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The Art Of Words: Word Energy
Everyone whom enters into an artistic endeavor obviously has an idea, a feeling, or an impulse that motivates them to at least make an attempt to release their artistic expression. Some ideas are clearer than others, but even the slightest motivations can manifest fantastic results. The desire to create and the passion to see it through are at the heart of what the arts are all about, be it writing, performing, producing, or some other form of creative expression. For each facet to be successful the end result needs to embody one primary element: energy. Not necessarily physical energy, but emotional energy, one so strong that we are drawn to the artist's work, again and again.
Every creative endeavor should begin and end with a purpose. Whether it is to enlighten, entertain, educate, or some combination of the above, every artist must know the reason they are creating their material. Intent should be a key factor that drives creativity, and brings your idea to fruition. Weak intent can garner weak results, and lead to frustration upon frustration. That's not to say that knowing the intent of your material is going to make the process frustration free, but knowing what's behind the meaning of your work will make traversing the peaks and valleys of the creative process far more bearable.
When artistic material has meaning, the "energy" is inherent. It inspires and motivates the artist, as well as the public. That energy keeps us turning the pages, our eyes glued to the screen, our ears in the headphones, and keeps us visiting the material again, and again. It impacts fans and admirers and, hopefully, keeps them asking for more.
What Is Word "Energy"?
Word energy is the inherent component in your story/script/article that compels a reader to continue on from one word to the next. It's in the formulation of the words you choose to place on the page that takes the reader into the belly of the beast, and makes them want to continue the journey to the end. It's what makes a reader want to know "Who's the monster under the bed?", "Who's the stranger at the door during the storm?", "Who's calling my motel room in the middle of the night, when no one knows where I am?", "Who is that masked man who helps people whenever he's needed?".
Solid writing always has energy to it, and is always compelling. Think about the opening to the U.S. Constitution, and the energy in the words "We, the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union..." How different would that document be without its intent and purpose? "A bunch of us, stuck here in the Colonies, thought it would be really, really great to govern ourselves..." Energy is vital to selling an idea or story. But where do we find that "energy"? Where do we get a jar of it and slather it in heaps on our labors at the keyboard? The answer is both simple and arduous: work your butt off. There is no magic formula other than hard work. The right combination of words is what turns a story into a story. Re-write/edit your pages, and apply the principles of good writing until the story flows like water. Don't fight the process, embrace it. Keep trying different approaches and angles. Research how your favorite writers have created their work, what their failures and impediments have been, and how they overcame those obstacles. Think about the reasons you re-visit a particular book, TV show, movie, or song. Think about why those works inspire you, and how that inspiration motivates you in your own work. Make no mistake, finding the "energy" can be elusive and frustrating. But that energy is a prime factor in our motivation to keep writing, and to continue a creative journey we hope is endless.
Sooner or later, you will come to realize that the elusive "energy" you've been seeking actually resides within your own writing "voice"; your unique style that separates you from every other writer. Once you find it, you have to nurture it, you have to refine it, you have to perfect it. And, ultimately, you have to trust it, which is sometimes easier said than done. Knowing who you are as an artist is key, and that trust you have in yourself will come across through your material.
While I had read many scripts and books early on, the first screenplay I read in one sitting was Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino, which isn't a lite read, if you've read it yourself. But, I simply couldn't put it down. The words bristled like nothing I had read before. It overflowed with energy. I immediately felt like the story was leading me somewhere, and I couldn't wait to find out what it was. It simultaneously followed and broke every writing rule I had known at the time, and is still looked on as a benchmark in screenwriting.
Another phenomenal read is William Goldman's Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid. Like Pulp Fiction, the script, very deservedly, won the Oscar for best original screenplay. The story, humor, and pathos are all terrifically laid out. The energy, so evident on every page, demands you pay attention and rewards you with an outstanding tale of friendship and destiny. The characters are so well defined, so engaging, it's impossible not to root for them.
