I’d like to welcome back two time B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Jo Sparkes back to Layered Pages to talk her writing. A well-known Century City Producer once said that Jo Sparkes “…writes some of the best dialogue I’ve read.” Her body of work includes scripts for Children’s live-action and animated television programs, a direct to video Children’s DVD, commercial work for corporate clients. She won the 2012 Kay Snow award for her screenplay, Frank Retrieval.
She’s written numerous articles for internet sites. As a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, she was a contributing writer for the Arizona Sports Fans Network, where she was known for her humorous articles, player interviews and game coverage. Jo was unofficially the first to interview Emmitt Smith when he arrived in Arizona to play for the Cardinals.
She served as an adjunct teacher at the Film School at Scottsdale Community College, and wrote “Feedback, How to Give It How to Get It” for writers, actors, and other artists.
Jo, why do you write?
I think it’s because I have to.
There are times I love writing. The story pouring to the page from busy fingers, seeing the scene in my head as I type. And there are times it’s a real pain.
I write first thing in the morning, before the sun is up, a cup of coffee my only companion while everyone else sleeps. And whether I wish to write or not, I never feel quite so good – so whole – as when I wrote that morning. The rest of the day is great, because the important thing got done. I can relax and enjoy life.
How has writing impacted your life?
Writing is my window into the world. It’s brought me a sort of understanding.
When someone in the news does something awful – or wonderful, or brave, or frightening, I no longer judge them. I try to understand them. Because if I can really get where they’re coming from, what lead to their doing what they do, there’s a great character trait.
Writing is discovering truth. Characters and story echo with people when they see that truth there – when they feel what a character feels, or understand why he does what he does. When a writer skips that, forcing a character to do something his story requires without really creating the foundation to support it, you lose your audience. People instinctively know.
It’s so frustrating when the story calls for the guy and girl to make love. And you place your characters in her apartment, late at night. Dim lights, even a blazing flame in the fireplace. And they hurl insults, slam doors, and swear never to speak to each other.
What advice would you give beginning writers?
Study writing. Take a class, read an interesting book on it. Join a critique group, attend a lecture or two. Try courses in different types of writing – there’s always some nugget to help develop your skills a little more.
If writing to you is a way of making money, okay. But if you have that passion to tell a story, if you love the art, aspire to create another Dune, or Thorn Birds, or Hunt for Red October, then study the craft as well.
And all the time you’re doing that, write!
When do your best ideas come to you for a story?
Odd bits strike at odd times. There might be an interview where someone shows a fascinating personality trait, or belief. You start to wonder how she ever came to that, what experience lead her there. You imagine an experience in college, or at her first job. And then – what might happen if she’s forced to confront her belief?
Or a story on PBS, a scientific discovery, and how the scientists involved found it. And you suddenly think – wow, what if we took that to this step? What if someone tried this, and it worked? Or almost worked?
I’ve found the most wonderful ideas occur at the strangest moments. All I can do is jot them down.
How do you respond to positive and negative reviews?
I actually love helping students, writers, even actors, with mastering feedback and criticism. I’ve given talks on the subject, and even wrote a book called Feedback How to Give It How to Get It; A Writers Guide to Spinning Gold.
Basically, the approach is to analyze the feedback (or review) for any truths that can point you to making your art better. Practice setting aside your feelings, and gather useful information. If someone says your characters are plastic, for example, or your story is far-fetched, you may have discovered a way to improve your writing.
Then you check in with your gut to see if there’s any truth – for YOU – in this, and if so, decide what to do about it. Maybe take a course, or talk to someone. Try a new method for character development.
Once you’ve done your best at this, you mentally tear up the review and move on. Allowing lingering feelings of fear, anger, or doubt cannot help you in any way – and you don’t deserve them. No artist can function with those around.
The key is to be as objective as you can. After all, just because someone criticized you does not mean they were correct.