Philosophy, Psychology, Nerdisms, Writing from the Trenches

Posts tagged “Writers

Everything Wrong with The Walking Dead (And What You Can Learn From It)

The Walking Dead is a good show. It’s gritty, dark, often times raw, and has that gore factor that you just can’t find on broadcast television. It gets people talking.

But, as all stories, there are imperfections. I’m not here to ask why they have a 2013 Hyundai when the apocalypse happened in 2010 (something has to pay for all that gore and apparently it’s the South Korean car makers).The Walking Dead

I also don’t care about certain characters unlocking infinite ammo mode. Let’s just assume they reloaded off camera.

“But, there was no time…”

LET’S JUST ASSUME!

Here, I want to talk about some weird storytelling flaws that you should avoid. (Probably spoilers, but, dude. Netflix.)

1. Almost every episode’s plot is launched by someone doing something stupid.

You didn’t have to be a super genius to survive the apocalypse. The law of averages says that isn’t the case. When The Walking Dead starts, Rick comes out of a coma and is thrust into a world he doesn’t recognize. It’s okay if he makes some mistakes, especially if he’s just going through routine.

“Hark, a monster! I shall shoot it!”

Gunshot brings hordes of zombies. Okay. He didn’t know any better. He learns that shooting them is maybe not the best course of action (if he survives).

In the second season, Sofia, a little girl, goes missing. She was supposed to stay somewhere and wait for Rick. He went back and she was gone. The rest of the season is spent with them living on a farm, sending out search parties. Now, when I was a kid and Mom told me to stay somewhere and wait for her, you better believe I did. When I was separated from her in the grocery store, I knew to not wander around because she would retrace her steps.

Realize I was not surrounded by zombies at the time.

Again, I can forgive an 8 year old for getting scared and running like Hell, but she didn’t even go back to the car. And she wasn’t attacked by a zombie at that point, either. See, when they do find her, she’s a zombie. And, she still looks pretty normal. Which means she was bitten and got away or she died of natural causes and the infection took her. Rick wasn’t gone for very long, so she wasn’t attacked where he left her. He would have heard a scream and the zombies would have lingered.

The real stupid thing that got me, though, was after the massacre of the zombie pets in Herschel’s barn (that’s right, I’m not addressing the stupidity of the zombie pets).

Herschel is in town, drinking away his feelings. Glen and Rick go to find him. They tell everyone before they leave:

“We think Herschel went into town. We’re going to go get him. We’ll be back later.”

Ten minutes later, Lori, Rick’s wife, is running around going “they’ve been gone too long.” Jesus, lady, it hasn’t even been an hour. So, she decides to go into town and find them. She doesn’t tell anyone she’s leaving. On the way into town, she’s looking at a map and crashes into a zombie (flipping the car because…physics?), and she’s lying unconscious as zombies start to close in around her.

Meanwhile, no one at camp has even realized she’s missing. They don’t realize it until nightfall. While I’m sure some people think, “High Drama!” I say, “No. Let the bitch die. If she’s dumb enough to A) go looking for someone before they said they’d be back B) not tell anyone where she’s going in a world populated by zombies and C) not watch the goddamn road, let the zombies eat her.”

When anyone says they like The Walking Dead because of “the characters” I’m forced to ask why. They are TDTL, too dumb to live. You like the show because people are running from zombies and there’s high tension with climatic payoff. Call a spade a spade.

It’s not drama. It’s stupidity. People don’t like dumb characters. If you’re going to get your characters in stupid predicaments, try to give them a smart/unavoidable reason to be there, otherwise, it’s dumb. (more…)

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Writing to Completion

I finished writing a pilot.

It’s the first sitcom pilot I’ve written. My other scripts have all been either sci fi drama pilots or sitcom spec scripts. For those of you outside the TV writing sphere, a spec script is a script for a show that already exists.

It’s sort of weird to talk to writers about writing television shows. Some say it’s easier to write the spec, some say it’s easier to write original material. I don’t really see either as being particularly easier than the other. The hardest thing about writing a spec script (in my personal experience) is writing it for a show that will be relevant in two years. The shows I love (Up All Night, Community, Happy Endings) are all on the brink of death (don’t get me started). Or, they are overwhelming spec’d (everyone’s got their Modern Family script).  Second City Hollywood

So, with this sitcom pilot out of the way, I find myself ready for a new project. More than ready. Chomping at the bit.

Since most of my experience is novel writing, that isn’t always the case. What normally happens is I start querying agents, then I sit around and wait for my rejection letters. But, that’s not really what happens in the screenwriting world. I mean, I could query agents, but that’s not the norm.

The norm is you make friends. Your friends introduce you to producers and agents or friends of producers and agents. Most people (though not all) sell something before they get an agent. So, basically, the answer is, save the file and move on. When you meet someone who can do something with it, whip it out.

It’s a body of work.

The next thing, though. It’s a sci fi drama. And it’s gonna be huge.

 

The pilot I completed was part of the Completing and Presenting Your Sitcom Pilot class at Second City. There will be an onstage reading of it on April 17th at 6:30pm at Second City Hollywood (there will be two shows read on that night).

The Pitch:

What if JK Rowling got writer’s block after Harry Potter 4?

When Arthur Watkins, the main character from a wildly popular young adult series, appears to his author, M.L. Reeves, she has to figure out how to deal with her errant work of fiction while deadlines loom.


How to Achieve Your Dream

I have a dream. I don’t often talk about my dream publicly. I mean, my friends know. And my family knows. And I’m always striving, always working toward that goal. I think I have a sort of weird knock on wood mentality about my dream, like if I say it out loud, it won’t come true. It’s something that I have to keep on the inside, something that’s my own.How to acheive a dream

Before you think you know what it is, it’s not being a “writer.” Saying I want to be a writer is like saying I want to be biologically classified Homo sapien. I’ve had a problem with the word aspiring for a long time, especially as it pertains to writers. Are you writing? Yes. Are you actively pursuing a career as a writer? Yes. Than you’re a writer. If you label yourself as aspiring, my first assumption is that you’ve never actually finished writing anything that doesn’t begin with the words, “Dear Diary.”

In Hollywood, it’s weird. There’s a “who do you want to be” atmosphere that I finally reached the breaking point with.

So, here are some things I’ve learned about dreaming, straight from Hollywoodland.

1) Celebrate the victories

My dream is huge. It takes a lot of steps. Usually, when someone asks me what my dream is, I only tell them the current plateau I’m headed for. Like “head writer” or “created by.”

I have a problem taking compliments. When someone tells me they like something I’ve written, the dreamer in me reminds me that this isn’t the peak I’ve dreamed. This is a road sign to blow past. But, that’s not really the case. I’m working on celebrating these moments of compliment, because I know where they come from. Rather than answer with an I’m not there yet, I take them in stride and acknowledge and appreciate them.

2) Dreams are hard

When I told people I was moving to Los Angeles to pursue my dream, I got a lot of reactions. Most of them started with “You’re so brave.” I suppose that’s a compliment, but it struck me as odd. I didn’t think I was brave at all. I was simply doing that which was necessary to achieve what I wanted.

So, step two is to understand that some people find out that their dream is hard, and they stop going for it. There are other people that don’t acknowledge that part of their dream. There is no hard, there is only an obstacle that has to be surmounted. If you get stuck on the hard, you need to either reevaluate or quit.

3) Aspirations are misleading

So often, people want the simple answer. The question isn’t so much what as it is who. Who do you want to be?

I don’t have an answer for that. I want to be myself. I don’t want to compare myself to other people. So, Tina Fey? No. Tina Fey can be Tina Fey. I will not be better at being Tina Fey than Tina Fey is. Jane Espenson? Closer, but no. I would not make a very good Jane Espenson. (I love Jane Espenson and have the utmost respect for her.)

I understand why this is a question that people ask. It’s the same reason they have to take complex scientific theories on sci fi shows and distill them to clumsy analogies that are simple enough for a largely unscientific audience to understand.

Regardless, stop comparing me to other people. Our dreams might not be the same, and even if they were, everyone’s path is different.

4) Reputation is currency

I suppose this could be specific to my field, but I don’t think so. It’s a little bit karma, but mostly attitude. If you go out to meet people, get to know people, connect with people on a basic level, you will develop a reputation of being kind. I know myself enough that I am often considered aloof and disinterested. I’m not. I’m fully engaged, I just usually enter a receptive state.

Yes, I’m listening. But my face is apathetic. Understanding my aloofness, I have to remind my face to do things when I’m talking to people. Be aware of what you’re putting out there. People might talk about you. You don’t want them to say bad things.

That’s what I’ve learned so far. It’s a work in progress.


The Writers’ Currency

Monday night was the first writers’ meeting for the new season of the TMI Hollywood, the show I write for at Second City. The new cast members came and mingled with the writers over the one thing that brings all walks of LA life together: free food. After a recap of last year and the expectations of this year, the cast made their way out and the writers got down to what they do best.

Pose for Cultural Diversity Day

Coming up with stuff to write about.

In a sketch comedy writers room (at least in this one), the writers have their own special brand of currency. I know, I know. The initial thing to yell out is “Words! Writers deal in words!” and in some cases, that’s true.

But words are the currency of the novelist.

The comedy sketch writer deals in trivia.

We huddle around a table, pitching ideas and trading knowledge like baseball cards. Bill O’Reilly said this, Justin Bieber did that. But, pop culture is only the surface.

We have a politics guy. Now, I’m not saying we have a politics guy in terms of a guy who’s job is to keep an eye on the political atmosphere. That’s small town. Our politics guy can name all the United States presidents, vice presidents, and failed candidates in order, not to mention dropping campaign slogans like they’re party favors. It’s not like he has fast fingers on Google. These are just things that he’s learned and retained over his history of education.

This leads to doors and pathways of humor that one person alone has a hard time seeing by themselves.

Sometimes, it feels like an episode of Big Bang Theory. I expect someone to drop something like “Oppenheimer was notoriously hard to work with,” or “a gathering of cats is called a clouder.” And, it’s not ironic. It’s the difference between data and knowledge.

Nowadays, we can look up anything on the Internet. It seems as though “knowledge” is at our very fingertips, but what is really at our fingertips is data. Data, without a brain behind it, is pretty useless. It’s interesting, though, what’s revealed in the knowledge we retain. You can never really lie about what intrigues you. When someone has a piece of knowledge they can’t wait to share, it practically bursts out of them.

Perhaps not everyone who thirsts for knowledge is a writer, but it seems that a lot of writers thirst for knowledge. Knowledge fuels their power cells and they’re ready to share the fuel.


An Unspecific Update

I’m bad at earthquakes.

No, seriously.

There have been three earthquakes of substantial (not considerable) size, two while I was asleep that I didn’t even wake up for, and one in the evening that I read a book through without noticing. I mean, geez. The earth is moving beneath me and I laid in my camp bed working my way through whatever latest book I was on…how’s that for sturdy Ikea construction?

Nerdist Writers' PanelAnyway, despite my less-than-stellar earthquake detection, things have been settling down in Los Angeles. I have inadvertently become Jeff Greenstein’s stalker and if he ever finds this, I sincerely apologize. This is a big city; why do I see you everywhere? Not that I’m that disappointed. He usually has great things to say, so still kinda cool.

I made a friend. I know, right? I’m just as surprised as you are. It was quite the chance encounter that started off with:

“You write YA? I write YA! You were at RWA? I was at RWA! You submitted to that agent? That’s my agent!”

Three for three right off the bat.

So, all these things have caused me to have a few reflection periods to catch up with all these developments. Because moving here is the same as living anywhere else with one big difference.

It’s like someone hit the fast forward button.

Five Finger Death Punch ConcertI’m a planner. At least on some level, I like to know what I’m getting into before I throw myself at it, but this has not been the case for LA. The plan has pretty much been: do ALL the things.

So, things I’ve done since the last update:

-Went to a test show for Craig Ferguson. It was not televised, Craig Ferguson wasn’t even there (Geoff was hilarious). I won a t-shirt.

-Ended up at a Five Finger Death Punch concert and the after party at the Roosevelt Hotel

-Spent a day on the UCLA campus looking at the Writers’ Extension program

-Met with a group of LA TV writers for hanging out and things

-Saw Key and Peele at the Nerdist Writers’ Panel

-Restrung a guitar


My To-Do List

As I eyed a 6’0″ axe at the Renaissance Fair last week, I was struck with the thought that maybe I could wait on getting that new computer. My current compy is only four years old and in fair condition, but that’s four years at 2,000 words an hour. Some of the buttons are wearing off, sometimes it just gets obstinate and refuses to load anything, but it’s seen me through my first paid writing gig, a pilot episode, a Big Bang Theory spec script, three novels, two trips to Michigan, and a partridge in a pear tree.

So, I figure I can wait a year. Maybe sell one of those three books…

But, I digress. Back on point.

My perceived need for a new compy put me in another frame of mind. Way back when Lion came out (I’m running Apple; you can read all about my indoctrination here), I tried to update only to find it didn’t run Microsoft 2004. Those three novels disappeared. With hat in hand, biting back the curses on my tongue (I didn’t read the fine print), I shuffled my way to the Apple store and muttered, “Please, sir, may I have my files?”

They were nice it worked out huzzah yeah apple but NOW…the time has come for me to upgrade to Lion.

And do everything else before I move to LA:

 Save up money

2. Upgrade the compy

Find homes for my instruments that will not make the journey

3. Meet up and settle friendship communications

4. Acquire boxes

5. Measure how many of said boxes will fit in the car

6. Trial run with packing the boxes

7. Agonize over everything that doesn’t fit

8. Find a place to live

 Get a job

10. Have a major freakout, regret the decision, run around in circles, yell at my parents for no reason, talk to my cat about all the opportunities, decide to go anyway.

11. Order Not for Tourists: Los Angeles

 Add new categories to blog: TV Nonsense, Movie Nonsense, Los Angeles

So, what? Am I missing anything? Let me know, because I really need to shut it down and get going. I met with a friend, Ben, who used to live in LA working as a writer and as he described this place to me, I could see/hear how much he loved it, how much he missed it, and how much he hoped to go back to it.

While people have been telling my how much I will hate LA, I’ve been answering with “But it’s what must be done”. But, after meeting with Ben, I started to think, “Man, I could really love living there.” He was the first person to say to me “Just get there. You’ll see.” I understand that people are in awe of the choice, or proud that they know someone relentlessly pursuing their dreams, or afraid that something will happen to me. But, I think the profundity of Ben’s fascination with LA burned away the lasts wisps of doubt and fear.

I’m as prepared for culture shock as one can be.

Ben said, “You’ll meet a lot of people like you.”

And that’s interesting.

Because I like me.

I like me a lot.