LB: WGAW & WGAE Ask Members for Strike Authorization Vote

by Larry Brody

As usual (don’t trust us, google Writers Guild of America AMPTP negotiations over the past two decades and see for yourself), the AMPTP is stonewalling the Writers Guild on all fronts during the early negotiations.

It’s a thing they do because, well, because they think it shows the contempt they feel for our oh-so-unnecessary-selves. (“We don’t really need writers because any one of us could do what they do if we just had the time” has been a mantra since the early days of silent films.)

To me, what they’re demonstrating is just the opposite. Not contempt but fear because only we writers can do what they can’t. I can’t prove it, but I don’t believe there’s a single studio, network, or production company who hasn’t at some time tried to write a script…and failed miserably.

So they try to bully us into “submission” by blowing off our proposals and calling for cutbacks in the current pension and health plans.

The result of their tactics was inevitable. Here’s the latest email on the subject from the WGAW and WGAE:

March 24, 2017

Dear Colleague,

The initial two-week bargaining period agreed to by your Guild and the AMPTP concludes at the end of the day today.  We do not yet have a deal. We will continue to bargain in good faith to make such a deal.  But, at this point, we want to let you know where we stand.

We began the negotiations with two truths about the current state of the business at the heart of our proposals:

First, that these have been very profitable years for the companies.  This past year they earned $51 billion in profits, a record.

Second, that the economic position of writers has declined sharply in the last five or so years.  Screenwriters have been struggling for a long time. They are now joined by television writers, for whom short seasons are at the core of the problem.  In the last two years alone, the average salary of TV writer-producers fell by 23%.  Those declines have not been offset by compensation in other areas. In Basic Cable and new media, our script fees and residual formulas continue to trail far behind those in broadcast – even though these new platforms are every bit as profitable as the old model.

In light of all this, we sought to tackle a number of issues that directly affect the livelihoods of all writers.

–We asked for modest gains for screenwriters, most particularly a guaranteed second-step for writers earning below a certain compensation level.

–We asked for a rational policy on family leave.

–We sought to address chronically low pay for Comedy Variety writers.

–We asked for 3% increases in minimums – and increases in the residual formula for High Budget SVOD programs commensurate with industry standards.

–We made a comprehensive proposal to deal with the pernicious effects of short seasons. This included a limit on the amortization of episodic fees to two weeks, a proposal that sought to replicate the standard that had been accepted in the business for decades.  It addressed, as well, the continued problems with Options and Exclusivity. And it sought to address the MBA’s outdated schedule of weekly minimums, which no longer adequately compensates writers for short terms of work.

–Finally, we sought to address script fee issues – in basic cable and streaming – but also in the case of Staff Writers. Unconscionably, our lowest paid members are now often held at the staff level for multiple seasons, with no compensation for the scripts they write.

What was the companies’ response to these proposals?

No, in virtually every case.

–Nothing for screenwriters. Nothing for Staff Writers.  Nothing on diversity.

–On Family Leave they rejected our proposal and simply pledged to obey all applicable State and Federal laws – as if breaking the law were ever an option.

–On short seasons, they offered a counter-proposal that addressed the issue in name only – thus helping no one.

–They have yet to offer anything on minimums, or on HBSVOD.

–They have made some small moves on Options & Exclusivity – some small moves for Comedy Variety writers in Pay TV.  But that is all.

On the last day of these two weeks, the companies’ proposal has barely a single hard-dollar gain for writers.

$51 billion in profits and barely a penny for those of us who make the product that makes the companies rich. But that’s not all.

In response to our proposal to protect our Pension and Health Plans, this has been their answer:

Nothing on Pension.

And on our Health Plan, two big rollbacks.

First, they have demanded that we make cuts to the plan – $10 million in the first year alone.  In return, they will allow us to fund the plan with money diverted from our own salaries.

More, they’ve demanded the adoption of a draconian measure in which any future shortfalls to the plan would be made up by automatic cuts in benefits – and never by increases in employer contributions.

This, too, is unacceptable. The package, taken as a whole, is unacceptable – and we would be derelict in our duty if we accepted it.

Therefore, your Negotiating Committee has voted unanimously to recommend that the WGAW Board of Directors and WGAE Council conduct a strike authorization vote by the membership.

Once again, we are committed to continue negotiating with the companies in good faith to get you the deal we all deserve.  We will continue to update you as things progress.

Respectfully,

The Negotiating Committee Members of the WGA West and WGA East

Chip Johannessen, Co-Chair
Chris Keyser, Co-Chair
Billy Ray, Co-Chair

Alfredo Barrios, Jr.
Adam Brooks
Zoanne Clack
Marjorie David
Kate Erickson
Jonathan Fernandez
Travon Free
Howard Michael Gould
Susannah Grant
Erich Hoeber
Richard Keith
Warren Leight
Alison McDonald
Luvh Rakhe
Shawn Ryan
Stephen Schiff
David Shore
Meredith Stiehm
Patric M. Verrone
Eric Wallace
Beau Willimon
Nicole Yorkin

Howard A. Rodman, WGAW President, ex-officio
Michael Winship, WGAE President, ex-officio
David A. Goodman, WGAW Vice President, ex-officio
Jeremy Pikser, WGAE Vice President, ex-officio
Aaron Mendelsohn, WGAW Secretary-Treasurer, ex-officio
Bob Schneider, WGAE Secretary-Treasurer, ex-officio

Here’s another, more detailed analysis of the situation than my intro, from Facebook friend Micah Ian Wright:

And just like that, Hollywood’s TV Distributors slit their own throats. They survived a strike in 2007-8 by airing lame gameshows and reality shows. Audiences put up with that because there were few other options for viewers. Today, however, there’s Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu, where viewers can go to watch a bunch of new (and old, and British, and Swedish and Israeli, etc.) TV shows, many of them far better than what ABC/NBC/etc. are putting on the air.

Worse for the AMPTP, today’s business market is massively different. Global TV licensing has grown 320% since 2008. Today 40% of the AMPTP’s profit comes from global licensing of scripted entertainment. No one in Germany wants to watch “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” or “The Weakest Link” — they can produce domestic versions of that kind of low-budget dreck themselves. They can’t make “House of Cards” or “Game of Thrones” themselves, however, so the AMPTP is playing a very dangerous game by egging us toward a strike.

I know this is the Era Of Trump where rich corporations imagine they have the freedom to crush unions and steal all the cash for themselves, but they’re forgetting that he actually lost the popular vote by quite a wide margin and that he’s more unpopular than ever. These companies GAVE Trump $4 Billion in free airtime and helped elect him president. We haven’t forgotten that, and we aren’t inclined to cut them any breaks for helping foist this dictator upon us, hoping he’d make it easier for them to scalp their employees and loot their pension funds.

They have unprecedented profits built on our labor. They can share that money or feel our pain.


Larry Brody is the head dood at TVWriter™. Learn more about him HERE

Peggy Bechko’s World of Stand-up (Sit Down?) Writing

by Peggy Bechko

Sitting or Standing – oh, what the *&^%!

We’re writers. We end up sitting a lot.

We’re no doubt aware of the fact that sitting a lot isn’t really good for us. There are studies that claim to show how very, very bad it is by informing us all that it increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and of course cardiovascular disease. It also leads to obesity and back pain. In fact it could be killing us (duh – look at what sitting all day causes).

But wait. Now there’s a new study by researchers in the UK that comes at it from another angle and says long days of sitting doesn’t seem to be killing us after all. At least no faster than standing.

What? Oh, for crying out loud.

So what’s the basis for this?

Well, here’s a quote: “Our study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself,” said researcher Melvyn Hillsdon from the University of Exeter. “Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing.”

Hmmm. Okay, writer, now what do we do?

I mean I got a standing desk and everything.

There’s a key here, right? Umm, yeah. It hinges on our daily activity according to these researchers (who, by the way, spent 16 years on their project). The extrapolation is apparently activity, every kind of activity.

Define activity I said to myself.

In general, it’s any sort of movement.

For example, the study took place in London which is a city that requires a lot of walking to and standing on public transportation to get places. So, the folks in this study had double the average daily walking time that most other folks there in the UK and I’m assuming in the US.

So, despite the fact that remaining seated for long periods is bad for your health, no matter how often you hit the gym, simple movement is big for health.

What is needed apparently is a bigger expenditure of energy in some form. Even fidgeting counts.

The take-away?

Well, I’m not getting rid of my standing desk. I like it and I actually think it causes me, personally, to focus better. If you want to see it you can check mine out at http://amzn.to/2mQU9NS – it’s a Varidesk.

