Like meets Like writing game

This post is a minor break from my Nanowrimo – which has been going well by the way – thanks for asking. 🙂  but I hope you enjoy it.

So the game we played today in my Writing Group – was something I’ll call ‘Like meets Like’ – inspired by how film pitches to studio execs often begin with very simple ‘elevator pitch’ – to convey what your new idea might be like, by likening it to a previous successful movie idea, or changing the genre or the time setting:

Many successful / cult movies were pitched this way (and some not so successfully):

  1. ALIEN – “JAWS in space” – this very cleverly conjures up the isolation of being out in the middle of nowhere, paying a nod to the second half of JAWS, by taking the crew of a ship in space, fighting a man eating alien in close confines.
  2. ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 – was originally pitched as an exploitation / horror film, because the studios weren’t funding westerns – as RIO BRAVO in modern LA; where a homicidal gang that do not fear death, target the cops at a run down police station and mark them for death (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault_on_Precinct_13_(1976_film)
  3. OUTLAND – “HIGH NOON in space” – this takes the classic Western trope and transfers it to space, where a lawman (Sean Connery) decides to take a stand against corruption, despite the hired killers coming for him and the fact that everyone else is turning their back on him.

I’m sure there are many more better examples. I’d be pleased if you could share them with me 🙂

One other way to approach this is to compare two movie titles and see if they conjure up a film idea – this could be to reinvigorate a tired film idea and give it a new spin.

The film FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0116367/) – is a good example of what happens when you take a vampire movie and put it together with a heist / gangster movie. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE WITH ZOMBIES (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1374989/) is another.

So why do it?

It’s fun to put different things together to see what combinations may inspire different ideas. And you never know, some interesting plot variations might come out of this experimentation, at least you get you on the road towards fleshing out characters and situations. And to that end, try then taking that film title combination and then trying to work that up into a logline.

For example – I might say “It’s like JAWS meets DUMB AND DUMBER – a tale of three incredibly stupid men, attempting to capture and kill a mythical Megalodon Shark that’s targeting the population of a small island – and it’s far bigger and more dangerous than any Great White – only they’ve lost their boat, and they’re too dumb to know anything about hunting sharks.”

I’d love to know the proper name for this activity – if there is one. For now the name stays. 🙂 Please let me know if you can think of a more well known technique term for it though.

Here’s the two I came up with: (they need work 🙂 )

1. Think RAVENOUS meets ZERO DARK THIRTY – A darkly comic action/horror film about an alcoholic CIA operative, recovering from a botched mission that went fatally wrong, who is forced to find the secret location of a cannibal cult, before they consume her kidnapped boss; the one person who stood by her in her hour of need. Ref: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt012…­ and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt179…­

2. Think REAR WINDOW meets L’APARTMENT – A drama / mystery / romance – about a bored advertising executive, recovering from an injury, who is forced to solve the murder he believes he witnessed, when spying on his new female neighbour; he’s already engaged to marry another woman. And he’s convinced that one of these women might be the killer. Ref: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt011…­ and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt004…­

The others in the group thought of an even better spin on the game, for the random factor, to throw different film names, genres into a hat and to pick them out at random. That way, no one has to struggle for good combinations to work with, but instead can just practice the technique when using ideas purely for fun and practise.

Why don’t you give it a try, in those moments when you might be short of inspiration? they don’t have to be keepers, those ideas that you’ll eventually pitch to an exec, in a Hollywood meeting, but they might help you practice starting to develop that elevator pitch – so that you can later take the meeting that launches your career.

Please let me know if this was useful – and if you prefer a variation, tell me what works for you. And also, especially in time for next year’s Nanowrimo, why not use this technique to inspire your next novel plot.

50K Nanowrimo2014 target achieved – what Next?

So – as of yesterday at 11:11pm I managed to hit my #nanowrimo2014 of 50,000 words just half way through the month! This has never happened to me before – considering the last time I did Nanowrimo I did exceed my target, but with only a few days to spare.

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 23.13.58

 

I was both ecstatic when it happened, but also feeling all kinds of strange feelings, elation, mixed with despair (‘What would I do with myself now?’) and also heightened by a large weight having been removed from my shoulders. So I tweeted:

Then I made sure my baby was backed up (on my hard drive, USB stick, to Drop Box and to One Drive – paranoid? Who me?) and went out for a walk in the brisk Stockholm night air, to calm down, and do some thinking as I wandered the almost abandoned night streets. I had two questions to answer – how had I felt the process had gone and what to do next?

So how had I managed to complete the challenge so quickly?

