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Monthly Archives: May 2012

“Make good art.” — Neil Gaiman

Today I’m going to point everyone to a video that we all could stand to listen to. No matter your thoughts on Neil Gaiman’s work, his words are honest and true.

http://vimeo.com/42372767

What ‘South Park’ has to teach us about Plotting

Who would have thought I would learn one of the best tricks for plotting from “South Park?” More specifically, from Matt Stone and Trey Parker. A while back the two creators were brought into a university class room to speak on plotting. This is when they dropped a major bombshell.

When plotting, if you can right “and then” between your scenes, then you have a weak story. What does that mean exactly? Here, I’ll demonstrate.

Jeff goes to the store and buys some milk. AND THEN he goes home.

It’s simple, but I think illustrates their point. You see, there is no conflict there. Nothing really exciting happens. Having your scenes linked by just one set of actions after another, that have no basis on the prior scene, then it will all fall flat.

So how do you save yourself from this terrible disaster?

That’s when they pull out the “But/Therefore” advice.

Now, if you can look at that same scene and plop in either “But” or “Therefore,” you’re starting to build conflict and interesting scenes. They begin to play off each other and propel the plot forward.

Taking our previous milk run story, what happens when we change it up?

Jeff goes to the store and buy some milk. BUT, all the milk is expired. THEREFORE he goes to complain. BUT, the manager doesn’t care. THEREFORE he gets angry. BUT, buries his anger and goes home. THEREFORE, when his dog pees on the carpet he overreacts.

You can see how that structure screams to have an interesting story attached to it. It wants to propel the action forward. I could very easily keep that story going, as mundane as it is, and still have more than what I did before.

Jeff goes to the store and buys some milk. AND THEN he goes home. AND THEN he complains to his wife about the milk being bad. AND THEN the dog pees on the carpet. AND THEN he cleans it up.

I think you get the point.

This is definitely going to be on my many edit passes. Checking to make sure that each scene is linked to each other appropriately — not literally with a BUT or THEREFORE. I’ll even make sure certain actions within a scene can follow this structure. In any good character interaction, this structure could work very well.

It was my good writing friend, Gary Henderson, that reminded me of this video. You also can read more about the structure on this blog — http://blog.janicehardy.com/2012/05/best-advice-on-plotting-ive-ever-heard.html

Or you can go straight to the video with Matt and Trey — http://www.mtvu.com/video/?vid=697767

It’s a powerful tool, and I can’t wait to use it.

Kreativ Blogger Award

A fellow blogger, Ryan M. Murphy, has nominated this blog for the Kreativ Blogger award. This is a unique little award as it is something like a viral networking for creative people. I did some research on it–as it is my nature to discover–and came across its origins.

The Kreativ Blogger award was started by a Norwegian woman named Hulda Husfrue. Its purpose, to allow others a way to recognize blogs they find entertaining or informative in the creative arts.

With that said, I want to thank Ryan for nominating me. I’m glad he’s able to find my blog entertaining!

There is a small caveat, as I must perform a certain set of rules in order to “claim” my award. So, in the spirit of good fun I’ll fill out my portion!

First, I must thank my nominator. So, again, thank you Ryan.

Second, I am required to list seven interesting things about myself.

  1. I am a professional animator by day.
  2. Apart of the Thespian’s Society and Thespian Actor, Troupe 2020.
  3. Was an animator on the short lived, David Cross cartoon “Freak Show.”
  4. First published work with eFiction Magazine.
  5. Former LARPer.
  6. Currently an avid Pen and Paper roleplayer.
  7. Favorite comic-book character is Captain America.

And lastly, I will nominate seven blogs for the same award.

  1. Matthew Quinn — The World According to Quinn
  2. Gary Henderson
  3. Beth Dawkins — Sweet –  Books’n Stuff
  4. Jeyna Grace
  5. Lawrence Pearce
  6. Gregory Allen — What’s Real To Me
  7. J. S. Chancellor

There we go. Everyone have a good day.

Slow it down, chief.

Since I’ve begun writing in earnest, I’ve learned a very big lesson. Slow down. Take your time. Write your work, then let others look at it. Take what they have to say and then rewrite. After that, take some more time to read it over. Keep doing that until it’s perfect.

The precedence is there. Look to the professionals and you’ll see it. While some of my favorite authors are consistently putting out a book a year, that still is a good chunk of time. Which is what scares me about a lot of people that self-publish. They pump out a book every three months or so. That can’t be a good sign of the quality.

In the past, I was like that.  Eager to get my work “out there” as soon as I wrote the last work. So, I would write something, read it once or twice, and then throw it out to small digital publishers (i.e. Clarksworld Magazine). Invariably whatever I wrote would come back with a rejection.

Eventually I had two short stories picked up by eFiction Magazine, run by Doug Lance. I was pumped. And that bit of early success is what pushed me to focus on my craft, to take it to the next level.

