Category Archives: Writing

Rod Serling on Writing

I was recently writing a short story that I purposely wanted to have a “Twilight Zone” feel for both the structure my overall understanding of how the story would unfold. I mean, I linked to it above, but the phrase “Twilight Zone” and its implications has permeated culture so thoroughly that, even without an impressive three follow-up series, I think it would still occupy a place in people’s minds.

So, after finishing the story, I came across this video in my “stuff to check out” folder and enjoyed it immensely. It appears to be a mash-up of at least two sessions Rod Serling had with students in the 60s or 70s (so if anyone finds the uncut versions posted, let me know). In it they discuss creativity, the writing process, Serling’s very definite views on the subjects, and –as comes as no surprise– more than a little autobiographical info on what made Serling tick.

Incidentally, if you’re interested in a bit more of how the whole manner of putting an anthology show together from the producing side, (you know, if one were to work on anthology shows themselves…) Buck Houghton wrote a book all about it which I still find myself referencing and recommending.

Things to Come: Sci-fi Adaptation Edition

I’m way overdue in posting about David Agranoff’s article for Tor from last December. In the wake of the adaptations of Dune and Foundation that were released last Fall, adaptations of quintessentially influential science fiction series, what landmark work might be adapted next?

Yes, that’s the shape of the reference I was making…

(And yes, I see you there amid your psychohistory textbooks, ardent Foundation fan. I know you’re waiting to wryly expound about how Foundation has yet to be adapted. A Seldon Crisis which necessitates Foundation being as faithfully adapted as you desire is not predicted for another 1,000 years, so it might be time to enjoy a readthrough of the series again instead).

As many a sci-fi fan knows, there are no end of ambitious and interesting works that could be great candidates to adapt. That’s why I like Agranoff’s article, just about every work he mentions is something I’d love to see (the exceptions being works I haven’t yet read) — and he muses about what the best treatment would be in film or TV form. I would love to see The Dispossessed as a limited series. Guillermo del Toro doing a gonzo 3D version of At the Mountains of Madness? Yes, please.

What adaptations do you want to see?

Hard Work or Hardly Working: Writers’ Edition

A couple posts I read this past weekend inspired me to update my “Writing” section, but before I get to that, here are the posts in questions.

Ken Levine on the difference between amateur writers and pros.

Ken Levine is, as one might expect of a veteran writer of shows like M*A*S*H and Cheers, pithy and to the point. I’ve heard both the anecdotes before, though I don’t think I knew the sources.

Mark Evanier on the hard work of writing… and the previous post.

In reading these, I wanted to reference my “writing” section intro and in re-reading it for the first time in, well, years, I realized I didn’t make it abundantly clear: I love writing.

I like actually writing. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying motivating myself isn’t hard on occasion, but when I get into a flow, in that Csikszentmihalyi way, I absolutely LOVE it. Maybe when I’m in that flow, loving writing, the end result isn’t my best writing. I’ve heard that when you go back to a piece of writing, you can’t tell the passages from your “good” days from your “bad” days and my personal experience rings true — but the reason I write is because of those good days. I love writing.

Now for the idea that many writers hate writing, but love having written. I get it. I also get a tremendous amount of satisfaction –even pride– at having completed a work. I’ve written about the importance of finishing your writing. But, of course, one of the reasons I don’t “love having written” the way other people seem to express it is because that finished script, that finished story is just sitting there, waiting to be revised. It could be better. It could always be better. I know this in my bones.

So, I suppose I’m okay when it comes to which type of writer I am. As long as I keep putting in the work.

Ted Lasso and the Turn, Turn, Turns of TV Seasons

Note: This post and the related links abound in spoilers for Ted Lasso, season 2.

This past weekend, my wife and I finally finished the second season of Ted Lasso, the comfort-food comedy-drama that is nominally about soccer, but really seems to be a backdoor effort to assemble a Gen X mixtape playlist whilst making equal numbers of jokes and pop culture references every single minute.

The gentle yet foul-mouthed comedy of season one remains, but makes room for not only elements of fantasy (hello, Santa), but several storylines about mental health and, in some cases, the inability to accept the need for therapy (hello Gray Nate and your unresolved issues with your father).

It’s hard in this day and age to avoid spoilers, especially for buzz-worthy shows and films, so I knew that some people who adored season one of Ted Lasso were rather negative about season two. Now finally I can check out all the digital ink spilled about the season.

via Apple TV+

Once again, the always insightful Emily St. James over at Vox has a great piece looking at Ted Lasso, the season two backlash, and my favorite part: some musing on how series evolve over time both on their own and in the estimation of audiences. Give it a read (after finished season two, of course).

The Work, not Art, of Screenwriting, via Billy Ray

Given last week’s post about David Lynch and screenwriting, I knew I wanted to do another screenwriting post. And then last night’s Oscar ceremony got me thinking about the film industry and its future and I remembered a column by screenwriter Billy Ray. It’s from 2016, but it doesn’t seem any less apropos in its calls to action.

Still from the film Network, written by Paddy Chayefsky

Note that the column is very much about Hollywood/mainstream film industry filmmaking, but it’s not like the Hollywood approach to filmmaking hasn’t had an impact on filmmaking in general. I found a lot of thoughts popped out, whether from focusing on the work (see Paddy Chayefsky above) to “If you’re an artist, it’ll come out as art anyway.”

