Staying Ahead

Ted Tally (of Silence of the Lambs) has some interesting things to say during the 7/21/12 episode of KLRU’s On Story.  He concludes that today’s audiences are very savvy and sophisticated when it comes to storytelling, and that it is difficult but necessary to stay a little ahead of them.  This is especially true, I think, when it comes to comedy.  The very essence of comedy revolves around the element of surprise.  For my current comedy feature, I have been mindfully trying to avoid cliches, or at the very least re-working the clichés or putting a surprising twist on them.  I enjoy reading the tvtropes.org website to see whether  my ideas are fresh or should be changed up.  There’s a treasure trove of information there for writers of all types of fiction.

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A Light Touch

I was at the park on a recent morning with my toddler.  Always ready for a challenge, she climbed up onto some raised stepping stone play equipment and reached for my hand. Cradling her hand gently in mine, I could feel the surge of power in her small body, as she managed adept little leaps from one platform to the next.

Feeling my little daughter move forward with such gentle guidance reminds me of my experience of writing, when it’s going very well.  When I’m on a roll, I feel like I merely give my characters a gentle nudge, and watch as they do all the work.  I feel like I guide with a very light touch, and let the natural momentum of the story work for me.  It is with a light touch that the writing becomes effortless.

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At the Table

I had the opportunity to participate in another table read this past weekend.  I am amazed how much there is to learn from hearing a script read aloud, even when it’s someone else’s script.  Seeing how the characters come to life (or don’t), hearing whether the dialogue rings true, watching the reactions from others in the room to what’s on the page.  Fascinating.

So I read dialogue for one of the characters, and afterwards I felt like I knew that character so well.  Changes that needed to be made specific to the character became obvious to me.  I can only imagine what a real actor would have to offer after a reading.  I realized that post-table read, a good question for writers to ask their readers would be how they felt about a particular character’s development & dialogue  as well as the intensity of the scenes related to them.

 

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The Heart of a Film

I was recently moved by the discussion on the 7-14-12 episode of the KLRU PBS show “On Story.”  Caroline Thompson (of Edward Scissorhands) spoke of how powerful the experience of seeing a movie can be.  She still recalls a film experience from when she was three years old.  I have my own strong memories of certain movies of my youth.  I must have sat through Jaws at least a dozen times, which was a lot in pre-video, pre-DVD days.  I also dragged my cousin with me to see the obscure Disney movie, Treasure of Matecumbe, a gazillion times.  I don’t think many people out there remember that one, but I sure do!

Like John Lasseter explained on the show, it’s the heart of the film you remember long after you leave the theater.  For sure, it is a challenge for the screenwriter to achieve a film with true heart.  It reminds me of the Maya Angelou quote I love,People will forget what you said.  People will forget what you did.  But people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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Beginnings

This morning, in between making cheese balls (yum) and playing “Cicada Girl” outside with my 2 1/2-year-old (Man, you had to be there for the cicada close-encounter thing we had!), I squeezed in some snippets of yesterday’s Scriptnotes with John August and Craig Mazin.  Part of their discussion was timely for me, as I was already re-assessing the start of my screenplay.

John and Craig analyzed the first three pages of three scripts sent in to them.  They emphasized just how critical those first three pages are.  Okay, I knew the first ten pages were important, but now I am re-thinking my first three.  I just don’t think mine are strong enough to establish my characters or the tone of the whole movie.  Ai yi yi, I’ve got some new work to do.

I went back to transcribe a very useful quote from Craig Mazin:  “The first three pages should be beautifully crafted.  They should be just jam-packed with stuff — all sorts of really good stuff about the characters, the tone, the world that the characters live in.  I want to get things from their clothes, their environment, their setting.  I wanna know… even the pace, even the pacing.  Everything gets set in these first three pages, so you can’t be flabby or loose with it.”

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Endings

Well, I’m working on the second draft of my comedy feature.  I decided to print the whole sheboodle out and take a gander at it.

It’s a good feeling to actually hold your writing in your hand and feel the weight of it!  Makes it all feel real.

Reading it through the print-out gave me some new insights that I didn’t notice while reading on the computer, specifically with scene transitions.  For some reason, I can see the transitions better when I’m watching the slug lines flip by in my hands.

