Monday, July 28, 2008


"Where do you get your ideas?" I'm asked that mostly by non-writers, who are in such awe of the craft, but also by many young writers. What PROMPTS (stimulates, generates) ideas for stories, scenes or a piece of dialogue? Of course the biggest tip in finding such prompts is: KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN. And maybe keep a pen and paper, or a little tape recorder, on your person at all times. Comedy (and drama) is happening all around you, stuff that you can't make up. And you never know when it will come in handy - usually at 3 AM during a desperate re-write. My best ideas are simply from my own life experiences on a micro level, meaning not so much things I see while driving or at a restaurant, but conflicts, tragedies or even celebrations within my birth family, my own family, or among my friends. Or ex-friends. Think of the worst arguments your parents had, and you may find that is script gold! I find what's not so funny in real life is apt to be very funny in a script... or at least fodder for a scene, funny or not. The things we laugh at on a sitcom, or the classic "pompous banker slipping on a banana peel" you might see in a Charlie Chaplin film, are painful in real life.

As a psychologist once told me, comedy is manic denial. We laugh at human frailities to deny our human frailities.

For example
I tell this story about an old girlfriend who I was taking to San Francisco on a romantic trip to see her beloved 49rs play at Candlestick Park. I sent a car to pick her up, reserved a nice hotel room (with flowers waiting). But while we waited for our plane at the airport, she was being very morose. I said, after some time, Uh, problem? It seems the man with whom she was having an affair and wasn't supposed to talk to him anymore, (per her psychologist) had left a message to call her. She didn't know what he wanted - or wouldn't tell me- but I surmised he got wind of he trip north with a Man. I said, "Well of course I know what he will say that he is splitting with his wife."
She said, "Well if he's splitting with his wife, I'm there!!" Imagine her saying such a thing to me at that moment!; I thought I knew this person (well actually I didn't really). I was, of course, dumbfounded, heart-broken, stunned, all of the above. What a time to bring this up! There was very little hesitation on her part when I said, "Well, perhaps we shouldn't go on this trip." Nuff said! She couldn't get out of the terminal fast enough, either through eagerness to see her lover, or, because of embarrassment, to get away from me. We didn't have long to wait at the curb... off she went on the Valley Flyaway shuttle.
Now this was real life, you cannot make this up! And often when I tell this story, I remember the pain of her leaving me - I really liked her! - but the listener is generally laughing, or otherwise amused at her the audacity of it all. Yet it was all "written" for me, as it were, so I put the saga to use in a subsequent script. I got paid, at least, for my pain. And, months later, she sent me an e-mail which simply stated, "broken hearted!" HAHAAAHHAHAHAHAA! So my real life scene has a happy ending after all. Karma is a bitch!

is where ideas come from.

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