Everything I Know About Writing, I Learned by Watching Seinfeld

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If you don’t believe, no one else will.

Telling a good story is a lot like telling a “good” lie. George Costanza once told Jerry, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” (Jerry needed to pass a lie detector test regarding Melrose Place.)

Writing a good story is very similar. You should appreciate the story (even if you don’t necessarily like what’s happening) and believe that it is happening – that you are merely writing what you see. If you believe it, the reader will believe it too.

Nothing is interesting.

Seinfeld wasn’t about something. There was nothing to be learned by watching the show. At the end of the 30 minutes, the four of them didn’t sit on a couch and talk out the misunderstanding that had occurred and then discuss how, in the future, they can use the lesson they learned from it. It was pure and simple entertainment.

Anything is game. It’s your job to make it interesting. Give the characters enough character to carry the story no matter what is going on. Make the reader love the character or despise the character – just as long as there is emotion connected to the character.

Sometimes an explanation is necessary.

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Elaine is a fan of the Big Salad, but when she asks George to pick one up for her, he seems confused. In the words of Elaine, “It’s like a salad – only bigger . . .”

Sometimes just because you understand what you’re talking about doesn’t mean it makes sense to everyone else. I make myself laugh all the time and then look around at no one else laughing and feel a little bit sad. But the problem is not them or me, it’s that I’m laughing at an inside joke with an outsider. (Many times the only insider is me – I find my jokes to be hilarious!)

I have done that with my writing. I’ll write a line I find quite clever, but without the rest of the story, I’ll still be the only one patting myself on the back.

It’s all in how you say it.

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“These pretzels are making me thirsty!” When Kramer stumbled upon the opportunity to have a speaking part in a Woody Allen movie, everybody had their version of how Kramer should say his one line.

The only way to know how to say a line is to know what else is going on in the scene. What just happened? Who is he talking to? Where is he? Will there be a response? Do the words themselves have an impact on the scene?

When you write, you see and hear your characters acting out the scene. The tone has to be portrayed. If the character has a raspy voice, the reader needs to hear that. Sarcasm should be understood. Words are only part of the story. Delivery is the rest of the story.

You want something you can relate to.

Jerry: Is this about me?

Elaine: No.

Jerry: Then I’ve lost interest.

For writing to hold the interest of the reader, they must be able to relate to it. Or it has to be short. Know your audience. They say you should write for yourself and not according to whether you think other people will like it. At least, that’s the philosophy I have adopted.

Do you have a specific audience in mind that you are gearing your work toward? Are you marketing it toward those people? Or is it more of a buffet where everyone just takes what they want?

Pirate Life isn’t for everyone.

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I’m talking about the puffy shirt. Without realizing it, Jerry agrees to wear a pirate shirt (for a Today show interview) that Kramer’s girlfriend designed. Of course, she was a low talker and Jerry couldn’t understand a word she said when he agreed to wear it. Kramer is adamant about Jerry wearing the shirt to promote his girlfriend’s “pirate line” of clothing. “But I don’t wanna be a pirate.” It doesn’t end well.

As for writing, if you’re not comfortable with where your story is going, don’t go there. It’s your story, not popular culture’s or anyone else’s. It will not be a good story if you are not for it. So write what you like and like what you write – or delete it. Only you can decide to be a pirate.

Do you.

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Elaine taught me how to be completely oblivious to negativity (and to everything around me, for that matter).

Write. While it might be wise to at least consider criticism, always remember the wise words of David Putty. “Oh yeah? I’ll tell you what’s stupid. You, stupid.” It’s possible I also learned how to argue by watching Seinfeld.

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