Friday, January 27, 2012

The 11 Story Imperatives & Log Line Mugs

Trying to be of help, here. Imagine, as you're writing, and every time you grab for your drink you're reminded of the 11 Story Imperatives or the Log Line elements that every story needs to succeed. I've culled these from my experience consulting on screenplays in Hollywood, my own writing, and research form successful and not so successful motion pictures.

They are available at The Moral Premise Story Shop at Cafe Press. Only modestly marked up.

Readable graphics of what's on the mugs, tumblers, glasses, etc are available at the Moral Premise Writing Aids web page.

An written explanation of the Log Line mug and its graphic is HERE:

An written explanation of the Story Mug Shot mug a its graphic is HERE:

 Let me know if these help. The more you grab for that mug, the more you'll learn.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Creating Emote Pacing Charts of a Story

Alex Melii asked how the emote charts were created in an earlier post on Rollercoaster Story Pacing Charts.

I recently another chart, for a different version of the same screenplay mentioned in the above post. It's now titled PARABELLUM. It's an teen-wartime-actionier story.  In 1943, near Berlin, a rebellious 14-year old German girl dares to battle her mother's fiancé, a blood-thirsty S.S. Colonel, to rescue her Jewish friends from the ghetto before they’re liquidated. If you wish for peace, PARABELLUM. That genre and log line will explain the severe up and down slopes of the chart below, and the sustained high emotion of the final scenes.

First, here's the chart.

As I explained in the earlier post about charts, the first time we created this chart for the script, there was this long slow (no action) part in the middle that obviously was out of place in a wartime-actionier script. So, those scenes were brushed, which also helped to shorten the story and get it below the 120 page limit, and closer to the 110 ideal.

Second, here is how I did it:

These instructions are for a Mac using Final Draft with M.S. Excel. If something doesn't make sense, write and ask about it. (I can not apologize for the anal or verbose approach to this. I spend almost four years writing crew flight procedures for NASA's Skylab and training astronauts how to use them. Yes, that's what the first "A" in NASA stands for... and there's good reason.)

The assumption in these instructions is that you'd like to have the Dialogue Info data (provided by the Scene Report) in your Excel data to help jog your memory at some time in the future when looking at the Excel spreadsheet. If this is not true the instructions below can be simplified, as hopefully will become obvious once you've done the process once or twice.
  1. In Final Draft, ensure that the Scene Headings are as you want them (properly formatted as Scene Headings) and that you've added scene numbers.
  2. From Final Draft create a Scene Report in "scene order" WITH scene numbers.
  3. Select and copy the pertinent scenes (drag-select) in the Scene Report.
  4. Open Excel and format ALL the cells in the worksheet as TEXT.
  5. In Excel, paste into the text formatted worksheet the Scene Report data. Don't paste this data into the top row. Leave yourself a blank row above the paste. After the paste, do not try to get rid of extra blank rows or Dialogue Info rows of data -- that happens below. (Notice there are 4 columns of data, and the Dialogue Info data appears one line below the row with scene number, location, and scene length data. So, there is actually 5 "fields" of data, but not in the same row like Excel likes things. We're going to fix that below.)
  6. Paste AGAIN the same Scene Report data, into the same Excel worksheet to the right of the previous paste, but ONE ROW HIGHER. (You might put at least one column margin between the two pastes so you can see the different pastes easily.)
  7. DELETE from the second paste, the right-most three columns that contain page number, location and scene duration data. (This leaves the one column with Scene Numbers and Dialogue Spec data. Notice that the Dialogue Info from the second paste is now on the same row as its correct Scene Number form the first paste operation.)
  8. Sort the worksheet on the Scene Number column (from the first paste at far left). Excel may ask you if you want to "sort anything that looks like a number as a number, even though the cells are formatted as text." Answer YES, to this. You DO WANT to sort by numbers the text formatted cells. [This will put the Dialogue Info from the second paste, and the extra Scene Numbers (from the second paste) in one area all together.]
  9. Select the area of the chart with this extra Dialogue Info and extra Scene Numbers (that were sorted in the above step) and CLEAR it from the chart. (This leaves you with a clean list, one line for each Scene #, Location, Page length, and Dialogue Info.) You may have an extra column separating the second paste Dialogue Info from the other four columns. Delete it if you want.
  10. Now would be a good time to label the top of each column. From left to right they should be: Scene #, Location, Page #, Scene Length, and Dialogue Info.
  11. Converting the fractions of a page to a decimal format is a bit of a manual challenge.  So use Excel's Search and Replace function on each of the seven  possible fractions changing 1/8 to 0.125, and 2/8 to 0.250;  3/8 to 0.375 and so on. This will leave you with decimals, but with a space between the decimal and it's integer, if the scene was longer than 7/8 page.
  12. To close the gap between the integers and the decimals, Search and Replace (in the one column only) a SPACE with NOTHING to replace it.  You now have a column of numbers depicting the decimal length of each scene.
  13. Change the format of the Scene Length column (which you just changed) NUMBERS with three decimal places to the right.
  14. Insert a new column to the right of the Scene Length column, and label it "Script Length."
  15. In the new column insert a formula that adds the cell above with the duration cell to the left. Then fill down this formula. Call this column "Script Length." The final page length will be longer than your script length due to the inaccuracies of the 1/8 fractions that Final Draft calculates for scene lengths. This is okay for judging the emotional roller coast of the story, although it will be a bit longer and not perfectly accurate. [To be very accurate you'd have to count every line of the page and substitute the number of lines in a scene for the 1/8 denomination that Final Draft (and the industry) use, for calculating scene length.]
  16. Create a blank column to the right of the Script Length column and label it "E-Mote Value". And in this new column manually enter an integer (along a limited scale, of say -10 to +10, or 0 to 10)for your judgment of the content of each scene. For a Moral Premise evaluation, the number should evaluate how well the protagonist advances toward their goal. If the protag makes progress toward the goal, enter a positive number (1 to 10). If the antagonist makes progress at stopping the protag, insert a negative number (-1 to -10). Or, you can enter a number that evaluates the emotional excitement, the action (vs. talk), or a suspense factor. Use any scale you want to measure anything you want. The numbers you enter are not entirely arbitrary, but they ARE your personal qualitative evaluation of the scene.
  17. When all the cells are filled in select only the Script Length  and the E-Mote Value column data (they should be adjacent to each other, with the Script Length col on the left.
  18. Insert a scatter line chart, and you'll see your emotional graph. 
  19. Study your chart and subsequently adjust the content and location of scenes so there is a constant up and down emotion to your movie.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Writer's 12 Step Program

I "teach" a Story Symposium once a month for 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon. As is typical of these "teaching" experiences, the first 1/2 of the class (first semester, first year) goes swimmingly, and everyone does their homework, and comes prepared. (Well, mostly.) 

Then comes the transition (after the theory) to actually write their own stuff and prove their substance -- or to justify their reason for occupying space and depleting the Earth's resources (like food and oxygen). It happens every time to me -- students fall-off like flies deprived of sugar. We need a transformation, but it only happens if the student writer has a passion for what they're writing or their career. Like I say about a good story. You need a passionate writer and a passionate protagonist. Without both you have nothing. 

So, my Story Symposium Class is struggling with this stage. We're meeting this Saturday for our first W.A. Meeting. That's "Writers Anonymous" ... as in the 12 Steps. And here they are:

The Writer’s 12 Steps to Getting It Done

  1. I admit that I am powerless to write like I should—that my creative life has become desolate and unmanageable through disuse.
  2. I believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity, and get my quota of words written each and every day. 
  3. I have decided to turn my will and my life over to the care of God, as I understand Him.
  4. I daily search my life and make a fearless moral inventory of my motivations and whatever else has prevented me from applying my butt to a chair and my fingers to the keyboard.
  5. I admit to God, and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongs from the previous step.
  6. I am entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character so that I will complete the story that God has set before me.
  7. I humbly ask God to remove my shortcomings and expect a completed work in the not too distant future.
  8. I have made a list of all persons we I have harmed by not living up to and disciplining my creative potential, and I am willing to make amends to them all.
  9. I have made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. I continue to take personal inventory and when I am wrong I promptly admit it.
  11. Through prayer and meditation (or medication, depends on how bad off you are) I seek to improve my conscious contact with God praying only for knowledge of His will for me and the power to carry that out in my creative life of writing.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, I will carry this message to other writers, and to practice these principles in all my affairs.
BTW: The 12 Steps of A.A. are sometimes used as the basic structure (or inspiration) of a story; MY NAME IS EARL is a great example.