Friday, February 29, 2008

Beowulf

thank you for putting
Tolkien into perspective
I take back some gripes

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Adapting Keats

The Concept: name of famous poem + Anagram Server = bad movie idea
Previous Victims: Robert Browning; Lord Byron

The Poem: La Belle Dame sans Merci
The Poet Whose Disdain I Deserve: John Keats
Summary of Original: Typical femme fatale story; fairy seduces knights, etc.

Title: Less-Libeled Cameraman
Genre: Thriller
Plot Summary: The story follows a series of murders in Hollywood. The victims are all cameramen lured into working as paparazzi. Heading the investigation is Mercy Marlowe, a woman with little sympathy for the residents of Tinsel Town. Things really heat up when Mercy starts to be shadowed by a mysterious Englishman named Nigel Knight. Is he the killer and Mercy his next victim? Or is he an ally against a cunning and ruthless enemy?

Title: Maniacal Rebel Led Mess
Genre: Drama
Plot Summary: A fictional account of Mary Mercedes, a promising young rock star who succumbs to drugs and debauchery on her way to fame, and whose hypnotic voice leads others into temptation. There will be haunting musical numbers and at least one drug-hallucination montage.

Title: Since Belle’s Marmalade…
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Plot Summary: Romantic comedy about a woman whose marmalade is so delicious it makes people fall in love! Alas, the only two people it doesn’t work on are her and Marcus, the man she has a secret crush on. More complications (and adorable hijinks) ensue when a rival company steals the formula and starts mass-marketing it. Will Belle be able to set things right with the world and with her own life?

Stuck in Development:

Limbless Needle Maraca – A comedy about two brothers trying to do comedy routines, whose rehearsals keep getting disrupted by a mysterious maraca player who just moved in next door. (Since – though I do know what a maraca is - I’ve yet to figure out what the limbless needle variety could be.)

Calamari Ensemble Sled – A musical about an unusual group of musicians who form a band with the help of an eccentric sled driver. (Because I couldn’t tie it in with the original and I’m pretty sick of the femme fatale thing.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Dangerous Liaisons

whichever language
in pantaloons or pantsuit
people stay the same

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fade in.

“Fade in.” - the first two words in a screenplay. I love that. It means the screen is blank and they’re waiting for you to conjure up the first image and sound. Even if you’re not writing a screenplay, I think that’s an important idea to keep in mind. When you write that first scene or sentence, the blank white page staring at you can be utterly paralyzing. There’s a lot of pressure to get it just right.

Skip it, if the first line doesn’t come to you immediately. Keep going with everything else. Let it be the very last sentence you write (oh the irony), but don’t let it keep you from writing.

There’s no law that dictates how you should begin or with what. We often feel that we need to begin: “Bettie Blue was a feisty woman with a taste for luxury. After 35 years of living in the world, she was so driven by this desire that it was uncertain whether there was any limit to what she’d do to indulge it.” There’s nothing wrong with that opener. (Well, let’s say it’s a matter of taste.) This is another possibility: “Bettie stood in front of the most beautiful silk dress she had ever seen, and she had seen many a silk dress. Reverently, she stroked the exquisite fabric with the tip of her index finger, letting out the smallest of sighs.” Or don’t even mention Bettie. You can devote the first lines to describing the dress or the store she’s in or the city, and so on. Dialogue can work as well: “You’re not buying that dress.” He told me. I ignored him, so he added, faintly pleading, “Bettie, you’ve bought twenty just this month. I’m not made of money.” I smiled at him, my invincible pretty please smile.

Everyone has their own preference for how a book or a movie should begin. It should be snappy. It should be the middle of a conversation. It should never be a conversation. It should be some philosophical statement. It should be purely informative. It should be utterly random. It should be slow and subtle. It should be cool and mysterious. It should grab you by the throat. Just as you please. This is the only “should” I work with: the first sentence or scene should fit the project – for whatever reason.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice. Subtle and ironic; gives you the first taste of the complex relations between money, marriage, men, and women.

“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. Purely informative; matter-of-fact – in keeping with Scout’s personality.

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” – J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield in a nutshell.

The art of seductive exposition. You don’t have to say to yourself, “Okay, how much can I cram in here and how fast?” Start with a scene or a sentence and never mind what exposition you need to work in. After that, ask yourself – what can you understand from this scene? You can work in the information gradually – there isn’t some checklist with items you need to tick off. You want to tease the readers – raise their interest without giving everything away.

Difference between mediums. There are a lot of differences between books and movies, but I think the governing difference is that movies are meant to be consumed in one sitting and books are not. Consequently, in a movie you don’t have nearly as much time to set things up as you do in a book. I’d say that in a movie you have about 10 to 15 minutes – maybe even 20 in special cases – to get the momentum going, or you’re in trouble. There are people who would argue that even 10 minutes is too much – it’s always a matter of opinion, but in any case, every second counts. Not that you have all the time in the world when you write a book or a short story, but I think you can digress more often and for a longer amount of time.

Next time on Technical Saturday... The Middle, otherwise known as getting from point A to point B.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Heroin Chic

how is looking like
underfed adolescents
an attractive look?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Kermit the Frog

sing sweet little frog
It's Not Easy Being Green
I may get teary


By request, a brief recap of the writing tip posts:
General Guidelines
Writer and Reader
Narrator and Point of View, Part 1
Narrator and POV, Part 2 (Screenwriting)
Characterization
Dialogue
Plot

Also, I've been asked about the odd Wednesday sketches. That is, I've been asked if I'm ever going to put up something serious. I'm working on a few things at the moment, but they're "in progress" as the saying goes, so it'll be a little while until I post them.

And a merry productive week to you all.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Valentine

I know you hate it
candyflowersheartskisses
be mine anyway

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Adapting Byron

Ideas are everywhere. Whether they're good or bad is another story.

A brief recap for those who missed the first post: As an exercise in creative writing, I took the title of a famous poem, let the Internet Anagram Server work its magic, and then picked the best results out of the couple hundred or so. The idea was to scramble the source material as much as its name, while still preserving a few traces of it, as if I were going to adapt it into a screenplay. In the previous post, I tried this out on Robert Browning.

The Poem: She Walks in Beauty
The Poet Whose Disdain I Deserve: Lord Byron
Summary of Original: The poem is an elegant description of a beautiful, pure-hearted woman. That’s it, really. It’s not what you’d call plot-driven.

Title: Washable Key Units
Genre: Comedy
Plot Summary: Your typical cubicle-inhabited office environment. Enter a foxy dark-haired co-worker who suggests the cubicle walls be torn down. The result: some chaos, some bonding, some philosophy, but mainly lots of stupidity and stolen office supplies. In the end, however, the cubicle walls must be rebuilt because the employees realize that without them management can see that they’re not doing their work.

Title: Shaky Wits Nebulae
Genre: Sci-fi Thriller
Plot Summary: Chronicles the events subsequent to a starship getting sucked through a wormhole and finding itself in uncharted territory. In a series of worlds which defy reason, the crew desperately tries to avoid madness and death. Naturally, the source of all this madness is a race of femme fatale aliens. While I’m sure this was done on some incarnation of Star Trek, the universe can always use more femme fatale aliens, right? Also, I’d have the opportunity to invent a catchy name for the Captain, like Stark Sands or Emily Echo – because this here ship could be captained by a woman as well as a man.

Title: What Inky Sublease?
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Plot Summary: The rivalry between two real estate agents – Bill and Frank – has always been great, but it reaches monumental levels after Bill’s girlfriend of three years leaves him for Frank. Bill sets out to recapture the woman he loves from the man he hates, while Frank does all he can to keep him away, including building a moat around his house. Seriously.

Stuck in Development:

Bake Whilst Uneasy – Suburban drama chronicling the lives of three housewives, the bonds they share, their secrets, and their recipes. (It sounds like a Desperate Housewives rip-off.)

Think Blue Seaways – ocean adventure (I couldn’t figure out how to tie in the poem. Also, Pirates of the Caribbean owns the genre at the moment.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Leonardo da Vinci

wonder how you'd feel
about the Mona Li$a'$
amazing $$ucce$$

Saturday, February 9, 2008

What happens next?

