The new script is coming along. I’m still working heavily on the story outline. I know how it begins and I know how it ends. It’s the middle I’m still working through. It can feel overwhelming to think about how much work lies ahead. But it is also thrilling to create something new. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be meeting up with a close friend for a writer’s retreat. I look forward to having uninterrupted time to work.
In the meantime, I thought I’d share some with you some things I’ve been turning to for inspiration (and entertainment).
S-Town: What starts off as a murder investigation turns into something entirely different; a fascinating character study of a complicated man who doesn’t belong, but refuses to leave his rural Alabama life.
Bon Iver’s 22, A Million – I’ve been listening to this album on repeat the last month. Like most of Bon Iver’s music, I don’t know what he’s talking about half the time, but it’s the way he talks about it that is so captivating.
Crashing – HBO comedy about a former youth pastor turned (aspiring) stand-up comic. I had the chance to meet to Pete Holmes last week. He is a genuine and very funny guy with a unique story to tell.
Silicon Valley – Back for its fourth season this week. The HBO comedy about a start-up tech company trying to find its legs in Silicon Valley is well-written and fun to watch. I see many parallels between the tech and entertainment industries.
Sing Street – Available on Netflix, this film is the story of a teenage boy in 1980s Dublin who forms a rock band to cope with his difficult home and school life. With great original music, this film is full of heart and joy that left me smiling for days.
Silence – The best film of 2016 that nobody saw. Martin Scorsese offers one of the most thought-provoking films on the nature of faith: The story of two young Jesuit priests who travel to 17th century Japan to find their mentor who is rumored to have committed apostasy. This film sticks with you. I saw it back in January, and I still can’t stop thinking about it.
Untitled – My sister wrote a novel and has been gracious enough to let me read an early manuscript. What I’ve read so far is great! I may be a bit bias, but I’m a huge fan. Once she comes up with a title, she’ll be all set.
The Great Spiritual Migration (Brian McLaren) & Finding God in the Waves (Mike McHargue) are both books about faith in transition. They have been very helpful as I work on this new script, which deals directly with the issues of belief and doubt.
The Great Courses
This online source offers courses on a plethora of subjects. I recently finished The World’s Greatest Structures, and now I’m deep into a course on the History of the Ancient World. It's like going back to school; only it's on my terms.
My Writers Group
My writers group has been together for nearly ten years. Over that period, our members have transitioned from aspiring writers to professional writers. Several are now staff writers on popular network and cable television shows. We still meet to give feedback on each other’s work, encourage one another, and share insights into our industry. I’m so grateful to have this group.
I was at work sitting in a film strategy meeting. We were going over the key marketing points – the most important things the studio wants audiences to know – for one of our upcoming movies. We talked about how, yes, the film is “epic” in scale with large set pieces and stunning visual effects, but we really wanted to convey that even though it has the spectacle, it is a surprisingly emotional film. We wanted audiences to know that the story has heart.
When I work with the 5th graders in the Young Storytellers script-to-stage program, I ask them on week one, “What makes a good story?” The kids are intuitive. They know it’s not the mere presence of wizards or mermaids (common characters that appear in the stories 5th graders write) that make a good story. Eventually, one of the students will say “action.” We unpack what action means and end up with another word: struggle. It’s the struggle that makes a good story.
Heart and struggle. They are at the core of every good story because heart and struggle are at the core every human relationship. And every good story is about a relationship.
Our relationship with ourselves
Our relationship with one another
Our relationship with our community
Our relationship with the natural world
Our relationship with God
Our relationship with technology
To be human is to be in relationship.
We don’t watch the Olympics to see an athlete win a medal. We watch the Olympics to see if that athlete - the one who is grieving the loss of a loved one, overcoming a health problem, rising from a difficult environment, putting her faith on the line, or representing our country, our people - is going to win the medal.
The difference between a bad story and a good story is that a bad story sets out to entertain. A good story sets out to reveal something truthful about our relationships, and in doing so, we are entertained.
Sometimes these stories make us laugh. Sometimes they make us cry. They can have happy endings or doleful endings.
What I think we mean when we say we like a good story is that we like a story that helps us make peace.
We struggle to make peace with ourselves, peace with our neighbor, peace with our community, peace with God, peace with the natural environment, peace with the change that comes with the passage of time.
A good story lights the way to peace. Regardless of whether we find peace or not, it tells us we are not alone in the struggle.
A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES