Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Correct Way to Write

Yesterday, I received a few responses in the comment section from Snatchface and thought she brought up a good issue worth talking about.

"What's it called when you make the audience think you're talking about something else? Like it sounds your talking about porn, but you're really talking about Billy Joel CDs.

And how is that different than this mystery scene? Because I find myself writing the other a lot, and I want to make sure I'm approaching this correctly."

Here's my answer to the first part... I think what you are referring to in the first part is a lighter form of Clash of Context. In pure Clash of Context, a whole world is created out of smashing two different cultures together - Mr. Show was brilliant at this. One of my favorite scenes of theirs being the TV evangelists praising Satan. In its lighter form, one situation is laid upon another. A boss firing an employee or an employee quitting his or her job becomes a couple break-up scene. Seinfeld is really good at this. Your example of people talking about Billy Joel Cd's while the audience presumes they are talking about porn flicks (makes me wonder, in a porn context, why someone might be called Piano Man. Is that an upright?) I call that Fucking with the Audience (Messing with the Audience, if you prefer).

Fucking with the Audience is a term I came up with during my brief stint as head of the writing program at Second City prior to moving to Detroit for a few years to work with Second City there. The writing program then was still very young and I was able to nail down a curriculum for the first three levels before leaving. A type of scene I noticed in sketch revues and, again Mr. Show along with Kids in the Hall, is one where we think one thing is going on and then there's a paradigm shift that enlightens us to what is really going on. They are tricky to write and I think they work best if there's someone in the scene who, like the audience, presumes one thing and discovers the truth. Where it's tricky is making sure the events and dialogue are valid and don't get too contrived to keep the illusion going. Or worse, that the paradigm shift is "It was all a dream" or the whole thing's just a Three's Company-like scenario overhearing a conversation about baking a cake and thinking its about a sexual affair.

What's the difference between that and a Mystery Scene? I don't think the mystery scene necessarily has to have a paradigm shift. It's more about generating mystery through off-beat behavior. And in a mystery scene, what the audience thinks is going on may actually be what's going on.

But what I really want to address is your concern about doing a type of scene correctly. Types of scenes are just templates. If you have a scene that's rambling or feels flat, it might be helpful to figure out what kind of scene it is, or what kind of scene you'd like it to be, so that you can rewrite it and make it more focused. They are helpful tools. There is no patented tried and true formula to writing or approaching scenes correctly.

There are the basics to always work on - format, effective dialogue, efficient stage directions, rhythm, etc - but when it comes to the actual writing of a scene, it is what it is. You are an artist. When you sit down to write, it's like throwing a lump of clay onto a pottery wheel. You might intend to make a vase and walk away with a tea pot. Now, you can mash what you got and start over, you can cut off the handle and the spout and make it look more vase-like, or you can just let the tea pot be a tea pot and try again for a vase.

Writing is an art form. It's a process. The real skill is learning to serve the story and scene that's developing and worry less about whether or not it's correct.

Hope that's helpful and not too long-winded. Thanks for the question, Snatchface, and good luck with your writing.


Got this e-mail from Matt Slaybuagh...

Hello Blogging friends -
On Wednesday, March 19, a small by determined group of theatre bloggers will blog about the value of theatre. Here's a summary of what we'll be attempting to tackle.

What is the "value" of theatre? We need to figure out what it is that theatre does well and better than other art/entertainment forms. And then we need to figure out a positive way to describe those things to people who do not already identify themselves as theatregoers. Ideally, we'll describe things that most theatres have in common, regardless of the differences in the content of their productions. Some suggested topics: community, group experience, theatre is local, theatre is sensually rich.

We hope that you join us that day. You could write your own post, comment on ours, or make fun of us. It's all up to you.

Also, please pass this on to your blogging friends. I'd like to include everyone, but I don't have as many email addresses as I wish I did. I'd hate for anyone to be/feel left out.

Also, please let me know if you do plan to post that day. I'd love to put together a list of all the inter-related threads.

Thanks so much,
Matt (Slay)

So, tomorrow I will write about the value of theater.


Yesterday, I asked...

"To try to help them shed some pounds, polar bears at the Indianapolis Zoo are being fed what?"

28% said "Tofu"
- Polar bears love tofu. Especially when mix into a penguin stir fry.

14% said "Cliff Bars"
- I don't know about polar bears, but I could devour enough Cliff bars in a day to completely offset any health value they have.

No one said "Celery"

58% got it right with "Sugar-Free Jell-O"

According to the AP, Gorillas on Weight Watchers? Polar bears slurping sugar-free Jell-O shots? Giraffes nibbling alfalfa biscuits? The days of letting visitors throw marshmallows to the animals are mostly history at zoos around the country, replaced by a growing focus on diet and nutrition that parallels the fitness craze in humans.

Way to go, America. We're fat, our house pets are fat, now our zoo animals are porking up. First thing we need to do, get rid of the TVs in the chimpanzee pens. Then post pictures of thinner versions of rhinos on the walls of their area for incentive. And, be real, folks. I don't think we should rule out liposuction for the hippos.