Thursday, May 31, 2007


It is my birthday today and what better way to hail in the next year than by going food shopping after work and then watching a couple of kids movies with a shandy in hand (not a hand shandy, thank you).

At least I got an e-mail from my second mother, wishing me a happy birthday - my first mother is off in the Scilly... Silly... Sicily... Childish Isles... oh it is Scilly Isles!

Why do I have a second mother? Well, it all started 28 years ago today. Are you sitting comfortably?

Basically when I started work for the library service I came across a branch supervisor whose son is the same age as me... has the same star sign... shares the same birth month... was born on the same day in fact! Turns out she gave birth to her son in the same hospital my mum was at - just opposite Ascot Race course.

Serendipity has brought us together, though don't worry, it's not like either of us are worried that I was swapped at birth. What is interesting is that whether or not you believe the stars and horoscopes and the such like guide are destinies or tell us who we'll become, my second mother's son and I share similar behavioural traits, have similar back injuries (his from a car accident, me from Tae Kwon-Do) and similar tastes.

I can't be bothered to go into more depth here, because I know the depth of those similarities... you'll just have to believe me ;)

Screenplay Queries

Having completed the 45 pages of the screenplay and having spent the last couple of days analysing it based upon the paradigms discussed in class - Field, Hauge, Vogler, Campbell, Dramatica, and television - I came up against a set of worrying questions. I thought it best to simply e-mail my tutor and then present them here as advisorys notes that might be useful to others.

Firstly, for my particular assessment I've got to bring it back by 5 pages to 40. Otherwise I get marked down - argh!

  1. My teaser is just under 2 minutes long. Other shows have 5 to 7 minute teasers, so should mine cover a longer period or does it not matter?

    This doesn’t matter. Many shows have very short teasers, and I think the Life On Mars teaser I showed you was 2.5 minutes.
  2. On page 1 of my analysis document I look at the episode from a 5 Act structure pov and Syd Field's 3 Act Structure. Is it important to stick the Midpoint and the Pinch Points (if we look at the 3 Act Structure in particular) at exactly the Midpoint etc?

    Don’t worry about Pinches (although you might point out that your ‘act outs’ occur where Field’s ‘pinches’ might. You might also talk about your own Mid Point and how it differs from Field’s definition (not crucial that it occurs exactly in the middle).
  3. The same goes for the change of Acts - in 3 Act Structures, should Acts 1 and 3 be exactly a quarter of the length? At the moment both come in at 13 minutes.

    No. You have a certain amount of freedom with this. Don’t worry.
  4. Scene lengths - I've looked and looked, and found only a few examples of scenes that are longer than 3 pages. Most are 1 page or less, but because of the nature of my screenplay I have roughly 7 scenes that are over 3 pages in length. Should I worry about this?

    Not unduly. It may indicate that some of your scenes are a bit wordy, but while I’m against excessive wordiness in screenwriting I’m not against lengthy scenes, particularly in TV scripts.
  5. Further to that, when I break up my scenes with my protagonist's future visions they continue the same scene but just do something different with a jump cut in the middle - this essentially lengthens the scenes further. Should I worry about this?

    I would regard the jump cuts as a separate scene anyway. If you set the scene up once and indicate its location with a proper slugline and then afterwards refer back to it within another scene as a ‘Flash Cut’ or jump cut then that’s fine. As long as at one point you’ve properly indicated its location, time of day, etc so that it can be scheduled by a production manager for a shoot and isn’t hidden somewhere in a line that no one is going to notice till they discover too late that they need a whole day of extra filming that they haven’t budgeted for.
  6. I've used transitions for a specific purpose: a) End of Acts have Cut to Black or Fade to Black b) Moving to a flashback has just Cut To c) Moving in and out of a vision/deja vu uses Jump Cut To. Is using this methodology allowed?

    It’s allowed but I personally find it a bit excessive. And it lengthens your script! For Act Breaks you can indicate End of Act 1, etc. I never like Cut To because all film is edited with cuts. I know you’re trying to indicate the speed of those cuts but that will be apparent just by having a long scene interrupted by a sudden short scene. (But if you don’t want to do a new slugline every time you do a Flash Cut then I think it’s fine to start a new para within the scene and begin it with ‘FLASH CUT TO: that scene we saw earlier’, etc.
  7. Going back to scene length, much of the dialogue is really talking heads stuff. I've tried to give them things to do, places to move between, but that's been difficult. Should I worry too much about this?

    I used to worry excessively about that and write every facial tic and bodily movement of the actors (and I still find it difficult not to do this in my own scripts), but more and more I find that just giving the dialogue, with very few directions, is better for the reader. Let them imagine it themselves. Obviously, if there’s a bit of action that’s very important to what’s happening, then fine, include it. It’s okay to write ‘They walk across the car park’ and then just have the dialogue until ‘They stop at the car ‘. Again, this will cut down the length of your script!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Worry about the Unknown

I popped to Sandhurst Library today on my rounds - Sandhurst being the furthest of the branches and actually located in Surrey - and one of that staff asked me if I'd collected my £25.


When we had the Salley Vickers event there one of the photographers from the Surrey and Hants Star took some photos of us with Salley, and that was used in an article they ran on the event t'other week. It turns out that every week they circle one of the people in one of the photos. That person then has until the end of the next day, or the end of the week, or something, to go down to the newspaper's Aldershot offices and claim a free £25 prize!

Which is crazy, and rather lucky of me, except... I'd missed out on learning this and on seeing my ringed phizog being posted in the paper. So, no £25 for me after all. *SIGH*

The question is, do I really want papers in another borough running pictures of me, with a ring around my head, pointing me out to millions of people?

Aiye! What price anonymity? Not that any of them will remember me the next week - I've learnt that from my brother's tribunal and frontpage appearance - but it's disoncerting nevertheless. I hoped I looked good!

Monday, May 28, 2007

The 5 Act Screenplay

This is crazy because technically it's 6 Acts - there's a teaser on the front people! Anyway, as I mentioned before I wasn't able to stretch to 6 proper acts. I'd have managed it certainly if I'd have stretched for a 60 minute Screenplay.

But, I'm actually really quite happy with what I've produced so far - a 43 minute Screenplay that does what I wanted it to do. Now, the story arc that I meant to cover in the first episode will have to be split over the first and second - ah, yes, a two-parter. Isn't that the best way to open a series? The best way to end it, with a nice big hook for the audience to sink their teeth into, and get that hook right through their cheek?

So, Dark Machine's pilot episode Everyman - part 1, is ready for production Mr. TV Exec! Anyone listening? Well, perhaps it's not great television... my problem has been that the story revolves around one main character - he's in a very unique position meaning that the entire story must be from his point of view. Couple that with the timelock situation I've put him in, that the pilot covers one day (okay Parts 1 and 2 now cover one day) and I've set out a very restrictive regimen for him to follow. This has meant that in order to keep the plot marginally tight, the themes consistent and the characters appropriately motivated, some of my scenes stretch that 3 minute barrier a bit. One goes for 5 minutes (a big no no), and even though I've split it up with a minute long premonition, I'm not sure I can get away with it.

But then, that raises the question about scene length. Surely the purpose of moderating your scene length is to make sure the audience don't get bored and feel continually pushed forward by the plot? In that case, maybe my premonition scenes, splitting up a longer scene, benefit the audience's interest.

I'll have to beg, borrow or steal from my tutor to get him to read the whole thing before the hand in date, but it's probably worth it to get his input on these pertinent questions - I e-mailed him to ask if I'd get penalised for going way over the page limit of the assignment (40 pages) and then barely scraped 43, s'funny how things quickly change.

In the meantime, here's the breakdown of the Acts:
  • Teaser = 2 Minutes
  • Act 1 = 5 Minutes [Cum = 7 Minutes]
  • Act 2 = 7 Minutes [Cum = 14 Minutes]
  • Act 3 = 7 Minutes [Cum = 21 Minutes]
  • Act 4 = 10 Minutes [Cum = 31 Minutes]
  • Act 5 = 12 Minutes [Cum = 43 Minutes]
On a plus note, each Act ends with (I believe) a sufficiently intriguing cliffhanger/hook for the next Act opening. Also, I've been able to stick my nadir, my protagonist's darkest moment right in the middle at 21 Minutes, right at the end of Act 3. Obviously, from there everything goes further wrong, but at least I've set everything up for that.

The question is do I fulfill the criteria of dramatic screenwriting? Do I:
  1. Enter late, leave early
  2. Provide bathos as well as pathos (these aren't Musketeers)
  3. Ensure multi-actions
  4. Play the characters appropriately off one another
  5. Keep the plot progressing
  6. Not overload the audience with boring exposition
  7. Keep the characters resolute in their character types
  8. Change scenes (as per McKee) from positive to negative, or negative to positive
  9. Avoid "on the nose" dialogue
Only a break, a word with my tutor, and a return in a few weeks will answer those...

