My Writing Career: A History of My Screenplays

I have been a screenwriter for roughly 18 years. Not 18 years consistently but I started trying to write screenplays in 1996 and continue to write to this day. Honestly, even in the periods I claim I wasn’t writing, I was always writing. I just wasn’t finishing. Regrettably, the number of copies of finished scripts I have to share is decidedly slim though I do include two scripts ready for reading. Sadly. I’m counting a couple of scripts I failed to finish as well to study why I failed to finish them.

Why post this? Because all writing is fundamentally autobiography. In describing each piece, I’ll try to explain how they reflected myself and who I was in that moment.

My first interest in screenwriting came with the first movie script I ever purchased, a copy of the (heavily rewritten) script to Twister. From there I was hooked. I was desperate to read every script I could find. With the advent of the internet, I found many to read. And eventually, it was time.

Script 1 (1997): Written at 13 when I was first reading script after script and decided to try myself. This was an action comedy starring myself, my friend Adam, and my brother Nathan as we fight a crazed skateboarder in a road race. Looking back at it, it’s a 13 year old boy’s fantasy script and I’d lie to say I don’t have a wealth of affection for it. There’s a touch of Home Alone, a touch of Fast and Furious, and a weird humor to it. Is it good? Hell not. But it’s a 13 year old boy’s dream. Fun stuff.

Script 2 (1997): I was a weird kid. This script was about three kids trying to help a girl turn into a proper lady and not a mentally challenged oddity. Have I mentioned I was 13 because if I found this by another writer today I would destroy them. This is pretty despicable, what a kid thinks is funny. It has some cool ideas though. A KMart trapped in 1987. Some nice odd humor here and there. But blecch.

Between that script and the next script, Christmas 1997 came and my dad got me a book on screenwriting by Syd Field. For the first time I had ideas of structure and goals. I recommend such books for aspiring writers as long as they don;t feel like they’re exact how tos. I loved that book.

In Due Time (1997-1999): A time travel script that was my magnum opus, my first 120 pager. (With proper formatting I was likely in the 60-85 range on my other scripts.) This one basically retold my turbulent previous two years using time travel as a thin excuse for telling them. It was fundamentally a cry of someone who was hurting. Was it good? No. But it wqas my first stab at this blog. For that I cherish it.

The Agent (1998): A spy comedy! How…unique. Look, I was 14. This one feels like an angry 14 year old venting his feelings. It’s pretty offensive and not very good. The protagonist is a jackass inadvertently drawn into a spy story. It’s sexist. It’s dumb. It has a not half bad plot at times. A few turns. But overall I’m glad I stopped trying comedies like this.

Oscarville (1998-1999): I had a dream the Oscars were held in Conway, AR. I wound up trying to write a script based on that dream. Truthfully, I might like this the most of the pieces written in my first two years. It’s a silly idea and I still couldn’t figure out pacing but comedically it’s got some nice beats and of all the projects to come next, it has the lightest tone. It feels as stupid as it is but honestly, with the ratings being what they are for the ceremony, I’m not sure it’s not an idea I couldn’t dust off.

Returning to school started the inevitable slowdown in my writing. I had to accept it was coming. But oh did I start packing things into my writing.

Untitled Artist Project (1999-2000): Nathan dared me to write this. A story of a painter in love with a blind girl with an alcoholic mother. This was a cliche pile up. But you know what? Glad I did write it. No, it’s not good and this was probably 250 pages worth of script before formatting but I tried on it.

Unworthy (First pass, 2000-2001): I’ve noted what happened here. It derailed me as a writer for a full year. Two desperate attempts. Neither worked. It didn’t happen. Not one finished draft.

A Cruel and Evil Girl (2001): I cranked this one out in the fall. A story of two former bullying victims, a female past her pain and a male not. For years I considered this an error. Then I reread it. This is honestly a very sensitive look at the scars left on us from our childhoods. I made one brilliant move early on and switched from his perspective, which was honestly mine, to hers. The result is a piece that drips with sympathy but calls the world out for not getting it. I don’t think it’s anything to regret. Note: this was my first formatted script.

The Heroine (2001-2002): I wrote a comic book inspired script about hardcore fans which I finished writing in March 2002. I started reading comics in May 2002. While hardly a novice, I wasn’t ready to write it. I actually took a few ideas from Unworthy and put them here though not enough to exorcise it. It’s a fun script but ridiculously low level.

Nightfall (2002): A single image inspired this script. A little boy walks into the woods, sees a silhouette of a girl who talks to him until she suddenly unfolds her wings. I tried to write it from his perspective and stalled. Then I rewrote it as an epic fantasy. It’s…ok. It’s ambitious. Unlike anything I’ve ever written. Has more action. I spent a lot of time researching woodland creatures which led to:

Ordinary Girl (First pass 2002-2003): I took some of the pieces from Nightfall and turned them into this: a story about a fairy posing as a college student. In retrospect I played it far too safe but I did finish a draft. I like the ideas. I like some of the images. I like the general concept of an outsider in love with our world. It’s just too safe. Not enough drama.

Disconnect (2003): When I found this script going through my binder of works, I realized something stunning: I had no idea what it was. I had a loose memory I’d written it but honestly it’s a void to me. Here is what I do know: it was written at the EXACT moment I realized my life as I knew it was over. It was a coping mechanism. Is it good? I have no clue.

Then college started and everything changed. I’ve never written as frequently as I did then. I changed as a person. I couldn’t give the all I had. But I never stopped loving the art.

