Round 9.11 [The Atheist v. Atmosphere]

Okay, so the following is an attempt at sketching out a story for The Atheist that takes place on Earth, instead of an alien planet. As I'm writing this, I feel I should point out that I have absolutely no idea what's going to come out, which is why I used the word "sketch" -- this, in all likelihood, will not be using the sequence method, at least not in any kind of conscious, direct way. Hell, to be perfectly honest, I'm not even sure if the following will even be a story, in the usual sense, but more of a... "communication of a vision", if that makes any sense. Probably not. Maybe I should just start writing, huh?

The Atheist

links for 2006-03-28

March 27, 2006 · by Burley Grymz · Permalink · Category: Links, Original Version

Weekly Wrap-Up + 2! (3/18/06 - 3/26/06)

Kinda like the Funky Four + One More... only, y'know, not.

So this week's been full of discussion, if very little forward momentum. Sometimes that happens, y'all.

The big thing this week has been Round Nine, The Atheist v. Atmosphere. By Shockah's estimate, this round probably would've been over by now, but Shockah and Burley got sidetracked by whether or not an autistic character is appropriate for the Atmosphere story, and other meta-discussions relating to such, even though it's highly likely that we won't be writing any autistic characters in whatever wins the Spitball! Tourney of Story Ideas. Also, Shockah owes a story sketch of The Atheist, one that takes place on our modern-day Earth and not on an alien planet, and he swears he'll have it done soon, but really, nothing's gonna move forward until he does.

Then, there was some rules discussion about how to gracefully exit a Round for the time being if it looks like it aint going anywhere anytime soon, known by the more elegant name tabling. Unfortunately, that discussion also ground to a halt, which was so ironic that all the anemics in a fifty mile radius were instantly cured.

Also, Burley is getting ready to do a sequence method analysis of Blue Fuckin' Velvet. He had a few questions, that Shockah, as designated expert (snort), answered the best he could. We're all quite excited to see what Burley comes up with.

Finally, both Shockah and Burley posted their philosophies behind creating character sketches for the story ideas. Why? Because it's fun. Burley, by simply explaining why he likes to name characters, has pretty much volunteered himself to name every character, as far as I'm concerned. (I hate doing it, y'see.) (Another aside: He credits me with "Valerie Plum", but I'm pretty sure that's his, too. He has enough names for both of us.)

Odds for next week:

Finishing Round Nine: 2-1
Figuring out rules for tabling: 4-1
Getting hung up on minutiae of space travel: Even
Someone suggests that the "Rasputin" character be autistic: 900-1

Re: Character Sketches: My Philosophy (I Think Very Deeply)

I've never really sat down and thought very hard about my philosophy in characters sketches, but reading your post I realized that my unthunk philosophy follows yours very closely. Which is why it took me a while to respond to this. I had to thunk about it for awhile.

Just a few points of interest or divergence:

Re[3]: Motion: Rules Addendum

Sorry if I was unclear. Here's what I think:

1. Anybody who wants to table a battle at anytime for any reason need only say that this is their desire and the battle is tabled.
2. The other person has the right to lodge an official approval or complaint about the lodging, but this has no bearing on the fact that the battle is tabled. It's only for self-satisfaction and to allow a voice to the other party. There should never be any punishment for tabling a battle.

As for calling a vote, I think that a member can always call a vote at any stage if they really wanted to, and this could be an interesting thing here, but what if the tabling party refuses the vote?

The timing of this is all very funny in lieu of the fact that Christine and I went to go see the Seattle Rep's performance of Private Lives last night, and the main couple forms a pack early on that every time they start fighting and bickering one of them calls "Solomon Isaacs!" and they have to stop talking completely for two minutes to cool down.

Re[2]: Motion: Rules Addendum

REJECTED on technicality. I don't like the idea of placing an arbitrary number of posts to tabling, I'd rather it be in human hands. What if we get up to 20 on a post, but are really digging the exchange?

Excellent point, and one I should've realized. Although I'm 100% sure that a twenty post battle is just going 'round and 'round, there's always the chance that it isn't, and we should protect that possibility.

The other member can respond that the tabling exists with their approval or veto, but either way the tabling will continue.

I am confused here, however. If I table a battle, it's automatically tabled? And you can say you agree or disagree, but it gets tabled anyway? I think a battle should only be tabled with the agreement of both parties -- or is that what you're saying?

I'm also playing with the idea that if someone moves to table a battle, the other person may call for an immediate vote on the battle, but I'm not sure what I think about that yet.

Re: Motion: Rules Addendum

March 23, 2006 · by Burley Grymz · Permalink · Category: Original Version, communiqués

REJECTED on technicality. I don't like the idea of placing an arbitrary number of posts to tabling, I'd rather it be in human hands. What if we get up to 20 on a post, but are really digging the exchange?

So, I propose the following:

Any member, for any reason without explanation at any time may table a round, which is then automatically added to the end of the queue. If the heat is at the end and the discussion is the lone holdout, then the discussion must continue until the issues are resolved.

The other member can respond that the tabling exists with their approval or veto, but either way the tabling will continue.

What say you?

Motion: Rules Addendum

I move that when a Round lasts ten posts, five on each side, that said Round is immediately tabled, to be resumed after the next Rounds in the current Heat are dealt with.

What say you?

Round 9.10 [The Atheist v. Atmosphere]

I can't imagine walking into a movie about an autistic person and thinking, "This guy can't make an emotional connection to people, so I can't make an emotional connection with him." That doesn't make any sense. I literally don't understand or recognize what you're describing. It's totally contrary to everything I know about stories and films.

