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Saturday, July 27, 2013

You know, I have had it with writing tips..but...

I was just thinking the other day. I know, shocking development. 
I read lots of blogs, because I like the mental stimulation and I think I have gathered a pretty good bunch of them. It is part of my daily routine.
But as I seem to have a lot of writer (novels and scripts) friends who post them, the sheer amount of writing tips is overwhelming. My take for most of these people is that the best tip they could ever get is to stop giving tips and start actually writing more books and stories. I know, likely falling on deaf ears. But anyway.
So, my thought was that I have had it with writing tips. I pretty much tune them out these days. If they aren't something I have heard a 1000 times before, they are just dumbass things posted by amateurs who have no clue. They barely sound like they are convincing themselves, let alone anyone else. If I see a blog titled this way I am very likely to skip it without even glancing at the content and tips.
Then this week, I stumbled onto two very useful tools, which weren't meant to be tools, or tips, and I thought I'd share them. They have helped me. So, I am once again wading into the writing tip pool. Bear with me on this. I think they are worth it. I didn't find them in blogs, but in interviews and articles where the writer was just explaining the genesis of the material they had just produced or were in the process of producing.

First, I was watching Being John Malkovich, the movie, and was intrigued with the script that had unique concepts and ideas. So I wanted to read more about it. And so I did.
As I did, I found out how the writer came up with the whole concept. If you haven't seen the movie, basically it is a young guy (John Cusack), who needs to make money, goes to work in a strange place with strange people, stumbles onto a portal in his office. If you pay him 200 dollars he puts you into the portal and while you are in the portal, you get to be John Malkovich for 15 minutes. In essence, a portal into John Malkovich's brain and body. Until the real John Malkovich gets wind of it and puts a stop to it. And John Malkovich plays John Malkovich, and obviously all the John Malkovich's that are cloned for 15 minutes until they are thrown into a ditch at the end of the 15 minutes. The end of the portal. It was brilliant.
But that is not how the idea started. 

Charlie Kaufman's idea of Being John Malkovich originated simply as "a story about a man who falls in love with someone who is not his wife". Gradually he added further elements to the story which he found entertaining, such as floor 7½ of the Mertin Flemmer building; in his first ideas, John Malkovich was "nowhere to be seen"

In addition to being clever and using very interesting, unfamiliar type characters, the movie is just plain funny in a sarcastic, backhanded humor type of way. In particular, Orson Bean was very good. I only previous knew of him from his Match Game days back in the 70s. I was surprised to see he was so talented. Live and learn.

Kaufman described his process in the Salon article, which I have provided above, as, 

"I wondered whether Kaufman worried that having Lotte surround herself with animals might seem too whimsical — or, given her hunger for a child, too heavy-handed. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t normally think about that sort of stuff when I’m working. If it’s heavy-handed, I may still find it funny, and then if it’s embarrassing, I’ll take it out. Or,” he laughed, “maybe not.”

Many of us have a great idea as a starting point. Then one of two things happens.
First, and this is the most common scenario, we just can't take it any further than the original great thought. I do this a lot.
Second, mostly because of the first scenario, we try to stray from the idea and use other peoples ideas and concepts to make it work, and it doesn't. This only makes it worse and it dies because of this. I do this as well, but not quite as often.
In this case, the writer took the first concept, which wasn't terribly unique or interesting, and expanded it out into something great, which was nothing like what he started with. 
The second tip I learned coincides with the first, so I will tie them together at the end of the blog. They really are yin to yang in that respect. You can use them separately, but really they work very well as a team to compliment each other.

Yesterday I was reading an article in Vanity Fair on how the Hampton's were before the hedge fund crooks on Wall Street decided it was to be their Martha's Vineyard of the millennium. It really is a great article if you have 10 or 15 minutes to read it. It tells of the early Hampton's, when nobody really thought it was chic to live there, and all the famous and successful writers that hung out there and wrote much of their great work. 
Towards the end of the article, I noticed this quote below.

"He’s let a first, dramatic sentence lead him where it will. Andrew’s Brain, to be published by Random House in January, starts with a man named Andrew knocking on the door of his ex-wife with a baby in his arms because his new, young wife has died."

Taking a simple sentence or starting point, and just running with it. That is something many of us don't do. And mostly, that is the next sticking point where most of us get trapped in the quicksand. You went free flowing with the idea and came up with a great concept, but now you have to actually flesh it out and write the scenes and chapters. If you get stuck, why not just write a simple starting sentence, and work with it within the framework you have developed and see where it takes you?

You have an idea. Just write it down. As a statement. Then just write whatever comes to you. Just go with it. If it turns out to be crap, just ditch it, and start over. If you truly are creative and have talent, eventually you will hit gold. Trying to be perfect before this stage is somewhat foolhardy. I am the type who likes to plan and outline, and that won't change. But maybe outlining is a box we don't want to corner ourselves into. Being free flowing with our ideas at the start likely will take us on the right path more times than it would not. Being boxed in at the start likely will halt our progress somewhere in the process if we let it.
Those are tips to consider. It worked for Charlie Kaufman, it worked for the writing greats in the Hampton's and it will likely work for you and me.

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Daily profile about a specific artist,their life, their work and their impact