Posts by grandpa

Primary Conflict – I’m Sure There is One Uh, Probably

Posted by on Sep 25, 2014 in Creative Writing | 0 comments

Primary Conflict – I’m Sure There is One Uh, Probably

First of all, Grandpa Hank would like to welcome himself back to the land of the living. Which I’m pretty sure would’ve been much tougher to do had I actually passed away of the mysterious tropical disease I somehow contracted in my backyard in Pittsburgh. (Special thanks to whoever introduced the Asian Tiger Mosquito to Allegheny County. You’re the freakin’ best, buddy!) It’s been an interesting couple of months that haven’t necessarily allowed me thoughts that were coherent enough to send out into the world. Honestly, what you’d have gotten in August would’ve been something like this…

Writer’s Leg – Swamp or Destiny?

What do you think of when I say “drama?” Really let that sink in. Don’t be afraid to let the reality of it hit you. If you didn’t see it the same way, don’t worry. It’s fine provided your imagination is there to soften the blow. And I ought to know. One time I blarf tarp cafuzoid LAPOOPJOY!

But that was weeks ago and I’m well on my way to a full recovery. (Uh, hopefully) And you’ll never know if I made up that last paragraph just now or if I copied and pasted something I thought made sense roundabout August 9th. But all that notwithstanding, I do want to address something that caught me completely off guard last week.

One of the secondary reasons I wasn’t able to do much blog writing recently is because I was spending every headache-free moment writing a script for a local production company. I was on a rather tight deadline that I’m proud to say I met with three weeks to spare. And the script came out pretty decent considering all I really had to build from were about four plot points and a series of images that the producer/director was really excited about. (Which let’s face it, is still WAY better than the typical, “Can you write a bunch of scenes with boobs and like maybe a bad ass ice cream truck? Or like a homicidal dolphin clown?”)

So over a month, I sat down and averaged about one scene a day, building a story around four characters who all inadvertently wreck each others’ lives through a series of well intentioned missteps. They begin trying to fill their voids by chasing what the others have until after a long, slow, indie-style build up, it explodes at the end. It’s a very chatty, character-driven piece about how all too often, we manage to talk ourselves out of our own happiness.

And I was feeling awesome about it until in a quick phone call with the producer, he asked me…

“So what would you say is the primary conflict?”

When I was in seventh grade, there was this really annoying kid named Denny who would come up and flick you in the forehead with his index finger when you weren’t looking. Then he’d run away and hide behind a teacher so he didn’t have to deal with the consequences of his actions. In the aftermath of the producer’s question, I swear I could hear Denny’s stupid laugh.

I had everything about the script figured out. Every single thing the characters did and said had a specific purpose. Every little thing built upon the previous things to slowly turn up the heat until everything finally blows up. The characters were deep, rich, and flawed. The action all made sense. Each scene led to the next. It flowed. The story worked.

And yet my answer to “What would you say is the primary conflict?” went as follows.

“Uh, well… hmmm. That’s a good… ok, well, the characters, they’re all trying to… ok, like, they all want uh… ok, so when it comes to the PRIMARY conflict, I guess it’s between, so I guess there’s a few ways of looking at it. Let me um, think on that for a bit.”

Want to go from an expert to a bumbling stoogehead in about three seconds? Don’t give any thought to the absolute simplest of questions pertaining to your script. To be honest, the primary conflict of the piece ended up being me beating myself up over not having a flippin’ clue what the primary conflict was. (All of which I’m going to blame squarely on the tropical Neptune Pox I got in July.) I figure the shelf life on that excuse has to last until at least Thanksgiving.

Admittedly, I write much differently than a lot of storytellers. I tend to have an ending in mind and a couple of main scenes I want to hit along the way. From there, I pretty much let the rest of it flow and see what the hell happens. Personally, I find it less restrictive because it gives me the ability to explore my characters without worrying about where ACT II begins and all the other BS that structure-stomps a lot of writers into creating hollow yet technically perfect scripts.

