Ditch the Plans: Notes from a Conversation with a Screenwriter

Click on photo for source.
Click on photo for source.

I’ve been gushing about the show Granite Flats to anyone who will listen (which mostly means, I post things on Twitter). It’s a spy thriller set in the 1960s in a small town in Colorado, and it follows three young detectives who, despite the sheriff’s admonition to stay safe, investigate and discover a KGB spy’s hiding place in his basement. The stellar cast includes Christopher Lloyd, Cary Elwes of The Princess Bride fame and Parker Posey. Season 3 is only available online (and will be on Netflix soon) and I’ve been immensely enjoying the episodes.

Here’s the first tweet I wrote about the show:

In reply, I received this tweet:

John Christian Plummer. That name sounds familiar. Could it be? No…

But yes, I recognized the name because I saw it at the beginning of Granite Flats episode under the title, “Writer.” I was excited. I said,

Fan girl? Perhaps. But this was too much fun.

I asserted, “Well, it was a good yell. Like, ‘What?!? Why?!?'” In reply, he said, “Hopefully you can watch the rest and yell some more!” And indeed I did yell, more than once. Fast forward a few days. Here’s a new tweet:

Plummer retweeted and favorited it, and then one of the main actors from Granite Flats favorited it. So then, I decided to do something, maybe risky, because hey, it was a famous writer I was dealing with here, but he had liked my tweets so here it goes:

I have been struggling with character development, so I have been reading tips for bringing characters to life. Much of the advice I have read (and heard throughout my education) says to plan everything out and put characters in various scenarios to test how they would react, even if they weren’t actually going to be in those scenarios in the story. For example, place a character at a party with a lot of people and ask, “What will they do at the party? Dance in the middle of the crowd? Sit against the wall and text someone? Rob the richest person there?” There was even a blog post for writers who hate planning (“Oooh, pick me, pick me!” I said as I raised my hand) describing this process. However, it seems superfluous for genres such as fantasy or science fiction, where parties are likely few and far between.

Anyway, the script writer replied to my question. And I’ll let the tweets talk now.

“Planning isn’t living.” Pure music.

I’ve felt trapped before by the voices that say everything needs to be planned out. Rising higher in a career when I was happy where I was. Outlining a book because that’s how it’s supposed to be done. Following a formula for success (as if there was such a thing).

These are all good things for the people who need them. But they just weren’t for me. And there have been times in my life where I would have thought there was something wrong with me for not following that path. But I’ve gone down enough paths where I can sort out what I want to do, and what I want to do is different. And that’s okay. I’m not going to plan out my characters. I’m just going to let them go. Free range characters are healthier anyway, right? ; )

In fact, I’m going to delete my Evernote notebook titled, “Character Sketches.”

*clicks the mouse, blinks, hits delete, confirm*

Done.

So long planning. I’ll plan what I need to (there is a method to this madness), but other than that, I’m just going with the flow.

I end with a conversation from the greatest nonplanner of all time and space.

“You have no weapons, no defenses, no plan!”

“Yeah. And doesn’t that scare you to death….”

And if you would like to end on a lighter note than the threat of destruction from the Daleks from a Doctor Who episode, here is a song I have long enjoyed for many reasons (first song I heard from the Goldmine Pickers, and I saw them live!), but especially because of the line,

“Who can see ahead in this inky murk? Search for clarity, but never plan ahead.”

Inky murk? Absolutely. It’s downright scary most days, but still….Bring it on.

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