Go To

Contrary to popular belief, when energy, motivation, and/or creativity is low in the Writing Cave Keep, I do not resort to singing along with Ms Krall ad infinitum.

If it’s a technical challenge, I turn to the writing library, top most being William Goldman‘s Which Lie Did I Tell?, Alex Epstein‘s Crafty Screenwriting and Stephen King‘s On Writing.

If a project has certain constraints or is more long-form, there’s these classics to crib from:

  • Joss Whedon‘s Buffy the Vampire Slayer — not just a scantily-clad teen-girl who can kick serious demon ass1;
  • Jed Mercurio‘s Bodies — a visceral and heartbreaking look at just how little separates life and death in a maternity ward; and
  • David Simon‘s The Wire — its novelistic approach to presenting a criminal investigation, showing us every shade of grey between the police and their adversaries, as well as the world in which both operate, is something to which I can only dare aspire.

The words "The Wire" in white lettering on a black background. Below it a waveform spectrum in blue.
And if it’s all too much and/or I want to procrastinate for hours I just need a little kick, I never go wrong with any of these:

  • James Cameron‘s Aliens — a war movie in space;
  • Quentin Tarantino‘s Jackie Brown — a small-time crook’s One Final Score;
  • and David Mamet‘s Spartan — a rogue agent’s attempt to Do The Right Thing.

Spartan movie.jpg
It’s not necessarily the story I worry about — it’s how I’m going to make it interesting. I want to grab and hold the reader’s — and, eventually, the paying audience’s — attention, take ’em for a ride, and then afterwards, drop ’em back in their seat, exhilarated, exhausted, and begging for more.

All of the above touchstones do exactly that.

Most times, soon after referring to any of the above, I’m back at the keyboard, writing.


1   But oh how The Goddess rolls her eyes when I talk about superior subtextual story-telling amidst well-choreographed ass-kicking.


Box Watch – The Wire – Seasons 1-5

I was channel-surfing late one night when I stumbled across a scene where a couple of ghetto kids were discussing arithmetic. Then it cut to to an off-duty detective with his sons at a local market and, seeing who I presumed was the show’s villain, used his sons to tail that person. And then it cut to the ‘villain’ attending a community college lecture about business management.

A university-attending villain? A cop who wasn’t above using his own flesh and blood to run surveillance? Kids who couldn’t do maths at school but could flawlessly keep track of the flow of money and drugs when they’re on the street corner?

What. The. Hell?

I watched the ep right to the end and was little the wiser: there was a large cast; the street talk was unintelligible to me; the cops were coarse, profane and prone to disturbingly casual brutality; the drug dealers were disciplined, organised and smart. Each character seemed to have their own storyline. My casual assumptions of baddies being bad and stupid, and goodies being good and smart, did not apply. It required concentration. I had no idea what was happening.

I remember thinking, What the hell kind of cop show is this?

And I knew for sure that I wanted more.

On the strength of that chance channel-surf, I bought the DVD of the first season and never looked back. There’s nothing I can say here about the writing and the acting and the production that hasn’t already been said a hundred times over in the aether.

Creator David Simon‘s assiduously spare approach to The Wirekeep up, bub – was hard work but hugely rewarding, and give me half a chance, I’ll bore you to tears with how much I love the show. Instead, I’ll give the last word to Mr Simon himself, from an interview with Nick Hornby:

My standard for verisimilitude is simple and I came to it when I started to write prose narrative: fuck the average reader. I was always told to write for the average reader in my newspaper life. The average reader, as they meant it, was some suburban white subscriber with two-point-whatever kids and three-point-whatever cars and a dog and a cat and lawn furniture. He knows nothing and he needs everything explained to him right away, so that exposition becomes this incredible, story-killing burden. Fuck him. Fuck him to hell.


I Heart “The Shield”

I’d spent almost half of my life in thrall of Dick Wolf‘s Law & Order (at least, as much as the local broadcasters allowed) before Shawn Ryan‘s The Shield arrived and pissed and shit all over the television police procedural genre. Cop shows haven’t been the same since then.

Described as a James Ellroy-infused procedural, The Shield shows cops as flawed human beings, most of them driven by some core need to do The Right Thing, each with their own methods and morals, each looking out for their own interests, and each leaving a trail of emotional, psychological, emotional, sexual and physical destruction. I’m a dirty little voyeur for enjoying their mis/adventures for those reasons. (It’s those same reasons why The Goddess won’t watch it with me.)

The fourth season ended recently. Glenn Close‘s Captain Rawlings gets shafted but good by her superiors; I’ll miss her. An Internal Affairs investigation into the Strike Team appears about to change up a gear. And to see the Strike Team end a season with beers and esprit de corps aplenty was a discomfiting sight indeed.

Shows like The Shield and David Simon‘s The Wire have reinvigorated the genre, elevating it above mere ‘procedural’ to give us true ‘police drama’.

And about bloody time.