How to Finish an Oscar-Winning Screenplay (or Novel) in Two Months
Scott Evans Douglas
The aim of this process is to produce not only novels, but Novelists. Empowered and empowering novelists and screenwriters who speak from the heart.
Copyright: September 1985
Revised: October 2009
You are about to begin a process in which you discover the Novelist within you. Simply follow the information enclosed and in two months you will have a complete novel. The process involves little known methods used by novelists and screenwriters to increase storytelling volume and clarity. The process has been specifically designed for people whose lifestyle places high demands on that most precious of commodities – TIME! But relax! The process is fun and I promise you a smattering of learning along the way. So, let us begin.
How to Finish an Oscar-Winning Screenplay (or Novel) in Two Months
Record stream of consciousness or best loved prose or poem
Repeat of Day 20
Listen to Day 35’s stream of consciousness
Storyboard and record story
Listen to finished project
Introduction – Basic Requirements
The novel process begins with a few basic requirements. You will need a room. The process may be adapted to the travel bound, but that is not the concern of this particular method. The room may be a large closet, garage, attic, or basement. Perhaps you can even find a room in a friend’s or neighbor’s house. These can be excellent workspaces because they remove you from the demands of family, phone, everyday chores, pets, etc. . . . and, if you are fortunate enough to have a neighbor sensitive to the needs of the artist, it can be a welcome ego boost for both of you. But no matter where you find your creative nest, it must be understood by either family, friend, or neighbor that you are about to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime (thought it is my sincere hope that you become positively and permanently addicted to novel production) voyage which demands the respect and support of those left on shore. NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE is to enter, remove, or place any manner of anything within your workspace. You will understand more of this later. Simply explain to those concerned that you are about to invest one hour per day for approximately two months because you sincerely want to write a novel. And, yes, that you want to have your work read by thousands, perhaps cried over, banned in Boston, burned, and, yes, even adapted to the screen. Tell your significant other that they too are part of this process and can have a major part in helping a budding Steinbeck, Virginia Wolfe or Jack London. Let me emphasize again – speak from your heart, cry, carry on, demand, or perhaps best slyly mention possible future earning potential. In any event, obtain your two-month workspace – your crib, your womb, your most inner altar to the workings of the NOVEL.
Now the room: The room must be cleared of any distractions before you read further. In beginning the process it is most important that the room, as well as your mind, be as open and receptive to new information and patterns as possible. So in clearing away the cobwebs from the corners (the small nooks and crannies), pretend the cobwebs of your mind are vanishing as easily and as completely as well.
Also essential to the room are walls which you can easily tape or tack paper material to. I have used cement basement walls – so almost any wall will do. Further, the room should have an electric outlet unless you want to spend a fortune in batteries for the cassette player and recorder you also must buy, beg, or borrow. Along with these are a set of six, ninety-minute tapes. And that is it for now. These are the essentials. So, let’s begin.
§ You have a room.
§ You have a recorder and player.
§ You have a set of tapes.
It is important to begin each day (hour) at the same time. This will give you a sense of continuum and establish a vital rhythm important for tapping the novel within you. So when it is possible, find an hour each day in which you are relaxed and not to be interrupted! Just one hour for two months. It is quite possible that you can find an hour which slyly integrates within the family or social structure you find yourself in. Just allow your endeavors to become part of the warp and woof of the house, school, whatever environment you find yourself coping with.
I encourage you (especially if you have a busy schedule) to arise early and foregoing make-up, breakfast, or waking the baby, to greet each morning with a short focused act of creation! In my experience there is no single better way to turn on the creative juices (and genius) of your inner most “novel” you.
One’s mind tends to be most fresh and lucid when close to the world of dreams. And most writers are (or sadly were in there youth) day dreamers and predominantly right brained. When close to the world of dreams we are very near the roots of myth and I believe the universal storyteller in us all.
Whatever you decide (and yes, you are allowed to play with the schedule the first week), begin each session with a greeting into your room so that a ritual of your own making is established. I simply say “Greetings!” and ask, “How are you today? Shall we work? Fine. Fine.” I’ve never been turned down by my characters yet! Then simply:
§ Gather material relevant to that session AND
§ Turn on recorder
And in closing out the day’s session, always, … always say something to this effect: “Enough, enough! You must rest. Do not feel you have to reveal all to me in one sitting. Relax, we will work more tomorrow.” Then say, “Thank you for being so cooperative. Sleep well now and dream.”
Below is a day-by-day accounting of the process as it unfolds. Enjoy!
