The Storyteller Penning Screenplays without Immediate Plans for Production – Behind The Screen

Mar 8, 2024

On a quiet Wednesday evening, while perusing the digital streets of X (formerly Twitter), a particular post caught my eye. It was from Toyin Ajua, a storyteller who shared her practice of writing uncommissioned screenplays to refine her craft and build her portfolio. This innovative approach resonated with me, reminding me of my own struggles as a newcomer in the creative field, trying to prove my worth. Toyin’s method struck me as both practical and inspiring, showcasing her dedication to honing her screenwriting skills.

Oluwatoyin Eria-Ajua Odunuyi’s journey as a storyteller began early, influenced by her father, a graphic designer. Even in secondary school, her notebooks were filled with stories waiting to be told. She attended Caleb University, studying Mass Communication and specializing in print journalism. During her time at the university, she served as the editor-in-chief for the university magazine, “Caleb Pioneer,” where she oversaw the affairs of the publication.

Beyond her academic pursuits, Toyin is a young self-published author of books spanning different genres. Her experiences, including growing up with a neurodivergent sibling, have shaped her worldview and influenced her advocacy work. She is passionate about promoting neurodivergent inclusion in society and owns a blog where she discusses Autism and society’s role in promoting awareness and inclusion.

In 2021, Toyin ventured into screenwriting, adding another dimension to her storytelling prowess. Whether it’s through prose or screenwriting, Toyin Ajua is passionate about storytelling. In this episode of Behind The Screen, she shares insights into her career, discussing how she juggles her love for storytelling with the demands of daily life. Join us as we delve into the world of this talented and multifaceted storyteller.


Note: Some parts of this conversation have been edited for clarity.


Toyin Ajua Oduniyi

Toyin Ajua Odunuyi

What does a typical day or week in your life as a storyteller? How do you balance your writing practice (for prose and the screen) with other commitments?

I have writing days which are typically Mondays and Thursdays. On those days, I prepare for writing by setting out my writing goals (how many words I’m writing and also the scenes/ chapters) I write between the hours of 9 am and 12 pm (sometimes more, sometimes less)

Typically, I write 5,000 words a day for prose and for scripts, I write about 6 scenes (which I would have broken down before D-day)

Working remotely really helps me. I think it’s because I’m just really grounded and passionate about writing. I know what to do at the right time. With writing days, I know what else to do, like for example, my disability advocacy career and also content creation. 

 

How did your love for storytelling begin?

When I was younger, I used to create images and graphics in Microsoft PowerPoint. My dad is a graphic artist, so I guess I got my artistic side from him. I would create characters and worlds, then make up stories and give them dialogue.


When I started secondary school, I used to write stories at the back of my school notes. I would get a brand-new notebook and use it for my stories. When I got into university, I started typing out my stories and published the first one at age 19 on OkadaBooks. I’ve always had a wild imagination and daydream a lot, so writing has been a great outlet for me. Additionally, I have an introverted personality, so I often find it difficult to express my feelings verbally. Writing, however, allows me to articulate my thoughts and feelings perfectly. If you want to know what I really like, just read my books.

 

You’ve excelled in both screenwriting and prose. How do you decide which medium to use when developing a new story idea?

Right now, I’m turning my books into scripts. I’ve written about 12 books, and I’m currently adapting them into film scripts. When I write prose, I always do so with the intention of it being adapted into a movie or television series someday.

I tend to focus more on screenwriting when I want to bring something thrilling to life, like thriller stories or horror (which I may not write myself). Prose, on the other hand, is mostly a way for me to pour out my heart onto paper.

 

 Which medium did you start writing for first, and which do you find easier to write for?

I started with writing prose and only started gearing towards screenplays two years ago. I find it better to write books because it’s easier to put into words what I have in mind; it’s a lot harder for scripts because not every wild idea translates well on screen. 

For prose, my imagination is wild and people don’t need to question it, but for the screen, I have to show when I can’t tell and go through some other rules. For commercial screenwriting, I always have to explain the “why?” and ensure the audience is satisfied at the end even when I’d prefer them to be perplexed with some of my endings. I love writing prose, though, and don’t think I can ever stop that.

 

Toyin Ajua Oduniyi

Toyin Ajua Odunuyi

 

Learning the craft of screenwriting can be a journey in itself. How did you learn the fundamentals of screenwriting, and are there any resources, mentors, or workshops that have been particularly influential in your development?

