Friday, November 2, 2007

Abridged Too Far

Robowriters Assignment

This week's assignment is to tell a story on crack. Not literally. Crack pipes make it difficult to type.

Early in the process of writing classes, I spend a lot of time coaxing, encouraging and cajoling students into writing scenes that take place in one location in one uninterrupted length of time. Given our overwhelming exposure to film and television, and our lack of exposure to stage plays that don't feel the need to emulate film and television, this is sometimes very difficult to get across. Why do it? It allows your characters the time and space they need to explore and heighten relationships and situations. Jumping around is usually an unnecessary distraction that moves everything but the story.

But for this week, jump around!

Or rather, jump forward.

This week's assignment is to cram as much story as possible into a short scene and to go full circle by ending at the beginning.

Start by breaking your story down into at least ten very outlandish plot points.

For example, a father and mother decide to tell their son the real story of how they met.

1) Father and mother are saying goodnight to their son who asks how they met. They tell him the story.
2) They met at the library. He loves the library. Even laminated his library card with is own money. She helps him find a book.
3) As she is showing him the book. They are attacked by robot ninja monkeys. She quickly dispatches of them and escapes with the father to her secret lair.
4) In her lair, she receives a communication from the Big Headed Commander that Dick Cheney sent the ninja monkeys to try to steal the mother's broach which holds a special gem Cheney can use to power a secret weapon. BHC sends the mother to find and infiltrate Cheney's evil hideout.
5) At Cheney's evil hideout, Dick is plotting the destruction of Portland, Oregon. His weapon is complete save for the one gem!
6) In Washington, D.C., the mother and father are at the Lincoln Memorial searching frantically for Cheney's hideout. Through deduction, and a tourist pamphlet found stuffed in Lincoln's bum, they realize Cheney's secret is in the Oral Roberts Prayer Tower is Tulsa, Oklahoma. Fortunately, the mother has a super-sonic jet pack that they can use to get there. The father hops on and they fly away.
6) In Tulsa, they find along side the road, an illegal immigrant child without healthcare and stop to help. It's a trap! A net is thrown over them, they are sprayed with sleeping gas, and they are dragged off by robot ninja monkeys.
7) In Cheney's lair, he confronts them and takes her broach. He screws it into his machine which comes to life. He aims it at Portland.
8) Cut to two a guy playing guitar on the street next to a woman selling paintings of her aura on paper plates next to another guy smoking a joint. The guy smoking a joint says, "Wow. What's that?" and points to the sky. They explode.
9) Cheney laughs maniacally and now sets his sights on a target geographically bigger than Portland. Micheal Moore.
10) The mother uses the edge of the father's library card to cut their bonds. The father uses the sleeping gas on the robot ninja monkeys (yeah, I know, they're robots - shut up) while the mother dispatches of Cheney. She and Cheney have a moment where we discover they had an affair in college. He broke it off when she started to "experiment" with women. She reaches into his chest and pulls out his heart, which is just an alarm clock with the gears spilling out.
11) Cheney dies. The mother and father kiss. Cut back to them in the bedroom, kissing. They ask the son what he thinks. "Ew! You fucked Dick Cheney?" Another option here is to also have an element of the story come back in, such as a reconstituted Dick Cheney or one of the robot ninja monkeys.
Each beat of this is super short and quickly paced with fast dialogue and action.

So, that's just one way to do it. You can also take a well known story, like Moby-Dick, and condense it into a quickie madcap recount by Starbuck of what really happened. Or, it can be a prophesy or "what if" story. At The Second City-Detroit, Keegan-Michael Key played a man at a Sbarro who orders his food to go and then, at the last minute, decides to eat it there. A minimum wage employee tells him he can't do that. If he does, he'll start World War III. He asks how and the food slave shows him in a quick-paced global chain of events exactly how. He thanks her and decides to go back to his office and eat. After he leaves the restaurant, he is struck by a car.

This kind of scene is a good exercise in heightening and really driving a plot. It's also an opportunity to unleash your imagination and have lots of crazy fun.


Yesterday, I asked...

"The Ministry of Defence in England has unveiled new technology that will make a tank what?"

30% said "Quieter"
- It's not that the tank itself is loud, it's just that those guys keep blaring the gangsta rap while cruising in them.

15% picked "Hover"
- A tank that hovers? I think that's called a helicopter.

9% kindly chose "Softer"
- I think a tank made out of rubber is a great idea. Bullets would bing off of it and it could bounce over trees and walls.

46% saw that is was "Invisible"

According to the The Daily Mail, new technology that can make tanks invisible has been unveiled by the Ministry of Defence. In secret trials last week, the Army said it had made a vehicle completely disappear and predicted that an invisible tank would be ready for service by 2012. The new technology uses cameras and projectors to beam images of the surrounding landscape onto a tank. They are also working on making planes invisible. Here's an actual photograph of a prototype.