Category Archives: zzzzzzzz….. (snore)

Writing from the Subconscious

Here’s a short poem I finished up at 4 a.m. this morning, followed by some creative notes that you might find valuable in developing your own stories:


Can I find some peace of mind,
to dull the horrid daily grind,
or should I taste the bitter rind,
whose poison quells all pain?

Will I fight another day,
am I the one my Id will slay,
and what will be the price to pay,
to end this sad refrain.

From time to time I am compelled,
to neuter what I cannot geld,
that which never can be held,
melting in the rain.

Driven by the summer breeze,
to dash against the leafless trees,
then thrust to ground on brittle knees,
and never walk again.

Lifeless dreams through sightless eyes,
dance across the heartless skies,
and sing a ghastly last reprise,
that burns into my brain.

Empty husk of parasites,
humbled by a thousand bites,
drained of self and filled with mites,
resistance is in vain.

Flaccid with my stuffing gone,
darkness now defies the dawn,
time stands still, then marches on,
a pointless trackless train.

Into earth my substance crumbles,
while the time train clacks and rumbles,
all I was is lost to mumbles,
neither sharp nor sane.

Now as if I wasn’t there,
self is shadow, breath is air,
nothing left to be aware,
a terminal moraine.


So, you see, it is about the death of a glacier. But the weird part is, I didn’t know that until after I wrote it.

All through the creative process I thought I was describing a despondent burned-out person, though I, myself, am in quite a positive mood of late.

It felt strange writing this – different than usual. Each stanza came together organically, and though each was about the same issue of loss of self, each was also centered around a completely different kind of imagery.

The stanzas really didn’t seem connected by a central spine or theme, just that sense of loss of self. In fact, taken together, I felt they were just chaotic glimpses into the storyteller’s psyche.

In terms of the creative process, all went smoothly until I arrived at the very last line. After every previous rhyme falling easily into place, I couldn’t (for the life of me) figure out how I wanted it to end.

So, for the first time on this project, I opened the rhyming dictionary and scanned through hundreds of multi-syllable words that rhymed with “pain.”

Nothing jumped out at me until I stumbled across “terminal moraine.” That was it! Perfect ending – terminal having the double meaning of mortality, which seemed to fit with this poor narrators description of his life experiences.

So, I plopped in that last line, re-read it a few times and published it on my blog under the title “A Way Out,” still believing it to be about this person.

Didn’t like the title though. Seemed mamby pamby. I decided to re-read the poem a few more times and after perhaps half a dozen readings, going from the end back to the beginning, I read “terminal moraine” immediately followed by “daily grind.” And that’s when it hit me – those two phrases sound like they are describing a glacier!

“No….” I thought. “It can’t be….” So I read it once more with “death of a glacier” in mind and holy crap! Every stanza – every WORD rang true to that theme, as if it had been intentionally written all along to describe the last days of a glacier’s life.

Now that has never happened to me before, and I’m kind of blown away by it. The poem is good and the imagery works with any title, but “Glacier” is that missing thread that elevates the poem from a collection of images to a single topic, explored.

I’d say at least half of the artistic impact of the poem derives from seeing it as the end of a glacier. And so, I really don’t feel right taking credit for that since that didn’t happen until the poem was already completed. Hence, this “apology” for the quality of the work.

Still, this brings up an interesting aspect of the writing craft. I’ pretty sure my subconscious knew full well what it was writing about from the get-go. It just didn’t fill me in on it until the end.

I’e read many accounts where readers find so much meaning in a poem, a story, or a song that was never intended by the author, who denies that meaning intently.

And yet, as creators, we all know we have over-active imaginations, and a lot of what goes on with that comes from the subconscious. That’s where inspirations come from and it is the source of those moment of epiphany that pop up in Eureka moments.

It is my belief that the truly great writers are those whose subconscious works to instill far more meaning in their stories than that of which the author is ever consciously aware. THAT is the quality that infuses depth and complexity into the piece and draws the readers into a multi-level multi-faceted experience.

This latest effort has driven that home to me yet again – that the best way to construct a story is to let your mind set the destination and your heart chart the course.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver

An Unpleasant Customer – Think Twice, Post Once

Email correspondence with a less than pleasant potential purchaser:



I recently came across your site as I am needing to purchase Move Magic Screenwriting 6. I see that you beat other authorized online pricing. I almost purchased one on this site:
when I decided to do some comparison shopping. I see that yours is more expensive, but if you are truly able to beat that price, I will purchase from you instead. I would love to purchase this weekend to start a class Sunday night if possible and would appreciate a quick response. Thanks!



Hi, Maryann

Unfortunately, the 4th of July Sale ended yesterday on July 7th. You can see that is the end date on the web sit. They are the manufacturers and our reseller price depends on when they lower it for a sale. So prices went up today to us as well, so we can’t beat the expired sale price.



I emailed you yesterday [Saturday]when that price was still active.


The price wasn’t active yesterday [Saturday].  The sale ended on Friday.  The manufacturer just hadn’t taken the advertisement down yet, but the ad does state the end date of July 7.


Oh interesting. I didn’t realize they could falsly advertise a different price than they would process at checkout. (I got all the way through the checkout process last night except to confirm it with that listed price)

Is ok though, I can let our group know to be aware of this in the future.

Turns out we are going to be able to get the program for $90 anyway, so it all worked out in the end!

Thanks anyway.


Hi, Maryann.  I’m very glad you were able to get a good price!  Actually, please don’t let your disappointment at being able to take advantage of the sale make you think the manufacturer was falsely advertising.  We, for one thing, do not put the products on sale at all – always the same price – though we will beat other prices that are currently valid by the manufacturer or any other licensed reseller.

And as for the manufacturer – I went to college with these guys and they are honest as the day is long.  All that happened was that they put up a notice of a sale that specified that the end date was July 7 right in the text in a prominent place.  And since the sale ended Friday night and they aren’t open on the weekend, they just didn’t get around to taking down the notice – probably just an oversight, but they never falsely advertised.

So, with your comment, “Oh interesting.  I didn’t realize they could falsly advertise a different price…” as you see they didn’t advertise a different price.  I’m sorry you didn’t see the end date when you went to order.

Still, accusing my good life-long friends of falsely advertising does offend me, and I’m very sorry you felt the need to sling accusations.  Though I am still glad you found good price.



— Now normally I just accept the abuse some customers feel they need to dump on me, as if I wasn’t a real person and as if their disappointment, justified or not, is a valid reason for shedding their own unhappiness onto someone else and making them miserable.  Just the price of doing business I figure.

But THIS day, I’m sitting here watching a beautiful PBS documentary on the Pacific ocean, enjoying a Sunday dinner  of pot roast, potatoes, and of shallots and carrots we grew in our own garden.  I served it up on the very plates my beloved grandmother used to serve the very same meal for Sunday dinner hundreds of times in my life – very special.

And I am doing a little customer service on the computer to help any wayward purchasers, even though I’m technically closed for the weekend.  And this one person stomps into the middle of that with accusations against my friends and just a generally bad attitude.

It is moment like these that make we want to retire from selling products at all and just do it all through Amazon or just focus on my story consultation services.

But I suppose my main reason for posting this is to remind us all (me included) that even a casual snarky comment, in person, in email, or in a post on social media and throw a little bitterness into a beautiful moment, or worse, be the straw that broke the camel’s back for someone just barely managing to cope with a bad day.

To paraphrase a famous quote: “Think twice, post once.”

How Can You Teach Writing When You Speak In Jargon?

I recently received the following note as a response to the writing tips newsletter I publish:

How do you think you going to learn how to be a teacher when you talk in jargon?

What is structure?
What is a protagonist?
What is Narrative?
What is a Log line?
What is truth when none exist?

We live in a world where truth is what every Malcolm Turnbulll says it is.

Regards, Len

My response:

Well, I’ll tell you, Len. Here’s how I have managed to teach for the last 25 years. First, I don’t try to put everything I know into one single article. In fact, I have an article called “What is Narrative” and one called “What is structure” and one called “What is a protagonist” and a whole series of articles on truth (both capital “T” and small “t,” ranging from David Hume’s definition through the Tao.