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Writer's Block

So, continuing my previous post:

2. Writer's Block
I have suffered as much as any man. My woes are deep, my distractions shameful - sorry, wrong story. Writer's Block, I now understand, hits a writer (of any ilk) for the following simple reason:

The writer doesn't have a full understanding of their characters.

Sure, that's very simplified when you consider exactly the multitudes of problems a writer's faced with on a word by word basis. In fact I could list specific situations in which the writer finds angst:
  • Do I describe this here?
  • What POV should I use?
  • Am I giving away too much?
  • I hate this scene!
  • I can't think of how to describe this setting!
  • What did my character have for breakfast?
For me, I have identified this problem with the help of Dramatica. I have quite literally spent an extended weekend getting to know my characters through a process of analysing my 4 Throughlines and mapping my characters according to the roles I have set them... Checkout the image:

On the Motivation chart my character's motivations behind their actions are laid out - this is what drives them - for example, my lead:

Sam Baker (as played by Mr. David Tennant) is in the position of:
  1. Consider (he is leading the adventure so must deliberate over the best course of action), in also in the position of:
  2. Pursuit (he must seek the story goal, whatever the outcome is and/or will be good or bad), also the position of:
  3. Conscience (my protagonist has taken on the responsibilities of his friends and families because his backstory has led him to guilt. He wants to keep everyone safe and make everything work out well for them), continuing in that frame he is also in the position of:
  4. Support (Sam supports everybody, but this is working against him, because he's spread too thin. He's trying to be everything to everyone, and no one can do that... he's failing), and finally for Motivation, he's in the position of:
  5. Hinder (in order for Sam's character arc to be complete for the pilot episode... perhaps I'll split the pilot episode in two! For his arc to be complete he must learn to let go of that responsibility. He must allow friends and family to learn from their mistakes and grow).

So, considering that is just one of four quads - the others being: Purpose, Evaluation and Methodology - I will have a very definite grasp on each of my characters and their roles.

And these aren't archetypes either. If I were using archetypes, one would be...

Okay, let's take Sam's wife, Claire Baker (as played by the rather lovely Rose Byrne). She is currently opposing Sam's friend, Mark Morgan (played by ever hilarious Kris Marshall) in the top two quads. First the top-left, Claire is Feeling and Mark is Logic. Feeling is warm-hearted emotion, Logic deals with cold, hard facts.

Next, in the top-right quad, Mark is Uncontrolled and Claire is Control. Uncontrolled being someone unable to resolve themselves... oh you get the point.

Right then. In Star Wars, Princess Leia plays Logic and Control. She takes control, keeps her emotions in check, knows what she wants, where she's going, and is a fairly practical gal. Chewbacca plays Feeling and Uncontrolled. Chewie is ruled by his emotions. Threepio and Han both warn of a Wookie's anger, and how many times do we see the shaggy carpet running amok, smashing things, throttling someone, and coming over all mushy?

Well Logic and Control is one archetype (we're just taking Vogler's mythic archetypes as ported from that other guy - his name will come to me... answers on a postcard). One of the Protagonist's allies, who supports everything he does, but plays the straight man (Tinman in the Wizard of Oz?).

The other ally is the archetype of Feeling and Uncontrolled. You see, these pairs are destined to be together, aren't they? (Scarecrow from Wizard of Oz?).

Through Dramatica I have been able to realise my characters first as archetypes: Sam is the Protagonist (easy), Claire, his emotional wife (she's having his baby don't you know), and Mark, his logical friend (a programmer - very knowledgeable).

But, then you just give it a little twist, change archetypes into conflicted, complex, deep characters, and you give your audience a little bit more to enjoy:

Claire is Feeling. She's Sam's caring, loving wife, made emotional by the hormones from her pregnancy. She worries, she has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and is a bit fraught with life.

Mark is Logic. He's Sam's business partner, and programmer. He follows logical processes, hides his emotions in wit and sarcasm.

However, Claire is also Control. She keeps her life in order, Sam too. She knows right from wrong and never strays, berates her husband for doing wrong, spreading himself too thin, or giving too much to his brother's selfishness.

Mark, on the other hand, is Uncontrolled. Whilst he should be partnered in with Control, he's not... because, he just won't take anything seriously. Not Petersen's business, data or threats. He's lazy, thinks too much of himself and without Sam, would have gone under long ago. He needs Sam to play straight man to his flights of fancy. It is this Uncontrolled nature which sparks the descent of the story.

Mark and Claire sit in opposition to each other in every aspect of their lives - they really wouldn't get on well in the same room together... so, thinking about that, why haven't I put them together? That would make a great scene!

So you see how creating complex characters we can really give you food for thought with your characters and their plotlines?.. hang on, wasn't this post about Writer's Block?

What I've been meaning to say is that by planning out your characters, really investing some thought in their roles, and who they are inside, their backstories, motivations, purposes, the methodologies that they carry out, you will know at all times what you can do with them, and this will help you in those dark hours of Writer's Block, because you can fall back on your character's roles, and ask yourself what would they do, why would they do that, and is that relevant to them.

What Price... words?

But a few words it is! I have been struggling with my screenplay for the Screenplay module from quite some weeks now and haven't, until this weekend, felt at all happy with it. This is a two-tier upset:
  1. The assessment asks for a 40 minute pilot episode for a proposed TV series, but I've wanted to push to 60 - go for the BBC length.
  2. Dreaded writers block has been throttling me.
I think I have overcome both.

1. Length
Linda Thompson took us through one of her Casualty episodes, and the script was only 49 Minutes in length. So, I didn't bust a gut going for 60 minutes. I mean, the Doctor Who episode that was on Saturday night was barely over 50. I'm currently at 35 minutes, I've distinguished it into a Teaser and 4 Acts so far... so have between 5 and 10 more minutes for the final 5th Act. That would be fine except for the fact that I was originally looking to take up my tutor's suggestion of trying for a Teaser and then 6 Acts, which would have been fine for a 60 minute episode.

But, I have one month left to write, perfect, re-jig the pitch, write the blurbs for the other 7 episodes and write the 2,000 word essay on the creation and how I've used the taught skills - oiye! So, I've got to get the script finished earlier than later, which means sticking with a roughly 40 minute episode, pairing it back to a Teaser and 5 Acts, splitting the previous sections differently to accommodate that and then filling in all the acts with the left over minutes (between 5 and 10).

Whilst I agonize over how to do that - given I've trapped my audience in with the protagonist, have a timelock situation and follow him throughout his fairly short day - you should digest Linda Thompson's Act breakdown of her Casualty episode:

Act 1 - Prologue - 12 Minutes
Establishes the themes, the mirroring of the parent/child fighting between Tess and Sam, the DJ and Simon, and the wedding couple and their kids.

Turning Point = Ernie (bridegroom) is knocked unconscious during the fight at the wedding, leading to snowball of other injuries.

Act 2 - First Remedies - 5 Minutes (Cum: 17 Minutes)
The mirroring continues, but this time between Nina (paramedic) and Lydia's (bride) adventures. This sets up the major misunderstanding between Nina and Abs.

Turning Point = Simon (the DJ's son) is hit on the head whilst in the back of the DJ's van and has an epileptic fit.

Act 3 - Crucible of Truth - 11 Minutes (Cum: 28 Minutes)
Conflicts worsen as we head towards the midpoint.

Turning Points = Guppy feels boring and Eileen tells him life is too short; Ernie's head CT; Ruth gives Ernie's backstory about Ernie being sad at his wife's death and then going out on the town with lots of women (foreshadowing the development of an older folk syphilis story); Ernie has an itch he wants Abs to check out; Ernie tells Ruth (Ernie's daughter) she has to go (Lydia must do this with her son if her and Ernie are to ever work out their relationship).

Act 4 - The Battle - 5 Minutes (Cum: 33 Minutes)
Conflicts are out in the open, decisions have been made, and people are resolute, no matter how unhappy it makes them.

Turning Points = Abs diagnoses Ernie's syphilis, leading to Lydia walking out on him; Abs takes on Tess's shift and Tess goes off for a night on the town with the girls; Guppy is told to go enjoy himself.

Act 5 - Resolution - 16 Minutes (Cum: 49 Minutes)
Everything comes to a close... except of course for the hook!

Turning Points = Lydia gives up her son and reconciles with Ernie; Guppy lets his hair down; Abs and Nina split after the "Truth Game" (which is also the name of the episode); the DJ and his son reconcile also.

Hook = The end of each wrapped up episode should provide a hook that will give the audience something to consider and want to find out in the next week's episode = Guppy and Kelsie, being very drunk, kiss, giving the audience the expectation that a relationship will develop...

Apparently it doesn't, but the hook's there anyway.

For Writer's Block, I'll start a new post...

