I get a lot of random movie ideas. This is one of them, a Romantic Comedy for the age of globalization:
Bob lives in American suburbia. He works all day in a corporate cube in an office park and comes home to an apartment in a shitty beige building in a complex of shitty beige buildings. He gets up, has a long day at work, goes to the gym, gets home, has a quick dinner, watches TV and goes to sleep. Day in day out. He has few friends. Unsatisfying anonymous soul-sucking life. He is not a boring guy but he is in a terrible rut and his usual positive nature has been overrun with cynicism.
One night he’s surfing an online dating website and on a whim he sets his search to women who “live anywhere.” He meets a Chinese woman, Qi. (Qi translated is Jade.) They begin an online relationship. He lives for the moments at night they message or Skype. Soon they Skype every night. He tries to get her to come to the US. He knows “she” might be catfishing him but he doesn’t care. He’s enjoying it as long as the illusion lasts.
Then we see it from Qi’s perspective. She’s a divorced mom. She is kind in her daily life as she cares for her young kids and gets them off to school etc. In short, she is everything we’ve heard her tell Bob she is. He hasn’t been catfished. She has been honest with him EXCEPT for one act of omission revealed to us at the end of Act I: Qi is the star of a provincial TV show and Bob doesn’t know it but he is her co-star.
The show — “We Love You Bob” — is on every night in the Chinese province. It features Bob’s Skype calls, messages, hopes, fears, etc with snarky commentary. He is far from anonymous in this Chinese province. He is famous and beloved and mocked. Every time he complains about his life in suburbia, it becomes water cooler talk for 100 million people. He has no idea, however.
Back and forth between perspectives. Small things happen: like staff of Chinese restaurant starts being weirdly nice to him. Qi begins to feel guilty but at the same time she really cares for him. Qi keeps putting him off about visiting the US but finally she convinces him to visit her in China.
Bob goes to China. His visit is set to be the grand finale of the TV show. He thinks he’s coming to meet her. Bob arrives in the province and mobs of people are waiting to see him. He slowly realizes what has happened as it seems like the entire country has come out to welcome him. At the same time he’s upset. He feels betrayed. But he ends up forgiving Qi, relishing his fame and they marry and stay in China.
I think this is true of writing too. You never know what in your work will resonate with people. You have to write what feels true to you (meaning what you are passionate about), send it out into the world, and not worry about the reaction. The reaction belongs to the readers.
When I tell a story—when I do anything onstage—it sounds crazy, but I don’t concern myself with the reaction. Because every listener is different, so they’re going to pull something different out of the story. I think a lot of times performers, and storytellers in particular, make the mistake of trying to manipulate their audience’s emotions or reactions. But I think when you tell the story, you tell the truth as much as you can, and it’s up to them what they take away from it.
–Peter Aguero, master storyteller for The Moth
As far as I know, he’s no relation to Sergio Aguero. (A wee bit of English Premier League humor.)
Another great quote from an interview with him you can read here:
Well, your stories are, at a base level, about an emotional truth, and the more I tell stories and hear people’s stories, the more I realize we’re all the same. We think we’re these complicated animals, these special, unique flowers, and we are to a certain extent, but we also all know what it’s like to feel joy, to feel hate, to feel anger, to be sad, to be scared—we all know that. So you tell your story as much as you can at the base emotional truth, and then the two hundred people in the audience are reminded of two hundred stories of when they felt anger, or fear, or utter joy, you know? And that’s why, I think, I tell stories. It’s an amazing exchange of energy, a nonverbal communication that happens…
Moss Hart was a playwright and director most famous for his work in the 1930s and 40s and for his autobiography, Act One. Here he writes about his second major attempt to write a play:
I suspected one way I had gone wrong from the start; and forever afterward it made me more than a little leery of those golden nuggets of advice so capriciously tossed out by elder statesman of the theatre to credulous beginners, one of which I must have stumbled across and taken to heart: “Begin by writing of what you know best–do not wander off in fields that are strange to you. Take for your setting and characters only the places and people you know and stick to them.” So went this preposterous bit of dramatic wisdom, thereby discounting the vital and immeasurable quality that imagination gives to all writing, whether it be for the stage or anything else. Since this bit of nonsense had issued from the lips of a quite famous playwright, I had slavishly followed it, writing of a place and people I knew, but completely failing to allow imagination to riffle through the pages as it might have done had I chosen a setting and characters not so highly colored by my own attitudes and prejudices. I had simply set down what I knew best, and stuck to it. The play had verity; what it lacked was the breath of life and imagination–two necessary ingredients for what is usually called creative writing.
Hart wrote this in 1959 yet the “write what you know” conventional wisdom is still around 50+ years later. “Write what you know” is compelling — it sounds like common sense — but I’m with Hart. For the love of the gods, release the hounds of your imagination.