Tag Archives: writing

The Ill-fated Inability To Tell Time

This post was actually going to be about how I tragically pushed two posts out last week, so I wouldn’t have to throw out a substantial post this week, before I realized that wasn’t the case.

Just because two posts weren’t 7 days apart doesn’t mean I missed a week, because my posting schedule falls somewhere between Alice in Wonderland and The Three Caballeros on the regularity scale.

So, I still can’t tell time, but I also can’t use it as an excuse.  Son of a–

headdesk-demotivational-poster-1252553095

Regardless, I do have some blog post ideas, but they need to sit on the back burner for another week before they’re in post-able state.  All of them have to deal with romance, and let me say this right now:
Romance is really hard, you guys.  But, I kinda think The Princess and the Frog nailed it, and I need to rewatch that movie (maybe with a live tweet?  See more at the bottom of this post).

Also, we’re still making progress, although not much writing has been happening.  The Google Drive Crash Beast has been tamed (or at least circumvented), so that should pick up on my end.  The project now has its first concept sketch to it’s name.  I saw it for the first time last week, AND I’M STILL SUPER EXCITED.

I have a sketch of Luna and it’s just the bestest.  I don’t even care that ‘bestest’ isn’t a word.  I AM FIVE RIGHT NOW.

However, I’m hesitant to show it as I think our concept artist(s) want(s) another round of edits.  There are meetings planned to go over what we’ve got.

Script-wise, we’re sitting on something like 60 pages.  Plot-wise, we’re about halfway in Act II, with Act I completely written and about half of Act III written.  I have ideas on how to write the remainder of the script– we need a love scene (think “A Whole New World” or “I See the Light”), a confrontation scene between our protagonists, a pair of “everything is falling apart around me” scenes (Ivan and Luna each get their own), and a rejoining scene where our protagonists team back up to go after our villain.

Then it’s just a resolution scene after the climax, and tada.  Rough draft, complete with obvious continuity errors, an entirely questionable character that needs to get rewritten or cut, and the fact that I haven’t started dealing with the problem of “Princess Luna” already being a pop culture artifact.

devious_princess_luna_by_90sigma-d5ndpps
I’d lie and say that I had no idea, but even you, random server ping from New Zealand, would call bullshit.

Also, 60 pages might sound slim– remember that we don’t have a single song in the script, which should add roughly 15 pages (we have ideas about where songs might go, but no lyrics).  I can see the remainder of the scenes we want taking up about… eh, 15-20 more pages (each scene is about 3 pages, minimum, plus some extra stuff to get everything to line up),  so, really, we’re sitting on around 80-90 pages going into the first round of edits, rewrites and additions.

All in all, this is turning into an actual thing.  Of course, to be an actual actual thing, its time to start engaging in social media for realsies.  One of the dreams for this project is to maybe turn this script into a thing that you watch, rather than read.  The only way I foresee that happening is, well, if people actually want to watch it.

Maybe because I’ve put to much time into it, but I have faith that we have the beginnings of a really great story.  There is a lot of chaff in the rough draft still, but I can see the glimmer of something awesome.  To help me share that, and maybe to bring back livetweets of Disney movies, I’ve started a twitter account for the blog: @writingthemagic

The twitter handle will be used for thoughts I can’t really expand into posts, as well as future livetweets of Disney things… and maybe a place to get suggestions from the crowd if we ever need something like that.

Inspiration from Any Source

Although we’re not done with the rough draft yet, its pretty obvious that there are some things we’ll need to patch up in editing.  One of the most profuse problems (and probably due to the fact that we’re two separate people which highly similar although slightly desperate visions) is a Deus Ex Machina sheen that sorta permeates the entire thing.

As of the current rough draft, we have a lot of important characters and plot elements that appear the moment they’re needed by the plot, then get abandoned like a red-headed stepchild the moment they’ve served their usefulness.  This is mostly due to focus during the rough draft.  Premature optimization is a dangerous thing, in both Computer Science and writing.  Focus on the details too soon, and you’ll miss the forest for the trees.

What I’d like to do (as we edit and polish and all that good jazz) is reference plot elements before they’re actually used, and then bring them back up again when they’re needed.  Elements can also be referenced later on for a joke or a bit of world building or whatever.  I’d like to push us away from looking like a bunch of lazy ancient Greeks and closer to Checkov’s Emporium.

