How to Write the Way Terrence Malick Makes Movies


You can watch some behind the scenes extras of Terrence Malick’s upcoming film To The Wonder. The rumor is that Ben Affleck hardly has any lines and that the scenes and story lines from 4 different talented and popular actors were all cut during editing. We sometimes tell ourselves to kill our darlings, but 4 actors all snipped! 

Why have those story lines? Why sign them just to cut them?

I’ll let the movie’s Editor, Keith Fraase, explain why:

Terry [Terrence Malick] is more about reacting to what he’s seeing on screen, so he’s not, “This character needs to be doing this in this scene.” It’s more about seeing what’s there and whether it’s what Terry calls “honest or not.” And if there’s any hint of falsity or theatricality then we abandon that, even if it’s more accurate for what the scene is we’ll go into a completely different direction to try and get those honest moments.

That’s such a hard discipline to adhere to. First, it requires over-creating, knowing all the while that anything could get cut. But in the over-creating, there’s the never ending pursuit for honesty. The next challenge comes in the editing process, when you have to make the decisions on what to snip. It’s hard to do when you cherish every word you’ve written or every scene you’ve shot. 

Terrence Malick works on another level when it comes to what he’s trying to create. He remains true to his vision and in that vision is the ever-present, ruthless honesty every moment must contain. 

I can’t imagine what that’s like as an actor.  Everything you do has to be so fierce and yet so natural, which is an accurate description of the writing I like.

(link via Image Journal)

Creativity takes Courage. Announcing the Creativity Series eBook

When I began this journey back in May, it started out as a selfish quest for an answer. I’d started writing my novel and kept running into the same roadblocks of fear: fear of failure, fear of wasting my time, fear of not being good enough, fear of being made fun of. So I went to some friends and some people I’ve never met and asked them the questions that resulted in this Series.

From you I learned that creativity takes courage.

I feel like Meister Eckhart is speaking to me when he asks, “Why is it that some people do not bear fruit? It is because they are busy clinging to their egotistical attachments and so afraid of letting go and letting be that they have no trust either in God or in themselves.”

This Creativity Series has shown me I need to trust, not only in myself and in the process, but also in God, that he his faithful and he will do it. Do what exactly? Move when I move, jump when I leap, walk when I take that first step, and be present when I write that first word.

The eBook

I was very afraid to do this, but I went ahead and…

I have published the Bereshit Bara Creativity Series in an eBook format available here.

It is available for the Kindle, the iPhone and iPad, on your computer, or other devices like the Nook.

It is 99 cents and any profits will go to the charity I work for: It might be silly to charge a dollar for a book you can read for free, but you can at least feel really good about the purchase and know you’re making a difference in a poor child’s life. I haven’t told the charity I’m doing this. I want it to be a surprise. Hopefully a big surprise. If you feel so called I’d really appreciate it.

Adele Konyndyk’s post tomorrow will bring to a close the Bereshit Bara Creativity Series, but the Creativity Series will continue with Part 2 and I’ll have more information on that next week.

I didn’t want to go inside the room with the coffin

I stood outside the room with the coffin and was asked if I wanted to go inside. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to see the body. I thought about my decision and hoped I wouldn’t later regret it, as if refusing to see the dead was like refusing an expensive gift. A gift of what though? Wisdom? Truth? Appreciation for life?

I think about what I would have seen, a pale wrinkled face in a bright and gaudy dress. The dress is blue in my mind and the body’s lips are bright red. If I had decided to see the body in the casket would I now remember? Would it be this real?

Does not seeing, but imagining bring more life to the image? Or more nothing, more imaginings and questions? My life is one where I refuse to go into the room to view the body because I don’t always need to see. I need to imagine.

I’m not talking about death or experiences. Sometimes creatives need to stand outside the crowded room to help us see what we’re really looking at.

Creatives are catalysts for violence

In a park two strangers sit on a bench in the dry heat of the afternoon. Beads of sweat gather on the their foreheads and upper lips and they stare off into the distance when one man says to the other some bit about his life, some small nugget of truth like, “I miss my daughter,” or “It’s hot,” or some other kind of cliched phrase one stranger might say to another.

To which the other replies, “Word.”

And here we’ve come into some kind of agreement, a pact, if you will, of two men saying truth has just spoken and we align ourselves with this truth. Hence the phrase, “Word,” which moves in and out of fashion (probably out by now), but which stays with me because of it’s irony, that “word” in its literalness is also truth, “Word-up,” or “For sure,” which is just music. We’re singing to each other now. We can say any number of variations which is all lyrical and musical and essentially poetry speak that’s created a reality between two people. Something that did not exist is now fully alive, yet, invisible.

Or we can answer silently, by nodding our head or in our hearts confirming, thus we are always creating new realities in twos and more, that interaction is based upon acceptance and rejection, deflection and disagreement.

We speak poetry to each other every day. In the mundane and unmemorable moments we’re singing poetic connection.

“The relationship between the poet, the poem, and the reader not as a static entity but as a dynamic unfolding. An emerging sacramental event. A relation between an I and a You. A relational process,” (Edward Hirsch). Like how reading Scripture places us within this process with our Creator. Or hearing the stories about a spouse’s day connects one to his/her feelings and emotions.

Roy Peter Clark expands on the idea of twos in connection:

The secret knowledge I seek, I now believe, is embodied by and embedded in the number two. Just as two defines the information coding of computer science and genetics, two has become in my mind the essential number to create meaning in all texts, most visibly in short texts: Jesus wept. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee…

We may have the analytical skills to slice a long work into several parts. But when we seek the sources of energy, again and again it seems to resolve itself to two.

Here is the idea of noun and verb colliding and connecting the way a reader connects and collides with stories and poems.

Creatives are catalysts for violence.

My Mom on Creativity Now She’s Facing an Empty Nest

This month my brother will move out of the house, the last child to do so, and my parents for the first time since the first few years of their marriage will have the house to themselves. They met in college, my mother an art education major. She’d planned to teach art in high school, but then had a son who became severely disabled and the only time she taught art was when she home-schooled us.

I remember her water color paintings of sheep in pastures, of hockey players, a night time baseball game, and intricate weaving hearts. I remember her pencil sketches of detailed faces and her doodles on napkins while she chatted on the phone. I can say she is an artist. But for the past decade or more her art has stalled and now, with an empty home, she’s buying art supplies.

My mother:

There’s an art store down on Hawthorne I found the other day. It was very small and intimate. The clerk shouted out a hello as I walked to the back. I acted like I knew what I was doing, but felt like I was in a foreign country unable to read the signs. I was very intimidated, but I found the printmaking stuff. It wasn’t much, just a small section about 2 feet by 2 feet. Everything seemed to be student quality, meaning cheap. That made me happy. I don’t want to invest too much money on something I might stare at for a couple of weeks or months. Paper always draws me, so I grabbed a stack of white printing paper. I asked the clerk which was better, the 10 set of cutting tools or the one tool for the same price (what an idiot!). I grabbed the one cutting tool.

When I looked at the Linoleum, which is what you use to carve your print, there were three kinds. One was too soft, one was too hard, and one was just right, or so I thought. The clerk said most printmakers will choose the hard one since it will make finer details. I mumbled “I wasn’t into that,” under my breath, hoping he didn’t hear the idiot speaking. I grabbed the linoleum that was just right. A whole piece about 1 foot by 1 foot in which I will cut smaller pieces so I can create more prints. At home I still had my brayer which rolls the ink on the linoleum and some other cutting tools that are just a few years old. I have had them since college. Quit COUNTING! They are not old, just vintage, as long as they do not fall to dust when I touch them.

Alas, that is the point. Every thing is sitting on the dining room table, mocking me. Waiting for that one creative thought in which I can start carving.

Maybe it will come today…but I really should clean the toilets.

That’s where the 13 Creatives enter the story, because they’ve faced the empty void. They’ll be an encouragement, an inspiration, and a spark for all us Creatives. Maybe even my Mom.

Go check out these 13 Creatives who will be guest posting here from June through August:

Tyler Braun,
David Clark,
Dyana Herron,
Diana Huey, possibly a hermit
Chris Hunter, possibly a recluse
Elizabeth Myhr,
David Jacobsen,
Adele Konyndyk,
Shannon Huffman Polson,
Britt Tinsdale Staton,
Chad Thomas Johnston,
Derek Smith,
Alissa Wilkinson,

Where are the writers who seek artistic authenticity in poverty?

Fiction must be aware of the income level of its characters because wealthy characters can buy and do more stuff, like fly helicopters, travel the world, wear expensive clothing, and jump into pools full of Jell-O. Fiction loves wealth because it gives the reader a rare glimpse into an unseen world.

Robert McCrum asks where are the writers “who seek artistic authenticity in poverty?”

Prices are collapsing, and the winds of austerity whistle around the world. But writers show no sign of exploring deprivation or exigency.

It used not to be this way. I’ve been reading a new book about Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. Frederick Turner’s Renegade identifies the obsessive way in which Miller, like several writers of his generation, sought artistic authenticity in deprivation, poverty and insufficiency…

Where are the nomads now? Today, if a writer gets his or her shoes dirty, it’s as likely to be crossing a muddy field at the Hay festival, or getting caught in a tropical downpour in Galle or Jaipur. Whatever happened to the avant garde?

British references aside, I like his question. I don’t have an answer, but if someone does, I’d like to know. Or maybe an argument against his claim.

Poverty, at a surface level, seems to constrain and constrict the plot. You have to get close to dirt because all poverty is dirty. And you can’t drink the tap water and you have to take public transportation or ride a bike if your character is street smart enough to steal one and not get caught. And you always smell. And even though you don’t have much money drugs are easy to come by. And everyone is selling their bodies. And there is lots of stinky sweaty sex scenes. Because poor people don’t shower but hump like rabbits and can’t afford birth control so there’s always kids popping out.

Blimey, as the British say.

Who Wrote The World’s Shortest Short Story?

Augusto Monterroso is a Guatemalan short story writer best known for his 8-word story titled “El Dinosaurio”:

When I woke up, the dinosaur was still there.

You might imagine a young girl who wakes in the morning to find her pet Dino faithfully at her bedside.

Or you might imagine a lost traveller who’s become a T-Rex lunch, passed out because his legs are torn to shreds, and then wakes up to find the T-Rex picking the meat from his finger bones.

Is it subversive or just a pleasant little story?

What’s your 8-word story?

There’s a myth that Hemingway wrote a shorter and more powerful story.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

But after some research it looks like this story was not written by Hemingway. It was most likely an actual ad in a newspaper, except selling a baby carriage. Go here to learn more about that (also here).

Teenagers who read books are saving the world

From “A Generation of True Writers” by Lili Wilkinson:

Every time Nadia reads or writes or watches or hears a story, it deepens her understanding of the way narrative works. And this understanding of story, of the mechanics of story, makes her love stories even more. It’s like breathing in. And when she writes a story, or a blog post, or draws a comic, or tells someone a vivid anecdote about that thing her little brother did with the cat and the jar of peanut butter, then she’s breathing out. Everyone who loves stories does this.

A Manifesto for the Simple Scribe – Tim Radford’s 25 Commandments for Journalists

9. So if an issue is tangled like a plate of spaghetti, then regard your story as just one strand of spaghetti, carefully drawn from the whole. Ideally with the oil, garlic and tomato sauce adhering to it. The reader will be grateful for being given the simple part, not the complicated whole. That is because (a) the reader knows life is complicated, but is grateful to have at least one strand explained clearly, and (b) because nobody ever reads stories that say “What follows is inexplicably complicated …”

25. Writers have a responsibility, not just in law. So aim for the truth. If that’s elusive, and it often is, at least aim for fairness, the awareness that there is always another side to the story. Beware of all claims to objectivity. This one is the dodgiest of all…

(via the Guardian)

There are a thousand ways of enjoying life, and that of the artist is one of the most innocent

Henry James said, “There are a thousand ways of enjoying life, and that of the artist is one of the most innocent… it connects with the idea of pleasure.” And it does; not just the private pleasures of the craft, nor the public pleasures of recognition, but that strange pleasure that comes of examining human experience, liberated of dogma and pronouncement, unburdened of having to say yes or having to say no.

–from Philip Roth’s 1960 National Book Award acceptance speech.