HOW VIRGINITY HELPS YOU AS A SCREENWRITER
Or The Art Of Coming Up With Story Ideas This Chinese New Year
We Were Once Virgins
As a lecturer in my former life, I heard many pitches from students for their short films. One student was pitching me one idea after another from his notebook. I stared at him and said, isn’t that from a Korean drama? Or isn’t that from Stephen King’s IT? Or isn’t that from The Conjuring? When I asked if he had any ideas that are not pilfered from a recent movie, television series, or a sketch from YouTube, I encountered a painful silence. Generally when I ask students if they have anything from their own lives that they can use as story material, I am usually met with blank looks and even more painful silences. My life is boring. My life is not interesting. Students, remarkably, refuse to believe there is anything in their lives worthy of mention.
They forgot they were once virgins.
Like all of us.
Remembrance of One’s Virginity
First-time experiences come with emotional memories. Every sense associated with that experience, be it sight, smell, or touch, is considerably enhanced. I once described in a script a girl whose eyes were as black as “chin chow” (grass jelly), and skin as fair as soya bean curd. This was exactly what I thought when I first caught a glimpse of my crush who sat alone at the corner seat of the same school bus I took. I remembered the weird way in which all sound faded into the background every time I looked at her.
I remembered how heavy my heart felt in my first break up. I curled up in bed for weeks, reading Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, and ached along with the protagonist who was betrayed by the woman he loved.
I remembered the first time I ate satay at the hawker center near my old flat in Toa Payoh. I sat on a short wooden stool mere meters away from the Chinese uncle grilling the meats. A cool breeze blew. Stars blinked in the night sky. I was with my family, as happy as a boy could ever be. And the thought that glowed like a soft neon billboard in the back of my young mind was this — I wished I never had to grow up.
But then I grew up.
Virginity Is Great For Storytelling
When you begin to recall your first-time experiences, the details are already there for the taking. Details unique to you, and absolutely essential when you wish to inject realism and conviction in your storytelling. I tapped into the emotion of heartbreak, and first love to write an Under One Roof episode in the first season. It is the episode where Denise meets her first crush, an indie rock singer played by then upcoming actor/comedian Hossan Leong. Although the incident is exaggerated for comic effect, the underlying emotion was all too real, because it had happened to me. Like teenagers the world over, and even before the Age of Romeo and Juliet, I had experienced heartbreak. A side benefit of writing about heartbreak is how therapeutic it is. You become your own counsellor and psychiatrist. Let the self-healing begin. Being a virgin is awkward, but as a writer and storyteller, it is a chance to record great material for future stories.
Takeaway For Virgin Writers
First time experiences are fertile fields to mine for nuggets of an idea. Ideas that people regardless of age, can relate. No surprise that the coming-of-age genre resonates with us. No surprise that the Korean film World Of Us, shot from the point of view of a 12 year old, and the American film Stand By Me, are equally compelling with its themes of friendship and break ups. Nothing can ever compare to that sweet taste of a first kiss. Or the sharp pain of your first heartbreak. Stories are manuals for survival. When we read or watch how you transcend your first-time experiences, perhaps there is a lesson we can all learn.
Next time you are looking for ideas for short films, consider the times you were a virgin.
Have a Prosperous Chinese New Year!