What is the primary conflict?

There was a huge lesson in that question for me. And that lesson was…

There are certain very simple questions that are always going to be asked of you as a writer. You better damn well be prepared to answer them.

What is the main dramatic question?
What are the stakes for your main character?
What’s your two-sentence logline?

My advice? Unless you’re stuck, don’t worry about that stuff while you’re writing the script. Lose yourself in the world you created. Then once you emerge on the other side, have a list of questions to ask yourself about your completed script. (An easy way to do this is to compile a list of all of the generic questions you’ve ever been asked by a producer, professor, mentor, or classmate. Write them down as they come up.) Asking yourself those questions might just help you go back and strengthen what you’ve already written. And if nothing else, it’ll keep you from sounding like a total moron when producers inevitably ask you something simple. Such as….

How are you going to end this blog post?

Well uh….I guess I could ya know, I mean…..ok, I’m going to end it with a bang. Like something really witty that refers to uh…..right, so if you give me a second to just think on it…..there’s really something incredibly um…..uh…..LAPOOPJOY!

photo credit: Oberazzi via photopin cc

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Writing is Fun

Posted by on Jul 31, 2014 in Creative Writing | 0 comments

Writing is Fun

So regular readers of this blog (all nine of you) may have noticed that Grandpa Hank took a bit of an unexpected hiatus for the last three weeks or so. Why? Well, the doctors aren’t quite certain, but it’s because at the beginning of July, all of my muscles and joints decided to scream with such a constrictive, vice-like pain that it felt as if I’d gotten the bends on dry land. I lost functioning in my hips, shoulders, neck, and arms, and didn’t regain full movement in my hands until just recently. If I was to hazard a guess just based on my symptoms, I’m going with alien pox from Neptune. It damn near wiped me off of this plane of existence. (At least it felt like it.)

But you want to know the worst part? As I was slowly starting to feel better, I still didn’t have the dexterity or strength in my hands, fingers, and forearms to type or even grip a pencil. And so I had all this free time on my hands and no ability to write down my thoughts or distract myself by creating a story.

And it was then that I realized how tenuous everything really is. As writers, we just sort of take for granted our ability to write. We think we’ll always be able to sit down when we have a thought and get that thought to the world. And what I found through my whole ordeal is that’s not necessarily the case. And I missed it. I desperately missed it. Being robbed of it was killing me even more than the alien pox.

All of this is why I’m going to ask you a question that as a writer, is actually somewhat difficult to answer.

Is writing fun? Do you enjoy it?

I only ask because it seems that writers fall in two camps.

1) Those who absolutely love it and write because they have amazing characters and stories that just need to come out of them.

2) Tortured souls who write because it tortures their soul a little bit more.

I remember being at a tiny writer’s conference at my college as a wide-eyed nineteen year old, amazed to be in the same room as a few moderately well known authors. Students like me and people from the community all packed ourselves into one of the classroom buildings to listen to these people read chapters from their books and participate in a bunch of Q&A sessions. Personally, I couldn’t wait. It was the first time I’d be able to talk with published authors and I couldn’t wait to be inspired by their enthusiasm for writing.

And then the older people from town and all the pretentious English students started asking questions. And it turned into this…

“What do you do when you’re staring at the page and every word is just a whip to the tender underbelly of the fragile, glass container you’ve built around what’s left of your soul? And you cry and you scratch at your face and pull out the hair around your temples and you just want to crawl into a bathtub and die alone with your murky, brackish thoughts and other vaguely writery sounding descriptions to let you know how deep and tortured my soul is. But you know you have to keep going. YOU. HAVE. TO. KEEP. GOING. Or you’ll perish. What do you do?”

