Soft Writing: The Basic Questions that Form Story

    For me, writing, ideas, everything to do with writing comes from asking two basic questions as often as necessary: 

    1) What if X?

    2) Why?

The project I’m currently outlining stems from such a question. What if the entire west coast of North America ran out of water? 

    The story stems from the answer to that question, which of course raises many other questions. What would happen? Would people stay? What kind of people? Why? How would they live?

    That project is currently titled “System Theory”. Memi said that title isn’t catchy enough. 

    Maybe she’s right.

    I like it because it encapsulates what the larger story is about. But, a title has to do many things, including be the first point at which people experience the movie. It’s got to say what the movie is, and it’s got to say that in a way that people understand.

That last part, understanding, is about audience. 

    I could name it “System Theory”, but how many people have any idea what system theory is? I’m pretty smart and I didn’t even find out about system theory until I was in my 20s and watched an independent movie called Mindwalk. I’ll probably find another title, but “System Theory” will work as a place-holder.

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    I have another problem I’m trying to solve with “System Theory”: I posted my previous movie “ALGORITHM” on Youtube. What I noticed is that most people watched 10 - 20 minutes of “ALGORITHM” in a single sitting. It’s possible they stopped watching after 20 minutes. It’s possible they switched to a different device, or that they resumed it later. But, 10 - 20 minutes is how much they tend to watch in a single sitting.

    The way Youtube pays is by letting me put commercials at the beginning and end of a video. I could also put them in the middle, but I think that detracts from the quality of the video. Why would I put so much work into making something good only to have it ruined by a commercial? 


    No commercials in the middle.

    The next logical step, then, is to have the project naturally have as many starts and stops as possible. That means a series. That means long-form content. That means I really get to explore characters and situations the way a novel does, the way many shows do now on TV.

    It also means MUCH more work than I’ve ever done before. It means writing a novel worth of material, but in a format that doesn’t allow for any fluff. It means creating scenes that imply a history and relationships and then exploring that history and those relationships in a way that implies much more history and many more relationships.

    I don’t know that I have that much in me. I don’t know how long it will take. I don’t know how big a project I can make without having the backing of some financial institution like a studio behind me. I can’t afford to hire a writing team, which is how the studios do it. I couldn’t afford to make “ALGORITHM” and I did it anyway, without going into debt.

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    I don’t like how women and minorities have been kept out of Hollywood. I’ve decided I’m going to make that an issue when I write/produce. “System Theory” is about a Latina, that’s a woman who appears to be from Central/South American descent.

    The more movies I watch, the more I see that roles for women are generally really bad. And roles for non-white people are also generally really bad, unless it’s under the guise of an ethnic show, which is lame. The breadth of a story shouldn’t be limited by the confines of antiquated ideologies.

    The benefit of writing a script that defies those standard constraints means I get access to actors who are in those categories and who want more than they’ve been offered as a result of those constraints. That means I get better actors willing to work on something riskier. That means the whole project gets better.

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    I like many of the stories I’ve written. Since I prefer to write stories as realistically as possible, that means they can all fit into a single realistic universe; they can all be connected. “System Theory” is connected to the world of “ALGORITHM”, and the stories that flow from “System Theory” will connect with the previous stories as well.

    An example: I wrote a script called “The Academy”, about a billionaire who funds a think-tank to solve the world’s energy crisis. The crisis arose when an eco-terrorist poisoned all the world’s oil wells with hyperthermophiles that convert oil to water.

    In “System Theory”, the oil companies decide to stay because the world still runs on fossil fuels and it’s profitable to stay. They ship in water and food to sustain their crews. But, the eco-terrorist poisons their wells, which means that the oil companies lose their reason to stay, which means there are even fewer people left in California.

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    Most dystopian movies imply the events that lead to the dystopia. With “System Theory” I really want to explore the causes of things. Why do things decay? Why would people chose to live in such decay? This brings up a lot of really interesting questions that I also want to explore.

    What keeps people going in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds? Are they just driven like me? Surely everyone can’t be like that. What about those other people? Why do they keep going? What are they willing to do to defeat those odds? What kind of morality emerges from such a situation?

    A subset of that last question, for me, leads to a cultural exploration of the nature of systematic disenfranchisement. Why do the poor live and act the way they do? Are gangs a social security mechanism that naturally arises simply for survival purposes? What differentiates the morality of gangs Vs. governments? How are gangs like tribes? And if they are like tribes, is it simply the size of the group that defines its moral justification? If so, what’s that say about the way we do life?

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    Right now, the main female character is W1. I don’t have a name and I have to distinguish her from others. W1 chooses to stay in the drought because she wants to be free of the gangs that have tormented her youth and hometown. However, circumstances eventually bring her to forming her own gang as a necessary means of survival.

    She becomes the very thing she despised.

*          *          *

    That’s where I’m at now. I have one scene written out (mostly). I have an idea of the major structure, but I need to do a lot of research: I don’t know how to survive in a desert climate. I’m going to have to figure that out. I don’t know a lot about gang sociology. I have to learn that too. There are a lot of things I need to learn. Good thing I love learning almost as much as I love imagining worlds.