5 things I learned bombing at stand-up

Stand-Up

Stand-up is one of those things that people tell me I should do.

While I appreciate, stand up I’ve never felt a burning desire to it or pursue it further than an infrequent hobby.

However, every so often I get the itch to get up on stage. On Monday 4th of June 2018, I scratched.

I bombed big style.

Let me tell you what I learned from bombing, so you don’t have to.

5: Prepare a little

First some context.

When I first did stand-up, I used to learn the lines so rigidly that if I was one word out it would throw me off completely.

When I last did stand up I didn’t prepare as much as I usually did and it went better than expected.

I thought that for Monday I would push it even further and freestyle the whole set.

I made a mistake.

The set wasn’t a complete write-off but I’m not going to tell you what went well. You didn’t come here for that.

What happened was that I bounced around from subject to subject without developing a through line. Some jokes came out of nowhere with no set up so they didn’t land as well as they could have.

When you don’t prepare, there is going to be several long pauses. Those pauses kill the timing.

You’re reading this thinking that something as fundamental as not preparing is not a lesson you need to learn. I’m not that smart.

From past performances of stand up, I’ve learned that you don’t want to lock yourself too tightly into the words. If you do any flub will send you flying off course.

On Monday I learned that winging it isn’t good either.

Next time I do stand up, I’ll be trying to find that sweet spot between over and under-preparing.

The point of preparation into to lock yourself in it’s to give your mind the freedom should something unexpected come up.

4: You’re on your own

Stand-up is strange. You get up in front of people, recite a couple of sentences and hope that they laugh.

Your goal is to change how people view things through comedy.

Now that you know what stand up is I can tell you first hand what it isn’t. It’s not acknowledging the other acts.

When I performed with my band, Mental Deficiency, I would mention the support acts and thank them.

You don’t do this in stand up. I found out the hard way.

One of the performers on before me didn’t get many laughs. They were young, and I thought it would be a good idea to, on stage, tell him he did well.

Now in my head, I thought I was coming across as “Hey kid we’ve all been through it”. It wasn’t until a friend told me after that it came across as “Hey kid listen to me the old pro”.

How condescending, I’m not a pro, I’m not even amateur. When I realised this I cringed so hard I castrated myself.

Stages are strange; they’re an elevated piece of ground that as soon as you step onto it you’re a performer no matter what you think.

Keep in mind the context of what you are supposed to be doing on stage.

My mistake was that I thought I was coming across as helpful and inclusive. In a stand-up setting it may have come across as, at best mocking or patronising at worst.

Don’t worry about anyone else focus on your own act first. Acknowledge no one.

3: Never admit that you are screwing up while screwing up

Your perception of time changes when you’re on stage. Seconds turn to minutes, minutes to hours etc.

A silence can last a lifetime. There are going to be silences. From onstage someone listening and someone unimpressed sounds the same.

What laughter there is you can’t hear. A feeling of dread rises from your gut, “I am bombing” it’s the only thought in your head. You’re arrogant and didn’t prepare. You don’t have anything to steer you through the vacuum, so you announce “I’m bombing”.

Big mistake, if you weren’t bombing before, you’re bombing now.

Friends who came to see me said that I wasn’t bombing until I announced that I was bombing. Whether I was or I wasn’t didn’t matter, I had sealed my fate.

In stand up as in life, people hate weakness. We’re sharks in that regard, any hint of blood in the water and there’s a feeding frenzy.

If you think you’re not doing well, don’t let on.

Admission plants doubt in the minds of others. There’s also the added bonus of it becoming self-fulfilling prophecy.

2: Don’t attack the audience

Attacking the audience is the worst mistake I made. What was worse was that I didn’t realise that I had attacked them until after.

There was a group of improvisers in the front row. I performed in an improv group for several years. During my time in the group audiences offered us the same suggestions repeatedly, such as “Taxidermist”, “Sex-change” and “Meat factory”. It got a bit old.

I riffed on that saying how frustrated it was getting the same words all the time and how annoying improv audiences could be.

Again someone had to point out to me, an attack on one audience is an attack on all audiences.

It’s not even like I was unaware of this. Ghostbusters 2016 died on its arse because it attacked the audience before the film came out.

I was aware that attacking the audience is a no-no. Even though I believed that I was having a go at a entirely different audience the stand-up audience couldn’t tell the difference… because audiences are fucking stupid (;D).

This bears repeating, not for your sake but mine; DON’T ATTACK THE AUDIENCE.

1: Keep up the momentum

Before I went on the compere gave me an excellent introduction that was high energy.

The MC got the crowd going, he gave me the gift of a hyped audience, and I squandered it by not jumping straight in with a joke.

That’s going from 100mph in fifth gear to dropping down to first.

Dropping the momentum was not my biggest mistake. It was, however, the first thread that unravelled the stand-up sweater.

You have to keep the momentum going. Yes, there are going to be ebb and flow moments. You slow down to build up again, but you never stop.

It’s harder to start if you never stop.

Keeping up momentum applies to life. You have to keep up the momentum no matter what. Even if you are not good, you will get better through repeatedly doing. You may not make much progress, but you will make progress.

That’s what I need to do; I need to keep the momentum up. Before, I was never interested all that much in stand up, but now that I’m in the minus column, there has been a fire lit under me.

I have something to prove and I can’t wait to turn this defeat into a victory. Now that I have something to aim for and can’t wait for my next shot.

Stand up may have been in the background for me over the years but now it has my undivided attention.

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The Zelda method will make you more productive

Zelda: A Link to the past

I loved Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Never got into Ocarina of time and thought that Wind Waker looked great but was pretty simple. I was also reading The Uses of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim. The book explored Freudian Symbolism in Fairy Tales.

