JOHN OSTRANDER: BELIEF SUSPENDED

by John Ostrander

There’s the concept in fantastic literature known as the “willing suspension of disbelief” by which the reader/audience accepts fantastic elements in a story that are not found in reality, suspension-of-disbeliefsemi-believing them for the moment for the sake of the story. If the creator is invoking it, he or she must be careful not to jar that suspension of disbelief.

It’s an important concept for those of us who labor in the fields of SF, fantasy, horror, and comics. Two things I find crucial to make the concept work – an internal consistency within the story and a consistency within the continuity. By an internal consistency I mean that something that was given as true on page five remains true on page thirty. If the character knows something they can’t suddenly un-know it just for the convenience of the plot. Likewise, if something has been established as part of the continuity, you can’t just disregard it willy-nilly. It doesn’t mean that continuity can never change but there needs to be reasons that it changes unless you’re going to do what DC does and just throw the baby out with the bathwater and start continuity over.

Something else that confounds my suspension of disbelief is when something in the story just ignores reality. I went to Independence Day and I wasn’t expecting much, just a good mindless action film. Unfortunately, there was incident after incident of things that were just patently impossible that it threw me right out of the story. To wit: Air Force One is taking off despite explosions going on all around. In fact, one explosion almost engulfs it. It comes up the tail of the plane before the aircraft manages to speed away. Never mind that the shock waves would have torn the plane apart – it was a Cool Visual.

Take an episode of Doctor Who this past season, Robots of Sherwood. Aliens are escaping Sherwood Forest on a ship that uses gold to power its furnace. A little more gold will cause the power plant to overload and explode. With the help of the Doctor and his companion, Robin Hood shoots a golden arrow at the ship that causes the ship to go boom. Never mind that the arrow would have just hit the hull and never come near the power plant. Never mind that the weight of an arrow made of gold would cause it to fly about three feet.

It’s too bad, too; I actually really enjoyed the episode up until then.

I’m willing to suspend my disbelief; after all, I was raised Roman Catholic and you’re told by the Church to believe that a wafer of bread becomes the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ and that you are supposed to eat it. As a kid, I just accepted that. I’m open to all kinds of things.

Every time I open a book or enter a movie theater or turn on the TV, I’m willing to accept the premise as possible at least for the duration of the experience. It’s when I’m not allowed to stay in that moment because I’m jarred out of it by something stupid that violates the premises listed above that I actually get a bit pissy about it. My time has been wasted and I do not take that kindly.

My own rule of thumb is to always ground the fantasy in as much reality as I can. The more accurate and real the non-fantasy parts of the story feel, the more the reader can identify with it and the more likely it is that they will accept the fantasy elements. Earn your readers’ trust and they will follow you anywhere. I know I do.


John Ostrander is the creator-writer of the comic book character GRIMJACK and, yes, it’s true, one of LB’s favorite writers.

 

Cartoon: Boffo on Being a Writer

boffowrites

Another Joe Martin masterpiece. See more Boffos at http://www.mrboffo.com/

Which brings up the question: Do you know any writers who actually send manuscripts out via snail mail anymore?

But then again, Mr. Boffo is a newspaper strip, and we don’t know anybody who reads newspapers anymore either.

Oh, wait, LB has a neighbor who spends all morning, every morning, poring over the NY Times. Some things never change.

Cargo 3120: The Making of a Sci-Fi Franchise #6

CARGO3120Entry 6 On to the Advanced Class

by Aaron Walker Sr.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Story So Far starts HERE)

The advanced class was where things really got interesting. The class was down to only four weeks in length. On the surface this was a good thing, but in reality it meant you had a lot of work to do, and a short period of time to get it done.

The focus shifted from the mechanics of screenwriting, to matters of story and character development. The first hurdle was clear: The script was just too long. The first attempt at Cargo was meant to be a T.V. movie in hopes to get picked up as a full blown series, which was why the script was 117 pages. So Larry tasked me with trimming that bad boy down to no more than 90 pages.

Larry said: “Everyone always says that they can’t possibly cut anything from their scripts, but trust me, you can.”

One thing I learned is that every scene within an act must propel the story forward to its conclusion. So the first rule of thumb was simple: “If it doesn’t move the story forward, it probably doesn’t belong. Thus the hunt for the unnecessary within the script began (which we will discuss more next week).

Looking back, the thing that made the first script so hard to edit was that, though I had index cards, I never bothered writing a logline, leave-behind or outline prior to writing the script. Had I worked out the story using these tools, we would have not had to do so much rewriting later. The moral of the story? Plan before you write!

Next Week: Further Adventures in Rewriting

Showrunners! Take the Ken Levine Challenge

We, um, dare ya.

