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Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have kicked you around some
Refugee, music and words  by Tom Petty, Mike Campbell

“I hated my father long before I knew there was a word for hate…I remember hating him even when I was in diapers…I’ve been writing the story of my own life for over forty years. My own stormy autobiography has been my theme, my dilemma, my obsession, and the fly-by-night dread I bring to the art of fiction.”
Pat Conroy
The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son

While I could continue with my run of posts centered around rocker Tom Petty who died earlier this month, I found a way to turn the corner listening to the Scriptnotes podcast, Episode 321. And, actually, at the same time this post makes a connection to the roots of much of Tom Petty’s pain throughout his life.

Before we get to the concept of method writing, first let me set the stage by letting Petty recount a traumatic event he had as a youth that involved a slingshot, a Cadillac, and a belt.

“I had this crappy slingshot my father had given me, a plastic thing, the first one I ever had. I was in the yard shooting this slingshot. And cars are driving by. I’m just like, ‘I wonder if I can get a car’. And whack! This big Cadillac. It was going by pretty slowly, and I just nailed the fin on that thing.

“The car came to an immediate stop. The driver got out, and he was so f**king mad. … I felt kind of weird, not ­knowing what was coming next. But when my father got home later, he came in, took a belt and beat the living s**t out of me.

“He beat me so bad that I was covered in raised welts, from my head to my toes. I mean, you can’t imagine someone hitting a child like that. Five years old. I remember it so well.

“My mother and my grandmother laid me in my bed, stripped me, and they took cotton and alcohol, cleaning these big welts all over my body.”
Tom Petty
 Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes

That may have been the first beating Petty got from his father, but it wasn’t the last one. And I don’t know if that first beating left a physical scar, but I do know it left an emotional scar. Petty knew that his childhood was far from the aspirational Ozzie and Harriet life that he saw on TV, but it would take decades for him to realize that being a successful rock star—or drugs and alcohol— could heal his childhood scars.

You don’t have to look far to see where Petty’s rebel spirit, angst, and bouts with depression came from. Though it would take Petty himself a few decades and some counseling to recognize his scars.

Everyone has scars and on Scriptnotes, Episode 321 screenwriter John August and Grant Faulkner, Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month, have this exchange about using your scars in your writing:

GRANT FAULKNER: I like the method acting approach to writing that you’re really applying your own personal emotional experience to the characters you’re creating. Actually there’s a Shelly Winters quote where she says, ‘Act with your scars.’ And so you can apply your scars to any character. But I do think that requires, like method acting, a lot of introspection.  

JOHN AUGUST: When I read writing the feels very real, when the characters seem like they have flesh and blood,  I do think that’s because the author has invested a bit of himself or herself into their experience. That author has a very clear sense of that character’s inner emotional life  because he or she is using things in their own life to sort of proxy for it. When I was doing the script for Big Fish there is a sequence at the end where Will is going through the story of his father’s death and I knew this was going to be incredibly emotional thing for the character, but also for the audience watching it. So I was incredibly method writing where I’d bring myself to tears and then start writing. It seems crazy and ‘why would you do it that way?’— but I’m pretty sure the only reason I got to those specific words and those specific images was because I was at that emotional state as I was writing it…I would encourage people to try those things, because what’s the harm of trying those things? …Write those feelings that you know. Use the things that are specific and unique to you to help create something specific and unique moments for your story.

GRANT FAULKNER: Yeah, that’s a great point. I think the stories that I connect with most—I agree with you—the writer or creator has done something that is just so personal, he or she has made themselves vulnerable— they’ve gone deeper. I really think vulnerability on the page is more important than any craft advice, or craft tips that you might write with. And that’s where with [the] Shelly Winters [quote] “Act with your scars” is really going deep. Be willing to reveal your scars on the page and go there. 