But, despite that success, those two shorts could still have used a bit more time.

Never before have I learned that lesson as well, as with my current writing group. Since we meet every other week, and not every week I get to submit, I have to spend a lot of time noodling my work. Or waiting for feedback. Once I do get it, I can then spend more time implementing changes and focusing on the work.

As artists we are eager to have people read our work. I get it, I really do. But if we take a step back. Give ourselves some room to breath. We’ll find that the results we get, and the feedback we get, will be much more to our liking.

The fun of short stories

Short Stories, you work in mysterious ways. With my latest short finished and off to my critique group, I started thinking about the setting I had created to act as set dressing for the theme.

The story is set in a distant Earth future where there is a one world government. A Civil War has erupted and the two sides are called the Archivists and the Separatists. Now, the only reason I came up with the name Archivists is because I wanted to stay away from generic SciFi names. Such as the Council, Empire, Captial etc etc.

What I got however, was a happy accident. My brain started to wounder what a government called the Archivists was about. Why do they call themselves that? It’s an odd name, so it must have an interesting origin.

And off my brain went on exploring this world and what that name was all about.

This process reminded me of why I like to write short stories. They are fun vehicles to explore different concepts very rapidly. You can hash out an idea without getting overly committed. I have heard once that Stephen Kind referred to them as Toy Trucks. You play with them but they aren’t the real thing.

From my background in animation and drawing, I like to think of short stories as sketches. I’ve brought this up before but thought I’d give some more time to it. Because I think the idea is extremely important for writers. Write those little ideas and explore them in short story form. And don’t overly commit yourself to the story. This is your time to  play, leave structure out of it, and see where the story takes you.

You may find that it leads to a larger narrative. Or sparks an idea for something else. Perhaps you’ll even discover a setting that goes better with a character you made up from another short. Mix and match them all together and see what you come up with.

I’ll definitely be keeping the Archivists in my back pocket for a later date. And with luck, I’ll be able to introduce you all to them.

Underwords

Nothing much to talk about today. I’m knee deep in my rewrite for my Underwords submission and I feel I’ve got a strong story on my hands. Last evening I brought up to a friend that I was unsure if the theme would be too deep for a YA short story. That theme being, “What does it mean to be human?” He brought up a great point that “Ender’s Game” deals with some heavy subject matter and is considered YA.

So that made me feel a bit easier about what I am doing with my own story.

As usual, I’m having a hard time with the title. But I have faith that I’ll come up with something. Or maybe one of my friends will help with that aspect.

One aspect about the story that has surprised me is the setting. As I’m writing the short, I find myself wanting to explore the world further. Explore the main character Prama and her relationship with the clone soldiers. I mean, what having an army comprised entirely of clones really mean? I think it could be fun to explore.

Maybe one day I’ll flesh out this short into something longer. But as of now, I’m limited to a 6k wordcount.

I mean, “Ender’s Game” was a short story first. Why can’t this one follow the same trajectory, right? Write.

An Open Letter to Hollywood

Dear Hollywood, 

This weekend I watched “The Avengers.” Directed by and screenplay by Joss Whedon. I think we can all agree, it was a fantastic movie. The Internet has exploded with its praises, and the sales numbers speak for themselves.

That’s all well and good. But I want to discuss the importance of this movie.

Making the right choices.

“The Avengers” is an amalgamation of all the right choices. When everything comes together to form the perfect movie. And Marvel was able to do it because you couldn’t meddle.

Yep, that’s right. You screw things up.

Often.

With terrible results.

See, it is a funny thing when you allow artists to do what they’re good at. When you don’t put silly “marketing” research into it, things are allowed to flow naturally. You can’t assume to know what the Movie Going public wants. And I have a perfect example of this.

“The Last Airbender.”

This movie should have been a huge hit. An instant win. The entire story, design, tone — everything — was laid out before you. The ravenous fans were blistering for it. And the non-fans would be able to find out why it was so important to them. But you meddled. And it flopped. Some people would want to blame the director, M. Knight Not-going-to-bother-with-it. But that was your choice to tap him for the project.

On what earth was he a good choice? What movie has he done to warrant giving him that one? Not to mention his record.

Why do I bring this up?

Because Marvel knew their audience and their story. So who do you bring in for this project? How about someone that has written for you and is a director of many T.V. shows and a movie?

Bam! Joss Whedon. Which at this point, we can all agree he knocked Avengers out of the Earth’s atmosphere.

So I implore you Hollywood. Stop meddling. Allow the artist you hire to do their jobs. Get out of their way. You can’t “statistic” your way through making a movie. It is an organic process that must have room to grow.

It was nice talking to you. And I look forward to your response in the coming days.

I know you read this blog. Don’t deny it.

— Jeffrey N. Baker

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