The Flashback

writers-blockThere’s an old screenwriters joke about I wrote a flashback and within the flashback, I wrote another flashback and now I can’t get out of it and nothing makes sense.  The Flashback is not something to be taken lightly and when written well, it can be a very effective tool to use for exposition or any other part of writing.  This past Christmas I watched a movie and found the perfect example of a badly written constructed series of flashbacks.  It may not have been the writer, it may have been the editing of the flashbacks.  Anyway when the flashbacks occurred there was no way of knowing when we were in a flashback.  You weren’t sure what the year was, where the flashback happened and what we were trying to learn from it about the main character.  It just jumped from one scene into the flashback.  It was very confusing and made the story very hard to follow, because all in all the acting was stupendous. It was deeply disappointing to me, because the movie took place in a town I had spent one year of my life in and I recognized many locales in the movie.  There was even a shot of the restaurant I worked and the town hall across the street from it.  If the flashbacks had been better edited or written, I would have enjoyed the movie far better.  There were a few other issues, some were casting, which confused me about the history of two characters.

In my series the Third Eye, I have utilized the flashback tool a lot.  I have used to to explain Drake’s past and another character, so you can see how those two characters got to the point where they are at.  Here are some key things for the writer to do with a flashback.  First of all, you can give your audience an idea that a flashback is coming up in many different ways.  In the manuscript, you can write flashback in your next slug line, put the date, time, year and place.  This gives the reader and idea that a flashback is happening next and it is related to the previous scene.  It is up to the director or person who edits the film whether he wants to use that, or to convey it some way that makes it apparent that this next scene is a flashback.

Drake Darrow has a lot of narrative, so he  leads you into those flashbacks and the flashbacks are always an important part of the story.  I was tinkering with the pilot again and Drake talks about how he first met Kitty.  Originally I didn’t have a flashback in there, but I decided a flashback would add something to their relationship and how this odd relationship came to be.  The other thing you can do, is have a close shot on the lead character, maybe something is said in a previous conversation with another character about his past.  Bingo, hold a shot on him and go to that portion of his life.  Another tactic that is used quite often is take that slug and put it in the film.  You could put it into a titles shot.  Something like Boston Massachusetts at Tully’s Bar 1976.  Something simple like that tells the audience that they are going back in time.  None of these tools were used in this movie and it left things a bit befuddled.  Hopefully this clears up some things on how a flashback should be written.

The Story Is Important, Not The Theme.

English teachers are probably going to cringe, reading this, but I have to speak from writing experience.  I may have spoken about this before in a previous post, but it comes to light again, because I have been the eyes and ears to my Dad’s latest novel.  He is forging ahead with it not worrying about going back and rewriting things he may not like.  He is writing to get that skeleton up, so then he can go back and add in the skin, the body and heart.  What came to my mind is a recent conversation we had about theme.  It would never have come up unless a my Dad’s college friend had criticized my Dad’s rough draft for having no theme.  My father told him, that the theme wasn’t the first thing he thought about.  He was right, it shouldn’t be.  What is the theme?  The theme is basically the deeper underlying hidden meaning behind the piece.    braveheartFor instance, Braveheart is about the power of loves embrace to loosen the strangle of hate.  (Sounds very similar to my own movie Derby Double)  Now I am not sure what was running through Randall Wallaces head when he wrote this script, but I am sure the first thing he thought about, was the story of William Wallace.  Why wouldn’t he?  The man is related to him several generations removed.  I am sure he knew the story by rote.  However, I am sure that the theme didn’t even enter his mind until maybe the third or fourth draft, even if he knew what it was going to be.

So many English teachers spend their time harping on theme in school, that it hinders the writing.  It ruins the story.  I never think about the theme at all.  I let my writing bring the theme into the story on it’s on.  If I sat around thinking about what my theme was, I would never get any writing done.  When you write a script, you start with an idea.  For me the ideas are followed by images.  This is because I am a very visual person.  When I read a book, it reads like a movie to me.  I see shot after shot.  I see the scene or the staged scene in my head.  I work backwards from that point and fill in the holes. Besides as a script writer, I let my characters dictate where the story is going.  I have no time for themes.  In fact, my characters essentially write the themes for me.

This is going to sound weird, but sometimes my writing ideas come from dreams.  Yes dreams.  I’ve had a few pieces come from my dreams.  I either see a production in a dream and I write it, or I see an image.  Many years ago, I wrote a coming of age play about a Private Boys School in England, drawn from my own experience attending a Private Boys school in England.  The idea came from a very strange dream I had about Prefects, pretty much 7th form kids.  One of the Prefects in my dream was a friend of mine’s brother.  Prefects are students used as the lower end of the Disciplinary arm of the hierarchy of the School.  Their uniforms are different and so are there ties.  It was the tie of a Prefect that caught my attention.  I studied it in the dream.  The dream was real to me.  When I woke up the next morning I had an idea.  I didn’t have a theme, I had an idea.  The theme came out as I wrote the story and it took four drafts to have a theme.  What I am saying is that you don’t necessarily need a theme to start.  It is not the be all to end all of the story.  It is part of the story, but not the whole story.  Sometimes there is more than one theme in a story and you don’t realize it.  If your original theme doesn’t catch the reader or audience’s attention, another theme will. The writing is never about the theme and the story is never about the theme.  The story is about your audience.  Your audience always interprets what you write, differently than another person or yourself.  If they see one theme, someone else will see something different.  If you started with a theme in mind, then remember by the time your writing gets into someone’s hands, that theme may have gone out the window.  They may see something totally different than you.  My point is start with the Story and don’t get bogged down with themes.  Themes are what readers will perceive them to be.  Themes are what English teachers force you to concentrate on and that causes writers block.  Get away from themes.  Let them happen naturally.