Enjoy… and then get back to writing.

Video

Screenwriting through the David Lynch Lens

Last week, I posted a few videos about David Lynch and how to hook yourself an idea or two.

Well, as you might expect, I plowed through a number of Lynch videos at the same time, in part because the two I shared last week are just about the nature of getting ideas.

But, in fact, the first video I watched was a piece asking Lynch about his screenwriting process… and since it’s just over two minutes, it’s actually easy to re-watch as you realize at the end how many little nuggets of experience he puts in there.

All the ideas of process could easily be fleshed out into whole seminars (and I imagine the gentleman who introduced Lynch to the “note card” idea does just that in his classes), but it’s good to think of.

Incidentally, I am more of a “plotter” than a “pantser” — and back when I was more analog than digital, I absolutely did the note card method and still do it as I outline albeit via Workflowy. However I think in terms of altitude. Some “note cards” remain at the 50,000 foot view and that’s all I need. Some need more detail. Some get so much detail, I have to break them into separate cards so that the flow gets articulated well.

But that’s likely a discussion for another time. Back to Lynch. I’ve now shared several short videos, so here’s a compilation of a bunch of interviews which gives you 10 screenwriting tips… though since it’s Lynch, it’s really more ideas and approaches to screenwriting versus bland specifications.

I like all the ideas presented. For one, I think he nails why film is such a powerful medium, since it can deal with abstraction so powerfully. I also like his notion of what writer’s block represents and how he rejects suffering as a necessary component of being an artist. There’s also some great stuff about how to tap into your own creativity. Hope you all have a creative week.

Video

Where do Ideas come from? David Lynch Edition

The post from the other week about how hard hobbies are to schedule time for made me think of something I recently saw regarding how to generate ideas… and from a man generally known for having some out-of-the-box type ideas: David Lynch.

As many of you might know, I love using Workflowy, including for capturing ideas. I mean, I love the habit of always carrying around an old-school notebook to jot things down in –and I do have a number of those– but I have to be honest: the ability to jot things down AND link to reference URLs and videos has proven very useful (to say nothing of revising whatever notes or lists I have on the fly based on new ideas).

But whether in print or electronic, my general approach is similar to something I read about author C.S. Forester‘s process in The Hornblower Companion, where he mentioned ideas were like timbers that sank into the sea of his mind until they had enough barnacles (details) to pop back up again and be used for writing (note: this works for writing only, it will not aid the construction of seaworthy vessels).

David Lynch doesn’t employ a timber analogy, but water still plays a role:

I love the idea of tempting ideas to come to you… and in many of his interviews and talks, he’s mentioned being in good health, having slept well, and so on, is a better way to find ideas and be creative — which I appreciate because I’ve long disliked the “starving/suffering artist” stereotype.

Now, while the video above is interesting, the one below uses animation to be a bit more “Lynchian,” where he also directly addresses the suffering silliness.

So go out and catch yourself an idea.

Fast. Cheap. Good. Pick Two.

Many of you have seen the sentiment expressed in the title above, but it’s always worth remembering… and remembering we, as a species, will likely figure out how to go faster than the speed of light before we break the above constraints.

If I could add this to certain project submission forms, I would.

A post by writer Mark Evanier reminded me of how these constraints can often come into play in the writing world, which led to a good musing on his part:

How does one judge the quality constraint? (i.e. good/bad)

Producers, project managers, and writers will always try and balance these three constraints, often contending with executives who want to pretend like constraints don’t exist.

(Project managers will think of “time, scope, and cost” as the “triple constraints,” but we’ll leave the discussion of connections between scope and quality for another time).

In judging quality, it’s useful to allow that every project falls into a different “acceptance spectrum.” A good “rough order of magnitude” (ROM) estimate is automatically placing speed at a premium and therefore a “good ROM” is good with less precision than a “good detailed cost estimate.”

Let’s be honest: the same goes for writing projects. You’re likely to scrutinize that update for the internal corporate newsletter a bit less than the next chapter of your planned Great American Novel. You’re going to do your best on both, sure, but you absolutely will take more time with that novel.

Once you realize that “Good” is variable and contextual, it’s just a quick hop to realize that “fast” and “cheap” are also variable and contextual. Mind you, the constraints still apply: if you or your executives want something fast and cheap, there’s going to be a limit to how good it’s going to be (try ordering bespoke anything the fastest you can and see what that does to cost and quality). However, once you realize the balancing act, you can start making choices –and getting stakeholders to get on the record about their choices– about how fast, cheap, and good they want it. And if they want to increase speed or increase quality, guess what happens to the other constraint? The bottom line is you don’t get all three.

Passion Counts: Patton Oswalt Edition

Lest any of you think I’m going to populate the blog with repeatedly grim tales of people being sucky (as I have for a couple Wednesdays and this morning), I just wanted to highlight the Patton Oswalt interview I linked in last week’s post about film distribution.

Patton Oswalt, circa 2018 (the time of the interview)

Really, if you are at all interested in his career or perspective on things (he is a tremendous film geek in addition to his other geekdoms), the hour will fly by. And it’s applicable to any creative industry.

A Writer’s Journey from Idea to Novel

It’s always interesting to figure out how various writers work and this long article by George Saunders, which explains the genesis and creation (and recreation) of one of his novels, is a great window into a process that had me going “aha,” and nodding in equal measure.

Illustration by Yann Kebbi