(or the tales of what I learned and relearned about writing and creating and everything in between)
INT. JOLIETTE THEATER / CITY OF MARSEILLE – DAY
A crowded lobby. MEN and WOMEN talking to each other.
It all started on a Sunday morning after a long running session. I saw this ad, and the following day I had my tickets ready for the Marseille Web Fest.
CUT TO BLACK.
(I’m sorry. That’s not that kind of story.)
Let’s dive right into it.
An International Festival of Digital Series created by Jean Michel Albert, the Marseille Web Fest brings together professionals in the digital and the new media industry to offer masterclasses, free lectures, and the possibility to discover webseries from all over the world. This year, it celebrated its sixth edition in Marseille.
And it made my spirit, my bones, my writing soul so very happy, not only because I got to learn things, but because I met and listened to a bunch of passionate people.
Creating a story is all about imagination.
During the Fest, I attended two masterclasses.
The first was a journey through the work and career of Dan Franck, a French novelist and screenwriter known for the trilogy Les Aventuriers de l’Art moderne and a lot of other impressive books, and recently for his work on the Netflix TV show Marseille.
The discussion on his work quickly led to what he liked about creating, and how imagination is at the core of any piece of writing. It resonated with me. Playing with the imagination, inventing new worlds and good characters, and toying with their little quirks and habits make writing a fun, adaptative, research-driven process.
« L’artisan sait toujours où il va. L’artiste, pas forcément. »
« The craftsman always knows where he’s going. The artist, not necessarily. »
As a lover of novel writing and screenwriting, I liked how he quoted Pierre Soulages to compare the two ways of developing a story. A screenwriter is, for him, a craftsman playing an intellectual game to find his way, and a novelist is more of an artist, unaware of his destination. I identify with both. I’m a plotter as much as I’m a pantser. It depends on the project, the format, the story I want to tell, how I want to tell it, and if I want to be surprised by it.
And when you ask what is the hardest thing for him as a writer, Dan Franck’s answer is simple: parting with characters. He has the perfect tip for it though: to avoid the heartbreak, he names new characters like characters from his previous books. Names remain when characters go is an interesting way to approach and live the stories.
As for his view on dialogue, for Dan Franck, 5 to 10 good lines are an author’s signature.
A simple story and complex characters are the heart of a good project.
The second masterclass was a trip overseas with Neil Landau, an American author, consultant, producer, screenwriter, and a professor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, whose works include the comedy Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, Melrose Place, one-hour drama pilots for major American networks, and bestselling books like 101 Things I Learned in Film School.
For an hour, I was back to school, learning more things about:
- Writing a great story
Every great story is a suspense story (no matter the genre), a coming-of-age story, a story about family (related by blood or not).
It starts with a good hook and unfolds with a sense of urgency. (There’s never enough time!)
Its structure defines pacing. Neil Landau has a good trick to make sure of that: he kind of reverses engineer his narrative, deconstructing it, starting from the climax and moving back to the beginning, to find out how the character(s) got to the point of no return.
- Creating relatable characters
An engaging story needs to be grounded and relatable for the audience to be emotionally attached to the characters and their struggle. How are they uniquely flawed and what are their qualities? It’s all about honesty. The truth is the most powerful thing in the narrative drive. What makes the characters who they are? How past events affected them? How are they vulnerable? It’ll keep the audience chasing for the answers.
- Defining a simple backstory
What haunts the characters shouldn’t be too complicated or too long. It’s a main repressed mystery, that will shape how the character responds to fear, a fear he/she will face at the end of the story and that will define the course of his/her journey (hero? villain?).
(The backstory enthusiast in me is still fighting this one.)
- Building a mythology/a world
A mythology is a one page description of a consistent set of rules. The audience shouldn’t be pulled off, or feel cheated and confused.
« Writing takes enormous courage. »
At the end of this masterclass, I learned something else too. As a young writer, it’s easy to believe that your writing sucks, so I’m going to apply Neil Landau’s advices.
Don’t listen to negativity, although it might be the loudest voice (yours or the others’).
Don’t stop writing. (It’s damaging.)
Say yes to opportunities. (It’s challenging.)
A good story has no cultural boundaries.
This year was also the opportunity for the Marseille Web Fest to highlight the South Korean digital entertainment industry, and loving the Korean culture, I was in heaven.
I had the chance to speak with Young Man Kang, a director and the founder of the KWeb Fest—the equivalent of the Marseille Web Fest in South Korea. Our short conversation was enough to give me a boost of confidence to just create and moving forward with my projects.
Introduced to the Korean culture through K-dramas, I was thrilled to meet Julie Na, one of the creators of Dramaworld. If you don’t know about it yet, Dramaworld is an original Viki* series mixing comedy, drama, fantasy, and satire. It blends major tropes seen in K-dramas to create something quite unique. The story: a fan of Korean dramas finds herself trapped in her favorite show. In France, it’s available on Viki and Netflix.
Exchanging on the work Viki is doing for the fans of Asians TV shows and on the process, the idea, and the conception of what feels like a love letter to K-dramas fans still seems surreal to me as a writer, a fan, and a long-time Viki user. I had the best time talking about what I love, and it just encouraged me to keep developing some ideas I put aside, involving French and Korean settings and characters.
As Young Man Kang and the Korean director Peter Vanilla put it—we might watch shows in different languages, there might be different approaches to storytelling, a good story is all about transmitting emotions on screen. And that’s also what I got out of the panel moderated by the brillant author and journalist Joël Bassaget and involving the representatives of the Official Selection: diversity in creation is lacking in mainstream media, and seeing all of those creators from Korea, Nepal, Argentina, India, Canada… was a great reminder that perspective is key, as is representation. We need diverse, original, daring content. Hearing different views on creation is also a great lesson in humility when you realize how creators face various crisis and problems to follow through with their projects.
So, what now?
My love for writing started with screenwriting, because I love playing with dialogues and languages. It was a way to write shorter and faster projects with different rules and techniques. Then, I slowly started to write longer pieces like novels. So this two-day event didn’t only give me incredible insights and the amazing opportunity to meet professionals or passionate individuals, it re-ignited my love for writing everything screen-related. The ideas keep piling up. (I have manuscripts dying to be adapted, and partial or full spec scripts that seriously need a lot of rewriting.)
I’m eager to learn, improve my craft, create, and maybe one day, collaborate with more talented people.
(For now, I just have a lot of writing, watching, and catching up to do.)