And I’d be expecting the author to laugh at the stupidity of that question until he or she would answer with something like…

“We’ve all been there. Where each letter in each word in each sentence is like drinking the poison from an ex-lover’s cup of deceit. Rotting from the inside just hoping the maggots are kind enough to leave your heart alone… blah, blah, blah…”

And after enough similar questions and answers, I looked around the room and felt really, really… sad for all these people. I felt like an outcast simply because I actually liked and got excited about what I was doing. I just figured everyone else did as well because why would anyone voluntarily dedicate all that time to something that caused them to want to rip the hair out from their temples? You realize there are things like woodworking and stamp collecting and rebuilding motorcycles and other stuff out there, right? If you don’t enjoy it, please excuse my Portuguese but…


There’s no reason to write if you hate every minute of it. And if you start finding yourself getting frustrated, just remember why you do it.

Because you get to spend a few minutes, a few hours, a few days imagining. Just freaking imagining! And daydreaming. And figuring out which words match your damn daydreams! Seriously, if that’s not fun to you, I will gladly give you the Neptune flu that made writing this blog moderately difficult.

Writing is fun, people. Even in the darkest, most frustrating moments. Never, ever forget that and you’re going to be just fine.

photo credit: Adam Foster | Codefor via photopin cc

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This Business Writing Tip is Freaking Elite

Posted by on Jun 28, 2014 in Business Writing | 0 comments

This Business Writing Tip is Freaking Elite

I’ve dedicated more of my life than I care to admit to an admittedly fringe sport that requires much more athleticism than the public realizes and may or may not involve a Frisbee. In fact, this sport may or may not have just received official IOC recognition earlier in the week. And my old, slow ass may or may not have tossed a pretty sick behind the backer from my knees for a goal in a summer league game earlier this week – prompting the following response from my buddy Jared to a teammate who’d missed it.

“Don’t worry. If you didn’t see it, he’ll be telling us all about it for years. Watch – he’ll figure out a way to work it into his damn blog on creative writing.”

Jared, you are a freaking soothsayer. You say sooth.

So why am I talking about Ultimate Frisbee in a writing blog other than to highlight my wicked awesome play in a lame attempt to convince myself that I’m still good? It’s all because of a single word.

That word? ELITE.

Many of you may be surprised to learn that there are top-level Ultimate teams in just about every major city who travel all over the United States to battle against each other for the club national championship each year. In the men’s division, two of those teams reside in my hometown of Pittsburgh. And one of them has the annoying habit of always describing everything they do as “elite.”

(In the interest of full disclosure, I played on the OTHER Pittsburgh team for the last two years.)

Seriously, there isn’t a single article, email, or press release about them that doesn’t say, “Pittsburgh’s Elite Men’s Ultimate team makes an elite run through an elite tournament because of their elite skills and general overall eliteness.”

“Man, we thought we couldn’t get any more elite,” said team captain Eli Teness. “But then we managed to find a whole different level of eliteness. Like we kicked our eliteness into elite overdrive and just out elited all the other teams because they weren’t quite as elite as we are.”

And I mean, they’re good. They’re very good. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and say that they are in fact elite. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that I’m not the one saying that they’re elite. THEY’RE the ones saying they’re elite. And uh, that’s just kind of… what’s the word I’m looking for?

Eh, the first thing that popped into my mind was kind of harsh. Let me flip through my Thesaurus here for something softer… Damn it, it doesn’t have any synonyms for douchey.

Yeah, so I’ll just skip that part.

So what’s the point? As a writer, what can you learn from the elite Pittsburgh Men’s Ultimate Team? Well, there’s a lot you can learn, especially as a business writer or marketing director. And that lesson is – nobody likes the guy who goes around telling everyone how handsome he is. Let OTHER people heap accolades on the business. If you’re going to use higher-tier praise words like “elite,” have it come in a quote from a customer or another professional.

For instance, the following is totally cool to put on your website…

“Cupcake World has truly evolved into one of Denver’s elite dessert establishments.” – Willard T. Plumptummy, Good Eats Denver Magazine

What’s not cool to put on your website is…

“At Cupcake World, our cupcakes truly ascend into the realm of elite.”

