Rewrites: The Importance of Chains

Photo by Sheila in Moonducks

As screenwriters, we already have limitations on us in terms of format. Sometimes we have limitations when we write for others, giving them what they want (with a nice dash of what we want, of course). As writer/directors, we have budgetary limitations on us (resulting in a smorgasbord of sub-par, single-room films with boring characters, as well as some truly amazing stuff).

It seems the only time we don’t have limits is when we write something on spec, with no care in the world as to who makes it or even if it gets made (though an option would be nice). We just want to have fun with things, and that’s brilliant.

But, as renowned music composition teacher Nadia Boulanger said, “the greatest artists have created art within bounds. Or else they have created their own chains.” What chains can you create in your own work? Let’s leave budgetary constraints out of the equation. Everyone has that constraint. It’s the only constant in filmmaking. I want to talk story constraints.

Self-imposed story constraints inspire creative solutions to problems and result in a more cohesive, surprising, and creatively satisfying story. But how do you pick which constraints to add (note that I don’t like rules, but I’m going to impose a constraint on myself based on the name of this site; we won’t call them rules – let’s go with suggestions)? Here’s a few suggestions.

• Make sure it comes from character – not plot. The best constraints come from character. Why? A story is nothing more than one or more people involved in a conflict.

• Make sure it comes from character – not characteristics. Don’t give your protagonist a webbed duck foot unless it’s a visual representation of a character flaw.

• Make sure it comes from a place that creatively interests you – and manifests itself in character. Chains on a character are great – chains FROM a character are even better. And let’s be honest – every character has a piece of you in them.

What chains have you imposed on your own work? Do you find that as you go through the rewrite process that you add or remove them? If you add chains in rewrites, it may open up new doors that you haven’t considered before… or close ones that shouldn’t have been opened to begin with. Have fun and write well.

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1 Comment
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