Tag Archives: screenwriting

When Symbolism Goes Wrong

There’s a scene in 2013’s Man of Steel where Clark Kent goes to church seeking guidance from a priest. Aliens combatants, from Kent’s home planet Krypton, are broadcasting a message to draw him out of hiding. He’s torn between stepping forward or remaining in the shadows. The priest stands over Kent, from the aisle, as the Kyrptonian confesses from the pew.

Normally in a scene with two characters speaking the cameras are positioned over the shoulders of the characters to show their point of view. First we see a camera tilted upward to show Kent’s view of the priest (who eventually sits on a railing, but is still looking downward). We should then see a reverse shot from the priest’s perspective looking down on Kent. Instead we see a shot that’s tilted upward, as if the priest was looking at Kent from the floor.

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 12.01.35 PM

Super Jesus
Okay, that’s a little on the nose

Why did director Zack Snyder choose to frame the shot this way? My theory is that he meant to emphasize the stained glass depiction of Christ over Kent’s shoulder, kneeling in prayer, just as Kent is. As far as symbolic references go this one isn’t that subtle.

This weeks article is all about when it’s a good idea to link your story to icons with  deeper meanings, and when they can hurt your story by feeling unearned. I’m going to focus on Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice because they’re filled with examples of heavy handed symbolism.

(Spoilers for Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice follow).

Full Disclosure: I don’t hate either film. There’s a lot to like in both, but this isn’t a review of either movie. It’s an examination of visual shorthand.  Continue reading When Symbolism Goes Wrong

How to Tighten Up Your Dialogue

When I’m writing a novel my train of thought needs to stay on track. If I loop around to edit I run out of steam. So I keep shoveling coal into the engine and words onto the page. Sometimes there’s nothing but rails all the way up the horizon. Sometimes curves in the mountains keep me from seeing where I’m going. Some routes are ideal while others are just serviceable.

The process forces me to wear many hats. I’m both the conductor and the stoker, tasked with staying on schedule and fueling the creative process. If I overthink the path the crankshaft screeches to a halt. So I keep chugging along until the first draft is done. No sense in letting writer’s block derail me.

When I write dialogue I get a sense of where the scene needs to go and let my cast say the first things that come to mind. I let their upbringings, attitudes, and professions dictate their speech patterns. For the characters I pick up along the way I try to find their voices while writing. I’m not too worried if I can’t on my first try because all writing is rewriting and I know I’ll be back this way again.

These are the most important lessons I’ve learned while tightening up dialogue for the second draft. Continue reading How to Tighten Up Your Dialogue

How to Make Your Book As Bingeable as a TV Show

Confessions of a Serial Binge Watcher

I keep a disciplined writing regiment, but every so often I hear the siren call of television. I’m not the type of person to watch any show that happens to be available. The shows that satisfy my fiction addiction need all the right elements. When I find one that does I fall into a Netflix vortex until the season is done.

I plowed through Marvel’s Jessica Jones in one weekend. Binge watching became part of my routine. I woke up with my tablet on my pillow, opened Netflix, and brought it into the bathroom while I brushed my teeth. I set it on the table as I ate my cereal. When I got on the bus to work I resumed watching on my phone. When I came home I put Jessica back up on the big screen.

It wasn’t that I was a chronic couch potato so much as Jessica Jones was just that good of a show. Let’s talk about the psychology of what makes a good story so binge worthy and how novelists can use the techniques of found on TV to write something readers will have trouble putting down. Continue reading How to Make Your Book As Bingeable as a TV Show

Why You Should Let Your Characters Blow Their Tops

We live in a world where we ask, “How’s it going?” as a “Hello,” not as a inquiry into someone’s wellbeing.

Happiness is so revered it seems mandated. If a fellow employee asks, “How’s it going?” and you respond with, “I’m alright,” a common response is, “Just alright?”

If you’re one of those people who says, “Just alright?” know that you’re not coming off as someone who’s concerned so much as someone who’s enforcing an impossibly high standard of positivity. Those of us on the receiving end of that question see you as one of those screamers from the end Invasion of the Body Snatchers, calling us out for our nonconformity.