P.S. I don’t always find a direct Iowa connection to these posts, but couldn’t miss on that Scriptnotes podcast that there was a guy from small town Iowa talking to a guy who did went to college in Iowa. Grant Faulkner was born in Oskaloosa, Iowa (and went at Grinnell College in Iowa) and John August did his undergraduate work at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Related post:
Emotion—Emotion—Emotion
Nostalgia: The Pain from an Old Wound
Screenwriting Quote #182 (Richard Krevolin) “All characters are wounded souls…”
Tom Petty and The Untold Story of Rock & Roll  (In a word; scars.)

Scott W. Smith

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“I write in layers. so there’s the first draft, second draft, but somewhere near the end—the final layer, I look at every word I use and I think is there a word that will work on an emotional level…something that’ll keep you awake that means exactly the same thing? So here’s an example, if I said to the audience, say one of the two words—they both mean about the same—that’s the funnier one.  Which is funnier pull or yank?
Dilbert creator Scott Adams
Interview on The Tim Ferriss Show

Adams says that people choose yank over pull because yank has what he calls as “two levels of funniness built into the word”—the “y” and the “k.”

“So I will consciously make a choice to get rid of a more accurate word to put in a word that has more of a programing control. You want people to have an experience because that’s what they’re going to remember. They’re not going to remember what word choice you use.”
Scott Adams

Bonus #1: From his blog post Writing Funny  Adams says what he looks for in topics is “at least one of the essential elements of humor”:

Clever
Cute
Bizarre
Cruel
Naughty
Recognizable

Bonus #2: The Day You Became a Better Writer blog post by Scott Adams.

Bonus #3:

Scott W. Smith

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“I wrote at least a thousand words a day every day from the age of twelve on. For years Poe was looking over one shoulder, while Wells, Burroughs, and just about every writer in Astounding and Weird Tales looked over the other.

I loved them, and they smothered me. I hadn’t learned how to look away and in the process look at myself but at what went on behind my face.

It was only when I began to discover the treats and tricks that came with word associations that I began to find some true way through the minefields of imitation. I finally figured out that if you are going to step on a  live mine, make it your own. Be blown up, as it were, by your own delights and despairs.

I began to put down brief notes and descriptions of loves and hates. All during my twentieth and twenty-first years, I circled around summer noons and October midnights, sensing that there somewhere in the bright and dark seasons must be something that was really me.

I finally found it one afternoon when I was twenty-two years old. I wrote the title The Lake on the first page of a story that finished itself two hours later. Two hours after that I was sitting at my typewriter out on a porch in the sun, with tears running off the tip of my nose, and the hair on my neck standing up.”
Ray Bradbury
Zen in the Art of Writing 

Bradbury sold The Lake to Weird Tales for $20. And his original voice was off to the races.  Do the math… all it took for Ray Bradbury to find his voice was 2 hours of writing —plus the 1,000 words a day for 10 years.

Scott W. Smith

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Writing Like Thunder, Lightning & Wind

Zest. Gusto. How rarely one hears these words used. How rarely do we see people living, or for that matter, creating by them. Yet if I were asked to name the most important items in a writer’s make-up, the things that shape his material and rush him along the road to where he we wants to go, I could only warn him to look to his zest, see to his gusto.

You have your list of favorite writers; I have mine. Dickens, Twain, Wolfe, Peacock, Shaw, Moliere, Jonson, Wycherley, Sam Johnson. Poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Pope. Painters; El Greco, Tintoretto. Musicians: Mozart, Haydn, Ravel, Johann Strauss (!). Think of all these names and you think of big or little, but nonetheless important, zest, appetites, hungers. Think of Shakespeare and Melville and you think of thunder, lightning, wind.”
Ray Bradbury
Zen in the Art of Writing 

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Author Robert Waller died today and since this blog originated in Cedar Falls, Iowa—where Waller wrote The New York Times best-seller The Bridges of Madison County—I think it’s fitting to give a nod to Bridges & Waller. Here’s the spark of the idea that became a book that sold over 12 million copies in the ’90s, and eventually became a movie with the same title starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep. (The 1995 movie version made $182 at the worldwide box office.)

