Charles Daly


Category: Articles (page 5 of 7)

Shot Reverse Shot for Writers

If you watch one video online this week, make it this video essay on the Cohen Brothers’ use of the shot reverse shot from the Every Frame a Painting series. Prepare to never look at a scene the same way again.

Shot reverse shot is when each character gets their own shot, back and forth in dialogue. Every Frame describes the technique as the most basic element of film grammar.

Joel & Ethan Coen – Shot | Reverse Shot

How do you film a conversation? Most likely, you’re going to block the actors, set up the camera, and do shot/reverse shot. But where do you put the camera? What lens do you use? And how do you cut back and forth?

In writing, just like filmmaking, the greats are often defined by their mastery of the most basic elements of the craft. Simple is not the same as simplistic. For simple to work on the page or on screen, it has to be precise and precise isn’t easy–think haikus and the western dawnscapes in Cormac McCarthy.

Writers don’t have the advantage of multiple cameras. We can’t write a scene ten different ways simultaneously and cut between the best shots. But we do have lenses, better lenses than the filmmakers. Our lenses cost nothing and can get infinitely close or wide. The fiction writer’s most basic tool is the one you got sick of hearing about in creative writing class: showing vs. telling.

Think of how you might isolate one of your characters in a situation she can’t control, what will her actions reveal to the reader. What’s in the background? What’s on her desk? How does she handle money? This is how scenes are built. Images are often the best place to start, ideas are almost always the worst. Used simply and with precision, the basics of showing vs. telling will help you bring characters to life using fewer words. Your reader will experience meaning rather than being told what your scene means.

Image: Esquire

Johnny Cash’s (25 to) Life Experience

This morning I saw an opening for a blogging position at a high-end bike manufacturer. It’s the same job they were advertising nine months ago, so they must not have found anyone. The ad says they’re looking for a writer who’s a bicycle expert. I haven’t decided if I’m going to pitch them yet, but if I do I would say something like this: no, I’m not a bicycle expert, I don’t even own one. But you don’t need a bicycle expert, you need a writer who can write well about anything, including bicycles.

I’ve always disagreed with the ‘write what you know,’ school. I shudder when I think of some of the books and songs we wouldn’t have if more writers took that advice seriously. In the business world, the search for ‘experts’ is a pointless and costly practice. Your ideal candidate is going to be the one who knows a whole lot more about your writing needs than you do.

Which brings us to Johnny Cash… He is considered by many to be the greatest American songwriter on the subject of prison life. He writes about the anger, the sorrow, the hard-won spirituality of men behind bars with a gritty realism that gained him a huge following among prisoners. But Cash never did hard time himself. He wrote a song about Ireland called ’40 Shades of Green’ while touring there for the first time. His only expertise on Ireland was a tourist’s admiration of the scenery and a curiosity about life in the small towns he passed through on the road. Cash also wrote about the rapture, an event which he had yet to experience personally. ‘God’s Gonna Cut You Down,’ and ‘When the Man Comes Around,’ are chilling songs not because of Cash’s spiritual expertise, but his ability to tell a good story.

Anne Frank didn’t Feed the Trolls

Karl Silberbauer is the S.S officer who arrested Anne Frank’s family. After the war, Silberbauer read the Diary. He said he bought the book to see if he was in it. He wasn’t.

If you wait for the Karl Silberbauer’s of this world to gain perspective, you’re in for a long wait. Anne Frank had better things to write about.   

REVIEW: Terminate Flies with the Bug-a-Salt

I was in Alabama hanging out with some locals, where else but on a porch. The breeze stopped blowing and a cloud of flies descended on us.

Wayne, the old man whose porch we were sitting on turned to his friend:

‘Get the gun,’ he said, with a dribble of dip-spit into a Styrofoam cup for emphasis.


This being Alabama I assumed we were talking about an actual gun. I braced myself.

He came back from the truck with a bright yellow super-soaker looking thing, cocked it like a pump-action shotgun, and handed it to Wayne. The old man took aim at a big one on the windowsill, rubbing a hairy front leg on its eyeball. He switched the safety off and dispatched the fly to its maker in a burst of salt. He shot another one off the arm of his chair then returned to his spitting cup.

