Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sunday Guest Blogger: Clyde Phillips

It is an honor to bring you Clyde Phillips this week. Clyde is a bestselling crime novelist, the former executive producer of the Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated Showtime series Dexter, for which he won the prestigious Peabody Award for excellence in broadcasting; and he currently serves as executive producer for the network's acclaimed Nurse Jackie. He also created the television series Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Suddenly Susan, and Get Real (starring Anne Hathaway). In his spare time, he is the author of the Jane Candiotti novels, Fall From Grace, Blindsided, Sacrifice and, most recently, Unthinkable.

I met Clyde via happenstance: his daughter, Claire, a very talented writer in her own right, was in the AP English class I taught. I had no idea who or what he was. One day after class, Claire approached my desk and said, "My dad writes stuff you'd like." She was right. He does. And I do – I like his stuff a lot. Below are Clyde's thoughts on his approach to writing.

by Clyde Phillips

Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living and I get to respond “I’m a writer,” I always feel an immense sense of pride. The follow-up question is usually “What kind of stuff do you write?” Well, the answer to that is: everything.

I’m a television writer in both half hour comedy and one hour drama. I’ve written several feature screenplays. And I’ve published four best-selling crime novels. So, then the question inevitably comes, “what’s the difference in your approach to writing in each of these media?”

The answer is simple: there is no difference.

I’m a storyteller; and it’s my responsibility to tell that story in the most authentic and entertaining way possible.

Each time I start to write a script or a book, my initial task is always the same. Outline, outline, outline. That’s the real heavy lifting. I’ll often sit with a writing assistant (an aspiring writer who gets the benefit of my experience while I get the benefit of someone taking notes) for weeks or months and bounce ideas around. Snippets of dialogue. Character traits (especially flaws). Action. Plot. When the outline is done – and an outline certainly isn’t a binding contract. I often stray from it if and when a better idea comes along – then the fun begins. The actual writing of the piece.

An outline for a half-hour comedy is usually about seven pages. For a one-hour drama, it’s ten to fifteen pages. And for a novel (at least for me) it can be up to one hundred pages. Seriously.

But that hard outlining is like intense training for game day.

Once the outline is ready (or nearly so), I let it sit and percolate for a few days (if I don’t have a deadline); waiting for some internal magic to bubble up. It invariably does. And then I grab that magic (a character’s secret, a crucial and unexpected plot twist) and weave it into the outline.

And then the anxiety floats away and a sense of calm washes over me.

And then I write.

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