As the first in a series of guest articles, I am honoured to present Jack Feldstein’s four-part series on the psychology of screenwriting. Enjoy!
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SCRIPTWRITING
Or: why a seemingly sane person sits in a room staring at a blank page.
By Jack Feldstein
Since almost the invention of writing in Sumeria, certain people have been compelled to sit, often alone, in a room (or a hut) and fabricate and record their stories.
I’m going to examine a few psychological explanations for why an apparently rational person might be compelled to undertake the arduous, and mostly thankless, task of writing a script.
PART 1: THE AUTISTIC FANTASY THEORY
An autistic fantasy is defined as a withdrawal into excessive daydreaming rather than taking proactive action in the world. Here the daydream is another term for the unconscious. Scriptwriting would be the act of recording the daydream (unconscious) in words.
A person, often feeling distressed and anxious in the real world, may retreat into their autistic fantasy inner terrain. This is their escape hatch. Here the person is king of the castle and master of all they survey. Which would certainly not be the case in the outside world if they are at the bottom of the pecking order.
Disappearing into an autistic fantasy is known to provide relief from external stress factors. And rather than face true challenges, the scriptwriter chooses to dream about a happy outcome.
Often we hear scriptwriters describing their autistic fantasy like this.
“ I have to get into the zone.”
“My characters have taken over the script.”
“I can only write after a scotch. Or a magic mushroom.”
( alcohol and drugs are well documented in their ability to alter inner psychic states)
A well-known case of extreme autistic fantasy writing is writer and scriptwriter, Virginia Woolf ( she wrote the play ORLANDO which was used almost unchanged to make the film ORLANDO by Sally Potter). Her stream-of-consciousness writing style can be explained by an autistic fantasy state.
Whether, however, that can be blamed for her eventual suicide remains a point of conjecture.
If we say there are two types of people in this world, the hunters (proactive) and the gatherers (passive). Then the scriptwriter lives the life of the safe passive gatherer but possesses the dangerous inner terrain of an active hunter.
And this is enacted in his/her autistic fantasy…
Which is then translated into a script.
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.
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