Storytelling is inherently dangerous

My first writing job was on a TV show called Get a Life. The show was mostly in the voice of its creators, Chris Elliott and Adam Resnick, who’d worked on the David Letterman Show. Adam’s scripts were the best thing about Get a Life – and we all tried to write in Adam’s voice. That was the job.

I was frustrated with the results, but it occurred to me that there was no solution as long as my job was trying to imitate someone else’s voice. The obvious solution was to find a situation where I was doing me, not someone else. The major obstacle to this is your deeply seated belief that “you” is not interesting.

When I first got the job, I couldn’t talk in the writing room. I was working on a sitcom and I could not talk. It wasn’t as if I chose not to talk, or I didn’t talk – I couldn’t open my mouth. No words would come out. And that went on for six weeks. I thought I was going to get fired, and probably should have been.


Storytelling is inherently dangerous. Consider a traumatic event in your life. Think about how you experienced it. Now think about how you told it to someone a year later. Now think about how you told it for the hundredth time. It’s not the same thing. Most people think perspective is a good thing: you can figure out characters arcs, you can apply a moral, you can tell it with understanding and context. But this perspective is a misrepresentation: it’s a reconstruction with meaning, and as such bears little resemblance to the event.

– Beginning of an article by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, “Why I Wrote Being John Malkovich,” in the Guardian. Via ArtsJournal.