#Follow Character Bios, part 2

The last three featured characters in the pilot of #Follow:

Eric Dunphy –

Eric is more than just best friend and business partner to Connor. He’s an artist, a dreamer. Where Connor provides the business sense, Eric is the idea generator. Though he’s had no formal training or schooling, he is extremely intuitive and talented when it comes to creating new software, and channels the rest of his imagination into his painting and sculpture work. Eric has long pined for Bree, but she has always been unavailable and even a little distant at times. He’s never really liked Doug very much — he thought their group was better without him, but since everyone else seems to like having him around, he tolerates him.

Bree Sanders –

Bree fancies herself a party girl with limits. She’s put her ‘crazy’ days behind her, but she still loves to drink and have fun with her friends. Lately she’s been feeling like something is missing in her life, but she really can’t imagine what it is. After all, she has a great job – she’s written a couple of chick-lit books and spends a lot of time on the lecture circuit. A boyfriend would be a distraction, but that doesn’t keep her from going out and having a good time (or an occasional hookup).

Doug Litwiller –

Doug met this circle of friends more recently. He loved their adventurous spirit and enthusiasm for traveling together and having fun. He’s only been around for a couple of years, and if you were to ask him how he met the group, he’d probably tell you that he feels like he’s always known them. In truth, no one else really remembers when he started hanging out with them either…

Posted under writing

This post was written by Shawna on March 24, 2011

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“Glee”ful no more.

I’m done with GLEE.  This may be the most controversial thing I’ve written in awhile.

Yes, I started out on the train, right from last fall.  I was inspired by their rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin'” but since the break, I feel the show has gone 0 for 3 in making me feel as charmed as I did a few months ago.

Problem #1 TOO MANY SONGS

I know.  It seems blasphemous on the surface to even say that, but the last three episodes have been nonsensically stuffed to the gills with songs.  The Madonna themed episode can be somewhat excused, but really – what the hell did the “Vogue” video have to do with telling that story?  NOTHING.  It was there because the writers wanted it to be.

As we (should) all know, you don’t put things in a story just because you as the writer want them to be there.  It has to make sense for the story and for the characters.  The Sue Sylvester video, while cool and interesting, didn’t serve any real purpose for the show. 

I wouldn’t mind the number of songs per episode if they didn’t feel so obviously jammed in there now.  For some reason they’ve felt the need to really try to tie the songs together thematically much closer to the story, so now you get “here are some songs about saying ‘Hello’ while we are meeting new characters” or “here are some songs about ‘Home’ while our characters try to figure out where their homes are’ (metaphorically, of course.  Rachel didn’t suddenly get lost in town and couldn’t find her house).  The Madonna theme was even a stretch, though I understood why they did it.

Let’s break out the songs from one of the first episodes and compare with the songs in the most recent episode: 

Episode 2 (we’ll start with it, since it’s more indicative of the show I came to enjoy than the pilot):

“Say a Little Prayer”
“Take a Bow”
“Gold Digger”
“Push It”

That’s, on average, one song per act.  Yes, there are one or two other songs used in the episode, but not as full songs or only in the background.  Now, here’s what we got this week with Episode 16:

“A House is Not a Home”
“One Less Bell to Answer”
“Fire”
“Beautiful”
“Home”

On the surface this doesn’t seem like a big difference (only one additional song, right?) except that “A House is Not a Home” also got a HUGE reprise in “One Less Bell to Answer.”  Also, think about it from a number of minutes standpoint.  In episode 2, they spent, approximately, 12 minutes in songs.  Of course there’s some story stuff going on while they are singing, but at least two of the songs are just sung in the classroom or on the stage as show numbers, not as part of the narrative.  In episode 16, there was singing for nearly 18 minutes!  Out of 42 minutes, that is a HUGE chunk of time your characters are not talking or furthering the story.  There is so little dialog in fact, that the episode feels loosely strung together as opposed to intricately weaved.  Storylines which should all come together seem to wander off.  The strongest story for Episode 16 was regarding Kurt and Finn’s single parents dating each other (which, I like the idea of, in theory, but there being absolutely NO setup for this narrative thread was annoying and distressing).  That story kept getting bogged down with songs that really seemed to not deal with the issues of that story – that is, Finn moving on from mourning his dead father and Kurt feeling left out of the male bonding Finn has with Kurt’s dad.  Those are powerful, interesting character reactions, and yet they are given short shrift because, at least by the show’s logic, it’s more important that we find a way to work Kristen Chenowith back into the story (after her one and done episode felt pretty played out already), and allow her to sing 2 duets with Matthew Morrison.  Really?  I like the adults, but I thought this show was about the kids??