Ramble. Talk into your recorder about your nightly dreams. No dreams? Make one up you’d like to have. Talk about anything that comes to mind – anything. There are no censors here. Enjoy your voice, chant, sing, loosen up those vocal chords, grunt, cry, whistle. Pretend you are the last Great Grebe (a bird) and it is the last sunrise of your last day. Will you mourn or celebrate? Again, talk about anything, i.e. neighbors, family, books you love, bitching for bitchings sake, love, sex, romance, cats, dogs, the perfect omelet – anything. Just relax, ramble and chew the fat. At first, you might feel uncomfortable babbling like a brook to no one about what seems to be nothing. Ignore this discomfort, it shall pass. And soon, you’ll come to enjoy – yes, enjoy your own voice. Indulge! Say things you’ve never said to anyone, nor would ever repeat. Spend huge sums verbally. Air is, after all, free, and this is your time to use up your share. Besides, your share is (so far) an inexhaustible and ever renewing resource. So squawk! Tell your most outrageous lies. Lies you’d only tell a dear and very dead friend. Tell secrets you’d love your worst enemy to hear—then (figuratively) murder him/her/it off. And finally, have that very special talk you’ve been meaning to have with the storyteller within yourself. BE gentle, but firm, for the storyteller may be peacefully asleep and in need of wooing and play to awake.
A similar repeat of Day One, that is – just ramble. But on these days you may add the element and focus of the “Devil’s advocate.” Commonly, the Devil’s advocate in our culture is “the Journalist” – not critic – not judge, but “questioner.” Ask the nitty-gritty questions you find below. Get tough. Get dirty. Who told you writing was clean work? It may be the most honest – but, if it is good, it has to be one of the greatest, most God-awful, odorous professions of man. Become the social anthropologist of your natives (i.e. characters). Examine their environments as; you would examine wiggly bacteria beneath a powerful microscope. Be clinically objective. This scientific analysis your (the) alien creature’s environment will undoubtedly include: response to stress, family dynamics, socially consensual agreements (i.e. war, incest, taboo), eccentricities such as collecting tire gauges, moths or people – dead or alive ad infinitum.
A few suggested questions are: “What’s your dog’s sexual habits?” Yes, hit them with an absurdly shocking one right off. Especially if they’re the little old lady type possessed and obsessed by poodles. Or, “What are your husband’s sexual habits?” Again, especially if they’re the little old lady stereo-muffle types. Or, “How do your dog and husband’s sexual habits compare?” Agreeably so? Please be as detailed as possible. Or, “Is it true your son has developed a new type of plastic explosive made from human nose pickings?” Or, “why did you bury Aunt Ruth behind the garage?” or “It has been reported that you were seen burying bright pink and silk undergarments in men’s apparel. Is this true? If so, for whom? And why?” Or, “Your favorite hobby is ornithology, correct? And you claim to have bred a night-seeing killer hawk for our military, correct?” Please tell me “How much flesh—I assume human—does your bird consume per day? And, from what species did you breed him? A pigeon? An owl? A gyrfalcon? In what capacity is the military going to use them? Night reconnaissance perhaps? Is it true that you and the military have developed a process which utilizes the bird’s night sight and allows a remote technician to view and record the bird’s seeing, i.e., flight? Is it also true these birds are being cloned? And if so, on what scale?” Beginning to get the message? Or, “On the night of December 23, you were involved in a motor accident on the corner of Bane and Belligerence Streets. A child—one Perry Manual Junior—was killed. You claim sobriety, yet had just left a party where others (friends?) claimed you were drinking steadily. What were you drinking? And did you know that the child you struck was your illegitimate son—since care for by loving parents?”
With the questioning as intense as this, pause (but not long) for reactions from your particular character. Record reactions and, if possible (use 5 x 8 card if possible, also, but any paper will do for now—as long as it remains within the room), record: Revulsion? Dead pan? Hysterics? Laughter? Whatever. Then continue “Ah so! The boy was your twin sister’s child and out of hate and fear you destroyed the thing she loved most.
“Still? Wouldn’t it have been more painful for the child to live, yet never be held by its real mother?
“What? You too were in love with the real father? Who is your sister’s husband? Tell me then, is your sister in love with you ex-lover? No?!? Then was it he who put you up to killing your own son so that you two may be together?” But that makes little sense. “Why not do away with your sister, why your son? What, you say it is more complicated than that? You say your sister has joined a Wicca (an all-female witch coven) and that your son was being raised as a Devil’s disciple? In fact, possessed satanic powers?” Shades of Stephen King! So we may all ask: “Why tell me?” And what and where and who and when?
