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KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE! – Writing Tips

KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE! – Writing Tips

By guest author Calix Lewis Reneau, writer/director of www.childthemovie.com and producer and creative of features, television, print, music, and new media.

“You’ve probably heard the writing advice to “murder your darlings.” This means to be ruthless in deleting clever writing that doesn’t serve the greater purpose of your work. I’ve learned that a writer must take this a step further. To get the best story on the page, we must be willing to kill the story in our minds.

If you’ve ever tried to explain a dream you’ve had after waking up, then you can understand this. In your dream everything was vivid, real, logical, connected – a complete story. But as it immediately fades, even the simplest narrative detail slips from your grasp. Worse, when you can remember the precise details, they sound pedestrian and disconnected in the telling.

The same is true of the story you have in your head which you’re so passionate to tell. For reasons too complex to relate in a short article, we humans don’t think in a simplistic, connected, linear fashion. On simple fact can help reveal to that complexity: there are more than one hundred trillion synapses (neural connections) in your brain, at a minimum. That’s a thousand times more than the number of stars in our galaxy. And your connections in your brain are unique in all of history to you alone. What you think, what you see, what you feel, what you dream – your story – has never been before, and will never be again.

The story you want to tell is meaningful to you for the same reasons you are so invested in your dream when you’re having it at night. It’s immediate. It’s real. It’s consists of more than what can be put in words on a page, or images on a screen. The story is made up of your unique emotional connection to the material which drives you. It finds meaning in your personal history. It finds context in your life and worldview.

In short, the story in your mind is your story alone. It can never be anything more than that.

As writers, we’re compelled to share that story, impossible though it might be to do so. That’s where the skill, the talent, the hard work come in. The job of the writer is not to tell the story in our heads. It’s to translate the unique inner experience into a tangible form which will hopefully lead others to a similar journey. To laugh, to cry, to learn, to grow, or just to be entertained.

This translation requires that we understand the connective elements that we share. Functional communication requires two parties: someone to say something, and someone to hear it. You have something you want to say, need to say. As a writer, the fundamental task at hand is to say it in a way which will clearly give your intended audience what you want them to have. It’s no use to complain that others can’t enjoy the dream you had last night in the same fashion as you did. The hard work that sets successful writers apart from all others is the learned ability based on innate talent to take that powerful inner experience and craft something that leads others to their own unique powerful inner experience that is reflective, that is connected through our common humanity.

To do this, we must be ruthless in “murdering our darlings” at the most fundamental level. This means recognizing from the start that the story in our heads can’t ever function as the story we want to tell. But that’s okay, because once we accept that, the story in our heads can become the powerful inspirational genesis for the stories we put out into the greater culture using our skill and talents of translation as writers. Your focus, passion, ability, and self-discipline is the refiner’s fire which will burn away the dross of self so you can change the world with the stories you have to tell.”

Calix is a full-time creative working in features, television, print, music, and new media. He has written professionally for just about every type of media imaginable, including a stint as a top-selling greeting card writer. These days he spends most of his time juggling projects at his own production company which are in various states of entropy, from nascent ponders to completed features winding their way through post production and into distribution. His job title at Calix8 Productions – “iconoclast gadfly” – pretty much explains his approach to work, life, and the mysteries of the universe.

You can learn more about Calix at his poorly-maintained personal website – www.calix8.com – and see the trailer to his most-recent completed feature film (as writer/director) at www.childthemovie.com.

Our pick of the web for July 2017 – From the @WriteMovies Twitter Feed!

Our pick of the web for July 2017 – From the @WriteMovies Twitter Feed!

Our pick of the web for July 2017 – From the @WriteMovies Twitter Feed!

Our @WriteMovies Twitter feed has been sharing lots of exciting things giving our tips of the best new articles, insights and offers for screenwriters and producers on the web. And in case you’ve missed anything there, here is our pick for July 2017…

Why Hollywood is ready for subtle storytelling at last. Part 3: The ARRIVAL of a new, subtler wave in cinema?

Why Hollywood is ready for subtle storytelling at last. Part 3: The ARRIVAL of a new, subtler wave in cinema?

Ian Kennedy continues to discuss the sublte storytelling reneaissence in cinema and how ARRIVAL could be the sign that this trend will continue…

In the cases of MOONLIGHT and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, personally I appreciated them more than I enjoyed them! I can see why they were successful and critically acclaimed, but they never fully won me over. I took more of an interest in the film ARRIVAL, a film that applies similar subtlety in its storytelling techniques, but within the usually bombastic high-budget genre of sci-fi… and the ARRIVAL storytelling deserves a close look too.

Spoilers alert… this article will discuss the outcomes of the story in order to demonstrate how and why it works. 

On the face of it, ARRIVAL is about an alien invasion, but this extremely provocative scenario provides the vehicle for subtle implicit storytelling rather than an action-packed, over-the-top, blockbuster story in the usual style.

Instead of invading or threatening humans, alien ships simply hang in air in obscure places, waiting for us to travel to them and engage them. We, as a race, have to work out why they’ve shown up unannounced and, more strangely (to audiences, at least!), why they are seemingly serene and peaceful.

Our protagonist, Louise (Amy Adams), an expert in languages, is called upon to decipher the language of the aliens in an attempt to avert any possibility of interplanetary war against clearly superior opposition (or even against fellow nations). So this becomes a story, not about alien invasion, but about communication – about why we and other creatures need to reach out to one another to survive. Telling this story from female perspective with great subtlety makes it a far more stimulating and rewarding thought-experiment than the usual whizz-bang sci-fi fare.

In a clever manipulation of our expectations of storytelling, this film presents us with a series of flashbacks showing the bereavement of Louise. Only at the end of the film do we discover these are actually premonitions of what will happen to her, which are generated by her understanding the language that the aliens teach her, which enables us and them to predict the future, and link past, present, and future in ways we could not have imagined. The aliens finally reveal they’ve done this, not because they want to conquer us, but because in thousands of years they’ll need our help. War is averted – through their subtlety and inaction, they’ve negotiated a peace treaty with us.

Conventional sci-fi stories play out male obsessions with power, control, colonialism, war and exploration, whereas ARRIVAL embodies a more subtle and feminine approach to the profound questions of life which sci-fi is uniquely placed to explore. Although there is an explosion in middle of the film (something that is poorly explained and has limited consequences on the story), the real story explosion takes place in our mind and in the hearts of our main characters, as the clues fall into place and the scenario begins to make sense. This film intentionally confuses its audience, so that its reveal can be more mind-blowing to us.

MOONLIGHT, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, ARRIVAL – in all 3 of these films, we see subtlety is used to reward intelligent audiences. Audiences who are tired of having their intelligence insulted by convention get rewarded for their patience, through stimulating and often powerful and unconventional stories.

MOONLIGHT winning Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards 2017 suggests critics, audiences and awards ceremonies are now more open to subtle and implicit films.

In return, these films have been rewarded by audiences, awards ceremonies, and critics – hopefully this signals the beginning of a new era of cinema and film storytelling, in which writers and audiences will be rewarded not through explosions or CGI action, but through the emotional and intellectual connection they make through the characters they’re watching. At WriteMovies, that suits us and scripts we love just fine. We look forward to sharing more of these with you in months and years ahead…

 

 

Exclusive to WriteMovies – To syndicate this content for your own publication, contact ian (at) writemovies dot-com.

© WriteMovies 2017

Why Hollywood is ready for subtle storytelling at last. Part 2: MANCHESTER BY THE SEA’s complex Protagonist

Why Hollywood is ready for subtle storytelling at last. Part 2: MANCHESTER BY THE SEA’s complex Protagonist

We delve into what MANCHESTER BY THE SEA storytelling and narrative techniques were implemented to make this film a subtle success.

Spoilers alert… this article will discuss the outcomes of the story in order to demonstrate how and why it works.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA tells the story of a withdrawn and passive protagonist, Lee Chandler, portrayed by Casey Affleck. The writer/director Kenneth Lonergan deliberately creates a narrative in which the protagonist resists positive growth and development. This is an important rejection on mainstream Hollywood storytelling gurus, who emphasize that change in the protagonist needs to be the driving force of the narrative – that the protagonist must strive towards a personal goal to earn our empathy as an audience. But it certainly isn’t, in the Manchester by the Sea storytelling!

In fact, this protagonist is so set against positive growth, that when presented with attractive women hitting on him, he doesn’t even acknowledge their advances, and starts fights with random guys instead at whatever bar he’s getting drunk at. It’s hard to imagine a writer rejecting the mantra of ‘positive character growth’ more vividly. The driving force of the story is Lee unwillingly forced to become a father figure again, when his brother dies and he is made custodian for his nephew. Normally, this would form the platform for a feel-good movie. Not here – Lee never willingly ‘accepts the call to action’, however many opportunities the story gives him.

It is a long time before the audience is given a reason for why Lee has become so averse to happiness and positive growth. We learn that he (accidentally) started a fire which killed his children. We even see his estranged wife moving on – she is now pregnant to her new partner. At the climax, she even tries to help Lee move on, but his decision is expressed by the line “I can’t beat it.”

Lee lets his demons, guilt and rage at himself consume him. The nearest thing we get to personal and positive progress is his final decision to move away from his nephew again, but this time to get a sofa-bed in his new apartment, so that his nephew can visit sometimes. A feel-good movie would have played out this story arc in a completely different way, and would have provided many more notable plot developments along the way to force and test his progress.

In conventional stories about men accepting forms of custody over children – such as THREE MEN AND A BABY or ABOUT A BOY (or even the upcoming adaptation of Stephen King book, THE DARK TOWER film), the presence of a child and unexpected custodianship creates a catalyst for transforming a progressive character into an empathetic protagonist. Lee, in a similar scenario, never adjusts to it and fails to find his own catalyst for personal growth – the sort of plot convention that we would normally expect to find in a screen telling of a story like this.

The subtlety of storytelling carries this film. Whereas Affleck’s performance as Lee is praised for portraying seething rage below his character’s actions, in practical terms all of these behaviors are mostly shown implicitly not explicitly. And they are played out in unexpected scenarios, rather than directly confronting issue head on like conventional stories would do.

Acclaim for MANCHESTER & criticism from some audiences against it are two sides of same coin – mainstream audience members may find this film slow and actionless compared to what they are used to, but these are the same qualities that critics and the Academy have been keen to back. Cinema has been dominated by so much heavy-handed, on-the-nose storytelling, for example in the endless succession of superhero movies, that it has left critics and pros hungry for a new, realistic, refreshing approach to storytelling, and that is something MANCHESTER BY THE SEA provides.

Next up – The ARRIVAL of subtlety in sci-fi!

 

Exclusive to WriteMovies – To syndicate this content for your own publication, contact ian (at) writemovies dot-com.

© WriteMovies 2017

John Sullivan’s 2017 Oscars Reaction

John Sullivan’s 2017 Oscars Reaction

Here’s our 2017 Oscars reaction… by John Sullivan

Well, that was unexpected… Another Oscars night to remember, but this time for all the wrong reasons. The glitz and the glamor of the awards became overshadowed by a massive screw up during the Best Picture announcement. But we’ll come back to that. Now that the results are in (unless I have the wrong card, too…) we can take a look at how the night went… I think we all know how it went. (more…)