One of the books I had to read during my time in grad school was Crafting Short Screenplays that Connect.
It was part of my screenwriting class block, and I loved the class as much as the book. (Southern New Hampshire University has some great classes on fiction and film if you’re interested.)
My favorite part of the book was the beginning – and not just because it was the “easy part” where I just had to read, and I didn’t have to write anything of my own just yet. In the book, there was a section on getting ideas for screenplays. It was called “Le Menu.”
Since screenplays are very similar to stories, when it comes to teaching and even when I am stuck, I’ll often use Le Menu to help get me unstuck or to help get the written juices flowing.
The Le Menu breaks down into your inner brain’s connections of your interests and your knowledge, and allows you to hint at some of the things that you can write about well, as well as the things you’d like to write about well.
The first thing on Le Menu is “Stuff I Love,” followed by “Stuff I Hate.” That’s pretty easy to figure out. Some of my students ask me why we would want to write about something we hate. Anything that gets a response out of you – especially in this disaffected, disconnective culture – should go into your work. That includes the things we hate. Art is used to express a message, after all, and you can make that as happy or dreary or as mixed up as you’d like, so long as it matters.
It’s easy to make a list of what you love:
- Someone else doing your laundry
- Star Wars
- Other stuff (family, love, traveling, art, etc.)
And the higher, loftier things you really love:
- Happy endings
- True love conquering all
- Being right
It’s also easy to make a list of stuff you hate:
- Stupid people
- Technology that doesn’t work when it needs to
- Sad Clowns
- Stupid people who drive poorly
- Other stuff (dropping the phone right as you answer it, getting LinkedIn invitations from people you don’t remember, and how fast time goes while you’re on Facebook, etc.)
And the stuff you really, really, really hate:
- Stupid people
- Racism and prejudice
- Lazy people
- Other stuff (politicians who lie, people who are told the facts and don’t care and maybe even completely disregard the facts because the facts are inconvenient, spam mail, unrealistic expectations, and over-hyped products/movies, etc.)
It would be my challenge to you today to work on your own Le Menu. See where it takes you; even ask a friend to make a list with you. Friends have a way of seeing the things about ourselves we don’t even see. Could be fun, right? Especially with coffee, something every writer comes to love!