Write Stuff: Getting Started

In which I begin a new series on writing

Chet Haase
5 min readJun 3, 2024
Word.

Last Fall, I started an MFA (Masters of Fine Arts ) in screenwriting, with a focus on comedy. The program is at DePaul, in conjunction with Second City. Chicago may seem like an odd place for a screenwriting program (New York and LA being the heart of theater, late-night, and Hollywood), but it’s a natural place for comedy, given the history of Second City, iO, and multiple other improv, sketch, and standup performance venues and training centers.

This change is a left turn (or maybe a right turn) in my life, as I quit my job and career in tech to pursue this new direction. On the other hand, I’ve been writing and performing comedy as a hobby for many years, so it’s not completely new to me (though screenwriting is). But what is new is the ability and time to focus on this domain exclusively, and to think about storytelling in a way that I never have before.

From an early age, I was an avid reader. I was always the nerd in the room holding a book while everyone else was holding a conversation. I always had a book with me, just in case I had time to bury my face in it. It was my smartphone of that time; an escape from the reality happening around me. I loved stories and novels, and eventually dreamed of one day being a writer. I even made some runs at it in college. But time passed, career and life interfered, and writing took a long break.

Eventually (when blogging started to take off, in the early 2000's), I returned to writing, first with technical articles, then with much more. But I was never able to figure out the leap from short pieces (essays, short stories, humor and technical articles) to long-form novels. There’s something about a story arc dragging the reader all the way to the end that I was never been able to crack on my own. Part of my return to school was to conquer that unknown.

“But wait,” you say, “Aren’t you in a screenwriting program? What’s this about novels?”

Yes, observant fictional reader, you are correct. My interest and focus prior to this program was all about writing, and novels were the expression of my storytelling desire. But I see screenplays (and the movies and television shows they end up as) as just a different form of storytelling. In fact, some of the better books I’ve read seem like a screenplay when I read them; the authors do such a good job of painting the story that you can visualize it through the text on the page.

Also, at their core, novels and scripts both have the same basic function: telling stories. They have different ways of accomplishing this (some of which I hope to get into in this series that I have yet to introduce). Prose writing (e.g., novels) relies more on dialog and descriptions, whereas scripts minimize dialog and maximizes visual methods of storytelling. But they both need and tell narratives (including multiple parallel narratives) that give the reader something to care about as they continue to consume what the writer put down on the page.

Thus when I was looking for a school program that catered to my interests, I wasn’t looking for screenwriting per se. But when I found this program at DePaul, I realized it was the only one that offered both the storytelling piece I was missing (albeit in this new-to-me screenwriting form) along with a focus on comedy. So I was all in.

I am now nearing the end of my first year in the program, taking classes which span screenwriting fundamentals to television to movies, as well as comedy writing techniques, all of which I hope will result in my being able to tell the long comic stories I’ve wanted to write for most of my life.

In the meantime, I am learning tools of the trade. I thought it would be wise, being the lifelong student that I am, to make note of thoughts that I have—epiphanies if you will—as I learn them in class, in assignments, and in my life as I soak in this program. It turns out that writing things down helps to process and internalize information. And I thought it might be worth sharing these thoughts, as long as I was writing them anyway.

Welcome to the result: In this series, I plan to write short pieces which expound on small elements that I learn along the way, about writing, about reading, about stories, about performance, about comedy, about the business, about… whatever it is I happen to learn. I know that it will be useful to me to make these notes; it’s helps me process what I learn. I hope that it will be useful to others as well. Maybe you are going through a similar journey, or thinking about doing so. Or writing casually for fun. Or just randomly searching on the web for something to read about writing.

You can obviously learn this stuff elsewhere, probably an infinity of elsewheres, on the web, in class, in books, and just by doing your own explorations. But it will be honest and heartfelt; these are the lessons I learn by actually sitting down to do the work, as I go from being a part-time writer to a full-time one, and from a writer of short pieces and premises to a writer of stories, novels, shows, movies, and… anything with compelling, human, funny material.

I often find, when reading writing advice by wizened masters of the craft, that it’s all a bit too daunting. It is them telling you what they think now, after having spent a life honing their craft and selling zillions of bestsellers all over the world. The chasm between them and me is unfathomable, so how can that advice apply to me at my earlier stage of writing? I hope that information imparted as I learn it might be more, uh, fathomable.

Continue reading with the next installment: The Spec Script

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Chet Haase

Past: Android development Present: Student, comedy writer Future: ???