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Story Writing Part 2 of 10: Our Little Village

Writer’s Blog, typedate 120305:09 (uh, movie spoilers?)

The first thing a story needs are characters, a setting and a “beginning.” And that’s in quotes because the beginning of a story can take place in the future and flash back to now, or sometime in the past, a story’s prologue. Good times, huh?

What a beginning of a story is supposed to do is introduce main characters and give you a status quo “land.” You have to identify with someone in a society and see the story thru them. If a movie starts with a traffic jam, you’re going to see your character break from the pack. Your eye is drawn to it and likely that’s the person that’s going to be followed. Or a herd of animals, same thing. Or one of the robots falls off the factory conveyor belt.

There are a lot of great examples of starts, but here are a few terrible ones.

One of the most overused story beginnings is someone waking up and getting out of bed. It’s hack and lazy and you’re better than that. You may have thought of a dozen examples of this. The first thing I thought of is the student who of course wakes up late for school. And what does he do when he brushes his teeth? See, predictability can be terrible for a story.

Most movies have 15 minutes to reel you in, that’s what studios decide what gets filmed. At the same time, that intro has to make the “before” horrible but exciting at the same time. There are going to be changes in the story to amazing people, places and things, but you have to contrast it to the boring day-to-day life can be for “the masses.” your story will stand out from that.

Some movies take the approach that everything does seem great and incredible and everything works, but then there’s problems people don’t address that character(s) will uncover.

Whoville is great, but the Grinch is watching nearby. Everyone is cruising along on the Enterprise and then the ship takes a dump, to no fault of their own. It’s a space anomaly. This Jurassic Park place is a cool idea! Too bad it’s going to be torn all to shit because you messed with nature.

A cool way I like for a story to begin is often done in Star Trek, which I will try not to over refer to. But everything is going along fine and then a character(s) will do something completely bizarre, but people will go on as if everything is okay. Did you see that? What the hell did they say/ do? Am I the only one seeing this horrific thing going on? And you spend the next 40 minutes trying to figure out what the nefarious space thing did to the crew, their memories or location.

They got that from Twilight Zone, which is something everyone needs to see who starts writing. Sometimes an ordinary person gets a supernatural power. Sometimes the enemy is Earth, or humans! You have to start with “normality,” so people can see the contrast in the story’s changes.

Another cool beginning I like is the “failed mission.” A lot of spy stories and cop shows start like this. Someone falls victim to a calamity, and our protagonists will have to find out and/or avenge what happened. A ship is destroyed and then our ship comes merrily along, unaware there’s a space shredder coming up. Someone is lost and they have to be found. Are they even alive? Sometimes, they are not. Someone loses a battle and the threat is in the wind and has to be stopped.

Sometimes this is called a teaser. James bond can be finishing an unrelated mission. Sometimes a person/ crew will get attacked and fail very thoroughly and horribly only to reveal it’s a training mission (they will have to get better at later). It’s also a chance to show your favorite characters get killed in a sequel, but not get killed.

Next time, we develop the needs of your characters, good bad and evil.

 

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2013/03/05 Posted by | Writing course in 10 sessions | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

20130220:15 Let’s write a story, part 1 of 10

Writer’s Blog, blank screen date: 130220:15

Of TEN, how’s that for commitment? Really, the segments I’ve studied break down to 8 parts, but I need this entry to explain my dilemmas and a thing at the end for the inevitable things I’d forget and or updates with situations therein.

I have read about and studied screenwriting and play writing. I have taken courses in college and have more film books than I can read. Honestly, history gets a little dry, which makes no sense. By definition history should be interesting if not exciting.

Currently I’m reading about just that, making every sentence exciting, losing those participals I keep dangling and extraneous prepositions.

Most films and plays follow a 3 act structure, but that’s odd to me. It’s too brief, too simple, but every act has a ton of elements in them. Tv is structured like that, half hour and hour shows, but none of them are formatted that way. They’re formatted to commercial breaks.

A half hour show has a lead in, opening credits, 3 commercials and closing credits. That’s at least 4-5 segments of story, each of which has to have a “teaser” to keep you from changing the channel while those annoying commercials come on. It’s similar for hour-long shows, they theoretically have more time to concentrate on a “b” story and even a C, if they have a lot of characters and they each have things to do.

Scrubs is kinda genius with this, since they developed by the 3rd season to mastering the 3 simultaneous story theme going on. Coincidentally, they’re made to parallel each other which is smart, coincidental or even dumb depending on how all 3 stories are executed.

I have also read short story writing books and read short stories. I like short stories because you quickly cover all the senses and all the w’s, all the character development, even mystery to your story. It’s why a lot of writers like me are super fans of things like Twilight Zone. There are horribly outdated things in those shows (small towns, imagine leaving your front door and car unlocked). But the concepts and feelings of a characters eventual desperation or situation develops.

Twilight zone is a forerunner to Star Trek on it’s best episodes. Those are the episodes that look at humanity from the outside as alien research. There’s things trying to be science fiction right now that are ridiculous, characters shouldn’t be invented based on their costumes or weapons to sell action figures. Sci fi lost its way with the whole dark, grim obsession. They want to be noir without the tragic ending.

So, I’m starting this for a few reasons: 1) to take you in and eventually by the end you should see the problems I’m having and hopefully have recommendations; 2) I want to write this to unlearn what I’m learning, even though that term is getting blurred with it’s over use; 3) if I can teach what I know, I’ll have to remind myself of the back corners of details that may spark something I have been overlooking. 4) If you’ve never taken a writing course, you’re about to save thousands of hours and dollars and commute to USC.

Weather I/ we write a story via blog entry, vlog, telling one at a bar, you tube video, short story in an anthology or film and tv, it can be broken down to the items to the following 8 stages. It’s true there are exceptions, but to those like me trying to “make it,” this format has to remain true. Those that get to break the pattern have made millions and can finance it themselves. We can’t.

If you think this is familiar, it’s a mishmash from a bunch of different screenwriters whose names reappear if you have studied writing format:

1. There’s a status quo, a place where the story starts off at.
2. There are characters, and their needs or wants will be presented.
3. There’s a “call to action,” the characters will be faced with having to deal with a threat and they will have to decide to do something about it. They will have to leave their comfort zone to do something about it.
4. They will have to adapt and “face trials” on learning how to combat the threat. Trial and error. Research, learning from others. Making more allies and enemies.
5. They will get the thing they want, but of course there are annoying strings attached that will screw other things up.
6. The characters, good and or bad will have to make sacrifices and take some big losses once the “thing” is obtained or achieved.
7. The characters will have to return to status quo land and they will have to decide to do this.
8. They will be back to another day similar to the beginning, but they will have knowledge and experience to deal with a threat that will be reoccurring or developing somewhere else.

 

2013/02/20 Posted by | Writing course in 10 sessions | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Community is the best show on NBC

Writer’s blog, bar date 66199.51

I just deleted 2 blog topics when I realized what week- nay what day it is.

One of the top 3 reasons you can get me to turn on the TV (that’s not to watch a DVD) is Community. I don’t even know where to begin.

I knew nothing about this show a year ago. It’s in it’s 3rd season. But on a random lark, seasons 1 was available at the library, so I checked it out. Luckily, they also had season 2 thereafter.

The creativeness really blew me away. The premise sounds incredibly boring, a study group at a community college. And it blasts the meaning of understated that each of these people in the group go thru amazing transformations, transcend beyond their perceived expectations and travel in so many worlds, it picks up the baton from the void left after Star Trek Next Generation & Voyager left off. This is all in a half hour show.

Since cable will never be an option and before I got cheap DSL at home, it was worth it to me last fall to watch each season 3 show by going to the library each week & watch it online.

Ratings suffered and twitter rumor suggested it was circling the drain. This came to a head when this spring schedule came out from the networks with the show missing entirely. There was a minor outrage on twitter from fans like me. Comparisons were made to all the other shows cut before their prime like Arrested Development (coming back), Firefly (came out w/ a movie). What’s your fave show cut early?

And I don’t just complain about my little tv show. I’ve protested w/ 99% against the banks and wall st. (you may have noticed I don’t capitalize things I don’t respect for the most part) I watch PBS news when most are watching TV personality gossip shows (I never refer to them as stars or celebrities). I volunteered at the food bank and Thanksgiving kitchen. So I am active in my own… Community.

As a tv show, it also does a lot of cool things that I liked about other shows. They highlight their B-team characters. They don’t just sit at the study group table and whine. Again, like Star Trek, it’s like a bridge they meet at to plan things when they go out on Away Team missions. Each new class they have is an interesting sub culture with more radical characters of instructors.

This has to be the most interesting community college in the country. I like shows where the main property has all kinds of different departments affecting the run of the whole. It’s a campus, but they don’t go overboard with 5,000 characters. I don’t think Lost fans could really keep up with all those characters for “an island.”

It’s like Twilight zone. It explores each of the character’s wants, but gives them incredible temptations and personal jackpot kinda tastes of an extreme. There are a lot of shows that plunge into genres. And true to each, the study group plugs into genre stereotypical characters in each environment from westerns, to politics, to even time traveling parallel universe stories.

And I could go into each character, but something that hit me was that I could relate to all but a couple of the characters in some major way (sans Dean and Shirley). And even Shirley is starting to reveal there are things in her past that she devotes her life to making up for. Each character seemed pretty stereotypical from the beginning of the series. To me that lasted about 4 shows and things really snowballed in unpredictable directions.

