Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year's Review

As 2011 is coming to a close everyone takes stock of the trials and tribulations, the victories and validations of the year and what all of these have meant to each of us.

At the start of this year I was editing my manuscript and looking to get my series published. Through the conversations of the amazing writing community, I decided it was time to build my 'author platform' starting with a blog. I had never 'blogged' before other than a few contributed articles. I was nervous about finding material, even having a topic others would be interested in reading. I wasn't sure how this was really going to turn out, how it was going to develop and most importantly to me, how this would help with publication.

I started with a few topics that seemed logical to me and started sharing my rambling thoughts out to my friends and contacts out on the inter-webs.

My first observation was that I really did have some outstanding writer friends in the twitter-verse and through the comments I saw, I really did have an interesting take on things that more than my virtual-friends were willing to have an interest in reading. I also started producing articles for a regional media outlet that started gaining significant attraction for them.

In April together with a few friends we set about investigating and spending the night at one of the country's most notorious locations, a dilapidated asylum that is now a mainstay of television shows.

Through no small feat I signed with my publisher in May and gleefully started organizing my thoughts to make sure the series would not only be coherent but also something significant when it debuted. All of my research, all of my ramblings and dreams worked out.

In the summer I went back to the beautiful Massachusetts coast where I was able to draw on more inspiration and restructure some of the later events in the series as well as catch some breathing room.

Later in the summer I stumbled upon a novel idea for my weekly articles, a look at compositions, not just the writing idea but how any story is told through a composition. Whether it's a film, a still shot, writing or even sculpture all components work and if looked at from the right perspective the techniques could work for any medium. It was also about this time that along with some friends we went out to the Qunicy Harbor and spent a night investigating a retired Cold-war Era naval destroyer.

In the fall, my fiance and I were married. After being together for more than 5 years we decided it was what we both wanted. It was the next step in our lives together and while a bit nerve-wracking at the time, it was life.

So at the end of 2011, after all that has happened in this year what was the outcome? Well, for Writing Files it was a number of guest posts and highlights on some outstanding writing friend's blogs. Highlights included  Jill Kemerer in June, Jen Talty in Sept, Samantha Combs and Donna Galanti in Oct and oh so much more. Significant thanks to all of my writerly friends, fellow word-herders to borrow a phrase. After a single year of blogging, Writing Files has had more than 9K views, 290 comments, and almost a third of all traffic is from twitter. The remaining visits are courtesy of friend's blogs like Jami Gold, Michele Shaw and Jill Kemerer. After a year of Writing Files it's hard to imagine not being part of these communities, author platform or not.

Looking back at 2011 the easiest thing to say is that life happened. There were challenges, difficulties and there were triumphs, dreams that came true and plenty of adventure to be had.    

As I look toward the new year and know how much I have changed over this past year, it is clear that life dictates change. The first big change for the new year is actually going to be saying goodbye to Writing Files.  2012 will be the launch of the first novel in my series Nightfall, the new home for this composition needs to reflect more of the character of this piece but also focus my ramblings. As any composition, the theme needs to be unified. Writing Files is becoming The Surveillance Report next post.

Happy New Year everyone!



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

That Holiday Feeling

Ferias Ex Machina….

As Christmas is only a few days away now traditional Holiday themes are inundating all narratives on all mediums but why?

In a traditional narrative whether it is still, sculpted, cinemagraphic or literary a composition is orchestrated in such a way as to draw the viewers into the piece. There is a level of intrigue as the thrill of uncertainty keeps the rapt attention of the audience. This is not the case for many 'Holiday' narratives.

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The majority of 'Holiday' narratives are composed with layers of positive themes; selflessness, family, change of heart, unconditional love and other similar themes.

While many narratives can utilize similar themes, Holiday compositions typically feature these themes at a relative superficial level. The dramatic twists and turns that otherwise would create a thrilling piece are sedate compared to traditional narratives. These narratives often rely on the Ferias Ex Machina. 


Ferias Ex Machina or "Holiday out of the machine" is where a seemingly unsolvable/inextricable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object particularly in a 'Holiday' composition. These are where the characters will have a revelation, change of heart, a random bystander offers help because it is the season, etc.

In a traditional narrative composition, if the Ex Machina approach is used it makes for a superficial or failed piece by modern standards. So how is it acceptable for Holiday compositions?

Many narratives span extensive time periods either within the singular narrative or within a series and inevitably draw on the 'Holiday' themes. Much like a straightforward Holiday composition, the narratives fall to the same superficial level of device yet, since it is 'Holiday' themed it is generally accepted by the audience despite the Ferias Ex Machina approach.

What do you think? Is Ferias Ex Machina a suitable device for a holiday narrative or should a piece strive to be more than a 'Holiday' composition?

Merry Christmas….

Monday, December 12, 2011

Storyboarding Timelines

In any visual composition it's necessary to have a plan of action, a concept that needs to be visualized. Taking that concept to a realized piece requires that certain elements are available for production and the primary means are creating a timeline and storyboards.

It's not possible to produce the conceptualized piece if the material, the shots that are needed to realize the piece are not available.

Recently, I was reviewing my series outline that I had conjured making notes as time passed and I found that the series while conceptualized was missing a number of elements. It was apparent that with three separate timelines and the initial story in the background to contend with, it was fast becoming unmanageable. The outline just didn't fill in the blanks that I was looking for to make sure it was cohesive and not a random series of events. The outline just wasn't working.

Taking the issue out of the strictly literary realm and applying the cinematographers law- 'Storyboard It' the creative issues evaporated.

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The visual approach to storyboarding begins with understanding the full purpose of the storyboards, the intent, who will see them and how detailed they will need to be for those purposes. What many don't realize is how relatively easy it is to create storyboards especially for narrative. These are not going to be an amazing artwork but can be as rudimentary as stick figures so long as the notes are detailed and there is a rough sketch of a scene. The primary difference between using storyboards for cinematography and using the boards for a written narrative is strictly the tools used to create the piece.

After the purpose of the storyboards is established the key scenes are selected. Any composition, any story is a culmination of specific scenes. The largest benefit of creating these boards is the ability to manipulate them physically. It becomes strikingly apparent when the storyboards are actually tacked up on the wall what scenes work, how the pacing and narrative flow work in the composition. It also becomes apparent how the actual timeline will flow.

The timeline in my case, was actually creating the separate timelines stacked in a simple excel sheet. The stories become abundantly clear with dividing points clearly denoted for a series. After the initial timeline was stretched out, the storyboards for the entirety were orchestrated filling in all of the 'missing pieces' that were sadly lacking from the overstuffed outlines.

The composition timeline behaves much like any historic timeline, there are significant events that effect the narrative either directly or indirectly and these are recorded. It's designed to give perspective on the piece.

A narrative composition is an assemblage of elements and often keeping those elements in a cohesive order can become quite unwieldy especially if there are multiple narratives that are layered together for a series. Many techniques can be utilized to organize the concept but creating a timeline with detailed storyboards is easily one of the most efficient means.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Abstracting Layers

Depth, Dimension, Layers…

As a narrative piece is composed, one of the difficulties of framing a specific point as the subject of the narrative is establishing the sense of depth in the composition.

Often a visual composition will rely on layering to add a sense of depth and even time to the piece. A narrative composition can quite frequently utilize similar techniques to bring that composition into greater focus, bring it to life.

Adding depth to a narrative is achieved through layering interaction dynamics and narrative history.

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Interaction dynamics are the implied and explored relationships within the narrative. These can be the relationships between subjects or between subjects and setting. Implied relationships are not overt reactions between subjects but the secondary inferred relationships. In a visual sense the subjects would be juxtaposed to demonstrate hidden emotions or draw tension. These are quite common in romantic narratives as two subjects awkwardly avoid interactions.

The explored relationships are overt dynamics, emotions and interactions are direct. Visually there are direct correlations between subjects or subjects and setting. These can be further layered with different levels of emotions, interactions and relationships. All of these are typically the make new friends, adversaries and love interests subject interactions.

The interaction dynamics of both implied and explored relationships add layers to the composition, provide a sense of depth to the interactions.

A visual composition can frequently capture a still moment in time, but it can also appear flat and superficial. While in a narrative it is possible to convey a linear progression of time, like a visual composition it can also appear flat and superficial.

Through narrative history it is possible to layer a composition with additional depth and dimension. The composition demonstrates a history for the subjects through details of worn settings, memories of previous events and relationships built on events not within the composition.

As any visual composition becomes more interesting with layers of interaction dynamics and narrative history so to does a narrative composition. The flat one-dimensional take on a narrative timeline or strictly overt interactions leaves a flat, superficial image. Adding layers of interactions, history and detail together brings the piece to life.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Leading Lines

In a composition there are a variety of techniques that can be utilized to explore the piece. One of the most dynamic means of guiding the audience through a piece is through the use of leading lines.

Leading lines are one of the top rules of visual composition and are used to great effect to guide the viewer's perspective through the piece, drawing attention to focal points and creating narrative rhythm. These lines are also can be used singularly or with additional supporting lines.

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A narrative composition is led by leading lines as much as any visual composition, however unlike a visual composition the leading lines are not only visual based on the narrator's perspective but also a product of dialogue.

The narrator's perspective has a strong influence on the composition through the depth of field, viewing angle and the leading lines. Through the narrator's perspective it is possible to guide the audience through the piece in a similar fashion as a visual composition. The narrator's perception can create tension, emotion and dynamic depth through their perception of the scene. As the narrator examines a particular scene, their view will follow the same leading lines as an audience would with a visual composition.

Ex: I forced the weathered metal door open and stumbled out onto the platform. The tile was cracked and broken, covered in disturbing stains that led to the tracks. The tracks were rusted, long forgotten as they ran down the tunnel and back into the real world.


The narrators eye follows the leading lines as the audience would view it in the visual composition. The eye follows the lines of the tile in the foreground to the tracks which prominently guide the eyes down in a linear direction.

Dialog leading lines are often more clearly defined as character movement within the environment or lines that begin or end a scene. These lines convey movement not only through the visual composition but through the story as well. Often these lines are used as indicators for scene and settings change.

Ex: "Well, that's not going to matter anyhow." I heard her let out a sigh. "Fine, let's do this." I stopped and looked at her. "That's the spirit. Ready?" She nodded. I turned the knob.


The audience's perception of a narrative composition is subject to the same rules of visual compositions. Through dialogue and scene leading lines, an audience is guided through the piece in a fluid, dynamic manner that keeps the piece interesting.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Filtered Perspectives

Perceptions, Tones, Filters…

A writer's challenge in crafting a narrative is conveying the piece they envision to an audience that has no concept of the piece. The creator has to balance the elements of the piece, the settings, characters, thrills and the visual elements that can affect the perceptions of the piece.

Even as a piece is painstakingly balanced between the elements, it still may not convey the vision that the creator desires. It may not have the appropriate tone or saturation.

Conveying the appropriate tone for a piece can often be the most challenging due in-part to the preconceptions that audiences carry. Every individual has differing experiences and most often what one person perceives is not what another understands.

Ex. "She let out a sigh and leaned against the damp brick wall. Somewhere down the alley she could hear the rats fighting."    

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The setting in this example may convey a gritty and dark tone to some, to others that have lived or experienced this type of setting only conveys a night-time city neighborhood. The piece fails to utilize the preconceptions and carry the appropriate tone.

Drawing the appropriate saturation for an audience can be an equally strong challenge. The saturation of a piece is dependent on how long the audience is exposed to a setting or scene. Certain individuals will require longer time in the scenes to reach the appropriate saturation levels to convey the envisioned composition.

Adjusting the tone and saturation of a composition is similar to the visual arts. In photography and cinematography, when all of the elements are drawn together and the composition is still not what was envisioned, the artist typically applies filters to create the vision. Red filters to 'warm' a composition, 'blue' to cool and still more to affect the saturation levels in the piece. The more the light is controlled through filters, the more artists are able to control the audience's perceptions of the piece.

In a narrative it is possible to control tone and saturation through this same 'filter' concept. Adjusting tone is possible through filtering the narrator's perception. Expanding on the previous example with a 'filter' it is possible to ensure that the right tone is conveyed.

Ex. "She let out a sigh and leaned against the damp brick wall. It was hard to believe it had come to this. Somewhere down the alley she heard the footsteps over the fighting rats."


Through filtering the narrator's perspective it is possible to adjust the tone to a perceptible level. Extending the scene through a few slight details fully saturates the audience. Attaining the envisioned composition is not only an assemblage of the right elements but often the right application of filtered words.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Sound Design

Any narrative composition is an assemblage of elements from the relationships between characters and their interactions, to subtle details like lighting, depth of field and narrative angles that are all designed to control the audience's perceptions of the piece.

In cinematography, a primary element that is necessary to unify a composition is sound. Whether it's the audio levels for a given scene, the subtle use of background noise or even music, audio creates the gestalt composition.

Controlling the audio levels in cinematography, while challenging, also yields the most dynamic results and brings the composition to life for the audience.

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Audio levels typically consist of two subset levels and four operating levels. The two subsets consist of the dynamic range, the full range of sound in a given recording; and the operating range, the actual range of recording. Within these subset levels are the operating levels; the Noise floor, the Reference level, Headroom and Maximum output.

The Noise Floor, also known as the background noise, is most responsible for creating a unifying tie between scenes even when the scenes take place in dramatically different settings. Most often a cinematographer will create a steady white-noise that they can underly to subtly tie together all of the scenes in a piece.

The Reference Level quite frequently is the 'talking volume' in a piece. This is subject to the direction that the sound is coming from in regards to the input. Individuals talking in frame or background music that alter from scene to scene. This is the primary level for action and interaction with the main composition.

The Headroom and Maximum Output levels are typically only utilized for 'peaking,' that is, the times when the music will swell or a particular noise will be emphasized over the previous sounds. A number of compositions utilize this to great effect for startling the audience.

A narrative composition utilizes sound design just as well as any cinematography effort. While the cinematographer needs to rely on the actual sounds and levels of their work, the writer has infinitely more control over the sound but has a greater challenge. Every narrative setting has audio levels that can be subtly used to create the desired effect and control the audience's perceptions of the scene.

 Ex. She paced along the walkway under the warm glow of the park's lights. She needed answers and he was going to be the first step.


In the narrative, the sound design is not always overt and quite frequently the audio is dependent on the audience's preconceptions of the scene. While it is not overtly described in this scene the audio levels are inferred. The sound levels are very low with footsteps on the wooden walkway and a quiet undercurrent of nocturnal sounds from the park. While the implied sounds are adequate the audio does not utilize the full operating levels for the scene. The composition feels incomplete.

Ex. She paced along the ocean walkway under the warm glow of the park's lights. She needed answers and he was going to be the first step. The winds picked up, rustling the bushes and carrying small bits of litter across the grass.


The additional details not only add to the visual composition but also succeed in generating full operating levels for the composition. The Noise Floor is filled with subtle shifts between the ocean and winds. The Reference level is filled with footsteps on the walkway while the Headroom Level is filled with swelling winds and rustling bushes.

Just as in Cinematography compositions, a Narrative composition relies heavily on sound design to control the perceptions of a scene. Understanding and utilizing the audio levels to great effect can be the difference between an average scene and a dramatic scene that influences the audience. Sound is integral creating the optimal composition, world building that immerses the viewer.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Juxtaposition of Relationships

Every narrative composition is about the dynamics of relationships, the interactions between characters that drive the piece forward. There are however, more elements to conveying those relationships than just the interactions between the sculpted characters.

As with any visual composition, the elements of a piece can be juxtaposed in a manner that can convey the specific dynamics of relationships. Through a manipulation of perspective and the details of a scene it is possible to emphasize ties or relationship dynamics, convey emotions and shared feelings, reveal occasions and shared history.

Ties and relationship dynamics in a composition are primarily a revealed through actions of the subjects but the details can clearly reveal similarities of physical characteristics, similar thoughts and perspectives. Choosing the appropriate details, it is possible to create a sense of unity between characters.

Ex. She pushed her way through the crowd when she saw Nick talking with someone at the back of the bar.

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In this example the atmosphere is crowded and suspicious but does not carry an emotional impact. If the perspective and focal points are adjusted it becomes significantly stronger.

Ex. She pushed her way through the crowd and stumbled to a halt. Nick was sitting with some redhead at the back of the bar.


Utilizing the relationship between subjects and the setting makes it possible to convey emotions and shared feelings in a subtle cohesive manner that prevents any jarring disconnections between the audience and the piece. When conveying a specific subject matter the composition is arranged to a 'telling-effect' that reveals the emotional impact rather than reactionary from the subjects.

Ex. The struggle caused the camera to slip and tumble over the side of the boat. We bolted to the railing and watched helplessly as it splashed into the water.


The entire scene is predicated on actions and the relationship between the subjects and objects in the scene. While no dialog or emotions are revealed the juxtaposition of the elements creates the emotion. The same can be created with the use of objects alone in a composition.

Ex. The light followed the red droplets along the darkened corridor only stopping when the source was revealed. A simple folding knife with dark stains on the glinting metal.

 Often compositions utilize occasions such as holidays, birthdays or other special occasions to create a sense contrast for the subject material. A more subtle use of objects and subjects in the composition is utilizing and emphasizing the shared history of the subjects. Referencing a single previous event, high school slogan years later or other telling moments.

A narrative composition is no different than a visual composition, the relationship between objects, details and subjects affect the overall piece. Choosing the appropriate emphasis, focal points and providing the right juxtaposition between the elements creates a stronger composition. Any single element can be enhanced to affect the overall piece.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Analyzing the Angle

Composition, Framing, Angles….

In any composition there are a variety of facets that can impact the composition as a whole. Elements such as lighting, perspective and depth of field for the piece can adjust the overall tone, perspective and even objective for the entire composition.

As with any composition in the visual arts, one of the most significant facets of to keep in mind is the angle of the 'shot.'

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While there are many conceivable angles to approach a scene from the two most important framing angles are the 'low shot' and the 'top down' shots. The low shot is commonly used in compositions where emotion is the principle objective. Focusing on a subject from a low angle creates a sense of overbearing pressure, authority or menace. The opposite is true for the 'top down' shot. Often used in compositions to show scale and distance the audience from subject matter, it is possible to convey a sense of insignificance.

In any narrative, each scene is perceived from a specific angle and perspective. As with most instances of first-person narratives, the angle of the scene is restricted to the available and logical perceived approaches by the narrator. The narrator is restricted to human perspectives, angles on scenes. This perspective may appear limiting but as the creator of the composition, it is possible to move the scene to accommodate a stronger impact.

Ex. I jogged down the hallway towards the figure looming over the latest victim. I was too late.


In this example the angle of the scene is perceived at distance on the same plane, the same level as the scene. Adjusting the angle and scene to create a better impact…

Ex. I jogged to the stairs and started up until I found the next victim. I knelt on the landing and cursed myself. Too late, again. Lifting my gaze, I saw the figure looming at the top of the stairs watching me.


As the angle on the scene changes so does the emotional impact and tone of the scene. If the scene is reversed and the angles change again so that it is a 'top down' angle then the perceptions change with it.

Ex. I jogged to the top of the stairs. He was standing over his next victim on the landing below. I was too late again.


In these examples the tone and perceptions of the scenes change giving a completely different tone to the composition each time. In the first example, the perceptions range from the antagonist may be caught, fight or flee. The second example, the perceptions range from sadness to fear that the character may be the next victim and in the final example the perceptions are that the antagonist may flee or be caught.

While the composition may have many facets that impact the overall tone, the angle of the 'shot' is one of the strongest elements for controlling the narrative perceptions. In a third person perspective, it is far easier to control the angle of the shot but it is also more difficult to convey the same level of emotion as the 1:1 ratio of the first person perspective. Every detail, perspective and angle has attributes that lend itself the certain compositions. It's the director, the creator's challenge to understand these and create the ideal composition.

How do you perceive the angles?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Establishing Perspective

In any composition there are a core set of elements needed to create the composition and each element can be adjusted to reflect the desired effect on the entirety of the piece.

The composition can be adjusted through the subtle shifts to subjects, lighting, settings and especially focal points. A shift in perspective can change the entire composition. In most narratives perspective is long-regarded as first person, second and third person in reference to the narrative perspective.

The narrative perspective is actually the 'narrators perspective' and not necessarily the visual perspective for a scene. In the visual arts the concept of a perspective is defined as the relationship between objects within a composition.  Simply put, a three-dimensional scene is compressed to a two-dimensional depiction of that scene but through the illusion of perspective it is possible to convey a three-dimensional scene.

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Taking the concept of the visual perspective and applying it to the narrative composition allows for similar control of a scene through different visual perspectives.

The Linear Perspective is the most common perspective for most narrative scenes. As objects and details are perceived further from the focal point, the fewer details are visible and smaller the objects are perceived to be in relation. The narrator's perspective as an individual is subject to a visual perspective within the environment.

Most instances of visual perspective in a narrative are subject to the subconscious Rectilinear Perspective through interpretation. This means that what is actually straight in the scene is perceived as straight. The perceptions of objects and subjects in a scene will shift however depending on the visual perspective. Illusions like overlap, dwindling size and volume will influence the perceiver within the scene.

When perceiving the perspective of a scene it is important to understand how visual perspective works. Through the eyes of a character, the objects and subjects in a scene can be unintentionally deceptive. Controlling the specifics of the perspective can provide a narrative with a stronger connection for the audience and more opportunities to affect the atmosphere of each scene in the composition.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Abstracting Exposure

Exposure, Bracketing, Compensation….

In the visual arts, particularly photography, the exposure of a composition determines the amount of detail and contrast in that composition. Traditionally, the longer the exposure the more detail and darker the overall composition.

The concept of exposure is not limited to the visual arts, a narrative composition is subject to the same rules of exposure as any medium. The longer the reader is exposed to a composition the more details are clear to them but if they are exposed to the same scene for too long it may all blend together (Over-Exposed). The same is also true if the exposure is too short. There will be too few details (Under-Exposed).

In order to achieve the Optimal Exposure the perfect balance between light and shadow, detail in the composition, it is necessary to sample the right saturation for each scene. The optimal exposure is, of course, the right exposure that achieves the desired effect. This approach may be entirely subjective however, there is a 'correct exposure' for every scene.

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Obtaining the correct exposure is a balancing act in any composition, obtaining the right level of detail while obtaining the desired effect. This can be achieved through a process called Bracketing. In a visual medium this process entails adjusting the exposure to increase and decrease the exposure and ultimately taking the best of the series. Through a narrative, the process of bracketing is a bit more complex but ultimately has the same results and centers on controlling the exposure in the scene.

Controlling the exposure in a narrative can be achieved through a few specific elements, the lighting, depth of field and speed of the composition. The most important concept to consider in the process is Reciprocity. This is a simple principle that states that the longer the exposure, the reciprocally smaller aperture required. In a narrative sense this means the longer the scene the fewer details of the scene and more focus on the subject. As each change in exposure adjusts the overall composition it creates a different exposure for the reader. Through reviewing each exposure it is possible to create the optimal exposure for the scene, the perfect balance of details and focus.

A different means of bracketing the exposure in a narrative scene is to use scenes of differing exposures to bracket the selected scene. Use a slightly darker scene before the darkest scene and a slightly lighter scene leading away from that scene to achieve an exposure balance.

To prevent an over exposure in a composition it may be necessary to provide a means of compensation for the scene. If the composition is too dark it is possible to compensate for this overexposure by adding more light to the scene or just an additional lighting source. The narrative composition can find compensation in added details, lighting sources and subtle shifts in depth of field that can change the exposure.

Finding the optimal exposure of a composition can be a difficult practice but often creates the best overall compositions whether it is bracketing the composition in a single scene to find the right balance or using the surrounding scenes to bracket a single composition. It is important to recognize when the audience becomes over-exposed and under-exposed to a composition.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Lighting the Narrative

In any composition, details can control the tone and atmosphere of the piece more than any overt elements. The strongest of these elements is also most often overlooked due to it's rather commonplace nature, lighting.

While settings and even weather can influence the atmosphere and tone of a piece, these are direct elements that an audience can perceive as cliche and can become a detriment to the overall composition. Using the lighting of each scene, each setting can be a subtle means of controlling the audience's preconceptions and perceptions of the composition.

As with photography and cinematography, controlling the lighting of the scene allows the creator to bring their vision of the piece to life. Through controlling the direction, quality and quantity of light in a scene it's possible to control perceptions of a scene.

Through the subtle manipulations of directional lighting it is possible to convey specific emotions and manipulate audience perceptions of the scene.

Ex: She paced along the ocean walkway under the warm glow of the park's lights. She needed answers and he was going to be the first step. Her pacing quickened until another gust rushed her and the rolling waves sprayed higher than the railing.

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The streetlight provides the directional lighting and offers a sense of security, safety, that the audience can perceive. This light source conveys the emotional tone of the scene, it's night, there's an anxiety about the scene and most details are washed out highlighting the primary subject in even greater detail.

Controlling the quantity of light in a scene is another means of controlling tone although it is far less subtle than simply adjusting the quality of the light and the direction of it.

Ex: The sun was warm as she drew a breath of determination and pulled open the heavy fire-door. Inside was a long dirty hallway lined with neglected and abused doors. Light was a precious commodity with a number of the ceiling lights broken. The fire door closed and left her in the pathetic lighting.

The transition from sunlight to a poorly lit interior reflects the oppressive emotions of the scene. The sunlight offers warmth, safety and comfort while the interior lighting reflects something darker, harsher than the outside world. This also demonstrates the differences in the quality of the lighting. The sunlight carries natural preconceptions and emotions while interior lights reflect a different set of emotions. Even if the lights were simple florescent lights there would still be a shift in the perceptions associated with the lighting.

Ex: I stepped out into the pure white florescent light. White eggshell walls reflected the light off the white tile floor in an empty wide hallway lined with cream colored doors and wire mesh windows down it's length. I stopped at the first large glass window to look at the sun-lit parking lot.

The distinction of the florescent lights emphasizes the sterile nature of the environment and carries a sense of cold detachment while the sunlight carries the warmth. The contrast between these two different qualities of light distinguishes two different sets of preconceptions and perceptions of the settings.

Through the subtle manipulations of lighting it is possible to reflect the desired narrative tone of the scene. Adjusting the depth of field, the focal points and emphasized details of a composition allows for a more dynamic composition that carries more emotional weight for the audience.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Macro-Composition

Every composition has a set of defined elements from depth of field to subjects to the very contrast of the details in a piece. There is however, no set scale for any piece.

The challenge of any creative piece is utilizing all of the elements to form a connection with the audience, to give that emotional bond that keeps their attention, makes them want to understand. In a narrative this can mean perspective in the piece or scale of the subject matter (Will it affect the world? or Just a few lives?) or this can mean the very length of a piece.

Building a connection between the audience and the composition can be achieved through a variety of methods but the strongest is creating the 1:1 connection, a Macro-connection.

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In photography, establishing a 1:1 connection between the audience and the subject is achieved by focusing intently on the minute details of a larger subject. The Macro-composition is created by selecting the details of a larger composition that best represent the larger piece and then making them larger than life, a direct 1:1 ratio.

Eg. The larger composition is a broken down and forgotten home, now overgrown with trees and is slowly collapsing as autumn sets in with the early morning sun. The Macro would be a close up shot of the neglected flowerpots along the fading stucco wall with a few fall leaves resting on the pots with a hint of the early morning sun.

Creating a Macro-composition in a narrative can be one of the more difficult things for a writer to accomplish. It is often easier to express the larger implications of a narrative by breaking the 1:1 connection. In a third-person perspective it is common for global effects to be viewed by jumping to an outside narrative character that can witness these. This breaks the 1:1 ratio and the essential 'spell' that the audience is under however, and the last thing any writer wants to do is break their audience-composition connection.

There are a number of ways to express a larger composition within the details of a given scene or event without breaking the Macro-compostion. To borrow the phrase from Rohe ~ "The Devil is in the Details."


Controlling the focal point of a composition and through a clever use of details it is possible to express the larger composition without breaking the Macro 1:1 connection. These practices are easily attributable to Macro-Compositions, telling an entire narrative in a few precisely chosen details and words.

One of the strongest practices comes from utilizing video as art. The Macro-Challenge consists of creating 4 video clips under 15 seconds each, the catch is they need to be 'Non-Symbolic' but convey an emotion. In short, it means to convey love the cinematographer can not use hearts, flowers the color red, people etc. Through this practice the cinematographer learns to take explicit care in developing every 15 seconds.

In a narrative, the desire to focus on larger details can inhibit the audience-composition connection or even break that connection if the wrong focal points and details are selected. The solution is to utilize the Macro-Challenge of cinematographers. Many of these challenges are currently floating around including Twitter-Fiction and Flash-Fiction among the many other variants. Taking specific care to craft a narrative in a sentence or two encourages a conscious selection of words and details. As the short sentence is perfected then that same approach can be brought to the paragraph, the chapter, the novel and ultimately the series.

Every composition, every narrative has a Macro-perspective embedded in the piece. Utilizing precise details can convey a larger composition without ever breaking the 1:1 connection with the audience.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

High Dynamic Composition

In any composition there are a variety of factors that can either detract or enhance the piece. While the depth of field and the subjects of the composition are considered 'fixed' or 'unchangeable,' many elements ranging from contrast to saturation to detail can be altered to enhance the piece.

One of the most important elements of a composition is establishing the appropriate contrast in the piece, contrast of light and shadow, contrast of subjects and contrast of elemental details.

Often, those in the visual arts use a technique called 'bracketing' or 'stepping' to find the right balance in a composition. The technique consists of increasing and decreasing the amount of exposure, or light in the shot to establish different details and find the best result.

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Abstracting this technique to narratives, it is not too dissimilar from establishing revisions to a draft. The draft creates the basic composition with an established depth of field and subjects but does not have the strength of an emotionally draining 'dark' composition or the emotional highs of the 'light' composition. Each step towards the 'darker' or 'lighter' compositions can shift the entirety of the piece but at the same time, finding the right composition can be extremely difficult. Most take each piece of the composition and adjust it individually to suite the piece. This can result in a lengthy and painful process to attain the desired composition.

A very beneficial technique that supplements 'bracketing' in the visual arts is known as High Dynamic Range imaging. This technique involves taking the variations of a composition, the lightest highlights to the darkest shadows and merging them into a solitary composition that will have exceptional contrast and all of the positive elements from each variation.

While revisions can be painful, the concept of taking a single draft and revising it into separate directions, applying a lighter tone so the high points are the brightest, then taking another variation and revising with the intent of taking the dark moments and making them the darkest they can be is very beneficial. The end result of creating separate, bracketed, revised compositions allows the creator to merge all of the strongest elements into one HDR Composition.

How do you revise your work? Do you use an HDR technique or do you adjust the individual elements of the original piece?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Composing Composition

Focal Points, setting, details, composition…

In the visual arts there are a variety of simplistic guides that can help an artist create a strong composition and with enough fore-thought it is actually possible to push the limits of a piece to something that the masses will regard highly.

One of the basic guides for crafting a strong composition in the visual arts that can also be reflected in a compelling narrative is the Rule of Thirds. In the 1783 Sir Joshua Reynolds describes this in unquantified terms as 'the balance of dark and light. This has since been refined as conceptualizing an image by dividing the image into nine equal parts with two horizontal and two vertical lines. The points at which these lines meet are considered the 'power points.'

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Two primary concepts that can be abstracted from this Rule of Thirds are the ideas of 'balancing light and dark' and utilizing 'power points' at equivocal lengths.

In a narrative the balance of light and dark is often more complex than visualizing shadows and highlights. The overall tone of a piece can determine the 'exposure' for the piece but the shadows or 'darkest moments' in the piece will need to be of significant contrast to add sufficient dimension to the work. Eg. If the narrative is filled with deaths then the darkest moments will all appear the same level. The same is true for the highlights of a piece. If all the high points or highlights of a piece are on equal ground then there will be no significant contrast between one moment and the next. When all of the highlights and shadows of a piece are equal then the composition will be a dull neutral gray.

While finding the right balance of light and dark is integral to providing contrast in a piece, it is also necessary to define the 'power points' of the composition. These are the most visually striking focal points or in a narrative, the most thrilling moments of the piece. Together with balancing light and dark, these power points will be the contrasting subjects of the piece. Each of the four selected points and the 'strike line' leading to that point are inherently where the most emphasis is derived for a piece. These highest highlights to the lowest shadows provide the depth and contrast necessary to drive interest in a piece, when the appropriate focal points are selected for the piece at precise intervals the overall composition becomes an interesting piece.

To further enhance the the composition it is necessary to choose the appropriate setting to provide the requisite contrast between the focal points and the subject(s) of the composition. It is also necessary to choose the appropriate depth of field for each composition to emphasize details and enhance the overall composition.

Whether creating a visually striking image or an emotionally striking narrative, the abstracted principles remain the same; contrast and balance for the light and dark of the piece as well as choosing the appropriate subject(s) for the 'power points' and strike lines that lead up to these points.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Assigning Depth of Field


As the artist conceptualizes their work, they designate a specific subject or focus for that work. There is a particular message that they wish to convey with their subject and as a result, a given selection of details that must be emphasized in their work.

In a particular work, the artist will need to select the appropriate 'focus' for the piece. This focus will reveal a subject in greater detail while de-emphasizing the surrounding subjects to provide a greater contrast that allows the subject to stand out. This technique of emphasizing a particular subject with a selected focus is commonly described as a depth of field in photography and cinematography. In a visual sense it is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in frame that appear 'acceptably sharp.'

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Much like the visual arts, it is just as necessary and integral to select the appropriate focal length, the depth of field for a piece. Three primary means of focusing on a subject across mediums include the deep focus, shallow focus and a selective focus.

A deep focus or large depth of field is common in cinematography and is also quite common in fantasy novels as well. In a deep focus shot the foreground, middle-ground and background are all in focus. This emphasizes moderate detail across all planes of the frame and in narrative terms this is revealed as detailed descriptions of the world, characters, atmosphere even political machinations. While there will be given subjects within the frame they will only exhibit an equal level of detail as that of the rest of the frame regardless of positional emphasis(if they're the main characters, subjects, etc.).

Ex: The rusted mechanical horse slowed its piston-timed pace until it brought the carriage to a stop before us. It was clear that the Algenie were being selective about transit updates in this section of the city. "Select your destination sir." The robotic voice echoed.

The counterpoint, a shallow focus or small depth of field is often more effective. In a shallow focus the subject is emphasized while de-emphasizing the foreground and background. This emphasizes great detail on a single plane and significantly less detail on surrounding subjects and in a narrative sense, is common in most contemporary novels. The subjects in frame will exhibit varying levels of detail depending on their positional emphasis.

Ex: The cab swerved across traffic in response to my hail drawing to a stop in front of us. I jumped in and tried not to recoil at the stench. The cabbie looked over his shoulder, "Where to boss?"


A balance between the shallow focus and deep focus is the selective focus, a large depth of field with selected emphasis. This focal method allows for a larger detailed frame than a shallow focus but also provides more detail than a deep focus on selected subjects in the frame. In a narrative sense this is more uncommon but also generates an air of inconsistency.

Ex: The battered yellow cab swerved around the sanitation truck as the workers hopped off. The car dodged a pristine Mercedes and slid to a stop in front of me almost taking my toes off the curb. I shook my head as horns sounded in the distance and I pulled the door handle. The scent of sweat and decay greeted me as I slid in on the cheap vinyl seat. "Where to boss?" The large cabbie asked with a thick Brooklyn accent.


Every creative piece has a selected depth of field, a focal length that establishes what in frame is emphasized and de-emphasized. Once a focal length is selected, it is abundantly apparent to the audience when that focal length changes. If there is a shift within the focus it often weakens the piece and often distinguishes a professional piece from the amateur. Do you know what focal length you're using?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Narrative Arcology


Sustained, Structure, Sub-plots…

As a narrative is crafted its' creator strives to develop a self-contained world that feels believable and welcoming for an audience. Most often the piece is not a singular narrative but a comprehensive arrangement of narratives that are all self-contained yet influential and integral to forming the narrative.

Every narrative has a core element or theme that drives the story but each of these elements is also self-contained and complete. The primary components of this narrative arcology are the primary plot, each individual character's primary plot, the secondary sub-plots and the thematic components such as mystery, tension, anxiety and world building elements.

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Abstracting the perspective on a 'story' it is the point at which an audience begins viewing the lives of the individual characters. Something significant and contained has occurred in the lives of the characters that can be perceived as self-contained and complete story. It is this perspective that demonstrates one of the primary principals of the arcology concept, the self-contained and self-sustaining components to drive the primary element. As psychological profiling suggests, every individual experiences a form of narcissism that can be more dominant during early adulthood. This narcissism means that every individual believes that they are the star of their own story and in truth, they are. That means that every individual in a story is their own main character.

Many narratives address these separate sub-plots as a change in perspective to another character and ultimately reflect the complete impact of these self-contained narratives on the primary plot. Stories by Tolkien or Koontz demonstrate this separate but cohesive approach readily but the disadvantage of this approach is that often the reader can see the impact before it occurs. 

A secondary approach is to examine the full narrative for all of the individuals in-depth separately. The individuals reflect the events of their own narratives as they 'come into frame' in the primary plot but remain self-contained while contributing to the narrative arcology. Stories by Kelly Armstrong demonstrate this method quite clearly. One character may be distracted by a fight with a sibling when the main character asks for help with their problem. The main character may experience the fallout from that narrative but the actual narrative will remain self-contained.

A narrative is a bracket, a frame that is placed over any number of lives at a given point of time that can culminate in a decisive journey to conclusion. Each is a path that leads in one direction but has multiple paths that cross it to extend or add dimension to each path. The individual lives involved are each their own self-contained and self-sustaining narratives, sub-plots. Each individual is a component to the larger structure that makes the structure whole,  the narrative arcology.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Inexhaustible Aspirations

Regardless of the medium, everyone has long-term aspirations, dreams that they either consciously or subconsciously desire to attain. Aspirations are as varied as the individuals that have them. An artist may dream of having their work in a gallery exhibit, a writer may dream of publication and certainly there are those who dream of a stable home or the 'Epic Love.'

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Every aspiration can be very telling about the individual but these are more than simple aspirations to individual, these demonstrate motivations. When an artist is asked why they want their own gallery exhibit they may recount that it is because it symbolizes that they've 'made it' or any number of superficial reasoning but it is very likely that the individual does not even recognize the subconscious motivations that are driving them towards the aspiration.

A writer may aspire for publication or even acclaim for their work ranging from community praise to the Pulitzer. However, like the artist there are subconscious motivations that are responsible for driving the individual towards these aspirations.

More emotional aspirations like a consistently stable home or finding 'Epic Love' not only are subject to the subconscious motivations to the emotional states associated with these aspirations. Individuals aspiring of a stable home may be under constant duress, anxiety because their current status is the opposite of their aspiration. The 'Epic Love' or fairytale romance is subject to emotional fluctuations raising to the highest elation and dropping to the darkest depressions. The severe anxiety and emotional turmoil make the Epic Love one of the most dangerous psychological traumas.

"Spanning Years, and contenents. Lives ruined and blood shed. Epic!…. No one writes songs about the ones that come easy." -Logan Echolls (Veronica Mars)

Every long-term aspiration has a psychological impact on the individual and their behavior. Subconscious motivations that alter their behavior and the extreme emotional affluences that can alter an individual's emotional state. The desire for a gallery exhibit may actually be a subconscious desire for affection. These hidden motivations can cause undue amounts of stress as the individual obtains their exhibit but the aspiration still remains unfulfilled. As an individual moves closer to their aspiration, the events and obstacles that prolong attaining that aspiration will have a significant psychological impact. Often these will result in larger emotional reactions than they would ordinarily receive. As an aspiration continues to be evasive, anxiety ultimately becomes a tension and leads to psychological and emotional exhaustion.

Life is filled with aspirations, dreams that drive individuals towards an uncertain goal. While the emotional turmoil of pursuing and ultimately attaining a dream may be an 'Epic' process the emotional and psychological turmoil does not end with attaining that dream. Fear of completing a dream is almost as daunting as trying to attain it. As many artists, writers and dreamers realize when they nearing their aspiration… What comes next?

"That's the fun part. You find a new dream."  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cliched Contrivances

Gimmicks, Machinations, Contrivances...

While every narrative, every work requires a series of contrived events to propagate a story and develop the plot into a designated direction, there are certain contrivances that have not only fallen into cliche but can also serve to sever the connection between the audience and the work.

These contrivances are prominently a single element on which the entire subject of a piece can hinge. While these elements have been overused to the point of absurdity by popular media, they still find their way into narratives and while these elements can have their place in a piece their implementation is often the largest failing. This comes from a lack of research and more reliance on what has be exemplified by the media when using these elements.

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The most gimmicky of these elements are the almighty whatsit, the walking encyclopedia and the psychological excuse.

The Almighty Whatsit takes two forms; the first is the whatsit that causes the story, while the second form is the whatsit that resolves the story. In the first form this can be a device that could save, destroy or alter the world, a miracle cure or artifact of some form. In Urban Fantasy this is often the lynch-pin of the story, someone is in pursuit of a magical relic that can give them unbelievable power to do very bad things. The second form usually is added to resolve the story when things are at their bleakest for the characters. This form can be anything that the first form can be. In both instances the almighty whatsit is something wholly unique and world shattering, while at the same time it's the implementation of this that breaks the audience-work connection.

The Walking Encyclopedia is often the solution resource for the main characters. When they are striving to accomplish something and need knowledge that will ultimately lead to the resolution of the piece the characters happen across the Walking Encyclopedia. This element often comes as the explanation or info-dump piece of the plot. The Walking Encyclopedia knows exactly what to do and is ancillary to the main characters either uninterested in the outcome or is secretly supporting the antagonist. The implementation of the Walking Encyclopedia is usually the by-product of foreshortening a piece. This can easily be rectified into something believable by reducing the information provided by any one character.

The Psychological Excuse is one of the most overused elements in any medium. This can be utilized to explain the behavior of characters, the motivation for the antagonist and even the core element of a piece.  This element is often a trauma of some form either physiological or psychological. Why does the antagonist hate the protagonist? They were abused as a child. The character needs to be captured to explore some exposition. The character is hit on the head and knocked-out, drugged or otherwise incapacitated. The character needs to explore their life, uncover a mystery etc. They have amnesia, multiple-personality disorder and so forth. The Psychological Excuse requires quite a bit more research than relying on traditional tropes. If someone is traumatized there are strong psychological and physiological effects that are often repressed or subconscious. If someone is knocked-out or drugged into incapacitation there are very dramatic side-effects ranging from brain lesions to sever vomiting and more.

Every Narrative relies on certain tropes to progress and develop the story but quite frequently these contrivances fall into cliched and gimmicky territory that breaks the spell for the audience. Popular media has explored these tropes extensively to the point of exhaustion. Sometimes it's best to recognize the cliche if only to avoid it.

Do you have any contrivances in your work? How do you avoid these cliches?




 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Abstracting Trauma

Almost every narrative's central theme is overcoming a significant trauma that has led to significant adversity and hardship. In many instances this trauma is either the crux of the narrative or the creators' primary means of drawing emotion from their audience.

A traumatic event involves an experience or recurring experience that completely overwhelms an individual's ability to cope.

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Frequently the theme of overcoming the trauma and 'moving on' or confronting the repercussions of that trauma are the core foundation of any narrative piece due to the highly controversial and emotional nature of the trauma. When the success of a piece is dependent on drawing an emotional connection between the individuals in the piece and the audience, beginning with a trauma that stirs emotions in the audience is fundamental.

Due to the controversial and highly emotional nature of trauma, the selection of those traumas for the piece are delicately selected to either develop characters or the primary plot. The selection is often made because the creator wishes to explore the depths of a particular trauma. What are the prolonged effects of child abuse on the child? What reactions does someone have after years of verbal abuse? How does an individual perceive the world after the loss of a loved one? How does a rape victim cope? These particular traumas are extremely powerful but it is also important to note that these can have an adverse response from the audience. Not everyone will want to explore these 'dark' emotions.

Attempting to explore trauma is highly contingent on understanding the psychological effects of the trauma on an individual. Often after a traumatic experience a person may re-experience the trauma mentally and physically. They may turn to drugs or alcohol to escape as psychological triggers cause a re-experience of the event. The individual may suffer feelings of intense anger, resentment and guilt. Upsetting memories such as images, thoughts or flashbacks may haunt the person. Nightmares and insomnia may occur as their repressed fears keep the person on edge. As these stressors continue it can lead to emotional exhaustion and ultimately emotional detachment.

In a narrative piece that utilizes trauma as both backstory for individuals in the piece and as a core element of the primary plot, it is paramount to understand what that trauma actually does to the individuals that experience it. Just as imperative is understanding how an audience will perceive that trauma and if they are willing to confront those 'dark' emotions.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Saturated Settings

In any piece, a setting can infuse a narrative with a distinct tone, a mood that flows throughout or even permits the characters to demonstrate traits that would otherwise remain hidden from the piece. Unfortunately many settings have been utilized to the point of exhaustion from decrepit abandoned buildings to the city coffee shop.

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Each distinct setting in a narrative can infuse a particular tone into the piece because of the preconceptions that every individual has regarding those settings. Most settings are not chosen based on the tone that they will set but because they will be relatable for the majority of the target audience but in choosing this route it creates and sustains the cliche settings.

Some of the most over saturated settings include; urban sprawl, office building, coffee shops, the sea-side town, the sewers, caves, hidden rural towns, decrepit abandoned buildings, schools, forests and swamps. Each of these settings carries a certain connotation and infuses a specific tone into the narrative.

In the Urban Sprawl setting(Cities or Suburbia) this is the most common setting for a narrative because the sheer number of audience members that live in a similar setting. The Urban Sprawl infuses believability and a tone of pressure, stress, to the piece. The coffee shop, the office building, the parking garage, the sewers and apartment/loft are frequently exploited in this setting. While there are a multitude of variants of these settings, the sense of normalcy that these settings evoke makes the narrative more believable but also less distinguishable from other works in a similar setting.

In the Rural setting, whether it's the hidden town on the sea or in the woods the setting adds a sense of peace and a tone of mystery. While there are fewer individuals of the audience that actually live in these settings the preconceptions created by these are far stronger. The audience will constantly be 'en garde' for the subtle hints of something else underneath the surface of the town.

The Hidden settings like swamps, forests, caves and abandoned buildings carry a tone of foreboding and sadness. Unfortunately these settings have been used by horror stories so frequently that the audience is just waiting for something to 'jump out' at them from the piece. Since far fewer individuals have actually experienced these settings, the layers of development and detail will be much greater to convey the same levels of tone that a familiar setting can do far quicker.

As a setting is utilized to build a relatable connection between the audience and the characters this also applies all of the knowledge and experiences that an individual has regarding a setting. When tapping into the viewer's knowledge it is important to note that not only will it be more readily believable but also that they may have more knowledge about the setting than the writer. It becomes a delicate balance of tone and believability. Drawing on popular settings can make a piece more believable but also less distinct.

What settings to you find that you draw upon the most and for what tone?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Scaling Syndication

In every narrative work the suspense, tension and excitement work together to craft the perfect thriller, an amazing ride that keeps the audience entranced. Seldom does the creator view their work complete in one ride, almost every writer views the work as but a piece of a larger story.

While motivations for expanding a piece can range from the monetary to an intentional overarching theme or an overarching theme. There are also a multitude of ways to craft a series from the components of their first ride. Less common is developing additional stories based upon secondary characters from the first work and expanding into their own works. Another more frequent method of expanding the ride is to simply apply all of the original elements to another track. Taking the same characters and dropping them into another plot. These methods are quite prevalent in novellas, TV and even most sequels to the original piece. These are not, however, the true foundation for the Epic.

"The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book." - Mickey Spillane
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There are a number of components that need to be kept in check when crafting a true series that can expand across multiple rides culminating in one grande experience. The Epic is not only a series but an artfully woven piece that allows each component to stand on it's own as well as hold it's place in the larger narrative. This is analogous to crafting one large ride with such detail that it would be impossible for the audience to find the seams between the pieces.

As every journey begins with a single step, the same is true of the foundation for the series. The first narrative introduces the characters, setting and a problem that can be solved within the confines of the first ride while hinting at a larger arc. This is the same as crafting a 'hook' in the first piece. It draws the audience and leaves them wondering what comes next. The largest issue in crafting this element is maintaining the cohesiveness of the solitary ride. If the first piece ends with a less than satisfying ending to tie-in the next ride it will greatly reduce the chances of having the audience continue on to that next ride. The balance of the Thriller elements needs to be complete.

The subsequent steps in the series behave as the consistent thrilling ride with multiple twists, turns, ups and downs. Each narrative in this greater piece can focus on a multitude of sub-events that help the audience explore the world and characters through various trials. These serve to develop characters and demonstrate their place in the world, each is a complete ride in-of-itself yet they hint at something larger.

The timeline of a series is very fluid and often has been subject to influence from publication. While a piece can be constructed in such a way as to move through periods of time out of internal chronological order the strongest come from a consistent sense of progress. Typically timelines for installments in a series have gaps between those installments varying from months to years. These gaps permit writers to 'refresh' characters and even add additional elements to each new installment. The failure of this pacing is the audience may forget the previous ride and the Epic will lose some of its impact. Some series actually carry the narrative from one to the next with no time in between installments.

An Epic is defined by the over arching plot or theme that the audience needs to experience on a small scale before they finally reach that conclusion at the end of the series. Because the satisfaction of the excitement must match the suspense and tension of the ride, many series focus on a grande-scale world changing event. Like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, the characters start on a small-scale adventure and end by changing the world. A great many Urban Fantasy and Thrillers rely on these as the tropes to make an Epic series. Just as many also fail because they do target such world shifting problems that breaks the audience's connection with the ride. Believability falls to the wayside and there is no recovering. Not every Epic needs a world changing event, it can still be as small as changing the world of a single character. In the series Veronica Mars, the entirety of the first plot arc centered on finding the true killer of the main characters' best friend. The arc did not change the world but changed the world for the protagonist. 

Crafting a perfect thrill ride that keeps the audience enraptured can be a challenge to keep that tension and excitement balance. The key to crafting the Epic is scaling. Every component is a cohesive thrill ride set at a given scale that alludes to something that drives the characters. Rapidly shifting scale from one installment to the next can break believability and sever the connection between audience and attraction.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Drawing the Thrills

Fear, Thrills, Excitement…

As with any ride that is artfully crafted, participants are intrigued by the anxiety of not knowing what will happen next. The steady pressure of this anxiety, this fear creates a tension and through it a suspense that drives the narrative forward.

"Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win." - Stephen King


The suspense may drive the piece forward but without a release the characters and audience will be too fatigued by the end of the piece to enjoy the ride. Many seek out thrills to experience that rush, the race of their heartbeat, the fear of the unknown and the feeling of relief that comes once they've overcome that obstacle. It is a psychological need to understand, a fascination with that which they can not comprehend because it is so different from our everyday lives. That fascination stems from a need to find out how much fear the individual can tolerate and ultimately the sense of satisfaction that comes from being able to endure that anxiety.

In a roller-coaster it is the anxiety of not knowing what comes next that makes the ride so appealing but it is the excitement that makes the ride satisfying. The longer the anxiety is permitted to build, the more tension the participants will feel and by extension the greater the satisfaction will be for the release of that tension.

While the tension of a ride may continue to build the conditional stress experienced is still subject to the individual's tolerances for prolonged anxiety. This means that while a ride may layer anxiety and tension to keep applying pressure the individual has physiological tolerances to that stressor. The individual can become exhausted and in terms of a narrative this means they will put the story down. Exciting moments are release points for the tension. If the excitement does not address the current anxiety or tension in any way then it will not serve as a release but another form of tension.

Thrilling moments are derived from an equal balance of anxiety and the satisfaction of that release. Like a roller-coaster, if the ride climbs to an epic height the drop, excitement, should be of equal height unless there is a need to keep partial stress. This can mean a greater satisfaction from the climax of the ride however, it also means greater chances of fatigue along the journey.

Thrills are created by provoking emotional anxiety both for the character and the reader through exploring that which they can not understand. What is it like to have someone close murdered? What is it like the have two people fall in love with the same person? What is it like to catch a criminal? Stop a supernatural horror? People look to experience a thrill, something that they do not experience on a routine basis. To deliver that thrill, it needs to come in equal parts of tension and excitement. If you reduce the tension, the excitement will not have the same impact. If you reduce the excitement, the satisfaction will fade with it. The perfect thrill is one that is built with suspense and has partial releases (pay-offs) until the close.

Romance example: Antoine has a crush on Jayne but she doesn't know he exists. Antoine set about trying to get her attention. (Tension) After a period he finds a means of talking with her. (Partial-Release)  Jayne smiles at him passing in the hall. (Partial-Release) Mean Ex-BF threatens Antoine, they walk away together. (Tension) Antoine confronts EB. (Tension) Jayne admits she's in love with Antoine. (Release)

Supernatural Thriller example: Antoine discovers people are disappearing. Secretly has crush on Jayne. (Tension) Discusses with friends and friends confirm more disappearances. (Tension) Starts working with Jayne to find missing people. (Partial-Release) In-fighting about how to proceed as friends disappear. (Tension) Find clues about disappearances, in-fighting between them due to tension. (Partial-Release, relationship tension) Antoine admits crush to Jayne, interrupted before Jayne can react. (Tension) Antoine saves Jayne form supernatural threat. (Partial-Release- still relationship tension) Together they stop the threat and Jayne admits to being in love with Antoine. (Release) 

Ultimately, if you build too much tension without at least a partial release it is akin to queuing in line for hours to get on a roller-coaster that goes down one dip and dumps you off at the gift shop.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Assigning Stressors

As the narrative roller-coaster unfolds it is not simply the suspense and excitement that drives the piece forward but the tension, the taut emotions that consume both characters and audience

Every piece begins with anticipation, presumptions about events and serves to draw an emotional connection between the audience and the ride. It is that emotional connection that a creator can draw upon to influence perceptions and elevate their work beyond the initial hook.

An audience's connection begins with anticipation as the first conflict is assigned to the character. This is the prominent conflict that is designed to both introduce the audience to the characters and test the characters. Psychology describes this conflict as a stressor and the emotion associated with an unresolved stressor is the foundation of every narrative, Tension. Through the introduction of this unresolved stressor the narrative is compelled forward and providing the connection has been initially been established the audience will be driven to find a resolution for the stressor based upon the General Adaptation Syndrome model.

In the General Adaptation Syndrome model physiologists describe stress as taking place in the three phases of Alarm, Resistance and Exhaustion. In the alarm phase the body will react to initial stressor with adrenaline and commonly the 'fight or flight response.' The Resistance phase takes place under a sustained tension and represents how the individual will either cope or remove the stressor. As the final phase of the GAS model exhaustion takes hold on the subject and the body's systems are compromised. Abstracting this concept to the characters in a story, these stressors can not only develop new conflicts but also represent additional depth to the characters. As the tension continues to mount across time for the characters it can have a profound impact on their behavior.

A story is a taut ride, a thrilling roller-coaster that takes unexpected turns and drops to keep the audience enraptured. The suspense is born of anxiety, a tension that is drawn in such a manner as to keep both the characters and audience moving through the story. Applying different stressors can keep tension high, keep the audience engaged, but as with any stressor, if there is no relief exhaustion can set in and break the piece.
 

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