Go Big or Go Home
By Briana Hansen
When it comes to standing out in the crowd, one of the most effective tactics you can use as a writer is to go big. Push that genre boundary. Push yourself harder to come up with something even more unexpected. Push your characters further than you think they can survive. Reset whatever ideas you have of your own limitations so you can see if there’s something just beyond your comfort zone that you’re missing out on creatively.
Normally, the summer is filled with major blockbuster movies that set the new gold standard for both budgets and what’s possible in storytelling. They often do so by knowing what they are and leaning into that identity. You don’t get the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise by creating a heartfelt drama with some deep conversations about cars and a couple of chase scenes. You get it by having a car drive through a plane’s nose! Or by a rare and expensive sports car jumping through skyscrapers in the Middle East. Or by having a chain of cars take down a helicopter in a rural area of Samoa. The bigger and more ridiculous the better. And, the better those movies seem to do at the box office.
This summer, of course, is a little different. Instead of FAST & FURIOUS 9, we get TIGER KING. 2020 is a year none of us saw coming. But there’s still plenty that you, as an emerging writer, can do for yourself and learn from it.
By “going big,” I’m not talking about becoming a cartoonish version of yourself or creating writing that doesn’t reflect who or what your voice is. Nor am I talking about writing something absolutely ridiculous for the sake of creating something ridiculous. I’m talking about really figuring out who you are, the types of stories you want to tell, getting clear on what that is, and leaning into that.
Actors hear variations of this direction all the time. When auditioning, it’s usually better to go “too far” or to be “too bold” and let the director give you the note to pull back. I think writers can benefit from the same advice.
If you’re writing a comedy, make it the funniest thing you’ve ever written. Do your best to really get every single joke or funny situation or playful aside into your script as possible. If you’re writing horror, push it farther than you originally thought. Maybe let your worst moment be one of the really bad moments that lead up to the actual worst moment – something beyond what you expected when you originally sat down to tell this story.
Don’t overwrite (keep that page count reasonable, of course). But don’t shy away from really pushing boundaries. After all, that’s what the greats are always doing. And as an emerging artist, that’s how you stand out. Remember that your writing doesn’t always have to be practical. You don’t always need to think about the budget or how it compares to something that already exists. It can be liberating to consider whatever you’re working on to simply be a writing sample. Let it be bigger, bolder, or maybe weirder (or any variation thereof) than anything else you’ve created before.
Too often I think we get nervous that if we make our choices too big or too bold or push them too far, it might feel like we don’t know what we’re doing or don’t understand the parameters of the screenplay structure. And structure is important, sure. But once you speak the language of basic structure, worry less about that and more about pushing the boundaries of what’s possible within your own imagination and within the limits of your own perspective on storytelling.
TIGER KING wouldn’t be the sensation he is if he were just a normally dressed, average dude who happened to like tigers and didn’t ruffle any feathers. He knows who he is, and he leans into that. Sure, he’s not the blockbuster action hero we expected in a year we didn’t see coming. But there’s always something to learn, even when things don’t go the way we expect.
Whatever you’re writing, really become aware of it and go hard. Let the development notes and the future possible attached producers pull it back a bit. There’s a good chance that if your project ever gets made, there will be a lot of cooks in the kitchen scaling it back. But if you somehow push yourself, there’s also a good chance that some element of that creative process will stick around that wouldn’t have otherwise been there, like discovering elements of who you are as a writer, what your voice really is, or maybe even a new strength you didn’t know you had.
At best, you’ll have an awesome writing sample on your hands that you can use to stand out. At worst, you’ll have learned that you can push yourself a lot farther than maybe you thought you could. You could end up with something unexpected, just like 2020.