I Know What You Did Last Summer and Other Ways to Provoke Guilt

This week I finished reading I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan. I also watched the pilot episode of Ozark on Netflix. Both stories had scenes which illustrate the psychological impact of guilt.

In Duncan’s novel, Julie receives a piece of mail. In the envelope is a letter which contains the title sentence: “I know what you did last summer.” In Ozark, Marty confronts his murderous drug boss’ accusations. Marty accuses him of “fishing” for information, which he later admits. Marty’s partner, Bruce, and his co-conspirators, however, start babbling, admitting to information only a guilty party would know.  Big mistake. But that’s guilt.

That one sentence – “I know what you did last summer – causes Julie and her friends to engage in behavior that confirms their guilt. In Ozark, the guilty parties confess their sins before their accuser even knows for certain there is anything to confess. In both situations, it was the “spotlight” that caused the discomfort and led to the mistakes in behavior.

What I am calling “the spotlight” is a metaphor for guilt. In normal, non-narcissistic, non-sociopathic people, something changes inside of us when we do something wrong. Because we have violated our own ethical standards, or done something that we know will hurt someone else, or engaged in activity that is illegal or immoral, an inner spotlight flips on and shines down on the activity. It continues to shine, even while we’re doing and thinking about other things. That continuous spotlight reminds us that our behavior is incompatible with what we know is right. That’s why, when someone questions us about the bad behavior, our bodies and minds betray us. Lie detectors are designed to pick up on this. The mismatch between our beliefs and our actions causes a physical reaction that can be detected electronically.

But the lie detector is not necessary.  The spotlight tricks us into believing that everyone can see what we’ve done. When someone comes too close to discovering the truth, we think the spotlight is growing bigger and brighter. That’s why people confess. The hot brightness of the spotlight is too uncomfortable, too relentless. The weight of the guilty conscience becomes so heavy that confessing the misdeed, and accepting the consequences, seems less painful.

And getting rid of the guilt is a good thing. We should never wallow in guilt. Guilt, by itself, is not helpful. Nevertheless, the ability to feel guilt separates normal human beings from narcissists and sociopaths. The fact that narcissists and sociopaths exist is one of the reasons why lie detectors cannot be totally trusted. Some people don’t have spotlights. Either they are born without one, or they’ve ignored them for so long that the light eventually goes out. In either case, if you can’t feel remorse, you also can’t bond with other humans.

Guilt is part of the survival package that allows us to live together peacefully in community. Guilt is not an end to itself. It’s just a normal human emotion. It is a signal that something is wrong. It is the pathway to remorse. It is an invitation to apologize, make restitution to the abused party, and eventually be forgiven and restored to the community. People who lack the ability to feel remorse can never be restored to the people they’ve harmed. They go from person to person wreaking havoc and leaving hurt, victimized people in their wake. Society needs to be protected from such people.

But if you have done something you know is wrong, remember that the spotlight is there to help you. It’s a signal that something is broken. It should inspire further action to rectify the situation.

However…if someone says “I already know what you did, you might as well confess,” they might be bluffing! Confess at your own risk!

 

Peace and love,

Raven

 

 

 

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Adapting a Novel to the Big Screen

My dream is to write a novel that becomes a movie. I’ve written screenplays, but I am in love with novels. I love reading stories, and I love writing them. Writing a novel is a big undertaking, but I’m excited for the challenge. At the end of the process, you have something that is absolutely yours. That is a special feeling.

However, writing a novel that will, hopefully, one day become a movie, requires a degree of forethought. As stated in the video, there has to be enough “story” in the story to make it interesting for viewers. Novels usually have a lot of internal dialogue and description. In a movie, internal dialogue has to be conveyed through actual dialogue, body language, and/or facial expression.

Similarly, in a book, describing the setting is free. But, on a movie set, creating the setting requires enormous amounts of money and man hours. It’s good practice to keep these things in mind as you write (or rewrite).

I think the following questions are helpful when creating a story you hope will be adaptable to the big screen:

1) Is there enough that actually “happens” in the story? Characters should be performing actions and speaking dialogue that reflect what’s going on internally. If you were to see the story’s events in real life, would they still be interesting?