I decided to journey into film in 2021 and wrote my first screenplay using Microsoft Word. I applied twice to join the Ebonylife Creative Academy for Screenwriting in 2022 and 2023, respectively. I got rejected the first time but I was determined and God knew the second application was the right one for me. I met some amazing people who were huge influences on my story. Before then I’d taken a course from Terra Kulture, that helped me a lot during my time at the Creative Academy. I also read scripts of other writers which helps me to know how to write better. Sharing my work with friends and people whose opinions I respect also really helps.

 

Writing scripts without immediate plans to shoot is a unique approach. How do you stay motivated and focused on honing your craft without the immediate gratification of seeing your scripts come to life on screen?

I know that pitching stories can be hard. I’m not an expert in writing screenplays and I’m using this approach to learn. To learn, you have to write. I have a few people I respect in the industry, so I try to give them the scripts after writing as much as possible. It’s a means for me to learn and be comfortable with my skills. Who knows if someone may be interested in the story? I’ve written five (5) short scripts so far and one day some (or all) of them will come to life.

Also, I have over 14 self-published books and whenever people need to see my portfolio I send it to them but I needed to have scripts, so I started writing scripts that I can share so people can see how I write for the screen.

 

Have any of your screenplays been produced for the screen yet?

I haven’t had anything produced right now, but I have written 2 scripts that are in production right now.

 

What are some of the hurdles you’ve encountered along your journey to getting these two scripts made into a film, and how have you overcome them?

It’s the whole process of getting your story out there and getting someone to believe in it. When you finally get there, the process of rewriting your script (story) may present itself; you may have to tailor your story to how the producers or directors want it, but that’s why the film is a collaboration medium.

 

How do you incorporate feedback into your writing, and how has it helped you grow as a writer?

I once had someone tell me my script was not realistic then again he wasn’t getting the idea. It hurt me and made me stop writing for a while but right now, I understand that not everyone will like my story, whether prose or film. 

I try to not take offense and prepare myself for the worst if someone reads my work. I know that not everyone will like my work or want to work with me. I try to look at the corrections made and think about whether the person was right or wrong. Sometimes, you may not see it because you may feel insulted but they may be right even if their approach is sour. I try not to take things personally. 

 

Toyin Ajua Oduniyi

Toyin Ajua Odunuyi

 

Do you think prose writers can easily transition into screenwriting and vice-versa, based on your experience? Do you have any advice for someone currently considering a similar career expansion?

Yes, I think it’s very possible to transition to screenwriting as a prose writer, many writers have done it. Even so many books are turned into movies (Hunger Games, Bridgerton, To All the Boys I’ve Loved, etc.) 

Now I hear people are turning films into books. That’s something I would love to do, but oh well.

My advice is that you do it wholeheartedly and dedicate yourself to your craft. Don’t let anyone tell you the story is not worth telling. You deserve a shot to tell that story.

 

Would you like to direct and produce your scripts if you had the financial means to do so?

Sadly no. My personality is wired to be only behind the scenes of a production. I can’t do directing because it’s a lot of work. I’m not lazy but I choose my battles. I get overwhelmed easily- if I become the director and the actor is giving me stress, I can walk out. Writing already takes a toll on me and to deal with directing? Nah, it’s a lot. But then again, that’s only if God wants me to do it.

 

Looking ahead, what are your hopes and aspirations for your screenwriting career? Are there specific genres or themes you are eager to explore in your future scripts?

I want to write more for the screen. I want to write for National and International audiences. I am a romantic at heart so I’m going to write romance stories a lot. I am going to also write stories based on special needs. I want to bring disability to national television- it’s something that people need to be aware of. I have a special needs brother and there are narratives that people need to see. So I’m mostly going to write romantic stories and also stories on people with special needs and also special needs families.

 

Finally, what advice would you offer to other budding screenwriters who may be in a similar position, writing scripts without immediate production plans?

Don’t get discouraged when someone isn’t interested in your work. Write that script, whenever a production company is looking for scripts, send in yours and shoot your shot. Also, share your work with people that you trust for feedback. Don’t hoard it ̶l̶i̶k̶e̶ ̶p̶a̶l̶l̶i̶a̶t̶i̶v̶e̶.̶

 


 

Want to write like Toyin Ajua Odunuyi? Check out The Scriptwriter on the Albantsho Suite. It’s currently free.

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