Writing Lessons from The Simpsons (V)

Necessity is the mother of invention. It’s also the mother of comedy.

In the episode A Streetcar Named Marge, Marge Simpson is cast as Blanche DuBois in a musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire.

This storyline was not originally conceived as a musical. In fact, a complete script was written with Marge and other characters performing the stage version. But then the network’s lawyer informed the writers that Tennessee Williams’s estate would only allow them to quote two lines from the play.

The same lawyer, however, saved the day:

Mike Reiss: One of the unsung heroes of The Simpsons is Anatole Klebanow…he always was in our corner, always pushing for us to get stuff that was marginally legal on the show

Al Jean: …So the lawyer said, ‘If you write original songs based on those characters, that you can do’. But actually, it made the show better because the songs are funnier than the play

The writers followed the lawyer’s advice and A Streetcar Named Marge is now consistently named as one of the top episodes of the series. (It has 26 seasons, so that’s pretty good.) As writer Jeff Martin said, “When we got that and we decided to make it a musical, I remember thinking, ‘Well, this will be a lot of work but I bet it’ll be funnier.'”²

He was right.

The lesson here is not just to listen to your lawyer. It’s to be tenacious. There’s an obstacle in front of you? Find a way around it. That way is blocked? Find another way.

When it comes to writing, tenacity is everything. Tenacity is allows you to finish a piece and start a new one. Being tenacious is how you hone your skills; how you revise and edit and get your words just the way you want them.

Tenacity is how you make your work better.

In this particular instance, being told ‘no’ allowed the writers of The Simpsons to go deeper into their work and produce something with real emotional resonance. If they’d simply followed the original play, they would not have been able to write clever and catchy songs that also supported the emotional arc of the show.

Where are you hearing ‘no’ when it comes to writing? Who’s telling you that you can’t do it? How can you work around the blocks and obstacles? Where can you go deeper into your work and explore what it’s truly about?

I’m not suggesting you break copyright law to achieve your goals. I am saying to be your own lawyer; be the person who’s always in your corner and pushing for you to write.

1. DVD Commentary from A Streetcar Named Marge, Season Four, Episode Two.
2. Ibid.

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This week’s prompts

Use the following prompts to start a new piece, continue an existing piece or to just have fun with words.
1. A semi-melted plastic bottle…
2. The cutlery clattered into the draw and…
3. “I don’t believe you,” said…
4. Slats of wood lined the…
5. A very tiny pumpkin rolled…

Questions? Suggestions? Feel free to drop me a line at zee@twomarshmallows.net.

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