 

Characters Aren’t Always Complete.

Sometimes, I find characters aren’t always complete.  There can always be something missing and I can’t pinpoint it, even after I search my character sketches.  Then suddenly I find that one nugget that will tell me that I’ve stumbled on an idea.  Writers watch and observe things.  Sometimes an idea will come from television.  Sometimes it comes from the worst kind of television.  A lot of Kitty was already created before Burn Notice came to the small screen, but she is very similar to Fiona Glen Anne, but there was still something missing.  I found the rest of Kitty from a most unlikely source, a real life Mob Wife.

Let me state this on the record, I am not much of a fan of the Realty TV genre.  Have I watched some?  Sure, I am guilty just like everyone else.  I was a big fan of Gene Simmon’s show, one because, I considered myself part of the Kiss Army in the seventies and two because Gene and his family were very amusing to me.  Other than that, there have been very few reality shows that have caught my attention, except one, but even this show turned me off after a while.  The show was Mob Wives.  I stumbled on it one night and I thought hey this looks kind of interesting.  Was it, for a while and it was different, but as I watched this show through it’s first season and a little into the second, I began to realize that this show like every other Realty show  was a train wreck waiting to happen. Why did I stick with it?  One mob wife caught my attention more than any other and no it wasn’t Sammy The Bull’s daughter.  drita-davanzo-mob-wivesIt was Drita D’Avanzo.  The first time I saw this woman, she seemed familiar to me, but I couldn’t figure out why.  Certainly, she was not anyone I ever met, or looked like anyone I knew.  Then one night, I am watching an episode and she gets into this feisty fight with one of the other Mob Wives and it dawned on me, who this woman reminded me of.  My female lead from Third Eye, Kitty Lange.  She was feisty like Kitty and she wouldn’t take any guff from anyone and most of all, she’s brutally honest even if it starts a war.  Since I turned  Third Eye from a movie into  a television series, I have added elements of Drita into Kitty that help complete the character.  One of the first things I did was I made her a bit of a Kickboxer.  I have a future episode in my head, where Kitty ventures into the world of UFC.  Of course it will revolve around a case.

The important tip here, is if you’re stuck, on you’re character don’t give up, keep trying to find those missing nuggets, as I have learned they can sometimes come out of the strangest places and that can also mean Realty TV.

Dialogue

kev-and-susanCrash Davis: I never told him to stay out of your bed.
Annie Savoy: You most certainly did.
Crash Davis: I never told him to stay out of your bed.
Annie Savoy: Yes you did.
Crash Davis: I told him that a player on a streak has to respect the streak.
Annie Savoy: Oh fine.
Crash Davis: You know why? Because they don’t – -they don’t happen very often.
Annie Savoy: Right.
Crash Davis: If you believe you’re playing well because you’re getting laid, or because you’re not getting laid, or because you wear women’s underwear, then you are! And you should know that!
[long pause]
Crash Davis: Come on, Annie, think of something clever to say, huh? Something full of magic, religion, bullshit. Come on, dazzle me.
Annie Savoy: I want you.

This is a scene from a classic movie with really strong dialogue,  written by former minor league ballplayer Ron Shelton for the movie Bull Durham.  Shelton knew how this scene should go because he toiled many years in the minors and once he knew these characters he knew how they should talk to each other.  Shelton knew the cadence of each word and knew how it should go.  Dialogue is important to every script.  The wrong dialogue in the scene can ruin everything if you don’t know your characters. Just as important are the words that are used in a scene.  I often change my dialogue if I don’t like a particular word, of it a word wouldn’t fit a character’s vocabulary.

There are different types of dialogue for different types of scene, but just as important as the dialogue is the emotion of the scene.  What are the characters trying to get from one another.  It’s like an acting scene.  The actors have to know what their motivation is in each scene.  They have to know the what they need from the other character, otherwise the conflict from each scene becomes hollow.  Writing a scene is very similar to acting in a scene.

Most of the stage material has been comedic.  I tend to lean towards a more staccato tempo when I write comedy.  I try to keep away from long speeches.  I aspire to write stuff more like writers I admire, such as Neil Simon or Woody Allen.  My high school reunion play, “Most Likely To….has a lot of staccato moments, as do my plays “Crossing the Bridge” and “Pigeons by the Charles.”  The staccato, helps the dialogue flow.  Here’s an example from “Pigeons by The Charles.”

LIGHTS RISE:

TIME:  Mid summer day a few days later.

AT RISE:  We find a hiking trail in New Hampshire.  Rocks are scattered about the stage along with various twigs.  SR is a tree spray painted with a blue blaze.  DSL is a cave.  SC is a fire-pit made of rocks.  On the cyclorama is Lake Chocorua with the mountain painting a beautiful backdrop.  Julie runs on from SL carrying a backpack and full of spunk.  Kurt enters a few minutes later, carrying a heavy bigger pack and winded.  He dumps the pack on the ground and takes a seat at a rock USR.  He catches his breath and swats at a mosquito.  

KURT:  Damn bugs!

JULIE:  (Sets her pack down.)  Bugs are part of the great outdoors.  I love bugs.

KURT:  I’m glad you like them.  I’ve got welts all over my legs and arms.

JULIE:  (Unzips the pack and pulls out a can of Woodsman’s fly dope.)  Do you want some Woodman’s?

KURT:  Hell no!  That stuff smells like Limburger cheese.

JULIE:  I have it on and you don’t see me complaining.

KURT:  Why do you think I’ve been keeping my distance?  (Julie sprays the bug spray at Kurt and embraces him.)  Hey!  Get that stuff away from me.

