Collaborative Writing – Shape of the Juice

Posted by on Nov 12, 2013 in Creative Writing | 1 comment

Do this experiment at home. Fix yourself a nice cup of juice – something that’ll really hit the spot on a warm summer evening. Once you’ve done that, set the cup down on your kitchen table. Now take two fingers and place them on the lip of the cup. You with me so far? The next step is crucial. Take your fingers and push them forward until the cup itself begins to tip. Keep pushing until the cup is on the precipice of going over completely. Now let go. What happens next is a mini-miracle.

It’s the awe-inspiring process of fluid kinematics in action. Incredible.

Don’t tell me you thought the cup would just balance there. I mean, that wouldn’t even happen on the equinox. That was a really dumb thought for an intelligent person such as yourself to have.

(Note: Don’t use all that much juice in the above experiment)
Upon further review, perhaps I should’ve inserted that note slightly earlier.

So what are we to gain from this experiment that no one reading this actually did? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But I did want to give you a visual. Say you were dumb enough to perform said experiment. Picture it. Visualize that drink all over your kitchen table. Now describe the shape of the juice.

This is essentially what many people will ask you to do as a writer. It just comes in a different form. Most times it will sound similar to this…

“Hey, so I got this idea. It’ll make a great script. It’s like about awesome cars and like they race and drive these awesome cars everywhere. Like in Paris and Stockholm and like Costa Rica and like they’re in the jungle and stuff. It’s sick.”

“Yeah,” you reply. “That’s uh… an idea all right.”

At this point, you have two choices. You can either say no and save yourself a lot of aggravation. (This is BY FAR the best option) Or you feel guilty and say yes because the person you’re talking to is probably a friend or relative and they’re so damn excited about the image in their head that they look right past the obvious dread in your eyes.

Essentially what they’ve said to you is, “Hey, I’ve got a half can of peas. Man, we can make a freaking kick ass dinner for everyone.” And you can tell in their head they see turkey and potatoes and gravy and something remarkably tasty that requires a half can of peas.

Don’t feel bad about getting cornered. It happens to the best of us. But if you do, here are some tips to keep yourself sane during the process.

1) Stall: The longer you draw it out, the more time the person has to get bored with the idea. The further away someone is from that initial spark of inspiration, the less likely they are to put in the work. Tell them you can help them, but not for a month or so because ya know, family is in town and November isn’t really your most creative month and…ya know, all the stink bugs. Push it down the road. As far as possible.


2) Ask for an outline:
Get some idea of what direction the person wants to go. Ask them to put in some work first. It will help you gauge how committed they are to the “idea.” And who knows, they might come up with something interesting that you actually do want to be part of.


3) Get paid up front:
Obviously this doesn’t apply to friends and family. But you’d be surprised how many “companies” prey on unknown writers trying to get a foothold in the genre of their choice. It comes in the form of someone from Flimsy Films or Dick Dickwards Publishing giving you their card and saying, “We’ve been looking for a story about like war or handmaidens or tigers or something. You think you could write that for us?” And you happily oblige because THEY HAVE A FREAKING BUSINESS CARD! I bet it’s a major shock that in America, uncreative and unscrupulous people make lots of promises to hopeful writers just so they can “borrow” their ideas for their own profit. (I smell a hilarious TRUE LIFE blog coming about this next week) You don’t have to get paid completely up front, but anyone who is serious won’t mind entering into a contract with you for the draft you’re writing for them.

4) If all else fails, have fun:
Dive into the story headfirst. Make it awesome. Challenge yourself to take “there’s some cars in Paris and the jungle and stuff” and make a genuinely good script. What a great learning exercise! The cars are a metaphor for big oil and the jungle represents the tangled inescapable mess to which they’ve committed the rest of us! Yes, yes, brilliant! Because the idea is so insanely vague, you have complete run of the place. Write whatever you want, just make sure there’s a few cars and they semi-magically end up in the rainforest. Your partner will love it. Let them add a line or two every once in a while so they feel like a part of it and see where it goes. And if the idea is so ludicrous that you absolutely can’t make it worthwhile, simply embrace the awfulness. See how cheesy and dumb you can make it. Find a reason to make it an enjoyable rather than a dreadful experience.

What I’ve found in my career as a writer is that other writers don’t often approach you with a vague, juice-blob of an idea. Most people who actually know what they’re doing will approach you with a much more crafted and sculpted concept. The key is being able to tell the difference.

We can’t always avoid working on a non-idea. But if you do in fact get roped into that situation, hopefully these tips will help.

I’d write more but I’m afraid someone actually did spill juice all over their kitchen and I’d better let them get to it before the ants show up.

One Comment

  1. You said you LIKED my idea you jagoff!

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