This is the first Nanowrimo – or the first time during any writing project! – that I have planned in advance. I am a classic pantser. I have tried planning / outlining and structuring before and never completed it. Usually I get distracted quicker than a dog at a fire hydrant museum and after a few dedicated hours of effort I drift off and find myself starting to write. But this time I was relatively steadfast and forced myself to spend a good month and a half planning (I’ll explain more about the process I’m using later). I didn’t complete the planning in time, but I did manage to at least set up a separate scrivening scene for every idea or scene I wanted to cover in my novel. I also managed to assign meta data in Scrivener to every scene – so I could use the status of the files to find out which ones needed working on, if I decided not to work in a linear fashion and jump around – and I knew which characters were in which scene and what time of day the scene took place, in case I wanted to kill characters or merge scenes or basically move things around. I would know at a glance if my ideas would work. I would also be able to easily filter based on specific criteria and jump to any scene I wanted.

The main thing that helped me – but I also found to be a creativity limiting factor – was having a feature film script already prepared previously. I had basically taken a script and taken the scene information and used that as the basis for my planning. So in most cases I had a good idea of what the scene was about and where it should go. Here’s an extract from the first page of the script:

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 11.30.44

(I will explain more about the process of taking a script back into Scrivener – from Final Draft – and breaking it down for adaptation purposes, in another later post)

So, with that level of detail you’d think it would be a breeze right?  Well I found that when my fingers wanted to dance across the keys and I wanted to write the scene in a fresh creative way, I’d often be trapped into a mindset where often all I could see was the original scene in my head. It was tough sometimes, when my energy levels were lower, to be able to see the way it should flow from a novel view point, maybe to see the scene from a character’s perspective, rather than the viewer’s perspective – which after all is how a script is written. The script is far from perfect. In fact I had wanted to do a complete rewrite on important sections of the plot to fix it – because I realised later in the process, that I had started to rewrite, making brutal changes to the plot and not finished the job or tidied up after myself by leaving detailed notes about where my mind was at the time. So there are massive chunks that conflict with previous scenes or that were just plain missing! But the real positive I found for me, when I felt like I was really writing and in that creative flow, was when whole new scenes would flow from my fingers and onto the page, or I’d see the scene in greater and fresher detail, and I’d wonder how I’d missed key details when I was writing the scenes of the original script!

And work was also a factor – this was the first year that work was not absolutely insane for me. I am between main gigs, looking for work contracts as a freelancer, and purely through scheduling issues with certain projects starting, I found myself with a window to devote almost entirely to Nanowrimo. I’d have to spend a few hours each day on work related stuff for the most part, with only the odd insanely demanding day, but mostly I was able to force myself to focus on the novel – in between conversations with my partner, trying to keep fit, housework and cooking, and socialising. And I did have to force myself – especially when having to deal with my insomnia or illness. It’s not fun writing when your heart isn’t in it and you feel like crap and you can barely think straight. in fact I did have a few days of terrible performance; but never a day when I didn’t write a single word! When you read all those inspirational articles on writing you find that the one central and great truth is that writing is a [mental] muscle. You have to work it hard, flex it and get it used to hard work. it has to be developed. Then, when you have to dig deep inside for a small grain of something, to put onto a page in your moment of need, things like ‘writer’s block’ rarely are a genuine blockage.

In fact, I hope that such effort can be maintained. I hope that I can plan more. I hope that I can force myself to write each day – as I’ve done – to continue to develop that muscle activity.

So what will I do next?

I was almost toying with writing a second novel, over the rest of Nanowrimo, to see how far I could get with more pantsing. lol As I do love writing and I’m not short of other ideas. But I think that I will continue with this novel – I still have more to write. I’m guessing around 10K more. But I am still in the end of a slightly bloated Act Two, so there is definitely more work to be done.

Once that is done – i still have various planning activities to do – like finish constructing the maps of my locations, finish defining my characters – their backstory, timelines and motivations – so that I can really nail these details when I next come to work on the rewrite / second draft. Those activities will definitely keep me busy.

For anyone else still in this journey with me – stay strong! You’re awesome! I’ve already seen three people fall by the way side, unable to see the challenge through. The fact that you’ re doing this is great. There were plenty of times when I wanted to give up on this foolhardy quest. Of course I’d much rather be drinking and going to parties, than sitting staring at a screen, or cursing my neighbours for having a party when I very much needed sleep after a tough writing day. Or having nice dreams instead of the blood-soaked visions of torture that bled through from the page into my subconscious in the rare moments when I did sleep. There were days when I hated what I was writing and wanted to jump onto another idea, or do anything else, like scrub an oven, rather than stare at a page – even with knowing for the most part what I was to write! Keep at it people!

For me, I’m going for another walk, then I’m going to get comfortable and I am going to get me another 2.5K under my belt before the end of the day. If I don’t, something bad is going to happen. I know this because my harsh taskmaster of a brain tells me this. He says that if you want to open door no.2 you’ll get a nasty surprise. Go through door no. 1 and don’t be foolish. I think I’ll take his advice. I can hear the claws on the other side of door no.2 and I don’t fancy meeting what’s on the other side.