How To Solve All Your Problems, Fast

advice, storytelling

Be honest.

It’s that simple. Be honest, all the time. With yourself and with others. Your problems will go away.

We lie because we feel the truth is unacceptable. Whenever you lie, you diminish yourself. You send yourself a signal that you matter less than the feelings of the person you’re lying to. You help neither of you. You create problems.

There are many ways to lie. Every time you tell yourself you have to do something you don’t really want to do, that’s a lie. If you work at a job you hate, that’s a lie. If you’re with a person you don’t love — or if you feel you can’t tell him or her anything about you — that’s a lie. You betray yourself — by acting like you like someone you don’t like, pretending you don’t feel violated when you do, saying you don’t want something that you do, keeping your mouth shut when you have something to say — and when you betray yourself, you chip away at your integrity, your boundaries, your wholeness as a person.

Don’t tell any lies. Start small: don’t tell any lies for an hour. Hold yourself to it, and see how freeing it is. Because all the decisions have been made for you. You don’t have to apologize or feel guilty or feel sorry — you made a pledge to yourself. You’re being honest now. Then do it for an entire day. Then take it from there. What you’ll find is everything else falls into place — because you’re no longer conducting your life as a negotiation of other people’s needs and feelings and opinions but instead as an expression of your own.

Tell the truth in your writing, and your writing problems fall away. Cliche, lagging, dullness, explaining, vagueness, awkwardness, predictability, wandering, flatness, imprecision, thinness, weakness, laxity, jerkiness, wordiness, passivity, exposition, choppiness, boring, talkiness, slowness, undefined, static, tired — these are problems of not telling the truth. The minute you force truth front and center into every moment of your story — every moment of your life — your writing leaps off the page. You don’t have to worry about all that other stuff.

Don’t tell the truth, and it shows up on the page and in your life. Fix it in one area, and you fix it in all areas. Don’t settle for any less than you deserve — full honesty, full integrity, vital boundaries, pages that live.

Characters Should Be Seen, Not Heard

advice, screenwriting, storytelling, T.V. writing

The perfect screenplay is a silent movie.

Seeing the story transpire firsthand makes us witnesses. We participate. Instead of hearing the characters relate how they think and feel about what happened, we witness what happened and we relate how they think and feel for them. We tell their story for them, in our minds and to each other. When a character talks, she takes the witness stand, and we nod out in the spectator seats. When we watch her act, we take the witness stand, sitting upright and paying attention to detail and thinking carefully about what we know of her thoughts and feelings so we can get the story right.

When the entire story happens in the minds of the audience — with the audience as witness — audience becomes storyteller. We care more, we’re invested more, we believe more what we see with our own eyes. Because we’re in the witness stand now. We’re the real stars of the show now — we’re telling the story.

Whenever you can, let your audience tell the story. Give us all the information we need, and let us piece it together. Then it’ll be ours. You have no greater goal.

Don’t Leave Money On The Table

advice

You control your bank account. You decide how rich you are.

Your wealth is the emotional account trapped inside you. You’ve got one, whether you acknowledge it or not. It’s the 401k your company provides — even if you didn’t sign up for it, it’s there, and your subconscious provides matching funds, which could be accruing as we speak, if you bother to add your 6% a day.

Don’t leave money on the table. Your emotional vault is the only resource you have, and if it’s bankrupt, or if you don’t know the access codes, or if you hate it and resent its existence and think it’s dumb, or if your Dad didn’t know his code, you lose capital. Right now. Because emotional capital accrues, like money in the bank. It builds on itself, it grows interest. The more you have, the more you get. It magnetizes, it draws energy, it gains power, it acquires strength.

And it translates into real-world capital. Because the more emotional capital you acquire, the more you use it. When you know your emotional account is flush, you act with certainty and confidence. That certainty allows you to relax and conduct your business intuitively, guided by the freedom a tremendous fortune affords.

How do you build emotional wealth?

Here’s what I do:

1. Write down anything you remember from your dreams when you first wake up. Often you won’t remember anything. But the more you do it, the more you remember. It’s not about interpreting — it’s about stretching open that connection to whatever’s in your head — keeping the line open. Even a few words will do. If you really can’t remember anything, try writing “what did I dream?” with your dominant hand, then writing whatever words come up with your non-dominant hand. You don’t believe that you don’t know your own mind, but whenever I’ve done this, my hand writes stuff that makes sense and that I didn’t know was there.

