A recurring topic of discussion lately has been Story Documents where I've been asked my thoughts about the various combinations of outlines, synopses, bibles, treatments, and pitch docs that go into both developing a story and taking it to market.
Just recently I found myself talking to a pair of writers about the different mode of thinking we sometimes need where we separate out the Writer from the Dramatist. The writer has things they want to Say, whereas the Dramatist has problems they need to Solve. The best analogy to this I can think of is the difference between an Architect and an Engineer. An Architect may have a vision but nothing is getting built until the engineer solves all the inherent problems with the vision's execution.
I wonder some times if we put a little too much emphasis on the Writer-Architect and not enough on the Dramatist-Engineer resulting in what is perhaps too common in Australian screenwriting -- a great idea but poor execution.
At this point I often find myself rather jealous of theatre writers who get the title of 'Playwright’... The suffix of 'wright' comes form the old English term for a craftsman or builder (hence the monikers Wheelright, and Cartwright -- people who build and fix Wheels and Carts). In this context the idea of a Play-Wright -- a craftsperson who builds and fixes Plays -- seems like an altogether great description. (And I feel tempted to coin the term ‘Screenwright’ for my next business card).
The point of all this is to emphasise process and the role story documents like outlines, treatments, synopses, and bibles play in the engineering and communication of the story and its ideas -- the ‘Wrighting’ as opposed to the ‘Writing’.
What often shits me most in discussions about how to execute that 'wrighting' process is over-simplification of what a story is with little regard to the complexity of dramatic problem solving. There's an awful lot of writing about writing that is Descriptive of what has worked before, but not necessarily Instructive on how to make it work. And all this is within the inherent diversity and complexity of stories themselves.
If you wanted to build a car, being told that all you need is four wheels may well be true but it is seriously unhelpful. Not least of all because whilst a Ferrari and a Dune Buggy both have four wheels they are decidedly not the same. Not even the fact that they are both cars with seats and steering wheels and engines helps because clearly the experience and location of driving a Ferrari as opposed to a dune buggy is fundamentally different. They represent different ideas and ideals (themes and premise if you will) — one is status and sophistication, wealth and highways; the other is freedom and fun and sand dunes. And those differences are everything to the owner. We choose which car to buy far more for how it feels and what it represents than it's ability to get us from A to B. So four wheels is the least interesting part of the car and the process of problem-solving that would allow you to build a Dune Buggy as opposed to a Ferrari is entirely different.
And the same goes for stories. If we're going to have effective 'wrighting’ of our story we need tools and processes that allow us to identify the real problems, solve them with flexibility, and communicate them clearly. That's never a one size fits all.