Fan Girl Friday – TV Sitcoms with Juliet Madison

Thanks, Paula, for having me on the blog today to rave about something I’m a fan of. I ‘fan girl’ about a lot of things (so I’ll HAVE to come back to the blog again sometime!), but decided for today I’d discuss a few of my favourite TV sitcoms!

There’s nothing like a good, well-written, laugh-out-loud sitcom with authentic characters you care about and believe in. And as a writer, sitcoms are great inspiration for the romantic comedy stories I love to write. I love how they’re fast-paced, funny, and often extreme. They take real life scenarios and give them a fresh, unique spin.

So here are four of my favourites, which are sadly not on TV anymore 😦

sitcoms1FRIENDS

Probably my favourite show of all time. Who can go past an episode of Friends? Even though I’ve seen every episode a zillion times, it still makes me laugh. I am the proud owner of a Friends boxed set, which I watched with my son from beginning to end as soon as he was old enough.

Friends also has a great romance – Ross and Rachel. When they finally got together at the end of ten seasons I think I cried a little. Or a lot.

Remember when Rachel said: “I got off the plane.”? Waaa!

Do you have a favourite Friends character? I find it hard to play favourites, I think somehow all the characters combined to create one whole entity, and it wouldn’t be the same if one of them wasn’t there. Having said that, I do love Phoebe’s quirkiness, and Joey’s loveable nature, not to mention his trademark “How you doin?”

Some of my favourite scenes from Friends are:

  • The one when Ross gets a fake tan and counts to three, ‘Mississippily’, which gives him a very dark tan ononly half his body.
  • The one where Ross gets his teeth whitened and they glow like the Cheshire Cat when he’s on a date.
  • The one where Monica and Chandler get engaged. All those candles – wow!
  • Any episode where Phoebe sings a ‘smelly cat’ song.
  • The one where Rachel watches the prom video and then kisses Ross.
  • And… there are too many more to mention!

sitcoms4

3rd ROCK FROM THE SUN

I didn’t watch this much when it was on TV, but I got it on DVD and watched the whole series (again, with my son, who LOVED it). A sitcom about a four aliens who come to Earth in human form to learn our ways, 3rd Rock is hilarious, wacky, and has memorable characters.

How cute was Joseph Gordon-Levitt when he was younger? He played Tommy, the Information Officer who was really an old guy (or alien) in a teenage boy’s body. French Stewart, who plays Harry, was hilarious as the transmitter of messages from the Big Giant Head on their home planet. Dick “Oh my God, I’m gorgeous!” Solomon is sort of the leading man, who strikes up an on-again off-again romance with his just-as-wacky (though completely human) colleague Dr Mary Albright. My favourite character is Sally, the kick-ass heroine of the show – a combat specialist in a voluptuous female body who thinks she’s the luckiest woman alive to have scored Don, the incompetent cop.

My favourite moments:

  • When Harry gets hypnotised
  • When Dick’s evil twin takes over
  • The Soloman family’s first Christmas
  • When they stay in a hotel and get their first taste (and expense) of‘room service

sitcoms3

SCRUBS:

I watched this on and off when it was on TV, and later got the DVDs. I don’t think I’ve seen every episode, and certainly not in order. But it’s the type of show you can watch at any stage and get a good laugh. It’s a slightly quirky sort of comedy, so it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m all for wacky comedies!

JD’s a bit of a wimpy doctor character who runs the show, alongside his talkative female sidekick, Elliot, and his confident best friend, Turk. I love how the show often has actual scenes to show what’s going on inside a character’s mind, and there’s a lot of slapstick physical comedy reminiscent of movies like The Naked Gun. Despite this, the show manages to balance out the humour with deep, heart-felt moments here and there.

Fave moments:

  • When JD and Turk haven’t seen each other in ages and Turk waves out the window, then runs back inside to try and meet JD but they keep ending up in opposite locations.
  • There was one episode that was completely in musical form, and everyone sang. Brilliant.
  • Any moment where the janitor (did he have a name?) got the better of JD

sitcoms2BEWITCHED:

“Oh my stars!” …An oldie but a goodie, this is pure comfort television viewing. I’m a huge Bewitched fan, and own all of the DVDs as well as a big Bewitched companion book. The premise – mortal everyday guy marries a witch and has to put up with her interfering mother-in-law and crazy relatives – allowed for endless possibilities and storylines for the characters to get messed up in. I love anything that resembles real life with a bit of magic thrown in, so Bewitched presses all the right buttons for me.

