Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The story only you can tell

Write what you know. It's often a good place for beginners to start, but it can also be limiting advice. Maybe the key is to write a story only you can tell. There's a reason why so many doctors, lawyers and cops bring their real-life experiences to TV and film, right? I don't think you should spend ten years on a career diversion to observe things, but I do think you might consider what special skills, talents, perspectives and experiences you bring to your writing. Maybe it's the perfect real-life setting, or a knowledge of a unique art form, or the intricacies of an interesting job. Maybe it's an entire concept - or just some really authentic details. We love true stories. Whenever I pitch things to people and mention that it's something from my own life, I feel like people always perk up.

Here's something I hadn't yet realized when I posted about this back in '08. We always think our ideas are really original, but in actuality, producers and executives have been pitched many incarnations of the same ideas over and over. Infusing your idea with something that really happened to you might be the way to make your project the most interesting version - and your experiences can also make you an attractive choice for existing projects. When I was a the agency, I'd hear agents champion the unique qualities of their clients to sell them as the perfect pick. Joe is a single dad! John plays hockey! Rachel is a total slut! (Okay, maybe not that one.) But you might as well use any unique traits you have to your advantage.


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8 comments:

A Pi said...

Haha "Rachel is a total slut"

That's some good advice, it was worth repeating.

Kristan said...

"Write what you know. It's often a good place for beginners to start, but it can also be limiting advice. Maybe the key is to write a story only you can tell."

{nods}

Although I do think that's why you get a lot of books about writers, lol...

Fortunately there don't seem to be as many movies/TV shows ABOUT the industry. Perhaps because it takes so long to make it that people have inevitably spent years doing other things.

Jeff said...

Write what you know is in some ways miss-leading, while none the less true. Your experiences are really the only thing thing that informs your writing(it comes from you after all). This doesn't mean say, if you're airplane pilot, you must write stories about being a pilot(though it might be a good option). Another way to "write what you know," is to connect your emotional and personal experiences to a character/situation you a writing. For example, Mathew Weiner has never been an Ad-man, but he has been in the position of both, mentor and mentee. Thus, we get Don Draper's relationship with Peggy. As Joss Whedon once said(credit where it's due). if your characters aren't, in some way, aspects of you our your personality, you're probably doing it wrong. Tarantino was a struggling clerk at a video story, so instead of writing a true story about himself, he wrote a story about the way he wished his life might be, thus we see True Romance. Hitchcock was never in any of the crazy situations of his movies, but he repeatedly expressed that he was an extremely fearful person. Thus, he used his own hang ups, to inform his story telling.

TooAdorkable said...

I think this is really important too for fellowship applications where you have to write biographies and statements that sell you as an interesting person, not just a writer with a spec.

said...

wonderful..................................................

CJ at Creating a Comic said...

I agree with Jeff that this is good advice, but people have a tendency to take it way too literally. Gustave Flaubert (a man) wrote Madame Bovary, after all.

Dan Williams said...

I agree with Jeff and CJ, while my take on it focusses on THEME. If you've been in a relationship and learned something, say, one person can't keep giving and giving while the other keeps taking, then this is the THEME, or the distillation of the experience down to its essence. Then the writer uses the THEME to create a series of scenes that illustrate it. The THEME gives you the ending, the beginning and the midpoint. So, yes, we should write what we know, and what we know is THEME. We also might know a STORY WORLD and can write about that.

Margaret said...

"Rachel is a total slut"

Ha! You probably don't want the job that that's a recommendation for.

Reminds me of another piece of early advice I once got, "Don't sign with any agent or manager who also asks you out."

Enjoying the blog. :)