Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

My Process (1 of 3) Notes & Theme

Friday, May 7th, 2010

I’m really trying to stick to my plan for sharing my writing process on here but recently I’ve been quite distracted…

See, it’s the beginning of mushroom season! And that means (free) morels! O’ succulent morchella… It’s like Easter all month long. If you’ve never done it, I really recommend mushroom hunting. Perhaps that’s the first step in my writing process - even before the idea stage. The meditation of wandering the woods. But that’s a whole other blog altogether.

First, a little disclaimer:

When I started this weblog - in addition to providing news about my work - it was kind of a public FAQ reference to offset the number of emails I used to get asking me about my techniques. Back in the day those questions of technique mostly concerned animation production. These days, however, I tend to be talking writing with people more than anything else.

It’s getting harder for me to hide behind mere aspirant status in this field but none the less I delve into the following with some hesitation… I’m an autodidact. Which isn’t to say I haven’t spent my share of time reading blogs like this one, just that I have no formal training in this field. So as usual around here the tips I’m sharing are really just my personal process. I’ll leave the how-to guides to the professional educators and crackpots.

Okay, that said, let me jump in:

Whether it’s walking through the woods or driving down a lonely highway my stories begin with that initial spark. The idea.

What’s the idea? Could be anything. Could be a concept, could be a character could simply be something indefinable that I have to start writing about just to explore further.

When I come about an idea that I can’t shake then my next step is fairly simple: I write it down. I open a text doc on the ol’ ‘puter and just write down exactly what the idea is. Sometimes these text docs sit around for years. If, however, I’m really hooked in by the idea then I flesh it out a bit in this note taking form. These are just plain speak, personal notes that would probably be incomprehensible to anybody else.

This is also customarily my research phase. If the idea takes me somewhere that I have little knowledge about - like satellites - then I do some background. This may seem a little like a no-brainer but I’m including everything here for the sake of thoroughness. Once upon a time I may have skipped the note taking stage. However, I’m getting older now and a little more afraid of letting anything incubate for too long in my head for fear of losing it to some burned out synapses.

The note taking process isn’t just good for recording purposes it also helps me start putting together the story’s circulatory system. In broad strokes I start figuring out the stories special moments… You know those moments.

The next thing I like to do once the notes are coming along is identify a theme. Distilled down to one phrase, maybe one word, what’s this story about? Friendship? Finding one’s place in the world? Jealousy? Good vs. evil? With Minushi, for example, my theme could have been summed up as “the meaning of family”. Granted Minushi has a lot of themes (political, literary, philosophical) but the theme that encapsulates the core of the story was “family”.

I put this theme phrase at the top of my notes doc. It serves as a reminder to me throughout the rest of the writing process not to stray from the heart of the story.

The idea opens up the floor to notes and research which allows me to figure out my theme. The heart of the story and its circulatory system are coming together (I guess I’m going for an anatomy type of metaphor on this one). Next up: The skeleton…


Friday, April 30th, 2010

Been having a good back and forth with Godheval in the comments section of my last entry about writing. It’s got me thinking about process and over the next little while I’m going to try to post about my writing process. I’m always interested in hearing about the processes of others as well so don’t be shy.

But before I get to that, I’ll share a little bit about my latest experience in the prelude to my writing process: Research.

I do lot of research in the early part of just about any script. Most of that research I do online, as I’m sure many people do. Recently I was looking for information on satellite technology; more specifically Earth observation from orbit. Occasionally it’s sobering and often amusing to be reminded of the perils of this online research methodology. The following is a snippet of “information” I came across online:

“A spy satellite can monitor a person’s every movement, even when the “target” is indoors or deep in the interior of a building or traveling rapidly down the highway in a car […] Besides tracking a person’s every action and relaying the data to a computer screen on earth, amazing powers of satellites include reading a person’s mind, monitoring conversations, manipulating electronic instruments and physically assaulting someone with a laser beam.”

Wait, what?

What A Writer Values

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Not so long ago I participated in a government subsidized program in support of the film industry (Hi, I’m from Canada!). In the application paperwork there was a question among the usual informational fare that stuck with me. The question was: “What do you value most about being a writer?”

I was completely stumped.

I still am. Forget trying to analyze what they might be trying to glean about my personality from such a question, I was stuck on simply trying to comprehend the question itself. What do I value about being a writer? Could it be the low to non-existent income? The lack of having anything in common with anybody in my family or social circle? Or maybe what I value most is having the measure of my hard work gauged - in seconds and without any real pontification - by everybody.

Yeah, there’s lots to value about being a writer. So why do it? You know why. If you’re reading this, you know why. Because you don’t choose “the arts.” Who would? It’s a hereditary affliction and you live with it. That sounds worse than it is. It sounds like a resentful complaint, but it’s not. It’s just a statement of fact.