It appeared that Zelda: Twilight Princess had incorporated elements of this symbolism into its story. The hero transforming into a wolf, the horse that rears onto its hind legs when the hero kisses the princess. I could get into it if you want but I’m not here to talk about the deeper meanings of a Nintendo game.

What I am here to mention is the difficulty of the puzzles in the game. I found some of them challenging. I’m not a great gamer, so maybe that makes me a noob, but I remember several times just being unable to progress.

Not knowing what to do; I would play Viewtiful Joe instead.

Henshin a Go-Go baby

Viewtiful Joe was knock about beat ‘em up fun compared to the more strategic play. I would get my fill and then would go back to Zelda. I was able to find that I could progress a little further.

Zelda hadn’t changed in difficulty level. It was just that I was able to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. Approach the game objectively.

This would go back and forth until eventually, I completed the Zelda game.

Words and Lyrics

I made a film a few years ago, Deadville.

When I was writing it, I had also started up a band called Mental Deficiency. Splitting the time between the two may not be the best practice, but for some reason, it worked with me.

At one point rewrites for Deadville needed to be completed by a specific date because we needed to start rehearsals.

At the same time, I was worried that Mental Deficiency wouldn’t have enough songs to play our headline gigs. You need about six-eight songs if you want to headline your concerts and they have to be your own. Covers are cheating.

Thoughts of needing songs were in the back of my head the whole way through rewrites the Deadville script.

Almost as soon as I finished the Deadville script lyrics and song ideas came pouring out of my head.

I don’t know why I was able to come up with lyrics so fast. Distracting myself from the songs by working on a script gave my conscious mind the distraction that it needed. It was so my subconscious could work on coming up with lyrics and ideas.

You’ve probably been told to focus on one and not to stop until it is done.

Does that work for you? If it does you can stop reading, what follows isn’t applicable. I’m talking to the people who struggle with focus. If you are a person who gets bogged down in the weeds of a project, I’m here to talk to you. If you’re a person who gets emotionally invested in a creative endeavour, then you and I have a few things to discuss.

My focus is a big problem. Trying to heed the advice of those who have done so and focus on one task until it’s completed is difficult. For the last few years, I have attempted to do that, and it hasn’t got me the results that I wanted.

While I’m still learning and trying to find a way that works for me I realise that the one task at a time approach does not work.

If this sounds like you then I may have a method that might help.

Zelda Method

You may not find this useful. You’re thinking “so what?” .

In fact the majority of you reading this won’t. You have proper focus, so I know that this post is aimed at the smallest minority like myself.

Trying for years to focus on one task has led me to frustration. The “one step at a time” method has not worked for me, and maybe it doesn’t work for you.

Try what I call the “Zelda Method”. Work on one project until you hit a wall then work on something similar yet different.

With Zelda and Viewtiful Joe they were both games, but they were a different genre.

With Deadville and Mental Deficiency, they were both word related projects.

I forget about the “Zelda Method” and have recently wasted time focusing on one project. In this case, it was a play that concerned Harvey Weinstein. Furthermore, it dealt with the complicity of actors, Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey.

I hit a wall and got frustrated, the project has halted. I went back to another player and started to restructure the piece. Low and behold I now know what restructures that I should make to the first play.

If I ever want to learn to play a musical instrument, it’s going to have to be piano and guitar at the same time.

I’m annoyed that I forgot that this is how I work, let this post be a reminder that one step at a time does not work for everyone.

Those who run before they can walk stumble more often but you’ll be surprised how much ground they cover.

Victim plays and how you write pop songs (Genre Cheat 3/3)

This post is the final part about genre. I’ve written about the cancer of modern drama that is the victim narrative. I’ll talk briefly about gangsters and rom-coms how they are two sides of the same coin. I also write briefly about the meta-narrative and how to write a pop song.

Victim Play

This is an extension of the drama but it’s toxic, and you should avoid deliberately writing one. I’ll tell you what to watch out for. The most mainstream example of the victim play is the film Philadelphia. When people mention Philadelphia, they talk about how groundbreaking it was. It helped bring discussing the plight of people with AIDS into the mainstream. No one ever talks about the film and whether or not it’s any good. The film isn’t.

A man gets fired for being gay/having AIDS because his bosses hate gay people. A man hires a homophobic lawyer. A homophobic lawyer learns that gay people are people too. Court rules that gay people are people also. Gay guy dies.

The audience realises that gay people exist. I want to make it clear that the makers of the victim play have good intentions it’s that practically it’s a big “and” at the end. The people who need to watch Philadelphia and take the lesson from it never will. The victim play reduces people to morally simple cyphers. Gay people are living saints; everyone else is Satan.

With the victim play, there is also a degree of fetishising the injustice. If you make a film about the domestic abuse, you will have to have a scene where the wife beats the husband.

In Philadelphia, there’s a scene the homophobic lawyer uses all the slurs that come to mind. It’s a case of having your cake and eating it too.

Rom-com/ Gangster

The rom-com and gangster film are two sides of the same coin only one is feminine and the other masculine. They both deal with rules of behaviour in society. The only difference is the consequences. In the rom-com, you are undateable and lose your chance at love. In the gangster film if you snitch they will kill you. Both end in similar ways. There is usually a wedding at the end of the rom-com, the heroine leaves the dating world behind. In the gangster film, the hero leaves the life of crime behind. They leave “the life” through the witness protection programme or death.

Meta-narrative

If you can find a way to make a commentary on the nature of storytelling or filmmaking, there is a chance that you are a master storyteller. The most popular means of doing this is through the framing device, the voice over. Many times it’s forced and can seem cheap. The best example is The Ponderosa Wedding Massacre from It’s Always Sunny.

The Lord of The Rings has a meta-narrative with Frodo writing the story of the Lord of The Rings.

If you can do it subtly, then you are a master. Inception is as much about film as it is about dreams. Look at the scene in the cafe; they are talking about screenwriting.

