Stripper-Turned-Writer (11.08)

March 21, 2011

If you’re a writer, particularly a screenwriter, you’d have to be living in a box not to know the story of Diablo Cody. Stripper in Minneapolis blogs about her life as a stripper. Producer/agent/publisher guy finds said blog, and turns it into a book, and then convinces stripper to write a screenplay. Jason Reitman gets screenplay, and they make Juno. Stripper wins Academy Award.

Juno was one of my favorite movies of that year, and I’m totally agree with the Oscar win. But I didn’t even know about the book until I saw it in some random pile at my brother’s house a few days ago. But being a fan of Juno, and of strippers in general (not to mention being someone who still has a yet-to-be-finished screenplay that’s set in that particular scene), I had to read it.

The book is called Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, and I read the whole thing in one sitting, in a marathon reading session that lasted from about 11 pm until 2:30 this morning. Rather than being a story about the “girl gone wrong,” it’s more of a “fish out of water” tale, as this desperately conservative (or so she would have us believe) 24-year-old suburbanite steps into her quarterlife crisis, and with it a seedy strip club on amateur night. Over the next year she hits an upscale gentleman’s club, an all-nude hustler bar, the peep show at a porn shop, back to a strip club, and finally a phone sex line, before it was finally time for her to call it quits for good.

One of the markers of Cody’s writing style is that it’s incredibly witty. The sort of thing I used to envy when I was … well, about that age, and convinced that the deeper you delved into the thesaurus, the more idioms you used, the more obscure and creative your analogies, the better the writing. One such perpetrator who comes to mind is the curmudgeon John Kelso of the Austin American-Statesman. (Side note: When I was in college I wrote a poem about a hyperbolically precocious squirrel. I came across that poem a few days ago digging through old boxes, and I still like it. But my favorite poem I ever wrote was called “From the Journal of a 13th Century Peasant”, which consisted of the title, my name, and a blank page.)

At some point I read an article that argued that good writers don’t need to call attention to their own writing in that way, and it cured me forever of that ambition. Every now and then I write something that violates the principle, like my recent short story, an attempt at Poe-esque American Gothic, where I literally spent hours in a thesaurus picking out every obscure word I could shoehorn into my story, and then hours more pulling all those words out. But I still like coining new words and phrases (if you can understand what it means, then by definition it’s a word, dammit!), and do so regularly.

But I no longer feel the need to litter everything I write with obscure references to popular culture or ancient classics. (In an interview with Letterman, Cody refers to herself as a naked Margaret Mead. The audience laughed and applauded. Cody mugged for them. I looked up who the heck Margaret Mead is.)

Regardless, there’s no denying that Candy Girl is exceptionally well told, because Cody has more than just a keen wit, she has an excellent grasp on story telling. This book includes every structural beat you would expect from a well-told story: solid turning points, as she goes from one club to the next along her questionable career path; a midpoint when she quits, but then just has to return because she can’t help herself; rising stakes as she does more and more, going from the partially-clothed to the all-nude to masturbating in front of fetishists, until she finally found herself as the Grade A stripper who took home the gold; and then the need to quit and exit the industry entirely.

Through all of it, the insights are candid; erotic but grotesque: the unmistakable stain spreading through the patrons’ shorts, the declining responsiveness of her genitals, the need to be better than everyone else for just one night, the power through all the objectification. And for that, we love the author, because she gives us, as all great writers should, a window into something we couldn’t possibly have known otherwise.

I like that she addresses, in the conclusion, her motives for doing this and the motives of most of the girls who take this career path. I’ve recently become fascinated with the idea of exploiting stereotypes to call attention to them and offer a contrapuntal alternative. And this book does all of the above.

So all in all, a great read, and one that has me respect this Oscar-winning writer all the more.

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What Makes Screenplay Dialogue Great?

September 9, 2010

Check out this really fantastic dialogue analysis from ScreenwritingU. Of course, no surprise that the passage in question was written by Aaron Sorkin, quite possibly the greatest dialogue writer of all time. But the analysis is spot on. Building tension, avoiding saying the substance of the scene — waiting until the last possible moment to say the part that, had it come earlier, would have been dismissed as “on the nose,” but pays off beautifully because of the build up.

As a writer, I spend a lot of time reading articles about writing, and most of them say the same things about structuring your article, or your screenplay, or your novel, but rarely do they discuss the mechanics of a good sentence or a good paragraph. So when I find something that offers a glimmer of an answer to why do remember the “thousand injuries of Fortunato” or the “miles to go before I sleep,” or that “Brutus is an honorable man,” or the “truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” I really enjoy it.


