Anecdotes

Here are some anecdotes that make some good points about all of this. When Tom Wolfe had his first major assignment as a reporter, he did all of the legwork and got all the information ready and then became totally blocked. He went to his boss, the editor, and told him that he couldn't do it. The editor said, OK, get all your material together, put it down so someone can make sense out of it, and I'll have George do it. Wolfe went home, wrote, Dear George, this is what I have, at the top of the...

Audience As Enemy

How would Olivier and Harrison have felt if they had no audience, if it were just a rehearsal They wouldn't be panicky if there were no audience. Do you have an audience when you write Readers are your audience, but do you have an audience while you're actually performing the act of writing Yes, you do. The audience is yourself, and that's the toughest audience in the world. No one can terrorize you like you can terrorize yourself. Actors often perform without an audience,...

Blocks Of Anything

Check your work for long, thick paragraphs of EXPOSITION. Exposition is information the reader needs to know to understand the story. Often it's information you only think the reader needs to know. The reader needs to know who's who and what's what so he can have the same experience the character does. He needs to know what the character knows that's relevant to the immediate situation. But he needs only what's necessary. For example, if a husband is accusing his wife of cheating on him, we...

Double Dutytriple Duty

Your story and you, the author, should never be doing only one thing at a time. Only setting scene (describing setting), for example. You never want the reader to be sitting around waiting for you to set things up so the story can begin. Set scene, OK, but at the same time you can be revealing character. We get character if the setting has meaning for the character, if the character is affected by it, if he has strong feelings about it. The setting should be a necessary element of the story,...

Exercises

Thought exercise (Larry scene) You still have to put the thoughts in for one more character in the infidelity scene. You did the wife in the last chapter. This time, go through and play the part of Larry, putting in his thoughts and emotions (worries, fears, hopes). Remember, he has no idea what's going on in the other character's mind. This is the resolution of the late date story. He's alone licking his wounds, trying to make sense of what happened and to come to some understanding of it....

Final Thoughts On Thoughts

As I said, the workings of a character's mind is the hardest part of all of this. It's the thing that you will have the least access to in the early drafts. Often, the physical reaction will be what emerges first. When it does, put it down, recognizing that there's more to it since the mind leads the body. Just keep moving, knowing more needs to be done next time around. On each successive draft, you'll get more and more of the character's mind, and eventually you'll have what you need. Once...

Five For Thirty

The other critical part of this method is that you must commit to following it for 30 days straight before you evaluate or reconsider it or debate with yourself about the value of it. Since it takes a while to get used to and since the goal is to accumulate momentum, the only time you'll be able to see the results and possibilities is after you've done 30 days. So you must make a nonnegotiable contract with yourself to do them. Just do them. Thirty days. Keep your mouth shut. Don't evaluate....

Flashbacks

If you need them, use them, but use them properly. Like exposition, a flashback should be broken up and sprinkled through a scene the way it might naturally come into a character's mind. Never launch into a long flashback mid scene. For example, you wouldn't do this Hey, punk, what you doin' 'round here the stocky, redheaded Chicano said as he strutted down the alley toward Harry. Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out the switchblade he carried ever since...

Hitting the Wall Blocking And Unblocking

When Rex Harrison was on the stage, he timed it so he barely had enough time to rush into his dressing room, throw on his costume, put on his makeup, and race out onto the stage just moments before the curtain went up. When Laurence Olivier was on the stage, he got there early like most actors and got into costume with some time to spare. Then, when the house was full, but the curtain was still down, he would go out onto the stage and stand behind the curtain facing the audience on the other...

How Deep

OK, it's a need, but exactly how deep a need is it How far will we go to satisfy it How much of an influence does it have on us, and can we find a way to measure it Yes, we can. I take you to the world of crime for the answer heist crimes (banks, Brinks, famous jewels). Let's say three guys pull off the perfect Brinks robbery, except for killing a resistant guard in the process. Nobody knows a thing no clues, no evidence. There's no chance they can get caught if they play it safe. They each...

Ideas That Help

That doesn't mean ideas are worthless. They can work sometimes especially with a mild case. (I'm contradicting myself, I know.) But you can't count on them to do the job. Stronger medicine is needed for a severe block. But ideas can help. They can loosen you up and make it easier to act. Here are some ideas that I've found helpful. The Muse What about the Muse You know, the spirit or goddess who inspires writers and artists, the source of inspiration, a magical presence that pours wonderful...

Its The Thought That Counts

What tells you more about a person the way his body works, or the way his mind works How does this guy think is something you probably tried to figure out before. But how does he sweat is something I'll bet you never wondered about. More than anything else, we are language. It's how we're different from all other animals. We put words on everything. And the mind never stops. We're always thinking, talking to ourselves urging, coaxing, warning, pressing, punishing, praising. Heidegger said,...

Land Of Lunacy

Some common notions Artists and writers are a little crazy. You have to be loose in the head, detached, unhinged to create. You need a special sensitivity, perception, and self-awareness to be creative. None of it happens to be true. Your personal psychology has nothing to do with it. You can be plenty wacky and be a good writer. On the other hand, sanity is no disadvantage. Writing is apart from all that. Writing is an act of discovery. You write not because you have awareness, but to achieve...