Two points on this:
1. To paraphrase Mamet, they call a confidence man a confidence man not because you give him your confidence, but because he gives his confidence to you. We fall in love with actors in love stories because they give their love to us by proxy of their screen love interest. We get scared in horror films because the character gives us their fear. The most successful actors are the clearest emotional conduits, that can effortlessly project the inner emotions of a character while seeming not to do so. Movies are, in one great sense, about the emotional states of people. This is one reason that film is such a powerful medium. Having a character who, by definition of his disorder, has trouble emotionally connecting to other people is an impediment to projecting his emotional state.
2. You keep speaking in grand terms, about "our jobs as artists" and "everything you know about stories and films." I'm talking about one instance of one character in one story. I'm making no statements that autism can't be used successfully, I'm simply saying that for the way I see this story, having the character be autistic is an artificial barrier to the points I would like to stress. Namely, as I've said, the emotional manipulation of the audience members. Having them like, then dislike, then sympathize with a nasty character. That's the point of entry and interest for me in this story.

But again, what I'm penultimately saying isn't that it has to be an autistic guy, simply that my version and your version are on the same level, imo -- that is, my "autism made me do it" and your "it was a mistake cuz I fell asleep" are more or less equivalent. I still think the culpability of the protagonist needs to be raised.

I don't think they are equal. One killed people because of something he could, but didn't, control. The other killed people because of a disorder that he has that is no fault of his own. The former makes him culpable. The latter gives, again, mitigating circumstances to his culpability.

Round 9.9 [The Atheist v. Atmosphere]

In this case the story rests on a fulcrum: the audiences ability to make an emotional connection with the protag. Making him autistic seems like an artificial barrier to doing that.

I totally disagree with this premise. I can't imagine walking into a movie about an autistic person and thinking, "This guy can't make an emotional connection to people, so I can't make an emotional connection with him." That doesn't make any sense. I literally don't understand or recognize what you're describing. It's totally contrary to everything I know about stories and films.

The question is whether this story will be enhanced or troubled by having the protag be autistic. I think the latter.

Round 9.8 [The Atheist v. Atmosphere]

Well, that's our job as artists: to find a way in to a specific viewpoint and express it to the best of our ability.

I can't speak to being an artist. My question is simply this: does the autism aid the story? In this case the story rests on a fulcrum: the audiences ability to make an emotional connection with the protag. Making him autistic seems like an artificial barrier to doing that.

The author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time found a way.

Yes he did. He had the autistic guy write the book in first person, because from the outside autistic people are much harder to relate to. You can't read their emotions. Unless you give them a Tom Cruise to bounce off of. I ask you: do you really want to re-write Rain Man?

But, the issue isn't whether or not we could make a story work with an autistic character. I'm sure we could. And, to put a fine point on it, I'm not objecting to an autistic protagonist specifically (being as I just wrote one into one of my descriptions). I'm objecting to a particular character in a particular situation. The question is whether this story will be enhanced or troubled by having the protag be autistic. I think the latter.

Additionally, autism gives him an excuse for his reprehensible actions. If he has a built in excuse, there is no reason to redeem him, so the emotional arc that I'm seeking in this character is unavailable from the word go because he's already forgiven or explained due to his disorder.

Hitchcock was always finding ways getting audiences to connect with characters whom they would otherwise despise.

Yes, and that's exactly what I'm saying I want to do: set up a character that the audiences has good reason to not like, and then help the audience relate to them. That's my goal plain and simple.

Re:[10] Sequence Method Question

I'll formalize a technique and form with my Blue Velvet post, and then you can tweak it and suggest changes as need be.

I'm on board for the Matrix. Let me just finish chewing what I've already bit off.

Maybe we can start a database of these.

Re:[9] Sequence Method Question

That's a little more detailed than I was planning, but it certainly couldn't hurt. I'll see how big my workload is, and start doing this.

Well, the time stamps are completely optional -- I like them for the info they provide, but also because I'm anal-retentive that way :-)

But I can't imagine doing a breakdown without a scene list. I mean, if you can do it, more power to ya, but that's out of my range.

Which reminds me, maybe we should start defining a format for breaking a film down. A form, if you will, that we could follow to aid in our dissections, analyzation and discussions.

Good idea. I'll be looking at your Blue Velvet post carefully.

Also, when I have a few of these under my belt, it might be interesting to pick a film--a non-obvious one, if possible--and each do a breakdown on it. Then, we can compare notes and see if we were both on the same page.

I had the same idea. I was going to save The Matrix for myself, but since I know we both own it, should we go with that? (Also, it's an "easy" one to start with.)

Re:[8] Sequence Method Question

a list of the scenes, in chronological order, and with time stamps

That's a little more detailed than I was planning, but it certainly couldn't hurt. I'll see how big my workload is, and start doing this.

Which reminds me, maybe we should start defining a format for breaking a film down. A form, if you will, that we could follow to aid in our dissections, analyzation and discussions.

Also, when I have a few of these under my belt, it might be interesting to pick a film--a non-obvious one, if possible--and each do a breakdown on it. Then, we can compare notes and see if we were both on the same page.

Re:[7] Sequence Method Question

What I would like to see (if you have it, but maybe this is exactly what you're working on!) is a list of the scenes, in chronological order, and with time stamps, if you got 'em. I don't think I'll be watching Blue Velvet anytime soon, but I'd love to get my hands dirty with this.

That said, I think I've settled on the PONR being the moment where Dorothy discovers him in the closet. This propels him from voyeur and passive (at least in this sequence) observer to active participant.

That sounds pretty good to me!

Round 9.7 [The Atheist v. Atmosphere]

I think you put your finger on something here: with him being autistic, he exists outside of the normal spectrum of emotions. So, how--as an audience--are we suppose to care about him at all? How can we connect with someone who emotionally is unable to connect?

Well, that's our job as artists: to find a way in to a specific viewpoint and express it to the best of our ability. The author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time found a way. Hitchcock was always finding ways getting audiences to connect with characters whom they would otherwise despise.

Or put another way: why should we care about any character, in any story? What tools do we have as artists that allow us to make an audience care for a character? And why should those tools suddenly not work because a character is autistic? I don't think any of this has anything to do with whether a character can emotionally connect to another character or not.

Re:[6] Sequence Method Question

Going by what info I have, it sounds like you're trying to slice it too thin.

That's very likely. In my quest for understanding and applying these techniques I tend towards the microscopic, and have to remember to zoom out and look at the big picture.

But, it would difficult to include all of my potential PONR into one broad PONR because then the entire 3rd sequence would be the PONR.

