Be warned. Playhouse is a slow-burn haunted castle story. In fact, I'd say it's a very slow burn. Luckily, that's right in my wheel house, so I loved it. It's eerily similar in tone and theme to the far superior film by Kubrick, The Shining, based on King's novel. But, in spite of any shortcomings in the film itself (which I thought were minimal though plenty of folks felt differently, as you can check on the Rotten Tomatoes site) it had a particular exchange at the beginning of Act II I think has a lot to say about the writing process, at least in the way I embrace that process.
The plot, for context -- Jack and his daughter Bee have bought a Scottish castle (it's beautiful) and Jack is determined to write an interactive play based on the castle's supernatural legend that will take guests through the castle and bring him bags and bags of cash. Just down the road lives Jenny, the granddaughter of the women who actually was a part of the story that became legend. She wants Jack to abandon his idea for the sake of her family's rest and memories.
Jack invites Jenny and her husband Callum to dinner, where they have an exchange in which Callum compares people's lives to a wheelie bin (rubbish bin). We just want to put that stuff away and get it out of our minds, but that's where Callum thinks we're all doing it wrong.
He says, "We need to look closely at what's in the rubbish, go through it and find what's in there that might be..."
"Rubbish," Jenny replies.
A few seconds later, Callum continues: "Take Jack. Jack's got his own troubles, his own rubbish. You're a writer, I imagine you use it to write. Can't write without reflection, some self examination, can you?"
"Oh, you can," Jack responds, clearly in love with his own wit and delivery.
"Well, you can," Callum counters, "but it wouldn't be any good, would it? All you have to do is you have to go back to your life, examine your rubbish and turn it into fuel."
As a writer, I love this exchange. It's why even though Callum isn't much of writer (though he fancies himself a playwright later in the film), it shows that he understands the truth of what a writer pulls from better than the previously published -- notoriously so -- and best-selling Jack does.
All that so-call rubbish, all that discarded psyche waste, that's where some of our best ideas come from. Maybe not even as stories, though sometimes they do, but particularly as drive, nuggets, little kernels that will pop their way into plots and characters if we go back to those wheelie bins every once in a while and face our true selves.
But fiction is supposed to be an escape, I hear all the time, and that's often true. But only for the reader. The reader has the freedom to use our work as escape. We writers don't get that luxury. We go deep and figure out who we are as we work.
I hear other writers tell me that they never approached writing themes and tones and undercurrents consciously or intentionally, but as they look back, they see them there, all over the work like fingerprints anyway.
There's no hiding it.
That stuff we may not willingly face makes itself known in our stories whether we welcome it or not. Characters act in certain ways. Plots lean toward darkness or light or melancholy or joy. Themes like sacrifice and heroism and even failed redemption beat their way to the surface and make us face them.
It's the DNA of writing. And Callum had the guts to face it. Jack didn't, and, well, watch the movie and see what happened because of that failure on his part.