I split my day between sitting and standing (standing with a lot of fidgeting). Now I’m adding to that a new focus on increasing physical activity. The fact is my standup desk does encourage more movement than sitting. I do fidget and I do move back and forth on my feet and I do tend to step away more often. So now when I step away, I walk up and down the stairs.

All that walking is good, and easy to arrange. My suggestion is that you make the commitment to walk more, to fidget at your desk more and to generally keep spending your energy.

After all, who needs the stress of worrying about the hours we spend at our computers, a situation that no matter how good our intentions we can’t change?

Now, get up, stretch, move around, then go on and write that award-winner. Your body may not be able to give an acceptance speech for your conscious contribution to a healthier life, but your life will speak for it, every moment of every day.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

More Aliens than Asians on Screen: White-Washing Ghost in the Shell

by Kathryn Graham

This month, Ghost in the Shell will be released with Scarlett Johansson, a white actress, cast as Japanese character: Major Motoko Kusanagi. This is a process known as ‘white-washing’: Hollywood’s long-standing racist practice of casting white actors as characters of color.

In the 1930’s, we had ‘yellowface’: ‘Predictably, Asian Americans actors would spend most of the war years cast as sinister Japanese, often in films now viewed with some embarrassment. There were still “good Asian” roles being written–but they were restricted to Caucasian actors while Asian Americans played the villains.’

In 2017, we have white-washing, which is not the same thing, but still casts white people in roles that should have been Asian roles. The result: there are almost no roles for Asians on screen even in stories where the characters in the source material were Asian.

Chloe Tze: The University of California School of Journalism put out this study. There was a report that said less than 4.5% of Asians were on screen in speaking roles over the span of six years. So we’re not represented. You’re more likely to see an alien on screen than an Asian female. (Queer Women of Color Panel @ ClexaCon 2017)

NPR: Hollywood Has a Major Diversity Problem Study Finds

Why? There’s a whole raft of reasons why, but here’s a small snapshot: Writers aren’t writing roles for people of Asian descent. In the rare cases when we are, they’re being given to Caucasians.

When asked about the controversy surrounding her casting, Scarlett Johansson told Marie Claire magazine:

“I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive. Also, having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity. Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that—the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”

But, much as I love ScarJo, she is playing a character of another race, which is a problem precisely because there is so little inclusion in Hollywood. Kusanagi is a distinctly Japanese name. This is a Japanese character.

She’s right that there is a dearth of films with female protagonists. The same NPR study above shows that only one third of female characters on screen have speaking roles (let alone leading roles). Combine that with the incredibly low instance of Asians in speaking roles, and despite her intentions and her personal desires, Johansson has usurped a role where an Asian woman should have been cast.

But this is more on the casting director than it is on the actress. So, what did Steven Paul, a producer on the film, have to say about this choice to white-wash the movie?

“I don’t think it was just a Japanese story,” Paul told BuzzFeed. “Ghost in the Shell was a very international story, and it wasn’t just focused on Japanese; it was supposed to be an entire world. That’s why I say the international approach is, I think, the right approach to it.”

Basically: this story isn’t focused on Japan exclusively, so therefore we cast a white woman as a clearly Japanese character.

Is anyone buying this?

This isn’t a new defense of a white-washed movie. M. Night Shyamalan said the same thing about his choice to white-wash the Asian cast of Avatar: The Last Airbender.

“Here’s the thing. The great thing about anime is that it’s ambiguous. The features of the characters are an intentional mix of all features. It’s intended to be ambiguous. That is completely its point. So when we watch Katara, my oldest daughter is literally a photo double of Katara in the cartoon. So that means that Katara is Indian, correct? No that’s just in our house. And her friends who watch it, they see themselves in it. And that’s what’s so beautiful about anime.” – M. Night Shyamalan

I mean, who could tell that Aang was a Tibetan monk, Katara and Sokka were Innuits, and Zuko was Japanese? Anyone with eyes. Anyone who watched the show. And also…

The creators of the original cartoon: Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino.

The thing is: Avatar was not an anime. It was an American cartoon in the vein of anime. Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino had a blueprint for how they created their characters – and that blueprint was distinctly based on Asian culture. It’s not like Shymalan had to guess. His excuses, like always when a movie is white-washed, don’t hold water.

Even though the creators of Ghost in the Shell back the decision to cast Scarlett Johansson, and even though I doubt these decisions were made on purpose to harm Asians, the impact stays the same: another clearly Japanese character will be played by a Caucasian actor. Regardless of intent, this film is now a part of the history of American white-washing.