‘I play with this thing all the time,’ he said, ‘Why don’t you try.’ Wayne handed me the weapon. ‘Be sure to switch the safety off, that’s the only drawback, the safety.’

I gave it a pump and the massacre began.

Read on at Broke-Ass-Stuart

I Read 66 Books in 2015, Here are my Favorites

We love to buy books because we think we are buying the time to read them.” —Arthur Schopenhauer

This is the year I finally got on Goodreads (you can add me here.) One year on, my reading has never been so good. Keeping track of what I read has me reading more, holding myself to a book-a-week minimum. And I’m actually spending less on books. Before I started Goodread-ing I would buy just about any book I intended to read someday. My bookshelf was my reading list. Now I keep it in my pocket.

Here are my favorite reads of 2015.




David Foster Wallace chose McCarthy’s masterpiece as one of the five most ‘direly underaprieciated’ American novels since 1960. In a rare stroke of brevity Wallace kept his notes on the book to just three words:

‘Don’t even ask.’

Blood Meridian follows a group of ex-soldiers paid to collect Apache scalps in the American West. They start by killing warriors, then women and children, and before long, it’s open season on anyone with brown hair. Think Melville meets Milton in the high desert with plenty of antique riflery jargon. Harold Bloom called it ‘the ultimate Western.’

It’s rumored that McCarthy’s research included making homemade gunpowder from urine and naturally occurring sulfur.



A novel that spans a century, told in a madwoman’s stream of consciousness, scrawled in Will Self’s sesquipedalian prose. Don’t ask me how, but it works. Brilliantly. Will Self’s experiment is a continuation of the modernist novel–Joyce and Woolf are all over Umbrella.

In his critical defense of the book, Self argues that modernism isn’t over and that someone living in any of the great ages before us, say the Renaissance, would laugh at the notion that an era in art could last just a couple of years. His exact words were much more sesquipedalian.



Jim Ruland’s debut novel, Forest of Fortune is a new classic of California noir. It’s Raymond Chandler in the age of polyamory, Dashiell Hammett with a novelty coke straw up its nose, or Inherent Vice after the yuppies stormed the beaches and nudged all the freaks east of the 405. The setting, a ‘possibly haunted’ Indian casino, is hysterical, the players are human and heartbreaking.*

*From my interview with Jim Ruland



A ghastly exploration of the erotic potential of car crashes. We’re talking classic car crashes, pre-airbags, back when the windscreen and chrome fixtures could flay you alive. If you’re into Fight Club and the lyrics of Joy Division, you’ve come to the right place.



The first writer I’ve encountered who uses social media in his fiction in a way that makes any fucking sense. The people in David Goodwillie’s work are people, not paper dolls caught in the updrafts of National debate. This book beats the clever realists, like Roth and Franzen, at their own game.

Political thrillers aren’t my thing, neither are clever books set in New York, but this one blew me away.




The creepiest book I’ve ever read. It might be the creepiest book ever written.

Killing for Company tells the true story of the serial killer, Dennis Neilson, AKA ‘Britain’s Jeffrey Dahmer.’ Brian Masters uses a detailed account of the killer’s entire life and family history to make a monster feel frighteningly familiar.



Indispensable advice from the micro-budget film-maker behind The Brothers McMullen, She’s the One, and Entourage. Comes in handy when you hit that slump in the middle of your passion project.

“Sometimes you’ve got to ignore the money and get back to why you got into this business to begin with. In most cases you got bit after seeing something like Nicholson in Chinatown or Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. I’ve yet to meet an actor, writer, or director who decided to get into the movie business after hearing how much Schwarzenager got paid to do Kindergarten Cop.”



A textbook for extended world travel. If you’re one to say ‘I’ve always wanted to go/do/see ______, Vagabonding might contain the motivation you need to finally take the leap. If you’re already living your adventures, Vagabonding is a refresher on travel basics and a reminder of why you do it.

Justin Alexander, the most interesting man on Instagram, is a big fan.



