Feature image from emmascrivener.net.
Neither WordPress nor my schedule supports actual screenwriting, but you should get the idea. My Screenwriting I professor would be rolling over in his grave. Or, strike that – he would roll over in his grave. (You’re apparently not supposed to use to-be verbs in screenplays.)
Well, future me (slash current me) is already dropping knowledge in the corniest way possible (a lot of which, though applicable to life, I actually learned from screenwriting class), so I might as well get started.
A SCREENWRITTEN CHAT WITH MY FORMER SELF
The harsh glow of a laptop screen illuminates the face of blanket-clad PAST SARAH (17) as she scrutinizes a scanty list of colleges. She opens a new tab and types USNEWS.COM, glancing down at a piece of notebook paper emblazoned RANKINGS.
I learned in screenwriting class that you should always distinguish your characters right from the get-go, introducing them in a way that would differentiate them from other characters and give insight into their personalities.
It’s important for you to distinguish your college options along these lines also. And maybe even more importantly, it’s important to distinguish yourself as a character by your actions and preferences, to give yourself an idea of where the plot is going.
It only gets cornier from here, so buckle up.
PAST SARAH (wryly): And the ninety-million-seven-thousand-and-third-best college in the Pacific Northwest for the Competitive Needlepoint major is…
A hand comes to rest on Past Sarah’s shoulder and she starts. The hand belongs to FUTURE SARAH (20), whose other hand pushes back her neatly combed hair, then straightens a new pair of glasses.
FUTURE SARAH: Reed College, probably.
You’re also not supposed to use verbs like belong, or really any verb that is difficult to physicalize. The interpretation – the application of abstract concepts and backgrounds – is up to the actors and directors; screenwriters are supposed to write something these people can see.
But you’re the writer, director, and star of your own life. (I know. I should write Hallmark cards.) So you have to be both intentional and abstract about these things. And so much of what you feel and do and are – especially in coming-of-age moments like, well, all of admissions season – occurs inside of you. Unseen.
Past Sarah doesn’t look up from her computer.
PAST SARAH: Think we’ll teach there one day?
FUTURE SARAH (chuckling): It’d be fun. It’s a really unconventional college.
PAST SARAH: Unconventional enough to teach there, but I don’t think I’d want to actually go to school there. (She pauses, frowning.) Wait, would I?
I’ve wanted to use so many adverbs by now. But screenwriters aren’t supposed to. (You guessed it – it’s up to the actors.)
FUTURE SARAH: You’re gonna laugh so hard when you realize how much more disposed to that kind of thing you get. You’re thinking of making a color-coded spreadsheet to help yourself figure this out. Aren’t you? I know this sounds crazy but one day you will be chill about life decisions.
Past Sarah scoffs and turns on some music.
PAST SARAH: I doubt that.
Another doubtful pause.
PAST SARAH (cont’d): Really?
FUTURE SARAH: Really. And I can’t wait until that happens.
Past Sarah chuckles and does a quarter-swivel in her chair toward Future Sarah.
FUTURE SARAH: Ha! I made you laugh.
PAST SARAH (shrugging): I make myself laugh all the time.
FUTURE SARAH: What a perfect segue. There are so many lessons in that one statement. For example, that you are a self-sufficient person who can make herself laugh and look at situations rationally and realistically when she’s required to make tough decisions. Also, that it’s important to laugh as much as possible, to make light of situations and relax a little. Wow. Just, wow.
Future me is ironically demonstrating that you’re not supposed to do too much exposition in dialogue; that’s called info-dumping and it’s no fun for anyone. Unless you just like hearing yourself (and your future self) talk.
Instead, you’re supposed to balance exposition between dialogue and action. You’re supposed to use finesse so that your reader/viewer knows exactly what’s going on.
Oh, but I forgot to mention: not only are you the writer, director, and actor, you’re also the viewer. And you’re not always going to understand what’s going on. And sometimes you’re going to need to have lengthy, directionless conversations with yourself in order to figure it out.
PAST SARAH: But that doesn’t help me now. I need to make this list.
FUTURE SARAH: Why? So you can look back on it one day and realize exactly what trajectory you were on at this very moment and laugh at how silly you were?
Past Sarah rolls her eyes and shuffles the papers on her desk.
PAST SARAH: No, because—
FUTURE SARAH: Because that’s exactly what I’m doing, right now.
PAST SARAH: You had to make the time paradox thing weird, didn’t you? Seriously, though. Having you here doesn’t help me. Don’t you see that? I know I’ll become you eventually. That’s literally how it works.
You’re not supposed to use italics, either. Even though italics are literallyonly possible in print.
Emphasis is (guess what guess what) up to the actors.
Make what you will of that.
PAST SARAH (cont’d): I know how it works. I know things will “all be okay” and I’ll “look back on this time with fondness” – or maybe relief – but right now, things aren’t okay. And if you’re here to tell me anything to the contrary, well, I’ve got news for you.
Past Sarah really shouldn’t be talking for as long as she’s been talking, so I have to break up the monologue a little bit.
But honestly. Now that I look back on it, Past Sarah did talk a lot. Current Sarah talks a lot. It’s important to talk things out. But sometimes, you can talk over your own voice. As important as it is to be able to follow your dreams, you do have to listen to them in the first place.
PAST SARAH (cont’d): You need to learn to live in the moment (well, I guess you can’t really live in this moment). But still, accept the fact that, yes, things stress you out, and they might not always turn out the way you want them to. And that’s hard. It will be okay – and more okay once you accept it.
Future Sarah smiles the knowing smile of someone starring in a corny, low-budget rom-com that aired once ten years ago on the Hallmark Channel.
FUTURE SARAH: You know, I wish I had realized that when I was, well… You.
That’s pretty much as corny as I can be. (Sort of expected a future version of me to pop in telling me that I actually get cornier.) But I—every corny and cornier version of me—was right about one thing. I had to learn to live in the moment. Accept my stress. Not pretend to be placated by the accounts of those far older and wiser.
Because we are already older and wiser than we’ve ever been, and younger and stupider than we’ll ever be. (My personal twist on an old saying.) Who wouldn’t want us attending their college?
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