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Ken Pisani: How I Write

"If I’m just writing jokes, that’s not very gratifying. I want to find human truths. "

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Ken Pisani
Credit: CoCo Knudson

Ken Pisani is a screenwriter, television writer, playwright, and the author of the highly praised graphic novel Colonus. He’s now adding “novelist” to his impressive list of accomplishments. Amp’d is the story of Aaron, who suffers the loss of his left arm after a car accident. Faced with adversity, Aaron tries to deal with the resulting challenges in his life. Pisani skillfully weaves together compelling and flawed characters, complicated family dynamics, and relatable feelings and struggles. With Amp’d, Pisani has created an engrossing and witty read that explores the human condition. He is adapting the book into a television series that is currently being developed.



It was the idea of overcoming adversity. I don’t innately believe that when bad things happen, you overcome it. I think those are the exceptions. I wanted to explore that. When a terrible thing happens, most of us are not necessarily going to become a better person. I wanted to give him small victories.


Balancing accuracy with comedy

Truth be told, because the missing arm was really a metaphor for “feeling suddenly diminished” (my own feelings on turning 50 that I was exploring), I wanted to pursue it strictly as (humorous) fiction and not have to attempt any real accuracy in portraying such a condition. So I did not pursue any actual case studies for research, but instead made that attempt – literally tying one hand behind my back! – to feel a tiny modicum of what it might be like.



Dark humor

It’s hard to find the balance. Writers are sadists, and we want to put the protagonist through a lot. What makes it comedy is perspective. If I’m just writing jokes, that’s not very gratifying. I want to find human truths. You can be funny, but you can’t lose the humanity.


Realistic dialogue

I feel lucky. I hear them talking to each other, and they’ll steer the conversation. They take over. You start to know your characters. Figure out who they are and be honest with them. You do know what they’re going to say, and you’re just writing them truthfully. It might be funnier or advance the plot if mom says or does this, but you realize she wouldn’t, so you stick to what works.



Serious subjects in comedy

Because the novel is (mostly) comedy, I admit to also feeling reluctant for anyone I might have approached to subsequently feel like I was making fun of them, when the opposite is true: I have enormous respect for anyone dealing with such a disability.


Writing routine

I never heard of word count before writing the book. I started counting words and then realized when you write a TV pilot, it’s 40 pages, and a movie is 100. That’s very attainable. You can blow through them. It might not be great, but you can do it, and then fix it. It’s not like that with prose. It’s a killer, so I stopped counting. If you just do a page a day, you’ll have a novel. Don’t take off the next nine days if you do five or six pages in one day. Be consistent.



Allison Futterman is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.


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