Looking for story ideas? Try the supermarket.

Looking for story ideas? Try the supermarket.

Writers welcome story ideas. Often those ideas come from inspiration, from notes, from good old ass-in-chair work. But sometimes you’re just plain stuck.

shopping cart - look for story ideasTry looking and listening while you’re shopping in the supermarket. The other day I spied a man in a kilt in Trader Joe’s market. It was the second time I’d seen him there. And the staff knew him. He talked to them about being out of town for a while. So I wondered: what’s his story? Why the kilt? It wasn’t a costume. It was an authentic, styled kilt. Why?

A while back I asked the woman who was checking out my groceries, how is your day going? She began talking about her plans for the evening, ready to celebrate a young woman’s one-year sobriety. She herself was a recovering alcoholic. What’s the story there?

So many stories among the everyday.

Novels Are Gateways into Worlds

“Novels are gateways into worlds, into characters, into stories that help us experience our own lives in new ways, and help us develop our own sense of self.” Author Dan Blank believes that writers’ stories help readers “delve into deeper issues in ways that feel inspirational and accessible.”

He goes on to say, “Stories help us make sense of the world. Characters embody aspects of who we hope to become.”

In attempting to build a compelling author platform for my own writing, I have pulled excerpts from my ebooks, posted quotes on social media, written blog posts, scoured the Internet for related topics. All without measurable results. And then I came upon Blank’s blog post from last year. He suggests that an author’s platform is actually a gateway that can “open up a worldview for people.”

Rather than using an author platform simply to share links and related news, Blank recommends finding and telling stories that resonate with readers. “Become the voice for others…” he says.

Challenging words that inspire me to re-think how I approach my own platform. I look forward to reading his upcoming book.

 

 

 

Facing Your Darkness

Vancouver-based photographer Camil Adell talks about dealing with fear when doing street photography. “As a street photographer you may have had fear sometimes taking photos on the street.”

Compelling Street Photos

http://digital-photography-school.com/conquer-biggest-fear-street-photography/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Jan-2617
Credit: Camil Adell

Adell offers solid advice on how to capture compelling street photos. In his recent post for Digital Photography School, How to Conquer the Biggest Fear in Street Photography, Adell says, “I get too close emotionally sometimes and feel bad for taking photos of (people in bad situations), like I am stealing something from people who have nothing. But in these cases you need to be strong and see photography not as a weapon but as a way to capture something beautiful and exciting to you.”

Adell concludes, “Street photography isn’t easy, so you need to be confident and earn the photo”.

Facing Your Darkness

Adell’s thoughts on street photography remind me of writer Natalie Goldgerg’s advice to writers: “Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

Goldberg: “Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist – the real truth of who we are: several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside, the Christmas tinsel in the showcase, the Jewish writer in the orange booth across from her blond friend who has black children. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.”

To paraphrase Adell’s thought: writing isn’t easy, so you need to be confident and earn the story. Face your darkness and write.

Writing on the Edge

picture of logging cut
Logging cut: credit Animals.About.com

When changes occur in animals’ environments – roads, logging cuts, canals, fences, agricultural developments – the newly-exposed edges are referred to as edge habitats.

Once-continuous landscapes become isolated patches. And the edges of those patches are subject to increased sunlight, temperature/humidity changes, and more wind. All living things now on the edge go through a complex process of adaptation and a search for a new balance.

Read wildlife expert Laura Klappenbach’s piece on the subject for more.

Frank Chimero
Frank Chimero: credit honolulu.aiga.org

In another discipline, web design, Frank Chimero talks about the openness of design on the Internet page. Open on all sides. Edgelessness. He says, “Edgelessness is in the web’s structure: it’s comprised of individual pages linked together, so its structure can branch out forever.”

And here we are. Storytellers. Writers. Creating characters. Putting them in peril. Throwing their worlds upside down. We are like the road builders, the loggers, the fence builders. We slash through our characters’ lives until they inhabit isolated physical and emotional patches. We throw them into situations where they need to adapt, to find new balance.

Writing on the Edge

And at the same time we writers also erase all the edges, giving our characters the opportunity to expand ever outward. Moment by moment. Scene by scene.

Without that chaos, we have boring characters. Women and men without guts, with no spine, no chance even to show their mettle.

A Writer is a Threat

A writer is a threat to a character’s environment. What a great creative impact we can make as writers!

More on Frank Chimera: The Shape of Design

 

 

Comedies Dark Blue and Pitch Black

“The whole female subject matter, female sexuality in an Irish film is untried territory… but that’s exciting to me to do something new,” says actor and playwright Laoisa Sexton of her debut play For Love. The play was staged off-Broadway by the Irish Repertory Theater in 2013.

