I’m in my 7th grade classroom and I come to a “Eureka!” moment.
I don’t know what led to this spurt of inspiration and realization, but I do remember what the realization was. But before I tell you, let’s go back a bit to when I first started learning about screenwriting.
I knew I was interested in movies, and I had just learned the term “screenplay,” which is what you call a movie script. I was in the public library by myself, and I started perusing books regarding film and filmmaking, and I found one of the most commonly read books about screenwriting: “SCREENPLAY” by Syd Field. In this book, he outlines a fairly rigid skeleton upon which all stories are laid (three acts, two Plot Points, climax and resolution). Thus was the start of my screenwriting education.
Over the years I added “Story” by Robert McKee, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell, and a host of other books about storytelling itself, and these were the titles that shaped my ideas of what storytelling was.
One prevalent idea that kept coming up was the brevity of screenplays: every single scene or line of dialogue has to matter to the story. Nothing can be wasted. A typical screenplay can run 90-120 pages in script format, which amounts to about 20 physical pages of a typical novel. So, you have to fit your 1.5-2hr movie in the span of what novels do in 20 pages. Talk about brevity.
That’s why it’s essential that everything you set up has to have a payoff. If the character in the beginning says he has a “particular set of skills,” we know that at some point, we have to witness said skills in action. And boy, do we.
Pay attention to any straightforward movie you watch (or any story), and you can see the things that come up in the first half inevitably show up in the second half (Jimmy has a fear of heights? To win the movie, he must jump from a helicopter. See? Writes itself.)
Back to the 7th grade.
Again, I don’t know the circumstances around this realization or why I came to it, but I remember the thought clear as day:
The reason nothing can be arbitrary in a screenplay is because nothing is arbitrary in life.
What do I mean here? Every event that happens to you becomes a part of you, and impacts you in some way. But even deeper than that: it comes back later in your story.
Things that shaped you in your childhood inevitably come back up in your 20s (and 30s and 40s and 90s). That friend of a friend you met at a coffee shop becomes the contact that gets you your dream job. Or you’re sitting in a deli and reading Dorian Gray and a guy comes up to you and asks you about it and now he’s your husband. (Okay, that last one’s from (500) Days of Summer. Spoilers at the link.)
And so I turned this realization into the billion dollar estate I own today.
And so can you!
Nah, I just went back to being a 7th grader.
But, I started to walk through life seeing the fleeting moments as precursors to something more meaningful down the road. Time and time again, I found little events becoming references that shaped my view of the world. Small things I did for fun would pop back up as skills that were crucial to my job. People that were only a distant influence on me resurfaced as major players in my daily life.
When something like that happens, my Guyanese culture provides me with a phrase that I like to call (as I do in the title):
The Guyanese Principle of Story:
“See how ting does happen.”
It’s not that hard to translate literally (see how things happen), but the phrase is used when events turn out in a way that unexpectedly seems to be story-like—the thing you didn’t expect to come back up, does. For example, all you Guyanese people reading this are thinking, “ahh, daz why he put dat title. See? It come round. See how ting does happen?”
You find this in stories galore, but you also find it in real life. When the events come together in a way that feels as though they inevitably had to, you say it matter-of-fact: see how ting does happen?
So, I urge you to appreciate these little boomerangs in life, the moments or opportunities that come back around. Keeping a journal can help this process, keeping you mindful of life now, and helping you to remember when those relevant things come up in the future. Approach life knowing that it’s meaningful, and you’ll find meaning.
Something seem like an ordinary coincidence?
As Commissioner Gordon tells John Blake in the Dark Knight Rises:
You’re a detective now, son. You’re not allowed to believe in coincidence anymore.
Be a detective: see how ting does happen.