To quote the man himself:
“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
—Anton Chekhov

We need to talk about our rifles more, rather than just having characters pull them out of their butts when required.  So, clearly,  need to look at a master of the plant– a true master of setting things up, a work of fiction so full of references that they’ll plant a plot element only to use it a minute later, something like…

Rick_and_Morty_opening_credits

Oh.  Um.  Avert ye eyes, children!  Tis a dark and dangerous black magik at work here!

Actually, I swear pretty regularly in my posts and have already brought up other not really safe for children material (unless you think graphic ritual sacrifice is family friendly), so… well, time to scar some poor kid for life.

Despite being very, very adult, and very irreverent, Rick and Morty is a master of plants.  Just watch the first minute and a half on an episode (which isn’t actively racist or sexist, so it’s pretty tame):

http://video.adultswim.com/rick-and-morty/ricksy-business.html

That’s a throw-away line that comes in full circle for a joke (and to advance the plot) before we even see the title card.  Clearly, the show’s writers are teaching a master class on what I want to learn.  The big problem is to stop laughing so I can actually pay attention.

My taste in humor is crass.  I’m not proud.

So far, I’ve only seen three episodes, and again, I struggle to turn on the analysis part of my brain when I’m having so much fun, but there is something of a pattern here.  Rick and Morty will drop a line or event that seems almost out of context or just blabble-y.  Sometimes its so random its giggle-worthy just for being so unexpected (I’m pretty sure that’s why Superjail is going on it’s 4th season).  However, that one line will come back as a plot element (usually coupled with some sort of punchline, because this is TV to make you laugh).

However, I really don’t think this is a thing I can template out and plug-and-chug my way through.  I’m sure that there are tons of way to bring up plot elements before the fact, and gracefully slip them in and out when needed.

Meanwhile, i’m gonna go grab a beer and laugh some more.

Writing on a Team

Whee, as of a few nights ago we’re about half done!  I mean, sure, it’s only a rough draft, and I need to touch up large sections of act III, but #YOLO right?

Did I do the hashtag right?  I’m not really sure.  Whatever you kids do these days.

At any rate, progress has been stellar.  Or at least I think it’s been stellar.  Apparently, screenwriting is a fast medium.  That being said, the first round of edits is going to hurt.  However, that’s future Johnathan’s problem, and I’ve long since learned how to pass the buck on to that poor shmuck.

In important, but pretty unrelated, news: We now have a real fake title!  The current working title has leveled up from “______ Waltz” to “Secrets”.  Isn’t that pretty.

One of the coolest things about this project thus far has been writing with a partner.  It’s a new experience for me, and man is it great.  Highly recommend, 10/10, five stars, would eat here again.

It’s amazing because, at least for this project, we cover each other’s holes pretty well.  What kind of holes, you ask?  Like, you know, half of the characters.

No, but seriously: all of my blog posts have been about Luna (or at least relating to Luna) because I don’t get Ivan in the slightest.  I mean, I know he’s got a robotic arm and he’s a mechanical wizard and he’s living down a troubled past.  But, I can’t get in his head.  I struggle to write his lines and generally ask that Shannon go over and rewrite his dialogue for any scene I’ve written him in.

On the other hand, I see Luna in my head really well.  I could probably write her in a rom com about online dating if I had to, because I can see all her personality and her dreams and her ambitions.  These are independent from the setting, and even (to an extent) independent from what she physically looks like.

Shannon gets Ivan, but she doesn’t understand Luna.  It’s gotten to the point where we just do cutouts for the other to come back and write the correct lines.  So, in the rough draft, it isn’t uncommon to see:

VLAD
Is everything to your liking?

LUNA
response

VLAD
Shall you join me for this dance?

I need to fill in Luna’s line here.   I mean, it’s obvious that her line is just a sorta generic “yeppers!” but there are so many ways to write that.

Oh, by the way, Vlad (full name: Vladimir) is our villain.  Yes, there is a scene where our female lead dances with the villain.  No, you don’t know he’s the villain yet, unless we decide to tip the hand and make him look eeeeviiiiil.

Now, this quirk in writing gets even better when you think about it for a second.  As you can see by my picture down there, I’m male (ladies).  Shannon isn’t.  So, our male lead writer is writing the female protagonist and our female lead writer is writing the male protagonist.  Apparently, we’re confused.

So, you know, this’ll either be the least implicitly sexist thing ever or the most implicitly sexist thing ever.  Could go either way, really.  Obviously, Shannon and I aren’t trying to be awful, and she’s probably more in tune with this sort of thing than I am.  I will say that Luna is based on an actual male friend of mine, which, depending on how you look at it, either helps or hurts my case.  I don’t even know anymore.

I’m really bad with this.

At any rate, this is something fun to talk about but not something I’m thinking about at all when I write.  Especially in ‘rough draft’ mode, the most important part is to get all the plot and character elements on the page, and roughly lined up in order.  From here, editing, rewrites and feedback from beta readers can polish up the script to a mirror like shine that even Jezebel won’t hate me for.

They may still hate me anyway, but ya know…  In this age of viral content, if I even get slammed it still counts as publicity!

The Mortality Rate of Disney Parents

There is an off-joked about trend in Disney movies– if you happen to have helped give birth to a protagonist, you better get your will in order.

The number of Disney protagonists with two surviving parents is probably less than a tenth of the cannon*.  I could come up with only a few examples– Rapunzel’s parents in Tangled are around to watch their daughter grow up (although they aren’t really part of the narrative at all), and, um.  uh.  I had another example I was going to use, but forgot it mid sentence.

It’s not very many, is the point.  If you ever see both parents, you can set your watch on the fact that one of them is going to die before the credits roll.  Sometimes, the movie’s gotta troll first (Did you know that Bambi nearly kills the mother twice before she finally gets shot?  It’s almost frustrating to watch), other times they’re just never around and no one bothers explaining why (Beauty and the Beast), or they’ve passed away before the movie begins (Cinderella, Princess and the Frog).

I always thought this was a weird quirk, but never bothered looking into it.  One, because I’m not a parent and actual parents are already doing a great job handling parents in Disney and two, because I didn’t think it was that important.  Parents are hard to write, and if they aren’t needed for character motivation, just hand wave them.  Disney movies are stories about children, no one wants to see adult life.**

Well… protagonist age has increased as Disney has gotten older.  Snow White is a terrifying 7 in the Brother’s Grimm tale, and Disney aged her (in the 40s) to the much more mature 14-ish, which is better but deep in the land of “Seriously?!”

In contrast, Anna is 18 during most of the action of Frozen and Elsa is 21.   My little brother is younger than the protagonists of a movie that is ostensibly marketed to people younger than him.  Disney movies are happening to older and older people– so, you know, these aren’t entirely stories about children anymore.  Hell, at the rate we’re going, maybe we’ll have a Disney movie about a parent soon.

What I’m trying to get at is that Disney movies are growing up with the audience that fell in love with them.  And part of that is that we can’t just ignore parents– but, after starting to write my own Disney film, I can say with confidence that we will, and here is why:

Fairy tale parents are insane.

We’re adapting The Twelve Dancing Princesses, which only references one parent, the father.  Fine, I guess, considering that have 12 children with one woman seems like… well, painful, so the King was probably had a kid or four out of wedlock and we’d want to leave that to a humorous quip, if we bring it up at all.

Fine.  However, upon realizing his children are sneaking somewhere every night, the King’s reaction is, “Better put a bounty on my daughters!”

Look, I don’t have kids, but I get the feeling that that is pretty awful parenting.  Reconciling that with anything is just… it’s hard.  Think about the levels of father/daughter trust failure that need to happen:

1) The daughters need to decide that it’s better to sneak out than ask their father, or else the King would know that dancing was the reason why the shoes were worn down every night, he just wouldn’t know where.
2) The king asks his daughters what’s going on, and they’re so afraid of him that they refuse to tell him, despite the fact that the act of dancing doesn’t seem to impair them in any way.
3) Instead of trying to get to know his children better and earn their trust, the king hires a PI/compels the police to figure this problem out.
4) Upon that failure, the King still decides that random people just living in the kingdom are his best bet.  Rather than, you know, talking to his children.

And he’s a king, not a low-functioning alcoholic!  To make matters tricker, most of what I’ve written for Luna factors on the king being a competent ruler, as she struggles to find the courage to fill his shoes.  This man clearly can not exist… but he does and I have no idea how to write it.

What do?

Well, actually, the solution so far has been pretty easy– pull a Dumbledore.  Dumbledore doesn’t actually do a whole lot in the early Harry Potter books.  He kinda just delivers exposition and ties up loose plot threads.  Sure, he’s a powerful wizard, and his knowledge and ability probably would have saved some Hogwarts’ student’s lives, but he’s always just unable to help for whatever reason.  The King is our Dumbledore, at least at this point in this draft.

So far (and we’re about 20 pages in) the King has not actually shown up.  We see a lot of advisors to the king, but the man himself is kinda like this mythical creature that we never really show.  By keeping the king an arms length away from the action– he’ll always be just unable to help, Luna can both idolize her father and her father can be a horrid parent at the same time.

If we never bring attention to it in the narrative, hopefully the slight of hand will work– viewers will remember the king for how the other characters see him, rather than by his actions.  Just like early book Dumbledore.

The other option is to highlight the fact that the king is an isolated, shitty parent because the kids were primarily raised by mom.  But, we don’t want to point attention there either, because, you know, 1 parent, 12 children.  Ouchies.

Also, by writing a blog post about it, I totally kill the magic.  I’m a wizard that reveals how the trick works before showing you the trick.  Thank god this is just a rough draft.

*This ended up sparking a lively debate with some friends.  We’ve so far come up with 6 out of the 52 movies in Disney’s main animated canon where the parents live.  I’m also being unfair– many Disney movies feature protagonists that can’t have parents without it getting weird (Wreck-It Ralph, for example).  However, in a lot of movies where the parents are around, they get forced away from the action, either because of the plot (Mulan) or because they really subscribe to Laissez-Fare parenting (Peter Pan).   In, eh, about half of these films, the plot breaks down if the parents happen to be great parents– Wendy would never want to run away if her father hung out with her more in Peter Pan, and if Herc’s foster parents in Hercules were able to integrate Herc into society better, there goes that movie.

Essentially, successful parenting undoes the basic framing of a Disney movie– going on an adventure to learn a moral, because that moral would have been passed down along with some really awkward Dad joke.**

**However, all of this is kinda moot because 101 Dalmatians exists.

_____________ Waltz (working title)

We might be bad at titles.

Progress on the writing front continues.  Slowly.  I blame the speed of writing on this being the last two weeks of school before the summer.  But, I’m here to talk our fairy tale of choice, how that choice helped us start to flesh out a character and how our setting is totally not related to anything.

However, I have other cool things to talk about– I’ve asked a friend who is an aspiring composer to see about writing some music for us.  As we’ve covered here, Disney movies work on a strong emotional level, and as such, I wanted to bring in a composer as soon as we had the fairy tale and setting nailed down.  More on that front later in the post.

In addition, I have a tentative ‘yes’ from another friend who does pretty pictures that move.  This job is more colloquially known as an ‘animator’.  No, we’re not going to try and do an entire movie, because that is madness.  Therein lies the abyss, and as Nietzsche wrote, “..as you gaze at Disney princesses, they gaze back at you.”  Or something like that.

The reason behind this is that some concept art and concept music will probably influence the writing.  Maybe that’s not a thing you worry about with screenplays, but as stated before, I’m not the part of this collective with a film degree.  Plus, the more people I can get excited about this project, the greater chance I have of convincing people I’m a high functioning adult.  Also, the greater chance this turns into something even more awesome than an epic script.

So, it’s past time I started actually talking a bit about what we’re writing.  We will be adapting the Grimm fairy tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses (TDP for the rest of this post.  Blame all the academic writing I’ve had to read recently).  The merchandising potential should be immense.

Shannon and I both compiled a top three list fairy tales, in no particular order, and one honorable mention.  Both our lists contained the same tales– TDP, RumpelstiltskinPuss in Boots, and The Brave Little Tailor.

I promise you we aren’t the same person.

Anyway, I pushed for TDP over the other films because 1) both Puss in Boots and Rumpelstilskin have been done to varying degrees recently and 2) The Brave Little Tailor seemed trickier to adapt.

So, what’s important in TDP?  What can’t we, as adapters, change?  Why has this tale been handed down through time, and adapted for countless cultures?  Hm, tough question.

Well, the most obvious examples of things that need to be in the Disney movie are in the title– there are twelve princesses, and they are going to dance.  There is really no way to adapt this tale and not have either of those things present.  In particular though, we get some help from the tale– ten out of twelve princesses can be foils/background characters.  We only need to focus on two of them, the youngest and oldest.

