Laughing Until It Hurts

PeopleLaughingIn going through my files I found an interesting article as a companion piece to the article on play I posted yesterday. It is a meditation on the seriousness of comedy. This reflection originally appeared in the 2005 City of Angels Film Festival materials. I have added my comments and asides in parenthesis.

“Comedy is never the gaiety of things, it is the groan made gay,” wrote drama critic Walter Kerr. This is the great irony implicit in comedy. It feels good to walk out of a theater laughing. But we often go into the theater not feeling so good. Many times, what makes us laugh is seeing that other people are not feeling so good either.

(I agree and would further add that human vulnerability is the essence of comedy. In fact, I defy anyone to think of a comedic situation where someone was NOT being made incredibly vulnerable– being humiliated, rejected, embarrassed, abused, kicked around, ridiculed, getting a comeuppance or being punished. If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t funny!)

…Comedy at its best stares the (weakness and vulnerability of the) human condition straight in the face but comes out smiling. It comes out smiling and, sometimes, laughing at the most gravely serious situations….

Groucho Marx made a distinction between amateur and professional comedians: An amateur thinks it is funny if you dress a young man as an old lady, put him in a wheel chair and push the wheel chair down a hill toward a stone wall. For a pro, said Groucho, it’s got to be a real old lady.

…Both tragedy and comedy take human imperfection into consideration. Tragedy is about the human striving to achieve the divine, but falling just short. It is an upward reach for the divine. (And the inability to grasp it.)

Comedy is about the downward pull – the very things that make us (weak and) fallen creatures. The more serious the subject, the more comic potential exists. Mel Brooks said getting a hangnail is tragedy. Walking down a street, falling in an open man-hole and (going splat) is comedy.

As such, comedy inherently transgresses. It focuses on the (tender) underbelly of humanity and opens it to ridicule. Tragedy is the substance of drama, but comedy is the further reflection (and the smile of recognition at our shared stupidity, weakness and frailty).

…Perhaps laughter is a form of grace. A gift which enables us to cope with lacking that which seems both so close and so far away simultaneously – the divine. (Perhaps it is also the way we cope with the fallibility and disappointments of simply being human.)

Quoted from Michael C. Smith Producer of the 2005 City of the Angels Film Festival

Mobile Micro-Blog Novel Writing

texting-mobile-novel-etbscreenwritingThe potential new genres for writers on the Internet are seemingly boundless. The “cell phone novel,” or keitai shosetsu, is a new micro-blog novel form. It’s typically written by young women entirely on their mobile phones.

These text message based formats have become a best-selling genre in Japan. The authors publish under one-word pen names and usually remain anonymous. The stories are about love and loss, tragedy and recovery, betrayal and resolution.

Below is an excerpt from a Time Magazine article about the phenomena of moble-novel writing.

Today, there are a million titles in Maho i-Rando’s online library — one for every six members, who are mostly women in their teens and 20s. That represents a lot of phone time. “Young Japanese access the Internet more from their cell phones than their PCs,” says Misa Matsuda, a professor of literature and sociology at Tokyo’s Chuo University. “Cell phones occupy pockets of spare time in people’s daily lives — especially for exchanging nonurgent e-mails, playing games, visiting fortune-telling sites. Keitai shosetsu fit in that tradition.”

It was a male writer known as Yoshi who had the idea of bringing out the first keitai shosetsu in book form. In doing so, became one of the first to break away from the pack. His self-published Deep Love (2002) was a collection of racy tales about a teenage prostitute in Tokyo that had previously appeared online. As a book, it sold 2.5 million copies and became a manga, a TV series and a film. It was also greeted as a one-off — the product of a quick-thinking writer-entrepreneur. But Maho i-Rando members soon began pleading with the site’s owners to see their favorite stories in hard copy, too, and its first books debuted in 2005. “Mobile novels are created and consumed by a generation of young people in Japan that demands to be heard,” says John Possman, former head of Tokyo entertainment consultancy Dragonfly Revolution. “It is truly pop culture.”

It has also become big business. In major book wholesaler Tohan’s 2007 best-seller list, five out of the top 10 books in the fiction category are keitai shosetsu, including the top three. The new genre is provoking fierce indignation among Japan’s literati, many of whom think that keitai shosetsu should stay on cell-phone screens. But it is undeniably shaking up a publishing industry whose sales have been declining for a decade. A professional author of fiction is lucky to sell more than a few thousand copies of a title. A popular cell-phone novelist sells several hundred thousand, and recruitment for new talent is intense. “Find the novelist in you!” online ads cry. “Make your debut!”

