Bob Gillen on Storytelling

Tag: The New York Times

Jimmy Breslin: “Go directly to the loser’s locker”

Renowned newspaper writer Jimmy Breslin died today. In The New York Times Dan Barry wrote: “He often explained that he merely

Mr. Breslin with Timothy J. Dowd, right, the police investigator who led the manhunt for the serial killer known as Son of Sam, at a news conference in August 1977 announcing the killer’s capture. Credit Paul Hosefros/The New York Times

Mr. Breslin with Timothy J. Dowd, right, the police investigator who led the manhunt for the serial killer known as Son of Sam, at a news conference in August 1977 announcing the killer’s capture. Credit Paul Hosefros/The New York Times

applied a sportswriter’s visual sensibility to the news columns. Avoid the scrum of journalists gathered around the winner, he would advise, and go directly to the loser’s locker.” This is how Breslin found some of his most-remembered stories.

Great advice for a writer in any genre. Writing fiction? Head for the loser’s locker room. Find the character that everyone else is ignoring. The character in the background. The poor, the disenfranchised. The gravedigger who dug the grave for the person every knew and loved. Find that one, and go from there.

You find that character by observing. Looking behind the crowd. And that character leads you to your story.

 

The plastic-foam peanuts authors sometimes toss into a story

“Her early pages are teeming with dead-end digressions. They’re also packed with descriptions of décor and menus — the plastic-foam peanuts authors sometimes toss into a story to give it volume, without realizing that they’re adding no weight.” So says New York Times book reviewer Jennifer Senior of Amy Gary’s biography of Margaret Wise Brown. Brown was the author of “Goodnight Moon” and “The Runaway Bunny.”

Camry: Credit Toyota

Camry: Credit Toyota

I like that. “Plastic-foam peanuts authors sometimes toss into a story to give it volume.” We’ve all read books with chapters filled with useless descriptions. Yes, describing something in detail can be a strong element of writing. Natalie Goldberg advocates it strongly. It isn’t a hybrid car the character is driving. It’s a late-model red Toyota Camry Hybrid with a deep gouge in the paint on the rear bumper. It says something about the character. A hybrid car. Concern for the environment. A deep gouge in the paint. No concern about appearances.

But Jennifer Senior is talking about the empty weight of description that adds nothing to a story. Writers take note: is your description a telling detail or a ball of fluff?

We Call Ourselves ‘Ground Pounders’

Stuntwoman Lori Seaman says of her work: “You need a strong, strong personality. It’s not for wimps.”

Lori Seaman is one of the Hollywood stuntwomen interviewed for The New York Times: ‘It’s Not for Wimps’: 8 Stuntwomen Reflect on Their Careers.

How important are stunts? Novelist and screenwriter Mollie Gregory, in her book Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story, says, “They are fundamental to the mystery, excitement and thrills provided by action movies, and stuntwomen help create that experience.”

Shawna Thibodeau says, “We call ourselves ‘ground pounders,’ and that’s the most important thing. There are tons of people out there with different skills, but the gist of it is getting hit by things and jumping off things. It’s not something you can learn at school. It’s just being able to relax and do it without hurting yourself.”

Lisa Hoyle says of her work, “Stunt people don’t have agents so you have to do what we call hustling. The field has gotten more competitive, but there’s nothing else I’d rather do.

“It’s the best job in the world.”

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