That said, I think I've settled on the PONR being the moment where Dorothy discovers him in the closet. This propels him from voyeur and passive (at least in this sequence) observer to active participant. The events that take place at her knife seduce him into desiring her, and it either answers or makes more ambiguous the question that seemingly innocent Sandy raises when she tells him:

"I can't tell if you're a detective or a pervert."

As I post my theories and break down of this, I'd be very curious for more feedback from you, of course, and from readers if there are any challenges to the logic of my breakdown.

Re:[5] Sequence Method Question

That's the rub, in a way, because four out of the five events I've described take place during the third sequence.

Ah -- if they're all in the same sequence, then the PONR is probably a sentence that takes them all into account (Jeffrey sneaks into Dorothy's closet but gets caught by Frank, or whatever.) Going by what info I have, it sounds like you're trying to slice it too thin.

But part of the confusion comes because later Jeffrey has the opportunity to leave the situation for good. If that opportunity is presented to the Protagonist, doesn't that sort of negate the PONR?

No, not necessarily. If the opportunity arises, and Jeffrey doesn't take it, then what's compelling him to stay? (I'm assuming something emotional.) That answer would probably be another kind of PONR.

Round 9.6 [The Atheist v. Atmosphere]

The Atheist

I don't get this. Why? If one particular religion is wrong, then X number of religions are wrong.

Well, the main reason I have the population believing in one god is to simplify. If you're really talking about setting it on Earth and taking on "real" religions, then which ones? The big three? What about smaller ones? If we're taking on Christianity, are we taking on the Catholics, the Episcopalians, the Congregationalists, the Anglicans, the Mormons, the Christian Scientists, or the Jehovah's Witnesses? And if you do take on one of those, then how is it taking on all of them? I could argue against the doctrine of virginal birth with a Catholic, but the Congregationalists don't literally believe in that. In other words, if we come up with a scathing indictment of Christianity, it could just be a scathing indictment of one sect and not even matter to another. We've learned that the Catholics really don't like the idea of a human christ--who is ultimately redeemed--dreaming on the cross of being married thanks the devil, but they love the idea of having his suffering brought to snuff film reality. How can you insult people who love the most violent film ever made?

And the same sub-divisions exist for Islam and for Judaism. What if they're based on multiple gods instead of one god? What about the ones that aren't connected to gods at all? How do we explain, or avoid, Wicca, or Rastafarianism? Is the version of God that is wrong the peaceful leftist-Christ, or the vengeful big-daddy Christ who is going to come and kill the mass of the population for not believing in him?

If we make one culture with one god, we can neatly avoid these issues. One god, one planet, one belief system that we define that, of course, metaphorically represents Earth religions--or more directly, the human need for religion.

But, mostly this is an issue of scope. You want to take on all religion and atheists? And you want to do this within 2 hours? Well, maybe this is all conjecture, because at this point I'm not arguing against anything but a belief of where to put the movie, and I don't know anything about the movie set on Earth except the history of the protag.

So, at this point, I say: show your hand. What's the story here of the guy on Earth? What happens and how does it play out in your view?

Atmosphere

I think you put your finger on something here: with him being autistic, he exists outside of the normal spectrum of emotions. So, how--as an audience--are we suppose to care about him at all? How can we connect with someone who emotionally is unable to connect?

But maybe unredeemable is too strong of a word. Let's just say that I'd like to protagonist to be at a severe disadvantage due to his actions, although this can be revealed a bit later in the story maybe, so that at first we think he is the guy we're going to root for, then we learn he isn't, then we start to root for him despite ourselves. If we could set up that dynamic, I would be very happy. The rest is window dressing, as far as I'm concerned.

Re:[4] Sequence Method Question

See, this is where I start to get confused over the (seemingly, to me) arbitrary rules placed around events in the narrative line. More to the point, I find the dividing line between sequences occasionally arbitrary. In Blue Velvet, some are very clear (fade to black, pause, fade up), while some are much less clear, but only exist in my head so that I can define the movie given the constraints of the model we're using.

You said:

the PONR is generally slotted in the third sequence (the very first sequence in the second act), that's the latest it can appear.

That's the rub, in a way, because four out of the five events I've described take place during the third sequence. However, only one (Jeffrey sneaking into her place) really propels him into the drama where he emotionally is trapped, and physically, at least for awhile, is trapped as well.

But part of the confusion comes because later Jeffrey has the opportunity to leave the situation for good. If that opportunity is presented to the Protagonist, doesn't that sort of negate the PONR?

In any case, your clarification did help me figure out a few things, so I'm forging on. Thanks also for clarifying the difference between the Predicament and the the PONR.

Re:[3] Sequence Method Question

Remember, although the PONR is generally slotted in the third sequence (the very first sequence in the second act), that's the latest it can appear. It can appear in the very first moment of the screenplay, if it makes sense. And there should always be moments throughout that "lock in" the protagonist further, a continuous tightening, like a giant python.

But the question is: when can Jeffrey simply not turn around and leave town? And I think either the answer can be either physical or emotional in nature (i.e., either Frank or Dorothy). Unfortunately, I haven't seen Blue Velvet in years, so I can't really offer anything past this. Except: assuming that, per David Howard, that Lynch's stories are only unusual in that they don't offer character motivation, I'd look around the 20 to 30 minute mark and see what scenes are there. That could answer your question.

One last thing: the PONR doesn't draw the action into the second act; the Predicament, and the protagonist's choice towards the Predicament, does.

Round 9.5 [The Atheist v. Atmosphere]

The Atheist

First off, we need the entire population believing in one god.

I don't get this. Why? If one particular religion is wrong, then X number of religions are wrong.

Secondly, in my view, we actually need to disprove that this god exists--or, at least, that the historical evidence for this god was made by their imprisoned forefathers.

How can we disprove a god that real people actually believe in (when some people can't even draw cartoons of one version of him)?

