Voice Matters: Developing Your Voice As A New Screenwriter (Part 2)

Voice Matters3

By Angel Orono

The year is 1992 and “Batman Returns” is cleaning up at the box office... This was when I became fully aware of the unique voice of screenwriter Daniel Waters.  For those unfamiliar with his career, Waters exploded into Hollywood with the classic black teen comedy “Heathers”.  He would, unfortunately, follow up with a pair of box office flops, “Hudson Hawk” and “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane”.  You can say what you want about those films, but they are quirky and oddball as they come, for better or worse.  Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed the uniqueness of both, but at that point in time I was barely aware they even shared the same screenwriter.  It was definitely “Batman Begins” that made me take real notice of Water’s writing.  And why, you ask?

“Batman Returns” was a follow-up to the film that had reminded Hollywood that superhero movies could be epic events and bring in a half-billion dollars just in U.S. box office alone.    The film was also fairly straightforward, save for Jack Nicholson’s off-the-wall performance as “The Joker”.  On the other hand, “Returns” feels more like a dark, twisted fairy tale that caters much more to the taste of director Tim Burton.  It also has an abundance of strange quirks and tics that seem apropos of nothing.  Still, these idiosyncratic, amusing moments are prevalent for those who look for them (Case in point: Pfeiffer’s character has a neon sign in her apartment reading “Hello Kitty”...Peculiar enough, but wait...When she returns, in the wake of her “Catwoman” transformation, the “o” has burned out on the neon sign and it now reads “Hell Kitty”.) ...In a multi-million dollar franchise film that is intended to cater to the masses.. And those are the Daniel Waters moments.

This is when I truly came to realize what it was to have your own voice as a screenwriter.  See, here’s the thing to keep in mind... “Returns” was a Warner Brothers’ movie... “Returns” was a Tim Burton movie... “Return” was a Michael Keaton movie...”Return” was even a Michelle Pfeiffer movie...  “Return”, however, was NOT a Daniel Waters movie... No matter how much he may have contributed to the storytelling overall, he was merely a gun for hire here...And yet he still found a way to make the movie his own.

And that, my friends, is the very definition of having your own voice.  It’s seeing things through your singular observations and perspective on any sort of subject matter or genre.  It’s about taking your life experiences and life lessons and channeling them onto the written page, whether you’re a gun for hire or telling a personal story.  So it’s just about you being you, basically. 

The good news being that there is only one you (Again, for the better or worse...kidding) so your writing will be your very own.  Each word will be distinct and chosen based on your personality.   All you have to do to look for a current writer with a distinct voice is look at Quentin Tarantino.  The 90s were an absolute cottage industry of hacks trying to steal his voice with sub-par “Reservoir Dog” rip-offs.  Anyone who has ever read one of his scripts will quickly pick up on his cadence and style in his storytelling. 

Okay, so now you wanna know how to get your own voice, right?  Let me tell you, it won’t be easy.  It’s highly improbable to come to you on your first script, or even your fifth.  The truth is this is a process that can only be developed over time.  There are no shortcuts here because if you try to rush it then your voice will either lack real distinction or you’re likely find yourself emulating someone else, like I did with Shane Black. 

The best way to genuinely come into your own voice comes from writing...and writing...and writing...And then when you’ve finally given up on this stupid career, writing some more.  It’s when writing becomes just as much a part of you as your eye color or shoe size...When the keyboard keys become part of your fingerprint...When your blood, sweat and tears (Oh there will be tears!) stain your computer screen... When you can say with utter certainty that you are a writer, without sheepishly following up with “Got my first script all in my head... Just gotta type it out”..  In other words, when you truly have committed yourself to your craft that those written words will truly become your own.  Each and every tap on the keyboard will get you closer and closer to achieving this goal.

So what the hell are you waiting for?!

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