That was something I loved most of all. Most tv shows, you tune in and the same characters are sitting in the same living room snarking each other and it gets tired if they don’t have adventures out in all kinds of new places “out there,” not just a second “work set.”

Cop shows get old with the premise, but at least they get to go to new criminal environments. Star Treks had a new “planet hell” down the line. I could see why the network wouldn’t back an expensive location changing show, but I’m so damn sick of shaky docucam awkward pause humor. It’s tired.

There are so many comedians I love and can’t stand on the shows that don’t show how funny they are: Craig Robinson, Whitney Cummings, I could go on.

Big Bang is on 5 nights a week, why don’t you watch Community on NBC Thursday at 8:00PM pacific? They have new catchphrases every week, John Hughes level character development, it’s just damn funny. #sixseasonsandamovie #greendale7

2012/03/13 Posted by | Single malts | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Advanced Wikia Sociology

I know, I flaked on you guys last Monday, so I’m writing this now and will start writing the next blog right after to hopefully have it up by Friday. 2 blog corpses for you to feast on this week.

What “ha’ happent” was like a mad scientist trapped in my project, I got caught up in writing about writing. It just exploded to a bunch of chapters I’m writing for my 2012 projects. I didn’t want to interrupt that flow. The original outline I still want to do after this, but this is about the cultures, tv cultures I got caught up in. It triggered a lot of personal memories and situations I couldn’t stop listing and typing about.

You guys have a lot of favorite tv series, like I do. There are some on tv I don’t understand and I focused on tv series, favorites and otherwise, that go well beyond the magical 4th/ 5th season that gets the 100 episodes required for syndication.

I think it started out as me asking myself what the differences are between Simpsons, South Park and Family Guy. I think I watched Simpsons w/ the original writers the first few seasons before I stopped, I got rid of cable after 9/11. I never got into South Park when the topics were more random. Now I actually like how focused their episodes are on a satire/ parody topic. I never got into Family guy, it seemed too random cutaway joke tangents to me?

All of those have wikia sites, I also looked a lot at Memory Alpha (every trek series wikia), How I met your Mother and I’m sure I can think of others. (Don’t get me started on this seasons HIMYM, it’s circling the drain.) I am obsessed with how detailed the timeline scrutiny holds up with those shows. And in studying all the recurring things in people’s lives, I got flooded with plugging in my own experiences I’m writing about.

I don’t think I had much writers block before, but it was tougher for me to discipline my self to produce a x amount of words every “”work” day.

But all those wikia sites have a lot of cool things I raped ideas from with people I know. Everyone has family members, a job, they live somewhere, they have vehicles. Most went to or are in school, they have jobs, financial and social statuses. They all like teams or participate in competitions.

Non fiction writing has interesting liberties I’m allowed to take. I can change a few identifying facts and names about people to protect them, like listing oh, where they eat as an example. I’m allowed to mish mash some facts as long as I have a point and a direction I’m going.

There are a lot of cool things tv series have that keep people coming back to, like lists of things. What are all the things on Earl’s karma list? How many ways can you say Legendary? What are the other Ferengi Rules of Acquisition? How many hundreds of shuttles Voyager wrecked? What are the other conditions of the rental agreement in Big Bang theory? How many ways can you kill off Kenny? How many chicks has Charlie Harper (and Sheen) banged? Oh, I have Vegas lists, certainly nothing like in any guidebook I’ve ever seen before, of any vacation spot.

TV shows have an artery of exploration. In M*A*S*H, you’ll have tons of patients that come in. Most shows have date of the week, cop shows have criminals and suspects, Cheers has customers to get drunk, Star Trek has aliens, ships and planets. It’s why I started watching Voyager & Twilight Zone on netflix, I missed mind challenging TV.

With all the one camera shows on now, the handheld, moving camera shows, with people sitting in the same living room or office every week- I can’t stand those shows. What’s sad is I love some of the actors and I can’t get thru a whole episode. thankfully, I don’t have cable to rot my brain with anything Kim Kardashian, Jersey Shore, or housewives. I sacrificed History channel and animal Planet to save, though.

Vegas has so many worlds in it, they all barreled in my mind in flashes when I can relate each place or event as a television episode. It’s why I reviewed on yelp. I also read books on writing short stories on how to condense stories, get the most out of each character, keep things going, involve all senses, take advantage of even the most minute conflicts. It’s all been real inspiring to me the past couple of months.

And I have my favorite writers and directors giving me DVD commentary “seminars” on the writing and production process. Don’t get me started on you tube, there are people putting out some impressively consistent things on a weekly basis.

Part of being unemployed is dealing with feeling like you’re not producing anything. This way, I can produce the best of what I want, my favorite things. Hopefully this year, I can start get paid from my writings.

2012/02/19 Posted by | Single malts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment