Friday, July 20, 2007

Writers On-the-air Day 2

Day 2 began with a selection of 4 audio clips shared by Joe Medina, creator of the AFTERHELL series. The clips explored the defining conflicts that shape the plot. First up, THE ODYSSEY OF RUNYON JONES, a Norman Corwin piece that, to my mind, is a marriage of Kafka and The Cinnamon Bear - in a good way. Small boy seeks lost dog and is faced with the worst of adult bureacracy in tracking his poor Tootsie between Dog Heaven and "Curgatory." (You can purchase this on a CD of Norman Corwin stuff from The SFX in this piece were pretty incidental. The dialogue was all.

Next up, DR CHRISTIAN, a country doctor series starring Gene Hirshel (forgive my spelling). Written in 1937 or threabouts, a relaxed dialogue style leads us to realize the conflict is that local wife Charlotte's new found fame as published poet leads her to seek a divorce. Her husband just isn't interesting enough. Can Dr. Christian help, or is he too clueless?

Third clip, from the STAR WARS audio series, gives us a taste of a more modern, cinematic style - lots of SFX and music. Notable in that it focuses on setting up a central relationship between two characters who are friends, rather than the central conflict, although that is embedded in there. We talked about the differences in plot structure with an episodic series, and the nature of writing a story that people know, where you may be able to establish the conflict later because the audience knows what it is.

Finally, a clip from AFTERHELL, the Hotel Giallo (apologies - I may be getting the name of the episode wrong). Richly layered sound effects here. Conflict is immediately established as the tough boss announces, "The job isn't done." What job? Why isn't it done? Stay tuned, as gangster hitmen grapple with the impact of zombies on their profession.

Next, we went shared our descriptions of the central conflicts in our own pieces. There was a terrific range: vampire drama, postapocalyptic inner conflict, detectives in hell, dog detectives, intellectual terrorism experts race against time, man battles ambiguous forces without and within, angel special ops or a society in which a professor can be jailed for discussing his encounter with the almighty, cops track a serial killer, noire detective or holiday variety show, docudrama of Flight 305, reporter searches for mysterious vigilante (plays with unreliable narrator concept), man's inner voice is broadcast and takes over, teenage struggles of puberty become manifest thru sci-fi, cowgirl tries to save the ranch. Whew!

Finally, we drew visual representations of traditional plot structure, with, again, a wide range of images resulting. There were graphs, both linear and circular, flow charts ( "If short story, end here. If long story, repeat loop"), stick figures driving cars, gravesites and headstones, a bee collecting pollen, a man climbing a tree and fighting off agressors, ever-increasing peaks and valleys, a doorway leading to stairs. We talked about decisions an author makes - plot driven or character driven? tragedy or comedy? Or both, which may sometimes be the most interesting. We discussed the role of the "inciting incident" and the little conflicts along the way. What supports those smaller threshold moments? Some of the pictures looked at plot structure from the view of character and how character change occurs in a story. Some looked at it from the reader or audience perspective - how we collect information as we proceed through the story. We kicked around visions of the climax - an explosion? a tree? Fireworks? The nature of your piece affects the nature of that final climax. What type of resolution will you have? Or will it be ambiguous?

Rich conversation! The assignment for next week: Write about the following three key plot questions:
1-Who is your protagonist? Get to know them, likes, dislikes, etc.
2- What is the "inciting incident" or hook, the action or change that starts the ball rolling? Not sure? Try writing a sentence or two telling what your story is about. Find the first active verb in the sentence. That may be your hook.
3-What will your conclusion be? That is, how will your character and/or their world be different? Will they succeed, fail, give up?

See you next Wednesday!

1 comment:

  1. Just thought I'd take a break from worksheets and outlines to add some info here.

    Norman Corwin's Runyon Jones. The esteemed author/director/producer has a web presence at , but the 13 By Corwin 7-CD collection which contains this story isn't available there. Unfortunately their Order page links to the late lamented Lodestone Catalog. Not much help, Norm. Apparently it's either or go fish.

    Dr Christian: "The Steve & Charlotte Story." The star was Jean Hersholt, Heidi's grandfather in the Shirley Temple film. And if you listen to the whole episode, you might discover his Socratic technique for jerking people's chains. No, seriously.

    Star Wars radio series, part 1. I think we're working with different definitions of central conflict. Good vs bad is the central conflict of the movie, but we should focusing on radio. The central conflict is internal, human vs self. Obsess about the movie or the fx's, and you'll miss the overall.

    Afterhell: "Giallo Hotel, part 3." You got the gist of it, Cindy! That'll do just fine. The main reason this was in the mix for Day 2 (besides a command from the executive level) is how the central conflict is handled. You get a double dip of genres. First, it's crime drama. "The job isn't done." Then we throw in a twist. Zombies mobsters. Now it's horror. But regardless of the props, the central conflict remains the same. Relational, adversarial, what have you. Protagonist vs antagonist. Two forces in opposition. And yeah, plenty of fx. But trust me. It's good anyway. Really.


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