When you go back and read your dreams, you get a real portrait of where you’re at emotionally. Just now, I flipped through my journal. Everything sounded a lot more lucid than it felt at the time. The process of translating the abstract into language might crystallize meaning — we filter for the pieces that make sense to us. What stops you up in this is knowing you’re not describing the dream exactly right — but that’s what stops us up in writing. Better to get anything down on paper than to wait until we’re getting it down perfectly. Practicing this every morning keeps our blocks open: it’s like injecting Heparin in the IV tubes of the mind. Just get anything down, because these are pieces pointing to where you were that day. And as it turns out, the pieces add up to a very evocative whole.

2. Take a walk every day. There’s something about walking that stirs up the unconscious and clears access to your emotions. It’s like space clearing for the mind, and it literally readjusts your spine. Probably better to go alone, at least a few days a week, so you’re forced to confront yourself. You can try walking meditation, which Natalie Goldberg describes in Writing Down The Bones. Or you can listen to music or audiobooks. Or think about your story. Or think about nothing at all. Observe stuff, zone out. Be with yourself.

3. Meditate. Meditation was on my to-do list for a long time but I never got around to because I thought I was too busy. Meditation will change your life. I’m not fancy about it — sometimes I do it lying down. Sometimes sitting. Sometimes while walking. Usually it’s 15 minutes. I have a meditation timer on my iPhone, and I try to write down what I think about on the first bell and on the second bell — another way to track what’s going on inside me. Because this is the most valuable thing I have. My goal is to be still. Do nothing. Sometimes that means repeating a mantra that occurs to me in the moment — that’s how “Be More You” came to me. I was feeling anxious that day about staffing, and that’s what bubbled up from my subconscious: Be More You. Sometimes my thoughts run, and it’s a cacophony of all the junk of my daily life that I can’t seem to stop. And that’s okay — because being kind to yourself means allowing whatever is. Abandoning resistance. So if your mind needs to race and get all worked up, let it. Sit there with it quietly, because maybe all it needs is to be heard. And then eventually, if given enough time and enough hearing, it will run out of things to say, and then it will just be you and your mind, observing silence.

4. Write a couple of lines in a journal before you fall asleep at night. This is hard for me. But I do it because it’s good for me. If I really don’t want to do it, I’ll make myself write one sentence or one word. Again, this is about keeping that connection open and keeping a record of the flags that show up on the page. Very often you’ll be surprised by what shows up there, and it’s only when you’re forced to articulate on paper what’s in your head that you see what’s really going on inside you. What’s the point of owning a fortune if you don’t know the access codes? This is where you learn the access codes. Slowly, with practice.

5. Go there and stay there. You know that thing you don’t want to think about? The thought that provokes anxiety — that’s it, you just thought of it, then you pushed it back out of your mind. You know what it is. It makes you a little sick to your stomach. It creates a hot, burning sensation in your chest. You do not want to think about it, ever. You certainly don’t want to talk about it. You choke up a little when you try to talk about it. Go there and stay there. The ability to find those feelings and stay there, without running away is what makes us storytellers. When you feel vulnerable — humiliated — powerless — alone — do not resist. Do not puff out your chest and make yourself look bigger. Make yourself smaller. Look for chances to knock yourself down a peg or two. Your dangerous place is not the bottom: it’s the top. Stories are not told from up high. They’re told from below. Do not resist humiliation — embrace it. The more you dismantle your ego, the more you will access your own emotions, and the more your audience will access you.

Do not leave your matching funds on the table. They’re available right now, and if you let today pass without seizing and investing these funds, you’ll have nothing to draw on when it’s time to produce. Investing here, every day, is how storytellers get rich, quick.

Successful Writers Force Confrontations

advice, drama

Confrontations create your success.

You confront someone you want to be in business with — you pitch them your idea — they spark to it or they don’t — and you move forward. Emotionally. Because you’ve stretched. You’ve sent yourself the message that you stand your ground. You’re not the kind who backs down from a fight.

