2022 Writing Exercise Series #157: Erasing Roger Ebert 60 "Tommy Boy"

The 2022 Writing Series is a series of daily writing exercises for both prose writers and poets to spark their creative mind and to spur production of new pieces. The writing prompts take the impetus—that initial crystal of creation—out of your hands (for the most part) and changes your writing creation into creative problem solving. Instead of being preoccupied with the question "What do I write about" you are instead pondering "How do I make this work?" And in the process you are producing new writing.

This is not a standard writing session. This is pure production—to keep your brain thinking about using language to solve simple or complex problems. The worst thing you can do is sit there inactive—the point is to push, to produce something, however imperfect. If you don't overthink it, you will be able to complete all of the series' exercises in under 30 minutes. 

The Timer Method

If you're going with the timer method (which is certainly not required) I recommend setting four timers (these markers are if you're doing a 30 minute session): The First Timer for 5 minutes for a pre-writing reminder, if you do any planning or thinking on how those things can fit together or how to structure what you're doing, or to revisit your writer's notebook to remind yourself of anything you might have noted to write about 'in the future'. But mostly, to remind you not to overthink, not to delay the actual writing process. You should think at least a little about what the point of the piece will be (more in the third timer section) The Second Timer for 15 minutes which is the main writing time. Remember, don't overthink during this section. You're knocking out the piece. When this timer goes off it's not the end, but a signal that you'll be trying to wrap it up soon. The Third Timer for 5 minutes which is time to wrap up what you're writing. This is where you're making sure that you're tucking in any 'loose narrative threads' and getting to your conclusions. Remember, pieces should have some takeaway or 'point'. Some 'why'—a thing that the reader can point to if they're asking themselves "why did I read this?". The Fourth Timer for 5 minutes which is time for editing, for going back over the piece and giving it a 'once over' for typos. I highly suggest reading it aloud once at the beginning of the five minutes (or prior to starting the last timer). Then you'll use the time to fix things early on that you later changed, and to sprinkle in 'crumbs' which foreshadow or work well with later metaphors so that the piece feels more united.  

Erasing Roger Ebert 60 "Tommy Boy"

For today's exercise we have split paths for fiction and poetry, though I highly recommend that even fiction writers try the poetry exercise, because erasures can be a blast!

Poetry: For poetry do an erasure or black-out poem from the following:  Roger Ebert's review of the 1995 Chris Farley film "Tommy Boy" (One Star).

Roger Ebert has been the archetypal film critic for decades, and he's written thousands of reviews. Because of their nature, almost their own bit of ekphrastic art, this series of erasures will be lots of fun!

An Erasure/Blackout is really simple: you take the given text and remove many words to make it your own new piece. One way to go about the erasure that I like to do is to copy the text and paste it twice into your document before you start erasing or blacking out (in MS Word set the text background color to black), that way if you get further into the erasure and decide you want a somewhat different tone or direction, it's easy to go to the unaltered version and make the erasure/black-out piece smoother. Another tip is to look for recurring words, in this example 'bingo' occurs multiple times and could be a good touchstone for your piece.

Fiction or (poetry): If you insist on fiction (or just feel like writing a "Title Mania" piece), write a piece with one of these  titles taken from this section.

  1. Smudged with Soot
  2. An Assembly of Clichés
  3. Overjoyed
  4. Sneaking Up on Sleeping Cows
  5. The Lads Fall in the Mud
  6. As a Resentful Employee
  7. On the Domestic Front
  8. A Widower

Erasure Selection:

Roger Ebert's review of "Tommy Boy" 

"Tommy Boy" is one of those movies that plays like an explosion down at the screenplay factory. You can almost picture a bewildered office boy, his face smudged with soot, wandering through the ruins and rescuing pages at random. Too bad they didn't mail them to the insurance company instead of filming them.

The movie is an assembly of clichés and obligatory scenes from dozens of other movies, all are better. It has only one original idea, and that's a bad one: The inspiration of making the hero's sidekick into, simultaneously, his buddy, his critic and his rival.

It's like the part was written by three writers locked in separate rooms.

"Tommy Boy" stars Chris Farley of "Saturday Night Live," the guy with the size 23 neck, as Tommy Callahan, the dopey son of a Sandusky brake shoe manufacturer. His father, Big Tom (Brian Dennehy), is proud of him even though he squeaked through college in seven years, and supplies him with an office and big responsibilities when he comes back to Ohio. Meanwhile, there are startling developments on the domestic front, where Big Tom, a widower, is engaged to marry the bodacious Beverly (Bo Derek).

Young Tommy is overjoyed, because Beverly has a son, Paul (Rob Lowe), which means Tommy at last will have the brother he always dreamed of. Paul doubts there's much to do in Sandusky, but Tommy proves him wrong, introducing him to the favorite local pastime, "cow tipping," which means sneaking up on sleeping cows and tipping them over. In other hands this could have been the movie's only funny scene, but director Peter Segal doesn't have a clue about comic payoffs and bungles it before ending with the desperate director's ancient standby, as the lads fall in the mud.

The plot thickens. Or does it congeal? I began ticking off the story clichés: We'd already had (1) dumb son returns to family business and (2) unexpected stepmother. Soon we get (3) company gets in trouble and all workers will lose jobs, (4) it's up to the kid to save the day, (5) evil stepmother, (6) road movie and (7) buddy picture. The last two come as Tommy hits the road in a desperate last-minute bid to sell brake shoes, accompanied by his friend Richard (David Spade, also from "Saturday Night Live"). Richard has been introduced as a resentful employee who doesn't think Tommy should get such a quick promotion. Now he becomes a sidekick, critic, rival and buddy, all wrapped in one ungainly package.

The movie tries for laughs during the road trip, I'm afraid, by having Richard's car fall to pieces. First a deer destroys the convertible roof. Then a door comes loose. Then the hood flies off.

They drive down the highway in what's left. Those whose memories stretch all the way back . . . back . . . back to the dim past of 1987 will remember a similar demolished car in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," one of the many better movies this one rips off.

No one is funny in "Tommy Boy." There are no memorable lines. None of the characters is interesting except for the enigmatic figure played by Rob Lowe, who seems to have wandered over from "Hamlet." Judging by the evidence on the screen, the movie got a green light before a usable screenplay had been prepared, with everybody reassuring each other that since they were such funny people, inspiration would overcome them. It was Forrest Gump, I believe, who said, "Funny is as funny does."


If you'd like some background music to write to, try this "Shinto Shrine." lofi playlist from friends of the blog The Jazz Hop Café.