Problem #2 THEY HAVE FORGOTTEN WHO THEIR CHARACTERS ARE AND HOW THEY SHOULD BEHAVE

The bigger sin than there being too much singing, is that the characters aren’t acting like their established selves, and they haven’t actually been given good justification or reason to suddenly act differently.  Detailing all of the ways the characters have shifted in just 3 episodes could take all day, but I’ll just point out one: There is no way on God’s green Earth that Diana Agron’s Quinn would reach out to Mercedes.  Suddenly the evil cheerleader is nice to her?  NO. WAY.  They’ve established that Quinn’s a conniving itch with a B, and yet now she’s all sunshine and light because she’s pregnant?  What the hell planet are the (male) writers living on?  She may have some sympathy, but it’s almost character whiplash to change her so significantly so quickly.  If there hadn’t been a 3 month long break halfway into the season, I think the character differences would be even MORE noticeable.  Not to mention, there’s always been a certain level of silliness to the show (which I happily accepted) – like somehow Mr. Shue not uncovering Teri’s fake pregnancy for as long as that went on (I mean, come ON), but I gave the show a pass because it had been pretty entertaining anyway.

I guess I’m all out of passes now.

I like Sue Sylvester – she’s my favorite character of the show – the writers obviously love writing her lines, and she always has the best ones.  In fact, when they gave Shuster a “good” comeback for Sue, it actually felt out of character for him (worse they couldn’t settle for one comeback, they gave him two about her hair).  Worse, it didn’t work for HER character — she’s hurt that he made fun of her hair?? Seriously?  That is NOT how the character has been established.  I love the depth they’ve given Jane Lynch to work with, but the blackmailing story is so silly it isn’t even dignified for her to play it for more than one episode.

Problem #3 SOME CHARACTERS HAVE COMPLETELY DISAPPEARED (SO FAR)

Ken Tanaka?  MIA except for a brief mention in Episode 14, the first one back from the break.  The man was LEFT AT THE ALTAR!!  And they haven’t dealt with that?  This is the problem of not keeping track of all of your characters in an ensemble and giving them fair treatment.  What about Teri?  She was also in Episode 14, but nowhere to be found in 15 or 16.  That’s a long time to not have any contact with a character who played a pretty vital role in the first half of the season.  Even Emma (Jayma Mays) had no lines in Episode 16, and she has a pretty big story going on herself – she left Tanaka at the aisle and started (almost) dating Shuster.

On the flipside…

Problem #4 THERE ARE TOO MANY CHARACTERS

The mix they had going into the break was good.  The snarky cheerleader spies Santana and Brittany were great for small bits, but now they are getting expanded roles.  Why?  In part, because they were so great in the small bits, the writers want to use them more.  The downside is the more ‘gay shark’ lines you let Brittany say and the more you let Santana take over the Quinn bitchiness, the less time you have for all those other characters.  It’s no wonder they are starting to get lost in the shuffle.  Like the poor Asian girl (who, I actually couldn’t remember her name as I was typing this) – Tina!  She already has a tough time establishing herself as one of the ‘minor’ characters.  She certainly doesn’t need anyone else eating into her screentime.  The actress, Jenna Ushkowitz, was the one person on the Paley Festival panel WHO DIDN’T GET ASKED A QUESTION. AT ALL.  That’s just wrong.  You don’t make the person sit on the stage with 10 of your coworkers (or however many were there) and then not ask her at least one question.  I felt so bad for her.

