Soft Writing: Finding the Right Story

    I just read my first entry for Making Movies. I wrote, “Writing a screenplay, for me, is really about finding the right story at the right time.” That’s  exactly how I feel right now. At the time I wrote that I had a complete screenplay that had been written and rewritten until it was really good. 

    I don’t have that now. 

    I have ideas. 

    I have to sift through the ideas and choose the right one. 

    I know the right one because of pattern recognition. Here’s the pattern:

    If the story idea instantly grabs me I stay with it to find the rest. What grabs me about a story? I haven’t heard it or anything really like it before. It makes me want to see what happens and how it happens. It is intellectually challenging to me. It makes me not only think about my thinking, but also forces me to question the way I think about things. It’s very different from what I’ve already done. If it does all those things I stay with the story.

    Is the story a story or is it a part of a story? The story I’ve been mentioning for past few entries, which I’ve been calling “Intelligence,” is a fascinating idea. But it ends in a way I don’t think I make believable. And, if it ends a different way, I’m not sure I want to make it because then it’s just a retelling of a story that’s already been told.

    Is the story junk but the character itself is interesting? That’s what happened with earlier versions of “ALGORITHM”. I wrote a script about a hacker ranting about how Facebook was screwing up. I shot it with Xander Jeanneret, who did an amazing job. Eventually the rant became just a rant, but the character, LU$er, he was someone I wanted to see more of.

    The next test is, is this story just an interesting story, or is it a movie. If it’s not a movie but is an interesting story, is there another visual way to tell the story? 

    Some stories have about 5 - 20 minutes of good content in them. While short films are a perfectly acceptable medium, the amount of work it takes me to start the machine up and make a movie of any length, it’s not worth it to me to do that for a short film any more.

    The story must be big enough that it will last for at least 90 minutes. I won’t go to the theater to see anything shorter than 90 minutes. The only exception I have to this rule is the anime “Ghost in the Shell,” which is still one of my favorite movies. I know a movie’s length by pattern recognition. I’ve spent enough time writing that I can recognize when a story will go for a full movie and when it will only be shorter.

    And then there’s “Drought,” or whatever it will end up being called. This world is vast. There’s way too much story to tell in 90 minutes. It fits into a category that’s no longer really marketable called the miniseries. The only place I know about that still makes miniseries is HBO, and the only miniseries they’ve made, that I’m aware of, are “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.” I suspect the only reason they made those is because Tom Hanks’s production company produced them.

*          *          *

    I can’t find the ending to “Intelligence”.

    Because I can’t find the ending, I’ve decided to put it on the shelf for a little while to see if anything comes of it. I don’t have high expectations. It’s possible that the impetus for the story, the emergence of advanced/strong/self-aware AI will fit into another story. That’s probably what will happen with it.

    It’s not a movie without an ending.

    It’s a story fragment.

    That leaves a creative vacuum in me that was instantly filled again with “Drought”. Everyone I tell the story of “Drought” to loves it. It fits every single criteria of the pattern. It’s also a miniseries, which is the next form I want to explore.

    The problem I have with it is that it feels immature, mostly because Jezebel ends by starting an all-female gang. That idea is straight out the 70’s era exploitation movies.

    It was fun then, but it’s not good enough for me.

    I assumed that because the ending was immature that the whole story was immature; that’s not the case. 

    The story is the most complex and in-depth story I’ll have told to-date. If the problem isn’t the character or the story, if the problem is just the ending, that can be fixed. Right now I have Jezebel ending as a community organizer, which is kinda like a gang leader, but not so trite.

*          *          *

    The problem with working by myself is that I’m pretty much my only sounding board. The reason that’s a problem is that it’s hard to tell when I’m lying to myself. It takes time for me to see the truth of the thing.

    I’m afraid of “Drought” because of how much I don’t know and because I have no idea where to start to learn it. That fear of not knowing the next step created an emotional reaction, which my logical mind instantly tried to justify in some way that I would accept and thus keep me from the emotional danger.

*          *          *


    Excuse me while I digress for a moment and explore an idea that’s only tangentially related to writing “Drought”.    

    My subconscious just told me there’s an unexplored pattern here that deserves closer attention.

    What if emotions are the logic of the subconscious? In other words, the subconscious recognizes patterns faster than my conscious mind and sees what historically has been the outcome of this pattern. That’s to say nothing of all the information that’s getting filtered out of my perceptions so even that data can be understood by my conscious mind.

    My conscious mind can only handle so much data. It’s only got one limited processor or core. That core can only accept so much information at a time. So the subconscious mind sorts and filters for us. We know this to be true (in as much as Science allows us to “know” anything). Cognitive Psychology explores this “mental filtering” quite well. 

    Since my conscious mind can’t accept the fullness of the truth of the subconsciously recognized pattern at the speed in which it must be delivered and processed, that full pattern can only be transferred to my conscious mind indirectly, by way of emotions. Our conscious mind reacts to emotions far more rapidly than it does to reason.

    This is a fascinating idea that I want to explore a lot more.

*          *          *

    Fear is an effective motivator, but leads to a lot of mistakes and doesn’t work in the long-term. I don’t like to live in fear. Fear leads to adrenaline, which over the long-term, does real damage to my body. Short term-fear and the resulting adrenaline has saved my life many times. Emotions are good things. But to live in emotions without the constraints of reason is insanity.

    I’m not really afraid of death, and death is most people’s biggest fear. So, whenever I see fear, if there’s no immediate danger, I look at the fear and try and figure out why I’m afraid. I’m able to do this because I faced my fear on the floor of Best Buy, as I mentioned in the previous entry. I saw it for the hollow thing it is.

*          *          *

    The short summary of this post is that I’m no longer working on “Intelligence” and I’m back to “Drought.”

    I have an appointment with my herbalist in 27 minutes so that’s it for this entry.