I’m off to Dunedin in a couple of weeks to be part of the New Zealand Young Writers festival. I’ll be performing OCPHCTMHYL at the Fortune, and leading a workshop on, quote, anything you like, end quote.
The invite/ challenge came from my good friend and festival organiser Councillor Aaron Hawkins, so I couldn’t wriggle out of it. Not after drinking all that booze at his wedding. Not after presenting him with a voucher for an albatross colony in lieu of a wedding gift.
But what the hell can I teach anyone? I can barely write myself. I’ve never had a problem coming up with ideas, but it’s the growing them that’s tough. My brain is a lawn and every blade of grass is an idea. The problem is there’s only a few green patches and the rest of it looks like it’s been hosed with dog piss. My focus these days is figuring out how to get the best out of my metaphorical lawn.
So for my workshop, on Friday 5th June, I’m asking you to bring along a good idea you’ve had that’s never quite worked out. I’m going to try and share a few tricks that have helped me reconnect with an idea’s inner awesomeness.
The first thing I have to unravel when things get tangled up is what the heart of my idea actually is. I’ve got some tricks for that which I stole from one of those couples weekends where you learn to reconnect with what made you fall in love in the first place.
The next most important thing for me to figure out is what my actual connection with this awesome idea is. A few years ago I got laughed off a marae. They’d put out an open call for ideas for Maori screen content. I pitched them a kind of Maori Game of Thrones set in pre-contact times (working title: Blood Moko). You can see it now, right? Te Rauparaha, gods, taiaha, despatching your enemies with a patu then eating them and making love to their magical wahine. All in Te Reo with subtitles. Great idea. These days it’s called Deadlands - and it’s a brilliant film by Toa Fraser.*
At first, when Blood Moko got rejected, I thought it was because all those people judging me were short-sighted idiots who didn’t know the commercial potential and entertainment value inherent in their culture. Now I realise they weren’t laughing at my idea. They were laughing at me. Of course it was a great idea, but what was my connection to it? I’m a mono-lingual Pakeha who enjoys watching fights from my couch.
I’m not saying you can only write what you know. Anthony McCarten, the New Zealand screenwriter who wrote The Theory of Everything says ‘write what you’re interested in’. But interest isn’t a passive ‘I’ll wikipedia it’ kind of interest. It’s an active interest in something you’re so fascinated by you’re prepared to delve into. If I was really interested in Blood Moko, I would have learned Te Reo, read up on pre-colonial history and taken a course in Mau Rakau to connect more deeply with my interest. Then I might have written Deadlands instead of just enjoying it.
This last thing I’ll be encouraging people to discover in their idea is how it changes us. The oldest rule in the story book says that stories are made of three parts, thesis, antithesis, synthesis. You start one way, you get thrown into opposite world, and then you create a new version of yourself based on a combination of who you were and what you learned. I’d argue that this form is a universal in Western storytelling - no matter whether you’re making theatre, music or news. Off the top of my head - The Kink’s Lola:
(thesis) A regular guy meets a beautiful woman
(antithesis) He finds out she’s a man.
(synthesis) He accepts that it’s a mad world, where a regular heterosexual can still be attracted to a she-male.
Most news stories are built around this format too:
(Thesis) It was a quiet town, until -
(Antithesis) Something extraordinary happened - insert murder, disaster etc.
(Synthesis) Now the victims must figure out how to live, having been left the same but changed.
So, this workshop is gonna be great. You’ll love it. I initially called it Re-Wrighting, cos, you know, the wanker in me likes to think of writing as a craft, like ship-wrighting or whatever. But then I took a look at the programme. All the other events have exciting titles like Guy Williams: Ask Me Anything, and Teeny Weeney Ziney Theengy. Compared to that, my event sounds like something for people who wear incontinence pads. At a Young Writers’ Festival! Fuck.
Therefore, in the spirit of my workshop, I’m re-working the title. What I’m really interested in is helping people get the best out of their ideas. I’m connected to this because I’m desperately trying to figure out ways to get the best out of my own. And how does it change you? Come to my event and your idea will start with a dad bod, swing some tin, and leave shredded.
New working title: All Killer, No Filler.
Can’t wait to see you there.
P.S. I’ll also be performing On the Conditions and Possibilities of Hillary Clinton Taking Me as Her Young Lover at the Fortune Theatre. Friday 5 June, 7.30 pm – 8.30 pm
All events are free, but you need to book. Check out www.youngwritersfest.nz
P.P.S. I’ve copy and pasted Aaron’s programme blurb cos it’s better than anything I’ve written.
Direct from New York City, where New York Magazine called it ‘brilliant and lowbrow’, Arthur Meek is Richard Meros in a Stateside rework of the infamous Nuclear PowerPoint presentation On The Conditions & Possibilities Of Helen Clark Taking Me As Her Young Lover. His strike rate is 0/1 so far – can he help carry home the Hillary 2016 Campaign and upgrade that to a C- ?
* I’m in no way suggesting Deadlands stole my idea. Just that it was a good idea that I had too. Like World Peace.
PROFIT & DELIGHT
What I'm thinking about what I'm doing. This blog aspires to a more profound definition of 'profit' and the bog-standard sense of 'delight'.
The tower beside my bed that I seriously intend to demolish. (Feb 2016)
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by Greg McGee
Every Brilliant Thing
by Duncan MacMillan