I guess this is where our visions of this completely differ, as I don't see how we can disprove an imaginary god either. To me, this is a story about faith and belief -- the character comes to believe, against all the believers of various religions and the atheists, that the planet is a giant prison for their ancestors -- and he turns out to be right. To put it another way, a planet with a made-up culture is too distancing to me, ultimately too watered-down. I guess what I'm saying is, the belief systems of aliens are completely uninteresting to me, especially when the ones we've got here on Earth are fascinating enough.

Maybe it's because the story of your protagonist just wasn't as compelling to me.

Re:[2] Sequence Method Question

If, however you're dealing with some Altman Short Cuts type shit, then you've got several stories on your hands, and you probably should chart out each one.

I don't think my ambiguity is really serving any purpose here but to guard me from potential failure and looking foolish, and that's not a very good reason. In fact, it might be more useful to myself and everybody if I reasoned this breakdown I'm doing out loud, since it's the first I've attempted.

The movie I picked is: Blue Velvet (I just watched it again for the first time in quite a while). So, the questions of PONR come up in conjunction with protagonist Jeffrey Beaumont. Here are a few of the PONR I've identified: (it goes without saying, but we're just the type to say things that might usually go without: SPOILERS AHEAD).

Round 9.4 [The Atheist v. Atmosphere]

Hmmm... I'm not entirely sure what we're supposed to do now.

Me neither...my god. Did we actually make too few rules?

Anyway, I agree with Shockah that the rabble should be rousing--if you have the slightest inkling of an opinion on this one, please do let us know.

So, without further adieu:

Re: Character Sketches: My Philosophy (I Think Very Deeply)

I doubt I could force him even if I wanted to, at least not without the use of a whip and cheese-covered apple pie


I'm replying properly to today's posts here, but I couldn't let this slide. Can a fella get anybody to testify to the greatness of hot apple pie with cheddar cheese for breakfast? Mr. Shockah's palate won't allow for such deliciosity, and I'm eager to prove to him that this is not an personal idiosyncrasy, but accepted culinary practice.

Character Sketches: My Philosophy (I Think Very Deeply)

Note: The following has absolutely nothing to do with Burley's excellent character bios, as seen below. It's just that, when I started my bios, I felt like I needed to definitively state what it was I was trying to accomplish, so I created a list of guidelines and "talking points", if you will, to guide me. While I certainly hope that I can engage Burley into a conversation about this topic, he's not honor-bound to share my philosophy or use my ideas. (I doubt I could force him even if I wanted to, at least not without the use of a whip and cheese-covered apple pie.) I share them with you now because... well, when it comes to grand theorizing about writing, I'm a Chatty Cathy.

Re: Sequence Method Question

Since I don't know what film you're doing, it's a little tough. I'll start with: where does the film fall on that McKee story triangle thingie? That is, if it's pretty much a standard, mainstream story, or even a "miniplot", you probably should only have one PONR and one Predicament. If, however you're dealing with some Altman Short Cuts type shit, then you've got several stories on your hands, and you probably should chart out each one. (Or I suppose, if you have a film that has one strong, but somewhat tangential subplot -- like an old Simpsons episode -- then that subplot should probably be charted out on its own.)

Then again, it's not like an exact science or anything, so make up new rules if you have to!

Does that help or hinder?

Sequence Method Question

Should each plot thread have its own Point of no return? I'm dissecting a movie right now, and I think I've identified five potential PONR, but each have different impact on the primary story (which is muddy to begin with, and cross pollinated with other issues). Any feedback on this? Should the PONR focus on the primary story line, or should each have its own?

And, if it does, should each also have its own predicament and main tension? How microscopic should one get with these things.

Round 9.3 [The Atheist v. Atmosphere]

Hmmm... I'm not entirely sure what we're supposed to do now. I suppose it's no different than before and we start talking about the pros and cons of the various stories and character bios, but for some reason this round feels different than the others. Maybe 'cause we're one step closer to the real thang?

To all the Forum posters out there, actual and potential: Now's the time to make your voice heard. I don't know about Burley, but I love all these ideas, so I could use some outside guidance, now that we're getting into specifics. What do you like? What don't you like? Why? Again, I can't speak for Burley, but what you say will have an effect on my decisions.

Anyway:

Round 9.2 [The Atheist v. Atmosphere]

The Atheist (Shockah rank: #4, Burley rank: #1)

v.

Atmosphere (neé Methane Madness) (Shockah rank: #7, Burley rank: #9)

Note that I've added the "relationship to story" line, just in case we start to diverge from the primary characters into minor, but influential ones. Also, your idea of The Atheist, which takes place on Earth, was very different than mine, so I was a bit confused at first. This line should help clarify things.

And now, without further adieu:

Round Nine [The Atheist v. Atmosphere]

The Atheist (Shockah rank: #4, Burley rank: #1)

v.

Atmosphere (neé Methane Madness) (Shockah rank: #7, Burley rank: #9)

ROPE A DOPE!

(Note: We've added a new requirement to the battles -- a character sketch of the protagonist, of about 600 words. "Character sketch" can be defined anyway that I or Burley choose to interpret it. Although the idea is to have two very different sketches for each story, if one of us thinks one of the other's sketches is top-notch, another option is to expand on that sketch for 600 more words.)

Weekly Wrap-Up (3/11/06 - 3/17/06)

Lots of activity this week!

First, Shockah posted the second half of his Jaws analysis. (Part One is here.)

Then, after the constipation of being unable to come up with a story for Rachel, My Dear, Shockah was forced to forfeit, the first (and hopefully last) such instance in the short history of the Spitball! Tourney of Story Ideas. This meant that Burley could either pick his favorite (Rachel) to automatically move ahead, or he could pick Shockah's (Methane Madness) and take a "trump card", meaning he can force Shockah to write a 1000 word essay on a topic of Burley's choice at any time. Do you even have to ask which one Burley picked? I mean, seriously.

So Methane Madness moved on, and Shockah requested that the title be changed to Atmosphere, in honor of his adopted cousin on his father's side, the late great Ian Curtis. It was approved.

Then Round Eight, Cop on the Hunt v. The Scabs commenced, and it was kind of like a Yankees v. Devil Rays game -- one of these story ideas just didn't belong here. Maybe in some kind of Spitball! AAA club, but not here buddy -- this is the major leagues.

