196. The Hollywood Formula

(live from the work desk: I have been transferred to a new department, and I have a new desk to work at. The monitor is square, the keyboard is clunky, and the desk is small. On the bright side, it faces the corner, so no one will be able to witness my non-productivity, at least for the time being)

After a fruitless weekend of trying to come up with a satisfying resolution and ending to Noir Blues, I have emerged blank. All my ideas cannot make the leap into Act III.

And even though I missed work yesterday, promising myself that I must figure out a proper way to bring closure to the plot in my absence, I wasn’t able to.

(I was, however, able to score a 4-hour afternoon nap. Woohoo!)

This morning, in my desperation, I have succumbed to the temptation of referring back to the Hollywood Formula. The good news: I now know exactly what I need to resolve the story. The bad news: I have the obligation of telling others that I referred to the Hollywood Formula to write the story.

This, of course, is not actually a bad thing. In fact, most career writers thrive on the formula.

(except for Mr. Gaiman, for he is a god among men, and has no need for mortal devices such as formulae)

Most people, when they hear about the Hollywood Formula, have the mental picture of a sweatshop-like place where staff writers create plot after plot using the same story dimensions, and at the end of the process, movies come out like photocopies from a printer.

Brother, if that were true, we’d have a lot more movies coming out every year.

The truth is that the Hollywood Formula is a generic how-to guide, kind of like a DIY manual, or a recipe for a cake. If you use crap materials to build your table with the DIY manual, or throw in substandard ingredients for your cake, you’re still going to get a crap table or a substandard cake in the end. While the Hollywood Formula tells you where to turn the story, where to have an up point, and where to have a down point – there’s no substituting genuine inspiration and good ideas.

If this sounds like I’m defending my right to use the Hollywood Formula, let me just tell you right now – it is. The great part about having a cheat sheet is that it shows you exactly what you’re missing. I mean, I’ve written most of the story organically already – time to see how these bits of ideas can benefit from the recipe laid down by experts.

So now sits before me my soon-to-be-completed screenplay, only missing 8 scenes in total. Godspeed to me.

In time, I think, with practice and diligence – again, like learning how to bake a cake – I’ll be able to write a story without having to refer to anything, creating and crafting layer upon later of imaginative plots like some demented chef. But that’s a stroke of genius that must be earned along the way, or divinely inspired. Don’t think divine inspiration is going to come anytime soon, so I’ll just have to go with the former.

Until then, I think, there’s no shame in having to refer to the recipe book every now and then.


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