They are written with the participation of the audience. A girl will start posting her “diary” on a site called “Magic Land.” Readers begin to comment, add their own experiences and advice and urge the writer on. U.S. sites devoted to mobile novels are in beta launch here.

How The Emmy Got Its Name

Emmy-statue-etbscreenwritingEmmy® Fun Fact: The image orthicon tube which was often found in early television cameras was nicknamed Immy. The word Emmy® was the feminine derivative from Immy. Complimenting the femininity surrounding this prestigious award, a statuette of the winged female figure holding an atom has become the longtime symbol of the TV Academy. The wings represent the muse of art, the atom the electron of science. Prior to Emmy®, originally “Ike” was going to be the official name of the award, however because of the name being so closely associated with Dwight D. Eisenhower the group decided on “Emmy®.”

This is from Cynopsis a great newsletter on the Television business.

Top Ten Political Movies

Politcal-Movies-etbscreenwritingI am still abuzz about the Presidential Inauguration. So here is a list of some of the best American political films compiled by Entertainment Weekly. Enjoy!

In 2008, Entertainment Weekly set out to identify some of the best-loved political films of all time. The publication combined staff choices with readers’ votes to come up with a list of 16.

Here are the top 10, with each film’s primary star:

Election (1999): Reese Witherspoon

The Man (1972): James Earl Jones

The American President (1995): Michael Douglas

The Candidate (1972): Robert Redford

Primary Colors (1998): John Travolta

Bulworth (1998): Warren Beatty

Dave (1993): Kevin Kline

The Distinguished Gentleman (1992): Eddie Murphy

The Manchurian Candidate (1962): Laurence Harvey

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939): James Stewart

To see the full list, and a slideshow summary of each film check out Entertainment Weekly Political Film List.  Let me know what your picks are!

On This Historic Day

obama-2008-10-14-300x300This day belongs to the world. Without the good wishes, positive thoughts and fervent hopes of the whole world this day would have never happened. For that, America thanks you. To all those who are our partners in creating tomorrow– America has never just belonged to Americans. America belongs to the world. We must all extend our hearts, our hands and our hopes to one another as we walk together into our common future.

Here is the text of the Inaugural Address of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because we the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America — they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted — for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions — that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act — not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions — who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account — to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day — because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control — and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed — why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet (it).

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Some Thoughts on Hope

pandora-etbscreenwritingGiven the incredible drama of the run-up to the American Presidential Inauguration it seems superficial to write about any other kind of drama.  Instead here are some thoughts on hope.

From Wikipedia: “Hope was personified in Greek mythology as Elpis. When Pandora opened Pandora’s Box, she let out all the evils except one: hope. Apparently, the Greeks considered hope to be as dangerous as all the world’s evils. But without hope to accompany all their troubles, humanity was filled with despair.”

“It was a great relief when Pandora revisited her box and let out hope as well. It may be worthy to note that in the story, hope is represented as weakly leaving the box but is in effect far more potent than any of the major evils.”

“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” Barbara Kingsolver

We all have a lot of work to do. Let’s get to it.

Live, Love and Write – Happy New Year

fireworks_etbscreenwritingI can think of no better way to start off 2009 than with love. Love is what powers us along our journey as writers and storytellers– love of craft, love of our characters and love of our calling.

As we look forward to the tremendous shifts and changes this coming year will bring in technology, finance, entertainment and politics let us fully and completely embrace the indomitable and unconquerable force of love in our work.

In my rambles on the web this holiday season, I found the following list of the ways we can and must love as writers and storytellers. I wanted to share it with you. Tack this list up over your computer. May you tell your stories with love this year and write your best self in 2009!

Practice these 11 principles:

l) Love of telling a story–the belief that your vision can be expressed only through story, that characters can be more real than people, that the fictional world is more profound than the concrete.

2) Love of the dramatic– a fascination with the sudden surprises and revelations that bring sea-changes in life.

3) Love of truth– the belief that lies cripple the artist, that every truth in life must be questioned, down to one’s own secret motives; the ability to see and exorcise your own shit and to bring it up courageously and mercilessly.

4) Love of humanity–a willingness to empathize with suffering souls, to crawl inside their skins, and see the world through their eyes.

5) Love of sensation– the desire to indulge in and bring to life the pleasures of the five senses.

6) Love of humor–even the most sober domestic dramas need that light touch, the twist of irony, the bite of satire, or the warm, gentle mirth that makes the most mundane scene glow.

7) Love of language–a delight in sound and sense, syntax and semantics.

8) Love of process–a joy in the journey of the story and the solitude of writing.