Multiple POV's

So, still reading Crace's The Pesthouse - I'm only reading it of a night whilst sweating it out in a hot bath... you didn't want to know that!

And I came across an interesting way in which Crace conducts his two lead characters. As I predicted previously, when Crace made it quite clear he was giving us a future reference the female lead wouldn't know yet, she'd see the male lead again... and she does, as the story heads towards the dying days of the second act.

Up until this point we stick with the female lead, Mags. Note, it's the male, Pigeon, who was kidnapped for manual labour, and so it is him who'd we, the reader, would be more worried about as we stay with Mags's story. Crace builds in this two-level suspense. Underlying all of Mags's trials we, knowing full well that we will meet up with Pigeon again, worry about where and when, and how he is.

We follow her story, right up until the point where she meets with someone directly related with Pigeon - the man who kidnapped him and stole his one-of-a-kind coat (don't worry, it's not Joseph and that darn Technicolour dreamponcho). And there, with the badguy starting to cause murder and mayhem, and just when Mags's has been put into danger...

We leave Mags's and join Pigeon. We start a new chapter, open with a brief paragraph on the now, and then leap back to that night when he and Mags were split - note that we don't have the time and possibly not the inclination to go into as much depth on Pigeon's time as we did on Mags, so it is fairly condensed. Crace provides the right information to give the flavour of the characters Pigeon is with.

Once we are brought back up to speed with the now, Crace pulls Mags into view with Pigeon and merge their tales again.

Friday, May 25, 2007


I had my fingers crossed for this one - after the disappointment of Spiderman 3, I couldn't be sure they wouldn't overshoot the mark, as it seems has also been the case with Shrek 3 (sigh).

Pirates 3, At World's End, is certainly a tour de force, with Bruckheimer literally throwing anything and everything into the maelstrom - Heathen deities, undead monkeys shot from cannons, weddings mid-battle, squid-faces, betrayals, one Rolling Stone, and did I mention there was some fighting?

It opens like Return of the Jedi - Their hero, Jack Sparrow (Han Solo), missing in action, our intrepid team head to Singapore (Tatooine) to infiltrate Sao Feng's keep (Jabba the Hutt's Palace) to get him back... or rather the map that might lead them to... World's End. Seriously, it is a lot like Jedi. It lasts some time, at least it feels like it. Compared to the 2 and a half + hours running of the film though, it doesn't last too long at all.

But aside from that... do you know how difficult it is to talk about this film whilst trying not to give anything away? For example, you don't want to hear me mention things like, a highlight is the moment when we find Jack in Davy Jones's Locker (like a mythological Hades where he's forced to exist in torment), which quite mentally involves Jack living with himself, and himself, and himself - to such an extreme that I was taken aback by the sheer absurdness of the scene (and it did go on quite some time - in fact a lot of the scenes did).

What really makes the film is the plethora of complex characters they've built up over the previous two, the love triangles, and the audience's never knowing exactly who is betraying who and why... until some time later. But, it's in keeping with the spirit, even if the tone sometimes becomes a little too dark (we open with mass executions) and towards the end we have a mid-ship wedding, mid-battle.

Oh, and Jack steals the show... no, not Jack Sparrow... Jack the monkey.

Some plot points began to strain on the believability - and we get close to the feeling that Heathen Goddesses have been shoehorned in - even though it has already been setup in Dead Man's Chest.

Did I agree with the ending? Yes. It's a bitter-sweet one that was fairly surprising considering it's Disney - but then it's all about the franchise.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


I've got two days off work, leading up to the Bank Holiday Monday - 5 days off to get on and do my college work... only 1) My PC at home keeps dying (a couple of years ago I nabbed some extra RAM, which is running at a different parity from the other DIMMS [yes, good ole DIMMS] and whenever the system crosses this parity it goes oopsy). 2) My new PC arrived yesterday, ready for install.

What could be easier than ghosting the original Hard drive onto the new one to save reinstalls and losing precious settings? Would you like a list?

Perhaps not. It should have been easy, but after battling with dead floppy drives, inability to download service pack 2 because my modem doesn't work, and unable to install my modem because I don't have service pack 2... I find myself trying to get it up and running at work - yay!

Anyone would think I don't know anything about computers. Service Pack 2 won't install without killing the PC dead. Service Pack 1a won't install and allow anything else to work... and now it won't uninstall. I can't rejig any services because the MMC won't run, and IE 7 wouldn't allow Auto Updates, so, having uninstalled that, I can't get on the Internet.

It takes me back to my very first personal PC install (I've never bought out of the box PCs). First things first I installed the CPU on the Motherboard, screwed the Motherboard to the backplane, fitted that into the PC Case, and plugged in the power connections from the PSU - easy peasy - except that with the Monitor connected to the graphics card and the harddrive connected via the IDE cable, nothing worked!

I phoned up the company to ask for assistance, and they took me through it. Turns out that I hadn't used any of the plastic spacers between the motherboard and the metal backplane - the spacers would have prevented the motherboard from making connection to every point at once, thus shorting it out.

I managed to convince the guy I had used them ("Damn, damn, damn!") But, whilst we were on the phone he suggested that I just pull out the psu connector to the power button on the front of the PC Case... This I did, whilst the PC was still plugged into the mains, the rear power button switched to on, and the PC raring to go. Needless to say that when I disconnected those cables the world exploded.

"What was that?" Asked the guy.
"Nothing," I replied, checking my eyebrows for baldness.
"Did you have it unplugged from the mains when you removed those cables."
"Sure. It was the backdoor. Nothing to worry about. Look I've got to go, I think the cat needs milking, or something."

Despite almost killing myself, scoring a line across the motherboard and completely failing to install my first pc without a hiccup, I convinced the company to let me get a replacement motherboard.

That was a breeze compared to this, where I now discover the registry has corrupted itself - I swear I had nothing to do with it!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Mission: Literarti

"Have you bought the times today?" asked one of the fairer librarians, today.

I hadn't of course, I never buy papers! Why would she ask me such a question. Kuh! Does this require a reponse?

"If you buy the Times from WH Smith today, you can buy Salley Vickers's Mr Golightly's Holiday for 99p."

What? Where? Needless to say, I grabbed my wallet and ran for the centre of town. I still haven't read The Other Side of You that Salley very nicely signed for me a month ago (I'm really very bad with keeping up with this, having failed to read Freya North, Adelle Parks, Colin Dexter, Anne Widdecombe, the other Jodi Picoult, Lionel Schriver and Tracey Chevalier - all are sitting on the "signed author" shelf at home, just waiting for someone to put them out of their misery). So, why is it that I need another book, I probably won't get around to reading?

The simple answer is I'm a sucker for a cheapie book, especially one written by some nice lady who was more than happy to let me interview her - check out my interview, if you haven't downloaded it from my website, on the next Litopia podcast... oooooh!

I used to trawl second hand bookshops as a kid on holiday - any town or village we entered and whilst my brother zipped off to the arcades, I'd instead be fingering many a loose-leafed paperback. As long as there was a wealth of decrepit looking seconds, filled with worlds of death and intrigue (fantasy only mind you), then I was a happy bunny. It's there that I first fell in love with Clive Barker - no, not like that. Yes, I know he's gay! No, that's not the point! Look, I may act camp, but I'm not. No, I'm not homophobic. Would you stop?

Anyhoo, so, I struck out for Smiths (on the other side of the town centre) and there I am faced with the tortuous task of avoiding teens dressed in red, trying to guilt-trip the unassuming, happy public into giving all their dough to Save The Children - not that I'm against saving the children. But, I'm on a righteous (yes, self-righteous) mission, and I can't be stopped by someone who, let's be honest, I'm not going to give my credit card details too, but will still have to flee in a guilt fervour.

As it was, I didn't have to, there were far easier people to tap than me... this time... but as I passed I got the sense that these new age scrabblers were either smarter than the average, had been taking lessons in sales tactics, or, worse, been members of Jevhova's Witnesseseses - for they spoke to strangers like friends they'd known for years, nay, brothers and sisters of their own family. One shook the hands of someone they'd just met. I'm sure Solvey could tell us more on how all this works to goad the member of the public into a world of debt through guilt, but by-the-by, it felt kinda creepy. "Welcome to our cult"

Anyhoo, that's not why I'm writing. I wanted to say how cool it was, having finally got Ms Vickers's novel, to see a bonus in the back pages. Reading Groups are becomming a real big thing these days, especially with Richard and Judy paving the way (as an aside, Mr Cox's Litopian Podcast 2 had a dialogue with a couple of US agents who said that whereas with Richard and Judy the books are paid to make it onto TV, Oprah's show specifically chooses the books [strictly no buy ins]).

Erm, yes... at the back of the book is a PS section detailing extra insights, interviews, similar books, themes and references, etc - which is a nice addition that draws in the extra depth of creation - kind of like DVD extras - though it would be even better to have a USB flasdrive with this included - though a tad more expensive. I think I'll stick to my 99p version, whether I get round to reading it or not.


