Sue the Screenwriter can’t resist the spark of a good story

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SUZANNE KELMAN, March 15, 2013

“All Closet Screenwriters – Please Raise Your Hand”

My absolute favorite part of being a storyteller has to be when a story hits you like a slap in the face with a wet kipper. And it can happen just like the 80’s martini commercial … “anytime, anyplace, and anywhere.”

Once I was just reading my way through food labels in the supermarket thinking about having Mexican food for dinner when suddenly I overheard a snippet of a conversation that went something like this….

“So if only she had chopped all that wood they would still be together today!”

Suzanne Kelman's latest script is "Illusion" and won the best screenplay award for Script-a-thon 2012. (Photo courtesy of Kelman)

Suzanne Kelman’s latest script is “Illusion” and won the best screenplay award for Script-a-thon 2012. (Photo courtesy of Kelman)

That’s all it took. Suddenly the next thing I knew, my mind was whirling off in a million different directions like a terrier chasing a herd of bunnies (or is it a Bobbitt of bunnies or something?) imaginatively checking around every bush, under every piece of sod, tree and stone.

What wood? Why was she chopping? Why was it so pivotal in their relationship?

It was about the time my muddy snout emerged from its third consecutive rabbit hole when I was struck with an idea – a brilliant, non-stick, sparkly, voluptuous idea. And, as is often the case with me, a comedic idea.

At that point, I could hardly breathe as I started checking off all the incredible scenarios that could come out of that one brilliant idea.

Suddenly my shopping basket was tossed asunder as I made my way hastily out of the store saying under my breath, “Out of my way! Pregnant writer coming through.”

I raced to my car, holding that sparkling idea ahead of me like a flaming torch hoping to not lose a fragment of it before I got home to type it on my computer.

So it is, being a passionate storyteller or “concept collector,” as I like to call myself. Some people collect antiques, I collect interesting ideas. And that is how I first became a screenwriter.

A couple of years ago, I took a year off from my theatre work and had a flaming torch of an idea that I thought was a stage play, but something odd happened every time I wrote something down: I saw it as pictures in a movie.

So after about thirty frustrated pages, I decided to look at writing it as a screenplay instead. As I knew nothing about screenwriting, I went to my usual place of learning: Tube University (You Tube) and typed in “how to write a screenplay,” and from a dozen cobbled-together video tutorials from people I could have given birth to, I finished my first screenplay and found my passion in the process.

I had tried the “writing thing” before – novels, short stories, etc. – but always got bored halfway through a story because of all the description. I had to tell the reader how the characters were feeling, how the mother, brother, auntie and dog were feeling.

Screenwriting is so different. It allows me the thrill of telling a story without all the writing; it’s all about pictures. You know what they say about how a picture paints a thousand words? Well, at last I could tell story without a thousand words!

You can start a screenplay with a guy standing on the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge in crumbled clothes, looking down at an old picture of himself and a girl both smiling, and then show him letting go of the picture as he looks down at the water below. You already know what’s going on, right?  I admit that was a bit cliché – but that’s the art of screenwriting. It’s all about how to show not tell.  This is often how I start a screenplay; through a snippet of gossip that intrigues me or a visual picture that haunts me. In fact, that happened with my latest screenplay.

I was eating a bowl of vegetable soup when suddenly a dramatic picture popped into my head. I saw an odd-looking man in a jumbled apartment, sitting in the one pristine room, painstakingly watching a wall full of ticking clocks as smoke poured under the door of his apartment. I had no idea who he was or why those clocks were more important that being burned to death, but I knew as I worked on it like a jigsaw puzzle, my mind would start gathering together all the parts of the story. The story ended up coming together as the screenplay “Illusion,” which won the Script-a-thon 2012 screenwriting competition.

So, maybe you’re the same way. Maybe you have story ideas, or see pictures. Maybe you’ve tried writing them and, like me, have given up because writing took too much, you know, writing. Maybe your storytelling needs to come out on the screen, and maybe deep inside you there is a screenwriter trying to get out.
Why not give screenwriting a go?

Suzanne Kelman is a multi-award winning screenwriter. Two of her screenplays have been optioned and are in development, while another is in pre-production and due to begin filming in Europe in 2013. Kelman currently enjoys teaching screenwriting classes each month at her home studio in Bayview. If interested, email for details.

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