9) Love of uniqueness–the thrill of audacity and a stone-faced calm when it is met by ridicule.

10) Love of beauty–the courage and skill to develop your own style.

11) Love of duality, conflict, argumentation and the energy to orchestrate scene dynamics.

Unlike the stories of personal essays, memoirs and autobiographical novels, a screenplay must use and transcend or deepen self into the collective unconscious to create a story with universal appeal. Each person has a life story with endless encyclopedic variations. The mark of a master is to select only a few moments but give us a lifetime.

Excerpted from Julia Keefer’s essay http://www.nyu.edu/classes/keefer/story/story.htm

Writing Routine

writing-with-quill-etbscreenwritingI discovered a great website that discusses how various writers and artists approach their work and organize their day. Check out Daily Routines. Below is a discussion of the simple method Anthony Trollope used to write forty-nine novels in thirty-five years!

According to The New Yorker, June 14, 2004:  “Every day for years, Trollope reported in his “Autobiography,” he woke in darkness and wrote from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., with his watch in front of him.

He required of himself two hundred and fifty words every quarter of an hour. If he finished one novel before eight-thirty, he took out a fresh piece of paper and started the next.

The writing session was followed, for a long stretch of time, by a day job with the postal service. Plus, he said, he always hunted at least twice a week.

Under this regimen, he produced forty-nine novels in thirty-five years.

Having prospered so well, he urged his method on all writers: “Let their work be to them as is his common work to the common laborer. No gigantic efforts will then be necessary. He need tie no wet towels round his brow, nor sit for thirty hours at his desk without moving,—as men have sat, or said that they have sat.”

The article goes on to discuss how the notion of and approach to writing has been romanticized since Trollope.

The One Hour Screenwriter helps take blocked or stymied writers back to a simpler, more sustainable method of working. It helps temper those idealistic approaches that are impossible to realize in every day life and only block genuine creative impulses.

Subtext – Unspoken Communication

Body Language ETB ScreenwritingI’ve been in Europe working with a variety of television dramas and one recurring issue is the most effective use of subtext.  If a scene is about what it is about—the writing is dangerously close to being boring.  Great scenes are always about something deeper than what, on the surface, appears to be going on.

The subtext of a scene is the underlying emotion that changes or alters the meaning of the words spoken or the actions taken.  Or it is what is “under the skin of a character.”  Or it is what is under the surface of what a character says or does.  Subtext is what is left unsaid, or what is actively concealed or what is not right out in the open.  It is the part of the scene the audience must “fill in.”

For example: A mom finishes preparing dinner. A plate with chocolates sits on a nearby kitchen counter.  As her very young son heads directly toward the chocolate, she says, “Tommy come here.” Why does his mom call to Tommy?

If you say “because she doesn’t want him to eat the chocolate before dinner,” you have understood the subtext in this simple scene. The dialog never directly says his mom doesn’t want him to eat the chocolate. You inferred that from the juxtaposition of the description of the scene and the dialogue.

Is that subtext? Mom is really telling Tommy to “come here.”  There is no hidden or concealed meaning in her words. Subtext does not necessarily need to be “hidden” in the sense that the characters have some secret or unspoken agenda.  Mom really does want Tommy to come here.  Subtext is the additional meaning we infer from the words spoken.

Now let’s say the mom says, “Tommy come here.  You know you can’t eat sweets before dinner.  It is very bad for you.  Come here and eat a nice nutritious meal first.  You can have the chocolates later for dessert.”

This version of the scene adds much more information.  It spells out exactly what is going on in much more detail than we need to understand the scene. It doesn’t allow the audience to fill in any spaces themselves.  The scene is less interesting and is “too talky.”  In writing, less is always more.

If you don’t allow the audience to be engaged in creating the scene they become bored.  Think of a time when someone gave you more information than you needed to understand something—It felt dull and repetitious. Trust your audience to fill in the meaning of the scene.

The text is what is on the page.  It is narrative description, action and dialogue.  Subtext is what is not on the page.  Subtext is the emotional meaning of the scene.  People don’t say all they mean in a conversation.  Sometimes, they don’t say what they mean at all.

In real life, we rarely speak exactly what is on our minds.  We rarely ask for what we actually need.  We rarely confront emotional issues head on.  We talk around things and expect others infer what we mean or to fill in the gaps.  Research has shown as much as 70% of communication is unspoken. Is that the case in your scripts?  Or do your characters speak their minds too directly to be realistic or engaging?

For example:  In real life, an argument about “taking out the garbage” is rarely about emptying out the kitchen wastebasket and carrying the contents to the outside bin.

