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Genre Jumper: WLP Grad Student Asked to Adapt Own Stories into Script

Among the gifs and memes and random thoughts on her Tumblr blog, Metaphors Gone Awry, Robyn Ritchie began last fall dispensing writing advice that she picked up in her classes as a Creative Writing MFA student at Emerson College.

People started asking questions about style and form, so Ritchie began answering them with story demonstrations. Those demonstrations turned into serializations.

And one serialization, Housekeeping, turned into a screenplay, thanks to Ritchie’s deft characterizations and the sharp eye of Joy Kecken, writer on HBO’s The Wire—a fixture on nearly every “best TV shows of all time” list. Ritchie’s script has a director (Kecken) and a casting director attached, and they’re now trying to raise money to get the project made.

“She basically sent me a message [saying], ‘I really enjoyed this story and I think we could really do something with this,’” Ritchie recalled.

Ritchie is being overly modest, said Kecken.

“She does this thing she calls layering, and she applies different literary techniques to give more subtext and character to subject matter,” said Kecken, who said she waited more than a month to reach out to Ritchie. “The more I kept thinking about it, it just stayed with me for the longest time.

“[Her work] showed an emotional depth and maturity that you just don’t expect in a person her age. I was just really impressed.”

Housekeeping, and its screenplay successor, tentatively titled Open, is about two married couples—one gay, one straight. The man in the straight marriage has an affair with one of the gay men, and as the couples struggle to save their relationships in the aftermath, they find themselves “thwarted” by sex addiction, insecurities, and outsiders’ interference, Ritchie said.

These particular stories came about because someone on Tumblr was asking Ritchie for examples of “literary” writing versus “genre” writing. They wanted to know what a story dependent on characterization looked like, as opposed to one dependent on plot.

“I wanted to start with a story that was primarily about how people interact with each other,” Ritchie said.

But just because a story is more concerned with character than plot doesn’t mean it wouldn’t make a good movie.

Kecken said Ritchie’s storytelling is very visual, and her dialogue is “vivid and vibrant and full of metaphor,” so the stories seemed a natural for the screen.

“What I usually respond to is another way of looking at a subject that’s very difficult or emotional, and that’s what she did,” Kecken said.

To be clear, Ritchie had never attempted to write a screenplay before, but nonetheless agreed to turn 100,000 words into a 111-page script. She finished it in just over a month. (“I write fast,” Ritchie said.)

Kecken said it’s always a challenge getting film projects funded, particularly for women of color like Kecken and Ritchie.

“I’m just knocking down doors trying to open up the possibilities for this project,” Kecken said. “Because there’s just not enough of our stories being told.”

Ritchie said she’s now too busy with her MFA work to do much writing on her blog, though she’ll still answer a question if she gets one.

And while it’s still her plan to write stories and novels, this screenplay business has been a great ride, she said.

“This [project] could accelerate into a wall, and I think if it does, the best thing I’ll get out of it is the contacts I’ve made and the experience I got,” Ritchie said. “At least I can say I’ve written a screenplay.”

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