Category Archives: Writing

Thoughts on writing, sometimes even my own.

“Save the Cat”

On the recommendation of some friends, I gave Save the Cat a whirl. It’s a book about screenwriting written by the late Blake Snyder. I experienced the usual ups and downs while reading it. Mostly downs. “No, I don’t do that and am a talentless hack.” “I must throw out everything I’ve done and start over.” This is why I often don’t read books on writing. Unlike quite a number of other books, though, this one has some homework that I feel might actually continue to teach me about screenwriting. (Assuming I do it, of course.)

This book focuses on writing movies for the big Hollywood studios. Which is something I’m sort of taking a stab at. I feel a lot more prepared now, but I also see more of the flaws in my current story. It basically has two climaxes, for example. Not really a good thing. And I don’t know that I have enough of a logline with enough irony. It’s all complicated and requires much thinking. (Rude, I tell you!)

On the plus side, he gave me permission to watch bad movies in a way nobody ever has before. I don’t know why his permission counts when others haven’t. In the past, I haven’t wanted to waste my time, but with this guide, I feel like I’ll be better able to say not only why a movie was bad, but how it could be improved, which could be a useful skill if I can learn to apply it to my own work.

Finding conflict

My screenplay has been on the back burner for quite some time. I knew the inner conflict wasn’t working quite right, but I had no idea how to fix it, so I moved on to other things and let it sit. The last few days, I’ve been thinking more about it. Yesterday, I had an epiphany. The conflict was actually already there in the story. I was trying to force a conflict onto the story that, while it had elements of this conflict, didn’t quite fit, especially when it came to the climax. That fizzing, electric feeling of “Yes, this is right!” is a wonderful thing!

I may be getting better at spotting conflict, too. A short story I’ve been in the midsts of revising has been limping along. I knew it needed “something,” but at first I wasn’t sure what. After a crack at the re-writing that added some description (the bane of my existence) but only made the character’s co-worker seem like an idiot and didn’t really fix the problem, I got another lightning bolt, and again, it was something that was present in the story, but I just didn’t realize it. Now that I know it’s there, I can bring it out, tone down her partner’s stereotypes, and possibly actually finish this thing.

Making it work

Since my last oh-so-inspiring post, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and even a fair bit of writing. I completed the outline for my screenplay and have started working through what I’ve written and matching it to the outline. I’ve also actually come up with a story for a couple of characters that have been floating around in my head for a while. I’m also on vacation and have actually slept for the last few nights, which improves my mood tremendously. I got a good chunk of work done this afternoon, including figuring out an aspect of the climax to the new story that had been perplexing me. A few more things to figure out, but I definitely have some solid bones.

I’ve been pondering quite a few things lately about how to make a go of this writing career. There’re several things I could do, starting with abandoning the working world to live in my mom’s basement. Considering that it’s flooded right now, this is not really much of an option. (Though if the sump pumps keep working so well….Oh, hi, Mom!) Honestly, though, I don’t think that would be the best path for me. I do like having a structure in my life. Finding balance between the structure of some sort of work and writing is important. This leaves me pondering several other choices open to me at the moment. Or open to me in the future, at least. I don’t like doing things rashly, that’s for sure. Yet in some ways, I think I need to be at least a little rash in order to make a go of a writing career. It will just be rash for me, as opposed to rash for other people. In theory, anyway. Has all this been cryptic enough for you? Good, because I’m at least as confused!

Becoming a morning person?

I’ve been stressing quite a lot lately about many things. Work has and seems to be doomed to remain quite busy. I haven’t had much time or energy for writing. But I might have hit upon a solution. The last few days, I’ve been putting in time in the morning, before I leave for the office. It helps that I have a middle and have been able to make good progress, I know, but it does, really, seem to work. Some positives:

  1. I’m not tired from a day’s work, so I have mental energy to devote to the work.
  2. I’m limited in the amount of time I have between when I get up and when I need to leave, so I am confined to only working for maybe half an hour to an hour. This is actually helpful. I don’t feel like I need to spend hours slogging over the work when I’m so brain-dead that “tasty” becomes “nasty.”
  3. I start the day feeling accomplished before even going into the office. Since a lot of my job now is not so focused on accomplishment, it’s rather nice to have that positive spin on the day.

This may not last forever. I mean, I could see, for example, that a day where things aren’t going well setting my day off to a bad start. Although, as the kids in the Secret Garden would tell you, that’s the wrong sort of magic. So, it’s working well, and it will continue to work well, because I am going to finish this thing!

By Jove!

I think I finally have a middle for my screenplay. It certainly took me long enough to figure out what happens between the beginning, which as remained relatively unchanged, and the end, which is also relatively unchanged. But there’s now all this stuff that happens in the middle, and it came because of two changes to the story, one which I figured out a few days ago, and one that came to me more obliquely. I’m so excited that, despite needing to be at church at 9am tomorrow, I’m still awake and bouncy. Crazy!

This is the part of writing that I love, when the idea comes hot and fast, blossoming in my mind, bringing streamers of follow-on action and solutions to problems. It’s what makes the fact that writing is hard actually worth it.

A strange phenomenon

When I haven’t left early or stayed home because of being sick, I’ve been staying really late at the office. Lots of things going on, and the uber-boss has made it clear that this will continue, and that it will be a refining fire, wherein he will see if we’re actually willing to put in the extra effort. And I am. But for some reason, as things are heating up and I’m melting nicely into a puddle of too-much-to-do-ness, I find my desire to write increasing.

Why? Is it because I want to escape from all the pressure? Is it because I actually thrive on having too much to do? I’m not sure. I mean, it’s not like I have time/energy to write. I got home at around 8:30 last night, completely brain-dead. I had dinner, poked my iPhone a little, and went to bed. Hardly a recipe for a dedicated writer. Yet my brain, in its spare time, is actually working on the problem I hit in my screenplay. It doesn’t make a great deal of sense, logically. But my brain has never been particularly fond of logic, so I don’t know why I’m surprised.