Problem #5 STOP WITH THE TOKENISM

It’s one thing to have diversity.  It’s another to consciously choose that diversity so that those characters become emblems or symbols…poor Tina is ‘token Asian girl’ and as much as the show would like to say, ‘hey, she’s not REALLY the token Asian girl – look! We didn’t give her good grades or some other horrible stereotype!’ She’s still there to make use of the fact that she’s ‘the token Asian girl’ in stories.  It’s ridiculous.  It all needs to stop.  Focusing an episode on each person’s issues/problems/whatever is fine, but when it gets to the point that we don’t really know who they are and what they’re doing there, it just gets stupid.  Finn is a great character.  Did he have to be white to be that character?  Nope.  But that’s who he is.  But Artie? — so far, Artie is defined by his wheelchair.  What’s weird is that the characters sometimes know this about themselves (as do the writers – they put it into their dialog all the time).  In the Madonna episode, Mercedes felt she was only being given small solos in songs so she could sing the power notes at the end… AND SHE’S RIGHT!  She’s had one or two solos on the show now, but usually her singing is to hit a particularly bluesy/soul/ power phrase in a song.  So, if the writers know this is how they are using their characters, why do they keep doing it?

I think they want to stop.  I think that’s why they’ve started changing up the character reactions to things…but unfortunately, those reactions aren’t organic to the characters as they have been established (see Problem #2).  It’s just a mess.

Problem #6 SUBTLETY IS NOT AN OPTION

This show doesn’t know nuance.  It doesn’t know how to make a theme interesting and tie together multiple storylines without hammering you on the head.  As I mentioned earlier, the theme of ‘Home’, that is, finding your own sense of home was so muddled and weird and made no sense, the characters had to keep saying ‘Home’ in lines of dialog just so it would make sense.  The effect: Like someone striking me repeatedly with a SLEDGEHAMMER.  When your characters keep stating your theme, it is no longer interesting, clever storytelling.  It is insulting your audience.  I don’t care if the themes are good or powerful – I know the show wants to be a positive force for kids – but kids are smarter than this show gives them credit for.  Hell, Disney Channel shows do theme better than this!  Kids do not need to be texted (modern telegraphing) WHAT THE EPISODE IS ABOUT.  They’ll figure it out without the characters telling them.

I thought my annoyance at the first two episodes back was an anomaly, but when this week’s episode was EVEN WORSE than the two before it, I knew I was ready to jump off the GLEE train.  Which is sad, because I really enjoyed it, but I think they learned the wrong lessons as to what was making the show work and what wasn’t.  Maybe this will change in future episodes and they’ll find their rhythm again.  All I know is I’m not going to jump to watch GLEE on my DVR as I did before — it has moved down the priority list pretty far.

So, what say you?  Do you still love it?  Did you EVER love it?  Am I out of my skull?  Inquiring minds and all that.

Posted under analysis, writing

This post was written by Shawna on April 29, 2010

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Throwing rocks

So apparently, I really am anti-torture. (Yes, I’m ignoring the fact I’ve been ‘gone’ a month right now. The Muse calls.)

Anti-Torture in that I like my protagonists too much. I find it difficult to create obstacles for them.

That’s kind of a problem when you are trying to tell a story. Let’s look at it this way:

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Goldilocks. One day she walked into the house of a family of bears. She sized up all of her options for chairs and selected the one which was the right size for her frame. Judging the temperature of the bowls, she chose the porridge that was perfectly heated, and finally she identified a bed which was of ideal comfort in which to sleep.

When the bears got home, they were totally cool with this blonde chick crashing in their house. The End.

Hm. Not much of a story. Without the trial and error of each decisions she makes and the family chasing her out of the house at the end, really no conflict. No cause for concern for our protagonist.

This is a recurring problem for me. I always seem to have a protagonist who breezes through their story…hardly any conflict or tough decisions to make. They never really face high stakes or worry that they are making the wrong decision. They are just so darn smart.

Obviously, I recognize the problem and am doing my best to fix it. I’m just wondering, do you ever have that problem in your writing, and how do you address it?

Posted under writing

This post was written by Shawna on March 24, 2009

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Realizing what you already know

There are a lot of things we as writers already know. We just don’t know that we know those things.

At the Rossio and Elliot panel last night, they talked about characters having differing points of view (their example was Shrek — how Shrek is ‘ok’ and knows he’s ok (as in, how he feels about himself as an…ogre) which is very different than Fiona who is ‘ok’, but thinks she’s not. Anyway, by having each character with a different view (oh and Donkey is very much NOT ok) it sets up instant conflict.

