My name is Justin M. Lesniewski, and I want to witness the farce.

While the world has been trying to Keep up with the Kardashians (and before that the Osbornes and before that the Kennedys and before that the Rockefellers), I’ve been assembling myself. (Not that I’ve been around since the turn of the 19th Century. It was a joke. You know what? Knock it off. YOU GET THE POINT.)

Well, I’ve been doing that and learning about the power of words.

From the moment I started reading, story has been my primary means of human connection. When I craft a fictional world, I do so to show myself what is possible because the real world is becoming increasingly farcical. My words stand as a testament to the truth as I see it, and I hope others find solace in them in the same way I’ve found solace in the words of others.

I think I figured it out.

Welcome to The Midside.

Education

Bancroft School Worcester, MA High School Diploma 2001
Ithaca College Ithaca, NY BA Writing (Creative Emphasis, Philosophy Minor) 2005
Clemson University Clemson, SC MA Professional Communication (Teaching Emphasis) 2008

Projects and Writing Samples

Podcast
How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse Web Series
WTF Short Story
Castle “Paranoia” Spec Script
Looters “Pilot Pursuit” Hour Long Drama Pilot Script
Lessthan3 “#20Cents” Sitcom Pilot Script

Contact Info

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Writing Philosophy

I’m an audience member before I’m a writer, so I always ask myself one question before I write: Why should I spend my time engaging with this story? My answer tells me if I’m onto something good. If I’m bored by something, my audience most certainly will be. If I’m not enjoying creating something, they’re never going to enjoy consuming it. This approach has led me to Romanticism “where the notion of eternal models, a Platonic vision of ideal beauty, which the artist seeks to convey, however imperfectly, on canvas or in sound, is replaced by a passionate belief in spiritual freedom, individual creativity” (Isaiah Berlin).

At its core, Romanticism is the celebration of the essential of human life–individualism. While we work, cohabitate, and associate with other people, life is ultimately an individual experience. We eat, sleep, breath, think, and feel on our own. Classically, artist focused on the last item in that list, feeling, shaping conventional style.

The contemporary prevalence of Naturalism is a result of a self-effacing perspective on human existence. Naturalism is a style that seeks to capture our emotions and their source–our unique, uncontrollable experiences that are above criticism. This supposed infallibility of experience is a consequence of the acceptance of Relativism. The belief that truth is relative arose from the specious observation that if we’re each taking different data from the world, then we must each be observing different worlds.  Thus, it’s impossible for us to understand or come to a consensus on reality (as everyone’s is different), so our feelings are what matter most.

I don’t agree with this line of reasoning. While no one can take your experience away from you, the overlap in all of our experiences is reality. How we share and communicate our unique experiences to find that overlap with others is an important part of being human.

Romanticism allows me to portray the overlap in a compelling, passionate, and thought-provoking way. By demanding that certain elements of plot, character, and setting be highlighted and built around the characters’ choices (rather than their reactions), I can craft a more cohesive and representational narrative that the audience identifies with on an experiential level and contemplates on an intellectual one.

I favor premises where the protagonists are placed in situation that is removed from reality to the point that the audience feels comfortable enough to invest in the story yet close enough to reality that the audience can see the similarities to their own life. Conventionally, science fiction/fantasy is the genre that allows for this type of approach, though comedy often features exaggerated situations in service of drawing humor out of the absurdities of life.

Protagonists who struggle with inner doubts while on a quest to prove themselves inspire me most. In an individual life, and American culture, your most powerful ally is often your harshest critic–yourself. At least, that’s been my experience. Heroes who bust in and save the day without a hitch are fun, but not as intellectually engaging as those who need to reconcile something with themselves and reality before they’re successful. A victory is more satisfying if you rise to the occasion rather than coast on inertia.

Basically, as the conventional wisdom says, I write what I know. The best I can do is attempt to find the overlap between my experiences and yours and present it in an engaging and intelligent manner. I’m not trying to change anyone’s life, but if one person in a hundred million who’s going through a struggle relates, that’s great.

Influences and Favorites

LOST

Upon its initial airing, the series quickly became my all-time favorite and inspired my dream of becoming a television showrunner rather than a novelist. From the second season to the finale, I wrote an episodic column that analyzed the themes, characters, and mythology. This exercise helped me understand the different considerations that need to be taken into account when crafting a television show, as well as increased my depth of understanding of my own writing philosophy. James “Sawyer” Ford remains my favorite character from any work of fiction ever, and I still think Season One is the greatest season of television ever (so far).

House

In many ways, Dr. Gregory House is similar to Sawyer from LOST. In important ways, his show differs from Sawyer’s. House excels in balancing episodic stories and serialized arcs. The cases House solves also help him solve himself (or his team solve themselves). Additionally, the thematic integration in each episode and season is phenomenal. Each episode builds on each other to create seasons which build on each other to culminate in one of the best, and my favorite, series finales.

Survivor

Host and Executive Producer Jeff Probst once said that the greatest challenge facing his show is telling the same story differently each time. They’ve done so wonderfully over an absurd amount of seasons. Their secret is the integration of theme and character to explain why the plot happens the way it does. This way, though they have the same outcome every season (someone wins) the why is different–and that why teaches the audience something about how to survive in their own lives. In its best moments, the show is a superior example of Romanticism, and I’ve spent a lot of time discussing and writing about the production team’s storytelling technique.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Though I watched the Next Generation, Voyager, and Enterprise, Deep Space Nine is the only Star Trek series I ever loved and probably the first show I ever loved. It’s also the first show that introduced me to serialized storytelling in television, as it was one of the first shows to ever rely on the technique. This approach allowed greater character growth and thematic integration–and sparked my imagination as to how intense and intimate stories can be.

Bryan Fuller

Arguably the greatest writer to come out of the Star Trek stable, Fuller mainly wrote for Voyager. He has recently returned to the franchise as the showrunner for the new series. What elevates him to another level is his ability to perfectly pace multi-season arcs, create realistic and intelligent characters, blend drama with comedy, and never waste a word of dialogue on superfluous statements. His protagonists are also almost exactly the type I strive for. They all possess exceptional ability yet struggle with their right to live for some reason–life and death being an overall theme in his work. Hannibal is a masterwork in this regard as it portrays a great man’s struggle to ward off evil.

Manny Coto

What has most impressed me about Coto is not his original work, though Odyssey 5 is phenomenal, but his work within already established stories. When he took over as showrunner of Enterprise and joined the staffs of 24 and Dexter, he added a level of depth and integration that wasn’t previously present. On Enterprise particularly, he fit everything together as if it were a pre-designed puzzle–even elements from the seasons when he wasn’t working on the show. Most impressively, he is able to flesh out character’s psychologies consistently and compellingly, explaining why they are who they are and why they do what they do. That talent was most apparent on 24 and Dexter, as his joining the shows saw the narrative begin to explore the protagonists histories and psychologies on a deeper level.

Steven Moffat

If anyone is the master of the plot mechanic, it’s Moffat. His narratives are always winding, complex, and clever–and always feature a payoff. From Coupling where he played with the mechanics of sitcoms to Doctor Who and its alinear timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly narrative, everything Moffat has done challenges other writers to stop writing simple and clichéd plots. In fact, he admits to sometimes getting “grief” for his writing being too complicated. I’ve experienced that as well and completely agree with his response to the critique.

“I’m always quite concerned about [the philosophy], ‘Let’s make television that people can do the ironing during.’ Let them sit down. Let them concentrate. That seems to work. You bond with something more if it makes you sit up and pay attention. If it becomes something you can do during the ironing, I think you lose touch with the audience. If people shake their fists and say, ‘It’s too complicated,’ at least they’re shaking their fists.”

Joss Whedon

With everything else on my list, you probably guessed Whedon would appear on it somewhere. (Well, you were right, but not simply because I sometimes Geek Out.) Whedon creates exactly what I mean by premises removed enough (yet close enough to) reality. Buffy The Vampire Slayer used magic to thematically portray the struggles of high school life. Angel did the same for young adult life in a major city. Firefly used space travel to thematically portray the difficulty of balancing freedom and government. Whedon also creates and develops unique, interesting, and intelligent characters on an unparalleled level. I still love Anya, Lorne, and Mal Reynolds as much as when I first watched their shows.

Zack Snyder

If you’re looking for  the super modern Romanticist, look no further. From his Dawn of the Dead remake to Man of Steel, Snyder’s use of aesthetics and characterization is absolutely perfect. The first time I ever heard his name was when 300 was plastered all over MySpace when I was in undergrad. That aggressive advertising pitch made me hesitant to see the movie. I’m thankful a friend convinced me to. I was blown away by how every element in the movie worked together together to portray a singular, intellectually developed theme. Later reading how he uses music as inspiration and seeing how he included songs in Sucker Punch solidified my appreciation for him. He’s only paralleled by Christopher Nolan in his ability to meld stunning action and visuals with intelligent and important themes.

Ayn Rand

Perhaps the most controversial pick, Rand helped me perfectly phrase what I was already thinking. The Romantic Manifesto and The Art of Fiction are her works that have shaped me the most. Though I self-identify as an Objectivist, I do not identify with most other people who do so (nor do I identify with the people who critique her work). More often than not people attribute a lack of consideration and/or malevolence toward other people to her ideas–and that includes those people who claim to agree with her. I do not agree with such an attribution nor do I support an inconsiderate or malevolent approach to interacting with others.

Eminem

“The king of nonsense and controversy,” there’s much more to Eminem than swears, slurs, and sarcasm. If you’re looking for an in-depth discussion of the role of the self in the modern world, then he’s exactly where you should go. His brutal honesty and absurd wit are a carefully crafted skill to behold. Additionally, he’s also the most highly visible celebrity with a talent for wordsmithing–or, at least, he was at one point. The best way to show his influence is through his own words from his song “Legacy.”

“I used to be the type of kid that would always think the sky is fallin’
Now I think the fact that I’m differently wired’s awesome
Cause if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to work words like this and connect lines like crosswords”

Bill Belichick

There are many reasons to admire Belichick, the head coach of the New England Patriots, not the least of which is his situational approach to the game of football. This approach can be applied to life in general and most certainly writing. The word I use is “context.” The same actions and words can mean completely different things in different contexts. This concept has helped me focus my thinking and writing on how to limit the scope of my work and set realistic standards of quality for myself.. Whether you’re ready to write the first, next, or last line, you literally could write anything (the word or idea). What makes the line you write right or not is if it fits with what you’re trying to achieve, not an arbitrary standard of “good writing.”

Tom Brady

The inspiration I draw from the quarterback of the New England Patriots is not that he wins, but how. Famously, he was selected in the sixth round of the NFL draft before proving himself to his team and the world when the situation presented him with an opportunity. The hidden story is the effect being picked in the sixth round had on him. The following quote, from the documentary The Brady 6 about the six quarterbacks who were selected before him in the draft, is how I feel and what motivates me daily. Everything he does is to be a better football player. I strive to do the same with my life as a writer.

“It’s not really a chip on my shoulder. It’s just that feeling that, man, maybe nobody wants ya. When I watch myself play at times, I still don’t think I’m very good. ‘Man, you’re still not very fast. You know, you got a decent arm. You know, you made some pretty bad reads on that day.’ That’s what gets me up and motivates me. I always wanna feel like I’m the best quarterback for this team. I want to earn it every single day.”

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