Because, and the lesson is not easy, in each act of storytelling there are the seeds of destruction as well as those of life, and it is the potential energy of those dormant seeds which if left not watered and untouched by the son (your questions) will eventually bring disease. Man must create! So questions with as much intense vigor as possible. Ask of your characters. But wait!! You may ask what characters? Ah! Yes, you require faces, flesh, and substance. Eh! But believe me, it is better the first week or so to do without and thereby tap the within. Try not to cut out preconceived faces from old magazines or photo albums (if you’re writing a genealogy) or using relatives as fictional jump-offs for literary fame. The essence of this first week is to stretch and thereby thoroughly enjoy the depth of your imagination. The choice of your characters, indeed novel, will unfold out of this exercise. So ask the blank walls. And record the answers you get. “Who were you as a child?” “What were your favorite characters to play as a child?” “Were you left alone a lot to play?” “Did you enjoy play?” “Is your childhood memory clear?” That is, “Will you freely respond to the following words as you did when you were five? Eight? Thirteen? Sixteen? Chose an age.” If the responses you get from your characters seem to be coming from you – ignore this identification. Consider its source valid, record the response and, as you would add grist to a grinding mill, keep asking the questions. The words:
Thumb Licorice Corn Basement
Ball Sharp Brother School Lunch
Big Daddy Furnace Fresh Sawdust
Fire Tree Snow Galoshes
Cat Powder Night Crickets
Mommy Closet Bubbles Ice Cream
Pancake Light Car Oak Trees
Alone Bundle Stick Doctor
Storm Swing Juice Fleas
Bath Spoon Coins Halloween
One Bear Attic Adults
Blanket Sister Moon Cartoons
Loud Stranger Mother Angels
Wet Toilet Kiss Saturday
Diaper Crayon Waterfalls
Continue: “Were you a curious child? Did you ask a lot of questions? Of adults? Of other children? Of yourself? Were you encouraged to ask questions? How did a typical adult respond? How did your mother respond? And your father? Other children? Yourself/ ?Did you make believe a lot as a child? Or were you serious? What were your make believe stories like? Were they of far away places? Or exciting hunts? Maybe, even daring feats? Like saving the fair prince or princess? Were they savage? War-like? Extra-terrestrial? Did you invent cityscapes? Commerce? Even law? Did you tame wild beasts? Save civilizations? And how did you travel? By magic carpet? Flying horse? Winnebago? Do you enjoy color? Painting? Doing art? Can you pick a favorite? Do you enjoy getting messy? What was your favorite indoor activity in school? Did you fight often with your peers? Did you like storms? If so, describe a ‘perfect storm.’ Of what type is it? Snow? Thunder? Rain? Sea? And what is your part in it? As victim? As sea captain? As savior or survivor? Are you with anyone? Where are you? And what time of year is it? Perhaps it is that special time of year on a far distant planet, which has twelve seasons? What is the ‘perfect storm’ like at this time of year?”
If you find yourself at this time dealing with, that is answer, a dozen different characters – excellent. Whether they are real or completely fictional, simply enjoy and note these ideas. Continue. “What were your favorite stories as a child? Did you like being read to as a child? If so, by whom? Recall his or her voice? What was it like?”
“Could you ride a bike easily as a child? Describe your first bike ride. Then tell me a skinned knee story. And now a skipping stones story. Or, if you are or were an urban city centered child, describe a rat story or stickball story, or . . . . ?”
“Do you remember any childhood dreams? Tell me a recurring one. The one that pops I your head first.”
“Were you a physically active child? Hyperactive? Or, just bursting with the joy and wonder of life?”
Tell me two things you were absolutely outstanding at. Describe the world through these outstanding events. Can you draw or paint a mural of them? Dance them? What happened to change them? Do you remember the first book you read? Did you like it? Why? Describe it very briefly. What was your reaction to entering junior or senior high school? Panic? Fear? Joy? During this time what lifestyle did you choose for yourself? Art? Sports? Peer group flings? Drugs? Gangs? Religious? Why do you think you chose this way? Were you secure and happy with the change? Were you popular? What alternatives might you have chosen? During this time was there a longing? For whom? For what? And why? What event would you have sought if the option had been available? That is, what would you have liked to see happen during this transitory time? Describe this now! How did you compensate that—that is, overcome this obstacle? Are you proud or ashamed of your actions? Describe in detail what you did to regain your childhood sense of power?
