My own not-so-long way home

June 27, 2010

This weekend has to be good for working into a story at some future date.

I went to the ‘Can’t Stop the Serenity’ screening in Toronto yesterday. It was overall a great time, seeing the movie yet again, (with my ‘beat sheet’ fresh in my mind.) I dressed up as a character for the first time ever – I went as Simon Tam, in a full suit with waistcoat and long-sleeved white shirt, the whole bit, and had pictures taken with a girl who had come dressed as River. Fun fun. Also spent some money at the charity auction, walking away with a Jayne needlepoint that I’m going to put on my desk at work, some T-shirts, a signed photo, and a comic. Not too bad, and it’s all for a great cause.

This weekend is also the G20 summit in Toronto, and at first I wasn’t too concerned about that. The screening was at Bathurst and Bloor, well outside ‘the security zone’, and though Union station is close to the convention center, the GO transit website said that trains would still be going through as scheduled, though most street exits would be blocked. That seemed fine – I could go from the GO train directly to the subway, and thus north. Worked out alright, though walking through the Union concourse was eerie when so many of the storefronts were closed up.

After everybody had left the theater, crossed Bloor street, and the Pauper’s pub finally let us all in to the upstairs room, I started to realize that something worrying was going on. Chris M, next to me at the table I finally ended up at, was reading news reports off her Iphone, and soon there was footage from the G20 protests downtown on the TV screens intermixed with the Fifa world cup matches. By the time I’d ordered my chicken fingers, it was pretty clear that getting home would not be as easy as I’d planned. No subways were running south of Bloor, and no Go trains or buses were coming into or out of Union station in any direction, according to the Iphone.

“You should talk to Kate,” somebody at my table mentioned. “She came in from Hamilton on the Go train today too.” I agreed that it sounded like we had the same problem to work out, at least, so I went over and introduced myself.

We talked for a little bit about various possibilities, including taking streetcars south to the Exhibition grounds, and then suddenly Kate told me: “You look so familiar. Did you live on or near Stanley avenue in West Hamilton, when you were younger?”

I was completely stunned – I grew up on Stanley avenue pretty much until I went away to University, and Kate didn’t really look familiar to me, but she said that she’d been just up the block. Around this point my food showed up, and while I was munching on the sinfully fattening (and delicious) chicken, word came in that the Exhibition station was now no longer an option – Lakeshore west trains were at best getting to Mimico.

Someone else from my table asked if she could give me a lift to a GO station in Mississauga, and I said that sounded promising and mentioned that Kate might want to come along as well. So the three of us headed off pretty much as soon as we’d finished eating and saying goodbyes. Kate and our volunteer driver got along very well, chatting about job possibilities in the insurance business and so on, and eventually Kate and I got dropped off outside the Port Credit station, with much luck wished our way.

At first, it seemed that luck was not at all with us. Inside the station, there was one harried-looking ticket attendant inside her booth, explaining that no GO trains were running, no GO buses were running through the station, and that if we wanted to proceed west, it would have to be from making our way between different regional bus systems – Mississauga transit to Oakville transit to Burlington transit to Hamilton buses and so on. There were also a few other stranded passengers, including a friendly but overwhelmed Icelandic tourist who was trying to find some way to get to Niagara Falls.

Things did look grim for a bit. Kate called home to her parents and apparently got a bit of an earful about how they’d told her this would happen. I emailed my mom on my work blackberry, and got no reply.

Somehow the idea of taking a cab arose – I think the ticket attendant might have been the first to suggest it, and Kate jumped into organizing the trip. She found another couple who wanted to go to Hamilton, I did my best to convince the Icelandic girl that she’d be able to get to Niagara Falls from Hamilton on another coach line, and Kate got a quote from a taxi-van driver who could carry five. One hundred dollars total to drive us to the Hamilton GO train station. Twenty bucks each. We all agreed to it.

And that’s nearly the end of the story. Kate jumped out on the west side of Hamilton so that she could walk home more easily, (after giving me her share of the fare,) and I sortof turned into the defacto expert on transit operations at the Hamilton GO center, helping our Icelandic fare get her tickets for the Coach canada bus to Niagara Falls and showing her which platform it would be picking her up at, and even giving the other passengers a tip on which bus they’d want to get to Barton street and where to catch it. And on my own bus ride home, I got off early, at the Dairy Queen at Main and Ottawa, and walked home from there. I kinda needed the sugar rush.


Are you anti-prologue or pro-prologue?

June 24, 2010

I printed off the first ten pages of my new opening to ‘The Long Way Home’ and passed it out for critiquing Tuesday evening at the Hamilton Writer’s meeting at Chester’s Beers of the World. I got a few kudos, the usual helpful notes on phrasing and word choice – and a very spirited debate broke out on the subject of prologues.

I’ve never had a prologue in this story, but I won’t deny that it’s a story that could arguably use it in terms of establishing the fictional world, because the Earth of ‘The Long Way Home’ is not Earth as we know it. Not only are there magik spells and royalty and wizards, but the seven royal families are spread fairly evenly about the planet – one to a continent, more or less, except for a bit of reshuffling involving Antarctica which isn’t really important for this book. The main character is a princess of the Royal Family of North America, which is definitely a concept that a lot of people might find surprising. Also, there are talking animals, a race of dinosaur-like people called Saurians, and halfbreed Saurians who still show some reptilian traits but are closer to human than ‘true-blood’ Saurians. The general level of technology is 1950s, (possibly because transistors in this universe can’t be miniaturized beyond a certain point,) and the culture is modern in some ways and Victorian or even older in others. It’s a lot of little changes to pick up as you read, I suppose.

So, as I said, the feelings on the subject of prologues to explain the world/universe of the story were quite vehement, including one gentleman who became passionate in his opinion that prologues are never needed and seldom valuable. (It got a bit awkward because Rob’s piece that he brought for critique was headed as a Prologue, though his was character-centered and action-based and not nearly what people were discussing for my book.) I’m not really clear on whether I want to write a short prologue or not, but I’m convinced that I need to do something better to establish the world of the story at the beginning.

And I’m not sure how that fits in with my other goal for the start of the novel of hooking the reader right away. Is it possible to hook the reader with a prologue that’s about your world instead of about characters? Are they seperate goals that I have to accomplish one after the other, or side by side?

Comments and input gratefully appreciated.


Beat sheet analysis for ‘Serenity’ (spoiler warning.)

June 20, 2010

I’ve been fascinated by the notion of ‘The beat sheet’ since I saw it mentioned on the Script Frenzy home page in March, and I actually went and got Blake Snyder’s book ‘Save the Cat’ on my Amazon Kindle so that I could read the chapter where he lays beat sheets out in some detail. There’s a lot of other good stuff in there that I haven’t had time to read all the way through, too – want to read the whole book from location 1 to location 2005 by 28 Feb of next year, to get ready for my next big script.

In case you’re not familiar, the Beat sheet is a fifteen-part structural breakdown for a feature length screenplay. Here’s the 15 beats as I understand them, very briefly:
Opening image: First impressions, where the hero starts from
Theme stated: Posing a question that summarizes what the movie is about
Set-up: Introduce the cast of characters
Catalyst: Something changes to start the hero off on his journey
Debate: Hesitation and build-up to the decision. Dare I get myself into this?
Break into two: The point of no return, hero commits himself/herself
B story: Move away from the main storyline to introduce a secondary theme.
Fun and games: Trailer moments and movie poster – don’t worry about moving the plot along for a while, just indulge in coolness
Midpoint: raise the stakes, minor victory but things are more serious
Bad guys close in: A reversal begins brewing…
All is lost: And the reversal is complete, hero appears to be defeated. Impression of death.
Dark night of the soul: Hero hits rock bottom and wallows in it for a bit.
Break into three: Solution to crisis, drawing on B storyline.
Finale: Wrap it up, triumph, put the lessons learned into action
Final image: Reversal of the opening image, showing real change.

After going through this, I want to try breaking down some of my favorite movies into beats, to see how the system applies to them, and where the rules have to be stretched one way or another. I’ll possibly also be applying the same analysis to some of my own screenplays, especially the ones that I wrote for Script Frenzy before I’d heard of the Beat sheet.

The first movie to get a beat sheet has to be Joss Whedon’s fantastic ‘Serenity’:

Opening image: This is the Alliance school lesson, showing River Tam talking back to her teacher. Even though this is an impossible dream inside a holographic surveillance replay, it still comes from a ‘real’ place in terms of River’s character arc. I suppose that to stretch a point, the transition into the lab and showing River suffering at the Academy is also in the opening image, and then we move into setup – and that’s all in the first 3 minutes or so of the movie.

Theme stated: This would be River rambling inside her dream: “People don’t like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don’t run, don’t walk. We’re in their homes and in their heads and we haven’t the right. We’re meddlesome.” Minute 2.

Set-up: The various layers of flashback count here, as does the landing on the border moon and even the heist, (though the heist also seems like an early installment of ‘fun and games.’) Everything up until River stares up at the Fruity Oaty bars. Minutes 4-33

Catalyst: River goes assassin, beats up everybody, it’s all caught on vid, and Mal drags her out of the bar. This is the inciting incident for the rest of the action of the script, and it’s late: minutes 34-36

Debate: Speaking with Mister Universe, going to Haven, all of this is part of debating and delaying over ‘what do we do with River’? Even going to rescue Inara is part of that, but it ends when… (minutes 37-52)

Break into two: Mal refuses to give up River to the Operative at the companion training house (minutes 53-54)

B story: Okay, this gave me some issues, because it’s hard to tell what’s the main plotline and what isn’t, I thought of Simon/Kaylee or Mal/Inara as the B storylines, but they’re probably C or lower. River and her journey back to mental health is the B storyline in my opinion, and it starts, if anywhere, back when she tells Simon about Miranda, in minute 43.

Fun and games: Now, as far as I can see it, the fun and games definitely start early, with the payroll heist and Reaver chase way back in minutes 17-25. From watching the trailer, two other possible spots of ‘fun and games’ are the bar fight, minutes 35-36 and the space battle, minutes 86-89. Both serve to tell a part of the main story, but they’re also there to delight and tempt viewers.

Midpoint: Of the two kinds of midpoints, ‘Serenity’ definitely has a false collapse. After Mal’s successful escape at the Training house and River’s identification of Miranda, all seems reasonably good for the gang, and even the lurking hand of the Alliance won’t be a problem once they get back to Haven, right? WRONG. Haven is in ruins, and Book is dying when they get there. But Mal has a plan for how to get to Miranda and maybe the secret there will get them out of hot water. Minutes 65-71

Bad guys close in: Things keep going wrong, the Alliance is still watching for them, the Reavers only just let them sneak through, the secret on Miranda is worse than they can imagine. By the time Mal has come up with his plan to have Mister Universe broadcast the secret, the Operative is one step ahead of him, he’s killed Mister Universe and trashed the broadcast center. In the battle between the Alliance and the Reavers, Serenity is hit, Wash just manages to ‘glide her in’ at Mister Universe’s complex… Minutes 72-89

All is lost: … And everything goes from bad to worse. Wash is killed so suddenly it hardly makes sense, the Reavers and the Alliance are still chasing after them, Mal has everybody else guard the hold point and goes to see Mister Universe, and sees what happened. Minutes 90-92

Dark night of the soul: This is a very short one. In minute 93, Mal looks at what’s left of Mister Universe’s control room, including Universe’s dead body lying in lovebot Lenore’s lap, and all of his hope is lost. Even when Lenore starts to speak, and it’s clear that Universe recorded his dying words on her, the moment is a horrifying one, not reassuring. Until…

Break into three: …Universe’s message tells Mal about the backup system, and he realizes that there’s still a chance to get the word out. (“They can’t stop the signal, Mal. They can never stop the signal!”) (94)
In a parallel act 3 break for River’s story, she comes to her final resolution of courage, self-reliance and dependability, and charges off to do battle with the Reavers alone to save her family: “You’ve always taken care of me. My turn now.” 101-102

Finale: Mal has his battle with the Operative, nearly dies, wins by being sneaky and resourceful, saves the Operative’s life, and starts the broadcast. River kicks Reaver butt, and is about to start a suicidal fight with the Alliance soldiers until the Operative calls them off, realizing that his mission has failed anyway. The fallen are mourned, Serenity is repaired, and Mal has his last words with the Operative, with Zoe, and Inara. 95-111

Final image: Serenity is flying again, with Mal and River together at the controls to take the place of their fallen friend. And the Alliance isn’t meddling with them, at the moment. Love’s keeping Serenity in the air, and she’s once again a home.
Even if pieces still fall off her, from time to time. Minutes 112-114

Overall impressions – it’s interesting to see what fits and what doesn’t apply as strictly as Blake Snyder said it would. šŸ˜‰ Most of the elements do fit, but not that closely in terms of page count as they ‘should’ (or as far as I can determine using minutes as a guide,) and some of the elements don’t seem to show up quite in order.

This is reassuring to me, since I had problems doing things strictly by the numbers, and so it’s a comfort that one of my favorite movies ever doesn’t exactly fit the formula either.

(Adapted from a discussion thread idea I posted to http://www.scriptfrenzy.org )


Revision as a juggling act.

June 18, 2010

I’m in the middle of a revision of my young adult fantasy manuscript, ‘The Long way Home.’ I’ve set revising, editing, and polishing this book as one of my major goals for 2010, and this particular effort was inspired by something mentioned in both of the Brian Henry workshops I’ve been to so far – that the start of your writing should be the best possible ‘hook’ that will entice the reader into continuing.

As soon as I heard that mentioned the first time, it started to occur to me that that was one of the weaknesses of the book that I hadn’t addressed in the first two revisions. ‘Long Way Home’ started as my novel for National Novel Writing Month 2007, which was a very good Nanowrimo year for me, but I suppose that any time you’re starting a new story you just have to pick a place to start writing without hemming and hawing over what the best place is, and that’s particularly true when you’re trying to write a 50-000 word book in thirty days. So ‘Long Way Home’ started off quietly, with my main character sitting outside and doing homework, (which gave me a chance to work out some of the history and politics of her world,) and really, it’s chapter 5 by the time the plot really works its way up to anything like full speed.

So, this time I’m trying to start and hit the ground running, with about a page and a half to set the scene before Princess Naveli gets captured by the rebels. A few important scenes from what had been chapters 1-4 are going to be worked in as flashbacks, and others are probably going to get left out entirely.

It’s been a fun and exasperating process all at the same time, if that’s possible. Probably not possible, come to think of it. I guess it’s been fun at one moment and exasperating the next. I’m not entirely certain if it’s working, or if I’ll be able to finish the revision in June the way I wanted to, but I guess I’ll find out in a few weeks.

The weirdest part is that rearranging things this way has turned up a few things that never really got explained properly in all of those first five chapters of exposition and world-building, and that neither I nor any of my critiquers caught so far. Guess that’s what a fresh perspective does for you.

The other thing that I’ve been working on is Naveli’s character arc. It’s supposed to be a coming-of-age story where Naveli learns confidence and self-reliance, but a couple of critiquers have pointed out that Naveli was really acting very take-charge and optimistic as soon as things started to go wrong, which means that she doesn’t really have much room to go in the direction that I want to take her. So I’ve been revising her reactions and dialog to make her much more the scared, sheltered princess right when she’s first kidnapped, which seems to fit both the character and the plot. I think that’s doing well.

So, for any writers in my reader-ship, do you have (short) stories to tell about rearranging scenes? I look forward to hearing them, or anything else you’d like to share about your revision process. Until next time.


Stringing Words Blogs (and LiveJournal) roundup.

June 13, 2010

Okay, today because some of the blogging members of Stringing Words gave me the courage to start this blog, (though probably none of them know it,) I’m going to plug their blogs or LiveJournal pages and give out a few introductions.

Gale definitely deserves to go first, in that she’s the one who introduced me to Stringing Words, and for more reasons besides. I met Gale first through the local Hamilton ‘National Novel Writer’s Month‘ events – she’s since served as a Hamilton Municipal Liaison for Nanowrimo and is also one of the three founding admins of Stringing Words. Gale’s blog, mostly devoted to her Thorne’s Quest series, hasn’t been updated that recently, but you can find it here: http://thornesquest.com/blog/

Rinelle is also a founding admin for Stringing Words, our representative in the Australian time zones, and a very sweet person. Rinelle’s blog isn’t writing-focused, but I couldn’t leave her out: http://tirtairngire.com/

At this point, I guess I’ll go through in alphabetical order, starting with Brittany, a younger writer who always seems to have brought a fresh perspective on whatever’s being discussed, (or a fresh new topic for discussion, most days) Brittany is at http://www.hillsandcorkscrews.com/

Our longwinded and prolific Demon can be found on LiveJournal at http://demonofthekeys.livejournal.com/ Hi, Demon!

Eileen is a great genre (sci-fi and fantasy) writer and always has interesting things to say. Right now she’s off at the Odyssey workshop – congratulations and good luck, Eileen! http://speakcoffeetome.blogspot.com/

Elizabeth Twist is another local Hamilton area writer who I met through local National Novel Writing Month writeins – in fact, we still often meet up throughout the year to write or edit together in a coffee shop, encourage each other, talk out what we’re working on. Her blog is up at http://elizabethtwist.blogspot.com/

I don’t really know much about Elle, except that I often confuse her with Eileen because their usernames are similar. But Elle seems to have some interesting stuff up at http://defective-tykewriter.blogspot.com/

Erin isn’t that active at Stringing Words, but that’s probably because she’s so busy running National Novel Writing Year, which is also a great writer’s motivating event. (Is it really an event if it essentially never stops? I mean, NaNoWriYe is all year, every year!) She also apparently can’t update her LJ that often – http://community.livejournal.com/x__hypocampus

IchthusFish is also a WriYe-er and sometime Script Frenzier, as well as a Stringer. She’s also from England, which is cool in itself. LiveJournal at http://ichthusfish.livejournal.com/

Possibly I’m running out of steam at this point, but I don’t really remember anything about Jiangyin other than this note – http://jiangyin.livejournal.com/

Kristina is an incredibly prolific writer at http://20quidnosebleed.livejournal.com/ (Well, maybe not that prolific at LiveJournal specifically.)

Liz is also a National Novel Writing Year participant. Visit her LiveJournal at http://crescent-gaia.livejournal.com/ (Is there some connection between NaNoWriYe and LiveJournal, do you suppose?)

And last but not least, there’s Stacey – and as you can tell from the link, she’s another UK citizen. http://staceyuk.chaotic-creative.com/writing/ Also a screenwriter and contest entrant!

So – I hope that you enjoy surfing through some of these links, and I’ll be back with something a bit more writing-relevant soon.


Please allow myself to introduceā€¦ myself

June 10, 2010

Hello there, and thank you for coming to take a look at my blog!

Let’s see, what should you know about me? I’m Chris Kelworth, and I’m an enthusiastic writer. Among other projects currently on my plate, I’m trying to rewrite a young adult fantasy manuscript and start querying it to publishers this year.

I’ve also been working on some shorter stories, and participating in some great local workshops and writer’s meet-ups of all kinds, so I feel like my creative juices are flowing well, and hopefully that will show through in this blog.

So keep an eye on this space – I’m new to blogging, so it’ll probably take me a little while to get the hang of it, but I’m very excited.


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