Writing the Human Experience
Writing consultant Julie Gray is, by her own admission, passionate about the power of story to transform lives. “Yes, I have worked with writers all over the world. I think bottom line, writers everywhere are just humans who write about love, betrayal, revenge, hope, redemption – you know, the human experience.”
For over ten years Gray has taught writing in various venues as well as working as a writing consultant. She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, The Times of Israel, and Script Magazine. Gray presently lives in Israel, the scene and source of so many ancient transforming stories.
“I think a writer’s storytelling ability,” says Gray, “is only bounded by their exposure to good story, structure, etc. What I find most interesting is that outside of the United States, where conditions are in some cases significantly different than they are in the US, I see a lot of writers who thirst to tell their stories but do not have as much easy access to the Internet, etc.” Access to teachers, access to the Internet, access to books and to film, makes a big difference for a writer.
“I do think,” says Gray, “that more fresh, unique stories and creativity can be found outside of Hollywood, to be frank, since that is a fishbowl environment which is frankly market driven. Writers who have not yet been molded to put sales first often write way outside of the box, which is exciting.”
Any writer looking to reach a wide audience needs to achieve a universal appeal in their work. “I advise writers to zoom in and be specific about what they are writing – and zoom out at the same time and make sure they are writing about themes which are relatable. Not everybody has to relate to your story – you might be writing an action thriller – but if you have a family dynamic there, or a love interest, you automatically will touch upon universal themes, things that viewers can relate to.”
Gray says that hitting a universal note in your writing is not always even a conscious experience. “You might be writing about an archetype and not even realize it, since archetypes are rather hard-wired, but if you are writing about a specific experience that you had or you think would be funny, stop and ask yourself – would a million viewers think this is funny too? Why? What’s in this for a viewer? What can they relate to here that isn’t just about me and how I felt about something but that is larger than that? Really ask those questions of your work.”
As a story consultant and script editor, Gray has experienced all kinds of stories, trending themes, and genres. We asked her what she is seeing from today’s writers. Do their stories have the potential to transform?
She says, “I have seen so many trends come and go, it’s amazing. Last year my competition had a great number of zombie scripts entered. You will always find writers with romantic comedies and action/bad guy scripts and horror scripts – and they are often emulative. Some genres and trends just never go away.
“But overall, I would say there is a really surprising panoply of scripts and creativity out there. I read three scripts yesterday and each was different, genre-wise and in sum toto. In general, stay away from trends when you write. By the time the script is done and presentable, your script may be obsolete.
“Don’t follow trends, write from your heart. I know that sounds so corny but it’s quite true.”
Creating vibrant characters is key to a powerful story. “Don’t just write a veiled version of yourself,” says Gray. “Try to write a character who is older, younger, a different race, a different gender from yourself. Create someone totally new and different to you.
“Do not forget back story; characters, in order to really seem three-dimensional, have siblings, parents, political beliefs, habits, hobbies and quirks just like anybody else does. Don’t skimp on back story. Remember, your character existed before your story and they’ll exist afterward – who are they?”
Julie Gray’s Bio:
A resident of Tel Aviv, Israel, Julie Gray has been reading scripts and consulting with writers all over the world for more than a decade. A teacher at Warner Bros. Studios, Julie has also taught at the West England University, The Great American Pitch Fest and the Willamette Writer’s Conference. The director of the Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon, Julie is also a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, The Times of Israel and Script Magazine. Her screenwriting book, Just Effing Entertain Me, will debut at the London Screenwriter’s Festival this October.