Where Desire Meets Destiny

Monday, February 26, 2007

Words on a Page

I'm breaking with my usual posting on the weekends to say that I watched the Oscars last night, as I always do, and then find myself regretting having stayed up so late.

Anyway, I just wanted to say that I loved the way they announced the nominees for best original and adapted screenplays.

For those who did not watch the Oscars, what they did is have the presenters read the names of the nominees and then they read aloud snippets from their scripts, superimposing the words of the script over the actual scene of the movie.

I thought it was a wonderful idea for I think, or at least I hoped, it reminded the audience that before there's ever a director, a cast, an art director, a cinematographer, a costume designer, a composer, etc. there's the screenwriter, alone in his or her house, apartment or wherever, putting black words on a white page.

Kudos to whoever's idea that was.


Saturday, February 24, 2007


Okay, I'll admit it.

I'm totally psyched for this movie. It's called 300 and it's based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller. It's a retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, wherein 300 Spartans (and 700 Thespian volunteers) helped to secure the retreat of their fellow Greeks by holding out against the massive Persian army of Xerxes I.

Miller said he based the book on the movie The 300 Spartans which he had seen as a kid. So had I. That movie was the first time I'd ever heard of the Battle of Thermopylae.

The movie is going to be shown in the IMAX format, which is how I plan to see it. Opening day is Friday, March 9th.

From the few reviews I've read so far, it looks to be a orgiastic frenzy of blood, sweat and guts.

Hard-bodied, half-naked, sweaty Greeks, shouting, bellowing, and fighting.

Beta males need not apply.

I am so there.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Busy Writing

Well, I have just enough time this Sunday to say I don't have enough time to write a blog post.

I have a three day weekend from the EDJ as a result of Monday being a holiday, but I pretty much blew Saturday off. And I have a LOT of writing I'd like to get done before it's back to work on Tuesday.

So, happy writing to everyone and I'll see you next Sunday!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

A Space of Uncertainity

As part of it's 31 Days of Oscar, TNT has been showing movies that won or were nominated for Oscars. On Saturday they showed 2001 A Space Odyssey which won an Oscar for Best Special Effects.

I've seen this movie a number of times and always come away from it with something different. As the Wikipedia article linked above states, this movie consistenly makes the lists of best movies ever made. And, yet, there's no dobut this is a difficult film in that it doesn't do something that I believe more and more movies, books and televison shows are doing.

It doesn't explain every single thing. It doesn't solve every mystery. It doesn't give answers to every question.

If you've seen the movie, you know exactly what I mean. In the article it says that Stanley Kubrick, the film's director, refused to give an explanation of what the movie was about.

He wanted viewers to discover their own interpretations. Therefore, we have no idea what the huge, black monolith that first appears on earth to a trible of pre-historic man-apes and then is found again on the moon in the 21st century is. We don't know who built it or why.

We have no idea what happens to Astronaut Bowman when he comes upon another monolith in orbit around Jupiter, leaves his larger spacecraft in a smaller shuttle to encounter it and is, we assume, transported through both time and space and comes out the other side of his galactic journey, transformed and transcended into a gigantic cosmic fetus which slowly approaches the Earth, while Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra swells and pounds in the background.

It's a total mystery, this movie, and it bravely leaves it up to the viewer to determine just what in the heck it all means and why.

One of the things that seems to be almost a given in writing fiction is that the author must, at some point, provide explanations or answers for whatever dilemmas or mysteries she presents in her work. By the end of the story all the loose ends must either be tied up or snipped off so that the reader can close the book with a sense of order having been restored.

But is it always necessary to explain everything? Is there room in a piece of fiction for the open spaces of uncertainity? Isn't that one way of making the reader a part of the reading experience? Leaving those empty rooms, so to speak, where the reader can wander in and decorate it themselves and thereby make their own meaning or create their own interpretations without the author leading him or her by the hand?

I wonder.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

The DNA of Story

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions for the development and function of living organisms. One could call it the blueprint for all life.

The DNA of Story is the blueprint, in my oh so humble opinion, for all stories. Just as DNA is responsible for everything from a water lilly to a sperm whale, the DNA of story is responsible for every kind of narrative story, from 30 second commercials to Homeric epics.

In the context of Story, I define DNA this way. A character Desires something. For some reason she is Not able to have her desire. As a result, she takes Action to overcome whatever obstacles are between her and her desire.

