That elephant. That one. Right there. In the middle of the damn room.

5 11 2009

There’s an old story that is sometimes told in journalism school. It goes something like this.

A new reporter, in his first assignment, is sent by his editor to cover a dog show for the evening edition. The reporter goes out, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and stumbles back in the office just barely under the wire. When asked why he was late the reporter tells him that on the way there a truck jackknifed on the freeway, spraying rocket fuel all over the road. A car flipped and caught the whole mess on fire, trapping the driver, when suddenly an off-duty fireman ran into the flames, pulled the truck door of its hinges with his bare hands, and pulled the driver to safety.

He then handed his editor a late, but thorough account of the dog show.

This story illustrates an important journalistic point. Go where the story is.

Still today, reporters don’t follow this advice. I just got done reading a story with a killer headline: Bricklayer shows up at his own funeral in Brazil. Now, who out there reading this post hasn’t fantasized about showing up alive to their own funeral?

So the story goes on giving a detailed account of how the local authorities misidentified the body. But no where in the entire article does it mention the WTF moment OF A MAN SHOWING UP ALIVE TO HIS OWN FUNERAL!!!

That’s the story! Sure, I want to know about the mix-up, but what did people think? Did he just run in? Did he wait in the back to see what people were saying about him? Did anyone have a heart attack and die?

It’s insufferable. But this isn’t just a problem for reporters; writers deal with this problem too.

Don’t get caught in the minutia of your story. Details are great. Yeah, you want to foreshadow that bit at the beginning, and refer back to it at the end. It’s so fricking cool. Yeah, you want to make sure every character has their little moment.

But remember what the story is about. And go over what you’ve written. Is there another, more interesting story growing out of it? Follow it.

Always follow the story.


It’s my birthday.

19 10 2009

I am 32 today…

I should really write something.

The Importance of a Second Read

16 10 2009

I used to not like rereading my work. Not my writing or homework or anything. I had already read it once. Hell, I wrote the thing.

If you’re like this, get over it, please. Reread your work. And reread other people’s work. Give a video a second viewing. You owe it to the piece.

It isn’t that first reads/viewings are worthless. First reads give you insight. After all, most of your audience will only give it one go, so it’s important to know how they may react.

But there’s so much to be learned in the second read/view. You’ve put all your preconceived notions to bed. You’re not infected with the giggles, like so often happens around a writers table. The second go is less reactionary, but more honest, and you’ll get more out of it. It’s where you really absorb what’s being said, and can finally start to dissect the piece.

The Sandman. Let’s not waste this character anymore.

14 10 2009

OR “The coolest damned thing I’ve read all week.”

I love The Sandman. Not the song, not the mythical character, not the ECW wrestler, but DC comic’s Sandman. There are several versions, but two which stand out. One is the 90’s Neil Gaiman version, all pale and goth and eternal and powerful and emo…well, maybe not emo so much. A great character, and an amazing series.

The other is the classic Sandman, Wesley Dodds, who was at his best also in the 90’s under the careful hands of Matt Wagner. Wesley Dodds is a pulp hero, donning a fedora and trenchcoat, and a little advanced (for the 30’s) technology to fight crime.

Gaiman’s Sandman has powers galore. He’s basically the creator of dreams. Wagner’s Sandman has no powers save to nightmares portending real crimes, that will torture him until he intervenes.

But both those Sandmen are dead. The one we have now is…well, he’s okay for what he is, but he’s underused. He’s got an interesting character design. He’s back to the hat and coat, but it’s a very superheroish hat and coat. He’s got Dodds’ nightmares and gas gun (sorta), but from what I’ve seen so far, none of the drive to do anything with them. He also has sand-based powers from a decades old continuity misstep. He fights evil so he can get a good night’s sleep. Dodds at least had a sense of justice about him. Now, this isn’t to dog Sandy Hawkins, but he’s underutilized, and a mishmash of continuity mistakes. Basically, the DC universe has been crumpled into a ball so many times, that flakes flutter out, and Sandy Hawkins is one of those. A flake. All due respect to Sandy Hawkins, but The Sandman deserves a fresh start.

    My Idea

This man.

This man the new Sandman?

Do you recognize this man? Have you ever dreamed of him?