“Do you as an adult ask questions? If so, do you questions the source of the information? Do you ask questions of your cultural roots? That is, the sustainers of your values – the newspaper (all media), doctors, lawyers, politicians, generals, and civic leaders? What would a mural look like that was a questioning of your alternative within this cultural “modus operandi” (behavior) you’ve agreed to? Describe a mural of your culture’s view of war. Of Death. Of radiant health and dynamic peace. Of 2,000 years from now. What is inevitable in your life? What is enviable? Is yours a violent neighborhood? Do you like snakes? [*]Name me one good aspect of reptiles (answer below). Cite examples of artistic violence within ;your family. Your community. The media. And one example from the world at large. Stumped? Good, proceed! What would be your ideal place to live? What would you be doing there? Were you a daydreamer as a child? Were your daydreams of adventure? Escape? When did you tell your first story? When did you write your first story? What did you do for thrills, i.e., dance as a child? As an adolescent? As an adult? Has it been important for your to have close friends? Or many friends? Did you, as a child, have imaginary allies? Describe them. Now describe your adult allies. Make one up or use the childhood one if you’ve lost touch with this strength in your persona. How does your ally help you? Are decisions more difficult as an adult? How does your ally help you in choosing among important alternatives? That is, does he/she/it (some characters have robots or sophisticated computers they consult) show you a movie? Build you a model? Paint you a picture? Present you with a wrapped gift? Tell a parable (symbolic story)? Take you on a journey? Confront you with odd aliens? How? Do your allies bring you gifts? If not, ask for one now. And continue to ask over the next few weeks. You may not know what the fight is exactly, but ask for the joy of asking. Perhaps your ally is humorous. Even jolly. What might be your ally’s biggest gripe? Can he/she/it have gripes? Of course. Show some compassion. Allow your ally a wide spectrum of foolish human behavior. Allow mistakes. Welcome laughter – even confusion What is your biggest gripe? Do you believe you are gifted? How so? Is your mind a potential tool? How so? Do you trust your own council? Do you act on your deepest answers? Do you need more questions/ Is this asking of questions an ongoing process? That is, have you been asking questions since the womb, yet it seems no one is answering? Acknowledge now your thirst for clarity. Acknowledge now your profound curiosity. Affirm:
I forgive my ignorance.
I forgive my doubt.
I am my deepest ally.
I am my own most loving teacher
The earth peoples.
As a womb gives birth to form, to mind, to art.
Imagine what might be possible for you if you were to live 1,000 years or more? What form might you take? Android? Cetacean? Alien? Spirit? Who would you like to meet? Invent them? What might you accomplish? How would you have chosen to live, looking back from 3,000 A.D.?
Imagine your physical brain is as large as this room. All is in perfect working order. Solutions come easy to you. You can see the solution easily. Now imagine your brain encompasses your neighborhood. All your friends, your enemies, the entire network and microscopic animal and plant life, the entire visible and invisible spectrum of energy, all are held within your brain. Allow this dance to occur as form and energy and exchange. Relax.
See, feel, be an impartial observer. Welcome to the story to unfold. Enjoy your sanctuary.
Perhaps you being to see.
The questions must be asked. For the questioner is the Earth’s, the community’s, TELLER OF THE TALE!
Welcome the questions. And understand … This is only a partial list. And the questions under any other time or place, i.e. your time and space will be of a totally different nature and focus. This is how the process works. This is how it has always worked when it works best. Simply allow your questions to go wherever they will with your storyboard people. To quote the Bhagavad-Gita: “Abundance is scooped from abundance yet abundance remains.” The ancient’s Song of God. Thus this humble questioning or questing as I like to think of it is an inexhaustible wellspring of knowledge, form, tone, color — story! Use it!!!
Pick from the list below one novel and read it aloud as you record it. If you do not find any of the stream of consciousness works to your liking, then pick a favorite author and read him or her aloud. However, I highly recommend the authors and their styles for their evocative powers.
Suggested List of Authors – Pick One
To read, scream, grunt, cry over and record — for one forty-five minute session.
1. Dylan Thomas, Poetry (all or any)
2. Stephen Wright, Meditations in Green
3. Thomas Wolf (Browse and choose, you can’t go wrong — he’s verbose and the voice of genius).
4. Virginia Wolfe, Mrs. Galloway, The Waves, To the Lighthouse.
5. James Joyce, Ulysses.
6. William Wharton, Birdy.
7. William Faulkner, Mint Juleps in a Steamy Tub and perhaps A Talkative Parrot with Mr. Faulkner.
8. Children’s Fairy Tales
9. Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Jitterbug Perfume
10. Any books you love which evoke a wide range of emotions.
11. Poetry by Edgar Allen Poe (especially if you are writing horror).
In Stream of consciousness writing, authors have produced records of their character’s interior monologues. That is the authors have tapped their actor’s half-formed thoughts and sudden shifts of perception. These seemingly illogical associations allow us into the character minds—an incredibly valuable tool (and highly underrated) for any author.
Relax. Simply obtain a spiral notebook and listen each day to one side of the first five sides you’ve recorded – in the order that you recorded them. Take notes. And as you do, ask: “What characters am I most comfortable talking about?” That is, “Which characters are most revealing?” Do not exclude all the minor or less verbose players however. Ask, “Which characters do I get excited about? And, which promise adventure and substance?” Ask, “Is there a story forming? Around which characters? And what?” And finally, “Are strong conflicts involved?” Identify each. During these days, gather old magazines, photos of your characters, great and small (old National Geographic Magazines are excellent), paintings – yes paintings, prints, specific music (old records) special colognes, odd baubles, i.e. watches, stuffed birds, discarded Monopoly pieces, fencing foils, armor - anything of the emerging characters.
To save money, borrow these items or sort through St. Vincent dePaul or the Salvation army or Goodwill stores. Not only can these haunts be “the best’ places for the grab bag of discarded items you need, but you’ll be helping the handicapped.
First and foremost, save money! Use child toys if you can – especially if room space is limited. As you sort through the magazines – cut out numerous portraits of people who most closely resemble your main characters. Maintain a pile of interesting “folk” you’d like to play minor parts with your leads. Also, pick intriguing settings (they may be centered around one setting – a doll house, a submarine, a planet?). If possible, at this time gather costumes, dolls, stuffed bears (a children’s story?), even mannequins . . . which are relevant to your story and, of course, characters – again, anything they need, use or abuse, i.e. murder weapons or drugs (of course, pictures of these will do), especially if kids are around. Keep these personal objects in separate areas below the storyboard wall or walls – depending on the scope of the novel – and tack your characters above the areas. For now, it is fine to group the minor characters together. One thing I like to do at the time I feel comfortable with “my people” – usually about this time, although it can and often does come later – is to glue my MAIN leads to cardboard because I like to move them around a lot when interacting with other characters! Please feel free to do the same. Also, it is not necessary to obtain all of the objects at this time. This is a gradual process – allow it to be so.
Begin next set of three, ninety-minute cassettes. Save the old tapes. During this period, transfer your notes to 5 x 8 inch cards and storyboard this bold and lettered data below your characters. I keep the cards arranged according to:
A. Biographical Data, i.e. age, height, weight, color of eyes, hair, physical impairments or quirks, even social security number (of course doubly fictitious).
B. Plot effectiveness. That is, power and position (relation) to others characters. Remember, setting, alien worlds, microbes, computers, can all be characters. And his or her hidden talents, gifts, evil, hobbies, likes, dislikes, and eccentricities all have value.
C. Miscellaneous: Happenstance of fortune, twisting of fated, serendipity, thickening or thinning of character lead – he/she/it may turn out to be a minor or major as the novel or script demands. And projection of eventualities— that is, where does the character wish to end ideally.
You, of course, may use more than one 5 x 8 inch card for these three categories, but I recommend sticking to only three categories. More and you will sacrifice the telling for the writing. And it is vital, at this point in the process, to encourage the vocal storyteller within. And to further aid this verbosity (editing – and it is minimal – comes later), select your characters favorite mood music – again borrow the cassette tapes, if possible – and play (do not record) this at low volume while you record the story. I use a stereo-cassette player with headphones. You may be saying, “How can one hear oneself think, let alone talk?” Ha! Is writing all left brained? Nooooo! You don’t want to hear yourself think – but, and this but is important – you do want to hear the characters talk! So most (approximately nine out of ten — or 90%) of my characters prefer instrumental music, which covers a range in theme and mood from solemn to pastoral, savage to sacrificial, ethereal to visceral.
That is, the entire spectrum of human emotional dynamics ancient and future evolutionary. My characters’ tastes range from classic to New Wave, Baroque to synthesized, environmental (whale songs, waterfalls) to digitalized. Some characters are partial to Beethoven. Some to Jean Jarre. A few to Peter Gabriel (selections – Rhythm of the Heat – Shock the Monkey – are examples). One character that happens to be a nuclear submariner is partial to Willy Nelson tunes! More and more I find my characters selecting specific instrumental pieces by specific recording artists – an example is the cut Elegant Gypsy by Al Dimola from the album of the same name. The bottom line here is to select music that is emotionally appropriate to scene and character. Again, instrumental, at low volume, appropriate to scene and character produces talkative characters. Try it.
Also, during these days (but not during your taping hour), find a transcriber (a typist who will work directly off a tape) who will type your second set of tapes into manuscript form, i.e. correct margins and always – always double space between the lines. Try to find a transcriber who is willing to work reasonably cheap. Cheap is not a ham sandwich and coffee in exchange for one idea of tape transcribed. THAT fee payment is just plain disgusting and should (a word I use rarely) only be attempted if the transcriber is willing to work out of a sense of love (mothers) or lust (girl or boyfriend – I bow to the female writers), or love and lust (husband or wife). And I do not recommend (from personal experience) any relative being the transcriber. It is best for the household and the novel’s sale to maintain as much objectivity at this stage as possible.
Do not seek out critics! Especially not at this beginning draft. It would not only be useless, but could be quite harmful. And it is difficult for spouses and other significant others not to get excited or say something!
Unless it is absolutely of economic necessity to use the services of a relative or close friend—don’t! Pay the going rate for a professional typist. If you are really strapped for money, you may be able to barter a needed skill or service in exchange for the lack of cash. Can you repair roofs? Take their dog to the vet? The kid to the dentist? Make cookies for their bake sale? Ask. You may end up not only saving money, but making a friend, which brings up a point. If you and the transcriber do become acquainted, keep your novel on a completely professional level. That is, only discuss the actual physical statistics of “how the typing is going.” Ask, “Are you having any difficulties with my voice quality, tempo, or understanding?” Or, “Are there any problems with finishing the transcription in the allotted time?” The process allows ample time for this by the way. Or, “Do you understand the exact format I want the manuscript to take?” That is – chapter divisions, margins, first draft on non-bonded paper.
In this way, you will establish yourself as a professional and be treated as such. Now, you are working on the second set of ninety-minute tapes (forty-five minutes to a side) using one side each day. As you finish each CASSETTE, turn each over to the transcriber for typing. DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM! Repeat — DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM! Just be sure they are typed double-spaced between each line – precisely like a pro. “Why don’t I just do the typing?”
1. Time is a valuable commodity. Typing requires an excessive amount.
2. Typing sabotages the vocal juices by ignoring right brain choice (and voice), thereby limiting your novel’s depth, rhythm, tone, and mythic connections.
3. Typing interferes by over-dependency on the critical left brain’s “shoulds,” “ought nots,” “have to’s,” “coulds,” “don’ts” “can’ts,” and other infinite negative demands.
4. The very nature of typing is functionally opposed to the nature of the process. That is, if typing is like the sculptor (removing parts to form a whole by selection of the parts to be removed) then storytelling is like the surf, which continually breaks along an edge, to be heard and seen. Storytelling is an ongoing event within your life, a sustaining field of wonder, if you will. But it is like you are in a little rubber dinghy bobbing just beyond the surf. You can see the beach. You want to reach the beach. But you can’t seem to get in. Forever and forever, you bob up and down – just out of reach of the beach, listening to the ocean’s roar (your own voice) and never quite actualizing its call. Somehow you need to persuade the tide to help you. Somehow you’ve got to learn to surf even in a little rubber dinghy! Now I can go into all the therapeutic benefits of reaching the beach. A completed book for one, and for two – a less dangerous footing (sharks, imaginary or not, just, just love to bite!). But I choose to let you find these benefits for yourself. I want to focus on the fifth reason not to type the manuscript yours elf. Stop me if I overstate!
5. Typing overworks left brain (dominant culture modality) processing, thereby inhibiting, the education and actual physiological connections responsible for your becoming first a master storyteller and as a nice consequence, a novelist.
6. Typing will take away from “gather time.” Time that is needed to scrounge playfully about for that replica 1890 Victrola that your main character uses, both as a time machine and a murder weapon. Or, time spent searching (sniffing) out just the right jasmine and musk perfume your adulteress/spy lead uses in seducing enemy agents. Or, time spent finding just the exact scarab beetle (encrusted in plastic LapaLusa and fake gold) pendant your mannequin wears as he rules Egypt.
7. Typing is simple to left-brain activity and the process is right-brain oriented. The two are opposed, and it is important, if not imperative, that you spend as much time in right brain activities with this novel and your characters as is humanly possible.
8. It is essential at this state in the process to get your book on the road, so to speak. By placing your novel out of your home, you set the stage for its eventual “birthing,” as an old professor of mine used the term in describing a novel’s completion. Also, and perhaps more importantly, you establish early on that the novel is an organic living creation with an evolution and life of its own. This is a tremendously dynamic force which must be experienced to be appreciated. It is both a right-of-passage and, I believe, a right-of-empowerment. Go for it.
So even if you love to type, if you pop from the womb typing at 90 wpm, DON’T! I ask you to trust me on this matter, and if you do, I believe you will be very pleased with the outcome.
From the first set of tapes, listen to side six of your selected stream of consciousness tapes. Be attentive. Listen for tone, excitement, color, and finally, listen for questions you might ask the author. It is a day to relax and accept a health dose of your own voice through a master storyteller’s words. The number one rule of today is — to enjoy.
Again, record favorite (or use selected list) poems, or prose. This tie, however, really ham it up. Use the entire range of your voice and feelings. Try to convey as accurately as possible the author’s meaning and emotion.
REST. Yep — REST. Do NOTHING. Repeat — NOTHING. Allow your characters to rest too. Go to the beach or the zoo. You’ve never head of THE PROCESS. And, “What, me write a book?” — Nonsense! You may reply to anyone who asks. Writing in any form is the farthest thing from your mind!!!
Hopefully, you will have the manuscript and at least beginning tape #1 back by now, with the second following in a day or two. Maintaining your daily schedule, simply listen to your story as you read along with your manuscript. Take notes directly on the manuscript! Use the spaces between the lines or extra sheets if necessary. It is best to print and write legibly. Your job is to fill out the characters and story line, by tightening dialogue and expanding conflicts— yes, expanding: Do not drop any characters, no matter how minor, yet. You may drop words and, yes, scenes maybe, but characters — no. This will become clearer later. Relax. You have been granted an extra week if necessary to accomplish the giving of blood, bone and flesh to both story and character and both are well on their way to life.
During this phase of the project, it is helpful to move the main characters from one setting or dialogue to another as you expand the story’s depth, so you can see the value of taping (or better tacking) the photos up and allowing you and your characters plenty of room to move. I don’t recommend moving the minor characters, as there seems to be a yet unidentifiable area between the joy of creation and chaos. Like the ballet of our family, or social life, there is a time we must seek less central roles by limiting our contacts. All of us, no matter how famous or popular, must choose our “significant” others and leave the minor characters’ lives of their own So, the bottom line here is:
A. It is your story.
B. Only you work like you.
Novel writers are also part scientist — so get clinical. Again, ask the tough questions. “Who is doing what to whom? Who is playing the victim? Are they playing willingly? Are there surprises left? What conflicts have arisen? Does the story have to make ‘holistic’ sense?” By holistic, I mean can your audience feel good about it as a novel? Or, do they have to guess or read into its theme? Which, by the way, can be a very high tool (having our audience reading into your novel) if used with delicacy and a past sense (and appreciation) of the multi-faceted intelligence of your audience. But, and I emphasize the baseness of this “but,” do not think (or write) cute, clever or trick solutions which only psychics or your mother know. The answer – think of your audience. Who are you writing to? What are they like? Age? Ethnicity? Sex? Educational background? Economic status quo? Likes? Dislikes? Which brings up: Do they like your characters? Why? What is it your audience likes about them? And your characters — Do they like your audience? Often I’ve found in my own novels and with other student novels that the characters have very specific gripes, if not downright hatreds (and yes, love) for the audience. If the emotions and options are strong, find out exactly what it is that the characters feel. This can be an excellent catalyst for rounding out your storyboard players and allowing them a larger sense of play in both dialogue and role flexibility.
Remember, you want your characters to be as real of folkness as possible and “match-stick men” or pompous one-dimensional figures will, believe me, not sell copy, as they say in the business. So ask, “Can my characters fall flat on their face and die?” — The real. Or, “Can they fail either by faults of their own or accident and recover? Even if only partially?” — The real and heroic. “Do my characters behave in ways the audience can identify with? If not, what are my characters trying to teach? Is your own behavior more in line with your characters’ or your audience? Can you identify with your audience?” And, “What is it you’d like your characters to teach?” If you find yourself disliking your audience, “What is it about them you don’t like?” And, “What is it in yourself that you see in the audience?” Do not ask your audience for opinions on either your characters or yourself. This would be too many monkeys on the apple cart. Avoid overload. Repeat: AVOID overload. Instead, if problems arise, simply pose the seemingly unsolvable block to one of the characters, minor or major, human or inanimate (yes, a tree – my favorite, a brook, a car, even a plate of spaghetti) if he/she/it (can spaghetti be sexed?) is a character. And, listen to what he/she/it has to say. The answer may not come immediately – as previously explained – but, if you are receptive, the gift will come.
If in the rare event – and with practice (use of this process – your blocks will become more rare than a black bear at the South Pole. But, if a more stubborn question arises, then it will become necessary to take a more radical and physical approach. Let’s say our character is proactively laconic. (Look it up. You’re a writer, right?) Simply obtain either
A. A large sheet of butcher or cheap sketching paper,
B. A soft sponge ball – like a Nerf ball, or
C. A soccer ball.
Now, in as few words as possible, write your character’s problem on the ball or paper. Keep it simple! Pretend your character has regressed to the age of five. Write his problem in his five-year-old language. I recommend that you write directly on the ball if possible. But, of course, you can tape his problem to the ball if necessary. Use a water soluble felt pen. If you use the paper, which I recommend above the balls, (1) It is cheaper, (2) You can write larger, (3) It is “safer” indoors – that is (4) You won’t exhaust yourself chasing all over the park. What do I mean – chasing it? I mean wad the paper into a tight ball and kick the living daylights out of it!!! I mean really kick it! Kick it with both feet, then pick it up and throw it with alternating hands. Then re-kick the stuffing out of it. Get nasty!!! Sounds absurd? Good – get absurd! Because kicking your character’s problem around is really a wonderful objectifying release. So kick on. Kick on. I’m usually shin deep in solutions of wadded paper at this stage. Okay, okay, this kicking doesn’t fit your ideal of the novelist as a craftsman whose fingers magically and effortlessly fly over the typewriter keys. Sorry! But that bird is a rare as our black bear in Antarctica. Writing is visceral. The best is bone and blood and sweat. So again – get visceral – and yes – physical. Let me elaborate. Writers are by-in-large, if you read their biographies, angry (repressed?) right-brained idealists who need – and the best (Jack London, John Steinbeck unfortunately choose alcohol, or Stephen King [the types – Ha!], James Michener [swims and walks library stacks, airport terminals]) choose positive physical techniques to emotionally ground to the vast and ever moving display (mind play) of images and words. Writers – you, and Mr. Vonnegut so wisely states, are unique cells within the human community. And if they can learn to re-root and reconnect themselves, then there is no limit to what they can create.
But my motives are purely selfish! You see, I love to read. I’m a hopeless addict. I read everything, i.e. medical books (all), aspirin bottles, gas pump certifications, Omni, Leisure and Travel, Penthouse, Mad Magazine, Science Digest, fiction, classics, underground, i.e. High Times, The Catholic Review, Soldier of Fortune, etc., etc. And I’m running out of material! Egad! Well, not really material, but good books. For this is what I treasure and yes, lust after. So my objective is again purely selfish. I want to produce writers who want to write from the heart. I want to tap America’s underground literary wellspring. I seek the person who want sot smash the television, and use his or her time to discover more of themselves and in the process, write their book(s). I seek those with limited resources, and very limited time. If you are by nature, habit, or circumstance reclusive, all the better for both of us. Use your time with the process to challenge that all too common and innocent (?), fellow in all of us who taunts “What you — you? Who are you to kick a wad of paper nude?” Actually, nude problem kicking is GREAT!! I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with gregarious monkey grins — try it! Get weird. Besides, have you ever heard of a normal writer? If so, let’s document them. Please send name, address, photos, and bibliography. Maybe you live with one? Well, get him/her/”it” to kick the hell out of a paper ball too. However, be warned, I take no responsibility for producing strange genius. I simply believe that an unweird writer is more rare than a petrified omelet. To end: get weird, stay weird, and write a great book.
Take a break. Listen to the stream of consciousness tape you recorded on Day 19.
Record story from manuscript and storyboarded notes. It is a healthy sign if you are a bit overloaded with ideas at this point. Overloading becomes easier to handle with practice by the way. So be — act confidently. All proceeds as planned. If you find it necessary to buy new tapes at this time – do so. I applaud your verbosity. You are becoming a superb storyteller! If you don’t have to buy or borrow any blank tapes, excellent! I rarely do. Simply reuse set one to record on. And as you finish each cassette, turn these over with the appropriate manuscript section to the transcriber.
Again, record best loved poems and prose. Choose that which, to you, sounds closest to a running brook. Include in your repertoire deep pools, waterfalls, and jumping fish – be as sensual as possible.
Repeat Day 20 in spirit and do the unusual.
Listen to Day 35 stream of consciousness tape.
Yippee!!! Your characters are back. Greet them with a hug. It’s nice to have them home. You and their alter egos missed them. They look so good and fresh on the page. Again, record your story. This time, however, use as much feeling, love, and vocal range as you can muster. Take no notes. Focus on color, tone, texture, and rhythm.
During these days, continue the story but also choose one or all of the following:
1. Go to the library and either ask the librarian to help you select an agent to mail your novel to, or
2. Make a list of publishers to whom it should be sent (dictated by type of novel, i.e. western, thriller, sci-fi, modern romance, etc.). Recommended are both the LMP – 2009 and 2009 Writers Market. Also, an excellent source is the magazine, Writers Digest.
3. Mail $2500 – money orders only – and your book to me for a critique. Please send SASE (a requirement if you want it back). Of course, make a copy. And I will consider your work for submission to the appropriate market . I’m especially interested in seeing published eccentric mainstream novels. That is, styles in the likes of Vonnegut, Robbins, Ellison (Harlan), New Wave – Jack London’s – c’mon America’s got to have “ONE?!?” New Age Steinbeck’s, Neanderthal Age – you. I seek adventure novels, pop novels, rain novels, dust storm novels, and of course ideal novels.
4. Pay your transcriber! I suggest this payment occur in nominal fees throughout the process, as this structure of payment places the burden of a large payment due at the novel’s completion. Usual payment (as discussed before) is per page, with about $100 per page – the going rate.
And that’s it. Ha! You’ve completed your novel in seven weeks (and perhaps six) instead of the allotted eight. You’ve time to spare. But don’t despair, if you need the extra week(s) or find yourself enjoying your storytelling and characters so much that you’ve neglected family and friends. This, believe me, is quite natural and to be a point of celebration, for you have reawakened the creative need to tell stories. Great wondrous stories of heroes and heroines alike, of far away places and down home folk. Perhaps the story is about you – yes, you! For the process is an excellent tool for the autobiography.
So now that you’ve finished, reacquaint yourself with spouse, dog, or community. What’s that you say? You’ve enjoyed doing the Process so much that you want to start another novel as soon as possible? Ha! Fantastic. “You’re sure you won’t take a rest?” I ask. “No.” So enjoy! And I hope to see your work. If not by way of mailman, then perhaps on the bookstand, the bestseller rack of course. Or dare I say on the big screen? In any event, let me know of your success, for I love people who succeed.
Sincerely – the best of possible literary fame and fortune to you – novelist YOU!