Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Thirteen and a Half Things Writers Need to Know

I watched a good Indy film this weekend- The Magic of Belle Isle- directed by Rob Reiner, starring Morgan Freeman as a writer who has stopped wribuildingting. As Freeman's character, an award winning Western writer named Monte tells his nephew, "drinking is my full time job now, and I can't work two jobs."
I like films where a hollowed out character regains his voice from unexpected sources. In this case, it begins with a nine year old girl named Finn who yearns to write. She is one of three neighbor girls of a single mom who live in the house adjacent to Montes. Finn finds out he is a writer, and she stops by to she ask Monte to teach her to create stories. By helping a child discover her inspiration, Monte gradually rekindles his own, which serves to remind me Inspiration cannot be forced. Its intrinsic.

Incorporate your own life experiences.

This s not the same as the old write what you know. We write to deepen what we already know, yet discover new knowledge as well. " Monte tells Finn to tell me a story and make me interested.  He instructs her to look outside and tell him a story of what she sees. I dont see anything, she says. Keep looking. What don't you see? See with your minds eye. Look for what you don't see. Finn looks again, and narrates an imaginary tale of intrigue, but uses details she knows from the island.

Writing takes us outside ourselves

Monte has spent most of his adult life in a wheelchair after a car accident. He tells Finn, "All the things I couldn't do in the real world, Jubal let me do on the page."

Write slowly

National Novel Writing Month is coming up, where the goal is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. Ive done this several times, and the books I created were all terrible. Only one, a mere skeleton of a tale, is salvageable.

In the film, Finn wonders why Monte uses a Typewriter rather than a computer.
I like that you write a bit slower , he says.I like that letters bite into the paper.

Writers must connect to their work

At dinner one evening with Finns family, Monte narrates a treacherous event about his recurring character,  Jubal McClaws, to the girls. As he describes a part which might give Finns 7 year old  sister Flora, nightmares, their mother interjects, " Remember , it's just a story. It didn't really happen."
"It happened to Jubal" "Monte says

The subject finds you

Finn has fallen in love with  Jubal McClaws., and she gets angry at Monte when he writes new stories about an elephant named Tony and a family of mice for her younger sister instead of penning another Jubal McClaws tale.
"But Jubal hasn't come calling in years," Monte tells Finn.

 We can't force inspiration. If the writing is true, and yes, fiction IS true, the story comes from a real place inside the writer. Our characters are real.

Monte says, Real life doesn't always ensure up to what's in our heads, but every once in awhile it comes close.

Use the right words

In a scene in belle, Finn parrots something offensive Monte had said, and her mother admonishes by requiring the girl to learn three new words. She learns her words, inspiration,

Read work out loud

The girls mother, Cassie ONeil, with whom Monte harbors a secret crush, reads the Tony stories out loud to Flora, and later to herself. As she reads,  she hears Montes voice.

Stories originated in the oral tradition, written work is relatively recent, and all writing has a cadence. Reading ones work out loud allows a writer to see where syntax might drag, or lines of poetry need to be broken.

Freemans character is in a wheelchair, and he tells Finn Writing gives you legs.

Stories, essays  and poems take us places  otherwise impossible

 Revision is part of the writing process, and its never too late to re-vise a work.

When Finn tells Monte she bought an old copy of his most celebrated book, but the last page is missing, he says You didn't miss much. I always meant to change that anyway.

Don't write in order to get a house with a pool

Most writers will never own a house with a pool like the one above. But that does not stop me from imagining  myself sitting poolside, sipping a glass of lemonade, reading the blazing hot reviews of my latest novel. Later, I will be getting dressed for my appearance as an Oscar nominated writer of an Oscar nominated film. starring Meryl Streep, Harrison Ford.but I digress..

Don't give up. In Belle Isle, Morgan Freeman's Monte believes his writing career is over, and Virginia Madsens Cassie ONeil has given up on love.

Always have a deadline Monte tells Finn

There are no guarantees

Writing is a gift, unwrap it wisely.

Happy Writing.


  1. Two favorite bits in the post: "We can't force inspiration. If the writing is true, and yes, fiction IS true, the story comes from a real place inside the writer. Our characters are real."

    and this: "Writing is a gift, unwrap it wisely."

    Now I'm torn between writing and watching this film.

  2. Lots to think about in this one -- thanks for sharing, Laura!

  3. What a fabulous post. And I want to see this movie, too!

    1. Thank you, Rita. The film is an Indy, so it may not be that easy to find. Well worth the search, though.