Monday, March 19, 2012

OPEN LETTER TO KENYAN SCREENWRITERS

Guest post by Akhatenje

Dear Kenyan Screenwriter/Scriptwriter Person,

I like you. I know you have the best intentions and despite your ego, packed in a laptop bag, I still like you. I have spent some time with you and I know how you tick, the intervals are not uncanny.
I am a creative writer. You are a writer, yes. I respect that. However I am worried about the creative aspect of your writing. It either does not exist or you are not feeding it properly. There are two possible reasons you lack that important ingredient. One, you are a big canvas bag of words that lacks talent. Two, you do not do what I do. Let us assume that you are not a bag of words that lacks talent. That would mean that you write horrible screenplays because you do not do what I do.
Disclaimer (If I may call it that): A horrible screenplay defined is a screenplay that looks and reads exactly like the previous screenplay by X the filmmaker who is your friend or foe. The story is the same, the setting is the same, the plot is the same, the actors and actresses are the same. The only difference would be the TV station that accepts your donkey shit or the date and year you release your film at a foreign cultural institution somewhere near Anniversary towers.




Now, what do I do…as a creative writer? I write fiction and I know that what you write is a form of fiction. My stories are not remotely similar to any other Kenyan writer’s stories. They are my stories, not everyone’s cup of tea but they are my stories. The differences between my stories and your copy and paste screenplays arise from my approach to writing. I read avidly. You read aridly.
You cannot claim the writer’s title whatsoever if you do not read widely.  Blah bleh blih bloh bluh this and that, I know you are going to tell me that you read a lot. I know what you read. You read textbooks on screenwriting (boring repetitive bog) and a good number of downloaded screenplays. Yes that is recommended reading for all of you but is that really enough?
I started reading at an early age thanks to my librarian of a mother. I read a lot of books, from the age of five. I did not know that I could write creatively until I was twelve but boy oh girl when I found out I could write, most of the stories I wrote were inspired by all the books I had read earlier on. Some of the stories I write now are still ‘helped along’ by what I read as a child.

I am and adult and in my quest to be a proper adult (Mhhhh?) I read a good number of books every week. Most of them are fiction but I also make sure I read the law (that taught me about copyright and how not to lift an international artist’s song and put it on a local TV show, thinking that I am the smart weasel that will never get caught), psychology, a lot of history and a little science.
Creative writers must read. There are no two slits about that cloth. Screen writers as well. A screenwriter who does not have a big well stocked bookshelf or a pile of books occupying half of his house is as much a hoax as a vampire without a Black Book listing all the necks he has drawn blood from.
Reading is good for the imagination. Reading is good for the brain; it trains a writer’s mind to think critically. Reading is entertainment. Reading takes a writer to different worlds and allows the writer to see and understand different cultures and ways of life without begging an NGO for funds for an air ticket and crying at an embassy for a god forsaken visa. Reading allows a writer to have varied perspectives; a thing cannot be viewed from one angle. Case in point, the recycling of scripts that you love to do. Reading requires concentration, in the same way that observation requires concentration. Reading gives the writer an opportunity to live in his or her own head for a few minutes, trying to view the images described in a book and experiencing life and situations with the characters in the book.
A screenwriter must read ridiculous books and rational books, otherwise nothing concrete that may be noticed by those big guys who give big film awards will come out of the screenwriter’s brain. Instead you will be thriving on half ass recognitions in one of those strictly black tie events that you grace with your t-shirts, jeans and bad shoes. If you had been reading anything other than screenplays, you would know what to wear to a strictly black tie affair, wouldn’t you?
I have ranted. I will now help you by recommending some literature that will work your head.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Everything written by Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Edward Lear and Mary Shelley, Stephen King.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Arthur C Clarke – His short stories and novels, all of them.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Going Down Riveroad by Meja Mwangi
Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer
The Politics of Experience by R. D Laing

When you are done with the list, try writing something and see what you will come up with. Then find your own authors to read. Most importantly try reading the laws of Kenya. They are all available for free, at www.kenyalaw.org.

Unkind regards,
Akhatenje

The writer is the author of akhatenje.blogspot.com

3 comments:

  1. Have to say this was an interesting read. I agree, read up on your law especially what concerns your trade and you are more likely to make a living or have fun with it better.

    Finally, someone who agrees with me that the appeal on Kenyan t.v and movies is gone as either everything looks the same or tries too hard to be 'modern.'

    I hope some writer somewhere is taking notes

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  2. Yes, you have ranted. I can't believe that you carry the weight of your ego and still manage to actually walk - it must be very, very heavy.

    And yet that's why I like your piece. It packs enough intelligent ego to flex around, and is not afraid of flexing it. Perhaps that's what we Kenyan writers need, to be jaw-boned into shape by bare-knuckled pugilists such as you!

    I'll quickly add one book to your recommended reading list - The Holy Bible (purely for its literary value).

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