Sometimes themes gather in one place in my life. When they do, when they clump together in close proximity of place or time, I've learned to pay attention. I'm in the middle of one right now and I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be learning...yet. But it is time for this blog, which seems to be a part of this lesson. So, let's see what's going on.
I was watching an interview with the legendary documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog. He has directed 65 films over the last 55 years and written most of them. He has won over 50 awards, including Lifetime Achievement awards.
"I saw my first cinema at 11." He grew up in a very small town and a traveling projectionist finally passed through and showed a "terrible" samurai film in the town's one room schoolhouse. Herzog was not only amazed at how a film could show another place, but he noticed a particular three seconds.
In a battle, a man is shot with an arrow, and falls dead from a high rock. Later, in the same battle, the same three seconds occurs--the exact same three seconds, spliced in twice. None of his friends believed him. He stayed through a second showing to prove to himself what he'd seen.
"It was the moment that I understood that film had structure. That it was built up of pieces."
He had seen the furniture move.
One of my favorite examples of this is Danielle Steele. Many think she is just a trashy romance writer. And every one of those people should look at the fortunes she's made--there are few writers who can boast such sales numbers. Danielle Steele doesn't only show you the furniture moving, she tells you that she's about to show it.
"Look. Look over here. Their relationship that was going along so smoothly is headed for trouble. See? See? They just don't know it yet. Here it comes..." Boom!
I was speaking with a writing teacher today and he was talking about trying to explain to students that the furniture doesn't merely move, it must move with purpose. And student after student was shocked, "Oh, I see it now." As if they didn't get what was happening.
The moving furniture can be anything: plot, theme, romance, Christmas, a meal... Think of the splendid Stanley Tucci movie Big Night. It is an entire movie centered around a meal.
Everything has purpose. The better writer I become, the more clearly I see it. Just this morning, I was brainstorming my next book with my wife.
"Well," I tell her, "they are both experts in explosives." (This is in my military romantic suspense Delta Force series.)
"I get it! When do they blow up the relationship? Short fuse or long and slow?" ...and the conversation spun on from there.
So, I was puzzling at the collision of these different events: three of them in the same 18 hour period. (I'd read the Danielle Steele book several years ago, but remember it very clearly...another sign that she's a good writer, whether or not you like her writing.)
As I tried to explain this three-way collision to my wife, she laughed and said something that she's mentioned a myriad of times to me: "Right. Everything you do has to have 3 reasons." (She thinks I'm really good at that. Frankly, I'm just starting to understand it.)
What does she mean? Big Night is indeed centered around a single, perfect meal. But it is also about the struggles of two brothers. It is about hope and how to find it again no matter how far it has strayed. The meal isn't only the vehicle for the movie to progress forward, or the many plot points attached to it (which I won't give spoilers on), but the meal is also about how hope is possible under even the worst of circumstances.
That meal doesn't serve 3 reasons, it serves more like 30!
As a writer, I have studied the true masters of the craft. I have typed the opening of almost every novel in the house just trying to understand how they did it. I've typed in the last line of one chapter and the first of the next to study the craft of cliffhangers by a dozen different authors.
And as I do this, after 50 novels, I feel that I am finally starting to understand how these pieces and objects move and intertwine. Watch any episode in the first 4 years of The West Wing and sit in awe at what Aaron Sorkin does with each layer. Watch Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which he wrote after that--his craft is even more incredible. Everything--EVERYTHING--serves multiple purposes: the clock, the set pieces, the roles of the actors, everything.
Watch episodes 13 and 14, "The Harriet Dinner." I watched it 20+ times trying to understand what he did and it still mystifies me.
I'm slowing learning about the furniture in my own stories, especially this week. I hope this helps you learn about yours...or helps you enjoy and appreciate the writers you love even more.
M.L. Buchman started the first of over 50 novels while flying from South Korea to ride his bicycle across the Australian Outback. He was on a solo around the world trip that ultimately launched his writing career.
All three of his military romantic suspense series—The Night Stalkers, Firehawks, and Delta Force—have had a title named “Top 10 Romance of the Year” by the American Library Association’s Booklist. NPR and Barnes & Noble have named other titles “Top 5 Romance of the Year.” In 2016 he was a finalist for Romance Writers of America prestigious RITA award. He also writes: contemporary romance, thrillers, and fantasy.
Past lives include: years as a corporate project manager, rebuilding and single-handing a fifty-foot sailboat, both flying and jumping out of airplanes, and he has designed and built two houses. He is now making his living as a full-time writer on the Oregon Coast with his beloved wife and is constantly amazed at what you can do with a degree in Geophysics. You may keep up with his writing and receive a free starter e-library by subscribing to his newsletter at:www.mlbuchman.com.