3 Things I Learned From Writing Ethnos


This year I wrote and directed Ethnos, a student production at Abilene Christian University. Ethnos is a culture show designed to celebrate diversity and raise awareness for the International Students' Association (ISA). International students and on-campus dance groups create dance acts for the show. Between acts are skits that tie the whole show together with a story. I was asked to write those skits.

I've worked on plenty of creative projects, especially with my brother and partner-in-crime, Lucius Patenaude, but this was my first time to create something entirely my own. Which was both thrilling and terrifying.

I learned so much about the writing process. Here are a few things I'd like to share with you:


1. Humor is Hard

Why? Because it's risky. It's spontaneous and honest. I put so much of myself into the script: observations, personal experiences and my particular twist of humor. I worried that the only one laughing would be me.

It took a lot of courage, but in the end, an entire audience was laughing at my jokes!

Take the risk. It's SO worth it.

2. Character is Key

Partway through writing the script, I realized all I was doing was setting up situations populated by unoriginal characters. The story was going nowhere and the scenes I had written were lifeless.

At the time, I was reading this book called Screenwriters on Screenwriting. It's a book of interviews with screenwriters. One of the writers gave this bit of advice: develop interesting characters and the plot will start to write itself.

I sat down and sketched out my characters until they started to surprise me. Then I plopped these newborns into the same situations as before. But this time, they were alive and kicking. They laughed and teased and got embarrassed and fought for their needs until they finally figured out how to get along.

After observing their antics for a while, I looked up -- and realized the script was done.

3. Just Keep Scrubbing

There were so many moments when I doubted myself.I picked up Screenwriters on Screenwriting again and again, searching for encouragement from fellow writers. Every single one of them had their own moments of self-doubt. "I would sit at my typewriter and feel like a fraud," one of them said. But they got up the next morning and kept working. They defied the resistance and went on to write brilliant films.

So I kept writing. Some days I wrote pretty lame stuff. Other days I made myself laugh. I'd sit there, solving problems, creating and deleting and rearranging. I would glimpse a promising idea now and then, but it was always buried beneath some half-hearted joke. So I just kept clearing away the clutter, trying to reach the heart of the story.

I kept scrubbing until the story shone.

So be persistent. Just keep scrubbing until you can see your story.