Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Memorable by Association

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

I wound up doing a lot of writing this past week. A lot of writing, a lot of pre-writing and a lot of talking about writing, as it were.

Something that came up a lot was character. Not surprising, as I was at the point of creating some new characters for a project. It got me thinking about a meeting I’d had not so long ago with some writers where I’d gleaned a bit of clarity on something that I’d never really thought about before.

We were discussing a fellow’s project for which he was writing a number of character profiles. The characters were all male, of roughly the same age and ethnicity. The main issue he was facing was that it was difficult for the reader to keep track of which character was which.

Even though the author had given them each very different temperaments, careers and motivations, their descriptions weren’t memorable one from the next. That’s when it dawned on me that in discussing each character we were discussing them on their own, separate from the others. Once we started talking about their relationships to one another the characters started to really take form and thus, take root in our memories.

I was reminded of a memory exercise I once learned in a psychology class. Memory by association. It works like a charm; I haven’t carried a grocery list to the store since. The exercise is simple, you associate an item (say you need to buy milk, eggs and a turnip at the grocery store) with another item that you pair through rhyming to a number.

Huh?

Okay, it goes like this: Start with number 1. Rhyme the number 1 with whatever comes to mind first: “One is a bun.” Now visualize your first item in association with the rhymed item. I picture a bun being dipped in a glass of milk; and milk is the item I’m trying to remember to buy at the grocery store. Same goes for 2. “Two is a shoe.” I visualize a shoe with an egg in it. Eggs are the second item I need to get from the grocery store. “Three is a tree.” I picture a tree shaped like a turnip, and so on.

Merely by associating one thing to another - as ridiculous as the visuals may be - I remember them both by constructing a more complex memory.

To a certain extent this memorability would probably come about in the story writing process just by having the characters interacting together, thereby forming some of those associations. But in the context of my fellow writer who was just trying to define his characters early on in the form of profiles, it was a great revelation. Also a good way to start his characters off on the right foot by giving them strong ties to one another.

And that grocery list thing is pretty top notch too.

The Right Personality

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Today a radio broadcast Sparked my memory of a seminar I attended not so long ago about “type theory”. The broadcast was about introverts and how these personalities react to an online environment. All very interesting stuff and worth a listen. However, the introvert / extrovert topic and the subject of personality type theory that we were taught about in the seminar was quite different.

I should say, type theory is this hugely complex Jungian psychological subject only the tip of which I know anything about. So it’s certainly not deserving of the simplification that I’m going to reduce it to. I do so only as an introduction to how cool it is, and how cool it can be when applied to character development in creative writing. This is the way it was introduced to me by Dr. Carolyn Mamchur at the seminar.

Here we go: There are 16 different personality types. Sounds like pseudo-science already, doesn’t it? Or a Cosmo quiz. Ignore that, it’s very cool, I promise. The personality types are made up of one of two opposing traits in four different categories: Introverts/Extroverts, for example, is one category.

This may be easier illustrated than explained so lets go on a field trip… Personality types can be deciphered by filling out what’s called a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator questionnaire and then assessed by a professional or - thanks to the web - in a totally unprofessional manner by dweebs like me. You can do your own MBTI test here. I’ve been assessed by a professional and also taken the preceding test and they both yielded the same result, so props to the online test. But don’t take my word for it. Once you’ve got your four letter MBTI results code head on over to this site to read your profile - they use the term “temperaments” rather than personalities.

It’s like reading an autobiography you don’t remember writing.

If you learn a little more about the MBTI letter codes then you may find yourself quickly becoming obsessed with mentally diagnosing your friends and family members. But if you can get past that for a moment you may just realize the value of this theory as a source of character development.

Creating a character is all about creating (or recreating) a psychology. At least that’s the way I look at it. To make a character believable, their personality has to make sense as it guides their behaviour. An audience can detect if it does not. Measuring out that personality to get there can be like trying to put together Frankenstein’s monster. Well this MBTI stuff, is like a blue print to every character you’re ever going to write.

Again, way too much information for one little blog post but stuff worth sharing. Go now. Be amazed.

Copyrighting Your Written Copy

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

Got an email recently asking me about copyrighting work so I thought I’d answer it here.

Basically the question was do I copyright my scripts to protect myself. As this is really a legal question, you can imagine how many different ways there are to answer this. Moreover, as copyright laws differ from nation to nation things only get more complicated the more questions you ask. But the short answer is yes, I protect myself.

I’m going to state some things now but lets bear in mind that I’m just a schmuck and nothing beats consulting a professional entertainment lawyer (as I’ve stated previously) in your country.

The fact is, purely upon creating a work, you also create and own that copyright. No forms to fill out, no governing bodies to register with, you are the copyright holder of that work (unless you’re under contract that says otherwise). The real issue with regard to that copyright is being able to prove that you are the original creator of the work.

