Chanur Novels – CH Cherryh

I believe I’ve loved everything I’ve ready by CJ Cherryh. I don’t know that I’ve managed to read all her scifi (yet), but I’ve read a number of series in her Alliance/Union/Compact universe.

I typically smoke a cigar in the afternoons (when it’s warm enough, but not too warm; I only smoked in the house once – never again) and will take a dead-tree book with me while I do so. Because I’m cheap, and have bought and given away so many books in the past (thousands, for sure), I’m reluctant to buy new books. I’ve also got conservative over the years and typically don’t take on new authors, as it’s expensive to test the waters (now I beta read, so get to read new authors for free and give back to the writing community at the same time). As such, I generally reread the same books I’ve saved over the decades as too good to give away (maybe 50). I selected the three novels in the Chanur’s Venture / The Kif Strike Back / Chanur’s Homecoming series to read and it had been so long that I’d forgot most of the plot details (see, there are benefits to being absent minded ;-). I really enjoyed (re)reading the series, often lingering past the point where I was done with my cigar and should have been beta reading (sorry to all those in my queue; I expect to make up for lost time over the next couple of weeks).

I’ve adopted part of Cherryh’s writing style as my own, so obviously I’m a big fan in more ways than one. I love the intellectual challenge of figuring out how her universe works through context, and have tried to adopt that aspect in many places as well (particularly in my DoaCK series). As I’ve been having issues with conflict in my own writing, I was acutely aware of how Cherryh kept ratcheting up the tension and how it all felt organic as I read. As an author, I wondered if she added some of these conflict/tension elements later, after she’d written her first draft, or if she’d been doing it so long that she naturally added it as she went. I’ve been finding places where I feel it’s organic to add conflict to some of my work, but still struggle with it sometimes feeling gratuitous.

Pyanfar Chanur is the primary character in the series (there’s a novel that details events prior to the series and contains many of the same characters and is called “The Pride of Chanur” and a following one that introduces many new ones called “Chanur’s Legacy”). Pyanfar is a hani (lower case on purpose), a member of a humanoid cat-like species. What’s even more interesting is Pyanfar is a female and, until the events of the series, no male had ever been outside their home star system and only a handful had even been in space. The males fight among themselves to become leaders of a pride (so to speak) and would then be pampered until he lost to another challenger, who would then be pampered. The menfolk were believed too passionate and violent to consider even exposing to outside events. Not quite a 180 degree flip from our misogynistic culture, but a very interesting take nonetheless. Cherryh also has several other extremely well done alien species and part of the fun is trying to understand the motivations, and even communications, with the various species.

Cherry’s faster-than-light travel, her hyperspace, has some interesting limitations, at least to the characters that are primarily the focus of the stories. Some species (humans being one) need to be drugged to even make it through the travel. Others, like the hani, don’t need the drugs, but are barely semi-conscious during that period and are reliant on automation for the hard-to-define period of travel, that can take what appears to be biologically several days or even weeks. Also, hyperspace travel has to happen between specific locations, so it doesn’t allow willy nilly movement. Their in-system travel is done with conventional (well, probably fusion-powered) rockets and takes the appropriate time. Their hyperspace travel mechanism, though, can be used to boost (or slow) the ship to (from) close to the speed of light, which allows for some interesting challenges. For instance, when a ship enters a new system it’s moving so fast that those in the system will often find out about the ship moments before the information about it has arrived, even if the ship has been inside the system for hours.

Anyway, regarding the tension and conflict, Pyanfar’s body slowly deteriorates over the course of the series (which may only cover a month of ‘realtime’ (if you can even define that with all the relativistic effects going on)) as she spends so little time to recover in between hyperspace jumps. One of her crew is seriously injured and they’re all legitimately worried that she (the entire crew is female) won’t survive the stress of the jump. Then a bunch of food/vermin (one of the species she reluctantly has onboard can only eat live food) escapes on the ship and it seems they’re perfectly happy during the jump, even breeding and eating as the crew are in a zombie-like state.

Pyanfar has more and more responsibility dumped on her increasingly frail and weakened shoulders, and events degenerate to the point where it feels even a sneeze could set off irrevocable events that could destroy whole worlds.

The series is very fast-paced, even frenetic at times, but it works perfectly. The results at the end make logical sense and the only thing I wish Cherryh had done was give a longer wrap up so we could see better how things turn out.

Prologue – The Dirty Word

First, what the heck is a prologue? It’s not trivial to define one, as I found out when asking an author friend to critique this. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to go with Wikipedia’s definition:

“A prologue or prolog … is an opening to a story that establishes the context and gives background details, often some earlier story that ties into the main one, and other miscellaneous information.”

The key here, for the purposes of this post, is ‘earlier story’ and ‘miscellaneous information.’ If your ‘prologue’ is actually the beginning of the story (as is the case for my friend), then everything below is irrelevant.

A prologue is the same thing as the dreaded infodump:

“Infodumping is a type of Exposition that is particularly long or wordy. Although it can be done in a way that is unintrusive or entertaining, most infodumps are obvious, intrusive, patronizing, and sometimes downright boring. Specifically, if the premise of your story is laughably ridiculous, an infodump will call attention to the fact. The absolute worst is the gratuitous infodump, which painfully restates that which has already been adequately shown, just to make the reader suffer. For these reasons, ‘infodump’ is often used as a pejorative. Even worse, one character may be saying it to another who is fully aware of it already, for no good reason besides filling in the audience.”

You’re giving the reader (audience, for the above) too much information without context for the average reader to internalize and remember. A ‘Bad Thing,’ and this post is an attempt to steer you away from doing such.

Prologue is often considered a dirty word to agents and publishers. That seems arbitrary and offensive when you’ve invested so much time and energy into your story, but there are good reasons for it. The average reader has a short attention span, and need to be grabbed right away, else they won’t be held long enough to get invested in your characters. If you have a big pile of words they have to wade through before they even get introduced to your main character, you’re going to lose the average reader.

But I want above average readers, you exclaim. Don’t we all. But if you want to sell novels, which is the only focus of agents and publishers, then you need to cater to the average, which means a fast-paced opening where the reader quickly gets hooked, developing sympathy for your character.

Another reason why prologues are considered problematic: they tend to reflect lazy writing. What? This information is important to understand my carefully crafted world! How can the reader possibly get hooked and sympathetic to my main character (MC) otherwise? Well, sorry to say, but if your MC is written so weak that the only way the reader can develop sympathy is by having background poured all over them, then you have bigger problems. Prologue, background, world building, all these things should be trickled in as your MC goes about his or her business. The rule of thumb is to supply such information only at the last possible moment. Besides, that’s the time most readers will remember: when it becomes integral to understanding the story. If you puke world building all over them, most are going to forget the details, because they don’t understand the relevance. Think back to any history lesson you had in school. Without context, names and dates don’t mean anything, forcing you into rote memorization. Do you want your readers to feel like they’re in a history class and need to memorize things to pass a test?

You don’t even have to supply the missing information. CJ Cherryh is an excellent example of someone who rarely fills in all the details. She writes such that her MC only makes note of things that the MC has interest in, which sometimes means you never get an explanation for something. What’s a reader to do? Use their imagination! Good books cause a movie to be projected in the mind’s eye, and the brain will fill in what’s necessary, so give your reader a chance to exercise their creative muscles.

Having said all this, a way to ‘have your cake and eat it too’ (what does this even mean?), is to put the prologue at the end as an appendix. Keep in mind, though, that publishers making dead-tree versions of your book will likely be reluctant, as each page costs additional money. Another way, much less likely to risk being cut, is to put in a brief (1-3 sentence (and not long, either!)) paragraph at the beginning of each chapter. Set off with a different font, margin and/or italics, those who would rather discover as they read and learn by context (which is the best way to get the information across) can easily ignore it, while those who want the extra information can easily read. It can be ‘excerpts’ from an encyclopedia or something. Perhaps a learned scholar’s research headlines, or just some particularly relevant bits of history, important to the chapter that follows.

But why does <insert famous author> write prologues and sell piles of books? Short answer: they’re proven money makers with a loyal following. If you can entertainingly write about growing grass or drying paint, then you can probably write entertaining prologues and none of this matters to you. But, if you’re like regular mortals, particularly unpublished, then you should focus on adhering to as many conventions as possible.

To reiterate, the very best way to convey the information is in the body of the text, as the reader needs the information, where much of the understanding is through context. For fantasy or scifi, though, too much background exposition being dropped in might dangerously slow the pace down, so even then you have to balance explanation with comprehension.

RomCom?

I just got the response back from one of my script editors and she was very positive.  The main thing I took from her feedback was her characterization of Treasure Hunt as a romantic comedy, something I hadn’t considered.

I never considered myself capable of writing comedy. Timing is critical and I just don’t think I have it.  Though I like to write love stories, my analysis of the romance genre, plus the feedback I got over my first novel (initially called it a romantic thriller; it is neither), told me I wasn’t any good at romances.  That being said, everything she was writing about resonated with me. Actually had me itching to get to making revisions (mostly her thoughts were about elaborating a few scenes and inventing a couple to up the sexual tension).  I like the idea of calling it a romantic comedy and think the clearly defined and widely accepted genre will make it easier to find cast and crew as well.

I’ve asked for script coverage from two experienced readers for RedDom.  One will get back to me the end of this week, the other on the 20th of this month.  Their feedback should crystallize my decision one way or another.  If I go forward, I’m going to aim to film over 4 weekend starting middle to late September.  My generous, smart and beautiful wife has agreed to back the budget necessary to pay cast and crew (not a lot, but enough, hopefully, to get serious responses), so I no longer have to exclusively rely on reel, beer and pizza to find a team.

There’s no question I’m crazy to dive in like this, but crazy has got me this far in life. There’s no sense in changing gears now.

Feeling Blue

Something different this week: published early, rather than late (my goal is once per week). The last one was something I’d written a while ago, just hadn’t got around to posting, as I’ve been rethinking this whole movie making idea, yet again.

I’ve been getting a lot of ‘push back’ on my Treasure Hunt script in the area of conflict. Middle of last week, after making a number of changes to my screenplay to increase the level, I got some feedback that, essentially, said the script was worthless (not really that harsh, but that was the gist) because it almost entirely lacked conflict. Since this is the exact same feedback I’ve got up to this point on all my scripts, it really caused me to rethink my whole making movies concept. Which bummed me out, as this was the only thing that seems to get me excited about life, the universe, and everything (though I can see some potential in reviving my biotech research, but that interest has lay moribund for lo these many years).

My real concern isn’t that there isn’t enough conflict in TreasHu, but in RedDom, etc. TreasHu has a definite purpose: to act as a learn-by-doing moving making project, to tell me if I really want to pursue directing and, to a lesser degree, serve as reel for trying to convince producers I’m a viable candidate to direct RedDom, etc. While I intend to submit to festivals, it’s more about that learning experience than any real expectation. If a thousand people watch TreasHu, it will have vastly exceeded my expectations. If any of them pay, I will consider that a game-winning home run with bases loaded.

After some long thought, I developed this strategy: polish up RedDom and get some more input on it and, potentially, write BlueDom, a sequel called “The Dominatrix Was Blue”, and get input on that as well. the DoaCK screenplay is probably not a valid piece to use for evaluation, as the underlying novel, while about perfect in achieving my story telling goals, inherently lacks the conflict so near and dear to everyone (else’s) heart. Thus, when all the fat is boiled down (wtf does that even mean?), I’ve really only written one script that I meant to fit in the movie making mold (as I believe I’ve said, I don’t expect to film DoaCK until/unless I become successful enough with other movies that I can afford a vanity project). Now, having said that, I’ve had a number of complaints about a dearth of conflict in RedDom. And, while there are a few places I feel it’s organic to add (and have already done so in most cases), it may still be that I lack the ‘conflict genes’ to write. I’m not sure I want to ‘just’ be a director, and, in any case, that just increases the number of barriers to entry, so, at least for the present, my focus is entirely on writing first, then directing.

If, as I suspect, Jennifer, a script editor I’m sending TreasHu to on Sunday, is going to have little positive to say about TreasHu (note that all the reviewers so far have had favorite passages/events, so it’s not all bad), I think I’m going to delay my decision on moving forward with TreasHu (and any other movie making project) until I’ve got feedback from several other screenplay reviewers on RedDom and possibly BlueDom. If the consensus is I just don’t have what it takes, then I’ll probably put all this to bed and try and find something else to get passionate about (the biotech research, statistically speaking, is probably a vastly better probability of making money than movies, and where, after all, I actually have a competitive advantage). If the consensus seems to be that my story telling abilities have the potential to be successful (in that enough people will pay to make a profit on the budget), then I’ll pursue TreasHu as-is (or, maybe, with some minor tweaks) and let it answer it’s intended questions.

I can’t tell if this is a smart plan or just hiding from the inevitable.

What I (think I) want in a DP

While the director is the main creative force behind a movie, and is ultimately responsible for answering to the producers (and thus to viewers), he or she is the ringmaster in a giant circus and needs lots of help to be successful.

Largest among those helping is the cinematographer, or Director of Photography (DP).  Typically second in charge of the whole circus, the DP is the person responsible for what the movie actually looks like (e.g., dark and moody, pastels and slightly out of focus, etc.).  The DP is also in charge of most of the crew and needs to be a capable manager in her (or his) own right.

When I start looking for a DP for my Treasure Hunt movie, I’m hoping to find someone who can become a long-term partner I can work with for many years (decades) to come, making a dozen (or more) movies.  That’s a lot to ask for when I’m a nobody with a micro budget, but why not ask for what I want? What do I have to lose?

Having given some thought to the visual style I’d like, one thing that’s really important to me is holding the damn camera still.  I hate shakey cams and think the invention of the steadicam rig was the mark of the highest genius. I prefer the idea of long takes and having as much coverage done in parallel with up to three cameras.  Visually, I like clear, sharp focus and realistic, but strong, colors. Except when the story calls for otherwise, I want the viewer to see what I see when I’m watching the action unfold.

This is not to say that I can’t be persuaded into some interesting angles or movements, just that I want the default to be a rock steady camera and clean, realistic images.  I defer to your expertise, but also have a certain vision in mind.

While I will (am) doing my best to develop an in-depth technical understanding of all the jobs of the crew (and cast), my intention of doing so is so I can learn a shared vocabulary in an effort to communicate better with you.  I don’t want to become an expert on lenses or lighting, microphone placement or dolly vs steadicam.

I’m a strong-willed person who is… not very diplomatic at times.  I tend to respond in a knee-jerk way (emphasis on ‘jerk’) to ideas that aren’t my own, so please give me a few moments to realize how right you are.  As such, I need a DP who is not afraid to push back, who can deal with an ‘artistic temperament’ (but little actual artistic ability). I get angry easily, but I also get over it easily.  Often, if not reminded quickly, in a few minutes I’ll have forgot that I was upset. I try very hard not to be an asshole, but that’s my default personality, so I need a DP that can work comfortably with that, and to shield the rest of the crew from my raw nature.

I’m a firm believer in the chain of command and will do my best not to interfere with any of the crew directly.  That being said, I have lots of curiosity and like learning, so my being absorbed in the technical aspects of the crew’s work doesn’t mean I’m trying to muscle in.  If I overstep my bounds, just push back and I’ll adjust my attention.

Economics of Indie

I’m being persuaded that I should cut out or rewrite a couple of scenes in my screenplay.  On the one hand, I think the way I’ve written it is more visually interesting and tells the story better.  On the other hand, it will be logistically complicated and relatively expensive to film. My original intent was for the students to learn about the potential for buried treasure during a lecture in school.  That means finding a lecture hall I can use, hiring an actor to be the teacher and getting a dozen or more extras to give the illusion that the lecture hall is full of students.

On the other hand, if I reconceive the scene such that the students (and audience) get the same information from, say, going over the lecture notes in advance of class, then I can not only cut the expenses and challenges of filming it a lecture hall, but I can film it in the same locations I’m using for the other student interactions, which could significantly reduce setup time, shortening the length of time I would be filming, further reducing costs.

I’ve been thinking about the added value of the lecture scene.  If I didn’t have budget constraints, I feel sure the story would flow better with it in. However, budget is the absolute driver for this project, so my consideration becomes, is the incremental benefit to the story so high that it’s worth finding the funding (and location and extras) knowing that the cost has to come out of the rest of the project somehow.

Though I’ve been giving some serious thought to increasing the size of my budget, so I can pay my cast and crew (I’m not having much luck so far finding people to work for reel, beer and pizza), doing so adds a lot of complexity to the project.  I’ve been debating the value of the added complexity to my goal of learning if I want to be a director. If I can pay even a moderate amount (it seems that even $100 a day (generally 10 hours) is considered at the higher high end for low budget projects), I’ve been told I can attract a very different caliber of cast and crew.  Ones that have professional experience. And that are much more likely to show up for the entire production period.

I would very much like to be the only ‘virgin’ on the shoot, so the prospects of investing the time and energy to get a larger enough budget to pay cast and crew appeals very much to me.  If we’re all learning at the same time, there aren’t any experienced eyes watching to keep me from making naive mistakes.

The other direction I’ve been looking is toward shrinking the shooting days.  I’ve been using an estimate of 5 minutes of finished film (pages of script) each day.  With a goal of 80 pages/minutes, that translates to 16 days, or 8 weekends. I’ve been told, and have read, that projects which work to minimize the number of locations and sets can dramatically increase the number of pages shot each day, so much so that 10 minutes/pages appears feasible.  That cuts it down to 4 weekends, which could cut the required funds in half.

This feeds back into my decision making process regarding the lecture scene (actually, there are two in my first draft, though I’ve decided I’m OK with cutting the second entirely), since I get so much savings.

So it seems, whether I increase the budget or not, it makes a great deal of sense to replace my lecture hall scene with something much cheaper to film.  With that decision made, I now have to decide how else to convey the same information. Which I’ve been struggling with for a number of days (and one reason why this blog post is actually being made on Sunday, instead of later on in the week; I’m grasping for distractions).

Part of my goal with the screenplay was to put in some Civil War history specific to the Shenandoah Valley.  I contacted a subject matter expert and got all sorts of excellent information from her. I’ve only used a very tiny fraction of what she provided, but it was the fraction I felt was important to understanding the reasons why there might be treasure for my characters to find.  A teacher giving a lecture felt like a very natural and organic to get the information across. Now I have to find something less natural and less organic, or find a way to tell the story without the information at all.

Stripped of any extraneous staging information, the verbiage in the first draft is 345 words.  About two and a half pages worth of information in a formatted screenplay, or that many minutes.  I felt that long worked as the lecture, but I’m not sure if conveying it in other ways will work that long, unless I can create something visually interesting for the viewer as they get the information dump.  Then the problem becomes, if I create something too visually compelling for the viewer, then they focus on that instead of the information.

I have an idea I’m going to try.  I’m not sold on it, but I’ll ask my advisors what they think.  Maybe it can be made to work, and I can achieve the cost savings without compromising my story.

It’s interesting to me, how my learning process impacts my movie watching experience.  I was rewatching “Out of Sight” yesterday and kept thinking to myself, why did the writer choose to write this scene, then the director film it and finally the editor include it.  A number of them felt like they could be extraneous to the story, yet they wound up in the final cut. “Out of Sight” is one of my favorite movies, so I certainly don’t think the ‘extraneous’ scenes hurt the movie at all, but as I sit and agonize over my decisions, I wonder if I cut too much of my original intent I wind up cutting parts of what I felt made the story compelling in the first place.

Architectural Vision

In a discussion with someone who I hope will become an avid collaborator in the future, I characterized how I hope to work with cast and crew thus…

I view my role as the writer/director as an architect with a vision. While an architect is expected to have some notion of how the real world works, he hires experts to manage things like engineering loads, designing the electrical and plumbing needs and as well as an interior designer.

I have a vision that I illustrate with the script. It’s an impressionistic idea of what’s floating around in my head. The purpose of the script isn’t to set anything in stone, it’s to produce a shared vision for the final product. I expect there to be deviations as the rest of the team joins. While I try to make sure the building is strong enough to hold itself up (engineering), has space for electric and plumbing and have ideas for the interior look, my expectation is to find a group of people with the individual expertise who can ensure those things.

While certain people will fill certain roles, such as the DP being the structural engineer and the cast being the interior designers, this is not to imply that if you’re running wires, and find a better way, that you should keep it to yourself. That being said, the time to speak up is before the walls have been plastered!

I intend to use tools like scripts, posters, and even trailers, if I get far enough, as a way to entice cast and crew into my architectural vision. My vision can’t be realised without the right team, a balanced group of people with the necessary variety of trades. The script, posters, etc. serve as my architectural sketches, to help locate a cast and crew that support the goal of the vision.

Reel, Beer and Pizza

So I have my first draft done for Treasure Hunt and struggling with building up my ego to start trying to find a Director of Photography, an Editor and a Sound Guy. I’ve read in a number of locations that Craigslist is a place to find people, but when I look at the DC area List, I’m not seeing anything that leads me to think it’s a regular place to connect. Since I’m a regular Reddit lurker (one post, I believe), I decided to risk the snark and ask for help there:

https://www.reddit.com/r/Filmmakers/comments/8ggmsd/where_to_find_help_when_payment_is_reel_beer_and/

The responses weren’t entirely useless, though the information content utility was pretty close to zero. That being said, the post did result in a direct contact by one John Rizzo, who used to be active on Reddit, but switched to becoming a lurker, largely due to snark. He’s written and directed a number of shorts and recently a feature. This is his IMDB page:

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm9022933/?ref_=fn_al_nm_2

This is the page for his feature:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6942578/?ref_=nm_knf_i1

And this is the trailer for it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-l_n_IESGqI

When I watched the trailer I felt the silent black spaces were distracting, each time thinking the trailer had finished. After some consideration, I felt that if the background ambient sound was run over the black spaces it would create the continuity to stitch things together better. The very end of the trailer has some beautiful writing and acting, at least to me. When I commented on how much I liked that scene, John said he was so stunned with the acting that he forgot to say ‘cut’ and the actress got self-conscious until he told her about the gold that was just captured.

Anyway, John was intrigued by my goals and agreed to meet last Sunday (he only lives about 45 minutes away) to talk about things with the idea of seeing if there was enough common ground to consider working together. I sent him my first draft of the Treasure Hunt screenplay, so when he arrived we immediately started about locations, setting up, what’s hard to do vs easy (for instance, I have a number of scenes that are supposed to be at night, but would rather shoot during the day), etc.

I showed him around our place and agreed with his assessment that we were insane to take on such projects. At least I think he understands I’m undaunted by the insanity of thinking I can film a feature without any experience.

Later, he went over all the comments he made on my script. That was an interesting experience. While I get excellent feedback from the ladies I use for script editing, I think it adds a lot to have the immediate back-and-forthing. A number of the scenes he initially thought were problematic, when I explained my intent, he reversed himself. It’s sometimes hard to adequately explain a scene on paper when there’s a bias against verbosity. The ideal is to have one page of screenplay translate to one minute of finished film, so excess description can distort the ratio. Balancing the right amount of description is something I’m still working on.

While we have very different ideas, I believe there’s enough overlap that we can effectively work together. He seems to be one of those rare individuals who is happy to give suggestions/advice, yet have most or all of that ignored. So many people get offended if their advice is ignored, and no matter how useful it is, if they refuse to give it their input is worthless. His suggestions had a lot of overlap with the feedback I got from my first editor, and discussing options on how to strengthen various scenes helped a lot for me to focus. He’d do the same story completely differently, but is nonetheless OK with working toward my vision.

Since he has practical experience as a director, discussing ‘simple’ things like motivating the cast to stick through the shooting schedule (he’s worked on weekends just like I plan to) has given me the pause to reconsider my focus on finding DC area cast and crew. I may see if I can find the team I need from the Harrisonburg, VA area (about a half hour south of where I intend to shoot) through the James Madison University. There are enough potential benefits to working closely with the University that I decided I’d be willing to put off filming until early next year if I can get the assistance I need.

As we wound up (my wife said we talked for around three hours; it certainly didn’t feel that long), John indicated his willingness to be the sound guy (for reel, beer and pizza). He feels that’s a commitment he can make easily, while acting as DP or editor (he has done both for his own work (as well as sound)) is a larger commitment. He thinks it will be a challenge to find a good DP and feels I should do at least some of the editing, but I’ll still look to see if I can find someone who has experience, or at least passion for the topics.

As we talked about editing, I got the strong impression that it’s probably a strength for him. He seems to have the clarity of thought that allows for the decision making to cut scenes that aren’t adding to the original vision. The more I learn about editing, much like cinematography, the more I accept, deep in my bones, that finding someone who is passionate about those topics is well worth any delay in getting started. Of course, my research also indicates that closer-in deadlines get better responses than further-away deadlines (people typically not having any idea what they’re going to be doing in a year’s time), so there is that balancing act.

Thank you John, for your excellent insights and I very much look forward to working with you!

Conflict regarding conflict

So I’m going over the feedback I got from my first screenplay editor (the second is scheduled for the end of this month) for TreasHu and she talks several places about increasing the conflict.  I’ve read in a number of web pages about conflict being the core of any screenplay (indeed, any novel), but some of her suggestions felt inorganic for the story I intend to tell (note that easily 80% of her suggestions all made instant sense and several had me slapping myself upside the head for failure to do it myself (and another 10%, upon consideration, have persuaded me)).  That caused me to do some research on conflict, and I came across this:

The Most Common Reasons Why Scripts Are Rejected
http://coreymandell.net/the-most-common-reasons-why-scripts-are-rejected/

In it, the author quotes Michelle Tanner:

“Do whatever you can to learn how to write in professional-level compelling conflict. Because without that, you have no shot at making it. Without writing in compelling conflict, you are simply wasting your time.”

That threw me into some deep navel gazing, as I’ve also been struggling with building my ego up enough to advertise for a cinematographer, editor and sound person, all willing to work for free, not to mention perennially putting off working on storyboards and floor plans. Maybe the core of my problem is lack of compelling conflict and my desire to write exactly that is what’s the problem.

Thinking back to responses I got from the other editor I like to work with on previous scripts, I realized she was also strongly urging me to increase conflict.  While some of her suggestions immediately felt organic to the story I wanted to tell, there were cases that I felt went her suggestions went directly contrary to my goals for the stories.

It’s not like there aren’t tons of experimental indie films out there that deliberately break the three-act, tension-filled mold, but if you look at all the movies that make money (meaning, the ones people actually watch), they all follow the same trajectory. While I have no interest in working on a big budget blockbuster with everything riding on a number of long chase scenes or green screen extravaganzas, that doesn’t mean I want to make movies that no one watches. Though I don’t expect anyone to watch TreasHu, that’s because of total lack of promotion, not that it’s boring and no one caring about the characters and story.

I could probably shoe horn myself into the mold of the expected, and possibly even write something I’d be happy with, but if I wind up telling “someone else’s story” instead of mine, perhaps I’ll wind up feeling cheated and unhappy, even if otherwise successful.

That being said, perhaps I’m going against my own advice:

Get those stakes in there, we need to know why the character is in the story. Then put in the obstacles. If it’s effortless for the character to achieve their goals, then you pretty much don’t have any story. How long does it take for someone to describe their idyllic vacation, where all the food was great, no mosquitoes, their significant others got along, etc.? About twenty seconds, right? But those nightmare vacations, those are the ones people want to hear about. The worst to experience have the best stories, right? If your character’s experiences were like the idyllic vacation, you might not have a novel anyone will want to read.

I’m beginning to think that I may not be suited to creating movies/books that people will want to watch/read. I’ve had a number of people complain about my DoaCK novels not having enough conflict, but they’re exactly the stories I wanted to tell. On good days, I just figure I need to find the right audience and I’ll be off to the races.

Then I read something like this:

The Problem with Good People
http://www.lastwordonnothing.com/2018/04/30/redux-the-problem-with-good-people/

So now I’m struggling with the very idea of working toward becoming a writer/director.  Some days I feel like I have potential as a writer, then I read about things like conflict and my problems with that. I’m happy focusing on indie films, but I want people to watch them. If I can’t envision a path to create movies that have the potential to be watched nation and world-wide, I don’t know that I want to continue. There are other projects I could spend my time on. Though also long shots, ‘long’ is always relative, and I believe several have the potential to have better statistical payoffs.

I know not to make snap decisions, particularly when I’m feeling down (the wife and I went over our retirement plans this past weekend and I’m reluctantly being persuaded to add another two years (to make it 6) before we call it quits), so I’ll most likely continue pursuing this quixotic dream, possibly even to filming TreasHu as intended, but right now I’m struggling putting my heart into it.

Hopefully, I’ll have my ego patched up again soon and can wipe all this doubt away…

Too meta for me

I wasn’t feeling well last week and took off work early to go home and sleep.  I wound up sleeping probably 14 hours or so. I did a lot of dreaming, and things got weird.

I dreamt that I tried to explain to my wife that I dreamed about making notes about a dream I had that I felt would make a great movie or TV show. How deep is that? When she came to bed, I think I told her about that, but who knows, maybe I dreamt that also (maybe I’m dreaming this ;-).

Sadly, very little of the original dream is left. The title: “She, Detective.” The MC: Emily, a lesbian who suffers horribly emotionally at all the tragic stuff she sees, but does all her crying at home, alone, and is a stoic hardass at work. I was thinking she was the only detective in a smallish town, so it wouldn’t always be about dead people. Her sidekick was a cub reporter (wtf is a cub reporter anyway?) named Charlie, who was so intent on getting his great story he was always getting into trouble.

There was a lot more, but it’s all gone now. I wonder if it is because we were rewatching an episode of “The Closer” that had Stana Katic, who was Becket in “Castle.”