Yeah, you heard us.

showcancelled

Open Letter to Current Showrunners
by Ken Levine

This is a serious request. I would love a current showrunner to challenge me. I would love to hear an opposing view. If you care to write I will post your response without touching a word. I make this offer not to be argumentative or stir up controversy. It’s that I really would like to understand your take.

Here’s my point: After a fairly long dry spell situation comedy has had a recent resurgence. Thanks in part to THE BIG BANG THEORY and MODERN FAMILY, networks have once again embraced the genre. Unfortunately, the new comedies are all doing horribly. Some are already cancelled. Others have had their production orders reduced drastically. Every week we read that this sitcom or that sitcom has hit all-time lows. A few have even dipped below a one share. A oneshare!  That is almost unimaginable.   Clearly, the audience is rejecting sitcoms in the form they’re currently in. Fox continues to cling to NEW GIRL and THE MINDY PROJECT despite dreadful ratings. CBS has the most success programming comedies but even their moderate hit shows plummet when removed from cushy time slots.

A hit comedy is a) a cash cow, and b) a rating juggernaut. You can seemingly rerun them forever because audiences will cheerfully watch episodes they’ve seen before, even multiple times. But if year after year everything fails, at some point the networks are going to say, “How long can we keep making Edsels?”

My point of view: Not only are most of these shows not funny. They don’t even try to be funny. I’ve heard showrunners say they don’t wantjokes or they don’t want the audience to suspect a joke is coming.

Read it all

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 11/21/14

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Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are
by munchman

  • Gregg Mettler (BACK IN THE GAME) is writing the pilot for an untitled ABC comedy based on – surprise! – his childhood. (But wait, there’s actually something cool about his childhood. Gregg’s father was an aspiring blues player – okay, so was everybody’s father in my generation, still – and his mother was a “locally famous” puppeteer. And, das munchkind’s gotta level with ya: I %^$! lurve puppets!)
  • Amanda Knox (newbie famous for being convicted, then acquitted, then convicted again of murdering her roommate in Italy – something many of us who’ve spent any time in college in Italy have often wanted to do) has landed a job as “a freelance writer for the West Seattle Herald. (Giving new currency to the old expression, “Who do I have to kill to get hired around here?” Aw, c’mon, that was funny. You know it was.)
  • Marlene King (PRETTY LITTLE LIARS) is adapting Sara Shepard‘s new Young Adult book series into an ABC Family murder mystery about…oh, wait, that would give away the mystery, wouldn’t it? (Truth in journalism confession: Hey, it’s ABC Family, right? What the hell do I care about any show on that bottom feeding network? I mean, it’s gonna be awful, right?)
  • Sheldon Turner (Oscar nominated writer of UP IN THE AIR) is writing Fox’s DIRTY DEEDS pilot. The series is based on a GQ article called “Oops, You Just Hired the Wrong Hitman” by Jeanne Marie Laskas, who obviously has a penchant for smart and funny titles that could all by itself give her a huge career. (Actually, the hitman is really an undercover ATF agent and…well, danger and hilarity are sure to ensue.)

That’s it for now. Write in and tell munchilito what you’ve sold today. TVWriter™ can’t wait to brag to all your friends. (And, more importantly, enemies. Hehehe….)

Angelo J. Bell: Pitching and Planning

Plan

by Angelo J. Bell

November has begun with a bang and I’m scrambling to keep up with the momentum to close out the year and check-off every item from the 2014 To Do list. Earlier this year I decided to “turn up” and work overtime to get something — anything — in gear before the end of the year. I wanted to be able to look at 2015 with even more positivism and hope than the last few years.

Efforts resulted in four pitch meetings in the final quarter of 2014. Two were scripted shows geared for E! and Bravo. The third originated out of North Carolina where, XO5 compadre Paul, networked with author Kim Wiley over the adaptation of her self-published thriller books. NBC Drama liked the written pitch and invited us in to talk about the project. The fourth meeting resulted from an unscripted pitch I heard at The Great American Pitchfest (GAPF) by Dionna Bolarof Atlanta. I remember hearing her pitch and thinking, “This is perfect for Oxygen.” Lo and behold, Oxygen Network felt the same way. Dionna is flying in and we’re heading out on November 24th.

But it’s not over. Still on the go, there are other projects in development, namely an insanely cool and mysterious crime thriller, two contemporary sci-fi dramas and continued efforts to branch out with other unscripted producers and other networks, ie Virgin Produced and Joke Productions.

For January 2015 I’m happy to say that the quest for expansion continues with plans for a formal production partnership outreach to the CW Network and FX Network.

But for now, I simply continue to write and develop ideas for TV… oh, and there’s a cool action thriller feature film I’m working to put together too. It’s called A Perfect Weapon. Stay tuned for more info on that project…