So, Heat #1, where we pitted 16 ideas against each other to come out with eight, now becomes Heat #2, where those eight will become four. These battles will now include short, 600 word character sketches of each story's protagonist.

Round Nine, The Atheist v. Atmosphere, will begin shortly. Today. I swear. On the grave of my late adopted cousin.

links for 2006-03-17

March 16, 2006 · by Burley Grymz · Permalink · Category: Links, Original Version

Re:[2] The Spitball! Tourney of Story Ideas -- Heat #2!

My Top Four:

1. The Atheist
2. Rasputin the Translator
3. Little Black Stray
4. La Commune Planet

(Unlikely that anyone cares, but I did not look at Burley's list until I composed my own.)

Thus, Heat #2 consists of the following:

1. The Atheist v. Atmosphere
2. Rasputin the Translator v. Time to Die
3. Little Black Stray v. Terminal Connection
4. La Commune Planet v. The Scabs

Round Nine (thought I'd keep the numbers continuous -- it'll make searches easier) belongs to me, and should make an appearance tomorrow.

Re: The Spitball! Tourney of Story Ideas -- Heat #2!

From most to least favorite:

1. The Scabs
2. Terminal Connection
3. Time to Die
4. Atmosphere

I accept all of the terms and conditions. Awaaaay we go!

The Spitball! Tourney of Story Ideas -- Heat #2!

Now that Heat #1 has wrapped up, we're now onto Heat #2, where things really start to heat up! Big Money! Big Prizes! I looooove it!

Re:[2] Round 8: Rise to Vote, Sir!

Wouldn't it be funny if I voted for Cop?

But, I'm not! I'm picking the Scabs (eeeewwwww). Ladies and Gentleman, this means that heat one of the first Spitball! plot dilution and expansion project has come to an end. To recap our winners:

1. Rasputin the Translator
2. La Commune Planet
3. Little Black Stray
4. The Atheist
5. Terminal Connection (formerly the Infected + If It Pleases The Court)
6. Time to Die
7. Atmosphere (formerly Methane Madness, named after Shockah's paternal grandfather Ian Curtis)
8. The Scabs

For those that don't remember the plots, we'll recap as we go. Which leaves us now with the question of procedure, so I will punt to the master of our arbitrary and needlessly complex® rules. Please sir, steer us into the next phase of Spitball!

Re: Round 8: Rise to Vote, Sir!

I'm Scabbin' it uptown, uptown!
I'm moving it uptown!
People goin', people goin'
I'm Scabbin' it uptown! Uptown!

You better Scab it up slowly...

You better Scab it up slowly...

Round 8: Rise to Vote, Sir!

I suspect we're both ready to put the hammer down on this one.

Round 8.2 [Cop On the Hunt v. The Scabs]

Cop on the Hunt (Shockah rank: #8, Burley rank: #20)

v.

The Scabs (Shockah rank: #19, Burley rank: #1)

404 ERROR -- PITHY QUIP NOT FOUND

Round Eight [Cop On the Hunt v. The Scabs]

Cop on the Hunt (Shockah rank: #8, Burley rank: #20)

v.

The Scabs (Shockah rank: #19, Burley rank: #1)

This is the end, my only friend, the end...

Re:[3] Motion for Title Change

Um, no. That was my attempt at heart-tugging propaganda in order to get my way.

Sneaky. A little too sneaky. But, never let it be said that we--who are making up stories all the time--shouldn't celebrate lying. Viva your fake-famial relations. Have I ever told you that Ambrose Bierce was my godfather?

Re:[2] Motion for Title Change

Holy shit, dude--you're related to Ian Curtis?

Um, no. That was my attempt at heart-tugging propaganda in order to get my way.

And it worked ;-)

Re: Motion for Title Change

Holy shit, dude--you're related to Ian Curtis?

Well, motion passes. Joy Division got me through many a long dark night of the teenage soul. Or, maybe it put me there? In any case, motion passes, motion passes.

Motion for Title Change

I move that the title Methane Madness be changed to Atmosphere, in honor of my mom's uncle's cousin across the Atlantic, the late Ian Curtis (1956 - 1980).

Re: Round Seven -- I Forfeit

Sir, I say to you: good try. I know this man well enough to say that if he says he tried, he went down fighting.

For that reason, because my decision was a difficult one to start with, and for a little essaytainment, I hereby declare Methane Madness the winner of this round.

For those of you not following our needlessly complex® rules, this means that I get the Trump Card, which is to assign an essay to Mr. Shockah, 1000 words, one week to finish, on the topic of my choice. I will be playing this card before too long, but for now I say with good cheer that it is time, dear time, to move on to the final heat of this round.

My hat is off to you, Urban Shockah. My hat is off.

Round Seven -- I Forfeit

Nope. Couldn't do it. I tried, several times, but I simply can't make a story about a woman trapped in a house work. (And by work, I mean come up with a second act, let alone a third.) I only had three requirements: that it be interesting enough that I'd want to spend time writing it, that it make sense (even if only in a poetic or metaphoric way), and that it be suspenseful. I could get one, sometimes I could get two, but never all three.

I thought I was maybe onto something with my latest idea (which was promising, I thought, because it went in a slightly different direction than what the original concept suggested -- think a supernatural version of Primer) but a) I ran out of time, and b) my enthusiasm for it kept waxing and waning. If Rachel, My Dear survives, I'll keep working on it and share it at some point.

So, it's all in your hands, Burley.

Re:[2] Structurally Speaking: Jaws (Part II)

Lindbergh's publicist or wife can now take center stage for awhile.

Dude, does it really say publicist? Before wife? If so, Howard's book's a lot funnier than I remembered.

Spitball! Tourney update: I apologize to everyone for the lateness of my reply. Things kept getting in the way of work and the Jaws thing took a little more time than expected. However! Because this train must roll, I'm giving myself a deadline of tomorrow at 8pm. Some kind of reply regarding Rachel, My Dear will be posted here at that time -- I gare-un-tee it.

Re: Structurally Speaking: Jaws (Part II)

(The example subplot given in David Howard's book is, during a story about Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic, about his wife worrying about him. Something like that. Maybe Burley can fill in the details here. Did I mention I don't have the books in front of me?)

Not only do I got your books, I got your back too. Howard, How to Build a Great Screenplay. pgs 328-329.

Main Subplot and Main Character

After the intensity of the midpoint, there is a tendency for a story to suffer what is known as the second-act sag. This is a sense of letdown we experience after a major emotional event. Our hero has made a concerted effort and it has not had the result he and we had hoped. He might have succeeded in what he was trying to do, but that merely turned the dilemma upside down. Or he might have failed and the failure has made the predicament even worse. Either way, we have just come from a major high or low contrasting moment -- the midpoint -- and there is a tendency to sink, lose energy, or lose focus. The best way to overcome second-act sag is to let the major subplot take over for a while. We haven't yet had any truly significant change or first culmination in that second most important story, so it can arrive energized, hopeful or fearful, and very tense.

The mention to Linbergh's wife is brief and in the next paragraph:

Linbergh's publicist or wife can now take center stage for awhile.

Structurally Speaking: Jaws (Part II)

Welcome back to my "sequence method" analysis of Jaws. For those just tuning in, an explanation of the sequence method can be found here (the first four points) and here (the last four points), but you may want to start with the "Why structure, anyway?" post. The first part of the Jaws analysis can be found here. Questions? Disagreements? Think I should be discussing the brilliance of Jaws 4? Go to the Forums, by clicking here. Finally, there's a discussion about casting a theoretical remake of Jaws that needs, nay, demands your input.

And now... Part II.

Weekly Wrap-Up (3/4/06 - 3/10/06)

Nine posts this week, but only two topics!

Earlier in the week, Shockah posted Part I of his analysis of Jaws, covering the first four points of the sequence method. Part II coming up soon.

Then the Spitball! Tourney of Story Ideas came to a screeching halt, as the other eight posts were devoted to a drawn-out, slightly contentious and lovingly pedantic discussion about the penalties of forfeiture. (Yes, we make our screenwriting blog sound like tax law; y'wanna fight about it?) Last week, if you'll remember, was the very first tied vote in the history of the Tourney. Our rules dictated that Shockah and Burley had to come up with a version of the story they didn't vote for to continue the discussion. While Burley was able to do so for Methane Madness, Shockah wasn't sure if he was going to be able to do the same for Rachel, My Dear. What would happen if he couldn't fulfill his obligation?

After much, much discussion, the rule of forfeiture was agreed upon and there was much rejoicing. No, not rejoicing -- something else. Now, the world waits with much anticipation to see if Shockah does indeed forfeit or pulls it together with a blazingly brilliant post about a story idea he ranked fifteenth out of twenty-five. Should be (better be) interesting -- there's a trump card at stake!

We'll be back in two and two.

Re: [7] Point of Order: Rules Clarification

in my mind, contradicts what you wrote previously about "reneging on the forfeiture"

Sorry if I was unclear. I meant that if you forfeited, and then later came back and wrote your response to Rachel, that would be reneging on the forfeiture and might confuse issues.

No worries, though, we're on the right path, and your last paragraph and two points are correct. We are ready to move on. So, sir, I say to you: Play or forfeit the round.

Re: [6] Point of Order: Rules Clarification

I guess we're talking across each other, because this--

As far as I am concerned, we're still negotiating terms now, so the forfeiture is not officially on the table until terms have been agreed upon. If, when we agree on terms in the abstract (terms which, remember, I myself may become beholden to in the future), you decide to forfeit, then the terms will be enforced. Otherwise, you can decide not to forfeit and forward your ideas on Rachel, if any of this inspires you.

--unless I'm misunderstanding what you just wrote, is what I was arguing for, and in my mind, contradicts what you wrote previously about "reneging on the forfeiture", hence my last post. Also, I never had anything against the terms of the penalty, merely about when they would be applied -- that was my only issue.

So, to be clear:

1. We agree on the penalty for forfeiture, then;

2. I may either continue the battle as normal or forfeit.

And to be clear about your further explanation of the penalty, using this battle as an example: I'm the backer of Methane Madness, and you are the backer of Rachel, My Dear. If I forfeit, then you can either a) choose Rachel, My Dear and we move on to the next battle, or b) choose Methane Madness and you also get a trump card.

Is that correct?

Re:[5] Point of Order: Rules Clarification

after all, if I knew what the penalties were going in, it's possible I wouldn't have forfeited in the first place. Right?

As far as I am concerned, we're still negotiating terms now, so the forfeiture is not officially on the table until terms have been agreed upon. If, when we agree on terms in the abstract (terms which, remember, I myself may become beholden to in the future), you decide to forfeit, then the terms will be enforced. Otherwise, you can decide not to forfeit and forward your ideas on Rachel, if any of this inspires you.

But, to be very clear, I don't see picking the winning entry as a reward, I see it as a necessary duty because the forfeiting party has, for whatever reason, given up or felt that they couldn't continue their explorations. So, my evaluation will be not what do I personally desire, but what will be best for the (in micro) game and (in macro) eventual screenplay. If, for instance, I was to say that Rachel wins because it's my favorite, then we're going to run into an issue when Rachel, the winner of a round, goes up against whatever actual winner it goes up against in the next round--one that both of us chose-- and you're going to have to argue for Rachel which, currently, you don't feel that you can do successfully, and you doubtfully will like as much as the other, which you had a distinct opinion on. So, the choice before me is a devil's bargain: win and potentially make a weaker game, or give way to the other idea and keep the game strong but suppress my personal wishes to some degree. Since this position was not chosen by me, but awarded me by default by the forfeiting party, then I feel I should have a reward for being put in the position of having to choose.

