#ConStarClicks: Learn to Talk Like a TV Writer [GQ]

ConStar Clicks: Learn to Talk Like a TV Writer – GQ

True ConStar Clicks posts are returning in June (if all goes according to plan) but here’s a cool article I’ve been reading (and memorizing) about words TV writers often use in the process of putting an episode together. It seems to be mostly focusing on TV comedy jargon.

Some of my favorites from the piece:

  • Button – I prefer button to blow.
  • Chuffa
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Hanging a Lantern – I learned this on TV Tropes. If you’ve read my About Me, you know I love me some TV Tropes.
  • Schmuck Bait

Click through to find out what they mean.

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On Forgiving “Writer’s Guilt” & Paying Your Rent – Daniel Jose Older on the #BGNPodcast

Daniel Jose Older NYCC14

Here’s Daniel at a Geeks of Color Go Pro Panel at NYCC this past autumn

I did another podcast this week with Black Girl Nerds, this time featuring author Daniel Jose Older, whose book, Half Resurrection Blues came out last week. He was very insightful and open about his writing process — offering many great pieces of advice — which I found very encouraging as a writer.

On finding your writing process:

“A lot of what being a writer is, is finding out what your process is and not doing somebody else’s.” He says that even when you’ve found your process, it can still change, depending on your life at the time and what’s necessary for you.

On the realities of being a writer:

“I believe really strongly in taking days off, even when you’re deep in the throes of trying to finish a project. You have to live. You have to be alive. And you have to pay your rent.”

On the advice to “write every day”:

“I’m a big advocate of not feeling like you have to write every day. If that’s your process, then awesome. But that’s not everybody’s. And what really happens with that advice is that people start feeling guilty, shameful, and they don’t write every day and they feel bad about it so they have a really unhealthy relationship to the blank page or the project or whatever. You can’t sit down at the writing desk feeling guilty already! You have to forgive yourself before you begin writing otherwise you’ll be cramped. You’ll just be mad at yourself — that’s not a good place to write from.”

You check out the full podcast here, where Daniel gives more amazing advice on being a writer, the ways in which we should and can use sci-fi/fantasy to discuss power and control especially with regard to racial and economic injustice, and the books and cultures that inspire his writing, but these two quotes above especially stuck with me.

Maybe it’s because I am a chronic procrastinator (most writers are — but I feel like I really take the cake), but I don’t think writing every day is my process. I certainly need to write more, and I need to overcome at least a basic level of sitting down and writing for more than an hour or so at a time (also, I need to make writing more than chronic outlining, though outlining definitely is my process), but it’s encouraging to know that writing every single day doesn’t have to be my process. Because there is a level of guilt or reluctance to sit down. And when you’re in that mindset that you’re “forcing” yourself to write, that often makes the words come harder, because you’re so distracted or you don’t want to be sitting in that chair (even if it’s a bungee chair from Target).

I have this one.

I need to write more, but if I don’t every single day, I’m not failing as a writer. It’s just not my process. I think I am getting closer to what my process is (it involves my shiny new iPad Mini), but it’s good to hear again (because I’ve of course heard it before) that your process doesn’t have to match what the books say or what anyone else’s process is. In the end, as long as you get the work done — and being reasonably happy and healthy during the process might also be nice — then that should be what matters. Your writing process just has to be for what you need, as a person, as a writer, for your genre. So I’m going to keep finding my process, but if I don’t work on my spec script today (I totally did, so HA!), I shouldn’t be harder on myself or feel guilty. That, as Daniel said, develops an unhealthy relationship with the blank page. Writing is hard enough and full of negative emotions based on how inferior you’re feeling, how your words aren’t flowing together, how plotting is SO HARD. When you are able to sit down and write, you shouldn’t be worried about if you didn’t write yesterday. You had other things to do (like pay rent, or get some much needed rest). And as they say, write forward. Work on bettering your writing and your process so that you WILL want to write everyday — no guilt necessary.