I’ve settled on some names to call them while we hash out plot details– Luna is our oldest, Cassiopeia is our youngest.  All of them have names vaguely related to celestial bodies that also have Russian/Slavic roots (well, Luna has its roots in Latin, but it’s also the Russian word for moon).  You’ll see why the roots are important later.  The names are almost certainly subject to change as we keep writing.

The fairy tale is told from the perspective of a male protagonist.  I don’t see this as an essential element of the tale, but it’s certainly a perfectly fine place to start.  Besides, it’s a fairly unique perspective for a Disney movie.  I’m not denying Aladdin exists, I’m just saying that there are more Snow Whites in the library.  That brings our number of characters up to three– a male protagonist and primary point of view, the oldest princess and the youngest princess.

The other really important thematic element is shoes.  The give away for the princesses sneaking off to dance every night is their footwear– shoes are to this tale what the lamp is to Aladdin.  

The other thematic elements are harder to pin down– most of the fairy tale has curiosity as a motivation for characters.  The downside is here is that curiosity is not a very strong motivator– think of Belle from Beauty and the Beast.  When she goes to explore the west wing, she’s spitting in the face of danger for no better reason than, “But what does this button do?”

I’d claim that curiosity works best as either supplemental motivation, or as a way to get a character to trigger a good inciting incident.  Ariel doesn’t trade her fins for legs because she’s curious about the human world, she does it because her curiosity helped her to fall in love with prince Eric.

Alice in Wonderland, for another example, starts with curiosity being the driving force behind Alice’s actions– she has an insatiable need to know what the rabbit is late for (… did I just do innuendo there?  I feel like I did).  Her curiosity slowly brings wisdom in the trippy-est sense of the word, and transforms into a desire to get back to reality as she finds out that her fantasies don’t always work out for her.

Heeeeeeeey.  Wait a minute—

Let’s not deal with curiosity, but the deal with the knowledge that curiosity brings.  If you want to go poking at the edges of a bit of fabric, the whole thing can start to unravel on you.  What if it does?  What if you learn something you can’t keep to yourself, and that knowledge forces you to act?  What if it’s the last thing your sisters want?  What if it turns your whole world upside down?  What if it makes you do something hard?

Oooh.  Luna is starting to shape up into something character-like.  So, what is she curious about?  What does she learn?

Well, the nightly dances seem to be an obvious place to start.  Clearly, the princesses enjoy them in the tale, so what if they were malicious in some other, unknown way?  Through the course of the tale, then Luna is going to learn about some dark design behind the dancing, and will have to reject her nightly bliss to do the right thing.  She’ll have to reject the fantasy and face the reality.

Yeah, it’s pretty Lion King.  I said this was rough, didn’t I?  What is the sinister plot?  Umm.  Magic?  We’re working on it.

Speaking of magic, our setting is a futuristic Russia.  I told you it wasn’t related to anything else.  Most of the motivation here was just, “what hasn’t Disney done?”., with the follow-up, “What hasn’t Disney done well?”

The idea is to invoke the shit out of Clark’s third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from [Disney] magic.  As such, we’re going to go in the other direction than something like Terminator or Deus Ex.  This isn’t a gritty future, this isn’t hard sci-fi based on actual science of today.  This is a whimsical, magical future.  This is the future of Meet The Robinsons.

But maybe not with that much whimsy, because holy shit does that movie has whimsy.  That about wraps up all I wanted to talk about, so that’s what– a character teaser and some setting information?  Sounds about as much as you’d get from a teaser trailer.

Anyway, on to other things!  The composer who I’ve asked to write pretty music (or not pretty music, if that’s what this script needs), is Kaelee, who is based somewhere out of the greater Seattle Metro area.

You can listen to selections from her work in progress musical, Starshine, on YouTube here.  The track linked in question is “What I Am”, and is pretty goddamn fantastic.

The animator is Steven, who might be the most Internet famous of all of us because he’s made it to io9.  He’s currently doing animation things in Los Angeles, and I’ll be sure to edit in a referral link as soon as I remember to ask for one.

June should be a very fruitful month for writing, as we actually get a real outline on the page and maybe even a first draft (so all these other fantastic people have the ability to work with something more than our outline of questions divided into acts).

Tune in next week for a hopefully more complete post about our protagonist, or maybe our villain, or maybe the youngest princess or maybe more on our setting.  Or maybe how Answer Set Programming should be combined with genetic algorithms, if I get tired enough and have both the blog and my class notes open at the same time.