The Rules of Seduction in Screenwriting at Sydney Writers’ Festival

Set against the casual, comfortable backdrop of The Loft at Pier 2/3 in Circular Quay, three screenwriters (who are also authors), along with host, Vanessa Alexander, the award-winning Australian screenwriter and director, shared their insights into creating believable worlds, and how to move between the different mediums of novel-writing and screenwriting.

Sascha Arango, one of Germany's most renowned screenwriters of the crime genre who recently debuted with his novel The Truth and Other Lies, was both humorous and incredibly humble of his own success - a truly entertaining man with an abundance of anecdotes.

Lynn Coady, author of the award-winning short-story collection Hellgoing who has taken up screenwriting (Orphan Black and Dexter) as a way of balancing her life with "two strands of creativity", elucidated her experiences initially as an author and later as a screenwriter in order to highlight the difficulties and joys of writing.

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lynn coady

Author and screenwriter Lynn Coady...

Michael Connelly, author of his crime novel series revolving around the character of detective Harry Bosch, and writer of the TV adaptation for the Harry Bosch series, contrasted the constraints and freedoms placed upon character creation and development as a result of the differing features of novel-writing and screenwriting.

Firstly, as writers who were authors before they were screenwriters, both Lynn and Michael spoke of the stark contrast between the relatively solitary life as a novelist and the drastically more collaborative context they work in as screenwriters. A "bolstering hothouse of ideas" is how Lynn described this active "exchange of ideas". In fact, as Lynn went on to say, such a process of "talking out the story" is greatly beneficial because it helps you to sort out your own thoughts and to enhance your own character and plot ideas.

But a primary "limitation" of screenwriting, as Sascha, Lynn and Michael explained, is its inability to encompass a character's internal thoughts in the way a novel is able to (although Sascha points out that "limitation" is itself a problematic term; "limitation" implies that the medium falls short in some respect when it is simply providing you with a new field within which to operate, in other words, screenwriting is not a "smaller room", but a different one altogether). For instance, the strong internal world that Michael was able to reside in when he wrote about Bosch's adventures could not survive in the TV adaptation; instead, Bosch's thoughts must be conveyed via some other way such as dialogue, flashbacks or voiceovers. Moreover, many of the original backstories have to be eliminated and replaced with new ones in order to maintain the dynamic momentum of storytelling.

Vanessa then turned the conversation to genre; crime is Michael and Sascha's specialty, while drama/humour is Lynn's. Following on from Vanessa's question regarding genre, Sascha talked about the psychology behind people's fascination with the crime TV genre, in particular, he spoke of crime fiction's capacity to "give us something we as a civilised nation have lost". A moment of epiphany then passed through the audience as Sascha noted the dichotomy between people who live in a dangerous world where crime is prevalent and a reality, and people who watch that same world of crime unfold on fictional television. In terms of writing crime fiction (or any genre), Michael accentuated the necessity for "lots of research"; for example, as a method of embedding authenticity and accuracy into the development of his detective character, Michael would have breakfast with actual detectives and listen to their "stories about what humans do to each other". In addition to this, Lynn, in talking about her genre, highlighted the need for light humour to balance out the heavier portrayal of life's "wild tragedies".

When asked by Vanessa to provide advice for aspiring screenwriters, all three guest speakers noted that writing is something that cannot be learnt; rather, it is something to be experienced, because only from experience can you gain a true awareness of what you write. Lynn and Michael encouraged all fiction writers out there to explore the unfamiliar; to face your doubts by pursuing what you love. Sascha built upon this with his comment to "use your fear" and "speak [your fear] out", pointing out that you will always have fears but those fears can be overpowered by confidence. "Express your fears", Sascha continued. "Put [those fears] into text ... into your characters, and make them into an experience for [the audience]". Only then can you begin to learn and understand the technology of writing.

Featuring compelling stories with injections of humour and wisdom, The Rules of Seduction in Screenwriting was a highly engaging and enjoyable event, a definite success, a beautiful encapsulation of writing in its complex and nuanced dimensions.

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Stay tuned for more Sydney Writers’ Festival coverage from Writer’s Edit.

In the meantime you can check out our Sydney Writers’ Festival Profile as well as the 5 Events You Can’t Miss.

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