And also, one cannot always write for beginners and define everything nor can one always write for advanced students and define nothing. Since both levels of experience are present in the 16,000 folks who follow my newsletter, I try to include articles over the whole range of levels, if not in every newsletter, at least over the span of a few issues.

But since you asked, here are some answers to your specific questions, just for you:

What is narrative?

Narrative is our attempt to see our problems from all useful angles so that we might better understand how a specific situation operates and how best to maximize it to what we’d like it to become. When we documented that approach that we all use intuitively into the conventions of storytelling, we called it narrative. And nowadays, we turn our understanding of how we explore a situation to find the greatest meaning (narrative) back to the the real world so that we might understand our selves, our roles in society, and how others interact, and how they might behave in the future. Of course, that’s just an opening paragraph for a full exploration of the topic.

What is a protagonist?

A protagonist is an archetypal character, which means that it is a character who represents a fundamental human quality, in this case, our initiative – our motivation to move forward and affect change in our lives. In a story, the protagonist is the primer mover of the effort to achieve the story’s goal. The protagonist is often mistaken as being the main character, but the main character in a story is the one who grapples with the personal issue at the heart of the story’s message – like Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” The reader or audience tends to stand in the shoes of the main character, or at least to look over their shoulder, and the passionate side of the story seems to revolve around them. When you give the job of protagonist AND main character to the same person in your story, you end up with the typical “hero” who fulfills both roles. But, those two aspects of structure don’t have to always go together. For example, in the book (and movie version) of To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch (the Gregory Peck part in the movie) is the protagonist, trying to get a fair trial for the black man accused of raping a white girl in the 1930s South. But the main character is Finch’s young daughter Scout, as we see this story of prejudice through her eyes, and she must grapple with her own prejudice against the local Boogey Man, “Boo” Radley, who she has judged without having any direct interaction with him, in parallel to the prejudice of the towns people against the man on trial.

What is structure?

Structure (narrative structure specifically) is built from a number of story points that appear in every complete story, such as a Goal or a moment at which the main character will either change their long-held view of how to solve their problems to adopt a different approach or will hold onto their resolve and remain steadfast in their outlook. Consider a Rubik’s cube in which there are only 27 pieces yet by moving them around, it creates more than forty trillion trillion combinations. Still, this is not without form. In a Rubik’s cube, corner pieces always remain corner pieces, no matter how you twist it. So, it always remains a cube. This creates form without formula, and that is what narrative structure does as well.

What is a Log Line?

I believe I actually defined this one right in the newsletter… A log line is a one-sentence description of what your story is about. It defines the core of your story and is useful in keeping your story focused on its essence as you write.

What is truth?

You ask what is truth when none exist? Well, if you had read my article on truth, you would know that your question is actually what the article is about. It describes the relationship of subjectivism to objectivism, and how each can only see a part of the complete picture. It wades in to deeper water with a philosophical discussion, but then turns practical with an exploration of how the search for truth (asking the question, what is truth?) is the essence of a character’s dilemma in not know for sure the best way to respond in a given situation.

Summing up, whether it is Malcolm Turnbull or Donald Trump, we all have our self-purported truth-sayers. But simply labelling something as the truth does not make it so, no matter how much a person wants it to be or believes it to be. In fact, as they say in the East, “The Tao that can be spoken is not the Eternal Tao,” which means (for our purposes), that you can’t step into the same river once. Or, less cryptically, there is no truth that can be fully defined.

Melanie Anne Phillips

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On “Master and Commander”

Just finished reading the first of the twenty Aubrey/Maturin novels, Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian. One down, nineteen to go. Fascinating are the extremely long and convoluted sentences that yet somehow work due to their energy, enthusiasm of subject and uniqueness of topic: sentences not unlike this one, meandering leisurely through verbiage and speculation and punctuation; a sentence including (like this one) both a colon and a semicolon.

Dim Bulb ~or~ The Foibles of an Eccentric Writer

When I was first starting out in the film business, still at USC cinema as a matter of fact, I heard a story of a famous writer who loved to use just one make and model of typewriter – couldn’t write a lick on anything else.  He was so worried they’d stop making them that he bought 100 of them and put them all in storage.

