I was 14 years old and in love with Peach Harper, a divinely beautiful blonde with blue eyes and golden skin. I obsessed over how to express my undying love for her and managed to convince her to come to a tiny log cabin I had built. (This is all true.)
I had lied to get her out there, telling her that I secretly wanted to be her, a painfully stupid ruse. I wanted to kiss her, and that was it. And maybe touch her golden skin and float off into Nirvana, if possible. Anyway, she was actually the one who asked me if I wanted to kiss her. I closed my eyes and leaned into her and kissed her…somewhere on the chin.
My mother chose that moment to arrive in her green tattered bathrobe and escort Peach away. I blubbered and gestured stupidly, realizing the glittering moment had passed. I had completely panicked and missed those velvety lips.
Everything went downhill from there. Peach met another boy who she brought to my party and went off into the woods to make out. I offered my hand to her when she came back and pushed her down the hill. I was furious at her betrayal – even if the truth was that she had wanted to kiss me and I had fucked all of that up.
I invested everything in Peach, had written letter after letter over an entire year and even bought her a Hotel California T-shirt on her birthday. And when the moment came, I was an abject failure. I cannot let that die. This might explain my habit to hide in my words and obfuscate my life. I am afraid to expose myself for the loser that I am. Oh, Peach, where are you now?
Characters must be drawn from life. I must experience them and the chaos they manifest, witness their actions and words and, more importantly, the fact that they think nothing of the consternation and astonishment they create. They live in their oblivion.
Their reality is not an esoteric choice, a façade, but a stark awareness that they could come around the corner at any time and might even have a gun. I aim to do the thinking for them, to make sense of them through that process. And it is through that they enhance what I know about myself.
While I’m fan of Kaufman’s work (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Anomalisa, et al) and admire a writer’s attempt to pry open the meaning of self, this film makes nebulous look adamantine. Characters swimming in vagaries of subconscious angst. All that. And…no.
A story can’t be all dreams and poetry and philosophy because there’s no place for the reader to hang their hat. Definable characters are needed. Without them, we’re nothing.
One of my few strengths as a writer is dialogue. I rarely use an outline or definitive plan. Instead I focus on knowing the characters, watching them move and interact. Most important of all is knowing what their motivation is for the scene (why they there and what they want) as well as their background and relationship with the other(s).
I spend a great deal of time in thinking about how the scene starts, the exact lines and scene, and keep that moment in my head. It is almost like a moving snapshot – a gif as it were – that goes around and around, anxious to get out of the loop. And then I let them go and do what they want. At that point, it’s just a question of keeping up with what they say, basically transcribing as they go. They can get stuck, repeat themselves and run down blind alleys. It’s all a matter of trying to keep them on track.
The trick is to move ahead for as long as their voice stay strong. And when the momentum is gone, to step back a little and start again, like getting a car out of the muck, rock it back and forth until it’s back on track. Once the scene is done, it needs to be run through again a couple more times. Time is needed after that, a few days to do a proper edit, focusing on the structure and repetitions and that oh-so-impossible satisfying arc.