The Orange County Screenwriters Association
    Be Inspired, Do Good Work

    Write Your Truths

    Write Truthfully In Imaginary Circumstances
    Explore the Mythology Inside You

    inner truthAs a science fiction fan and screenwriter, I often chuckle at the axiom to “write what you know” - as if Isaac Asimov, a rather robust, Jewish man, knew what it was like to be a spinster scientist or a robot. How exactly did J.K Rowling, a then thirty-year-old, unemployed, working-class mother, create a young, male wizard who went to an exclusive magical school in a mythical land?

    People write young, old, male, female, alien, king, peasant, and every variation imaginable. What’s their secret? Good research? A keen observational eye? Channeling a secret muse? Yes, and perhaps. But let me share what is really meant by “write what you know”. It means write your truth - write what you already know as a human being.

    Are women and men really that different? Don’t we all share the sting of rejection, the joy of love? Emotionally-speaking, isn’t life, in all its myriad variations fundamentally the same for those in the bush and those in the Hamptons? Is the inevitability of a terminal disease different today than it was 100 years ago?

    So how to bridge the gap between what we know and what we don’t empirically understand?

    Simply, write your truth. Write what you do understand from an emotional place not necessarily a directly experiential one. That’s the key.

    speak truthI am hero, villain, a young girl, a serial killer . I am two kidnaped girls following a rabbit fence home. I stand on the bridge of the Enterprise, fight bravely in Thermopylae. I am a woman whose child is missing. A Spiderman. A crack mother willing to abandon her child to buy drugs. As the writer said, “I am legion” - at least inside.

    We can infuse all characters with believable life because to some extent we are all those characters. It’s common, shared, human experience that we’re channeling.

    But writing effectively, truthfully, requires courage. It forces you to go deep inside, reveal things about yourself that you’d perhaps rather not. People ask me, somewhat askance, how I can write such effective serial killers? I also do well with female leads. Do I want everyone to suspect that I have thoughts about what it’s like to have the absolute power of life and death? Do I really want to make everyone aware that I occasionally wonder about being a mother - to birth a child, to have that life growing in me? Yes, yes, yes! Isn’t childbearing a symbiotic experience - almost a parasitic one? Wouldn’t that be the good basis of a horror film about someone who had something growing inside of them that wasn’t going to be such a blessed event?

    be fearlessYou must be fearless. You must never back away from a revelation, a horrible insight, a cancerous emotional growth that has suddenly sprung up unbidden, out of your control. You need go inside, find your truth - no matter how ugly or bizarre, and bring it to the page. Fear of revelation is the surest way to write tripe. Trust me - I’ve written plenty of it myself.

    Why was the movie “Clueless” a hit? Couldn’t we all relate to those young girls’ struggles for validation? How about “Slumdog Millionaire” - didn’t we relate to the pain and triumph that Jamal experienced? Or “Doubt” - what a powerful, enduring message of self-examination and, well, internal and external doubt. Were these writers young debs, homeless Indians, child-molesting priests or ultra-controlling nuns?

    So here’s the challenge - write your truth and put that truth into your work - without fear.   Make a secret writing diary if necessary. Write the things that make you wince, make you embarrassed; ideas and concepts that you’ve never fully admitted or never committed to paper before. Be stupid, ugly, disgusting, horrible, fanciful - any adjective you can imagine. Don’t censor yourself. Erase it all afterward if you want to but take that first step out of your fear and force yourself to admit that you’re a woman, a man, a child, a murderer, a unicorn, an angel - a writer.

    Write truthfully in imaginary circumstances. You’ll find out that most of us can understand and relate to that truth because we all have it hidden away somewhere inside.


             Explore these characters and scenarios - truthfully. If you’re male, make the characters female. If you’re young, make them old. If you’re an extrovert, make the character an introvert:

             I am a contract killer for the mob. It’s not personal. It’s a job. Until one night...

             I am a brilliant misanthropic doctor who is afraid to admit that I’m lonely. I’ll use sarcasm to keep people from suspecting. Until she walks in and...

             I am a young girl in love with an older man who I know will hurt me. But I don’t care. I will be with him no matter what I have to do. Including...

             I am desperate enough to rob a bank to pay for my drug habit that has gotten out of control. But I never considered that this would happen...

             I am a salesman with a secret - at night I dress as a woman and walk the streets. One night I saw something I shouldn’t have. Now I have to...


    Mark Sevi is a professional screenwriter with eighteen produced movies. He also teaches screenwriting and writes articles about the business and art of screenwriting. He is currently joyfully participating in the sorrows of life in Hollywood, California.



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