Movie snacks, socks and stories to tell

Last week, I managed to find some time to watch four feature films. I didn’t watch them in the theatre, although, there is one I plan on grabbing some hot buttered popcorn for.

Watching movies at home is great. You don’t have to buy overpriced drinks and popcorn or nachos. Settling in with a gin and tonic or a tumbler of whiskey sounds like a good idea. But I do think having whiskey during movie night depends on what movie you’re planning on watching. I have yet to figure out kind of movie would be appropriate with the hard stuff.

However, I can think of a couple of actors who would go well with a shot or two of Lagavulin or Macallan. My mouth waters at the thought. Considering I haven’t found the right movie that goes with a good whiskey, I defaulted to a good herbal tea for the four films. Yes, that’s boring. No, I don’t care. Just know that when I bring out the whiskey, it will be for something special, something unique.

As for in-home movie snacks, I guess I could make my own popcorn. Unfortunately, I don’t have a popcorn popper. I could use one of my stainless steel pots to make the popcorn but then, I’d set off the smoke alarm and ruin a perfectly good pot. Not really interested in a hot air popcorn popper even though it’s considered the healthy alternative to using hot oil. And I’m ambivalent about microwaved popcorn.

Since I refuse to put in the work to make good theatre-worthy popcorn, snacks of choice would be mixed nuts or rice cakes with almond butter. That might be a little too healthy for some folks but that’s how my tastebuds roll. I had the rice cakes.

Screenwriting is always about what people say
or do, whereas good writing is about
a thought process or an abstract image
or an internal monologue, none of which
works on screen
— David Nicholls

Now that the discussion of in-home movie snacks has been dealt with, I’d like to say watching the four films was the first time I was consciously aware I was viewing the films as more than just as a person looking to be entertained by what was on the screen.

To be more specific, I was looking at lighting, the choice of camera angles and the type of camera shot. I practiced figuring out within the three-act story arc where act two and act three started. Not sure if I was all the successful. Yeah, I was getting nerdy.

Call it research. Call it learning. Call it absorbing everything like a sponge and reflecting on it.

And before I started watching the third film, I came up with another idea for another novel. Let’s just say the idea was inspired by one of the first two films I watched. A re-imagining, perhaps. Maybe more like a deconstruction? Anyway, it probably won’t look anything like the source of the inspiration after I’m done figuring out the characters and fine-tuning the storyline.

Considering I have two writing projects I need to focus on, coming up with another future project seems a little ambitious and is begging for trouble when it comes to time management. It’s probably safe to say that for a lot of writers, coming up with several story ideas that have enough traction to become novels or screenplays is something to relish and be grateful for. It offers the choice to work on a couple of ideas simultaneously or one by one — finish one project and start on the next.

When I started writing, I didn’t know if I had a story worthy of becoming a book inside me. Then, after I wrote The Raven Sonata, I didn’t know if there was another story tucked inside me that I could sink my teeth into. To continue to hone, to stretch and push, and to get more ambitious with my storytelling skillset.

It turns out I have more than one story to tell. It’s not like I have a ton of stories dying to be told. I have no idea how many stories I have and how many of them will end up on paper. And I don’t think I’m too concerned about that right now. Nevertheless, I’m surprised. Surprised that I like being a storyteller. Surprised that I’ve found the one thing that allows me to express myself in a way where I simply couldn’t give a fuck what anyone else says. And I’ll never stop being surprised by the tiny pile of story ideas I’ve acquired, all with not-fully developed characters, waiting to play with me.

I know I’m becoming more ambitious with the stories I want to tell. Being more ambitious requires figuring out how to execute those lofty goals a person has set for oneself. That’s where I am now. Complexity and simplicity have been ubiquitous qualities that have shaped all aspects of my life. So, why wouldn’t I have that enter my writing. It’s a matter of allowing the complexity and simplicity to flow and express itself in the written word. It’s not an easy process but the journey has been rewarding, so far.

Although my focus is on the second novel and the short film screenplay, it doesn’t stop me from thinking about the most recent idea. It will remain an idea that will incubate and grow on its own. I estimate working on the story arc for this new idea won’t happen until late summer/early fall unless something changes and I find myself scratching notes on file cards sooner than later.

It’s always exciting to come up with new story ideas that immediately grab hold of your imagination. All fun and games until you realize you have to prioritize. Either I reel in my imagination or pull up my socks and manage my time so I can get this pile of stuff done…

I guess I’ll pull up my socks.

Playtime desired

The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection, there is no story to tell — Ben Okri

Because I accepted the challenge of writing my first screenplay, I’ve been slightly obsessed, for the last few weeks, with finding movies — feature and short — to watch. Or at least add them to my ever-growing ‘to-watch’ film list.

