Monday, March 27, 2006

Inside-Out Writing

Once I saw an interview of some of the head writers for the old “I Love Lucy” show. They talked about how they always wrote the show “backwards”.

They would begin with a situation and figure out how to get Lucy and Ethel there. For example, they figured it would be funny to have the girls tromping barefoot through a vat of grapes. Or they thought it would be funny to have them wreaking havoc in a candy factory. Then they would write a plot that would put them in that mess.

That’s good advice. It’s pretty close to Stephen Covey’s “Habit Number 2”: “Begin with the end in mind.”

When I took a creative writing class, the teacher once gave us an assignment to describe a room two different ways. First, we were to go from general to specific: it was a big room, bright, with large windows, and a rug in the middle of the room with a table covered with a green table cloth and on top of the table was a pitcher of water.

Then we were to describe the same room going from specific to general: start with the pitcher of water and work out to a large, bright room. You get the idea.

The lesson was that it was possible to describe from either the general to the specific or the specific to the general. But it was important that you did one or the other and that you knew which direction you were going.

That’s also good advice.

I have discovered that the two hardest things to write are the beginning and the end. So I usually start out in the middle and work my way out. Again, it doesn’t matter what I do, as long as I am consciously doing it and I’m consistent. I call it my "inside-out" writing style. (Sometimes I write "outside-in", but the concept is still the same.)

I begin with the general idea of what I’m wanting to say (in this case, describe my writing style). Then I write the beginning (an anecdote about how “I Love Lucy” was written). Finally, I figure out a witty way to close, usually with some punch line.

It’s kinda like that old joke:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
Most poems rhyme,
But this one doesn’t.

In other words, if you were looking for a witty punch line right here...

Well, I didn’t write one this time.

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