#2. Your Diet
In your mind:
Maybe you wanted to lose weight, or have more energy, or just introduce some discipline in your life. Whatever the reason is, you've recently changed your diet drastically. You eat six small meals a day instead of three large ones. You've cut out gluten, or beef. You've stopped drinking caffeine, or alcohol. You've studied up on diets, you've done the research, you read that book about eating animals (whatever it's called) and it's changed your life. The food you eat now is different from the food you used to eat and, you imagine, everyone is no doubt curious.
In everyone else's mind:
"I also eat certain things, and don't eat other certain things. And check me out, here I am. Not talking about it. Neat, right?"
When you go on a diet, the part of your brain that reminds you that no one cares what you eat dies. Instantly. Before a diet, you would never run down the meals you have, or explain to a room of disinterested people exactly how many calories you're allowed to have in a day, or list off the foods that you can't normally eat (but can every other Sunday, as a reward for your discipline). People who aren't on diets only talk about food when they're either cooking or eating it, and the conversation usually begins and ends with "I am eating this thing currently and am experiencing pleasure in doing so. Ordering it was one of my better decisions."
There's almost always a philosophy to go along with a diet, so the listener is never just hearing a list of foods you won't eat. He's hearing a list of foods you won't eat, and the reasons why you won't eat them, and the impact that this decision has made on your life. Maybe there are moral reasons for not eating certain foods. Or maybe you saw something on the Discovery Channel about digestion that was a real game changer in the bread department. Whatever the reason is, you will explain it to them. You'll explain the science. You'll tell stories about how they treat the farm animals before they slaughter them. You'll talk about how much cleaner your skin is, or how much better your urine smells now that you've finally stopped eating any animal that makes a "cute" noise. And the listener will just patiently nod and wait for you to be done, so he can follow up the conversation by not talking about why he eats what he eats (it tastes good).
There are plenty of times when talking about your diet is completely appropriate. If someone asks you about your diet, for example. Also, if ... Well, I guess I kind of overshot it with "plenty," that's basically the one time it's appropriate.
#1. Your In-Progress Novel/Screenplay/Pilot/Bullshit
[Note: A lot of the folks who read this site are also writers, and they're the exception. A lot of writers do enjoy hearing about and workshopping ideas with other writers. You folks can skip this entry.]
In your mind:
You have ideas. You have ideas, man. The next great American novel? You know what it's going to be about, because you're going to write it, soon, probably. The TV pilot that's going to shift the tone of television and change the game forever? You see it clearly, because it's all in your head already. The screenplay that's going to make everyone fall in love with movies again? You've got the title page done, baby!
Tell them. Tell the world about the thing that you will someday write, even though right now it's just an assortment of ideas and sequences and a few character names. It doesn't matter, just tell people. Tell them!Tell them of the things you will do!
In everyone else's mind:
Hey. Yes. Cool. Shut the fuck up.
You're dealing with ideas. People like things. Most people would be happy to read your in-progress novel, or a few scenes out of your screenplay or the first act of your play. That's actually a fun, worthwhile experience. What isn't a fun, worthwhile experience is hearing about the novel that you're "thinking about writing." Because everyone's thinking about writing a novel, and everyone has "an idea for a sweet movie kickin' around in my head that I just need get on paper." Everyone. Because it's really easy to think about writing a novel, and even easier to talk about writing a novel, and really hard to actually do it. If your novel is as clear as you say it is in your head, then write it down and give it to your friends. Until you've actually produced something, you're just working with vague ideas and half-formed characters, and a few concepts and themes you're planning on someday maybe working into a screenplay. No one wants a movie described to them, they want to go to a movie, or read a script.
And your idea might be incredible. Your outer-space/detective pilot that bends genres and challenges what the medium is even capable of accomplishing could be amazing, or your musical about time travel could be what saves Broadway from financial ruin, but until you actually make something, you're just telling your friends about something that might be awesome, someday. Maybe.
That actually -- it's weird to bring this up, but we're talking about screenplays and stuff -- but that actually reminds me of my novel. It's about- Well, it will be about (I haven't really had a chance to get it down on paper yet, I've been really busy because of, like, the economy, and I just moved recently, and 9/11 and so forth), vampires. Or, no, it's not "about" vampires, but there are vampires in it. And it's not trying to cash in on the vampire craze right now, or anything, I'm only using vampires as the protagonists because there are a lot of parallels among traditional vampires and the protagonists of early Russian literature, and that's sort of part of the inspiration for the whole thing. I needed some way to represent those tragic protagonists in a modern, fantastic setting, and vampires were just the clear choice. But it's not about Russia, it's definitely an American story but with, like, a noir edge, like those Raymond Chandler detective stories, although this novel isn't a detective story. But there IS one detective in it, who happens to be a vampire, and I guess that makes it kind of like Angel, but not really, though I'd be lying if I said that show wasn't an influence, an indirect influence, you know? That character- Well, it's hard to describe him because I haven't actually written him down yet, his name is either Carthyle the Conqueror or Jimmy McClaren, I haven't decided, but he's (going to be) a pretty cool character, I think. I don't know if he's a good guy or a bad guy yet, but I know at one point there's going to be a fire where he is, at his apartment or detective agency or whatever, and I'm not sure how the fire starts, but I know that I want a scene where he turns to the girl he's with at the time and the girl is like. "You can't jump out that window, you'll die" and he'll say, "Death, huh? Well, I been lookin' for a change of pace I suppose," and then he dives out the window (and he's fine).
Anyway I think you'd really like it.
Daniel O'Brien is Cracked.com's Senior Writer (ladies), and he would love to tell you more about his novel, Notes from the Underworld (lady publishers).
For more from Dan, check out Nicolas Cage: A Career In (Baffling) Pictures and Diary of a Confused White Man: Who the Hell is Tyler Perry?.