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Category Archives: Scriptwriting

W: When Characters Attack!

W: When Characters Attack!

What happens when a writer grows weary of his characters?

What happens when they fight back?

One is reminded of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempting to rid himself of Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls, or the author in Stranger Than Fiction whose protagonists never make it out alive.

Or perhaps the writer realizes she’s dug herself into a literary hole and doesn’t know when or how to end the story. (Lost, I’m lookin’ at you. And you, too, Once Upon a Time, which should have lasted only a season or two, before you misused your great cast and intriguing premise to go screaming off the rails into soap opera badlands.)

W is a 2016 South Korean television drama in the vein of Stranger Than Fiction, Secret Window, The Truman Show, The God Hater, and other stories where the characters confront or interact with their authors, their audiences, or their creators. In this series, comicbook characters become aware of their fictionhood and enter the real world to confront their creator.

First, the protagonist learns why a shadowy figure is trying to kill him and turns the tables on his creator. then the villain also realizes he can enter the other dimension, and demands of the creator a face and an identity.

How the story begins:

Kang Cheol has a few loyal associates upon whom he relies, but when a mysterious woman saves his life more than once, he’s intrigued. Although the police are seeking her as a material witness and a suspect in the multiple attempts on his life, Kang Cheol hides her in order to protect her not only from the police but also from his murderous stalker.

Meantime, his television station, W—which stands for Who and Why—broadcasts and solves cold cases that the police have abandoned. He has earned a golden reputation in society for his ingenuity, wealth, generosity, and dogged pursuit of justice.

Oh Yeon Joo is alerted by her father’s fellow artists that he is missing. He went into his office one day, and although he was never seen leaving, he cannot be found. As she’s standing in his office, searching for clues, a bloody hand reaches through his art tablet and pulls her into the world of W. Without valid ID, money, or other resources, she attempts to navigate the comicbook world and find a way back to her own.

Oh Seung Moo has made his fortune and his reputation with W, finally rising from obscurity to fame with the bestselling series. Why, then has he written an abrupt ending for the protagonist—a bloody death without the satisfaction of a solved crime? After all, fans have been awaiting the revelation of the villain who killed Kang Cheol’s family.

But Kang Cheol will not die, and he begins to affect the story from the other side of the tablet. Seung Moo is no longer in control of his creation.

Has Seung Moo run away, unable to cope with success? Or is he suffering a common literary malady—an inability to properly resolve the story?

And why does Kang Cheol believe Yeon Joo is “the key to my life”?

The answer to that, my friends, is a plot twist.

At only 16 episodes long, W is fast-paced. However, it does slow down a little on occasion, allowing the viewer to catch his or her breath and often poking gentle fun at kdrama tropes.

The cinematography is excellent, and the special effects—as characters pass from one world to the next, or as pieces of the comic are drawn and then appear in the webtoon world—are top-notch and deceptively simple. Some effects are in-camera rather than digital, lending a level of reality to the cartoon world.

W would fit nicely into any of these genres: horror, fantasy, thriller, mystery, suspense, romance, action, and more. It is twisty, unpredictable, and references many kdrama tropes then refreshes the cliches to turn the story in unexpected directions.

The reason for so many genres intermingling is due to the story being hijacked by the characters, who don’t know the cartoonist’s plans but simply want to live. And to live on their own terms.

Story themes include existence, humanity, determining one’s own life/destiny/future, and the roles and relationships among god/creator, devil/antagonist, and allies and enemies. Choices have consequences—and the choices and consequences become manifold as fictional characters no longer follow the plot but assert their wills on the story. Viewers of varying philosophies or worldviews will find this an intriguing tale.

Currently, W is available on Viki, which allows viewers to comment during the show. However, during your first viewing of the show, I suggest turning off the scrolling comments at the top of the video window, as they can be distracting, annoying, downright funny. Best to watch without them, until you view the show a second time.

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How Real Life Can Color a Story’s Reception

Romances are not my usual viewing fare because they tend to be ridiculous, shallow, or boring — yes, my opinion is showing 🙂 — but since this series is only sixteen episodes long and stars some of my favorite Korean actors, I thought I’d give it a try.

4703_TheTimeThatILovedYou7000Days_Nowplay_Small

Nope. Nope, nope, nope.

Summary on the website:

Jang Ha Na (Ha Ji Won) and Choi Won (Lee Jin Wook) are incredibly close platonic friends: throughout 20 years, they’ve braved it all through thick and thin. As Ha Na’s 30th birthday approaches, Won extols the virtues of aging as a man—like a wine—while explaining that women are like grapes that shrivel into raisins. Determined to prove him wrong, Ha Na strikes a bet on which of the two will marry before turning 35. Based on Taiwan’s hit In Time With You, can these two friends make the ultimate leap?

Characters in their thirties allow fear and misunderstandings and all sorts of other obstacles keep them from telling the truth to themselves and to each other. There’s a hint of My Best Friend’s Wedding, but without the mania.

It took me a few weeks to watch the first seven episodes, but that was sheer stubbornness rather than actual interest.

It’s not that the writing is terrible or the acting is stiff or that I didn’t like the characters. Perhaps I expected — I don’t know — more spine or mental strength or maturity from the characters. Perhaps I expected me.

When I was thirty-something, I was interested in more than friendship from a close friend. I know the fear and uncertainty of declaring myself. And, when I did, the worst happened: the friendship fell apart. However, I mentally prepared myself for that rejection. It still stung, I still felt as if my lungs had been crushed, but I gave that person room to be true to self. Granted, I was not prepared for the anger that accompanied the rejection — “You’ve ruined a good friendship!” — but the uncertainty was suffocating and I needed to move forward. If that person chose to come with me, wonderful. If not, I had to straighten my shoulders and walk on.

That was years ago, and sometimes the sadness springs out from the shadows, but I wouldn’t trade the freedom and all the good things that have happened since.

So watching fictional characters drag their feet for more exaggerated, soap opera reasons than those I experienced in real life is torture, not entertainment.

The ratings (overall 4 out of 5 stars) give evidence that viewers without my jaded, curmudgeonly perspective consider “The Time That I Loved You” must-see TV. Good. Whatever kinds of writers we are — screenwriters, TV show developers, novelists, playwrights — there’s the story we tell and the story the audience views or reads. Our experiences inform what we write, and theirs color what they see/read. Stories interact with the audience in ways even the creators may not expect.

 

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Mentors v. Gatekeepers

Just read an excellent article: David Farland’s Kick in the Pants—Why I’m No Longer Cautiously Optimistic about the Future of Publishing. (hat tip to Johne Cooke, who brought it to my attention via a discussion board)

In the article, Farland discusses the shakeup in publishing due to the rise of e-books and the decline of paper books. This affects not only authors’ incomes but the existence of publishers and brick-and-mortar bookstores.

However, Farland is encouraged:

First, the sales of paper books are stabilizing. Sure, they don’t represent the big revenue source that they were five years ago for me, but they’re consistent, and my publisher has managed to hang on over the past few years, along with a couple of major bookstore chains. Heck, the bookstores are even rebounding.

At the same time, the future of electronic books is expanding.

After reading the article, I responded to it with this post on the message board:

Just today, and throughout this past week, I’ve been in conversations that came around to the fact that publishing today is mirroring the original model: private funding and personal involvement of the creators in the publishing process.

Echoes of Distant ThunderI’ve been slowly reading a thick paperback of the history of WWI, not on the battlefield but on the American homefront. One of the chapters dealt with how certain books were written or certain films were produced that directly addressed issues of the day. Early film-making brought about groundbreaking work (even if some of it was racist or propagandistic) that was funded privately. There were no big film studios yet, although those followed hard upon.

There was a time that a book could only be obtained by copying and binding it by hand. Centuries later, authors paid printers to produce copies. Later, publishers started accepting or rejecting manuscripts, though they did not necessarily take on the entire cost of publication; authors still bore that burden. Until recently, if a writer wanted his work to see print, he either persevered through the submit/reject/repeat process until someone offered him a contract or he gave up. If he tried to stray outside that process, he bore the stigma of offering an inferior product. (This stigma was often warranted; it still is. However, the “traditional” route, while better at preventing poor manuscripts from being published, didn’t guarantee quality, either.)

I used to be one of those who looked askance at self-published work. Almost every example I encountered was sub-par, either in need of editing or better storytelling, or both. The same was true of independent or small-company films. As for e-books, I was not a fan. And POD [print on demand]? Folks didn’t understand that is was a new type of publishing, and they spat the term as a synonym for “vanity press“.

