Going in the File

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Do you have a file? You know the one. It’s on the corner of your desk. Maybe you use Evernote. Maybe it’s something on your phone – I just started using Google Keep and that is working nicely.

It’s the place you keep the “oooooh” and the “hmmmm” and the “maybe later.” Something comes across your world view and you know in an instant – that’s going in a play. I don’t know when or where or how or why. But someday it’s going to be used and you don’t want to lose it.

This is my most recent “oooooh”

It’s a Consumerist post about 15 product trademarks that have become victims (okay) of Genericization.  I had to get my dictionary out for that word and then realized – Generic!. These are products that either never applied for trademark, abandoned their trademark or had their trademarks canceled in court.

And while this list of 15 is interesting – did you know that cellophane used to be a product and not just a type of plastic wrap? Or how about Thermos or escalator? – it’s the products that aren’t yet out of trademark that are even more interesting. Mostly because it includes products you sure were already “victims” of genericization:

  • bandaid
  • bubble wrap
  • Crock-pot
  • onesies
  • popsicle
  • Putt Putt Golf

The list goes on. It’s things like this that make me go hmmmmmm. What if I had a character who was obsessed with trademarks? Or wanted to make their own crock-pot and got sued for some reason? Or disagreed with another character whether or not you could use bubble wrap in a story?  Or… something. I don’t have an idea yet and I don’t have a character in mind. But I certainly don’t want to lose a detail like this. This is the kind of story or fact or, well, detail that makes a character unique, specific and gives them drive.

And isn’t that what we all want for our characters? To have them be like no one else? 

 

 

 

Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it.

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WHAT WERE THEY SELLING?

When: Tuesday July 15, lunch time.

Observation: Three boys, in the street, yelling out side the post office. They’re selling something – I don’t know what. Whatever it is, is $4. And they’re trying to figure out if the guy they just got money from, gave them $4.  (The Loonie is a dollar coin in Canada and the Twonie is a two dollar coin)

“He gave me two loonies”

“Then he didn’t – !”

“No – Two Loonies and a Twonie.  Two and two! We’re good, we’re good!”

Whatever it was they were selling, one of the ladies from the post office then came out and told them to clear out. The boys were apologetic and polite.

What you can do with it: Doesn’t this one write itself? What were they selling? Why were they so bad at math? And why would the post office lady shoo them off? Write the conversation between the three boys before they get to the post office to set up their wares, the conversation with whoever it was who gave them $4 and the conversation between the ladies in the post office as they watch the boys and decide to shoo them off. Have the boys been there before?

Of course that’s the realistic approach. Think about the fantastical approach. What fantastical thing could these boys have? What if the ladies in the post office were not just clearing the street but maybe were jealous of the boys? How does that change things?

Happy writing!

 

Words are sneaky

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”  - Diane Setterfield

I’m always amazed at the power of words. I’ve had schools pull productions not because of anything done, not because of any threat, but the mere presence of words and what they might do. Isn’t that what censorship is all about? The fear of what might happen? The fear that those sneaky, sneaky words might cause havoc in the streets?

When have you felt the power of words?

The thing is that words are sneaky.  They can sneak into our consciousness and make us do things. Think things. Words sweep us away into imaginative worlds. Words make us stand up and stand behind a leader. Words can be so powerful that even if we know we’re being lied to, we believe. That is so sneaky.

As writers, it’s important to know the power of words and respect them. And not to be afraid to use words to their utmost. Words are our job. Words, for some of us, are our lives. Know the power, use the power. Write for the best effect possible.

Are you aware of the power of words when you write?

It’s important to know that “writing for the best effect” doesn’t mean manipulative writing. You want your audience to have a genuine emotional response, not one manufactured by sneaky words. I cried while watching My Girl when Macaulay Culkin died and I hated it because it wasn’t a good  movie at all.

Has a movie ever made you feel something, you knew was fake?

But you absolutely want characters who are sneaky with words. Characters who lie. Characters who manufacture emotion in other characters. These are human traits and further fascinating traits.

This episode of Penn and Teller’s Bullsh*t is a perfect of the power of words and that words can be sneaky. The premise is simple, will people believe the food they’re eating is high class if they’re told it’s high class?