Pure enjoyment when I needed a break from dark, dense, and gruesome titles. 21 Yaks and a Speedo is a collection of life lessons from extreme swimmer and environmental champion Lewis Pugh. The ‘yaks’ are these highly digestible stories that take about five to ten minutes to read. The ‘yaks’ depict the training of a hero and offer inspiration to, as Pugh is so fond of saying, ‘achieve the impossible.’

Achieving the impossible in his case means swimming on Mt. Everest  and at the North Pole in nothing but a speedo.  His TED Talks on those swims are extraordinary.

* * *

What were your good reads in 2015?

Christmas Peace Walk Unites Students in Northern Ireland

Last Friday, December 11th, over 400 schoolchildren walked across Belfast, Northern Ireland to express their common Christmas wish: peace.

The students came from seven different schools, for a gathering that wouldn’t have been possible a few Christmases ago. Their parents and grandparents were once sworn enemies.

Continue reading at KindaKind .

Treating Depression on the Cheap

Depression is expensive. You eat junk food and order delivery because cooking and cleaning up sounds like slow torture. Your productivity falls off or you lose your job entirely. You miss obligations–everything feels like an obligation. You’re haunted by your elusive potential and the feeling that you’re letting everyone down.


Getting better isn’t cheap either. In terms of treatment, ‘new’ and ‘effective’ and ‘mild side-effects’ all translate to pricey and maybe not covered by insurance. Something worse than being depressed is being depressed with medical bills to pay.

But there is hope. Depression used to call for shock treatments, then it was Prozac™, now scientists are saying that some of the most effective treatments cost nothing and come without side-effects. Here are a few that might work for you.

A quick disclaimer: I am not a doctor, I don’t play one on the internet. If you’re struggling with depression, talk to your doctor, talk to someone. And, for fuck’s sake, if you’re thinking about harming yourself, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255.

It gets better. Always.

Continue reading at Broke-Ass Stuart

Adventures of Justin, the Most Interesting Man on Instagram

I’m on the phone with Justin Alexander. He’s calling from the roof of a Mexican restaurant where he’s bivouacking (sleeping under the stars) somewhere in the American Southwest. He explains that rooftops are ideal for urban camping. They provide safety and concealment and tend to pick up free wifi–tonight he’s getting his from the chain hotel next door.

This rooftop is as much Justin’s home as anywhere. He prefers ‘home free’ to ‘homeless.’ He’s not mentally ill or a junky, but rather clean cut and Facebook friends with his mom. Justin is a nomad, adventurer, survivalist, and self described ‘modern day ninja.’ He gets my vote for the most interesting person on Instagram.

Continue reading at Broke-Ass Stuart. 


Breakup Therapy: 15 Backhanded Love Songs

The best love songs are about mixed emotions because the best loves mix you up. Contrary to healthy relationship wisdom, the person we can never forget tends to be the one who has us pulling our hair out. People don’t write songs about emotionally available non-jealous types. Here are a few backhanded love songs for when your voodoo dolls and bop bags need a break.

Keep reading at Broke-Ass Stuart.

INTERVIEW: Kimberley Chambers Swims from Farallons to SF

When Kimberly Chambers set out to attempt her epic swim, her crew received some ominous news: a freshly decapitated seal carcass had been spotted out at the Farallons, near her starting point. This confirmed what she and her support crew already knew: she would be sharing the water with great white sharks.

At 11:10pm that night (August 7th,) she stepped over the side of her support boat and settled into a front crawl stroke. Her destination was the Golden Gate Bridge, thirty miles away. She stared down into the black Pacific, through her goggles, and reminded herself that sharks don’t feed at night.
Seventeen hours and twelve minutes later, she emerged from the Bay immortal.
To put her achievement into perspective:Kimberley--Chambers--swims--farallons--to--golden--gate--bridge
4,000 men and women have summited Mt. Everest.
1,979 have swum the English Channel.
12 men have walked on the moon.
Only 5 people have swum from the Farallons to San Francisco. Kimberley is the first woman. There’s only one Kimberly Chambers.

After taking some time to process her accomplishment, Kim told me her story.

Read the interview at Broke-Ass Stuart.

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