Laoisa Sexton
Laoisa Sexton. Photo credit: copyright@trevormurphy.tv

Laoisa (pronounced Lee-sha) Sexton has written the screenplay for her stage play, and is now working to shoot it in Ireland. “I am working with the producer Paul Heller. He was the producer of Withnail and I, Harold and Maude, amongst others, and some of my favorite films. It is a big dream to get this achieved, and it’s been tough. A dark blue comedy, an unflinching look at three Irish working class women looking for love and sex in modern day Dublin is apparently a hard sell.”

Sexton’s play followed its New York run by touring six theaters in Ireland. “We hope to get another mount of the play in the next few months,” Sexton says, “as it was a huge hit. People come up to me still quoting lines from the play!”

From Acting to Storytelling

Moving from acting a role to creating a play comes naturally for Sexton. “I’m an actor and I think as an actor, and as a performer you know that you are a vehicle through which a writer tells stories. Your purpose is to help tell that story, that’s why you’re there, the only reason you’re there, that’s your purpose as an actor.

“Writing plays is just the next step for me as an actor. It’s certainly a way of getting to play characters that you want to play, too. Things you would not necessarily get cast in if it wasn’t your own. Writing helps make work. You create work for yourself and for others. That’s pretty amazing, ye know.

“Waiting around for the next job makes me anxious,” Sexton continues. “I’m only happy (well, let’s say focused, not lost) when I’m working… sad but true. It’s the way most actors are, but you must help yourself, create work, I have always done this in some way. I need to be working to stay a little bit sane.”

Performing is the Key

Sexton says of her playwriting, “Well, I’m an actress first, and writing is a relatively new discipline for me. I’m a voracious reader and I had written a few things before, but feel only now I’m getting to understand what it is or how it is to write a play. I really don’t know how anyone could be a playwright without being a performer.

“As a performer you are in the lucky position to be privy to so much, as you know what works on the stage, how you can affect an audience not just with language but also visually, delivery, through character, how you can manipulate your audience through character and behavior, so many things.

“It’s called a play for a reason, says Sexton. “Theater is elevated and should move, affect, lift in all kinds of ways. If something makes an audience happy, sad, angry, laugh, cry, uncomfortable, then to me the play has succeeded in some way.”

Laoisa Sexton in For Love
Laoisa Sexton in For Love. Photo credit: Show Business Weekly

First Come the Characters

“I don’t really set off to write a story, but I start with my characters, not necessarily themes. The themes come after, after I’ve mixed things up and had a bit of a Barney with myself.

“People are endlessly fascinating – what we do to each other, how we feel, hide, deal, love and hurt each other, what we are equipped for, how we do things without regard or consequence to other human beings. In a flash of an instant a person can make a decision that is hugely life changing, but somehow can do it so quickly without thinking it through.”

Avoiding Tired Settings

“I’m not really interested in writing plays that take place in living rooms or kitchens or in one place. I don’t need to see people boil kettles and answer the door to a nosey neighbor who is divulging information to drive a plot. I have seen that so many times. It’s the basis for all sitcom, isn’t it?  And seems so tired, so old fashioned, so done. And when I see that in a play I just think that writer is a bit lazy, unless they bring it to the next level.

“I like to push the idea of the stage in itself, and use certain conventions to bring you into different worlds, take you there… and to dance a little… dancing is important to me in my plays. Dancing in clubs, bedrooms, etc. It’s a way of dreaming… getting to your fantasy life… getting away from your real life… having another life. I guess it’s all about dreaming for me.”

Interacting With an Audience

“A play is different every night to a certain extent,” Sexton says, “mostly because of the energy of the audience and how they relate, react. Actors walk offstage every night talking about the audience, as audiences walk out of the theater talking about the actors and what they have experienced. It’s your job as an actor to make an audience listen to your story, to hit those notes that the director has guided you to, that you found in rehearsal. Sometimes it’s as simple as hit that word right and you have them (the audience). Simple is best, being clear.”

Comedies Dark Blue and Pitch Black

Sexton’s second play, The Last Days of Cleopatra, will be staged in New York in August of 2014. “It’s inspired by many things,” Sexton says, “and also my Mother’s death… sort of. It’s a pitch black comedy about love, sex, death, forgiveness, redemption and dancing. It’s about a Dublin family who don’t communicate. They are about to lose the one thing that’s holding them together.

the stage: The Last Days of Cleopatra
The Last Days of Cleopatra. Photo credit: copyright@trevormurphy.tv

“There are huge challenges in getting a new play produced in New York, hey in any city,” Sexton continues. “There is no real structure set up to help Irish artists who live here. You’re kind of in no man’s land. We had to do an Indiegogo campaign to go on tour to Ireland with For Love, as we did not receive any funding for any government organization, and the funding arts organizations in the United States told me to go to Irish sources, and the Irish funding opportunities are only for plays leaving Ireland. So our mates kicked in twenty dollars here and there, ye know.

