Monthly Archives: June 2008

My First Creative Process

I thought that I would share the creative process that resulted in the screenplay “Stealth.” It’s an interesting story that took seven years for me to complete. It started with an idea that changed and developed over the years so that the final script was nothing like my original intended story.

It all started with an idea that I had once for a superhero. I thought it would be interesting to have a young child, about ten years old, who had the ability to fool people’s sense of vision. He would be able to hide in someone’s blind spot and would become invisible to that person. It was an interesting idea that I thought could work really well. This boy would become Stealth, a superhero.

The interesting thing about this boy would be that his mother had died a year earlier and he wanted to pay her a special tribute. He was an artist and quite adept in his art. He would illegally paint a mural of her on the side of a downtown store. He would get in trouble for it and end up having to work for the storeowner to pay off the damages.

That was the original idea for the story. It was going to deal with the father and son relationship and the hard times they both had with the loss of the boy’s mother and the father’s wife.

I had the idea for it years before I had written anything. I didn’t have the time to start writing at that point in my life. I had the first act clearly set in my head though and I was determined to write the story. Two years after getting the first idea, I sat down to write the novel.

As I was writing it, I could visualize it so well in my head. It seemed to be borrowing conventions of the movies. I changed scenes frequently like I was following the 30:3 rules of film. It felt like it would work better as a movie than as a novel. It was also my first attempt at writing a novel and I had a difficult time with it. I kept going into the characters heads, more often than I should have, and had far too many flashbacks. The father and son characters became very similar. They both daydreamed frequently, almost like Walter Mitty and as I was writing I realized I was borrowing way too much from that famous story character.

My novel got up to chapter three and I had told the whole first act that I had seen in my head. Life got in the way and the story got pushed to the side for a while. The novel didn’t feel quite right to me and so I abandoned it. I always hoped to get back to the story but I kept myself busy doing other things for four years.

Six years after coming up with the original idea, I realized that my story needed a complete reworking. I reread my handwritten novel as it stood. It felt like it should be a movie. It made sense to rewrite it as a screenplay instead of a novel. I also realized that it would work better as a movie if the character were older, so I changed him to a first year university student. It also ended up steering away completely away from the superhero aspect. The story became about the boys struggle to find himself and the family’s struggle to remain together after the death of the mother.

This time I decided to write it on a computer. I did some research about screenplay formatting and set the tabs on my word processor and got to work. I found it much easier to write the screenplay than the novel. I wrote the first act by looking at my original handwritten novel. I threw out all the flashbacks and changed several things about the original story. I then had to stop and think about where the story was going after that first act.

I started writing the screenplay in January. I wrote and wrote and wrote. The words seem to just come to me and it became easier as I got further into it. I think it might have been because the story had been peculating in my head for the past seven years. On February 28th, I finally typed “Fade to black. Roll credits.” I couldn’t believe that the story had finally finished itself. I felt such a high. I can’t even describe it. It was an amazing feeling to know that I had finally written something of substance. It was an absolutely incredible sensation that I find hard to put into words. I think it has been described as a writer’s high. It felt a bit like when I finish a running race. It’s just a great feeling of accomplishment and it feels amazing.

I knew that writers need to do rewrites and I also knew that rewrites happen best once a writer has distanced himself from the work somewhat. So I went right into my next writing project. I wrote a verse novel, and once again I zoomed through it. It seemed too early to do the rewrite so I started working on another novel. After I finished my next novel I decided that it was time to revisit “Stealth” again.

I sat down and read the screenplay all in one sitting. I read it with a pencil in my hand and made any corrections that I felt I needed to. I threw out a few scenes that didn’t seem to be essential to the story. What is left, I think is a great story that I hope will be produced someday.

This was the first story that I wrote after deciding to become a serious writer. I was never good at visual arts. My mother is very much alive and I never got into trouble with the law. Some people like to think that the stories authors tell are really disguised versions of their own life. Nothing could be further from the truth. This story is completely fiction. I made it up. I also made up a fictional city to further illustrate this fact. I hope that you will be able to see the major motion picture of it some day.

Tomorrow: A Recipe For Writing

How To Write

It seems like there are a million and one things to read about writing. It’s overwhelming to see all the books published on the topic. Add to that all the websites and blogs that make it their main focus and it’s not hard to see why some people are afraid to even try.

I know that when I first had the desire to write I sought more information on how to go about it. I read books, magazines, articles and then I worried. After all, I had graduated from university with a degree in English. I had critically looked at writing for years. I tore apart works of literature and analysed every last little piece of them. I was amazed at the symbolism and brilliance of these writers and I admired them so. How could I, for one moment, think that I was ready to write?

I couldn’t. I didn’t think I was ready to write. Not at all. So I didn’t.

I read more and more stuff about writing. I went to a few festivals and tried to act like a writer but the only thing I had ever written were some poems and songs. I still hadn’t written that novel that was bursting in me to be told. I had a good idea; I just couldn’t get started on it. Too many things were holding me back.

It actually took me years to feel that I was in the position to start writing. I know this might sound strange but I think I needed that time. I needed to feel like I could write before I started. But I want to let everyone know that this way of thinking holds too many people back. If you wait until you are ready, you may never actually do it.

So stop the excuses. Don’t say I’m not ready.

Weekend Assignment

Think of an idea this weekend. Think of something that interests you. Think of a character or a situation. On Monday, I will share with the story of how I started my first serious writing project, and then I will post up my recipe for great writing. I hope these posts help.

Different Roles We Play

I read May Not Appear Exactly as Shown by Gordon J.H. Leenders and was intrigued by this passage.

“Hey, like Shakespeare said, ‘All the world’s a stage and all the people actors.’”

“Life is not a play, Ryan. And Brad and Nicole are not actors.”

“The play’s the thing Katelin.”

“Ryan, stop it, life is not a play.”

“No, you’re right. Sometimes it’s a TV show, sometimes it’s a movie, sometimes it’s a documentary, sometimes a docudrama, sometimes it’s a commercial or a billboard in Times Square or –” I stop, noticing she looks like she’s about to leave and, changing my tone, making it sound warmer, less condescending, say, “Okay, look at yourself, Katelin, you act differently when you’re at work than when you’re with me, right?”

“So?”

“So, which one is the act and which is the real you?”

“That’s totally different. I know you.”

“Sure, but they’re still different roles, right? I mean, when you go into work you switch into your ‘waitress’ role, when you go out with your friends you switch to your ‘friend’ role, when you’re having sex maybe you switch into your ‘dominatrix’ role –who knows? The point is, sometimes, everyday roles are either too much or not enough for some people so they need to take on other roles, assume other identities and…and I mean, haven’t you ever wanted to be someone else? Haven’t you ever pretended to be someone you’re not?”

That passage really got me thinking. We do play different roles. Perhaps people that know us in totally different ways wouldn’t even recognize us if we were described in those different ways. Maybe we wouldn’t either. This quote reminds me of this next one from the brilliant television show My So-Called Life.

Angela Chase is a teenager and we hear her thoughts through voice over narration. “What I, like, dread is when people who know you in completely different ways end up in the same area. You have to develop this, like, combination you on the spot.”

Now I know that I play many different roles in life. And there have even been times where different parts of my life have intercepted. I understand what Angela was saying there in that quote.

It’s a pretty interesting take on the classic speech in Shakespeare that I highlighted in a previous chapter of this series. And it is one that fits into my theory of Story being the nature of reality. Not only do we play different roles at different times in our lives, but we also play different roles for pretty much everyone we interact with. And now that I am on this train of thought, I see so many connections to it that I am not sure I can just tie up my blog post and leave it at that.

For instance, Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven shows how people can shape the lives of other people without ever having realized it. It goes to show that we play roles in this life that we aren’t even aware of.

I think that most people can admit to the truth behind this metaphor. It is brilliant and reveals a lot in its sheer simplicity. We do play different roles in this life and perhaps, as such, we are all characters in several different but interlocking stories. Something to think about, isn’t it?

Basic Navigation

I had to laugh last week when I saw a news item on television. The story was about school program that takes kids outside to learn some skills. I went to a similar program when I was a child; it was referred to as Outdoor Education back then and it was a great a program. I am all for programs that take learning outside of the classroom.

The funny part of the news story was the interview. I can’t remember exactly who it was on camera but what he said really stuck with me. He praised the program and all the things it did for the children. He then said, “They’re learning basic navigation with a GPS.”

What?

I laughed out loud (which doesn’t normally happen during the news.)

I’m not that old but when I learned basic navigation it was with a map and compass. I learned about the stars and how I could use them as a guide. I learned how to make a crude compass using the hands on my wristwatch, and failing that, how to make one using a stick to cast a shadow. That’s basic navigation. We didn’t have a portable computer to tell us where we were all the time. We didn’t have satellites to communicate with, and we did just fine.

It was really funny to hear this new definition of “basic navigation.” I wonder what people would do if they had to go back to reading maps, compasses, and the stars. Perhaps everyone would be lost all the time.

It seems like people are so starved for new technology that they forget the simple things in life. And it’s amazing that these devices have fallen in price so much that they are now readily available and accessible. But do we really need to alter our definition of “basic” now? I think not.

Though

Where did you come from?
Why have you crept into my daily lexicon?
I don’t remember using you,
until only recently,
you’ve been born into my vocabulary.
You’ve butt in and taken but’s place
But not completely, you see
The problem is that when I look back
I can remove you
And it makes no difference
to my words or message.
So why are you there?
and where did you come from?
I don’t know, though it’s good to see you.

Graduation

A respected member of our community spoke at the graduation ceremony last week. His speech was beautiful and I hope that the people in the audience got as much out of it as I did. After he spoke, I quickly found a pen and paper to write done what he had said. These might not be exact quotations but I think I preserved his message nonetheless.

He said,

“If you spend one hour with your children a day, double it.”

“If you spend five minutes complaining, cut it by half.”

“If you spend five minutes talking good about others, double it.”

“Don’t let Sesame Street teach your kids everything.”

He went on to speak about his time in school and his experiences growing up. He said that the community raises a child, and that we all have responsibility to see the children in our school and community do well.

Part of his message was obviously directed at the parents. I hope they were listening to him. Because I see parents that have very little to do with their children whatsoever. Part of his message was aimed at the children of the school. I hope they were listening as well. We can all learn something from our elders. It was a great message and an excellent way to close out the school year.

Teacher Blues II

Once again, I sit here and stare at an empty classroom. It doesn’t seem right. The place looks completely barren and void of everything that made it a great place to be all year. The colourful banners and posters have all been taken down. The desks are shoved to the middle of the room and all my materials have been boxed up and put away.

I sit here at the computer and know that it needs to be put away too. I need to clear out all my files I have saved on it. I need to move on. It’s hard for some reason. It always is. I get this feeling that I can only describe as teacher blues.

It’s hard to just pack up and leave. I spent a lot of time with my students this year and they just run out the door and move on. I have to move on too this year. A chapter of my life is coming to an end.

It feels weird knowing that I won’t be coming back to this classroom next year. I will be at a new school. It’s scary and exciting all at once, but I will truly miss this school. I had a great time here.

I already miss the kids. I had a great bunch this year. We learned a lot from each other. I just hope that I did enough while I was here. I hope that I made a difference to the lives of my students over the past few years.

This feeling I have right now is sort of hard to explain. I know a lot of people, my students included, are happy that it is summer vacation and they are embracing it openly already. I always need a bit of time to adjust to that. So I hesitate to leave right now. I have end-of-school-year-teacher-blues. But it will pass.

Our Perception is Flawed

“Hey I found this interview in a magazine that seems to work against your theory of reality being story.”

Let me see that. Wired Magazine, eh? An Errol Morris interview. (He starts reading)

Q: But don’t you think that we manage to keep up a coherent narrative of who we are and where we’ve been?

A: No! We remember things selectively. We experience things selectively. We live in a kind of incomplete, patchwork-quilt universe. A bric-a-brac. Assembled in some higgledy-piggledy way.

This quotation doesn’t work against my thesis. It actually backs up my theory that we actually edit our lives through our use of what we choose and choose not to remember. We also edit our lives by experiencing things selectively too.

“But he admits that we don’t keep up a narrative. He more or less says that it’s not story.”

That’s not what he says at all. He actually admits that we don’t have the whole picture. We can’t possibly know the entire story. We live in a limited point of view story but our stories can connect to other stories and create a quilt.

