Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Writing the Super Mario Way

Imagine a flat landscape of dull words -- words you wrote, words you hate, words that won't go away. You despise them. But, you need the message they convey so you don't delete them, you simply move on. Maybe the next batch will be better. You tell yourself you'll fix things... later, during edits....

I can't do that. 

I figure if I leave flat landscapes they'll eventually spread like dull beige paint covering the world, blotting it out, Sherwin-Williams style. I'll drown in dull. I'll panic at the sheer volume of flatness and stick a knitting needle through my eye. No, I can't leave 'em and move on.
Or, to quote Jack Nicholson, I'll despair: "what if this is as good as it gets?"
Forget one needle -- make it two, and I'll go whole hog right into an Oedipal bloodbath. People will find me and my gouged eyes on the floor, a perfect stand-in, or lie-in, for Suzanne Pleshette's pecked-to-death body draped on her front porch in the movie The Birds. What to do, what to do....

A couple of weeks ago, I tried something new and discovered the Super Mario method of writing. This method goes farther than simply toying with dull words and changing them. Or re-arranging them.
The Super Mario method requires quite a bit of strenuous exercise. The reward, however, could mean the difference between acceptance and rejection, fair writing and excellence. A better story arc, plot, characterization. Super Mario means if you throw caution to the wind, you'll discover gold coins. They're there, but you have to know how to find them, because they're hidden, just like in the old classic Nintendo game.

How to Play Super Mario Writing

1) First, you have to determine if your writing is actually flat and dull, or if it's just you having a bad hair day. You have to decide if the writing is bad, or if your inner critic is being overly harsh.

To determine this, you need to apply the Samuel Goldwyn principle. Goldwyn, one of Hollywood's most beloved moguls, is credited with saying (first) that he could judge a film's worth in the preview screening by the behaviour of his ass. If he never heard boo from his ass, if he sat mesmerized throughout the film, he knew, all taste aside, that he had a winner on his hands. But, if he found himself squirming in his seat, he knew at once that there was a problem with the film, and audiences wouldn't sit still -- literally --  for any of it, no matter the content's inherent worth.

So, read your work out loud. Read your work from the point of view of a total stranger, and see how squirmy, or bored you are. If you find yourself face down on your keyboard, you'll know the landscape is flat.

2) Now, push away all the work before and after this stretch of dull landscape so that all you see is white space on your screen and the errant writing.
Take each sentence, one by one and examine the creative spark in the verbs, the structure, the punctuation, the vocabulary. Now string the sentences back together and see how the meter is way off, or non-existent. Finally, ask yourself why you need these facts, this paragraph.
Now, ask yourself where the better stuff is hiding and start pounding -- seriously-- pounding on the words. Pound, pound, pound, pound!!!!!

As in:
Flounce, flounce, flounce...should it be bounce? Should it be trounce? Trounce is stupid. Should it be flirty, should it be dirty, should it be there at all? Why flounce, why is Molly wearing a flouncing skirt? Why is she wearing any skirt at all? Who made her decide to wear that skirt? Oh...she has a sister? Who knew? So, just who is this sister? Mabel? Well, hell's bells, Mabel is a person in this paragraph? Why Mabel? A sister named Mabel? How about a sister named Betty Grable? Hmm. Maybe, Mabel wishes she looked like Betty Grable, and so she keeps foisting flouncy skirts on Molly because Molly is really a whole lot more attractive than Mabel. Ahh...something new going on here. So, Molly is wearing a skirt with flounces because her sister Mabel, who's dead now (I can't actually use Mabel in my story...or should I...??) is still influencing her. Hmm, is this what I needed to know about why this landscape is so dull? Molly has to choose what to wear to an important cocktail party; it really matters. Now, instead of having her decide on the red dress with the flounces, I can enrich her actions, deepen her motivation and her characterization by way of mentioning Mabel.  Oh, the possibilities here are really endless, and interesting. Maybe I should play with this some more....

A new world opens up in the dull writing. Suddenly, it's raining gold coins. That's because you took the time and trouble to jump, jump, jump, up to the clouds above, and just like Mario, your head bumped a hidden spot and gold coins rained down, and heightened your accumulated points. Yay.

You may have stumbled on a new character, a new name, a novel way for your existing main character to think of herself -- endless nuggets, endless inspiration, and all because you didn't just punch up a passive construction to an active one, dust your mind off and congratulate yourself on the "quick fix," you literally pounded on the flat work and forced new realms to open up for you.

I have always enjoyed playing Super Mario. But never more than right now.
Give it a try.


  1. Love that squirmy ass test!
    I've never been good at video games, but I do love playing with words. I'll try to remember that as I plough through edits...

  2. Good luck on that front. You are so busy, I can't keep up. (g)