I loved how Darrin had to try to make everything appear normal while trying to win over new advertising clients and dealing with his demanding boss, while Samantha’s magical attempts to thwart the spells of her mother’s provided much humour and fun.

I think the unique secondary characters really made this show – the nosy neighbour who always saw the magic but no one believed her, the incompetent Esmerelda, the wacky Uncle Arthur, the meddling Endora, sneaky Serena, and of course the cute little daughter, Tabitha!

I love this show so much I’m planning on writing a Bewitched-inspired story one day 🙂

Two other sitcoms, The Big Bang Theory and I Dream of Jeannie, have together inspired a novella of mine which is being published on September 1st, called I DREAM OF JOHNNY. It’s about a woman whose wish on a magic lamp for a Greek God goes hilariously wrong, when she ends up with a Geek God instead. My current release, FAST FORWARD, is a romantic comedy where each chapter is like a little ‘episode’ in the story. Like my favourite sitcoms, it’s a bit wacky, has many embarrassing yet funny moments for the main character, and has a touch of magic in the form of time travel, when the main character, Kelli, is catapulted 25 years into the future to her 50th birthday.

Are any of these your favourite sitcoms too? What other sitcoms do you enjoy?

FASTFORWARD-JulietMadison

Juliet Madison is a naturopath-turned-author with a background in dance, art, internet marketing and perfume sales (yes, she was one of those annoying people in department stores who spray you with perfume). Nowadays she prefers to indulge her propensity for multiple careers by living vicariously through her characters.  Living near the beach on the beautiful south coast of New South Wales, Australia, Juliet spends her days homeschooling her son and running her internet business, and her nights writing fiction while doing her best to avoid housework.  Connect with Juliet at her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Buy FAST FORWARD via Escape Publishing, Amazon, Amazon UK, iTunes/iBookstore, Kobo, Google Play, B&N/Nook, JB Hi-Fi.

 

 

Fan Girl Friday – You Can’t Take the Sky From Me… by MJ Scott

I have several severe TV writer crushes.  Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls), Steven Moffatt (Coupling, Doctor Who), Richard Curtis (Blackadder, Vicar of Dibley).  Men and women who write stories with wit and romance and a strong dash of humour and heartbreak.

But the king of all my TV writer crushes is Joss Whedon.  I really need to buy that “Joss Whedon is my master now” t-shirt. He really is fangirl squee-worthy and if I ever did have to talk to him I would be a dribbly mess.

BuffyFirstly, he wrote Buffy which had monsters and kickass women and a romance that people still haven’t gotten over (in fact, several romances that people still haven’t gotten over).   The idea of the blonde teen who goes into the dark alley and kicks the monster’s butt instead of getting eaten is my kind of idea. And Angel wasn’t too shabby either, despite the fact it had to get wrapped up too fast. And then, just when I thought I couldn’t love him any more (seriously, once in a writing workshop we were asked to describe who we wanted to be as writers and I said the lovechild of Jenny Crusie and Joss Whedon), he created Firefly.

firefly11A show that on paper seems ridiculous.

A western set in space.

A vast space opera that takes place largely on one tiny ramshackle spaceship on the edge of civilisation.

A protectionist government and man-eating space pirates.

The projection of earth civilisation into space based on the premise that only China and the US survived whatever wars for power might be.  So everyone is bilingual and cross cultural (okay, so actually, having your characters being able to say wickedly filthy things in Chinese to get around the TV censors is sheer brilliance).

mal05But what Joss does brilliantly is write about communities.  By the time I got to the end of the first episode I was invested in the characters and the little family they were building.  A bunch of people finding their place (which is one of my favourite themes in stories).  The loner bad boy captain with the heart he can’t quite cut off (and seriously, what isn’t to love about Nathan Fillion in breeches)?  The warrior woman second in command with the beta-est of beta husbands, the girl genius mechanic and the villainous muscle who isn’t entirely sure why he doesn’t just work out how to steal what they have and leave them in his dust.  The preacher, the doctor and his puzzle of a damaged sister who sets the story into motion.  And the courtesan who has the most respectable job of any of them in that particular culture.

