Table for One: Cultivating Brilliance


by Diana Black

Some writers are considered brilliant – born with a ‘creative spoon in their mouth’ – able to craft amazing stories with strong multi-dimensional plots, rich story-worlds and compelling characters lolling about on every fictitious street-corner. Their stories demand our attention from ‘Fade In’ to ‘Fade Out’ but let’s not sell these guys/gals short.

Celebrated writers tend to possess a strong mastery of their craft and able to work damn hard in a disciplined manner. While they may be gifted, they do have a ‘magic feather’….

Other writers, like you and I have to cultivate creative brilliance – and we can! Having a fire in the belly, that turns hours into minutes; with a gripping tale on paper to show for it – that’s often difficult; especially after a long, hard week at a shitty day job. So before we start turning a pale shade of green, or worse, giving up, let’s come up with a way to cultivate brilliance.

Oh, the ‘magic feather’ – a few actually – an unfettered imagination, ‘balls’ (regardless of gender), and a willingness to ‘take it to the edge’.

Having trouble thinking outside the box and coming up with source material? They don’t. So maybe, give this a try…

Go to a restaurant – $$ in the pocket, sans company – dare you. Enjoying a formal dinner while dining alone may seem daunting – but think of the covert attention you’ll receive – other patrons will concoct stories about you and your circumstance long after they’ve left – especially if you wear something striking – make it memorable.

After all, you’re paying your dues – to them. But if you can’t handle that much public solitude, go to an up-market café – one with big windows.

With either, take a large note-pad, a hefty book (fine print) to ‘read’ and ‘take notes’ from it – you won’t be, but it needs to look like you are. If anyone takes more than a passing glance in your direction, they’ll think you’re a student and be sympathetic – you working alone rather than enjoying the company of a significant other. Get there early enough to see the ‘performers’ arrive – you can tell a lot about a character simply by how they conduct themselves into a room.

OK, you’re seated at a back table, facing the others, beyond which is an expansive window. Be seen admiring the view. You’re a polite voyeur – using only your peripheral vision to observe your unsuspecting ‘performers’. Order something substantial so the staff leaves you alone.

Then, get to work…

Imagine that each café patron – at least one from each table, is a character in the story. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have a story yet; character sometimes comes first.

Note the clothing – well-dressed, shabby, tasteful, ghastly, loud or boring. How does each performer conduct themselves in company? What are they doing with their hands? Their dialogue – are they commanding attention (not with volume but with ‘presence’) or are they a ‘wallflower’?

What about the rhythm and volume of that dialogue? Note the power dynamics within the group – does your character make eye contact, do they interrupt? Determine the ‘pecking order’ at the table and there will be one – check out who leads in terms of action and who follows – determine how/why.

Once you have a ‘cast’, imagine the most outrageous back-story for each of them. Seriously outrageous!

What are they hiding, who’s in conflict with whom, who’s having an affair – with another patron across the room or at their table? Who knows? Who’s clueless?

Who’s a pedophile, committed murder, is a cross-dresser, is a saint to the homeless – two and four-legged – starving on their corner block? Who’s in serious trouble over finances – to the point of suicide? Of course 90% of the ‘cast’ will seem mind-numbingly dull – embellish them later.

While you might appear lonely and bookish, you’re a sleuth on a reconnaissance mission taking colorful characters and outrageous circumstances ‘off the shelf’ as if it was a grocery store – and come out the experience with one hell of a fine story in the end.

Have fun!

Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer currently taking Larry Brody’s Master Class.