Archive | July, 2016

That feel when . . .

29 Jul

. . . you’re trying to see how all of your plot threads build to the finale and . . . yikes.

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Write-it Wednesday #9 –Atmosphere

28 Jul

We as writers today share a strange problem that might have seemed foreign even a hundred years ago — we live in a visual world. Of course there have always been plays and dramatic performances, illustrations etc translating between the visual world and the world on the page, but today this is more prevalent than ever. Literature is the only non-visual medium in today’s pantheon. Movies, TV, comics, video games, and theater all rely on visuals for tone, setting, and description. They inherently contain a single visual landscape shared among their entire audience.

Books have this too, but looser. Until the setting is crystalized into a single unit by a movie or other visual adaptation, there are as many variations on your world as you have readers. (This, by the way, is why I’m somewhat puzzled by book character cosplay. Unless the book has or is an adaptation . . . how could anyone recognize anyone’s costume? Everyone pictures things differently.)

You have a hard job. Not only are you from a culture where visual media is king, so is your audience. You need to use words to get everyone on the same visual page. Its your job to help your readers render the visual world of your story in their minds as they experience it.

So, for this week’s exercise, let’s work our descriptive skills.

First, a translation. Choose an existing work in a visual medium. Pick one specific setting and describe it as if it were part of a book. What’s important? When it comes to settings and backgrounds, there will always be more information in a visual medium. (Not so with emotions, backstory, etc, but that’s another prompt). How can you simplify the visual landscape in a way that keeps the reader engaged while imparting the necessary tonal an geographical information.

For an added challenge try describing the same setting again and seeing how different you can make it while staying true to the original visual.

And keep in mind, the farther from a shared reference point the work you’re describing is, the more challenging it will be. Most sitcoms and crime dramas take place in a few real-world locations like apartments and police stations. The commonality of these places, along with their prevalence in visual media, makes them easy to picture since they have  strong shared cultural reference point. Oddly enough, I would argue that places like space ships or Old West frontier towns are also have shared cultural reference points. Most people in this culture can imagine a “standard” space ship. The more original or obscure the visual language of your chosen sample, the harder it will be to capture.

Have at it.

Write-it Wednesday #8 — Your Outer Critic

21 Jul

We all have an inner critic, that little voice that whispers advice both of the observant and helpful and soul-crushingly negative varieties.

That . . . isn’t really relevant here.

Instead we’re going to focus on our outer critic. Who is this outer critic? That’s totally up to you.

I don’t know about you, but I am very fond of internet movie critics and movie shows. CinemaSins, Honest Trailers, HISHE, Nostalgia Critic, and so on. You probably have some favorites too.

For this exercise, write a review of the current project you’re working on in the voice of your favorite internet critic. Alternatively, review a favorite (or least favorite) piece of media, but preferably one that critic hasn’t already addressed. Which critic you choose will determine how detailed your analysis is, and what elements it looks at.

The goal here is to think about some of the common flaws and praises that critic points out and see how they apply to your story. This is meant to be an interesting and potentially helpful thought exercise, not to tear you down or quantify your project as “good” or “bad.” It’s also a character voice exercise as you try to adopt the style and speech pattern of your choses critic.

My favorite critic at the moment is MovieBob, especially from his Escape to the Movies series from a few years ago. His reviews are short, and point out flaws in good movies, and good parts of otherwise bad movies, with I think is a helpful perspective. I actually feel like I’ve learned a lot about storytelling from watching his review, especially about theme and how theme plays out in genre movies as well as in *snobby fake British voice*  film.

Anyway, I know this is a little unconventional as prompts go, and some of you might not be at a stage in your work that needs or wants criticism like this, but maybe this will help you identify your own preferences as far as genre, tone, theme, tropes etc, go. Hopefully it will also be fun.

