Storytelling Advice: Make Me Care

(Filmmaker Andrew Stanton (“Toy Story,” “WALL-E”) shares what he knows about storytelling — starting at the end and working back to the beginning.)

This is a Ted talk Andrew Stanton gave in 2012. I think it’s an essential view for any writer. Note that there is a poopy word at the beginning of this video.

One of the first points he makes is that a story should make you care. This is what I personally want most in a story. Make. Me. Care.

This is why I don’t go for big dumb boring action movies. You know the type: huge explosions, interchangeable “good guy” with a gun, indistinguishable love interest, and cookie cutter bad guy. Why should I waste my time and money in a world where I don’t care about the outcome?

He makes a few other points in the talk that I’ve cribbed from one of the commenters:

– A story should start off with a well-told “promise”, like a hook or sales pitch

– A story should give the audience the “2+2”, not the “4”

– Characters should have “spines” & itches they’re always trying to scratch

– Change is fundamental; life is never static

– “Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty”

– Know your rules and know when to break them

– Strong unifying theme

– Sense of wonder

Bottom line. Check out this video.

A Photo Prompt

tumblr_mlt6v6lsUL1qzrdsyo1_1280
photo via http://theremina.tumblr.com/post/48847235397/scott-martin

Let’s call this a photo writing prompt, but I’m just posting it here because it’s lovely and makes me think thoughts.

I mean, what’s up with that pink flamingo in the foreground? Is there a chicken inside this camper? What is that light source? And talk about a interruptions-free writing space!

Well, if you do use this as a writing prompt leave a link in the comments here. I’d love to read what you’ve come up with.

Night of the Comet

girlfran

So I watched this movie Night of the Comet last night on Netflix. Night of the Comet, I’ve gathered, is one of those cult-classic 1980s films I had never seen. The movie can also be described as a science fiction, horror, zombie apocalypse, comedy film.

I had never seen Night of the Comet before last night, but I can be forgiven I think, since the movie was rated PG-13 and I was less than 13 when it came out in 1984. I was probably instead watching Star Wars on a rented VCR for the thousandth time instead.

The Earth is passing through the tail of a comet, an event which has not occurred in 65 million years, the last time coinciding with the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs. On the night of the comet’s passage, large crowds gather outside to watch and celebrate.

18 year old Regina “Reggie” Belmont (Catherine Mary Stewart) works at a movie theater in southern California. She is annoyed to find the initials DMK have the highest score on the theater’s arcade game, all the other scores being hers. She stays after the theater closes to become number one again, then later has sex with her boyfriend, the theater projectionist, in the steel-lined projection booth. Meanwhile, Reggie’s 16 year old sister Samantha “Sam” (Kelli Maroney) argues with their stepmother, who punches her in the face.

The next morning, a reddish haze covers everything, and there are no signs of life, only piles of red dust surrounding empty clothes. Unaware that anything strange has happened, Larry goes outside and is killed by a zombie. When Reggie goes looking for Larry, she finds the zombie eating him. She runs away and heads home to find her sister. Sam had spent the night in a metal shed, and was also shielded from the comet’s effects.

(via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_of_the_comet)

Night of the Comet is paced like an 80s movie. There are no sudden MTV-style camera changes (hurl). The movie doesn’t begin with anything going “boom”. In fact, the movie opens with the protagonist, Catherine Mary Stewart, playing the arcade game Tempest. Of course I was hooked at this point.

This gives me an excuse to post a photo of Catherine Mary Stewart as Maggie from one of my favorite movies of all time: The Last Starfighter.

The-Last-Starfighter-Catherine-Mary-Stewart-and-Lance-Guest

Night of the Comet fits in the horror genre, but it isn’t horror-movie scary. The protagonists have hope. You wind up caring for them, these two sisters thrust into this post-apocalyptic world. That’s all I ask of a movie, really. Make me care.

The movie is full on 1980s. It looks 80s. It feels 80s. 80s dialogue. 80s costumes. 80s problems (plus zombies).

This is the type of movie I needed to see after the week we all (humanity) had last week. Apocalypse, I can handle. It’s the worry about that trash can over there exploding on my and my family that keeps me up at night.

How Much Snot Can The Human Body Produce

Q:How Much Snot Can The Human Body Produce?
A: A whole heck of a lot, apparently.

