Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Writer Tip #10: Make It Real

Ernest Hemingway on safari in 1934.
The old adage goes:  "Write what you know."

That's true.  When I am approached by a budding writer who works as a policeman during the day, I advise him/her to write a police thriller.  When I am approached by a budding writer who works as a doctor during the day, I recommend that he/she write a medical film.  Not only will their specialized expertise enhance their story, it will make it easier to sell.  If you don't have any previous credits or awards to tout, your personal experience on the subject matter will give you credibility in the eyes of producers or publishers.

However, you shouldn't take "write what you know" too literally.

You have got to admire a writer like Ernest Hemingway.  He was a man's man who lived a big, exciting life.  He went to war.  He went big game hunting.  He ran with the bulls.  And he wrote about it.  Writing about what he knew didn't limit him.  However, sadly, most of us writers don't live those kinds of lives.  Our lives are boring.  No one wants to spend ten dollars to see our stories.  After all, if you are good writer, you spend most of your time staring at a flashing cursor on a computer screen.  Therefore, we have to rely on our imaginations.  And that's a good thing.  It would be a boring world if only policeman or criminals could write crime films.  Or only astronauts could write sci-fi films.  However, you still have to make it real.  You have to make it personal.

This is particularly true if you write on assignment.  Oftentimes, I have been asked to write projects outside the realm of both my experience and interest.  I have found that the key to making such a story interesting to both myself and my audience is making it emotionally true.  In a sense, I put myself through the same kind of emotional preparation that an actor goes through upon receiving a role.  Even if the story is outside of my personal experience, I always find something emotionally true to me to lash onto to make the project real to me.

None of my films are autobiographical, however, if you were to read my memoir "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God" and watch my movies, you would see definite parallels between my life and my movies.  Considering how guarded I was emotionally prior to my near death experience,  I am shocked about how much of myself I reveal in some of my movies.  For example, In addition to writing "The Encounter," I also edited the film.  I remember sitting stunned after Jaci Velasquez gives her monologue about her suicide attempt.  The events she described were based on an incident in my own life which I never discussed with anyone -- changed to suit the character and circumstances of the film.  Strangely, I didn't find it too self-revelatory when I wrote the scene on paper, which would only be seen by a couple dozen people. but it was another thing entirely to see it performed for the world to see.

Do I regret it?  No.  In some ways "The Encounter" is my most successful film in the way it engages the audience.  In fact, based on audience reactions -- both observed and read --  I have discovered that the more emotionally personal the script is to me, the more emotionally involved the audience becomes.  That fact encouraged me to believe my memoir would find an appreciative audience if I wrote it.  And it has.  It hasn't been a bestseller -- so far -- but it seems to have deeply touched many people who have read it.

As a screenwriter, you will find yourself in a particularly good place if the script also resonants deeply with an actor.   That was the case with part one and part two of the "Revelation Road" films (they were actually one film and broken in half in post.)  Brian Bosworth really found some life-changing emotional truth in his role.  His performance, which I believe is his best as an actor, is the locomotive that powers the film.

Here is Brian discussing the film and its implications in his life:



When you write, make it more than just words.  More than just a story.

Make it real.

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