Archive for August, 2009

Serial – Episode 7 of “20th”

“Let’s find her? And how exactly do you intend to track down a girl that I haven’t seen for twelve years? That the police couldn’t find. The FBI couldn’t find.”

Dave shrugged.

Tim nodded his head. “Right. Of course.” He threw himself backwards onto his mattress, rubbing his hands across his face.

“That’s it, then?”

“That’s it? Yeah that’s it. Janet is gone, has been gone, for a long time. I don’t think she just materialized out of nowhere this morning and spoke to me. This isn’t The Ring.”

Dave started to laugh at that. A chuckle that grew into a hearty guffaw. Tim sat up, preparing to snap back at whatever Dave was going to follow his laughter up with.

“You do hear what you say, right Tim? You run it through your brain sometimes? The boy with the weird curse that affects him every year on his birthday is pretty sure that weird crap like in the movies doesn’t happen in real life.”

“Do you think she was really here?”

“Shit, I don’t know, man. I’m not some kind of expert. But today would be the day for it, right?”

“Today would be the day.” Tim thought for a moment and groaned a bit. “But not with anyone else.”

“I’m dismissed as usual.”

“I might be fine getting you killed after this morning, but I don’t even know those people out there. And Lynn? I’d prefer she be around a bit longer.”

“Why does it always have to be death with you, man?”

“Can you think of a worse thing that can happen today to someone? You think that both my parents dying or having tragic accidents on my birthday isn’t enough to make me a little phobic.”

Dave stood up and began pacing. Time for some pontification.

“People die every day, Tim. Every minute. How many people you think died when I said that? One hundred? One thousand? You think the worst thing that can happen is that someone might die on your birthday and it will be your fault. A couple hundred thousand people will die today, so how many are you going to claim?”

“Dave, that’s not the same.”

“Nah, shut it, man. If you’re going to send me home I’m getting my say. The thing that’s worth than dying is being so afraid of it. You’re worried that today something bad might happen, so you ignore that something amazing could happen today. You could save someone’s life. You could find buried treasure, I don’t know. This is the time for adventure because this is when the crazy shit happens.”

“It’s just not worth the risk. I don’t want to lose any more of you. I can’t have any more of it be my fault. You don’t know the guilt that comes with this.”

“Nope. And I never will. But it’s all you’ve got. Go ahead and sit in your room or backpack out to the woods or whatever depressing crap you had planned for today. I’m heading off to do something fun.”

Tim ran a hand through his hair, scratching at the back of his scalp in a nervous tic. He didn’t enjoy being alone, today or any day. Dave had to know him well enough to be aware of that.

“You’re not going to blame me if you get hit by a bus?”

Dave stopped, his hand on the doorknob, and Tim could almost sense his grin. “If I get hit by a bus, man, I should have looked both ways before crossing the street.”

“And if it’s a bus that comes crashing into a mall because the guy driving it just had an aneurism?”

“I’m not going to lie, that’s a pretty awesome way to go out.”

Tim got to his feet. “You think you can keep the Crew occupied for a few minutes. I need to fill Lynn on about twenty-nine years of things that are hard to believe.”

Dave turned to him and pulled him into a hug. “You take the time you need man. I’ve been waiting for years for this. We’re going to go on an adventure.”

Thus endeth part 1 of this little serial experiment. I considered just calling this the end, but that felt like too much of a cop out. I think there’s a lot of story to deal with here, and I haven’t been giving it the time it deserves. Between day-job and other tasks (including my other blog posts), I haven’t been taking the time to outline this story properly, and what has resulted is a seat of my pants “write each section in about 90 minutes” rush.

Long story short, 20th is going on a Friday Fiction hiatus for a bit while I try out some other shorter pieces and take the time to do some proper planning on this one.

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Let’s Get Critical, Critical

If you want to write, you need to read as much as you can. Ideally, you’re reading anything and everything, but specifically you should be reading in the genre you want to work in. Want to write for TV? Read TV scripts. Novels? Read novels. Comics? Buy comics. It’s a pretty basic formula.

Reading professional books that cover how to write in your field are helpful to a point. They cover a lot of theory, but there’s very little practice. Even if the book has exercises for you to work through, the only person saying you did a great job is you. You’re too close to the material to make that call, especially if you’re a beginner. The best place to find the standard pitfalls and flaws for writing is by reading someone else’s work.

However, my advice differs from the norm in that I say you’re best off reading amateur work. Professional work is something I think is great for inspiration, or for illustrating a particular technique or method. I’m not able to learn much from it, though. When I read a script like Chinatown, what can I get away from it other than it is almost flawlessy constructed? I know what it does, but it’s difficult for me to do much with that knowledge. To me, it’s like looking at the Mona Lisa and expecting that by staring long enough I’ll see how to paint better. That may be true for an intermediate or advanced student, but for a beginner the leap is too great. The gap between where I am and where that masterpiece exists is too far to really conceptualize.

