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Write My Essay Tumblr Themes

I’m a produced screenwriter, repped at a big agency. I work regularly, just had a movie released to good reviews, and am fairly confident when talking about the craft. And so it is with some professional embarrassment (and using a pseudonym–he he) that I admit I am plagued by what seems like a rather rudimentary question.

Long ago someone I trust read a script of mine. Something was missing from this script, I knew it, I felt it, I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. I read it and re-read it. Structurally it seemed fine, scene by scene it felt like it was working, the dialogue was tight, the characters well drawn. I took it apart and put it back to together again a couple of times. That missing thing was still missing.

So I gave the script to this trusted person and this trusted person read it and gave me this advice: WRITE FROM THEME. Okay. Now, that sounds very simple. And maybe it is for clever people like you. But I don’t seem capable of integrating this approach into my writing. And the reason, I’ve decided, is because I don’t really know what it means — at least in any practical sense.

Complicating matters further, a friend of mine, a better writer than I will ever be, the late novelist Lucy Grealy, shrugged off the notion of writing from theme. We were sitting in an airport bar drinking beer and I said, hey, so, do you write from theme? No, said she without hesitation, tell the story honestly and its theme will emerge. Trying to impose theme on story gives the story an agenda. She accented the word agenda with a dubious little rise in her voice.

Ten years later, as I sit down to write, wishing I were better than I am, hoping the next script will be the one where everything finally clicks and art is achieved, I hear a voice in my head saying, Write from Theme. Write from Theme.

Please make the voices stop, John. Do you write from theme? If so, how?

— JT
Los Angeles

“Theme” is a word screenwriters use without defining it clearly, so yes, it’s bound to be frustrating. But I’m not sure we should be using it at all.

In high school, we were taught that a theme is usually about opposing forces, e.g. “man vs. nature” or “the struggle for independence.” I don’t know that this kind of analysis is all that useful when you’re talking about a screenplay, however. It’s helpful for writing an essay about a movie, not for writing the movie itself.

I suspect what your pro-theme writer friends were talking about was some essence that permeates every moment of a good film. Something that’s in its DNA. You feel it when it’s there, and notice it when it’s missing — even when the script otherwise seems solid.

Think back to one of your favorite movies. Chances are, you could pick any moment in it, and it would “feel like” the movie. That is, you could take that little slice of it, plant it in some cinematic soil, and it would grow into something resembling the original.

My favorite movie is Aliens, and it meets this test easily. Pull out any sequence — even before Ripley has agreed to join the mission — and it would grow into a story that fits its universe.

I don’t know that “theme” is really the best word for this DNA quality I’m describing. But I think it’s what we mean when we say it.

Theme as the essential idea

At the Austin Film Festival this year, I’ll be doing a detailed breakdown of Big Fish and my process writing it. Back in 1998, while trying to convince Sony to buy the book rights for me, I had a lot of conversations about “what it was about.” Not the plot, really, but what the point of it all was. I talked about the difference between what is true and what is real.

I don’t know that I ever articulated it quite that way, but this was definitely the underlying idea that informed every moment and every character in the script. And for most of my projects, I can point to the DNA ideas:

  • Charlie’s Angels: Three princesses must save their father, the King.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Charlie Bucket was lucky even without the ticket, because he was surrounded by family who loved him.
  • The Remnants: The end of the world isn’t so bad.
  • Snake People: Mother is a monster.
  • The Variant: You are still your younger self.
  • The Nines: A creator’s responsibility to his creations.
  • Go: You cross a line, then your only way out is to accelerate.

For the first four projects, I remember saying these things aloud before I started writing. For the others, I probably didn’t. But I could definitely feel the edges of their core ideas before I put pen to paper. I won’t start writing until I know it.

When you really understand a project’s DNA, it’s much easier to write and rewrite. You know exactly what types of scenes, moments and lines of dialogue belong in your movie, and which don’t.

Every scene in your screenplay can change, but it still feels like the movie.

I think one reason movies with multiple writers often feel disjointed is because the writers aren’t working from the same DNA. They might agree on “what it’s about,” but they’re never going to emotionally approach it the same way. They can’t.

TV series, which by necessity have a bunch of writers, benefit from having a few filmed and finished episodes to create a baseline. We all know what an episode of Friends is supposed to feel like. But those first few scripts? Those can be brutal, and it often takes a lot of rewriting from the showrunner.

From that point on, “theme” is often what drives a given episode — storylines will radiate out from an abstract idea like “hope” or “false promises.” All shows work differently, but if you peek in a writers’ room, you’ll often find a theme word written high on the whiteboard, circled a few times.

Theme as a shibboleth

Like “structure,” I see theme thrown around as a term meant to separate artists from hacks. So my eyes generally narrow when someone uses it, because I’m not sure exactly what they mean, or why they’re using it.

One screenwriting teacher made us state the theme of our scripts as a question. Which was difficult and, in my opinion, pointless.

The alternate version I’m positing above — the core idea or DNA — is practical and actionable. Once you feel confident what your unwritten movie wants to be, you make sure every scene and character and line of dialogue services that ideal. That’s the work of screenwriting, and it’s hard, to be sure.

But if you don’t pick a target, you’re unlikely to hit anything worthwhile.

From College Essay Guy: How to Write Your 150-Word Extracurricular Essay

Last week, College Essay Guy talked about choosing which extracurricular activity to write about. Continuing on that theme, he will help us with the short (but tricky)150-word extracurricular statements.

Many colleges require short extracurricular statements. The following post will provide six tips you should “steal” when you write your essays.

First, a quick FAQ:

Q: Why do so many schools ask for these?

A: The Common App used to require students that students write a 1,000 character (approx. 150-word) extracurricular statement. When in 2013 the Common App dropped the requirement, many colleges kept it as a supplement.

Q: Do I really have to write it?

A: When students ask me this my usual response is: “Really? You’d rather not talk about that thing you’ve devoted hundreds of hours of your life to? Okay, good idea.” (I’m not actually that sarcastic, but that’s what I’m thinking.)

Q: Which extracurricular activity should I write about?

A: I write about that here.

Q: What should I say? How should I structure it?

A: Keep it simple.

a. What did you literally do? What were your actual tasks?
b. What did you learn?

With 150 words, there’s not a lot of room for much more. And while your main statement is more “show” than “tell,” this one will probably be more “tell.” Value content and information over style.

Here’s a great example:

Example 1: Journalism

VIOLENCE IN EGYPT ESCALATES. FINANCIAL CRISIS LEAVES EUROPE IN TURMOIL. My quest to become a journalist began by writing for the international column of my school newspaper, The Log. My specialty is international affairs; I’m the messenger who delivers news from different continents to the doorsteps of my community. Late-night editing, researching and re-writing is customary, but seeing my articles in print makes it all worthwhile. I’m the editor for this section, responsible for brainstorming ideas and catching mistakes. Each spell-check I make, each sentence I type out, and each article I polish will remain within the pages of The Log. Leading a heated after-school brainstorming session, watching my abstract thoughts materialize onscreen, holding the freshly printed articles in my hand—I write for this joyous process of creation. One day I’ll look back, knowing this is where I began developing the scrutiny, precision and rigor necessary to become a writer.

THREE TECHNIQUES YOU SHOULD STEAL:

1. Use active verbs to give a clear sense of what you’ve done:

Check out his active verbs: writing, delivering, editing, researching, re-writing, brainstorming, catching, polishing, leading, holding, knowing.

2. Tell us in one good clear sentence what the activity meant to you.

“I’m the messenger who delivers news from different continents to the doorsteps of my community.”

and

“I write for this joyous process of creation.”

and

“One day I’ll look back, knowing that this is where I began to develop the scrutiny, precision and rigor necessary to become a writer.”

Okay, that’s three sentences. But notice how all three are different. (And if you’re gonna do three, they have to be different.)

3. You can “show” a little, but not too much.

In the first line:

“VIOLENCE IN EGYPT ESCALATES. FINANCIAL CRISIS LEAVES EUROPE IN TURMOIL.”

And later:

“Leading a heated after-school brainstorming session, watching my abstract thoughts materialize onscreen, holding the freshly printed articles in my hand…”

The first one grabs our attention; the second paints a clear and dynamic picture. Keep ‘em short!

Example 2: Hospital Internship

When I applied to West Kendall Baptist Hospital, I was told they weren’t accepting applications from high schoolers. However, with a couple teacher recommendations, the administration gave me a shot at aiding the secretaries: I delivered papers, answered phone calls, and took in patients’ packages. Sadly, inadequate funding shut down large sections of the hospital and caused hundreds of employees–myself included–to lose their jobs. But then Miami Children’s Hospital announced openings for inpatient medical volunteers. Again, I faced denial, but then I got a chance to speak to the lead inpatient medical physician and cited my previous experience. While working at MCH, I delivered samples, took down visitor information, administered questionnaires, and organized records. I helped ease the work of the nurses and doctors, while delivering medicine and smiles to dozens of patients. I may not have directly saved any lives, but I’d like to think I helped.

So far, so good?

THREE MORE TECHNIQUES YOU SHOULD STEAL:

4. Start with a “problem to be solved.”

Did you initially face an obstacle? In the first sentence say what it was, then in another sentence say how you worked through it. That’ll show grit. Note that this essay has not one, but two obstacles. And each time the writer worked through it in just one sentence. Brevity ftw.

5. Focus on specific impact. (Say whom you helped and how.)

Read the ending again:

“I helped ease the work of the nurses and doctors, while delivering medicine and smiles to dozens of patients. I may not have directly saved any lives, but I’d like to think I helped.”

This applies to fundraisers too (say how much you raised and for whom) and sports (who’d you impact and how?).

6. Write it long first, then cut it.

Both these students started with 250-300 word statements (get all the content on the page first). Then trim ruthlessly, cutting any repetitive or unnecessary words.

Good luck!

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