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12/25/2001 - SPYING ON YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY
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SPYING ON YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY

My Fellow Writers,

Ah, the holidays. Or, as former SNL writer Anne Beatts once called them, the "holidaze."

A time when we're supposed to be at our best while hanging out with people who can bring out our worst.

Did anything outrageous or particularly compelling happen at your holiday parties? Something always does. Some kind of small drama. Your great grandmother drinks too much and dances on the coffee table. Someone gets mad because their food wasn't eaten in the pot luck - and so they start shoveling it into the sink using their hand. Best part is, they're lifelong Baptists, and yet they're saying things like "no one ate my goddamn yams!" Yes, all of these things happened at holiday parties I've attended. Not this year - I'll be saving those moments for later use.

I have two points related to the holidays. First, novice writers draw too much on past films, rather than their own lives -- and the holidays are a great source for observing human behavior, researching your family, and watching kids in action.

Second, I have an exercise for you to try. Think of a real-life scene that happened to you over the holiday. It can be comedy or drama, or both - but try to make it something compelling. Now try to capture it in screenplay form. This is the writer's equivalent of the still life - and it's a great way of exercising and honing your writing muscles. In thinking about the actual event, you'll see whole new shadings, and you'll find that the drama or comedy comes from places you didn't expect. Even an event that you think seems straightforward - like a child exalting over getting a new bike - will open itself up to reveal many layers.

Enjoy the holidays, but be sure to get quiet moments to take notes on all of those little things that happened. And when you get a short block of time, try immortalizing those events in a quick scene. Capturing reality helps you to understand it better, and to add more texture to those scenes that come straight from your imagination.

Ho ho ho,

Grady

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