2) If you are a new writer, would the story be economical to produce? Period pieces and elaborate space explorations are fabulous, but expensive. You increase the odds that a small or mid-range producer would be interested in the work if the price tag isn’t too hefty.

3) Are you able to write screenplays? This seems obvious. But some novelists don’t appreciate how much different a screenplay is from a novel. In a screenplay, less is definitely more. Flowery, beautiful language that appeals to readers doesn’t work for producers and directors. Of course, the studio could hire someone to write the screenplay – and they might hire someone else to rewrite the screenplay anyway – but it’s helpful, and potentially more lucrative, if you can do it yourself.

4) Will you be able to handle it, emotionally, when your story gets changed in order to make the story screen-ready? Novelists usually work alone. Screenwriters work as part of a team. The large sums of money and time involved in making a movie mean that lots of people have different opinions. The story will change – sometimes completely – before it makes it to the screen. Is this story your “baby?” If so, you might not be able to tolerate the development process. Pick a story that isn’t too personal, or develop a thick skin if you decide you still want to adapt it.

Adapting a book into a movie is not completely within your control, but there are things you can do to make it more likely. If that’s your goal, spend some time planning your story. A visually appealing story with lots of action, great characters, and snappy dialogue stands a good change of engaging both readers and movie-goers.

Good luck!

And, maybe one day we’ll see your name (and mine!) under the “Based on a novel by…” credit!

Peace and love,

Raven

Making Time to Write

When you’re a beginning screenwriter, actually finding time to write can be the biggest challenge. You’re not getting paid for your writing at first, so you have to balance your desire to write with your need to make money.

If your job is incredibly draining, but you’re serious about being a writer, you might need to find a job that is more compatible with your writing. Or, you might have to commit to being a morning person – or a night owl – and get your writing done before or after work. I am naturally a morning person, and my job starts in the afternoon. So, the best part of my day is reserved for my passion.

“Iliad Bookshop” in North Hollywood, California

Once you decide whether you want to write before work, after work, or during your lunch hour, you must make sure you keep your appointment with yourself. My cell phone alarm has become indispensable. When a habit is new, the toughest part is remembering to do it. Having an alarm that pops us and says “WRITE!” is a great little tool to have.

For some people, writing on the weekends is the only time that will work. This can be challenging, since it’s easy for other things to pop up and challenge one’s commitment. You’ll have to be firm with everyone – friends, family, children, and your own laziness. The weekends are your writing time, period.

The other potential problem with the weekend is that you will have to binge-write. Instead of writing daily, which would allow you to stay in touch with your story throughout the week, you’re playing catch-up on the weekend. If this is your issue, all you have to do is read your story during the week for a few minutes. Even if you don’t have much time, reading parts of your script will keep you engaged until you can sit down and write on the weekend.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Trees in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA

There is no right and wrong time to write. You may have to experiment with different days, times, and places to find what works for you. Don’t give up! Experimenting also helps you get to know yourself as a writer. I know I’m a morning person, for example, as I mentioned, and I prefer to have a block of time to write – at least an hour, preferably two. However, I can sneak writing in for a few minutes here and there if I’m writing a non-fiction piece. For fiction, I need time for my mind to wander without the pressure of the clock. I’ve learned this about myself over time.

I’ve also learned that threats and rewards can help me keep my butt in the chair. If there’s something I want to do (or eat, or watch), I tell myself that I will reward myself with it as soon as I finish x-amount of writing, or as soon as I write for x-number of minutes. This increases my motivation to start. Once I start, I’m fine. Or, sometimes, threats are more effective. If I fail to get x-number of pages written, I will smile and initiate conversation with (fill in the name of someone I really dislike), for example. Rewards tend to work better for me than threats. But just the thought of the threat is enough to make me do what I’m supposed to do!

Most writing gurus recommend that you write every day, but the best plan is whatever works. If Monday/Wednesday/Friday is a schedule you can do consistently, do it! It’s better than pressuring yourself to write every day and failing. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes a while to get into a regular flow. But don’t give yourself too much slack either. If you don’t hold yourself to your commitment, your dream will never become a reality. Once your book is published, or your script is optioned, you will be expected to continue producing lots of content. So you might as well get into the habit now.

Happy writing!

Have a blessed and beautiful weekend,

Raven