Friday, May 9, 2014

What Writers Can Learn From a Deranged Four Year Old.

When we write a novel or a screenplay we are basically imagining things. I know that a very basic statement, but I feel this is often forgotten when our brains are so consumed with other things that aren’t creating: grammar, craft, and the worry of reviews that don’t yet exist.

Not only are these things not imagining, they take away from our ability to fully immerse ourselves in the world of our characters, and, instead of experiencing their emotions, our own fears and doubts creep in. This leaves us with one foot in our world and one in the world we are trying to call into existence when we should leap into our worlds with both feet.

I’ve brought a very special teacher here today to assist you with this problem. I would guess he’s about four years old and maybe a little deranged. His name is Tom. I know this because I heard his mother say, “Tom, stay where I can see you.” She’s said this about eight times because Tom keeps easing away from her.

You see, Tom seeks adventure. He’s tired of this mundane world where his mother sits with her friends on a coffee shop patio, and her friend’s comment about how cute he is and ask him stupid questions. “Tom, did you like that shirt I got for your birthday.”

It’s clear from Tom’s face he has no idea what shirt the woman is talking about. In fact, I get the distinct impression that if you wanted Tom to regard the gift of a shirt with anything other than indifference it would have to be made of chainmail. He gives her a nod to appease her.

Tom turns his back to the table of ladies, and they disappear. The whole boring world disappears and is replaced by another, a world that is filled with monsters and Tom is going to kill them all with his sword.

Okay, he doesn’t really have a sword. It’s a stick he’s picked up off the ground. Still, one has to respect how much young Tom has committed to his role of Tom, the Destroyer of Monsters.

He flails around with a violence and passion that has caused many of my fellow coffee shop patrons to lean away from him. The boy is not some dainty fencer. He is a deranged berserker, powered by an extreme hatred for monsters. I don’t know what got Tom into killing monsters, but, from the looks of him, it seems personal.

As I wait for the stick to fly from Tom’s hand and embed itself in some unsuspecting coffee-drinker’s eye, I hear Tom mumble as he slays, and I realize Tom is not fighting monsters alone. He has a partner in his war on monster kind. Twist! It’s a good monster, and these two have each other’s back. If a monster tries to sneak up on Tom, the good monster leaps to his aid and scratches out the bad monsters’ eyes. If the bad monsters team up on the good monster, Tom rushes to his side and chops off all of their ‘dirty monster heads’.

I’m curious how this alliance formed. What turned Tom’s monster against his own kind? Why do this Berserker and Monster trust each other so unconditionally? Are they the only thing keeping each other alive or are they truly friends?

I wish I could tell you I found out. But, unfortunately, Tom didn’t act out any flashbacks showing how this alliance formed. Nope. Once all the bad monsters lay dead on the coffee shop patio, Tom would walk back to where his mother sat and start the whole scene over…and over…and over. I was impressed by how little variation took place in his reenactments, but after about the third time through, I found myself rooting for the bad monsters.

But, that’s okay. Tom’s not here to teach us the craft of good storytelling (remember that part about him being four). He’s here to teach us how to pretend. Scratch that. He’s here to teach us how to pretend intensely.

Tom is able to pretend intensely because he doesn’t give a shit that I’m not impressed with his storytelling. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks (He doesn’t even care he might injure some innocent bystander just trying to get caffeinated). Tom is having too much fun. Tom is so good at not giving a shit it’s become like a super power. It allows him to be standing next to his mother and her boring friends one moment and standing shoulder to shoulder with his monster partner the next as they take on a squad of bad monsters. Tom is the walker of worlds.

This might have been a superpower we all possessed at one time but we traded it for the concern of what others might think of us. How sad is that?

Stephen King’s first rule of writing is to write for yourself. Whether you’re a fan of King or not, you have to admit it seems to have worked out for him.

So, the next time you’re writing. Stop writing, start pretending on the page, pretend intensely. Fill your work with passion and fun. Be like Tom the Destroyer of Monsters and don’t give a shit what others think. Jump into your world with both feet. Canon Baaaall!