Turner Bend (Unfinished, 2003): This was my failed attempt at writing a survival story in the woods. It stemmed from the incident described here. The idea of having to make it home through the snow fascinates me still. I couldn’t even make it home a few times this last year and I live in the city! So why did this one die out? I chose my setting poorly and my drama unwisely. The script was about a college student on the verge of dropping out trying to get home through the Ozarks. The thing is, there’s too many moments just at the start where they could get out of it in that area. stakes were too low. The characters were whiny. I gave up on it. I do think it reflected my frustration with my first semester though. That was important.

Perspective (2003): I bought screenwriting software in a desperate effort to kickstart me. So I rewrote Disconnect as a piece where everything was literalized metaphors from the main character’s mind. When he saw people as evil, they were snakelike. During sadness it rained. Not a bad idea but the same whininess that pervaded this era was present here.

A very long lull with a few sputters I vaguely remember working on. Finally I had to take desperate measures. I took a class. That led to:

AETERNA (2006-2007): A fantasy script that faced the same issues as Ordinary Girl: an interesting concept with zero drama. The protagonist was an immortal knight who’d retired and given up on life. I like the irony but I think my mistake was focusing on a character who’d already had a family, a life, and was now with nothing. There’s an interesting moment and it’s immediately upon retiring. Never saying this one is closed. It’s just meh. See for yourself.

And then there was graduation. I’ve. Covered. That. But what did I do to stay sane?

Fiesta Square (2007-2008): I wrote a navelgazing piece about a rich guy cheating on his wife who seeks her help to recover the love of his mistress. It’s my attempt at a romantic comedy and honestly I have no idea how I feel on it. It’s sexist and misguided but has moments and ideas. Looking back I think it was a reflection of what I wanted in life: power, not to be lonely, to have issues other than the ones I was facing. It’s not autobiographical at all. Of course. I wanted to escape.

And that was that for many years on screenwriting. But the itch sets in. After a year I was ready. I started using Scripped around this time to write with and loved the ease of it at once.

Ordinary Girl (second pass, 2009-2010, unfinished): I don’t let good ideas lie. Ordinary Girl was dusted off, this time with a much stronger narrative thrust at the beginning and a strong climax set for the end. The first act is my best! So why is it unfinished? There really wasn’t a good middle here. I couldn’t crack it. The structure went limp here in ways I don’t like. I think the fundamental flaw was my heroine went on the run at a college and then the structure stalled out to put things in place for act 3. I wish I had finished it just to say I had. It still hangs over me.

Unworthy (Second/third pass, unfinished 2011-2013) This one should’ve killed it for good. I tried again and failed. I failed hard. But in failing I finally saw why it was doomed. My protagonist wanted a woman who was in that moment unavailable. If he gets her, it’s unearned. If he doesn’t, no happy ending. This one broke me. I should note I actually took two separate passes, two different approaches. I invested at least 100 pages into it. But I couldn’t crack a cliched idea.

Videozone (2012, unfinished): Structure kills you. I can wind up. But I can’t follow through. The idea, b-movie monsters invade a small town, wasn’t bad. But it was too loosely structured to work. Set piece then set piece then set piece. No real clear throughline. I couldn’t figure out where to take it. The ashes of it did inspire Penguigeddon though! The ongoing Galatea Films project is a better use of the ideas I had for this.

Untitled Politics Script (2012-2013, unfinished): Advice: do not ever write a politically themed script. If you do, you are perpetually chasing reality. I wrote a script themed around the Occupy movement with liquor sales in a dry county in AR as a plot point. Before I could write the midpoint the Occupy movement was dead and the county I set it in went wet. That alone killed it. The ideas are strong on it. But the script was too tied to reality.

A Flickering Life started up in that work’s ashes. It’s doing great.

Dead Centre (2014-2015, unfinished): Sometimes you give something your all and fail. Great premise. Great ideas for scares. Months of research. And I wasn’t meant to write it. At about page 30 I started sputtering. By 50 it was dead. I worked so very hard on this one and it failed. I could not make it work past the first half. I know why. Ultimately a single setting, even one as broad as a mall, is crippling. The characters get trapped. Can’t go anywhere. Even as the supernatural sets in, still trapped. I like the idea but it’s an X-Files script, 50 minutes, not a film I think.

Then Scripped died completely and took everything you see above down in flames. Every one of those ideas? DEAD. Hundreds of pages. So what did I do?

Unworthy. (2015. 3 drafts. FINISHED for now): I killed my great white whale. Three drafts written. Still not perfect but it exists. I’ve flirted with releasing it. And yeah, I just did. It’s linked there. If you’ve got time, feel free to read it. It’s not dead. I’m going to take any response I get and do another draft. Even if I get no response, I’ll still come back to it. I’m finally at peace with it though. Three full passes were taken at it in five months. I’m proud of it.

So here I am now. I’m more or less, for the first time ever, in the post Unworthy era. Do I have any idea where I’m going next? No. I have ideas I’m considering. But more important to me is looking back.

Looking at these pieces, the trends are clear. I don’t write sprawling epics. Despite my love of scifi/fantasy I’m not good at it. Probably won’t try any any time soon. But I do have things I am good at. I like character pieces. I like stories in fairly brief, but not too compressed time periods. I don’t think I’m dreadful at visuals.

Will I ever be a professional screenwriter? No. And to be honest I’m ok with that. I’m not very good. But I need to stop thinking of that. In the end I just like doing these. So I’ll keep at it.

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