It’s worth thinking about this both if you’re considering seeing this movie and when you sit down to write your own stories. What are you doing to combat this? Are you writing Asian or Asian American characters into your shows in an ethical way? Are you bolstering stories by Asian creators? Informing people about this issue? Sharing this and/or many other articles?

Update: For a spot of good news, Disney looks to be doing it right with their upcoming live action Mulan movie! All-Asian cast and a female director? I’m in.


Kathryn Graham is a TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. Learn more about Kate HERE

Ethics in TV Storytelling from ClexaCon: Part II

Ethics of Storytelling at ClexaCon: Continued from Part 1 

About that writers’ room, how does that factor into ethical storytelling? What is the role of a showrunner? How much do an author’s intentions and opinions matter? And is anyone on TV writing queer female characters ethically?

Ethics in Storytelling Panel

Dr. Elizabeth Bridges – Literature Professor & Writer – The Uncanny Valley

Gretchen Ellis – Linguist, Storyteller, Critic – The Ranconteur

Heather Hogan – Senior Editor Autostraddle.com

Moderator Question: TV relies on a collaborative writers’ room, so what kinds of problems does that lead to?

Elizabeth

This is another one where I’d like to bring in a historical perspective because I think that obviously television is a collaborative medium. There is no such thing as the singular auteur, artiste that makes television because there has to be a writers’ room. There have to be different people contributing. Editors. Actors. You name it.

There was a panel at ATX called ‘Bury Your Tropes’. I found that really disappointing. Javier Grillo-Marxuach was the only one who had anything progressive to say. Everybody but Javi on that panel stuck with this idea of the ‘singular artistic vision’.

This idea of artistic integrity is rooted in the idea of the artist that we inherited from the Renaissance. That’s when the artist was the painter, the sculptor, and that’s when artists started signing their name to works. That’s when we developed this idea of the artist with a singular vision with a divine gift from God, and that’s where we get our idea of the artist.

Fastforward to 2016 or 2017, and these showrunners have inherited this idea of the artist, and they see themselves as these folks with a divine gift and singular vision. They probably don’t say it like that in their minds, but that’s the cultural idea we have.

Heather

I mean they do say it. I mean even Rothenberg was: “Well I thought I was going to do it differently.” You see that in writers’ rooms, especially when it’s a male showrunner, like: I thought my thing was going to be so different from the other 175 lesbian/bisexual characters that were killed.

Then when you have women showrunners like Ilene Chaiken (Empire), their whole thing is ‘I’m a lesbian so I can kill whoever I want’.

Elizabeth

Still the trope.

Heather

Right? Then you have Ryan Murphy who’s the combination of both of those things. ‘I’m a gay man so I can just piss on literally everybody.’

Gretchen

We see artists say it all the time. They say: This is my story, and I need to tell it. I need to be true to my story. I need to be true to my vision. I have a lot of very choice words I won’t say here for people who say that. Because it’s nonsense.

You are crafting a story for an audience. You are making a story that people will watch. Especially with television, the point of television is to make money for the network. This isn’t just: I am an artist painting my work of art that hopefully one day will end up in a museum.

They’re creating media that exists to entertain and interact with the audience. In terms of that, they’re imposing a vision and a perception of art that doesn’t fit in this medium. Film and television are not the same as a single person creating a single work of art.

We cannot allow that conception to continue because it ends up with: they believe they don’t have to listen to their audience or even people in the same writers’ room.

Heather

Very simple solution to this problem is to put queer people, people of color, trans people, and non-binary people in your writers’ room. You need more than one black woman in a writers’ room because black women are not a monolith. You need a variety of voices.

Elizabeth

That’s what I mean about this model of the artist. Because at the ATX panel we had Ilene Chaiken saying: It’s okay because I’m a lesbian. No it’s not. So not only do we have to have this diverse team of people working on these projects, but then there also has a be a different model for how art is created.

Frankly, the one we inherited as the singular artiste is not a feminist model. So we need something that is truly collaborative. When you’re talking about something like One Day at a Time, I think we see the results of that. It’s been pretty successful.

People look to the person who authored a book or the showrunner to have an opinion about their own work. Back to literary studies, there’s this concept called the ‘death of the author’. It came along in the 1960’s – 70’s by this literary critic named Roland Barthes.

