Screenwriting as Catharsis

Webster defines catharsis as “purification or purgation of the emotions (as pity and fear) primarily through art.”

Those of us who have a burning desire to write a screenplay based on something that happened to us sometimes feel like the experience was just too important NOT to write. We’ve lived through something that has meaning and which others might be affected and moved by. What we sometimes forget is that the process of writing that story will also add meaning to our lives.

In the process of writing and rewriting this screenplay based on real events, I always find that I am transported to a place where I can see my own life objectively, and as I re-experience the ups and downs of living through it in retrospect, I gain much needed perspective. I am also able to let go of hard feelings, achieve some distance, make sense of it, see the plan, and move on.

It’s not that we write these things as a therapeutic exercise, no, we write them because we truly believe in their entertainment value. If we are going to write a great screenplay, we have to take our audience on a journey which culminates in a catharsis, right around that climactic turning point. So, the act of writing it means we have to “go there.”  In the process, the unexpected bonus we end up receiving is the great gift of our own growth. We get wiser and stronger in the course of crafting and honing this story into screenplay form.

Sure, a writer of purely fictionalized material also experiences catharsis and grows and learns and changes through the course of each script that he or she writes. But as writers of true story, we immerse ourselves in a sea of overwhelming personal experience, and by navigating the choppy waters of shaping that experience into dramatic and cinematic form, we just might experience a catharsis that can change our lives.

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