Arrival is also a good example too. It deals with the distortion of time and our perception. You think that you are watching a flashback when you’re watching a flash forward. It’s a magical manipulation of time.

Briefly about pop songs

There’s no real another place that I will get to put this in so I’ll talk about it here.

With pop songs, you take an old cliche and put your spin on it. Let’s assume for example “A stitch in time saves nine”. You recognise the expression OK, so now what, you look for a word that rhymes with nine. “A stitch in time saves nine/ How come I’m eighth in line?” Not great but not terrible for thirty seconds of work. Those lyrics don’t make literal sense, but that doesn’t matter. Pop songs are better left vague.

As for chorus’ something repetitive and simple.

If you’re a man: Make it about either saying that you screwed up and are heartbroken.

If you’re a woman: Make it about how he didn’t do enough, and you’re irreplaceable.

Pop is all about selling a comfortable lie.

Conclusion

Hope that these three parts helped you gain some clarity when it comes to genre. I enjoyed writing about this and hope that you enjoyed reading up on the subject. Feels like I’ve only scratched the surface. I will return to this subject later.

If you liked reading about what genre and want to know more would you mind leaving a comment because I want to help you. Unless you want to write a victim play.

Thank you.

Fear will make you more comfortable

The fear

Fear is always with us, whether you are aware of it or not. Fear is part of our DNA. From surviving ice ages, hunting sabre tooth tigers to war. Fear is part of being human.

Walt Disney said, “Children love to be scared”. It’s why he put the old hag in Snow White. Boys were turning into donkeys in Pinocchio and pink elephants on parade in Dumbo. Children responded to it, and in many ways, Disney’s mantra can be expanded to encompass big kids, like ourselves.

Ever since the dawn of cinema, the one genre that has always been profitable has been horror. Horror films have dead rising from the grave; people transform victims chased by monsters. Horror brings our deepest darkest fears to life and puts them on the big screen.

Real World fear

Away from the cinema, the modern world doesn’t provide us with many fears. On a subconscious level, we want to be scared. All western civilisation offers is anxiety. More concerned with social status rather than a real existential threat. Modern terror could be running late for an appointment or not being able to pay off a debt. These are concerns, but they are not life-threatening.

The threat of radical Islamic terrorism may be in the back of our heads. The odds of you experiencing terrorism are small. It would be more realistic to worry about being hit by a bus than a bomb.

I experienced more terrorism growing up in Belfast. The Drumkeen and Forensic lab bomb blasts were near my house. Still, I was never concerned about being blown up by the IRA.

I don’t like heights, not because I might fall more because I may jump. My main worries are a very first world. Will I ever have enough money to buy a house? Will I ever make enough money and will I ever do any work that will be good enough? The first two fears have simple solutions that I know the answer to, save more money.

Fear approaches

Terror creeps it’s way into my head. It’s not a case of if but when. I’m still trying to figure out what to do when it does.

I made a film seven years ago and had been trying to follow it up since. I have been trying to get better as a writer. Working with people and getting to know my equipment when it comes to filmmaking.

I realise at the back of my head that it’s not to get better at filmmaking, but it is to insulate myself from the fear. It has taken me seven years to come to terms with the fact that you are never fully protected against fear.

All I need is the air that I breathe

Fear is like carbon monoxide. It’s odourless and invisible that slips in through the cracks. Before you know it you have suffocated. The analogy is terrible and doesn’t work because there is the aspect that most people get wrong.

An emotion isn’t carbon monoxide it’s part of the air that you breathe. In trying to avoid the panic, you end up choking yourself out when what you should be doing is breathing it in. At least that is what I am trying to do. Come to the realisation that I have to embrace the fear.

The fear itself can be comforting. When I am close to the end of a script, the fear slips in to have a few words with me, impart the information that all I have done and ever will do is just not good enough.

That dread then proceeds to tell me that it is OK to put the pen down go and watch a movie or eat rubbish. Doesn’t matter I’m a normie with delusions of grandeur. The fear is my normie inclinations kicking in to remind me of my place. For the past seven years, I have been listening to that fear.

Writing this is part of the first step of breathing in the fear. You may be reading this and think to yourself, who is this for, it’s for me. By putting myself out there, I am trying to get rid of the comfort fear and breathe in the new concern. I want to replace the fear of starting with the fear of keep on going. It may come out imperfect, but if I wait for things to be perfect, then it’ll just be me with the comfort fear.

Birthdays will make you look back

Today is my birthday

Today is my birthday. I’m currently out for a meal with my family. I’m not a fan of birthdays. It’s not that I’m some bah humbug person, I think that my birthday, the date not my actual birth isn’t that important.


I’m an attention seeker. I’m loud, obnoxious and not everyone’s cup of tea. You might think that because I’m an attention seeker, I always want an audience. Not the case. I don’t like the attention given to me unearned. I want to take it for myself. When all eyes are on me, I get performance anxiety. People expect me to do something. That’s why I’m not such a big fan of my birthday.

A birthday is an excellent time to check in and see how you are doing. I’ll do that and let you be part of the process. I want to let you in on who I am. Not too much though, I wouldn’t want to spoil the mystery.

Finally becoming who I am supposed to be

Your body wants you to do a certain something. Not doing it will affect your mood. Before 2018 I didn’t write every day. In fact, I would rarely write. I would get grumpy and depressed. It wasn’t an apparent depression; not even I noticed until I looked back.

The depression would manifest itself in poor eating, overindulging in Youtube, video games and other vices. I would sleep too long and allow myself to procrastinate writing. Wake up at 12 pm and say it was too late to start.

I used to baulk at the prospect of writing 1000 words a day. Now it comes much more efficiently. I’m enjoying the act of writing, and it’s making me a happier person overall.

Each year I’m improving specific skills. You may disagree, but I think that my writing is coming on leaps and bounds. It may be small increments to you, but I am glad to be writing and believe that it’s improving.

