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January 12, 2012

Which get’s me thinking…

Overall I like the SciFi genre more then I do the Fantasy genre.  I used to think it was because Fantasy genre writes had it so easy, what with their near total freedom to create mystical problems and solutions at whim. They can, for instance, introduce an enchanted cloak that makes it’s wearer invisible. THAT certainly moves the story along, and you don’t even have to explain how the cloak makes one invisible, because it’s magic.  Don’t worry about it, it’s chock full of unicorn hair or something. Whatever.

But if I’m honest, a lazy SciFi writer can pull the same stunt. In an old dusty locker one can find a local optical disruption field generator. Just pin it to your lapel and bingo-bango, nobody can see you. Total bullshit.

What I really don’t like about Fantasy is that much of it revolves around this mystical version of Europe in the Middle Ages. I totally don’t care. I’ll swallow a lot of nonsense, but unless you’re talking about the black death, I don’t want to see some knights on horseback. That’s just super dorky.


Observatating

I’ve chosen to start re-watching the Harry Potter films in order to cull their creative secrets. I should be reading the books instead, and have indeed started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (cause philosopher’s aint american), but watching movies is a bit quicker. Since I’m trying to design a solid SciFi story with an adult protagonist, you might ask why I would be taking notes from a *shudder* coming of age fantasy series.

 

SO WHY HARRY POTTER?

Simply put I’m trying to learn how JK Rowling handled a multi-book, 7 year story arc. Seeing the characters evolutionary path transitioned-out over a long period of time makes it easier for me to pick apart all the steps involved. So far it’s been fruitful, research-wise, and I’m only through the second film. In my little notebook I jot down stuff like this;

– capture a moment where the protagonist consciously decides to begin the journey; a no going-back moment.

I realize this is a pretty common transitionary tool, but I’m making an effort to teach myself how stories are actually built. Nuts and bolts stuff. And besides having read a great deal in my life, I have no formal training when it comes to the art of story-smithing. So on top of evaluating books and movies for their tricks and revealing tips, I’m also reading about how authors work, which has been good. For instance I was very heartened to hear that JK Rowling planned out the   { S E V E N } books of the Harry Potter series over a { F I V E } year period before she sat down to write the first book. And that she wrote the last chapter of the final book before she even finished the first novel. For a non-writer this is heartening, because it pulls back the curtain a bit. My assumption has always been that if you’ve got ‘what it takes’ to be a writer then you sit down, type ‘Chapter 1’ and then write a logical, interesting, linear story from start to finish. But the more I read about how people actually write, the better I feel about the process being messy, plagued with fits and starts, and generally difficult to execute.

PLUS I learned what ‘ trope ‘ means. Now I know what my English-major friends have been talking about.

 


September 27, 2011

Gut-Check: FICTION WRITING

I like to write, but rarely finish anything. Recognizing that it’s difficult to get people to read an unfinished, poorly spelled heap of random thoughts, I’m developing some storytelling rules I need to start living by.

RULE 1: HAVE A PLAN

Currently I’m in a protracted period of research and planning for a story idea. Basically it’s Blade Runner but underground. In the past I’ve 1) had an idea I’m incredibly excited about, 2) jumped into writing with enthusiasm and much unfocused intensity, and 3) eventually stopped as the realization dawns that I have no real idea where the narrative is going. Having gone through this cycle a half a dozen times now I’ve decided to switch it up and actually plan out characters, locations, and a story ark prior to beginning writing. So rule one is; have a plan. Or just really, really hope your handful of good ideas will organically grow into a powerful narrative during the writing process. So for me, that means; have a plan.


RULE 2: IDENTIFY THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN IDEAS AND STORY
So, it’s cool right? I’ll just plan out the story in a simple outline and it will be the sturdy skeleton that all the dialogue and descriptions will hang on.  Because logically, writing a 10 to 20 page outline  has to be easier then penning an entire screenplay or book, right?  If this were math then yes. Yes it would be. But having begun that process over 6 months ago I’ve realized why my previous attempts had all ended with my staring at a monitor, feeling entirely confused. It is because I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing; as it turns out, creating a logical and entertaining narrative is damned difficult, and the length is kinda negligible. So rule two is; identify the difference between ideas and story.

RULE 3: SHUT UP AND DO IT RIGHT

At first glance, rule 2 is much easier then rule 1, because it doesn’t require that I actually create anything. Awesome. So I’ve been reading books on how to develop narrative, books on how the narratives I love were developed, listening to podcasts on how creative type’s plan and execute their work, and reading some sweet wikipedia re-caps of my favorite movies and books. This has been fun, and awfully informative. Time flies though, and looking back over the last couple of months I think I’ve written a total of 2 pages of outline. And about 75% of that was last weekend. So while I’m thrilled that I’m actually figuring out some of the story, I’m wondering if I could have spent that last few months just writing instead. What unexpected gems would I have unleashed if I had been creating instead of researching? Why am I bothering to pursue the academic when I could be gifting the world with my raw, uneducated art? And that brings us to rule 3: shut up and do it right. Art isn’t alchemy, and there’s a balance to strike between my enjoying the thrill of creation, and delivering something palatable to an audience. Simply put, I want to write because I have stories that I want to see read by other people. BUT to get to that point I have a great deal of learning and thinking to do. So while the writing is the really fun part of the process, for me that process needs to first include some research, planning, and the willingness to develop an actual narrative – not just a series of awesome events.

The thought behind all of this is that if you take the time up front to craft a narrative that works in a very short format, it’s likely going to work as something much much bigger. And if I’m honest, big is where I would like to be headed. I do a great deal of downplaying my own abilities, but I recognize that I have the wherewithal to learn, the willingness to change when something isn’t working, and the desire to see good narrative set to print. My stories need to be told, and I need to take that as seriously as anything else I choose to create.


June 8, 2011

Playing around with the very cool Scrippets plugin for WP;

 

EXT. FUTURE CITY -- NIGHT

TUPPER and PEARL are walking down a tiny, cluttered street.

TUPPER

This is wrong. Something is wrong here.

PEARL

If you stop walking they will kill you. Stay by my side and you’ll be safe.


“Perfection is the Enemy of Good Enough”

I’m in the process of learning how to develop a story concept in screenplay format. Towards that end I’m reading;
Writing a Great Movie: Key Tools for Successful Screenwriting by Jeff Kitchen (2006)
Lays out a pretty thorough explanation for the different elements that go into your typical 3 act screenplay. Elaborates on methods that allow you to better grow your characters, your plot, your conflict, and overall connect more deeply with your audience.

The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film by J.W. Rinzler (2007)
Mostly composed of cast and crew interviews which took place before the original Star Wars became hugely successful. The benefit for me is that George Lucas in particular was at that point very forthcoming about the long evolution of the original screenplay.  He was also very honest about his overall struggles with the creative process, and clearly layed out how he overcame those frustrations. It’s actually making me like him again, which after the the release of Episode’s 1 – 3 I thought I would never say.

Additionally I’ve begun taking notes on the plot and characters in an actual notebook (!) which seems deeply archaic, but has so far been pretty beneficial; I don’t get caught up in formatting or spelling, and since this is the ‘sausage making’ portion of the stories development, I don’t worry about others reading it. Before the notebook I had attempted to jump right into the writing using a screenplay format, which looked cool but wasn’t really resulting in good work. So instead I’m going to do my best to really map out the story, make a step outline, and when I have everything pretty much figured out (like who the bad guy is), then I’ll move forward with the screenplay.

This is all in an effort to avoid getting bogged down, caught up in non-critical details, and burned out. I’ve started and stopped writing half a dozen stories over the past 8 to 10 years, and am now in a process of constantly shifting strategies in hopes of finding a method that will allow me to actually finish something. Because that would be sweet.