I have four feature films I’d like to watch, hopefully, this week, assuming I can find the time. The four films in question are Milk, American Gigolo, Neruda and Lust, Caution. It’s a diverse list. I threw in American Gigolo just because I needed to see what I was missing out on when the film hit theatres and I was only 12 years old. All four films are rentals. If I like them enough, I just might want to own a copy of them.

And then, there is Wong Kar-Wai’s classic In the Mood for Love. From the snippets I’ve seen of the film, it is visually sumptuous and I’m in the mood to be seduced by what the director has to offer and to discover his deftness as a storyteller. I managed to find a copy of the film and I’m looking forward to watching it.

Because of the diversity of the viewpoints of these directors, I’m excited to discover how they spin and weave a story on screen. I’ve already viewed a number of short films online at a site called shortoftheweek.com. There are some beautiful gems on that site. So much to absorb and to think about. The art of storytelling is endless fascinating to me.

And I desperately need to play with my characters. It’s annoying that I’m still so busy. Maybe I can finally start shifting focus onto my boys and girls. I’m somewhat surprised they’re not harassing me every waking moment.

I suppose a reason for this could be I’m already engaged in the silly nonsense of looking longingly at my playmates while I’m doing something I don’t want to do. It’s not one of those hideous lovelorn looks two people give each other. It’s more like ‘You know I’d prefer to spend time with you, getting into all sorts of trouble, rather than doing whatever responsible adult thing I’m doing right now, right?’

All work and no play make for lack of writing bliss. Boo. Yeah, I want regular playtime with my characters. If you met them, you would want to play with them, too. However, it’s an exclusive relationship. We’re all mutually possessive of each other and we’re not particularly concerned with how dysfunctional that sounds.

Gotta make this short. I need to put in my playtime.

Following your instincts

Your mind knows only some things. Your inner voice, your instinct, knows everything. If you listen to what you know instinctively, it will always lead you down the right path — Henry Winkler

When you pursue something that has become a passion for you, there will be days where you question your instincts.

Most likely, the question of why you want to follow your passion isn’t in doubt. But maybe discovering your voice, your vision, and finding the best way to express it, is what has you stalled in the process.

It can be a struggle trying to find your voice. I’m still finding my voice. Although I am a lot closer to knowing what that voice is and letting it resonate with anyone who will stop and listen. In the last six months, what matters to me, what resonates with me as a writer/novelist has never been more clearer. And it comes back to what I fundamentally believe in. That and I’m arriving to a point in my life where I couldn’t possibly give a shit what people think about my choices or my opinions on any given subject. I’m not here to please everyone. Is anyone here to please everyone? Pleasing everyone is fucking impossible.

Last week, I sent my writing mentor the first 13,000 words of the next novel for his reaction. What I hadn’t expected was how quickly he read those 13,000 words. And I hadn’t expected him to be so effusive and positive about so many things regarding the novel and my growth and ability as a storyteller. It’s not that he’s stingy with the positive remarks. He always has something good to say and the constructive criticism and ideas he offers is always insightful, wanted and appreciated. He’s one of the best people in my life. There were so many great observations he made that my head is still swimming.

To be honest, having anyone say complimentary things about my storytelling abilities is humbling as fuck. I’m not one for accepting compliments easily due to the fact I naturally default to feeling more than embarrassed as soon as one is given to me. And I also have the nagging feeling the person (depending on who that person is) is trying to butter me up and weasel something out of me.

I’m a nice person. But nice doesn’t equal doormat.

Anyway, my mentor’s positive reaction to the novel (aka my writing project) means that my instincts are right with regards to wanting to write this story and to work with these characters. This is a confirmation that I am on the right path with the kind of stories I want to tell.

And to be honest, the story chose me. The characters chose me. Why? I don’t know. But it is a story I want to tell. If you’re wondering what the story is about, I’ll have to disappoint you by only revealing that the story seems to fall into the genre of crime fiction. Really don’t want to say anything more until I’m done writing the first draft… well, maybe until it becomes an actual book. I have no timeline for when that will happen.

When I started working on the story, I wasn’t concerned with the genre. I am more concerned with telling the story. Slapping a genre label on it has never been a must-do at the start of any writing project. Now that my mentor has plunked it into the graphic crime fiction genre, I have more research to do. For now, it just involves reading. And hopefully, more field research which I’ll get the chance to engage in if I team up with the right individuals.

There is a lot more work to do for this novel. Most people cringe at the thought of more work, period. But when it’s something that won’t let you go, something that you can’t let go, something that fights for your attention even when life tries to get in the way, and something that says you — and only you — are the best person to tell the story, how can you ignore it? I certainly can’t. And I won’t.

Whatever it takes to tell the story.