Thursday, September 13, 2012

Storyteller’s Rulebook #141: Write What You Know, But Bigger

Recently I’ve finally caved and hopped onboard the Mark Maron hype train.  Sure enough, it’s true: his WTF Podcast is pretty amazing.

Maron candidly presents himself as coulda-been-somebody aging stand-up-comic who’s finally given up on making it big and decided to just camp out in his garage interviewing all his fellow-comedians who found success and left him behind.  With wonderful irony, this has led to Maron finally making it big, as he turns out to a great interviewer, using his own brutally honest self-recriminations as a tool to get lots of smart people to open up about their own insecurities and their process in ways they never would in a TV interview.

In this great, rollicking interview, Danny McBride talks about the origin of his hilariously crude HBO show “Eastbound and Down”.  McBride graduated from film school and moved out to Hollywood with big dreams.  A year later, having had his ass kicked, he moved back to his small Virginia town and got a job as a substitute teacher. 

On his first day subbing, as he faced his students, McBride found himself compelled to explain to them that he didn’t really belong there, since he was actually a big shot screenwriter, and he was going back to Hollywood any day and he’d show them!  The kids, of course, could have cared less. Even at the time, McBride had enough self-awareness to realize how hilariously pitiful his vainglorious boasting was.  And that moment stayed with him for years… 

In the meantime, a friend of his back home invited him to co-write and star in a locally-shot movie, which became a minor hit at Sundance and won him a lot of fans in Hollywood, so he wound becoming a big success after all.  Soon enough, he got a chance to pitch a show to HBO, and he thought back to that moment…  Was there a show there?  We’ve all heard that we should “write what you know”, and that’s what he did, sort of... 

He could have taken that maxim literally, and written about a 22 year-old would-be screenwriter turned substitute, but who cares? Instead, he took that situation and made it bigger.  The would-be screenwriter became a famous ex-baseball star.  “Giving up on Hollywood” became “having an epic meltdown on national TV.”  Suddenly, this loser substitute boasting to his class became a much funnier character, with further to fall and further to climb back up. 

“Write what you know really means “write the emotions you know”, not “write about the particulars of your life.”  With a little research, you can transpose your emotional journey into a much more exciting world. 

1 comment:

christinembird said...

This is also true in art. To paint a picture you take whatever details you happened to notice and make them bigger, more startling, more life-like. You edit out whatever you did not find interesting, leaving it out altogether or letting it recede into the background.

You go for high contrast when you lay out your colors, juxtaposing orange with blue, red with green, yellow with purple. Other contrasts you can introduce include size, saturation, and depth.

The whole idea is to make it pop.