In life, such an argument is probably about who is responsible for what, who respects (or doesn’t respect) whom, who is shirking households responsibilities and who is doing an unfair share, who is not paying enough attention to the home or the relationship or who is rebelling against another’s order or control.  The scene appears to be about one thing but it is really about another.

Does every conversation have to have subtext?  Is any communication direct?  Doesn’t “no” sometime just mean “no”?  Ask yourself what is the person actually refusing?  Let’s say a woman offers a man a box of chocolates and the man says “no.”  Why?  What are the surrounding circumstances?   What emotional exchange is really taking place?  What does the character’s “no” mean?

Is he on a diet?  Is he trying to maintain his discipline and refusing to give into temptation? Does she know this and is subtly trying to sabotage him?  Or does she think he is fine as he is and he should just enjoy the treat offered?  Or is he furious because he told her he is severely allergic to chocolate and he thinks she is being insensitive or cruel?  Or does he think she is offering this box of chocolates with a hidden agenda or that she is trying obligate him in some way? If set up properly, all that emotional information is processed in connection with the simple word “no.”

We call this additional information “subtext” because the real communication isn’t on the surface of what is said.  The real communication is just underneath the actual verbal exchange.

Let’s say two lovers are having a romantic Valentines Day dinner.  One lover gives the other a beautiful box of chocolate and says, “I love you.”  That is a very boring scene.  Everything is spelled out and right on the surface.

Now let’s say the audience knows one lover is actually married to someone else (and the other lover doesn’t know this).  Or let’s say the audience knows the box of chocolate is poisoned and one lover is actually plotting the murder of the other lover.  Now the simple scene is much more interesting.

What if the lovers really do love each other?  If this is the case they should express their love in a way that allows their feelings to be communicated through subtext. The lovers should be talking about something else but really saying “I love you.” They might discuss or compare wines and really be talking about the nature of their love for each other.

Actors do a much better job of communicating their emotions if they aren’t saddled with “on the nose” dialogue.  Dialogue is “on the nose” if it communicates exactly what is on the surface and nothing more. Remember that real people always infer much more than what is actually spoken.

It feels more real and is more emotionally engaging if the audience is allowed to make the emotional connections between what a character says and what a character actually means or feels. Trust your actors and trust your audience to fill in the gaps.  It will vastly improve your writing.

#ThinkpieceThursday – Einstein and Writing

AlbertEinstein ETB ScreenwritingThe German-born theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein, is best known for his theory of relativity and his Nobel Prize in Physics.  His keen observations apply to writing as well as science.  His concise quotes are invaluable and timeless.

Here are five of my favorites.  I’ve commented on them as they apply to the creative process and writing compelling stories.

1.  “A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.” What specifically are you trying to achieve in telling your story? What do you want your audience to feel?  Who exactly is your audience?  How well do you know them?  Is your character’s emotional struggle well defined?  How well does it reflect your audience’s struggle?  Perfection of everything else (setting, acting, production values, etc.) is meaningless if you don’t know where your characters are headed.

2.   “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” This is an ideology of humility and authenticity.  You are here to serve the audience.  Your story must add some kind of value to their day.  What value are you adding to your audience?  What is it that the audience needs and how are you filling that need.  Too often we believe we are creating television shows or feature films for our own artistic fulfillment and satisfaction.  In reality, we create to fulfill and satisfy our audiences.  It is only when we are of real value to others that we find true success as artists.

3.   “Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” The buzz word these days is “edgy.”  Often what is termed “edgy” is simply vulgar, inappropriate, crude, gross, aggressive or destructive. None of these things is truly edgy.  It is quite common to encounter the gross, the vulgar or the destructive.  In fact, what is riskiest, the most dangerous and what really pushes the envelope is– to simply tell the truth.  Tell the truth about who you are and tell the truth about who your characters are.  Nothing takes more courage.  Nothing is as a daunting.  Nothing is as surprising or as shocking.  Nothing is more rare.

4.  “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Plots should be very simple.  They should be clear and uncomplicated.  You should be able to communicate the plot of your story in a few quick sentences. Fable, parables or fairytales stand the test of time because their plots are simple and easy to remember.  The most memorable stories are very simple ones– but ones filled with deep, rich, complex emotions.

5.  “Most people say that it is intellect which makes a great scientist.
They are wrong: it is character.”  The same applies to writers and storytellers of all kinds.  You cannot write authentic characters if you are not authentic yourself.  You cannot write vulnerable characters unless you make yourself vulnerable first.  You cannot write from the heart unless you are generous and open up your own heart.  The character of the writer to a large extent determines the quality of the writing.