Monday, March 6, 2006

Organic Scriptwriting

It seems everything has become organic these days, even scriptwriting. At the London Book Fair Writing for the Screen Masterclass I attended yesterday, I counted at least 3 uses of the word ‘organic’ in relation to scriptwriting. Tim Firth said his approach to writing comedy was ‘organic’ in that he let the humour emerge from the characters rather than from one-liners he wanted to add to the script. Deborah Moggach spoke of the ‘organic’ feel to her recent adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. And Amy Jenkins, when asked if she first writes the dialogue and then adds further details, or if everything is written in parallel, agreed that it was the latter, and that this was an ‘organic ‘ process.

I’ve been to similar events as this before and though they are always incredibly useful, the limitation of the set-up is that there is never enough time to fully discuss specific issues that crop up. I’ve encountered the word organic in connection to scriptwriting a few times recently, though I can’t say that I can remember the context at this moment in time. Yesterday, after the third instance of the word ‘organic’ (there may have been more, but I stopped counting) I started to wonder exactly what they meant – it all seemed a bit vague. When I got home I decided to look up the word organic in the dictionary to help put it in context and this is what I found:

adjective 1 relating to or derived from living matter. 2 not involving or produced with chemical fertilizers or other artificial chemicals. 3 Chemistry relating to or denoting compounds containing carbon and chiefly or ultimately of biological origin. 4 relating to or affecting a bodily organ or organs. 5 (of the elements of a whole) harmoniously related. 6 characterized by natural development.
The latter two definitions proved useful. I liked Tim Firth’s assertion that he finds the comedy from the characters. As I mentioned in my first post, I get to read quite a lot of sitcoms and more often than not the characters are secondary to the jokes or slapstick situations and it just doesn’t work. When I think of my favourite sitcoms, I think of the characters and the way they relate to each other. I think Father Ted’s dreams of fame continually thwarted by Dougal, Jack or Mrs Doyle and Blackadder’s scheming destroyed by Baldrick. It’s the blueprint for any story – somebody wants something, someone or something stands in their way. In that sense, Amy Jenkins’ overall approach to writing (and it has to be said, most screenwriter’s approach to writing – why make extra work for yourself by going back and adding details, except if you are actually re-writing?) and Tim Firth’s description of creating the comedy in a story meet definition number 5 and definition number 6. If a story is about someone who wants something, then everything stems from that character which could be said to be ‘a natural development’. As such, the comedic value of a story and the scene descriptions should also be ‘harmoniously related’ elements of the whole story.

This all may seem fairly obvious but I had never really thought of describing scriptwriting as an organic process before. Certainly I agree that all aspects of the script, from the characters to the dialogue, the arena and the pacing should fit together with no one aspect of the craft of writing overtaking another. But perhaps because writing a script can so often be such a laborious, painful process I didn’t associate it with being either harmonious or natural.

On that note, I’m off to start chopping carrots for dinner (organic carrots, of course!).

No comments:

Post a Comment