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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Rule No. 4 and 3 questions

Beads of Mardi Gras 2015 Mobile, AL
cj Sez: . Having worked as a journalist for a few years, I tend to write sparsely, more often than not, too sparsely. To justify my methodology, I point to Kurt Vonnegut’s eight rules. In this case, specifically No. 4: “Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.” I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right, rules are made to be broken. However, some are best kept for a while, especially by yet-to-be-bestselling authors like me.  

I pretty much write like a screenwriter. I visualize the scene and write to that. There’s no room for narrative in movies; it's all action. By necessity, writers of TV series think in terms of every scene and every line, because for each hour-long show, they have about forty-five minutes to tell a complete story, beginning to end.  

David Mamet, executive producer of the TV series, “The Unit,” had some serious instructions for the show’s writers. He was so serious that his memo virtually shouted. (He wrote it in all capital letters, and he had an "inviolable rule.") He directed his writers to concentrate on writing drama if they expected to keep their audience entertained. Because if they lost their audience, they’d be out of work. Following are excerpts of that memorable memo:   

QUESTION: WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, ACUTE GOAL.

SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES OF EVERY SCENE THESE THREE QUESTIONS.

1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?
3) WHY NOW?

THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS ARE LITMUS PAPER. APPLY THEM, AND THEIR ANSWER WILL TELL YOU IF THE SCENE IS DRAMATIC OR NOT.
(cj: Unless you’re writing a memoir, and perhaps even then, those three questions are pertinent.)

/ / / 
START, EVERY TIME, WITH THIS INVIOLABLE RULE: THE SCENE MUST BE DRAMATIC. IT MUST START BECAUSE THE HERO HAS A PROBLEM, AND IT MUST CULMINATE WITH THE HERO FINDING HIM OR HERSELF EITHER THWARTED OR EDUCATED THAT ANOTHER WAY EXISTS.

LOOK AT YOUR LOG LINES. ANY LOGLINE READING “BOB AND SUE DISCUSS…” IS NOT DESCRIBING A DRAMATIC SCENE.  (cj: They write loglines for every scene.)

cj Note:
A logline is a 25-word synopsis of your book.
A tagline is a catchy “movie poster” phrase.
 
Examples for Jaws –
Logline – After a series of grisly shark attacks, a sheriff struggles to protect his small beach community against the bloodthirsty monster, in spite of the greedy chamber of commerce.     (from J. Gideon Sarentinos  http://bit.ly/1D90FmH
Tagline – Don’t go in the water.

Check out David Mamet’s whole memo at: 

Okay, let me know if what you think. Agree?  Disagree? Helpful?
Thanks for visiting Lyrical Pens. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.
 
cj
(Mardi Gras beads photo by Jeff D. Johnston)

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