Posts Tagged ‘writing’

What should I write about?

December 10th, 2010 Comments off

The question frequently arises among writers: “What should I write about?” It’s not coincidental that the most frequent answer is “Write what you know,” especially since it’s easier to draw on personal experience than create a new world from whole cloth. But both approaches have their merits, and their adherents. It’s really about which you do best, since writing well is the goal…

Recently I attended a holiday dinner party which came together almost spontaneously. At the dinner I was joined by a high-level film studio executive-assistant, a Tony-nominated playwright, a British screenwriter (son of a Knight!), a set dresser and a costumer. As the lone blogger, I was both intimidated and fascinated. Talk ranged from gossip to philosophy, from food to metaphysics, and I did my best to take it all in (meal included, truth be told). By evening’s end, I had enough ‘material’ to write several screenplays, from the “Big Chill” aspect of this rag-tag group of celebrants to the farcical “Home for the Holidays” spirit of the day; if I wished, I could tap darker undercurrents which would lead the tale an entirely different direction.  Regardless of what direction I wished to go, from comic to heavily dramatic, I gained enough inspiration (and story material) from our dinner together to keep me busy for a while.

Knowing what to write about is half the battle. What remains is a difficult – albeit frequently fun – task of defining your story, identifying its beginning, middle and end, and applying a plot structure to it which moves the story forward while satisfying audiences’ desires to be entertained. It’s a careful balance of  plot, character, dialogue, pacing and tone – and any one of these elements can ‘tip’ the overall project off-kilter – and into a studio’s ‘reject’ pile. So it’s obvious that knowing your story is paramount to your screenplay’s success, but getting it right is just as important, and that takes an artist’s touch.

Personal experience is a tricky thing: we often lack the perspective to ‘open-up’ our own stories and instead get bogged-down in minutiae, so it’s important to step back to see the bigger picture (the one the audience deserves) to ensure your story is being told completely. It’s no accident that many of the best novels are adapted into screenplays not by the books’ authors, but by experienced screenwriters who understand the structure and demands of a screen story. Many book authors get the opportunity to adapt their work for Hollywood, but few see their efforts get to the screen unchanged; conversely, those writers who eschew Hollywood work in favor of writing more books often score a higher success rate in getting their titles to theater marquees. A prime example of the latter is Elmore Leonard, who gave up adapting his works in the 80s, although he continues writing novels to this day – and movies continue to be produced (“3:10 to Yuma”) based on his enormous volume of work.

So what should you write about? The answer to that question is as varied as life itself. Material should present itself, whether it comes from a dinner party, a walk to the store or a phone call with a loved one. It’s up to you as a writer to recognize this opportunity and write it down.

Once you’ve finished writing, don’t forget to make sure your work is immune to critical nit-picking. Every successful story, play, screenplay, teleplay and novel became a success because the author took the time to get it right. Story analysis from an experienced professional is the best way to gain perspective on this very personal work. Constructive criticism is the key to refining your project into the ‘bulletproof’ property that will increase your odds of success!

Stop Interrupting Me!

August 27th, 2010 Comments off

Everyone has to deal with life’s interruptions. John Lennon’s famous quote “Life’s what happens while you’re making other plans” is true – life has a way of intruding upon (or even halting) your routine. If you’re a writer, this can be hazardous, especially if you are writing on deadline. As I’ve written here before, a body of work is important, since it develops writing ‘muscles,’ those skills that only develop with practice over time.

Fortunately for me, For Bards Blog doesn’t have a deadline, but being away from it for a couple weeks (as was just the case) does make it a little more difficult to jump back in… Consider it a perfect example of those writing ‘muscles’ getting flabby after just a couple of weeks off (although there is something to be said for recharging one’s batteries). Most writers can regain momentum on their work quickly, but occasionally something crops up that takes them away from their work for longer than they would like; that’s exactly when it’s important to resume writing, even if it is simply scribbling in a notebook when a moment presents itself or waking an hour earlier to get your thoughts down on paper (or on your hard drive).

I recently received a new prescription, and was reading the information sheet that came with the medicine. One line jumped out at me: “If you miss a dose, DO NOT STOP taking this medication; resume your normal dose until directed otherwise…” If writing came with a precautionary information sheet, it would say something similar: ‘If you are interrupted in your writing, DO NOT STOP creating; resume your normal writing routine as quickly as possible.’ Quitting a prescribed medication could be hazardous to your health; stopping writing will undoubtedly affect your productivity, if not your temperament. It’s been said that writers are compelled to write, and that’s certainly the case with good ones.

So, if you haven’t written in a while and feel that ‘forgotten’ project breathing down your neck, relax, take a deep breath and pick up a pencil – or open your laptop – and write. If you feel better, congratulations! It’s a validation of your ‘writer status.’ And if you don’t feel better? Write about that! (After all, you’re a writer, aren’t you?)


June 24th, 2010 Comments off

You hear it all the time: ‘adversity builds character.’ And it’s true: place someone in a situation of ‘misfortune’ or ‘continued difficulty,’ as the dictionary defines adversity, and you’ll see some real character emerge. Perhaps not always the kind of character you were expecting… but that’s the nature of man – and the formative power of adversity. Diamonds are formed under pressure, as the old saying goes… but, then again, so are earthquakes.

But adversity can be inspirational. It can motivate someone to react, refine and adapt to deal with tough circumstances. For some, it brings writing inspiration, turning a negative into a positive – literally.

In my life and in my work, I have encountered adversity and I have dealt with others who have done the same. None of us are exempt from misfortune, but it shows a certain resolve to ‘turn that frown upside down’ or ‘make lemonade from life’s lemons.’ In terms of writing, the adversity characters experience in a story or screenplay is called conflict; it is the job of the writer to frame this conflict in a way that allows the reader to empathize with the character’s adversity – and hopefully resolve it in a way that satisfies the reader while ringing true for the character. As simple as that sounds, it really is difficult to construct (and conclude) a screenplay without running into some ‘writer’s adversity’ along the way…

As a story analyst and reader, I have dealt with a number of screenplays and manuscripts that were inspired by their authors’ own struggles with adversity, from substance abuse to physical disability, chronic illness or psychological problems. Each author wrote from the heart, and their sincerity was always evident. The quality of these works varied wildly, from novice screenwriters making simple mistakes with plot, story, or pacing to experienced, established authors whose tales evoked a level of poignancy rarely felt. And occasionally there were surprises, like the first-time writer who chronicled his often harrowing, always painful treatment for deadly Hepatitis-C; his manuscript made his ordeal come alive for the reader, turning a conventional medical tale into an affecting, scary and honest memoir.

We experience adversity in our lives in the same way that characters in a screenplay deal with conflict. It is how we respond to our adversity that is most important: if you see every challenge as an opportunity to learn, create and grow, then maybe some adversity isn’t all that bad!