Friday, October 20, 2006

JSB: One Reason to Write




There's a moment near the end of the Woody Allen movie Stardust Memories, wherein Woody plays Sandy Bates, the highly successful director of film comedies who wants to get serious. So he makes an art film that is immediately panned. The critics say they used to like his films, particularly the early funny ones. Sandy is in despair. He wants to make a statement that is important to the world.

A space ship with super intelligent aliens has landed in a field, and is about to take off. Sandy races out to them.

Sandy: Wait a minute! Don't go! I've got some questions.

Og: We can't breathe your air.

Sandy: You guys gotta tell me, why is there so much human suffering?

Og: This is unanswerable.

Sandy: Is there a God?

Og: You're asking the wrong questions.

Sandy: Look, here's my point. If nothing lasts, why am I bothering to make films, or do anything for that matter?

Og: We enjoy your films. Particularly the early funny ones.

Sandy: But the human condition is so discouraging.

Og: There are some nice moments, too.

***

Sandy: But shouldn't I stop making movies and do something that counts, like helping blind people or becoming a missionary or something?

Og: Let me tell you, you're not the missionary type. You'd never last. And incidentally, you're also not Superman, you're a comedian. You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes.


There's a lesson there for writers, especially Christian writers. We need to tell better stories (and funnier jokes wouldn't hurt, either). But they have to come from who we are. The source of our stories should gnaw at us from within, not from an external measure someone else creates.

As Brenda Ueland puts it in her inspirational book, If You Want to Write: "Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself. But it must be from his TRUE self and not from the self he thinks he SHOULD be."

And Ray Bradbury says, "There is only one story--your story." Find it and write it.

The mountain climbers say they scale a peak "because it's there."

You should write because it ISN'T there.

Yet.

***

James Scott Bell is a novelist and columnist for Writers Digest magazine.
www.jamesscottbell.com

8 Comments:

At 7:26 AM, Blogger Gina Holmes said...

I'm laughing over here and trying not to cry too. I write supernatural thrillers and everyone's been reminding me what a hard sell they are. I was wishing I wrote a mystery instead, but that's not the book called me to write.
Thank you so much for that flick on the nose. I answer to God not market. He'll make a way if he wants it. What a blessing.

 
At 7:44 AM, Blogger Deborah Raney said...

.."You should write because it ISN'T there."...

Good point, and great post, Jim. So often when I watch movies, I think "incredible story, except...WHERE was the spiritual element?" I've written a couple books now that were a direct response to a movie that almost hit the target, but fell short because of that all-important element.

 
At 10:29 AM, Blogger michael snyder said...

Outstanding post and a great reminder to us all. And almost any reference to Woody Allen is a plus in my book...almost.

 
At 12:08 PM, Blogger C.J. Darlington said...

Thanks for the encouraging post, Jim. I always need the reminder not to compare myself to others but write what's in my heart.

 
At 7:37 AM, Anonymous Michael Ehret said...

Oh, Woody Allen movies...sigh...I remember when they were funny. Haven't seen one in years...but I'll have to try Stardust Memories.

Good reminder about why we do what we do AND why WHAT we do needs to be from the heart.

 
At 10:00 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

"We need to tell better stories...they have to come from who we are. The source of our stories should gnaw at us from within..."

I have one gnawing at me right now, and I'm loving it.

Thanks for a GREAT post.

 
At 11:40 AM, Anonymous Nicole said...

"The source of our stories should gnaw at us from within, not from an external measure someone else creates."
Pleasing the Source, answering to God not the market as Gina said, trusting Him to make the way for the stories . . .
May I just say it's harder to do than it is to say? Even though it's absolute truth.
Why should a supernatural thriller be a hard sell? Why should a meandering throwback to the classics be a hard sell? Not because there aren't readers out there who can't appreciate them but rather because those who make the decisions about the readers have decided there isn't a suitable market for them or that they don't want to market them effectively.
(I would like to read your book[s], Gina.)

 
At 12:19 PM, Blogger jsb said...

To Gina and Nicole, and interested others, the "hard sell" idea reflects someone's current view of the market. OK, that may be true enough. But there's always room for a RETURN, and a knock down great read in ANY genre is going to stand out and will find a home--or if not a home, will open a door.

They said Westerns were DEAD in Hollywood when Kevin Costner made "Dances with Wolves" and cleaned up at Oscar time.

So infuse that supernatural thriller with GINA HOLMES amped up on passion, care and craft. And you know what? Even if it doesn't "meet our needs at this time," they will see a WRITER in there and the door will be open and your NEXT project (which should be cooking in your brain as we speak) may find a home.

Keep writing!

 

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