So it is that all things must come to an end - note I didn't say good!

Miss Snark, undercover literary agent, and George Clooney's kidnapper to be, has been standing on the ramparts fending off wannabe writers for two years now, giving out the secrets of her trade to the uninitiated.

She's letting it all go to focus on... her life.

She'll be sorely missed by those of us yet to get our acts together. But then, without people like her, the other losers won't ever work out what's wrong with their writing - fnarrrr! Rock on, perhaps there's a chance for us yet, Mr Flibble?!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Narrator's Footing

Any author worth their salt is going to go to great pains over how their narrator's voice is used to inform the reader and when and where the narrator may cross the line from show to tell, or as an aside to the main action, or to impart something that could fall dangerously close to pulling the reader out of their suspended disbelief.

Jim Crace, in The Pesthouse uses just such a change in the voice of the narrator (as sparingly as possible mind you, though he's done it at least three times by page 174, if I've been counting right):

Later - indeed, for the rest of her life - she would wonder how easy it would have been to have caught up with them if she'd set her mind to it.

There is no way that she would know of the future - only our narrator knows that. But why does the narrator mention this at all? Why does the narrator want the reader to know that she will not attempt to catch the other people up?

Simply put: because those characters no longer play a role in the story. Crace, by cutting in with this interjection, removes any and all need to expound upon reasons for where they go or what they do. The reader won't be left hanging at the end of the story wondering what did happen to those dodering old fools. Crace saves time and sticks with the style he has elected to use. We stay with the main, pertinent action.

You see, whilst having made this distinction, there is another character, the protagonist, who has been missing for quite some pages, but Crace hasn't cut him out with a quick phrase - and we, the reader, are still expecting our heroine to rediscover him again. Hope still holds out.

The Golden Compass

Aside from the obvious statements of: Why change the name you fools; the first of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials will soon be out in the cinemas. Along with Harry Potter, I'm really looking forward to this. I see it as a well devised world, built upon a deep mythology (the objective story - as Dramatica would say), around which the world revolves and fractures. As with all good childrens stories, into this a child goes, and must battle with their own wits as well as the wits of those who threaten the child's mind and soul - ooh, deep stuff.

And of course, it always helps to have set up possible franchise elements - for example, who would be able to ignore a personal Daemon plushy? Oh, and this would be mine... taken from the Golden Compass Movie Site:

Hmm, shy? Possibly. Isn't it funny how we construct these things (as in, answer questions) in the hope of getting a cool animal, character, Daemon... when we should be filling the forms out objectively in order to see who we are, not try to coerce it... come on... we all do it... don't we?

Saturday, May 19, 2007


Last night, a Friday, and my wife out for a leaving do... her's I think, and here I was, home alone with my chips and OJ, playing two olde games that I haven't played in some 15 years, thanks to the guys over at: SCUMM for creating the portal on which to play. Now, I'm a nostalgic fellow, often playing a song, and instantly recalling a time when I first heard it, or when it was played a lot - seeing, visually the place and the people in that lost time when... when I was happy.

Ah, halcyon days of playing for hours in a friend's bedroom... on their Amiga... AMIGA (not playing of any other sort, thank you). Possibly a wasted youth when I look around now at what other people are capable of, time that I spent playing computer games, they've learnt things, moved on.

Nostalgia is such a personal thing, but it wasn't just for nostalgia that I returned to Monkey Island 2, and Beneath a Steel Sky. I remembered that adventure games of their ilk had great stories that appeared laid far more bare than these days - where the story is so linked in with an action game that you feel like you're watching a movie. No, these felt pure... often annoying the convoluted manner of their puzzles, certainly epic, as a Saturday night sleep over quickly ran into the wee hours of Sunday morning (at twelve, by late Sunday, trust me, you'd wished you'd slept. School was always hell the next day)... but definitely pure, so much so, that having spent hours, days, weeks, months trying to suss out the puzzles, you'd fall in love with the characters just as you do with TV series' these days. So much so that the denument would have that same end-of-season feeling you get when Lost, 24, or Heroes concludes.

Ah, the sweet pleasure of total immersive entertainment.


Reading Stephen King's IT (yes I've been reading four books at once, and yes, I've been reading IT since early 2006), I came across a scene in which young Beverly hears voices from the drain in her parents' apartment. We open the scene with Beverly, and then a quick paragraph on describing the bathroom:
The wallpaper in here was a hideous pattern of frogs on lily pads. It bulged and swayed over the lumpy plaster beneath. It was watermarked in some places, actually peeling away in others. The tub was rustmarked, the toilet seat cracked. On naked 40-watt bulb jutted from a porcelain socket over the basin. Beverly could remember - vaguely - that there had once been a light fixture, but it had broken some years ago and never replaced. The floor was covered with linoleum from which the pattern had faded except for a small patch under the sink.

Okay. Good description? Nice and succinct, giving us a feeling for the state of the dwelling, the age, how well off the people are... broken light fixture (link in with the abusive father? Maybe). We have our setting, perhaps grotty, perhaps we'd rather not be in there, but it's someone's bathroom and it's in its normal state.

THEN, over the next two pages the horror creeps back into the book, at first the voice of the lost child, and then the cackling, mewing, horror, and finally, the sink begins spurting blood, and calling out to Beverly that "We all float down here!" and then we get:

A gout of blood suddenly belched from the drain, splattering the sink and the mirror and the wallpaper with its frogs-and-lily-pads pattern. Beverly screamed, suddenly and piercingly. She backed away from the sink, struck the door, rebounded, clawed it open, and ran for the living room, where her father was just getting to his feet.

Aside from the fact that this, again, is a well-written, succinct paragraph that pushes the action immediately along (without any of my own personal style of pace-ruining), we get, in that first line, a return to the description of the bathroom, and the sudden contrast between what the bathroom was before, and what it is now. The normal world is still there, but it's laced with gore. And that contrast makes the image far more vivid in our minds.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Over Shadow

We've discussed foreshadowing before but not overshadowing. Some works mention other characters who we never see, or who play a role behind the background and have an effect on the story or characters from afar - as if their devil-fingers creep over the landscape to exact actions upon the plot - muwahahaha! That character's presence is felt by the reader/audience.

Jim Crace, in The Pesthouse evokes a character who is no longer part of the story in a really interesting way that isn't really overshadowing in the above sense of working behind the scenes, but rather to relate us and the characters back to another character.

Franklin no longer knows where his elder brother, Jackson, is. They've been travelling toward the coast and become split up - it's okay, you won't hear any spoilers here. Franklin, the younger, occasionally referred to Jackson as "Mighty", and looked up to him as always being there, resolute and strong. Now that Jackson is gone, Franklin is becomming his own man, and after a small victory for himself, he relates back to Jackson - reminding us subtly of Jackson and that Jackson is on Franklin's mind:

His first step in the east. He should have felt proud of himself. Triumphant. Mightily relieved. He should have felt brave. But he did not. Rather, now that he no longer needed to be determined, he counted himself weak, dishonest, craven and troubled by disloyalty.

Note the reference to mightily. It is interesting that Crace then pulls that back by Franklin's anxieties about himself. He's achieved something that Jackson would have done without batting an eyelid, and then he is upset by it.

I wonder if we will feel Jackson's prescence as the story continues?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The X Files

It spanned a millenia, gave us all the willies and raised lots of questions about alien abduction, but lasted too long, was stretched beyond anybodies ability to stick with it, and lost the edge, and the answers with it... But I, almost 15 years after it first began, have found the answers to the mythology - yay!

How sad am I? How long do I have to wait till I get all 9 series for £50?

Check out the truth (it's always been out there):

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Screenwriting 106 - Masterclass

So, back up to Birminham for a 3 hour discussion with Casualty script writer Linda Thompson (winner of the Bridport Short Story prize back in 2000, and then also, of the BBC's Talent competition - to write an episode of Doctors). She says that going from being a literary fiction writer to Casualty is not a sell out. It's a career.

Scripts, she says, are the same as short stories. There is no overloading viewerd with too much information/exposition. A character arrives, does their bit and leaves. Of writing for an established program, she says, that writing something new (a new series, one off, etc) is fraught with uncertainties, but writing for an established program is a certainty that you will get made. So many new series are filmed but never shown.

Casualty is aimed at a mixed viewership for mainstream Saturday nights. As such it can't be too dark, too edgy, and yet the producers are always asking for edgy stuff, messed up story structures (ala Memento) and yet never accept anything that doesn't fit the formula (typical company types - eh?)

The quality visibly varies on an episode by episode basis. Whereas writers in the US are locked up together in an office day-by-day, UK writers do their episodes at home, on their own. This leads to freedom but also inconsistency.

