Sandra Bullock reads the f***ing manual

Gravity-StillI saw Gravity in a nearly empty theater early on a Tuesday evening, so I doubt if I annoyed anyone by pumping my fist in triumph when Sandra Bullock desperately flipped the pages in a binder full of technical information, trying to figure out which buttons to push to avoid a fiery death.

The technical manual wasn’t meant to be the focus of the scene, but for me, it was super exciting. I’m a tech writer in real life, and I kept expecting her to fling the binder away in frustration. But the film maker didn’t go for the clichés. The information wasn’t wrong, or too hard to find, or incomprehensible. The drawings and text showed her exactly what to do, and they saved Sandra Bullock’s life in the pretend world of the movie. Twice.

Tech writers don’t get a byline. We’re often patronized by technical experts and cursed by end users. It’s generally a thankless, if pretty well-paid, task. Most of the time I have to find my motivation within myself.

So thank you, Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón, for writing a screenplay that allowed me a moment of external validation. It’s a real treat to see my kind of work woven into the fabric of a terrific story.

2WB dialogs: Outlining vs. free falling

sarah-skydiveWelcome to the Two Writing Buddies dialogs (2WB for those in the know), one of a series of posts in which we talk about our creative process and issues that arise in our writing.

This week’s dialog is inspired by an interview in The Atlantic with Andre Dubus III, author of The House of Sand and Fog.

Robine: According to the inteview, Dubus writes his masterful works longhand with a special #2 pencil (who does that nowadays?) in a cramped, windowless, basement closetlike office. I felt suffocated when I read that. It makes me appreciate my new laptop and my office’s view onto the ever-changing woods behind my house.

As Dubus described his writing process, I so wanted to climb into his rowboat with him and his characters as he heads out to sea without a compass or a map, trusting that if he keeps on rowing, his characters will point the way and they will eventually reach some wonderful island.

Or, to drop the rowboat image, it sounds as though the author’s process is to put himself in a trancelike dream state and wait for the characters to come to life and take over the action. And, apparently, in his case they do.

Continue reading