All of them individual and real and with their own agendas.  They fight and they make up and they tease each other and they turn on anyone who threatens them with ferocity.  And despite their better judgement, they stick together and they take on new members of their family who are just going to get them into trouble and they fall in love.

Joss gets community.  He also gets romance though he does have a regrettable habit of putting his couples through hell (he’s not quite on the George RR Martin scale of character death but important people die in Joss’s world).  He writes about fear and strength and love and family. And he does it all while blowing stuff up, pulling off heists and giving his characters some of the best banter going round.

serenityI still want to be him when I grow up.

And I’ll always mourn that there isn’t more Firefly after that one short first season and the movie.  Truly one of the great TV tragedies (why oh why Fox??), considering how much money it’s made in DVD and otherwise.  I watch all of it several times a year and don’t get tired of it. Because in my heart, Serenity is still flying and Captain Mal and the others are still having adventures.  And I’ll be wearing my browncoat proudly.

What TV shows do you love and why?

IronKinMJ Scott is an unrepentant bookworm. Luckily she grew up in a family that fed her a properly varied diet of books and these days is surrounded by people who are understanding of her story addiction. When not wrestling one of her own stories to the ground, she can generally be found reading someone else’s. Her other distractions include yarn, cat butlering, dark chocolate and fabric. She lives in Melbourne, Australia and you can visit her via her website or follow her on Twitter.

Fan Girl Friday – 90s rom-coms with Carla Caruso

It’s a pleasure to be writing on Paula Roe’s gorgeous blog – and here I’m going to confess my fandom of nineties rom-coms!

It doesn’t matter how much CGI and whiz-bang technology they have these days, nothing beats the feel-good, warm, fuzzy nature of a nineties rom-com, I reckon. Here are just a few of the retro flicks I adore and the key messages I’ve taken away concerning matters of the heart…

Sleepless in Seattle 1Sleepless in Seattle 2SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE – Aww! This ’93 flick, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, had me at “hello” (which reminds me of another great nineties flick, Jerry Maguire, but I digress…) The focus of this film is on a recently-widowed man’s son calling a radio talk show in an attempt to find his dad a partner. One of the female listeners (with tissues at the ready) is Meg Ryan’s character. She finds she can’t get the lovelorn guy out of her mind, even though she’s engaged… This one’s a good lesson in not settling for second best or ignoring those niggly doubts in a relationship. Hey, Mr Absolutely-Perfect-For-You could be just a phone call away!

WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING – Another film with a title alluding to catching zeds, or the lack thereof… I’m sensing a theme here! Anyway, this ’95 flick surrounds a ticket-collecting romantic (Sandra Bullock), who pretends to be engaged to an unconscious man, but can’t fool his (not bad-looking) bro (Bill Pullman). The upshot? Building a web of lies about your life to impress others will only get you in trouble when you should really let your true self shine through.

THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION – This ’98 movie centres on a preggers social worker (Jennifer Aniston), who develops romantic feelings for her gay best friend (Paul Rudd) and decides to raise her child with him instead of her domineering boyfriend. The moral of the story? Gay pals are fantastic for shoe-shopping with… not so much for falling in love with.

Only YouONLY YOU – A teacher (Marisa Tomei) believes she’s destined to spend her life with a bloke named ‘Damon Bradley’ after his name’s spelt out on a Ouija board. Days before she’s to marry a podiatrist she may not love, she receives a call from a mate of her fiancé named…Damon Bradley (Robert Downey Jr.)She decides to spend a long weekend pursuing her dream man, who’s holidaying in Venice. The conclusion? Fate works in mysterious ways. She falls in love with Damon, then discovers that he actually lied and that’s not his real name – but she’s still head over heels with him regardless. So much for fate!

CluelessCLUELESS – In this ’95 flick, a popular high school student spends her days playing match-maker, helping her gal pals with fashion choices and looking for a man. The film provides a good lesson in being careful in case you fall for your ex-stepbrother… Actually, on second thoughts, it might be better described as: love can be found in unexpected places and sometimes that’s right under your nose.
So… what’s your fave nineties rom-com, and what did you learn from it?

Second Chance by Carla CarusoCarla Caruso is the author of Second Chance, featuring a feisty heroine, who time-travels back to the summer of 1998 and hopes to reunite with a past love. YOu can get it from Destiny here.

brand-new shiny Fan Girl Friday !!!!

Welcome to my brand-new column for 2013!  It’s called Fan Girl Friday and here’s how it works.  Friday is the day I rave about something I love – it can be a song, a book, a movie, a product, a website… anything!  And so no-one gets bored hearing me go on about stuff I love (although there are many, many things I *squeeee* girlishly about!) I’ve invited a bunch of writer friends to guest blog about their fangirl loves too.  So you need to follow the blog and make sure you check in every Friday for a new post.

So, seeing as today is my very first post, I’m taking the wheel and waxing lyrical about my latest favorite TV show and one of its fabulous actors.

four evil Roman emperors

Horrible Histories
My son and I stumbled across this BBC program before Christmas and we are totally addicted to it.  I’m familiar with the books by Terry Deary, which teach kids history with all the yucky bits (like beheadings, plague and poo) kept in.  But the TV series, I think, is way more fun.  It’s a comedy sketch show, featuring actors Jim Howick, Mathew Bayton, Ben Willbond, Martha Howe-Douglas, Simon Farnaby and Laurence Rickard, who play all the characters – from Charles II, Henry VIII, vikings, Elizabeth I, plague victims and more.  I love history, but I can tell you I’ve learned more in these last few months than years at school 😀  And with a score of BAFTAs and Brit Comedy Awards up their sleeves, it’s not hard to tell why.  It’s funny, clever and extremely entertaining, a historical lesson with a modern telling.  Kinda Python-esque, which appeals to adults as well as teaching kids in a fun way, with headings such as Slimy Stuarts, Cut-throat Celts, Terrible Tudors, Vicious Vikings, and Measly Middle Ages.  Their only guideline is they cannot lie about the historical detail.  And thanks to the genius series songwriter Dave Cohen, they also rework popular songs into hilarious versions to suit the characters, like Charles Darwin singing Natural Selection to the tune of David Bowie’s Changes.  Or a bunch of Victorian children with a different take on Food, Glorious Food (reworked as Work, Terrible Work).  Or my two favorites: Dick Turpin with a reworked Adam Ant’s Stand and Deliver and King Charles II’s homage to Eminem’s My Name Is… rap (this one I’ve been singing constantly for the last two weeks :grin:).  I love all the actors, but I’m here to tell you about one in particular – actor and singer, Mat Baynton.

yes, I will do anything you ask, just keep looking at me like that…

Just look at him. :sigh:   No, really, LOOK AT HIM!!!  I could just take him home and stare at his lovely , expressive face for ever… although I suspect he may find that just a tad too creepy disturbing unnerving.  In a HH cast interview, when asked what made the show so successful, fellow castmate Larry Rickard admitted “Matt’s eyes.  They’re minstrel eyes.”  Can I get a hell, yeah?

Another fellow actor Jim Howick has said that Mat is the backbone of their show and it’s not hard to see why when you see him in the show.  And yes, as you can imagine, he has quite a fandom on Twitter, plus a mass of Facebook and Tumblr fan sites.  There’s also a following called ‘baybond’, which is a collection of photos and gifs showing the onscreen bromance between him and fellow HHer Ben Willbond… o.O

Here he is playing the totally dreamy Dick Turpin (I suspect casting him to convince people the violent highwayman was no hero slightly backfired here).  And bonus – all the Horrible Histories songs come as an added extra on the DVDs, so I can watch this over and over… which I have.  I admit my addiction and find no shame in that.

His other roles in the show include a caveman, a French peasant, a camp fashionista, snobby Victorian, a Celtic warrior rapping with Jim Howick in ‘Boast Battle‘.  Here’s a few shots of him:

And because you can never have enough Mat, here’s my bestest song of all time, with King Charles II as the King of Bling (phwoar!).

Apart from Horrible Histories, Mat has also acted in Gavin & Stacey, Ashes to Ashes and Peep Show, plus he features in the new Brit sitcom, Spy (just starting here in Australia), about a single father who inadvertently gets recruited by MI5 (Mat plays best friend Chris). Oh, and he’s also starred in a few music videos – Listening Man by The Bees (I loooove this clip!!)  and Dan by Grovesnor (you can buy the Listening Man vid on iTunes but sadly, not Dan which is quite annoying because he looks so damn fit in that clip!).

King Charles loves a good danceBut wait – there’s more!  Mat’s also a solo artist, under the name of Dog Ears.  If you like your indie music with a melancholy feel to it, you can take a listen here and also download the EP for a bargain £2.50.  I wish I lived in the UK and could actually see him perform live… 😦

So there’s my fan girl moment!  Now, excuse me while I go and watch King Charles sing and dance, because oh, happy day, there could be a Horrrible Histories movie in the future!!!  Party, anyone?

National Treasure, how I love thee…

Playing on the iPod right now: Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus

National Treasure (starring the fabulous Nicholas Cage) is one of my favorite action/adventure/romance movies ever. It and #2 are all I’ve been watching these last few weeks (when my 9yo loves a movie, he looooooves it.  All I can say is thank God for DVDs).

What’s there NOT to love? A treasure map, conspiracy theories, gripping action, bad guys, cute good guys, family conflict and romance.  It’s great clean fun, no swearing (I counted one ‘bloody’ in the first movie) so it’s a great way to involve my son in all that fab American history, which I adore.  He’s been googling “Declaration of Independence”, “US Presidents” and “American Constitution”, much to my delight.  He even pop quizzes me – “Mummy, who was the first person to suggest daylight saving?” (answer – Benjamin Franklin).  And yes, I also admit to a bit of a girly crush on geeky Riley Poole (aka Justin Bartha).  He has the best lines!

I’m doubly thrilled to see that they’re making National Treasure 3 in 2011.  I can’t wait!

remakes that make me cry (with rage, not joy)

original cast of the ORIGINAL Melrose Place

original cast of the ORIGINAL Melrose Place

While surfing the ‘net today (yes, it was research for a book!) I stumbled across a screaming, flashing ad that declared “Melrose Place – premiers Sept 8”.

All I can say is W. T. F. ??? First, Beverly Hills 90210, now Melrose Place, for Gods’ sakes? Is nothing from the 90s sacred? Will TV people do anything to spin a dollar? People, please think of something ORIGINAL!!  I thought they’d learn their lesson with disembowling perfectly amazing UK shows just for the hell of it (Life on Mars, anyone?) but obviously not.

I can just about accept movie remakes – for every Planet of the Apes and Out of Towners, there will always be a Nutty Professor and The Birdcage to redeem it.  But TV shows?  Come on.  Do TPTB think that just because they were successful hits in their day they will be again?  Just because it works for music and (sometimes) movies, doesn’t mean that success will translate to TV.

aah, Will Smith - how you've grown!

aah, Will Smith - how you've grown!

The past is called the past for a reason.  RIP Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Friends, Party of Five.   Please, studio execs, do not give Ally McBeal, 3rd Rock From the Sun and Veronica’s Closet a trendy haircut, an unrealistic bod, a tarty new skirt and multiple bed partners.  I beg of you.

to see Robert McKee…

storyLast weekend I had the fortunate experience to attend Robert McKee’s three-day Story seminar in Paddington, Sydney.   For those of you in the know, Robert McKee is a minor god in Hollywood and screenwriting circles.  His bestselling book, Story, is a must-read for directors, novelists, screenwriters and actors.   I’ve had it for years but neglected to read it (those hardbacks look so daunting!)   But after three days, 9am until 8.30pm (yes, it was that long!) I’ve been devouring it.

Yes, the seminar is an auditory version of the book, but it also put heaps of things into perspective.  And yes, the man is crotchety, verbal, opinionated (well, who isn’t?) and doesn’t suffer fools.  If he’s spent 10 minutes telling you to turn off your phone otherwise he’ll fine you, why the devil would you leave it on??  He also had a few rants (Michael Jackson,  the direction of Hollywood, appalling scripts, corporate fatcats etc) and lost patience a few times, but 30+ hours of performance is extremely tiring for anyone, let alone a 70 year old.    For me, the experience was amazing – he was entertaining, full of stories and chock full of knowledge.  And he’s one of the most passionate advocates of storytelling I’ve ever heard.