I believe that any story that does not have all of those elements will not work. Period. Now, I'm not one for making such statements blindly. I have the kind of mind that can see an exception for every rule and looks at playing the Devil's Advocate as more than just a diversion; it's a life's mission.

But I feel very strongly about this. Enough to posit it as a near inviolable rule of storytelling. (Notice how I snuck in the word "near". See, I can't help myself. *grin*)

Biological DNA is the building block of all life. Narratilogical DNA (don't you just love that word! I just made it up.) is the building block of every story.

I'll break it down and show you what I mean. Let's start with D - Desire.

In every story, or every story that works, a character should desire, crave, need or want something. In Kurt Vonnegut's Eight Rules for Writing Fiction Rule # 3 states that "Every character should want something, even if it's only a glass of water."

Why? Because if a character doesn't want something, there's nothing to drive the story. It's like getting into a car that has an empty tank. You're not going anywhere and neither is your story if the character doesn't want something! Now, it could be that he wants not to want something, but that's still a want.

Desire is the fuel that moves the story along.

N - Not able to have the Desire.

Okay, let's say you're going to write a story about a man who wants a raise. You set up the scene where he walks into his boss' office and asks for the raise. The boss looks at your character for a moment then says, sure, why not. And that's it. The character gets what he wants and he's happy, and you the writer are happy because you love your character so much and you want him to be happy too.

But guess who is not happy? Yep, the reader, who has probably by now either flung your story across the room, shredded it into pieces, or is placing the ripped-out pages in the cat's litter box.

There have to be obstacles, barriers, roadblocks, between your character and his desire. Why? Because obstacles create Conflict and conflict is the guts and heart of drama.

Our hapless employee wants a raise. No, he needs that raise in order to pay for his Mom's operation. (This is a realy bad example, so work with me here. *grin*) But guess what? He's only been working at Acme Electronics for two weeks! Nobody gets a raise in two weeks. And he hasn't exactly been a model employee. He's come in late nearly every day since he started, and he's always asking to leave early so he can see to his ailing mother. As a matter of fact, the boss is fingering a pink slip with hapless employee's name on it as we speak.

Finally, A - Action.

Now, I've read quite a few books on the craft of writing fiction and just about everyone talks about goals and obstacles. And quite a few spend a lot of time talking about motivation, or why the character wants the goal. Those are all important, of course. But I haven't come across that many books or articles that talk about the action the character takes in order to overcome the obstalces to get to his goal.

Back to hapless employee. We've established that he needs a raise. We know that the obstacle facing him is the fact that he's new and, to top it all off, he hasn't exactly endeared himself to his boss. We even know what his motivation is. He needs the money for his mother's operation.

But we still don't have a story. Why? Because hapless employee could just as well sit in his cubicle, needing that raise so bad he can taste it, mulling over the fact that he's got about a snowball's chance in hell of getting it, and......well, he could just keep doing nothing until it's too late and dear old Mom has passed on from this life to the next.

No, our guy has to take action. He has to do something. And, depending upon the kind of character he is, whatever action he takes will be illustrative of the kind of person he is.

So, what does he do? He can do any number of things. He can boldly stride into the boss's office and ask for the raise. If the boss says no, he can try and embezzle the money from the company. Or he could kidnap the boss, whom he can't stand anyway, and demand a ransom.

By having the character take action something exciting begins to happen in the story. It's like a game of pool. You hit the cue ball. It bounces off the side of the table and hits another ball, and that ball hits another ball, and so on.

Every action a character takes is a stimulus for a reaction from the other characters in the story. Hapless employee asks boss for a raise. Boss can't believe his ears. He's so pissed off by the cheek of hapless employee that he fires him on the spot. Oh, no! Now hapless employee has another barrier between him and the money he needs for Mom's opeartion. He's unemployed.

Or hapless employee kidnaps boss. That action causes the FBI to become involved. They succeed in getting the boss back, unharmed. But, oh, no! Hapless employee discovers ransom money had an expolding packet of red dye concealed among the bills. It explodes, money is no good and hapless employee now has red dye all over his face. He's gotta hide so he won't get caught, and another barrier slams into place between him and the money he needs for dear old Mom's operation.

And so on and so forth until you end the story, one way or another.

D.N.A. The building block, the blueprint, the living guts of Story.