Linda gave us four separate documents - part of the episode development.

Serial Document
This is written by the Story Producer and details 3 main stories - the A story, B story and C story. This focus upon the main characters, and in the case of Casualty - the medical staff. These set up the character/story arcs that link through the entire series based upon pre-series discussions about what's going to happen (which characters come to the fore, who'll be killed off, what's important in the real world, etc), and pretty much looks as if the story is already there.

These set up the themes that will play in the episode (in the case of that provided to the class: Freedom, Unrequited love and Life's too short). Since Casualty follows the 5 act principle, each Story (A, B and C) are written in five separate paragraphs (I'm sure you can work out why), each ends with a cliff hanger of sorts. (None of this is entirely set in stone).

Remember, that all stories are character led - says Linda.

From this serial document, the writer, ie: Linda, is allowed to go away and construct a script incorporating these elements around a medical drama of the day - in Linda's case, she chose a wedding that led to lots of little medical emergencies. She is allowed up to 10 guest actors to play these roles.

Linda made two important points:

1. The themes of the three main stories must be enhanced/backed up by what's going on in the medical incident/drama parts. The guest stories must magnify the serial elements by mirroring them as this adds to the character pressures.

2. Whilst the dialogue is going on the characters/actors must be moving, working, giving a sense of perpetual movement. Nobody just sits there doing nothing whilst they talk.

At the beginning of each new series (each year) – there have been 20 seasons of Casualty, spanning the 20 years since it began in 1986, with 48 episodes per season (crikey) – each of the writers is given a Writers’ Bible which covers everything the need to know – info on advisors to sets, direction and directors, to the main characters. We were shown Charley’s page, detailing him, as Linda said of a previous Bible as Animal – Sheepdog. A previous Series Producer hadn’t liked Charley’s character much… though the latest Bible states Animal – Silver backed Gorilla.

Linda briefly mentioned that if you’re in the UK wanting to break into BBC script writing, write for Doctors. It’s such a long running stream of episodes that generates some of the highest mid-day viewing figures that they’re always looking for writers. This is the way Linda got into it (remember, she one the BBC Talent competition(?) and she did so by impressing upon the Series Producer her knowledge of the characters, issues and the types of stories run – she did her research).

It’s difficult, she says, to play stories through the paramedics! She makes this point because the B story in the serial document focuses on Nina (Paramedic). Doing so means that the paramedic needs to spend a lot of time in the hospital hanging around (when they should be off saving lives). Linda moved the B story from Nina to Abs. These stories need to focus on the main character as the point of view character, and it made sense to make Abs the point of view – his character had the greatest arc/journey in this instance.

Diplomacy is the key! Linda says. In the C story, Guppy lost a patient, leading to his character arc. Linda felt this was off key with the feel of the rest of the episode that she argued a point of using something else to spark Guppy’s character change, and had it agreed. (Diplomacy is something she returned to later… but more on that… later)

The three stories generated in the serial document occur thusly (on average):
A story runs through the whole of the episode (this is 1 in level of importance)
B story runs from about Act 2 to 4 (this is 2 in level of importance)
C story runs from about Act 2/3 to 5 (this is 3 in level of importance)

The script editor will take the first draft of the script from the writer (or their ideas/questions) and give it to the Producer to relay/ask questions.

Vignettes, says Linda, are great little moments. There was one that a medical advisor came up with about an old man who’d been taking his pain killers whilst changing his batteries on his hearing aids. He couldn’t hear anything and no one could work out why – he’d changed the batteries after all, it couldn’t have been the hot toddies the old couple had been drinking! It turns out that the old man had swallowed the batteries and popped the pills into his hearing aids instead.

Linda says you can quite often fit 2 or 3 small vignettes like this into an episode.

Initial version of Guest Story
Linda next showed us the accepted initial version of her guest stories, managed by the 5 Act structure. This specifically Beats out the acts, and in Linda’s case, was one big A story (for the guests).

Better drawn characters (those with more layers) will garner better actors for the episode. Characters are perceived visually, and she suggests that in creating them, they are developed from the outside in.

Having got the initial idea, the writer can then rely upon the researchers to go and find details about any aspect from the story (for example: a blacksmith, or the procedure for Police or social services, etc). The researchers will go out and interview or find out the relevant information.

After the first set of drafts are done, a treatment must be created – this is a tedious process that generates the scene-by-scene beats. Linda calls this “writing cold”. This document is literally the “Tell” of what is going to happen (kind of like a synopsis, but in real depth). Unfortunately it is really important.

There exists a committee who then review all this stuff, consisting of:
The series producer, story producer, series editor (commissions the writers), episode producer and the script editor.

With these people, it takes the writer 12 weeks to complete an episode. 2 weeks for the first treatment, 1 week for the 2nd, 3 for the script. A meeting is held regarding justification of the first script draft. Then a mass of notes is handed back by the script editor on the 2nd draft. A third version goes to the executive version, and sent to a woman called Belinda, who seems to be top of the hierarchy… and her word is God… so, everyone agrees with whatever she says. The production draft is created and given to the director and then the shooting script is finalised, with the inclusion of pink pages (which we won’t worry about, since the writer’s journey ends here) – they just relate to the fact that sometimes what works on paper doesn’t work (timewise) in the flesh.

Casualty is a 50 minute program, with roughly 50-60 scenes. 3 minutes is the longest for any scene length (most being no longer than 1 minute) and everyone must keep moving, doing things, throttling one another, etc. Each episode generally covers one day or shift, flashbacks are rare and jump cuts are necessary for timing.

So, finally, back to diplomacy! Linda says that criticism is hard to take, but as a script writer you must have the skin of a rhino. It’s a very difficult process, and people who don’t write (but wish they were) are telling the writer how to write. Never lose your temper, she says, swear/tell them they’re crap… because you’ll never work in this town again!

Can-ca-ca-can't can't control the beat

Just stumbled across this brilliant comic site, and can't let go:


So, getting somewhere/nowhere (delete as applicable) with my monologues, I posted to my tutor:
I've tried to pull out all the self-referencing statements ofhumiliation and knowing and specifically opened up the opening and the discovering the weapons. I'm still a little fuzzy on it being mono-modal though because I'm not sure if there are still any moments that could be bettered through showing rather than the fictional descriptions of self.

So, I believe these two point might still be outstanding on the current attachment:
  1. You still occasionally shove the narrator's mental state down the audience's throat instead of thinking about how it can be shown through words and actions.
  2. You need to take the opportunities to evoke place whenever they arise- it's still rather mono-modal, stuck inside this very unusual

To which he's replied (postively - yay!):

Yes, better, but you diagnose the issues well! Try not to give the gameaway every time you take the story on to the next stage ('That's where I discovered Grandpa's firearms' - 'firearms' makes the narrator soundlike a policeman, and we need the suspense of finding out what he found). Look for other examples of this narrative overloading - there are a few.

Lots still to do in the mental-athletics of my mind. Though, looking back over the weeks of input I've had from my tutor I start to wonder, wouldn't this have been easier without the middle-man? My tutor could have written it better on his own. :)

Schlachthof Fünf - So It Goes

Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five is so weird that I didn't get it at first, but like my run in with Catcher in the Rye a couple of years ago, by sticking with it, I got a sense of something superbly defined and yet inexplicable - and that inexplicability is the narrator's place in the story. In Catcher it was Holden himself, who is narrating his story not just as a narrator narrates to the readership, but to his counsellor/psychotherapist (or so I learnt through a couple of readings).

In Slaughter we have a narrator who plays a role in the fiction, at least 1% of it anyway. He's not speaking to any professional though, but rather the readership.

Two different books, two different narrators, two different audiences - and yet, I believe, understanding these narrators, their purpose for speaking out, and their audience is key to understanding the text and appreciating the nature of the story - one I didn't get entirely for Slaughter, at least not at first.

The story itself is, wacky (though I suspect it had a hand in providing Audrey Niffenegger (though she makes no reference to it on her website - pah!) with part of the idea for the Time Traveller's Wife), all over the place with its time travelling, and filled with moments of disconnectednedd - protagonist Billy, of course, is persistently separate from his travels and seems like an observer... even the narrator makes the statement that little or nothing much happens - no conflict certainly (funny for a book on war).

It stays with you some time after, though not really to do with the Tralfamadorians or their 4 dimensional observations. It has to do with the talk of death, so it goes, and sheer multitudes of people who lost their lives, so it goes... So it goes, is a narrative trick utilisted by the narrator to delineate the idea of how sad and unfortunate but entirely unnecessary all these deaths are, so it goes.

Wikipedia says: Vonnegut used the chorus "So it goes" every time a passage deals with death, dying or mortality, as a transitional phrase to another subject, as a reminder, and as comic relief. It is also used to explain the unexplained. There are 106 "so it goes" anecdotes laced throughout the story.

So it goes stays with the reader as they go, reining them in with this familiar line in a way that, I believe, helps keep the reader's interest when the story wains - it breeds familiarity and gives the narrator some humanity.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

On the Run

It's a wet, quiet Sunday. I've done my ironing, watched Swordfish and failed to find any ideas to port across to my screenplay - which is quickly moving away from its original concept and becoming more IT related (Swordfish was no help) - and popped to Sainsbury's to do the weekly shop.

I found myself increasingly disorientated by the mindbogglingness of others. First, the petrol station, where, on a quiet Sunday, I find myself stuck behind the only guy in the world who's yet to sort out his chip and pin. "I don't have one," he tells the till clerk, but the clerk won't allow him to sign. "I was here yesterday," the guys continues, "and your boss let me sign for my petrol."

My first thought of course was, gee, this guy travels a lot, but then, also, why in the hell wouldn't he have sorted out his pin? Crazy fool. Someone else started serving, thank God, because I don't know how long this bottleneck would have remained.

So, I get to Sainsbury's, it's raining and I'm in just a t-shirt... jeans too of course, I'm not crazy. And the world and its wife have brought their entire families along. Why do people do that? You swing out of fruit and veg and almost take down fifty kids you didn't know were playing kiss chase in aisle three. You have to ditch your trolley in the vain attempt to locate plum tomatoes where an amassing army of old folk have barricaded entry. You struggle to find porkpies amongst the couples arguing over coleslaw or dips, their choice of trolley abandonment being the centre of the aisle.

I'm halfway round when I need to go back for the Fajita mix, so I sideline the trolley in the first quiet spot I find - end of an aisle, near to bread, nice and out of the way - I don't want to have to negotiate back into the ice pits near the freezers with all and sundry attempting to bump me off with their trolleys of choice and elbows of death. So, I dart back, commando, ducking, diving, searching, rolling - I am Indy Jones fleeing the traps at the beginning of Raiders. I slip between crushing trolleys faster than the Argonauts breeze through those cliffs, I double back when the going gets too tough. I collect paydirt and race back in time to make a dash for the light... only, two aisles down and I pick up the Hulahoops and dump them into the trolley - my trolley... somebody's trolley.

Holy Jeepers! The trolley wasn't mine. It wasn't a customers! It was filled with stock to be shelved, and I'd just nabbed it. What to do? Take it back, be seen returning it to a crowded aisle, being stared at, pointed at... laughed at.

I ran! I dumped my swag there (where the staff would never think to look, I bet) and made a break for freedom before the tannoy rang out with my description, before the security guards railed on me with baguette batons - I wouldn't be able to fight back, since my own loaf was in my trolley somewhere.

Only, I couldn't flee inflagrante - I needed my trolley, so's no one would suspect I was some crazy trolley thief, and for a moment there, I thought someone had stolen it! What kind of crazy fool steals another person's trolley?

I found it exactly where I'd left it... and there to was a member of staff looking up and down the aisle, scratching their head as if wondering what had happened to their trolley. I made my getaway under the pretense of a civilian shopper. I was safe.

The War is Coming

I'm the slowest of slow readers, and yet I completed a book in just one day yesterday - Ed Husain's The Islamist.
What an amazing book - not for its style, and perhaps not entirely for the content, but for the character arc. Ed Husain's development is one of the great reversals of a protagonist, akin (dare I ground this terrible truelife story down simple storytelling ideals and match it against the story of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader) to Star Wars. There is a great sense by the third act that Ed really does wonder what monster he's contributed to on the path of dissilusionment and hate.

The Guardian gives a base review here:,,2073365,00.html
But I can't help but feel that they don't want to step on anyone's toes with it - it's a tiny article that acts as a synopsis rather than a discussion on either literary merit, or even "Holy Shit, we're in deep trouble!" - which I personally think we are.

We go from the streets of London (and I think I'm going to seek out Brick Lane now, wasn't that by Ali Smith?) and the immediate highlighting of how very different true Islam is from the politicising of Islamists. We cover so much ground of just how the soulless brethren of Jihadists operate and the complete lack of preparedness the rest of country has towards them - MI5 recently admitted they shouldn't have allowed it to get this bad -it raises important points about how the terrorists of 7/7 lost the path to Islam's spiritualism in favour of vengeance against the west, in which they choose to live, because they want everyone to be like the Middle East where true Islam is practised... except it's not!

This extremeists have gradually reinforced the hijab, though that was a throwback to the Christians and Jews anyway, they wear long dresses and head scarfs that those in the East do not (in places like Syria, aparantly, many dress in Western clothing - long dresses and headscarves are to fight off the heat and sun rather than out of religious piety) - and though Syrians stand up with their brethren in hatred for the West, dismissing 9/11 as just another Jewish incident, they are little like Western Muslims. Ed shows that his time spent in Syria made him more British than Muslim - cultural and international boundaries will ultimately prevent one Islamic nation.

But, that said, Ed's account of Saudi Arabia, that US supported wonderment that rises from the sand, is the hotbed of hate where it all originates. It is here where the US forced them to change their textbooks to remove references to Jihad, and yet they still contain hate filled messages about killing non-believers - all scarily true, apparantly - text books that are on the national curriculum, and text books that are translated and handed out to our Muslim teens over here.

I'd hate to call for separation, ask the Police for greater surveilance, take up arms, but having stormed through Ed's book, I'm more fearful now than I've ever been that barriers are going up and danger lies ahead - though, I believe, it comes down to the same old thing: if parents nurtured their young more than they let others, we'd live in a safer world.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Book and Roll

What could be more rock and roll than the library, eh? Over the years, rockstars have taken copious amounts of drugs, fallen out of coconut trees, thrown furniture out of hotel windows, had vast amounts of sex, played to millions, and contributed vastly to the carbon footprint by jetting all across the world.

The library, by contrast, is an often quiet place, where old dears come to bitch about public services, foreign nationals surf the web for hours on end, communicating with their family back home whilst trying to apply for permanent visas, or simply applying for jobs, whilst stinking, wretched regulars make everyone sick on their fumes. And here in the basement some idiot runs amok with the IT equipment, some writing, lots of loud music, a chair on wheels and anything he can find to leap out at people from behind pillars just to scare them - what a crack!

Anyhoo, the library, that wonderful place where, recently, my boss pointed out that only 10% of the town's population come, that lonely, grey building that every other corporate worker looks down upon for being "just the library", that down-sizing establishment of old folk and kids schlepping of school, is soon to be home... to a rockstar.

I kids you not, and no, this isn't about Michael Jackson, anyone from Kiss, or Scooch (as soon as they lose... ahem, win, Eurovision). No! If this person gets the job, and it's fairly difficult, I'm sure, to get a job having spent the past 10+ years doing nothing but strumming and wailing, then the library will be home to a member of the Coo-

Er... I think that would be against the Data Protection Act actually, if I gave the band name - I shouldn't know anything about, which means, neither should you - perhaps I'll let you know which recently split band this person is coming from... perhaps.

In the mean time we must sit back (it's better than working) and ponder upon how rock and roll it is to go from gigging to shelving?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Impact Character

I've spoken previously about Dramatica and the use of the Impact Character to better define the Protagonist's through line, and round off the main story is a more dramatic fashion, providing us with a character arc, and character development. My screenplay tutor provided the following link:

And also the Youtube clip:

... to prove the point about Impact Characters and their place in story.

How cool is that?

Anyhoo, to me this raises the point of all these Main and Impact Characters play off each other, and only one of them gets to change... but what about if they do both change? If they both try to better themselves and break from the mold - a third character gives the lines, of how similar they are. Could that work? I don't see why not.

That said, Peter Parker changes in Spidey 3, and so does his Impact Character - Harry Osbourne - but of that I'll say no more.

