The Quest

Anyone who already follows the Go Into The Story blog will already know about this – and if you’re a screenwriter and you’re not, get following! – but…

Last year, screenwriter, writing teacher and blogger Scott Myers ran an opportunity for newer writers called The Quest. Writers submitted a movie logline they’d like to write, and several were picked for a free six-month online… well, part writing class, and part intensive script development. Across those six months, the script moved from logline to completed first draft, via online teaching, seminars, feedback and strict deadlines.

It now turns out that one of the scripts written during The Quest has landed its writer a manager –  and better yet, Scott will be running The Quest again in a mere few weeks!

Full details at  http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/2013/04/countdown-to-the-quest-initiative-26-days.html .  PLEASE READ THE RULES CAREFULLY. especially the part about not submitting anything until May 20th…

If you’re remotely interested in cracking the Hollywood market, or in intensively developing a movie idea and becoming a better writer in the process, this is an opportunity not to be missed…

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Things I Learned from… Trance

Art heist thriller Trance has had an interesting journey to your local cinema. Joe Ahearne’s script was originally a TV movie in 2001, but has now been picked up by British wunderkind Danny Boyle, polished by John Hodge, and hit the big screen.

In the end, Trance is a good old-fashioned thriller, and there are three things a thriller has to deliver:

Mystery. Someone is after our hero and he doesn’t know why. Something bad has happened around him, and he doesn’t know why – or even what. The danger is very clear, but what’s triggered the crisis is shrouded in mystery, and must be uncovered if the hero is to survive.

Conspiracy. The hero doesn’t know who to trust. Anyone could be out to get him – and frequently is. At times, the entire world of the movie seems to be ranged against him.

Betrayal. It’s no accident that the femme fatale was created by the thriller genre. There’ll always be someone who gets close to the hero specifically in order to betray him, and others who turn on him because it seems like the right or just thing to do.

Trance delivers admirably on all these elements, at first at least, and yet it’s a movie that’s left a lot of viewers feeling frustrated and unsatisfied. But why?

I think it may be because the movie effectively switches protagonists – and for a thriller, that’s fatal.

It isn’t giving away anything much to say that, about halfway through the movie, we start to spend a lot of time with hypnotherapist Elizabeth, as she becomes caught in a love triangle. From that point, Simon seems less and less like our protagonist –

And the thriller genre revolves around a clearly identified protagonist, because it’s only through him that we can experience that visceral thrill of mystery, conspiracy and betrayal. To feel the thrill of the thriller, we have to have a single, limited perspective – and if anyone else is also a protagonist, then our perspective is changed. They have new pieces of the mystery, they stand outside the conspiracy, they occupy a new place in the web of betrayals.

So, the moment we begin to see things from Elizabeth’s view as well as Simon’s, the three pillars of the thriller structure collapse and the visceral joy of the genre is gone…

Two For the Price Of One

I took my friend’s daughter to see Jack The Giant Slayer the other day, and it got me thinking – what’s with this sudden tendency to have secondary heroes in fantasy movies?

Jack The Giant Slayer has both Jack himself – the typical fairy tale hero, the ordinary lad who must rise to the chance of adventure – and Elmont, the heroic bodyguard/warrior who helps to protect Princess Isabelle. Snow White And The Huntsmen, very much in the same genre, has both the Huntsman and a prince who’s set up as a childhood love interest. Both are instrumental to the story in different ways.

And though it sits in a very different genre, the movie that’s responsible for all these teen-audience, romantically-tinged movies being made is Twilight – and there again, we have two male leads locked in a romantic triangle with the female lead.

Now, I’m all in favour of strong secondary characters. The more striking, attractive and compelling your supporting characters are, the better your movie will be.

But I’m also a fan of the idea of ‘character function’: the idea that each character plays a role within the story, in the same way every mechanic in a Formula One pitstop has a specific job to perform, all of which make up a whole event. Depending on the complexity of your story, you can define those functions in broad terms (love interest, villain, reflection/sidekick), or in more specific terms – for example, all the characters in a heist movie are thieves, but they all have a different role to play in the theft and in the movie.

The golden rule is: no two characters in your movie should be doing the same thing within the plot structure, even if they’re very different characters.

For an example of what happens when you ignore this, take a look at the Christopher Ecceleston season of Doctor Who. Much fantastic stuff in this season, of course: but once Captain Jack Harkness comes aboard the Tardis, something starts to feel amiss. Which is weird, because he and the Doctor are very different characters… Until you realize they both have the same character function:  “slightly madcap alien with advanced knowledge and technology”. Every time the writers come up with a plot twist, Jack and the Doctor are likely to react to it in the same way – and that’s the death of drama. They’re both fascinating characters, but they don’t belong in the same show.

Snow White and The Huntsman suffers from this problem, and has to resolve it by effectively shunting its Prince Charming character out of the plot – minimizing his screen time and his role in the story. Jack The Giant Slayer fares slightly better, partly by making Elmont a seasoned, near-indestructible warrior and Jack a simple farm boy, which allows for differences in both their actions and their reactions. But as Jack begins to grow into the warrior role, the story inevitably starts to suffer from too many heroes.

So why are writers, producers and directors allowing this to happen? I still don’t know. The moral of this particular fairy tale is: too many heroes spoil the broth…

Wolfblood Season Two update

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No exciting updates, I’m afraid; this post is here mainly to funnel all the questions I’m getting sent and all the web searches for ‘Wolfblood season two’ into one place, and make it easier for Wolfblood fans to find the information they’re looking for.

So –  season two is now about halfway through filming, and despite heavy snowfall causing all kinds of problem, we’re back on track and everything is going well.

To answer the three main questions I’m getting asked twenty or thirty times a day:   1) Yes, we will be seeing Rhydian again at some point in the season   2) No, I can’t tell you anything about what happens in season two   3) No, we don’t yet have a transmission date for season two, in the UK or anywhere else. It may well be September 2013 (it certainly won’t be sooner) but it could well be later. When I know, you’ll know.

If you have questions about anything else Wolfblood-related, please go to the Wolfblood FAQ page – there’s a link at the top of the page. Feel free to post questions there, but do read the FAQ carefully first; most of the questions people post have already been answered there!

More information when I have it!

Reader Question: How Far Is Too Far?

Yesterday, I received a question in the comments section that I thought could do with a longer answer, so here we go…

Emma says she’d like to be a screenwriter when she grows up, and is looking for some pointers:  “What I mean is, how far do you go before people think that [your story’s] supernatural themes are too cheesy or weird?”

That is a very good question, and one that’s tripped up many smarter writers than me. We’ve all seen films and TV shows based around the most preposterous ideas, and yet we believe them – and we’ve also seen stories that immediately seem false, ridiculous, and silly. But it’s often very hard to tell exactly what makes one story believable and another, laughable.

But I think there are a few pointers that will help you shape your supernatural elements into a more believable form.

One Piece Of Magic. This ‘rule’ comes from the screenwriting teacher Blake Snyder, and basically says that you can have one supernatural, alien or impossible element in a script – and only one.

So you could write about aliens. Or you could write about vampires. But if your aliens encounter vampires, and get bitten, and become alien vampires… Well, you can see for yourself that’s getting silly. In the same way, Wolfblood contains Wolfbloods, and nothing else: no vampires, no ghosts, no aliens, nothing.

Of course, you can frame your particular Piece Of Magic in such a way as to give yourself more room to manouvere. The X-Men all have different abilities, but that works because the Piece Of Magic is “humans are evolving amazing but random abilities”, which allows the writers to create any ability they like and still stay within the boundaries of their fictional world.

Like any other ‘rule’ of writing, you can get away with breaking it sometimes. Twilight has both vampires and werewolves, and apparently that franchise hasn’t done too badly… But as a fledgling writer, it might be a useful rule to follow.

Everything Except The Piece of Magic Is Real.  The more detailed, realistic and identifiable the world your amazing characters live in, the more likely the audience are to believe in the whole story, including the supernatural elements.

BBC Three’s recent drama In The Flesh explored the aftermath of a zombie attack – but it did so in an isolated Northern village beset by unemployment and family feuds, surrounded by bleakly beautiful countryside, peopled by ordinary human beings. And that’s why we believed in it. The reality of the world and supporting characters rubbed off on the premise.

Which brings me to a related point…

Your Characters Have To Be Real Human Beings. This is perhaps the most important technique at your disposal, because however clever the plots and the ideas, the characters are what really draw us to a show and keep us watching. Get your characters right, and the audience will believe in anything they do.

Apart from their supernatural abilities, the characters in Wolfblood are ordinary kids. They worry about homework, friendship, the rules their parents and teachers lay down, the way they look and the amount of pocket money they have. Some of them have family problems, some have crushes on other characters. In other words, they’re just like their young audience, and believable characters make for believable stories.

The Supernatural Element Must Mean Something. This is about theme, and theme is the easiest thing to overlook when you’re planning your story. Just being cool or scary isn’t enough to make your monster, alien or superhuman appeal to the audience – they have to embody something about life, the universe, and humanity.

For example, vampires are all about greed and desire. They literally feed off and destroy other people – and worse, turn them into insatiable creatures as well. They gain amazing abilities, but lose their humanity. Put a vampire in your movie, and immediately, it’s about all of those things.

Ghosts are all about being lost, not fitting in, being isolated from the world. Put a ghost in your TV series, and you’re going to end up telling stories about loneliness, isolation, friendship and the lack of friendship… And again, your series is about something.

Now think about the giant metal robots from the Transformers franchise. What do they embody? What are they about? Yelling and smashing things. The Transfomers robots are giant angry toddlers, and they appeal to the young for that reason – but you can’t tell a meaningful story with them, because they’re not about anything.

So, I hope all of that helps. If anyone else has any advice for Emma, pop it in the comments section – and keep writing, Emma!

Keeping The Main Thing The Main Thing

There’s a story you sometimes hear among Christians, about a famous preacher who was asked about the ‘main thing’ for a Christian to concentrate on. Peace? Love? Hope? Faith? The preacher smiled and said, “The main thing to think about is keeping the main thing the main thing.”

And strangely enough, that applies to writing too.

Any working screenwriter is busy keeping a lot of balls in the air, and attending to a lot of career-related activities: meetings, self-promotion, attending talks and seminars on writing, returning favours to people who’ve helped you, mentoring and advising younger writers. Oh, and, er, writing a blog…

Once you have a show in production, there are a million and one other things you either need or want to keep an eye on too. And they’re all so tempting. A set visit, a lecture, a writers’ social event or a speed-networking evening feel much more like significant, effective work than sitting at your laptop does.

And yes, they’re important. They’re necessary.

But none of them are the main thing. The main thing is writing, and you need to keep it the main thing.

If you’re not writing every day, coming up with new ideas every week, finishing a new script every two to three months, then you’ve lost track of the main thing…

Interactive Television – It’s In Your Hands

People talk a lot about the future of interactive television, and how new platforms and technologies are changing the experience of viewing. But as always with new technologies, the most interesting uses are springing not from the companies and producers, but from the end user – the television audience.

ITV’s excellent new drama Broadchurch seems to have spawned one of the more interesting ideas so far. Fans of the show have set up ‘parody accounts’ on Twitter in the name of the main characters, and are discussing among themselves – in character – the possible identity of the killer. Other Twitter users can ask them questions and tease them about their onscreen behavior. And there’s a good amount of humour from everyone at the expense of the characters and the premise, setting and plot of the show, of course!

So now you can watch an episode of the show, while accounts purporting to be the characters themselves comment on events and on each other’s behaviour and motivations on Twitter.

This isn’t an approach that would work for all stories, and it’s dependent on the wit and the ‘acting’ ability of the fans running the accounts – the Broadchurch accounts do a good job of staying in character and capturing the serious-but-wryly-amusing tone of the series, but it’s easy to imagine this done really badly.

That said, it’s a fascinating example of a way fans can not only engage with the show, but actually add a new layer of enjoyment and engagement for other viewers. The core of television – a story that’s told to you, like primitive man gathered at the feet of the storyteller – is preserved, and technology provides an optional enhancement for those who want it. Surely that’s the balance that will prove to be the future of interactivity?