So Friday started.  Kerri (my Story buddy for the weekend) and I decided to stay in the city the night before, which was a good thing, because there’s no way I could’ve dragged myself onto a train at 7am and made it on time at Paddington’s uber-hip Chauvel Cinema.

We registered, met a few friends and settled in for what would be an amazing weekend.  With breaks every two hours, copious amounts of long black and pages of notes, my head was spinning… but I still managed to decipher what I’d written.  So here goes:

  • readers want to share some kind of shared humanity – ‘he’s just like me’, which will then make them empathetic to your characters
  • the difference between amateur writers and professional writers is amateurs love everything they write.  Professionals hate everything they write
  • writers have to learn how to smell their own shit
  • the most important truths are the bitter ones.
  • A scene or event = change (and have this change be of value to the character)
  • values are the lifeblood of story
  • in every scene, ask yourself  ‘what values are played out for the character in this scene?  Negative or positive?’
  • if the value of the scene at the end is the same as at the beginning, then remove it.  If a scene doesn’t have a turning point, then it’s useless.  Each scene must have change.
  • a turning point is a choice a character makes in the pursuit of his goal
  • the effect a turning point has on the audience:  surprise, curiosity, insight, new direction
  • Setting impacts on how a story is told – a divorcing couple will act differently in the Idaho potato fields than the multi-million dollar battles of Park Avenue.
  • “formula” = conventions.  It is not cliche.  For e.g. a crime story must include a body, clues and an investigation.  In a romance there must be two people who overcome obstacles and fall in love.
  • Good characterisation must be unique, credible (a person we can believe in), intriguing (who is this person really?), and show choice under pressure,  How they decide to react under pressure expresses who they really are.
  • True character: characters DON’T change throughout the story, their characters are merely revealed to the reader.  The reader’s understanding of the character changes and the writer reveals the nature of the character to them.
  • The events of the story move when the character makes choices e.g. Star Wars.
  • emotion leads you to think, then the thinking shapes your actions and moves you to do something.

Whew!  So, Friday was over.   The next day we got to the venue early to save our awesome seats – and a good thing too, because people wanted those seats!  I finally met the two nice guys sitting next to us, Tim (a finance dude who wanted to write a novel) and Avi, a screenwriter/director who was a finalist in this year’s TropFest.  (I loved it – check it out but DO NOT read the comments first – it spoils the twist!).

Notes from Saturday:

  • creating your story – what is the arrangement of power?  There is always an uneven distribution of power when people gather and live in groups.  What are the politics of power in a family?
  • every action people take in life are to achieve one of two basic things – the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.
  • what are the rituals?  Everything in life is ritualistic – designed to get through the day without conflict.  How does your character act to get them through without conflict?
  • What are the laws and ethics?  What’s the difference between ‘legal’ and ‘right’?
  • What are your characters’ backstories?  What are the previous significant events in their biographies that you can use to tell the story?
  • What is your cast like?  What are their designs?  Create a bunch of characters with polar reactions – no two characters should react or act the same way.
  • To create and sustain reader involvement, create empathy and authenticity (the reader must believe that the world is believable).
  • Start your story with an inciting incident.  It must radically upset the balance of your character’s life.  They must react… and refusing to react is still a reaction!
  • The effect of the inciting incident throws a character’s balance and they will strive to restore that balance.  They will pursue a conscious desire to fix it.  It’s their “Object of Desire”.  And with a conscious desire, comes a subconscious desire, which will always contradict each other.
  • Their subconscious desire drives the spine of action, therefore, the story.   If there is no subconscious desire, then the conscious desire drives it.  e.g. while James Bond doesn’t have a subconscious desire, Mrs Soffel is driven by her subconscious desire (unconditional love).
  • ask yourself – what does your character want?
  • how much does the reader need to know before you introduce the inciting incident?  Have maximum impact.  You need to have your reader emotionally invested by this time while they’re waiting e.g. Life Is Beautiful’s inciting incident is when the family is taken to the death camps, which occurs around 30mins into the story.
  • ask ‘what’s the worst that can happen to my character?’  How does this turn out to be his salvation and damnation?
  • nothing moves forward in a story without conflict.  It holds a reader’s interest/  Even stages of life have conflict: to be living is to be in conflict.
  • Ever decision a character makes, every action they take, must include a point of no return – a moment where the character cannot go back to their previous life/beliefs.
  • people are only capable of acting towards the positive – as they see it e.g. Killers believe what they’re doing is right.  They will rationalize it’s God’s work, therefore it’s the right thing to do to kill another race or opposing group/person.
  • Real choice is dilemma – when your character has to chose between two positives or two evils.
  • the strength of the story lies in how strong the opposition is.  Your character rises to the occasion when the odds are stacked against them.

