Friday, February 27, 2009

You Too Can Write Black Diamonds

Writing is like learning to ski. Your ass hurts and there's always snow down your pants. Wait, that's not right.

What I mean is...you master the bunny hill, because all you really need to do is stay upright and you'll be at the bottom before you're able to gain enough speed to wipe out. It's not that you really know how to ski; it's that you can keep yourself alive until the slope evens out and gravity's on your side again. Then you try one of the big ones, and suddenly you're speeding down the hill, screaming like a maniac and wondering whose idea it was to strap giant pieces of metal to your feet and push you down a mountain. Finally you get intimate with a nearby snowbank (or tree) and realize that the bunny hill method of skiing is going to get you killed.

I used to write journalism and prose pieces, usually very short ones. I had certainly heard words and phrases like "rising action" and "climax" and "resolution," but I never really paid any attention to structure. Generally I could write enough clever dialogue and rich sensory description to keep readers engaged until the the end of the piece.

It doesn't work so well with writing scripts. Everything has to be planned out. Every beat must build to the next one. Every line must have meaning. And I knew this. But I think was in a bit of bunny hill denial.

So my next step is massive structure study. I am going to be watching and reading pilots nonstop, breaking them down, copying their moves and hoping that someday I just naturally think of perfectly structured stories.

(And for the record...I snowboard now. But that shit's so much harder to learn that you won't master the bunny hill til like day 3, and the analogy is just a mess...)

Also, I just saw the movie TAKEN. Logline: Liam Neeson brutally murders dozens of strangers to save his 16 year-old daughter from human trafficking (ignoring all the other enslaved women) so she can return to her superficial LA life. Yowza.


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13 comments:

Neil said...

Great blog, Amanda. I love TAKEN. Neeson kicks major ass in that film!

Robin Kelly said...

As a member of Anti Slavery International and frustrated at the baddies getting away with trafficking in real life, I enjoyed their fictional comeuppance in Taken.

I expected - and wanted - the Neeson character to care about the other women and be politicised about the issue but I think it's more believable as it is.

Dan Williams said...

"So my next step is massive structure study. I am going to be watching and reading pilots nonstop, breaking them down, copying their moves and hoping that someday I just naturally think of perfectly structured stories."

I think this is a really good move. You can write really well structured stories if you start with the hero's/heroine's INTENTION. They enter a scene with an INTENTION. Then there's an OBSTACLE. Then they get around the OBSTACLE and then there's a resolution.

FOR EXAMPLE:
GG #2-17, opening scene:

The maid is picking up trash for Blair. Blair intends just to watch.

OBSTACLE:
Blair's father shows up so Blair has to take the gloves and pick-up-stick from the maid. Her father says he's proud of her. And finally he leaves.

RESOLUTION:
Blair hands the gloves and stick back to the maid, and she now wants to get revenge on Miss Carr (which is the NEW INTENTION).

I did a break-down of the Serena/Dan/Miss Carr plot but it's pretty long, so I'll try to post it tomorrow.

If you do do an intense study of pilots, you could save all your notes and make it into a book one day. And maybe you could become a consultant in the future on pilots for the studios and nets. Just a thought.

Sasha said...

Have you read the book Revolutionary Road? (the book, not the movie). It is INCREDIBLY well structured, but the only way you can see the seams is if you've already studied structure and are on the lookout for it. On the surface, it's just this suburban-angst whine, but underneath, it's built like a traditional five-act play.

Also, was clicking through the channels the other day and Bulletproof Monk was on. It's a feature, so this is probably different but... I noticed the "teaser" (or what would be the teaser, in a T.V. ep) was structured:

1. Stakes revealed
2. Threat/Antagonist revealed
3. Terms of battle

The "teaser" was really compelling (to me, anyway) even though the movie fizzled later.

Jeffrey said...

a smart thing that i once heard is to break the A, B, and C story seperately and then intertwine them(actually it was said by one of the Eureka writers credit where credit's due)-I like to come up with the basic idea of a scene, then tag it with a word, and place it within the order of the story--- you will find is that coming up with the structure of a story before ever trying to write it down is the easier way to write, like a zillion times easier...

Jeffrey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Williams said...

Sorry the outline is so long, but I tried to get every scene and there were a lot. This plot outline can be used again and again, even for a novel, whenever a twosome breaks up and a new relationship gets started.


Gossip Girl episode #2-17: “Carnal Knowledge”

The Serena/Dan/Rachel Plot line

Title: “Two Lovers Break Up and a New Relationship Starts”

Story beats in each Act:

1.
Serena is touched that Miss Carr is the only teacher who has ever taken her seriously, and she’ll drop off her King Lear essay to her.

But later, she finds Miss Carr having coffee with her boyfriend, Dan, and Serena gets so flustered that she asks for more time to finish her essay, and gets it.

2.
Blair wants revenge on Miss Carr but doesn’t know how to do it, but then she sees Miss Carr talking to Dan and posts it that they are romantically involved.

3.
Dan’s sister tells him about the rumors, and he denies it.

Serena confronts Dan, but he denies it, and so Serena thinks that Blair might have posted it.

Dan confronts Blair, but she denies it and blows it off.

Serena hands in her essay to Miss Carr, and tells her about the rumor, and Gossip Girl.

Dan asks Miss Carr to talk.

Later, in the headmistress’s room, with her and Miss Carr, Blair is ratted out by one of her friends, and then the headmistress expels Blair.

4.
Blair’s dad is upset, but she swears she didn’t lie, and so he decides to get his lawyer involved and to fight the expulsion.

To his dad, Dan denies there is anything with Miss Carr.

In the park, Serena tells Miss Carr that Blair shouldn’t be expelled, but Miss Carr says that Blair tried to destroy her future, but Serena says that expulsion will destroy Blair’s future. However, Miss Carr can’t do anything about that, and she leaves.

Serena phones Blair and tells her to hang in there, and hangs up. But then she sees Miss Carr’s appointment book. But she also sees when Miss Carr’s next appointment is and so she’ll return the appointment book.

Dan and Miss Carr are having coffee, and Miss Carr cries, and Dan is wanting to comfort her. At this moment, Serena walks in and sees them and is shocked and takes a photo with her cell phone, and then leaves. Dan tries to put his arm around Miss Carr but she tells him it’s not appropriate and then leaves.

5.
Serena tells Blair she was right about Dan and Miss Carr, but Blair says they need proof, but Serena has the proof with the photo.

The parents are meeting at the school, but Blair bursts in only to have the headmistress tell her to leave, but Blair gets the headmistress to open her email and put the photo on the big white screen.

Serena again confronts Dan, but he says he didn’t kiss Miss Carr, but she says she’s already given the photo to the parents’ group.
Then Dan’s father walks by him, but he won’t talk to Dan, but Dan says nothing was going on.
Then Blair tells them she has been reinstated, but Miss Carr has been fired. But then Blair admits she lied, and her father overhears her, and he walks out on her.

Later, Dan confronts Serena about not believing him, but she admits she wanted to believe it, and now he realizes that it’s over between them.

6.
Dan realizes his father voted to fire Miss Carr, but by doing so he got Dan into Yale, but Dan insists Miss Carr did nothing wrong.

Serena goes to Miss Carr’s apartment to return her appointment book, but she feels bad about ruining their relationship, and Miss Carr returns her essay and praises it, but she thinks that Serena should go.

Blair’s father confronts her about lying about Miss Carr, but Blair says she has to go to Yale and it was on the line, but he is concerned about the type of person she is growing up to be, and he saw a different side of her today, and he thinks they both have a lot to think about.

Dan goes to Miss Carr’s apartment and apologizes to her, but suddenly she kisses him and pulls him into her apartment. He questions it, but she tells him she is no longer his teacher.

The headmistress has decided to hire Miss Carr back.

Serena leaves a phone message for Dan, hoping they can forget about this Rachel thing.

Dan and Rachel are undressing each other.

(So this is another story outline for when you are in the room of the show that hires you.)

Dan Williams said...

Oh, something else:

Jeffrey said:

"you will find that coming up with the structure of a story before ever trying to write it down is the easier way to write, like a zillion times easier..."

I couldn't agree more. Picking the structure first guides me in creating all of the content.

Greg said...

I've discovered I need to outline all my screenplays & TV work, but I don't outline my plays. The novel falls somewhere in between.

Good luck!

Jeffrey said...

you might find that structure is tough for you but you own dialogue. this is when you find a structure loving writing partner. Tee vee's full of dynamic duos. Eventually when you have structure mastered, you can branch off and do your own thang

Sasha said...

I (respectfully :) ) disagree, Jeffrey.

I think it's a mistake to create a partnership just so you don't have to learn or stretch your writing skills. Partnerships aren't easy to create and maintain, and they're SURE not easy to get out of.

Once you're part of a partnership, it's a huge deal to drop your partner and go solo. You'd have to change your agent, write new (solo) specs, and develop a new (solo) set of projects. There will be a tough adjustment period. And emotionally.... it's like a divorce.

Also, I think learning about structure is especially important when learning to write T.V.- or, to write anything, really. AND, as a writer, don't you always want to improve? Isn't learning about writing part of the fun? Why spend all that time and energy fashioning a crutch when you can just learn to do better?

Jeffrey said...

Well Sasha, I agree with what you are saying. Though I don't know if I meant it as a crutch to not ever learn or grow, or as a means to using someone. If that were the case then yeah, not a good idea. But I don't think it'd be a bad idea to have a reciprical relationship where both people learn and grow while strengthening eachother's writing. Still, it's probably a lot easier in theory than in practice.

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