If you have, you’re not alone. This site asserts that every night hundreds of people around the world find this guy in their dreams. Does he just have one of those faces? Is he a psychological archetype? Is he the face of God?

Who cares? I mean, it’s an awesome theory, but the whole thing could be bunk for all I know. But what I do know is OMG IT IS AN AWESOME IDEA!

So my idea, real quick, is to have the Sandman be an unwilling agent of Daniel (Gaiman’s new Dream) who’s job it is to hunt down and capture rogue dreams. Just like how Gaiman’s Sandman had to track down the Corinthian, and Fiddler’s Green, so does this Sandman have to find a new breed of escapees (and throw in the Corinthian too. Everyone needs an arch-nemesis).

The character design is based on that guy above, which is nice because he’s got such an every-man quality that Dodds had (for a multi-millionaire). Keep the hat and the trenchcoat and the gasmask. Update his tech, but not by too much. Give him a “works out of his garage” feel. It should remain a noir comic of a sort.

And update his powers. The gas gun is standard, as are the nightmares, but I would add “sleepwalking” to the mix. Allow him to travel from point A to point B through people’s dreams. Like, say he had to get to Denver, so he finds a person dreaming of a picnic with their family. He manipulates it slightly to make them dream of camping. He then leaps to someone dreaming of buying camping supplies in an REI with a climbing wall, which leads to mountain climbing, which leads to skiing in Colorado, which leads to Denver. Like 6 degrees to destination, or something.

I don’t know. Maybe that’s overly-complicated. But you only have to explain it once or twice, then him popping into someone’s head in Minneapolis, and popping out in Tibet is sort of as-read. The point, though, is it gives him a global angle, which also lets him stay under the radar. Even if the people of the world (and some of the readers, possibly) will recognize him from their dreams, he’ll remain a very underground character, which means he wouldn’t even have to replace Sandy Hawkins. He could just be a Vertigo title.

Anyway, I had to get that out. Somebody forward it to DC Comics.

Blog rollin’ rollin’ rollin’

14 10 2009

I’m looking to expand my readership to… well, any. So I’d like to do some link exchanges for the ol’ blogroll. If you’ve got a writing/entertainment blog and you’re interested in a link exchange, please comment below.

Not like that! Like this!

14 10 2009

My first real education in film making (not that I ever make films) came in the form of a Dov SS Simens weekend film crash course seminar. It was good. I highly recommend it. The most important thing he taught me was that no one needs a license to make a movie. But that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is the second most important thing he taught me: let actors do their jobs.

On set, everyone has a job to do. The director envisions a project and tries (often in vain) to steer the project in that direction (see? that’s where they get the word). The lighting guys do lighting. The cinematographer does the camera work (yes, I’m drastically underplaying their roles, but I don’t want to get off on a tangent), and the actor is charges with pulling life and humanity out of the words on his/her script.

The writer, often enough, isn’t even there. And when they are there, they should not go around telling people how to do things. You’re stepping on the directors toes by doing that. And you should never repeat a line back to an actor (say it like this: “YOU”RE out of order. This whole COURT is out of order!”). It’s stepping on his toes.

Some actors get insulted by that. Others don’t. Even if they aren’t insulted, still don’t do it. Because all that’s going to happen is they’ll start taking their cues from you, and you’ll be the one doing the performing. They’ll be your puppet. And yes, they may start saying lines just the way you want them, but you’ll be losing out on different, often better takes on your characters.

This is a rule I’ve lived by in scripting, and why I often don’t even go to shoots. However, I’m starting to reexamine my position on this, slightly.

Last week, pretty much because I wanted to get out of the house, I went to a Transylvania Television shoot. They were shooting my material exclusively, and I technically went under the pretense that I’d be available for consultation and rewrites, but I really didn’t expect anyone to want my help. It’s not because they’re rude, but because everyone on this show knows their jobs.

They filmed a couple of short bits with Charles, and though he did an outstanding job, he wasn’t hitting the same tone for the character that I intended. In fact, there was one or two jokes he didn’t get at all. Firstly, that’s my fault. If you have to explain a joke to someone, it’s not funny, or at the bare minimum it’s not clear. Scripting is tough. You can’t really write in the inflections much. And a lot of people in the business frown on even italicizing words. You just have to be as clear as possible, and let the director and actors add their magic.

