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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Construct With Memory

Sample Movie Deconstruction (3A)

As I continued my rough brainstorm sample I did from Episode One in the series Firefly I wrote out my perception of the scene changes. For each I choose what I thought to be the concept that stood out. Surprisingly though they did always match the purpose for each scene, or the scene goal. But they did trigger memories of other movies and stories, which gave me a foundation to connect from. Or, perhaps more of a hint or tip of something else under the surface.

It looks a little scattered however, it is a brainstorm with a purpose. I wanted to see where I thought the scenes changed. In this instance I did not have a list of headers. But when I’ve done this where I can compare the headers it’s interesting to see what matches and what doesn’t.

Here are the first seven out of fifteen. And again, this is the first episode so it’s all first view introductions.

One) Scene Change—six years later. What kind of music are we listening to?

Two) Series opening credit—theme song—what does the opening echo—a western.

Three) Pause for a moment on each character-what is your impression—why?
                (meant to go back later)

Four) meet??

Five) Persephone—Docks. Is that the name?

Six) Deal with Badger gone bad—pull out guns like a western

            “man of honor in a den of thieves”

Seven) Shepherd (Captain-main character) boards Serenity (spaceship). Then everyone boards.

After I marked out the scene shifts I was quite surprised at the several connections to westerns, which continued through almost all fifteen-scene breaks.

Journal Prompt:

1.     Take a small sequence in the movie and next to each scene or episode heading write down your own notes as to when the scene changed.

2.     What kind of mix is there between people, action, theme or location?

3.     Did they trigger memories of other similar styles?

4.     Does the ratio match your perception of the movie?

Share: Did any aspects surprise you? Why?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Build Your Story World

Sample Movie Deconstruction (3)

Jordan E. Rosenfeld says that a scene “is not a singular thing, but a sum of all the parts of great fiction.”

When we are developing our stories we often write out scene lists that undergo major revision and polish as our novels take place.  Or, when a draft is done we read back to see where the shifts are.

A scene can be only a few sentences or a long chapter. It shifts for a variety of reasons: different location, change of POV character, passage of time, atmosphere, tone, and many other factors.

However, each scene happens in a moment of time and its sequence is connected by an idea, or purpose, or focus, which we’ll examine more later. It’s interesting then to read through a scene list in a movie and see what titles or markers are used to define them—at least to the audience. I often wonder if the writers and filmmakers have a separate list.

Have you ever gone back to a movie looking for a particular scene, checked the episode list and still had not idea where in the movie exactly it happened. Or checked out a scene list before watching a movie to see if it looks interesting. Some lists are quite straightforward and some ambiguous.

Here’s a sample list from the middle section of the series Smash: 9) Hell on Earth, 10) Understudy, 11) The Movie Star and 12) Publicity. The last three appear to make a connection, but the first leaves the viewer with a question. And, in fact the other three may have nothing to do with our expectations.

Journal Prompt:

1.     Write out the scene or episode list from your movie in sequence.

2.     What focus word would you put next to each line?

Share: Which title on your list seems concrete and which ambiguous?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Connect With Maps

Sample Movie Deconstruction (2A)

Unless we are in a movie theater where we have just spent a fortune in snacks and feel the need to stay, we are likely to switch off a movie if it doesn’t draw us in from the beginning. After all there are so many other choices vying for our time. Same equivalent for a first chapter.

Yet we’re not all wired to the same stimuli. So what does need to be there? For me, the criteria becomes a sense of the unfamiliar to raise enough curiosity for the next sequence, and a sense of the familiar so that I can trust the story will engage my emotional connections.

Here is a partial brainstorm I did from the opening scene of Episode One in the series Firefly focused on the same journal questions I asked you.

Unfamiliar                                                            Familiar

-Sound of guns unusual                                    -tank trucks, modern planes
-Spaceships?? Couldn’t tell                              -“going duck-hunting”
-“God and angels” unusual comment,              -Kisses emblem around neck-a cross??
especially when he said it                                 But believes in something
-one soldier very frightened

Although I am a huge fantasy/sci-fi genre fan, I am also a very anti-war movie just for the sake of war viewer. There has to be something really strong to get me to watch any war movie now. However, as you can see from my draft notes, the characters raised both curiosity and connection. I’m willing to see where the heart map goes. I have a friend who glued in completely to all the war technology and missed any ‘heart’ signs at that moment.