The easiest way to legally make this claim (in Canada) is to register your work with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. There’s a fee and you receive a pretty little paper that has your name on it. When I was a teenager my friends and I used to print t-shirts. For kicks, or maybe delusions of grandeur, I saved up my allowance and registered my favourite t-shirt design with the copyright office. Even then I couldn’t understand how they could issue a certificate for the copyright without ever seeing the work… Amazingly - or perhaps not, given the bureaucratic nature of government - this practice hasn’t changed. When you register a work with the CIPO, all they ask for is a title. None the less, this is still the most legal of legal documents proving your ownership of the work.

Next up, the guilds. This type of registration makes a little more sense to me because both the Writers Guild of Canada and of America both allow you to submit and will store your script for the duration of the registration period. What’s that? The registration period? Ah, there’s the rub. The WGC and the WGA both only honour your registration for five years. A good chunk of time if you’re actively out hustling a project, but it’s no lifetime protection. Both guilds have online registration forms. I register with the WGA West because it’s half the cost ($20 USD) of the WGC (sorry WGC, but c’mon).

As mentioned above, you own your work’s copyright simply by having created it; the real issue is protection. What you need is evidence that you created the work so that if it is stolen (which sucks by the way, believe me) and it ever comes before a judge you can prove the work was yours first. So as a failsafe for every script I still practice the age old mail-it-to-yourself trick. You take a hard copy of your work, you seal it in an envelope and you send it through the mail to yourself. What’s important here is the date that will appear on the postmark and that the envelope stays sealed so that if and when it is ever opened, it is done so by the judge.

That said, I’ve never heard of anybody actually ever having to fall back on this method. The reason for this is probably that, according to a lawyer I once spoke to, only 2% of copyright claim cases ever get as far as a trial that would ever involve a judge. Most are settled out of court.

So that’s copyrighting from your side of things. I’ll need to do an entirely new post at some point on the basics of what to look out for when signing documents that involve your copyright. That’s where the real fun begins.

The horrible, horrible fun.

Behind The Name

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

I like names. Specifically the etymology of names. Maybe it’s name envy. Perhaps being someone saddled with a given name that is derived from the profession of laying roof shingles or tiles is responsible for this.

For this reason I usually have a hard time labeling a character that I’m creating without attaching some form of significance to their name. Ironically I usually hate it when writer’s do this because if I can quickly root the etymology of a character’s name while I’m reading or watching the story unfold, it usually pulls me right out of the action. That said, I can’t really help myself. I think I’d rather have an audience snicker at a metaphorical name than be bored by another hackneyed hero named Jack.

One of my favourite resources for researching names is website BehindTheName.com. I can spend hours there.

On a particularly trying (self-imposed) assignment, I was looking to name a husband and wife couple for a script I was writing. The thematic nature of the script teamed with the roles of these principal characters had me looking for monikers that would signify that these two were hosts, proprietors, stewards of a home which served as the main set piece of the story. That led me to my first name, Stewart, a derivation of steward. For my female lead I found a name that embodies the mistress of a house, Marta, which led me to its English derivation, Martha. Perfect names for my domestic couple.

However, my own domestic partner was no more than ten pages into the script when she chuckled uncertainly and called out to me, “Martha Stewart? Is that supposed to be a joke?”

Yup. Wrote ninety pages without realizing it. Fortunately this was an easy fix but none the less left me feeling a little silly. Names are fun, but there are obviously some perils if you’re not being careful.

Now… Is anybody else more than a little struck by the fact that domesticity guru Martha Stewart’s name actually echos her professional calling as perfectly as if it had been written for the screen? Could I be wrong about this whole entertainment thing? Maybe there’s a roof out there not getting tiled because I’ve been deluding myself!

Rhythm

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Working on a brand new script this past week. And why not? You can never have enough unproduced scripts clogging up your harddrive, right?

Drawing up  the outline for this project I started thinking about rhythm. Becoming more deliberately aware of it. I guess it’s been alive in my thoughts these days as I wander between disciplines; songwriting, scriptwriting and illustrating. Finding the rhythm of what I’m working on seems to be an essential part of the preliminary process.

Vidya was working with her band the other day and I could hear them fleshing out the arrangement of a new song. They were quite literally trying to find its rhythm. The other week I was doing some illustrating and as I worked I was searching for balance in the drawings, pattern, a rhythm. And this past week, with this new outline, I jotted down the story - going from notes to setting up a structure - creating place-holder scenes even though I wasn’t quite sure what they were going to be yet. I knew they had to be there in order to maintain the story’s pace, its rhythm.  There’s a reason the term “beat” applies to scriptwriting. I like to try to get that rhythm right when the story is still in its early stages, before things get complicated with detail.

It’s a universal thing, rhythm. It’s that indefinable quality that keeps everything running smoothly. And we, the audience, know instinctively when it’s off, no matter what the medium.