As I’ve written in previous posts, a story can be told in many different ways. It’s therefore necessary to explore the different possibilities in order to get the most out of it. After all, beginning, middle, and end are arbitrary terms. They don’t tell you which events you should depict or the order to put them in. You can go from A to B to C and all through the alphabet to Z, which is fine, but what if you went backwards? Or what if you wanted to start with Q because Q put everything else in a different light?

(Note to self: I should not use extended metaphors to make a point.)

On the inside looking out. When I wrote about developing characters, I said that you need to develop them outside of the story as well as within it, in order to create a whole character. The same principle applies to plot: even if you’re not going to show the audience all of the events involved in what lead up to, happened during, and occurred after the story proper, knowing all of these things while you write can help you focus more sharply on the events you do decide to depict.

Planning and spontaneous development. I know it’s difficult to write a complete storyline in advance, if not outright impossible in certain cases. Sometimes all you have is a character or a scene, and you take it from there, figuring out the plot as you go along. Sometimes you decide to change a plot you’ve already completed. The important thing is to make sure that in the end it doesn’t look like you were simply making things up as you went along. Go back – insert new elements, alter or remove others altogether if you have to - make sure your storytelling is smooth. Make sure that you don’t have continuity errors, or logic problems as in, “The character couldn’t possibly have known that at the time.” A story shouldn’t look like it developed in a certain way because you couldn’t come up with anything else or because you were too lazy to revise.

You can always start from the middle. The Ancient Greeks preferred starting their plots “in medias res”, meaning they’d focus on a new story beginning smack dab in the middle of an old one. In other words, you’re already in the middle of one conflict and you’re about to introduce another. The old conflict doesn’t have to be resolved, but it acts as a backdrop, giving your characters their context, complete with built-in tension and back-stories.

Plots have different shapes and sizes. For example:

Linear – the events in the order that they happened. It may be the “no frills” approach, but it shouldn’t be underestimated. Jane Austen certainly made it work in all her novels.

Frame Story and Embedded Story – Technically, you have one linear story containing another, but the relation between them can vary in its nature and complexity, from the simplicity of the Grandfather telling the story of Buttercup and Westley to his Grandson in The Princess Bride, to Salieri’s confession to the priest regarding his responsibility for Mozart’s death in Amadeus.

Circular – You start with a crucial moment, which, given linear progression, could otherwise be defined as climactic or as epitomizing the whole story, but placed in the beginning it acts as a teaser. When we return to it towards the end, it takes on new meaning.

Zig zag - When you shift back and forth between different events, taking them out of chronological order. The Prestige is a good example. Speaking of Christopher Nolan, if you haven’t seen Memento yet, you should, and see what happens when you structure the events in reverse order.

Loop – the same (or similar) sequence of events, but each time from a different perspective.

As a final suggestion, I’d recommend you watch Citizen Kane. Now don’t groan. Like it or don’t like it, call it a classic or an over-hyped bore, you have to admire the way it’s constructed. It starts with Kane’s death. Then we see a short newsreel which covers every important event in his life, a kind of condensed biography. A reporter sets out to discover the man behind the events. He talks to four key figures in Kane’s life and reads the memoirs of a fifth, each revealing a different side of him. Certain events overlap and certain perspectives conflict. The reporter tries to reconcile everything. Think for a minute how complex that is: you have a circular frame containing several more circular stories. You get an overview to begin with – the basic facts – but not the stories, and even though you know how the story ends, as the events unfold, you have to keep revising your impression of Kane. It’s no small achievement, but they make it look clean and simple.

Next time on Technical Saturday... Beginnings.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Philippa Gregory's Tudor Court Novels

three thousand pages
from Girl to Inheritance
yet I'm undaunted


I'm about halfway through The Other Boleyn Girl and it's been a very good read so far. Also, it's made me thank my stars I'm not a courtier, especially one living in the 16th century.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Friday, February 1, 2008

Chopsticks

I rebelled at first
but it made no sense eating
sushi with a fork