The RoughWriter

There it is. The blank page. Or screen. It’s perfect, pristine, shimmering with possibilities. You want the words you impart on this perfect canvas to be worthy. To flow with lyrical, righteous, and passionate… stuff. No, scratch that, not ‘stuff’ – it must be classic Oscar, Emmy, Tony award winning scriptness. Wait. What? ‘Scriptness?’ Ok, perfect prose, poignantly profound… stop! Scratch that, too. And now it’s ruined. The blank page, which was once so full of hope, is now ruined. Crumple paper, or delete, delete, delete. Time for coffee.

Such pressure, the blank page. Why is it so hard to allow for imperfection? It’s not called a rough draft because it’s perfect. So go ahead and be a RoughWriter!

In his book,”Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” Syd Field put it very bluntly, “Let yourself write sh*tty pages, with stilted, direct, dumb, and obvious dialogue. Don’t worry about it. Just keep writing. Dialogue can always be cleaned up during the rewrite. ‘Writing is rewriting’ is the ancient adage.”

This advice applies to ALL writers, not just screenwriters. It is the only way to get through a novel, a play, short story, or novella. I know, because I’ve written at least one of each in that prior list, and Syd Field’s advice got me through each project.

Currently, I am a Mentor for a group of very talented MFA screenwriters. In the first semester, each student selected the topic of their screenplays, wrote beat sheets, and narrative outlines. At this point, two writers decided they no longer wanted to write the stories they’d chosen, and switched – went through the earlier process again and then began writing script pages. Then a third writer decided her pages were awful, her story was stupid and it was boring. One of the first two writers, worried that well, maybe the new idea wasn’t good either.

To clarify, none of the stories were boring. What I was hearing from these students was doubt, resistance… you know, fear of failure. They had each done great work. But the Inner Critic had moved to the foreground and was doing its best to get them to give up.

What to do? It was time for the talk, as follows:

Where Does It All End?

In a previous post, I wrote about what indie authors could learn from indie filmmakers. As my writing often alternates between writing novels and screenplays, there are also screenwriting tools that can assist novelists.

One of the most valuable “oh, I get it!” moments studying with screenwriting mentor, Syd Field (1935-2013), was the first time Syd spoke about his groundbreaking Paradigm. More specifically – Syd stated that the first thing needed to begin was to know the end. As a young writer, this was a bit of a surprise.

At the time, my writing process was something like “wow, this is a good idea! The character would be this, they would do this and there would be a love interest, and they work at something amazing, etc. etc.” Dialogue and scenes would sprout and I’d write them down and generally let the story tell me what it was. Which is not such a terrible thing… at first. Getting the first flush of inspiration out and onto the page as quickly as possible is important, because I am so easily distracted.

However, there always came the time when I’d have to stop and ask, “so where does it all end?” Where am I going with this story? What is the resolution? And that’s when I go back to the Syd Field Paradigm and the four things the writer needs to know to begin writing:

  • The End
  • The Beginning
  • Plot Point I
  • Plot Point II

All I Really Need to Know…

In 1988, author Robert Fulghum’s collection of essays, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten was a New York Times bestseller. It remained a bestseller for nearly two years. The now-famous list of things learned is continually re-printed, updated and posted throughout the internet. Clearly, this was a book that resonated with readers in a way that supported them in maneuvering through the day-to-day experience of living.

More recently, in the New York Times Review of Books President Barack Obama was quoted as saying: “[T]he most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels…”.

This is something that definitely resonates for me. I was fortunate to have great parents from whom I learned about life. In fact, it was my mother who instilled me and my siblings a great love of reading novels. And it is always a wonder to me how much wisdom I’ve found in them. In his NYT interview, Pres. Obama went on to say about novels: “It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that.”

It is easy for me to quote from novels that help me be comfortable in a complicated world full of grays and truth.

For instance, from Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave: “The gods only go with you, when you put yourself in their path.” This, from a novel about young Merlin in 5th century Britain, was encouragement for me, a kid from the South Side of 20th century Chicago, to seek out new adventure and have the courage to go out into the world and explore.

World Storytelling Day 2016 – Strong Women

A strong woman, Mrs. Mary E. Jones Parrish, wrote the book on the following event. This is my summary of those events.

Once upon a time, a group of black protesters who were against mob rule, set out to support their local sheriff in protecting a young prisoner from being lynched. It was a time when open carry of firearms was legal. Many of the black protesters were veterans of The Great War. They were proud citizens who felt it was their right to step forward and maintain the peace and the rule of law.

They were rightfully concerned, because just nine months earlier, a white mob had taken a white prisoner from custody and lynched him. The crowd of white citizens was so large the police directed traffic to allow the extra-legal execution to take place without interference. However, once mob “justice” had been served, the crowd surged forward to rip souvenirs from the corpse.

This was the mentality facing the protesters of this time and place – 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma. If the authorities chose not to protect one of its white citizens from a lynch mob, what hope was there for a black citizen without support from his community?

However, the white mob surrounding the courthouse was incensed that these black citizens would question their actions. Who were they to stand and voice an opinion? By noon the following day, this white mob organized and executed the largest riot against a black community in the history of our nation. With guns, fire and bombs..

World Storytelling Day 2016

The spring equinox (March 20, 2016) in the northern hemisphere (autumn equinox in the southern hemisphere) marks World Storytelling Day!

The history of this global celebration of storytelling began in Sweden in circa 1991-2 as a national event and has evolved through the years to encompass the globe. Since 2004, each World Storytelling Day has carried a theme, the first being Birds, and for 2016: Strong Women.

Though this day is designed for the art of oral storytelling, I offer the written word story of a favorite, fictional, strong (little) woman named, Frauke.

POOR LITTLE FRAUKE

The day was sunny, the sky was blue,
But poor little Frauke had nothing to do.
Her tasks were complete. Her room was very neat.
Her cat lay contently asleep at her feet.

A poor little sigh escaped from her mouth,
Her poor little lips were pursed up in a pout.
And poor little Frauke, her chin in her hand
Stared through the window, surveying the land.

The snow had blossomed to life overnight.
Every bush, every road was now hidden from sight.
So poor little Frauke sat in her room
And tried to withstand the oncoming gloom.

She blinked at the shimmering sunlit snow.
She felt a strong need to get up and go.
If only the snow had not climbed so high
Poor little Frauke would…
But WAIT! Perhaps she could…
The snowdrift…the window…
Yes, she would FLY!

She ran to the closet and took out her boots
Put on her jacket and laughed with a whoop!
This little woman stepped onto the ledge
And spread out her arms and then…