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Posts Tagged ‘Pennsylvania’

“I can’t go on to page two until I can get page one as perfect as I can make it. That might mean I will rewrite and rewrite page one 20, 30, 50, 100 times.”
Dean Koontz
CNN

Writer Dean Koontz was born in Everett, Pennsylvania and raised in Bedford, PA. He was raised poor in a small four room house with a violent alcoholic father. That no doubt shaped his dramatic sensibilities. He told CNN, “There are so many demons in me I could write for another 100 years.”

After graduating from what is now known as Shippensburg University he began, like fellow best-selling author Stephen King, teaching high school English. (He happened to teach at Mechanicsburg High School which is where Se7en screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker graduated from school in 1982.)

I’m not sure how long Koontz was a school teacher but in 1968 he had his first book published and since then has written enough books to be named by Forbes as one of the top ten best-paid authors. More than ten of his stories have been made into films or TV movies.

It’s three for one day here at Screenwriting from Iowa as I’ve pulled three quotes by Koontz from his book Writing Popular Fiction.

“The theme, the ‘meaning’ of a story, is not something you can sit down and plan out ahead of time. Or, anyhow, it shouldn’t be. Theme should grow from your characters and your plot, naturally, almost subconsciously. If you sit down to deliver a Great Message to the reader, above all else, then you are an essayist, not a novelist.”

“Duty. In Shakespeare’s day, duty was a valid motive for a writer’s characters but is now dated. The masses no longer blindly give their loyalty to king and state. It is not sufficient, for example, to establish that your detective or secret agent is investigating the case because it is his job. The reader finds little empathy or escape in the exploits of a man just doing his job. Your protagonist must have a reason for his actions aside from the fact he’s paid for them. Why is he a spy or detective? What is there about him that makes him want to do these things, what need is satisfied? Therein lies your real motivation.”

“Of the seven major categories of modern fiction, the mystery and suspense forms—especially suspense—provide the writer with the greatest opportunity for financial success.”

Koontz has written thirty plus New York Times best sellers and more than 200 million books so if you’re looking for advice he’s a solid source.

FYI—Koontz has an excellent website including podcasts.

Scott W. Smith

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There was a big spike in readers here at Screenwriting from Iowa yesterday and I think it’s because author John Updike died this week. People’s Internet search that lead them to this blog was not because I’ve written anything about Updike, but because they probably confused him with writer John Irving who I have written a little about. (And who is still alive.)

Both are known as east coast American authors around the same age whose name happens to start with John. I bet the same thing would have happened back in the day if Faulkner’s first name was Ernest. We’d confuse who wrote which book. So just so we’re on the same page, Irving wrote The World According to Garp and Updike wrote Rabbit, Run.

Updike twice received the Pulitzer Prize and also wrote The Witches of Eastwick which became a movie in 1987 starring Jack Nicholson, Cher, Michelle Pfeffer and Susan Sarandon. He was born in Reading, Pennsylvania and raised in the nearby suburbs of  Shillington and Plowville where he was an avid reader. 

“Sometimes writers need no training, and some of the amateur ones who just jump in do better than the ones who have the Ph.D. in creative writing. Colleges are very willing now to teach you, to give you a whole course of creative writing classes. Although I took some when I was a student, I’m a little skeptical about the value….To the young writers, I would merely say, ‘Try to develop actual work habits, and even though you have a busy life, try to reserve an hour say — or more — a day to write.’

Some very good things have been written on an hour a day. Henry Greene, one of my pets, was an industrialist actually. He was running a company, and he would come home and write for just an hour in an armchair, and wonderful books were created in this way. So, take it seriously, you know, just set a quota. Try to think of communicating with some ideal reader somewhere. Try to think of getting into print. Don’t be content just to call yourself a writer and then bitch about the crass publishing world that won’t run your stuff. We’re still a capitalist country, and writing to some degree is a capitalist enterprise, when it’s not a total sin to try to make a living and court an audience. ‘Read what excites you,’ would be advice, and even if you don’t imitate it you will learn from it. All those mystery novels I read I think did give me some lesson about keeping a plot taut, trying to move forward or make the reader feel that kind of a tension is being achieved, a string is being pulled tight.

Other than that, don’t try to get rich on the other hand. If you want to get rich, you should go into investment banking or being a certain kind of a lawyer. But, on the other hand, I would like to think that in a country this large — and a language even larger — that there ought to be a living in it for somebody who cares, and wants to entertain and instruct a reader.”

                                                        John Updike
                                                        Interview in Academy of Achievement 

Now if you are interested in John Irving I have a longer post about him at John Irving, Iowa & Screenwriting.