And there's more:

Further then, to that, the following analysis of Training Day makes the observation of having a third character advise that Main and Impact are alike:

The Reckoning - Solvey's Question Breakdown

Question 1) What pov did you use?
Third person limited omniscent. We stick with our protagonist, learning that which he already knows through his thoughts and the dialogue, and learning alongside him what it is he's dealing with. I wanted to keep this in his head, so that the reader is trapped inside him when we reach the climax - I didn't want the reader to learn anything that he doesn't know/find out.
Question 2) Describe your protag with three basic characteristics (e.g. male, late 50's, hates sponsored swimming events).
Male, late 50's, loves wealth but not celebrity.
Question 3) What is your protag's name?
We never learn it. I refer to him as He throughout, though, through the text we could associate him to the name Dives; Mr Dives.
Question 4) How many secondary characters did you use?
Two. His agent, whom we only know of as the voice on the other end of the phone, and the Capuan Venus, His Aphrodite; the marble statue he fell in love with and abandoned.
Question 5) What was your opening line? Why?
"He heaved the door closed, diminishing the throes of the party behind two inches of carved oak." - I wanted, right from the beginning to evoke a sense of grandness (which begins here; the door is made from oak, large and rather heavy) - obviously I don't have many words to devote to describing the look and feel of the room because of word limitations and my want to stick to the descriptions of the darkness, there're celebrations going on that our protagonist wants to be away from, and of course by 'heaving' the door closed, I am foreshadowing later weakness. I don't evoke character until the second line (which, I suppose, could have come attached to the first): "'Leeches'."
Question 6) How many names did you invent (e.g. place names, character names, shop names, etc.)?
None. No places are mentioned - just as with the previous competition. My work always seems to sit in a very tightly focused world, nothing on a grand scale, single, simple locations - as this is, the writing room. And the real people aren't named.
Question 7) How many similes did you use?
Similes: 10
... A circular room appeared before him like a developing photograph... as if the caller was trying to cross the rift between this sanctum and the rumbling revelry... party that beat like a headache... heavy and solid like shackles of steel... the shadows began to shift about him like oil on a tide... filling his lungs to the brim like a swimmer caught in a riptide... slipped from her slender legs like spun silk... moved slowly, deliberately, like a goddess... as if guiding creases from silken sheets... lips were as cold as stone.
Metaphors: 6
... dampening the throes of the party... when he’d composed at his desk... lifting rousing, singular moments from eternity’s bosom and lacing them into poetic verses upon the page... their talons knitted into Dive’s soul... adrift upon his vision... wheezed at the night-stream...

Now, that's a different flip from the last competition piece I did. Similies have trebled, and metaphors have dropped by a third.

Question 8) Did you use devices of sound (e.g. alliteration, assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia)?
There are a few interchangeable moments of alliteration, assoance and consonance.
Question 9) What primary/secondary theme/s did you use?
The primary theme is retribution for betrayal. Just as in the parable, Dives betrays Lazarus by not helping him and thusly, Lazarus goes to Heaven, and Dives to Hell. I wanted my protagonist "Dives" to have betrayed his muse, personified by Aphrodite's statue - the Venus of Capua (a different version of the Venus de Milo).

The secondary theme is wasted talent through narcissm and avarice. The muse has provided Dives with skills and abilities to create, manipulate and write, but it is clear from the text that he forsook that long ago, forsaking also his muse and buying into ghost writers to maintain his riches with no effort - clearly he's treated them badly, but we never learn how (it should be enough in the manner in which he talks to his agent, and his first words: "Leeches," about the party goers). And if you were a muse, wouldn't you be pissed off that you'd wasted all your effort and someone like him?

The third theme is unrequited love. Dives once shared with his muse, this room, their writing, their shallow love of their own images. Through him, his muse speaks on the page, but when he promised himself he'd give it all up, sign on some ghost writers and make money without effort, he chose to give her up completely, leaving her alone and loveless.
Question 10) Which of these did you intentionally use?: violence, sex, profanity, death, birth, hatred, love.
Death and love are clearly intentioned. Sex is intimated through the Venus' touching of herself. Technically she is ressurected, or reborn - the only link to the title (from the other, more well known parable of Lazarus), which I like to think relates the protagonist, Dives, to Jesus. He has power over the muse, power to create (his last words are: 'Every conquerer creates a muse') and so, just as Jesus arrived at Lazarus' tomb to reawaken him, so too does Dives return to his muse's tomb, and reawaken's her... only that power has become corrupted by the years, and his role as Jesus to her Lazarus is ironic. Of course this links immediately back to theme number one, and make the Capuan Venus, the muse, both Lazarus's. She is the one betrayed and the one ressurrected.
Extra words of note:
I have used two partial quotes at the end of the piece.
Dives says, "Every conqueror creates a muse", taken from Edmund Waller: “Illustrious acts high raptures do infuse, And every conqueror creates a muse.” Dives is reasserting his authority over her and yet, the Venus replies, "Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to short-change the muse. It cannot be done", taken from William S. Burroughs: "So cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can't fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal." She knows that her will be done.

Of course this may all be read from not such a supernatural point of view. Dives is suffering weakness, shortness of breath, he's drunk, and then tightness and pains in his chest. Clearly he's having a heartattack, and is hallucinating. It is the good portion of his soul making him pay in these last minutes for the life he's led. From that viewpoint, the story is about guilt that we are never as good as the people we wish we were.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Micro Fiction

My fellow students are gearing up for their own assortment of professional development planning - most prominent of which is an idea revolving around 300 word Micro Fiction. I've just, I think, got to grips with writing 1,500 word short stories (just over the length of Flash Fiction), which was a mighty struggle that's taken the best part of a year to suss... but Micro Fiction!

If I want to be a part of this, and of course I do, I want to share with the other students, I want to be a part of a collective project - feel like one of the gang... feel, accepted - then, I need to rejig my thoughts another level.

First off, this link provides many links to other sites that may be of pertinent use:

Monday, May 07, 2007

Spidey Hi-Jinks

Here I am, only ever feeling cultured when I'm compared to my brother, and this weekend I went to see Spidey 3, when people such as MG have gone to Bridge To Teribithia, and the Painted Veil, where she's learnt much in the way of story and the nature of children's storytelling... which is nice.

I unfortunately chose Spidey for the pure fact that I've been waiting to see Venom in film for nigh-on 15 years, since I first caught him in Ultimate Spiderman (or was that the Amazing Spiderman? I can never remember). Anyhoo, Venom is my all-time fave Spidey baddy, so to get to see him strut his stuff across the screen, I thought, would make Spidey 3 a winner.

Except I was bitterly disappointed. Venom only appears in Act 3, and then, because of the CGI-ness of things, he's fleeting, always moving, always fighting or flying past the screen so that you can't enjoy him.

But, I could have forgiven Sam Raimi had the rest of the film been better - and don't get me wrong, story-wise Spidey was good, solid. The set up of past plotline - the Harry versus Peter and the love triangle - played out brilliantly. The backstory for the Sandman I could forgive, even if it was clear Raimi wanted us to believe he wasn't a bad-badguy, no, he was doing it for his daughter - sob sob.

Unfortunately the script wasn't awful, it was crap. The characters had more on-the-nose dialogue than an episode of Crossroads, and whilst there were no flimsy sets, the Peter Parker, I'm-getting-to-love-myself dancing in the street because-I'm-so-hot-and-the-ladies-love-me was grotesquely cheesy.


The separate subplots were drawn about each other in a cut-and-shut manner, because there was too many to fit in, and the denouement of Harry and Peter's failed friendship was unbelieveable poop because the writers realised they'd not provided any true, believeable means by which Harry might be able to realise/understand/come to terms with the fact that Norman Osbourne had killed himself, and it wasn't Spiderman after all.

And that's me wanting to like the film more than I did. Would I watch it again? Yes, but on DVD, so's I can watch Venom again - he's cool.

Breaking the Monologue

I'm really beginning to struggle now with the reworking of the monologue. I can see for the most part thos obvious sections that stick out, and tell the audience how the protagonist is thinking, or his mind works - which would be fine in a written form, but isn't in this instance - I've cut and pulled quite a bit, but am left with dregs and moments that I feel work but also I feel might not work, or still address the same issue of being too hung up in my protagonist's mind.

I'm hoping, out of the previous list of problems my tutor picked up on, that the following two are the only ones remaining that I'm having difficulty addressing:
  1. You still occasionally shove the narrator’s mental state down the audience’s throat instead of thinking about how it can be shown through words and actions.
  2. You need to take the opportunities to evoke place whenever they arise – it’s still rather mono-modal, stuck inside this very unusual head.
So, I need to be more clear on when I am doing the first and when I'm not doing the latter - which is interesting given that usually I overwrite my descriptions and lose the pace. Now, I'm supposed to level up on that - when I'm already over my self-imposed 1,500 word limit. We'll see what the tutor says.

I'm too close to it, haven't worked on the other two and it's already the 7th May. There's no time left to complete this and get working with some Drama students in time for the second week of June. The Arts Festival is a no-no, but I don't feel I can just let this slide - despite the nag of my screenplay, I've got that to write, edit, review, and a 2,000 word essay to write on it before the end of June - I need to understand and show my tutor I can use given crits appropriately without giving up.

Breaking Story from Plot

In response to my catch-all statement that good ole Aristotle once said "Plot before Character", my tutor put me onto these great internet links about the mechanics of Story and Plot and how fundamentally different they are, how they relate, but exist as separate parts of the foundation of a... Story Mind (which takes us back to Dramatica, doesn't it)... Let's not reinvent the wheel... here are those links:

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Last Review

So, I've had a day or two away from my "perfect" short... and it's time to look at it one last time - it's the adverb/adjective, active/passive pass.

