Arts & Culture News

Kickin' Ass & Takin' Names: Q&A With Creative Writing Guru Scott Morgan

We'll hand it to anybody who puts "kick ass" in the title of his workshop. We are, after all, living in a world that would define marriage in a way exclusionary to a mutant and his adorbs long-term boyfriend, so it takes a fair bit of chutzpah to dive into a professional project with even a little bit of good-natured profanity. But, Scott Morgan fears no moms, million or fewer, (except perhaps his own, we forgot to ask), and he's bringing his creative writing workshop "How to Write Kick-Ass Characters" to Lucky Dog Books on Garland Road, Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

Morgan's been serious about his creative writing since the ripe old age of 7, which naturally led to film school and screenwriting, before he eventually settled into a career as an award-winning journalist. In other words, the man hasn't met a word he didn't like. Or, didn't feel that he could sufficiently wrangle. Today, he teaches folks how to "write for the jugular" as an adjunct professor at Burlington Community College, between trips around the country offering his 90 minute workshops. We had a few questions for Morgan about the philosophy behind his "kick-ass" characters.

You've dabbled in practically every form of creative writing. Would you say there's something fundamentally specific to writing for film versus fiction versus stage? There are differences, of course. With film, you write a story that can be told in large part through the character's eyes and movement, facial expressions. Stage, on the other hand, is more dependent on their tone and verbiage and dialogue. And, with fiction you're much more in the character's head and inner-monologue. But, no matter which you're writing for, a great character is based around a fundamental understanding of the universal and common experiences we all share.

While it seems obvious, where would you say is the line between journalism (that perhaps presents factual events about engaging characters) and creative writing? No matter how engaging, with journalism, you're still telling someone else's story. You're still an outsider. Creative storytelling is different because you see the world and the narrative through the character's eyes.

Putting you on the spot, what would you say is one of the best-drawn characters, from any mode of writing? Oh, wow, no one has ever asked me that, it really does put me on the spot. Just off the top of my head? I'd go with Hank Hill from Mike Judge's King of the Hill. Judge is a genius. Hank's a wonderful character because, even though he can be a tool, at the end of the day, no matter what he is, he just is that. And, ultimately he's the only adult on that show who's very redeemable at all. He's understated and subtle, but well fleshed-out. Despite his flaws, he's just a good guy through and through. I wish more people in real life were like him in that respect.

What would you say is the worst character you can think of? That's trickier, because those are going to be more forgettable. But, when they go wrong, they go very wrong. I'd say the sitcom trope of the TV kid who runs into a scene, tells a joke, and immediately runs out again. Ugh.

On the other hand, there are characters I dislike that are still well-done. If we were to use King of the Hill again as an example, the character Bill Dauterive is everything I would want to avoid. I don't hate him, but he scares me.

You've self-published a book on writing and a creative collection, in addition to working as a freelance editor and writer. Would you say that's what the future of publishing will look like? Absolutely. I don't think we'll ever go back.

I think the whole model is kind of in its "terrible twos." There was a real gold-rush with the onset of the internet that changed the paradigm. Now writers don't have to sit around waiting for rejection letters and playing the system. Writers, we're not lazy, but we are socially inept. We want to do this for a profession, and now we have more power. It's like [with e-publishing] Gutenberg handed everyone their own press.

But, now the challenge is standing out in a saturated market. Even in trade publishing, many writers are building audiences on their own these days. I think going this route is just as hard, but in a different way.

Scott Morgan's workshop is from 10:30 to noon at 10801 Garland Road. Tickets are $25, and can be purchased here.

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Brentney Hamilton