If this isn’t your intension consider the following: if the person you’re asking, “How’s it going?” says they’re alright flatly leave it at that. If they say they’re alright with a pensive downward inflection ask if anything is going on. Those are you options. Continue reading Why You Should Let Your Characters Blow Their Tops

What’s My Motivation? Why Writers Need to Motivate All of Their Characters

Plot driven stories focus on external conflict. Character driven stories focus on inner turmoil. Plot driven stories are more situational than personal. While characters may evolve in plot driven stories, they never change as much as the world around them. Plot driven stories are action oriented. Characters don’t have the luxury of self examination before they make decisions. Their situation is too urgent.

The plot driven story approach is ideal for fast paced globe trotting adventures, sci-fi fantasies, and anything with a clock counting down to Armageddon. That’s why most blockbuster movies take the plot driven approach. It keeps the characters in danger and makes the audience feel like they’re on a rollercoaster.

The problem with plot driven stories is when their fast pace leaps over gaps in the plot. Continue reading What’s My Motivation? Why Writers Need to Motivate All of Their Characters

The Scariest Element of Any Horror Story Is…

The scariest element of any horror story isn’t the rising kill count, graphic eviscerations, or misshapen creatures skulking through door frames. It isn’t the methodically molded mythology, the slow subtle turns, or the brain bending twists, it’s the element you might mistake for the weakest link. The scariest element of any horror story is hope.

Without hope an axe wielding maniac is just a kid tearing the legs off of spiders. If we know all the  deaths are foregone conclusions we won’t be shocked when a film starts hemorrhaging cast members. Without hope the torture dungeon is just an autopsy room with screaming. If we’re exposed to too much gore our eyes will eventually adjust to the sight of red. Without hope there’s no point in rooting for anyone. The characters become sacrificial lambs that we’ve been conditioned to resent more than sympathize with. Continue reading The Scariest Element of Any Horror Story Is…

A Question About Diversity in Fiction

The Pros and Cons of Concealing Certain Character Traits

There are good reasons to avoid identifying a character’s ethnicity, exact age, and body type in your writing, especially when these traits aren’t crucial to understanding their actions. By revealing these specifics you limit the casting options in your readers’ heads. You make it harder for some members of the audience to see themselves in the role. If you leave these elements ambiguous your lead could be anyone your readers want.

At the time of this writing there’s stubble on my face. If I’m reading a story with a male lead I’m likely to imagine him with stubble too, until the author tells me he’s clean shaving. I’m six foot four, I have dirty blond hair, and greying sideburns as is every male lead of the books I read, until the author tells me otherwise. Continue reading A Question About Diversity in Fiction

Do Writers Have any Responsibilities to Reality?

Is there something wrong with perpetuating superstition through fiction?

The Power of Urban Legends

There’s a reason I put off getting my hair cut until the sides grow into big Wolverine spikes. I get nervous about the conversation with the hairdresser. I don’t like sitting in silence while the client next to me is laughing. I like to take on the appearance of a sociable well adjusted human being, if only for the time it takes to get my bangs trimmed. So I prepare material: funny memories I try to pass off as something that happened recently, news stories that aren’t politically polarizing, and list of the most recent films I’ve seen.

If I cycle through all my conversation starters and the hairdresser says, “You know I’m really not that into movies.” Then the weather better be doing something incredible, because there goes most of my material. Continue reading Do Writers Have any Responsibilities to Reality?

How to Fix Your Story Without Going Back to the Drawing Board

The Case Against Editing as You Go

When I first started writing I scrutinized every paragraph the moment after typing. I counted the syllables so I could adjust for rhythm and flow. I checked my metaphors to see if they mixed wrong, I ran every verb through the thesaurus, and I dialed all my hyperboles back.

By the end of the day my word count hovered around the same number I’d started at. Sometimes it was in the negative. My effort to fine tune the perfect page kept me from finishing my stories. Continue reading How to Fix Your Story Without Going Back to the Drawing Board

How to Ruin Your Favorite Stories By Adapting them for TV

The Procedural Formula 

Here’s a simple formula for destroying an original idea by adapting it for television: take a film (or comic book) series and shoehorn it into a format suited for syndication. The defaults you’ll find on network television are: ER clones, law firm look a-likes, New York ad agency stories, the monster of the week, and the cop drama. When in doubt, go with the cop drama.

Find someone in the source material with a unique ability. Reduce them to a roving freelance detective who plays by his own rules. I specify “his” because the maverick on network TV is almost always a “He,” (iZombie is one of the few exceptions). Continue reading How to Ruin Your Favorite Stories By Adapting them for TV