Inspiring Arguments: Using the Holidays to Write Better Scenes

The holidays are upon us. This is a stressful time for many people. The pressure to buy gifts, to be nice to family they don’t like, to act happy.

I enjoy the holidays, mainly because my family is small and it’s just my spouse and kids usually. But there are times when we have other family and friends over or we accept an invitation.

My steadfast rule is to never discuss politics or religion with anyone. My spouse and I rarely talk either. These are “hot button” topics that often end in arguments and resentment.

But as a writer, there’s hope. The idea for the Kansas cult in my 30-minute comedy KUSHY’S (which has jumped to the Top 20 list for sitcoms on Coverfly’s The Red List) came from an exchange I witnessed between a family member and a friend. I’d warned the friend to not engage with the family member. She is a devout liberal, while my family member is about as conservative as you can be, down to the Evangelical Christian views. I usually avoided the family member. I couldn’t imagine what vitriol they’d spout if they knew I an gender nonconforming. I warned my friend. She decided to test the waters.

It was bad. My friend tore into my family member. And he returned the anger. It served no purpose. This hatred for the other side existed long before Trump. The division we see is nothing new. A number of others at the gathering got in the way of them. We made sure they were separated the rest of the time.

That was the last large gathering of friends and family I went to. But that exchange also became the catalyst for Billy in KUSHY’S. While a couple readers have seen a parallel with the Westboro Baptist folks, that group wasn’t the inspiration. My family member was. While I do my best to respect the viewpoints of others, allowing them to express themselves openly, rarely getting involved, I saw his irrational thinking and militantism as something to explore.

There’s no doubt that his anger–and hers–was misguided. Both were set in their ways and not able to empathize with the other in any way. This is what leads to much of the conflict we endure through life. Neither would listen.

As I wrote KUSHY’S, I remembered how my family member acted. And he became the template for Billy and the cult he inherited from the three siblings’ parents.

My friend became the template for Sydney in FALLING OUT. This beautiful trans woman I created is a great deal like my friend, a cisgender female. I admire her passion, her dedication, but she can go off half-cocked more than is normal. Sydney is much like that. She’s sensitive and does what she has to do to survive, but also jumps to conclusions, yelling and screaming at people before she finds the truth or understands the situation.

That one argument at a holiday gathering with friends and family so many years ago made such an impression on me that I was able to use it, use the two persons involved in the argument, as templates for characters in my scripts. These templates allow for better scenes, because you have a person in mind, someone you’ve seen or know, not a made up character. Thus, there’s depth to the character, enriching the scene and dialog and keeping you motivated to write more.

So this season, when people are yelling and screaming at each other over politics and religion and sports and whatever else, sit back and observe, maybe even take notes. Because, while we writers have fertile imaginations, nothing beats having a real-life example of how someone acts in a certain situation.

Happy Holidays! 🙂

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