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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

What's Your Story, Morning Glory?

I had been on the cusp of posting something on TRW yesterday about the story most central to your life when I received the news of Blake Snyder's death. Of course, like so many, I have been feeling sad and stunned ever since hearing such awful news. But then, I thought back to a conversation Blake and I once had about his philosophy of living and today I feel better. I often say to writers that if you're not having fun in the process of writing, something is wrong. Now, I know writing is not always fun, sometimes it's downright painful. But in the big picture you should be experiencing the joy of creation when you write.

Harkening back to the conversation with Blake: You should be experiencing the joy of creation in your life. Every day. When you feel down, worried, discontent or anxious, you're simply blocking the good stuff from your view because it's always there in pleasures large and small. We don't have to try hard to be happy - we GET to be happy. It's your birthright and it's the preset of your life. Imagine that. You can be happy just because you decide to be. That's what Blake did. That's the biggest example he left behind for me. Be happy. Enjoy the ride. I'll tell you for a fact, if you never met Blake in person, he enjoyed the hell out of this ride. He left early but he went out happy. I can't think of anyone who'd prefer the opposite.

So let's move on in appreciation for Blake, for life and for this gift we have for writing. Somebody said to me recently - hey, gee, how come you haven't been writing anything lately? My initial reaction was one of defensiveness; HEY I run a BUSINESS every day, YOU try writing on top of that! I really felt bad about the comment. It messed with my mind. Until, a few days later, I had a story idea that I glommed on top of another story idea I had had a few weeks back and then I realized something, Wavers...I realized that for the past few months, I haven't had anything to say in my writing. Let me back up. Every script and every short story I have written in the past 10 years shared a common theme - that of the search for identity and the desire to change one's life. And it was toward the end of that time that I got divorced, moved to LA, started reading for production companies, started my own business, got a writing partner and - totally changed my life. I explored the desire to change my life totally through various characters in various mediums and then I did it. Now I'm in a completely different phase of my life. And it is now that I am gestating a totally new truth about me which will give birth to a new theme or story I want to tell.

Now, some writers are literally like popcorn machines, life pours in kernels and they pop pop pop new stories and ideas at a rapid pace. I'll be honest, I'm quite jealous of those writers. But give 'em time; everybody runs out of juice at one point or another. Yet other writers need to gestate their story ideas at length. That's me. And either way is fine, by the way. Now, I'm not talking about writer's block, by the way, which I have never experienced and I'm not sure is even a real phenomenon, I'm talking about feeling the urgency to put your truth, your questions, your story down on paper. I used to be absolutely engrossed by the idea of being trapped in one life and finding a way to change that. Now I'm more interested in reinvention and rebirth into new possibilities in middle age. And the great news is, once I realized that my central truth, my central story is a new one now, an idea came flooding in to me and I'm outlining a new script that I'm really excited about because it really speaks to me. What a great feeling. But I needed to have that terrified feeling first - oh my god, I haven't been writing lately, what does it mean? Am I all out of stories? Have I given up? What's wrong?? No. It was just that I needed to acknowledge that I'm done telling the story I had been telling for a long time. Been there done that.

So - I'm curious, Wavers. What's your story? If you look at everything you've written in a period of time, what theme keeps coming up again and again for you? And also, are you a gestational writer or a popcorn machine writer? Where are you in your story as a writer?

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13 comments:

Joe Public said...

Gestational -- all the way. I like exploring every tiny detail so nobody can rewrite it better. That's my goal anyway.

Theme: Tackling what seem to be insurmountable odds, and on sheer guts(some brains--maybe I need more of that), and passion, annihilate what's telling me "no."

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

I'm not really sure about themes, but everyone who has read my stage plays and scripts have pointed out to me that I'm obsessed with extreme violence, sex, and rage. I guess maybe there's redemption involved. I really haven't thought about it, though.

regardless, I write what I know and I write what I want.

Dave Shepherd said...

At the moment, I'm a "Hey that story is cool I'm going to adapt it into a movie" writer.

It's amazing the things you learn when adapting other material.

Caitlin said...

I'm definitely a gestational writer. I'm still pretty young, and I can tell that I still have a lot of developing to do, in terms of figuring out what I want to say. Most of what I've written so far has been about a protagonist struggling to define herself in the face of both internal and external expectations. But lately, I've been playing with more broadly philosophical ideas about how we could all evolve in order to live happier and more fulfilling lives. I have some more gestating to do before I can turn that theme into something more concrete.

thesleepingdeep said...

Great post.

I'm of the gestational lot. Seems like all of my story kernels take a looooong time to heat up and then pop. Unless it's paid work with deadlines and an eager client, I just can't force the writing process. When I do, it feels awful and half-baked. But when an idea takes root, digs in and won't let go - that's when I find the real magic happens.

Catch as catch can. Ride the wave when it's there. When it's not... stay in the shallow end and soak up the rays.

I've added "Save The Cat" to my list of must reads. ;)

J.J. said...

If there's a recurring theme to my writing it's the, "not wanting to be locked in a box" idea. In my writing, as in my life, I hate limitations, being defined. Being __________. And so, that is how I define my writing career, by not defining or limiting the stories I tell. And I suppose, if I stopped to think about it, I'm more a slow popper kind of writer. First a seed, then a stalk and ear of corn, then the hot oil and the popping.

jcarends said...

I'm an evolving Orville Redenbacher -- with the movie theater butter on it, thankyaverymuch. My "Concepts" folder on the Mac fields a new idea almost every week, nowadays. None of them are worth their salt... until I revisit them later. And then the good ones really do seem to start popping... unfolding in a character here, a sequence there, a line of dialogue dripping with hot, buttery subtext...

(Apologies...the "Julie & Julia" trailer just flashed by again.)

As for my thematic...I'm drawn to stories about passages -- especially the timeless ones, anchored in archetypal characters facing universally familiar, tough choices, as they step across the threshold and grow. The fun seems to be in discovering fresh, relevant new ways to spin the yarn.

Luzid said...

I'm between the two extremes -- I have lots of great ideas, but take my time developing them to ensure they live up to their potential.

As for themes, the usual -- guilt, self-doubt, finding hope, facing fear. I have noticed my last four specs involve self-medicating, finding a safe space and emotional issues I need to work through in some way.

elizabethditty said...

I have popcorn phases, most often when I'm starting a brand new, exciting-to-me project. I've cultivated the habit of writing down anything and everything that strikes me as a story kernel in what I call my Idea Box. It's really just a spreadsheet where I can jot down the idea, the source, and expand if I feel inclined. This allows me to transition those popcorn phases into gestation while I focus on my current project.

It also acts as a protection against writer's block (if it exists), because I've got an entire backlog of story kernels that can serve as jumping off points for myriad things: short stories, novels, and of course screenplays.

As for themes, for the past couple of years, I've been tackling stories about people rebelling against expectations, self-imposed and otherwise, no doubt brought about by my own life experiences. My current and next projects, though, seem to imply that I might be mellowing a bit, because they appear to be meditations on what love actually looks like as opposed to what we think it should be.

Christian H. said...

My story? Hmmm. I'd say it's that women don't need to be saved, men need to save them.

It comes up in every story.

I'd say I'm a little of both. I have periods where the idea is to come up with genre stories and sometimes I just get one and go. I can say WikiPedia is an indispensable resource.

Sometimes the popcorn style means you can't "write" new stories but it does give you something to work on in outline\research form all the time.

I just came up with a new action story that I think is excellent but I'm right in the middle of a pretty good thriller with a great bad guy.

alain dominic said...

First off, I gotta say I'm shocked by Blake's death -- he's actually been on my mind a lot lately. I don't own Save the Cat, but spent about 1/2 hour at B&N last week perusing it, and I just listened/downloaded to 2 podcasts where he was the featured speaker. Though I didn't know Blake, from those podcasts it was apparent this guy was unique, smart and loved life. I am at least consoled by the fact that he seemed like a guy who truly lived in the moment and made it a point to find the joy in EVERY moment (actually, that's the core theme of my current spec).

Regarding your question, is there such a thing as gestating popcorn?? I get tons of story ideas, weed out the still-born kernels, and I'm still left with lots of great material to shape.

Then I let those idea kernels to gestate for a while, taking notes whenever I have an applicable thought, until eventually I have enough material to form a fully "digestible" outline -- then the fun begins!

Regarding overarching life/writing themes, mine is certainly "duality", which certainly serves me well as a writer. The good and bad in us all, light/dark, yin/yang, man/woman, micro/macro, none of them can live without the other, the goal being some kind of balance. Some times balance is achieved and we touch the sublime. Sometimes... not so much.

Stan said...

Speaking of popcorn...anyone remember the movie Real Genius?

Popcorn scene to end all popcorn scenes.

When I was a young teen, one of the local malls had a specialty popcorn shop and the best flavor there was cherry. Cherry dipped popcorn. Yum.

Themes: They say every great novelist is really trying to write the same story over and over again--it's just that they're trying to get it right. They even say that about directors. If what 'they' say is true, (probably not) Hitchcock's masterpiece to me would have to be Vertigo. Me? I don't have a masterpiece. But, I'm working on it.

If one theme seems to keep coming up over and over in the writing it's someone getting or being in touch with their raw emotional feelings and their true self all over again, no matter what age they are. To try to distill those raw emotions and feelings and infuse them into the characters and on the page--that's the challenge of the craft.

RonC said...

Even though I recently had the pleasure of making your QF list, I still consider myself very much the (undisciplined) newbie. However, I'll take the phrasing of your question to rationalize away my lack of discipline by claiming to also be a "gestater"! Even my rewrites required lots and lots of gestation, not being able to alter a single word until I had filled up a notebook with every idea I could think for the rewrite.

As for themes, I'm pretty much consumed with the questions of "What happens when we die?", "Are we alone in the Universe?", "Is there a God (of some kind)?", "What is the nature of Ultimate Reality?" and "How did Something come from Nothing?"

The sub-themes that interest me the most have to do with concepts of "duality", in particular the dichotomy of "good" and "evil", the debate over whether or not humans possess "Free Will" and discussions of "Nurture vs. Nature" in regards to what makes humans do what they do.

And right now I'm in the death throes of note-taking for the next draft of the script which made your list, and am finally ready to tackle the next rewrite. I'm really excited! If you liked that last draft I think you're gonna love this next one...

Take care.