Modern means and technology have allowed us to come full circle: The creators, and not the publishers or the film studios, are gaining control again. I’ve adjusted my view of e-books, though they’re still not my preferred source of reading material. They provide a low-cost way to get one’s books to the world. POD does the same, eliminating any need for costly stockpiles of physical books that may or may not sell. I echo David Farland’s excitement. The big houses may disagree, but we are living in a good time for publishing.

end message board response

I mean that.

Part of that confidence and change in attitude comes from my years as an editor, from watching how publishing has changed, from decades of educating myself as a writer, and by submitting my own work for publication.

Articles, short stories, poems, essays have been published by third parties, but my novels? None of the rejections have said the writing is bad or the characterization is incomplete or any other storytelling no-nos. Rather, the structure, the content, the length are objectionable.

In other words, I’m not a bad writer; I’m just not writing what they want.

More and more, I’m learning the difference between a mentor and a gatekeeper. The first one teaches and encourages; the second is most often a bureaucrat.

Gatekeepers can serve a vital purpose. They keep out the enemy, the diseased, the undesirable.

However, who decides who’s the enemy, the diseased, or the undesirable?

This caused discussion this afternoon when I shared Farland’s article with my brother, sister-in-law, and eldest niece, who all share a love for good stories.

“It’s good to have people who are knowledgeable, but they shouldn’t hold all the power,” said Bubba’s Wife. “Some people have a little bit of knowledge but think they know everything.”

“Wisdom lies in the counsel of many, not the counsel of one,” Bubba paraphrased the Bible (Proverbs 15:22 and 24:6 and 11:14; Niece #1 looked up the references for us). “Gatekeepers think they have all the knowledge, but then there are sequential gatekeepers you have to go through.”

He’s in the military. He knows bureaucracy.

Bubba’s Wife added, “Know where to go for the answers.”

And that’s what we can do even more now in this age of rapid communication and technological advancement. Sure, there’s a proliferation of inaccurate information, suppression, and downright lies,but there’s also unprecedented access to knowledgeable folks all over the world. We don’t have to rely on our tiny benighted group who may or may not know what we need to learn, nor must we pay for a crazy-expensive degree that may not lead to success in our chosen field.

No, we can educate ourselves, gather mentors, become mentors, pass along our wisdom and knowledge. Of course, this is predicated upon the notion that we’ll be humble enough to learn and generous enough to share.

We can raise funds from like-minded strangers (via Kickstarter and their ilk), produce our own films, publish our own books. We are the imaginers and the creators. We make the choices. We need mentors, not gatekeepers.

 

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What I’m Learning from Korean Television

This is a re-post of a blog entry originally posted February 18, 2011, on the old incarnation of Adventures in Fiction. I’ve told the opening story numerous times since it happened, so I’m like that old guy who’s always telling the same ol’ yarns to whoever will listen. There’s a point to it, though, and some readers will recognize themes and ideas from more recent posts here.

What made me go hunt for this post was a string of comments on a kdrama website. From their angst and misunderstanding of a particular pair of characters, I deduce the authors of those remarks are young — oh, so very young — and haven’t yet had to overcome many challenges in pursuit of their dreams. Or maybe everyone who holds them to account or issues a challenge is labeled “a big bad meanie”. Whoever posted those comments showed their ignorance, inexperience, and immaturity.

However, rather than scold them or get into any sort of disagreement, I looked up this post so I could quote it in my review of the same television show. Perhaps I can indirectly influence their thinking. Or not. They probably won’t understand it.

Anyway, here’s the original blog post:

It all started several weeks ago when I mis-read a link on the Hulu homepage: “If you are not Keanan, click here.”

I did a double-take, thinking it said, “If you are not Korean.”

Realizing my mistake, I laughed aloud, but not having anyone to share the amusement with me, I posted the goof on Facebook, hoping others would get at least a small smile from it.

Great Queen Seondeok coverThen, a few days later, while searching for something interesting to watch, I happened upon a recommendation for a Korean historical fiction series, The Great Queen SeonDeok. It’s a long’un, and I gave up around Episode 50, wearied by the political machinations, fears, false friends, and such that were part of the battle the title character faced on her way to the throne.