JULIE:  (Laughs and holds on.)  Now you don’t have an excuse to keep your distance.  We are one with the Woodman’s.  (Julie kisses Kurt and he makes a face.  She lets him go and turns a playful spin and breathes in the air.)  Ahhh Kurt, you are going to love communing with nature.  We can camp out under the stars and enjoy Castor and Pollux.

KURT:  Castor and Pollux are less prominent this time of year. It’s the tropic of Cancer.

JULIE:  That explains why you were a crab all the way up.

KURT:  (Kurt pouts.)  I’m tired.  My feet ache.  I have blisters.  You didn’t say anything about a mountain.

JULIE:  I said the camp site was in the mountains.

KURT:  You said little Mount Katherine.  Why Big Rock Cave?

 

JULIE:  The cave is very romantic.

KURT:  A cave has crawling bugs filled with deadly poison.  (He panics.) Or maybe there’s a big bear in that cave.

JULIE:  Quit complaining Mr. Weary bones and help me with this tent.  (Kurt rises, lets out a groan and they unroll the tent and empty the packs.  Julie offers a smile and a pleasant scrunch of his head.  Once again, she takes a moment and breathes in the air.)  Smell that?

KURT:  It’s ode to Woodman’s.

JULIE:  You’re killing my camping buzz.  (Rummages inside Kurt’s pack, puzzled, she looks to Kurt for an answer.)  Where did you put the stakes?

KURT:  We didn’t bring steaks, we brought hot dogs.

JULIE:  (Chuckles.)  I’m not talking about those steaks silly.  I meant the stakes for the tent?  (Kurt thinks hard.)  I gave them to you.

KURT:  No.  I don’t remember that.

JULIE:  I’m sure I gave you those stakes.

KURT:  When did you give me the stakes?

JULIE:  We got lost, we stopped at the gas station in South Tamworth and asked for directions.

KURT:  (Chuckles.)  I didn’t get us lost and I don’t remember you giving me the stakes.

JULIE:  Kurt honey, you did get us lost and I did give you the stakes.  Now where did you put them?

KURT:  Look in the pack.  If they aren’t in the pack you didn’t give me the stakes.

JULIE:  (Loses patience.)  You didn’t put them in.  I can’t believe you didn’t put them in,

KURT:  You didn’t give them to me.

 

JULIE:  That’s your story?

KURT:  That’s my story.

JULIE:  I didn’t give you the stakes?

KURT:  Yes!  Yes!  You didn’t give me the stakes!

JULIE:  I know what you did.  You left them in the car.

KURT:  No I didn’t.  They aren’t here!   (Julie paces, she tugs at her Baseball cap and slowly counts to ten to stop from screaming.  Kurt attempts to soothe her.)  We don’t need to sleep in the tent.  We can sleep outside under the tropic of Cancer.

JULIE:  (Breaks away from Kurt.)  I don’t want the tropic of Cancer!  I want my stakes!

KURT:  Now you’re mad.

JULIE:  You forgot the stakes Kurt!

KURT:  You’re right.  I forgot the stakes.  (Sarcastically slaps his hand.)  Bad  Kurt. Bad boy.  How dare you forget the stakes!

JULIE:  We’ll worry about this later.  There’s a stream down the path.  Why don’t you get some firewood?

KURT:  (Picks up twigs.)  There’s firewood here.

JULIE:  Kurt, you can’t build a fire with twigs.  We need big logs.

KURT:  I’m not a lumberjack Julie.

JULIE:  That plaid shirt says otherwise.  Now go down to the stream and get some big logs and fill this canteen with water while you’re at it.  (Kurt exits SL with the canteen.   Julie imitates Kurt.)  “We can sleep under the tropic of Cancer.”  Never again Julie. We never go camping again.  (Julie finds four rocks and uses them to set up the tent, but it falls over.  She makes another attempt and the tent falls over again.)  If I had some stakes, I wouldn’t be struggling!!!

KURT:  (OFS)  Julie do you want something?

 

JULIE:  No, nothing at all dear.  Just bring the logs.  (Julie examines the tent from different angles.)  All right Dad what would you and Una do?  (Crosses SL to the path.)  Kurt!  I needs some long sticks to pitch the tent.  (From OFS we hear Kurt yelp.  Julie reacts with shakes with laughter as Kurt enters wet, carrying a bundle of sticks and logs.Honey, what happened?

KURT:  (Glares at Julie)I fell in.  That is not a stream, that is a raging river!

This is an example of my style of writing for comedy.  I like short clipped speeches that keep the dialogue moving, so the audience’s attention doesn’t divert.  Too many long speeches in this scene will kill the humor.  The most important thing is that the  dialogue must also fit the the characters.  Kurt is a shy hyper guy around this girl and she is more extroverted.  It helps to have him nervous, so his dialogue should be quick and clipped, much like a Woody Allen character, or an anxiety driven character in a Neil Simon play.  Read Prisoner Of Second Avenue.  Mel’s dialogue is very short and clipped.  His wife mirrors everything he says, to heighten his anxiety, which creates some explosive, short clipped dialogue.  The only difference would be in a current comedy that I have put on hold about a former washed up Baseball Player who is the host of a talk radio show.  The show is called “Play By Play.”  My lead character Chick McSorley is very opinionated on many topics. I felt it necessary to have him be the Jim Rome of sports talk radio.  He loves to hear himself talk and he loves to jack up the ratings by talking about controversial topics.  Here’s the prologue.

                                                PROLOGUE:

PLACE:  Radio Station booth, Washington DC

 TIME:  Late December, the present.