He talks about this idea that the opinion that an author has after releasing the work to the public is irrelevant because it’s just another opinion. What really matters is the response of the reader or the viewer because that is where the interaction takes place.

That’s where this dialogue takes place. It was meant for viewers. It was meant for readers. It doesn’t matter.

We can go back to JK Rowling talking about Dumbledore being gay. It’s like: That’s great. Where is it in the text?

Heather

The thing that’s made that infinitely worse is Twitter because a writer can just get on immediately after and say: ‘What I meant was…’ But you’re all: ‘Hey, that’s nice, but what I saw on my television was another lesbian getting shot with a stray bullet’.

Gretchen

On some level, I can acknowledge that you didn’t mean it the way I heard it, but this is how I heard it whether you meant it that way or not. What I want from you is to say: I am so sorry. I will do better next time.

From showrunners who did that, their reaction is: Let me explain to you why you should not have felt that way.

Heather

The other problem is, of the people who are watching your show, maybe half a percent are watching you on Twitter. So the cultural impact is there regardless of whether or not you apologize, because now it’s out in the wide world for people who are not part of the conversation. All they’re seeing is more dead queer characters.

The cultural impact goes so far beyond fandom. That’s the impact that really matters in a broader scheme because that impacts the people who are making legislation that is coming back to affect us.

To me the most remarkable thing to come out of Lexa’s death was the fact that places like Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, and Variety started paying attention and writing about this thing and interviewing queer people and calling it out as a problem.

In terms of Bury Your Gays, one of the huge successes around the movement around Lexa is there is no showrunner on earth can be like: I didn’t know Bury Your Gays existed.

So if you’re doing it, you’re doing it purposefully, knowing it hurts the community, and you’re doing it knowing the backlash is coming your way.

The justification for so long was: Now we have so many characters, and marriage equality is a thing, and Obama’s going to change the world, it’s not like we’re ever going to get Donald Trump as president. Now you’re doing it knowing that the political situation is as dire as it is, so you’re putting active harm into a world that’s not the same world it was even just six or eight months ago.

Elizabeth

I would like to remind everyone that all of those deaths (of queer female characters on television) were being written while marriage equality was being celebrated. Just think about that for a second.

I think right now in time, a showrunner would be hard pressed to kill a character and not have it fall into the trope. I don’t know how you could do it right now. Maybe when there’s more parity, when there’s more representation, when it really is ‘any character can die’.

Heather

(Jokingly) What if a straight white guy with a vision does it though?

Audience Question: Have you seen a show or somewhere on TV or a movie where they did it right?

Gretchen

Wynonna Earp.

Heather

Carol.

Gretchen

I actually think that up until the last, there are some episodes where it’s better or not, but I actually think Sanvers on Supergirl is amazing.

Elizabeth

First half of the season, yes.

Gretchen

One of the best written stories, especially about an older woman coming out. That was so well done.

Heather

One Day at a Time. Orange is the New Black still deserves your support because it’s telling a lot of stories of women of color. May and Sadie both mentioned Transparent. That show, it’s complicated. You can read a lot of great criticism from trans women at autostraddle, but it’s doing some special stuff.

Gretchen

Steven Universe.

Heather

Steven Universe is doing it the best.

Gretchen

Hands down, Steven Universe is doing it the best right now.

Question: Are any of these stories doing this across intersectionality (queer women of color, of different religions, etc)?

Gretchen

Steven Universe and Orange is the New Black, I would say. Then One Day at a Time because it’s about a Cuban family.

Question: Speaking about ethics in storytelling, what’s your take briefly on subtext?

Elizabeth

Once I had ‘text’, I could never go back.

Gretchen

In some ways there’s not a lot of excuses now for subtext. Compare Steven Universe to Legend of Korra. Legend of Korra existed in a time when it was not acceptable to show woman loving women stories on television, so it had to be subtext otherwise they would have literally not been able to make the show that they did. Legend of Korra then, I think, actually opened the space for a show like Steven Universe.

But now that Steven Universe exists, there’s no excuse to go back. It’s that step. Once you take a step that something can exist as text, there’s no excuse for subtext after that.


Back to Kate G: Friggin’ brilliant, right? Check out their sites for more in depth discussions and resources on all of these things. A big thank you to ClexaCon for hosting this panel. More articles from the front lines at ClexaCon to come!

