One day I walked into Tink’s home office where he usually sits in an overstuffed chair decorated in bold flowers of orange, yellow and green. His feet were slung out on the matching ottoman.
His computer was opened on his lap but he had stopped writing. His arms folded with his chin resting in one hand, he was looking out the large, arched window through the pasture where the creek ambles slowly on its long journey to the Gulf Coast.
In the Appalachians, we would say that he was “studyin’ hard on somethin’.”
He turned to me. “I think people think what we do is easy,” he said thoughtfully. For two weeks, he had been writing, rewriting and rewriting the rewrite of a 43-minute television episode.
“A writer friend of mine said he believes that people think that the time it takes them to read a script is how long it takes for us to write it. What’s your opinion?”
I sat down on the red love seat that is across the room but still close to his chair. I, too, looked out at the pasture and the lazy creek and pondered it. I had not once given it any “never mind”. It’s this simple to me: I tell stories. They come to me, wiggle in my brain then I spew them out, either by pen or word.
But Tink’s writing is different. It’s structured. It’s episodic. It requires an intelligence that my writing doesn’t demand.
Lately, I’ve come to realize this: Storytelling is a God-given talent. In the Bible, Paul talks about the gifts of the spirit. He doesn’t mention storytelling but it is a gift that is similar to playing the piano, carpentry, dressmaking or building a fiddle like my Uncle Oscar did.
People sometimes sidle up to me at an event or the grocery store or in the churchyard and say, “I have a book I want to write. I have a great idea.” Often there will be a pause then the thought continues. “But I don’t know how to start.”
My advice is always this: “Sit down and just do it. Look in the mirror, tell yourself the story then write it down just like you tell it.”
I could see Tink’s point. I know how hard he works and how many incarnations a script will go through. The actors will object or insert. The studio will send 35 pages of notes on a 60-page script that will include such notations as “does her scarf really have to be blue? Red would work better” or “change his name. We have a Malcolm on another show.”
That sunny afternoon, we began a conversation on it because Tink pushed me to think deeper about what I do and how I do it. He was troubled about a young man we know in Los Angeles.
“Do you think he has what it takes to write scripts?” Tink asked.
I thought long and seriously. I sighed deeply. I like the kid so much. Slowly, I shook my head. “No,” I replied. “He doesn’t have the hunger. Nor the imagination. Nor the observation. He doesn’t ‘see’ the stories.”
Tink nodded. “You’re absolutely right. What a great way to put it, Ronda Rich.”
After I left his office and Tink went back to reworking the sixth draft of a show, I “studied on it real hard.” Writing or telling stories isn’t as easy as it looks.
My sister. My brother-in-law. My niece. My nephew. They tell great stories from life’s flickering scenes. In the course of a 12-hour day, any one of them can reduce it to a five-minute entertaining story by finding the most interesting 120 seconds of a day and elaborating on it.
It’s not just about how the story begins or ends. It’s mostly about what’s in the middle.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Let Me Tell You Something.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]