First off, as far as adverbs are concerned, I've got away scot free - I'm remembering somethings, I guess. On the adjective front, I've notched up a score of 50; that's 50 in 1,500. Is that bad? Analysing the winning story of Winter Kills I've found 53, and looking at the Language Log, I find that 50 or 53 is just over 3% of the whole text, well within the suggested 6% limit - if we can indeed believe in a strict taxonomy.

Well, needless to say I'm not going to get bent out of shape by 3% of adjectives.

Hopefully, if my eyes don't decieve me, I only found two occasions of passivity. I did discover this great reminder site on Active and Passive voices, and their uses, which didn't have much use in the context of the short, but nevertheless... I think what's important - now - to think about with active and passive voice is that with every break in the sentence, every new clause must be considered on its own, and actively/passively reorganised dependent upon who is then the new subject.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Five Stages of Loss, Death and Dying

I'm nipping in and out of Rachel Ballon's Breathing Life into your Characters at the moment, and came across a brief section on the five stages of death quoted from one Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (a psychiatrist no less). The idea of the book is to get the writer to engage with their emotions when they are writing so as to create characters with greater depth, provide the reader with more emotion and build better arcs of conflict and motivation for the characters. The five stages are:
  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

And, as Baron says, as with all rules there are exceptions - some people don't hit all the notes, some get stuck in a cycle. Just as with Syd Field's discussion on 3 Act Structures, as developed by Hauge, et al, we can look at the five stages as simply being another play on Beginning, Middle and End.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Reckoning - Beta Responses

Phew, a quick call to arms and my beta readers responded in kind. Four responses in five were positive:
  1. Thought it was good; good flow and structure. Nice story (though it was unfinished at the time).
  2. Only read it because it was me. Thought it too high-brow and overwritten.
  3. "Love what the story might become in the/my reader's mind, you're really good at building tension".
  4. Story was good, well structured and flowed, though it wasn't a genre they'd choose to read.
  5. Had to read it twice to understand. Great story, lots of questions, great structure. Brilliant.

I think I'm ready to submit now - and all that done in a week. Maybe I'm learning something. Perhaps I should have asked Solvey... oh, if I'd had more time. ;)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

ISLAGIATT - Solvey's Question Breakdown

Question 1) What pov did you use?
First person, past tense, moving to present tense in the last few paragraphs – I wanted to bring the reader to the here and now as if our protag was reminiscing as she wandered her parents’ house, only to discover… well, I wouldn’t like to say at this point.
Question 2) Describe your protag with three basic characteristics (e.g. male, late 50's, hates sponsored swimming events).
Female, Early 30s, Hatred for her mother, adoration for her father
Question 3) What is your protag's name?
We only ever hear her father calling her Princess.
Question 4) How many secondary characters did you use?
Mother, Father, Dog, Mortician, and Girl on bed.
Question 5) What was your opening line? Why?
When I first wrote this (as a 1,000 word piece) for my NAW course, it began:
I used to look upon papa and her as love birds.
Rewriting the whole thing for the compo I changed it to this:
She’d steal me from the twilight world of my bedroom with dark eyes and hair like a nest of snakes.
I really needed to shore up the writing, give it some greater imagery than the “tell” of the first. I realised I didn’t need to tell the reader about the love between the parents. That would come through in the mother’s sorrow. What was important was the relationship between the daughter and her mother (She).
Question 6) How many names did you invent (e.g. place names, character names, shop names, etc.)?
Question 7) How many similes did you use?
Similes: 3
… hair like a nest of snakes… suckle at the ends like a baby on a teat… a wraithlike wind-chime…
Metaphors: 9
She’d steal me… Papa’s voice sang… her perfume wreathed my head; the rainfall of her tears in my hair… The sky was forced to wear black too… It hung around the church spire, spitting angrily… She had masked herself in lavender… my lips tease the fleshy parts… bedroom materialises, dressed in dark-oaks and velvet velour
Question 8) Did you use devices of sound (e.g. alliteration, assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia)?
I end the piece with three sentences that begin: Here, as I…Onomatopoeia: squish, but nothing else.
Question 9) What primary/secondary theme/s did you use?
The subject of the piece, it seemed like a good idea at the time, actually comes last in the whole piece but has its nasty fingers threaded throughout. The whole concept began as one idea, based upon Terry Irwin being given the video of Steve Irwin’s death by Stingray. I wondered about the grief and angst associated not only with the loss but whether or not to watch the video. That all got turned on its head and what I wrote stemmed from Act two of Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander – loss of a parent and infidelity – but I wanted to spin that around also. Finally, it was… well, I daren’t say because it ruins the ending.
Question 10) Which of these did you intentionally use?: violence, sex, profanity, death, birth, hatred, love.
Death, hatred and love.

The Reckoning

The closing date for Litopia's latest compo is soon upon us... and I was afraid with all my other wordy-tomfoolery that I wouldn't get it written... but I've done it, and in less than 4 days too - still doesn't beat Osci's 3 hour, drunken writing binge winner (for Litopia's It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time compo), but it's a hell of a change to the constant rewritals I did for Summer Of Love, Winter Kills and ISLAGIATT - each of which took me two plus months to whittle into something presentable.

This time I feel a kind of zenness towards it - and that's without anyone but my wife reading it (I just don't have time for beta-readers). I'm probably too close to it, but for once I like the feel of the prose. Oh yes, definitely hedging towards the wordy, but that's my natural way. What I need to do is level up the action and disperse that wordiness amongst the dialogue. But then, I feel I've done that this time.

Anyhoo, I was looking back over Solvey's thread from Litopia where he'd posted a few questions aimed at getting members to think about the tools they're using when they write. Now, I know that this isn't a prerequisite to winning but I thought I'd apply it here, to help breakdown my short story for The Reckoning - The Lazarus Phenomenon.

Question 1) What pov did you use?
Question 2) Describe your protag with three basic characteristics (e.g. male, late 50's, hates sponsored swimming events).
Question 3) What is your protag's name?
Question 4) How many secondary characters did you use?
Question 5) What was your opening line? Why?
Question 6) How many names did you invent (e.g. place names, character names, shop names, etc.)?
Question 7) How many similes did you use?
Question 8) Did you use devices of sound (e.g. alliteration, assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia)?
Question 9) What primary/secondary theme/s did you use?
Question 10) Which of these did you intentionally use?: violence, sex, profanity, death, birth, hatred, love.

Answers to follow after the competition has closed.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Monomodal Monologue

I was worried about my rewrite on the monologue - worried I was getting too close to it, but, I'd tried to carry out a cut and shut. My fear was that there is still some fiction-based telling in there, but with the removal of the original opening and ending I thought it had a better developed punch to what's pertinent. I'd added more references to the bullying too, but I wasn't sure that the original flow still held together.

My tutor said the following:

There’s more punch all right. There are still too many knowing references (‘like Macbeth to an actor’; the stuff about decrying Jews and
Muslims) and you still occasionally shove the narrator’s mental state down the audience’s throat instead of thinking about how it can be shown through words and actions (stop saying ‘humiliation’, for example, and make us feel it). Structural points:

  1. Give us more time at the start. Establish the ordinariness of the
    surroundings. I would take the audience see them before they see the narrator (i.e. you don’t need the first sentence, do you?). I didn’t buy the dictators – a bit obvious, surely, given what’s to come?
  2. I think you need to establish a time and place for the beating at
    the bottom of page 1, otherwise it blends confusingly into the previous incident.
  3. Take time to discover grandpa’s weapons. We need more space when something innocent seems to be happening, and you need to take the opportunities to evoke place whenever they arise – it’s still rather mono-modal, stuck inside this very unusual head.

First and foremost, what is mono-modal? Is it the lack of dynamics?

I have turned, rather randomly to a science paper: Multi-modal Perception

Which provides this encapsulating hypothesis:

To design, optimise and deliver multimedia and virtual-reality products and services it is necessary to match performance to the capabilities of users. When a multimedia system is used, the presence of audio and video stimuli introduces significant cross-modal effects (the sensory streams interact). This paper introduces a number of cross-modal interactions that are relevant to communications systems and discusses the advanced experimental techniques required to provide data for modelling multi-modal perception. The aim of the work is to provide a multi-modal perceptual model that can be used for performance assessment and can be incorporated into coding algorithms.

I won't know how pertinent this is, but at least I can assume mono-modal regards a thinly layered discussion that lacks visual imagery.

Also, Reading Like A Writer Of Electronic Texts, says:

New literacies are multimodal - visual, auditory and they move fast.
Computers are ‘symbol machines’ (Labbo, in press) that allow children to negotiate a complex interplay of multiple sign systems (e.g., video clips, music, sound effects, icons, virtually rendered paint strokes, text in print-based documents), multiple modalities (e.g., linguistic, auditory, visual, artistic), and recursive communicative and cognitive processes (e.g., real time and virtual conversations, cutting/pasting text, manipulating graphics, importing photographs).

Intriguing, no?