“But no one is giving anyone a hand out, ye know. It’s just the way the arts are. You have to find ways around things, support and allies to help you, believe that it will happen and put it out there, get all the duckies in a row and push forward. It’s a fight to do your own work, new work. You might get lucky, you will definitely get hurt, but if it’s something you need to do, you will find a way. That has been my experience.

Georganne Aldrich Heller is coproducing The Last Days of Cleopatra. She is a brilliant lady and I worked with her as an actress a few times. We did a great show together, Ladies & Gents (performed in the toilets in Central Park), and also produced with the Irish Arts Centre. It was a massive hit. She’s an amazing lady as she has such a love of new Irish plays and likes daring new work and champions new Irish work.

“Theater is a labor of love. Anyone who’s in it knows it. You can’t be in it for the money (unless doing a huge commercial Disneyesque production on Broadway, and even those can fail). I don’t think any real artists are in it for the money, or start out that way anyway. Money is great, and I know there are people out there who are doing it for cash or notoriety or to get women or whatever.”

A Night Out in a Frilly Dress

“But I think if you truly value your craft you can see that at the end of the day you will get those things in time maybe (if that’s what you’re after), but you need to work hard at what you do. Real artists, at least the ones I admire and look up to, are the ones that care and who are ruled by passion and the need to do something great and put something good out there, even if they fail. They don’t care about the red carpet or worldly possessions. All those things are great when you have worked hard, but at the end of the day that’s just a night out in a frilly dress. They are just little extras. But you just do what you need to do, to be.

“I like to try and push things all the time. This new play is a little stylized in terms of style, language, delivery. People will laugh and cry and hopefully dance. Dancing is good. This one was inspired by the Samuel Beckett quote, ‘Dance first, think later…it’s the natural order’.

“I think a play should be just that: chat about stuff, fight about stuff, feel, and then maybe dance a little.”

A True Wanderer

“I am kind of adept at dealing with change and chaos,” says Sexton. “I was adopted by Irish parents in Québec and moved to Ireland where I grew up all over. We moved around a lot (an understatement). I went to a ton of different schools all over Ireland and we were never really in one place for very long. We lived in the country and in cities. We never owned houses.

“Actually we lived in an abandoned hotel once, on the west coast of Ireland. It was very eerie I remember. I was only a child but it was like the film The Shining. My Da actually got the place exorcized as there was a ‘presence’ as he called it. Not that I was told this until I was grown up, but there was one room which was very cold, and you could definitely sense something was weird in certain corridors. We all felt it. Anyways that’s another play.

“I suppose I’m a very energetic person. Maybe that’s why. I’m not sure how it affects my storytelling but I like living different places. It’s definitely the best thing a person can do… travel. I could actually be on tour for long stretches of time and be okay with it.

The Last Days of Cleopatra
Laoisa Sexton in The Last Days of Cleopatra. Photo credit: copyright@trevormurphy.tv

“I now live in New York, writing stories that take place in Ireland. They are not necessarily Irish stories, but take place there, as that is what I know. I like to write in a place, with a feeling of that place, with the music of that place, the accent of that place. To me it’s not so much an accent but the rhythm that instructs the piece and that is I suppose what I know, no matter where I am.”

Writing Away From Home

“Also maybe it’s true that you can look at a place better when you are away from it. I mean some of the best Irish writers wrote the best Irish books living in other places in Europe, and yet their concerns were life in Ireland or the stories were saturated in Irish life, like Ulysses. Indeed some of the best writers wrote the best stories in exile, not just Irish ones. I suppose you can kind of look at things better from a distance, or maybe not look but maybe see.

“I like to think I am writing a new play, not just an Irish play, cos a lot of the themes are universal, ye know, not just Irish.

“It’s funny, I am writing a new one about this alcoholic megalomaniac, and all the women in his life, the damage he causes. I showed a bit of it to someone and they said that it was very brittle and the character was unforgiving, but yet we look at old Irish plays like Juno and The Paycock. The Da Captain Boyle is often portrayed as a lovable rogue, but yet he is a lowly alcoholic and has betrayed his family. But when you do that in new plays, people get offended and tell you it’s cruel. But if someone is wearing a costume and it’s an old play with beautiful flowery language it’s okay.

A Rich Violent History

“I think it’s important to write about modern Ireland and my generation. Who we really are. We have a rich violent history, but we are not a country of red heads sitting around staring into the flames in a thatched cottage. There are so many stories to tell that are new and fresh and there is a huge new crop of Irish writers that are doing that.”

More on Laoisa Sexton:

The Last Days of Cleopatra on Facebook. The play premiers at Urban Stages August 20 to September 7. See the Facebook page for ticket information.

Sexton is also shooting a short film You Are Beautiful. See the Facebook page.

All photo credits: Copyright@trevormurphy.tv