Maybe it’s just guilt for not doing NanoWrimo. I didn’t do it last year, but it wasn’t quite as bad, since most of my friends weren’t doing it, either. This year, more are participating, so I feel like I have to justify myself. Which I realize is silly.

I blame Brandon Sanderson, who I have appointed as my nemesis for absolutely no reason at all.

Okay, back to reviewing documents, providing feedback, and trying to dig out of this mountain of work.

Finished something!

My writers’ group is in what we’re calling 2.0. The theory, at least, is that we’re all making a big push towards finishing things and getting published/bought. Which means I got bullied into convinced to sign up for a submission slot. I didn’t have it done by the meeting, but I did finish it today, which I think means I’m still okay to get critiqued.

Why I think this is a good thing is a reflection of the fact it’s been too long since I’ve been critiqued. 😀

Story arcs in television

IO9 posted an interesting article called “What’s The Matter With Story Arcs On Television?” The comparison is summarized as this:

“on the one hand, self-contained weekly episodes are newbie-friendly and easy to show in reruns, because it doesn’t matter what order you show them in. On the other hand, how deep can your characters and universe really get when nothing ever changes and the situations get fully resolved within 43 minutes?”

Apart from the amusing fact that the article references “Blake’s 7,” which is way old-school compared to the other references, this makes a good point. As a viewer, I’m rarely content with the purely episodic anymore. It’s one (of many) reasons I don’t watch most sitcoms. I know that, no matter how many times the dad learns the same lesson, he’s never going to change.

However, as the article points out later, “shows that offer complete resolution every week tend to be lighter, maybe even fluffier, than shows that draw out stories over months or years.” I tend to prefer my shows lighter, happier. If I wanted dark, I wouldn’t be trying to escape. It’s one reason I eschewed the new Battlestar Galactica series.

My favorite shows strike a balance between the two extremes, but in a positive way. Psych doesn’t always bother, but most of the time, Shawn is growing up. He’s not conforming to some set standard of behavior (and since the audience is primarily independently-minded Americans, it’s unlikely that’ll happen), but he is learning that it’s okay to be more serious now and again. Numb3rs has seen the relationships between Don, Charlie, and their dad grow into more mature, adult relationships. In Doctor Who (which the article kind of pokes fun at for mock story-arcs), the companion, at least, grows and changes and matures through the seasons. Donna at the beginning of season four is different and, I think, a better person than Donna at the end.

The new Warehouse 13 is something I’m enjoying. It’s been primarily episodic and primarily upbeat. There are strings that are going through, but they’re not beating us over the head with them. So far, I like how it’s going. I don’t imagine I’m going to be watching a show a year from now in which the characters all hate each other but can’t escape their horrible situation. (Which is sometimes what I’ve felt from other shows.)

After all, even in shows with a more firm episodic format, like NCIS, you can have growth over seasons without a specific story arc. Granted, NCIS does have story arcs, some better done than others. The more interesting part to me, though, is watching the characters deal with the fall-out from the climaxes of these story arcs. Gibbs dealing with Kate’s loss and Tony dealing with the break-up of his relationship with Jeanne are two examples.

But I still have never forgiven [insert responsibel parties here] for the travesty that was the ending of Pretender. It became clear only later on that the writers didn’t actually know where they were going, so the clues that we get in the first couple of seasons never add up. Not only that, but they completely ditched two of the most important relationships in the series–Sydney and Jarod as father/son and Jarod and Miss Parker as love interests. They didn’t even change these relationships, so that we could understand why they moved on. They just stopped bothering. Even more than never knowing all the secrets they were lobbing at me, those changes still rankle.

Given the amazingly tough job it is to get a show made, let alone aired, I can understand why no writer would want to plot out everything in advance. Given the transiency in casting, where an actor may not want to come back for a second season, even the plotting out in advance can wind up all needing to be chucked out. I know I complain about how much bad TV there is, but given the process, it’s in many ways amazing that there’s not much worse! I tip my hat to the runners of my favorite shows, for being able to turn out good products year after year, despite all the pressures they face. Keep at it, because I love you!

So that’s the problem

Decided in a bored moment to attempt the snowflake outline method on a short story that’s been kicking around in my head for months. I could actually do the first step, as I know what I want the story to be about. Second step–that’s a doozy! I guess that’s partly why I haven’t written it–I don’t know what happens. Funny, that. If I weren’t focused so much on the screenplay, I would take more time out to figure it out. Maybe once I’m done.

Also, in case anybody is wondering, I did NOT come up with a sequel for “Bubba Cthulhu’s Last Stand.” At all. Even a little bit. I do not need more story ideas. I have too many as it is! *glares at the plot bunny in the hopes it will be ashamed and go away*

You are unique–just like everybody else

I have been working on the snowflake outline for my screenplay. It’s helping. A lot. I have found holes, which I have filled. I have found out things about my characters I didn’t know that I needed to know. I still have a ways to go in this outlining process, but I feel much better about things. I think that, when I sit down to write it, I will be writing the story I’ve wanted to tell all along, as opposed to going off on dead-end side tangents.

I realized on Saturday one of the best benefits of this outlining thing. In the past, I’ve come up with great ideas and written them out and only then realized they don’t fit in with the story I’m trying to tell. With working in a structured way, I am still coming up with great ideas, but they are ideas that fit within the story I’m already crafting. One of the greatest fears authors have, or at least that I’ve had, about outlining is that it will stunt the creative juices. If you do it right (or right for you, whichever way that is), it just helps to channel those juices.

And who doesn’t love juice?