Tuesday, December 3, 2013

David Groves and the Magic of Storytelling

David Groves tells stories. I know him as a career journalist, a fellow member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. But he’s also dabbled in fiction from an early age. That’s partly why he – still in his teens – connected with the young Gale Anne Hurd, who also aspired to write. Over the years they lost touch, alas, so you won’t see his writing credit on Hurd’s The Walking Dead anytime soon.

But now David’s the proud author of a powerful suspense novel, What Happens to Us. Which doesn’t mean he doesn’t have movies on the brain. Though he’s writing for the page and not the screen, he considers his new work cinematic in structure: “The protagonist is always in peril, and the viewer knows it. This keeps the viewer on the edge of the seat even when things are slow.” There’s a seemingly unstoppable bad guy, one who uses modern surveillance technology to track his victims, and the plot builds to a breathless conclusion that takes his protagonist up to the point of death – and practically beyond it.

That protagonist is a smart, tough, but deeply conflicted young woman. (In a movie version, David would consider Jennifer Lawrence dream casting. Or maybe Emma Stone.) Though she’s clean and sober when the story begins, her years of alcoholism have put a monster on her trail. Only by returning to the drinking habits of her flamboyant alter ego, Kick, can she begin to figure out why he’s so determined to chase her down. In creating this character, David did not stint on research, but he’s most indebted to Koren Zailckas’s Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, because “what I needed was the raw, embarrassing stories from a female alcoholic’s life to teach me what the pattern was. That book spared nothing.”

At the movies, of course, there are alcoholics aplenty. David mentions particularly Clean and Sober (“The lies, the bargains, the price he had to pay. He really hit bottom.”) Other films he admires include Crazy Heart, Tender Mercies, and the recent Flight, which taught him that “you have to be able to hurt or kill some of your characters if you’re going to have an impact on the viewer or reader.” He dislikes the portrayal of alcoholics in Arthur, and in such classics as Harvey, The Philadelphia Story, and even It’s a Wonderful Life, for showcasing what Hollywood has tended to consider “the funny and harmless drunk. None of them are harmless.”

When he’s not writing, David is a working magician, a member of Hollywood’s famous Magic Castle. To him, sleight of hand is not so different from what a novelist or filmmaker does: “Magic is an elaborately designed deception.  So is a novel or a film.  There is no Luke Skywalker, but Lucas convinces us he exists, if just for that hypnotic moment inside the theatre.” The secret, for both wordsmiths and magicians, lies in the power of misdirection. See below for a sample of David’s magical talents at work.

As for designing a magic act, “it’s very similar to designing a novel or a movie. What you’re manipulating is the interest of the audience, and the same principles apply.” These being: 

Start with a quick bang.

Invite the audience into your head and soul.

Make them identify with you.

Hit different notes all the time, never repeat.

Create callbacks.

Create consistent themes.

Whenever possible, include secrets and withheld information.

Whenever possible, include lies.

End with your best stuff.

Convince them the protagonist is about to fail, then let him or her succeed beyond their wildest dreams.