Day 13 – Write Drunk, Edit Sober
That’s what Mark Twain wrote, anyway. Presumably sober.
No, he’s not advocating we get our best ideas from inebriation and substance abuse. (Although one has to wonder about Charlie Kaufman and the eternal sunshine of his not so spotless mind – brilliant film by the way)
The idea of “Write Drunk, Edit Sober” is the same concept as the Right Brain Left Brain thinking. You’ve got the Left Brains that are all organized and mathematical and logic oriented and scheduled and systematic and stuff. A.k.a. the Sober side.
Then you’ve got the Right Brainsesss that are creative and free thinking and loose and unrestricted by rules and kinda hippy-like. A.k.a. the Drunk side. Each of us uses both sides of our brains, but we tend to favor one side or another.
Writing drunk means not limiting your story or characters in any way. Being as hopelessly creative as possible. Taking the lid off the box and showing us a story that we have never seen before in our lives. And by knowing your characters and listening to them, allowing them to take you wherever the story leads.
Sometimes this clashes with our Christianity, because we also have our own set of morality and rules that we have to live by. Biblical rules. Stay with me now. This next concept is pretty huge. But writing drunk also involves not imposing our own religious values on ALL of our characters and scripts. Not in the writing phase.
In the writing phase, just write. Explore. If the character curses, let him curse. If another character sleeps around, let them sleep around. Create characters who are true to themselves. Ghetto Gangsters that yell out: “Shucks Golly, I’m going to malign you!” is not true to any gangster in any ghetto on planet earth. So write true to the characters.
And if this doesn’t sound very Godly to you then just pick up the Old Testament sometime, open it randomly to any book, any chapter and start reading. As long as you didn’t land in the legal mirey depths of Leviticus or the genealogical dude begat dude labyrinth of Numbers…you probably land on some very colorful people leading some very colorful lives.
Okay, now after you’ve got a couple drafts of your script you need to sober up. You need to switch to your other brainsesss and take a new look at your characters. Start with language. The goal is not censorship…the goal is evolution. Evolve your words. And to do that, maybe take a page out of the Shakespeare handbook:
Away, you cut-purse rascal! you filthy bung, away! By this wine, I’ll thrust my knife in your mouldy chaps, an you play the saucy cuttle with me. Away, you bottle-ale rascal! you basket-hilt stale juggler, you!
2 Henry IV (2.4.120-22)
No one denies that this character is angry and saying some rude things to another character. It’s pretty clear without using the 5-cent swear words. The english language is an amazing tool. Think of all the films under the Hayes Code from the 40s through the 60s. The golden age of Hollywood.
We knew when Bogart was mad. We knew when Scarlett almost got raped. We experienced laughter, fear, love, hate…every single emotion we feel when we watch today’s movies only without the curse words. Without the love scenes. Without the gore.
Trust me, I’m not saying every one of our films has to be rated-G. I don’t agree with that. ”Crash” is a very powerful film in part because of its edginess and raw dialogue. I wouldn’t change a word. ”American History X” was one of the most powerful redemption stories on film. Some very tough scenes to watch. Wouldn’t change a thing.
So, again, I’m not saying cut everything out, but take another look and find new ways for your characters to express themselves, new ways to show a love scene. I mean, “Titanic” had one of the steamiest scenes ever with just a hand pressed up on a fogged car window.
“Jaws” had the scariest monster ever BECAUSE you didn’t see it for so long. And only glimpses when he did show up. Course that was because the huge clunky mechanical beast looked like “a floating terd” according to Spielberg if they showed too much of it, but he set the bar for many many creature features afterward. Less is more.
Know your audience. And your first audience is the filmmaker or studio you want to make your darling beloved script. If that is a faith-based audience, there’s going to be a zero tolerance attitude for cussing, nudity and to a lesser extent, violence. That’s changing, but for now if you’re going for that market, you need to evolve your script right out of an “R” rating.
But, in your first draft, let your characters talk however they want to. If you stop to fret over the F-bomb you just put on paper, you may lose the heat of the scene you’re writing. Besides this draft is for you and you alone. Stay in the writing moment and get your thoughts down on paper. Then, go back and edit once you’ve sobered up. So to speak.
Let’s write a movie!