“Screenwriters don’t write lines. They write stories.”
Shadowlands, the love story of the wonderful writer C.S. Lewis and Joy Gresham, is a favorite movie of mine: It’s beautifully written and acted, and has heart and soul. It was penned by William Nicholson, who actually created a play by the same name after he wrote the film. He also has screenwriting credits for Gladiator and Mandela — how’s that for a dose of diversity!
William is something of a Renaissance writer: In addition to crafting films and plays, he’s also authored several award-winning trilogies for children as well as adult novels. A seasoned, versatile writer who probes the human heart yet respects its mysteries has a lot to teach us all. In a recent post on the London Screenwriters’ Festival 2014, Joanna Penn (thecreativepenn.com) shared some of his screenwriting advice:
In a session on intensifying emotion — the heart of all powerful drama — Nicholson keeps it simple. According to Joanna, he “writes by choosing the emotion he wants the audience to feel, connecting to that within himself and then structuring around that.”
Nicholson believes that over researching can be a mistake, because as writers, we’re not trying to capture reality, we’re telling stories that communicate values.
Nicholson came to screenwriting after writing several serious novels. As Joanna notes, “his writing loosened up when he stopped taking himself and his writing so seriously.”
When you write, shift the focus away from yourself, Nicholson advised. Find a theme people care about and explore that: you’ll be there along with everyone else.
In an interview in The Guardian (January 10, 2014), William said, “I read to grow in understanding and empathy of other people. And that’s also what drives me as a writer. Part of that is a belief in truth telling. I hold to the view that the more truth you tell, including about yourself however uncomfortable that might be, the more valuable that is to everybody. We all put up a front and we are all frightened of each other’s fronts. So I try to work against that.”
Sage advice from a gifted scribe is always worth pondering. For more, check out his website: williamnicholson.com — it’s well worth a visit! Write on.