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Can You Handle the Truth?

Be honest before you break my heart/Stephanie DelTorchio/

“You can’t handle the truth” from  A Few Good Men  is one of my top ten movie lines of all time.

Icalled a plumber to rework the heating pipes in our small bathroom. His voice message said he’d return my call “as soon as possible.” That was three years ago.

I can handle the truth. It’s NOT getting the truth that’s difficult for me to handle.

Tell me you can’t.

Tell me you’d rather not.

Tell me you’re super busy.

Tell me anything, but don’t lie to me about your intentions to make good on a promise, and then leave me in the cold.

When I “retired” from my day job in marketing to pursue a writing career, I went balls to the wall with my passion. I sought out and met other wannabe writers and career writers to critique my work. (BTW: Writers, like most artists,  are notoriously self-critical, and way harder on their peers.)

I focused on screenwriting. A huge undertaking since I had zero experience. Okay, I had once read a screenplay — Thelma and Louise, and said: “That’s what I want to write.”

I expected screenwriting to be easy. So many less words to write than a novel. Lots of white space. Only 90 to 110 pages long.

In its look of simplicity lies the difficulty of the craft. There’s no benefit of pretty pictures or charts or clunky chapter titles like a novel. Each word must count. No internal dialogue. No flowery exposition.

A screenwriter is constrained to write only what can be seen or heard, and create dialogue that doesn’t sound like, well, dialogue. Suffice to say it’s a form that can be learned and there are plenty of books and gurus willing to teach their version of screenwriting.

The talent or magic comes in doing the writing. Answering the call to sit and write every day; making good on your promise to show up. That’s how you get referrals and stay in business — hear that plumber boy?

Here’s where my pipe dream almost burst: I went to LA. and studied with some extremely gifted and talented people — screenwriters, directors, actors and others all “struggling” in the business. Many willing to have lunch with me and share their tales of woe to get hired, find an agent or make a script sale.

At an open dialogue session in a class, I boldly gave my resume of having written exactly one full-length script, of which I was very proud.

This represented fifteen years of part-time writing. I thought it was a great story. Small town good guy fights the big established bad guy in a long awaited rematch and wins the girl. Kind of like ROCKY  but without the boxing. I had it copyrighted, sent it to several contests and got some decent feedback, but no advancement.

From the laugh track that erupted you’d think I’d pulled off the joke of the century. I swear someone uttered, “Yankee Go Home!”

“I am a writer,” I said. “I showed up to learn. To get better at this craft.” More chuckles from the back of the room.

Here’s the thing: I could handle that. Because the other writers continued to tell the truth, about character development, plot twists, dialogue, etc. without the hazing. On the other end of the phone or email, they respond as soon as possible, as promised, to answer questions or give advice.

Okay, I agree with my reading group. My first screenplay was an ambitious piece of shit. The second one, just a white hot mess, but better, because I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote it. The third saw improvement. And the fourth, actually readable. The newest requires more research. However, the art and craft of screenwriting is leaps and bounds above the first.

With truthful criticism, which I can handle, I’m learning to recognize crap I write and fix it as soon as possible.

Unlike the plumber.


Original graphic: Stephanie DelTorchio

8.18.2016 CLICK HERE button


















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