Leaping And Looking

One way of thinking of what you're doing in all of this is you are training your imagination. Which isn't exactly true, since it's not particularly trainable. But it's always there, and it's always willing to work for you. It's going all the time whether you're in touch with it or not. What you can do is get in the way. When you're in the way, you may feel that you have no imagination, but your imagination is a lot stronger and more durable and inventive than the rest of your mind. But it obeys...

Let Nothing Be Easy

Create and take advantage of every opportunity to cause trouble. Think about how difficult things were for Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Ahab, Gatsby, Scarlett O'Hara. Who made them difficult Who drove Hamlet crazy It wasn't his father's request for revenge. It was Shakespeare. The whale wasn't the real cause of Ahab's death. Melville was. You, the author, do it all. Make all the trouble. Exercise sadistic license. One way to do that is to raise the stakes as...

Rules of the Page

Creativity obeys an unusual and contrary set of laws. If you violate them, you will expend enormous amounts of energy and get nowhere just as you would if you pressed the gas and the brake to the floor of your car at the same time. Many writers give up, feeling they're incapable, when the only problem is that they're unwittingly violating these natural laws. To put it simply, they're trying to do the impossible. Trying to do the impossible is the major cause of frustration, discouragement, and...

Selfediting

I like this. This is damn good. If that's your response, you're lucky. Often, you'll be feeling something like This isn't moving. This is kind of dull. What's wrong with this Still, that's pretty mild. The trouble comes with stronger reactions like God, this is stupid. This is so awful. This is such boring, pretentious, shallow crap. What am I going to do now Exactly What are you going to do now First, you need to realize that your strong negative reaction is the most...

Showing

If I say, He was a dangerous person, a walking time bomb, are you gripped by the character You may be interested or even a little hooked since a walking time bomb promises action and excitement, but you're not there yet. He was going to kill somebody. Maybe kill himself before it was over. His six-shot Smith and Wesson lay in the glove compartment. She had a six-inch, ventilated, blue steel barrel, a tight coil hammer that bit into your thumb when you drew it back, and one of those polished...

Stage and Screen

This chapter may seem too short to cover both screenwriting and playwriting. But it's not, because the story form (conflict, action, resolution) is identical whether it's on the page, stage, or screen. There is no difference. So, what you've learned about story up to here has given you everything you need to create a story for the screen or stage. Also, because stories for stage or screen don't get into the mind the way the written story does, they're actually easier to write. It's important to...

Stage Play

Once again, I remind you, story is story, no matter where you find it. The form is the same in a stage play (conflict + action + resolution) as in any other kind of story. Traditionally it's Act One conflict, Act Two action, Act Three resolution. The difference is that it's all dialogue (no thoughts) and a confined space. As a beginning playwright, don't write anything that requires elaborate staging. Keep it simple and inexpensive to stage, with as few set changes as possible. Pay attention to...

The Affliction

OK, where does it hurt How does it hurt What's the experience of it Exactly what happens when you're blocked what goes on inside you You sit there in a knot staring at the wall or your computer or a blank page or something you've written, thinking, Writer Who do I think am trying to be a writer. I'm wasting my time. I'll never publish. I have no ideas. I have no talent. I used to think I had it. I wrote a couple of decent pieces once. But that was long ago. They weren't that...

The Emotionthought Connection

So, what's the nature of an emotional thought What might be going on in your mind with that gun in your ribs Anger If you wrote, He was angry, would that give you a real sense of the character and how he experienced anger The word anger is a label, not an expression of an emotion. How about This bastard. This rotten bastard. Just one chance. Give me one chance, and I'll take that gun and pistol whip him to death. Those are angry thoughts, yet the word angry or anger isn't used once. Also, the...

The Long and the Short of It From Short Story To Novel

The short story versus the novel, the difference between the two, and how you can turn any short story into a novel, are the subject of this chapter. The first question is, What's the difference between a short story and a novel The outstanding difference, of course, is length. The question then becomes, How long (or short) is a short story, and how short (or long) is a novel And then there's that novella thing that comes in there somewhere. A novella is too big to be a short story but too...

The Numberone Ingredient And Some Thoughts About It

Conflict is the first, most important, and trickiest ingredient by far. There are a number of reasons for this. The first is a social reason. The first time I was told by a writing teacher that nothing happens without conflict, I went home and wrote a story, working conflict in at every turn, making everything difficult for the characters in every possible way. How do you think I felt after making all that trouble I was worn-out. Working the conflict was stressful beyond the usual struggle of...

The Root Of All Evil

We've looked at the condition of being blocked and what we do to contribute to it, but not at the root cause. For that we have to look at the creative process itself and uncover what it is that brings on these attacks. The problem is that the very skills we have to master in order to create a story can also cripple us. A carpenter's best tool may be his saw, but not if it's used the wrong way, slips off the table, and cuts into his leg. There are two processes that you must master in order to...

