88. Structure Is Pleasure

(I was about to name this post “Lucky Numbers” because it’d be awesome numeric and thematically; but on the other hand, it’s 12.01A.M., I’ve been awake for the past 18 hours, and I’m just in the right frame of mind to talk about mathematics right now)

(maybe tomorrow)

After completing Screenwriting Tips, You Hack by the distinguished Mr. Bennett, I have started on a new book on the craft of screenwriting, titled Write What You Don’t Know, by Julian Hoxter – or Professor Hoxter to his student.

It’s a significantly different feeling from reading Mr. Bennett’s book – because first of all, there are a lot more words. I’m not kidding: there are a LOT of words in this little book, and most of them spaced in such a way that they appear as intimidating blocks of text that goes on for pages on end sometimes.

Definitely not for the faint of heart.

Nonetheless, it is an very useful and informative book, dwelling deeper into the “hacks” that Mr. Bennett puts forth in his book, and explaining more in detail about how they work and what their functions are. It’s far from an in-depth analysis on why stories affect us in the way they do, mind – but it does give a lot of information on how the different elements of storytelling come together to create a holistic experience.

One of the best things I’ve learned so far (I say so far because I’ve skipped the first 100 pages or so, and have not read the last 100 pages or so) is about structure – the use of acts and beats to see how the story is doing.

The Flowering Tree (which you all MUST come and watch at the Petaling Jaya Live Arts Center from November 9 to 11) proved to be one of the tougher things I’ve had to write in a while; and for a long time, I was stuck on the transitions between scenes and on how to make the story work while still being faithful to the heart of the original (gruesome) legend.

It was desperation that let me to Mr. Hoxter’s book, and I couldn’t be more thankful for it.

One of the things that Mr. Hoxter believes is that Structure Is Pleasure. By “structure”, we’re not talking about formulaic, cookie-cutter molds to churn out stories – we’re talking about the arrangement of thoughts in a sequence that brings out the best in the story. And if there was anything that my adaptation of The Flowering Tree needed, it was proper structure.

I’ve always done well with dialogue and single scenes. Most of the stuff I have written for theater are short-form pieces basically revolving around some people talking to each other in a room – and I make it work by making them talk (argue) about interesting things. I’ve also had some success with description, pacing, and story, but structure has always been that one thing I couldn’t grasp intuitively.

So that’s where Mr. Hoxter’s book came in – and if you’re an aspiring screenwriter like me who is in need of plenty of good advice, I’ll have the pleasure of directing you to Mr. Hoxter’s book. Get a copy for me too, or I’ll just have to steal my current copy by refusing to return it to my university library.

One day we’ll also talk about structure – but not today. One day, I’ll show how these little demons work. One day.

(but seriously, come and watch The Flowering Tree)

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87. Sleepyhead

In the time that I took to write this, I’ve fallen asleep and jolted awake about 4 times.

I’ve never been good with managing my sleep. I don’t understand how people make going to bed and waking up sound so easy. “Oh, just wake up when you feel that it’s time to wake up,” they’d say. But my body’s just like, “Nope, don’t hear the sounds of commercial space travel yet. Not time to wake up.”

I mean, Cthulhu has been asleep all this while. What’s so bad about keeping him company for a little bit in the realm of the Sandman?

The weird thing about sleep is that there’s this delicate balance that you must keep – what I’d like to call the Goldilocks sleeping hour. Beyond that, you’ve slept too much. Before that, you’ve slept too little. Sleep for the Goldilocks sleeping hour…

And it’ll be just right.

You can’t get it wrong. You’re not allowed to – because the moment you screw up the Goldilocks sleeping hour, your body will screw you up by sending sleepy signals all day long.

ME
Really, brain? I slept for 12 hours!

METAPHORIC BRAIN
Nuh-uh. You missed the Goldilocks sleeping hour man. You done messed up big time.

ME
Come on, brain. You’re like a teenage girl – it’s virtually impossible to keep you happy. I don’t sleep, you’re not happy. I sleep, you’re not happy. What do you want me to do?

METAPHORIC BRAIN
Sleep exactly 7 hours. No more, no less.

ME
Yeah? Well, I’ve tried that. And guess what? You were still so comfortably resting that my body fell right back into sleep 30 minutes after.

METAPHORIC BRAIN
Oh, you wanted to be alert when you wake up? I thought you just wanted to get enough sleep.

ME
What – oh, come on. Don’t tell me they’re different things.

METAPHORIC BRAIN
Mm-hmm. If you wane to wake up feeling alert, you’ve got to sleep for 4 hours. No more, no less. Getting enough sleep is another issue.

ME
What about waking up feeling alert AFTER getting enough sleep?

METAPHORIC BRAIN
Ergh, what more do you want? A red carpet? A butler? You’re so whiny. You’re just like a teenage girl.

You see my problem.

It doesn’t help that the rest of the world expects me to wake up as early as they do. You can wake up at 6 o’clock – I get that, and I respect you. But I wake up at 12 o’clock, and there’s just about nothing I can do about it short of shock therapy.

In my ideal world, no one would be expected to get out of bed before noon, and all work starts at 2P.M. I don’t mind working until 11P.M. – but let me have my mornings, dammit!

But that’s not the world that I live in. So every morning, I drag myself out of bed, cursing my luck as I do – have breakfast (if I’m lucky), and get to wherever I need to be, my mind all fuzzed up. It takes a couple of hours for this fuzz to clear – and usually, I’ll be alive and well again by 11A.M. Happy, I head for a great lunch and am ready to jump right back into action after that-

METAPHORIC BRAIN
Nuh-uh, bruh. You just ate some serious amounts of rice. I’ve got to shut down so that your stomach can focus on all that digesting.

ME
What – WHAT?? Come on! I slept for exactly 7 hours – that’s enough sleep! I got myself out of bed, and got my gears cranking! Don’t do this – don’t… do…… Zzzzzz……

86. Narrative Voice

Have you ever heard a recording of your own voice? Chances are that you cringed, twitched, switched off the playback in a panicked frenzy, or a combination of any of the aforementioned.

“That doesn’t sound like me at all!” You would say.

“What are you talking about, man? That’s totally what you sound like,” your friends would say.

And then you would spend the rest of the day being self-conscious about how you sound. That’s alright – we’ve all been there. I heard my own voice in a recording when I was an aspiring singer at 14; and that was one of the first times I realized that I probably am not meant to sing as a career.

See, that’s why I love writing – how the words appear on my screen is exactly how it would appear on yours. The voice in your head may sound a little different from the voice in my head, but that’s alright, because that little reading voice in our heads are usually pleasant enough. Plus, your little voice in your head isn’t mine – I don’t have to take responsibility for how it sounds.

There is, too, a voice related to writing. All the articles and books I’ve read on the subject of fiction writing pretty much says the same thing: you have a killer concept, a solid plot, intriguing characters, and amazing story – but at the end of the day, the reason why people would want to buy your books is because of your voice.

Your narrative voice, to be exact.

Everyone has a voice. Everyone has a narrative voice. They all have their unique ways of stringing their words together, their unique choice of words, the way they organize their thoughts, and the way they punctuate those thoughts. It’s a little bit more like singing than speaking, really – because you only really find your voice after you’ve been doing it for a little while. People will spend money to hear your voice; and some other people make good living out of doing different voices – just ask Mr. MacFarlane.

I haven’t been writing for nearly as long as a lot of writers out there, but I’ve written enough to have a sort of voice that I fall back into by default. It’s this stuffy, conversational tone with the occasional jargon thrown in so I can sound smart. When it comes to writing fiction, however, I try – as voice actors do – to switch into a voice that would be suitable for the tone of the story that I’m attempting to tell.

(see the differences in voices between the excerpt in Cyberpunk!; Constellations; and Explorer)

I’ve just started work on the crime novel yesterday, just to get a few words in so that I can get this whole writing process rolling along. You know what I found?

I found that I’ve developed a certain narrative voice in the process of writing Johann’s Fantastic Adventures Through Time, and it’s hard to shake off. Here I am, trying to jump right back into the gritty world of deceit and murder, and the words that come spilling out sound like they came right out of an Enid Blyton book.

Here’s a thought: perhaps finding the voice for a story is an essential part of the storytelling process. Just like outlining, drafting, mind-mapping – maybe crafting the narrative voice for the story is also all part of the pre-writing process (which I hadn’t done a lot, due to the time constraints).

This will not do. This will not do at all. I’ve got to get me some grit in my narrative voice.

Unless I want my cop’s come clop-clop-clopping up the stairs in his heavy boots.

85. The Adventure Goes On!

(Out of the frying pan…)

I was midway through my R&R yesterday when Laureen sent me a link:

http://us.macmillan.com/SubmitManuscripts.aspx

60,000 words. 57 days. Can I do it? Maybe; maybe not. Will I try anyhow, like every other young fool who thinks himself invincible? Hell yes.

2 screenplays in the pipeline, a NaNoWriMo project, a cyberpunk short story, and now a crime novel. If this isn’t the very definition of “biting off more than you can chew”, I don’t know what is.

What is quite alluring about the competition is that it specifically looks for unpublished writers – and by “unpublished”, they mean writers who haven’t published any works containing more than 40,000 words. Since Death and Other Things only totaled up to 16,000 words, and though Johann’s Fantastic Adventures Through Time is 42,500 words, it has not been published – I am, by their definition, an “unpublished” writer.

So there’s me – an “unpublished” writer, competing with other amateur writers such as myself for the elusive $10,000 book deal. My chances look good. In fact, I should just write this in place of my NaNoWriMon project, and bother The Swordsman next year – except that I cannot do that. Because for the manuscript sent over to them to be “unpublished”, no more than 10% of it must have appeared anywhere at all, and yes, not even on my own blog.

I can reach the deadline quite comfortably if I start writing just 1,500 words every day, starting today (1,500 words/day * 57 days = 85,500 words). Then when NaNoWriMo November rolls around, I’ll just have to add another 1,700 words to that daily requirement (1,700 words/day * 30 days = 51,000 words) and I’ll emerge a winner of 2013’s NaNoWriMo project. 3,200 words only sound like a lot of words if you look at the big sum; you see, if I chop it up into the hours of a regular work day, it’s pretty manageable (3,200 words / 8 working hours = 400 words/hour).

(I have read somewhere that the great Mr. King doesn’t allow himself to sleep unless he has written at least 1,800 words in that day. I guess that explains his phenomenal success at getting things done. The distinguished George R. R. Martin, on the other hand, sits at his desk and begins hacking away at the thing only during office hours – or until he gets tired of it and decides to play video games. I guess that also explains the non-completion of A Song of Ice And Fire)

At any rate, I should be starting the writing process as soon as I can. In fact, I should get to work on at least one of those screenplays, while NaNoWriMo hasn’t come to collect my soul and my sleep just yet. Over the next two months, I will be writing a crime novel, a post-apocalyptic fantasy novel, and a family comedy/drama film. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from biting off more than I could chew in the past, it’s that it makes for very strong jaws.

I do hope my jaws have been made strong enough for this epic chewing that is to come.

(…and into the fire)

84. All’s Well That Ends Well

After 7 hours of sleep and missing church service earlier today (yes, I feel incredibly guilty about the latter bit; not so much about the former), I am now back in the world of the living.

I now bid goodbye to Johann – if only for a few months – and shall bother her no more with the dark creations of my twisted mind. Go and enjoy life, you – in a year, you’ll be facing UPSR. It won’t be like fighting monsters and standing with legends, but it’ll be exciting all the same. Goodbye for now, Johann, and may you live happily ever after.

It is usually in the wake of a major project that I feel a sudden emptiness in my life. I felt it after the NaNoWriMo Novembers of 2011 and 2012; I felt it after I had spent a week writing my first ever TV episode; I felt it after I had worked on a complete miniseries for a month; and now I’m feeling it after 2 and a half months of adventuring with Johann.

I’m the kind of person who needs to work with deadlines. It gives me that gripping urgency which is essential to the completion of any project I find myself attached to. It gives me direction and purpose; gives me meaning to wake up early in the morning, or more often to stay up until early in the morning. It’s an exciting thing, the creative process, and after all this time of outlining, devising, and writing – it feels a little odd to find myself with nothing else to do.

(well, there are always my university assignments – but there’s no joy in that)

I suppose I should get some rest. Enjoy a movie. Read a book. Wind down my brain for a little bit and let it cool before cranking it up again in a little less than 2 weeks’ time for NaNoWriMo. Incidentally, I am also working on an entry for the AMOK Anthology – it is a short cyberpunk story that I had began some months ago, and I think it should be time to get done to completing it. Dystopian future, megacorps, foul language, and the antichrist – what’s there not to like about it?

There are also screenplays that I plan to begin writing. One’s a family-friendly ghost movie, and the other is going to be based on this little thing I wrote some weeks ago, titled Gadgeteer.

You ever have one of those moments when you’re bored – not because there is nothing to do, but because you cannot decide what to do? That’s how I feel right now, I guess. Four projects clamoring for my attention, and I’m just staring longingly at the one that had just left.

But well, that’s life – people move on, things move on, and I will also have to move on.

For the moment, I’m just going to clear my head, enjoy my rest, relish in that satisfying feeling of having completed something goo. Breathe a little, dream a little, eat a lot.

And tomorrow, the adventure goes on.

83. Filler

This is a perfunctory post.

It is only here because I made a bloody promise to myself to update this damn space every single day for a year, and every post has to be at least 500 words in length, so here it is. It is now 4.21A.M. in the morning, I have just finished editing the manuscript for Johann’s Fantastic Adventures Through Time, and I am getting ready to email it to my uncle who lives in Singapore, who has graciously agreed to help me print and submit my entry to the Scholastic Asian Book Awards.

Seriously though, it’s a behemoth of a manuscript. Okay, well – 42,000 words is probably child’s play to most of you distinguished veterans of the market, but it’s a big deal for me to write that many words and have them make sense.

(the other reason why the manuscript is so long is because the awards’ requirement was initially 25,000 words, which they reduced to 6,000 words – so who ends up looking bad at the end of the day? The poor editor who is going to suffer the misfortune of reviewing my manuscript, that’s who)

Having finished the writing, I actually got the damn thing printed out – all 109 pages of it (single spaced, mind) – for my proofreading purposes. Pfft, how difficult can proofreading be? Easy, I can do that AND edit AND format my entry, all before Sunday morning. No worries, right?

So here I am, staring at the LCD monitor screen with bloodshot eyes and a half-functioning brain.

(speaking of half-functioning brains, I have come up with a great braggadocio line for writers, especially promising young ones. It goes like this: “Sir, I can write better than people twice my age while my brain is half-asleep)

After making the manuscript editor-friendly, it now comes up to 141 pages (really 140 pages, if it weren’t for that pesky meddling cover page). The award requires 6 copies of this to be printed – so in total, that’s going to be 846 printed pages my uncle will be helping me handle.

My primary concern should be for nature and the environment, of course – but expectations don’t always match up with reality.

My actual primary concern is that my uncle looks for a cheap printer who would do 10 cents per page printing, or even lesser than that, if possible. I almost got a heart attack earlier today when a printer tried to charge me RM1 per A4 page – for black and white printing! I don’t know what the printing rates are in Singapore, but I’m having my fingers crossed for a really cheap rate.

So here it goes – I’m sending my manuscript off; it is now 4.31A.M. in the morning, and from this point onwards, my manuscript is in the hands of others. My uncle’s; the receptionist at Scholastic’s; the judges; and God’s.

(and whoever is secretly controlling the literary world)

Pray for my success – this is a story I have worked hard on, and I have poured my passion and excitement into. Hell, if Scholastic doesn’t want this, I’ll probably get it published somewhere else; but we’ll see what transpires when the time comes.

82. Explorer

In the cold emptiness of interstellar space, the lonely craft floated along its predestined course.

“Space,” Trey said, walking into the cabin with an extra bottle of beer in his hand. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Matt looked up at his shipmate, if only to receive the perspiring bottle. Goddammit, he came into space because he thought it’d give him some quiet time and peace of mind – and they just had to assign him to the most talkative astronaut there was. Trey sat on his bed, sipping from the top of the bottle.

“Three thousand years, and Germans still make the best beer in the world,” Trey raised his bottle as he spoke, as though proposing a toast. “There’s got to be a conspiracy behind this, that’s what I think. Someone wants Germany to be good at this.”

Matt popped the cap off his bottle and took a swig at it, savoring the cool liquid running down his throat, and then the heat that followed in its wake. “That’s coz they’re the only ones who give a shit about what their beer tastes like,” he said, “And they happen to be good at giving a shit about the taste of beer.”

Trey laughed at this. “That’s funny, man,” he said. “Ever wonder if aliens drink beer? I’d wager that aliens would make beer that makes German beer taste like dog’s piss.”

“Yes, we’ve all heard about the giant cloud of alcohol in space,” Matt stopped him before it went any further. “You’ve only said it five million times; we get it.”

“But dude, thank about it!” Trey leaned in close the way he did when he was ready to begin a lecture. “Humans invented beer, in the first place, because it was difficult to get clean water – and earth is already three-quarters water. Somewhere on some alien planet that’s all dried up, there’s an alien plant cranking out alien beer for their daily alien lifestyles of drinking beer all day long; and if it’s something they’ve got to drink all day long, they’ve got to make it good, right?”

“Right,” Matt said just to shut him up.

“Bam! Right there – best beer in the UNIVERSE,” Trey announced, “Sorry, Germans – it’s been a great few millenniums, but people move on. Maybe in another universe; try harder next time!”

“Maybe we are in that universe,” Matt said, “Where German beer is the best beer in the universe. Because incidentally, our universe may be the one where aliens don’t f–king exist.”

“A man’s gotta dream,” Trey shrugged and took another drink from his bottle. “Say, do you really believe in that stuff?” he asked, looking at Matt intently as he did. “The multiverse and shit?”

“Can’t say I do,” Matt said.

“I mean, think about it – a universe where things we a little different. Not too different, because that would be messed up; but maybe one where you didn’t choose to become an astronaut, and chose to become a hermit, or something. Can you imagine that?”

“A hermit instead of an astronaut?” now Matt laughed, “Son, we ARE hermits – just ones in funny-looking suits in a funny-looking hut that f–king moves through f–king space. Look around you, pal – not a soul within the next three billion miles! We’re the hermits of hermits – if ever a hermit there was!”

“I don’t know, man,” Trey gazed up as he daydreamed a little, “When I finished high school, I thought I wanted to be a Hollywood star. I was involved in theater and stuff, at that time. Then came the scholarship offer for astrophysics – and the next thing I know, here I am. Out in outer space, pushing the boundaries of exploration.”

“You think there’s another you somewhere out there,” Matt said slowly, laughing a little as he did, “Who’s living the life – starring in movies, a house in Beverly Hills, doing casting calls; all that shit?”

“Not just out there, man,” Trey said, becoming solemn all of a sudden. “Way out there – a whole new universe. One I’ll never get to see, no matter how far out into space I go.”

“Tough,” Matt said, and he emptied the contents of his bottle into his mouth, sloshing it all around before swallowing it all in two big gulps. “Life goes on, buddy,” he said, getting up to leave. “For you; for me; and the bloody human race.”

“In another universe; if the other you had one thing – one decision – that the other you would do differently,” Trey suddenly asked, “What would it be?”

Matt stood at the doorway for a long time as he thought about this, holding on to the empty bottle absently. There was an ache in his heart that he had once known as sadness, but he had kept that away and numbed his heart a long time ago. The ache came knocking, and his heart shut it out.

“Matt?”

He looked up at Trey, an inexplicable hotness at the back of his eyes as he spoke.

“I’d never have left.”