Wednesday, May 2, 2018

"Reminiscing About Yesterday"

Who says I live in the past?

Toiling in this particular arena, there is nothing more personally gratifying than delivering a post-length “scene”, as I did yesterday in “The Terrible Trial Attorney.”

I wrote a lot of scripts in my time, all of them relating their stories directly through character. There was little stage direction. No equivocating “Voice Overs.”  No described “workings of the mind.”  You had something to communicate – you did so. 

Entirely through dialogue.

Which is an unbeatable format to write in.  

I just don’t do it that much.

Why not?

Because I am the receptive reactor to the ideas that come to me.

And not a lotof those show up.

And then – offering an example of a process that fills me with humbling wonder and delight – one morning, I am taking my habitual “Thursday Walk” to Groundwork Coffee Inc.– where they don’t treat me special anymore – when the idea for “The Terrible Trial Attorney” suddenly pops into my head.  

I cannot recall what I was thinking when the idea came to me.  It was notabout trial attorneys, I know that.  (The “Terrible” element is the personally injected comedic perspective; otherwise, I’m Alan Dershowitz.)  The most proactive involvement I can admit to in this process was my desire for a leavening change of pace from the, albeit fascinating, exploration of “You’re right” and its incendiary twin brother “You’re wrong.” 

I had a subliminal impulse to “write funny.”  

And – Hallelujah! – Here comes “The Terrible Trial Attorney.”  

Writing “The Terrible Trial Attorney” reminds me of why this format really exhilarates me.  And also how I creatively approach such welcome assignments.

The “appealing” part?

First, who doesn’t want to make people laugh?  (Or at least come tantalizingly close.)

The alternative is boring the pants off them, which is entirely possible when you are (hectoringly) “telling” rather than pleasingly “showing.”  

Secondly, dialogue writing is my experiential patois. Been there.  Done that.  Doin’ it again.

And thirdly, when you write characters, you have company.

From the creativestandpoint, you get to challenge yourself against the rigorous standards of quality comedy writing.

To wit,

For me, the most respectable writing – comedy or otherwise – involves the writer permitting the characters to speak and act entirely for themselves.  

“Characters independent of their creator” is not some airy affectation:

“I just sat there and took down what the characters were saying.”

That’s true, to somedegree.  But first, I actively createthose characters, and I point them in a specific direction.  After that, I step back, providing them the freedom to “behave.”  I hope they’ll behave “funny.”  But organicallyfunny.  Trying hard not to deliberately “forcethe funny.”  My goal – not always successfully attained – is to allow the characters to be true to the “moment”, and to who I originally imagined them to be.  Being, hopefully, funny while they do so.

You can tell when writers place a too-heavy determining “hand” on the proceedings.  Both in story and in dialogue, the reader feels the uncomfortable sense of being manipulated.  It’s a “boomerang” procedure.  The writer seeks desperately to appeal, like an over-ingratiating host at a party – 

“It’s so nice you could attend; the evening would be devastating without you.” 

And instead of liking them, you want to throw a gourmet appetizer in their face.

Then, there’s the problem of the writer wanting to be noticed.

“Look how clever and imaginative I am!”

For me – not in blog writing because blog writing is, by its nature, an exhibitionistical exercise – “Look at me, I invented a word!”  But in traditionalwriting, I prefer the writer to remain anonymously in the background, like an umpire in baseball, who considers “a good game” a game where no one realizes they’re there.  

In “The Terrible Trial Attorney” I created three primary characters – an aggressive trial attorney who believes he is “smarter than the room” when he is in fact substantially dumber– and that includes the actual room – the common-sensical presiding judge, and the trial’s “Star Witness”, who just happens to be me.

My “M.O.” was to create an uncomplicated narrative, and give the characters “their heads.”

Here’s how scrupulously “hands off” I was.  During the rewrites, I realized that my character wasn’t funny.  I reflexively kind of resented that.  I wasn’t colorfully memorable.  Or charmingly “twinkly” even.  And heck, Iknew the writer! 

But you know what I did? 

Determined not to gratuitously “punch myself up”, I just left it alone.  I was an “informational” character, and that’s that.  Hopefully people appreciated my shining integrity as a truth-telling witness.  But I was not manipulating the narrative to show off.

And there it is.  My mother’s signature instruction:

“Don’t show off.”

Which is tough to live up to when you’re in show business.

“Let’s see what you got, kid.”

“Oh, it’s not much, really.”


The best writing, for me – and when successfully executed, byme – is the writing that appears seamlessly effortless.  The craft is there.  But you do not see the exertion. 

Full Disclosure: I took almost all day to complete “The Terrible Trial Attorney.”

I just hope it didn’t show.

1 comment:

FFS said...

I really liked it. But my grade 12 English training kicked in and I spent some time wondering about the underlying meaning and symbolism. Because you think about things and then write about them, I started to wonder how this blog post may be related to some larger issue and totally forgot that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. It was a great cigar!