I have a problem. Two problems, actually. I think everyone likes the same things that I like; and I tend to let these things I enjoy seep into my work. What do I like? Books about books and movies about movies. Since I’m a writer, the creative process fascinates me. I love to read about the craft of writing. I love to watch movies about the art of making movies. The problem with this is, most people reading books or watching movies just want a story. They don’t particularly care about the creative process. They want to be entertained. So, yes, this is a big problem for me.
When I write a story, my first instinct is usually to make one of my main characters a writer, because I know all about writers. But you know what? The majority of people on this planet are not writers, and couldn’t care less about the life of a writer. My second instinct is to make my characters megalomaniacal directors or egotistical actors or troubled artists. It’s sometimes hard for me to write about a guy who works at a factory, comes home, puts on a dress and drinks beer. Or about a housewife trying to keep her family together. Or a schoolteacher trying to shape a band of misfits into knowledge-craving kids. I always want to write characters who do creative things. This troubles me. I want to write about police officers and firemen and waitresses and garbage collectors and accountants. But it’s hard.
So, I am constantly telling myself: “Ervin, not everyone is interested in the creative process. Just write a damned good story.”
I love movies-within-movies. I adore stuff like Overnight and Adaptation and Gods and Monsters and Living in Oblivion. When I’m working on a screenwriting project, I must fight hard against the temptation to tell a story of characters who want to make a movie. I love it, but I shouldn’t be writing about it. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional story of a writer or director or actor. But I’m always tempted to tell the tale of a bad B-movie actress, because then I can include bad movie titles and bad clips from bad movies inside my script.
Yes, this is a problem.
I recently read a book about the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s called Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m. by Sam Wasson. The book is wonderful, and I loved every page of it. No problem there. At the same time, I’ve been working on a horror story. Here’s the problem: Breakfast at Tiffany’s is creeping into my scary story. I have a character named Holly. I have a character named Audrey. I have the main female saying, “Every day can’t be Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” I reference a character named Dolly Golightly. I had to recently go back and edit my work and remove some of these references, most of which I wasn’t even aware that I’d made. The story I’m working on has nothing to do with making movies, but still, because of the book I’d been reading, because of my fascination with moviemaking, my horror story inadvertently started to become an ode to Truman Capote and Audrey Hepburn. I did keep one or two references, just a tiny nod to where my head was at while writing the story.
We all have passions. We all love certain kinds of books and movies. We all have certain types of characters we love to read and write about. But we must remember that not everyone loves what we love. Maybe you love horses, or serial killers, or “Happy Days,” or orchids. Whatever it is you love, if you’re including it in a story make sure it’s appropriate, and please, don’t let whatever book you’re reading at the moment creep into your current writing. I’ll bet you don’t even know you’re doing. Most of the time, I don’t know that I’m doing it.
As writers, we all want to tell stories with varied characters on varied subjects. But we must try not to write too much about what gets us off, because, chances are, it’s not going to get our readers off.
I’m certainly going to write stories in the future that include characters who write, who act, who are creative, but I must not get lost in those things. Audrey Hepburn should not be a part of all my stories, even if I wish she could. And I, the writer, should also not be a part of all my stories. My brother who builds houses is worthy of a character. My mother who raised five children on her own is worthy of many stories. Politicians and homeless people and coffee shop owners and toll collectors are just as worthy of stories about them.
Here I am, freely admitting my problem. Do you suffer the same? Do you find yourself always writing about a certain type of character or a certain type of story? I’d love to know I’m not alone.