Gen Con Writer’s Symposium 2013, Saturday in Review

WKS1345346 (Fiction Fundamentals Part 3: Putting on the Polish on Sat at 08:00 AM – 3 hours)
Lawrence Connolly, William Horner III
“In-depth workshop: learn how to make your story sing through application of effective revision and editing techniques.”

I was really sorry to miss this workshop because the other two these guys did on Thursday and Friday were so useful. I was feeling pretty under the weather Saturday morning, so I didn’t make it to this one. I’m hoping to get the handouts for this one from Horner on the internet, because the others were pretty great and I’ve already tacked them up to my bulletin board and started reviewing my outlines for two projects.

SEM1345284 (Exploring Genres: Urban Fantasy on Sat at 11:00 AM)
Richard Byers, Jennifer Brozek, Lucy Snyder, Larry Correia
“We teach you the tips and tricks you’ll need to write amazing urban fantasy stories.”

The urban fantasy genre is pretty popular right now, and in addition to that one popular storyline about sparkly vampires, there are a decent number of women writing in the genre — most of them writing stuff that’s not quite as silly as the sparkly vampires. Such a cool idea; supernatural in the city, in a landscape we recognize and understand. Lots of superhero comics are pretty much urban fantasy genres; interesting to see it take shape in novel form. Lots of the discussion surrounded setting; do you take a real city and transform it, copy and rename it, shift it’s landscape around? All of those are interesting strategies for world building in this genre.

SEM1345353 (Writer’s Craft: Dialogue, it is not just people talking! on Sat at 12:00 PM)
Maxwell Alexander Drake
“In-depth seminar: join author Maxwell Alexander Drake as he gives you some insights on how to craft dialogue.”

Drake is a pretty entertaining lecturer and although I knew most of what he covered in this seminar, I went to see him present again. I’m encouraged that my dialogue is already pretty damned solid and doesn’t hit any of the “don’ts” on the list.

WKS1345350 (Writer’s Craft: Schrödinger’s Plot on Sat at 01:00 PM)
Brad Beaulieu
“In-depth seminar: master plotting techniques, from basic structural concepts to plotting to breaking writer’s block.”

I took four different seminars on plot, and got something good from all of them, which is pretty cool. Brad’s turned around the idea that there’s not one potential answer but many about the direction your story could go.

SEM1345301 (Writer’s Craft: Screenwriting for Novelists on Sat at 02:00 PM)
Lou Anders
“Learn how novelists can apply Hollywood screenwriting techniques to enhance character, plot & theme.”

Lou really needed more time, because he had to move really quickly through his material. Fascinating stuff; he took a number of popular movies and made you identify the protagonist, antagonist and relationship characters, and it was a nice exercise in critical thinking about character motivation and how conflicting motivations drive the plot. I realized that in my own work I probably have too many characters and have pretty murky motivations for them that need to be more clearly defined in my head so that I can be more clear about what I’m writing and what I’m holding back on as my stories unfold.

learn the rules

Supergirl First

The case for why DC should tackle a Supergirl movie before a Wonder Woman movie.

I wrote a little bit a few weeks ago about the importance of getting the Wonder Woman storyline right when she is written in comics, books, television and movies. If I had a huge ego, I’d say the folks at DC Comics read what I wrote, (I’m sure they didn’t!) because Diane Nelson, new President of DC Comics just came out with a statement about writing Wonder Woman for the big screen in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter on DC Comics movie strategy over the next several years.

Nelson: We have to get her right, we have to. She is such an icon for both genders and all ages and for people who love the original TV show and people who read the comics now. I think one of the biggest challenges at the company is getting that right on any size screen. The reasons why are probably pretty subjective: She doesn’t have the single, clear, compelling story that everyone knows and recognizes. There are lots of facets to Wonder Woman, and I think the key is, how do you get the right facet for that right medium? What you do in TV has to be different than what you do in features. She has been, since I started, one of the top three priorities for DC and for Warner Bros. We are still trying right now, but she’s tricky.

I agree there are some pretty high stakes in getting a Wonder Woman movie off the ground. Unfortunately due to the world we live in, a failed Wonder Woman movie would be seen as the inability to sell any female superhero. Batman can bomb and get more movies. Superman can choke and still get another reboot. But Wonder Woman wouldn’t get another shot if her movie failed, because no one would be willing to take a critical look at why the movie failed; they’d just chalk it up to “women’s stories don’t sell” even though that would almost certainly not be the problem.