They gave me three lines to answer the question on the application form. Three things I value most about being a writer. In the end I could think of only one and I wrote:

The ability to exorcise stories from my brain.”

And really, I don’t know what I’d do without it.

New Circumstances

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

I’ve been a neglectful blogger - I apologize. I don’t really have any excuse either. Just that I’ve been churning out copy like a teletype machine these days and it’s taxing for me to even think about doing any “recreational” writing.

But here I am. Because that’s what you want isn’t it? Isn’t it, internet? More. Always more. You succubus of information, you.

I wanted to share a little writer’s victory with you. This victory is - as most writer’s victories are - a personal victory. It’s the victory of letting go.

You know how it is. You write something. It’s amazing. There isn’t a word that could be changed about it to make it any better. (I will now employ an automotive simile that will tie in nicely with an anecdote later on:) What you’ve written is like a beautiful road that you’ve traveled down so many times that you don’t even have to think about it because there’s no way it can change.

Until it changes. That is, until the circumstances change. Maybe what’s changed is the budget of the film or the location needs to be re-thunk or it could be that your amazing script just isn’t as amazing as you’ve come to believe.

I was driving along a highway this past winter (Look out, it’s my automotive anecdote!) when the driving conditions changed rather drastically. It was early afternoon but there was suddenly a whiteout of blowing snow and fog - I’m not even sure how that’s meteorologically possible, but there I was. Visibility sank to about zero. Despite this, most people on the road did not turn on their lights making their cars invisible, effectively putting everyone in danger. I’m not talking about hitting the hazards button and braking down to 30 km/h. I’m just saying circumstances had changed that required a measured response. In this case the measured response was overcoming the mental conditioning that tells us you don’t have to turn on your car lights before sunset.

All this to say, I had a minor victory the other day when I cut a scene of dialogue from a script. I’d been enamoured by my own witty dialogue and just loved the way the jokes were constructed. I’d be reworking the entire script for ages but never wanted to touch this precious scene. But what I’d done by editing the rest of the script around it was I’d changed the circumstances around the scene, the characters. On its own the scene was still a beat by beat gem but in the greater context it stuck out like a sore thumb. So I turned on my lights. Cut out my darling dialogue. Now everything plays smoothly.

I’ll miss the scene but its for the greater good. A personal victory. A victory over pride and self-satisfaction - refuges, both, of mediocrity.

Okay. Good. I’ve done my online social duty. Thanks for coming by.

Hey, by the way, have you seen Refrain yet? You have? That’s great. Did you like it? Got anything to say about it? Then what are you waiting for? Post your feedback online, (facebook, twitter, imdb, youtube, amazon, anywhere would be great)! Word of mouth makes all the difference.

Notes on Reading

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

The year of the Lion & the Gazelle is upon us. Well it’s a upon me. And as such, I’m wearing my writer’s hat these days and already neck-deep in the script (re)writing process. Unlike anything I’ve done previously, what this means is my drafts will be going out to a bunch of people who will all likely have an impactful opinion on it. My writing is good - I know, because I write it - so I’m not worried about opinions. Unfortunately however, this protective arrogance cannot shield me from the lack of control I have over one thing: How people read my script.

Getting someone to read your script is a pretty big deal, whether it’s a producer or your best friend. I think first-time writers have a false sense of how hard this is to do. Sure, your mom wants to read your script, but all those people who say “oh, you’re a writer? Cool, I’d love to read your script!” they don’t actually want to read your script. They just don’t know it yet. Your script is long, it’s formatted in a way that they don’t understand, Dancing With the Stars is on at 9… So believe me, getting someone to read your script is pretty tough. And getting someone to read your script properly is next to impossible.

I haven’t been doing this long, granted, but I’ve been doing it long enough to know that if I’m getting odd questions about continuity or lack of foreshadowing (that I know is there) from a reader there’s usually one reason for it: They didn’t read the script properly.

Properly, to moi, means the following:

You have to read a script the same way you watch a film: In one sitting. It’s not a Popular Mechanics article, you can’t just pick it up every time you sit down on the bowl. It’s not a novel, layered with detail and deep internal character building that you can ingest in little morsels every night before bed. It is the blueprint to a movie. Therefore, I declare!: That a screenplay must be read when you are fully awake, preferably in the morning. It must be read from a comfortable chair in a room no warmer than 21 degrees Celsius. All phones must be turned off. If you must eat or drink during the reading this food and beverage must be prepared in advance and be non-alcoholic. For best results you must only read a maximum of two scripts a day. Also, in this fantasy the sky is orange and people ride flying carpets to work.

All I’m saying is the entertainment industry completely sucks the instinctive artistry out of creative writing through the application of a regimented drafting process wrought with two-centsing notes from everybody and their dog so… The very least the lowly writer can demand in return is that a standard for reading be applied to their scripts.

Flying carpets to work…

Thanks for reading.