This discussion somehow spun into dialogue, how to create good dialogue. Terry mentioned how he goes from Tia Dalma (in POC:vDead Man’s Chest) asking “Are you all ready to get Jack Sparrow?” to what she *actually* says. He also threw in the idea of knowing what the character of the scene is. The scene is about throwing down a challenge to this group (to set up the next movie) — think of it like Survivor, where Jeff Probst gathers the contestants and then tells them about their next task. Tia’s line becomes a challenge — “Are you ready to do what it takes to get Jack Sparrow?” which becomes this:

TIA DALMA
Would you do it?
(to all of them)
What would you do, would any of you, be willing to do? Would you sail to the ends of the earth and beyond to fetch back Witty Jack and his precious Pearl?

Cleary Terry and Ted find ways to use the vernacular of the character to spice up the line, but as it reads it evokes emotion and character far better than “so are you ready to go get Jack?”

Okay, so that got me thinking about my own work. I asked myself, do I give each character an emotional viewpoint for every line in every scene? That may seem like a lot of work, but think about it. Right now, you have an emotion. It may not be grandiose, but you could be annoyed with this post, amused, interested, angry, even indifferent. Each emotion would color any response you might give, and they would all do it differently. So, I looked at one of my scenes in my pilot. Braden (protag, a cop) has to deal with a guy who has locked himself into a room. The guy, Buddy, has gone crazy.

Braden’s emotion in this scene is one of annoyance. Buddy is a nuisance who is just causing Braden trouble. But Braden likes Buddy despite himself. He doesn’t want the little bugger to die. Buddy, however, is out of his mind crazy. He’s scared. He’s desperate for escape, to the point he’s willing to throw himself out a window So the question I have to ask myself is: does every line as written reflect the emotions and POVs of each character.

Guess what I’ll be doing this weekend? Yep, asking myself this question for every. single. line.

Posted under writing

This post was written by Shawna on May 25, 2007

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Human Sacrifice

In the life of every script, key decisions must be confronted and made. Is this the right beat for an act out? Should I use flashbacks? What do I do about this gaping plot hole?

Sometimes the hardest decisions involve homicide — specifically, excising a character. I am currently struggling with this decision in regard to my pilot.

My pilot spec has no less than 20 (!) speaking characters. Keeping them straight is a chore for the reader, and I am sympathetic to this. In fact, I dislike having so many dang people cluttering up my world. The problem is, I NEED most of these characters.

First, there’s the lead. He can’t go away, no way, no how. Then there’s his ‘entourage’ or ‘team’ — those three are necessary too. The boss stays, as does the best friend. So does the heavy. As for the second tier characters, most of those serve a purpose too. I’ve already taken 3 characters and rolled them into one. Still, the world is too populated. Someone must go.

I’ve chosen Coulter for this honor.

Dan Coulter is a man’s man. He’s also an arrogant SOB. He was in the story to be a thorn in the side of my lead and provide some meaty conflict. Trouble is, he isn’t really that necessary anymore. When I created him, he was unique, serving a singular purpose. Now I have two or three other characters who duplicate that role. So, Coulter is headed to the dustbin.

Here’s the problem, it’s not that simple. He is woven into some scenes that feed important information. He was a structure point too — serving as a justification for our lead to make a critical decision. If he is gone, the decision doesn’t make sense. So just cutting him out of the story leads to a number of rewrite issues. Now, I’m not afraid of rewriting, far from it. At first glance, however, the task is daunting. Once I figure out how to patch over the gaps left by this character, I’ll be good to go. Right now I’m just trying to find enough dirt for filler.

In the end, I’ll have 19 (!?!) speaking roles in the pilot. It may not seem like a significant reduction, but I think it will still help. After all, Lost in any given week seems to have 25, and Lord knows how many there are for 24 (actually, I counted last night — I counted 21 name characters at least…got a little fuzzy in the detention center, but that’s still a hefty number.)

On to the rewrite.

Posted under writing

This post was written by Shawna on January 30, 2007

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