Nothing Should Be Easy (On the Page, Anyway)

I can’t believe it’s been over a week since I last posted — where does the time go? Nothing new to report on the Wedding Comedy front; if I haven’t heard anything by next week, I’m planning on bugging one of the producers for an update. We’ll see if they actually return my calls.

I’ve been struggling to get into the rewrite of my latest script, but things haven’t been clicking yet. I suspect I’m creatively tapped out, in which case the best thing for me would be to walk away for a couple of weeks and let the well refill. But I’m going to try to push through anyway — after all, if this was an assignment, it’s not like I could tell the powers that be that I missed my deadline because I wasn’t feeling inspired. Well, I suppose I could if I never wanted to work again.

I will admit that I’ve been distracted lately; I’ve been feeling very stressed about money. My variable hours at the day job are currently working against me as my boss scales me back for the next week or so, which would be awesome if I didn’t have, you know, bills to pay. It’s really hard, having no cash in such times of economic prosperity when everybody else is running around counting the money they just pulled out of the equity in their homes and/or made in the stock market and — oh, wait, I’m having a flashback to four or five years ago. I forgot that we’re all apparently broke now. Well, even if I’m not alone, it still sucks to peek into my checking account and hear a sound akin to the wind as it whistles across the vast, cold emptiness of the Siberian plain, a sound that makes me wonder how I’m going to run power to my PC and Xbox when we’re forced to move into a family-sized cardboard box.

Okay, it’s bad, but it’s not THAT bad. I am by nature a worrier, have been for as long as I can remember — my fourth grader teacher once told me to relax before I gave myself an ulcer. I didn’t even know what the hell an ulcer was at the time, but rest assured, I worried about catching one from that day on. In Little League, I would get so wigged out about getting a hit when I was at bat that I would forget to actually swing at that ball whizzing past my head. To this day I tend to stress myself out over stuff that I should probably just ignore; early in our relationship, the Missus pointed out to me that if we were hypothetically walking through a swamp at night, she’d be looking out for alligators while I’d be worried about being hit by a falling meteor. I open my mailbox the way a bomb squad member opens a suspicious package — after all, who knows what the hell is waiting for me in there?

And yet, maybe these tendencies have actually helped me as a writer. When I sit down and try to figure out the worst thing that could happen to my hero at a given moment, by golly I can come up with an awful scenario in no time. Conflict is usually a drag in real life, but it’s worth its weight in gold in a story. There’s nothing more boring than two characters who get along, or a hero who comes up with a plan, executes it and gets what he wants. Your hero should NEVER get what he or she wants — or if he or does, then the attainment of this goal should come with unforeseen consequences. Everything has a price.

Your story should be full of reversals. I forget which script guru coined the phrase, but I’ve heard of this two-steps-forward-one-step-back story progression as “failing upward” — I like to think of it as the “but” factor. Take the second half of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, for example: Indy finds the hidden location of the Ark BUT he gets busted by the bad guys and ends up entombed with Marion. They find their way out BUT they have to chase after the Nazis to retrieve the Ark. They succeed and board a steamer bound for home BUT the Nazis catch up with them, reclaim the Ark and kidnap Marion. Indy comes to the rescue BUT, when given the opportunity to blow up the Ark, can’t do it and gets caught again. You get the idea.

I know, it’s an obvious lesson but one that many writers — myself included — sometimes forget. Everybody wishes that life was easy, including your characters. No matter how much you might wish somebody would do the same for you, don’t let them catch a break.

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4 Comments on “Nothing Should Be Easy (On the Page, Anyway)”

  1. William Says:

    I just watched The Verdict a couple of days ago — you know, Newman passing and all. If you want to see a character start at zero and get piled on by just about everyone without a shred of hope this is a sterling example. A little on the melodramatic side at times but that’s Lumet. Exactly what you’re talking about.

  2. WriterDad Says:

    I really need to see THE VERDICT again — I caught it on cable when I was 16 or 17 and enjoyed it, but I suspect that I missed many of the subtleties that I can now appreciate since I’m, ya know, old…

  3. Tim Albaugh Says:

    uh, i said that…

  4. WriterDad Says:

    Well, there you go — when in doubt, steal from the best! 🙂

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