Shakin’ things up so much it registers on the Richter Scale

richter scale

Brace yourself

I recently took part in a group conversation with some other writers, and naturally, the topic came around to “So what else are you working on?” I always enjoy this sort of thing. So many great ideas out there.

When it was my turn, I mentioned some of what’s been occupying my time, which included the Christmas-themed mystery-comedy.

“A Christmas mystery-comedy? What’s that about?”

I launched into my 30-second elevator pitch. “LA Confidential with an all-elf cast.” The seedy underbelly of the world of Santa’s workshop. Guns. Sassy dames. Tough-talking gangsters. Intrigue. Double-crossings. The whole gin-soaked ball of wax.

While most thought it sounded like a lot of fun, one person looked absolutely horrified.

“Oh no!” they exclaimed. “My kids and I love Christmas. It’s supposed to be sweet and wonderful! I can’t believe you’d want to write something like that.” (All that was missing was them sprawled on a fainting couch, claiming to have the vapors while frantically fanning themselves.)

How could I not want to write this? Sweet and wonderful doesn’t make for good storytelling. I love this kind of story, and think it would make a great script.

This person makes it sound like trying something new is a bad idea because it messes with the comfort of the familiar. Yet one of the most common tenets is “Familiar, but different.” A story you’ve seen before, but told in an entirely new way. It’s what we should all work towards.

Everybody’s looking for something truly original and unique. Why in the world would you want to write something that doesn’t offer up anything new?

Every script you write is a golden opportunity to push your creativity to the limit so you really catch ’em off-guard. You know the story you want to tell, but it’s on you to truly surprise your reader/audience. Take things in an entirely different direction. They may think they know what’s coming, but you know better and look forward to how they’re going to react.

No matter what genre your story falls into, there will be certain expectations that come with it. The challenge of every writer is to not just meet those expectations, but toss them out the window and offer up a totally new and unexpected way of telling that story. Some people may not like it, but it’s most likely they’re in the minority, and therefore not your target audience.

Think about it. What kind of script are you more likely to take notice of and remember? One that goes for new and original, or one that plays it safe with the tried, true and predictable?

I know which one I’d pick, and will be waiting over by the window for your answer.

10 Responses to Shakin’ things up so much it registers on the Richter Scale

  1. Pauline Hetrick says:

    I like the way you think. Since I’ve been told they are always asking for something different you’re giving it to them. A raunchy santa’s elfe is definitely unique. In my script I’m thinking a scene in the second half of act 2. Where the scene turns a little volatile.. And I’m not sure if it will fly in the family film market. What do you think?
    Pauline Hetrick
    Pauline.hetrick@gmail.com

    • Maximum Z says:

      My story’s not really raunchy. A little risqué in parts, perhaps, but not raunchy.

      It really depends on the role of the scene within the context of the story. If it doesn’t match the family-friendly tone you’ve already established, then it needs to be reworked.

      Good luck!

  2. May West says:

    Sounds great, Paul!
    Definitely very Different – original premise.
    Well done!
    Go for it!
    How’s your dialogue?
    Does it fit with “different-original?
    Herein lies the real challenge–
    Yeah.
    Dialogue.

  3. Brian Drake says:

    This is why I never talk about story ideas. I’ve had it up to my eyeballs with the superior intellect, most of whom have never written anything, but considering the company we’ll table that point for now. I’m trying not to let my prior knowledge of this screenplay affect my comment (I still have the rough draft you gave me somewhere) but it’s tough. It’s a great story and concept. If you want a sweet Christmas movie, watch the bloody Hallmark Channel.

  4. I love the idea of a dark Christmas story. It has dark origins that many do not know about. It could be a great opportunity to drop some of that in there. It is important to bring something fresh to your storytelling. That’s why I stay away from Lifetime movies. I have family that loves them, but I think they are the same story with different cast members. Boring. Good if you suffer from insomnia.

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