What writers can learn from the life and career of Carrie Fisher
On December 26, 2016, my wife and I went to see the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The next morning I learned that Carrie Fisher had died. Like most people, I knew her for her iconic performance as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. Her obituary revealed so much more:
- Worked steadily as an actress from 1975 through to her death
- Author of several semi-autobiographical novels, including Postcards from the Edge
- Wrote the screenplay for the film of the book
- Starred in an autobiographical one-woman play
- Author of the non-fiction book, Wishful Drinking, based on her play
- Spoke about her experiences with bipolar disorder and drug addiction
- Mental health advocate
- Script doctor
All these items are impressive, but the last one caught my attention: script doctor. As the title suggests, a script doctor is someone who comes in to fix the screenplays of other writers. In short, when a screenplay is good but not working as well as it should, a script doctor reworks it to make it shine.
Carrie Fisher’s Wikipedia page says she was “one of the top script doctors in Hollywood.” Who would have thought? According to her Wikipedia page and her IMDB bio, here are some of the movies she worked on as a script doctor:
- Sister Act
- Lethal Weapon 3
- Last Action Hero
- The River Wild
- The Wedding Singer
- Coyote Ugly
- My Girl 2
- Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
- Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
- Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith
- Milk Money
- Love Affair
- Made in America
I’ve seen all but one of these flicks. In a lot of them she worked on dialogue or to develop a specific character. She worked as a script doctor for about fifteen years and said that at that time it was lucrative work (but apparently not so much anymore).
Carrie Fisher was known primarily as an actress, but she was also an author of books—both fiction and nonfiction—and screenplays, a script doctor, and an advocate. From her example, I have four takeaways for authors:
- Diversify our income stream. (She earned money as an actress, author, and script doctor.)
- Write in multiple genres. (She wrote fiction, nonfiction, and scripts.)
- Capitalize on our strengths. (She had a knack for dialogue and character development.)
- Use whatever platform we have to be a voice for what we’re passionate about. (She was able to use her popularity to talk about mental health issues and substance abuse.)
Thank you, Carrie Fisher. You entertained me and taught me about writing.
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Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.