What Do I Write About?
My introductory conversations at networking events go a little something like this:
STRANGER: "So, what do you do?"
ME: “I’m a writer.”
STRANGER: “What do you write about?”
ME: “War. World War II, Korea, another project touches on Vietnam.”
STRANGER: “Oh, wow. That’s impressive. I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who writes about war.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not offended by that type of comment because while I know that it’s not true, I also have never personally met another woman who writes about war. But in all honesty, war is not really all that I write about so much as it is an event that influences the lives of many of my characters because, in my own personal opinion, it’s difficult to find anyone whose lives have not been affected in one way or another by a conflict, large or small, in the last century or so. What I really write about is home and about family. And I only discovered this for myself in the last couple of years.
I used to have a wall in my bedroom that was covered with several corkboards, one for each project I was working on. One day after cleaning the house, I decided to take a breather and had a lie down on my bed facing said corkboards. Examining the photographs of characters printed for my ideal casting, photographs of locations, and even floor plans for houses they live in, and going over the stories in my mind, I came to a realization in my mind that went something like this:
Holy shite. All my leads are either coming home to their families or protecting their homes and their families.
It had literally been staring me in the face for months. So that you can see what I’m talking about for yourself if you want, I’m going to use the two screenplay samples I have posted on the site as examples.
EXAMPLE I: In Suspension, Arielle Rivera leaves her life and career in Seattle to move back to Central California after her best friend Naomi Gregorian is dumped by her fiance shortly before their wedding. Not only does Arielle get to be closer to her own family but she also sees Naomi as a sister who has herself been there for Arielle in difficult times. Once back in California, Arielle finds herself in a living situation she did not expect that includes Naomi’s older brother Nic and Arielle’s ex-boyfriend, Joshua Oshiro. No war there to be sure but it is certainly a return home literally and figuratively.
EXAMPLE II: Now for the war story. The Abandoned Isle is based on the very real attacks on the island of Guam in 1941 and the occupation by Japan that followed until the summer of 1944. This project has taken - thus far - over ten years of research and writing and is one I am continuing to work on because it is about my family’s own history during World War II. My grandparents both passed without me ever having had the opportunity to ask them what their experiences during that time were. Researching and writing about this topic has been my way to understand what life for them might have been like for them as teenagers and young adults as well as for the other members of their families and the population of Guam as a whole who call the island home.
There’s a reason that stories in books or on screen centering on family resonate with us is largely for the same reason mentioned on my previous What I’m Watching post about Jane The Virgin: character relatability, the ability of the reader or the viewer to connect with a character or characters on the screen or on the page. We all have families, be they nuclear, extended, or adopted, we all have them and can identify the similarities between those relationships depicted to those of our own. Think about your top five favorite movies or books. Now, think about how many of them focus on some kind of family unit. My guess is that you just realized that the answer is “all of them” - maybe four out of five. It works. It works because we care about the characters and the family because we care about our own.
At least, I know that’s the case for me. And Pixar.
What do you find your work to be focused on? What are your favorites movies or books and how does family play into those stories? Tell me in the comments below!