“And then what happened?”
While talking to a friend who is writing a screenplay about a controversial current topic, he said he did not want to research the subject online or interview people who personally experienced what he is writing about. Astonished at this statement, I asked why, and he said he did not want to write anything biographical.
I think this type of thinking comes from the academic writing and journalism he has done in the past. In his mind, hearing about someone’s experience and then writing about it is simply biography, or worse, reporting. So I said, “Imagine you’re in a bar talking to five World War II veterans who are sharing their war experiences. If you write what they’ve said, quoted them and attributed what they said, it would be reporting. But if you listen to what they said, then rewrote it in you own words, combing the experiences, changing the number of people. re-imagining what they told you in different contexts, all with the purpose of telling a story, then it is fiction.”
He seemed to grasp the idea, but I don’t know that he was convinced. He’s a natural researcher, and a great conversationalist, but something always seems to prevent him from putting those words on paper.
One project he had been toying with for years is telling a bit of what happened during the Mexican-American war, and I know the reason he has done nothing more than write note cards for the first draft is that he cannot not stop thinking of it as a scholarly work rather than any war story told by soldiers since the beginning of time.
Every person I know who has trouble getting started with a story has not gotten past the reality that all you’re doing is telling your best friend something that happened.