It's never been a secret that writers use their characters and stories to sometimes take a deep dive into their own underlying problems, touchy issues and ugly neuroses.
I've certainly done it for years.
Using personal experiences might be for something as small as a basic character trait, an inspiration for a particular scene, or something larger -- a concept for an entire script.
But therapy is sometimes just the name of the game when you're a writer. And why shouldn't it be? If you're a writer worth your salt, you'll pull from your own personal experiences, in some cases from the most outlandish ones. It's a great tool to have in your belt, and in some cases, there's simply no way around it. We are who we are, so why hide it, even in your writing?
I realized, upon completion of my latest feature spec, BOYS, that my last three solo specs, each took the aforementioned "deep dive" into very personal territory, drudging up terrible memories to accommodate these new ideas and these very damaged characters.
A script I completed last year, MOM DIED, marks the first in the trilogy. As the title might suggest, this truly tackled the strained relationships of a mother and her children. I unloaded a great deal of emotional baggage while writing this piece. Upon completion, I sent the script to my older brother for his thoughts. Indeed, he recognized many of the situations and moments described within -- with a combination of nostalgia and no doubt, mutual pain. I think some of the best scripts are those which focus so deeply on the characters. MOM DIED is a zombie film. But those grotesque and frightening moments are wholly incidental to the main focus of the script: dysfunctional family relationships.
Second in the trilogy, TRIP, a Lovecraftian, uber-gay road trip movie. I completed that one in April of this year. It was inspired by the frequent road trips my husband and I take (well, we did before quarantine and the ongoing madness of this year). And I realized that a very unfortunate and deeply upsetting public encounter late last year (I won't impart details here), was the reason for this very blatantly "gay" story. I described TRIP early on as "unapologetically gay", via the characters, their situation and the very graphic sexual scenes within. While there's been no closure on this event from last year (it was very hurtful and devastating, and continues to linger about in my mind), I feel that TRIP was somewhat helpful in processing the ordeal, and letting go of some of the damaging negativity which came along with it. TRIP really is an example of "I'm as gay as the day is long, and I'm proud to shout it from the rooftops" type story. No doubt, this stance is in direct retaliation to last year's "event".
And this year, I tackled BOYS. This ended up pulling heavily from my (non) relationship with my late biological father. He died late last year, and my interactions with him over the past 30 years could best be described as "less than minimal". My folks divorced when I was about 6 years old, and I believe the last time I actually saw my father in person, was when I was probably 8 or 9 years old. And the last time I spoke to him on the phone, was probably -- just a guess -- 15 years ago? BOYS really tackled the notion of father/son relationships, and how difficult and delicate they can be. In addition, this 13-year old main character, Mickey (a flimsily-hidden take on my own childhood moniker, "Mikey") is dealing with his homosexuality in the summer of 1982. It's a deeply masculine environment portrayed in the script (thus one of the reasons for the title "BOYS"). Even with all of the character development and eventual outside forces penetrating this small circle's "easy" lives, it all comes back to reconciliation and understanding between a father and his two young sons... something I sadly never got to experience. While the characters have some semblance of closure, I do not. Thus, the therapy -- albeit through fiction.
Writing's a powerful tool, for so many reasons...
In the case of all three of these scripts, there were uncountable moments during the crafting of each piece, where I had emotional breakdowns (and breakthroughs?) Many times, they would come up suddenly, and the tears would freely flow. If I needed confirmation that something was being triggered (and hopefully released to some extent), those tears while writing, were it.
Now, certainly all of my scripts, even those I've been hired out for -- require deep dives of some kind. Life experiences are what make writing rich, organic and unique. These personal memories are the things which help to create and cement your own, distinct "voice". But these last three scripts in particular, have truly provided an emotional release for me, thus "The Therapy Trilogy".
However, as I begin work on my latest solo piece, currently titled SAY UNCLE!, I'm realizing that this so-called "trilogy" will shortly become a "quadrilogy", as I investigate my relationships between myself and two of my late uncles, both of whom I was very close to.
I guess as long as there are internal issues and heavy baggage to draw upon, I may as well take advantage of the pain, right? After all, these unique experiences are indeed mine. No one else will necessarily have these particularly awkward, painful or unbelievable memories to pull from. Similar perhaps, but not exact matches.
I've often quoted Ray Bradbury with his brilliantly insightful comment, "You must stay drunk on writing, so reality cannot destroy you". And with this realization and acceptance of "The Therapy Trilogy" and its insights/releases, Bradbury's phrase is right on the money.
Certainly easier (maybe not better) to face pain through the filter of a character or a piece of fiction.
Bottom line? The therapy continues.
Do you all find that you're able to offload painful thoughts and experiences, simply by committing them to the page? Sound off in the comments.
Thanks for your time and for this additional bit of therapy.