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.

Tell me a good story

The more intelligent the storytelling becomes and the deeper the character development, people will realize in film and television, like they do in real life, that human beings possess both good and bad – Robert LaSardo

I spent the last few days watching Netflix’s Jessica Jones starring Krysten Ritter and David Tennant. I had heard positive things about the show, in particular the actors’ performances, and finally got around to seeing it.

Simply put, I really enjoyed it. I found the show to be intriguing, fascinating and a little hair-raising (psychologically speaking) at times. I’ve never read the Marvel Comics version of Jessica Jones and the various aliases she’s used in that universe. That is a good thing. I got to enjoy it for what it was without any sense of history and baggage that comes with the comic book mythology.

Yes, there were the odd minor storylines that the show could have tossed into the trash can marked “it seemed like a good idea at the time” without doing damage to the principle storyline. It’s not to say that those storylines were bad. I think they could have been fleshed out more. I understand why those storylines existed in the bigger picture. But given there were 13 episodes for its first season (it’s yet to be determined whether or not Netflix will green light a second season), less is more.

It is interesting to see how Jones works through the trauma resulting from her past with Kilgrave. The writers did a very good job in showing the very difficult and long road to recovery for Jones. At the end of the season, the Kilgrave chapter has closed, but it doesn’t mean she’ll immediately stop self-medicating with cheap whiskey and the nightmares will disappear. If Netflix does green light a second season, I’m looking forward to seeing how Jones progresses from self-loathing to self-acceptance and self-love. Those changes are best expressed through the relationships with her friends. How do those friendships and romantic relationships evolve as she starts to heal? Can she heal? Questions deserving of answers.

Lately, I’ve found the antagonist / bad guy in a TV show or movie or a fictional story quite compelling and sometimes more interesting than the protagonist. Such is the case with Kilgrave (Tennant), a person from Jones’ past and the reason she self-medicates and suffers from PTSD.

I have been a David Tennant fan for quite awhile. I enjoyed him as Dr. Who. I’ve watched him in The Escape Artist, The Politician’s Husband, The Spies of Warsaw, Broadchurch and its paler American version, Gracepoint.

Then I read somewhere that he had auditioned for the role of Hannibal Lecter in NBC’s Hannibal. What?! Can you imagine Tennant as Hannibal Lecter? My mind is blown thinking about that one. Mads Mikkelsen narrowly won the role. Mikkelsen was perfect. Yet I can’t help but wonder how Tennant would have spun the character. The show’s developer, Bryan Fuller, really liked Tennant’s performance and wanted him on the series in some capacity. Never happened. Guess that won’t ever happen since NBC cancelled the show.

Tennant is an irresistibly charming individual and he uses it to full effect as Kilgrave. The contrast between the charm and the inherent rage and inhumanity that lives under Kilgrave’s skin is palpable.

There is no denying Kilgrave is a complicated character. But look past the rage, the machiavellian and psychopathic mindset, there is a vulnerability to him. And it is directly connected to Jones. She may very well be the only person whose love he truly ever wanted. But because of his childhood, a lack of a moral compass and his own particular super power, his relationship with his parents and the world has been stunted and warped. He knows how to function in society up to a certain point. After that, he bends the world to make it function for him.

Throughout the season, in his own creepy, frightening way, Kilgrave has wanted Jones back in his life. He wants her to love him out of her own free will. But he is locked in the internal struggle of wanting to kill her when she refuses to love him versus being in love with her despite her refusal. (Quite frankly, that sounds kinda normal to me. Can’t speak for myself, but some of us have been down that road at least once. Right?) Look past the death and destruction he leaves in his wake, it’s clear his only goal has been to make Jones genuinely fall in love him. Unfortunately, it will always be unrequited love. She was always his weakness. And that is what ends him.

Seeing those moments of true vulnerability, I found myself feeling sorry for him, and yet, in the end, it was clear Kilgrave could never take responsibility for his actions. He still lacked true empathy. Lacked a true understanding of action having consequences. The way he viewed the world would never change. He would always be the bad guy. Bad guys always die.

That’s what I got from Tennant’s performance. It was fuckin’ brilliant. I had heard that some Dr. Who fans were a little disturbed by his turn as an evil character. Oh well.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I had overheard a couple of people discuss the show. It was more like one person asking the other if she had watched the show yet. Turned out the woman had seen it but didn’t like it. She didn’t seem to understand why they hadn’t ended the Kilgrave storyline sooner than later and moved on with something else. I hadn’t started watching the show at the time but I wasn’t impressed by her response. If she wanted to watch an episodic or procedural show instead of a serialized program, Jessica Jones was not the show to watch.

I know the woman is not an idiot. I’ll give her that. But I do know she’s a moron and some other things I won’t mention. Maybe she doesn’t like the storytelling style of the writers. That’s fine. To each his own, right? But I think one should be able to appreciate good storytelling regardless of the genre. Her response made me think that maybe she doesn’t really appreciate the nuances of storytelling. Maybe the pace of the show was too slow for her to remain interested. Maybe she didn’t recognize how the story arc was taking shape and appreciated it for what it was. Her loss. That’s a fucking shame.

