In this Issue of The Muse: Inciting Incidents, Miles Davis, and Our Favorite Dialog
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Throwing Muses // Getting Unstuck // Showing Up // Top Fives: Lines of Dialog // Writing Promptly



If there’s one question asked at every book signing, panel discussion, or online forum featuring a writer with any level of success it’s this: what advice do you have for aspiring writers?
     And I can almost guarantee you, no matter the respondent’s genre, format, or particular quirk, their answer will be some form of the following: In order to be a writer, you need to...write. It is both as simple and as complex as that. As Allende so beautifully puts it in our masthead quote, the muse will come, but only if you invite her by diligently putting pen to paper or fingertip to key.
     But, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to do it alone. So, when you are busy showing up for the muse, who shows up for you?
     That’s what we’re here for. Think of this new, bi-weekly missive as a little push, a burst of inspiration, a cheer from your squad. It’s meant for you, writers, because we genuinely want you to succeed. We know that audiences count on you to spin the tales that inspire and connect us all, and we believe in you and the stories that you have brewing inside. And of course, you can visit Sundance Co//ab any time for in-depth videos, conversations, and resources on all things storytelling.
     So we will be coming to your inbox with tips, advice, writing prompts, and inspiration from writers in the Sundance network and beyond. In honor of our inaugural issue, each of this week’s contributions comes from among our Sundance Co//ab course advisors.
     We hope you enjoy this first issue and that you’ll let us know what you’d like to see here in future weeks.

See you on the page,

Director of Content
Miles Davis photograph
Throwing Muses
Writers on other works of art that they look to for inspiration
Contributed by Aadip Desai, Co//ab Advisor (The Goldbergs, Mira Royal Detective)
Whenever I need a jolt of inspiration, I go to the source: the music of jazz trumpeter and musical visionary Miles Davis. Impatient and never one to rest on his laurels, Miles was at the forefront of every innovation in post-bebop jazz. He inspires me to take more risks and listen to my intuition despite what anyone else thinks. If I’m feeling shy or insecure, I play Bird & Miles. If I’m feeling frenetic and bouncy, I go straight to Live at the Plugged Nickel or Miles Smiles. In contrast, Kind of Blue, Birth of the Cool, and the soundtrack to Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’Échafaud put me in a mysterious or calm mood. For space, time, or interdimensional travel, I loop Bitches Brew or Miles in the Sky.
"This is Miles Davis" Spotify Playlist
Getting Unstuck
Answers to common writing questions from Co//ab experts

Q: They say “write what you know," but how do I approach a story that I do not yet have a personal connection to?
A: In our Master Class on Finding Your Screenplay's Story, Columbia University Professor of Screenwriting, David Schwab, stresses the benefits of taking writing cues from your own life, but also shares some advice for writing scripts based on experiences or cultures outside of your own.
     “I urge you to do your homework with dedicated research,” Schwab says.  So what does that “homework” look like? He gives the example of a pilot he had been hired to write based on the life of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski.
     He studied the notorious terrorist for five months, reading his diaries and letters, which were thousands of pages long, along with studying newspapers, books, and filmed clips, down to the details of a letter Kaczynski had written to complain about the milk he was served. Schwab shares, “I knew what he ate, I knew how he felt about his mother…I reached a point where, over time, after thinking and musing and reading and talking about him, I felt like I knew him and that my imagination could start to take over and try and invent a character.”

A scene from Salaam Bombay! (left) directed by Mira Nair (right)
    For her celebrated film Salaam Bombay! (1998), special guest to the Master Class, Mira Nair, went a step further. Having had a documentary background, she approached her research for the film about Indian ragpicker children like cinema verité. She and her co-writer, Sooni Taraporevala, spent four months living with a group of street kids in Bombay. Nair explains, “We lived their lives and did what they did,” until the co-writers felt they had enough information to meld with their imaginations and create an authentic story.
Showing Up
How do you get yourself in the space to write?
Contributed by Sushma Khadepaun, Co//ab Advisor (Anita, Salt)
I usually sit in the same chair at my desk and play a single music track on repeat. I also have objects at my desk that inspire and ground me. I have a picture of my late grandma who is very present in my current work. I also have a picture of my muse, Virginia Woolf, and a photograph of the view from her writing cabin at Monk’s House (her residence in East Sussex). It gives me a sense of calm to look at that picture and know that she stared at the same view when writing some of her greatest stories. It makes the writing practice greater than me, my ego.
Monk's house in East Sussex, England (left), Virginia Woolf in London, 1927 (right).
Top Fives
Writers describe their favorites from categories across the screenwriting world

Contributed by Deborah Goodwin, Co//ab Advisor (Cherrys, The Two Lives of Maxi Kaplan)
Lines of Dialog
Eve’s Bayou
1997, Kasi Lemmons

I have a personal history with this film, as writer-director Kasi Lemmons was my assigned mentor after I won Urbanworld with Cherrys. Her advice about my script was the same advice she was given on Eve’s Bayou: if you are telling an unconventional drama, let the hook start with sex or murder. And it does: Told from the narrative POV of young Eve Batiste (Jurnee Smollett), this beautiful film starts with the voice over “The summer I killed my father, I was ten years old.”
Michael Clayton
2007, Tony Gilroy

Tilda Swinton’s ice cold calculator, Karen, is finally being taken down by Michael Clayton (George Clooney) who lets her know that
knows she tried to kill him with a car bomb and murdered another character making it look like suicide—and is now going to blackmail the shit out of her. It is the moment where the whole sickening plot unravels.
     [ KAREN ] This would have to be a longer conversation and it would have to take place somewhere else.
     [ MICHAEL ] Where? My car?
BOOM. Two lines. Genius.

Cadillac Records
2008, Darnell Martin

A very under-appreciated film starring none other than Beyoncé! Classic dialog is displayed in a scene where Chuck Berry (Mos Def) arrives to play a gig and is accosted by a “low-information” white bouncer who doesn’t believe he is the legendary singer. Bouncer: “Chuck Berry’s a country western singer.” Berry replies with, “Oh, is he?” and adds, as he starts playing the guitar strapped to his chest, “You know who else he is? ME!”

Lost in Translation
2003, Sofia Coppola

Want to revel in a character baring their soul in a surprise reveal that signals the start of a strangely delicate May/September romance? Try Bob’s (Bill Murray) response to Charlotte’s (Scarlett Johansson) question “What are you doing here?” “My wife needs space, I don’t know my kids’ birthdays. Everyone wants Tiger Woods, but they could get me, so I’m here, doing a whiskey commercial.” WOW.

The Favourite
Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara

Rival Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) pulls and shoots at pigeons with the newly-arrived Queen’s cousin Abigail who is jockeying for position at court.
     [ ABIGAIL ] May I ask you something?
     [ LADY SARAH ] As long as you’re aware there’s a gun in my hand.

Writing Promptly
Prompts to get your creative juices flowing

Your inciting incident is an opening event that sets your story in motion, launching your protagonist into the action of the story and giving the audience critical information about their essence, values, strengths, weaknesses and emotional need. Today, take the main character from your current script and write them into a situation completely outside of your existing story, beginning with a new inciting incident. How does this new situation pull your character (and you) out of their comfort zone and force them to make a different active choice, so that it’s more than just a device to move your plot along? Take a moment and reflect on anything that you’ve discovered in this prompt that will give further detail and complexity to your character in the original script?

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

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