Here’s an excerpt from a previous blog. The opening scene in Phantom of the Opera sets up the common physical map ground of emotional experience, first present and then past. It is a bleak day. The access route to the opera house is cold, wet, and icy. The elderly need assistance. And once inside the interior proves even more hazardous. There is no shortage of concrete physical metaphors in the decayed building. One student in the discussion remarked, “I saw it also as the future being the death of the past.”

Another student found another detail more connective. For example, the ruins of the opera house were coated with cobwebs. Seems to be a natural connection, but as one student pointed out the cobwebs it took on a deeper meaning. Just as a cobweb is a concentrated and patient work of art, so was the Phantom’s training of Christine’s voice. Just as the cobweb is a lure for a spider’s meal, so was the lure to Christine to join the Phantom in his world. And also as the cobwebs clung to the fixtures after decades of decay, so did the Phantom’s story cling to the frail elderly visitors to the auction.

Journal Prompt:

Look back through your notes on the familiar and unfamiliar you’ve taken.

1)   Which ones fall under curiosity and which under emotional connections?

2)   Which has the stronger draw for you?

3)   Or which detail most caught your attention?

Share: Is there another stimuli category that pulls you in?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Build Your Story World

Sample Movie Deconstruction (2)

Were you surprised at your list of go to movies? Can you identify common threads regardless of the genres?

I asked facebook friends to list their ten plus movies and received a multiple assortment. I was not surprised at their choices because they were all quality movies in some area. However, I did notice two other common denominators. Many lists had multiple genres on them, such as Pride and Prejudice alongside The Princess Bride, The Matrix and Wizard of Oz, Sweet Home Alabama and Star Wars.

And the other factor is that the common thread viewers ranged from age 20’s to 60’s on the same choices.  One response noted watching these movies over and over is often more about a shared cultural experience with others, rather than just about the movie itself.”

However for the movie to encompass personal and communal resonance it had to fulfill the expectation it set up in the opening. Perhaps not the actual physical consequences, but at least the emotional resolution.

In a workshop series T. Davis Bunn gave at Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference 2013 he stated that the first chapter of every book is your contract with the reader. He gave four criteria. Where are you going, What is your emotional tone, What is the first fragment of the dilemma, and what is the pace? The opening lays out the map.

Movies need to fulfill that contract as well, or we won’t watch over and over when we already know the end.

Journal Prompt:

          1.     Rewatch the initial opening of the movie you chose in order to identify the general impression of the premise. This time include the preliminary sequence, but keep the sound mute until the actual movie begins.

          2.     Note when the opening scene changed.

          3.     List the few details that stood out to you in this opening few minutes re character—anyone, setting—familiar or unfamiliar, and language—any words that seem unusual.

Share: Which element enticed you to watch and find the answer?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Compose Through Metaphor

Sample Movie Deconstruction (1 A)

Author David Morrell shares in his book, Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing, that he can pinpoint the exact age, date and time he was when he realized he wanted to be a fiction writer. How? That was the date that the television series Route 66 began. “I vividly remember the power with which the opening sequence struck me.” He so identified with the characters that he felt their search became his search and the journey of the route his journey. The title, its metaphor, the characters, and the theme changed his life. “How ironic that a television program became my salvation.”

Deconstructing movies and novels help us find those pulse points that keep us coming back to watch or read regardless of how many countless times we already have. Sometimes it’s not even the quality of the presentation, but the resonance or memories the story connects within us. Other times it may just be one part, or the sheer craft or creative whole. And it’s when we can identify those something’s that we can implement their qualities into our own work. Or at least understand what we are trying to share ourselves. 

When I taught English at a junior college, each semester I presented a movie for an analysis assignment. One movie that elicited widespread feedback was the movie Green Dragon, despite the fact it’s first third is communicated in sub-titles. Since I’d seen it more times than I could count, I always planned to use the time to grade papers, and yet invariably at some point the movie would pull me in and I’d watch it all over again with my students. And every time I’d see something new that I had not noticed previously. Also, with only a few exceptions, my students were completely hooked by the end of the first few scenes, including the grumblers.

