flex your writing muscles: the big dif between blogs, books, tv, and film

In ALL, BOOK PUBLISHING, INTROSPECTION, WRITING EXERCISES by Stephanie Klein9 Comments

I’m a writer who knows her own strengths. I’m also the female who strongly believes in facing the shit out of fear—running through, not around, the storm. When I was on the varsity soccer team in high school, Coach Paino had us lap the school as our first warm up before practice (The irony is not lost on me that I had a coach whose name began with pain). Watching me run was like watching Chris Farley sleep. There was panting, pools of sweat, random fits of screaming; I might’ve stuck my finger down my throat just to tell the coach I ran until I puked. But I knew there was no getting around it. So, it became my mission to finish with everyone else, to face it, even if it meant I was the first on that field, with the rest of the team still in the locker room trading boy stories and Salon Selectiving their bangs. Brace and bit, I’ll say I even got good. -ish.

Now, with writing a screenplay, I’m doing the same thing. I’ve been struggling to work on my running, which for me, means plot. And it’s tough because it doesn’t feel like writing. It feels like deciding. Brainstorming, by myself. It’s all about ideas, trying a direction, seeing where it takes me, then scrapping it when it feels like I’ve seen it before. I’ve always had the sauce, but I haven’t always known how to plate it. Writing a scene-by-scene beat sheet of an entire movie is basically like writing the entire screenplay without a scrap of dialogue. There’s no judging, no realizations, no inner world. If you can’t see it on "the stage," it doesn’t belong on the page. Nothing at all like writing a book, which is so much about your judgments, thought process, history. But with a story outline, there is no wit or clever turns of phrase to hide behind. It’s all about action, conflicts, and unusual reactions. Making sure the character "TRACKS," I term I’d like to impale up the anus with a dull knife. It has nothing to do with words. It’s all about the story, and at this point, has so very little to do with the telling of it.

Whereas with the television writing I’ve been doing, it’s somehow different. I think because I’m at a place where I’ve created a whole world, whole characters, histories, a set of defining characteristics. And story is the easy part—it’s almost beside the point. We don’t watch television for the story. We watch because we love the characters or love to hate the characters, and we tune in to see what they’ll do each week. We’re along for their ride.

Working on story is living a life on post-it notes and index cards taped to a board. I have to hope to the Pope that I can take the expectations of the audience, drip-feed them just enough to lead them to the gingerbread house, only to yank away the candy cane door hinges and swing open a new, unexpected trapdoor. Get ‘em to sit up and say, "Holy hell. Now, there’s a character I haven’t seen before!" Which, as you can tell by my description alone, is work. For me. It’s thinking, not feeling. Planning. Plotting. Twisting. Teasing out tension. Suspense. Knowing when to reveal a ghost. And it comes harder for me than insight and observation, harder than sharing honestly about my own life, harder than finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. But I’m no stranger to hard. And I know I can do this. Know it. I also know, with certainty, that a romantic comedy feature will happen. I just have to keep running into the storm.

Comments

  1. all u gotta do is stick wit it. i saw this lik 4 years ago and i watched it again last night. i fully understood it and i was lik WOW i didnt understand shit the 1st time. this is a pure spectacular plan. in fact 1 of the best story lines of all time, no exaggeration.

  2. I’ve seen a few contemporary Italian films recently, and I find it interesting that they don’t seem to have the same strong convention of a concrete storyline as we do in the US. Even their romantic comedies. It’s more of a model of letting things wander and yes there’s some kind of climax or drama at the end but that’s not really the point.
    I know if you’re trying to write for the American film market, you have to kind of do it “our way,” but it might be interesting to check out anyway, just a different perspective.
    Two I liked are called “Matrimoni e altri disastri” (Weddings and other disasters) and “Cosa voglio di piu” (What more do I want?)

  3. It’s amazing to me that there are so many different ways to write a story. I always thought I’d like to write a screenplay, but perhaps I’ll just stick to blogging–at least for now. Who’d have thought that art could become so technical? Makes me tired just reading about it!

  4. Ugghh. Exactly why I hate writing fiction. I always have such a hard time with plot. I prefer memoir because, to me, that is about finding the meaning in ordinary life and writing about that. Real life doesn’t have to have a plot or an A story and a B story or God forbid a C story.

  5. Which is why you’re the published author, and I’m not. Often, in between the swirl of my life, I think ‘there is definitely a book in here’. And in times of great duress, post-divorce, between jobs, I have sought to find it. I have even jotted down that first 100 pages, only to take a minute, reflect, contemplate and then say ‘Really?!’ (ala Seth Meyers and Amy Pohler). And then quietly lay it back down in its thumb drive and leap back into the maelstrom of my reality.

    I was talking to my dad the other night about being an author – about this very phenomenon of the bravery, belief, perseverance, confidence, ego and stubbornness – as well as a shit-pile of talent – in order to succeed. We both decided that reading books is infinitely preferable to writing them – though we both have an awfully lot to say.

    I can’t believe you’re tackling so many difference species at the same time; book, movie, tv and blog. God, I’d have such a split personality, there would be no hope of my brains staying put.

    All that being said, I admire the hell out of you. Thanks for the writing prompts that allow me to dust off that keyboard and make believe I could be a writer too.

  6. WORDS CANNOT DESCRIBE how thrilled to hear I am that you’re working on a screenplay. YOU ROCK!

    With love from the Jewish Girl in Wasp’s Clothing/your biggest fan! :)

  7. I keep seeing previews of some network show that reminds me of Moose and I keep thinking ‘this better not be like Moose – unless it IS Moose’.

    As always, you’re a rock star.

    1. Author

      I know. It’s “Huge.” For TV. I’m working on Moose, as a feature film in theaters, not as a tv show. At least, for now.

  8. I wish I could do that; expect that running into a wall time and time again will eventually lead me to a door.

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