Here are four quotes that I pretty much live by:
“That which hinders your task is your task.” –Sanford Meisner
“Literary art does not exist in books. It’s locked up in them, yes. But because of its unique nature, this art form which is shared by writers and their readers is actually experienced in the theater of the readers’ and writers’ imaginations.”
–Robert Bahr, Dramatic Technique in Fiction
“Characterizations fail because they ignore, or simplify, the complexity of the human spirit. I think you learn by self-examination. Within you are the seeds, the possibilities, of all the people on the whole face of the earth… In you are cruelty, rascality, perversion, and, I’ll add, the opposite sex. And in you are nobility and goodness and regularity and all the virtues. The one difference between your endowment and that of any of your fellows is one of degree. Some of you won’t believe this, but I think it’s true. The difference is only one of degree. Man and woman are joined in the human spirit, and villain and hero, and the ugly and the beautiful. So learning human nature is learning yourself. The writing of a novel is self-exploration, self-discovery, self-realization…”
“Go for broke. Don’t do the scene like an exploratory operation: It is life-and-death surgery.”
–Michael Shurtleff, Audition
What I want to do now is share somethings I have learned about writing from studying acting techniques. But first let me give you two one-minute plays.
NEW YORK TELEPHONE CONVERSATION by David Johnston
The two actors are separated on stage. The woman is dialing a telephone. The other phone rings. The man picks it up.
SHE: You louse! Creep! Son-of-a-bitch! You break up with me over the machine! Over the machine! I wish I had a gun! I wish I believed in the taking of human life! I’m seeing you as a hamburger on my plate! Chew, chew, chew! I’m seeing you as a pair of shoes! No, wait. I didn’t man that. It’s just that you made me so mad. You really wounded me by not talking to me in person.
HE: I’m sorry.
HE: I’m sorry. I treated you in a shabby way. I should never have broken up with you over the phone.
SHE: You’ve never said you were sorry before.
HE: Things had ended and I treated the whole situation in a cowardly manner.
HE: I’m not worth the salt in your tears.
SHE: No. You’re not.
HE: Forgive me. It’s the only way we can both get on with our lives.
SHE: I forgive you.
HE: I’ll always love you.
Both hang up their phones
SHE: Dammit. I still love him.
HE: Now, who the hell was that?
EATING HOMELESS PEOPLE by John Lehman
The setting is around back of the house. A man is standing next to a window ledge that is about shoulder high. On it is an imperious, tortoise-haired cat.
CAT: What I want is obedient people!
MAN: Listen, Madeline, the bowl wasn’t empty. There already was food in it.
CAT: When I come to this window I expect more than food. I want some attention. Attention must be paid!
MAN: When you jump up on the window, I get up from…
CAT: Didn’t you see that Tina Turner movie? Do you think Hillary Clinton has to knock on the outside of a restaurant window when she’s hungry?
MAN: Yes, but Tina Turner is a big entertainer; and Hillary Clinton ’s the first lady. And you…you’re just…
CAT: I am just what? Why don’t you go ahead and say it? I am just…the Artist inResidence…
MAN: Artist in residence?
CAT: …bringing grace and beauty into your shabby lives. And do you think Tina or Hillary would eat something called, Alley Cat?
MAN: It says, it’s,” just good food.”
CAT: Would you eat “just good food” if it were called, Homeless People?
MAN: I guess not.
CAT: You don’t know how bad it is do you? You’re living in a world of tripping, sprawling, snoring, peeing, pooping d-o-g-s.
MAN: I’ll try to be more attentive.
CAT: Come when you’re called, damn it.
MAN: Yes, Madeline.
CAT: And no new dog until you get rid of an old one.
MAN: Yes, I understand.
CAT: And those overnight visitors—your children—taking all the good rooms while I’m out here in the cold. That’s got to stop too.
MAN: OK, OK.
CAT: Let’s get this straight once and for all. Just what part of “meow” don’t you understand?
The following was a submission to Rosebud. Read it and then let me ask you a question about it.
From Venice, Late Summer by Vincent Zandri, Rosebud, Winter 1997
“Feel this one,” my wife, Margo, tells me. Her voice is soft but insistent. I hear the movement of her hands on the table in this café, the rain steady and loud against the canopy above us, but gentle against the cobblestone pavement on the square. I hear glasses clinking, plates sliding across the small, metal tables. I hear the shuffle of forks and knives. I hear the steady murmur of voices, but I listen only to my wife.
“Try harder,” she says.
I cup my hands and lay them side beside, palms up, on the table. She touches my fingertips and I feel the tingle of her fingernails and the cold metal table against the back of my hands and knuckles.
“Look at me,” she says.
I begin to laugh. She tells me to keep my head straight, and it suddenly comes to me: my eyes are drifting again.
“Here, Nick..” She takes hold of my hand with her warm, soft hand. She sets an object into my palm, presses it into the skin and folds my fingers around it like a fist. She takes her hand away. “What do you really feel?”
What I touch is simple: a small metallic band and a jagged stone—Margo’s wedding ring.
What I feel is not so simple. My wife of three years makes me feel like a child learning to speak, learning to walk. What I want to say is this: after six months of total blindness I can do better. I’ve made some progress. I mean, I remember the simple shape of a wedding band.
“I’m ready,” I tell Margo. “Ready for something more difficult than wedding rings…”
Now when I called the author and told him we wanted to use this piece, he told me that would be fine but there was something I should know. He said he had read it to a critique group he belonged to and one person in the group was blind. That person said, It isn’t anlything like what you describe. If you were the editor/publisher would you go ahead and use the piece? Why or why not?