First of all, I always knew I wanted to write. I remember as far back as being 6 or 7 and wanting to be an “Author” because I loved books and so authors were my heroes and of course I wanted to be one. I wanted to make people feel the way books made me feel.
And that’s actually still true for me, it’s just that movies and TV got tangled in it somehow too.
Growing up in a strict household, movies were one of the few things we were allowed to do (until 8pm on weekdays and 10 on weekends). I watched a LOT of them; just musicals at first but in greater variety as I grew older and somewhere along the line – I fell for them. Big time.
I remember a time in my teenage years when I lived at Video Clubs and there wasn’t an A, B or C list actor I couldn’t put a name or at least part of a filmography to. I loved imagery. I loved acting and stories that could only be told visually – LOVED it. But I was never able to admit it to myself till I was already in University registered for a Bsc in Broadcast Communications (my unconscious halfway point).
My parents weren’t too pleased when after my sophomore year I changed to Communication in Video and Film but I was deliriously happy! At last I got to go to film history classes (I still have my David Cook text which I refused to sell though it’s an older edition) and I got to handle Bolex cameras and celluloid film! I spliced and taped with my own hands and learned the wondrous joys of editing… I loved it so much that I thought I might actually want to be a director instead of an author.
Unluckily (or luckily) for me, I didn’t quite have the temperament for it. It takes a different kind of artistry and patience and personal force be it loud or silent to sit on the canvas chair. I took a couple of passes at it and on top of having the wrong temperament I found in the end and to my surprise that it didn’t give me the bone deep satisfaction I got from a manuscript (or even a post like this) completed to my satisfaction.
It was fortunate for me that I had double majored in creative writing as well and also that the Video/Film course gave me enough experience with scriptwriting that I could now think of stories in terms of that format as well. That was actually a very important thing.
Reading scripts and practicing writing them taught me how a medium affects the way a story can be told and how prose, poetry, stage, screen, music and even comic book writing each offer their own unique opportunities for building a narrative.
I’d known that I loved visual story telling but I’d believed I could only do it by directing (which by the way I still low key want to do properly at least once before I die). It was a revelation for me to realize that there was so much more to it. There was writing and all the stuff that gets decided in pre-production. There was also editing and all the stuff that goes down during post-production. All of them were important, creative aspects of telling the story.
With screenwriting, I felt like I was eating my cake and having it. I finally had the tools I needed to make a film using my first love and base strength – writing!
I’ve been working on it ever since and I’ll talk in another post about the actual experience of getting into it professionally after I graduated and came home to Nigeria (cross fingers that I get to it!!!).
These days, one of my favourite aspects of screenwriting is dialogue because you have to be so much more sensitive about it than in prose fiction. In a script (in prose too actually) you don’t want unnatural dialogue jarring people out of the story – but when you sit down to write it, you find that the way people actually speak is a slippery and fascinating thing.
Like in prose, dialogue is an important way to move your narrative along as well as give uniqueness and life to your characters. Unlike in prose, dialogue is the only other way you have apart from action to develop your character and move your narrative. But you can never use too much. This was a tough lesson for me to learn. In film, there is SO much more said in silences – and when characters do speak there are rhythms and patterns to it.
Spoken language is a lot more dynamic than the written word.
When you write dialogue you it’s not just about filling your character’s mouth with information. When I write dialogue I think about what my character needs to express in that moment… then I kind of listen for it.
That’s the best way I can describe it and it’s such a rush when you hear it or catch it; a distinct, living character’s voice.
Have I ever mentioned how I do random dialogues in my head when I’m driving alone?
And sometimes voice them?
Anywho, it’s a craft I’m still learning but I’m grateful for the opportunities I get to practice which brings me to the other awesome part about screenwriting. Finally seeing what had previously only existed in the boundaries of your mind up on the screen.
Talk about a feel good moment.
If you have any questions for me about my personal experience writing for TV, I’ll be happy to answer! Just pop it in the comments!