AT RISE:  The stage is dark.  We hear a montage of legendary moments from Baseball history starting with Harry Caray’s “Take Me Out To  The Ball Game” and ending with a montage of highlights of the Velvet Fox of Baseball, Ned Plummer, the play by play Announcer for the Washington Nationals.  

NED:  (OFS)  Well Chick the fox ran through the hen house and stole a chicken. Nationals lose 6-5.  (The second clip.)  Strike three inside part of the plate and Holiday is stunned cold.  (Third clip.)  Votto screaming line drive to third and…Jackson robbed poor Joey of all the money on that one.  (Fourth clip.)  Here’s the 2 and 2 delivery from Lohse, (We hear a thunderous crack of the bat.)  Nieves hit with a authority and… that is….gone, upper deck.  Take me to Duke Ziebert’s Pedro!

 The audio montage fades.  The lights rise.  USR, the WWSH radio booth, divided into two section, far USR is the production studio and on the other side is the radio booth.  Former Shortstop CHICK  MCSORLEY is seated  in the middle with two chairs on either side of him.  In front of him is an ancient console and mixing board.  Various knobs and buttons are cracked or broken off.  Chick is in the midst of a talk show.  He is in his thirties with a brash, bombastic personality.  Chick wears a ratty headset, his eyes focus on two computers, a laptop and an old style Tandy, which often breaks down.  Hanging down in front of Chick is a thirty year old microphone on a metal stand, held together with duct tape.  Two exits lead out of the studio.  The DS exit leads into the main offices of WWSH by a set of metal stairs.  The US exit leads to the transmitter room.  Against the wall is an aging transmitter that dates back to the 1960’s.  The hallway leads to an US door into the production studio.  A cart rack is along the back wall at an angle.  Up against the dividing window we find RENEE DINERO, seated at a console with a mixing board.  On one side of the console is an old cart machine with top, middle and bottom cartridges.  In front of the console, an IBM computer.  To Renee’s right,  a telephone hybrid board, with flashing knobs and buttons.  Renee is in her twenties and she dresses in a punk rock fashion.  A microphone hangs down in front of Renee.   DS is another exit that leads into the main offices of Tinkle Broadcasting.  Renee is inattentive and chews gum with vigor.  She amuses her boredom with a computer magazine.  Chick cues Renee.   No response.   Chick becomes frantic and taps on the window.  Renee is startled to attention and she scrambles for a sound cart.  Chick throws a fit.  Flustered, Renee fires off the wrong cart.  “WWSH radio, now it’s time for WWSH Sports News.”  Chick wipes the frustration from his face.  Frantic, Renee searches for the correct cart and knocks the rest on the floor.  Chick’s frustration tempers, he taps his pen on the console.  Renee retrieves the carts and tosses the one she doesn’t need until  she finds the correct car and jams the cart into the top cartridge and fires the correct jingle.  A group of voices in unison, “Wake Up and Smell The Gas” with Chick McSorley, followed by a flatulence sound effect.  Renee switches on her microphone, out of breath.

 RENEE:  What’s the gas this week Chick?

CHICK:  Renee, I have gas so bad its taken residence….  (Renee rearranges her carts.  Shestruggles to replace the bottom cart.)

 RENEE:  Chick, Management wants to remind you that this is a family show.  (Tugs the cart with force and expels it from the machine.  She stares at the broken cart and tosses it and pops in a new one.)

 CHICK:   (Taps his pen on the console and offers a mischievous smile.)  Management can kiss…  (Renee fires off a buzzer sound effect.)  I will not be silenced Renee.  Ned Plummer’s reputation has been sullied.

RENEE:  Who would do such a thing?

CHICK:  Renee you need to read the paper more.  (Pause.)  As you know my friend and mentor Ned Plummer passed away a week ago.  While attending a Larry King roast held in his honor, Ned choked on one of those urine infested taffy baseballs from Taffy Meyer’s Taffies.

RENEE:  (Turns on her microphone.)   Chick, Taffy Meyer’s Taffies sponsors “Wake up andSmell the Gas!!!”  (Snaps off her microphone.)

CHICK:  Ohhh, thank you Renee.   “Wake Up and Smell the Gas” sponsored  by Taffy Meyer’s Taffies, the chewy taffy that makes you choke to death.

RENEE:   (Snaps on her microphone.)  Chick, behave, that’s not the correct copy!!!

 

CHICK:  Renee calm down.

RENEE:  Get on with it Chick.  What’s the gas?

CHICK:  The gas is about an editorial from that insipid rag…  (Cues Renee and she plays a dramatic sound effect.) 

RENEE:  What insipid rag Chick? 

 CHICK:  The Washington Chronicle.  (Chick fires a sound effect from his computer. “Oh no not the Washington Chronicle.”  The sound effect startles Renee.  Her eyes move to the phones and back to Chick.  She glares and shakes her head no violently.)  Yes the same “WashingtonChronicle,” that fabricated the demise of my Baseball career.  Listen up Dripp Sludge…

RENEE:  (Snaps on microphone.)  His name is Tripp Sledge Chick!!!  Tripp Sledge!!!

CHICK:  Thank you for correcting me Renee. Listen up Tripp, until I receive that retraction fromyou, I’m going to continue to wipe…(Renee, frantic switches on her microphone.)

 RENEE:  The floor with you.    (Chick gives Renee a puzzled look.) 

CHICK:  I was going to say wipe…

RENEE:  The counter with you.

CHICK:  There are a hundred radio producers out of work in this city and they had to give me one that sticks to the rules.

RENEE:  What Chick doesn’t seem to understand is that when he’s suspended I’m forced to work with Brainard and Wallard and they put me to sleep.  (Turns off the microphone.)

CHICK:  I am sorry Renee.  (Cues Renee and she fires a kazoo sound effect.  Chick clears histhroat and takes a deep dramatic pause.)  I’ll move on to the drudge of Tripp Sludge.  Many were saddened  this week by the death of famed Washington Nationals announcer Ned Plummer.  I do not share the same sentiment as the rest of the Baseball listening public.  I have often argued that Ned was an average broadcaster.”  (Chick cues Renee and she fires a buzzer.)  Wrong!!!! Stop crapping over 15 WASHY’S and the Ford Frick award.  Sludge continues.   “I found Ned’s dull drawl a perfect remedy for my nightly bouts with insomnia.”Ah yes still bitter about that Rochester Redwings job.  The truth is that Sludge wasn’t worthy enough to hold Ned’s jockstrap!!!!  (Renee’s eyes grow wide with panic as she sees the phone lines light up.  The lights dim on Chick’s booth.)

 RENEE:  (Answers a phone line off air.)  WWSH?  Mr. Sledge!  Uhmmm….  Well….yes, yes sir Chick did say that sir, I wouldn’t take…we don’t take calls during the commentary sir.  I don’t know if Fritz Tinkle is in sir.  Let me find out.  (Punches a different line.)  Abby I have a problem.  Turn on the commentary.  Clyde doesn’t want to me use the red button.  All right I’ll do that. (Renee switches phone lines.)  Mr. Sludge… (Hears an earful.)  Sledge, Sledge…I’m going to transfer you to our  receptionist Abby. (Renee transfers the line and sits back down.  The lights rise on Chick’s booth and we hear him in mid tirade.)

 CHICK:  How do you sleep at night writing libelous crap about Ned’s personal life?  Have you ever thought about Ned’s family?  Of course not.  You cowardly cockroach.  You’re like a scavenger who picks the bones when someone is down and out.  You fabricate your dog vomit to brainwash your flock of sheep.  You’re a hypocrite.  You attack the baseball broadcast team and yet you pay our station to promote your urine infested dogma.  Now there’s a double standard if I ever heard one.  (Chick takes a long sip of his coffee.  A cunning smile comes over his face.  Renee senses trouble and prepares to fire a commercial.  Chick puts his hand up and stops her.)   Subscribers of the Washington Chronicle, wake up and smell the gas?

RENEE:    (Switches on the microphone.)  Okay Chick that’s your commentary for today.

CHICK:   Oh, no, Renee I am only beginning to roll.  And if any of those subscribers have a conscience…

RENEE:  I have conscience.  I have real conscience about my job.  (Renee stares down ata large red button, with fear in her eyes.  She reaches out to press it. 

CHICK:  Don’t you dare touch that red button Renee!!!  (Renee becomes frantic and  fires off a series of sound effects.  Chick shouts to drown out the commercial.)  And if those SUBSCRIBERS HAVE A CONSCIENCE, THEN YOU SHOULD DO THE SENSIBLE THING.   (Renee closes her  eyes and fires the Emergency Broadcast System message.  Chick screams now and fires off a patriotic sounder.)   UNSUBSCRIBE AND SEND A MESSAGE TO THE ADVERTISERS  OF THE WASHINGTON CHRONICLE.  BOYCOTT.   BOYCOTT NOW, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.(Chick gestures wildly, knocking over his coffee on the console. He ignores the mess and continues.) DO YOUR DUTY AS AN AMERICAN.  ONLY YOU CAN SAVE THIS COUNTRY FROM THE TYRANNICAL POWER OF THE WASHINGTON CHRONICLE NOW BEFORE THEIR TREASONESS EDITORIALS DESTROY THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA AND WHAT IT STANDS FOR. (The EBS test finishes.  Irate, Chick looks to Renee for an answer.  Renee smiles awkwardly and grabs the phone.)  And that is my gas Renee. 

 RENEE:  WWSH.  Yes Fritz that was the EBS test.  I had to do something.  I would have pushed The red button but Clyde told me the red button would blow up the station.  It’s called a dump button.  Yes sir.  I’ll remember that in future.  (Renee hangs up the phone.  Chick cues Renee and she fires the disclaimer, voiced by Chick. As the disclaimer goes off Chick wipes up the mess on the board.  We see a spark.)

CHICK DISCLAIMER:  The opinions expressed by the broadcasters of WWSH Sports talkin no way reflect the opinions of Tinkle Broadcasting .  And why would they?  They have no opinions….Their opinion are filled with… (Renee’s phone rings the volume on the disclaimerfades as she picks up the phone.) 

 RENEE:  Hello sir.  Chick felt his commentaries needed a disclaimer.  No I don’t feel it’s appropriate at all sir!   The best solution would be… (Renee receives and earful and stops the cart and switches to a commercial.)  A commercial would be fine sir.  (Chick enters her booth.)

 CHICK:  What are you doing?

RENEE:  He’s right here.  (Renee hands Chick the phone.)  Fritz, for you.

 CHICK:  What’s up chief?  You did?  What did you think of it?  Uh huh, Uh huh, Uh huh.  Yes I understand.  Okay then.  (Chick hangs up the phone.)  

RENEE:  Tell me you didn’t get a suspension?

CHICK:  Tripp Sledge called the FCC, they called Fritz.  Now don’t worry, I’ll probably receive a weeks suspension.

RENEE:  You mean Brainard and Wallard are filling in?

CHICK:  That’s about the size of it.  Well have fun.  (Chick starts to exit the production studio and then catches the board in the studio sizzling.)  Renee?  Is the board supposed to do that?
RENEE:  Oh no.  You spilled coffee on it!!!!

 

                                                            LIGHTS TO BLACK

                                                            CURTAIN CLOSES

                                                            END OF PROLOGUE:

Now what if you’re writing an action adventure movie or TV character like Drake Darrow?  My impression of Drake is that he wouldn’t speak a whole lot.  He’s been betrayed by the Government.  The Government sabotaged his experiment.  He’s constantly thinking about it, and he doesn’t trust a whole lot of people, so he speaks very little and when he does, there’s usually some sort of cynicism within his dialogue, depending on the scene and who he is interacting with.  In some cases like my previous character you need to write edgy dialogue to get your point across about the topic you are writing about.  Here’s work from Alan Moyle from “Pump Up The Volume” about teenage angst.

You hear, about some kid did something stupid– something desperate. What possessed him? How could he do such a terrible thing? Well, (come here) It’s really quite simple, actually. Consider life of a teenager, huh? You have parents, teachers telling you what to do. You have movies, magazines, and TV telling you what to do, but you know what you have to. Huh? Your job, your purpose is to get accepted, get a cute girlfriend, and think up something great to do for the rest of your life. What if you’re confused and you can’t imagine a career? What if you’re funny looking and can’t get a girlfriend? You see, no one wants to hear it. But the terrible secret… is that being young, is sometimes less fun then being dead. Suicide is wrong, but the interesting thing about it, is how uncomplicated it seems. You know? There you are, you got all these problems swarming around in your brain, and here is one simple– one incredibly simple solution. I’m just surprised it doesn’t happen everyday around here. Now, now, they’re going to say I said offing yourself was simple but no, no, no, no, no, it’s not simple. It’s like everything else, you have to read the fine print. For instance, assuming that there is a heaven, who would ever wanna go there? You know? I mean, think about it. It’s cool. You’re sitting there up on this cloud. It’s nice, you know it’s quite. There’s no, no teachers, there’s no parents. But guess what. There’s nothing to do, fucking boring. Another thing to remember about suicide, is that it’s not a pretty picture. I mean first of all, you shit your shorts, you know? So, there you are, dead. People are weeping over you, crying. Girls you never spoke to are saying, “Why? Why? Why?” And you have a load in your shorts. That’s the way I see it. Sue me. Now they’re saying I shouldn’t think stuff like this.

Mark Hunter is a frustrated teenager. He’s moved from the east coast to Arizona, because his Dad took a job of Superintendent of Schools.  It’s hard for him, he’s shy, he can’t make friends and worst of all, he sees his new school kicking out all the undesirable kids, to keep up their accreditation.  So to reach out he decides to create this persona to reach his peers.  What’s the best way for a teenager to reach his peers, do something shocking, something provocative that gets their attention.  Create a radio shock jock persona named Hard Harry. Mark Hunter uses a book by Lenny Bruce to help him along.  He creates a character that speaks to teenagers and peels back the ugly skin that reveals what it is like to be a teenager, with so many expectations expected of them.  It is hard, it is truthful and it is very real and the most important part about any dialogue in anything you write, is it has to be real.  I wrote a piece a month or two back about using your ears to listen.  I often go to Church Street in Burlington Vermont to people watch, but not just to do that, I listen to dialogue around me.  Recently I sat out at a cafe with some friends and I bet they had no idea, that I was doing more than people watching, I was listening to the rhythms and sounds of dialogue.  You can gather some great and real dialogue that way.  Real dialogue is what it is all about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Dialogue Equals A Good Ear.

an-earNo, no don’t turn away from this post.  I know the ear can be a weird thing to look at, even frightening sometimes, but there is a reason I posted a picture about the ear.  You see I believe that comedians that do impressions(Dana Carvey, who is by far the best impressionist since John Byrom, sorry not a Rich Little fan.)and writers have one tool in common.  It’s the ear.  Impressionists need that ear to pick up the nuances of the real life person they are portraying and Writers need a good ear to find good dialogue.  It doesn’t even have to be good dialogue it can be a story you heard that you retained in your memory.  I wrote a movie, about Soccer which I have mentioned more than once on this blog and in the sequel to the first movie, I had this female character that was as tough as nails.  At one point she thinks the Protagonist has cheated on her, she’s on a train and she finally breaks down, not something this character does a lot of in the movie, but her feelings have been hurt.  In the train, this compassionate man keeps staring at her.  She starts to get ticked and finally to get him to stop staring at her, she screams, “Staring?  Want your eyes poked out.”  I have had that line in my head since I have been in eighth grade.  Thank you Torri Crowell, you are the one that uttered it more than once, not to me, but to others.  Another example where I used my ear was a reference to a very funny story.  My friend David Whiting was a whiz in school.  He took all the best math courses and managed to win our class the Rubiks cube contest for Winter Carnival.  Dave told this story about this kid who was in his Physics class with him.  A guy by the name of Ken Krauss.  I never knew Ken, but he had a disability.  A glass eye.  I am not sure what happened to the poor guy, but rather than take his disability and feel sorry about it, the guy had a sense of humor. Ken  would take this glass eye out in the middle of class and roll it on the table.  The image had me in hysterics.  I have had that story in my head since high school and even now I am chuckling talking about it.  And yes because my ear retained the story, I used it in a play I wrote about a wacky high school reunion.  I had a character tell the story.  My mother used to tell this story about this college student(She called him Free Wheeling Frank.) who would come into her bookstore and ask for the book Free Wheeling Frank.  He was of course referring to the book, “Free Wheeling Frank And The Guide to Motorcycle Maintenance.”  Now I haven’t found the right opportunity to use this, but when the moment is right, I will.
Now I am not the type of guy that jots notes in a notepad, but what I do is tune my ear in at the most unlikely places.     It doesn’t matter whether I am in a laundromat, or whether I am people watching on Church Street in Burlington Vermont.  I take that opportunity to listen to people’s conversations.  I know it sounds kind of creepy, but in those moments, I always manage to find some interesting dialogue to play around with.  We writers often seem like big brother.
So the next time you hear some teenage kid(I know I have criticized this in the past), say something like “I am so over this”, don’t throw that away, use it as an opportunity to understand today kids and how they talk, it will definitely enhance your dialogue.

When The Unexpected Happens, Go With It.

Ringer imageThere are times, when your script takes an unexpected turn.  What do you do in those moments?  You go with it.  Always go with it, because your characters are leading you where they want you to go.  You’d be surprised where it can lead.
I just had it happen in Episode Three of Third Eye.  All of my characters have some sort of link to Drake’s case, or other characters have a link to Drake’s team.  Take the hacker, Ringer, computer nerd extraordinaire.  Drake has asked him to find out who Morphine is.  So he sends a shot of Morphine’s passport.  Drake, knows the named Leonard Brizzard has to be an alias, as the guy’s tailing him.  So he sends Senator Peters, who in turn calls Ringer and explains the passport.  Senator Peters thinks the same thing, this guy has to have an alias.  He tells him he might try breaking into the CIA website and check out the Black Ops program.  Ringer informs Peters that there’s no way he’s going to be able to do that.  The CIA has the most impenetrable security around.  Then he gets an idea.  He will call his old friend Warlock, who was on the ground floor of the mysterious Hacker group, named Redpath(Think Anonymous), he may just be able to help him.  Warlock informs Ringer, the only way to do this, is to break into the CIA headquarters.  He has a friend who is part of Redpath, who works IT there with a secret level security clearance.  Now I knew Warlock was not on the up and up, he’s been paid by Shadow to stop Redpath from destroying all the work he is doing behind the scenes. As the dialogue for this scene hit me, an brilliant idea popped into my head.  How is Source getting his information that he turns over to Peters and Drake.  Easy he’s the head of Redpath, that no one has ever met.  Another reason Shadow is using Warlock, he knows Source and he wants him out of the way.
When this idea hit me, it was Ringer, Warlock, Source and Shadow speaking to me.   A brilliant idea can come out of nowhere, it can come when your writing a scene.  You may be stumped where something is going and the bam!  That one scene makes all the difference and it creates what you’ve been waiting for.  So always go with that idea that hits you, even if you think it is bat crazy.

 

The Story Arc

Privae Eye in the works 3Whether you’re are writing a story, a play, a movie or television series, it all contains plot.  Before character, plot is probably the most important part of writing anything.  Make sure, your plot is solid and make sure it makes sense.
In today’s television it’s called the Arc.  Each season reveal parts of the story that leads to the inevitable climax.  It doesn’t matter whether it is a comedy or a drama, it all contains an arc.  Sometimes that can change.  Shelly Long decided she wanted a movie career and left Cheers, that essentially changed the whole dynamic of the series.  Rebecca Howe was brought in as Sam’s new love interest and you never knew till the end of the season whether they were going to get together or not and to make matters more compelling Shelly Long came back as Diane to throw a monkey wrench into the plans.
Burn Notice’s Arc also change, but not because someone left the show. Season Six, Michael finds the man who burned him, it was his former mentor and boss deep inside the CIA and he kills him.  This leads to season 7 being about a man hunt, then Michael cutting a deal with the CIA to go deep undercover to catch someone the CIA wants badly.  During this season Michael realizes that his life with Fi is more important and he fakes his own death and gets out never to be seen again.  However this is not the ways shows used to be when I was growing up.
I remember shows of the 1970’s.  I found myself frustrated.  Take detective shows.   The formula was standard.  The teaser always started with some crime, the detective solves it and that was it.  Can you imagine how boring that was.  What it ended up doing stifling the characters to the point where they were never fully developed.  There are a few shows still done like this, but most of them don’t last.  And unless the dialogue is any good, it never keeps me watching.
Just like the name makes the character and the character makes the name, the plot creates the character.  No plot, no character or sustained series. That was the problem with television for so many years. It wasn’t called the idiot box for many years for nothing. Then the writers became better, Producers suddenly realized we weren’t stupid and they changed things.
The landscape of television changed in the 1980’s with a little cop drama called, “Hill Street Blues.”

Captain-Furillo-Hill-Street-Blues-Daniel-Travanti-a
Hill Street Blues, changed television and television writing for the better.

Hill Street Blues was different.  It dealt with the cops in a fictitious precinct.  When I say it dealt with the cops, it didn’t just deal with a case they were working on, it dealt with their lives in and out the precinct.  It was the first show, that dealt with plot and character. It was so fresh, so raw and different from any cop show that I had ever seen before, that I had to watch it every week and I did faithfully on Thursday nights on NBC. Other shows began to follow suit.  Shows pop up like Saint Elsewhere, Magnum PI, Simon and Simon all using the same device, all making sure that plot came first which helped developed the character.  In this way, Hill Street Blues changed the face of television shows and how they are developed. Now they added the story arc as a big element.
Currently I am trying to watch two shows.  Mr. Robot(That’s been on hold because I can’t find the current season streamed anywhere) and the second it the Blacklist starring James Spader as the charming criminal Raymond Reddington.  I am one season behind at the moment.   The show is basically about a criminal and his connection to this FBI Agent named Elizabeth Kean.  He brings her a list called the Blacklist.  The way Ray Reddington describes it, these are cases of the hidden criminals, the ones that not any Governmental agency knows about, but Raymond Reddington does, because he has dealt with most of them in one form or another.  Raymond is attached to Elizabeth, because he knows who her mother is.(Sort of similar to my idea with the Third Eye.)  Some of these cases bring her closer to what happened to her parents.  That’s the Arc.   Again that’s similar to the Third Eye.
The arc is always there and if you’re writing a series, you must always be conscience of it.  Each season should lead to that climax of the series.  One of the things I am learning is to build it slowly.  Don’t give everything away to early.
One of my methods is to create a series exposition. The series is episodic, so it allows me to do that..  The first two episodes set up Drake’s past. The third has been about Kitty’s past. By the time we get to four, we know what makes both of these characters tick. By the time I am halfway through the season, I’ll have a good set up to drive my arc each season.

