W3 Wise Words on Writing

W3 is a monthly newsletter for writers on a variety of topics from technique to the psychology of writing. It appears by the 15th of each month. More information is available from www.wisewordsonwriting.com

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

No.32 A Strange Writing Lesson

I was curled up on my Parisian friend's couch. Rain splattered the windows, making staying in the best possible alternative. I'd spent the last three hours writing, which fulfilled one childhood fantasy of writing in a garret in Paris (although this was nicer than my fantasy garret).
I watched Marina's DVD ON THE ROAD TO PERDITION then I listened to the bonus: the director talked about how he made his creative decisions. It was one of the best writing lessons I've had. The DVD is available on http://www.amazon.com/ for as little $2.99 used, but be careful of the different zones.

Rather than explain that Paul Newman was the surrogate father and loved his surrogate son Tom Hanks, at a wake, Newman sits at a piano and plays a song with one hand. Hanks joins him and plays the harmony, also, with one hand. The look they exchange and Newman's pat on the back tells everything.

In the background we see Newman's biological son's face reflecting hatred and jealousy. The camera angles down so only the son's legs show, effectively cutting him out of the relationship.
In another scene Hanks' son has seen him kill a man. Hanks and he talk about it in their Model T. They make no eye contact until the last moment of the scene. There is another separation that the director did deliberately. He shot the scene in such a way that the bar of the driver's door separates father and son. It is so subtle that no one would say, "Oh look at the bar of the driver's door emphasizing the separation between the father and son." Yet visually and psychologically it is there.

Whenever there is a death, water is involved. Sometimes it is rain, another time it is water in a bath tub. Repeated symbolism can be effective. The more subtle it is, the more effective.
To show Hanks' son as slightly alienated, the boy is bicycling in the opposite direction of people going home from work.

The director uses light and dark and many other techniques to show the action of his movie.
Scene by scene he covers the little details that show what he wants us to see.

As writers we need to think as carefully as that director on how to work the details to convey the message we want to our readers.

When I went back to my writing, I rewrote the chapter I thought I had finished, using the director's message. We learn from the strangest places.

"If any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts; and if any would write in a noble style, let him first possess a noble soul. " Joan Didion

"Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them; and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them." John Ruskin

"I've always thought of writing as active thoughtfulness thinking taken to a physical level made manifest on paper, where the thinker is able to account for his thoughts, reflect on them, question them, revise them, and ultimately, communicate those thoughts to others." Mary LaChappel, talking about Sarah Lawrence College in Jan/Feb 2005 Poets & Writers

Watch your favorite movie. (Mine is LION IN WINTER http://www.lioninwinter.com/) And watch it through. Then go through scene by scene without the sound to see what you notice in sets, color, props and any other details.


Author Linda Oatman High (http://www.lindaoatmanhigh.com/) will teach a writing workshop in Tuscany! Join Linda on July 2-9, 2005, in Cortona, Italy for an instructional and inspirational workshop. Package prices include meals, accommodations, and tours. Reduced registration before February 30th. For more info: http://hometown.aol.com/upcoevents/differentdrummerhomepage.html Tel. 717-445-8246

Sadly the library in Salinas, CA is closing because of funding problems. John Steinbeck's papers are stored there.

Although the American Library in Geneva is a warm friendly place that keeps me in Reading matter, it was a real joy to be in the Boston Public Library with its hundreds of thousands of books.
I met Louisa May Alcott when I was in Boston. No I do not need to be committed. Jan Hutchinson, who is the curator of Orchard House Museum, the house where Alcott lived and used as a model for LITTLE WOMEN did a one-woman show as Louisa May. She totally transformed the small theatre at the Boston Public Library, with her tales of nursing during the Civil War. She "confessed" that when people stopped to meet her because of her fame as a writer, she put on an apron, covered her hands with flour and pretended to be the maid. Orchard House as many small museums, could use help with funding.


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