My work isn’t perfect, it isn’t even that good, but I don’t worry about that anymore. I write for me, and if you enjoy it, that’s great.

Last year I would have spent months devoted to a post and then deleted not long after. Now I want to publish on the regular rather than putting out infrequent articles.

Blogging and publishing is a long-term system, not a goal. At the minute I’m

getting to the point where the word count doesn’t bother me.

Soon I’m going to get to a point where the quality is going to start increasing. I’m excited about that and hope you’re excited too.

Enjoy your life

I’m enjoying my life. It’s not that the previous years were terrible, now happens to be so much better. It feels like I am finally beginning to engage with life and the people around me.

Previously I was going through the motions. I was worried about being liked, coming out of scenarios as “the good guy”. Now I realise that being loved and the good guy is overrated. It’s also far worse in the long run, avoiding small conflicts will lead to bigger ones down the line. If there is something that you are avoiding I recommend that you stop that and take it head-on. Momentary pain for long-term gain.

I’ve never felt closer to my family. Finally moving out last year shares part of the responsibility for that. When we are together, we make more of that time.

I feel closer to my friends. I’m probably not a great friend but am trying to make amends for past failings.

But it’s not perfect.

Hope you don’t think I’m bragging, I’m not. One reason for writing this post was I wanted to give you a clearer perspective on what’s going on.

I may be presenting myself as living the sweet life, but it’s not the case. There are areas of my life that are gravely deficient.

First of all, there’s weird Dunning-Kruger effect going on with the writing. The more I write, the more I realise I haven’t written all that much. This leads to feelings of worthlessness.

Second I’m aware I’m probably making a fool of myself with the writing and videos. I could be losing grip on reality. This may be the start of a downward spiral that ends with me either in an asylum or a body bag.

I hope awareness is half the battle. Who knows, time will tell.

Third I don’t have a routine. Routine is the biggest obstacle I have to face. This is the piece of the puzzle that needs fit into place. It’s not even that I can’t find the piece, I have it in my hand, I’m too afraid to put it in. That puzzle piece is getting a new job.

I’ve been a cinema worker for almost ten years. Ten years on minimum wage, ten years waiting for a weekly rota. I have to get out of there, but I’m too afraid that I’m useless and I’m too old.

If you can sit for extended periods of time, you have an advantage over me. As I write this, I’m stood at a chest of drawers typing. Sitting kills me. Tall men shouldn’t sit for too long.

Getting a new job and developing a routine will be the hardest for me. For years I believed that habits were for normies. Looking at a lot of these normies, I ask myself, what’s wrong with normality?

Fourth and finally, my finances. My finances are in shocking shape. One of the good things about moving out is it’s made me realise how much money I pissed away.

Take Away

You’re reading this because I want you to know that on some levels I’m doing great. I’ve never felt more creative, and the amount I am writing is increasing day by day.

On other levels, I’m falling apart. I’m perma-broke, and I’ve gone from bad relationship to bad relationship.

I don’t want to be giving a false impression of myself.

You go through this life meeting people wearing masks with smiles on them. I’ve met those people too. I’m taking the cover off. Maybe you’ll take yours off sometime.

That’s where I am.

Hope that whatever you’re doing you’re doing well.

Know this: Everyone is carrying their cross, and you are too, but sometimes all you need is to adjust your attitude.

You could say that you’re excited about the future and what it may bring. I am too, but I’m more excited for what’s happening right now in the present.

I hope I can meet you there one day.

This Cheat Sheet will make you master Genre Part 2

20180511_030248_00018780830504285575838.pngWelcome to part 2 on genre

Hello and welcome back to the second part. In this part, you’ll read about mystery, tragedy, comedy and drama. These are genres that are the foundation of western fiction. Understand a genre and you will understand what your audience expects of you.

In the final part, I’ll talk about meta-narrative and give you a bare-bones guide to writing a pop song.

Mystery Thriller Genre/ Police Procedural

Oedipus Rex is the foundation of all detective fiction. The play is the basis of the mystery genre. The story of Oedipus is also the infant subconscious. You have a hatred of the father and the lust for the mother. That element doesn’t need incorporated into your plot. Detective fiction needs to have a hero who sets out to the right a wrong only to find out that he is the cause of the wrong.

The extension of this is the police drama.

If detective drama deals with the fault of the self, detective drama is concerned with the fault of the parents. In the detective drama, it usually starts small with the murder of some nobody in a derelict area. Our hero discovers that the corruption doesn’t come from the criminal underworld but within the police department. In LA Confidential and Minority Report, the police chief is revealed as the criminal. In Insomnia Hilary Swank discovers that it was Al Pacino who shot his partner.

TV Detectives

I can’t write about mystery thrillers without mentioning Columbo and Jessica Fletcher.

I’ve never understood the appeal of either as there is no progression. Each episode is like a self-contained film that has no relation to one or another. You could watch either show in any order, and it would make no difference.

Let’s talk about Columbo first.

Anyone who has read Homicide by David Simon will know no detective would get away with what Columbo does.

Columbo’s unorthodoxy gave me an idea that he is the manifest guilt of the murderer. The theory doesn’t hold up, but it makes the show more fun to watch.  Frank Columbo almost exclusively interacts with the guilty party. Columbo keeps showing up and nags the suspect. Lt Columbo is more like the three Furies from The Eumenides than an actual person, let alone a cop.

Columbo is manifested by the occurrence of the crime. You never get an idea of who Columbo is apart from being a bit of a bumbler and resilient. There are mentions of a wife and some episodes he has a dog, I think. I’m not watching every Columbo for this article. Each episode ends with the criminal either confessing or confronted with irrefutable evidence. You never see the trial; there’s never any follow-on. The episode stops once a confession has been taken from the criminal.

Murder, she kept writing

As for Murder, She Wrote there is a joke about how she’s the real murderer. That would make the show far more enjoyable. The show is camp. It would be enjoyable to see it as an episodic version of Kind Hearts and Coronets, with Jessica as the murderer. Alas, it’s too much of a stretch. Angela Lansbury is a treasure though, and you must cherish her.

Mystery Money

You could probably make a lot of money if you wrote a half decent mystery. I am convinced that all you have to do is write a kind of interesting mystery and have it end well for it to be successful.

Look at some of the more popular authors from previous years. There’s John Grisham, legal thrillers, JK Rowling; you think that Harry Potter is a book about magic? Think of the titles of her books; they are mysteries set within wizard world.

Is that why The Cursed Child didn’t quite excite people the way Harry Potter had done? Did switching the focus to time travel spoil the magic?

If you have an idea for a mystery, get it written and make your millions. I’m envious because I never could, nor will I ever have the motivation to write one.

Tragedy

Think about the genre tragedy. Macbeth is a great example of the genre. The character is told a lie and is unable to turn away from his destiny. With a little tweaking, the genre could change from tragedy to comedy. Towards the end of the Scottish play, the two armies are preparing to clash. They’re ready to fight when one of the kings gets a letter saying the witches manipulated the whole thing. They decide to forgive kooky Macbeth, he still gets punished, but there is forgiveness.

Think about Romeo and Juliet. The sleeping potion wears off Juliet right before Romeo poisons himself. The parents come in and say that if their children can set aside differences then so can they, it becomes a comedy.

Comedy

The same goes for comedy. At the end of Liar Liar, Jim Carrey arrives at the airport to find out that his ex-wife and son took off hours ago. It becomes a tragedy. The misconception about comedy is that because it brings out laughter it must be jovial. Comedy has some of the grimmest subject matter.

One of my favourite sitcoms, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has an episode where they exhume their dead mother.  Another great plotline is George Costanza from Seinfeld, his fiancee, died licking envelopes. Furthermore, there is the oppressive atmosphere of The Office UK.

If you want a great example of a comedy plot, I recommend season 5 of The Wire. There is a lie told by one of the characters, that lie builds. More people believe in the lie before the truth is revealed.

Comedy is the lie discovered. The tragedy is the lie discovered too late.

Drama

Drama is a less heightened version of tragedy/comedy. If tragedy and comedy deal with justice and forgiveness, a drama is “everyone is a bit shit”. A recent example of a good drama was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

What’s the film’s plot? It’s not a mystery thriller, the identity of the daughters killer is never revealed. Is it about a mother grieving, no, all the grieving seems to be done by the start of the film. Mother and daughter don’t even like each other that much as you are told through flashback. Is it about an asshole sheriff who learns something, sort of. The cumulative effect of the drama is to leave the audience with a sense of nostalgia.

Theatre darling

Furthermore, look at some of the greatest plays from the previous century. A Streetcar Named Desire and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? There’s no real plot, and there’s no real hero. Everyone is kind of awful; everyone is kind of weak all are human. I can’t offer too much advice on drama. Don’t mistake subtle progression for no progression.

 

 

This Cheat Sheet will make you master genre Part 1

Intro

Genre can be difficult to pin down. You know what works but you find yourself grasping for something but you don’t know what.

First of all, this is by no means a comprehensive list. I’m not an expert either so treat the following accordingly. While I’m not an expert I have a skill for pattern recognition in film.

I’m going to be looking into what are the subconscious undertones of each genre.

If you’re a writer and are considering working within a genre there’s no harm being prepared.

Even if you’re not a writer you understanding a genre can help why you watch something that is fine, but there’s a missing element. Usually, it was because the creators have deviated from some of the staples of the genre in an unsatisfying way.

A quick example is Kill Bill. Revenge movies have to end with the death of the character getting revenge. The heroes purpose in revenge stories is to right a wrong and then die. The hero cannot come back from the underworld and return to the normal world, certainly not whole, they have to lose something on the way.. Kill Bill not only has the hero returned from the underworld alive she has returned unscathed. That may be good filmmaking, but it isn’t great storytelling.

Know your genre.

I’m going to be talking mainly about screenwriting but this applies to other forms of fiction writing if you can see the patterns at work.

If you are considering writing a script, then I recommend The Hero With A Thousand Faces, anything on Jungian archetypes and The Uses of Enchantment.

Genres

Sci-Fi

Sci-fi is about the quest for higher knowledge about ourselves and our universe. It ends with the hero transcending, either by dying or disappearing.

Sci-fi in it’s most simple terms is “Where is god, there is god, I am god”

By god I don’t mean Yahweh the Christian God I mean god in the sense of being a higher being, higher knowledge, the next step in evoloution.

Sci-fi deals on the subconscious level about shedding the ego and the id to be part of something greater.

There is always an element of the religious when it comes to sci-fi. That is because the Bible is the basis for all sci-fi. That is why you will see a lot of Jesus imagery in sci-fi films. 2001: A Space Odyssey ends in death and rebirth as does the Matrix. Even low key sci-fi taps into religion Children of Men is the Nativity story. Battlestar Galactica is Moses in space.

The key to creating good sci-fi is reading the Bible.

Horror

I love horror; I made a horror film that you can watch here. Horror is the inverse of sci-fi. Sci-fi is an outward optimistic journey whereas horror is a pessimistic journey inward. Consider 2001 and The Shining. In 2001: A Space Odyssey the Discovery travels from Earth, and David transcends to become the Star Child. In The Shining Jack Torrance enters room 237 and goes insane.

At a basic level horror is a fear of death but let’s look at it on a deeper level. If sci-fi is the voluntary releasing of the ego, then horror is the taking of the ego. Horror is the loss of identity before the self is ready.

In slasher horror like Halloween, Evil Dead, Cabin in the Woods, Texas Chainsaw Massacre there tends to be five main characters. This number can deviate, but five is a number that represents psychological wholeness.

When the characters enter the world of the film, they are stable but as the numbers dwindle so does their psyche.

The characters in horror aren’t individuals, but together they make a whole. Cabin in the Woods spelt out Jungian archetypes for audiences. That film is a good resource for anyone wanting to develop their horror writing skills.

Monster Monster Monster

Let’s talk about the monsters of horror in broad terms.

  • Vampire stories are about the fear of promiscuity and sexual diseases.
  • Zombies are about the fear of losing your identity and becoming part of the crowd.
  • Werewolves are about the darker side of male sexuality.
  • Demonic possession is about our dark shadow, the evil that exists in the best of us. There is an argument to be made that demonic possession with the dark side of female sexuality, in Evil Dead the first victim has been raped by a tree and Regan from The Exorcist gets possessed right as she enters puberty.

Ghost Stories

Ghost stories are a genre onto themselves. They tend to have less death and any deaths that there are tend to be less violent.

The basic structure of a ghost story is as follows: There is a ghost, you are a ghost, I am a ghost. The Shining follows this structure as does The Others. There are ghostly goings-on that start small. Creaky floorboards etc. Usually ends with the hero finding out that they have been dead the whole time.

Ghost stories are about repression. It’s not uncommon for the ghost to be a symptom of the repression rather than a cause. An unsolved murder or a past wrong tend to be the centre of ghost stories.

Fantasy

If you had to sum up the fantasy genre into a sentence, it would be: Let’s set aside our differences and tackle bigger problems. You see it in Lord of the Rings; the kingdoms must unite to take on Sauron.

Even the anti-Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones you can see the structure asserting itself. The four houses are now having to unify to take on the undead.

Why You Find Star Wars a bit dull

Part of the reason that the new Star Wars films are boring is that there is no advancement of what went before. Star Wars is a fantasy film within a sci-fi setting. I tried to rewatch Return of the Jedi recently, I struggled, it’s a boring film. It should have steered into the fantasy structure.

Instead of a pointless rescue mission that takes up forty minutes of a two-hour film, you could have raised the stakes. Princess Leia is on diplomatic missions to win over more worlds to the rebellion. Meanwhile Luke goes to confront the Emperor and in doing so becomes the new one.

I may go into how I would have written Return of the Jedi. Even though I’m no longer interested in Star Wars, I still fanboy over the prequel trilogy and the missed opportunities in the saga.

To be continued

I didn’t expect to have so much to say about the genre. There are still more to cover so I’m going to split this into two and I’ll post part 2 on Monday.

You have a great weekend now.

Getting into Dune: Gateway Spice

Arrakis…Dune…Desert planet

Brief summary

You don’t have time to read this and I understand, thanks for the view either way. This post on Dune is is long so I’m going to boil it down to one sentence. There’s no set way to approach something so experiment with different paths. In order to get into Dune I had to take a different path.

I Love sci-fi

What’s your favourite genre of fictional book?

If your a normie there is a good chance that you like mystery thriller novels. Books like Gone Girl, Harry Potter and Jack Reacher might be right up your avenue.

You don’t want anything too heady because that’s not why you read. You want something that’s easy to read, has a few thrills and maybe a sex scene. I don’t blame you. Life is depressing enough without long-winded, boring books with no hanky panky.

You probably aren’t a big sci-fi fan. It’s nerdy, unrealistic and has no characters. That’s not how I view it but understand your point. I don’t find sci-fi boring because I don’t read it literally.

On a basic level, yes sci-fi is about flying cars and laser guns, but those elements are window dressing. What I find so enjoyable is that underneath the surface sci-fi is an exploration of what it means to be human.

Sci-fi asks, “who are you” and “if everything about you were to change, would you still be you?”. The answer to the question is hard to pin down, and I’m going to butcher it here. “I am a part of the universe, and the universe is part of me”.

A lot of sci-fi ends with the hero transcending. The Matrix ends with Neo realising he is “The one”. Interstellar ends with Cooper outliving his daughter and flying off into space.

In novels, it’s more heavy-handed. Philip K. Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch ends with humanity taking on the teeth, eyes, and bionic hand of Palmer Eldritch. Richard Matheson’s I am Legend ends with Richard Neville executed. He lives on in the tales the new vampire civilisation will tell each other.

Delaying the inevitable

There was always one book that I avoided though, and that was Frank Herbert’s Dune. I have many reasons for not wanting to read the book. It was long, I don’t like dessert adventures and that so many people like it must mean that I’ll hate the book. I had many reasons which is the equivalent to no reason.

The real reason and a problem that I have with reading, in general, is that I struggle with comprehension. When I talk to people about books, I’ve read, and we’ll be talking about sections and the person asks me if I’ve read the book. I get embarrassed.

I tend to come up with my own vision in my mind’s eye and don’t like books with too much description. I’m going to come up with whatever I want anyway.

I avoided Dune. It wasn’t until I read in the back of Tools for Titans that the change started. Dune was on several smart people’s top ten list. I knew that I would have to give it a read.

The book still intimidated me. I decided to take the indirect approach.

Dune the movie

I’d seen the Dune movie years ago whenever Channel 4 used to put on cult movies late at night. I wasn’t impressed then but if I was going to read the book I w decided to watch it again as it was available on Prime.

I’m going to talk about the film in general terms.

First of all, it’s beautiful, the production design and costumes are great. It’s nice to look at, and the special effects still hold up today.

Second, the cast is excellent, but the performances are not. There are so many roles in the film and trying to develop them all in two hours would be impossible. Kyle Maclachlan does well in his first film role. Kenneth McMillan stands out because he’s so over the top and appears to be enjoying himself. Everyone else fades into the background.

A more accurate title for the film would be Dune Plot Synopsis. The movie covers the majority of the main action of the novel, but it lacks the spirit.

I understand why this film failed to connect with audiences.

The first three scenes are cinematic dead weight. The first scene is someone explaining to you how the world works. The second scene is about the main planets. This scene is infuriating because this information is never brought up again. The third scene, in essence, is “Watch out for this person” but it goes on forever. The scene is included because it’s the only scene aside from the sandworms to feature a creature. The scene could have been thirty seconds.

For comparison could you imagine if Star Wars: A New Hope began with someone explaining the Force? Then the next scene explained the Empire and rebellion. Would the film have been as successful?

Once Dune’s plot kicks in the film is more enjoyable. It’s not the disaster that everyone thinks it is, but it never rises above being acceptable.

The movie Dune may have failed as a film but as a primer for the book it worked.

Do your own research

I then looked online for as many explainers as I could find. I didn’t want to read this book, so I tried to prepare as much as I could for taking it on. It wasn’t until I watched Thug Notes break down that I found the theme that would hook me in. That theme was the idea of fulfilling the prophecy v being the one prophesied.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey because of a prophecy. If Jesus was the Son of God would it matter if he fulfilled the scripture? Did Jesus become the Son of God by fulfilling the scripture?

You’re probably thinking, who cares, what does it matter but this kind of question is my Chicken or egg.

How can I make this more relatable to you? What is the difference between being confident and acting confident?

I don’t consider myself a confident person. I have a lot of doubt struggle with decision making, but I’m told that I’m confident. That is because I act confident. If you find yourself with diminished confidence, take this small step. Stand up straight and take up more space than usual. You’ll give yourself a confidence boost. This has nothing to d

This philosophical Chicken or egg question got me excited to read the book. The book has confusing words, so I downloaded the book on audible first and gave it a listen.

The audible version of Dune is more akin to a radio drama version of the book.

The production is sloppy. There is a narrator, and other actors provide the voices. It’s inconsistent; sometimes the narrator replaces the voices of the actors sometimes not. If anything the poor production made me more determined to read the book.

Dune the book

It turned out that the research paid off. I flew through the book. It’s split into three sections, and the chapters are short. The annoying, confusing words weren’t a challenge.

The book is odd as it is greater than the sum of it’s parts. The plot is basic. It’s a story of revenge. When Avatar came out, everyone called it Dances with Smurfs. Having read Dune, I’m surprised there weren’t more comparisons made. Outsider turns on the system, joins native population. The outsider becomes their leader and finally drives back the invaders.

World building is the books strongest feature. You get hints of a larger world. The dialogue is on the nose, and the characters are simple. Whenever you’re dealing with massive concepts, it’s better to keep it simple.

There’s more I want to say about this book, but this has post already run long so let’s sum it up.

The weird in way

Throughout your life, you’re going to have encounters that intimidate you. Could be a book could be a person, something that you have to engage with. You don’t have to use the direct approach.

Think of yourself as the frog in the pot, even though the frog dies in the end.

If you try to jump straight in you may get burned and be put off getting back in. Instead, ease yourself into something, do your research.

If you’re considering reading Dune, which is recommended, but don’t know where to begin I suggest this overview. It gives away the ending but the ending is such a small part of the journey.

Enjoy.

Review: Esther Part 1 – The Relique

I’m reviewing Esther by Mark McCann and Ryan Brown.

Mark McCann wrote for this website last month.

 

Now Mark along with artist Ryan Brown have come out with Esther, a comic book which you can read the first issue of here.

 

Just know that I am biased and will be giving this a positive review.

 

The World of Esther

The world of Esther is intriguing. Let’s see if I can give you an idea. It’s a post-human world where robots have taken over. The robots have become like medieval knights on a crusade. They may be robots, but they believe in gods and humans have become deified in their absence. The robots mention Christ and talk of him being the son. It’s an interesting idea, can a machine have faith?

 

The robot knights also have little helper robots who carry their equipment. These smaller robots help to mend them after the battle. There appears to be a societal hierarchy which I hope they explore further in subsequent issues.

 

Plot

The first issue is brief. The plot involves a battle between the robots and a rival faction known as chimaeras. The robots then discover an “organic”. An organic in this case is a human woman; she’s in a comatose state hooked up to a machine. The robots look to her as a divine being. I’m intrigued because what way will it go? Will she be a character in her own right, will she be a McGuffin that drives the plot or will she be both? I look forward to seeing where the creators take the idea.

 

Character

Due to the briefness of the issue and the emphasis on action, there is no real character development yet. There is some talk between the robot knights. There is an inner monologue that considers faith, existence and death. I enjoyed how it appears to be establishing our lead robot will be dealing with their own beliefs. Mark and Ryan are laying the groundwork in issue 1 of Esther. I look forward to seeing what they build.

 

Presentation

The artwork is beautiful. It’s dark yet distinct. The use of yellow in their visors is a smart choice. Yellow could mean optimism, faith, loyalty and truth. The yellow then switches to red when they are in a battle which is done subtly and without explanation.

 

The battle could have been confusing. It’s grey robots fighting grey robots, but Ryan Brown has made each distinct from one another. Good guys have horizontal visors that glow red; bad guys have vertical visors that glow white. Simple yet effective.

 

Ryan also brings out the texture of this world through contrast. You get the idea that this is a harsh world, metal, steel, rugged landscapes and terrible weather. This makes the soft fragility of the organic all the more apparent.

 

I love the look of this comic.

 

Conclusion

Well done to Mark and Ryan for creating something beautiful together. Wish them all the best for subsequent issues.

 

Can’t wait to see what direction the story takes.

I, Genus

The screen was on. Finnegan sat in front of it taking in all the information radiating from the display.

The living room had become his second bedroom. He sat there motionless.

Amber and Rike came down the stairs. Finnegans back was to them.

“Ok Finnegan we’ll be back soon,” said Amber. There was no response from Finnegan. Amber looked at Rike and shrugged.

“Did you hear us, Finnegan?” Rike said, approaching him. Rike navigated a minefield of sweatshirts, crumpled food wrappers and wires.

“Sure,” said Finnegan, not turning around. Rike saw a pair of shoes, the soles peeling off them, covered in mud.

“Finnegan, those shoes are ruined. You’re going to need a new pair” Rike said.

“Huh?” Finnegan said.

“I said” Rike began, Amber cut him off.

“Rike, it doesn’t matter. Our ride is here. Bye Finnegan. We are going to lock this door” Amber said.

“Sure,” said Finnegan.

Rike and Amber got into a car. The car drove off.

The car arrived at the I-Genus facility. Amber and Rike got out of the car and went straight inside to the reception desk. The desk told them where to go, and they went.

Amber and Rike sat on chairs in a hallway.

“Do you think we’re doing the right thing?” Rike asked.

“You have had so long to think about that, and now you decide to bring it up. We can leave if you want.”

“I’m not, it’s just that, you know.”

“Look we’re here, you’re nervous, that’s fine,” said Amber.

“It’s Finnegan,” said Rike looking down. There was a child at one end of the hallway. The child may have looked like Finnegan, but it was not him.

“You’re nervous, you have to relax,” Amber said. A door slid open, and a man in a white coat with dark hair stepped out. Amber rose from her seat and walked over to greet him. “Doctor Teng,” she said taking his hand.

“Doctor Mathers,” the doctor said.

“Sorry,” said Amber. Rike shook hands with the doctor.

“Come right on in,” Doctor Mathers said.

Amber and Rike followed him into the room. There was a table with a split in the middle. The three people sat down around the desk.

“So Amelia and Rance, how can I help?” asked the doctor.

“It’s Amber and Rike,” said Amber. The doctor leaned forward and checked a display.

“Oh, so it is,” Doctor Mathers said. “Hold on”. Doctor Mathers scrolled through the notes in front of him. “You’ll have to excuse me for a minute” The doctor pressed a button. A barrier emerged from the floor sliding up through the split in the table. The doctor now sat on the other side of a sheet of glass.

Amber and Rike sat looking at him. Doctor Mathers pressed a button, and the barrier dropped.

“I’ll have to try again later. What can I do for you?” Doctor Mathers said. Elbows on the table, hands steepled covering his mouth and his head tilted forward into a glare.

“It’s Finnegan,” Rike said. “I mean obviously we love him. He’s the perfect child. In many ways, that’s the problem”.

“Ok,” said Doctor Mathers.

“He doesn’t need us. It’s almost like we’re there to make sure that he isn’t disturbed. Not even by us. He’s very intelligent, but we’re just live in maids”, said Rike.

“That’s what parents are,” said Doctor Mathers.

“And the shoes, he keeps destroying his shoes. I don’t know what happens to them. I never see him out of the house. How is he ruining them? That’s at least four pairs he’s been through.” said Rike.

“Kids being kids,” said Doctor Mathers.

“What we’re saying”, Amber cut in, “Is that while we love him and the service that I-Genus provided, it’s not what we wanted. We wanted a kid who would not need too much maintenance, but this isn’t right. If I wanted a family member who we didn’t talk to living with us, I would have asked Rike’s mother to move in.”

“Right, I see,” said the doctor.

“What we have come here today for is to factor in a post-natal, Finnegan is under six. We were also looking to consider something that was more, dependent.” Amber said.

“You’ll have to excuse me again,” Doctor Mathers said. The doctor pushed a button bringing the shield up again. The doctor looked down. Amber and Rike could see the doctor’s mouth moving, but they couldn’t hear a word he said.

“You know, we’re the ones who are here,” Rike said.

“You know what doctors are like, always trying to make as much money for themselves as possible” Amber said.

The doctor looked up from the other side of the barrier and made eye contact with Amber. Amber smiled, and the doctor returned the gesture.

The barrier dropped.

“Ok, I can show you some of our offers on the catalogues. Before that, for the legal records, I have to have you say that you want a post-natal. Everything has to be above board.”

“Ok we can do that, I Rike Theremin want a postnatal performed on Finnegan Theremin.”

“I wasn’t recording, but I only need one of you to say it for clearance, Amber could you say it for the records?”

“Sure, I Amber Theremin want a post-natal performed on Finnegan Theremin,” she said.

The doctor sat for a moment and made a few notes.

“Ok, that’s all I need in that regard. You have requested a post-natal. Now let’s show you what we have. Before I hand it over to you, just thought that I’d point you to some of our latest packages. We can offer packages that are highly dependent on the guardian. You can have severely disabled. Now, this might be out of your price range, but we have a new addition which we call the sleeper cell package.”

“We haven’t heard of that” Amber said.

“It’s great, you get your package delivered, but it’s randomised, determined by an algorithm. You could have the package for the rest of your life, and it’s fine. Or boom, twelve years in and leukaemia” said Doctor Mathers. “It’s the luck of the draw, how does that sound? It’s proving popular with some higher-income households”.

Amber and Rike sat in their chairs, thinking it over.

The doctor’s phone rang.

“I have to take this,” the doctor said. He pressed the button, and the barrier came up. The doctor leaned back in his chair and spoke.

“This will get sorted,” Rike said.

“It will” Amber added.

The barrier came down, and the doctor sat before them. He licked his lips.

“Let me give you a tour of the facilities. I’ll show you the post-natal area, you won’t feel a thing” the doctor said.

“We?” said Amber.

“Sorry, I misspoke,” said the doctor. He stood up and led them through the door.

Back in the house, Finnegan was sat in front of the screen. The post came through the door. Finnegan turned his head at the noise.

As he turned his head back to the screen, he caught sight of his shoes. They had served their purpose but they beyond use. He would need a new pair.