Restraint of Pen and Tongue – Great for Life, Bad for Scripts

I’m a 4 am writer. I love the quiet, the darkness, the lack of ringing phones and pressing business. It’s just me, my two sleeping dogs, and my laptop.

One of my mantras is “stay off the internet,” but I’m not always that strong. Especially if I’m waiting to hear from someone.

The days I go straight to my dropbox and don’t even open Google Chrome are the best. I get so much done, and barely even think a thought that isn’t about the world I am creating. But the days when I check my email… I get distracted. I want to interact with real people, think about my day and share my thoughts. Sometimes, I feel lonely and anxious and write emails I might regret later. On the worst days, I get into a neurotic anxiety spiral and share it with whomever I reach out to.

Long ago, I first heard the phrase “restraint of tongue and pen.” When I remember that, I benefit greatly, and the place I need to remember it most is when I’m emailing someone. It seems so important to say what I want to say, and it’s so easy for the person on the other end not to understand, to misconstrue, to take something personally that was never meant that way, or just to think I’m a mess. Invariably when I let my emotions take over, I regret it. Then I’m embarrassed at best, and at worst, I’ve hurt someone’s feelings.

In my screenplays, however, I can let myself go. My characters can say what they need to say and take the consequences. It’s all up to me. Early in the process, when I’m writing a first draft, I may have a tendency to hold back, limit the suffering I put my characters through. In rewrites, one of the first questions I ask myself is “Where do I back off, and how far can I push it?”

One time, a trusted mentor read a draft of one of my scripts in progress. He asked me why I had skipped from the beginning of a meal to the end when there was a potential for so much interesting interaction. The surprising answer (even to me) was that I did it because I wanted to save the actors from having to eat during the scene. Of course, his response was that they are actors and they love to be tortured. Otherwise they don’t think they are doing their jobs! He was kidding, but you have to admit he had a point. Why else would they gravitate towards roles with the widest emotional range and the greatest physical torment?

One of the things I often notice when covering scripts for beginning writers, is the tendency not to let the main character suffer. Most early screenplays are somewhat autobiographical. The writer wants the main character to be liked and understood, therefore is afraid to let him or her act out. Then, because it’s them, they don’t want them to suffer.  I always remind them that flawed characters are most human and that’s why we love them, and the more they suffer along the way, the more we want them to succeed. So go ahead, let the nun get raped, the thief get caught and the diver hit his head on the rock. Just don’t do it in an email!

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karenlovestv

I'm a recent graduate with an MFA in Writing and Producing Television. I'm also a mom with two kids and a hubby, a feminist and equal rights advocate. Lately, I've been obsessed with minimalism and I'm addicted to self-improvement