AKA; The Script I’m Unable to Write.
In the summer of 2019, my friend Colin and I plan went bothy hunting. Bothies are small huts which are free shelters to all weary walkers who can find them. Many of them are maintained by the Scottish Bothy Association. It was an arduous journey, one with many twists and turns I could write a whole book on alone. But that’s not what I want to write about today.
Colin was out hiking the nearby hilltops while I nursed my sore body from the long day’s hike. I was writing in my journal by the window when I noticed the following inscription in the sill. “I SHOT CHRIS REILLEY IN THE HEAD.”
A million questions raced through my head. Who wrote this inscription? Was it true, or were they having a laugh? If it were true, why would they write their confession in a bothy in the middle of nowhere? Why had they shot Chris Reilley, and what was their relationship before? Endless possibilities floated across my consciousness, and I dashed as many of them down as I could.
On a film course a few months later, I pitched the idea as a script to at least 3 dozen individuals. All seemed interested in the idea, but there wasn’t much of a story there, outside of my telling of it. It was an idea, but there were no characters, no plot, no narrative.
Over the next few months, I tried and tried to start this script. As almost always is my process, I have to break a story before I can write it. I soon realized this was a story not easily broken. The questions I posed before don’t have easy answers. Many of them I solved, but one stood out above the others. “Why did he do it?”
I came up with more than a dozen answers. Any one of them, I could have taken and run with, but I didn’t believe them. If I didn’t believe in my own script, I couldn’t write it, let alone anyone else believing in it. I was forced to put the script down as other, more pressing projects came to the forefront.
Last summer, after going on a 212-mile hike across Scotland, I was inspired to pick up the script again. I realised before I had been trying to condense a feature length film into a ten-minute script, and I was never going to pull it off. I started planning. I figured out the act structure, some backstory, how, when, and where the main protagonist (or really, antagonist) would shoot Chris. I figured out the fallout. But one issue still remained. I didn’t believe in his reasons for doing it. I didn’t think this character would actually go through with it, not for the reasons I had given him. Eventually, I gave up on the script once again, sticking it back in the drawer.
As film school started, we were assigned to work on a script as part of our coursework. It was to be a 2-page script, with next to no other limitations. I immediately started to think about how I could take this idea I had played with for more than a year now and adapt it to a 2 pager. I came up with the idea that it was the killer’s confession to his father, years later. He would answer for me why he did it to his dad, I would sit and let the character say the words for me, solving the piece I’ve been unable to solve…
I’m sure you can realise by now. It didn’t happen. The words never magically came to my fingers, I didn’t solve why he shot Chris Reilley. I ended up writing a different script entirely for the project. And you know what? I’d say that script was pretty good. You can read about that script here.
The point of this story is this. Sometimes, ideas are flawed at their core. No matter how much we love an idea, we have to let it die. Being stuck on one single idea can greatly hinder creative progress. If you are unwilling to let it die, stick it in a drawer and come back. Every time I have returned to this
project, I have solved more issues, gotten closer to that resolution I crave. But by sticking it in the drawer, I allowed myself the breathing room to be creative again. I created some of my best film projects to date. More importantly, I added more craft tools to my kit, honing my skills.
So, if you have that one project you’ve been stuck on for a month, a season, a year, or longer… I’d encourage you to put it down. Take a step back. Work on something new, something fresh. Become a better artist. When you’re ready, you’ll either realise that project was never worth your time, or you’ll return to that project invigorated with new ideas and skills, ready to tackle the problems which overwhelmed you before.