Monday, October 20, 2014

Learning To Write With Clint Eastwood

Wouldn't that be an awesome book? "Learning to Write With Clint Eastwood" is the kind of book I would buy, and then I would buy a second version just to make out with. I don't know how much writing Clint Eastwood actually does (Hollywood screenwriting is, as I understand it, a weird process) but he kicks so much ass just by getting out of bed in the morning that I'm sure a book by him titled "Learning to Write With Clint Eastwood" would be totally worthy of my sloppy, waggly tongue love.

Let's not dwell on that sentence too long.

Sadly, this isn't about a book by Clint Eastwood, this is about Clint Eastwood's direction. Some time ago I watched an interview in which Mr Eastwood described his method for directing. What he does is he has the actors perform a scene, and he makes a list, in his mind, of what (if anything) he needs to change in the scene with his magical director voodoo. Then he instructs the actors to change just one of the things they were doing and has them perform again. Afterwards, he corrects another different thing from his list and has the actors perform again.

He does this until he gets to the end of the list and then, then, he does something you might not expect. He tells the actors to just forget everything he's said and perform the scene without thinking about it.

And that final take is the performance he uses. That last performance, when he's told them to forget everything he's told them, is always the best one.

Now I don't know how you feel about Clint Eastwood's directorial career, but I certainly think his methods are working for him. Clint Eastwood films have this tendency to lean towards what the critics call "Pretty fucking good, actually."

All right, now let's stop talking about movies. Let's talk about writing. Today is a special blog because we're covering two of the things I love the most - movies and writing (but not writing movies.)

Wow is there a lot to remember about writing. Have you seen the list of rules? There are blogs and books and university degrees and weekend classes all dedicated to teaching you how to write and there is a lot to remember. Damn.

Well, I think it's time we started teaching ourselves the way Clint Eastwood directs.

Let's begin at the top. What's the number one rule in writing? Don't be boring. The worst sin your book can commit is being dull. Don't do it.

Now let's write a story. Let's write two. Let's write a short story and a couple of flash fictions. When we write it, we're going to focus on achieving one single goal. The story cannot be boring. Not one single dull moment. That's the only goal. I don't care how messy and screwed up your POV is or if you tell more than you show or if every single character is a ass-kicking, vampire hugging, marathon running, cancer curing mary-sue. It doesn't matter. Just do not be boring.

Got it? Okay. Now let's write some more.

Next up is to kill your passive writing. You have one job with your next story. There will not be a single passive sentence in the whole piece. Not one. Even if the story is boring, even if you use the words "baby blue" to describe every dog, tree and chicken kiev in the whole story. Whatever you write, keep that shit active. Do it a couple more times. You have one task.

Okay, I think by now you have the idea. What we're doing here is focusing on improving the writing one element at a time. Learn what works and why it works. Rehearse the bits you suck at. Don't even think about the rest of it. Just go one thing at a time.

And then forget about it. Don't think about all these little bits you've been practicing and just write. Write. Write. Write.

The idea here is that you do one thing with enough thought and focus and practice that you make it natural. This isn't going to make your first drafts perfect, but it might save you time in editing later.

When I first started writing, I wrote enough passive sentences to build a house. It's taken me a long damn time and a lot of effort to unlearn that habit. That habit died hard. But it did die. Passive voice is no longer my default. When I do write something passive, I catch myself doing it halfway through the sentence. It feels weird to write passive. Through dedicating my practice to one thing, I've corrected a lot of future mistakes before I could make them.

Now we're moving on. Now I've got new deficiencies to work on. And I'm sure you do. And this is a way you can train yourself to stop. Then, when the rehearsal is done and you go on to your magnum opus, you're ready to focus on the big picture. That's what we want. All those little details, all those basics about style and language should be natural for you.

So get to it, friend.

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