It’s funny how I care more about the study of history some two years after majoring in it. But now it’s the kind I stumble upon, the detective history, which fascinates me.
For example, long before e-books, and back even before the days before barcodes came to libraries, books had to be checked out by hand, usually by a librarian with a big black stamp. I picked up LA local John Fante’s Full of Life from the library the other week, and was happy to find these stamped inscriptions hidden in the back of the book. My amateur detective’s mind went into overdrive—why was this checked out between January, 1991 and February, 1992? Did a high schooler need it for a paper? Was it a recommendation from a friend? Did a careless librarian stamp in all the wrong places one long winter?
I think screenwriters are essentially amateur detectives. A good screenplay doesn’t take any detail for granted. Writing a screenplay, my first thoughts always are: Where are we? What’s the mood? Who are the characters and what’s their story? Without knowing these things, however great the action, I can’t write the story. Maybe it comes from that history major in college, but the way I tell stories always begins with the background.
I try to keep an eye out for the unexpected. I may have walked on the same sidewalk a thousand times before I noticed this inscription:
According to Wikipedia (one of my best friends), the Janns Investment Corporation once owned all of Westwood. Soon enough they sold it to the city of Los Angeles, which bought it in order to form their own university branch—UCLA. While the company no longer exists, the name adorns certain steps, buildings and the occasional sidewalk panel.
Just as I don’t know how you could live in Los Angeles without being curious, I don’t know how you could write a story without doing some detective work. Living in a world, either real or imagined (and oftentimes both), means understanding that world and its curious meanings. Memory is what makes us human. In a world that values novelty over all, I hope I don’t forget that.