You confront yourself every time you sit down to write. Confront everything you don’t like inside you. You’ve got the balls to sit there with it, stay there, dredge it up and display it for the world.

You confront the possibility of your own failure, every time you hesitate. Every time you don’t know what to say or how to say it.

You force your characters to confront each other. Conflict is confrontation — whether your character confronts another or confronts himself. These confrontations are the gears that grip and pull us through the wheels of drama. Or — you build a story around a character avoiding a confrontation. We anticipate the character confronting herself — or being confronted.

You confront loved ones — friends and family and significant others — and let them know where you start and they stop. You confront them to let them know how much space you need, and unstructured time, and uncluttered thinking to be able to produce. You have a duty to protect your instrument. No matter how much they need you, you need you — to refill the well, to nourish the senses, to spark, to feel alive. Sometimes this looks like being lazy, being selfish, jerking off, staring into space. If you don’t do these things — and if you don’t confront the people who want to soak up your time and keep you from doing them — your creative life dies — and that’s when confronting yourself at the keyboard becomes so difficult. It’s not difficult because you’re a bad writer or because you’re not brave: it’s difficult because you failed at this earlier confrontation — guarding your creative space. Or confronting the emotional truth inside you. If you’re uncomfortable with your emotional junk, that’s a confrontation you’re avoiding, and it’s standing in the way of your writing. It will show up in your writing as cliche, flatness, dullness — and it will show up as resistance to writing at all. Because the keyboard will feel like a confrontation with yourself.

Confrontations are positive, not negative. Confrontations are how we find out what’s going on. We force subtext into text. We clarify our situation and act more efficiently and productively once we have all the information at hand. We ask questions, of ourselves and others, then we reevaluate and move forward. Without confrontation — in our writing and in our lives — we remain stuck and frozen and distanced. Confrontation connects us.

Be More You

advice

When studios and networks and publishers and lovers reject us, we react by shying away from the edges of our personalities.

“I’m too edgy for broadcast.”

“I’m too quirky for mainstream distribution.”

“My books don’t fit their established molds.”

“I’m too messed up for someone to love me.”

Consciously or not, you censor yourself. You revise your personality to appeal to the customers.

This is the wrong move. No one respects someone who chases them, who conforms to their tastes — not a studio, not a network, not a publisher, not a lover. And they’re all lovers. No one desires someone who changes to suit them — because most people don’t know what they want. We know it when we see it. It’s not about a specific personality — it’s a quality — it’s the way you make us feel. It’s defiance. It’s standing out from the crowd. It’s the ability to deliver fresh, original, entertaining stories — whether in the room or out at dinner. It’s pride and confidence and authority. That’s who we all want to be in bed with.

The worst thing you can do is blend in with everyone else. It might work immediately — when they want someone — anyone — to fill a hole. But tomorrow, they’ll get the next interchangeable guy to fill that hole. And you’ll be there saying “but I fit in so well ….”

Be more you. Stake the territory at the edges of your personality, then show them why they need to set up shop there.

You Have Been Radicalized (Why Write Like A Pussy?)

advice, novels, pilots, screenwriting, T.V. writing

How do I know you’ve been radicalized? Because you’ve got something to say. Speech radicalizes you.

Don’t neuter your words. If you’ve got something to say, say it. Say it bold. Don’t fear conflict: cause it. Tension and anxiety rise as you near the heart of your subject. Trouble creates story. You are dangerous now. You find dangerous places, and you stay there, despite discomfort. You do it because your audience turns to you to do it for them.

Remove weakening language. We weaken our words because we feel uncertain. If it’s worth saying, it’s worth writing, and if it’s worth writing, it’s worth writing with conviction — brave, confident, stripped to its most radical core.

Weakening language weakens you. Write the weakening language because it allows you to write at all. Padding comforts you enough to venture out onto the field or into the arena or down the dark alley. Once there, remove it. Leaving it implies you don’t deserve to be radical, that you must pad your self against the world seeing you. But you do not need to speak if you’re not going to be heard. You diminish your authority — in your own mind and in the mind of the world — and make it harder to be radical next time.

Everything you say and write prints on a boldface sign the world sees. The world takes you seriously, and we consider every act of speech you make to be a billboard on which you speak to the world. So make it bold, make it clear, and make it count.

Following are weakening words. To experiment, take a current writing project and save it as a new file. Run a search for these words and remove all of them. Yes, you’ll have to go back and replace some of them. But say goodbye to most of them for good — they were the incompetent employees whose absence you celebrate. The draft emerges tighter, cleaner, leaner, less burdened. It stands as a sign blasting your good ideas rather than a manifesto burying them.

WEAKENING WORDS:

well, sure, you know, seems, much, in, bit, I, you, [first names], here, and, then, once, [-ing], when, suddenly, now, appears, to, that, right, okay, [repeated words/phrases/ideas], is, little, might, maybe, first, probably, well, so, among, all, the, but, hi, how, are, try, start, begin, which, about, why, continue, slowly, for, what, it, it’s, actually, totally, very, [adjectives], [adverbs], almost, [cliches], pretty, [anything ending in -ly], however, [anything ending or sounding like -ish], oh, own, ?, [comma clauses], just, really,

Anyone have anything to add?

How To Be Profound: Top Ten Tips

advice, drama, novels, pilots, screenwriting, storytelling, T.V. writing

So your neighbor is all “why won’t you stop calling cheese stores and telling them you’re throwing a benefit for the homeless they have to donate to” and you’re all “I jack fancy cheese stores out of cheese because it’s profound.” Because everything I do is profound. Because I’m doing it, it’s profound, and the fact I’m doing it means something. Tricking fancy cheese stores into donating me cheese is a mirror standing before my life, showing me what I am.

My superhero power is a curse: I see meaning in everything around me.

A life is a novel in practice: meaning and symbols and structure and symmetry lie everywhere you look, waiting to be exposed. Being profound means that even when your life centers around tricking fancy cheese stores into donating you free cheese, you see meaning.

So here they are, MY TOP TEN TIPS for how to be profound:

  1. Go Beneath The Surface. First, show us what’s on the surface. What’s on the surface is a symptom of what’s beneath the surface. Profundity is like acne: it erupts all over your face as an expression of your body’s secrets. So once you’ve established what’s on the surface, you’ve got a basis to ….
  2. Drill Down. Reject face values. Whatever you see on the surface of your world — your parking ticket, the pollution in the bay that bars you from surfing, the garbage juice you just poured all over your apartment — exist as indicators to show us what’s really going on. Parking tickets are society’s notices that we shouldn’t linger here, this isn’t our place. We can’t surf because we live in our own filth, waiting for the rain to wash it all away into the toilet that is our bay. Garbage juice … eh, see Reason #2. Why the fuck doesn’t it rain inside?
  3. Get Open. If you are closed, it’s going to be a hell of a lot more difficult to see how things relate to one another. Because you’re too busy guarding the fortress, making sure none of them relate to you. But once you make efforts to open up, you can …
  4. Connect. See the connections between one thing and another. How does one thing resemble another? What’s bothering you? What makes you angry? What does it remind you of? Anger is a flag that something is important. What makes us angry often reflects in our own life.
  5. Get Free. Some people fear connections — between ideas, between things, between themselves and others — because they’re afraid of being tied down, afraid of tying this Buzz Ballads II 2-CD disc compilation to the time you drove around all night in Atlanta listening to that song about rubbing lotion on someone, wondering if some boy was home and if not what he was doing and why he wasn’t home and with whom wasn’t he home, to the times you used to sit out on the curb as a child waiting for your father to get you and wondering the same thing. They’re afraid of tying these things together because of the fear there’s no end, no bottom, and because of the fear that once locked into one series of connections, that’s it. You’re done. You’re never done. Once you choose freedom, you’re always free, and all the things and people in your life can say and do whatever they want, and you’re still free. You’re never tied down to one story.
  6. Understand. How do you interpret what you see around you? It doesn’t matter whether it’s right or wrong. It’s true and it matters because you say so. Your understanding is a precious gift you share with the rest of us. And you share it by how you show one character looking at another, how you focus on a specific object on a table. That look and that object help us see your understanding through your connections, and they help us form our own.
  7. Get Bigger. Some people live a small life and tell small stories. Others choose to be profound. A life isn’t small because of a person’s profession or status or friends or attractiveness: a life is small because a person chooses not to grow. Every time we’re faced with an obstacle we make a choice: we shrink or we get bigger. Profundity gets bigger, and circles in other people under its wing, and takes the long view, and the deep view, and the transparent view.
  8. Get Inclusive. The most shallow people and ideas are the most exclusive. Anything that excludes — people, ideas, interpretations, experiences — clings to the surface, fights any effort to discover the meaning therein. Because that meaning is dark. Being profound means going deep, going broad, getting significant, including everything and everyone. I’m looking at you Hollywood.
  9. Get Pervasive. Profundity understands the way you do anything is the way you do everything, and the way the world does anything is the way the world does everything. Everything is the same all the time, and nothing really changes though things appear to change all the time. What looks to us like change are things happening on different scales or in different forms, and it’s our job as storytellers to reveal how these things have not changed but are in fact the same. Profundity is intense, thorough and complete.
  10. Find Origins. The roots of our current world originate in the past. To change the future, we change the present. Profundity honors the link between today’s garbage juice and the garbage juice of every waitress job you’ve ever held, and the garbage juice of the world, today’s parking ticket and tomorrow’s medical lab results and the mountain of social paperwork that documents and drives us through our roles in life, as determined as we are to resist.

Okay! Now it’s time to get out there and be profound.

The Perfect Story: How To Tell A Joke

advice, comedy writing, drama, jokes, screenwriting, T.V. writing

A joke is the simplest, most perfect kind of story. It has a subject, a protagonist (sometimes me, sometimes you, sometimes society, etc.) a moment of drama (surprise), a theme. Jokes trace entire journeys in the most direct possible routes.

Learn how to tell a joke, and you’ll know how to tell a story.

Here are some tips I found on a Taco Bell napkin in my handwriting:

1. Leave something to the imagination. Jokes are like sex — if you give it all away, it won’t be fun anymore. But if you leave something implied — leave part of the story of the joke incomplete and give enough detail so the listener makes natural assumptions and finishes it in their mind — they get that little jolt of surprise we call comedy. No matter what kind of story you’re telling, it’s always a good idea to let your audience put two and two together.

2. Most good jokes have a victim. Not all comedy has to be mean. But even the most benign jokes — if funny — are going to target some person, group or entity. Without this there’s no traction, no bite. No feeling of us versus them, with us winning. That feeling of us winning is what makes jokes fun. Most stories need that feeling.

3. Shorter/tighter/better. Cut as many words as you possibly can while still preserving a clear meaning. Rearrange and rearrange words so that you get away with less words but clearer meaning. More direct with less words = funnier. I highly recommend all writers use twitter regularly: it forces you to write short and pithy, and you get instant feedback. There’s nothing like writing to an audience to quickly sharpen your skills. It’s why TV writing and blogging are so good for writers.

4. Always place the funny word or idea at the very end of the joke. Rearrange the syntax however you must so the funniest word falls last. This same principle holds true in all kinds of storytelling — whether going out on the funny word or the dramatic look or the fire that’s destroying all the evidence, we need to end on the idea that will have maximum impact, that we want to LAND with the audience, SURPRISE them and stick around in their heads as long as possible afterwards. Often, you’ll be tempted to tag the joke with an extra little kicker — top yourself with another phrase or idea to make it even funnier. It doesn’t help. If the tag were funnier, you would have just said the tag. All the tag does is dilute the surprise of the first joke. Leave it out. Also, tags make your audience think just heard the joke — and they mistakenly laughed at the setup. They stop laughing so they can hear your real thought. Don’t talk past the close. This holds for dramatic storytelling as well. Go out on the most dramatic moment.

The only time you would consider not landing the joke on the funniest word is if you’re deliberately playing against the traditional expectation of the audience to hear it that way, in which case you’re making yourself the butt of the joke, by choosing to make a conventionally bad joke, knowing the audience knows that you know it’s a bad joke.

5. Hard consonants are funnier. K and CH sounds. D/P/T. Also odd numbers. There are funny numbers — no one knows why. Sometimes trading out a word for an equivalent but funnier-sounding word can make the joke much funnier, but it’s hard to tell where till you try it. There are always substitutions you can make in any story to tighten the screws and make it land harder.