Yeah, I get pissy about people who don’t know good storytelling if it came up to them and gave them a good kick in the arse.

Yeah, my writer brain gets turned on by interesting and good storytelling.

Yeah, Jessica Jones is a great example that.

In admiration of great storytelling

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars — Khalil Gibran

I spent yesterday morning watching a 2007 British short film called Inseparable starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Not a word of a lie, it was the best 12 minutes I ever had on a Sunday morning. And I’m not saying that just because Cumberbatch was the lead.

The film summary: A young father discovers he is dying and decides to give his ne’er-do-well twin brother a unique opportunity to turn his life around.

Yes, Cumberbatch was brilliant in playing the twin brothers. When has he not been brilliant? Anyway, aside from the acting, the cinematography and the film director’s choices were spot on. But what blew me away was the story. And I give the screenwriter, Matthew James Wilkinson, big props for that.

The story starts with a seemingly serene scene of domesticity and from there, it takes the viewer through a day that is far from ordinary, moving towards the moment the dying brother’s unimaginable decision, is revealed.

It was a story that, in the end, left the viewer with more questions than answers. Those are the kinds of stories I love. I’m not really a fan of happily-ever-after.

The final scene of the film was gut-wrenching. More so because of the sparing use of dialogue throughout the film. Again, big props to the screenwriter. When dialogue was used, it was important. It had purpose. It moved the story forward. For the characters, a lot of the dialogue was internal, dialogue the viewer never got to hear. We could only guess what they were thinking. But what you could see was their emotions and their body language. It spoke volumes. And that made the story riveting. That final scene was brilliant because of the lack of dialogue. Only one sentence was uttered at the end of the scene before the screen faded to black. Stunning.

Growing up, I was a bookworm. Now — not so much. I have a lovely collection of books I bought over the years but haven’t gotten around to reading. Some people buy clothes to relax. I buy books. I’m still making my way through Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s collection of Sherlock Holmes stories. I’m committed to finishing the collection no matter how long it takes me to do it.

Since I lack the time to really immerse myself in a good book, I do the next best thing — find movies that are great at storytelling. Sure, there are really crappy movies courtesy of really shitty or incomplete writing. You have to wade through a lot of films to find the gems.

I’m most attracted to movies that make you think long after you’ve watched it.

Admittedly, I never thought about the resonance of a film until I saw David Cronenberg’s 2007 feature film, Eastern Promises, which starred Viggo Mortensen. I was taken aback by the complexity and motives of the characters. Discovering and analyzing what drove them to do the things they did in the movie while I watched the movie was a watershed moment for me.

Before Eastern Promises, I only saw movies only as a form of entertainment. Escapism. Mindless escapism. With this film, I fell naturally into examining the characters, wanting to get to know more about them, questioning their actions and the reasons behind the actions, paying attention to the body language and clues in the dialogue that would fill in the life story of these characters. I was paying attention to the subtext for the first time. As nerdy as this may sound, I was thrilled about being able to read subtext. An epiphanous moment.

Again, big props to the screenwriter, Steven Knight, for creating those characters.

Although Wilkinson and Knight are screenwriters, not literary authors, there is so much to learn from them with regards to pacing, knowing what is important to the story, how to keep a viewer’s attention, the beauty of flawed and scarred characters and the beauty of a story’s twists and turns as you move your way through the film. Elements of great writing. Inseparable and Eastern Promises are just two such examples.

Watching Inseparable yesterday morning only reinforced observations made in the last year by a couple of friends.

One friend made the suggestion that I should try my hand at filmmaking. He only made that suggestion because I told him while I was working on the novel, I usually visualized the scenes in my head as if I was a movie director. I’m a bit picky about visual details when I write and I think it’s because I just naturally visualize the scenes in my head before I punch out the words on the keyboard. Anyway, I thought my friend was a little crazy for making the suggestion. I understood his reasons but it’s never been something I would ever have a real opportunity to try. I suppose never say never. We’ll see.

The other friend (my book editor, actually) had noted how visual my scenes were and how easy it was to create images in her mind as she read through my manuscript. She compared it to a screenplay or a teleplay. She didn’t suggest I try screenwriting but I think it wouldn’t have been a stretch for her to recommend it as something to explore.

Watching Inseparable made me think about screenwriting, about the possibility of trying my hand at it one day. There is a local film group who occasionally runs a screenwriting workshop. I wouldn’t mind learning the basics and seeing if it’s something worth pursuing.

Regardless of whether or not I try my hand at screenwriting, there is no denying Wilkinson and Knight inspire me in the craft of storytelling.

All I can hope for is to come up with great stories, tell them and maybe, inspire someone else the way those two screenwriters have inspired me.