Thursday, February 19, 2009

For Arcadia High

Thanks for making me feel welcome, and keep writing! Ms. Tucker has my info if you want to drop me any more questions.

Some things we didn't get to in class, but I was asked after:

How do I make my characters different?
While some writers are known for using a hyperstylized author voice for each character (Tarantino, David Mamet, Diablo Cody), for the rest of us it's considered amateur writing. One of the best books addressing this issue and how to plan your characters so that they reflect your theme is Robert McKee's STORY. His theory is that each character should bring out a different aspect of your main character. (In the same way that you act differently around your mom than your best friend than your math teacher). We all have public faces we wear as masks, and ultimately how we choose to act also reflects what we value. So draw a pie chart and make enough lines though it so that you have a slice for each character. Write the main characteristic of each character in it, and that should be what is being brought out in your main character in the scenes with that person.

How do I end my story?
This is perhaps the most frequent mistake authors make. Read A STORY IS A PROMISE by Bill Johnson. Your theme and your first ten pages have already determined what your obligatory ending HAS to be, or audiences will hate your story and feel cheated. It's your job to go back and analyze what the characters and your unconscious have been telling you your story is...and deliver. Bill has a great website with free articles. I think they're fantastic.

How do I come up with ideas?
We talked about looking at a combo of your favorite books and movies to discover your life look at those same stories and combine elements of them. Voila! There's an idea. Remember PRIDE AND PREDATOR?

I came up with my idea for THE COMMUNE by combining specific experiences in my Bohemian childhood with one of my favorite books (MISTS OF AVALON) with two of my favoritie movies (CHINATOWN and THE WICKER MAN).

Following up on the problem of only writing what you know...
You're teenagers trapped in the same small world, so it makes sense that many of you are setting things in school, home, hallways, and talking about romance, parents, authority figures...this problem is why one of the most frequent pieces of advice given to young writers is to go LIVE when you graduate. Travel, see Europe, try on jobs and experiences. Experience some real tragedies, and talk to people who don't come from your same zip code. But in the meantime...look at the essence of your story and see if you can't take the same issue you're exploring, and using the Magic If, imagine what it would be like in another state, country, time...Sometimes that's all it takes. If you're writing about a boy you like, set it in a fantasy world like Lord of the Rings. Can they not date because they aren't the same species? It's really about looking at the root of what you're interested in exploring in that idea, and taking a step back and changing just one element. Look at Romeo and Juliet. That story has been told successfully in dozens of movies just by changing the location. The most recent retelling is UNDERWORLD. Same for CINDERELLA. If you start looking, you'll see the patterns and get more ideas.

We didn't talk about designing your protagonist, so I'm going to recommend this brief article to you.
Structure and Character Part 1
Structure and Character Part 2

Also, look at your boring scenes.
They're boring because the characters are agreeing with each other. Most likely, there's something you want to say and you're making a speech about it. Think about how this feels when a teacher or parent does it to you...boring, right? And not very convincing. Because there's no CONFLICT. If someone is talking in a scene, the other character better be disagreeing...even if it's only silently expressed through their actions. Remember when you didn't like what your sister was saying, so you gave her the cold-shoulder and loaded the dishwasher and kept trying to ignore her, imagining her head would just explode? Now that's a scene.

The other main reason scenes are boring...
Because you're repeating yourself. If you're not adding new information, than you're just preaching at your readers again...and they're tuning out just like you do in class.

Where's that PG clip from your movie?
Better yet: Here's a clip and the original page of dialogue as I wrote it, so you can get a feel for the process.

It's really all about feelings?
Yes. Read this article. Examine the works you're attracted to and dissect why. And listen to the song examples we talked about in class. Listen to how much emotion is in their singing voices. Your stories, in any medium, should ideally be that passionate and raw:
The Verve: The Freshman Meaning Lyrics

The Airborne Toxic Event: Sometime Around Midnight Lyrics

Another great one we didn't discuss: Father of Mine, by Everclear. Lyrics.

Female singer/songwriters who are known for delivering passionate performances are Pink, Jewel, Alanis Morissette, Fiona Apple. These people are expressing something very personal and specific about their lives (often their love lives, which is why I'm not pointing you to examples), and as we discussed, the personal becomes universal...transformed by the purity of their emotion. Google their name plus "lyrics", or plug their name into Youtube for more examples.

And remember...once you graduate, you're paying your experts. Seek out teachers who have a few key points you agree on, and discard whatever doesn't work for you. Because you are all unique as artists and humans, and there is no such thing as a RIGHT way that works for everybody. If there were, that teacher would be a billionaire and an emperor. And if someone tells you you suck and you can't write? Keep writing. Don't absorb the body blows. Remember, that person just isn't in your niche. Find the people in your life who are, and pay them more attention than the ones who aren't.

Hope this helps! Ms. Tucker has a handout on more resources for you, and drop me a line if you have more questions.

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