Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Friday, January 29, 2016

Writing Tip #13: Writing About Yourself

Yours truly with comedienne GL Douglas at churches Making Movies
Last year, I was invited to give a seminar about screenwriting at the Churches Making Movies Film Festival in Newark, New Jersey.  It is a great organization, and I was only too happy to do it.

I spent the weekend talking screenwriters, both actual and aspiring, and the question I was asked most often was:  "How do I write a script about my life?"

The question wasn't really surprising.  I believe most people who write do so to work out some deep inner turmoil or reveal some inner truth.  That was certainly true in my case, and I believe it is a positive impulse.  As I said in my earlier blog, Make It Real, I strongly recommend that you reach inside and find that kind of emotional truth every time you write.  Still, my answer was the same to everyone who asked me about turning their life into a movie:  "Don't."

Many of these people had very compelling stories, often involving some youthful trauma that they were able to overcome.  Some of the stories would probably make very interesting films.  Still, I recommended against it.

Why?  Because screenplays are the wrong format.  Godard famously said "Film is Truth at 24 fps."  Well, that might be true of film, but it is certainly not true of screenplays.  Screenplays are inherently artificial.  Short of haikus, screenplays are perhaps the most highly-structured form of writing imaginable.  They are certainly more structured than life itself.  As a published memoirist, I can tell you that you have to be fully prepared to followed the truth of your story where ever it goes.  That isn't always possible in the screenplay format when you must adhere to a three act structure and hit certain plot points at certain times.

One of the reasons I never seriously considered converting my memoir to a screenplay is because I knew I would have to compress time in some areas, extend it in others, combine characters into composites, etc., to make it fit the format.  Every little change would detract from the truth, as I remembered it.  I was not prepared to make that sacrifice.  I knew many people would be skeptical of the events I was about to relate, so I didn't want to change them just to fit an arbitrary format.  (That said, I did change some names and places to protect the identity of people.)

So should you write your story?  Certainly.  I have talked to a number of memoirists since my book was published and they all found the process liberating. However, I would recommend writing your story as a book first.  In the pages of a book, you will be able to follow the truth more freely.  And who knows....  If your book gets published, someone might actually pay you to turn it into a screenplay.

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