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Writing in Restaurants Revisited

By Jonathan Dorf

I wrote the original Writing in Restaurants for the eZine nearly two years ago. But dining out is still one of my favorite things to do. And, of course, so is writing. So it seemed only fitting to revisit Writing in Restaurants with some new restaurant suggestions and writing tips designed to help you, whether you write plays or screenplays, take your script to the next level.

~ Appetizer Writing Tip

A common note is "not enough conflict" or "the conflict needs punching up." But what does that mean? It often means that the characters need to move closer to the poles. By the poles, obviously I don't mean where Santa lives or the good people of Poland. Instead, think of all of the characters in your play and their wants and beliefs as being situated on a giant continuum, a long line with a pole at either end. People at opposite poles are in absolute conflict with each other, while in the middle, people have similar beliefs. Chances are, if you don't have enough conflict in your play, it's because your characters are sitting too close to the middle and hence, too close to each other in the way they think. Push your characters out to the poles, and watch the conflict skyrocket.

~ Los Angeles Restaurant Suggestions

Joyce (on Robertson Blvd, between Pico and Olympic)
A great neighborhood restaurant, with cuisine that's more innovative than your typical Chinese eatery. There's table space galore (single diners have no problem finding big square tables for four), and while it does close between lunch and dinner, it's tranquil, friendly, and a great place to kill a few hours and knock out some work. James, the owner, is wonderful, and who knows -- if you ask, he might even let you plug in your laptop.

Katmandu Kitchen (on Venice at Midvale, between Overland and Sepulveda)
One of the only Nepalese restaurants in California, go for the cheap lunch buffet. You can sit for hours -- they only have a couple of outlets but they're super nice and will let you plug in -- and the food is extremely tasty, similar to Indian but not quite as spicy or as heavy.

Literati (on Wilshire at Bundy in West LA)
This may be the ultimate destination for writers in LA. With a varied, healthy menu ranging from all-day breakfasts and soups and sandwiches to platters and killer desserts, you could spend the day here. And with its airy, naturally lit atmosphere, mellow music and tons of places to plug in your laptop, you just might want to.

Karma Coffeehouse (on Cahuenga, just north of Sunset in Hollywood)
For those who don't want to drive to West LA to soak in the bliss of Literati, try this Hollywood joint. Yes, the neighborhood is a bit dodgy, but inside, you'll find comfortable seating, gourmet sandwiches (they bring in their food here, unlike Literati, which has its own kitchen) and lots of space and plugs. And it has its own resident spiritual advisor.

~ Main Course Writing Tip

Too many plays end up with dull, predictable dialogue, where first one character speaks, then the other. Instead, think of the dialogue in your play as music (Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is a wonderful example). Vary the tones, let instruments overlap, let them move in and out and on top of and underneath each other. Let them crescendo and then fade, with different themes repeating themselves. Let music energize your dialogue, and your play will become vibrant and dynamic.

~ Reader Restaurant Recommendations

Norwood Diner, Bronx, NY (204th Street)
In general the waiters and cooks are all into having writers there; they bring muffins and tea or a sandwich, extra napkins, tons of water, whatever you need. Occasionally I see other writers in there, sitting alone at a table.

Village, New York City (62 West 9th Street)
They serve food that is reliably excellent, and the staff is lovely and clearly used to the likes of me and leave me well alone to scribe and scratch out to my heart's content.

Kopi Café, Chicago area (Andersonville, Clark St. few blocks north of Foster)
It's a "travel" cafe, so it's got teas and coffees (as well as merchandise) from "all over" (including books, clothes, etc.) and some good nosh. It's also situated near some terrific bookstores, restaurants, offbeat boutique clothing stores and thrift shops, so there are lots of good distractions. It's a pretty common meeting place for theatre types too, so you'll often find someone at the next table having a production meeting on a local show.

The Tin Angel, Nashville, TN (West End Avenue in downtown)
As you walk in the door, the lights are dimmed and soft jazz is playing. I usually sit at the bar to eat and order the Chicken Sophia (breast of chicken with pine nut mousse) and a salad with champagne vinaigrette. There is a huge painting in the entryway of a bar scene that was painted by a woman who was mysteriously murdered.

Prem's, Pune, India (North Main Road, Koregaon Park)
It started out as a pure vegetarian restaurant... It now serves beer, continental (vegetarian and non-vegetarian), sizzlers, tandoori and, if I remember right, even Chinese. The best part is that hitting writer's block is actually a very pleasant experience, since you then get to gawk at tourists who are in various states of (un)dress, and who leave just enough to the imagination to make it interesting. The service is fairly decent, though waiters are so used to patrons "doing their own thing" that you might have trouble finding one when you need him. It's therefore best to order a few bottles of beer and tell them to keep them coming. That'll ensure that the waiter's on hand when you're ready to eat.
~ Dessert Writing Tip

An ongoing struggle for almost all of us is how to deal with exposition. Too much exposition, a fancy word for information, will stop your play or screenplay dead in its tracks, with your audience bored to tears and yawning in the aisles. Not enough and your audience will be lost. But give them just enough, and they'll be on the edge of their seats, fully engaged, trying to put the puzzle you've constructed together on their own.

Here's an exercise to try, whether you're writing a play or a screenplay: write a series of brief scenes. Each scene will involve two characters (they do not need to be the same two characters, and it might be more interesting if they're not -- at least not all the time), with perhaps a half-dozen lines of dialogue, a dozen at most. Your goal is to go from the first scene, which might exclusively use pronouns and give us nothing but the time at which some impending disaster is going to happen, to the last scene, by which we have nearly a complete picture of what's going to happen. But...in each scene, you are not allowed to add more than one significant piece of information, and you may not provide the same piece of information twice. Even better yet, instead of having a character volunteer this one piece of information, have the other character force him/her to give it up. If you can harness the power of this exercise, you'll write scripts that tease the audience with your information, always leaving them hungry for that next carrot.

Armed with your new writing and restaurant tips, now it's time to put this article to practical use. Get out there and fill your page while you fill your stomach. Happy writing, and happy eating!

Meet the Author: Jonathan Dorf

Author of more than 30 published plays with over 1000 productions worldwide, Jonathan Dorf co-founded publisher YouthPLAYS, co-chairs the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights and is Final Draft's resident playwriting expert. He created the content for Playwriting101.com, Google's top-ranked playwriting website for over a decade, and teaches playwriting through Screenwriters University. He has served as Visiting Associate Professor in the MFA Playwriting and Children's Lit programs at Hollins University, as United States Cultural Envoy to Barbados and been a guest speaker at schools and festivals ranging from the University of Southern California to the...