Posts Tagged ‘screen writing’

The last time I wrote a character focus it was about a villain you could respect, maybe even love. This time were going to focus on a much different kind of character, one who get’s slapped around by a dwarf, one who let’s his sword be stolen by a little girl, on who hides behind his mothers skirts. This weeks Character Focus presents none other than Joffrey Baratheon.


May the Others take him.

For those of you who don’t know, Joffery Baratheon is one of the major antagonist in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series,  for those of you who haven’t read the books I need to post some quite obvious spoiler warnings

spoilers Ahead

That ought to work, now down to business. Joff is signigficantly different then most  characters and even villains that you read about these days, mostly because he’s a intolerable twat. Most writer’s resources will tell you that your villains need to be deep and likable in one way or another, Joff however stands out as being as deep as dry lake bed and only being slightly well like more the AIDs and yet the character serves his purpose quite well and while I may never like Joff, I always have some sort of emotional response to his scenes, albeit it’s mostly hate, mixed with some disgust. So how do we emulate such response from our readers regarding our dastardly villains?

Threat: somebody is going to die

Martin is well know as an author who loses little sleep from killing beloved characters, and when Joffery takes center stage that threat becomes overbearing, When ever he has scene the tension jumps dramatically simply because of the characters reputation. In the TV show Game of Thrones, Joff has Ned Stark beheaded even though his mother and all of his councilors had planned to spare him. In the Show this is done in the middle of a courtyard, but in the books it’s done in the middle of a temple so that everybody got the idea that this was to be a pardoning not an execution. Joff made short work of that and the started off on his own blody rain of death and brutality.

plotting: The best laid plans…

Outside of fits of violence the boy king can be counted on to make bad decisions,  which act as boon to enemies and torment to his family. In book series like A Song of  Ice and Fire which follows characters from every side of the central conflict, you have to juggle success and failure vary carefully, because for evert victory a pov character has counts as failure on another, let one person grow to strong and the book becomes one sided. Joffery helps balance out the successes of his compatriots who normally wouldn’t make such foolish mistakes, and forces them to work around Joffery’s madness.

Foils: Making Men out of monsters

For those of you who aren’t in the know, a dramatic foil(just foil for short) is when a pair of characters are paired together to make there traits stand out, often done in a simple fashion to make strong characters look stronger and make smart characters to look smarter. However a foil can be used for far more the exemplifying simple traits, it can be used to muffle them as well  take Joffery’s loyal hound Sandor Clegane, who spends most of his time drinking, killing, and the drinking some more. Yet in moments when he, Sansa are together, the reader has to pause and really think about whether or not Sandor is all that bad of guy. Joff has a similar affect on everybody around him, by the nature of being the most monstrously hated character in the room, everybody else looks like better person for it.

 
“I may have started a war that killed million and committed acts of genocide, but at least I never laid a hand on Sansa Stark”- Hitler

Joffery is going to go down as one of the most hated characters in the history of American fiction, he’s craven, crule, incompotent, he’s everything that writers are told to avoid, but leave it to writer like Martin to pull off such a character in such a splendid fashion, and let it be reminder to other writers out there that at the end of the day, write the characters you want to write, write the characters you need to write and don’t let any other writer tell you otherwise even if that writing leads to little incestful balls of hatred and abomination so evil that Dalek wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

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I’m a little behind so this week I’m linking in our latest podcast episode which actually doesn’t have a whole lot of me, but does get a whole lot of craft time at the end of it. I do need to throw an nsfw tag on here for the amount of swearing mike manages to do in a hours time

http://aroundthetrunk.blogspot.com/2012/09/episode-four-episode-four-redudant.html

Intro:

Tyler talks about short story idea he had.

FTL

Tyler and I discuss the FTL:Faster than light, a new steam game that came out this week. It’s only nine bucks. Go buy it.

Stuff about the Podcast while we wait for Chris

We talk about the new intros, the cover art, and Max Scoville’s Free Ipad Miley Cyrus Nudes.

