Writer, writer pants on fire!

Somebody once told me, if you’re good at gossip, you’re a good storyteller. But what about if you’re skilled at telling sweet little lies (with respect, F. Mac)? Do untruths make you an even greater tale spinner? ‘Cause, let’s face it, stories are just wild embellishments of facts, right?

No! Stop! Rid your writer’s mind of such blasphemy. Okay, I’m standing too tall on my soapbox. I hear ya.

Let me get down and make my point…

The most powerful screenplays are based in truth – otherwise you might as well be writing an ad.

Stories that come from your life, conversations, experiences – even your pillow talk are all script fodder. It’s all valid – even if you don’t think it – and that’s the point.

Too many writers think too much when that blank page taunts.

And while storytellers can spin wonderful, fanciful tales, stories really sparkle with universal resonance when the ‘truth’ is told.

When you write what you know, you’re creating an instant connection with your audience – people identify with the truth, they feel it when they see it – just like an audience can sniff out big, fat lying narratives.

So – are you only allowed to write if you have wikipedic knowledge of the world?

Er, I hope not.

People identify with the truth, they feel it when they see it –
just like an audience can sniff out big, fat lying narratives.

Of mice and blue men.

Obviously James Cameron has never done battle on Pandora nor soared over floating mountains on a dragon / serpent hybrid thingy. And, I would wager, the only experience he’s ever had with blue body parts is on a bad date with a supermodel. But I digress.

When penning his latest blockbuster, Jim knew he wanted to write about war and the plight of the ‘little people’ against the superpower. He was passionate about it. He also knew he wanted to blow a small nation’s Gross National Product on awesome special effects – but that’s another article.

In a sense, he was writing what he knew.

Heart is the matter.

I’ve met lots of budding screenwriters over the last few years and most seem hell-bent on telling stories beyond their emotional frame of reference. Dangerous.

You can write fantasy, rom-com, shoot ‘em up action, pimpled junkie drama flicks to your heart’s content, just make sure the content of your heart informs 99.9% of your writing. Otherwise it will fall flat.

Make sure the content of your heart
informs 99.9% of your writing.

While the worlds you describe can be fanciful and populated with the most far-out characters your imagination can muster, if the emotion is inauthentic, the lie will stand out like an Oscar on AFI night.

Write what you know.

It’s a general rule of thumb, but I would strengthen this old adage with, write what you’re passionate about, write what you’ve researched diligently, write what you love.

Write what you’re passionate about,
write what you’ve researched diligently,
write what you love.

It’s all about having the guts to write the truth down – even when it scares you silly – actually, especially when it scares you silly.

Don’t hit a nerve, annihilate it.

If you’re scared to write about a particular story – fantastic! Fear is a great barometer – it’s a sure sign that you’re onto a story that will challenge you to be a better, more authentic writer – and your audience will love you for it. Their journey will be so much more meaningful and relevant. Simply tell the truth and people will follow your story to the ends of the earth.

Or to paraphrase ballsy columnist of the 90s – Cynthia Hiemel –

‘Write down your inner most demons, crazy, bizarre – write it all down. People will connect with you – it’s like magic. Wrench your weirdest thoughts, stories into the light and you will make a million dollars.’

Write what you know. Who you are. How you are.

Write down your inner most demons, crazy, bizarre –
write it all down. People will connect with you – it’s like magic.

And no, you won’t have to kill a man in order to write about a murderer, or lap dance for a living to pen a script about strip joints (though this didn’t harm Diablo Cody’s Hollywood trajectory – and if you’ve got the butt cheeks for it, why the hell not?), just write ‘you’.

Your ‘warts and all’ view of life could turn a good script into a ‘far-out-this-has-Oscar-written-all-over-it kinda screenplay.

I know which I’d choose. And that’s the truth.

-Phyllis Foundis

Writer, media presenter — and stage diva (on hiatus) Phyllis Foundis has written and bellydanced her way to the tender age of 36. She’s been writing stories, ads, one-woman shows and to-do lists for as long as she can remember. She loves big shower heads and loathes coriander.

 

Creative Commons License photo credit whisper: jin.thai

Creative Commons License photo credit Pinocchio: kennymatic

Creative Commons License photo credit Caution: Hoggheff aka Hank Ashby aka Mr. Freshtags

2 Comments

  1. Mark Harmon April 30, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    Good advice.
    And it reminds me of this line from Ralph Waldo Emerson –
    “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.”

    • Christine Spoljar May 4, 2010 at 1:27 am #

      You’re definitely on the right track, Phyllis!
      “Do only what you know best and only talk about what you really know.” Steven Spielberg
      …he should know.

Leave a Reply