Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Editing Backwards #2: Theme & Genre

Hello, sweeties!

I am writing from the past.

I know. I'm super excited.

In last time's episode, I talked about a video essay that kinda made my editing world a lot easier.

I said I didn't know how to edit and I totally forgot to talk about how that video actually made me a better editor.

So if you haven't watched it, here it is:

If you're more of a reading kind of person, fear not. I have you. Let's break this b#tch down.

Now before we start on the actual breakdown, I wanna address the pound sign in my curse words. I'm not a prude, y'all. You know this. I just love the bleeping sound when something get's sensored and this is as close as I get in the written language.

I know. I'm weird.

Moving on!

In the video essay, Nolan's magic comes from a three part coolness. The Pledge, The Turn, The Prestige.

Now, admittedly, this video talks a lot about genre and how Nolan actually subverts it. It's awesome.

Nolan promises you one type of movie, superhero, and gives you the ordinary taste of it. Copycats, bank robberies, but Nolan likes to pull the rug from under you. This criminal seems to kill for the f#ck of it.

That's how we're hooked. We have that familiarity in what we know of superheroes, but we get this eerie feeling from our first Joker encounter that something isn't quite right. In fact, I don't know about you guys, but the moment he executed his henchmen, I got creeped out.

This brings you basically through the first part of Nolan's magic.

The Turn subverts genre. This is not what you signed up for. Something else is going on here. There's misdirection, there are ambiguous characters whose stance on anything is ever-shifting. You know you walked into a movie about Batman but this is a departure from what you come to expect.

Even though Nolan's changing what you thought you knew, he's doing it in a way that makes sense. The theme that was subconsciously promised in the first scenes carry you through this shifting world.

The Prestige is probably the best and hardest piece to pull off. I'd say even for Nolan this is a balancing act.

This is where he has redefined the world you thought you were in. The genre.

In a way, he has revisited this place with you too, in a circular sort of way. And the ending to the story is both surprising and thematic.

Everything. Every scene, line, character, sacrifice and triumph have been tied to the theme. And the changes the characters made are tied taut to this one thread.

The people behind The Dark Knight forever have my praise.

But anyway! I promised to talk about how this affected my editing process.

After I watched and rewatched and watched again, this video essay had told me all for one day and it made so much sense that I wondered if I could throw together some things and see it in action.

The elements aren't exclusively mentioned in this video, but for today's post, I'll toss in what I added to this makeshift edit guide page.

At the top of my page, I added the title of the story. Below, all the stories that either influenced it or it was a retelling of. Anything at all in this section that'll clarify what I need to allude to.

Below these, I added in societal issues. Fears, worries, troubling norms. Not just because my work has to reflect something I want to protest or protect or shine a light on, but these are the things that add depth to my characters and their relationships with the world (theirs and ours) and readers and viewers.

They don't live in perfect utopias. (Unless they do and in my worlds, they definitely don't.) Shit happens.

Included are problems they're faced with day to day.

Sex and the City: search of romantic love while celebrating the ups and downs of female friendship.

(This is setting. It's the social and economic environment and something I always, always forgot to add to my stories after the edits.)

Once all that's out of the way, I outline The Pledge, The Turn, and The Prestige for the novel.

I still haven't decided how crazy into bending genres and redefining them I am, but you can't change the rules if you don't know what they're there for.

The Pledge:

Genre needs to be defined. You need to establish this quick so this subverting thing doesn't look like bad cooking.

The second bullet point here follows the line "shows you something ordinary but of course it isn't." This is a great way to remind myself to plant what's next, what will happen, and keep my promises in line. This will help me distinguish scenes that can get the ax too.

Honestly, this is such a better way to kill my darlings.

Then I remind myself to keep things familiar to the genre here. Again.

Yeah. Again.

This is important because though I promise something is not right, it's better to tell my audience what remains the same. This will help with suspending disbelief.

It makes my departure from the promised seem like a natural escalation.

The Turn:

The Genre I've already established before has a twist to it.

Now in this phase, there's something else happening. Maybe instead of the treasure hunt I promised, my story becomes a romance.

These gifs come from movies that are blends of genre.

With Titanic, it started as maybe a documentary, then it went into treasure hunt, then it went to romance.

With the remake of The Mummy, it went action/adventure, romance, and um horror because what the f#ck.

what the #@%$

With this bullet point, it'll vary tons in my different works. For me, the genre change will come with changing goals but also my characters' internal conflicts.

At least the one I'm working on is doing that right now.

It's not compulsory, I think, to misdirect but if you're doing it, sudden goal change like going from defeating the villain to rescuing the love interest is probably going to be the easiest.

While all these movies were awesome, the conflict built in theme (where everyone has their own take) has a more powerful and natural effect.

More on how theme is used in Nolan's world in the coming posts.

The Prestige:

This will be the hardest thing to do.

The best way to end a story is in a cycle. Let's admit it.

There's nothing more powerful than ending a story with the beginning image and having the reader or the viewer interpret that beginning image themselves.


This total bitch, you guys.

Or, to feel satisfied to be back in familiar territory after a long, hard battle. Hero's Journey af.

The key to unlocking this is to come back to the start, even in genre.

For Titanic, this was coming back to the boat as the old lady. The treasure hunt is over. The documentary is over. We're back from the love story that ended.

For The Mummy, it's the end of the romance with the kiss but as they trail off with hidden treasure, their journey isn't over. Probably more pleasant now, but still an adventure in a far off land.

For The Dark Knight, the Joker didn't win, but Batman is now even more shadowy and invisible in Gotham than before. An idea that people will stop associating as a person, just like before.

The thematic synergy has carried through. The Dark Knight is great because despite how sweet Bruce's idea of a world with no crime was there has to be a balance. It's human nature. There's chaos and peace all the time, and his sacrifice is to have Batman go from the good symbol to the symbol of hate. (Can we agree that a perfect superhero image would weaken the characters' motivation to build a better Gotham or is that a stretch?)

I go back to my original genre here and I tie all these things inside with the theme running through it. Shall we say, in a lame way, the afterschool special that launched the story?

This has been my favorite way to edit ideas and thoughts and kill darlings effectively. Not just tidy word choice or break up syntax to have better word flow.

As I'm editing a sentence, does it have to do with the retelling I'm doing? Does it talk about the societal issues and lies my characters believe? Does it have to do with the question that holds them back on a daily level? No?

Off with its head.

Kill those darlings, darlings.

Now, as always, I'll try to build a worksheet on this, though I really think this is a lot harder to put in worksheet form. It was a great video essay but as always, these are guidelines, built by one person (or small team) based off a few movies one man did.

I just found it helpful for the way I write, which is mostly pantsing. Maybe you will too.

Who's excited for next week's episode? I know I don't know what I'm doing.

Just kidding.



Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Happy Release Day, Happy Death Day!


Quick post. Happy Death Day, my fave horror release of 2017 comes out on DVD today.

Go pick up your copy or order it. If you're following the Editing Backwards series, this is such a good example.


Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Editing Backwards #1: Theme

Hello, my darlings!

How long has it been since I wrote about writing?

Let's hold off on punishment and appeals. Hear me out.

I've kinda sorta been dropping hints about writing stuff, just very quietly. In the last post, I talked about my favorite YouTube channels that have some movie breakdowns. And I have been talking about my own writing.

However, the holiday season is a time for sleep and work for me.

It's a long boring story you can probably guess.

So I won't bother.

But another reason I haven't posted is because I didn't have wifi for a few days. HAHAHAHAHACLEARLYADDICTEDTOTHEINTERNETOMGHAHAHAHAHA.

Anyway, so I had more time on my phone. More time with the stacks and stacks of notebooks and more time trying to figure out what makes a good story.

Can I just video essays are my life now?

Yup. It's that serious.

I have been obsessed and even started a playlist of the ones that I watched over and over again. Go watch them. Just do. Do yourself a favor and just enjoy the education rolling off these.

One of my favorites spoke to me on a level that I feel kinda fixed a lot of my editing problems.

Let's start there.

I don't know how to edit.

In high school, middle school, and elementary school in the US, at least in my experience, you're taught predominantly how to edit syntax, spelling, clarity, the like.

It could be because they rail you with the idea of plotting. And rarely when you plot do you derail, I suppose.

At least not when you're taught about theme separately; allegories, those kinds of things.

I'm not bashing the school system. It's not like they didn't teach me building blocks, but I still didn't know how to edit.

Every draft, I'd catch spelling mistakes, read things out loud and find awkward phrasing, but the whole story kinda just went limp.

I thought, "If it has good bones, it'll stand."

So I played a lot with the Hero's Journey, other plot shapes. I followed a detailed list of how things were supposed to happen.

But, without being funny, it was flatter than a sheet of paper.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I got recommended by YouTube for some movie reviews and breakdowns and I f#cking love movies. Movies are my oxygen. I'll watch one when I'm bored. I'll watch one while I'm getting ready. I'll watch one because I'm mad, sad, happy, feeling adventurous.

Hearing people talk about movies is almost as great. There are a lot of great voices out there, incredible opinions, and a lot of eye-opening takes.

Can I just say I thought I was real clever with my breakdown of The Dark Knight until I heard some of these people?


And that's actually where I started. Why did I like the movies that I liked? Why did I go back to some over and over again--Moana--and never lose that emotional connect, despite knowing every lyric and palm frond?

Why, after all these years, does The Dark Knight amaze the shit out of all of us? How could the Joker be such a wonderful villain, dare I utter The Best?

In the YouTube video that I linked, it breaks down Christopher Nolan's storytelling magic into more magic.

The Pledge, The Turn, and The Prestige.

You guys really need to see the video to get the full gravity of the style, but Nolan is a master of turning something normal extraordinary. He loves his ambiguous characters which give them a human depth and the man loves his themes.

If you breakdown The Dark Knight, you see that actually, every single person represents the theme and the source of the story's conflict comes from each different person's interpretation of it, so the conflict is organic and powerful.

His stories come down to thematic synergy.

The theme should be in every single scene, conflict, line, everything. This is the core. This is the reflection of the times, the reflection of the world the characters inhabit. This is what keeps everything tied together.

Nothing in your story should happen just because. No one will give a crap about it.

When you connect characters by something they don't consciously recognize, it says more about them and their motivations and backstories than a surface conflict that is all action and no emotion.

I have been ruining movies I loved left and right lately by breaking them down. Which is to say that just because something isn't written ever so perfectly it isn't successful or entertaining. At the moment, trust me, it is, but if you want to write something that sticks with people and changes who they are, nothing resonates more than a new exploration of an opinion interpretted differently.

More on theme in the coming days. New series and restarted the old ones. Expect new posts at least once a month once a week on this. (At least that's what I'm striving to achieve.)