We’re often encouraged as novelists to write what we know, but how does that work when we write in different genres, or history, or characters of various ages and genders, which we have not factually experienced? Part of the joy of writing is living other lives in other worlds and other vocations. Yet when we recognize the emotional threads that engage us, then we do write what we know—always.

Journal Prompt:

1.     Make a list of the movies you consider to be your “go to” movies for inspiration. Which ones have you watched ten or more times? Five or more times?

2.     What is your emotional connection to each one?

3.     Write out a metaphor for each one?

4.     How many of those same emotional connections and metaphors do you incorporate in your own writing?  Consciously or unconsciously?

Share: Which movie pulls you in to watch no matter how many times you’ve seen it? Why?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Build A Story World

Sample Movie Deconstruction (1)

Any form of deconstruction is meant to examine the ‘behind the scenes’ explanation of how something got put together. From a literary point of view it’s an analysis to go deeper into a novel, or movie, to discover what made it work.

We deconstruct to understand craft, to sharpen skills, to identify weaknesses and to copy strengths in order to develop excellence in our own work. Which translates into personal observations. There is no one right answer.

Just as a group of art students will visit an art gallery to ‘copy’ one of the masters, and each learns something new from their assignment, so we will examine different aspects in movies over the next few weeks. “Scenes are the building blocks of fiction,” says James Scott Bell. Movie deconstruction provides novelists a way to study in the gallery.

Like critical reading it can be a surface examination or a detailed inquiry. It depends on what we require and how much time we can commit. But even a brief episode from a series can offer insights.

I’ll be following up with examples of each aspect with the Thursday Mythic Impact blog as well, looking at the additional influence of metaphors, maps, memory, and mystery.

For the sequence it would probably be best for you to choose a favorite movie or series that you have available because we’ll be going though it several times. But for this first one, please choose a movie you’ve never seen or it has been such a long time you’ve forgotten.

Then try not to watch all the preview stuff but go straight to the immediate opening. You are “reading” for immediate impression. Enjoy J

Movie Assignment:

Watch a movie, or a series episode, preferably one you haven’t seen before and be able to pause it.

1. Watch the opening for a few minutes and then hit pause.  

2. Journal as a free-write (don’t stop to think) for about five minutes. Based on what you’ve just seen, what do you expect this movie to be about? Why? Give reasons.

3. Watch the whole movie. At the end stop and journal again for about ten minutes. Did the movie meet your expectations? Why? Or, why not?

Share: What movie did you choose? Any surprises?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Create With Mystery

“Location is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of ‘What happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming?’ –and that is the heart’s field.” Eudora Welty

Although all four stories in Central Park Rendezvous are guided by the same three key details: letters, a coin and a bridge, they each develop the story mystery with completely different emphasis.

The contemporary, Dream a Little Dream by Ronie Kendig, combines two mysteries, a personal one as the main characters begin to understand each other, and a ‘What Happened’ as they try to unravel a missing person from forty years ago.

In Dineen Miller’s A Love Meant To Be, mis-understanding, jealousy, and interference crush hope in two lives. Can the scattered jigsaw pieces of circumstances and fear fit into a whole new beginning?

To Sing Another Day, by Kim Vogel Sawyer tackles “Who’s here?’ as both main characters try to unravel their mystery with crumb size clues. She can’t understand why someone who left her is such despair is now bringing gifts. Or is it someone else? He can’t bear watching her struggle without faith. Can he really help or is he making the situation worse?

Mary Lu Tyndall, battles with truth and honesty in lives torn apart by war in Beauty For Ashes. An honorable man gradually uncovers the secrets kept hidden under selfish desires and realizes the trap before him. So he prays for time. And waits at the bridge to see who is coming.

All plausible abodes. All everyday common. And all touched by translucence when hearts allow love to breathe metaphor and maps and memory and mystery throughout their stories.

Journal Prompt:

            In your novel look for your bridge (a specific recurring location), your letter (information) and your coin (a valued keepsake). Write up a history question for them in three time stages, either over a past year, or decade or longer. And/or write up a future mystery thread for them to play into—again with three time frames.

Share: Which one was the hardest to capture? Which the most fun?

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