Posts Tagged ‘screenwriting’

Why is it, when you go into a Starbucks (it’s not always Starbucks, but they seem to attract the species, like flytraps) in LA (I’m assuming it’s only in LA, but I could be wrong–enlighten me) that you see all these guys (and yes, it’s always guys!) writing screenplays on their laptops, an empty cup beside them like their ticket on the train? (“Look, Mr. Conductor/Barista! I paid to be here!”)

No, I’m not asking why everyone goes to Starbucks to write. I’ve written in coffee houses myself, and found it works a lot better than I expected. I guess if it was good enough for J.K. Rowling, etc., etc. It’s not the writing in coffee houses that I don’t understand, it’s writing screenplays.

Look, writing fiction is a crapshoot. Let’s take science fiction, because that’s the field I know. When I was a “kid,” there were those who (I’m sure from an overabundance of caring) made no secret of the fact that your chances of ever getting a story published were 1000-to-1. Even today, with dozens of markets available for short SF, the odds are about the same. It’s not pretty, but it’s true. (Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!)

But screenplays? I have no numbers to go by (and I’m too lazy to look), but I have to figure that your chances of selling a screenplay are about 1/10th as good as selling a short story. Yes, the rewards are vastly higher, but so’s a winning lottery ticket. So why write screenplays when your chances of succeeding at straight fiction are ten times better? I made more on my last sale than most of those coffee-jockeys will make on whatever they’re writing, if they push it from now until they die. (And believe me, what I make isn’t a lot to brag about. The pro rate for magazines as defined by SFWA has about doubled since the 1960s.)

I guess it’s the same mentality that plays the lotto. And I play the lottery, too, occasionally, though I stay with the small tickets. I guess I’d rather win a little every so often rather than play for the big pay-off that may (probably will) never come.

If you’re the other kind, and you hit it big, good for you. Go back to Starbucks and buy a round for the house.



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1. Novelists have to do all the work themselves. When you write a book, you have to do all the work. You don’t have a director to lay out your scenes, or actors to fill in your characters. You can’t just say “Scene 1 – exterior – day,” and have someone else dress the set. (Of course, we don’t have to pay those people either, or put up with their whiny “But my character wouldn’t do that” tantrums, but such considerations do not inform my thesis.)

2. Novelists can’t just blow something up. In a movie, when the plot lags, you blow something up. Novelists can’t do that. We don’t have the permits.

3. Screenwriters can always blame someone else. Once you draft a screenplay, you give it to the studio, who usually gives it back–to another screenwriter. You often end up sharing credits with 30 other people you’ve never met. Then there are the directors, studio suits, and naturally, those whiny actors who wouldn’t know what to say if you didn’t write it down for them. (They probably have assistants to read it to them, for that matter.) So how could anyone blame you if the final product tanks? Your vision was pure. A novelist, though, he’s got an editor, maybe some marketing guys, and way back in the line, his critique group. Who’s he going to blame if the book doesn’t sell? “The cover was awful.” Yeah, that always works. Who judges a book by its cover? And if the book is a hit, who gets the credit? (Well, yeah, okay…but how often does that happen?)

4. Screenwriters get respect. In LA, you go into a coffeehouse, or a Starbucks (Starbucks isn’t a coffee house, it’s a coffee bar, don’t get me started), and half the patrons are on a laptop. Of those, half are students, and the other half are writers. Ask one of these laptop users: “What are you working on?” First, you’ll have to ask three times, because they’re all wearing headphones. But when you get through to them, the answer is either, “I’m writing a screenplay,” or “I’m writing a book.” The response to the former is, “Cool. What’s it about?” The response to the latter is, “People still read books?”

5. Screenwriters don’t have to find space to write. See no. 4. After enough people interrupt him, the novelist gets discouraged and goes home to drink his coffee, because they won’t let you put booze in it at the Starbucks.

All right. Enough of this. I’m halfway through my venti latte and I haven’t done any work yet.

Scene 1 – exterior – day

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