Friday, February 3, 2017

Oh, How Lovely. More Process.

Do you use a story “bible” to keep track of your characters, locations, etc.? If so, how do you do it, in Word, Scrivener, spreadsheet, scribbles on scraps of paper, etc? What “sections” do you have in your bible?

The first incarnation of my series, The Tales of Elliot Caprice, started as a screenplay for a feature film which would go unproduced. The second draft and my small success with an independent feature I made earned me a few high-level Hollywood meetings. The junior executives and contract producers who praised the screenplay also admonished the idea of developing a period film centered around black life in Chicago and rural Illinois, no matter how snappy the dialogue and edgy the subject matter. In those days, film properties of that ilk failed to reach box office success, unlike the Hidden Figures and Moonlights we have now. The little producer that lived inside my young ego couldn't argue. I knew the game. I prided myself upon seeing it objectively. Still, I was a bit hurt.

My consolation came with the dawning of the age of the prestige cable drama series. Self-starter I am, I purchased what is still for me a most comprehensive guide for developing ideas for motion picture entertainment.

Some of the film and television references may seem a bit dated to anyone younger than most of the folks who enjoy our blog, but the fat meat here is definitely greasy. I have a deep background in professional services with a concentration on technology. Creatively, I think in palettes and mixing and blending colors together to form new hues. When it's time to work my concepts, I think in datasets made up of primary, secondary and tertiary categories of datum. I may not always draw decision support diagrams outside my head, but they're in there.

Thankfully, I've learned to think according to the preferred dataset of the entertainment industry and each data element's corresponding term. It ain't the same as what folks learn while earning their MFA in Creative Writing. My creative process is audio-visual and cinematic thus industry terms have always helped me keep characters, settings, plot points, story arcs, points of view, and resolutions straight.


Clockwise: MacPro 2012, Post-It Notes, Sharpie highlighters,
eyeglass cleaner, portable hard drive, technical pencils, 6x9
spiral notebook, Cross pen and pencil set, Writing Treat-
ments That Sell, Chinese tea pot (pu-erh), research book.
Not pictured: My gleeful anxiety.  
I compose in Storyist for the Mac, then commit to my work in Microsoft Word. I jot story and dialogue notes down in virtual sticky notes I let float atop everything else on my computer display. I use actual Post-Its for everything from making really important notes to bookmarking my research materials. I maintain multiple browser windows organized by subject with all open tabs coordinated by window. I steep my tea for 15 minutes before drinking. I am a more dubious narrator than Holden Caulfield. Don't believe any of this. I really need us to get past all this process talk. I love my blog-mates.


I'm not really a sections type of writer. I think information is a living organism that wants to be freer than the little containers we need to place them in order to understand it all in smaller bites. Or bytes. In another life, I was a damned fine a data designer. I use the skills I developed back in the day to determine datasets for my stories. Data exists in one-to-many relationships between datum points. All we do cognitively is determine and interconnect them. That's how machines understand. We relate the data machines give us to form our own understanding. Despite the technical terms, it's all grade school stuff.

For the Tales of Elliot Caprice, a sample dataset could be:

---------------Murder of CPD LT. Bill Drury
----------------Addison home
-----------------Drury murdered in front of Elliot. Elliot wounded.
-----------------Elliot pursues assassins
----------------Western Avenue at Addison
-----------------Elliot kills assassins

Be it a chart, decision support diagram, scribbles on a bar napkin, voice notes while driving, or text messages I send to myself, I maintain the same data headers to keep my thoughts organized. If I programmed this in SQL (Structured Query Language) it'd export beautiful data tables similar to Google search results, and all I'd have to ask my database is "What's the location of the death of Drury's assassins?" Then the results of that query would give me a hint to make certain, when Elliot passes that intersection in Ace Boon Coon, the second book in the series, he has some pondering to do about his past.

Does your head hurt yet? Well, then y'all stop asking me about process.


But really. Stop. Love y'all. ♡

- dg

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