See the difference there? It’s just one of those things. The business doesn’t have the authority to internally make that claim without sounding,…

Still trying to come up with a synonym for douchey…

But you get the point. There are all kinds of great adjectives you can use to describe your business, or the business that’s hired you.


All those terms are cool to use. Using the word “elite” is only a problem because it promotes exclusivity and you don’t just invite yourself into an exclusive club. Typically, other people have to grant you access.

“Hey there bouncer, I know I don’t have a VIP pass, but you can take it from me that I’m VERY freaking important. So out of the way Creatine Dan.”

What? You ended up underneath a dumpster with a broken scapula? You don’t say.

Anyway, I can’t believe how elite this blog turned out. And it just goes to prove how freaking elite the Pittsburgh Elite Men’s Ultimate Team actually is. Simply by being so elite, they’ve spawned the most elite article in the history of the Internet.

And how do I know it’s the most elite article in the history of the Internet?

Because I freaking said so.

That’s not an obnoxious claim at all.

OBNOXIOUS! YES! YES! That’s the word I was searching for all along. I knew I didn’t have to use douchey.

That’s a relief.

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Writer’s Block: World Cup Edition

Posted by on Jun 20, 2014 in Business Writing, Creative Writing | 1 comment

Writer’s Block: World Cup Edition

I’m going to let you all in on a secret. If you’re a writer, it’s a secret that’s going to make you outright want to slap me across the ears. It’s a secret that I’m sure many writers keep, but almost no one wants to admit for fear of being ostracized by other writers. Ready? I’m going to lower the boom.

I’ve never had writer’s block.

I know, I know, what a bleephole, right? Writer’s block is a rite of passage. You’re not a writer if you haven’t stared blankly into the backwaters of your mind for hours, days, weeks in an attempt to reel in the perfect idea. How dare you claim it’s never happened? HOW DARE YOU!

All right, I lied. I lied. In fact, it happened to me just today as I tried to come up with something to write about this week. Unlike a lot of writers, I’m not a fountain of ideas, so my main source of anxiety in relation to this blog tends to revolve around coming up with a different subject every Thursday morning. There’s some dread there. Not a lot of dread. A very tiny bit of dread. You probably wouldn’t notice it unless you were peering into a microscope. Yup, there’s definitely some dread in there. And some microbes. And mold spores.

Sometimes things jump out at me. Hey, you just spent a few days on the set of a TV pilot you wrote. You should write about that! What a great idea, italics! But most of the time, it’s not that easy. A lot of times I’ll get suggestions from other writers, readers, and most often my sister, who manages this blog. (Hi Kelly) But sometimes she’s busy location scouting for commercials all week, so I’m left to my own devices. And you know what my device has been this week?


I don’t in fact know if soccer is a device. In fact I’m pretty sure it’s not. In most circles it’s considered a sport. But I do use a device to turn on the television in order to watch soccer, so I’m pretty sure that counts.

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the world AT ALL since last Monday, there’s a soccer tournament going on in Brazil that’s kind of a big deal. Like if you ran into it at a party, it would be that guy with the sunglasses clipped to his Polo who sips on his martini and tells you, “I don’t know if you realize, but I’m kind of a big deal.” And he actually is a big deal instead of most of the piss ants at parties who tell you they’re a big deal but they actually sell after-market car stereos out of their cousin’s van.

I’m going to freely admit, I’m the worst kind of USA bandwagon soccer fan there is. I’m the guy who doesn’t pay attention whatsoever for damn near four years but when the World Cup begins, I watch EVERY SINGLE GAME. I’m the guy who has no idea what the difference is between a fullback and a midfielder but runs home from the gym so I don’t miss a single minute of Belgium vs. Algeria. And then I spend the entire match thinking, “Wow, I can’t believe Algeria is up one to nill,” (I even use nill instead of zero like some speedo wearing European) Also, I amuse myself by pretending to be the British announcer and saying things like, “Wow, look at all those Belgians! That’s quite a lot of Belgians, Roger,” because I don’t know any actual soccer phrases other than “Well, Suarez sure played a good ball there,” and “What a terrible ball by Suarez.”

