Be Charmed Rather Than Charming


Famous art collector, advertising guru and Nigella Lawson-husband Charles Saatchi has a new book coming out in September —My Name is Charles Saatchi and I Am an Artoholic (Phaidon) — and a reality show on BBC2 called “Best of British,” in which he plucks 6 artists from obscurity and puts them through his own art school for three months.

In this interview, Saatchi reveals his mother-in-law’s advice: better to be charmed rather than charming. This is an important concept for storytelling. No one wants to listen to someone who goes on boorishly, delighting at the sound of their own voice. And no one wants to watch a story that confidently powers on in complete indifference to the existence of its audience in the darkened theater or living room beyond the screen.

As we craft our stories our goal should be to be charmed, both by the people set to enjoy them and the characters that inhabit them. Let the audience be the charming ones, the interesting ones, the funny ones; let them shine, and that spirit of fresh eyes, humility, openness and generosity will live in the characters. The other way is assuming that we’re the most interesting ones in the room, and that everyone wants to listen just because we’re the ones speaking the loudest. Charming the loudest isn’t charming at all.

What advice do you and your wife give your children?

Nigella’s mum gave her an invaluable insight into nice behaviour. According to Nigella her advice went something like this: “It is better to be charmed than to charm.” By this she meant that what makes people feel good about themselves is feeling as if they have been charming, interesting; in short, have been listened to. For her, the notion that one should oneself be riveting or aim to be quite the most fascinating person in the room was a vulgarity and just sheer, misplaced vanity. Trying to be charming is self-indulgent; allowing oneself to be charmed is simply good manners.

via 30 things about art and life, as explained by Charles Saatchi | Art and design | The Observer .

Start With the Ship In A Bottle

advice, novels, pilots, T.V. writing

Battlestar/Buffy writer Jane Espenson’s blog about writing specs is still incredibly useful, even though she’s not updating it anymore. I perused it over a break today and saw this entry in which she discussed her friend Jeff Greenstein’s advice that pilots’ opening images should contain the series in microcosm. Following is the very persuasive list he composed. (I agree with this idea and would argue it’s a pretty good idea for novels as well.)

In the Cheers pilot, the teaser is Sam with an underage kid who’s trying to get a drink using a fake military ID. Kid says he was in the war. Sam asks what it was like. “It was gross,” the kid replies with a shudder. “Yeah, that’s what they say — war is gross,” Sam replies. The teaser gives you a sense of the place and the guy.

The Battlestar pilot has that great opening scene with Number Six and the emissary from Earth. The scene says, “Remember those metal robots? They look like humans now. And they’re going to fucking kill you.”

The Lost pilot starts with a close-up of an eye opening, and the aftermath of the plane crash. This show is about consciousness and strandedness and tragedy.

Will & Grace starts with Grace in bed with her sleeping fiancé, yet on the phone dishing with Will about George Clooney’s hotness. It’s the perfect encapsulation of their odd relationship.

The Desperate Housewives teaser: In the midst of tranquil suburban splendor, Mary Alice blows her head off.

The West Wing pilot: In a bar, talking off-the-record with a reporter, Sam Seaborn is distracted by a hot girl who’s giving him the eye. This show is about politics and sex (well, it started out that way), and the “backstage” lives of people in government.

via Jane Espenson.

Preston Sturges: 11 Rules For Box Office Appeal

advice, comedy writing, features

Eleven Rules For Box Office Appeal:

1. A pretty girl is better than an ugly one.

2. A leg is better than an arm.

3. A bedroom is better than a living room.

4. An arrival is better than a departure.

5. A birth is better than a death.

6. A chase is better than a chat.

7. A dog is better than a landscape.

8. A kitten is better than a dog.

9. A baby is better than a kitten.

10. A kiss is better than a baby.

11. A pratfall is better than anything

Writing and Rambling – What Keeps Readers–and Agents–Reading

advice, novels

Literary Agent Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency gives a great basic checklist for what will keep agents, editors–and God forbid, readers– reading your novel:

“1. A strong opening that not only captures my attention but introduces me to the world and to the characters. Who are the people, where are they, what are they doing, and why should I care? All too often I get manuscripts with openings that jump directly into the action and I have no idea whose side I’m on, or why the confrontation/argument/battle etc. is happening. In medias res is all very well and good, and appears to be all the rage these days, but I still want to know who the protagonist is pretty quickly, and what about him/her makes them the center of this story.

2. A good idea. I know this is vague, but the truth is you need some sort of driving concept behind your story. What makes this book different, and why are you the one to write it? This is just as true of fiction as of nonfiction. The idea needs to be intriguing, whatever the genre you’re writing, and it needs to be developed so that it progresses with every chapter, starting at the very beginning.