The Uncanny Valley

The Ranconteur

Autostraddle.com


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

Ethics in TV Storytelling from ClexaCon

A Report on ClexaCon, Part 1
by Kathryn Graham

When you sit down to write a story, have you ever thought about whether or not you’re telling it ethically? I don’t mean does it have a lesson at the end. I mean, do you think about your characters, who you’re depicting, and if you might hurt real live people in tangible ways if you screw it up? I mean, is that really a thing? It’s ‘just a story’, after all.

The panelists at ClexaCon’s Ethics in Storytelling panel have a lot to say about that, and they’re here to help you make better decisions in your stories (and just be really damn smart in the process).

March 3rd – 5th 2017, a group of 2,200 women came together at ClexaCon to share their favorite shows, meet their favorite actresses, talk about their representation in the media, support queer female creators, and, most importantly, to try to find a way forward.

ClexaCon is named after the ‘pairing name’ of Clarke & Lexa of The 100, as Lexa’s death was a tipping point in terms of general awareness of the ‘bury your gays’ trope that haunts stories that feature queer characters.

‘Bury Your Gays’: a trope that disallows happy endings for queer characters, also known as ‘Dead Lesbian Syndrome’ as it often results in, you guessed it, killing lesbian characters

So, with a focus on the depiction of minorities in the media, what is ethical and what is not?


Ethics in Storytelling Panel

Dr. Elizabeth Bridges – Literature Professor & Writer – The Uncanny Valley 

Gretchen Ellis – Linguist, Storyteller, Critic – The Ranconteur

Heather Hogan – Senior Editor Autostraddle.com

Heather:

If you’re going to talk about ethics in storytelling, you have to ask yourself first: are there cultural repercussions for bad storytelling? Are there cultural repercussions for depicting minorities in ways that are damaging? The answer is obviously yes.

Throughout the history of time, from the very beginning of recorded stories, our perception of people who are not like us is shaped by the stories people tell. I had the amazing experience to speak with some teenagers at a high school recently. I asked: where have you seen trans women on TV?

They were like: Law and Order: SVU. All of them.

In 2008, GLAAD started measuring the attitudes on marriage equality against the number of gay characters on television. What they found out, year by year, is there is a direct increase.

Every year half a percent more characters were gay, lesbian, transgender, and every year 2% more American supported equality. When GLAAD called, they said: ‘Hey, why do you all of a sudden support marriage equality?’ They’d say things like: ‘Because of Kurt Hummel.’

They saw these TV characters come into their life. They became like real people to them, and they were like: I think Santana and Brittany should be able to get married. It becomes very real to you. So the worst thing a storyteller could say is: it’s just a story. It’s not just a fuckin’ story. There’s no such thing as ‘just a story’.

Gretchen:

I will get slightly technical here. My background is in linguistics, so stories matter partly because of the way our brain functions. Our brain is incredibly lazy.

That is because it is more efficient for your brain to be lazy. Stories create what I call ‘meaning pathways’. Linguistically, a word could have five different meanings. How do you know which one it means? Your brain remembers this one is used in this context, this other word is used in this other one. The more common words or meanings are going to have the deepest ruts in your brain.

Those are going to be harder to change, but we know they can change. Because the more you interact with a new meaning and a new story, it wears away at that rut, and suddenly you can change the meaning of something the more you interact with a new interpretation of it.

We can change the way people think. This is how our brains function. We know it scientifically. That’s why stories matter. Because stories literally change the way your brain functions and what you think about. If we can start telling more and more stories about ourselves, we change minds by telling new stories, and people interact with these stories in new ways over a span of time.

Elizabeth:

That brings us to the concept of the trope as well. That’s a term from literary studies. They’re these little pieces of stories that authors of literature have used for ages, that we all know and love – some of them. They’re shortcuts. The same sort of pathways. Pieces of stories we think of the same way as words that have snippets of meaning.

The opposite problem is that it’s hard to change those ruts that have formed once they’ve formed. That’s the problem we have with these tropes. They’ve been worn over for so many years. To actually create the capacity to change: that is what we’re talking about at the con in general.

Gretchen:

What people fail to realize is that if you’re not subverting the story, you’re in some sense reintegrating that story. If you’re not consciously subverting it, your brain is going to keep going down that established pathway.

Heather:

Right? How did Donald Trump get elected? He got elected by telling the story that we see on TV and then the story that Fox News repeats over and over and over again. When we see black men on television, 94% of the time, they’re criminals. Then you get Donald Trump saying ‘black on black crime’.