I don’t think the story line of Wonder Woman is all that tricky, really. For one thing – start without an origin story. Just drop her into the action – In medias res, kicking butt and taking names. Then make small references to her origin story where it’s absolutely needed, and leave the rest up in the air. Let it be a mystery you fill in about movie 2 or 3. Wouldn’t that be a fresh take on a superhero movie? Start by showing, not telling, and from the point of view of the average person on the street, who wouldn’t know or care about what’s going on on Mount Olympus, but who does give a crap about what’s happening around them.

Stop talking about gods and goddesses (especially when they get them all wrong) and just have Wonder Woman work on some issue of global injustice, especially one that relates to women. Also drop the “female superheroes get female super villains” trope (which I REALLY need to devote a whole blog post to!) and have her fighting some patriarchal cultural problem with male bad guys. Because look at the reality of the world – 85% of the time, the bad guys are men.

Go back to “the Amazons are alive and they’re good guys” stories of the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman era, but wait to reference why she left the island and all that until future movies. Then go back to the “clay baby” origin story, and the Perez origin story in particular. Compelling story lines could be made with those elements, without rubbing anyone – most especially me and other feminists – the wrong way. And really, for Batman and Superman, it’s important to tell their origin stories, because they’re pretty big babies, full of angst and woe. Wonder Woman is strong and confident and capable and doesn’t need an emotionally unstable childhood to explain her frame of reference.

Nothing is tricky about all that. What’s tricky is that there are a bunch of men involved in DC Comics who really don’t want any of those story lines to happen, because they’re pretty sexist and can’t manage to reconcile good storytelling, what the public wants to see in a superhero movie, and what they need to uphold for the integrity of Wonder Woman as a cultural icon. That’s not a problem with Wonder Woman; that’s a failure of imagination with DC Comics staff. If I were a betting sort of girl, I’d bet that the Joss Whedon story that got canned was something along the lines of what I outlined above. (I am a betting sort of girl, BTW.)

I kind of agree that I’d rather not see them bomb with Wonder Woman. So I’ve been writing in every comments section I can find about what I think they should do – start with another female character. Specifically; start with Supergirl.

Supergirl by Chillyplasma
Supergirl by Chillyplasma

There are some good reasons for doing it that way:

  1. Supergirl already had a fairly successful movie that people like many years ago.
  2. They just had a very successful Superman movie come out recently.
  3. Supergirl is pretty straightforward, if they use the very popular Candor/Identity origin story. The advantage of that would also be Angry Supergirl, and nothing is better than Angry Supergirl. If you’re writing Angry Supergirl, she can be “Ripley in Aliens” badass, and she could tackle a lot of cool global issues story lines.
  4. Casting would be easy, because they answer is a really obvious one: Dianna Agron. She looks the part, and she does Angry Face really well. She’s also a competent actress that could carry a movie if she’s given a consistent and well-written role, unlike anything she was handed on Glee.
  5. I love Supergirl almost as much as I love Batgirl, and slightly more than I love Wonder Woman. And everyone should make me happy at all times.
  6. A good Supergirl movie would set the stage for Wonder Woman nicely. You could do something interesting like just have Wonder Woman show up at the end of the movie to invite Kara Zor-El to hang out at Paradise Island for awhile, setting up the “in medias res” story for Wonder Woman that I outlined above.

Dianna Agron

Who knows, maybe the powers at DC Comics are reading my blog and some of these ideas will wind up on screen. Probably not. But I can dream.

How Movies Teach Manhood: Colin Stokes

More about this TED Talk:

When Colin Stokes’ 3-year-old son caught a glimpse of Star Wars, he was instantly obsessed. But what messages did he absorb from the sci-fi classic? Stokes asks for more movies that send positive messages to boys: that cooperation is heroic, and respecting women is as manly as defeating the villain.

Why you should listen to him:
Colin Stokes divides his time between parenting and building the brand of Citizen Schools, a non-profit that reimagines the school day for middle school students in low-income communities in eight states. As Managing Director of Brand & Communications, Colin helps people within the organization find the ideas, words and stories that will connect with more and more people. He believes that understanding the human mind is a force that can be used for good and seeks to take advantage of our innate and learned tendencies to bring out the best in each other and our culture.

Before starting a family, Colin was an actor and graphic designer in New York City. He starred in the long-running off-Broadway musical I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, as well is in several musicals and Shakespeare stagings. But he jokes that he seems to have achieved more renown (and considerably more revenue) for his brief appearances on two Law & Order episodes.

Pixar story rules

The Pixar Touch – history of Pixar – Blog – Pixar story rules (one version).

These are some fantastic story writing rules from Pixar Writer Emma Coats, as collected from her twitter feed.

Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.