Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Little Catch Up and Some Storytelling Knowledge!

It's been over a year since my last post.  Holy crap.  A lot has happened— too much to catch up on.  My character's been tested, the depth of my passions, and the integrity of my convictions... but I've been quietly moving forward with learning as much as I can about this wonderful craft.

A few quick highlights since my last entry:
I DP'd a feature film, which ended up being a live-and-learn experience.  It brought me closer to a few crew members, but ultimately left a sour taste in my mouth for inexperienced microbudget productions.  Never again, lads and lasses!

I've been editing a feature documentary that's hopefully seeing picture lock soon.  It's been a fantastic learning experience and has really taken my comprehension of storytelling and structure to a whole new level. 

Final Draft's been open quite a bit for me— writing a few shorts and a new feature.  The feature is currently in exploration mode, where I'm just putting pen to paper and seeing what comes out.  So far, I'm feeling good about it.  It's kind of a darker family comedy and could be an interesting piece.

I've been reading quite a bit.  Biographies, philosophy books, potential stories to adapt to screenplays... it's been keeping the creative juices flowing.  I'm currently reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which has me thinking quite a bit... and leaves me wanting to go on a cross country motorcycle trip.

Earlier in the year I directed a short film with two fantastic actors.  It's been completely finished aside from an ADR session that's set to happen in November, so I believe we'll be sending it off to festivals once that's completed.  It was honestly the best directing experience I've had to date and has really made me appreciate what good actors can bring to the table.

Other than that, there are quite a few interesting things on the horizon for me.  As they get closer to being a reality, I'll share them, but they're certainly exciting to say the least.

SO the whole reason I logged back in here was to share with you this fantastic list of storytelling tidbits compiled by Chuck Wendig, who's a fantastic resource on the craft of storytelling.  He put together 101 tips for writing a story.  I suggest you read the full list: 100 Random Storytelling Thoughts And Tips... but I plucked a few of my favorites and wanted to talk about them a little bit.

1. If you’re bored, we’re bored.
This is my modus operandi when it comes to editing, and more and more in my writing as well.  Keep your sense keen and don't ignore the fact that you're not feeling it.  On the other end of the stick, don't let that talk you out of finishing your piece either.  Thick skin and momentum will keep the ship moving forward.

9. One of your greatest skills is misdirection. You seed the truth of the magic trick early on in the story. Then you convince the reader that the truth isn’t the truth at all — until the time comes to reveal. And okay yes fine sometimes you are a Druid summoning swamp-elves out of the murk. Sometimes writing is sacrifice, not magic trick. Sometimes it’s all of those things.This one felt like just a fantastic reminder of a powerful device in your toolkit.  Setting a scene is often difficult enough, but then going a step further and realizing that the scene has too much information and gives away a potential mechanism to illicit emotion.  Stay sharp and keep that misdirection in mind.

12. Love, hate, jealousy, life, death, betrayal, lies, revenge: these are the widgets, levers and flywheels that keep the story running, and that keep us coming back. Lubricate the gears with blood and tears.I love the idea of blood or tears being the stakes.  It's such a primal way to work.

20. Pretend while writing that your job isn’t to tell a story but it’s to manipulate and emotionally injure the audience. Because that actually kinda is your job. You monster.I'm a people pleaser.  It's hard to break that cycle when writing.  I have to remind myself constantly to be crueler to my characters, and in turn toward the audience.  A cringe is a good thing.  It means that paper thin vale of your story is being upheld and the audience is feeling the emotion and engaged.  I just finished reading Mel Brooks' biography— the dude got away with every taboo thing he could think up.  He did it to shock people.  It got a rise out of them.  It made them squirm in their seat.  Then he'd turn it on its head and make you feel okay about it.  Something tells me that type of thing wouldn't fly as easily today, but go for the jugular and shed a little blood.