empireMcKee talked a lot about co-incidence and revealing secrets, and if/when’s the best time to do this.  Generally, if a co-0incidence has to happen, make it occur early (e.g. as the inciting incident), then you have the whole story to build meaning.   Never use co-oincidence to end your story (and he went on a mini-rant about War of the Worlds and Jurassic Park).   When do you reveal a secret?  When it’s the lesser of two evils – e.g. Darth Vader revealing ‘I’m your father’ instead of Luke killing him (although, having seen Empire Strikes Back a billion times, I seem to recall Luke was in no position to kill him at that point 😕 )

He also touched on the Act Structure, which I kinda sorta knew but needed more info on.  Generally speaking, a story or movie can be broken down into ‘acts’, the most common being three.  This article (complete with helpful diagram) summarises it into Act I – the set up of the story, Act II – confrontation, and Act III – resolution.  McKee said that Act II can include subplots because it’s so long, and subplots enrich and improve the main plot.  Use them to contradict the main plot e.g. if the main plot is romance, the subplot can be love on the rocks or unrequited love.

Saturday over, we dragged our asses back to our hotel, ate a yummy pizza and dragged our asses back for the last and final day…

Sunday:

  • Subtext – if you write a scene about what a scene’s actually about, they you’re in deep shit (don’t you love this ? 😀 )
  • characters are metaphors for human beings
  • what does my character want that, if they get it, would stop the story?
  • when you over-explain motivation, you push the audience away.  Leave a little mystery to your characters.
  • what other characters say about your character reveals character.
  • don’t dimensionalise a character you don’t intend to use again e.g. giving a cabdriver a name and a speaking part.

At this point, McKee devoted a lot of time to helping a stalled story.  I really can’t improve on his book, so I suggest you grab a copy and read it.

He also talked about the writing process.  Kerri and I both got the feeling that he was implying that plotting is far superior to writing by the seat of your pants (fellow writers will have read oodles of discussion about this topic!).  But McKee’s process makes absolute sense to me, for someone who has to write a synopsis and know the bones of my story so I can pitch it to my editor.  So here goes:

Writing Process (which puts the emphasis on the creation of story)

  • have 1 sheet of paper ( or 3 x 5 cards) per act
  • work on a step outline (a story told with one sentence per event).  Include inciting incident setup, inciting incident, resolution.
  • Remember that 90% of writing is not your best work
  • create character bios and research sheets for your world.

Next:

  • write the treatment (expand each sentence into 2-3 sentences, moment-by-moment (minus dialogue), subtext, real and full, what’s going on internally with the character.  This is a way of getting you into the story and making it vivid.

Then:

  • you write your story by adding dialogue.  Inevitably your characters will be individual and will sing.  Here, you make changes and polish – add or cut.
  • if you’re writing a story to fit dialogue, then your story won’t flow naturally or be true to your characters

McKee also gave an excellent explanation about hero and anti-hero.  A hero embraces and embodies the rules of society, whereas  an anti-hero won’t obey the rules and will break them if he has to to further his agenda or cause (e.g. Rick in Casablanca).  He benefits for his own personal reaons and actively defies society’s conventions.    Who was drawn more to Han Solo (anti-hero) than Luke Skywalker? (hero) 😀

casablancaAt this point, we watched a full screening of Casablanca.  I hadn’t  seen it before so it was a real eye-opener, especially accompanied with  McKee’s explanations into character, subtext and scene.

So, with my book of notes and a brand-new paperback of Robert McKee’s story, I came home full of ideas and exciting new insights into my stories.  What a weekend!  I’d love to see him again, but apparently it was his last visit to Australia.  :sob: