WHY YOU SHOULD BE A NO-BRAND WRITER WHEN YOU’RE STARTING OUT
Or the Art of Being A Chameleon Writer
I had the best burger in Korea and it did not have a brand.
It was not McDonald’s nor did it boast of any royal decree like Burger King. But it was one of the more memorable food experiences I had when I was in Bucheon, South Korea.
During the 4 days when I was in Bucheon attending the Bifan festival, I had a kind of checklist of “things to eat when you are in Korea”. I checked them off day by day. A bowl of jjajangmyeon. Check. Soup noodles with skewered fish cake. Check. Grilled beef. Check. This one was served in a hot stone pot which, I was told, was how the Koreans ate their beef back in the day. Fried chicken with beer. Check. Korean Pizza. Check. Interesting observation. Koreans dip their pizzas in honey.
Then one night, my director friend and I were coming back from a party hosted by the Japanese in celebration of Japan Night. We were tired of finger food at these parties and decided we wanted something solid we could sink our teeth into.
We passed this joint that had light spilling out into the night-dimmed pavement. It had a bright yellow signboard that said NO BRAND BURGER in thick white font. There was something about the claim, a brash challenge to the public, that hey, our burgers are so good that they are beyond branding. We could not resist the claim.
Well, it was no idle boast.
The burgers were good. The beef patty was juicy. It was, as my friend put it, a Shake Shack burger at McDonald’s prices.
This is not a blog about burgers though.
It just got me started thinking about how you should brand yourself as a writer when you are starting. Are you a drama writer? Are you a comedy writer? Are you a writer of thrillers? A horror writer? How do you see yourself?
What is your “writer” brand?
I started out writing comedy because I love comedy. But the kind of comedy I like tends to steer toward verbal jousting. The parry and thrust of dialogue that is laced with caustic wit. Between Blackadder and Mr. Bean, I preferred the former. I confess I peered down the end of my snobbish nose at “slapstick” material. Characters doing a pratfall as they slip on banana skins were the nadir of comedy, I thought.
I was so wrong.
I was blind, but now I see.
Slowly, as I plunged deeper into this writing business, I realized that writing a Mr. Bean sketch that required no dialogue, is an undertaking that is no less challenging than penning a dialogue scene between two Shakespearian actors. It requires an exacting discipline in your writing craft. You do not have the crutch of dialogue to deliver meaning. You have to open that “visual” eye in your mind as wide as possible and figure out how you can express character, intent, and nuance, with movements of the human body. You cannot pad a scene with irrelevant banter. You have to strictly adhere, with the severity of the austere nun, to the narrative question of “What Happens Next?”. And answer it accurately and concisely, so the viewer knows exactly what is going on in this silent film.
I began to explore other genres as well. Drama, mystery, horror, thriller. At one time, I was writing so much horror that I was typecast as a “sick” writer, which amuses me because I started out writing family-friendly situation comedies. At first, I did not care. I was having too much fun. The delightful aspect of writing is this. It gives you, the writer, extraordinary freedom in letting the various parts of your id loose to play and frolic in the garden of your subconscious. There are all these fears, obsessions, and dark thoughts that linger and glower in the attic of your mind. It is good to air the room and clear the cobwebs once in a while. You can’t forcibly lock up your inner demons but you can let them out to play once in a while, have a good workout in the stories that you write until they are tired and then you can return them to their resting nests inside your head.
Good horror writing does that.
Call it inexpensive therapy.
After a while, I grew tired of one form of play. So I went back to other genres. I dabbled in thrillers, romantic comedies, period dramas, coming of age dramas. Each genre you write allows you to explore an aspect of the storytelling craft. And develop certain parts of your personality as a writer. Slowly, but surely, I was beginning to un-brand myself.
I was not a comedy or thriller or horror or whatever, writer.
I am a storyteller.
I am a No-Brand writer.
Don’t peg yourself into a pigeonhole when you are starting as a writer. Write anything. Write everything. With every script and story that you finish, you deposit yet another coin to the currency of your storytelling skills. What should consistently apply to anything you write should only be a sense of clear structure. Regardless of genre or even article writing, you must ensure there is a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and according to Godard, not necessarily in that order. In the words of Flaubert, a great writer is everywhere and nowhere in the story.
Be a chameleon.
Be a No Brand Writer.
Have a burger.