence. Professor Goldsberry will tolerate, therefore, if I disagree with him regarding typing versus handwriting.
Keyboards are every bit as personal as an ink-dipped feather or a fat crayon or lump of charcoal clutched in the hand. The rhythms and inflections that characterize a particular writer’s keyboard technique are as unique to him as his handwriting.
It has recently been determined that by mapping the way a particular piece of writing is keyed into the board, the rising and falling pace of pressing the keys, the herky-jerky stop-and-go stuttering and clustering of characters, the accelerating and decelerating patterns of what musicians call attack, the bursts of data interspersed with pauses of varying and indeterminate length are ultimately as discrete to writers as their hand-inscribed signatures.
Just as cops can figure out (much of the time) who wrote the ransom note, experts examining the typing pattern can figure out the identity of a text’s creator. A computer keyboard is not all that different from a piano. Each has tone, texture, and technique. A true maven listening to a Chopin piano concerto can tell you whether it’s performed by Artur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, or Jerry Lee Lewis.
The computer keyboard is not merely a machine connecting the writer’s gray matter to the device’s memory circuits but, far more importantly, a manifestation of that particular artist’s style, spirit, and soul.
On Their Way Up: New Writer Profile on Jenna Milly
Jenna Milly is a screenwriter. She co-created the TBS microseries "Gillian in Georgia." She earned her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Georgia and a M.F.A. in Screenwriting from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television. She is a film critic and on-air celebrity host at SheKnows.com and has written for CNN.com , Los Angeles Times, Script Magazine, TurnstyleNews.com and a variety of magazines. She is currently developing a romantic comedy with her writing partner Ann Marie Allison for producer Bob Teitel and State Street Pictures. Jenna also wrote and directed the short film A Peacock-Feathered Blue, which screened first at the Atlanta Film Festival in 2009 and went on to become a featured selection at Austin Film Festival, The Baltimore Women's Film Festival, London Short Film Festival, LA Shorts Fest, DC Shorts Fest and Branchage International Film Festival in England. For the latest alerts on Jenna’s film reviews, follow her on Twitter @jennamilly or visit her author page on SheKnows.com. Jenna also teaches screenwriting online via The Writers Store, including a seminar on January 24 entitled “How to Write the First 10 Pages of a Screenplay”.
In this issue, Jenna dishes on what made her want to become a screenwriter and how she stays focused on her craft.
1. When did you first determine you wanted to become a screenwriter - were you already in the middle of a different career?
Jenna: I always loved movies and started writing plays (and performing them in my garage!) when I was 12, but I didn't have the courage to pursue the dream full force until I was already working as a journalist.
2. Once you knew you wanted to become a screenwriter, what did you do to try and make that happen?
Jenna: I wrote and took classes and read books and joined writers' groups and wrote and repeated that cycle until I finally wrote a script that placed in a contest. That was Scriptapalooza, and it was with that script that I was accepted into the UCLA MFA program.
3. How did your life experience to that point affect your writing?
Jenna: Everything you do in life affects your writing, good and bad. The way to become a better writer is to figure out how to get those mistakes and triumphs on the page.
4. How did become an MFA screenwriting student at UCLA and what was your experience like in the program?
Jenna: I absolutely loved UCLA with my heart and soul! I remember leaving the world of broadcast news at CNN to come to Los Angeles and sit in a classroom and listen to other writers create stories out of their hopes and dreams. It was pure magic! I just kept thinking how lucky am I? I've never looked back.
5. Do you consider yourself a writer or filmmaker or both?
Jenna: I consider myself a writer. I love writing, as difficult as it is almost all of the time. A couple years ago, I decided to produce a short that I had written. I definitely have respect for directors, how they have to keep track of everything and bring everyone together, but the true creation for the story happens with the writer and that starts on the page. The film I wrote and directed on 35mm is called A Peacock-Feathered Blue, the story of a 9-year-old boy who tries to invent a new color in order to win the science fair.
6. Being a screenwriter or filmmaker in this biz is hard. How do you currently support yourself and your family as a writer?
Jenna: I am a film critic and also an entertainment reporter.
7. What advice do you have for other writers to stay dedicated to their craft while balancing other necessary aspects of their life (such as family, working another job to support, etc.)?
Jenna: Keep writing and don't give up! It's tough to find encouragement, so stay true to yourself and believe in your craft.
Catch Richard If You Can!
Up and coming workshops and seminars:
Jan 21, 2012 – Greater Los Angeles Writing Society, Los Angeles, CA
Jan 22, 2012 – Scriptchat (Online Screenwriting Discussion) – 8:00 PM EST / 5:00 PM PST
March 19, 2012 – Women in Film Monthly Master Class Series, Los Angeles, CA
May 26, 2012 – UCI Screenwriting Festival, Irvine, CA