The Art of Screenwriting: Lucinda Coxon
No one can deny the difficulty associated with writing a screenplay. The amount of time, revisions required and dedication to constantly get denied is an area that not everyone is cut out for. Thankfully, there are plenty of accomplished writers we can choose from and analyze their writing. In this case, we’re going to discuss the art of Lucinda Coxon.
Coxon is an award-winning writer for film, television, and stage. Her most notable feature screenplay, The Danish Girl, stars Eddie Redmayne, and Alicia Vikander, and is based on the 2000 novel of the same name by David Ebershoff. Coxon also collaborated with Guillermo Del Toro on Crimson Peak and recently adapted Sarah Waters' novel The Little Stranger for film, to be directed by Lenny Abrahamson.
Coxon is also very notable in the theatre world, with her stage plays including What Are They Like? (National Theatre), Herding Cats (Theatre Royal Bath and the Hampstead Theatre), Happy Now? (National Theatre and 59E59Theaters in NYC), and plenty of others.
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Coxon is a great example of someone who has adapted many works and made successful mini-series, films, and plays. On the notion of truth and adaptation, there are two schools of thought—one that focuses on how the story went and the other on how the more emotionally impacted it is, the better.
Coxon has gone on record stating that any film that’s based on life or real events should be accurate, but it needs to be truthful. It’s a matter of showcasing that those two things aren’t always the same things. You want to tell the story as best you can and the spirit of the source material, but you shouldn’t worry about covering everything from it.
Much of this comes down to the most challenging part of adaptation, which is leaving parts out. In that same interview, Coxon stated that she’ll let elements sit in the script for a while, but eventually, there will be a moment where you’ll have to remove them. It’s a strange sad relief every time you have to delete anything in that sense.
The best writers who have adapted many works understand this premise. It’s a true skill that takes years to master because you have to omit otherwise great writing that might not make it or work in your adaptation. It comes back to not trying to satisfy everyone because there will always be someone upset with your adaptation. Fans are judgemental, and that’s okay.
Many of Lucinda Coxon’s works related back to class, specifically the British class system. One of the best examples comes from The Litte Stranger. Set in 1948, the plot follows a doctor who visits an old house where his mother used to work, discovering it may hold a dark secret. The 2018 film stars Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, and Charlotte Rampling.
Upwards mobility is common throughout the story, and that’s derived from the book. In the story, the Ayres family is aristocratic and envied by those around them. Although the riches of the family aren’t how they once were, their position and image in society have remained unchanged.
Writing about class is challenging in a screenplay format, primarily because you don’t want to sound redundant. There’s a lot you can talk about in this world, and as similar as your story might be to something else, there’s plenty you can do to make yours stand out.
Writing About Pessimism
Pessimism is an area some screenwriters specialize or focus on—possibly from their own experiences—but it’s difficult to do from the audience's perspective. General audiences tend not to like darker endings or films that make them feel a certain way. That’s not to say you can’t do that, you just need to know how to effectively write it.
Going off The Little Stranger, in the book, the government has caused pessimism throughout the nation because of a political change. Many feel life will become harder for everyone and there’s a grim reaction to the matter, similar to post-war Britain. Now, since this is set in the past, adapting it requires you to know about the societal reactions at the time.
Comparing it to a contemporary setting might be easier because you’re more familiar with how people around your age feel today. Coxon has adapted and written plenty of scripts in both older and modern settings. It’s worthwhile to dive through these works to see how she approaches both.
Besides her talent and excellent writing, Lucina Coxon has discussed the importance of perseverance in your work. There will always be critics, no matter how notable your writing is. From a beginner’s standpoint, you have to know you’ll have plenty of scripts denied. It may take years to finally get one moving, but when it does, it’ll all be worth it.