Digging towards the emotional core

big-dig
I don’t think you’ll need that much gear

Due to both of our busy schedules, my daughter and I go for some quality father-daughter time when we can. Sometimes that means we’ll watch something together.

It might be a movie or a TV show. We’re not picky. No shame in admitting she’s picked up my enjoyment of superhero- and fantasy-based (LOTR, Hobbit, etc) material.

Despite her occasionally sullen and blase teen exterior, V is, at heart, an empathetic and sensitive soul, so no matter what we’re watching, if there’s any kind of hint of emotional resonance in a particular scene, she will feel the full brunt of whatever emotion the film/program is conveying.

Almost any kind of a joke (the sillier the better), and she laughs her head off. Something scary and she hides under the blanket. Something sad and she immediately tears up. Even after years of me saying, “You do know this is just a movie/TV show, right?”, her emotional receptors remain cranked up to 11 (and the teenager reappears with the immediate response, “Will you stop saying that?”)

Looking at these from the writer’s perspective, I can’t help but examine how the writers were able to do that. How did they get to the emotional core of the scene? Jokes and scares aren’t hard to figure out, even though each is pretty subjective, but a good, solid tug at the heartstrings, when done effectively, can be some pretty intense stuff.

A key part is making it relatable. Love. Joy. Heartbreak. Loss. All are universal. Everyone’s experienced them in some form or another. As the writer, you want to convey that emotion so anybody reading or watching your story will not only immediately identify it, but also connect with it on a personal level.

Like this. One of the most effective emotional sequences ever. And not a single word spoken. If you don’t feel anything as a result of watching it, you have no soul.

Even though we may not have gone through the same things as Carl and Ellie, we can relate to a lot, if not all of it.

This isn’t saying that every scene has to be a major tearjerker, but you want to really let us know how the characters are feeling in that particular moment. They’re human, so they feel the exact same things we do. Make us feel how they’re feeling.

Each scene serves three purposes: to advance the story, the characters, and the theme. Let the emotions come through via the best way you envision them enhancing the scene (making sure not to overdo it). It might take a few tries, but the deeper you venture into the emotional level, the easier it’ll get for you to show it, and it’ll also be easier for us to identify it and relate to it.

Guaranteed to last forever

khan
And it all starts with this guy
Something just a little different and of a somewhat personal nature today.

In the summer of 1982, I went to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

With my dad.

At a night-time show (probably the 7:30 one).

As a thunderstorm raged outside (typical south Jersey summer weather conditions).

It was a great night.

All of these elements combined to make what was one of the most memorable times I’ve ever had at the movies. What made it that way? I can’t say specifically, but it just was.

It’s still something I will truly never forget. If I ever get to meet Nicholas Meyer, I’ll make a point of telling him that.

Maybe someday a dad and his son or daughter will go to see a movie I wrote, and that child will experience the same sensation I did: the creation of a memory they cherish for the rest of their life.

(Whether or not they tell me about it in their adult years is beside the point, but I wouldn’t object.)

What writer wouldn’t want to have their work be the basis for something like that?

And now I’m a dad who enjoys going to the movies with my child. Could history repeat itself and we see a movie, and we have a great time, and it’s something she’ll remember for the rest of her life?

So far, it hasn’t happened yet (as far as I know).

But it sure is fun to keep trying.

A pleasantly pocket-sized status update

Just the right size for enjoyment at your convenience
Just the right size for enjoyment at your convenience

Busy times continuing, so just a few items worth mentioning.

-Good progress as the November writing project continues. Closing in on the end of Act 2, and with a few days off next week, hoping to steamroll my way through Act 3 and wrap up the first draft. Still averaging about 2 pages a day, which isn’t necessarily because I’m not very productive, but partially due to…

-Been very busy the past couple of weeks giving notes on scripts written by writer pals kind enough to do it for me. Everybody’s patience is much appreciated.

-In the early discussion stages of helping out on 2 potential projects. Both feel like they’ll really push my creativeness to the limit. Always nice.

-Ran the Golden Gate Half this past Sunday. 1:56:36, including a lot of uphill on both sides of the bridge and a light drizzle during miles 8 through 11. Also nice.

-My daughter, the illustrious Ms V, turned 13 this week. The next few years are going to be interesting, to say the least. Wish me luck.

Have an excellent weekend, and make sure to get some kickass writing done.

Let’s get those brains stimulated, people!

You mean movies can be smart AND good?
You mean movies can be smart AND good?

One of my favorite things to do as a parent is go to the movies with my daughter. It’s a nice feeling knowing I’ve instilled in her the appreciation of the whole moviegoing experience. It also helps that there’s a fantastic two-screen (one of a handful of similar small neighborhood theatres in San Francisco) a few blocks from us.

And as she’s getting older, our choices are growing in number. Strictly kid-based animation has given way to PG-13 fare, so we try to see what we can when possible.

Earlier this summer, we caught JURASSIC WORLD and INSIDE OUT within a week’s time. She really enjoyed the dinosaur flick. I thought it was fun, but felt it relied more on the nostalgia factor rather than smart storytelling (“Remember when we helped Grandpa fix that old car?”). I found the latest offering from Pixar to be pure genius, while she found it to be simply “okay”. I asked why she liked the first movie more than the second.

“I think I like movies where you don’t have to think too much.”

Gasp.

I won’t go so far as to say it was a dagger in my heart, but you can probably understand my being taken somewhat aback.

I could easily chalk it up to that she’s still relatively young and hasn’t latched on to my love of the movies to the extent that I have. Like I said, the list of what she’s seen is somewhat limited. I’ve done what I can, and hopefully can continue to contribute to it.

But as a writer, what’s my biggest takeaway from this?

Obviously I want to write scripts for films that will be embraced by the general public, which means they’d have to be simple enough that anybody could follow along, but also written in a way that the reader/audience doesn’t feel insulted or talked down to.

All this talk about needing to appeal to the lowest common denominator has always bothered me. It makes it sound like there’s no point in trying to write something smart.

I beg to differ.

Getting the reader/audience to really think about the story gets them more involved. You hooked with them with the beginning, kept them intrigued throughout the middle, and now they’re compelled to find out how it all ends. Isn’t that what it all comes down to?

I love it when I read a script where it’s obvious a writer knows what they’re doing when it comes to telling a story. Setups and payoffs. Multi-dimensional characters. Plotlines where I know what the endpoint is, have no idea how we’re going to get there, and am getting a real kick out of taking the journey.

This is the kind of writing we should all strive to create.

It’s easy to write something that doesn’t try to challenge the reader/audience, and the reaction will probably be similar. “Boring.” “Unoriginal.” “Meh.”

Push yourself to write something that offers up something new, or at least a new twist on an old standard. Give us something we haven’t seen before, or totally weren’t expecting. Not just one part. THE WHOLE THING. There’s something exhilarating about venturing into new territory. Take us there.

We’re writers. It’s what we do.

Wanted: wonder, fun & excitement

Seeking this kind of vibe
Seeking this kind of vibe

This was parent-teacher conference week, so my after-school parenting schedule was shaken up a bit. As a result, not as much time to work on the mystery spec rewrite.

So in an attempt to make the most of my limited time, and without my laptop with me, I opted to tinker with the outline for the monster spec.

Like any good writer, I had my ever-present notebook and story notes with me. Seriously.  I keep them in my bag for just such a situation.

The first act is really coming together, with most of the focus now on working out the details of the gaps between the plot points of Act Two. And as happened before, I’m having a blast.

At its heart, this story is a pure pulp adventure, which is exactly the mood I’m going for. Grab you from page one and not let go as it gains momentum from there on, building and building until finally culminating in a jaw-droppingly amazing, can’t-believe-I-just-saw-that finale.

Simply put, my objective is to create a simple-yet-solid story with three-dimensional characters, using the spectacle aspect as support that keeps things interesting.

Similar to how it was with the western, I’m a huge fan of the genre and know what I as a member of the audience would want to see. I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel here; just tell a fun story. Hopefully my appreciation and knowledge of this kind of material will come through on the page.

What it really boils down to is the more I can make this a smart and exciting thrill ride, the better.

As I work out the story details, I’m keeping this in mind: If there was a free-of-plot-details trailer for this, you’d be overwhelmingly compelled to want to see it.  (Sort of what they’ve done for GODZILLA and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.)