Rules of the World
Thanks to Master Cat! Anne Lower, always conquering new heights, for this week’s thought-provoking blog.
Writing is fun.
I know I’m not supposed to say that; I know I should be telling you that writing is work: exhausting, frustrating, challenging work (it is). I know I should be talking about the insufferable life of the writer; how you will toil and slave over your work for years (you will) only to discover that once again you must rewrite (you must).
But at the end of the day, it’s fun. Think about it. How many careers are there in which you ponder and muse and make stuff up? Isn’t it wonderful?
The back of my business card reads “I get paid to write lies” – and, in essence, I do. No, I’m not a sociopath. I’m a writer. The page is my canvas, and I get to paint with all of the colors of the literary landscape that I can imagine or find. I get to create worlds. How cool is that?
Every time you open up your trusty Final Draft© and type “FADE IN,” you are creating a world. Whether it is present-day Afghanistan, Depression-Era Oklahoma, or a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, your world is your oyster.
But, remember – with every world, there come rules.
Rules are tricky. You must establish them – and you must abide by them. They must be consistent; and yet, they must be applied with a most delicate hand, for if you over-apply them, you run the risk of “double mumbo-jumbo.” You kill the magic – for your story, and for your audience.
Sony has a futuristic sci-fi
movie they’re looking to make.
Cigarettes in space?
It’s the final frontier, Nick.
But wouldn’t they blow up in
an all-oxygen environment?
Probably. But it’s an easy fix.
One line of dialogue. ‘Thank God
we invented the… you know, whatever
And there it is. The line of dialogue that establishes the world.
Charlie Kaufman knows this. He creates his world, and he sticks to his creation. He does not spend time explaining his world – do you really believe that there is a door that is a portal into John Malkovich’s head – he simply informs us that this is how it is. We nod when he shares this information with us – and we believe.
I’ve been blogging about the creation of my own world for my web-series They Live Among Us. Before writing Episode 1, “Another Piece of My Heart,” I dove into the mythos of demons and angels; I cocooned myself in the cold embrace of H.P. Lovecraft. I had fun… and, by using the data that I had absorbed – add to that a hefty dose of good old-fashioned imagination – I created my world: a present day Los Angeles, far removed from the sun-washed landscape of blondes and Beverly Hills; a grittier, more urban world in which supernatural beings live anonymously amongst the masses of humanity. A gothic film-noir. The dark, seedy side of Los Angeles. Raymond Chandler meets Stephen King. Fallen angels who struggle to find grace in a place known as the City of Angels.
I’ve never had so much fun writing in my life.
So, go ahead. Make your day. Create your world, and those that live in it. Don’t overwhelm us with the details – we’ll get it. Establish your rules, and stick by them. We’ll come along for the ride. Your world is your oyster. Revel in its juiciness.
To learn more about They Live Among Us, please visit the project site.
- Sandra de Helen
Juicy! Here’s my life’s secret: I never do anything unless it’s fun. Why would you? There are so many things to do in this life, and so many ways to make them fun. Even cleaning house. Remember when we used to play house? I still do. It’s MY house now. I like it to be clean. So that’s fun. Laundry? They’re MY clothes! The world is my oyster. I’m telling ya, kids, being a grown-up is a gas. Paying the bills? It’s all Monopoly money — I’m the one who gets to decide who gets paid this month and how much. And I always sock some away for a rainy day. So, yes, writing is fun. Making up stories, then rewriting them to make them the best they can be … oh yes. It’s all good. Thanks for spreading the word, Princess!
- Peter Spellos
Love it. Steve Martin sang a song in his act 100 years ago and it ended with the line, “I get paid for doing this.” Here’s to all getting paid for doing what they love. Period.
- Scott Gordon
Another great blog from the princess scribe!
Now that’s a fabulous way to look at the task(s) at hand!
Wonderful advice about creating the world and sticking to it. I’ll have to remember that- if I find myself feeling a need to explain something, is it really because it needs it, or am I just trying to cover up an inconsistency in my work?
@ Peter, truth be told, I am happy to do it for free. If I never were paid again, I’d still be writing. Shhh, don’t tell.
Thanks, Scottie Rae!
Nicole, we’re conditioned – even as writers – to become “adults” and walk away from magical thinking. I’m beginning to believe that’s why so many think that the rules have to be so laid out; it’s as if we are afraid that if we do not spell it out in big capitals, people won’t accept it. And yet, doing just that is a good way to alienate the audience. Think about INCEPTION. Nolan summed it up in one line of dialogue, and we went along for the ride… :)
- Michelle Shyman
Important point about creating the world and handing it over to the audience to believe in it.
- Melody Lopez
May I add that in this article about the new FRIGHT NIGHT the author/critic commented how the movie let the audience accept that the world had vampires and the rule building in the story was executed with conflict infused action that helped move the plot forward. It was super clever.
- Al Rodriguez
Smart words from the sage! Wishing you the best on this project and looking forward to AFF! Lying for fun and profit! And brisket, too!
It’s amazing to me what you come up with. About Angels and Demons. I have seen an Angel, a real one, and my encounter is documented by Carol’s Doctor and the hospital we were in. Angels are not like people think. I’ll be glad to share the story with you if you wish.
About the world of your script. I heard a wise teacher say that it is “The Suspension of Misbelief.”
Blake was direct in his belief that double mumble jumble has no place in the story. It insults the view/reader… thanks for the reminder Princess…. Smiles Speedo
Melody – great point. And, if you just let the audience accept, they feel that you respect their intelligence. If you spell it all out for them, they feel talked down to.
Al – BRISKET! Looking forward to AFF!
Captain – How fascinating!
Speedo – Yes, he was. And for really great reason!
- Rob McCallum
well done, ive referred to this as the matrix principal, in that, they set up, with the push of a button that Neo can learn Karate, Kung Fu and anything else. we go along with it. we dont need to know the science behind it, it’s accepted. having this power as a writer is more than godly and it works every time. as an audience member, id rather go along for the ride than have to understand it.
well put Anne.
Rob, you are dead on! The first Matrix is a terrific example of establishing a new world.
And, congrats on UNEARTHLY. For those of you who do not know Rob, he’s created his own world, filmed it, and premiered it last week. I curtsy to you!
thanks Anne, it’s still far from finished but we had a rough cut screening that went well and would have never made it to the screen if I hadn’t started following Blake’s guidelines and met the cat’s in this group.
all the internal hammering of the 15 beats and more really paid off on set when one’s suddenly forced to re-write for one reason or another!
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Thank you so much for this tip! It’s helping me with a project I am working on =]