Idle Banter

River World by Phillip Jose Farmer !Spoilers!

Chris finally shows up
We talk stories across different mediums and Tyler recommends Rising Stars and then proceeds to spoil it pretty thoroughly, so check it out.

I talk about a comic Idea I was playing with and move into a discussion about writing in comics as a medium.

Then we talk Movies, TV, HBO

Part Two

Tyler leaves, we continues talking game of thrones and move into a discussion of chapter formats.
We then talk about characters, their motivations and backgrounds informing their dialog and
actions without resorting to exposition dumping.

We also talk about Microsoft one note for a bit. We then get back to characters and give some our examples from our own writing.

We talk about stories and arcs and a bunch of writing craft related things. There is a discussion of easter eggs, and the difference between theft and homage. Narration in other mediums, Burn Notice
and actors playing characters. We then finish up with a light discussion of Doctor Who Companions.

One of the more interesting phenomenon of late that’s made it’s way to the internet is the fascination that some 14-25 year old men seem to have with a show that is meant for small children of the female variety that was produced to sell a line of toys. That’s right friends, this article is all about the magic of friendship so saddle up everypony.

For those of you whom may not have yet heard or are just possily new to the whole internet thing, My Little Pony: Friendship is magic is a cartoon show based of the old line of my little pony toys that have been around since 1982 but have only recently ben pulled into media spotlight via their new cartoon. Also let’s clear something up for those of you who want to rage quit from wordpress because this article is pony related, this is still a storytelling blog and this is still a storytelling article, we’er not going to dive into who is best pony or any other non-sense.


Okay maybe a little non-sense

I’m more interested in what has come together to make ponies so popular among the demographic that normally won’t touch something if it isn’t a dark and gritty rebut of their childhood. In fact I was so interested that in one of my more sleep deprived moments I watched a solid twenty episodes of the show and you know what, it’s not that bad, in fact as far as children’s shows go it was pretty good. In fact I think that there is a lot we can learn from MLP.

Animation

A shows animation is the first thing that a viewer see’s, and much like a person looking at the clothing you wear the viewers start making assumptions about the show from that first glance. For a lot of shows that can be a make or break moment for them, shows like adventure time a regular show have a very particular type of animation and you can tell just from looking at them what the show is going to be like. The same thing also applies to shows who seek a more adult audience who give there shows a much conservative appearance while shows like South Park went for childish look for a show that has a very immature nature.


alright a lot of non-sense

What does this say about MLP, well first off the animation is top notch, it’s bright, it’scartoony, it’scute, but what hooked me mostly is that it’s clean. It was obvious that the shows artist put real work and effort into creating the shows animation instead of treating it as just a 30 min commercial for little girls toys. What can you take away from this as an artist or a writer, MLP uses it’s animation to set the tone for the show, just looking at it is going to make you puke rainbows and leave you wanting more, as an artist you want your art to set the mood of the show or comic well before the characters utter their first words and writers need to be able to set the tone of their books in early descriptions and snippets of their world and make sure that this tone is conveyed in such a professional way.

Format

I think this might be the most interesting part of MLP, or at least the most nostalgic. MLP episodes are all self contained, there is no overarching narrative, there is no broad story line, there just a bunch of anthropomorphic ponies having a different moral adventure each week, and then reminding you exactly what that moral is at the end of each episode. It reminds me of all the old Nickelodeon cartoons like Rugrats, Hey Arnold!, Ah! Real Monsters and every other single piece of nostalgia I can bring to you from your childhood. On a more recent note, the Disney show Phineas and Ferb also follows this format as well as do most TV sitcoms, whether it’s big bang theory or King of Queens. This format isn’t something that went away and is now coming back, we just haven’t seen it with this kind of face for a very long time.

So what makes this format valuable? It’s simple really, or should I say it’s really simple, MLP doesn’t require complex character arcs or a drawn out narrative, Just fit your moral/joke/theme of the day into the episode and move on. It works well for folks who have lot’s of cool ideas and want to get as many of them in as possible , it also fits well with those of you who like to write by the seat of your pants each episode is it’s own little thought with little or no heed to what comes before or what comes next.