We’ll, I just bought 48 100w General Electric incandescent bulbs to hang over my desk – not all at once, mind you, but since it is now illegal to sell them in the USA, I wanted to make sure the warm glow in my creative space never snuffs out.  Suddenly at least one wave of life’s ceaseless seething sea of stress has receded.

Concept for a Theme

Life is filled with opportunities to begin a story.  Sometimes you encounter a bit of news, observe an interpersonal interaction, or simply see a post on Google+ or Facebook.

Today, for example, I was writing a private message on Facebook to my cousin about the ups and downs of life and when I re-read it I realized it was a fully developed theme for a story.

If you really are a writer – if you really have the natural instincts (and perhaps the chops) – then even casual conversations you have or that your post can inspire a whole exploration of a topic, concept, lifestyle or activity.

As an example, here’s the message I sent to my cousin:

When they say, “There is no greater gift than to lay one’s life down for another” most people think they are talking about dying, as in sacrificing oneself in war. But I often thought that when we dedicate ourselves to others – family, friends, a commitment to service – then we are, in a very real sense, laying down our lives for others – one moment at a time.

And which is the greater sacrifice – to have an instant of bravery in which one is not thinking about ceasing to exist and jumps almost instinctively in front of the bullet, the decision to stay behind to run the escape elevator, knowing you will slowly suffocate, or to choose everyday to lose your own life, dreams, even personality, for the benefit of those you love?

I personally believe that later choice is the most noble of all, for it is made alone, within oneself, over and over again each time you awaken.

Sure, we are able to pursue some of our interests to some degree, but the sacrifice is real as we watch the dreams that once drove us pale and fade into impossibility.

Still, the rewards are many – the smiling faces of our children, the peaceful face of our mate when he or she sleeps, the relief (expressed or simply exhibited) by those to whom we have been of service.

I believe we must come to realize that while we may wish our lives had evolved differently or that the choppy seas of fate might have cast us higher on the shore, life is not perfect nor is happiness a right, only the pursuit of it.

And, in the end, if we had chosen any other more self-oriented path we would find the sum total of our lives and the contentment of our hearts would be far less by a magnitude than it is by having laid it down for others instead.

A Poem About Inventing, Teaching, Selling & Proselytizing Dramatica


by Melanie Anne Phillips

Have you ever wished
you had something to say
to open the heart
or capture the day.

To dissect the mind
or rally the cause,
but your words come up empty,
like stasis on pause.

So you put up your web site
and type in your Word:
a mouthpiece for Gurus
who want to be herd.

You stamp out a template
and auction your ware
that builds them a stairway
for climbing up air.

You translate their yearnings,
transfigure their Muse,
with a medium message
divine in its use.

Yet a lukewarm reception
devours your spiel,
consumed and digested
by The Zombies of Zeal.

For years you persist
in your nebulous quest
toward a furious sound
of infinite jest.

And you never look back
as your life passes by
to present as reflections
not seen through your eye.

But one day you wake
with a pain in your gut
that your fame is a fake
and your mountain, a rut.

So you fall from the sky
’til your life’s on the level
to lie in your bed
while embracing the Devil.

And you sing with the sirens
a glorious wail,
obscuring the site
of the Visioner’s Grail.

And the auctioneer’s gavel
indentures the Muse
and takes a percentage
of all whom she screws.

But one day She dies,
consumed with the clap,
and Her audience cries
as it lays in your lap.

So you cradle its head,
as it cradles yours,
and you wish you were dead
(save the proceeds from tours.)

But it isn’t the money,
nor is it the fame,
and it never was simply
the name of the game.

And it isn’t the insight
of getting there first,
nor the common law marriage
of better and worst.

You keep scratching your head
’til it coughs up a thought
in the hope it tastes better
than those that you bought.

You savor the flavor
that burns through your tongue,
for Truth leaves you speechless
and breathless and young.

And the answers you sought
with obtuse nomenclature
turn out to be more
of a personal nature.

So the final few words
of this self-focused work
provide answers for me.