The Second Time Around Rewriting

See if you recognize it. Yesterday, December 7th, 1941, a date that shall live in history . Know who that quote is from FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president). He was responding to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, which forced us into World War II. If you know your history, you might remember the quote differently. Even if you don't know your history, it's such a famous quote that you might have heard it anyway. And you might recall that FDR said, a date that shall live...

The Unimportance Of Importance

What I'm saying is, The less you care, the better you write. But how can you make yourself not care about something you're pouring your heart into Well, it can be done. Practice is always the first step writing and writing and writing until you let go of the tension and relax, until you no longer have the strength to be uptight. When you just dash it off to get it over with is when the best things happen. Another thing to keep in mind is, Everything that happens is OK. No matter what problem...

The Uses Of Happiness

Even though it can't be easy, it can appear to be easy. What would you feel if, in a 300-page novel, everything got good, the trouble seemed to be over, and the characters were home free on page 150. The characters are rejoicing, This is great. Our worries are over. Life is wonderful. But you know damn well that trouble is going to strike soon otherwise, it's over. Early in The Great Gatsby, several pages are spent showing us Gatsby's grand mansion and describing how it glows through the night...

Try The Reverse

Consider having your character do the opposite of what he's now doing. This may seem like a violation of your character, but there's truth in it. The frustrated mother who says of her bratty kid, I give him everything he wants, or I beat the crap out of him. Nothing works, is expressing this truth. When we're desperate, we go to extremes. So, the powerful man, after trying to intimidate his wife into not divorcing him, may fall to his knees and beg. The nerd who tries to avoid being harassed by...

Whatyou Know

You may have heard the old rule Write what you know. It's what many writing teachers tell their students they must do. Here's a little anecdote that addresses that issue. When E. L. Doctorow was being interviewed about his book Billy Bathgate a novel about a young boy who ingratiates himself with Dutch Schultz the gangster, the interviewer asked him about a particular scene in which a veteran gangster takes the kid out in the woods, gives him a pistol, and shows him how to shoot it. The...

Worries Fears Hopes

I've devised a simple, direct method for helping you find out what's going on inside the character. With this technique, you go through your story and ask, every place it could possibly apply, What are the character's worries, fears, and hopes There should be plenty of places where emotions are kicking up on every page and in every scene. Stories are about conflict, about threat. If something of great value to you is truly threatened, you have to be worried and fearful that you will lose it...

Youve Got It Or You Dont

There are those who say, You've got it, or you don't. There's no substitute for talent. Talent what part does it play in all of this How do you know if you've got any What if you don't Can you get some How much do you need Is it necessary Is it worth worrying about Well, I can tell you There's no special talent needed to write publishable stories all you need is your own emotions and your own life experience. In the other arts music or painting, for example you may need a special, inborn...

The Active Ingredient

I knew what you were thinking, not because I read your mind, but because I led you there with story. I gave you an experience that hooked you in. Fine, so far, but where do we go from here We left me standing there, watching my wife talking to Larry. What's next Well, I've raised your expectations, so I have to give you what you want or something better. Let's go with the kiss. My wife says something. Larry laughs, opening his arms. They embrace and have a nice long kiss. What now She kisses...

Screenplay

What you need to sell a screenplay, besides a good story, is a spec script. A spec script is not what is used to shoot a movie. That's called a shooting script and has all the technical directions for shooting the movie. It's not the best way to showcase your story. You want your story to be as readable as possible. So, you should only put in enough shooting directions to allow the reader to understand the story, and no more. If you're not a filmmaker, you shouldn't get into them, because...

The Active Ingredient Emotion

Suppose a committee went to Mother Teresa and said, Mother, you've done so much for others. You've been so generous, so giving, so loving, so holy, and so self-sacrificing. No one can ever repay you. That's impossible, but there's an opening in Donald Trump's penthouse, and we've arranged for you to go and live there for the rest of your life. You'll have servants waiting on you hand and foot. You'll never have to lift a finger for another living soul as long as you live. It's high time you got...

The Little Man Upon The Stair

One way to get some insight into the state you're in when you're blocked is to compare the symptoms to those of psychological depression. One of the symptoms in clinical depression is a sense of doom eternal gloom and doom. Things are awful. They're going to stay that way. They'll never be good again. The depressed person doesn't think, I feel horrible, but I'll get through this, recover, and feel good again. And when you're blocked, you're never thinking, This is awful. I feel worthless and...

The Ticking Clock Fitting It In

Someday Which day When you're suddenly faced with a few free hours on a weekend, when the work levels off on your job, when you get promoted and have less pressure, when you go on vacation, when you retire How much free time do you need before you start How long should you wait Will you know when the time is right, and will you know what to do when it comes Well, I can tell you, do not wait until your life opens up and you're faced with starting cold with no...

The Road To Here

It's important because I did get here and even more important because many don't many who could and should, but don't through no fault of their own. It's a trip along a tangled path, one you may be on already, one that may have led you to this very course. It's one you will avoid if you haven't set out upon it already. My journey isn't about me as much as it is about the world of writing and the teaching and learning of writing. I took my first writing...