skeletons

skeleton

I like structure. Form. A framework. Let me craft the full skeleton before ever touching muscle or flesh to bone.

When I was a senior in high school, Mrs. U taught me how to write an essay. Her real name was Ruth Uyesugi, but decades of high school students shortened it to the affectionate vowel. She stood in front of the class with the Oriental carved ivory pendant hanging at her chest (she had married a Japanese man during World War II and internment camps, the blond Quaker and the dark-haired opthamologist; she knew how to play outside the lines) and she preached the three-point topical paper. Start with a creative, engaging introduction. Then a brief organizational paragraph listing the three points to be addressed. Following: the three points themselves. And finally, a succinct conclusion.

I wrote every paper through college and on into grad school by this dictum, and it worked for two-page book reviews and twenty-page finals.

When I stumbled into the mysteries of screenwriting, the month-long Act One program (and Robert McKee, author of the screenwriting bible Story) gave me a new tool to rein in the vast unknown expanse: the three-act structure. I clung to this life raft that read, at most basic, beginning, middle, end. Ten weeks with Janet and Lee Batchler hammered in a new set of skeletal bones: sequences to build the acts (three to beginning and end, six to the middle)–and three beats to a sequence. Thirty six movements, actions, to tell a complete story.

Now every screenplay I begin starts with those 36 points, fitting them into place, edging them around, pulling the shaky pieces, shoring up weak joints. And when the skeleton is complete, I am free to be creative, to juggle words and ideas, secure in the ending already written. True: the bones of a finished screenplay must often be broken and reset time and time again; even limb amputations and new growth. But even then–I reform the structure before I write.

Some would say that I am no artist. That I cling too tightly to the form of things, the established ways. I say…let them have their say.

Scripture says that God knows the plans he has for me. Over and over, I’m told He has predestined me for Himself, formed the bones of my life, the bridge that leads me from here to there. My free will, it seems, is the muscle and bone, the fleshing it out–but I build on this framework with such anxiety, such care–because I can’t see the framework. I didn’t craft it and I don’t know where this next bit of creating will take me, I didn’t write this ending, so how do I find it?

I know. I do know. The ending has been written.

I’ve read it. I’ve heard it.

So I know.

I do.

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