Podcast

Lessons from Screenwriting: 5 Questions for Beverly Chukwu

“We are arbiters of change! The writing will never be ‘done,’ so embrace the chaos of highs and lows that come with developing your story into its best possible version. Letting go of perfectionism will make that process easier.” -Beverly Chukwu

Beverly Chukwu is a Nigerian American writer, filmmaker, script consultant, and behavior therapist from Garland, TX. She is an MFA alum of the James A. Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin, where she received a fellowship in screenwriting and fiction. Her screenplay, Prince Of Lavendale Street, was the feature winner in the BlueCat Screenplay Competition, and an excerpt of her novel-in-progress, Of Broken Things, was published in Vol. 2 of the I Scream Social Anthology. Bev is a queer writer, who tells stories about assimilation, the allure of groupthink, and characters who struggle with being someone they are not; mental health advocacy for people of the Black diaspora is at the forefront of her work.

On Saturday, May 18th, Beverly Chukwu is teaching a class for the WLT called “Lessons from Screenwriting: Creating Compelling Scenes. In this class you’ll learn how to write compelling scenes that have the power to shift momentum and shape your reader’s relationship with your work.

Here’s what Beverly had to share with us:


Scribe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you write? How did you come to writing?

Beverly ChukwuMy name is Beverly Chigozie Chukwu, known by many as Bev and by few as Chig. I am primarily a writer of fiction, which isn’t limited to screenplays, teleplays, novels, and short fiction. When I first started writing at a very young age, my writing existed at the ends of two very extreme poles: highly fantastical or uncomfortably based on true events. At that age, writing was a form of mimicry. I had trouble speaking because I was afraid of the repercussions of what I said, and I was especially afraid of getting in trouble with my strict and fearful immigrant parents. So, I read a ton and wrote a ton because I had this itch, a compulsion to “re-tell” what seemed like other people’s experiences in my own words. I read about wizards, so I wrote about wizards. I read about loss and grief, so I wrote my version of what a funeral would look like.

Over time, mimicry made way for necessity. I needed to document my struggles—I couldn’t tell my mom that I was upset with her or tell my sister that I hated my body—with identity and agency (words I wouldn’t know until much later) by writing. Writing, in many ways, is still like that for me: a mirror for my own internal struggles and my own questions that have no clear answers. My work no longer teeters along two opposing poles; rather, I prefer to think of life as a mix of what’s real (fact) and what’s imagined (perspective). Maybe that’s why I feel most comfortable in the realm of grounded dramas that contain a fantastical twist, whether that’s sci-fi, horror, fantasy, etc.

Scribe: In your own work, how do you approach overcoming the challenges that come with writing, be it writer’s block or craft or business-related challenges?

BC: It’s honestly sooo helpful to have an interest in various modes of creating. If I get frustrated or stuck with a screenplay, I know that I can spend time on another work-in-progress, such as a short story, that may both excite—a product of being freed from the doldrums of my script—and inspire me to think of solutions for the problems in my other project. There’s no escape from feeling creatively burnt-out if you choose writing as a career, but the more you write, the more you learn to be less precious about your work, which is also immensely helpful. We are arbiters of change! The writing will never be “done,” so embrace the chaos of highs and lows that come with developing your story into its best possible version. Letting go of perfectionism will make that process easier.

Scribe: Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long did that feeling last?

BC: I was on my billionth draft of my last feature-length screenplay, when I decided to cash in a reading favor from one of my mentors. Our notes call turned into a three-hour “lava” session (re: writer, Meg Lefauve of Inside Out), where he wound up urging me to dig deeper about my intentions for my script. By the end of it, a chord had struck, and I cried. I’d realized I had a fear of digging any deeper. The script had cultural elements that made me wary of making audiences “too uncomfortable.” But letting myself be vulnerable taught me a huge lesson, one that I first heard in therapy: where your fear is, there your task is. The stories that resonate the most for people are the ones that ring painfully true, no matter the genre. That aha! feeling ended quickly after I finished my next draft of that script, mainly because I then had to deal with story problems in another script, but the lesson still stands. Now, when I feel like I’ve landed on a concept that feels right, it’s often because it explores something at the center of my fear.

Being known is just as terrifying as being unknown. But to be known is to be seen, and no one will ever see you if you shy away from the truth.

Scribe: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?

BC: Don’t shy away from what people call guilty pleasures. If you know where your interests lie, you know where a facet of your writing lies. If you love science fiction but find yourself solely writing dramedies, ask yourself why you aren’t exploring the genre you most consume. Straying away from what we love, be it science fiction or Lifetime-esque thrillers, can deny excitement from the work, and if you aren’t excited, how can you expect a reader to?

Also, please, read. Everything. Everywhere. All at once. Okay, maybe, not that last part, but please, do read in the medium that you write in. It’s invaluable.

Scribe: What is one thing that people will take away from this class?

BC: People who take my class can, of course, expect to learn aspects of writing compelling scenes that I have accumulated over the years. However, the biggest takeaway that I hope stays with writers long after my class is done is that there is no replacement for taking the point-of-view of your audience. Writing for yourself is a challenge for the first draft but writing to be read is a challenge that you overcome over multiple drafts. In this class, I’ll teach writer elements of scene that will help them not only make their writing accessible to their readers but that will also make their writing compelling enough to keep audiences reading through to the end. Momentum and excitement are powerful tools that will keep readers reading.

Thanks, Beverly!

Click here to learn more about Beverly Chukwu’s upcoming class.

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