When you write a book and people relate to it in some form, if they also write (or aspire to), they’ll ask questions. I’ve heard many that have sparked fascinating conversations because I enjoy helping if there is any way that I am able.
Listening to all of them, however, I find that we over-complicate the entire process. It’s obvious to me from what conundrums we writers will muck about within before we simply get to work. We overthink dialog, overthink plot lines, overthink how and why characters react. It doesn’t simply ruin the fun, it ruins the work.
This universe is organic and so should your fictional universe be.
When people ask me how I write dialog I tell them something of a lie: I tell them I don’t write dialog, I transcribe it. That is, of course, not entirely true. I am writing dialog but I’ve allowed my own mind to fool itself into believing in the characters so much that they’ve become real to my brain. I simply let them talk and I write down what they say. I’m taking dictation at that point, I’m not mired in any process other than the organic process of two entities communicating with one another.
Take a tip from Deadpool here: let those characters be utterly self-aware. Let them know they’re both real and fiction.
Otherwise, you’re having to direct them, to think for them. It’s more than a bit schizophrenic, isn’t it? But I’ve found this to be the most efficient way to get out of the story’s way. If you think the Silver Screen is something to behold concerning world-building, however, you’re not utilizing all the potential of that gray matter ‘twixt your ears. Your mind is a Hollywood Studio without budgets. Use this. While you’re at work, ponder these characters. While you’re at home and not writing, ask them questions. Just let your mind go to work. As Stephen King would say, let the ‘Boys in the Basement’ have at them—before long, your subconscious will build them for you.
The whole point of this process is not to drive yourself to the point of a disassociative fugue state–it’s to get as much manual thinking labor done and out of the way of your frontal cortex as possible. You’re automating your own writing processes.
Every line That You Love from a film, TV show, or book you read, take special note of and remember it
You’re not going to steal it, you’re going to remember what the line triggered in your mind that made it memorable for you. Your brain loves nothing more than to build new synapses to connect information within itself. I don’t think you know just how much it loves to do this. Picture Dave Chappelle as the crack addict, scratching his neck while asking, “Ya’ll got any more of those… Informations?” The brain is constantly looking for ways to make itself more efficient but, instead, we force it to tweet and text all day. No wonder most of us stay frustrated.
Let me give you a tangible example.
There is a very poorly made film called Hellraiser: Bloodlines made many moons ago. In this film, there is a line. Pinhead, the Thing that appears to be the villain, states to another demon, “Temptation is illusion. But the time for trickery has passed.” Much of the film, beyond this and another line or three, is forgettable. Yet for years, this line stuck with me. My intent was never to plagiarize the line directly, but to dissect whatever the line triggered in my own brain to make it stick so.
Well, temptation is illusion, isn’t it? How often do we find the wanting vastly superior to the possessing? So the line has Truth within. It is well-written and well-delivered, thus it has some literary merit. It’s concise and comes directly to the point of itself. No superfluous banter. It is, in a word, clean.
By remembering that line for years, and letting the Boys in the Basement work on it, the notions behind it gave me more than one story idea.
You are Not Automatically Pertinent Nor Special, You are Among Hundreds of Thousands of Writers
Forget it! You can’t compete on the level you want to compete on. Because no such level exists anymore.
Have you ever noted how much horrible fiction is out there?
That’s the level you want to compete at? Up there with horrible?
Our digital age has made it utterly impossible to be distinguishable from anyone else unless you have something that makes you somehow unique. Maybe it’s money, it’s a family name, it’s a YouTube moment that shouldn’t have happened but did, now there’s Viral Fame to be had. But no matter which way you choose to see it, there is so much content out there that you’d do yourself a solid by forgetting that notion of trying to have ‘market value’ with your stories and characters. Don’t put your work on such an evil cross. It deserves more than that.
What do you want to read? What do you want to see as a screenplay? Write that. Nothing else. Perhaps later you find yourself in the position of actually selling a work. Perhaps part of that contract is slightly altering your work to fit a certain media. Then, and only then, should you even consider such as market value.
DEVOUR THE MEDIA YOU LOVE
If you have a favorite movie, episode of a TV series (or whole season, whatever), a book or three that you relish returning to over and again, then do just that–return to them again and again.
I remember Seneca once telling Lucilius of the importance of not jumping from one too many philosopher to another. There are so many choices with media today. It’s easy to consume too many forms of it in the name of research and bettering our crafts. For myself, I’ve found it very useful to go over the films and other forms of media that appeal to me again and again, rather than seek out too many other choices. Of course I add new titles to my collection as the years pass. But I don’t own a television, nor do I have Neftlix or cable. Thus, the films, shows, and media I consume are limited by design. When enough friend recommend new media to me, I pursue these recommendations and, if useful, I add them to my collection.
If you’ll remember the old adage, it says that necessity is the mother of invention. It does not say that abundance is that mother. If you want to expand your talents, then learn how to limit yourself. Necessity will then take over, and you might just find that you had more ability to imagine that world you want to build than you thought. The Stoics had a wonderful notion of purposeful denial. Something like fasting. From time to time, simply deprive yourself of the TV for some hours. What would you do if you had no TV? What then? Turn it off, then see where your mind can go without the distraction. You don’t have to sell it (yet) but why not?
Necessity is that mother, not Abundance.
Go Build that World and Enjoy It
There is no reason not to enjoy the world you build. Have you ever seen Chris Nolan’s Inception? Cobb and Mal, before their worlds collapsed in on them, clearly loved building those imaginary worlds. They built beaches and cities and imagined a family home inside of a metropolitan tower.
Build your world like that. Like Cobb to Nolan, you are the Director of your fictional universe. If it doesn’t stand out to you, then why the hell would it stand out to anyone else? Every writer is different and uses different processes. If you want to take some classes on writing, then by all means, do so! But, at the end of the day, you won’t overthink The Muse, nor will you defy the wishes of your own self for too long. You know what you enjoy, you likely as well know what you find lacking in your favorite forms of media. Go with that first—what you don’t find and what you’d like to find.
Last But Not Least Find a Subject That Interests You
Mythology, religion, history, science—something that interests you. Then dive in, research it, and use it to fuel the worlds you want to build. Your world needs substance and context. Think again about front loading your process as much as you can. You want your frontal cortex to be as free to write as possible, so you load the Boys in the Basement with enough information about things that interest you as possible. When pen hits paper, or fingers hit the keys, you won’t have to think so much. You’ll have building blocks for you world.