So I say read the amateur stuff. Ask your friends, find writing forums on-line and dive in. For me the most blazing insights for what I need to do as a writer come when I see what I very clearly should NOT be doing as a writer. When I read a character who speaks in stereotype, or see a relationship that wasn’t given enough time to evolve, or come across a plot I think is ridiculous it’s very easy for me to stop and say “Ah yes, I know exactly what is wrong here. Mental note.” It’s better than saying “Well, this whole thing is excellent, but… what exactly makes it so?”

There are few things to remember, though. Understand that this is amateur stuff. You need to make sure your core knowledge on what a screenplay should be in a vacuum before you dig too deeply in the dabblings of novices. If you’re not at least somewhat up to speed, you run the risk of devouring work that isn’t so hot and taking on too much of what makes it mediocre. You’ve got to be able to keep a practiced distance from the writing.

When you read something in another piece of writing and it irks you, make a note. There’s a 90% chance you do the same thing and don’t realize it. If you can learn to spot those problems, or learn to steer clear of them entirely, your work is off to a great start.

And by all means, if you are reading work from your friends, never EVER give a critique unless it is asked for and for the love of god make that feedback constructive. Writing “This is stupid” doesn’t help them AND it shows you’re not learning anything. If you can’t say how to fix something, then you’re not really in a great position to say it’s broken to start.

This method won’t work for everyone. For many, the foolproof method to improve is to read quality work and emulate that quality. For me, I’ve always done better when I see what else is on my level, because it’s something I can understand. To get a start looking at some writer communities Absolute Write has a pretty generous and active forum community and years ago Kevin Spacey created a superb site called TriggerStreet as an on-line community where screenwriters could share their scripts and review others in a ranking system that, in theory, allows the best amateur work to rise to the top and perhaps merit Hollywood attention.

On another note, all you cool cats can become fans of Academagia on Facebook by heading here. We’re nearing the end of production and expect to be launching in September, so the time to start becoming an insane fanboy or fangirl is now.

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A Cautionary Tale

Last Monday, I covered a piece of advice for your writing efforts: take chances. You may strike a sudden chord and have an amazing opportunity dropped in your lap just because you reached out and gave something a shot.

Today, I have a related piece of advice: follow through on your good ideas. It can be tricky to stay focused when you’re starting out. You’ll have other projects, likely a day job and the rest of your real life to attend to. But it’s crucial that you don’t allow yourself to get too distracted and leave your good ideas behind. Those ideas, if properly nurtured, can turn into the wonderful opportunities that I covered last week.

My case in point:

In 2010, a movie is coming to theaters called Legion. Starring Paul Bettany (the creepy albino from Da Vinci Code and a bunch of other stuff – professional career synopsis, no?), the film deals with the notion that God has given up on mankind and in a post-apocalyptic future has sent his legion of angels to wipe humans from the Earth. The archangel Michael, however, fights to defend a final outpost of humanity.

Back in 2003 (so say my file creation dates on my computer), I started to toy around and research and outline a story about angels on Earth. It was going to be titled “The Watcher” and it dealt with the notion of one of the Grigori, a sort of obscure caste of angels that were originally charged as the shepherds of mankind and then were banished and punished for becoming too involved with men. But what if, far in the future, after mankind has destroyed itself and God has turned his back on man, if one of the Grigori, the last Watcher, finally emerges from obscurity to save the last remnants of mankind from oblivion and redeem his fallen lineage?

Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so, too. Of course, I’m not trying to be ludicrous and allege that someone stole my idea, but I am saying that I clearly had an idea that was good enough to make it all the way to be a Hollywood film. My ability to execute a script worthy of saying the same thing is where the hard work part of sticking beside your ideas comes into play, but the fact that I let my attentions wander has rendered that point moot. I wrote the idea out, and then hit a creative roadblock and just stopped. I figured that because I hit a rough patch that I should just move on and I probably started reading Harry Potter or eating instant-ramen or whatever I did when I was 22. [Amusingly enough, I also have another story idea saved on my machine called “Legion” that deals with a man fighting to save a child from a demon who knows that the boy will one day grow to be a bastion of hope for mankind… another pretty similar story made moreso by the title I had intended for it.]

The salient point to come away with, though, is that if you feel like you’ve got a great idea, you probably do. If it sounds like something people would want to see and that someone would consider throwing you obscene amounts of money for, it very well could be. Stick with it. Explore it. Write it. Polish it. Share it. If you don’t go to that trouble, it will always just be an idea that you had this one time.

And it will become the story that you tell people on your blog about how you had a great idea this one time and now someone made a movie out of it and isn’t that funny, don’t you think.

And, of course, happy birthday to my wife, who very literally gets more and more lovely with every passing day.