Me and Sten the notepad cruised to a local coffee shop and ended up in a bar downtown. That’s how we roll it seems. I anchored down a stool. Dark and long, the doors to the alley and street propped open letting a bitter wind blow through like lost hipsters, it felt the right place for me to scribble some notes, drink a cheap beer on tap, and be alone among people as the televisions played without sound. Nobody cares if a person writes in a notebook. It’s a drinking place and on a weeknight not crowded with weekenders on a Saturday, or as an alcoholic friend once noted–amateur night. I wrote in the dim light in Sten and kept thinking about the characters in the screenplay I’m working on. In and earlier blog, Knocking Down the Kitchen, described how I transitioned from asking what the character wants in the physical world, what the character hopes to achieve emotionally or spiritually to asking the character “What’s your plan?” Then writing out in his or her voice the plan. By doing that with all of my characters I can get a a bunch of plans that work at cross purposes. Not only that but it enables me to add depth and complexity to all of the characters.
Since that blog I’ve thought more about this exercise. And as I sat there wondering I thought of another question. “What could possibly go wrong?” Now that question got me off on a different tack as not only can other characters make a plan go awry, but what of other things in the world of the story – ice berg dead ahead! Another one that comes to mind is in Pulp Fiction when Mia Wallace mistakes heroin for cocaine and snorts it to mouth foaming, nose bleeding seizure. In the MFA program we asked, “What gets in the way of the character realizing his or her goal?” or “What obstacles must the protagonist overcome?” But for me. reframing the question as “What could possibly go wrong?” seems more playful and indeed my friend and all around awesome firefighter Brian Austin always says it with a smirk and that’s how I ask myself when my characters finish telling me their big plans. Asking it like this also gives me leeway to cast further and maybe not become so bound into “obstacles” that in my mind are things I was forced to run through for physical fitness in basic training. What obstacle gets in the way? Why the rope climb has always been a bitch, but it’s no iceberg or heroin.
My plan was to go out for a coffee and write. Now I ended up in a dive bar with assorted other drinkers on a hump-day, writing. Police sirens echo up and down the boulevard, a homeless guy with a guitar and a cow dog heeling him passes from the alley door to the front door asking for change to buy a two dollar beer. The skin on his cheeks is like crushed peppermint candy. I give him a five. The bartender stands out front smoking a Camel. She wraps her arms around her shivering. Tattoos wind up her arms like vines and disappear under the sleeves of her black t-shirt. Two drunks yell at each other in the alley, their voices off-stage. When the bartender comes back, I’ll order another beer and write some more in Sten. What could possibly go wrong?