Tag Archive for: Geoffrey Gunn

Writing Discoveries

by Paula Gail Benson

Book by J.K. Rowling

The first weekend in November, the South Carolina Writers Association (SCWA) held its annual conference. Entitled “Storyfest,” it featured a day of master classes followed by two days of panels, guest speakers, readings, and pitch sessions. The entire event was invigorating—truly a great opportunity to connect with other writers, improve craft skills, and find inspiration.

I attended one of the master classes. Called “Before Fade-In: Pre-Writing to Help You Conquer Page One” and taught by Geoffrey Gunn,* a filmmaker who now lives in upstate South Carolina, it provided excellent story techniques that were transferable from working on screenplays to other writing mediums.

One exercise that resonated with me was in the category “Choosing to Do.” Geoff had us list our top five favorite films or novels. We could choose to list particular works or the authors/directors who created them.

The exercise helped to examine what we gravitate toward as readers or viewers. We were asked to think not about what we wanted to write, but about what we wanted as entertainment.

I decided to list movies that I found particularly interesting and could view multiple times. As Geoff pointed out, my five might have been the most eclectic of the class. They were: (1) Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (the third book in the series and I think the most involving storyline), (2) To Kill a Mockingbird (such a simple, yet inspiring premise—how important it is to be able to walk around in another person’s shoes), (3) Shakespeare in Love (I love Shakespeare’s plays, but find his biography fascinating—to be able to combine his stories in a contemporary piece that helps a new generation discover him is fabulous), (4) Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie’s classic with its unique ending), and (5) School of Rock (well, that seems out of the blue, but its structure and plot are just really neat, and it taught me a lot about rock and roll appreciation).

After we came up with our lists, Geoff asked us to evaluate the common elements, to understand where we got our ideas so we could keep the reservoir full. He suggested we could invite inspiration into our own creative process by reviewing our top five list when we didn’t know what to write next.

When I reviewed my diverse list of five, I found at least two appealed to the YA market, all five had aspects of legal elements (which ranged from living under a society’s customs or rules to actual criminal offenses to courtroom action or justice delivered outside lawful processes), and all five had realistic, if not always perfectly happy solutions.

Here is what I decided “connected” my list of five:

(1) They all dealt with a person who needed to fit in but didn’t within their societal structure. (Harry, Scout, Shakespeare and Viola, all the suspects in Murder, and Dewey Finn)

(2) The person(s) needing to fit in take(s) an unconventional journey to find belonging.

(3) In the end, the person(s) discover(s) “home”—the place he or she or they need to be.

The exercise has given me a lot to think about and has provided greater insight into my own writing.

Why don’t you try it? See what it tells you about your work.

Very best wishes for a wonderful Thanksgiving!


*Geoffrey Gunn is a terrific instructor. Here is his bio from the SCWA Storyfest event: “Geoffrey Gunn is a writer, producer and director specializing in independent film. His past writing and co-writing credits include anime legend ‘Mamoru Oshii’s Garm Wars: The Last Druid’ and the dark comedy ‘Dirty Weekend,’ both of which enjoyed international film festival runs before finding their way to theaters, home video and streaming services. Additional writing credits include the Lionsgate release ‘Siren,’ micro-budget darling ‘Cinema Purgatorio’ and the Lifetime thriller ‘Fatal Family Reunion.’ He made his directorial debut with the award-winning short film ‘Last Night at the Ellington,’ which was the recipient of a South Carolina Indie Grant. With over 15 years of experience in the business of independent film, Gunn also routinely works as a panelist, teacher and consultant on screenwriting and filmmaking.”