The New York Times did this article a couple days after the election where they had all of these people who write Muslim characters, and all of them write Muslim characters as terrorists. They asked: Do you feel responsibility for this? And they said: Well, the network wants terrorists, and they want them to be Muslim.

If you’re not subverting it, you’re allowing these monstrous situations to rise up. If you live in the middle of the country and you don’t know any Muslim people, and all you see on TV are Muslim terrorists, it’s just continuing to feed into that rut. It just gets deeper and deeper and deeper. Even though it’s not the truth it feels like the truth because it’s a lie that’s been told over and over again.

Gretchen:

The absence of contradiction is in some sense a reinforcement. So even if you write a queer character, if you’re not giving them a happy ending, you’re not consciously subverting the narrative that queer people always have tragic stories.

Elizabeth: That’s what makes it a trope is accrual over time. It’s not that any particular artist is participating in a trope, it’s just that the absence of subverting it or actively using it automatically contributes to it whether they have intention behind it or not. That’s something I wanted to get to in the panel today.

The thing about that is, whatever the author’s intention was doesn’t really matter because the impact is greater than the intent. That’s always the case.

Heather:

What we’re saying is that once a trope becomes established it’s so easy to fall into it. Lexa was the turning point. There were a lot of factors that made Lexa the turning point, but when Lexa died, after that, 24 more lesbian and bisexual characters have died since then.

In the total of history of lesbian and bisexual women on TV, there have been 172 that have died. 24 in the last year, that’s 15% of all deaths just in 2016 since Lexa died. The thing is that it becomes so common.

Gretchen:

I think when you have an established trope like “Bury Your Gays”, whether they want to understand it or not, this trope has existed for close to 100 years. This is not a brand new trope. This was a trope primarily in literature especially in the middle of the twentieth century where there was a lot of censorship in written media: things like comic books and novels. Where it was okay to depict a gay man or a lesbian woman so long as they did not get a happy ending.

The reason that existed is because giving them a happy ending was an endorsement. It meant that ‘this was now an okay thing for the children to do’, and they were not okay with that. So it was like: ‘Fine, have a lesbian romance, but both of them have to have some kind of tragic ending.’ Typically what would happen is that the lesbian character would get killed off, and then the other woman who was probably bisexual: she might go crazy, she might also die, or she might end up married to a man.

That was where ‘Bury Your Gays’ came from.

Heather:

It was literally that if you wanted the stamp of approval from the Comics Code Authority you had to follow the written rule and the written rule was: No gay characters with happy endings.


Back to Kate G: So, folks, stories do matter. What you write can change minds and society (for good or ill).

We have a legacy of terrible tropes like ‘bury your gays’ that were originally aimed at hurting gay people. And we have a whole lot of bad storytelling that was done simply because folks didn’t care enough about how their depiction of LGBTQ people could affect real live people. Writers today have a responsibility to know what these tropes and stereotypes are and to not replicate them.

If you aren’t subverting a damaging trope, you are reinforcing it. No matter your intentions.

Coming Friday: Part II – the non-television friendly model of the artist, who’s doing it right, and how much do the writer’s intentions matter?


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

Peggy Bechko’s World of Character Names

by Peggy Bechko

Writing a script? A novel? A short story?

Then you have characters who need names, and not just any name, but a name that sticks, a name that echoes, a name that sounds good coming from an actor’s lips or on the pages of a script or manuscript. So, as with most everything, there’s a good side and a bad side.

The good side – you’re god when it comes to your story. You’re the one who creates the characters and tags them with the names that will stay with them…and with you throughout the process of writing said script or novel. Yay!?

The bad side – well, this can be a tough process. I mean what if you name a character Sally and she’s really an Imogene? Or a Charlie turns out to be a Theodore? The simple reality is that what may ‘sound’ good to you when you write it on the page might come across entirely differently to a reader or when an actor speaks the name.

As a writer, it’s important for you to choose a name appropriate to character and provides the best read…and listen for readers and audiences.

Here are a few simple tips to consider when determining a character’s name. First consider the alphabet. Yep, A through Z. If you name your main character Zelda then naming her side-kick Zed isn’t a good idea. Let’s not have Fred and Fredda either. Here’s why. In the beginning, the reader reading your script or manuscript is doing it fast, skimming, reading for content. You don’t want names tripping them out as that reader tries to keep your characters sorted out.

