(I Also Write Children's Books!)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Writing Lesson I Learned From... Chowder?

Last night I had one of those little moments where you put 2 and 2 together.  I was giving writing advice, and realized where I learned that lesson myself.

The advice was 'turn it up to 11' and the source of that lesson was the cartoon Chowder.  I've been writing all my life, but my young aspirations were to write for cartoons.  Heck, I'd still leap at that in a second, even though it's considered unglamorous both in the writing and entertainment worlds.  This meant studying how to write scripts, and writing sample scripts and even submitting them once or twice.  Those are stories in themselves that must be glossed over here.

Writing scripts for other people's shows was some of the best writing practice I could ever get.  It teaches you voice, to hear how characters talk in your head.  It teaches you visualization.  It teaches you discipline, adapting your imagination to someone else's themes and the limits of their creation.

None of that is the point here.

One of the shows I practiced on was Chowder.  It won't go down as one of the best cartoons in history, but it was funny and it was cute.  Above anything, it had one strength:  It was ridiculous.  The show created a surreal world, and they packed weirdness into every second of the show and every corner of the image.  Someone in the background would have a pineapple head.  If they had to do an establishing shot of the city, expect one of the buildings to get up and walk off.  They were trying to be weird, so they turned the weirdness all the way up and broke off the knob.

That was a valuable lesson to me, and I recommend it to all other writers.  Don't hold back.  Mice and Men was a great tragedy because Steinbeck made you like his characters, sympathize with their small tragedies - and then murdered one and ruined the other.  The Neverending Story was a great children's fantasy because it painted silent forests of giant flowers and memory mines and an oracle who was just a song.  Raymond Chandler's stories were great because every word was chosen to reflect his hard boiled detective, and love and betrayal were packed into every adventure.

Whatever you are creating, don't hold back.  Don't dumb anything down.  Don't worry about 'too much'.  Turn that story up to 11 and blow their minds.

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