Veteran novelist, screenwriter, and Golden Globe winner DiPego (Cheevey, 1997, etc.) offers guidance to aspiring authors.
Whether writing can indeed be taught remains an open question, but enough people seem to think so that there’s a cottage industry in how-to books. Some are better, or at least more useful, than others, and this is one of them. Taking a page, so to speak, from William Goldman’s 1983 book Adventures in the Screen Trade—the ur-book for aspiring screenwriters—DiPego seeks to lead by example. He doesn’t believe in “rule books for writing or for any kind of art,” he says. Rather, using samples from his own work, he poses questions and offers exercises in a helpful, entertaining manner. His method, essentially, is to give readers an excerpt from one of his novels and then talk about the protagonist’s voice, what his journey could be, what he needs, and what obstacles might be in his way. But DiPego doesn’t just leave it at that; a few pages later, he playfully runs down a list of possible adjectives that could apply to the character—one for every letter of the alphabet, from “Awkward” to “Zen (ish),” with stops at “Patient” and “Slovenly,” among others, along the way. DiPego isn’t just an enjoyable writer himself; more crucially, he enjoys writing. He constantly reminds readers that they each have their own voice and that discovering it, through practice and discipline, is how they become writers themselves: “I can only show you how I write—just in case it helps.” He also shares a few of his own experiences in Hollywood, particularly regarding the underrated 1996 film Phenomenon, starring John Travolta, Forest Whitaker, and Kyra Sedgwick. Compromise is the name of the game when you’re writing for studio execs, he says, so don’t necessarily dismiss their “suggestions” out of hand. But sometimes, he notes, you just have to dig in your heels, as he did when the suits wanted to change the picture’s ending—not just modify it, but change it entirely. DiPego replied, “Well, please tell [Disney CEO] Michael [Eisner] that I need just ten minutes of his time, and I’ll explain to him my very strong feelings about this.” Eisner never found those 10 minutes, and Phenomenon’s ending remained intact. Sometimes, the words on the page are just the beginning of the battle—or rather, the journey.
A well-done, accessible writing manual.