My personal preference is always to argue it through, but if I have to make the choice and choose one, then I think the party who is taking the easier way out needs the penalty, thus the trump card essay. However, in the spirit of compromise and moving things forward, how about this:

If one party forfeits a round, the other party has the choice of which story to send forward. If the non-forfeiting party picks their own favorite, then the forfeiting party owes nothing more, but only gains a delay in their defense of that idea, for they will have to defend it in the next round. If, however, the non-forfeiting party decides to further the other idea, then they are awarded the trump card, which can be played for an essay.

This addresses both of our issues, I believe, and is excessively needless and potentially strategic. Do you like these terms?

Re: [4] Point of Order: Rules Clarification

Wait, just so I understand this correctly: you want a renegable forfeiture? Sir, I'm afraid I must say that forfeiting is forfeiting, and you accept the penalties. Otherwise, the can of worms is open. I started to give many examples, but then decided that I'd just say this:

Well, let's be fair: I said I would forfeit, and the penalty would be the "automatic win" of Rachel, My Dear. You said if I forfeit, then the penalty would not be the automatic win, but instead you would get to choose the automatic winner and you would get a "trump card". Since those are radically different terms, it seems fair that I should be given the chance to avoid these new, agreed upon and binding penalties of forfeiture if possible, as it is fair that I would submit to them if I feel I must, after all is said and done, forfeit. Yes? Or put another way: Just because I forfeit, doesn't mean that you get to set the penalties and enforce them in one fell swoop -- after all, if I knew what the penalties were going in, it's possible I wouldn't have forfeited in the first place. Right?

Re:[3] Point of Order: Rules Clarification

First: TV Shows?

Oops--yes, for those of you who are confused, I accidentally filed my last entry into the category "TV Shows" of which it is obviously not. I am the first to admit that an essay writing TV show would be very boring. I have remedied this by placing this entry into the negative TV shows category, so everything is balanced out.

I only accept it on condition that I may rescind my initial forfeiture and attempt to try again, however futile that attempt may be.

Wait, just so I understand this correctly: you want a renegable forfeiture? Sir, I'm afraid I must say that forfeiting is forfeiting, and you accept the penalties. Otherwise, the can of worms is open. I started to give many examples, but then decided that I'd just say this:

I see the point of the forfeiture not as the forfeited party giving up, but as the other party simply gaining a bit of control. Remember, that should you agree to the terms, I can pick either story I want, so the point of re-writing later may be a moot one. The ability to make you write an essay (of which, I will mention, that I am not sadistic and will choose an appropriate topic intended to challenge, but not frustrate, the writer) may actually be enough payment for me to switch sides and start batting Methane Madness. One will never know until they agree to the terms fully...

Re:[2] Point of Order: Rules Clarification

First: TV Shows?

Second: This is a good plan. While you don't think it should move ahead because I'm having trouble creating a vision of it, I don't think it should be held back just because I'm having trouble creating a vision of it, and this is a good compromise. I accept this amendment.

However!

I only accept it on condition that I may rescind my initial forfeiture and attempt to try again, however futile that attempt may be. You think I'm just going to give you a trump card? Not likely, buddy. You're too essay-crazed to be allowed to have one.

Re: Point of Order: Rules Clarification

I'm torn about this. On one hand, I do want Rachel, My Dear to move forward, and also want to keep the competition moving forward. On the other hand, it seems that the argument is that Rachel should win because you aren't finding it compelling enough to find your way into it. That tells me that it's not a good candidate for moving on, since in the next rounds I want the competition to be stiff and full of it. Ideas, that is.

So, thinking about those things, I think we should establish the following rule: forfeiture. You forfeit the round if you feel that you can't further the story of the disputed work. Forfeiture means that the other player gets to pick which work moves forward, and also receives a trump card.

What does the trump card do? Hmmm, since I'm about to receive one, I should shoot the moon. I think instead I'll just say this: the trump card can be played at any time to make the other player write an essay. The essay will have to be 1000 words or more on a topic of the trump card holder's choice written within one week.

If you accept these terms, we'll move forward, and I will post which story I choose to forward this round.

Point of Order: Rules Clarification

Well, after spending several days on it, I've found that I simply can't come through on my end of the tie-breaker round. Here's how my Round 7.9 post began:

So, my big problem with Rachel was that, despite the interesting premise and all the notes and discussion on it, I still didn't feel like I knew what happened in it. What were the Cool Scenes, that you might see in a trailer? How exactly was Rachel confined to the house? Does the house have some freaky supernatural powers, or is it simply constructed in a strange, but logical, manner? Why doesn't she just break a damn window? There were still so many variables that hadn't even been penciled in, that it felt like it was in a kind of holding pattern, and it really needs to move forward.

Yet, every attempt I made to come up with some kind of structure, some kind of skeleton that gave me an idea as to what actually happened in the story (i.e. the second act), was met with defeat. While I could've simply went with one of my lesser attempts, anyone who knows me knows I'm loathe to put up anything I consider shoddy or uninspired work -- especially when the whole point was to give a version of the story that I could get behind. If I put up a version that, ultimately, I think is crap, then that's a kind of cheating, I think.

The only way to resolve this, as I see it, is to simply move Rachel, My Dear forward, since I failed to adhere to the rules of the game. What say you?

Structurally Speaking: Jaws (Part I)

So now that we've gone through the sequence method (albeit in a brief, condensed form), let's apply that to some popular movies and see what happens.

I'm going to start with my favorite movie of all-time, bar none: Jaws. As you probably know, Jaws was the movie that, for better or worse, kick-started the concept of the "blockbuster summer movie". It's a pretty straightforward story (a clear protagonist, a clear antagonist, no flashbacks or other narrative tricks), and it seems like it should be a prime example of basic mainstream film structure.

Well... yes and no. Although for the most part it follows the sequence method mark for mark, there is a little twist, one that demonstrates the elasticity of the sequence method.

