Monday, June 30, 2008

Business Tactics V

just this one space left
yours for a hundred thousand
going going gone

Saturday, June 28, 2008

That would never happen.

I went through more than a dozen drafts trying to write this post; closer to two dozen, actually. That may sound like exaggeration, but it’s still realistic, which is the whole point of this post to begin with: realism. It’s been quoted to death, but truth is stranger than fiction. At other times fiction is just more interesting. Isn’t it ironic that Sci-fi and Fantasy, though impossible or improbable at the outset, strive to make things seem as “real” as possible within the story itself? Regardless of genre, one of the biggest challenges of writing is making the unbelievable believable. So I think the first important distinction to make is that “realism” is not synonymous with “truth.” Realism is more of a scale for determining what’s possible vs. what’s probable.

Anything can happen in a story, whether it’s credible or not depends on construction of plot, character, and setting. Each decision you make comes with its own consequences, alternately opening and closing possible directions. Something becomes “unrealistic” when you totally ignore these directions and do something because a) the story calls for it; b) you wrote yourself into a corner; c) you simply want to.

A romantic comedy, for example, dictates that the two main characters fall in love, however odd the pairing is. Usually this involves a sequence of meeting, overcoming an obstacle together, acknowledging their feelings for each other, winding up in bed, waking up to a new obstacle, overcoming the new obstacle and thereby reaffirming their feelings for each other, then living happily ever after. (Chocolate syrup and whipped cream topping optional.) Nothing is out of the ordinary in that sequence of events – except maybe for how orderly it is – but if you don’t establish why the two characters would be attracted to each other, the sequence will feel artificial.

If you’ve written yourself into a corner, the best thing to do is backtrack – however brilliant the last move was – and take a different direction. That is, unless you can come up with a very plausible and very dazzling deus ex machina. In The Two Towers, Gandalf rides in with a couple thousand soldiers and saves everyone at the last minute at Helm’s Deep. As Gandalf notified Aragorn a few days in advance, it still qualifies as plausible. The eagles swooping in to rescue Frodo and Sam off Mt Doom at the end of Return of the King, however, was pretty much out of nowhere and left me wondering why Tolkien hadn’t thought of something better in the first place.

Speaking of movies with “Return of...” in the title, Return of the Jedi has Princess Leia turn out to be Luke’s sister. Anyway. If you’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back, you might have noticed the nicely executed triangle between Han, Luke, and Leia. Granted, Han had the advantage what with being a delightful space scoundrel, but Luke obviously had some sort of connection with her as well. (There’s also the fact that she kisses Luke twice – once to spite Han and once out of affection. But let’s ignore that.) Now I don’t know what the story there is, whether they felt they had written themselves into a corner or maybe they just wanted to resolve the triangle in a hurry. Was it possible for them to be brother and sister? Yes. According to what was set up in the first two movies? Bloody hell no. And there goes the credibility of that story line.

The idea is that if a story can make its own rules, then it should at least follow them to the end. Although I’m sure there’s some clever counterargument to that like writing a story that has no rules. Like a soap opera, but then again I think very few people would be inclined to call soap operas realistic. Of course, no one says you have to be realistic in the first place. When you think about it, most narrative forms, print or cinematic, are too orchestrated to be realistic. You don’t have to reproduce reality in all its precise details in order for viewers/readers to recognize their own realities or understand someone else’s.

Next time on Technical Saturday... Editing.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Business Tactics IV

you can't afford it
this space meant for the elite
get lost, low creature

Monday, June 23, 2008

Business Tactics III

don't need to sell space
I can get ten mill for it
only asking one

Friday, June 20, 2008

Business Tactics II

this space meant for you
two mill, but just one for you
and it's yours, gorgeous

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Adapting Shakespeare, Part III

The Concept: name of Shakespeare’s play + Anagram Server = bad movie idea
Previous Shakespearean Adaptations: The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet

The Play: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Original Genre: Comedy
The Incredibly Brief Summary of Original: Plot #1: Theseus, Duke of Athens, is about to marry Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. Preparations are under way for a feast, entertainment, etc., which brings us to... Plot #2: Some townspeople decide to perform a short tragic sketch to please their Lord Duke. There isn’t much acting talent between the five or six of them (Bottom is a total ham) but they’re a determined troupe, and decide to meet in the woods later in the evening in order to rehearse in peace.

Meanwhile, in Plot #3: Hermia wants to marry Lysander, who’d also like to marry her. Alas, Egeus, her father, wants her to marry Demetrius, who already has a thing going with Helena, who is bananas for the faithless jerk. If she doesn’t marry Demetrius, then he’ll put her to death for disobedience. Duke Theseus is a touch more merciful, offering Hermia the choice of becoming a nun instead. He gives her a day to think it over, which Hermia and Lysander use to flee into the woods together. Demetrius, having discovered their plan (I forget how and it’s not important anyway), decides to follow them and woo Hermia. Helena, being Demetrius’ devoted groupie, has followed him into the woods despite his openly admitting he couldn’t care less if she died there.

At the same time, in Plot #4: Titania, Queen of the fairies, is having quite the marital spat with Lord Oberon. To punish her rebelliousness, Oberon orders his servant, Puck, to take the dew of a special flower which makes people fall in love, and put it on Titania’s eyelids while she sleeps. When she wakes up, she’ll fall for the first vile creature she sees. Incidentally, this will be Bottom, who gets the head of a donkey as part of another practical joke played on him by Puck. (But as he gets pampered and worshipped by the gorgeous Titania, it’s negligible.) Since Oberon is not all bad, he asks Puck to put the dew on Demetrius’ eyes, as he overheard him being a jerk to Helena and wants to help her get her man. Of course Puck gets it wrong and there are comical complications.

To conclude: Oberon and Titania patch things up. Bottom gets his regular head back and returns to his friends. Oberon and Puck set things right with the lovers. As Demetrius doesn’t want to marry Hermia, Egeus has to relent, but he’s pretty mad about it. Theseus tells him to just forget about it already and they all go to get married. At the wedding, Bottom and his friends perform their unintentionally comic sketch - surprisingly, the most memorable part of the whole play. Afterward everyone goes to bed happy and healthy. The end.

Title: Marauded Mesh Trimmings
Genre: Heist
Plot Summary: Nick Bottom and his gang of ultra-slick high-tech thieves have set their sights on the magnificent treasures of Constantine Theseus, a Greek billionaire famous for his philanthropy and extensive art collection. One item in his collection is of particular interest: a ceremonial gown, allegedly worn by Cleopatra herself, made entirely of the most delicate gold mesh and encrusted with jewels. After months of extensive reconnaissance, everything has been carefully planned, right down to the last second. The heist will take place in three days time. But there’s one thing Nick and his gang didn’t count on: Theseus, in an uncharacteristic fit of spontaneity, proposes to his beloved girlfriend, Hippolyta, and suggests they get married in three days. Hippolyta has one stipulation: that she wear Cleopatra’s gown to the wedding. What’s a gang of ultra-slick thieves to do? Pack up and leave? Wait for a more opportune moment? Why of course not! They’ll just steal the damn thing during the wedding. But that’s not all. An ex-flame of Nick’s, Titania Queen, who is also an ultra-slick high-tech thief, is after the gown and she’s not alone. Robin Puck, an expert safe-cracker and incurable practical joker, not to mention Titania’s new hubby, Billy Oberon, make a formidable trio of adversaries for Nick’s gang. But Billy has a hidden agenda which even takes Titania by surprise. Who will steal the gown? Will the flame be rekindled between Nick and Titania?

Title: Grimmest Handmaid Serum
Genre: Horror
Plot Summary: Robin Goodfellow has a secret. A charming schoolboy of seventeen on the outside, he’s really a wicked elf of 800 on the inside. His favorite target: maidens, of course. But times being what they are and maidens being scarce, Robin develops a penchant for high school cheerleaders. Using his substantial charm and good looks, he works his way into the confidence of these delectable young women and then torments them with the help of a special serum until they go mad. But he makes a mistake when he selects Hermione and Helen as his next victims. With the help of boyfriends, Xander and Dimitri, Hermione and Helen manage to reveal Robin’s true form and get him into a kind of retreat. But it doesn’t last and soon he’s on the offensive again, only this time – he’s really mad, as in murderous. Will Hermione and Helen triumph over this demon (who may or may not stand for misogyny and violence, depending on how you want to look at it)? Or will Robin do a merry dance over their graves before moving onto his next victims?

Title: Mismanaged Midterm Rush
Genre: Comedy
Plot Summary: Helena, Emma, Andrew, and Dominick are your average college undergrads. Well, almost average. After a particularly grueling study session involving Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Emma decides that the only way she’s going to get through midterms is if she calls in some outside help. The supernatural kind. Ever since Emma was a little girl, she’s been able to see fairies, and after having done them a favor or two in the past, she feels it’s time they repaid her. Or so she says to the infamous Puck (“Bill Shakespeare had it so wrong, pet.”). Puck agrees, but on one condition: that she finds him a wife. If he marries a mortal, he can give up being errand boy for Titania and Oberon. Emma agrees, but she has no idea what’s in store for her. When Oberon and Titania find out that their best servant is on the verge of quitting, they decide to intervene in mortal affairs more actively than usual. There is some mayhem, chaos, and general merriment, during which our heroine will learn valuable lessons about not invoking the supernatural in order to assure academic excellence. Meanwhile, with the help of Andrew and Dominick, Puck will learn disposable lessons about dating. Will Emma get through her midterms? Will Puck find happiness with a mere mortal?