Professional Coiner

February 2, 2010

Coinage – [KOI-nij] – n – the act or process of inventing words

I had this word on a vocab test once. It was a silly word to have on a high school vocab test, since it was just the noun form of a word all of us knew anyway, at a time when everyone thought it was hilariously funny to add “-age” to the end of every word. Foodage: that which could be considered to be food. Sexage: any act that approximates sex. Sufferage: the act of suffering (of course, an intentional – and we thought highly original – homonym for suffrage, which is the right to vote).

I still coin words now, except I’m much better at it and far, far more defensive. I think it’s the only reason I write my own stuff, because I know I can get away with it there. I’m approaching the end of my short story, “The Blinding Mirror,” which I’m writing in a Poe-esque style that gives me an excuse to dive into a thesaurus – one of my favorite past times. Still, I’ve found the thesaurus insufficient, and yesterday I created the word “iration,” which, to my knowledge, is not currently in the dictionary.

In context:

“He’d been in such sour spirits, on such regular occasions, now, that they rather expected it and simply placated him and his irations.”

My wife was able to define the word immediately: “angry ravings.” And thus, a word is born. When “The Blinding Mirror” takes the world by storm and is published in the next anthology of great works by up and coming writers, edited by Stephen King (’cause why not?), “irations” will trickle through the Internet and into common vernacular, and then Miriam-Webster will be forced to include it in the dictionary, just like they did with “ringtone” and “ollie” and “d’oh”.

When my father and I were writing Ups & Downs, he got mad at me once or twice for making up a word. But I responded to his irations with irations of my own, and insisted that as long as you know what it means, it is by definition a word, and it’s our prerogative as writers – our responsibility, even – to coin the words that will be used by the next generation.

This placified him somewhat. Which is a good thing, too, because otherwise I would have had to dislocute him.


Blips and Hiccups

April 6, 2009

It seems that writing a script in a month is not without its challenges …

It was smooth sailing to start, writing 5 pages the first day and 3 the second to keep on track with my 4-pages-a-day goal.  But then I spent Friday busting my ass in every direction except this one.  I was finally able to find the time to squeeze one page out before leaving for an evening commitment, which then turned into the questionable decision to play poker until 4:30 in the morning, which turned into sleeping until about noon.

I spent the rest of Saturday trying to catch up, before my head finally exploded and I had to take a break.  And then late that night I received an e-mail from my dad, with comments and suggestions that made me realize I have to gut 4 pages of exposition.

So what now?  I made it to 16 2/3 pages last night, which is officially on track for 100 pages by the end of April, and I’m determined to find a way to finish all my other commitments and make it to 20 pages by the end of today.  But a massive chunk of it will have to be destroyed, and in the mean time I’ve got a massive gap from April 17th-19th when I won’t be able to write anything, and that really scares me.

I suppose part of the reason I was shooting for 4 pages a day instead of 3 1/3 is to account for these blips and hiccups.  But yikes … right now, writing even 1 page seems like it might take all day.


Writing on a Timeline

April 2, 2009

I’m doing this thing called Script Frenzy right now.  It’s like the MS150 for writers – this massive support group, where everyone gets together and writes an entire script (or graphic novel or something else) in the month of April.  By my calculations, I have to write 4 pages a day.  That’ll give me 120 pages total, or 100 pages with a few days when I don’t get it all in.

So Charisma is on hold while I hammer this out, not having any idea what I’m doing, really.  I knew going into it I wanted to do my adaptation of “The Tell Tale Heart,” but what I didn’t know was how.  It’s a five page story, and somehow I have to create an entire world of plot and character and intrigue.  Someone at the table suggested I start with the bricks being delivered.  I’m like, “Bricks?  Are you thinking of the ‘Cask of Amontillado?'”  He’s like, “Oh, yeah.”  But that gave me the entire premise … the story starts with a 5-minute scene in which Montresor walls up Fortunato inside his wine cellar.  So you’ve already got that this guy is a sociopath.  So then the rest of the story becomes about him trying not to kill the old man, who is a friend of his childhood love interest.  But he can’t help himself, and then has to deal with that.

So I hammered out the Beat Sheet on Tuesday night, basically finishing it at 1 am.  I still don’t know what I’m doing with my third act to raise the stakes, but at least I’m off to the races and I’m not going in blind. Today is Day 2, and I’m already 8 pages into my script, which pretty damn satisfying, considering all I had 36 hours ago was an idea.

Stay tuned for more.


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