Monthly Archives: May 2014

Why a Poster and Book Cover is like a Movie Tagline

Electric Chair

The Level

I am not much of a traditionalist when it comes to teaching creativity, being, as I am, a great believer in using an interdisciplinary methodology to help solve persistent creative problems. A frontal assault is not always the best way to break down barriers. One often needs to tackle the problem laterally.

I recently had the privilege of delivering a course on how to create effective film loglines and taglines. Towards the end of the course I had the idea of warping things up by introducing a different approach to logline and tagline creation.

A logline, we are reminded, is the summation of the story, sans the ending, that introduces the main conflict, the protagonist and antagonist, and identifies that which must be learnt or acquired in order to fulfill the goal. A tagline, by contrast, is a phrase or sentence that captures some essential aspect of the story—in Apollo 13, the tagline is: Huston, we have a problem.

The exercise I set my students during class, was to have them envisage the essence of a story, not through the logline and tagline, as per usual, but by designing a poster or book cover instead. I emphasised that it didn’t matter whether they were skilled artists or not. What was important was to capture the spirit of the story as a graphic. They could “paint” a word portrait and use stick and block drawings to fill in the gaps, if need be.

The exercise was a wonderful success and threw up many interesting renditions of the story. It also proved the point that the creative process works best when using a multidisciplinary approach.

In much the same way, the book cover of my new novella, The Level, which is being released on Amazon in early June, captures an essential aspect of the story, and this, without giving too much away.

The book cover features a quintessential object from the story in a dark but intriguing way, and encourages the reader to ask the question: What is the role of the chair in the tale?

The tagline, which also draws heavily from the title, might well be: Many Lives. Many Levels. Which Level Are You?

True to form, the cover was designed before the tagline was developed and helped inspire some of The Level’s many twists and turns.

Summary

Using an offbeat multidisciplinary approach in tackling creative problems promotes inspiration and encourages insight.

How to Validate Your Characters’ Traits

The number 4

Validating Character Traits

One of the wonderful things about being a teacher of writing, and author, is that I get to think about my craft and discover hidden treasures that surprise and reward me at unexpected moments.

During a recent screenwriting lecture, a student asked me how to avoid making the forth trait of a character appear less trite and forced? She felt that in many of the films and books she’d read, some by accomplished authors, this contrasting trait appeared superficial and misplaced and detracted from the effectiveness of the overall work.

Just to rewind for a moment: A typical character comprises of four defining traits, the forth of which stands in stark contrast to the others—this, in order to create inner tension and generate interest in the character. For example: a generous, intelligent, educated man who keeps stupidly choosing the wrong spouses; a merciless, relentless, serial killer who supports a favourite charity dedicated to uplifting the education of underprivileged children in the inner city …

I thought about this for a while and realised that I hadn’t, perhaps, sufficiently emphasised the importance of tying each character trait, and especially the fourth trait, into that character’s backstory.

So, if a man keeps stupidly choosing the wrong spouse, find an event in his past that explains this trait, and make it integral to the story. Was he rejected by girls as a youth for a specific reason? Is he simply compelled to accept marriage proposals by women because he knows what rejection feels like?

In other words, seek to explain, in a believable way, where his ‘stupidity’ trait stems from, then reveal its backstory at a significant moment—typically at a turning point, or at the midpoint. The same goes for the remaining three traits. Doing so will deepen our understanding of that character and legitimise his contrasting trait.

Speaking of which, I’d really love to know what bit of backstory fully explains Hannibal Lector’s (the TV series) drive to create macabre meals from human flesh. Perhaps you can write in and let me know.

Summary

Tying character traits into specific and significant events of a character’s life through the backstory, especially the fourth contrasting trait, is essential in creating characters that are interesting, yet believable.

Invitation

If you enjoyed this post, kindly share it with others. If you have a suggestion for a future one, please leave a comment and let’s get chatting. You may subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “subscribe” or “profile” link on the right-hand side of this article. I post new material every Monday.

Image: Jukka Zitting
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

How to X-Ray your Story

X-ray of a hand

How to X-Ray Your Story

In his book, The Art of Dramatic Writing, Lagos Egri provides us with a succinct way of x-raying our tales prior to commencing the writing of our story, in order to expose its essence, its genetic code. We do this by seeking to identify the story premise (or, what I call the theme, or moral premise—moral because it is the moral of the story and judges behaviour according to a higher justice).

Here are some examples of the (moral) premise:

King Lear: Blind trust leads to destruction.

Ghosts: The sins of the fathers are visited on the children.

Romeo and Juliet: Great love defies even death.

Macbeth: Ruthless ambition leads to its own destruction.

Othello : Jealousy destroys itself and the object of its love.

Tartuffe: He who digs a pit for others falls into it himself.

We can see from the above that the moral premise/theme reveals a character’s inner motivation and is intimately linked to his inner journey. The protagonist is relentlessly driven by this motivation to complete that journey. It’s important to note that the moral premise contains a direction and momentum, emerging from the conflict between the character’s emotions, other characters, and the world.

With that in mind, we can say that the premise = Character’s emotion + Conflict (or direction) + Results (the end).

If we plug in the premise/theme of The Matrix into this formula, for example, we may come up with: Self-belief leads to victory over the enemy.

With the theme/moral premise firmly in place, we can generate the log-line (the one-line synopsis of the plot, as opposed to the moral of the story), before moving to the synopsis itself, the treatment, and the fist draft of our screenplay, or novel.

But these latter topics are the subject of a future article.

Summary

The moral premise, or theme, is the force that drives the protagonist to complete his inner journey.

Image: Jess
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

Marketing Your Work

Marketing chart

Marketing Your Project:

Indies, primarily independent authors, filmmakers, artists, and photographers, wear more than one hat. We create and market our work, too. This is hard work. The up side is that we get to keep the earnings we generate.

Becoming expert marketers is not a task creative people take to easily, especially in the constantly changing landscape of Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, StumbleUpon. The “shop fronts” are growing by the month.

Let’s face it, we’d rather be sipping cappuccinos or tea while typing out our 1000-2000 words for the day, than figuring out the best marketing angle for our new film or book. Unfortunately, we don’t have a choice. No marketing, no sales.

Imagine having sixty thousand followers, as some do. Tweeting about the release date of your new book or film has the potential of reaching a great many people. Factor in that your tweet may, in turn, be retweeted by some of your sixty thousand followers, and you can see how the word can spread.

Following people randomly, however, is time consuming. Only 10% to 20% of people you follow, follow you back. The trick is to follow a high volume of people daily until your number of followers grows to a respectable size.

In this article I want to highlight a method for acquiring Twitter followers more easily—through a site such as blastfollow: http://brianmcarey.com/blastfollow/. This is a free website that allows you to follow by hashtag. You type in a word relevant to your blog, book, or film, do an automatic search, then do an auto-follow. If you follow about 1000 people per day you’ll get at least 100-200 followers back. Maybe more.

Here’s the sort of hashtags I use to identify potential followers who can benefit from my blog on writing:

#AskAgent
#AskAuthor
#AskEditor
#BookMarket
#BookMarketing
#GetPublished
#IAN1 (Independent Author Network)
#IndiePub
#PromoTip
#Publishing
#SelfPublishing
#WriteTip
#WritingTip

I’ve acquired an extra 2000 followers in a few days so far, using this method.

You can too.

Summary

Acquiring a large twitter following is one way to spread the word about your work. Using a site such as blastfollow can help you achieve this.

Image: Kivi Leroux Miller
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode