August 28, 2014

The Mini-Movie Method

I recently listened to this really interesting podcast provided by ScreenwritingU where screenwriter Chris Soth explains what the mini-movie method is, and how it was applied when putting together this “it” movie of this summer: Guardians of the Galaxy.

Most people are already familiar with the Three Act structure in storytelling (whether via a book, play, or movie). However, many stories tend to have a “saggy middle” when writing their stories, where things seem to slow down quite a bit, and tension is lost.

And here is where the shoe pinches, because the #1 key to a great screenplay is tension.
So what is tension? It is the battle between hope and fear. Each event in the movie should change the needle in this hope/fear spectrum, and if it doesn’t, said event should be cut out.

Each beat/scene of a movie should have its own tension, which plays into the movie’s over-arching tension as well, and which are supported by these mini-movie tensions as well. As Soth puts it: “story structure is a ladder of dependent tensions.”

So what are these mini-movies? They’re another way to break down the Three Act structure into eight smaller, more manageable pieces, each lasting about 15 minutes long (or about 15 pages of a script), and most oftentimes involve a shift in location as well.

To help you visualize it better, I’ve created a little chart to describe each of these mini-movies (MM):

This is supposed to be seen not as a formula, but rather as the transformational journey of your hero.
If you wish to see how this structure was applied to the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, please listen to the podcast here.

August 26, 2014

Advice On How To Write And Sell Said Writing

The Poor Poet 
Carl Spitzweg (1839)
I am currently reading short stories that have won past Writers of the Future contests. Interspersed with the short stories are essays by famous writers with some advice to budding writers like myself.

One such section that I found in Volume XXII I found rather interesting. It is an epistolary passage, with letters exchange between writers and L. Ron Hubbard. One such writer, a certain J. Higgins, had asked Hubbard what his trick was to making a living out of writing (so many ings!). Here is the answer Hubbard crafted:

Dear Higgins,

   It isn't a question of how I started to write, it's a question of why.
   There's a world of difference there. I take it that you have a job, otherwise you wouldn't eat and if you don't eat, you don't last long.
   We assume, therefore, that you are eating. That is bad, very bad. No man who wants to start writing should be able to eat regularly. Steaks and potatoes get him out of trim.
   When a man starts to write, his mental attitude should be one of anguish. He has to sell something because he has to pay the grocery bill.
   My advice to you is simple. If you have the idea that you can write salable stuff, go off someplace and get short of money. You'll write it all right, and what's more, you'll sell it.
   Witness the case of a lady I know in New York. She was plugging at writing for some fifteen years without selling a line. She left the Big Town with her husband. In the Pacific Northwest her husband died and left her stranded.
   She went to work in a lumber mill and wrote a book about it and sold it first crack out. She worked as a waitress and wrote a book about that and sold it.
   Having succeeded with two books, she went back to the Big Town and got herself a job in the library until the returns came in. She wrote all the time after that but she was eating. In sawmill and hash house she wasn't living comfortably. She needed the extra.
   She hasn't sold a line since.
   The poet in a garret is not a bad example, after all. Personally, I write to pay my bills.
Jack London, I am told, plastered his bills over his writing desk and every time he wanted to get up or go arty he glanced at them and went right on grinding it out.
   I think if I inherited one million tomorrow, my stuff would go esoteric or otherwise blah.
   I started to write because I had come back from the West Indies where I had been hunting gold and discovered that we had a depression going on up here. Dead broke and with a newly acquired wife I had to start eating right away.
   I started writing a story a day for six weeks. I wrote that story in the afternoon and evening. I read the mag I was to make the next day before I went to bed. I plotted the yarn in my sleep, rose and wrote it, read another mag all the way through, went to bed...
   Out of that month and a half of work I have sold fiction to the sum of nine hundred dollars. At the end of the six weeks I received checks amounting to three hundred and two dollars and fifty cents.
   Unable to stand prosperity, I left for California. I got broke there, wrote for a month without stopping to breathe, sold eleven hundred dollars' worth.
   Nothing like necessity to take all this nonsense about how you ought to reform editors right out of your head.
   (...) remember this: You are the writer. You have to learn your own game. (...)

  Best regards,
L. Ron Hubbard
New York City

My interpretation is that you need to be so into your writing, there's nothing else for you but to write. Now I'm not advocating you should forgo food--that's a very unhealthy choice there. But it's true that, if you know there's no other choice for you but to write (or if you have a looming deadline), you'll be more likely to do so, and be a lot more prolific than otherwise. 

I also surmise from his letter that to also be able to sell such writing, it needs to please the editors (or, as I see it in this Age of Self-Publishing, the readers), which means you may have to forgo those eccentric, artistic bits of writing for a while, and yes, make your story more "commercial" in a sense.

August 23, 2014

Half A King - Book Review

Ever since I discovered Joe Abercrombie through his First Law trilogy, I've enjoyed every one of his works. Though Half a King wasn't as gripping a plot as as the First Law trilogy (which is technically not a fair point to make, considering one's a standalone book, and the other is a series of three), nor as deviously charming as Best Served Cold (my fave of his), I still devoured Half A King.

I've always enjoyed Abercrombie's gritty realism. Though Half a King is set in the same world as the First Law trilogy, it doesn't include any fantasy (not that the trilogy had that much to begin with). Still, he doesn't need to add any magic in his stories to make them sound vivid and interesting.

Half A King is the tale of Yarvi, the crippled younger son of the king of Gettland. Think of these people as burly, ruthless, war-adoring Viking-like people. Because he's crippled, Yarvi's always felt himself but half a man (hence the title), and is constantly reminded of that fact by everyone around him, his family included. Though he's trained to become a minister (an order reminiscent of that of the druids), the surprising news of both his father's and older brother's deaths forces him to eschew his brother's robes for those of a king's...

...until he himself is betrayed by those closest to him (dun, dun, duuuuun). After that, Yarvi finds himself on a long, arduous journey of learning and growing as he makes his way from the deepest pits of slavery back  to reclaim the Black Throne. On the way, he makes a a few friends and many enemies, and all the while Death's Last Door is never very far away:

And Yarvi realized then that Death does not bow to each person who passes her, does not sweep out her arm respectfully to show the way, speaks no profound words, unlocks no bolts. The key upon her chest is never needed, for the Last Door stands always open. She herds the dead through impatiently, heedless of rank or fame or quality. She has an ever-lengthening queue to get through. A blind procession, inexhaustible.

Definitely recommended to any who like coming-of-age stories set in an Early Middle Ages-inspired era, with lots of action and intrigue. And on that note, I will leave you with one of the character's summary judgement of life, which explains the tone of the book quite well:

"If life has taught me one thing, it's that there are no villains. only people, doing their best."

August 18, 2014

Genghis Khan

In memory of the founder of the greatest empire in the history of the world, here are some words attributed to Genghis Khan, who died exactly 787 years ago:

"Man's highest joy is in victory: to conquer one's enemies, to pursue them, to deprive them of their possessions, to make their beloved weep, to rise on their horses, and to embrace their wives and daughters."

August 12, 2014

Infamy > Neglect

S. Johnson by J. Reynolds

"Abuse is often of service: there is nothing so dangerous to an author as silence; his name, like a shuttlecock, must be beat backward and forward, or it falls to the ground."
~Samuel Johnson

August 5, 2014

How Do I Insult Thee? Let Me Count The Ways

Being a native French speaker, I can tell you that (1) we can swear like we breathe, and (1) some swearwords are so common we barely even notice them (ex: merde).

It is therefore only natural that I want to use them in my stories. The only problem is that my current series is YA and I therefore need to, uh, let's say sanitize my writing some and get more creative with my literary insults. Here then are a few invectives I thought I'd share for others who want to swear their heads off at, say, piss-poor drivers on the road, for instance...

  1. Loblolly: a stupid, rude or awkward person.
  2. Blatherskite: someone who speaks a lot and mostly of dumb things.
  3. Cacafuego: someone who likes to boast a lot.
  4. Slubberdegullion: a scoundrel.
  5. Chawbacon: a hick.
  6. Cockalorum: see Cacafuego.
  7. Lickspittle: a brown-noser.
  8. Snollygoster: Machiavellian person (unprincipled but shrewd).
  9. Mumpsimus: someone who stubbornly refuses to follow good advice and therefore makes a mistake.
  10. Pettifogger: a shyster (esp. in the practice of the law).
Le Capitaine Haddock, ever the role model

Now that you've increased your arsenal, go forth and conquer!! 

10 Rare and Amusing Insults - Volume 1 and Volume 2