I’ve been dealing with a head cold for two weeks now. It sucks on many levels, one being my brain feels all mushy and not-writerly. Heck, I have trouble being productive from a writing perspective on my best of days, so when I’m feeling all blah I get almost no writing done.

But it’s April now, and 70 42 degrees out, so this has to be the last of the sickness, right?

Empathy And The Need To Get Outside

em·pa·thy [em-puh-thee]
noun

1. the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

When really terrible things happen, like what happened in Boston yesterday, those of us who are sensitive or predisposed to feel empathy tend to feel things the hardest.  The horrific events that transpired in Newtown last year knocked me on my butt for a month. All the way to the new year, I did not feel like myself.

Nobody I knew was directly effected in either of these events, but just hearing their stories was enough for me. I might not have lost anybody, but I could very much put myself inside the shoes of those that did. Combine that with the feeling of hopelessness, of not being able to predict or change events like these, and it can be quite crippling.

I could feel that same thing rush over me yesterday when I first heard of the events at the Boston Marathon. In fact, I couldn’t get it out of my head here at work. I just hit refresh on my news sites over and over again, wanting to know and also not wanting to know how bad things really were. These poor people were just out, having a nice time, enjoying the day and the absolute wonder of human athleticism, and now everything was ruined.

It felt like EVERYTHING was ruined.

Then a funny thing happened. It was 5:00 and time for me to drive home. I logged off my computer and walked to my car, observing the faces of those also walking to their car or to their next class, or wherever their journey was taking them. Everybody seemed fine. And when I got home to my kids and my wife, everybody was fine there too.

This isn’t to say that everything is fine. My heart goes out to those who did lose someone in this act of terrorism. And to those whose lives have been changed because of this act.

But those of us, the empathetic, who tend to internalize these types of things, I think it’s important to remember to walk away from the computer for a bit. Go outside. Enjoy the gift of life. Listen to the birds. Feel the rain on your skin. Drive in your car. Listen to that mix-tape of 1980s music that reminds you of when you were  a kid. Play that video game.

Turn off the news. It doesn’t mean that you care any less. Sometimes you just need to walk away for a bit.

Paramore: Still Into You

Paramore, I’m still into you. See what I just did there everybody? Wordplay, yo.

I got into the band Paramore last year, late to the party as always. They immediately grabbed my ears by the,well, ears and haven’t let go. My favorite all time Paramore song is most likely That’s What You Get. I could listed to that song for eternity and never tire of it. It’s just perfect.

Paramore put out a new album this week, and although their sound has matured, it’s still awesome. The first video I posted above, from the song Still Into You, is from the new album. It makes me happy.

Now, I can’t write and listen to the music at the same time. I get too distracted. Especially when it’s music I enjoy. That said, I can certainly listen to this album before writing to get me in the proper mindset. That is a win.

Can you listen to music while you write?

How To Start Writing

This is a question that come up quite a bit with new writers. How do you become a writer? How do you start writing?

There is a really simple answer. Start writing. Don’t think about it. Don’t plan out a story. Don’t make a collage. And for the love of all that is pink and froofy, don’t worry what genre you are writing for. The story will work that out for itself.

Just. Start. Writing.

Oh, and don’t check your e-mail/twitter/Facebook/tumblr first. Those things are writing killers. Trust me on this one.

Run Head-First Into The Wall, Or Run Away?

I’ve been working on this novel for over a year. I have nine chapters written. I have no idea what comes next, or to be honest what the point of the whole thing is. This is a very big problem. One I thought I’d be able to fix by stepping back and starting over, using some of the stuff from what I’d already written.

And this is what I did. I wrote what I thought was a pretty good chapter one. Actually, it felt really good, to be honest. I pictured myself at my critique group on Monday, lavished in praise about how good my story was. My confidence swelled. I knew they were going to love the new direction things were taking.

About those nine chapters. My in-person writing critique group has been reading those nine chapters, and always been positive about them. I guess I wasn’t aware how MUCH they’ve been enjoying the book thus far, though. I certainly know now.

It was not quite as good as I imagined. I guess they really, REALLY liked what I had already written. And this new version was not that. I had killed those characters they had grew to love so well. I assured them they weren’t dead, just in a file marked “Version 1”. This didn’t help.

In a way, this is a good thing. I want my readers to love what I have written. I want them to be passionate. They are passionate. Passionate about a story I have no idea how to save.

And so now, I have the choice: run head-first into the brick wall of the plot, or run away screaming in the opposite direction.