I had a laugh-out-loud wrap-up planned at the end.  But I just decided that post-wrap-up and post-laughs, I need to re-visit my protagonist and have a quick emotional closure.  I have sort of a bookmark moment in mind. So I will be adding that in next.  Then I think I might have to work on something else for a while and come back to this after a little time has passed.  I’m sure I’ll have more changes when I come back to it in a week or so.

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Friends With the Urinator

“…You’re friends with the urinator!”  Yes. Yes, I am.  Knee-deep in potty training.  They never tell you in the parenting guides just much bodily fluid contact is part of the job description.  I’m not sure people would take this parenting gig if they knew.

I have to come to believe that “Pee on the Floor (POF)” is a new game of choice around here.  It must be pretty funny to watch Mommy hop up from her meal and run all around with towels and funny spray bottles.  I played POF with my older two, but somehow I forgot about it.  The rules are thus:

1) Hold the pee as long as humanly possible, amassing the largest amount you can.

2) Resist all suggestions to relieve yourself on a toilet or potty system.

3) Wait until Mommy is highly occupied or until the house has just been thoroughly cleaned.

4) Let loose and watch the fun begin!

Anyway, the floor is clean.  Nap time is nigh, and the writing will soon begin!

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Save the Cat

I saw an interesting blog post today about the well-known Blake Snyder Save the Cat screenwriting books.  Save the Cat was the very first book on screenwriting I ever read.  I have a soft spot in my heart for it.  Even if it does sum up perhaps too tidily the craft of screenwriting, it was the aha! book for me that broke the code and made me think, “Maybe I can do that!”  My teen is taking a screenwriting course at her summer camp, and it turns out that  their text is Save the Cat.  I quickly handed over my copy of the book to her.  Then, I must admit, my heart skipped a beat.  I’m accustomed to having that little white book by my side.  I like to grab it and open to that comforting Blake Snyder Beat Sheet!

Which reminds me of another interesting article today from Slate.  Stephen Harrigan writes about being a B-list, made-for-TV movie screenwriter.  Very interesting.  He has some gems of widsom in there.  I like how he said that rules and structure can get you only so far before you end up with a script that’s “all skeleton and no heart.”  Also I like what he said about identifying what your story is about.  “If the movie was about one thing, it could be about many things. But if you started out determined to make it about many things, it would be about nothing.”

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Emily’s Top 10 “Write Your Ass Off” Rules

1) Write what you don’t know, because who really knows shit?  How about write what you wish you knew, because if you want to know it, maybe so does someone else.

2) Do write about people you know.  Craft characters you either love or love to hate.

3)If you start to worry about your characters the way you do about people you care about, then you know you’ve got some worthwhile characters.

4) But don’t let your character off the hook, just because you like them.  They’ll understand.  It’ll be okay.

5) If you wait for inspiration, the right moment, or the best idea, you will be waiting forever.  Don’t wait.  It’s never the perfect time, so how about now?  Dirty dishes?  Laundry?  Eh, they can wait.

6) If what you write is crap, then you’re off to a great start.  Since if what you wrote looks fabulous to you, then you’re probably deluded.  You’ll learn a lot from the crap you write.

7) Don’t give up, because you can’t get worse; you can only get better.

8) The first time you let the words fall from your lips, “I’m a writer,” that is the moment you are a writer.  So go ahead and say them.  The world be damned.

9) Write something creative everyday.  Write for yourself.  Grocery lists don’t count, unless they are amazingly interesting and complex grocery lists.

10) You can fix it in the re-write.  Truly you can. Give it a week then look at it with fresh eyes. Be your own harshest critic, but your own biggest supporter too.  Screw the others; what do they know?  You’re the writer!

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Busy Idleness

I recently came back from a family trip, rested and ready to write.  Vacations always inspire me, even if it is just a family vacation and I am busy doing my usual cooking, cleaning, and caring.  Something about getting away from the usual routine seems to open my mind to new thoughts and ideas.  I find driving times or relaxed vacation moments useful for developing new story ideas or just letting characters simmer around in my brain.

A recent NY Times article by Tim Kreider, The Busy Trap, struck a chord with me.  The author discusses the value of idleness and how for too many of us, busyness is a pastime.  I like this quote: “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

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