In the summer of 1990, Robert James Waller—then a 50-year-old economics professor and sometime folk musician—was on his way home to Cedar Falls after a day of photographing the old covered bridges of Madison Country, southwest of Des Moines.

Driving through the heat, Waller says he began to heat a line from a song he’d been working on recently, ‘an old bossa nova tune,’ about a woman named Francesca. He got a wondering about her. What if Francesca lived in Iowa? And what if she met a man, a man named—Robert? Robert Kincaid. Back home, Waller began to write his first novel, which would become, by early this year, the best-selling work of fiction is the United States. He says he didn’t stop writing, except to eat and sleep, for 14 days. ‘I never wanted it to end.’
True Life: The Best-Seller From Nowehere by William Souder
Washington Post Service

Bridges leapt to the top of the best-seller lists and stayed there, eventually outselling Gone With the Wind. It took root on The New York Times’s list and remained there for three years, becoming, as Entertainment Weekly put it, ‘The Book That Would Not Die.’”
William  Grimes
New York Times/March 10, 2017

Iowa never looked better than it did when photographed by cinematographer Jack N. Green and his crew for The Bridges of Madison County. It received an ASC nomination.

Scott W. Smith

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I don’t know what what writer John Grogan’s dream was growing up in Michigan, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t involve two Hollywood actors eventually playing he and his wife based on an international best-selling book that he wrote.

But that’s the way it went down. The Marley & Me author is a good example of Mike Rowe’s “Follow your opportunities” school of thought.

“I got into writing by default because I was so bad at everything else. Algebra, geometry, French, chemistry, physics — they all escaped me. But writing, now there was a subject I could have some fun with. By eighth grade I was penning parodies of the nuns, and in high school, besides writing for the school newspaper, I started an underground tabloid, which earned me a celebrated trip to the principal’s office.  From there it was on to Central Michigan University, where I earned the princely sum of twenty-five cents per column inch writing for the campus newspaper while slugging away at a double major in journalism and English.

“My first full-time writing job came immediately upon graduation in 1979 when I was hired as a police reporter for the small and lackluster Herald-Palladium in the Michigan harbor town of St. Joseph. I rode all night with cops, photographed murder victims, picked my way through smoldering house fires and sat over coffee with grieving parents.”
John Grogan (Marley & Me)
About John Grogan

Grogan says his “ticket out of small-town journalism” was a fellowship at Ohio State University where he’d earn his master’s degree.  A second fellowship to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies took him to St. Petersburg, Florida. After that he got a job at Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. And it was in South Florida that a little dog named Marley came into his life.

Fast forward a few years and he and his wife would be portrayed in the film version of Marley & Me by Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston.

Follow your opportunities and be faithful in the little things. And as yesterday’s post pointed out, it doesn’t hurt your chances of success if you wake up early and get some early morning writing in before your day job.

Scott W. Smith

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‘I wrote from 5 to 7 a.m….’

“I’m usually a night owl, but when I wrote Marley & Me, I forced myself to go to bed early and get up early. I wrote from 5 to 7 a.m. and then ate breakfast and went to work to write my newspaper column. I averaged a chapter a week this way. I began the book in early 2004 and finished the manuscript right after Labor Day. My agent, Laurie Abkemeier, sold it the next month in an auction.”
John Grogan 
Harper Collins/Author interview

Let’s do the math at what Grogan accomplished writing two hours everyday for eight months outside his day job; Marley & Me spent weeks at the number 1 slot of New York TImes Best-Seller list, sold more than 5 million books internationally, and the movie version (written by Scott Frank and Don Roos) made $247 million at the box office.

Two things I’ve written extensively about on this blog are the importance of emotions and conflict in screenwriting, and the Marley & Me movie packs in both. It’s worth a revisit.

Note: The above quote was pulled from this 2009 post.

Related post:
The Breakfast Club for Writers (2.0) Writers Elmore Leonard & John Grisham early in their careers also got up at 5 a.m. to write before their day jobs.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

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