Starts with an idea: Jeff Eastin talks writing

So we all know that my BFF with the USA Network hooks me up with conference calls with network stars, producers, writers, etc… Yes, we all know this.

And to my BFF I’m VERY grateful because some of the lessons about writing have been the best ones ever. Learning to write anything and everything, including tv scripts, is almost a full time job in its self so it’s great to have teachers helping you out.

Today’s teacher: Jeff Eastin, creator of White Collar. (Season Finale March 9, 10/9 central on USA )

He’s just hella cool and laid back and smart. Uber smart.

As I’ve been doing recently, I ask two questions during these calls, one for my USA Fan related website and one writing related question for this site. Jeff’s writing related was amazing.

Question: Take us into the writer’s room. How do you come up with the crimes? Acting out, draw them out?

He said it starts with an idea. And they come from everywhere. He has his Google feed aimed for articles about white collar crimes. (Yes, ripped from the headlines and WHY didn’t I think of that?)

But the writers on the show also challenge themselves. For example, the episode Bad Judgement is about a home mortagage scam. Originally, the episode was suppose to be about a bank hiest but production had to change. So the writers took the most boring type of white collar crime and make it interesting.

But the most useful piece of insight Jeff mentioned was about scenes. He usually wants to see certain scenes in the episode. So if there was a scene he wanted to see, the writers would work backwards from it. Suddenly there is a plot and an episode evolving in front of them.

“There is not a direct line from start to finish,” he said.

So how does this translate to novel writing? In a couple of ways.

First of all let’s get past all the fru-fru, high brow, novel art stuff. Love it as much as the next guy but I’m about becoming a master storyteller. So, all that aside, what we have here is the modern-day Margaret Mitchell school of storytelling. She wrote Gone With the Wind in scenes between four main characters. And then, poof, a novel.

I submit that when writers get ideas, they also get scene ideas. “Wouldn’t it be great if THIS happened?” or “How great would it be if this character did this at the end?”

Through this technique, the scene or the action is driving the novel, what it will become. It’s evolution is determined by working backwards and fowards and sideways. It would be a HUGE mess…until it wasn’t it.

This technique is similar to one a newspaper editor told me about. To write the nut graph (equal to a main scene) first, let the rest flow to the end, and THEN come back and write the beginning. It’s a perfect device for beginning journalists who haven’t mastered writing the lede. It also works well for being novelists as well if there is a particular scene that doesn’t leave them alone.

Scene are what readers and viewers remember. Like when Catherine Earnshaw returns for Heathcliff or when Neal jumps out of the judge’s chambers office widow, or when Rhett Butler kisses Scarlett before a night of passion — all of these are memorable moments which gives not only gives validity to Eastin’s comments but makes me wonder… why aren’t all stories written like this.

So as I approach me masters thesis, I’ll apply this technique and see where it takes me. Who knows, it may enter into my craft box and I’ll be able to say Jeff Eastin taught me how to develop a story.

Thanks, Jeff!
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