Look! new! office! – the Lazy Planets’ Back!

Hello! It’s been a while.

Well –  it looks like its been a bit quiet up here at The Lazy Planet towers (basement) but we’ve all been very busy, haven’t we Brian?

Do you mean lazy? I looked them up in the dictionary and “busy” is a very poor desciption of what we’ve been. Especially you. You wouldn’t know “busy” if it punched you, nicked your adress book, then emailed you and all your friends repeatedly to let you know what a lazy f**k you are. Don’t publish that obviously.

While we haven’t managed to secure new funding, Stanley did manage to find some cash he’d “forgotten about”  in our accounts. Plus our new office space has given us a new lease of life and is relatively cheap at 126 pounds a month as long as you remember to get off before Seven Sisters.

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Safety in the office is EVERYONE’s concern. The signs AREN”T THERE TO MAKE YOU FEEL HAPPY.

Sadly a positive upturn in the real job market meant Linneus and Bethan had to leave us temporarily which meant there was no-one to get the tea in. And staff morale was at an all time low with Brian producing over three hundred posts consisting of the words “all work and no play makes jack a dull boy” which I think is from a film or something.. It is with great joy however that I am able to announce that Linneus was fired for inappropriate behaviour and Bethan simply wasn’t as good as she thought she was, so they’re back! Add to that our plan to outsource content from people even less well informed than ourselves and we think we’re on to a winner.

Our New Direction: (Which is actually the old direction. Confused? Yes we were when we were told about it at this morning’s meeting in the car park but we were also told all will become clear so that’s fine, isn’t it?)

With our new lease of life we intent to re-focus our efforts on what we set out to do – bring you the world without actually having to spend any money, or time or effort basically going there and after the phenomonenonominal success of our FOCUS ON LONDON strand we’ve decided to look further afield.

But we have to say we couldn’t do it without you our loyal reader.s

Finally a big thanks to everyone who’s written to us offering to increase our web traffic and bring hundreds more visitors to the site! We’ve been touched.

Before we post again make sure you check out some of our favourite posts which are listed on the site somewhere. [Don’t forget to add the links]

On with the show!

Who’s doing the next one? Can you get on with it please or this could just be embarrassing.

Some Thoughts on Writing

Don’t know how much use this’ll be, but I thought I’d start putting down (up?) my thoughts on the writing process.

Cards Banner
This is where ideas go. Before they go wrong.

Everyone has their own process. Mine changes all the time. This won’t be a “how to” but rather an amble through the various things I do to get from blank page to polished script.  Yes there are “rules” I follow. Rules get me over hurdles. Once I’m over the hurdle, I’m free to break them. But they’re also like the teacher that stands over you and says, “You’re doing it wrong”. Annoying, but the sooner you realise they’re right, the easier your life becomes.

As David Ogilvy famously said: “Give me the freedom of a tight brief”

So here we go, in no particular order, this is how I work…

Or at least how I’m working now…

How to Beat the Blank Page…

…Well, don’t have one in the first place.

No, not a trite answer, despite how it sounds. The trick is to always have ideas. Always let the ideas flow. They’re like butterflies and you have to catch them. And then you have to squeeze them into little boxes to make them look pretty to other people so they’ll go “Hey that’s pretty neat” and not recoil in horror at the half-crumpled dead insect you have in your hand.

Butterflies
It’s not cruel if they’re just in your head.

Okay, maybe I took that analogy too far.

Let me explain.

An idea for a show or a movie usually comes in two forms – an image or a “what if…” It comes out the blue, WHAM, and suddenly you feel like you have A GREAT IDEA FOR A MOVIE/TV SERIES. You SEE it in your head, or you imagine a situation – and your brain quickly extrapolates it out – you think “I want to see that movie!”.

That’s your butterfly. Catch it.

Because that is EXACTLY how you want people to feel when they read about your show in the paper or online. You want them to feel the way you did AT THAT MOMENT. Because at that moment it IS a great idea for a movie.

Basically in writing you start with a brilliant, perfect idea then stretch it into 30, 60 or 110 minutes without fucking it up.

But a great movie or TV show needs to do lots more than just be one great scene or image. A great script has to do lots, lots more. But, you need to catch your butterfly and WRITE it down.

Yes. Have a notepad with you. Or something like Evernote. Or iOS Notes. Capture what you thought.

Have a notebook. Yes it's an order.
Have a notebook. Yes it’s an order.

Now you need to fit in the presentation case, or if the dead butterfly with the pin in it analogy is upsetting you, you need to create a lepidopterarium, or butterfly house, and yes I did have to look that up.

I’ll talk more about that in the next post… but in the meantime, here are the key takeaways.

  • Carry a notebook with you
  • Learn to recognise story ideas
  • Learn to catch them in as few words as possible…

Back soon
photo credit: Pencil, books, and notepad via photopin (license)

photo credit: Specimen via photopin (license)

Themes

Your story’s theme

Your story’s theme is an answer to the question “what is the story really about?”; what’s the universal truth wrapped into the story? When you finish a book, or a film, you’re often left thinking about the questions it raised – is it okay to kill? Are we caring for our children or are we smothering them? What’s more important, family or justice?
Your theme runs through the whole piece. Themes are important because they tackle subjects we feel strongly about, things we care deeply about. A good theme, well handled, is vital for emotionally engaging the audience.
Themes often aren’t clear cut. They stray into grey areas. They’re things we disagree on – and therefore fascinate us.

 

The Seven Thematic Topics

It’s been said that all human desires can be summed us the attempt to attain one of seven things:
justice    Justice
selfaware    Self-Awareness
money    Money
power    Power
love    Love
survival    Survival
glory-2    Glory
I find this a pretty neat idea and I keep coming back to it – there aren’t many stories that don’t tackle at least one of these themes…

moral

Moral

Linked closely to the theme is the moral of the story. Often a simple phrase or saying, the moral of the story is more specific than the theme because it gives an answer to the thematic question.
If your story is a Justice story there are themes of crime and criminality being explored. The moral of the story might be statement such as “crime doesn’t pay”. It’s the moral if that’s the answer you leave the audience with. But first you have to ask the question – Does crime pay?
To keep an audience engaged you use your thematic moments to constantly ask that question, and constantly answer that question in lots of different ways:  yes it does pay, no it doesn’t. Only in this way will the audience GET TO THE CLIMAX OF THE STORY DESPERATE TO KNOW WHAT THE ANSWER IS… and hopefully get a SATISFACTORY answer – usually the one the majority consider fair (And don’t be mistaken, audiences judge a story on how fair the outcome is… don’t expect everyone to love your story if you shrug your shoulders and say life isn’t fair ;))
Thematic Value
Throughout this journey you present audiences with a thematic VALUE. Each scene plays with “does crime pay / does it not”. When a scene answers that question, the audience perceives there is a change in VALUE.
The thematic value states are:
positive Positive
neutral Neutral
negative Negative
nadir2 Nadir
The two main value states are Positive and Negative.
These might be as simple as Justice or Injustice, or a more subtle form such as Appropriate Justice or Inappropriate Justice (or Just Revenge vs Unnecessary Revenge).
By varying the moral value of each scene (crime pays/ doesn’t pay) and the value (justice, injustice) you are keeping the audience guessing on how your story will deliver on the theme – which moral argument will win. It will also leave them thinking about what it means to win.
With any luck they’ll have made their decision about what they believe in the context of your story and already identified with one side – they are invested. They are ENGAGED. Your theme is all about creating audience satisfaction.
The two other value states  Neutral and Nadir represent two specific moments in your story. Neutral normally occurs near the beginning and is used to denote the absence of a resolution to a theme – it’s not that justice or necessarily and injustice has been done – but there is a lack of justice, that demands to be tackled. A great place to start a story.
Finally there is the NADIR. This is an absolute low point in the tale, usually a state worse than simply injustice, a betrayal of something deeper such as exposure of corruption in the system and usually the point that tips the audience in favour of one or the other moral arguments.
This is a moment so low, so unspeakable, so unforgivable that the audience’s mind is made up – that character deserves to die or that other character deserves to win. Deserving, and the fairness of the situation is usually what is called into sharp relief here.
This usually occurs before the final act, and galvanises audience support (or condemnation) of principal characters – Even though the chance of victory may seem very slim at this point. Now we hope the hero will overcome their flaws and win.
There is much written about the “Seven Basic Plots” and while there isn’t a direct map between those “basic plots” and the seven themes, it is true that certain themes are at the heart of certain plot-types of sub-genres.  A heist movie or whodunnit is usually about justice at its core. A romantic comedy is usually about love. A rags-to-riches tale implies the value and approach to money is important. These genre descriptions can be great ways of promising a theme without stating it explicitly.
Themes and multi-episodes.
When creating a series is can be very useful to define a core theme for the whole series. (Survival is at the heart of medical drama – or a zombie series!) But it can also provide inspiration for stories when episodes explore the other themes. A six-part British sitcom such as Blackadder is a great way to deal with how a character gets into different situations and explores different themes in each episode. For longer running series, different character journeys can be exploring different themes. The nurse looking for love, the doctor obsessed with power…
In any case, having an understanding of your general theme, the value points to hit, and the moral argument you’re making can be fundamental to getting a story that has emotional resonance with an audience.
theme
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How Do I Know I’ve Got A Great Idea For a Show?

You don’t.

Here’s the truth: No-one does.

As brilliant screenwriter and guru William Goldman once said – “No-one in Hollywood knows anything”.

People think they do otherwise they wouldn’t spend millions of dollars/pounds/bitcoins making what they’re convinced is a hit movie or TV show. They just wouldn’t. Every penny invested in making a movie or TV show is done so because someone thinks it’s going to make them lots of money.

You’ll have realised that “making lots of money” isn’t the same as “being a great TV show”.  And there’s the problem. Unless you have an idea that someone thinks is going to make money, it isn’t going to get made. This is true of publishing, theatre or any other form of writing.

So if no-one knows anything, how do you give your brilliant idea the best chance of getting made?

Well, here is the curious dichotomy of the creative world. And it all comes down to the following:

Originality vs Forecast

I’ll unpack that statement.

One one side, audiences (and producers and commissioners) love originality. Who doesn’t? A new character we haven’t seen a million times before, a new setting, a glimpse into a world that we have no idea about, a new moral lesson about the world we live in now, a fresh perspective. We yearn for new experiences. The novel (as in new) is exciting! If you are going to write – YOU have to write. You have to write AS YOU. You have to write ABOUT THINGS YOU CARE ABOUT, about places YOU KNOW ABOUT. Your job is to come up with brilliant new ideas and stories from your imagination. NEVER FORGET THAT. This is yours.

On the other side, if someone is going to lay several million pounds on the table to make a TV Show or a movie then they better have some idea it’s going to work.

How can they possibly know that?

Well, this is where formula and forecasting come in. And here are the main rules:

  1. Things that were well received before, stand a good chance of being well received again. (hence Sequels and Franchises)
  2. Movies and TV Shows that follow certain formulas and tick certain boxes tend to result in higher audience satisfaction and therefore viewing figures/sales (more on this in later posts)
  3. Movies and TV shows that can be summed up in a single line that makes the listener or reader SEE that movie/show (and like it) are more likely to get eyeballs in front of it. (just as you felt when you had your idea).

And the rest is marketing. Stars are marketing. Big posters are marketing. Don’t worry about that now.

So suddenly your best chance of success is to be both amazingly ORIGINAL and DEEPLY PREDICTABLE. Or, if you prefer, RELIABLE…

How?

It starts with the idea. The idea needs to tick a few boxes to even get of the starting block. Here is what it needs to do:

  • Post itself in a GENRE
  • Have a great TITLE
  • Give a sense of CONFLICT
  • Have a sense of IRONY
  • Hint at the AUDIENCE

In one line.

How?

For this one, I’m going to turn to the experts…. You can read about it here.

Welcome

Welcome to the Little Writing Apps blog.

Thanks for visiting.

I expect you’re wondering why I brought you here. Well, the fact is, one of us is a murderer and I intend to find out who it is.

Sorry, force of habit.

I expect you’re more likely wondering what the devil Little Writing Apps are all about.

Little Writing Apps came about because I write – and there were a handful of little shortcuts and ideas I came to rely on in my own writing.  When designing a cast of characters I would reach for the Enneagram so I could be sure I had a diverse group at my disposal. When coming up with ideas for episodes and stories I would always turn to the same universal Themes for ideas. To structure, the Hero’s Journey would help both fire my imagination and keep me sort of on the right track.

I wanted these things with me all the time, so I could tinker with my ideas and capture them. And I thought others might feel the same.

The result is a combination of this blog and the apps. The apps let you have these shortcuts with you at all times in a fun and interactive way, this blog explains the thinking behind them, and for what it’s worth, how I use them.

As it takes less time to create a blog post than it does to write an app ( now there’s an understatement), I expect the blog will be somewhat ahead of the apps… So if you like a post and would like to see an app – let me know!

Disclaimery bit

I don’t claim these ideas are all mine, and I will let you know where they’re from so you can check them out first hand if it helps. I don’t claim they’ll help you make brilliant stories, with vibrant characters who have clear things to achieve in the rich worlds they live in, which you’re able to convey to the reader with an eye for pared-back detail that brings a scene to life through a few choice words and promises conflict and emotional journey. That’s your job. But they might help that journey be more fun.

Enjoy.

Happy Writing.

James