Names Make The Character.

imagesI love names, no matter where they come from.  Part of finding that name comes from the web, my old Baseball Encyclopedia and anything else I can find.  Having a good solid character name is essential for me to create and effective character.  I always say that names make the character and characters make the name.

 

Skip Pitlock
This is the current Baseball Card I have of Skip Pitlock.  I will never part with it, because it brings back fond memories of Spitlock Jones.

I’ve always been good with names.  The first name I ever came up with was a fictitious pitcher for the Boston Red Sox named Spitlock Jones.  Sounds like a pitcher from the early days of Baseball.  I think I remember how he came about.   I was watching the Red Sox with the television on, not paying much attention and there was a relief pitcher named Skip Pitlock for the Chicago White Sox.  I think he was on the mound and pitching to Red Sox Utility infielder Dalton Jones and I some how merged the two names together.  I thought Skip Pitlock pitched for the Red not the White Sox and I thought his name was Spitlock and the last name Jones.   When I would go outside and throw at my pitch back, I would announce and bring Spitlock in to save the game.  He was as tough as his name.  He was submarine ball pitcher.(I came up with that because of Ted Abernathy, the great closer for the Kansas City Royals.)  He had a nasty screwball and would play chin music with all the hitters.  I collect Baseball cards, I have been since I was little.  One year I got a card of Skip Pitlock.  I was devastated, because I realized right then and there, that Spitlock Jones was not real, I made him up in my head. So I retired Spitlock, he came up with a sore arm and retired.
Most of the time I have the character and then find the name that matches the personality.  The name Ringer, didn’t arrive until I put together an idea for him.  Then the name came.
ENTER JACKIE FARESIS.

Abbie Carmichael Angie HarmonFor years I’ve had this great character name, but I’ve never found anything I could use her in.  Then when I began to think of “Third Eye” as a series.  This character for this female character knocked on the  door to my imagination,  took a seat at my computer desk and said, “Hey Peter, you’re wasting my name.  Stop talking about using me and do it.  If you’re worried you can’t figure me out, let me tell you my story and how to utilize me.”  Her name is Jackie Faresis.  I’ve never been able to figure out where the last name came from, it definitely worked with Jackie.  The last name intrigued me.  It was something different.  I think it came from a Professor that taught at New England college, named Larry Farese.  He was a wonderful, nice guy who was a bit of a neat freak and loved to cook and boy could the man cook.  Mostly Italian, because he was.  I think I just lengthened his last name and made it Faresis.  Instead of Italian, I decided she was Greek.   Jackie enters in Episode three and is the new Assistant DA in Boston.  Later she will work her way to Baltimore.  She’s a woman who takes no prisoners and will go as far as she have to for a conviction.  She will be a recurring character and will cause all kinds of problems for Kitty.  Her first few meetings with Drake will not be cordial.  Drake, thinks Jackie’s too career happy and extremely uptight, which she is. I don’t see Jackie as part of the team, because she isn’t.  She’s not a bad character or a good character, she’s gray.  There is a story inside my head.  Shadow and Jackie have a past.  He wants her to get close to Drake to cause some problems.  Eventually Drake will help Jackie out of a jam.  The two become close and start a relationship together.  Drake contemplates marriage, but when Kitty finds out the true reason she is after Drake, that ends it leaving the door open for either Kitty or Harriett.
This all came from a name.  As I said, names make the character and characters make the name.  Always think character and come up with a good name that fits that character.

Lessons Learned Writing A Series.

PI for diary 2 My first serious attempt at writing a television series, is a quite challenging and I am learning a few lessons along the way.
The first lesson, inevitably something happens that you hadn’t expected.  Not a bad thing, in fact in this case it’s very good, as I have been struggling with a way to sneak Kitty’s backstory in as early as possible.
Last  episode Kitty was kidnapped, by Morphine and The Iraq Secret Service.   With the help of Drake’s Spiritual Guide, Tsu Li, she manages to get out of it, however Kitty doesn’t always think before she acts.
Morphine manages to dig into Kitty’s past.  It’s a past she would rather not tell Drake about or her life as a Private Investigator blows up in her face. She’s desperate for some answers and kidnaps Farooq, one of the guys that held her.  They take off in his vehicle and head out of Mosul.  While she drives, she presses Farooq pretty hard for answers.
He refuses to say anything and when Kitty’s at his most desperate, he dies from taking a cyanide tablet. Suddenly Kitty realizes she’s in big trouble.  She held a flight attendant at gun point, stolen her identity, then brought an illegal weapon into a foreign country, and hot wired a car.  She pulls over to the side of the road to think.  As she does, a US Military Officer pulls up behind her to see if he can help her.  She escapes down an embankment, as the Officer approaches her car, she steals his jeep.  This gives me a perfect way of bringing in her backstory.
T
he second thing I have learned, is that as I am forging  scenes for future episodes pop into my head.  What I’ve decided to do, is to create a file, which I will call future scenes and write them when they hit me.  This way I can refer to them as I get them.  I called my last episode Riddle Wrapped Inside an Enigma.  When you least expect it that riddle is answered while you write.