Let's take a gander (the length of each sequence is indicated in bold):

Weekly Wrap-Up (2/24/06 - 3/3/06)

Stealing an idea straight from the Stranger's Slog, we're going to do a weekly wrap-up, covering every Friday to Friday. Although we don't post as often as other blogs (nor should we, when there's only two of us and the posts are part of a conversation, and not celebrity gossip or something stupid like that), there's usually a lot going on nonetheless. To wit:

The Spitball! Tourney of Story Ideas rolls on, as this week Burley and Shockah discussed Round Seven, which pitted Rachel, My Dear (a woman trapped in a crazy house designed by her mad fiancé) against Methane Madness (an inmate on a prison planet surrounded by a toxic atmosphere tries to escape by inventing, underneath the guards' noses, a process to make the atmosphere breathable). After 7 posts of back and forth, we went to vote... and for the first time in the history of the contest, we voted for different stories. We're now dealing with the post-tied-vote process, which means that each person has to spell out a version they like of the story they didn't vote for. Burley has already put up a character bio for the imprisoned scientist of Methane Madness, while Shockah is preparing a post that will pitch a story outline for Rachel, My Dear.

Another continuing series is Shockah's posts about the sequence method, a theory of screenplay structure that will probably be used to help shape the winner of the Spitball! Tourney of Story Ideas. ("[H]e can give you a succinct overview of points of the sequence method better than the guys who write books about it" -- Burley Grymz, Spitball!) Right now, there's three posts about the subject: an intro, an explanation of the first four points of what I call "the story core", and an explanation about the last four points. (Burley has a couple responses to these posts, here and here.) Coming up, Shockah will take an arty, little-known indie from 30 years ago called Jaws and break it down using the sequence method. Should be good for a few laughs; stay tuned.

(Oh, and in the Forum, Shockah and Burley posted their ideas for recasting a remake of Jaws and it's totally awesome. Check it out and add your two cents!)

Finally, Burley is inventing his own theory of structure based around the game of cricket (which he knows nothing about), which goes by the name of... *sigh*... Tip Scum. See Shockah's reaction here; and Burley's reaction to the reaction here.

Round 7.8 [Rachel, My Dear v. Methane Madness]

So, now I have to figure out how I could change Methane Madness to make it more attractive to me than Rachel, My Dear.

Well, as ironic as it sounds (since I usually start broad and get specific), I actually think we're too broad with Methane Madness. I realize that much of the information was back story, and not intended for the page, but I still feel the need to get myopic on our character. Let me start here by giving him a bio, and a name.

Dr. Zheng James McNab is a scientist doing research on atmosphere, specifically on a new brand of oxygen tank that is refillable through small fissile reactions with methane. These miniature, contained nuclear reactions take place in a pack the size of a hockey puck and fill 30 air tanks or so. This allows workers to stay in the vacuum of space for long periods of time with renewable oxygen. Same for underwater experiences. Zheng gives a talk in which he claims that this process can work on a large scale, terra forming entire planets. He is warned by his bosses to not attempt such a thing, since it is consider too dangerous. But, he knows great rewards would come to him if he could succeed.

Re:[2] Round Seven: Rise to Vote, sir!

I feel like these stories have both been described and laid out in great detail, and despite the fact that my preference is to move on to the last round of the first heat, I have to stay true to my desires. I reject Methane Madness. I vote for Rachel, My Dear. Going into the competition it was actually reversed, but the more I dug into the story the more intriguing it got. Creepy, psychological--I don't think the questions are all answered, but the questions that are being raised interest me far more than Methane Madness.

So, according to rules of play, each of us has to go and give a version of the story that we didn't vote for that would be acceptable to them, and then we can vote again. So, next up: Round 7.8, 7.9 and then we'll see where we are. Since you took 7.7, I'll take 7.8.

Re: Round Seven: Rise to Vote, sir!

Wow, so many mixed feelings about this, about a couple of things. First, we did pretty much reach the end on this one (or at least, I feel like we're holding back, because one of them is destined for more discussion anyway), but can I say I've really enjoyed this round? It felt like, because I didn't have very strong feelings about either story idea, I could stand back and be somewhat neutral and just enjoy looking at each plot from different angles. It really felt like spitballing, I guess because I felt like I didn't have to pimp one of the nominees.

(But that could easily change if we vote for different stories!)

And I came to really like both ideas, and it's a shame that they didn't lend themselves towards consolidation. I sorta don't want to vote, because my personal inclination is that I vote when I feel 70/30 about the two nominees, and I'm only at about 55/45 with these two.

But one has to win, and so I'm going to back the one that I feel is the furthest along the development path:

Methane Madness.

Round Seven: Rise to Vote, sir!

I feel like I've gone as far as I can with this one at this point. I move that we call a vote.

Round 7.7 [Rachel, My Dear v. Methane Madness]

Rachel, My Dear
I can see your problem with Rachel-as-architect, but I'm not sure if I like Gabe-as-contractor. (Or maybe I don't know enough about the biz to know whether that scenario is likely or believable.) But I think what's clear is that Rachel, whatever she does, needs Tha Skillz to fight the house on an intellectual level as well as a physical one. Is there another job like "architect" that could do the same job?

Maybe when he looks at the house he sees the house Rachel designed, but when she sees the house she sees a nightmare.

Heh -- when I read that, it makes me wonder if Rachel isn't the crazy one. Is there room for that kind of ambiguity (not necessarily through the whole thing -- we can still find out at the end that Gabe's the crazy one) or should it be clear from the outset who's crazy?

Methane Madness

I'm kind of tired of the "corporation" being evil.

Round 7.6 [Rachel, My Dear v. Methane Madness]

Rachel, My Dear

I'm going to get pedantic for a minute here. I really like the idea of Rachel as architect, but one thing bothers me about it: if Rachel were an architect, then she wouldn't just let her husband build a house for her, she would be involved in it. So, what I suggest to fix this issue is that we make Rachel the architect, and her husband a contractor. They have a deal on this house--she designs whatever she wants with his interference, and he builds it how he wants without her interference. But, her curiosity and his strange behavior drive her to seek out the site and see what's happening. It's not at all what she has expected....

I agree with you that Gabe is unaware of his madness. In his mind, he IS building Rachel's house, and doesn't understand her strong reaction to his work. Maybe when he looks at the house he sees the house Rachel designed, but when she sees the house she sees a nightmare. Like some of Sacks' patients, he is deluded without knowing he is deluded.