Sunday, November 9, 2014

Lessons from the BBQ Pit

One of the great things about being a writer is that you can find inspiration anywhere.

The world around us and the vibrant nature of our daily lives can give you great insight into your art if you can just see the connections that exist everywhere. And as it’s been awhile since I’ve been back on these pages, and since summer is right around the corner, I thought I’d share with you some of tips that I’ve learned about writing  . . . through the fine art of BBQ:

#1: THE SWEETEST MEAT LIES NEXT TO THE BONE: The best stories I’ve ever worked on happened once I learn to dig deep into my own story.  My first success was a play years ago that was inspired through my coming to grips with my mother’s death. Through the years, I’ve explored issues of the death and the afterlife in my story 4EVER and my play AS NIGHT.  I used the nature of man’s physicality in my story SUMO DANCING, as well as my struggle with my own beliefs about God in my story THE CHRISTIAN ROOM. Writing must be about the stories that are uniquely ours.  Dig deep and don’t be afraid – the best stories come from our own fears and doubts.

#2: SEASON LIGHTLY: BBQ is best when you let the natural flavors come through.  Many of us dive headlong into the genres that we enjoy reading, and work the tropes and traditions we find there very hard.  Take a moment and freewrite every day. Try writing a piece that just flows from you – just close your eyes and “pants” your way through something basic and pure in your life.  Like the artist who paints the bowl of fruit or landscape, take a moment to describe and explore the world outside your window.  You will be surprised at the new skills you’ll develop.

#3: THE SECRET LIES IN HOW YOU CONTROL THE HEAT:  Learn to become the master of creating powerful conflicts in your stories.  All stories are about some manner of conflict – without it, it’s just typing!  Escalate the conflict in your own stories.  Raise and lower the heat.  Explore the hotspots on the grill for better control.  The more masterful your conflict-writing skills become, the better your stories shall be.
#4: KNOW WHEN THE MEAT IS DONE: Stop being so precious about your own work.  Are you rewriting the same piece over and over again, and finding less to improve after each successive pass? Life is too short!  Learn to type THE END, then just send the damn thing off and start on something new. Remember: PERFECT is the enemy of DONE.

#5: CHICKEN IS FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT THAN BEEF:  Just as each type of meat requires a different type of seasoning, temperature and technique, different genres have specific requirements that bring out the best flavor.  Learn as much as you can about the genre in which you’re writing.  Larry has some EXCELLENT sections on genre, and experts like JOHN TRUBY and MICHAEL HAUGE are considered experts on how to exploit genre for the best possible writing.  Become an expert in your own given world.  Your fans will thank you for it.

#6: THERE’S MORE TO THE MEAL THAN JUST ONE DISH: What is a BBQ without side dishes?  What is a writing career without variety?  If you’re a novelist, try your hand at a screen or stage play. The best things I learned about my own writing have come from experimenting with other forms.  For me, playwriting led to screenwriting, which lead to animation, and then to comics - and then back to playwriting.  If you need to work on your dialogue and direction, try writing a play.  If description is where you need work, try writing a short movie or comic book script.  Examples and tutorials abound on the web for each form, so instruction can often be found for free. By simply trying to write in a different form, you see things about your own writing that never occurred to you – and you might just find a new passion and a new place to shine.

So . . . saddle up and get the fire going. And let us know what you “cook up” in your writing.

Happy grilling!


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