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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » FYI: A little story-crafting wisdom from the Joss

   
Author Topic: FYI: A little story-crafting wisdom from the Joss
History
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I've admired writer/director Joss Whedon's work, particularly his gift with ensemble characters and evoking emotions for over a decade.

He's also a very pleasant and warm and generous individual who attracts other writers, actors, musicians, et al who are similarly personable and giving to their fans and to would-be artists desiring and struggling to similarly improve their craft and achieve success. I've had the pleasure of meeting many of his actors and crew and heard him speak. As much as I normally detest the word, I need say they are all "nice" ffolke.

Joss recently provided a near imprompto informal discussion group on screenwriting in London (I need get on Twitter more often) in which Jim Lynn, a dazed attendee, recorded this bit of storycrafting guidance to be shared [http://jimlynn.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/joss-whedons-impossible-screenwriting-seminar/]:

"He talked about the importance of knowing who all your characters are, and what drives them, even the second henchman on the right. He described getting executive notes as being nibbled to death by ducks. He talked about the importance of structure, and how he would create charts showing the story timeline, with colours indicating the purpose or feeling of every scene, so he can see that the pacing and structure of the story is working as he wants it."

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Reziac
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"He talked about the importance of knowing who all your characters are, and what drives them, even the second henchman on the right."

I think that's great wisdom. Even spear carriers and redshirts are there for their own reasons. Which might be as little as "it's a paycheck" or "I got drafted", but it still colors what drives them, and how they'll react. (Eg. Stop paying your spear carriers, and in the next battle they'll all run away. You're in trouble now!! [Big Grin] )

I live in a cave... I just now watched the venerable Blake's 7 for the first time, all 52 episodes in order (it's definitely a serial, not a series). This thing is the epitome of character-driven; all but 3 or 4 episodes go directly to developing someone's motivations, and everything that happens derives from that.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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One of the things I've learned about Shakespeare's greatness (from attending the Utah Shakespeare Festival literary seminars for years now) is that when he wrote his plays, he had to come up with "good parts" for every one of the actors in the company.

And so, each character had to have his own story in order for the part to be a "good part."

I think I noticed this most clearly when I realized, while watching a performance of HENRY V one year, that the character Fluellen was convinced that the play was actually about him. (Kudos to the actor for conveying that so well.)

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MattLeo
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I once heard a mystery writer remark something to the effect, "Writers who can plot have books published. Writers who can create believable characters have careers."

I tend to distrust generalizations like that; but I think plot is what propels us through the story the first time, while characterization and setting are what make us want to read a story over and over again.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
I think I noticed this most clearly when I realized, while watching a performance of HENRY V one year, that the character Fluellen was convinced that the play was actually about him. (Kudos to the actor for conveying that so well.)

I got a humorous tickle out of the irony implied by "the character Fluellen was convinced that the play was actually about him. (Kudos to the actor for conveying that so well.)"

Are not actors and actresses scene-stealing, prima donna antics legendary? Admirable when an actor and a director or especially an observer realizes that as a strength. Exquisite ironies abound therein.

[ December 04, 2013, 08:31 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Are not actors and actresses scene-stealing, prima donna antics legendary? Admirable when an actor and a director or especially an observer realizes that as a strength.

Well, this kind of thing comes up in art all the time, writing included: the delightfully clever bit. The trick is to know when your cleverness really serves your purposes, and when it needs cutting.

Fluellen is obviously a comic character; he's a bit of an Elizabethan ethnic slur too: the pompously wordy Welshman. Oddly enough, Welsh is about the one ethnicity I *don't* have in my family tree. Anyhow, the Fluellen role is a comic-relief part, which means it's literally made for scene stealing. Montjoy is a non-comic part that's likewise made for scene-stealing, because of his office as herald. But if actor playing Salisbury tries to stand out in the "St. Crispen's Day" scene, that would be unwelcome no matter how impressive he was. Salisbury is in that scene merely to give Henry someone to play off of.

[ December 04, 2013, 09:42 PM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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