Thursday, May 30, 2013

"So you're saying, I go in to NBC, and tell them I got this idea for a show about nothing."

Thursday was always "Must See TV Night" so, in the Hollywood spirit of give me the same thing - only different, I will be giving you MSTVTs here.  This should be great fun, considering how much I loathe network television and the fact that I haven't had cable since 2001.  Really.  Since 2001.

Netflix is our cable.   Sure, you already know if the shows I'm just getting into are great or stink, but I'm still a huge fan.  I know that "on-demand" is the big draw for most but what keeps me around is NO COMMERCIALS.  If I'm going to "waste my life rotting my brain in front of that confounded box" I'd prefer to do it without being inundated with advertisements for products I'll never use - like a personal laser hair removal system, a Saran Wrap dispenser that you put the Saran Wrap dispenser that comes with the Saran Wrap inside of, or a company that wants me to buy gold from them (scam, BTW).  If I had the money to buy gold do you really think I'd be watching Drake and Josh? 

We've tried two new series in the past week.  Completely different genres.  Both have been in our queues for a bit, aging as it were.  Last night was Castle's turn.  I'd like to focus on one very specific thing that my wife said.  "I really want to like him, but I'm just not there."  That opened my eyes to a challenge of TV writing that I hadn't really thought through and flew in the face of something I'd said two nights previous, you know, that thing arrogant writer types like to throw out there.  "Writing for TV is EASY."

The problem with developing a compellingly flawed protagonist for many authors is that they don't take him far enough back - he's too good from the very beginning which leaves him with little room to grow - resulting in a shallow character arc and an unfulfilling story.  For the novelist this isn't such a problem, but in film it can be tough to overcome- you don't have a lot of time establish your characters and it's easy to alienate your hero by making him too much of a jerk or prince.  In a series you can't end your story with the character issues resolved because you've still got the whole season to go - and then what are you going to do next season? 

The solution in Castle was, in my opinion, well done.  He's irresponsible, there are suggestions of an immoral lifestyle, there is NO DOUBT that he's an annoying and arrogant know-it-all but then we are shown him interacting with two other women - his mother and his daughter, and we see that there is hurt, compassion, and love - a broad depth.  The relationship between father and daughter was especially well portrayed.  Script writing is all about showing, not telling, and there is a scene where the two of them are discussing his trip to jail before going to bed and she holds on to him, both laughing, while he drags her along the hardwood floor in sock feet.  5 minutes of banter wouldn't have shown their closeness as well as that scene did - probably the best in the episode.  There is also a scene, not nearly as well written, but structurally sound, where he is playing poker with his friends and, using dramatic irony, admits that he is stumped, showing the audience - if not the world - that HE at least knows he's not all that.

I'm reserving judgement on the series.  It isn't the Mentalist after one episode, but then, the Mentalist wasn't either.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"That'll do, pig."

In designing my blog, I looked to carpentry - furniture making to be exact.  Much study has been done on the perfect stool.  It was determined that the one legged stool, while good in a pinch and for sitting on a tightrope, is not very practical.  The two legged stool is only good for people who can't make up their mind about anything but have to travel a lot (portable fence, just incase you missed it - I know, stops being funny when I explain it...).  Then there was the three legged beast and it was very good.  If three is good, four must better, right?  And it is, if you like four legged stools.  Being the modern world where everything is bigger and better, there were experiments into such abominations as six, eight, twelve, and fifty legged stools.  Notice you can't buy any of them from Bassett.  I use a four legged stool in my studio/office.  Not to sit on, I have a chair for that.  I use it as a table for my mouse pad.

The mousepad table is great as a mousepad table, passable as a place to sit, and terrible as inspiration for blog structure but as I sat (in my chair) staring at it, I heard the echo of a chant.  Four legs good, two legs better.  It made me smile.  When most people think of George Orwell, they think of 1984 but for me, 1989 comes to mind - when I first read Animal Farm.  The pigs provided me with the inspiration for the structure; 1) everyone must have a job to make it work - in this case, each day has it's own focus, 2) somebody has to be the boss of the whole shebang (me), and 3) it's okay to change the rules at anytime (if you are the boss).

I will also continue to begin each post with a quote from a relevant movie/tv show, include links that are either informative or filled with dramatic irony, and improve in my craft as I proceed.

My name is Jon, and I have a story to tell.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"This is my corn. You people are guests in my corn."

It's been a week [blogging] and I'm not going away.  Let's hear it for discipline.  Now it's time for some order.  This will get old fast if I'm all over the place.  After all, the last thing the intewebz needs is another egomaniac spewing nonsense.  (I have a fear that some intelligent life form is going to intercept just a smidgeon of our internet traffic and will judge our entire civilization by Facebook.)  (And that their assessment will be correct.)  (This is a fun parenthetical construction.  I've never used it before.)  (Except in math.)

This week I will describe the form that my blog is going to take so you will have some idea of what to expect.  Think of it as "Wednesday is Prince spaghetti night."  For example, I won't post on Sunday, that's my day off.  The Blogger site will allow me to author in advance and save posts BUT the point of this is that I'm writing organized (hopefully), entertaining (hopefully), content to deadline (absolutely) every day.

This blog is also interactive in the sense that you are welcome to post comments, ask questions, and send me email.  I think I fixed the setting that required you to provide DNA to do any of that.  Gatttaca was a great movie, but I don't think you should need to go through all of that just to say you want more about the kids and less about my hangnails.

Speaking of the kids, we had a great three day weekend.  Didn't travel, didn't play baseball, didn't even take the boat out (much, much too cold) but had a campfire, grilled meat, ate roasted potatoes, and watched Magnum P.I. on Netflix.  Gotta love Netflix.  If you don't, you should reconsider.

I'm still working on my action-comedy logline.  I know I said it yesterday but I really can't believe how hard it is to write a good one.

Monday, May 27, 2013

"I'm really a nice guy. If I had friends you could ask them."

Monday.  In my day-dreamy way I wonder if writers feel the same way about Mondays the rest of us do.  Wait - I am a writer.  I mean full-time writers.  No, that's not right, I write everyday.  Professional writers?  Stay-at-home-writers?  Ah, people who GET PAID to write.  No.  Almost though.

Got it.  People who get paid enough that they don't have to work at a different job too.  I wonder how those people feel about Mondays?

This Monday is actually a good one.  The sun is shining and the weather is cool but not cold and I don't have to work at my non-writing job, which is good, because I'm wrestling with loglines.  Not long lines mind you - there was hardly anyone about when I took my daughter down to the barn to feed her horse (not my horse, not our horse, HER horse...) and a good log-line is most assuredly not long.

A logline is the pithy sentence that "fully describes the film's concept, dramatic structure, and genre while simultaneously convincing you that it is THE one you want to see right NOW." I've been working on them for nearly a week.  A few hours a day actually.  Not sitting at the computer all of that time, but working on them in my head, spinning them about.  What a challenge to get them right!

Why?  I'm so glad you've read far enough to ask.  I'm entering another contest.  Jumping back in/on/over/through as it were.

Our community pool opens every Memorial Day weekend and my youngest children have been looking forward to it for weeks.  When the wind was blowing and the the snow was falling this year, they sill wanted to go.  At 5 pm Saturday evening, when the temperature finally ascended beyond 70 degrees, we relented and took them.  The usually over crowded - think Disney's Space Mountain crowded - grounds were a ghost town with only a few hearty souls braving the frigid water.  My boys didn't waste time.  "I'm heading to the deep end, okay?"

They had a blast.  It took hours for them to convince Mom and Dad to take them.  Most people were too afraid (of hypothermia!) and missed out, but they were dedicated to their goal and didn't give up no matter how often we said no.  I'm going to enter this contest.  And the one after it.  I know most people don't take professional writing seriously and believe that anyone can do it - like swimming.  But I also know that, when the writing get's uncomfortable, there are only a handful of people who are dedicated enough to brave the freezing temperatures.

If you're looking for me, I'll be in the pool.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? The man can't even trust his own pants."

When I started this blog I was a little concerned that I wouldn't have anything to write about.  HA!  I'm a writer.  I ALWAYS have something to write about.  That was some insecurity leaking out and I didn't recognize it at first.  But I do now.  I've got too much to say.  Like last night, I stayed up WAY too late watching a movie I didn't think I was going to like.  I want to talk about it.  I probably will.  Just not today.

Today is the first day of a three day weekend for me and since it was so cold out I started cleaning.  Okay.  Since it was so cold out and my wife was cleaning and yelling at motivating the kids to get to work, I figured I should too.  It had to be done.  I did the usual, but then I tackled the studio/office.  It's got crowded now that I have  bulletin board to thumbtack index cards full of ideas onto.  And yes Virginia, there really are ideas on it RIGHT NOW.  Cleaning, tossing, and sorting took me all over the house and I made some interesting discoveries.

* A near mint copy of the 1991 Novel & Short Story Writer's Market.  All 620 pages of it.  There is not a single reference to the internet or a contact with an email address (but some WILL accept a computer printout of your manuscript!)

* Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.  The book is as full of good advice I didn't follow today as it was when I bought it.

* A draft of my novella Wasteland.  Yes, in 1991 it was tres cool to write novellas.  Everyone was doing it. Even Tracy Hickman was doing it.  WWDSCS?

* A trade paperback of Chris Claremont's Grounded.  You probably have never heard of him or the book.  He worked for marvel  on the Uncanny X-Men when this novel was published.  I'll admit I'm only a casual fan though Chris' work has had a profound impact on me, one that he will probably never know.  On the title page of the book is a handwritten note that says:


Get out that pen and paper, pal, and start writing those stories!  Best of luck and fortune


I'm not a pack rat.  Not really.  I've thrown away a lot things that have actual value and yet kept these artifacts for 22 years through literally a dozen moves.  Why?

Well, I still hold out hope that someday I'll listen to the genius of Mr. Card.  And because the real secret of Grounded is that I didn't even meet Chris - the book was a gift from my parents - people who believed in my dream- who saw him at a signing, told him the story and he felt the need to offer his support.  The encouragement I received was real - from a stranger and from family - and I still feel it today, looking at that title page.

My novella may have been rejected in 1991, but I wasn't alone.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"There's a very good chance that this isn't either fruit or cake."

My wife and I like to mix up our Netflix diet with an episode of Life every now and then.  Last night was a then.  **Spoiler alert: this show tanked after the first season.  The episode “Black Friday” was awful.

The basic premise of the show, if you aren't familiar with it, is very good.  A former LAPD officer returns to the force after being wrongly imprisoned for murdering his best friend – coming out with a huge damage settlement and some fun quirks.  The first season is well written with episode and season arcs for the main characters and the conspiracy in a hip, off beat tone that stays fun.  I'm getting derailed by my second season stinks rant...  But seriously, no wonder it got canceled!

The Black Friday episode gives us a murder victim at a shopping mall just before the doors open on the busiest shopping day of the year.  Great premise but what followed was a poorly executed rip-off of Oliver and a terrible violation of Blake Snyder’s Double Mumbo Jumbo rule.  Six months ago I’d only have known it was bad, but last night I could explain to my bride WHY it was bad and she had an “aha!” moment when I showed off my mad skilz.  Guess what kids?  You really do have to do your homework.  Read the books, study form and structure.  It will make you better at your craft.

The rule, simply stated, says that you are allowed one “suspension of disbelief without explanation” per story – the mumbo jumbo.  It’s in the contract.  The audience wants to be entertained so you, the author, can create an entertaining situation, BUT you can’t just make stuff up for no reason, it has to make sense.  You want aliens?  Okay, but then don’t suddenly have a fourth grade teacher that can fly.

When you ask for the second “suspension of disbelief” you get DOUBLE mumbo jumbo.  There has to be a reason for EVERYTHING else in the story.

With “Black Friday” there’s a murder in a huge shopping mall but nobody ever checks the video surveillance.  Why?  Because then there is no story.  Mumbo jumbo.  I’ve checked the video surveillance in mall security.  It’s standard.  It’s also boring and solves cases – no entertainment.  There’s really no good excuse for NOT checking it.  We the audience accept that there can’t be video so we get to watch the fun show.

Problem is, this is “Black Friday” and there’s a doorbuster sale on mumbo jumbo.  We are immediately asked to believe that all the shoppers have to be let in.  Then there are NO cops or security guards (despite it being the 2nd largest mall in the world on the busiest shopping day) to keep them away from the crime scene.  Then the body is stolen and "hidden" in a garbage cart full of wood chips in the MIDDLE of the floor of the ONLY store that wasn't searched which we don’t find out about until almost the end of the episode.  Wow.  That’s a lot of mumbo jumbo and there were NO explanations.  I was half expecting the gold fish to break the fourth wall in the last scene, just to finish things off.

There was so much potential, for the series and the episode.  I don't know how much better I could have written it (got some great ideas…), but there were significant mistakes that I don’t think I would have made in the plotting.  Damien Lewis was outstanding as Detective Crews and it’s too bad he was limited by such a poor story structure.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"I'm pretty tired."

My daughter ran track for the first time this year.  She's fast.  Has some real talent.  Everyone says so.  She competed at the "All County" meet yesterday afternoon and was 7th seed.  That's pretty good considering that there were over 30 girls entered and, as I said, this is her first time out.

She took off like a shot, ran the first three quarters of the race in a solid second place.  Didn't let anyone get by until she was so tired there was nothing left.  Two girls fought to get around (first place girl will probably be in the olympics - she's in a totally different league) but they just couldn't - all the way to the end.  My wife and I watched from the finish line and saw some sprinting, clear sign of bad pacing in the 800, some gagging, but mostly, we saw exhausted compettitors that ran a tough race in very hot conditions, all well behind our angel.

I couldn't have been prouder.  She was fourth in the county.  All the pressure, all the EVERYTHING and she was FOURTH!  Wasn't good enough for her.  She was miserable.  Here's the scene.

Mom and Dad, hot from being in the sun, excited about the great meet.  Girl, arms crossed, staring out the window.
                                      Wow, that was awesome.


                                      What's wrong?

                                       I didn't win.

                                       You beat 26 other girls.

                                       I didn't beat HER.  I didn't win.

                                       It was your FIRST big meet.  You blew them away.
                                       Everybody was trying to catch you.


                                       You are your Father's daughter.

It made me laugh.  She is.  She went into that competition with every expectation of winning.  Don't tell her the odds.  Don't tell her to be satisfied with second best, or fourth best.  When we got home she wanted me to start her on a training program for next year.  The school record in the 800 wasn't enough.  She wants to win All County next year.  That's motivation.  It's from the inside.

Writing is like running track.  You have a team of supporters around you, cheering you on, offering you advice.  There's an internet full of strategies and techniques.  But the work, and the actual race, is all up to you - running out there all alone while everybody else just watches.  As a writer, you have to sit and type.  You have to dream up the ideas and keep pushing them out.  Thirty girls ran her event but only one of them could be first.  The odds for selling and producing a feature are even worse.  To win we have to practice, build our strength, and compete.  And when we lose we have to go back out and keep training so that we can compete again.

I asked if she could hear me cheering her on.  She laughed and said she could hear me all the way over on the other side of the track.  I hope you have someone cheering for you.  When I shared the news about my official loss in the contest with my "teammates" they consoled me, and then asked what I was going to be working on (and entering) next.  They can't run my race, I have to do that alone, but I can hear them chanting my name.  I will win next time.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"I never did mind about the little things."

This story begins, as most well told stories must, in the middle.  Not the exact middle, most likely, but certainly not at the beginning - boring you with exposition sans context.  Or relevance.

Last night, at a few minutes after 6 pm, I successfully, and officially, lost my first screenwriting contest.  It's not like I expected to win... exactly.  But I will admit I was disappointed and very surprised at how hard it was to go back to writing this morning.  I was competing against authors from all over the world, with years of experience.  I'd only decided to write screenplays four months ago!  What hubris on my part.

Of course, without some hubris we "author types" wouldn't write.  I had a serious decision to make this morning and was surprised that this little contest, that I never had a chance to win, was able to focus me so directly.  Am I going to be serious about this writing thing?

Of course.  I have to.  There are stories I have to tell.  I've been spinning yarns since I was kid, being encouraged by family and teachers to keep writing.  I have sought writing opportunities in every job I've ever had - in some cases creating my own (and in one very EXTREME case getting in a LOT of trouble for it).

I reached The Point of No Return a long time ago.  I will keep writing.  I will keep studying.  I will probably enter another contest.  Maybe at some point I'll go back to novels and short stories - but I don't think so.  I love the movies, always have, and to paraphrase Hemingway, "There is no writing like the writing of movies and for those who have tried it, and liked it, there is nothing else."