Still, despite my loss of interest in continuing to the final episode, I was drawn to the core story and to a small group of characters who seemed, even in their broadest and most caricatured portrayals, to be appealing and real. One of my favorites is portrayed by an actor that is written of in reviews as “wooden” or “a terrible actor”, but I don’t think those viewers understand the character, who wouldn’t be going about showing all his emotions and talking about his feelings. His thoughts are his own, until he deems it necessary to reveal them. For my part, I think he says a lot by a simple look. No words required.

Besides, it keeps the mystery alive.

That’s something more writers need to learn, a new take on an old saying: sometimes, characters need to be seen and not heard.

One effective storytelling device used often in the series is one that is anathema to some in publishing (if one pays any attention to the often useless “advice” doled out at writing conferences and seminars): the flashback.

A flashback can consist of a character’s memory of an event, told in brief, or it can be an extended scene, chapter, or many chapters, in which the past is revealed to the reader. Some writers “bookend” stories by beginning and ending them in the novels’ “present time”, but unfolding the bulk of the plot via the stories’ past. This can be done through letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, or simply the memories of a character or characters. In “The Great Queen”, this device was used to good effect when viewers needed to finally be let in on a secret (aka plot twist).

IRIS DVD coverFrom that show, I went on to IRIS, which is kinda like Alias. Again, I stopped short of watching every episode (in this case, the last two of the first season). However, the characters are intriguing, the story is twisty, and this action-y spy show doesn’t shy away from letting its characters — men included — show emotion, even cry.

I’m still kinda iffy on that. I might put in an emotional scene, but then I’ll delete it, or cut it down so much that ends up being matter-of-fact rather than squishy. One emotion that’s not difficult for me to write is anger. But love? Grief? That’s tough, tough, tough to get right. At least for me. But emotions are a part of life. And cold logic doesn’t always play a part in emotional responses. Make characters real by giving them real emotions.

Chuno DVD coverThen I fell into the time-sucking addiction of Chuno, an excellent historical drama laced with humor and emotion, and packed with action; I’m a few episodes away from the end, and I plan on watching every one. There are minor characters that exist for comedic effect, local color, and connective tissue for the main characters and/or events of the story, but even the minorest of minor characters feels real. The main cast are interesting, not a cardboard cutout in the bunch, and — love ’em or hate ’em — they’re neither predictable or boring.

Ever read several stories by the same author, and realize that all he or she has done is tell the same story over and over and over?

Dagnabbit! Sometimes I think I write stories with the same basic cast of characters: just change names and ages, put one set in outer space and the other set in medieval Europe, and presto! I move from science fiction to high fantasy. I can’t get too comfortable. I can’t avoid “meeting” new characters. Even ones I don’t like so much.

Pasta DVD coverAnd, in a totally different vibe, there’s the 2010 modern comedy series, Pasta, in which a somewhat whiny but steel-spined young kitchen assistant becomes a junior chef learning from and falling in love with a loud, strict, talented new chef who grates on just about everyone who meets him.

Again, I think some of the reviewers miss the point. They complain about the junior chef being such a baby, but they overlook her resolve, her persistence, her drive to excel. They ask why she wants the love and approval of a chef who constantly tells her to make a dish over or that she’s doing something wrong, but they overlook the fact that she doesn’t want flattery, or the emptiness of “nice” words. She sees the chef’s demands for what they are: a desire on the chef’s part to see her succeed, perhaps a desire even greater than her own.

From my perspective, it’s not a case of a girl overlooking the nice guy because the bad boy is more interesting. It’s a case of “Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Tell me what I need to know so I can be better. And not just better, but the best.” She respects that more than the nice guy’s flattery, as sincere as he may be.

I know that desire: Don’t tell me it’s a good story. Tell me why it does or doesn’t work. Show me the flaws. Help me be better than I am now.

It’s a desire I wish more rookie writers had. Editing or critiquing the work of a writer who thinks he’s already arrived, who thinks her words are perfect in the first draft — that’s an exercise in futility. Such a writer cannot and will not improve because he or she will not learn.

So, looks like I’ll be reading a lot more subtitles in the future, gleaning all I can to hopefully improve my own storytelling skills while admiring–and learning from–the skills of others.

 

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Rant, Rebellion, and Realistic Characters

This entry was originally posted in late December 2011, almost two months after I left a job of fourteen years and began a new life.

