WEEK FOUR: Jarring the Box: David Lynch as Mind-Altering Drug

Eckleburg Workshops - Magic Realism Workshop

For centuries, writers from Shakespeare to Poe to Burroughs to Wallace and so forth have used alcohol and illegal drugs to alter consciousness for the unfettered exploration of reality in new and “unreal” ways. But you don’t need drugs to do this. We have David Lynch!

Writing Assignment

Experimental film can be great sources of inspiration for magical realist narratives. David Lynch’s short films are some of the best. The jarring nature of the above short film helps to momentarily jog the convention out of you, allow you to think outside the box and form a new reality for your burgeoning narrative. Consider “The Alphabet” as a tool. Please follow the below steps as given. They might feel very strange but stick with it:

  1. Watch “The Alphabet” again, if you’ve already watched it. Don’t try to “understand” it. Simply watch it in all its jarring and weird aesthetic. Again, don’t try to make sense of it. If you try to understand it, you’ll likely attempt to put it in your learned “conventional” box and this will diminish its mind-altering effects. Just let your mind feel jumbled. If you are of legal age and like to have a cocktail, glass of wine, beer, go ahead and have a drink before watching it. 
  2. Now, think on a mindless activity you were forced to learn for your own good and that of society, such as learning your alphabet. As a child, you likely learned the alphabet song. You repeated it over and over until it was something you could never forget. You could vomit alphabets, regurgitate it in your sleep, bleed alphabets and dream alphabets. What other conventional necessity did you learn that became so essential to your state of being that it is fluid like blood and air. Be emotionally honest with yourself as you consider this convention. What parts of this convention are helpful? What parts do you resent? For instance, you likely learned to drive, and now maybe that learned convention you loved so much at the time has become an hour and a half commute to work and home from work. Every day. Ugh. 
  3. Next, watch “The Alphabet” again. While you watch, hold this moment of necessary and resented convention lightly in your mind. Allow a juxtaposition to form within the landscape of the short film, either in whole or part. As you do this, consider the different “landscapes” or “chapters”: (a) the girl in the bed, (b) the face with sunglasses, (c) the progressive alphabet schematic, (d) the ping pong ball, (e) the room with bleeding head, (f) the nose-chin. As you do this, do not worry about whether or not anything makes sense or connects perfectly. If a connection happens, get writing! If a connection does not pop out at you, no worries. Follow the next step.
  4. Go back to the short film and choose one of the strange sections as focus, whichever one of the “landscapes” is most interesting to you in some way.
  5. Make a list of attributes. For instance, if you choose the nose-chin, describe the nose-chin, list what you see. There are no right or wrong answers here. Simply make a list of the image, the details, the strangeness.
  6. Now, imagine that strange image from Lynch’s short film magically plays on the wall of your living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom… You’ve just returned home from work after participating in that long drive home, after brushing your teeth for the millionth time, after using the bathroom or calling your mother or any number of relentless conventional practices you learned as a child or young adult and continue to exercise. You see this strange image on your wall. What do you do? Write this in first person. You are the first person protagonist dealing with this strange occurrence after such a familiar and resented practice. How might these two relate? Diverge? What does this mean to your protagonist?

* Do not stress if your narrative feels jumbled in the first draft. Just go with it. Use the second and third drafts to sculpt and begin to make sense. It’s okay for early drafts to feel out of control. This “out of control” attribute in our early drafts is an excellent place to be for innovative writers.


Below, briefly describe how this mind-altering writing exercise feels? Is it uncomfortable? Does it bring up some things you’ve not before considered? 

Lesson No. 1: Creating a Cinematic Story with Kevin Del Principe

The best way to learn screenwriting is to actually write a screenplay. You will write a 5-page screenplay in proper format by the end of the course.

So often producers of content get caught in the allure of style/vision at the top of the pyramid. In other words, people sometimes get stuck on the genre they intend to explore in their story or their auteur sensibility or the way a film “should” be shot. I always guide storytellers to start at the bottom of the pyramid—character—and work their way up. Check out the breakdown on each level of the pyramid below.


Storytelling Pyramid


We usually pay attention to stories because we’re interested in the main character. We may not always like the main characters we watch, but we can’t turn away from them either. Most often, we call the main character our protagonist.

A protagonist’s inner conflict can be thought of as the engine of a story. Inner conflict develops when a person wants one thing but needs something else. Great conflict develops when what the character wants and needs is in direct opposition. For example: I may think that I want to be alone, but I may need to accept the importance of the relationships in my life.

External Conflict exists outside of our main character but certainly affects him or her. An external conflict might develop if another character wants something different from our protagonist. That other character, often called an antagonist, may become an obstacle to our protagonist getting what he or she wants as they both struggle to achieve their objective. External conflict may also include the character’s environment. Imagine your character living on a planet with a layer of lava all over the surface!

The story is the who, what, where, when, and why of the entire happening you wish to share with the world.

Plot is different then story, though storytellers occasionally get them confused. Plot is exactly what you choose to show on the screen and the manner that you show it.

Vision/Style pertains to your specific artistic sensibility. It may pertain to the genre of the piece or the tone at which you attempt to covey it. I don’t in any way intend to minimize the value of vision. Many screenwriters would benefit from thinking more about vision as they write. Film is a visual medium first and auditory medium second. Always consider how you want your film to be seen and heard.

Last but not least we must address theme. Note that some writers begin with character first when formulating their story. Others begin with theme and work toward a character that furthers that theme. The theme is that connective tissue that holds the entire story together. What is your story about in simple terms or even in a single word? I think it’s fair to say the great director Elia Kazan talked about the theme of a story when he used the word “spine.” As writers who will likely direct our own work at some point, we can learn a great deal from strong directors. As you read the passage below from Kazan’s essay Style and Spine that can be found in the book Kazan On Directing, replace “director” with “writer” in your mind. Kazan writes, “The Study of the script should result in a simple formulation that sums up the play in one phrase, a phrase that will be a guide for everything the director does. He begins with the simple words: “For me, this play is about…” The phrase should delineate the essence of the action that transpires on stage; it should reflect what is happening, what the characters are doing. It must imply, effort, progression, transition, MOVEMENT. The concept must suggest not only the events, but the play’s mood and color, its emotional landscape and form. It is to serve as the key to the production, what will give it unity.” For you, consider what the spine of your story might be? Choose active verbs rather than passive ones as you come up with your phrase.



Come up with two premises. Focus on the essentials: theme, main character’s want versus need, setting/atmosphere of the world, and pivotal external conflict. Limit yourself to only two major characters. Each premise should be no longer than one paragraph. Do not exceed more than 250 words per premise. Feel free to share your premises below. Eventually, you will select one premise to expand into a short script.


Kevin Del Principe

The son of a snowplow truck driver and a nurse, Kevin Del Principe grew up in Buffalo, New York. He first cut his teeth working as a schoolteacher while also producing plays and publishing poetry. He later moved to Los Angeles to pursue writing for film and to earn his MFA in Screenwriting at the University of Southern California. During his time at USC, Kevin was a finalist for Script Pipeline’s Student Screenwriting Competition. Since graduation, he continues to write, direct, produce, and teach. Kevin currently teaches screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University. He specializes in short screenplay writing, creating online content, feature writing, and rewriting.