If I’ve been rather quiet lately it’s because I’ve had my nose to the grind writing, writing and more writing. After four rather intense weeks, the mentorship program came to an end Tuesday. It’s been an interesting experience to work one on one with such an accomplished writer and author.
As I’ve said before, he was very tough about pointing out flaws that needed to be fixed and he really pushed me to make the story better. Looking back over the story, I’m amazed how much it has evolved from what it was originally.
He gave me some nice compliments and told me I was a good writer. For someone who is a beginner at this that was nice to hear. He also said that he liked that I was strong about my piece and that I stick to my guns, but that I’m also willing to change. That was one of the nicest compliments he could have given me because I’m a big believer in standing up for myself when appropriate, but also yielding when the situation warrants it.
So what did I fight for? And what did I concede on?
Structure was a big issue. The structure of my story needed work and he quickly pointed it out. I was introducing the main character (Vince’s character) way too late in the story. Even though I really loved how I started the story, it just wasn’t working. As a writer, you learn that nothing is “precious” and sometimes you have to be willing to let go of really good scenes if they’re just not working. That can be very painful. Fortunately, I was able to figure out a way to pull Vince’s character into the story earlier and still keep a lot of what I loved about the opening scenes.
It really improved the story but, unfortunately, didn’t fully please my mentor. Here’s where we had a difference of opinion. You see, I, in my admittedly limited writing experience, learned to write using the traditional three-act structure. For those of you unfamiliar with that structure, the first act basically sets up the characters and their world, the second act usually starts when the main character is confronted with a conflict, and the third act is the resolution of that conflict. That’s how I learned it. That’s how most people learn it.
However, it turns out that my mentor is a bit of a maverick when it comes to story structure. He doesn’t teach the traditional three-act structure. He wanted me to start with the event that changed Vince’s character’s life. No introduction. No set up. Just have the event happen and go. (Hmm…did I just give out too much info and you were able to guess who he is?)
Problem was I just couldn’t see how to make that work. For one, we are asking you, the I-Man (Invisible Man) audience, to take actors that you’ve seen before on a TV show that you love and get used to them playing different characters. It’s not that I don’t think you’re capable of doing that, not at all. It’s just that I feel you need to have a chance to get to know these new characters a bit. Otherwise, why would you even care about what happens to them?
Also, doing it his way would mean that I would have had to get rid of the introduction of Paul, Shannon, Eddie, and Mike’s characters in the opening. Umm…Last time I checked I was doing a film that features an entire cast, not just one actor. I feel strongly about giving each cast member a vital role, even with Vince being the lead. So while I was trying to explain about how great the cast’s chemistry is and how I want to make sure that that was played up, he was trying to get me to focus more on Vince’s character to the detriment of the other characters. I stuck to my guns on this issue.
As a fan who has been around the I-Man fandom since the beginning, I think I have a pretty good idea of a lot of the qualities that we fans loved about I-Man. Obviously, and unfortunately, I can’t copy the story of I-Man. But I can use some of the those qualities as inspiration for this new story. One of the things that I think we can all agree on was the great chemistry the cast had together. I think it would be a mistake to write a story that didn’t play that up. Don’t you?
I, also, want to make sure there is a mixture of both humor and drama in the movie…what is often called a dramedy. But for some reason, my mentor seemed to always pick on the humor. I wonder if he dislikes comedy?
Another issue we disagreed on was the main character’s arc. I’m a big believer that characters need some kind of inner conflict. Just think how ordinary I-Man would have been if it had focused only on the invisibility and the “mission” of the week. What if Darien didn’t have to struggle with Quicksilver Madness? Or the threat of becoming immune to the Counteragent? Or being forced to work for the Agency when all he really wanted was his freedom? Well, then the show would have turned into one of those bad generic sci-fi shows that are quickly cancelled (Jake 2.0 anyone?). But because Matt Greenberg gave the character such a compelling inner struggle, we cared about Darien.
So I didn’t agree when he wanted me to focus on the outer conflict and strip away all the character’s inner conflicts. Too many sci-fi films and TV shows tend to focus on the cool visual effects, the sci-fi “world,” and saving the day and forget that what we are really doing is following a character through his or her adventures. If we don’t care about what happens to the character, then the story just becomes a series of events. And who cares about that?
One of the challenges when writing sci-fi is the new “world” that is created and how to explain all the rules and “science.” And I’m not just talking about sci-fi that takes place on other planets and involves interplanetary travel and aliens. No, sci-fi is much broader in scope than that. I-Man, for example, had rules about the invisibility, the gland, the Quicksilver Madness, etc. that had to be explained in order for us viewers to be able to understand the story. Likewise, with the story I’m writing there are all kinds of rules and “science” that the audience needs to learn in order to understand what is going on.
Where I fell short was in explaining the “science” behind the story. Upon reading my first outline, my mentor had a ton of questions. I didn’t explain it well enough. But because my mentor doesn’t like a lot of exposition, he also didn’t like it when I tried to put those explanations into the dialog. The challenge has been how to show it instead of tell it and I’m still working on that problem.
So while the story has come a long ways, it still has a ways to go. I’m taking a bit of a break from it because I received the second draft of the first writer’s treatment on Thursday. Now I need to go through it again with a fine toothcomb. But this time I have coverage from two story analysts to help me.
A couple of weeks ago I traveled to Emeryville and sat down with the former Pixar story analyst and a local executive producer and we discussed the story. Getting this kind of feedback is a great check for me. It helps me to see if my newly-honed instincts are correct about the story or if they are off. For the most part, most of the issues I saw with the story, he saw. And, not surprisingly, he saw some things that I missed. So now, armed with feedback from two analysts, I need to get busy and write my notes. They are due by the first of January.
Also due around the same time is the first draft of the second writer’s treatment. After I receive it and look it over, I’ll be sending it on to the analysts for coverage. I also hope to have my treatment ready for coverage at the same time. So I need to get busy and get back to writing. Break time is over!