25. Humor is the hardest emotion to get right. Here’s a tip: don’t treat it like humor. Humor is funniest when the characters don’t find it funny. They’re not telling jokes. They’re not self-aware of the humor or the absurdity. To them, it’s dreadfully serious. Sure, YOU think it’s funny that they’re fighting a bunny rabbit with giant human nipples for eyes and loud, eruptive fart sounds every time it attacks, but THEY don’t think it’s funny and in fact they’re probably really terrified.This usually happens on such a subconscious level, but it certainly is a great reminder to frame it up that way.  The other tidbit to add to this is from Robert McKee who says that comedy is drama under conditions where you know the character won't get hurt.  I think Wendig's point is more on situational authenticity, where your character isn't aware his story is a comedy, and McKee is on the reality, or the proscenium in which that situational authenticity can take place.

27. Every scene is multipurpose.Nuff said.  Actually, to add to that, every scene must have an emotional core, and some would argue new information illustrating a new facet of a character a new direction for the character to take.

33. Characters are not role models. Characters should never ever ever be role models.At the core, this is an extract from the idea that all characters must have faults, and their mistakes are for our benefit.  It is the human condition to make mistakes.  A super hero may be a role model, but it often comes at the cost of an emotional emptiness or a moral dilemma that they must wrestle with.

37. Embrace dramatic irony: when the audience knows something characters don’t.
This guy goes with numbers 9 and 12.  It's another core tool to work with to squeeze out emotion.

41. End chapters interestingly. Which means with uncertainty, suspense, excitement. Lace the end of a chapter with the equivalent of narrative heroin. Readers will turn a page to get the next hit.
42. But don’t always give them the next hit. Keep them waiting. Tantric storytelling. They want you to keep driving straight. So, for a little while, take a hard right. Make them want it harder. Give the audience a straining story boner. Narrative blue balls or whatever the equivalent to lady blue balls is. Cerulean Clitoris, perhaps.
These two go together.  I think just developing your sensibilities and anticipating the needs of your audience.  The rough edit of the documentary I've been working on began with three scenes in a row that left the audience hanging with more questions and very few answers.  We thought it was a nice way to wring out some exposition while allowing the audience to participate in the story and think about it.  Well, having that many "to be continued's" left people frustrated and felt like they were being slighted.  Be mindful and listen to Uncle Ben when he said "With great power comes great responsibility".  Use these tools wisely.

52. Let the characters talk as long as they want to.
53. Be prepared to cut a lot of what the characters say.

I love this encouragement here, followed by harsh reality.  Always be willing to travel down a rabbit hole and see what comes out of a character.  Something a gem bubbles to the surface.  But when your story's all done and you're sixty pages over, show that discipline and cinch up the rambling that lead to that one great idea.

73. Cause and effect. Action and consequence. This is the blood and bone of storytelling. Character wants shit, does shit, shit happens. Character discovers character is not the only character in the world and is in fact in a universe dominated by many other characters who want shit, too.
It's momentum to your story.  The most basic building block of drama— being aware of this constantly and staying one step ahead will keep your story interesting.

88. Active over passive. Character agency over character inertia.
Going back to McKee again, he separates stories into a triangular continuum: Archiplot which is the commercial, by-the-book, happy ending type of storytelling.  Your character is proactive and seals the deal by the end.  On the other end of the triangle are Miniplot and Anti-plot.  Miniplot deals with a more intimate, passive character, and Anti-plot is like cuckoo land where nothing makes sense.
In traditional storytelling, having a more active character is what's expected, but it would be silly to completely ignore toying with a character who gets swept up in the inertia of a world and has some sort of existential crisis over it.  Indie movies wouldn't exist if we didn't have the more passive, whiny Eeyore character.

98. Storytelling is a series of promises, some broken, some fulfilled. Know which is which and know why each must be the way it must be. Fulfill more promises than you break.
One of my favorite film professors in college DRILLED into our heads the mantra "Everything is Setups and Payoffs." We practically chanted it in a seance during class.  It's a wonderful lesson in economics of storytelling and being mindful of purpose.  Both Wendig and my film professor's ideas are stemming from Chekhov's Gun principal which states "One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off. It's wrong to make promises you don't mean to keep."  Stay lean, folks.

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