 

Write-it Wednesday #7 — Bottle Short

13 Jul

I don’t know how many of your have heard the term “bottle show” as it refers to television, but you’ve all probably seen one. It’s a cost-conscious episode design where every once in a while, the top two or three leads will get stuck somewhere–in a submarine, a helicopter, a remote laboratory, or even their own home base. They then must work out their usual weekly mystery–whodunit, what alien, etc, without their usual tools or resources, and often against a ticking clock.

I’m thinking of a few episodes of The X-Files, and many episodes from the mid-2000s sci-fi (and SyFy) monster hunting SanctuarySanctuary had a bunch, because it was relatively low budget.

This works in comedies too of course, although comedies are more “bottled” by nature, often taking place mainly in a few familiar sets, usually the characters’ living rooms or apartments. But still, the power goes out, everyone’s snowed in, etc.

But I promised a smaller-scope prompt (and I almost backed out, I’m just not good with those), so let’s add a dimension. A lot of us work mainly in fantasy world, and even when we set our stories in the real world, we lean toward the genres and settings that are popular right now — crime dramas in dim alleys and bustling police stations; superheroes with secret swanky headquarters flying over NYC. That’s not exactly “small-scope.”

So, as a limiting factor, this week you are to write a short, it can be a scene, a short story, or a short film, but you must be able to concievably film the entire thing wherever you are right now. You don’t have to, obviously, but any effects or props you plan for should be plausible to ask of a generically capable film student.  For example, our fictional film student could almost certainly handle a coffee shop conversation, or a board game played by flashlight on a dark and stormy night. They could maybe even swing something like the first time-travel test from Back to the Future, if you simply must have your sic-fi.  It uses two actors, takes place in a mall parking lot, and uses a car with a bunch of stuff tacked on the outsides.

For those us who usually deal in stories more equivalent in scope to blockbuster movies than to student shorts, this exercise is meant to real us in. For those of you who are more comfortable with small stories . . . er, enjoy this prompt while you can? OR push yourself a little bigger by considering basic stunts or effects.

Obviously this is somewhat relative to where your life. I live in a small costal town where my theoretical choices are my house, the local movie theater, the beach, or one of like 16 mom-and-pop cafes, etc. If you live in a big city, your choices will be a bit different, but use you best judgement, and keep it close to home.

Finally, let the setting you pick be the prompt for your story. The place(s) your select will define the tone of the story, and determine what characters would be there.

Write-it Wednesday #6 — Ready, Set, Swap

6 Jul

First of all, I want to apologize.

Many of the prompts I post here  are “large” and/or conceptual. Things like “Create a world in which . . .” or “Analyze this very specific element of your existing project to find . . .”

That’s how my brain happens to work. It’s easier for me to brainstorm, say, alternative paths that Ilvermorny could have taken rather than sit down and write a self-contained 1-5k story.

How fun? Sure, until it comes time to actually write something. All that practice gained from smaller pieces is sorely missed.

And if you hung around CWC for this long, your brain might work like this too. That or you were just biding your time waiting for new management. (I respect that. How do you think I got handed the club in the first place?)

Anyway, whatever type of creative writing/thinking you gravitate toward, it would behoove us all to work on “small” scenes once in a while.

Next week.

I’m sorry, but I’ve got a fun little conceptual prompt that I just feel like posting.

I had this neat little idea the other day about a National Treasure -style treasure hunt/heist but set exclusively in a tiny costal town. (Dibs, by the way, I think I might run with it).

Anyway, your prompt for the week is a setting swap. Start with a story — this can be a specific movie/book or maybe even better, a genre. Then swap the setting. For example, the much-lamented Firefly is a western set in space. So what would a Space Opera set in the Old West look like? Don’t be afraid to get specific on the source material. This Space-opera-in-the-Old-West would look very different based on Star Wars that it would on Star Trek. (And I’m not just saying that to see who sides with which.) One is a war/rebellion story, one is a story of exploration. So muse on it. Switch things up. If you’re really feeling brave, do this on your own story too.

And for the record, this would make a decent “small” prompt as well. A conversation that would normally happen at a coffee shop takes place . . . anywhere else. And so on.

This would be a great one to post in the comments!