6. References. Constantly be on the lookout for material. Standard joke material gets old very fast. Right now robots and zombies and Ed Hardy and Jon Gosselin and diarrhea are big in the joke-making world. But good jokes are all about surprise, and if you refer to any of these (or a variety of other well-worn topics), you’ll get no surprise from anyone remotely used to hearing jokes. If you look around your own life, you might find a half-drunk bottle of Pimm’s on your living room floor and a stack of Taco Bell napkins covered with joke-writing rules . . . uh, anyway, the more specific the reference the better. And the more unexpected, the more pertinent, and the more completely the specific detail tells a full story — that’s what makes a joke funny.

7. Rule of Threes. First example is to establish. Second to reinforce the pattern. Third to bust expectations. Third example is the funny one. Third should be a twist and/or a build on the first two.

8. Setup/Punchline. Not all jokes have to follow this format (in fact, I’m a big fan of the one-liner and also the more narrative long-form joke, which rambles and is more about making a character out of the person speaking.) However, the setup/punchline — the monologue joke you see on late night talk shows — is the most basic joke form, and it’s stuck around for a reason. People get it. One-liners leave more to the audience’s imagination, the result of wordplay or basic twists of logic or reversals of expectation. But because they’re free-standing — the audience has to do more thinking to understand them — these jokes feel a little more dangerous. Monologue jokes use these techniques as well but feel safer because they always provide a basis for understanding (the setup), so the audience knows exactly what the joke is about. The setup is two lines long, then the punchline is one line. The setup gives just enough information the audience needs to understand the punchline, and nothing more. Anything more confuses or dilutes the focus. I had a mentor who said scenes should be structured like a monologue joke — a good tight setup, then end on a punchline (not necessarily a funny line, but a punchy one that lands). The punchline to a comedy scene is called the “button”.

9. Show the irony. Where do things not match up? Where’s the disconnect in the situation you’re talking about? The disconnect is the heart of the joke. Human nature hates things that don’t match up — it upsets us, so we laugh at it. Once we laugh at it, we feel like we’ve won. We’re in control. We’re no longer upset. That feeling of us winning is very important. Structure your jokes to focus maximum attention on what doesn’t match up — what’s unfair or ridiculous or absurd or opposite to the way things ought to be. This works for dramatic storytelling as well: if you go into every scene with the goal of finding what doesn’t match up and then shining a spotlight the size of the sun on that, your story will shine.

10. Exaggerate — or downplay. Don’t play scared and don’t stay in the middle. This goes back to my rule about risk.  If you’re going to compare something to something else — compare it to the most absurd example (not necessarily the biggest or most outlandish of its kind — finding that right, most absurd example is part of the art of joke-making. You know it when you see it.) Or conversely, downplay the comparison. Deflate the joke. This is another  way to play against the conventions of joke making. You can do this if you want to really serve the victim of the joke — in other words, this person is so pathetic, I’m only going to compare her to something slightly more pathetic. She doesn’t even rate a good comparison. Drama happens at the extremes, which is why jokes are little drama-nuggets.

11. Take a common word or phrase or assumption that people make and use that as the setup. Then twist it around, invert it, reverse the meaning, turn it back on yourself … turn the setup into a punchline. Play around with the words until it sounds funny. Inverting the familiar is essential in drama.

12. Callbacks. Everybody loves callbacks. Because people like to feel smart, and callbacks make us feel smart for understanding the link between this joke and the last joke. The two jokes multiply their comedy coefficient. There’s also a symmetry to it that human nature responds to. Remember how human nature hates when things don’t match up? Callbacks help us feel like things are matching up. It’s reassuring. It all comes together in the end. Another lesson for dramatic storytelling.

There’s no trick to callbacks (though improv people who do Harolds and stuff like that are masters of the form). Just take a word or reference or element from an earlier joke and use it as a word or reference or element in this joke. Preferably your final joke. And preferably your punchline. You can do as many as you want, but doing too many starts to feel like resting on your laurels. A good dramatic story becomes satisfying with the right callbacks — references, words, gestures, symbols, characters that remind us of where the story was and where it’s going. But again, too much of this keeps the story backward looking when you’re trying to move forward.

And it’s that simple. You can read some of my jokes on Twitter by looking to your right. I’m gonna go see a movie.

Be Charmed Rather Than Charming

advice

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.