 

Scott W. Smith

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“Small town people are more real, more down to earth.”
                                                             Groundhog Day 
                                                             Phil (Bill Murray) 

 

“A growing number of Americans are seeking a larger life in a smaller place. Many are finding it.” 
                                                                                      Life 2.0
                                                                                      Richard Karlgaard 

You hear a lot about Main St. these days and I thought I’d explore what that means from a screenwriting & filmmaking  perspective. A couple days ago my travels took me to northern Illinois and to the town of Woodstock which happens to be where much of the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray was filmed.

The above photo is the corner where Ned confronts Bill Murray’s character again and again and where Murray steps off the curb into the puddle of water. The town, which is about an hour north east of Chicago, has improved much over the last 15 years and continues to embrace the fact that Groundhog Day was filmed there.

 

That’s right, Woodstock doubled for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Director Harold Ramis thought the town square there worked better as a location than the real deal. I wonder how many people go out of their way to go to Punxutawney and are disappointed that it doesn’t look like the town in the movie? That’s showbiz.

In fact, the town even has a life-imitating-art groundhog day celebration and a nice map you can follow to see the various filming locations of the Danny Rubin and Ramos screenplay. The bar scene where Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell drink to world peace is now the Courtyard Grill and has a signed script on the wall by where they sat.

 

Certainly, if you’re in the area it’s worth it to stop to see where one of the great comedy films (#34 on the AFI Greatest American Comedy list) was filmed. If you’re there at the beginning of February you can even take part in the groundhog days celebration. 

From my home where I am typing this I can see Main St. here in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It’s just a block to the west and is quite a lively Main St. USA. Shops, a playhouse, art galleries, several bars and restaurants (a new one opening next month will feature a respected Chicago chef) and even a comedy club. It’s also worth a stop if you are ever driving the Avenue of the Saints between St. Louis and St. Paul.

There’s something endearing about Main Streets in general. Of course, sometimes they aren’t even called Main St., but they are the historic main road through the heart of smaller towns. It’s not hard for me to think back at some of my favorite main drags (Telluride, Colorado, Winter Park, Florida., Franklin, Tennessee,, Holland, Michigan, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Seal Beach, California, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania  and Galena, Illinois).

Places that for the most part that have been around for 100 years. Places with history and character. Perhaps in a response to sprawling suburbs there has been an architectural movement to design areas that look a little like small towns complete with a Main St. (Some even have a small movie theaters.)

I first became aware of this while a student at the University of Miami in the ’80s when two Miami architects (Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk) began to design the beach community of Seaside, Florida. (Seaside is so idyllic, it is where they filmed The Truman Show.) The success of Seaside has been well documented.

On the Seaside website you’ll find the history and the philosophy of what they set out to create after doing extensive research:
“Most of the buildings were studied in the context of small towns, and gradually the idea evolved that the small town was the appropriate model to use in thinking about laying out streets and squares and locating the various elements of the community. 

Seaside is a great place and today you can go throughout the country and find other areas that were designed in its wake; Celebration, FL,  Baldwin Park, FL, Harmony, FL, Prospect New Town in Boulder County, Colorado, and Kentlands in Gaitherburg, Maryland. 

That is not to say that this new urbanist master planned communities idea doesn’t have its critics. The most common charge is they say the towns are more like film sets or some kind of fantasyland — sentimental and far removed from reality.  Some felt it a little strange when Thomas Kinkade (The Painter of Light) got into the act outside the San Francisco Bay area by inspiring a development called The Village at Hiddenbrook that feature homes that would be at home in one of his glowing paintings. Where are the Rod Serling/Twight Zone inspired writers on that one?

But for many (including Walt Disney, and perhaps Kinkade) small towns represent the ideal. (Community, honesty, fullness of life, etc.) The way life ought to be, or the way it was.  Many movies and TV programs tap into this mystique: It’s a Wonderful Life, American Graffiti, The Last Picture Show, My Dog Skip, The Andy Griffith Show, Cars, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Truman Show, Northern Exposure, Places in the Heart, and Hoosiers.

(And some books, films and songs are critiques and satires of small town living such as Pleasantville, Harper Valley PTA, and Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street.

Either way Main St. (and all that it represents) is a part of Americanna and will continue to be probably forever and is fertile ground for you to explore in your screenwriting, and perhaps even in your life. As Don Henley (who was raised in the small town of Linden, Texas) sings in The End of the Innocence:
Who know how long this will last
Now we’ve come so far so fast
But somewhere back there in the dust,
that same small town in each of us

On a closing note, I remember when I lived in L.A. there was a popular radio host named Dr. Toni Grant who used to encourage her callers/listeners to write the script of their life. I always thought that was an interesting concept and worth exploring as you take a few more trips around the sun. 

Come to think of it, isn’t that what Bill Murray’s character did in Groundhog Day? He rewrote the script of his life and became a better person — and got the girl to boot. It is a wonderful life…

 

Photos and text 2008 copyright Scott W. Smith

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