Screenwriting is, at its heart, storytelling.
And storytelling is about creating an emotional connection with an audience.
But how do you connect with your audience unless you, as the writer, are willing to let us in?
For your work to connect, what it needs is for you to do that most difficult of things, to be vulnerable. No matter the shame. No matter the fear of embarrassment or ridicule or rejection.
Telling our stories on screen allows us to reach huge audiences, making writing for film and television just about the most commercial form of creative writing there is. While that can bring with it the advantages of (sometimes huge) financial rewards, sometimes it leads us down the path of searching for the most commercial idea, for what we think the market wants and will buy. And in doing so, we can lose sight of what this story means to us.
We look outside for the answers to our story problems, when we should be looking in.
I recently had the pleasure of chatting at Content London’s WritersRoom event with showrunner Simon Mirren (Criminal Minds, Versailles) about how he became a screenwriter. What struck me most was how deeply personal Simon’s breakthrough script was and how strong his emotional connection to that material was, even twenty years on.
We often talk about finding a personal connection to your stories but how do you do that and why does it matter?
Storytelling is about connecting. And truly connecting with other people is about sharing those truths about us which make us vulnerable. And that dependence upon vulnerability for connecting to others is as true for our writing as it is for our own lives.
This is a plea for writers to enter into their work whole-heartedly and authentically. To allow yourself to be truly exposed, no matter how painful or embarrassing.
To share our truth we need to be willing to let go of you we think we should be and instead to share who we really are.
To strip away the mask, the front. To expose our flaws. To be emotionally and psychologically naked.
We need to give life in our work to those unspoken wants and desires, to those deepest fears and anxieties that keep us awake at night.
Being open and honest isn’t weakness, it requires great strength to share our inner thoughts and feelings.
The need for vulnerability is talked about a lot in acting and performance, but you, the writer, have to be willing to go there first.
Because it is only through sharing our vulnerability that our writing will truly connect with other people.
I’ll leave with you lyrics of ‘Let The Music Speak’. For me, what it says about music is true for all artists and storytellers, no matter the medium.
I’m hearing images, I’m seeing songs
No poet has ever painted
Voices call out to me, straight to my heart
So strange yet we’re so well acquainted
I let the music speak, with no restraints
I let my feelings take over
Carry my soul away into the world
Where beauty meets the darkness of the day
Where my mind is like an open window
Where the high and healing winds blow
From my shallow sleep the sounds awake me
I let them take me
Let it be a joke
Let it be a smile
Let it be a farce if it makes me laugh for a little while
Let it be a tear
Let it be a sigh
Coming from a heart, speaking to a heart, let it be a cry
Some streets are emptiness, dry leaves of autumn
Rustling down an old alley
And in the dead of night I find myself
A blind man in some ancient valley
I let the music speak, leading me gently
Urging me like a lover
Leading me all the way
Into a place
Where beauty will defeat the darkest day
Where I’m one with every grand illusion
No disturbance, no intrusion
Where I let the wistful sounds seduce me
I let them use me
Let it be the joy of each new sunrise
Or the moment when a day dies
I surrender without reservation
No questions why
I take it to me and let it flow through me
Yes, I let the music speak
I let the music speak
Lyrics: BENNY ANDERSSON, BJORN ULVAEUS