Tag Archives: IDEA IDEA IDEA

Discover your theme… later…

Just sent this to a former student… thought I’d share.

I hope you have not had writing teachers (including me!) who told you to discover your theme and then start writing. The more I do this the more I understand that you have to figure it out along the way. “OH, that’s what I’m writing about…” The guy who wrote THE SIXTH SENSE didn’t know the key fact about his hero until the 6th draft. I assume you’ve seen it, but can’t be sure, so no spoiler.

“For a whole year I worked on The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter without understanding it at all. Each character was talking to a central character, but why, I didn’t know. I’d almost decided that the book was no novel, that I should chop it up into short stories. But I could feel the mutilation in my body when I had that idea, and I was in despair. Suddenly it occurred me that Harry Minowitz, the character all the other characters were talking to, was a different man, a deaf mute, and immediately the name was changed to John Singer. The whole focus of the novel was fixed and I was for the first time committed with my whole soul to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.”
Carson McCullers


I did several drafts of my novel before I discovered WHY I was writing it. I taught 13 years before I figured out WHY I was doing it. The deeper reason you do something does not seem, to me, self-evident when you sit down to do it. My father is 90 and I wonder if he’s figured out life yet.

You need to live with the characters and the situation and the story for a while before they begin to gel in your mind and it slowly begins to knit together. I’m sure some people sit down and say, “I’m going to write about XYZ” and then they do, from start to finish. That’s fine. But, what worries me is people who sit down and DON’T know and, for whatever reason, think they are supposed to and that if they don’t know, they’re somehow doing it wrong.

Be not afraid that your method is wrong.
Just jump in.
You’ll figure it out eventually.


Filed under Good Writing, Rewriting, Screenwriting, Writing Process

EDGE OF TOMORROW – Tom Cruise & Emily Blunt Can Pick ‘Em!

Go see EDGE OF TOMORROW and read NOTHING about it ahead of time if you can.
I knew nothing of the story whatsoever. Lucky me!

I knew the movie had a good Rotten Tomatoes rating, and that’s all I knew. Well, I knew who was in it.

It is SO fresh, so new, so interesting, so surprising… it will make an ocean of money and the screenwriters are to be congratulated over and over and over because all those who are connected with the film got work, got paid, will profit, etc. All because someone had a VERY COOL IDEA and executed it beautifully.

I’d love to see the first draft or the pitch pages, to see how it worked its way through development.

I have not seen a movie that I enjoyed this much in a long time. Certainly not this year.

It’s been out a while, so it will be leaving the theater soon, but it’s well worth a trip to the theater. Don’t wait for DVD or whatever the hell people wait for these days. Shell out the big bucks and enjoy yourself.

The script is so complex, and so is the movie, but it’s never hard to follow. It must have hurt their heads to write. Hat’s off to them all!

Let me know what you think.


Filed under Good Writing, Screenwriting, Writing Process

It Better Be About Something BIG!

Just saw THE GHOST WRITER, Polanski’s latest. Besides watching the movie and trying to figure out what was second unit and shot in the U.S., and which scenes were shot on a stage someplace else… there wasn’t enough, really, to watch.

I felt sad. I love Polanski. The guy’s a great filmmaker, but he missed the boat on this one and the problem lies in the screenplay. It never should have been green lit.

The movie’s barely in theaters now, so I don’t feel bad by spoiling anything. Not that there’s that much to spoil. The best thing in it is Olivia Williams, pitch perfect as always. And Kim Cattrall does a hell of a job being English. Anyway.

The title of this discourse is about the problem. If it’s a movie, it has to be big. Big enough to be fifty or a hundred feet wide. This story is not about anything we care about. It’s all too bloody intellectual. There’s nothing in the hero’s problem, or the bad thing the bad guy did (a LONG, long, long time in the past) that makes the hair stand up on your neck. Nobody gives a tinker’s damn.

The giant reveal at the end is that… someone you didn’t suspect was, in the 1970s, recruited to be a CIA agent! Wow. They worked for the CIA and we never knew it… Gee… How earth shattering.

Ho hum.

The engine-driving-the-movie-thing you worry about Pierce Brosnan’s character is “did he, way back when he was Prime Minister, authorize prisoners to be tortured to stop terrorism?” We never see it. No friends of ours are tortured. It all happened before the movie even started. Years before. Why do we care? Why hang an entire screenplay on something as thin as an intellectual debate on rendition? I know torture is bad and we shouldn’t do it and in the end it serves no good (witness France and their boneheaded handling of torture during the Algerian revolution) but all this stuff was long ago, off screen and only involved a nod or a signature on a piece of paper by the Brosnan character.

How is that worth making a movie about?

If you’re going to take all that time to tell a story, tell one that’s going to really grab us by the throat and not let us go. Make it be about something bigger than a nod or a signature. Make it happen on screen.

But make it BIG or it’s not a movie.


Filed under Screenwriting, Writing Process