This work-related rant turned toward writing and characterization, but I cut the post short back in May 2011, and never finished until picking it up again seven months later, after the source of the rant was no longer part of my life. For good or ill, the rant is unchanged. However, I’ve expanded upon the original characterization portion, and hope my frustration and anger produced something worth reading, something that might serve others in their lives, their writing, or their work relationships.

I don’t like to be controlled. Don’t like to be micromanaged. Don’t like someone being “all up in my business” or constantly asking questions about matters that are no business of theirs.

This is an increasingly intense battle at my day job, in which colleagues misbehave but put the burden on my shoulders. I am made responsible for their behavior, and for the morale of my fellow workers.

Funny. I thought morale started at the top. And, last time I looked, neither my paycheck nor my title reflected that kind of responsibility.

Everything comes back around to one issue: control. Who’s gonna be the puppet master?

When someone says they trust me then they try to manage me, push me, pull the rug out from under me, they’re saying, “I don’t trust you.” When someone says they appreciate all my years of service to the organization then they try to confine me rather than giving me room to do my job, they’re saying, “I don’t appreciate you.”

Tasks that I did over a decade ago are no longer acceptable now. There’s been an added position, one that’s supposed to free the rest of us to do our jobs better, but the person in that role is so uncertain of his place that he’s grasping control wherever he can, and in the process making life difficult for the rest of us. Commonsense has gone the way of freedom, autonomy, and trust: out the door.

Layers of bureaucracy do not produce efficiency. They do, however, produce mountains of paperwork, frustration, and demi-tyrants.

A couple weeks back, I was told by a supervisor, “I don’t need any Lone Rangers.” Really? It was concerning an area I had overseen since I was hired almost fourteen years ago. Suddenly, I’m a Lone Ranger.

Then, last week, I was reprimanded — this person was shocked, shocked, I tell you — because I didn’t immediately do the first thing the boss asked, but offered an alternative that was better suited to the situation. After all, said this shocked individual, the good of the organization is superior to the good of the individual.

That’s a scary notion. There’s a whole lot of subtext to that statement (socialism and communism, for instance). Countless crimes and misdeeds have been carried out under the banner of the corporate good.

To my mind, the good of the individual is the good of the organization. After all, the organization cannot operate without the individual.

But what does any of this have to do with writing, other than serving as my personal rant?

Thus the soapbox is put aside, and here begins the actual writing-related portion about characters. Hope it helps!

Writers, how much control do you exert over your characters? Are they real, or are they robots?

If one is writing science fiction, robots might be expected, but even robotic characters tend to have personality i.e. C3PO or R2D2 in Star Wars, or android Mr. Data in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”; human characters, however, should not display robotic tendencies, unless the writer intends to use that stiffness or coldness to further the story somehow. (Or the “human” is a droid. That’s almost always cool.)

With a change of circuitry or software, at the whim of the designer, robots can be altered, predicted, controlled.

Not so with humans. Push, prod, bully, or demand, we’re stubborn, willful, changeable, foolish, scheming, proud, weak — all sorts of traits and addictions not easily controlled by ourselves, let alone by others seeking to change us.

Why, then, do authors try to impose their wills on their characters? Granted, characters should not run amok in a story, or behave illogically (unless, of course, that plays to character or plot). However, ever read a story where the author obviously had a goal in mind for certain characters, and forced them to adhere to that plot, against the integrity of the characters?

By integrity, I mean the truth of the characters — who they are, what they do, how they think and reason, what they believe, how they respond to authority figures, etc.

In the real world, questions don’t necessarily mean disrespect for authority, though there is the assumption that questioning a command equals insubordination. Questions are a search for information, for reliability, for a reason. Authors should allow their characters to ask questions and establish realistic identities: “Why must I say that? I would never do this. I’d never hang out with that guy. Even if she’s my relative, I wouldn’t just excuse her behavior. If you, the author, want this from me, you must first give me a reason.”

Just as valid a question in fiction as in the real world, have you earned the authority to make such demands of your characters? Are you a trustworthy storyteller? Do you keep your story’s promises? Give your characters logical motivations? Allow plot twists to arise organically from the story rather than, say, including gunfire or an explosion — or the cliched dead body — just to jazz up boring or dead-end material?

Even if they can’t always express it, readers can tell when they’re reading the work of a competent and trustworthy storyteller, and when they’re reading a story full of contrived circumstances and unrealistic characters.

My opinion: A tacked-on happy ending is less desirable than an organic, realistic tragic ending. (Although, to be honest, I much prefer happy endings to sad ones.) And give me a hero I can believe in, flawed or not, because he or she is written as if real. Warts, rebellion, and all.

 

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I Miss You: Why Emotion in Storytelling is Difficult to Get Right

I_Miss_You_-_Korean_Drama-p1As past blog posts reveal, one of my weaknesses as a storyteller is emotion. How do I get it right?

There’s a kdrama (Korean television drama) I’m watching now that I’ve been avoiding for months. It stars some of my favorite actors. It has great reviews. What’s my problem?

The story is heavy. It involves events I’d rather not witness or experience, and emotions I’d rather not feel, vicariously or in reality. Not because I don’t recognize them, but because I do. Despite the drama and the fiction, and the improbable though not impossible plot, the actors make it real. Characters might sometimes over-emote–or do they? We viewers would like to think so from our safe distances, but there are moments that parallel uncomfortably close to our lives: betrayal, loss, anger, grief. Love.

The fiction is the events; the truth is in the characters–how they act, react, relate, think, feel, speak. Volumes are communicated without a word being spoken. Oblique dialogue simmers with subtext.

It’s darn good writing.

Gentlemans_Dignity-poster1

The show’s title–I Miss You–is sentimental but apt. I’m only halfway through the series, and have no idea how it ends. Were it just a melodrama or just a romance, I’d probably never touch it. (To be honest, my viewing is like my reading–eclectic–thus the qualifier “probably”.) However, it’s also a mystery, dagnabbit. I’m a sucker for a good mystery.

I’ll compose an addendum to this post once I’m finished with the series. Meantime, for those interested in a romantic comedy that’s more than the genre moniker implies, check out another kdrama, A Gentleman’s Dignity. It features a core group of four friends who were fellow troublemakers in high school, and though they’re now forty and successful, they never quite grew up. (For over-emoting, though, the immature younger sister of one of the architects takes the prize.) For a solid, time-twisted, taut, suspenseful mystery with a strong romantic element and some of the best visual storytelling I’ve seen in a good long while, watch Nine: Nine Time Travels. Word is that ABC is looking into developing an American version, but I don’t know how a remake could equal the original.Nine-_Nine_Times_Time_Travel-p1

Back to the original topic: getting emotion right in storytelling. I know it when I see it. I know it when I read it. Why, then, is it so dang difficult to write?

This, I think: Emotion reveals the writer, and there’s only so much of me I want you to see.

Monday, December 2, 2013
The End (or, what I think of the series now that I’ve finished watching all the episodes), and spoilers:

I’d watch it again. In fact, it’s on my wish list of movies to add to the DVD library.

The last episode wraps up story threads, but skipped parts of the story I wanted to see, and yet expanded on material that, while okay, coulda been left out. But I’m not saying it was a bad ending. It’s a happy one, with the now-grown young lovers being married after all their years of separation and heartache.

Some viewers thought the villain was the real hero/protagonist of the story, and they might have a point. If he hadn’t existed, most of the story wouldn’t have happened. The teenagers would likely have been separated due to class differences, and the boy might never have been pushed to overcome his fear and grow into a decent adult–which was his life goal, especially after witnessing the mess grownups had made of their lives and his.

The young villain might never have become murderous were it not for the actions of his elders, who were greedy, selfish, cold, and murderous, too. Though their deeds, in and of themselves, did not achieve the elders’ desired ends, they set in motion tragic events, and unleashed the latent killer residing in what was likely an already twisted mind.

He lured others into his circle, held them there by manipulation and guilt, and delegated some of the killing .

The girl was beaten by her father, later kidnapped and raped, then separated for over a decade from her family and friends, who the villain said had abandoned her.

Much cause for tears and emotion in this story, thus the catalyst for this blog post.

Some viewers wearied of all the tears. These weren’t necessarily temper-tantrum tears, or explosions of grief, but had the appearance of unbidden tears, those that come when memory overtakes us, or when physical and mental exhaustion overwhelm us, when we’re repentant or sad or angry, and can’t stop the emotion.

There comes a time when a body is all cried out, though, and so weary of the tears that they dry up.

I thought I was in a no-cry zone in my own life. Until my father called with news about his wife, who is dying of cancer and refusing treatment. I choked up, and tears came before I had any notion they were there.