Check out some exercises for this concept below the video

 Exercises

  • Make a list of convincing words. What words hold the most power for you?
  • Think of a time when someone was able to convince you to do something simply because of words. Not anything that they did, but what they said.
  • Think of a time that you used words to convince someone. What were you trying to accomplish? What words did you use?
  • Create a character description of a good liar. What words do they use when they lie? Why do they lie? What makes them a good liar?
  • Write a scene between the Liar and their significant other. What lie is being told in the scene? What sneaky words do they use?

 

Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it.

Observation Thursday

THE AFTERMATH

Observation: Take a look at the picture below. This was taken on July 5th, it’s the aftermath of fireworks on the beach where I live.  Now I’m not a regular partaker in home fireworks but to me that seems like a lot of aftermath. How big were these fireworks? Who put them in the sand? Did they know what they were doing? What was the situation that led to these fireworks? The questions continue.

What you can do with it: Decide for yourself if this is an overkill of fireworks or a lacking of fireworks. Go with one or the other, there’s not much dramatic in “it was just the right amount.” And then write a scene between the person who is putting the fireworks in the sand and someone reacting – either that it’s too much or too little. What is the reason for the response? What’s the relationship? Why is it necessary to do their own fireworks instead of go to an actual showing?

 

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Orange is the New Character Development

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Did you watch Orange is the New Black  - Season One or Season Two?  Are you sad that you have to wait a whole year for season three? Do you have no idea what I’m talking about – orange is the what?

Every writer should watch this show. Even if you’re not fond of the material or you think they got prison wrong, every writer should watch this show just to study the characters. Orange is the New Black is a character study brought to life.

The show takes place in a women’s prison. Over the course of the two seasons, you not only see what these women are like in prison, for a lot of them, you see who they were in their regular lives and how they landed in jail. It’s not always what you think (pay specific attention to Morello and Sister Jane) and it’s a prime example of how situation and location can change a person. This is vital for writers to know, be aware of, and use.

If you have access to Netflix and you have the chance, sit down and watch Orange with a pen and paper. Pick a character and study her as if you were taking a course on character development.

  • Who is the character? Why did you pick her?
  • What first impression do they make?
  • What assumptions do you make about that character based on how they act?
  • Who do they interact with in the prison?
  • Are they a dominant character or a subservient character?
  • If this character is dominant, how does power affect them?
  • With each episode, what details do you learn about the character?
  • Do you learn why they’re in jail? If so, does the reason surprise you or confirm your assumptions?
  • How does this character act in a desperate situation?
  • Do you empathize with this character? Why or why not?
  • Will this character survive outside of jail?  Why or why not?

Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it.

Observation Thursday

TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION

Observation: A guy gets out of a van in a rest stop parking lot. We have just pulled in and we’re also getting out of our car at the same time. The guy looks at us and says “Are you good at finding baby mice?” We say no and move on. This is one of the stranger questions I think I’ve ever been asked by a stranger. I don’t know why this guy needed baby mice, or if there were baby mice on the lose in his van, or if that was his way of breaking the ice with another human being. But it made my day as writer because I got to write down the awesome line – Are you good at finding baby mice?

How can you use it? Use it as the first line in a scene. A guy goes up to a girl and asks “Are you good at finding baby mice?” What happens next? How can you make the girl not want to run away screaming (if she does, it’s a short scene.) Now change the character who says the first line – make it a girl who asks the question of a guy. How does the scenario change? You can change it up again by making the question come from a child. Change it up again by giving the first line to a grandmother. Same first line with a vast number of possibilities…. have fun with it, it’s a great way to start  a scene.

Have you Ever Tried to Write Wrong?

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We’re all so concerned with being right. Our writing has to be perfect. It has to have the right beginning and the right ending. The characters have to be exactly right. If our work isn’t right, then we’re wrong, we’re a failure, we’re bad.

But is that really true? Is it so bad to write wrong? To try to write in the wrong direction?

Have you ever tried to take your writing in the wrong direction on purpose?

I heard a story attributed to Quincy Jones (I know it’s ridiculous to say it like that but I wanted to be clear I’m adding on to something I heard elsewhere) where he told a group of acting students just that. “Have you ever tried to take your work as far wrong as possible? Have you ever tried to see the beauty of being wrong once you’re there? Have you ever tried to go wrong, enjoy the experience and then figure out the steps to make it right?”

These are all fabulous questions for all of us in the creative field. I tell students all day long – it’s ok to fail, we learn from our mistakes not from our successes, we have to fail – and yet it’s the hardest thing to do. We live in a world of right and wrong where right is good and wrong is bad. And it’s especially hard in that world where everything is recorded and broadcast to fail safely. How can a playwright try something out in front of an audience without the worry of being told they’re wrong?

And yet, I love the concept of “find the beauty in being wrong. Enjoy the experience of being wrong and then find your way back.”

Use this concept as an 2nd draft exercise.

If you’re working on a piece and it’s not going well stop trying to find the right answer.  Take a character in the absolute wrong direction. Have them do things you know this character would never do. Have this character steal something. Stalk someone. Take drugs. Have this character kill another character and deal with the after math. Stop trying to figure out the problems in the plot and throw more problems in. Make a mess and then step back.

You may find the answer you never knew you were looking for. You may find that being wrong is the exact right thing to do. And at the very least you’ll have a creative experience. We spend too much time trying to be right with our writing.

Spend some time being absolutely wrong.

 

 

Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it.

Observation Thursday

 

SNAKES!

Observation: Two elderly women alternately talking about their fear of snakes and another woman they don’t like who was getting married.

Date: Monday June 30 2014

Comments: Sitting in the doctors office, I pulled out my phone to document the conversation between two elderly woman. “Some snakes are legal, did you know that? Legal./ I’d be afraid it would get out of the aquarium. I’d have to kill it/She bought two mice. The receipt was in my car/I won’t go in the house. She makes me sick./She had two mice in my car./When’s the wedding? ” They went back and forth between talking about snakes and talking about the wedding of “She.”

What can you do:  This is one of those truth is stranger than fiction moments. You can’t get better than this – a hatred of snakes, a hatred of some unknown woman. To go deeper think about who this “She” is, what’s the relationship between the two elderly woman and “She” and why they really hate her. What’s going on here beyond the snakes? Is one of the women the mother of the guy “she” is marrying? What are they worried about?

Goldilocks is a rotten writer

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Are you a Goldilocks writer? One of those people who has to have everything perfect?

 That idea’s too hot. That idea’s too cold. I’m not ready to write, I’m not in the mood. I need to have the exact right idea to get started.

Goldilocks writers have the best of intentions. They want to write something good. They want to be a good writer. They want to write under the best conditions. They are willing to wait until everything is just right.

Goldilocks will wait forever for the right conditions. They spend their entire lives saying “I’ll write tomorrow. I don’t have time today. I’ll get started when I know exactly what to write about. “ 

The only way to become a writer is to put words on the page. Good words, bad words, ugly words. If you wait to only write something good and perfect,  you’ll never write. If you wait until you have the perfect writing conditions, you’ll never write. If you wait until you have time, you’ll never write.

Is that you? Are you a Goldilocks?

The first  secret to being a writer is that writers know there is no such thing as constant perfect writing conditions. Sometimes you have to scribble notes down in a car. Sometimes you only get five minutes. Sometimes what you’re writing is awful – but you don’t stop. That’s key. You write when the bed is lumpy and when the porridge is cold.

There is no quota or quality control when you’re a writer. No one will come and knock on your door and say: You wrote poorly today. Hand over your writer’s license.

The second secret to being a writer is consistency. It’s better to write every day no matter what.   If you write every day  good moments start to pile up. Five minutes a day is better than an hour once a month. The more you write, even when you don’t want to, the more writing becomes a part of you. The more  you want to write. The more you celebrate your bad and ugly words. Ugly writing is still writing. It’s way better than no writing than all.

Don’t wait for perfect. Don’t be a Goldilocks. Don’t wait for porridge that is just right. And don’t take someone else’s porridge either. Get your own.

Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it.

Observation Thursday

 

Staring at the Wall

Observation: Two people in a conversation outside of of store. The man is talking very intently, very quietly. The woman is facing and staring at the wall, not saying anything.

Date: Wednesday June 18 2014

Comments: I walked by this couple and boy did I wish I could be invisible or turn into a fly and find out what on earth was going on here. When I say the woman was staring at the wall, she was nearly face planting the thing. I stopped a little way away to see if the situation would evolve or change. But in five minutes everything remained exactly the same. Man talking intently. Woman staring at the wall.

What can you do:  Create the scenario.What is the relationship here? Are they boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife, or exes, or brother/sister, or two best friends? What is the cause of this situation? What happened? Has the woman done this before or is this the first time she has decided that there is nothing else she can do other than face the wall? Write the scene starting with the event or comment or conversation that leads the woman to stop, turn, and stare at the wall.