In this Issue of The Muse: finding inspiration in turning the tables or flipping your script - plus the top five movie villains
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Flipping the Script // Getting Funky // Warming Up to Write // Best Movie Bad Guys

Dear Writers,

     I think it’s pretty much universal that every tortured high school student has a refuge—somewhere on the campus grounds where they can escape the pressures of teenage life. For me, it was the room where Mr. Niedzwiecki taught art classes. We wayward artists were welcomed there any time as long as we were willing to pick up a piece of paper and start drawing.
     The drawing advice from gentle “Mr. Nied” could often double for life advice. When we got stuck on a piece, he’d suggest turning the canvas upside down to give ourselves a new perspective. It was the literal version of “flipping the script.”
     This suggestion has stayed with me all these years when I’m grappling with a creative problem, and I invite you to bring it to your writing.
     If you are feeling blocked on some aspect of your story, try upending it completely. What if that female character were a man instead? What if your setting were the countryside rather than a city? Could you tell the story from an entirely different character’s point of view? Or begin it at the end? Try turning things upside down and I bet you’ll get yourself moving again in no time.
     Mr. Niedzwiecki’s other favorite directive (once we had exhausted our adolescent melodramas) was, “Now get to work.” I encourage you to do the same.
     Meanwhile, read on below for insights and writing tips from the storytellers of the Sundance network and let us know what you’d like to see in future issues.

Director of Content

P.S. Last issue, I referenced a fascinating panel discussion from the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. I want to make sure to acknowledge here that the panel was programmed and led by our partners at Wide Awakes.
George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, 2006
Throwing Muses
Writers on other works of art that they look to for inspiration
Contributed by Tyger Williams, Co//ab Advisor (Menace II Society, Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker)
When I first discovered the track Maggot Brain by Funkadelic I was well into my thirties and it blew my mind. Whenever I’m writing, I try to find a soundtrack for the thing I’m working on. Since most of what I do is dramatic, and often weighty, I love Maggot Brain for its mix of sadness and celebration. Apparently, George Clinton [Funkadelic band leader] told guitarist Eddie Hazel to play it like he’d just learned his mother had died, then to play it like he’s found out she’s actually still alive. It’s a rollercoaster of emotion and a showy display of craftsmanship. Simply put, it’s a masterwork. I’m always inspired when I hear it and if I can create one story, one scene, one line of dialogue as memorable as this song, I know I’ll be okay.
Maggot Brain by Funkadelic on Spotify
Showing Up
How do you get yourself in the space to write?
Contributed by Thania St John, Co//ab Advisor (Chicago Fire, Project Blue Book)
Coffee first. Then scanning the New York Times headlines to make sure I know what’s going in the world. Sometimes I get the best ideas from simple things that happen to everyday people. After that, I always go over my work from the day before, prior to writing anything new. It’s important for me to edit and rewrite before I go forward because looking at my work with fresh eyes always lets me spot things I could do better or gives me a new idea. It also makes it easier to face the next new blank page after warming up a little on something that’s already there.
Photo of a coffee cup with "Begin" printed on it
Top Fives
Writers describe their favorites from categories across the screenwriting world
Contributed by Aadip Desai, Co//ab Advisor (The Goldbergs, Mira Royal Detective)
Movie Villains
Moonlight movie post and a still from the film
Hannibal Lecter
Silence of the Lambs

First, with fava beans and a nice chianti, is Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs. There’s no denying that Anthony Hopkins cemented Lecter’s unmitigated status as the greatest villain in film history. He’s erudite, quite the artist, a foodie, sartorial, and pee-your-pants terrifying. He was also a little helpful.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire movie poster and a still from the film
Darth Vader
Star Wars

Darth Vader from the Star Wars franchise. Duh. What’s not to love? His gear is sick. His voice is dope (Thanks, James Earl Jones). He either has COPD or asthma, but He. Still. Gets. Shit. Done. He can choke you out with his mind, and he eventually did the right thing by his son! Aww.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire movie poster and a still from the film
The Joker

The Joker from Batman, the unpredictable, batshit (I know, lame), clever, creative, disfigured menace who wants to burn society to the ground with its own matches. To me, the most iconic actors to play The Joker in films were Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, who both oozed charm, style, and fear!
American Honey film poster and an image from the film
Hans Gruber
Die Hard

Speaking of iconic, up next is my favorite impeccably tailored, charcoal suit-wearing asshole with a disarming but cold-blooded German accent. Ja, es ist Hans Gruber from Die Hard. Alan Rickman really blew the roof off this role, and it’s yet another delicious example of an antagonist who is as strong as the protagonist.

Y Tu Mama Tambien movie poster and an image from the film
The Avengers

Last, and certainly not least, is our favorite Asgardian trickster, Loki from Thor/The Avengers. Played by Tom Hiddleston, he’s charming, witty, powerful, unpredictable, has a great fashion sense, and is a total dick. Coincidentally, Hannibal Lecter plays his dad. He has the best lines, a glint in his eye, and you can’t take your eyes off him because he will double-cross you fast.
Montage image of people's faces
Writing Promptly
Sparks to deepen your relationship with your script
Contributed by Ioana Uricaru, Co//ab Advisor (Tales from the Golden Age, Lemonade)
Turn the tables: Do you have a scene where the protagonist successfully "wins" (overcomes an obstacle) in a compelling way? Try rewriting it so that the protagonist loses instead, in an equally creative and exciting way. Then, try to combine the two versions so that the protagonist still wins, but barely.

Things to think about:
  • What makes the obstacle interesting or the antagonist compelling?
  • How high are the stakes for the protagonist—what do they lose if they lose?
  • How long can you delay the resolution?

For more prompts in a live setting, join our free Writers’ Café each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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