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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

“Very few plays are without faults of one kind or another, but few plays succeed with a bad last act. The best kind of fault for a play to have is first-act trouble, and the worst kind last-act trouble. An audience will forgive a slow or even weak first act, if the second act grows progressively better; and a third act that sends the audience up the aisles and out the theatre with the impression of a fully rounded evening, can sometimes make that hair’s-breath difference between failure and success. A bad third act or even a poor last fifteen minutes of a play can be ruinous. It can somehow wipe the slate clean of all that has gone before and completely negate the two acts preceding it, and if a playwright is not in control of his last act in the final week of the tryout, it is unlikely he ever will.”
Playwright/ screenwriter Moss Hart (You Can’t Take it With You)
Act One,
page 389 (of the original 1959 publication)

And to follow that bit of advice from a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, here’s Oscar winning writer Michael Arndt unpacking what he believes makes for a good ending. (Just click on the “Watch on Vimeo” button, or click here.)

Endings: The Good, the Bad, and the Insanely Great from Pandemonium on Vimeo.

P.S. Here’s a related quote that seems to belong here:

“I think all good stories have one thing in common. And that is they have an ending that— I don’t want to say satisfying, because some great stories have unsatisfying endings, which is why they’re great stories—but have an ending that transports you somewhere. You have to be at a different place at the ending than you were at the beginning. And if all the story has done is taken you right back to the very place you were when you read the first sentence, then it was a waste of your time. “
Malcom Gladwell
MasterClass/Selecting the Story

Related posts:
Insanely Great Endings
Insanely Great Endings (Part 2) 
Happy, Sad, Ironic & Ambiguous Endings 

Scott W. Smith 

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In a 1981 New York Times article, Yale professor Harold Bloom was one of the authors asked what books he would have liked to have written. Here’s an excerpt of his answer:

“I like to keep good books, and I would not want one of mine to elbow Mark Twain or Melville off the shelf. But, still, it is a rather meaningless question. I suppose I would like to have written ”Macbeth,” which with ”Hamlet,” is the best Shakespearean tragedy. But if I had written it, I would be somebody else. I wish I could have written Conrad’s ”Heart of Darkness” or the short stories of Henry James. After all, I can only write my own books, drawn from my own experience. Of course, I have spent my life aping other writers, like Chesterton and Stevenson. There are others I greatly admire but cannot imitate, like Emerson, who was so intelligent and a much better poet than I am.”
Harold Bloom
NY Times/ December 6, 1981

Merriam-Webster defines aping “to copy closely but often clumsily and ineptly.”

Related posts:
Stealing from Shakespeare
Fueling Your Imagination (Jarmusch Style) “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.”
Creating Under the Influence “Oh, I’ve stolen from the best. I mean I’ve stolen from Bergman. I’ve stolen from Groucho, I’ve stolen from Chaplin, I’ve stolen from Keaton, from Martha Graham, from Fellini. I mean I’m a shameless thief.”Woody Allen
Movie Cloning (Part 2) “I think it’s fine for young (filmmakers) to out and out rip off people who come before them because you always make it your own.” Francis Ford Coppola

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When I began [writing Game of Thrones], I didn’t know what the hell I had. I thought it might be a short story; it was just this chapter, where they find these direwolf pups. Then I started exploring these families and the world started coming alive. It was all there in my head, I couldn’t not write it. So it wasn’t an entirely rational decision, but writers aren’t entirely rational creatures.”
George RR Martin
The Guardian article by Alison Flood

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“I’m a fast writer. Maybe not the best, but the fastest.”
Stan Lee

RollingStone printed a “Lost” Q&A with Stan Lee and here’s an excerpt that gives you a glimpse of how quickly ideas for the comic books featuring X-Men, Hulk, the Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man. Books in the Marvel universe that became the foundations for movies that made billions of dollars at the box office.

Brian Haiatt: Someone asked Bob Dylan, how did you write all those 1960s songs in a short period? And he looked back, and even he doesn’t quite know how he did it. Do you feel the same way?

Stan Lee: No, I know how I did it. I was very lucky, it came really easily to me. Once I knew who the villain was, and if I had already established the main characters, which you only had to do once, then writing the story didn’t take that long. It took a little less than a day. You know, I’d wake up in the morning, I’d talk to my wife for a while, and read the paper, and then I’d start writing, and by dinner time it was over, and I had done the book.

I don’t know if Stan Lee had any superhero powers, but he sure got a lot done on some days. In that interview Lee said of his ideas for the comic books, “Usually a day is all any of them took.”

