Monday, September 13, 2010

Have a new logline, and making up rules of the world

My new writing module through my alumni network has started up again. I'll be writing a new pilot rather than spending months revisiting something I wrote already.

The seeds of the idea are still growing in my mind, but so far it all seems to fit. I went over it with my other group on Sunday, and settled on the logline. No, I will not be posting it here.

It's in the fantasy genre. There is the worry that people will be prematurely dismissive about this kind of script, but I decided I don't care about that. If I write this well and make it interesting for the audience they won't care as much what genre it is. My last one hour pilot was about video gamers, and people who didn't play games still read and enjoyed that script.

These kinds of worlds get my imagination going, and you can have high stakes, and define the rules of your world. Rather than spending months researching something that already exists and trying to fit a script around that, I'm making up rules of a world as I go and based on my needs. As long as I'm consistent, I don't think that's cheating. What I hate more is when somebody knowingly changes facts about a real life situation in order to make it work for their story.

Here's an example from a show I love: The West Wing. I watched that show on DVD in college, and loved it. I listened to all the commentaries, I studied it. I'm rewatching it with Writress, and while it's still an amazing show, I think more like a writer now than I did when I was 21. [SPOIELR ALERT] In the third season finale we see a Secret Service agent stop an armed robbery, but then get shot by another gunman. The first time I saw it I was caught up in the story and the emotions of the characters. This time I knew it was coming, and I realized how ridiculous it was. This wasn't a second gunman hiding with a sniper rifle in the rafters. This was just some hoodlum standing behind an aisle in a corner grocery store. The only reason the Secret Service Agent dies is that after subduing the first gunman, he holsters his gun and makes a joke with the clerk without checking the rest of the scene. He doesn't ask if there was more than one guy. He just blindly stumbles around this crime scene with no regard for any possible threats.

I could maybe see a rookie cop make that mistake. But this was a Secret Service agent. He went through the Army, was a cop, and finally became one of the President's security detail. These guys are paid to be paranoid and check out any possible threat wherever they are, by instinct. There's no way that kind of guy would let some dumb kid get the jump on him like that.

That was a situation in which the logic of the world was broken for the sake of the plot, and so Aaron Sorkin could once more make his favorite point about how guns are evil, even for people like cops who are trained to use them.

Breaks from logic cheapen a world, and make it less real. You lose the illusion. For me the best stories are ones where you can be left believing in the back of your mind that somewhere, somehow, sometime, this could be real. Jerking your story and the rules of the world around just to make things easier for yourself is like breaking the laws of physics. It makes things just that much more impossible, and less real.

So while I create my own fantasy kingdom, I won't have to spend hours looking up the actual laws and traditions concerning coronations in 14th century Britain. I can make those up on my own. But what I do make up has to seem logical and plausible enough that for an hour a week viewers can curl of on their couch and pretend that this place of adventure is real.

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