What makes a good story

If I can’t feel it when I write it, how can I expect anything else from the audience?

I had a call with a director on her short story today for the rewrite.  She wanted to make sure all the elements were there, all the ambiguity was explained at the beginning.

I then said, “Look, I understand where you were coming from. But doesn’t your version sound like a beige flight safety promo video? How do you want me to feel in the end?”

So what is a (good) story? What isn’t?

The bottom line is, we want our hero to go through hell, to hurt, to lose, to experience a near death before he grows, and learns, before he gets his want, or not. No matter what the reward, he has to earn it first otherwise the audience would feel cheated. Besides, we want the surprises to keep our minds engaged. By giving us details like how we deal cards, our hearts are satisfied through working and solving the puzzles by ourselves. And when we feel what the hero feels at the very end, we finally realize that we have been manipulated by the storyteller. But like the hero, we let it happen. Because the journey is the reward. 

By pinpointing her mistake, I also realize it’s the pitfall that I also tend to fall into. 

As a storyteller, my job is to stir emotions. If I can’t feel it when I write it, how can I expect anything else from the audience?

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Two kinds of exhaustion

I finally turned in the second draft of the live-action feature rewrite. Adrenaline’s pumping. If my brain is in the stove, it’s now close to well-done. Tomorrow, I’ll spend the day doing a third draft on the second short script project.

I can’t remember a day that I’m not tired since I go down this creative path.  

In what feels like a parallel universe, I remember the lonely chilly nights I dragged my body back home at two o’clock in the morning when I used to work for the paycheck, the title… In that universe, I was not only exhausted, I was burned out.

We all get tired at the end of a work day. Doesn’t it feel so much better knowing we are doing the work we’re proud of?

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

RBYZ: Hollywood Inside Out (#005)

It’s not about you. It’s about the work.

If you were born into a Hollywood family, would you do anything else other than film?

My guest this week is an aspiring visual artist. Last year, she quit her job, traveled around half of the globe for four months before moving back to LA, starting afresh.

Her bio is quite unique—

I can write upside down and backwards; I always say hi to left-handed people; I helped dress the models at the Elie Saab Summer ’06 Couture Show in Paris; Blair Waldorf wears a headband I made when she says “I love you” to Chuck Bass in Gossip GirlI have a pretty good relationship with my cell phone and technology; and I love reading children’s books as an adult.

Meet Amee Carter, who dares to differ even it means hitting rock bottom.

What you’ll hear:

  • Is groundedness even possible for someone born in Hollywood?
  • What are the disadvantages to be in the family business apart from its clear advantages?
  • How to look at the world like a production designer?
  • How does she find courage to break out of the familiar world? What’s the drive behind that choice?
  • What does it feel like to have 17 home bases in four countries in a year?
  • How not to be fazed working with the greats? What’s the advice?

It’s not about you. It’s about the work.

Links from the episode:

Listen and subscribe to Rock Bottom with YZ:
A weekly podcast for and about anyone and everyone who has spiraled downward and doesn’t know which end is up.

Listen to Rock Bottom with YZ on RadioPublic

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. Click here to see ways to help #RBYZ to grow.

Lightning doesn’t strike out of nowhere

I had a new idea for next quarter’s feature screenwriting class. It sort of just came to me.

Is that how it works now?

Truth is, it never worked this way as long as I could remember. I had to actively think about what story to write, or to use my past experience. However, being a writer, you have only this much of life experience — ever enough. If you were that experienced, you wouldn’t have time for writing, would you, Bear Grylls? (No, I don’t mean hiring ghostwriters, thank you.)

I have been told since I came here that “To write what you know” is a piece of shit advice that anyone can give to a writer. How do you expand beyond writing your own roman à clef?


Here are some of my lessons learned (aka. lightning-struck-me moments) over the past two quarters at the program.

#1 A good idea can go south if you don’t have good execution or good structure.

#2 A ‘Meh’ idea can surprise you if you think outside the box.

#3 Sometimes fresh characters visit you in your desperation.

#4 No one is responsible to make your story better than yourself.

Stop complaining you get shitty comments or uncorporative cohort.


The two points below are wisdom from a beloved sage professor —

#5 Always take meetings whenever you’re given one. It’s not a waste of time. You need practice in meetings.

What else more imporant that you need to do, darling?

#6 It’s not all about who you know, but more importantly, who knows you.

Being a nobody in the industry, you need to expose yourself.


The next time you wonder why X Y Z happens to that lucky bastard, it should occur to you that the bastard is always out there — busting off his arse to get hit by the lightning.

Back to my point at the beginning — So, I had an idea about a new screenplay. Were I not in the program, wouldn’t I be thinking “what’s next?” as constantly as I do now? Nope.

Because I put myself into the Lightning Zone.

Before you know it, miracle/inspiration/idea might really strike you, hard.

Picture Credit: energyrealities.org

And oh, lastly —

#7 Be patient with thyself.

You can’t rush art. 
*I’ve tried. And I failed, like the others.