So what does the World Cup have to do with writer’s block? Well, quite a lot actually. First of all, soccer is amazing in that it’s about the only team sport you can watch while simultaneously focusing on other things. This makes it absolutely ideal to have on in the background while you’re writing. Even soccer fans will admit that a large portion of every game is dedicated to things ALMOST happening.

“My God, Roger, the chap from the Netherlands almost got free there. If it weren’t for the six defenders in the way, he could’ve really mounted a challenge!”

You can turn away from the game for ten to fifteen minutes at a time and literally miss nothing. Try writing during a hockey game. Impossible.

In order to prove my point, I’m going to use actual statistics rather than emotion and pure speculation. The other day Mexico played Brazil in what was widely described as one of the most exciting games of the tournament’s first week. (We’ll look past the fact that the final score ended up nill to nill) Why was it so exciting? Because the Mexican goalkeeper made spectacular save after spectacular save to keep the Brazilians off the board. I mean, in soccer terms, he was under constant bombardment, fending off shot after shot, not letting a single ball cross the line. At the end of the game, I wondered just how many saves he’d made. It had to have been an insane number. And it was. But not for the reasons I anticipated. The number was indeed insane. Because that number was…


The guy had made six saves. And it was like the most saves a Mexican goalie had made in the World Cup since 1950. SIX! Now let’s say Brazil had four other amazing chances that barely missed the net. And let’s say Mexico had seven or eight amazing chances as well during the match. That averages out to be one moderately interesting thing happening every five minutes or so. That’s more than enough time to write a paragraph or an entire block of dialogue. The key is to have the volume down so low that you only notice when the crazy British announcer starts raising his voice…

“And here we go, Hammarschlooben making a run toward the box…”

This is where you quit writing and look up.

“And oh….oh, his shot goes forty feet over the crossbar. We almost had some real honest to Christmas action there, Roger.”

What’s the second thing that soccer has to do with writing? Well, I’m not sure yet. But as I was dreading this blog, I had a curious thought. What if I write something about the World Cup? I’ve dedicated disturbingly large chunks of my day to it. Surely there has to be something I can do to merge writing tips with the world’s largest soccer tournament. It’ll be easy.

That was Sunday afternoon. Sunday night came and went.

Monday – Nuthin’.

Tuesday – Nada

Wednesday – Nah, bro.

It’s now Thursday morning. I’ve watched parts of twelve matches since then. I’m set to watch England vs. Uruguay here this afternoon and I haven’t thought of a single thing to write. I still haven’t come up with that perfect idea to meld the World Cup with writing in any meaningful way.

Oh wait. Wait a second. I have over a thousand words here. It may not be the most informative piece I’ve ever written, but it’s moderately entertaining and makes a pretty good point if I do say so myself. What’s that point you ask?

Writer’s block is bullshit.

Yeah, you heard me. Writer’s block is crap. It’s something writers invent to torture themselves into feeling superior when all they’re really doing is putzing around. Other professions get this too. But you never hear of mathematician’s block or contractor’s block. Why? Because they explore all their options, make a decision and freaking go with it. They don’t just sit there sipping coffee and staring at their keyboard going, “Well no use now, I got the block.”

Great ideas don’t often come about when you’re putting pressure on yourself to come up with great ideas. They hit when you’re not thinking about it. Like when you’re watching a bunch of Ecuadorians you’ve never heard of kick a ball from sideline to sideline for nineteen straight minutes.

Writer’s block is only the monster you think it is because we’ve given it a name. Now it’s something tangible that we all have to battle instead of what it actually is – a very temporary lack of direction. Taking the soccer reference way too far, it only happens when you’re focused on the five guys in the wall in front of your free kick instead of how easily you can bend the ball around them. It doesn’t do any damn good to keep drilling the ball straight into the wall of bodies. It’s not going to go through.

