The Genius of What Isn’t There
Three friends, who have never met each other, all sent me the same advice last week.
What makes this convergence particularly interesting is that there was no common trigger. Each of the three messages I received was prompted by something different.
The essence of those messages?
- You’ve got to leave things out.
- Genius is rarely about what is there.
- Genius is about what isn’t there.
David Freeman is a world-famous coach of fictional character construction. His credentials and accomplishments are staggering. David read in my memo of May 18 that, “I am finally writing that screenplay I’ve been thinking and talking about for 15 years. It’s a buddy movie about a guy with 12 friends. I plan to shoot it in New Orleans next year.” So he sent me an email from Hollywood.
“If you’re going to have 12 characters, the traditional wisdom is that 1, 2, 3, 4, and maybe 5 should be far more primary the others. The more characters we’re supposed to know and care about, the less emotion the audience feels because we can’t get deeply invested in any one character if our attention is split between too many. Characters require screen time for us to get emotionally involved with them. The more major characters, the less screen time for each.”
According to David, a screenwriter has to choose which characters get fully realized. The others are effectively left out.
Stephen Semple is a lifelong student of the sales process. He studies every aspect of persuasion, from advertising to lead generation to product demonstrations to sales presentations. Stephen wrote to me about how reading the transcripts of his Zoom conferences taught him how people speak differently than they write.
“We repeat words, finish other people’s sentences, and forget about grammar.”
According to Stephen, when highly engaged in an inspired conversation, we leave out much of what we would have written.
Tom Grimes is a scholar, a thinker, a philosopher and a friend, and the President Plenipotentiary of the Worldwide Worthless Bastards. Tom owns a booming business, but he is always available to take your phone call or respond to your email. So I asked him what he does all day.
“Famous ‘leaders’ are often very noisy people… or they were dealing with a crisis. We sometimes think leadership is about dealing with the aftermath when the sh#t hits the fan. We fail to appreciate that the real objective is to never let the sh#t hit the fan in the first place.
One time I was at the water treatment facility of a large manufacturing plant. The place was eerily quiet. When I made the observation that it looked like the staff was doing next to nothing, the head operator explained that the secret to running a facility like his was a stringent Preventive Maintenance program. He said that if you see people running around it meant there was a problem. And the objective of the maintenance team was to prevent problems before they became problems. A quiet place was the sign of a well-run operation.”
According to Tom, the secret of being a great leader is to leave out the emergencies.
When asked the secret of writing bestselling novels, Elmore Leonard said, “I leave out the parts that people skip.”
Impressionistic painters leave out the details, requiring us to supply them from our storehouses of imagination.
Talented photographers leave out sections of what they photograph, requiring us to imagine the parts that extend beyond the framelines.
When writing ads, if you try to appeal to everyone, you will appeal to no one. You’ve got to choose who to lose.
Indy Beagle has some great examples of this in the rabbit hole.
He suggests that you hurry. The rabbit is afoot.
The adventure has begun.
Roy H. Williams
M-J Gently ads and mean tweets
“As a writer I use such craft as I have at my command, of course. I figure out what scenes to put in and, just as important, what scenes to leave out.”
- Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark, p. 174
(one of 4,871 quotes in the random quotes database at MondayMorningMemo.com)