Last year (I don’t recall when, but it was during Melbourne’s second long Covid shutdown) I attended a Zoom lecture by screenwriter and novelist Christian White, who wrote Relic (streaming on Stan), as well as Clickbait, a new Netflix series.
The talk was a good presentation of the fundamentals for screenwriting and it aligned with everything I was taught back in the day. White made it clear the traditional story structure is the best way to ensure the narrative makes sense as a screenplay. It works because it works, although, he noted, every up and coming screenwriter experiments with structure, as he did, before realising three acts works for a reason. I was thinking about structure when I watched 2015’s Far from the Madding Crowd, based on Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel. It’s a story full of structures, there are three eras for Bathsheba Everdene, three suitors of different means to match her growth, three sets of tragedies that incite the action and drama. I liked the film’s attention to setting, given Hardy was dedicated to documenting traditional structures of rural life turned upside down by new structures introduced through industrialisation, as well as individual lives upended by chance and coping within social structures ill-equipped to support people beset by misfortune.
Yet structure is artificial. It’s imposed by the filmmaker, the writer, even the farmer. The natural structures within nature, within lives, are subtle, complex, and endless: often too small to see or too immense to fully comprehend. This is why, from our limited human perspective, everyday life looks likes one damn thing after another and is mostly unsatisfying as a narrative.
Unprecedented unStructured times
There are many things Covid has taken away from people. Apart from the obvious ones, Covid removed a sense of structure. People set their lives by jobs and the demands of the commute to work, and duties, roles, and past times that regularly took them from place to place, and from group to group, person to person. While we all have the same 24 hours in a day, Covid has been a gift and a curse. I can’t make big plans during lockdowns, yet it feels like I have been gifted time. Instead of commuting, I might be writing. But as Leonard Cohen wrote and spoke about, time without discipline and structure is wasted. My struggle is managing being overwhelmed by everything calling me to action, or inaction, including as it happens, a freaking earthquake, during these precious, yet seemingly vast swathes of less structured time. I need to impose structure, or else all (time) is lost.
I think about the structure of the arts world. How much of it depends upon the making of things for the joy of the making, with the proviso when there is time to do so. I wonder how much more art would be in the world if more people had the means, discipline, and the knowledge of how to carve the time out to make it.
The arts are a way to understand the world, and to let the world (or some part of it) understand some part of the artist’s inner world. The making of art is about giving something to the outer world from within, maybe in the hope it will outlive the maker. But maybe not. Art can be ephemeral or as tenuous as an eight year old hyperlink. My final thoughts on all of this is: passing my time in the making of even the most transitory of art lends my inner world some semblance of structure, even as I search for lost time, with which to write and edit and edit until a year after a talk is delivered, I post this.
Current State of the Submissions 2021
- 34 poems, stories and flash fiction, pending
- 7 out of 34 works pending for more than 12 months
- 3 pieces published during 2021
- 27 rejections (some include of multiple works, such as a set of poems)