I’ll stop blathering, I feel like I’ve stopped making sense. Listen to the podcast, read Daniel’s book, ask me if I’m writing, but don’t expect guilt if I haven’t been. (You might get a little guilt.)(And I should’ve been writing recently at least.)

(Ok, I’m really done now.)

Happy writing!

American TV shows might look more diverse, but their writers aren’t

I haven’t posted in a while, but posts like this need sharing as much as possible. We’ve made some strides in diversity on TV, but it’s not nearly enough for it being 2014. Let’s take the diversity we’re experiencing for the new fall season and support it and applaud it so that we see even more increases in the years to come. Definitely check out this article and share it!

A writers’ room of N.Y.’s own – Times Union

A writers’ room of N.Y.’s own – Times Union
Check out this brief article on the lack of NYC writers’ rooms, despite more shows being shot here. I definitely wish there were more opportunities for tv writers in NYC, as that’s where I live. Hopefully we can get more here. Until I can write and produce my own NYC based (and set, because not enough NY set shows are actually shot in NY–those alleys, those fake trains…smh) hit TV series.

But it may spur more studios to at least consider locating their writers’ rooms here, and to hire a more diverse staff—writers who look and sound like New York, and like America.

 

Jeff Povey: how I write scripts for TV and books – top tips and insights | Children’s books | theguardian.com

Jeff Povey: how I write scripts for TV and books – top tips and insights | Children’s books | theguardian.com.

 In TV we have a saying that you get in as late as you can to a scene and leave as early as the moment allows. It’s like going to the worst party in the world. You just spend as little time as possible there. […] A book requires you to think differently.

As someone interested in both TV writing and fiction, this is an interesting article on the differences between both from a writer’s perspective by British TV writer and author Jeff Povey.

The 6 Most Common Mistakes When Writing Dialogue and How to Avoid Them | Beyond The Margins

The 6 Most Common Mistakes When Writing Dialogue and How to Avoid Them | Beyond The Margins.

TV is all about dialogue. You have to be more concise and judicial about it, but TV is maybe second to plays (or so I hear) when it comes to the importance of dialogue in the medium. This is a great article to take a look at to look at how your dialogue is being presented in your work, no matter the medium or genre.

Adventures in Speccing – Scandal

This year, I’m taking my love of TV and desire to write for it a step further. I am currently an intern at the Gotham Writers Workshop here in New York and we get to take a free writing class. I decided, of course, to take their TV Writing class–10 weeks of learning how to write TV. So far, many of the basics have been covered (for students who had no idea what a script looked like/was formatted like, had never written a script before), but I’m sure I’ll learn some new things that I haven’t learned from extensive reading and googling about how to write for TV.

As you may know, when learning about TV writing, you start off by writing a spec script–a script based on an existing TV show– because 1. you’ll need to be in the habit of writing someone else’s story, you don’t all start off with pilots like Shonda Rhimes and 2. because it’s better to learn and mess up on someone else’s work than on your own creative baby. (This does not apply to real babies. It might often be worse to mess up someone else’s kid when you’re babysitting, so this is a very situational piece of advice.)

If you’ve read this blog before, you may be able to guess that I chose Scandal as the show I would spec. It’s a complicated show, but it’s kind of perfect in terms of the factors that decide what kind of specs you should write. They should be 1. Shows that you know and like well, 2. shows past season 1 but not too aged, 3. shows in the genre you’d want to write in. So I’m attempting a Scandal spec. Yikes!

The first rough thing about Scandal, in comparison maybe to other shows, is how many characters there are. Scandal has 10 main characters this season (as in listed in the main credits every week) and several important recurring characters (like Liv’s dad, whose been in every episode this season, yet isn’t a main character). So one of our first assignments was to create character sheets for each other characters.  It was so much work because of how many characters there are and how little, in some instances, we’ve gotten about them. Displaying IMG_20140201_012858.jpg

Right now, I’m working on my first 7 pages or so. But in order to figure out what happens in those 7 pages, I wanted to have a better idea of what was happening in the rest of the episode. So I turned to Dan Harmon‘s plot circles, because I think they’re a great structural way to look at episodes and plots. Here’s a link. Then, when googling, someone turned Harmon’s circle into a wave, which really helped me visualize the story and act breaks and rises and falls in momentum.

Here’s a picture of what I’ve got so far.

Displaying 20140203_161034.jpg

It’s nice to be able to visualize when act breaks should happen and what should happen in them. Basically, “breaking the story.” It’s tough, but it’s also kinda fun and is further cementing the idea that this is what I would want to do in life. Hopefully my first 7 pages aren’t terrible, according to the instructor. (But if he thinks so, I’ll just ask my fellow Gladiators, you might be able to help me make it even better. My instructor certainly doesn’t watch Scandal.)

Now I just gotta continue breaking the story, adding points to the subplots and think of ways to Olivia more active. Most of my ideas so far have her reacting to other characters, which is fine for their storylines, but she needs to have more agency in the plot, because she’s the main character. So hopefully I can think of more for her to do.

I’ll try to keep you updated! Any ideas, let me know! (Just remember that ideas are not copyrightable, so I wouldn’t get in trouble for stealing them and making boatloads of money off of them. ;-))

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Link: Writing and the Creative Life: Three types of creators | Go Into The Story

What type of creator may I feel the pull to become?

Perfecter. Synthesizer. Innovator.

Which type of creator are you?

Writing and the Creative Life: Three types of creators | Go Into The Story.

I think I am Synthesizer.

I like to look at different genres (usually speculative in nature) and find ways to combine them with things they haven’t been combined with before. I’ve thought a lot about fairy tales and updating them to different eras (an idea that I had and haven’t really been able to get right is the fairy tale Bluebeard set during the Harlem Renaissance with Cyborg wives– a lot, but there’s something I really like about those combination of things that one day I want to get right).

I like fairy tales and myths and legends and, as much discussed on this blog, diversity in the media is hard to come by. So why not take those tales and adapt them to Harlem or make the main character black? I think that’s a great way to synthesize things that weren’t connected before and discover new stories (or at least a new lens through which to look at an old story–which is all any writer is trying to do).

Related:

http://www.fastcompany.com/1812064/jonah-leher-three-types-creativity-and-how-brainstorming-doesnt-work

Shonda Rhimes NPR Interview

Shonda Rhimes NPR Interview

Supes late on this one, but if you are too, check it out here. Only about 7 minutes long. I’m glad Scandal has a definitive end, because it’s not the type of show that can last forever, and we don’t want it to go past it’s lifespan. It’s interesting to me that she knew where Grey’s Anatomy would end but then they “kept going” so she had to sort of write past that. I wonder if a lot of showrunners face the same challenge. We sometimes blame shows moving past their expiration dates on the writers/showrunners, but the network has a large say and they’re definitely more about the money than the art or the story. Interesting piece (finally). 

Lena Dunham Hilariously, Candidly Interviews Mindy Kaling

Lena Dunham Hilariously, Candidly Interviews Mindy Kaling

“Sometimes I get jealous of white male showrunners when 90 percent of their questions are about characters, story structure, creative inspiration, or, hell, even the business of getting a show on the air. “

 

Watch: Ava DuVernay’s Filmmaker Keynote Address At 2013 Film Independent Forum | Shadow and Act

via Watch: Ava DuVernay’s Filmmaker Keynote Address At 2013 Film Independent Forum | Shadow and Act.

I haven’t seen any of Ava DuVernay’s work yet, but I loved this keynote address and think it’s useful for anyone who is a media creator/artist. (She’s also directing an upcoming episode of Scandal, episode 308, so I’ll get to see a bit of her style then.)

All of the things that we try to do while trying to move forward in the industry is time not working on your screenplay [insert what your art is & what you’re supposed to be doing to work on it]. All the time you’re focusing– trying to grab– ‘I need this, I need this, I don’t have this–‘, you’re being desperate, you’re not doing. All that stuff is not active, it’s not moving you forward. All of the so called ‘action’ is hinging on someone doing something for you. Does that make sense? […]

The only thing that moves you forward is your work. […]

If you channel your desperation towards things you have, it’s passion. If you channel it towards things you don’t have, it’s desperation. It’s stagnation. […]

My whole thing, what I want is to be making films as a senior citizen. When I look at senior citizens making films, they’re only white guys. There’s no black, female Woody Allen. Or Mike Nichols. Like Clint Eastwood? Just imagine a bad ass black woman, walking like Clint, ‘I don’t care! I’m gonna say whatever I wanna say!” You’re old as hell, you’ve made a gang of films, say what you wanna say! I wanna be her. Old and making films. American women making films, black women making films into old age, actively and consistently. I wanna be Werner Herzog, I have so many films, I don’t know their names. I wanna be that. […] I just want consistency and longevity.

Watch the whole thing, you may get a nugget of something.

 

I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories…

I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued. I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life.

Why I Write – George Orwell 

I can definitely relate. I am and always have been a loner. I always went somewhere with a book and preferred to imagine things alone to being in the (to me) wild company of others. I did have an imaginary friend named Sharley Parkins who I would, apparently, blame whenever I got into trouble. She eventually went to jail, so yeah, she was a bit of a troublemaker. I need to work on her story, now that I think about it.

The rest of the article may prove interesting to some, but it goes into his thoughts on his political works, which is of no interest to me at the moment, but may prove interesting you.

I am still figuring out why I write and how I will pursue it.

Link: Key & Peele explain how they created ‘Substitute Teacher’ – The Week

Interview: Key & Peele explain how they created ‘Substitute Teacher’ – The Week.

But when you bring someone back, you want to make sure it’s not just a cookie-cutter, by-the-numbers version of the original sketch, where you have the exact same gag with different names. It was very, very difficult for us to figure out how to do it. [The concept] really goes back to the difference between the cultures of an inner city school and a more privileged school in the suburbs.”

I really like reading people break down their craft, especially (tv) writers, and especially comedians because I always get so lost in the funny that I forget and then later remember that there is such an intricate science to comedy. Sometimes I’ll hear a joke and then think about how it was constructed (something is said, then the turn or element of surprise at the end) but I’ve never been good at setting up a joke or constructing one myself. I think that if I think about it enough, when the time comes to write one, I’ll have picked up the basics by osmosis and it will become innate.

So reading this is fun for me, to learn how this duo comes up with one of their more popular sketches. It also offers insight into how this particular group works and the way their writing dynamic seems to play out.

Quote: SNEAK PEEK at Shonda Rhimes – Black Bloggers Connect™ Official Blog

MG Media: How much pride do you take in the fact that your casts are much more racially diverse than most other shows?

Shonda: I don’t take pride in it at all. I think it’s sad, and weird, and strange that it’s still a thing, nine years after we did “Grey’s,” that it’s still a thing. It’s creepy to me that it’s still an issue, that there aren’t enough people of color on television. Why is that still happening? It’s 2013. Somebody else needs to get their act together. And oh, by the way it works. Ratings-wise, it works. People like to see it. I don’t understand why people don’t understand that the world of TV should look like the world outside of TV.

via SNEAK PEEK at Shonda Rhimes – Black Bloggers Connect™ Official Blog.

No seriously. It’s 2013. Why is it a thing to have a racially diverse show and why is Shonda the only really doing it? Other shows that seem like they have diverse casts kind of still have the token minority who support the lead. They don’t really have leading qualities or episodes of their own. And Shonda is right, her shows are super hits for ABC, and yet no one else has thought that perhaps her casting has helped her get her shows where they are. It’s not everything, but it certainly helps widen your audience.

Toni Morrison says:

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

Toni Morrison

The quote I referenced a few posts ago in its proper context and properly cited.

26 Minority Screenwriters to Inspire You

26 Minority Screenwriters to Inspire You

Just linking here on wordpress a post I wrote for Amanda’s Aspiring TV Writer and Screenwriter Blog. Minority screenwriters of both TV and Film. Check it out here! Let me know of writers I may have missed!