But eventually it did come up that someone wanted me to chime in on a line. Again, I was very uncomfortable with saying the line the way I wanted it said, but I did tell them which words in the line I’d like stressed. And the line came out better. In fact, the producer said having me on set for that was a big help!

So where does this leave us? To interfere or not interfere? Is it helpful, or stepping on toes. I suppose there’s no good answer; everyone is different. So the answer is, find out who you’re working with before you chime in. Would they find it helpful?

Second, do your job in the scripting stage. Make it as clear as possible. I don’t want to use the term “idiot-proof” but that’s sort of what you have to shoot for. Have someone else read it and give their take, or read it dry. If the comedy comes from the inflection and performance and not the writing, then you’re not really writing comedy, are you? You’re acting on paper.

Third, take some time to have a read-through with the director if you can. He calls the shots on the performance, but if he doesn’t know what the writer is thinking, then that’s information he can’t bring to the set. He might find it useful, and if he doesn’t like you’re take, he’ll have a jumping point to take it somewhere else.

And just to twist the knife, I got a preview of the first bit they filmed, before I chimed in, and while I think people will like it, I know it could have been better if I chimed in at some point. So lesson learned…hopefully.

Dear God, not the payment question!

25 08 2009

Yes! The payment question.

The eternal struggle that has plagued all new writers. Do I charge for my work because I’m a talented professional who occasionally likes to eat food, or do I give it away so I can get my foot in the door?

I’ve been swayed back and forth on the subject, but in the end I can say there is no easy answer to this. Both sides have great points to make.

One one side, the Pay the Writer arguments:

  • Writers train for their craft.
  • They’re skilled.
  • It’s, like, a real job or something.
  • Getting compensated for a job well done is the American way.
  • Writers don’t live in caves; they like to buy things.

In fact, let’s turn this over to someone passionate about always paying the writer by showing you what Harlan Ellison, famed psychotic science-fiction writer, says. Please disregard the irony that I’m not compensating him for the use of this video:

He makes some damn good points. Take a computer programmer, or a truck driver, or a secretary. Would any of these people work for free? As a rule, hell no. And no one would ask them to. It’s a lack of respect to not pay a writer, or anyone, for their work, and yes, that has a corrosive effect.

By working for free, you’re stealing a paid job from another writer. You might even be stealing a paid job from yourself.


That isn’t the whole story. I’m sorry, Harlan, but there weren’t as many writers back then. And there certainly weren’t so many bloggers, or NaNoWriMo novelists, or starry-eyed dreamers who over-romanticize becoming a published author. Yes, they’ve flooded the market, but that’s the market. How is one supposed to get published when they’re competing with hundreds of other writers who will work for nothing? And yes, it’s true that you get what you pay for. Most writers who write for nothing suck at it, but who really notices anymore? People who don’t write, themselves, often can’t write. And they can’t really identify good writing on a conscious level. So they don’t care.

People need experience to get the really good, well-paying jobs, and people need practice to be worthy of them. Selling yourself cheap-to-free can accomplish that, to some degree.

And let’s not forget the axiom, if it’s your passion, you’d do it for free.

That’s all well and good, I guess. But then, society has always abused people with passion. Writers aren’t the only ones who are undervalued in society. Artists, teachers, hell, professional wrestlers, all will settle for less than their worth because they’re passionate about that job, and don’t think their employers don’t know that.

So what are you going to do? If you demand pay, you’ll never get read, and if you do it for free, you’re a traitor to your people.

Well, the first thing you can do is to not buy that presupposition.

First of all, there are plenty of people willing to pay a new writer, but that writer has to have ideas. That is, in the end, what publishers are paying for; not the craft of writing. They don’t want to see a hot mess, but by and large, beautious prose isn’t what sells magazines.

Second, if you’re not putting any value on your work or your profession, your potential employers won’t put any worth on it either.

Third, writing is a fun job, and if you’re having fun doing it, and you’re not missing the money, then frankly, it doesn’t matter if you write for free. I absolve your of your treason. The market can’t get much more screwed up than it is. But if you’re doing it, do it for love of the project or the prose, don’t do it because you think it’ll get your foot in the door. It won’t. People don’t respond to those types of tricks. They don’t respect you in the morning. All people respond to enthusiasm.

Talk to other writers, and to people in all industries who use writers. Make connections. Put out good work. The rest will work itself out.