Lightning doesn’t strike out of nowhere

I had a new idea for next quarter’s feature screenwriting class. It sort of just came to me.

Is that how it works now?

Truth is, it never worked this way as long as I could remember. I had to actively think about what story to write, or to use my past experience. However, being a writer, you have only this much of life experience — ever enough. If you were that experienced, you wouldn’t have time for writing, would you, Bear Grylls? (No, I don’t mean hiring ghostwriters, thank you.)

I have been told since I came here that “To write what you know” is a piece of shit advice that anyone can give to a writer. How do you expand beyond writing your own roman à clef?


Here are some of my lessons learned (aka. lightning-struck-me moments) over the past two quarters at the program.

#1 A good idea can go south if you don’t have good execution or good structure.

#2 A ‘Meh’ idea can surprise you if you think outside the box.

#3 Sometimes fresh characters visit you in your desperation.

#4 No one is responsible to make your story better than yourself.

Stop complaining you get shitty comments or uncorporative cohort.


The two points below are wisdom from a beloved sage professor —

#5 Always take meetings whenever you’re given one. It’s not a waste of time. You need practice in meetings.

What else more imporant that you need to do, darling?

#6 It’s not all about who you know, but more importantly, who knows you.

Being a nobody in the industry, you need to expose yourself.


The next time you wonder why X Y Z happens to that lucky bastard, it should occur to you that the bastard is always out there — busting off his arse to get hit by the lightning.

Back to my point at the beginning — So, I had an idea about a new screenplay. Were I not in the program, wouldn’t I be thinking “what’s next?” as constantly as I do now? Nope.

Because I put myself into the Lightning Zone.

Before you know it, miracle/inspiration/idea might really strike you, hard.

Picture Credit: energyrealities.org

And oh, lastly —

#7 Be patient with thyself.

You can’t rush art. 
*I’ve tried. And I failed, like the others.

Writing Comedy and etc.

I couldn’t sleep. 
I slept too much. 
I fell asleep too easily. 
I was officially immune to coffee.
My jaw hurt waking up from a night of incessent teeth-grinding.
My head was at the verge of explosion while asleep. 
I stress ate. 
I did everything to avoid The Very Task I was supposed to do.

WRITE.

Picture Credit: feedyoursoul.com

I still haven’t finished the first draft yet. Yes, I promised myself to do so weeks ago. But every week before the class, I had to go back to the pages and polish until it was presentable. The pressure. The excuse…

My record was horrendous. One time I brought ten pages, half were killed on the spot. (*Cause: Activity vs. Event; Events move the story forward.) Another time — six weeks into the quarter, my structure was suffering, which made it irrelevant to discuss the pages. (*Cause: The story was about a competition, but the rules were vague.) It sank without a trace.

Last week, the teacher stayed late to critique my work while most of the classmates left. She offered some amazing directions. I wanted to make her proud so badly. But when I was home, I panicked.

Can I really pull it off?

Because I chose comedy, no laugh meant no go. But one shouldn’t do his piece just for the sake of jokes. I kept reminding myself. At the library the next day, a new character came to me and hit me hard. He, was a Scot.

At the reading yesterday, I chose two scenes around my new Scot character — the beginning of Act II A (Page 30) and the Mid Point (Page 60). Not having heard my characters speak for weeks made me antsy.

When it came to an end, I realized that I got more than a few laughs. The forever nurturing instructor said, “These are good pages.” I hadn’t heard that comment on me after the second week, now it was Week 8. “You are writing a comedy of the Chinese girls traveling to England and we as the Americans are the audience. Culture and comedy don’t normally blend. But your story and the jokes came through.”

I was emotional. I could have cried. But I knew my beloved instructor wouldn’t like it. “Why haven’t you cried yet?” is her “How do you do?” I fought the tears to the back of my head. Then I confessed, “It is hard.” She nodded and confirmed, “No doubt about it.”

I could live on those compliments eating nothing else for days. No wonder writers without constant validation tend to go loco.

Another classmate was fighting against a seemingly obvious notion. The instructor paused the clock and took time with her. She even chided the impatient classmates who tried to be smartasses.

I was really touched. That to me is what a great Teacher/Shifu/Sensei is. I texted her after the class to thank her again, knowing that under her tutelage, we were in a safe domain being insecure writers — to be who we are, and unapologetically.

Yeah, I am a lucky bastard. I know it now. And I know it better.


Act II on Acting

At the acting class yesterday, we had the Sensory Practice.

 

After the relaxation meditation, the instructor asked us to imagine an apple on our palm and interact with it. Probably because I love apple (and Apple with a capital A), and I just had two the day before, I was able to recall every detail about an apple. Enough to make my mouth water.

Then the instructor critiqued on everyone’s performance. Some need to relax and let go. Some hadn’t been specific enough. When it was my turn, he commented, “Intense concentration you had there. It brought out the vivid details and I saw it.”

I couldn’t believe it. I just received a phenomenal comment at an acting class for screenwriters.

Truth is, I feel like an underdog every day. Being the only Chinese in the screenwriting program makes me nauseated at times. Most locals have their previous chapter writing. Me? Next to nothing. But I don’t feel that ‘excluded’ anymore as I get along with my cohort. When the instructor made this comment about me, I suddenly felt a surge of confidence, which I hadn’t experienced for a long time.

Focus, concentration, whatever you call it, is a huge advantage for a writer. And now I am ‘certified’ to be pretty good at it — better than the locals. Such knowledge will help me to travel further, I think and I hope it will.

Some other things we discussed yesterday —

How to stage pain. Surprisingly, if you have actual pain somewhere over the body, don’t centralize your attention there. Move to elsewhere. Or it would jeopardize the moment as you create the feeling, because the pain would catch up with you and overtake your attention from staying in character.

How to stage hotness. Think about a particular spot that is hot. It can be armpit. It can be the tip of your lips. Because they are real, as you act upon it, it won’t look unreal.

When you want to be seen onstage as you find yourself in an awkward position having your back against the audience, you need to upstage your scene partner.

The last part of yesterday’s class was presenting another scene with a group of four people — two actors, one writer and one director.

This time I was the actor. When the four of us were onstage for critique after the performance, I noticed that nobody commented anything on my performance. The teacher merely said matter-of-factly that “You always know your goal onstage.” He asked everyone else on the team how they felt. But not me.

You see, I put hours of work on it. It is only natural that I wanted to hear something, anything. When they clapped and were ready to move on, I added how my own experience helped me in this role. This was the first and only time I felt compelled to say something. I just wasn’t confident or big enough to let it slide by. I felt the urge to be heard. But nobody seemed to notice or care. I panicked.

Whenever the acting class was over, I felt like I need to be alone. I just wanted to get out, fast. I felt like I could slap someone. I felt worthless, again. If that was my day as a wannabe actor, I couldn’t imagine what a real actor’s day was like before she “makes it.”

As I biked home, I was hot in the chest. I was even a bit angry. I felt I was giving thoughtful comments on everybody’s performance, but they almost never gave me anything. Why are you people so stingy with words when it comes to me? I felt like a Goddamned drama queen.

Then I snapped out of my own world — Acting really is hard. You want validation. You want to hear (good) things about your performances. You don’t want to hear criticism. Then when you get nothing, you want to hear anything, even criticism. You also feel you don’t have the right to give any critique. And yet, when someone gives constructive feedbacks, she earns my respect.

But please, please, give me something. Not the cold shoulder. Por favor.

A friend once said, “Well, it’s not always about you.”

Okay, fine.

 

Yours truly,
YZ