P.S. Of the $24 billion that Marvel movies have made, one of them was this year’s top-grossing film The Black Panther, which alone made 1.3 billion worldwide. Lee created that character with Jack Kirby in 1966.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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Stephen King on Theme

. . . I’m quite sure that I never thought much about theme before getting roadblocked on [writing] The Stand. I suppose I thought such things were for Better Minds and Bigger Thinkers. I’m not sure I would have gotten to it as soon as I did, had I not been desperate to save my story. I was astounded at how really useful ‘thematic thinking’ turned out to be.”
Stephen King
On Writing, pages 206-207

P.S. The one warning King states in his book is “[S]tarting with the questions and thematic concerns is a recipe for bad fiction. Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme.”  Just one more view on the concept of writing (or re-writing) with a theme in mind. One of the reasons I love touching on theme on this blog is because there are so many differing views on the subject. It ranges from writers who do start with theme, to writers who say theme is never a consideration when they’re writing.

BTW—Speaking of Stephen King, look what A Quiet Place screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods are working on now…

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 5.16.00 PM

Related posts:
Screenwriters Bryan Woods & Scott Beck on Theme
Ryan Coogler on the Theme of ‘Black Panther’
David Mamet vs. Aaron Sorkin/Judd Apatow/Martin Scorsese on Theme
Writing from Theme 
More Thoughts on Theme
Michael Arndt on Theme
Diablo Cody on Theme
Scott Frank on Theme
Sidney Lumet on Theme

Scott W. Smith

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When comedian, actor, and game show host Drew Carey was starting out he tried doing standup “as a goof” while in college and it didn’t go well. After a few failed attempts, he was glad he gave it a shot and get it out of his system.

After he dropped out of college, he joined the U.S. Marines.  Carey served in the military for six years and was waiting tables in his hometown of Cleveland when a radio host he knew said he’d pay him $20 a joke. He was hoping to pick up an extra $100 a week and ended up building over his career (so far) an estimated net worth of over $100 million.

This is how Carey told Terry Gross on Fresh Air how he learned to write jokes.

Drew Carey: I went to the library and I finally got a book on how to write jokes. And from reading that book, that’s what really started me. I thought, oh wow, there’s a formula to this. I can write jokes.

Terry Gross: How did the book help you to write jokes?

Carey: There’s formulas for every kind of joke writing. There really is. The example they used in the book is you take driving and write it at the top of the page. It’s all about list-making. Then you write down everything that relates to driving: angry drivers, slow drivers, fast drivers, new cars, old cars, junk cars, car washes, red lights. You write all this stuff down and then you try to exaggerate something to make it bigger than it is. Then there’s words that sound like other words and you try to make puns up that way, and use all these different techniques to take all this little lists you’ve made—angry women drivers, angry men drivers—when you detail it down you try to exaggerate it, or minimalize it, or twist it around. And then you try to make 20 jokes and try to get one good joke out of that, and that’s how you come up with one good joke. If you’re starting out, it takes you like three hours.

P.S. He didn’t say in that interview what that book he read, but if you’ve seen it in others interviews let me know and I’ll put a link to it here. In the meantime check out Comedy Writing SecretsThe Hidden Tools of Comedy, The New Comedy Writing Step by Step, and Jerry Seinfeld’s doc Comedian.

Scott W. Smith

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When Neil Simon was 31 years old and had yet seen a play of his produced, he was called into a meeting with Max Gordon, who was “the archetypical cigar-smoking Broadway producer” known for producing many Kaufman-and-Hart classic comedies. This is how Simon, in his book Rewrite,  recounted the story of meeting Gordon around 1960:

In this business you look for bread crumbs and settle for what the pigeons couldn’t get that day. The meeting with Max Gordon in his office was brief.

‘I read your script, kid. Good dialogue. Funny. Someday you’re going to write a great play. This isn’t it.’

I nodded, waiting for more. None was forthcoming so I pushed my luck. ‘Can you tell me what’s wrong with it?’

He looked up, surprised to see I was still there. Out of some sense of benevolence, he shared his wisdom with me. ‘A play is like a house. It has to be built on a solid foundation. You don’t have a solid foundation here. What you’ve got is a house built on sand. Once the curtain goes up, your play is going to sink right into the sand. You understand what I’m saying?’

‘Yes. Too much sand.’

’Right. One last thing before you go.’

I hadn’t even made a move toward the door.

‘Characters.’

‘Characters?’

‘There’s no play without characters. First you get your characters, then you get your story, then you get your dialogue. If you got a story and dialogue but no characters, what have you got?’

‘A sand castle.’

’Now you understand. Okay. Nice meeting you, kid. If you ever write a great play, let me read it first. Close the door.’”

Simon would go on to earn a Pulitzer Prize, be nominated for 17 Tony Awards (win three),  and be nominated for four Oscars. May you find (or give) breadcrumbs of encouragement in the coming days.

P.S. I’m not sure what play that was (probably Come Blow Your Horn)—or what version of the early play it was. Or if he made any changes based on what Gordon told him. But Come Blow Your Horn soon afterward had a three-week summer stock run at The Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, Pennsylvania. (Simon called summer stock “a last ditch for his play.”)

That playhouse—which first opened in 1939— is still operating and tonight the play Million Dollar Quartet (book by Colin Escott & Floyd Mutrux) begins at 8:00.

Related post:
Flaming Rejection—Garry Marshall’s brutal run-in with a famous veteran comedian

Scott W. Smith

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