The Self-Imposed Wart on My Nose
As you may have surmised by now, I am not a newbie to writing. Having been a professional freelance writer since 1997, I took my first $35 paycheck from the local newspaper and plastered it to the wall of my home office. But it has been a good, long while since I have taken on writing something completely foreign to me. Recent experiences with some of my freelancing clients found me shocked at my ability to take on a project that intimidated me, but they also served to remind me that I am not dead yet. There is so much more to learn.
You see, I have never written fiction and have always been in awe of people who do it well. Unlike some who watch a movie for pure entertainment value, like my musical brother who pays attention to the background music, I pay attention to the script. Some of my favorite classic movies are those accompanied by occasional narration: To Kill a Mockingbird, A River Runs Through It, The Book Thief, The Shawshank Redemption, even Goodfellas. Someone, somewhere, sat down and wrote what is heard from the screen. They set the scene describing the sights, sounds, era, and posture from which the story is to be told. I am awed by the way in which the author and screenwriter make a story jump off a script or the pages of a book into what appears to be real life. Lately I’ve delighted in listening to books as I walk, narrated by talented actresses like Claire Danes or Reese Witherspoon. When a book sounds as beautiful to the ear as it looks on a page, I am a captive audience.
Had I known earlier on about my fascination with story-telling and movie-making I may well have found my calling in Hollywood. Now, in my last third or so of life, it’s there like a suddenly-appearing wart on my nose, either ready to make itself my newfound physical trademark or to ask a plastic surgeon to remove it as delicately as possible when I see it as a disfiguring presence. I want to leave it there a while for now, however, even if it’s a tad ugly.
I sat down and began writing a story. They say one’s earliest attempts at fiction might contain elements of one’s life, so I paid rapt attention to the adage “write what you know” while changing the names, the conversations, and the events in it to protect the innocent. I began to realize that a story needs a number of elements — first, it should be able to be described in a single tag line: “A young girl stifled by her closely-knit but loving ethnic family living in a small town yearns to be free, but when that time comes, life is not what she thought it would be.” Yup — that’s me in there somewhere. Then the question poses itself — “Yes, but who would be interested?”
You see, a good story contains an engaging plot, a recognizable and consistent protagonist, solid conflict, resolution, and even some down time for a reader to take a breath between scenes. I recognize this in the structure of books as well as scripts. You read a while and then — wait for it — something amazing is about to take place.
Believe it or not, I am a Tarantino fan. Having been brought up with brothers, I am not averse to gratuitous on-screen counterfeit violence. I loved seeing the theater burn up in Inglorious Basterds, delighted in the ending of the move where Django finishes off the once beautiful but brutal plantation, and recently thrilled at the destruction of the would-be murderers of Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. But I also adored the character-building of each player on screen — the way the writer made each person believable and even predictable with dialogue, situations they found themselves in, or even the failures they experienced before getting to the real money shots. Yes, I am as titillated by the “special features” and behind-the-scenes details of a good DVD as I am by the movie itself. A good reason for it is that I finally get to meet the writer who made the entire film possible. Writers do rock.
So right now, I guess you could say when I watch a really good movie and marvel at its script, I am like a guy watching his favorite rock star up on stage, dreaming of walking even a mile in his shoes. I am not overly-attached to what I write. Words are plentiful and they are free. There is always a better way to say something, a new idea to throw in or a reason to change things up. I will do whatever works to make my stab at fiction both readable as well as marketable.
In the meantime, I intend to have a helluva lot of fun in this brand spanking new world. And to lick my rookie wounds, I might try to use some concealer on that wart in the meantime.