Skip to main content

Writing Advice from Kurosawa



At the moment, I'm working on a screenplay in addition to drafting my 11th novel. It's how I learned the art of story structure and how the moving parts of a story worked. I wrote or co-wrote a dozen screenplays before I turned to write my first novel and it was an invaluable experience.

Granted, the first thing people asked after they read my early drafts of my early work was, "You were a screenwriter, weren't you?"

It showed. They really are different media, and it can be easy to ease too far into one or the other, but I think both are valuable forms of storytelling. I mean, at my day job I work with telling stories with moving pictures every day, and at night I work with words. Or the morning, rather. I still find advice people dole out to screenwriters valuable to all writers, though. In fact, I pretty much insist anyone who is interested in telling stories read Robert McKee's Story. And then re-read it every time you're plotting a new story.  (Tip: you can get the equally helpful audiobook version with your leftover Audible credits...)

But the screenplay I'm working on is heavily inspired by the work of Kurosawa. He's one of my favorite storytellers, and I sought out some advice of his as I worked.

I found some pretty great quotes that I think apply equally to novelists, short story writers, and anyone else that wants to be a professional storyteller.

First:
"In order to write scripts, you must first study the great novels and dramas of the world. You must consider why they are great. Where does the emotion come from that you feel as you read them? What degree of passion did the author have to have, what level of meticulousness did he have to command, in order to portray the characters and events as he did? You must read thoroughly, to the point where you can grasp all these things. You must also see the great films. You must read the great screenplays and study the film theories of the great directors. If your goal is to become a film director, you must master screenwriting."
I think this obviously holds true for anyone. You need to read and watch thoroughly any sort of medium constantly. If you're not consuming all manner of stories and evaluating how and why they worked, yours will be nothing special.

Then, here's another piece about how to read (or even watch movies) in order to accomplish this endeavor:
"I‘ve forgotten who it was that said creation is memory. My own experiences and the various things I have read remain in my memory and become the basis upon which I create something new. I couldn’t do it out of nothing. For this reason, since the time I was a young man I have always kept a notebook handy when I read a book. I write down my reactions and what particularly moves me. I have stacks and stacks of these college notebooks, and when I go off to write a script, these are what I read. Somewhere they always provide me with a point of breakthourgh. Even for single lines of dialogue I have taken hints from these notebooks. So what I want to say is, don’t read books while lying down in bed."
I think this next piece is one we all struggle with in every book or screenplay, and it's helpful for me to understand that even the greatest of storytellers struggled through the same thing:

"At some point in the writing of every script I feel like giving the whole thing up. From my many experiences of writing screenplays, however, I have learned something: If I hold fast in the face of this blankness and despair, adopting the tactic of Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect, who glared at the wall that stood in his way until his legs became useless, a path will open up."
And finally, this piece about working every day toward your goal. I have no patience for people who tell me they don't have time to write because they absolutely do. If they really want to, if it's something that's important to them, they will.

You can replace Kurosawa's profession with any profession or lifestyle and the words still ring true.

"Those who say an assistant director’s job doesn’t allow him any free time for writing are just cowards. Perhaps you can write only one page a day, but if you do it every day, at the end of the year you’ll have 365 pages of script. I began in this spirit, with a target of one page a day. There was nothing I could do about the nights I had to work till dawn, but when I had time to sleep, even after crawling into bed I would turn out two or three pages. Oddly enough, when I put my mind to writing, it came more easily than I had thought it would, and I wrote quite a few scripts."
As far as my work being published lately, the new Star Wars Insider came out and it contains the first part of one of my favorite pieces. 


I was able to interview two people I greatly admire as storytellers in the media of radio and film: John Madden and Tom Voegeli. Madden directed one of my favorite films, Shakespeare in Love, and together he and Voegeli were responsible for the Star Wars radio dramas from NPR. It was a fascinating behind the scenes interview and worth your time to check out.

As a reminder: The Aeronaut and Escape Vector are still out and still need your purchases and reviews. If nothing else, they can use you telling people about them. If you want signed copies, visit the shop here on this page.

Also! here's the full list of "rules and guidelines" I've been collecting over my years of studying writing advice and process

As far as my work outside of all this: There's a lot of great stuff on Big Shiny Robot! and Full of Sith for you. 

And please, please, please don't forget to check out any of my books, drop reviews of them on Amazon or Goodreads, and follow me on twitter and Facebook!
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Symbiotic Relationship Between Art and Politics

Art is inherently political.

Let's just get that out of the way. We all have things we want to say (or things we want to not say) in our personal lives that shape the art we make. And artists, more often than not, are trying to say something with their art, even if their goal is to not say something.

There is no doubt that this has been a turbulent week in the country I live in. There are many of us that are confused and shocked and afraid of what might be to come in the future. That's understandable. As artists and writers, I feel like we're typically more empathetic than the general population. It's easy to think about what it's like to be in someone else's shoes because we spend so much of our creative time almost literally in someone else's shoes. And we need to pass that understanding on to our readers or viewers or however else they're consuming this art.

I've seen this troubling idea, though, that art needs to be purely for escape and that p…

Anatomy of a Scene - City Lights

We're going to break down another scene this week, and it's one of my favorites in cinema history. It comes from the ending of City Lights by Charlie Chaplin, which I think is the greatest romantic comedy ever made. 
It's a touching film from 1931 and I would make it mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to learn to tell a story.
The scene we're going to be breaking down comes from the very end of the film, so if you haven't seen it, I don't want to spoil it for you. Go watch the film. You can rent it for $3.99 in HD on Amazon or for free on Hulu with a free trial or plus subscription. You should just buy the Blu-ray, though. You're going to want to revisit it.
For those of you familiar with the movie, or for those of you who are going to ignore my pleas to watch it and go ahead with this post anyway, I'm going to set this clip up a bit before you watch it.
City Lights tells the story of Chaplin's Tramp and how he falls in love with a blind flower …

Salt Lake Comic Con 2016 Schedule

It's time again for Salt Lake Comic Con and I have another packed schedule. This is where I'll be occupied for much of my weekend. I would love for you to come out, see me on a panel, catch me at my signing, or just say hello.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

3:00 pm Fixing Fandom and Ending Bullying and Gatekeeping :: 150G

4:00 pm Fauxthentic History - Star Trek :: 151G

6:00 pm Star Wars Trailer Park :: 151G

8:00 pm The Life and Times of Ahsoka Tano :: 151G

Friday, September 2, 2016

12:00 pm Palpatine's Rise: The Cautionary Tale of the Star Wars Prequels :: 255C

1:00 pm Star Wars: The Life and Times of Han Solo :: 251A

3:00 pm Jeremy Bulloch :: 250A

5:00 pm Stuff You Missed in History Class Live: How Does Historical Fiction Get Made? :: 250A

6:00 pm Bryan Young Signing :: Shadow Mountain - Booth 1807

7:00 pm Adventures in Podcasting :: 251A

8:00 pm What is the Balance of the Force? :: 255F

Saturday, September 2, 2016

11:00 am Famke Janssen :: Grand Ballroom

12:00 pm The Many Fac…