Stuck in Development:

More Thrumming Dadaisms – Self-explanatory.

Mismanaged Murder Smith – I couldn’t decide whether “smith” was a name or an occupation.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Business Tactics

this space is for rent
give me one million dollars
and it's all yours

Saturday, June 14, 2008

It's not my style.

In the previous post, I mentioned that style is an important factor in determining originality. In other words, it doesn’t matter if the story has already been told, what matters is how you tell it. As I’m fond of mentioning, we all have certain tendencies in our writing. We’re drawn to certain themes, characters, situations. The very words we choose, the structure of our paragraphs, choice of POV, etc., tend to repeat themselves. Whether we mean it or not, we end up with certain characteristics, some more pronounced than others. Ostensibly it seems we have to choose between two stylistic poles: we can be distinctive – instantly recognizable brands, or we can be chameleons – blending in with the environment we choose.

Now I’m not saying one is better than the other. Each writer has to figure out what’s right for him or herself. Going the distinctive route has advantages: you can create complex symbolic and thematic systems which are unique to your work, linking each individual piece into a kind of organic whole. Such systems are impressive, but they can be burdening as well, preventing you from exploring new territory. You may very well get stuck in stale retreads of the same material and become utterly predictable as a creator. In the very extreme, your work can turn into caricature and self-parody.

The chameleon has the advantage of moving from project to project, experimenting in various areas without becoming entrenched in them. However, lack of commitment can lead to lack of coherence and attention span – to being able to do several things satisfactorily but nothing expertly. The very extreme of this is a total lack of distinction, with projects either blending into each other or resembling each other even though there should be no relation between them at all. Ironically, this is similar to the “predictable-caricature” extremity of being distinctive, except that people probably won’t think you’re as smart.

I don’t see myself either as a chameleon or a specific brand because I find both to be too extreme. One has too much freedom and the other not enough; but as always, there are ways to compromise. If you’re chameleonesque (I shouldn’t invent words) in nature, you can try spending more time on one subject. Force yourself to get into it and specialize. When you’re ready, move on. In fact, I’d return to it after a break and see what new things you can do with it. If you’re brand-oriented, however, I’d encourage a break from your current material – as sharp a one as you can handle. That doesn’t mean you should just run and publish – being adept at comedy doesn’t necessarily make you a tragedian – but the change should be refreshing at the very least. And then even if you decide to return to the same subject, you will probably have gained a different perspective, which can help you progress in new directions.

Next time on Technical Saturday... Realism.

Friday, June 13, 2008


the sun's not sinking
it's the earth that is spinning
while we just stand there

Monday, June 9, 2008

Alphabet Annie's Amazing Appetite

Alphabet Annie
bought a hundred and one books
craving written words

devoured three straight
eleven without garnish
five more without sauce

gobbled six others
how tasty were those pages
intelligent too

just on the dry side
knowledge could use some moisture
like a hearty stew

munching another
nourishing stomach and brain
out of the same text

pondering if five
quenched with another ten tomes
really is enough

should she consume more?
tantalizing tomes remained
unable to stop

verily she crunched
without a drop of remorse
x-ray her stomach

you'll find the books there
zero books did Annie spare
and that, friends, is that

Friday, June 6, 2008


I like to see you
after being up all night
not when I wake up

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Adapting Shakespeare, Part II

The Concept: name of Shakespeare’s play + Anagram Server = bad movie idea
Previous Shakespearean Adaptations: The Taming of the Shrew

The Play: Romeo and Juliet
Original Genre: Tragedy
The Incredibly Brief Summary of Original: Verona, 1590s. The Montagues and Capulets have been feuding since time out of mind because of god knows why. But no matter. Romeo, the sole Montague heir, falls in love with Juliet, the sole Capulet heiress. Unable to contain themselves, they marry in secret. About an hour later, Romeo’s best friend, Mercutio, gets into a fight with Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt. Tybalt slays Mercutio, and Romeo slays Tybalt in vengeance. Prince Escalus banishes Romeo as punishment.

Meanwhile, Daddy Capulet is itching to marry Juliet to the eligible Paris – this Thursday, actually. Seeking advice, she goes to Friar Lawrence, the same kind friar who agreed to marry them in secret rather than advise them to go to their parents. Despite it seeming like a good idea to just tell the young couple’s parents about their secret marriage and dealing with the consequences, Friar Lawrence opts for something more dramatic: he gives Juliet a potion which makes her seem dead, promising to send word to Romeo that everything is alright. Faking her own death will postpone the wedding to Paris and in the mean time, Friar Lawrence will figure out how to break the news to her parents. They’ll be so happy she’s alive that they’ll forgive her for marrying the guy they hate most. Or something like that.

Alas, word from the Friar never reaches Romeo, and he only hears Juliet is dead. So he goes to her tomb to kill himself by drinking poison, which he does, having to stop to kill Paris on the way (the guy just wouldn’t mind his own business). Juliet wakes to find Romeo dead beside her. What’s a woman in love to do except take the dagger from her lover’s belt and follow him to the hereafter? Although you might think the death of their only children would make the feud between the Montagues and Capulets even bloodier and more vengeful, the tragedy finally resolves it. The end.

Title: Atone, Judo Miler!
Genre: Comedy
Plot Summary: Judo Miler is an average guy with an average life. Each day is like the next and he doesn’t have any problem with that. On a routine trip to his local supermarket, he meets Julia Chapel, a motivational speaker with a habit of getting in over her head. While arguing over the last box of cornflakes, Julia is shocked to discover what an underachiever Judo is and hastens to change his lazy outlook on life. Begging him to think of all the years he’s already lost, Julia urges him to atone (!) by joining her new motivational workshop. Smitten as he’s never been smitten before, Judo agrees and from then on, it’s one long, very odd, endurance test. Because Julia believes in one thing: efficiency. But Judo’s more relaxed outlook starts winning over other group members and soon he’s encouraged to become a motivational speaker in his own right. Then the war is on. Resorting to crazier and crazier recruiting tactics, Julia and Judo battle it out. Will true love triumph over professional hate?

Title: Date, Loom, Injure
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Plot Summary: Julianne has a terrible history with men: She loves and they leave. After one particularly nasty break-up, she turns to a forgotten past-time and family tradition: weaving. Weaving her anger and despair into frightening patterns, Julianne quickly discovers that her weaving is affecting real life – deforming former lovers and causing general misery. Soon a police investigation is underway. Enter Robbie Montegna, detective. Though inexplicably drawn to Julianne, Robbie suspects she’s behind the strange occurrences. Vowing never to have her heart broken again, Julianne begins to weave tests to discover Robbie’s intentions. Unfortunately, after one especially manipulative test involving a kitchen knife, Robbie accidentally kills his partner, “Murk” Mercury, nicknamed for his cynical attitude toward life. To make things worse, Capt. Escalus orders detective Tyler Balt, Robbie’s sworn enemy, to assist Robbie in the investigation of Murk’s murder. Will Tyler discover the truth? Will Robbie save himself and Julianne? Or, despite his intense, unexplainable passion for her, turn her over to the authorities?

Title: Join Louder Team
Genre: Comedy
Plot Summary: Roman “Rom” del Monte and Julie “Jules” Chapelle are not only madly in love with each other but madly in love with debating. There’s only one problem: they’re on opposite debating teams. Well, there’s also another problem: their respective debating teams are going to face each other in the debate championships for the first time ever. Okay, there’s another teeny tiny problem: their respective debate teams don’t know that they’re madly in love. You see, it all happened suddenly over the summer and who could’ve guessed they’d end up being in a championship against each other? Certainly not debating captains, Mark and Ty, who have a long history of bitter rivalry. As the stakes get higher, Mark and Ty get nastier, likewise expecting their teammates to get nasty along with them. Will Rom and Jules’ relationship be affected? How will they pretend to hate each other? What will happen when they are pitted against each other in the final (spectacularly climactic) debate?
Possible Sequel: Join Lame Detour

Stuck in Development:

Join Lame Detour – I’ll develop it after I see how well Join Louder Team goes over...

Junior Tome Deal – Hmm. Basically, this could be virtually like Join Louder Team, except instead of a high school debating team, it will be law school. Somehow.

Jailed True Moon – Romeo “True Moon” Montana has been jailed. For some reason or other. He falls in love with, well, Juliet obviously. Except she’s the lawyer of... another inmate? (And I’m gonna quit while I’m ahead.)

Rodeo Jet Alumni – I wasn’t even going to try this one, but the title is priceless.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Romeo and Juliet

can we please calm down?
poetic hyperbole
but trouble begets