Here’s a crazy suggestion – if you have “writer’s block,” just go ahead and start writing. Start typing the random crap that pops into your head. Don’t worry about where it’s going or if it fits in with your theme or tertiary story arc. Get your mind working. Free the blockage. Maybe you’ll realize that writing really is like soccer. Sometimes like Clint Dempsey versus Ghana, you score a goal almost immediately. But a majority of the time, it takes a lot of boring passes through the midfield probing the defense for weakness before you bury one in the back of the net. It’s all part of the process. And like soccer, sometimes that process is very, very slow. But that’s ok. It’s all part of the game.

And if all that fails, just flop to the ground and roll around holding your shin with an anguished look on your face. I’ve heard that works.

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Grandpa Hank’s Writer Interview – Molly Gross (Part II)

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in Writer Interviews | 0 comments

Grandpa Hank’s Writer Interview – Molly Gross (Part II)

And now the exciting conclusion of the Molly Gross interview!

Grandpa Hank: How do you balance your life as a playwright with the myriad of other things going on? Basically, how do you survive and still do what you love?
Molly Gross: That is a very good question, and I’m always trying to find the answer to it! HA! You’re right that there certainly are a “myriad of things” happening on a daily basis, as is true for all working parents. Between teaching, cooking meals, cleaning messes, grading papers, and attending school and community events, I often get very little sleep and very little “me time.” I’m very fortunate that my husband and I work at the same college where he’s a theatre professor who likes my work. We recently produced a murder mystery I wrote that I also got to perform in. This made it easy to blend my passion with work obligations to end up with a finished product, but I know that is a rare blessing. I’m the kind of writer that needs both chunks of time and deadlines to motivate me, and because writing makes me feel whole, energized, and simultaneously at peace, I see it as part of my survival. So I have to carve out that time, even if gets to be 1:00AM (like it is now). 
GH: But why sleep when you can answer more questions? Let’s take this one for instance. Can you feel a change in your stories over the years? If yes, then how so?
MG: Honestly, I think I’ve become a more selfish writer, which I don’t necessarily see as a bad thing. I find myself wanting to write about things that really affect me deeply – things that make me think, things I don’t have answers to, but need to explore or purge, things that frighten me, mostly because I have no idea if anyone else will understand. I used to think about what would make audiences laugh, what would make them cry, what’s popular, or what I thought people would want to see onstage. Now, I try to generate stories that I want to read or see come to life, and I try to read more often to learn more about myself. Ya know, in all my spare time.
GH: And now that you’re deliriously tired, please finish this monologue. (Character of your choice) “Back when I was young, my grandmother had a saying. She said….”

MG: “…never hide a pig in your pantry.” Oh, Granny. She had a bunch of them. “Keep your kernels on the corn,” “You can’t clean a white cow.” She grew up on a farm. I could never figure out what she was saying, but I’ve tried hard to over the years. Anyway, the pig one comes to mind, not because I have a pig in my pantry, that would be ridiculous, but because of what I think is going on in your cubicle, Brad. Brett? Brad. I think I finally realize what Granny meant. Look, I know you’ve only worked here a couple weeks, but you’ve got to trust me, okay? The boss, he uh… OH HI CHERYL NICE SCARF! Phew. She gone? Anyway, the boss is bound to figure out what you’ve got in here, it’s just begging to be found. We can all smell it. It’s very distinctive. Especially today, when I walked by, that’s when it hit me. Your stash of donuts is like a pig in the pantry! You think it’s out of sight but it makes itself known. A pig’ll eat everything! Can you imagine the mess? The noise? Someone’s bound to fi—You know, I have to uh… I think I’ll go home for lunch today. Be back in a few. Got some pig I mean big, uh… business. To tend to. See ya Brad. Brett? Brad.


Both Grandpa Hank and coffee joints all over southern Georgia would like to thank Molly for her time and her very thoughtful answers. What a great insight into how writing and real life simultaneously enrich, enhance, and roadblock each other.

And now, in Molly’s honor, Grandpa Hank is going to go take a nap.

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