Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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The hard part

Last night I spent (or wasted) a few hours trying to explain to a contact of mine why writing is hard.
Because this guy was like, “hey, I’ve got this great idea, the story will practically write itself!” and from there it was all downhill to the classic “you just got to sit down and write it, right?”
Wrong.

So I asked him to give me the short summary for “Casablanca”, the 1942 movie. Because it’s a movie everybody knows, and because it illustrates perfectly my point.
The short summary my friend gave me goes more or less like this…

During WW2, in Casablanca, Rick Blaine is the owner of a night club. When his former lover appears, together with her French Resistance husband, Rick needs to straighten his relationship with her, while staying one step ahead of the Nazis.

Which is a viable capsule plot for Casablanca, and it has all the “great ideas” – star-crossed lovers, war, political intrigue, exotic locale, Nazis.
Nice and smooth.
Now write it.

“What do you mean, write it?”

And I explained that a great idea is indeed a good starting point, but then you need to develop it.
You’ve got to find a way to present Sam, and the Peter Lorre Character, and the Sidney Greenstreet character… you’ve got to figure out the scenes, what happens when, what to show and what to imply. Write the dialogue. Create a sense of continuity.

“Let’s say I give you two hours. Can you write me two pages of Casablanca, your own version, in two hours?
I’ll be back later.”

And I went and watched the movie we’ll discuss tonight on our podcast.
When I got back, my contact told me it doesn’t work the way I said. Writers don’t do it like that.
One does not write like this, one has to wait for inspiration.
At this point I reminded him of the time when he asked me for a story, 6000 words in ten days – “all you have to do is write 600 words per day. Easy.”
What about my inspiration, then? What if I had to wait for the Muse to appear for one week?
“You’re the writer, that’s your business.”

A business a lot of people think they know better than we that do it.