What Happened to the Poets?

If you don’t know yet, I’m in love with literature. It’s perhaps the only thing in life so far that I actually have a true passion for. So when I began watching the movie The Dead Poet’s Society just two days ago, I was awed. And I was inspired. For those of you who don’t know what the movie is about, it’s about this new English professor at this prep school in England who tries to teach these kids the beauty of poetry. And the way he teaches is unique and entertaining, but perhaps best described as beautiful. Because the way he speaks, the way he teaches, the way he quotes poems, is like honey dripping out of his mouth. It’s sweet, soft, and moving.

So this professor, named Keats, was back in his high school days part of this organization called The Dead Poet’s Society. Students would meet in this cave and reread poems of big poets like Whitman and Frost or they would present their own problems. And they would just sit there in the cave in a circle letting words flow out of their mouth and playing around with it. Just being artistically beautiful with it.

As I sat there watching this movie, thrills were being sent through my spine. I was like simply wow. Because I wanted to be a part of this. I wanted to be in this school of literature where poets, authors, novelists all come together to present, talk, and discuss about the beauty of literature.

And then my light bulb flashed. What if I could make a club just like this? And so I began a search for someone in my academically driven high school who shared this same passion with me. And the results- I felt like I was the last of a dying breed.

I mean, if you want to go find some math or science people at our school, you will have no problem. Like the majority of the students I know are those kind of people. Or if you wanted to find people who like to present, do speeches, do law, you also won’t have trouble finding them. But when I tried to find someone just one person who liked to write for the fun of it, for the beauty of it, for the sake of the art itself- I found none.

I did find a few people who were interested. And the closest I could find was this friend of mine who likes to write rap lyrics (which is a form of literature by the way). But overall, no success.

And so I asked- WHY. Why do I feel like I’m the only guy out here all alone. And so I thought.

And I realized. It’s because of the sense of economic security. Those people who do math and science and law usually pursue these subjects because they know for a fact a  good-paying job is out there for them in those fields. This is perhaps the only reason why I have still held on to engineering (I do think it’s cool though). But if you pursue literature, not really.

But you see, rather than having this discourage me, I became even more motivated. Because I realized that the majority of people who do pursue literature actually do love it. No one would take big risks such as those taken in the literature field if it weren’t out of love for it. Whereas in the other fields of math and science and others, there’s a big chance there’s gonna be a lot of phonies out there who do it just for the job.

So even if I am alone, I like it. It makes me feel unique. But I don’t want to keep this all to myself. I want to spread it throughout my school. I want to spread this beauty I see in literature. I want to create a school of literature in my high school. This is my goal, and may God help me achieve this before I graduate.

And a quote from that movie:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

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Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

Sometimes, I muse about being a Pixar storyteller. You know, it would be pretty fun creating short films  and watching them. Or perhaps making short stories would be pretty cool. There’s one problem: I’m not an expert at this kind of stuff. That’s why then I would have to go to an expert for advice. Just yesterday,  I stumbled on a post on aerogrammestudio.com, which posted up 22 rules of storytelling by Emma Coate, a Pixar Producer. Check the list below:

  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be very different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Man, whoever thought of these rules is a storytelling genius. Apparently, Pixar is. Well, thought this was interesting.