I don’t think the universe is incomplete or put together is a haphazardly way. I don’t think Morris believes this either. He is merely talking about our experience of the world.

I think that Story can explain why we don’t know everything and cannot come to the ultimate truth of the universe. Of course, characters in a story never know everything. They seldom ever realize that they are a character in a story. I can’t really think of an example where a character realized this but I am sure there are stories that can be interpreted as such out there.

“That character in Stranger than Fiction did.”

Great movie. Yeah, you’re right but this is the rare exception. I think Morris is right too and our perception of reality is flawed. But that is only because we don’t perceive the nature of reality to be Story. If we did, we would have a new perception in which to see the world. And upon seeing it with these new eyes, perhaps we can come to some important truths. It makes sense to me.

“Yeah, I guess it does.”

Hey, keep trying to trip me up. But you must admit that you are starting to come around to my theory aren’t you?

“I don’t have to admit anything.”

No I guess you don’t. See you next week then?

“I’ll be here. And maybe I’ll scare up some more damaging info then this.”

Unworn Clothes in the Closet

Zig Ziglar often preaches the 80/20 rule of life. It’s a basic philosophy of how things work in the world. For example, 80% of the world’s wealth is owned by 20% of the people. There are a lot more examples. You can look for his website or books if you want to learn more.

I actually subscribe to his newsletter. Several issues ago, he touched on this rule again. One of the examples he gave is that we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. He admitted to not understanding this one in brackets after the example. But as soon as I read it, I knew exactly what he meant.

I have clothes in my closet that I very rarely wear. I also have clothes in my closet that I have never worn. I wear the same few pair of pants every week. I even have pants in my wardrobe that I haven’t worn in months. Why is this the case?

I think clothes are something that we get really comfortable with. We all have favourite outfits, favourite pants, and favourite shirts. I also think that we have way too many clothes. So, if we only wear 20% of our wardrobe, why don’t we do something productive with the other 80%.

My unworn clothes could be worn by someone. I could donate them to the Salvation Army. I think I am going to go and clean out my closet now. I don’t think I can get rid of 80% of my clothes but I betcha I can do half that. Let’s see if I can donate 40% of the clothes I very rarely wear. Why not? It sounds like a good idea to me.

I’m Not Ready

“I’m not ready,” is one of the most popular excuses in the book. As far as excuses go, it is a good one. Perhaps it is a good idea to prepare before doing something that is tough. But I don’t think this is always the case. Here are a few examples,

Writing

Some people really wish to write but they will tell themselves they are not ready. They will go take courses or workshops. They will launch into research so that they can be prepared to write their epic. But here’s the truth, you can over prepare. You can always do more research and you may never be ready to write your epic. The only thing you can do is start writing and stop the procrastinating. Stop the excuses and just do it.

Parenthood

No one is ever ready to be a parent. You can read a million books and go to parenting classes (and you probably should) but the truth is nothing can really prepare you for this. It is a life changing experience and you can never truly be ready for it. But does that mean you shouldn’t be a parent? No! Just make sure that you do give this one some thought before you run out and have a kid. It is a huge responsibility and the most important job you will ever have. No wonder why no one is really ready for it.

Moving Out

I wasn’t ready to live on my own when I moved out of my parents’ house. I’m not sure anyone really is. But living on your own teaches you so much about life and responsibility. Besides, your parents need their space too. So if you’re old enough, good ahead and move out.

Teaching

Nothing can prepare you for the classroom. I didn’t know what I was doing my first day in front of a class. Despite all my training and education, I was clueless. But I learned. And after five years of being on the job, I can honestly say that I’m still learning.

Performing

I still get scared every time I go on stage. I have performed original material in front of crowds dozens of times. I have sang karaoke even more times. I speak in front of an audience every day as part of my job but I still get nervous if I have to address a large group. You think that it would be easy by now. It certainly is a lot easier but I still get nervous and anxious before I go on stage every time.

Still Not Ready?

Still not ready? Good! You can’t ever really be ready. You just need to go out there and do it. Shoot for your dreams. Write your book. Start a family. Move out on your own. Become a teacher. Sing a song. Whatever it is you want to do, go after it and don’t make excuses. You are ready.