These are particularly stressful times but interestingly, stressful, chaotic times are a good time to be a writer. Not only because writing is therapeutic for us but because during times like these, people really are drawn to the power of story to take us to another place, if only for a little while. In fact, according to the Washington Post, movie ticket sales were 50% higher last weekend compared to the same time last year. That's a big uptick. And you can bet people are curled up with books too.
You probably already knew that writers were special, but we do more than drink too much coffee and procrastinate, writers are also satellites that both send and receive messages about what's happening in our society and culture. Has anyone ever told you that you're "sensitive," or that you get "carried away with ideas" - yeah - that's because you're a writer. We do that. We are keen listeners and observers of that which is going on around us. We reflect and sometimes even predict the times that we are living in.
A quick look at even a few books or films show us what was on the mind of the writer and leave us to wonder at how oddly predictive art can sometimes be. Idiocracy was crazily prescient, and, sometimes I fear, that the Purge films were too. That doesn't mean that kind of violence will break out in America, but it sure means that the possibility occurred to writer James DeMonaco.
What does The Great Gatsby reflect about American culture in the post-Great War and pre-Depression milieu in which it was written? What was Fitzgerald saying about social status, money and happiness? He didn't write the book in a vacuum. No writer does. Often times stories ideas are in the air and we've seen books or films with almost identical themes come out at once, as in the famous case of Armageddon and Deep Impact. Hollywood history is full of such examples in fact. Check out this list of 25 films with similar plots released in the same year - and that's only in one year!
Do you think that viewers and readers in the short and medium term will be more interested in dystopian stories like the Hunger Games, or do you think that pure escapism, like the screwball comedies of the 1930s will come back into vogue? It's just about impossible to tell, isn't it? One good place to start is to ask what you are interested in writing. What are you feeling in your bones right now, as a writer?
Now switch your hat to be the moviergoer and reader that you are. What do you want to delve into or zone out on during these uncertain times? Everybody knows that the centrality of story is more than just a distraction though, it also grounds us in our humanity as we relate to character journeys from the heroic to the tragic, and to themes about the future, love, greed, identity, race and much more. Everything under the sun, in fact. Stories help us work things out in our minds and they remind us that we are not alone in our fears or our hopes. So writers have a pretty important job to do.
In my current mood, though I love sci-fi adventure films, The Arrival sounds a little too foreboding at the moment. But with $24M in box-office returns, apparently for many others, the film is a draw. I'm pretty sure I won't be able to resist seeing it.
I never thought I would say that another movie about King Kong would appeal to me, the trailer for Kong: Skull Island sounds like it would really hit the spot right about now! Pass the popcorn!
Whatever you write, you're not alone, I think all creatives are feeling the need to express right now and while there are no guarantees that what you are writing will be a lightning rod in terms of plot or theme will be a runaway hit as a film or a bestselling book, that you express yourself is important because lemme tell ya, in times like these, with so much uncertainty and division, stories just might have the power to heal, if not comfort.
We are lucky to be writers, even if that particular talent and dream does come with many pitfalls. We are the ones who articulate the way people are feeling, from individual love stories to stories about the future, the past and who we are as humans. I am reminded of a quote by the great Paul Auster, who once said "Stories only happen to those who can tell them." So let's get telling our stories, guys. No matter what the future holds, our stories will endure.
If you are interested in adding prose writing to your screenwriting skills but don't know where to begin, please check out my website and join The Fabulists, a Facebook page for screenwriters, prose writers, non-fic and playwrights interested in effluvia about writing.
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