As writers we are not inventors of storytelling. Storytelling has already been invented. Some caveman has the rights to that. We are not inventors, we are innovators. It’s a simple thought, but one I still fear. I hate pitching someone a story when all they say is “Oh it’s like that one movie ____.” Period. That’s it. Your story is now irrelevant. It sends me back to the drawing board to create something so bizarrely original that it hardly takes shape of an actual story. Realize your story reminds us of another, not because everything has already been done before (if it has, then what the heck are we doing?) it is because art inspires art. The Wizard of Oz inspired Wicked. Hidden Fortress inspired Star Wars. Taming of the Shrew inspired 10 Things I Hate About You. They’re all wildly successful and don’t give an ounce of fuck that they aren’t entirely original.
So where does the fear come in? We’re not afraid of art inspiring art. We’re afraid of is art imitating art. In Lisa’s case above, don’t let The Little Mermaid define you, let it be your starting point and add your own voice. Unlike storytelling, you’re the inventor of your voice. You must make it truly original, or you’ll probably get sued for copyright infringement. Finding your voice isn’t easy, (I haven’t found mine yet. I assume it’s somewhere between Tarantino’s f-bombs and a Pixar short.), but finding your voice can be exciting. Lisa, take The Little Mermaid and tell me what happens after “they lived happily ever after.” Don’t allow them to give you a bullshit ending like that. More happened and you’re going to tell me what that is in your exact voice. Write out of confusion and frustration. Write because you are not satisfied. Whatever you do, write what they didn’t tell you. Remember: “Happy endings are stories that haven’t ended yet,” who said that? Angelina Jolie or something.
Absorb a lot of material: books, songs, paintings, photographs, poetry, plays, podcasts (why are there so many p-things?) and elaborate off them. Take in all the information the piece has to offer: characters, feelings, meanings, objectives, morals, etc. and rewrite it as if it were your own. Soon enough it will be.
Exercise: 1.) Take a fairy tale and scrap the ending. Write what happens after Mommy closed the picture book and told you to fall asleep. Don’t sleep and discover the truth. 2.) Listen to Andrea Gibson’s Asking Too Much. Answer one of her questions. 3.) Pick one of this week’s PostSecret confessions. Without knowing anything about the submitter, write their story.
If you try out any of these exercises I want to see them! They don’t have to be screenplays, they can be anything! Tag with #slugsatwork or e-mail slugline365 [at] gmail [dot] com. Hopefully you’ll see some of them on here :3
I don’t like to talk a lot. Some people call this shy or introverted. So what if I am? These are the traits that help me soak up daily surroundings for future material.
It’s amazing what you can see if you just sit back and shut the fuck up sometimes. Sure, you’re not the popular guy at the bar shooting back beers while telling tales of his old college days. You’re not the comedian fearlessly telling jokes to a sold out show with an audience laughing to tears. You’re not the person they asked to give a speech at their wedding, birthday, or graduation. But when everyone devotes their energy to only the sense of hearing, you use the sense of sight. You see that the barfly only drinks Bud Lights in attempt to lose his beer belly and that the only crowd he can still impressed are lanky frat boys who just turned 21. You see that one woman in the audience, third row and center, who is laughing hard – like she deserves it, like it’s been bottled up for so long, and you wonder why. You see the bride’s tiny baby bump and realize it’s a shotgun wedding. You see aunts and uncles more interested in the cupcakes than the birthday boy. You see a grad lose his smile as he steps off the stage and weighs his diploma in his hand. He thinks, “How long will this piece of paper convince others that I’m good enough?”
I am shy. I am most definitely an introvert. But more importantly, I see a lot of truth when I sit and stare. …And if I don’t see truth, I will do my best to make that shit up until I’m satisfied.
Exercise: Find a place you normal don’t spend a lot of time at. Go there alone. Have some kind of device to record your thoughts. Exist in the space for at least an hour and observe (without looking like a complete creeper!). People watch. Notice attire, physical features, mannerisms, and relationships. Eavesdrop. Pay attention to objects, especially ones that don’t belong. Ask any and all questions as if you were a child first discovering the space. Ask questions until your mom tells you to stop, then ask some more. Write all of this down. Strangers are characters waiting to be explored.
I know I said I’d try to make this a vlog, then I realized, I’m a writer. I should be writing this instead. And that is exactly what I did:
No matter what they say, remember this: We write what we know, however, we don’t write exactly what we know.
While getting my BA in Screenwriting my biggest struggle was writing a story that wasn’t about me. My professors would always scold the class, “No one wants to watch a movie about you. You’re not interesting. And if you were, you wouldn’t be in this class.” Apparently my professors didn’t know that I’m interesting as fuck. Now sure, I’m not going to write a screenplay about my daily routine. I’m not even going to write about the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me. What I am going to write about is a moment I’ve experienced where I’ve felt high, or perhaps even lack of, emotion. Then I’m going to exaggerate it until I make you feel that same damn feeling. It’s kind of like this: You know when you tell your friends a story and midway you realize they’re not having the same reaction you’d hope for, so you twist the story a little just for the reaction? Yeah, do that.
Example: One of my most memorable experiences was the day my stepdad passed away. I spent hours in the hospital waiting room and I don’t remember crying (not because I wasn’t sad, I was just in shock). What I do remember is how lonely and isolated I felt in a room full of strangers. From that feeling I wrote this:
So you’re right screenwriting professors, I didn’t write a script about me, but I did write a script inspired by me…because I’m damn interesting.
Exercise: Think you don’t have any noteworthy experiences? Then go out there and experience something! Go on a dating website and date someone completely wrong for you (do you know how many scripts I’ve written based off OkCupid idiots?). Go to church even if and especially if you’re atheist. Have a conversation with a child. And remember any experience is worth writing about if you twist its leg a little.
You've probably answered this before, but what do you do for inspiration? Or I guess, what are some exercises you do to get the jusices flowing? I feel like once I have an idea it's fairly easy to get going, but it's getting an idea that is hard. So I am hoping that maybe working on certain excercises might work
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. To be honest, it’s pretty difficult to completely answer because my stories all come from random wild places. Each time I get asked this question I think I’ve always had a different answer. But this time I took a moment to actually brainstorm how I brainstorm (that’s basically what it is, right?) and there are a few common techniques. This question has inspired me to compile a possible vlog to fully answer, with exercises as requested. It will be an experiment on my end. But as for now, let me give you a short answer:
- Experiences - Observations - Absorb other material and Elaborate (art inspires art!) - Make lists - Be Dramatic: write a simple scene then think, “What is the WORST thing that could possibly happen at this point?” It doesn’t necessarily need to be part of your story, but it should get the ideas a’flowin’
Thank you for your question! Look for a video about it soon (if I can get out of my introverted shell!) if not, expect a more detailed written response :P Hope this helps a bit!