This sums up the show pretty well

What can we writers take away from this, well mostly that a series doesn’t need a long complex narrative, sometimes it can just be the six different books about how a boy and his dog find different treasures every week, or about the different planets a group of space marines visit. The point is that people can enjoy simple shorts as well as writers can enjoy writing them.

Theme

The main thing that separates MLP from other form of television that most 14-25 year olds watch is it’s constant theme of light hearted comedy and cute aesthetic design, which stands in opposition to every notion of dark and gritty that has been installed in us since Batman became a thing.

um, yes all day, yes all night, for the rest of my life.<br /><br />
{picture of batman riding through the sky on the back of a purple my little pony with a bat symbol on the rump and it’s amazing.}
Batman riding a pony, deal with it.

Simply put shows like MLP offer us a refuge from a reality where stories are getting darker and edgier everyday without any sign of stopping, between writers like Christopher Nolan, Steven Moffat and movies like Toy Story 3 and Up even kids shows and movies are pressing toward the gritty realism of everyday life. And maybe, just maybe there’s a part of you that doesn’t want to give up on a world where kids can build roller coasters in there back yard or one were the worst thing that can happen when two groups of people disagree is a really bug food fight. At the end of the day we all want to go back to those days where you knew that every episode Duke would win out over Cobra Commander and the worst thing we had to worry about was Tommy losing his screwdriver, really we all want to believe again in a world where friendship is magic.

Time travel in storytelling is almost as old as it is confusing, early writings pop up in Hindu mythology with the story of king Kakudmi who travels through time after moving to another plane of existence and back.  The king finds he’s traveled ages into the future and all of his friends and family dead, this is just one of many old stories that show up with men traveling to the future in various ways.

Time Travel to the past is more recent idea that only started to show up in early 1800’s With first story being told by a Russian author Alexander Veltman who wrote about going back in time to meet Aristotle and Alexander the Great.

But enough about History let’s get into the good stuff. What makes time travel interesting is hard to pin down when you take into consideration how it’s used. Is time travel your heroes superpower? Is it a one time thing? Can you control it with a time machine or is a random thing?


Does it require you to get to 88mph

Time Travel primarily functions in one of two ways in fiction, one is as a setting where the lead character and company travel to different periods of time to go about there story. The second and more confusing way is as a plot device which can and usually does include time travel as a setting but also as device to give the story more depth and complexity.

Time Travel as a Setting

Time travel as a setting is best favored by fiction that follows an episodic narrative. This format for time travel is widely used cartoons, Live action shows, comics and any other media where the setting can be changed from episode to episode and the time travel itself is just a means of changing that setting. This may not be the first thing that come to your mind when you think of time travel but it is the most common as it’s often feature in children’s cartoons like Phineas and Ferb where inventing a time machine was really just another way to have an adventure, while most cartoons only used this form of time travel as one shot gimmick for that weeks episode, some cartoons built this version of time travel as their shows engine for moving the story.

Flint the Time Detective - Can't We All Get Along? (DVD) Cover Art
If you don’t remember this then your not old enough to use the internet

Flint The Time detective was a show that followed the evolving monster models that Pokemon had already established, Flint was a boy who traveled far and wide to catch monsters. Sound familiar, what set flint apart from it’s contemporaries was it’s driving gimmick, time travel. Flint was a cavema… caveboy and each episode had him travel through time trying to hunt down different cute and quirky monsters. Without time travel as a setting Flint would have never gotten off the ground. It also needs to be pointed out that this format hasn’t been restricted to kid’s cartoons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles featured a video game based around time travel as a setting called Turtles in Time where each level was placed in a different era in time. Maybe more famously the 2005 re-boot of Doctor Who heavily featured this in it’s first season and still does now, thought it grew more complex as the show went on.

When done well this form of time travel can be used to produce interesting characters and settings to help enrich your story, however some authors tend to rely on the gimmick as a way of making there story interesting instead of using it to help create interesting characters and places. Once again I’m going to turn back to Doctor Who  primarily the first season of the reboot where the Time Travel was used mostly as means of putting the Doctor and his companion into different settings like a space station orbiting a dying earth or elizabethan England. The early episodes featured fantastical places but had poorly developed characters. While the Doctor was plenty interesting, Rose Tyler suffered early on in the series, and her mother and ex-boyfriend never became more then buzzing noise in the audience’s ears as they tried to watch the show. Russel T. Davies, the shows main writer at the time, leaned heavily on his settings and forgot to  make interesting characters and regardless of where in time your fiction is taking place, if the people in it or boring the rest of the story will be as well.


But all will be forgiven if they bring back Jack

Time Travel as a Plot Device

Time travel as a plot device is often more confusing and far more prone to abuse.  In it’s plot device form is easily applicable to all forms of fiction and media, and while it can used different ways by different writers the main similarity is that it is a constant and controllable device that is used for more then just shuttling characters from place to place.

But what separates the good from the bad? The mark of an author using time travel well is that it allows them to both create and solve problems in a unique fashion. It important to note that Time travel can be used to create trouble for the lead, if it’s only a positive force with no limitation it begins to create problems for the writer as they struggle with ways to challenge the stories lead. Limiting the leads ability to travel through time and having those same abilities used against him forces the writer to come up with creative ways solve problems and serves as an excellent way to build tension and gives the audience something worth viewing.

No one seems to do this better then the current lead writer for Doctor Who, Steven Moffat and nobodies done it better then what is possibly the most famous episode of the rebooted DW series, Blink. Spoilers ahead fellows so If you haven’t watched This particular episode of DW leave now, I mean it. Go google the episode, watch and then come back here and finish this article.Are they gone? good, okay, let’s get back to the article.


Bring me my brown pants

Blink is one of the better if not the best known DW episodes for a host of reasons, what aspiring writers want to focus on is how Moffat used time travel against the characters in the show to drive up tension and emotions. He used time travel from the beginning to ramp up tensions, first with messages from the past, then with mysterious notes and disappearing friends and then with a dying love interest. All of which happen because they were transported back in time and the same things that got them are after the shows lead sally sparrow. Moffat also used this as chance to show off the Doctor’s brilliance, instead having him sonic his way out of the situation as many a writer have done, Moffat instead chose to have the Doctor work out his problems without the use of his TARDIS and mostly off screen. By sending messages through time the slow way, by writing recording and waiting, the Doctor was able to communicate with sally sparrow so she could retrieve the TARDIS and save the day.

Another interesting thing to note about this episode is that Moffat kept the setting relativity current, with only a few scenes from the past and having most of the episode take place in the present, time travel was used strictly as a device for the characters to use to move the story forward.

While Moffat used time travel brilliantly, the most common problem with using time travel is that it get’s awfully complicated awfully quick, Moffat makes a nod toward this in Blink by the doctor try to explain time as “a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff.” Because of this time travel has been abused and misused on numerous occasions either leading to fridge logic, like why on earth didn’t Harry Potter just a time turner to solve everything ever or how many episodes of DW are laced with paradoxes that aren’t even attempted to be given a nod, both examples leave their viewers saying WTF?.


But.. how.. when… A Fez? This doesn’t even make sense

The problem comes from a writer looking for either a quick way out of problem they’ve landed their character in or that they were looking for a way to give their story more depth and complexity and instead just made it muddled and confusing. Your audience will like having their minds blown, they won’t like being left confused and frustrated.

Time Travel and You

As you can see time travel can get complicated, but don’t let it scare you away from writing with it. While you’ll probably blunder through it for a while you can take solace in the fact that people Like Moffat and Davies screw up even at the professional level. And don’t be afraid to let your creativity flourish, the rule of cool applies to most time travel stories and if it’s interesting enough most viewers will let it pass even if it get’s hard to understand and if they start asking to many questions just tell them “It’s complicated” and hope they don’t respond “I’m clever.”