As a storyteller, I need help writing emotions: I don’t want them leaking all over my manuscript, but they need to be present and real.

As a viewer, I pretty much want the same thing: real, but not overdone to the point of cheesiness or “Oh, dear Lord, make it stop!”

As a person, well– Life’s messy.

 

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Ryan Runs for His Life: untitled screenplay

In effort to re-ignite creativity, I’ve been rummaging through old story ideas — novels, short stories, screenplays — and found a few things I’d forgotten. Below is an excerpt from my first attempt at a screenplay. Might make good story fodder for another project in the works.

———————————————–

Ext.Artist’s porch.Day

Sound of motorcycle roaring down the dirt road from the cabin to the highway.

RYAN, arms crossed, is leaning against the railing, his back to the view. He’s looking down at an old willow rocking chair; the tip of his boot on one of the rockers keeps the chair in motion.

Coffee in one hand, an old paint rag in the other, THE ARTIST watches him through the screen door, shakes his head, then pushes open the door and steps onto the porch, letting the door slap closed behind him. THE ARTIST steps to the rail, tucks the paint rag into his back pocket, and sips his coffee while looking out at the view.

THE ARTIST
Everything?

RYAN
(not looking up)
“Thanks for your loyalty. You’re the best person I know. And, oh, by the way, I hired the hitman.”

THE ARTIST
Yeah, but did you tell her everything?

Ryan looks aside, toward the dirt road. The motorcycle’s roar has faded almost to nothing. Shoving his hands into his pockets, Ryan steps to the side of the porch.

THE ARTIST
Clouds are more colorful than people think.
(gestures with his mug)
There’s white, sure, but then there’s blue, pink, gray, ocher…

Ryan looks up at the sky. It’s pristine, not a cloud in sight.

THE ARTIST (CONT’D)
…a little red, umber, maybe some green…

Ryan looks over his shoulder with a quizzical expression.

THE ARTIST (CONT’D)
…a hint of purple. And black. Definitely black.

Frowning a little, Ryan turns around, leans against the rail, wanting to ask what the heck the old man is talking about, but

THE ARTIST
Without the shadows, there’d be no dimension, nothing to give the clouds shape.

c2013, KB

c2013, KB

The artist sets the coffee mug on the top rail, takes a chunk of wood from a collection of rough shapes lining the lower porch railing, then pulls a folded knife from his pocket. He opens the knife, holds the wood close to his face, and starts shaving off pieces.

Ryan watches for a couple of beats.

RYAN
What’ll you do when you finally can’t see?

THE ARTIST
(chuckles)
Pottery.

He runs a thumb over a surface his knife has just smoothed, then he turns the shape, studying it, and starts carving again.

RYAN
How much do you get for one of those?

THE ARTIST
Fifteen, twenty dollars.

RYAN
A couple years ago, I bought one of your early landscapes. _________ Mountain. Quarter of a million.

THE ARTIST
I heard about it.

RYAN
Had to move a doorway to hang it.

THE ARTIST
You know where my money went? Everybody else. I drank. Gambled. Other stuff. Landscapes looked more and more like abstracts, and portraits could have been painted by children. I lost my family. But when I started losing my sight, that’s when I remembered how much I missed the details.
(a beat)
I came home.

RYAN
So going blind is a good thing.

THE ARTIST
(shrugs)
My hands still work.

Ryan strides to the opposite end of the porch and looks up the hillside. The peak of a weathered shake roof rises from the ridge: the old studio.

RYAN
If he’s anywhere around, he’ll follow the bike. He’ll know the rider isn’t me, but he’ll follow her anyway.

THE ARTIST
If he’s around, he’s probably up in those trees somewhere with a rifle, and you’re giving him the perfect shot.

RYAN
If he was here, he would have already done it.

The newspaper lays headline-up on the porch swing, forgotten from the earlier argument: “Playboy Billionaire Still Missing”, and a smaller headline, “No Ransom Demands”. The caption under a photo of Ryan’s distraught housekeeper includes the phrases “survivalist hike” and “presumed dead.”

He picks up the paper, looks up at the hillside again, drops the paper back onto the swing.

RYAN
Got any plans for that studio?

THE ARTIST
Give it back to the forest.
(pauses his carving)
Why?

c. KB

 

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