You might also plant the idea in your brain that it’s a good idea to avoid names that are androgynous. Why? For a script you want the reader to identify your characters clearly from the outset. For a manuscript you don’t want the editor going back and forth through the paragraphs to sort out who is who. So unless that particular name is an absolute must because of the story line, avoid names like ‘Pat’, “Jean’, “Robin’, Casey, Bobbie and others that could confuse the reader.

Think about your setting and the context of the story. Character names can tell us something about the character’s personality and ideally add some depth to the story. Think about stories you’ve read and movies you’ve seen. Have the names fit and perhaps even subconsciously touched a note for you? For example. The recent film, Passengers. The main character was Jim Preston. A straight-forward, down to earth name. The woman he awakens is Aurora Lane. That name hints at more. It brings lots of things to mind. It’s the Roman goddess of sunrise who’s tears turned into morning dew. It was also the name of Sleeping Beauty and it’s the scientific term for the Northern Light. This hints at a more complicated character.
And the bartending Android is simply Arthur. One name. One location. A friendly and simple name.

What I’m getting at is the meaning behind the character’s name can add a lot of personality. And, because of the ebb and flow of time and corresponding names it can even give an idea of the time in which the story is set and the location. That’s helpful for period pieces, space operas and the like. You can even consider calling characters by their last name alone if that tells the reader/watcher something about that character.

Finally, the more memorable the name of the main characters, the more memorable the movie or book and the more likely people are going to talk to their friends about it. Think about the last couple of books you read and movies you’ve seen – do you remember the name of the main character?

Character names are not just ‘labels’ hung on those moving elements of your script or story. Hook your readers and movie goers in all ways … and names are just one of them.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

Peggy Bechko’s World of Story

by Peggy Bechko

Do you think about story? Do you write every day? Have you devoured every book on how to write scripts, novels, whatever, that comes out?

Well, this is going to be a very opinionated (mine) piece on storytelling, how it’s done and what it does to people. Don’t panic, it’s going to be fairly short.

Now, I can’t tell you how many people tell me, oh, I write by the seat of my pants. I don’t need to outline, research or any of that stuff, I just sit down and write.

Bravo.

Well, not really. Here’s where my very strong opinion comes in. You don’t have to listen to me. Frankly it doesn’t matter to me one way or another if you do, but here it is.
Writing without any kind of preparation is, um, well, idiotic.

I’ve loved storytelling my entire life. Started when I was about ten in fact. Doubleday published my first novel when I was twenty-one. I’m still writing, rewriting, editing, publishing…etc. And, after all those years, here’s the way I see it.

Movies (screen scripts) and novels are entertaining, no doubt about it. But they’re not JUST entertainment. It’s not JUST the fact that both came before the age of computers and virtual reality. When you sit through a great movie or get engrossed in a fantastic novel you find yourself in sort of time warp in that time seems to cease to exist. We enter other realities. It’s magic!

And here’s the interesting part for writers. We learn so much about story about story arcs, how to get there, how to create a story. There are books written on the subject, so many books, and yes, here I am writing about it as well.

Most of them are wrong.

Am I right? You decide.

I focus in on what is it in a story that makes the person wrapped up in a movie or a novel have to know what happens next. Everything follows that.

Really, do you want to spend your time breaking down structure? Is structure what it’s all about?
Is it possible that if you just follow the ‘pattern’ of a popular script or novel that you’ve really enjoyed and connected to that duplicating that pattern will produce a great story.

Probably not.

In my strong, personal opinion neither in depth plotting nor flying by the seat of your pants is the way to create great stories. I mean you may have a very good plot – but do you really have a story?

So here’s my big take-away. Backstory is your backbone. In a novel it’s pretty easy to weave it in, more difficult in a script. But, remember Faulkner’s statement, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even the past.” Yep, there it is. You need backstory whether you put it all in the book or script or not. It needs to exist,

Think about currently popular books like Game of Thrones (and the series) and Vikings the series. Those are stories. They’re about something. The characters are real because of backstory, both that which is told and that which is implied.

Yes, you need to follow form to present the story, but the STORY is key and key to the up front story is backstory. Know your characters and what makes them tick. Know what happened in the past (which isn’t actually the past according to Faulkner) that drives them to do what they do and find a way direct or indirect to use that backstory to grab your reader.

Stop reading all those books dissecting story structure and get in there and create your own.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. blog. Learn more about her HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.