The screenplay for Up by Bob Peterson and Pete Docter is lean, engaging, and brimming with energy. It's a fast, involving read that, in my opinion, should be required reading for any screenwriter who wants to learn about writing efficiently and with heart.
Stephen King's The Stand is a masterwork. It's compelling to the end, and difficult to put down, even at over 1100 pages (or over 800 in the first printing). He is a peerless storyteller, master of horror, suspense and supernatural thrillers. But his true strength is creating characters the reader identifies with, and roots for.
In staying with the Shakespeare theme, several years ago I attended a seminar whose featured speaker was Marc Norman, writer of Shakespeare In Love. He talked about how his career had become stale, and he had been thinking about quitting the biz as a development writer at Universal. His son was attending college, and had been studying Shakespeare for a thesis. They had a conversation about The Bard, and within their discussion the spark of an idea struck Mr. Norman, one that motivated him to keep writing. But if he was going to continue to write, it was going to be his way. And he would write his story, not one from a pile of "development hell" castoffs. Energy, intent and purpose flowed from his head to his fingertips; he was writing the script he always knew he was capable of creating. And, after many months of blood, sweat, and coffee, the toiling at his keyboard would payoff. The script was sold, produced (after several production starts and stops), and went on to garner seven Academy Awards, including best original screenplay. The script (which was punched up by Tom Stoppard) is excellent from start to finish. It's a wonderful, engaging, compelling read, and has been one of my favorites since I first laid eyes on it. (For a little bit of fun, check out this link detailing some of the insane moments from Shakespeare's works: http://www.cracked.com/article_19245_the-6-most-wtf-moments-from-shakespeare-plays.html)
The Word's The Thing
Possibly more than any other writer in history, William Shakespeare (or Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, if you're a conspiracy theorist) understood the power of intent and purpose in the creative process. No playwright has ever applied more thought, purpose, or ingenuity into their efforts. The incredible creative energy in his works is unparalleled, which is why performers and scholars have been compelled to remake, reference, and decode his catalog for going on five centuries, now. He exhausted the breadth of 16th century English so severely, he had to create over 1700 of his own words to complete his work (that's right, if you've ever said the words advertising, elbow, or fashionable, you can thank Willy Shakes). His seminal play, Hamlet, is basically perfect. While it's not the easiest read in the world, the hero, villains, and ancillary characters are so well defined, we almost feel like we know them personally. Every motivation fully captured, every nuance fully formed. The most famous moment is a soliloquy to a human skull, and everyone knows that reference as well as any other pop culture reference you can think of. It's also one of the most quoted pieces of popular work ever created. His play Romeo & Juliet is perhaps the most remade work of fiction in history. The title characters are universally regarded as the embodiment of true love. The opening soliloquy "Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene..." is one of the best openers ever written. The list goes on. Shakespeare was, indeed, a wordsmith like no other.
Simply bringing "energy" to your project doesn't guarantee success, and straight enthusiasm doesn't always translate to the page. "Energy" is another cog in the wheel of creation, and one that will serve you well. But it still takes diligence and persistence to find the winning combination of words that tell your tale the way you really want to tell it, and hopefully the way readers want to read it. The usual steps in preparation and execution will still give you the best chance to succeed. It's up to you to make the effort.
These are just my opinions, do with them what you will. Best of luck.
A Few Quotes:
Write drunk, edit sober - Ernest Hemingway
You fail only if you stop writing - Ray Bradbury
I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent re-writer - James Michener
Easy reading is damn hard writing - Nathaniel Hawthorne
Be obscure clearly - E. B. White
Write the first draft with your heart, re-write it with your head - Finding Forrester
A Few Links:
Writer's Guild - www.wga.org - register your work!
Simply Scripts - www.simplyscripts.com - download hundreds of scripts
The Writer's Store - www.writersstore.com - Books, vids, seminars, software, etc.
Film Independent - www.filmindependent.org - for independent filmmakers/writers
Wordplay - www.wordplayer.com - great info on writing
Zoetrope - www.zoetrope.com - Francis Ford Coppola's company website