Why did I begin this blog a year ago? I’ve been asking myself this question for the past three weeks and I’ve identified two main reasons that encapsulate the answer to it: loneliness and the desire to write. Anyone that writes or tries to write is familiar by default with the second, and I want to advance that you’ll find no insights here on how to deal with them; everything that needs to be said about the two has been subject to analysis by better people and all I’d add would be a banality or a boring cliché. However, I want to take a look at two works that focus on these two reasons and looks at them both individually and as a whole, analytically and emotionally and that are oddly linked: the movie Adaptation directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman and the book Story written by Robert McKee.
The first time I read about Adaptation (The Orchid Thief) was in Roger Ebert’s Best films of the decade -it did not make the Top 10 but appeared as an honorable mention-, but it was my love for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (directed by Michele Gondry) that really made me curious to see more films written by Charlie Kaufman. Thus, I bought Adaptation in a double pack DVD along with Being John Malkovich.
If I had to summarize Adaptation I’d say it is a movie about a writer trying to finish a script about a book dealing with orchids that ends up writing a story about himself adapting the book about orchids, however that would be awfully reductive. This movie’s script is the closest thing that I’ve seen to a magic trick unfolding on my TV screen and requires multiple re-watches to fully understand what Kaufman managed to pull off. It twists, bends, re-shapes and laughs at the clichés of writing to create a unique movie, and the funny thing is that the actual story behind this script is not that far from the final product. Charlie Kaufman was really hired to adapt the novel “The Orchid Thief” written by Susan Orlean, but being unable to adapt it he wrote a script about him failing to write a script.
In Adaptation you’ll see a pretty funny and insightful look at both loneliness and the difficulties to write. This is well illustrated in all the interactions that the main character has with his own brother – both of them played superbly by Nicolas Cage –. The main character (Charles) is the talented and lonely writer that puts effort into his writing and his brother (Donald) is the talentless writer that is extremely optimistic and social. At one point in the movie (minor spoilers) Donald suggests Charles going to a seminar on scriptwriting that is being given by Robert McKee (played by Brian Cox) to see if it helps with his struggle to finish the script. When he goes, the following happens:
This is one of the many brilliant moments in this movie and I think that, behind all the exaggerations in it, Charlie Kaufman wrote a really personal script that touches profoundly on both loneliness and the desire to write. After watching the cathartic feedback given by the fictional Robert McKee to the fictional Charlie Kaufmann, I knew that somewhere down the line I’d have to read McKee’s book and once again my friend Mrs. A happened to give me this book for my birthday.
If you want to write you MUST read Story by Robert McKee. It doesn’t matter if you are thinking about writing a novel, a screenplay or a short story, this book is filled with so much good and insightful advice that it would be helpful for any writer. From the very minute details necessary to develop a scene to the holistic godlike knowledge that a writer must have over the world he is creating in the page McKee shows how to tackle every single element necessary for good story telling.
Back on topic of loneliness and writings this is what he has to say (this is taken from Chapter 1: The Writer and the Art of Story):
“Good story” means something worth telling that the world wants to hear. Finding this is your lonely task. It begins with talent. You must be born with the creative power to put things together in way no one has ever dreamed. Then you must bring to the work a vision that’s driven by fresh insights into human nature and society, coupled with in-depth knowledge of your characters and your world. All that… and, as Hallie and Whit Burnett reveal in their excellent little book, a lot of love.
Then there is one big paragraph explaining the love of the story, and then there is one sentence that really hit me hard.
You must love to write and bear the loneliness.
I’ve been in a position where I’ve wanted to write but was unable to do so of loneliness, and to a degree this blog has helped me to turn that loneliness into something positive, but if by any chance you struggle with the desire to write and/or loneliness, either emotionally or rationally, I’d strongly recommend both this movie and this book to help you identify why and give you that little push necessary to sit down and write.
I finished reading Story by Robert McKee the 20th of August.