It is natural for us aspiring authors to seek advice about writing and publishing from those whom we admire most in the industry. We turn to the Stephen Kings and the Donald Masses to point us in the right direction. And though they may vary in their styles and querying tips, they share a core mantra:
Read a lot and write a lot. Turn off that rerun of Frasier, stop dreaming about your novel, and get busy crafting your book.
All of this reading and writing and studying the industry then turns us on to new authors and publishers who tell us this same common-sense-yet-we-need-to-be-reminded-anyway drone in their own words. Which is great except for the fact that we live in a world of entertainment where we also enjoy stories that unfold on the big and small screen and not just on the pages of a novel.
We needn’t feel like we are crippling our literary abilities just because we want to unwind in front of the TV instead of pouring over literary fiction. Isn’t story telling in a novel similar to writing a script, after all? Don’t we all slave over characterization, pacing, dialogue, setting, conflict, etc.?
Can’t we novelists also learn from the Seth MacFarlanes and Larry Davids of writing?
Until now comedian-actor-writer Larry David has not been much more than “that Seinfeld creator” to me. I was young enough during the nine seasons of Seinfeld that I only really saw the show years later during 11 o’clock network reruns. I then entered a seven year period when I was vaguely aware that a show called Curb Your Enthusiasm existed but didn’t even have a clue as to what channel aired it.
My indifference ended when I caught the Larry David TV Guide promo and then came across a few episodes from the current, eighth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO after my Sunday True Blood fix. Once I stopped loling, I realized that Larry David is one of the best writing coaches I’ve found.
Many writers sing ballads of praise regarding the merits of outlining, and they are right to do so. Outlining before writing helps us understand the beginning, middle, and end of our story and allows us to formulate the major conflicts that propel the action of the story. Even better, the early organization helps us cut down on our editing time. But the trick to outlining as we see through Larry David’s example is to use it as the guide it’s meant to be and nothing more.
But He Doesn’t Outline to Death
Ever stick to an outline so closely that you stunted the growth of your characters and the development of your plot? The solution is improvisation! Larry David clues actors in to the outline of a scene and then sets them forth into the scenario. They speak how they want and respond to events as they happen. The result is that the audience sees people in unusual (or unusually comical) scenarios acting as they normally would. And the end product is successfully devoid of stilted writing and poorly delivered lines.
Larry David achieves what we want for our novels–characters that act naturally and believably in a fictional world. Let your characters do as they please. Leave your forced, premeditated characterizations of them aside and have them speak for themselves based on the conflicts they encounter and the world they are forced to reconcile. Have them dictate the pacing of your scenes and talk when they want to talk! You’ll likely find that they enrich your novel and create new dimensions of conflict that you never could have imagined ahead of time.
He Has Fun
Does Larry David really act? According to him he doesn’t; he instead behaves like himself. Next time you are writing, ask yourself if you are putting words down with the intent to write like a bestselling novelist. If you are, I bet that your book is filled with needless flowery prose and littered with little gems of wisdom that you think sound great but that detract from the action. Have some fun with your characters. Ask yourself, “What Would Larry David Do?” Start letting your characters react and stop trying so damn hard to be great. You’ll be surprised by how quickly your work develops a pulse of its own.
Name your nontraditional writing guide in the comments section. And let me know if you are also not ashamed to watch TV even if you do love to write!