3. Pacing needs to build, with some quiet moments thrown in, but in general working toward the climax in an upward movement, like climbing stairs.

4. Strong conflict. Is this real? If I get a hint that everything hangs on a misunderstanding that could be solved with a phone call or a simple conversation, I’m done. So make sure there’s some real meat here.

5. Real characters. I mentioned this above. Watch out for protagonists who are too perfect, as well as villains who are all evil. These are stereotypes, and they’re BORING. Flawed characters are much more real and interesting, and they also get themselves into much more entertaining situations, often without you trying very hard.

6. Voice. Agents talk about this all the time, and it covers a lot of territory for me. Mostly it’s about what your narrator sounds like in my head. Vocabulary, chattiness, thoughtfulness, etc. Are they intellectual, sarcastic, uneducated but smart, somewhat slow, ethnic–and this is more about word choice than anything, so please don’t try to get elaborate about writing accents phonetically–young, old, etc.? Whatever it is, it should be distinctive to the story and the character. It should fit, there should be a reason for it, and it should be consistent.”

via Writing and Rambling – What Keeps Readers–and Agents–Reading.

The Book-Club Hustlers


To be successful, most book writers now have to peddle their books door-to-door at book clubs:

“The focus on book clubs has spurred the evolution of a new breed: the author-hustler, the writer who succeeds in large part because of door-to-door salesmanship. After the writing comes a new challenge, one of industriousness, perseverance, and charm. Since 2000, Adriana Trigiani has averaged two to three book clubs a week by phone, and this past April, she led “The World’s Biggest Book Club,” a 300-person event run out of New York’s Convent of the Sacred Heart High School (the very set of Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga’s [mis]education). Chris Bohjalian, whose book Midwives was an Oprah selection in October 1998, began phoning into groups after he was forced to cancel his book tour in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Requests keep increasing, and this year he anticipates talking to 120 groups. As soon as The Divorce Party came out, Laura Dave was reaching out to book clubs at the suggestion of her editor and publicist, both of whom recognized her book’s potential appeal to the middle-aged woman. “Every time I speak to a book group,” Dave says, “almost without exception that book club refers me to another book club that emails.” Dave has done over 100 discussions in person, by phone, and on Skype. She says that Gwyn, the middle-aged narrator of her second novel, is a composite of some of the women she’s met in groups.

The average book club tends to want neither an airplane novel, nor Proust, but something in between: a novel relevant to the members’ lives but also with enough texture for a good discussion. And so reaching out to book clubs is becoming a marketing strategy for more literary works. “I think it’s a rare writer I know who hasn’t done any,” says Henkin. “A lot of people like me, literary writers, whose reputation was to sit back and be snobby, well, it’s really changing.” Khaled Hosseini, author of the The Kite Runner, allegedly took a year off and went to every book group he could. Despite being a bestselling author, Robert Alexander, whose historical fiction trilogy is based on the Russian Romanov family, continues to schedule chats. As does Dara Horn, who has a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard and has taught courses in Jewish literature and Israeli history at Harvard and at Sarah Lawrence College. Even the notoriously shy Jhumpa Lahiri will awkwardly sit through a discussion of her own book—at least when that discussion is attended by Ellen Silva, one of NPR’s senior editors. (In that case, Lahiri’s publisher paid for her to get there.)”

via The Book-Club Hustlers – Page 1 – The Daily Beast .

Paul Feig's Lessons In Comedy Writing

comedy writing, T.V. writing

Paul Feig–writer/producer of Freaks and Geeks, Arrested Development, The Office–gives The Guardian some great comedy writing lessons. Here’s one:

“3. Make them cringe

“Regardless of where or when your story is set, it’s important for the people in any comedy to act just like real people act. That means not speaking in a constant stream of pithy one-liners. It means getting into the same sort of horrible, awkward situations we all get into every day. Easily the most funny, fascinating and cringeworthy time in anyone’s life is school. It’s the only time that you get lumped in with a whole bunch of people without any filter; it’s not to do with skills or interests, just age. And you’re forced to spend every day with them for years. With Freaks And Geeks I wanted to write scenes that people would squirm while watching because it would seem so familiar. Seeing people cringe is the jackpot for me. The thing is, not everyone wants to sit through the exact same situations they already had to go through at school. So it’s the jackpot that nobody wants to win!””

via Paul Feig gives Sam Delaney some lessons in comedy screenwriting | Culture | The Guardian .