Tag Archives: story

My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius...

Modus Operandi

Champion Series
Now, for the moment of truth . . . the gates shudder open. The hot wind brushes against his face. The light from the arena fills his eyes. Heart beats fast, fists clenched, jaw set, eyes narrowed, he steps forward from the shadows. The noise from the crowd rises like the ocean roar to greet him. Will they cheer? Will they jeer? Will they make effigies of him for their children, and their children’s children to gaze upon for centuries to come? Or will the lions devour him, leaving nothing but scarlet sand and bones? Only the gods know.

But who is this man?

He is your champion—your story. It fights for you. It represents some part of you; some idea you believe in. It entertains the audience, and, if trained properly and with diligence, it wins your victories, making it well worth the investment.

In this thirteen part series, we’ll discuss the various facets of story construction that will help shape your “champion,” and hopefully, make it a steadfast contender worthy of the critical Coliseum.

Part One: Modus Operandi

Modus operandi is a Latin phrase, approximately translated as “method of operation”. The term is used to describe someone’s habits or manner of working, their method of operating or functioning. In English, it is often shortened to M.O.

This first facet applies to character development. You’ll want your story full of characters that live and breathe and feel organic; they should be recognizable by their actions and their diction, and those should be echoed consistently throughout the story to enforce their personas. The way they move, interact with other characters, their usual course of action should bear some sense of predictability—not in the “Oh, this is boring” sense, but in the “That is totally a (character’s name) thing to do/say.” Lest, some exterior force interrupts that character’s routine, they should maintain a certain identity.

It’s easy to define a character based on the way they look, unless you’re in anime and the only distinguishing characteristics between characters are sometimes as miniscule as hair and eye color, but M.O. really refers to their essence. It is your character’s face, their façade. It could even refer to your style of directing, writing, or music composition. Either way, it needs to be recognizable.

Now, whether it be a handsome face or a grotesque face—we don’t care, but we want to see it, and we want to see it in all lights: negative, positive, under pressure due to conflicts, elated, distraught, and etc.  We want to be able to study it closely, and maybe even glimpse similarities to our own physiognomies staring back at us in the mirror, convicting us, encouraging us, affecting us.

Series Contents
We’ll activate each link below as the blogs are posted. Enjoy!

  1. Modus Operandi
  2. The Threshold
  3. Titanic Syndrome
  4. Heat of the Moment
  5. Call 911
  6. The Alien
  7. My Shoes
  8. Inception
  9. The Quest
  10. Encounter
  11. Luke, I am your father
  12. Umm…honey?!
  13. Anything Goes
How to Start A Story

How To Start A Story

So here we are, just a bunch of storytellers, or maybe some of you are simply looking for a good story to lose yourself in. Whatever your medium, it makes no difference; whether you write stories or scripts, direct, photograph, compose music; or my personal favorite, adapt all the above into one finished product aka making a film, it’s all centered around the same thing—the creative process.

Writing a story once its plot and characters have been established seems almost second nature, but coming up with the initial story—the idea—that’s the hardest part for most people. Inspiration doesn’t always strike you when you want it to, and just like lightning—it never hits you in the same place twice.

You can sit down at your desk, playing the very best of your iTunes library and . . . nothing. You could have all the time in the world, you say, “I’m ready, Inspiration, come to me!” and alas . . . nothing.

Hey, Inspiration, I’m still here, still waiting. C’mon already! you practically scream . . . silence. I think I hear crickets. “This is ridiculous,” you say aloud, voicing your frustration.

Two hours later, and all you’ve managed to do was update your Facebook status once, twice, maybe even three times! Gosh, I’m pathetic, you think to yourself.

No, no, you’re not. Stop thinking like that. The truth is all of us go through this no matter how long you’ve been hashing out ideas.

A Flighty Bird
Inspiration barely ever comes when it’s convenient. I know for me, it comes when I’m trying to sleep or do something else—a random project around the house, maybe; or when I’m at work. It usually comes when I have my hands full and can’t drop what I’m doing. It’s kind of like a lucid dream, the most vivid ones you have early in the morning, right before you wake up. If you don’t immediately try to remember it, tell it to someone, or write it down within a few minutes, it exponentially becomes harder and harder to recall with every second that elapses.

And so, having let too many spur the moment great ideas be whisked away with the wind, I’ve gotten in the good habit of always  keeping a pen and paper handy. This way, when the time comes, I’m ready for it, and I can hopefully revisit it for further development at my leisure.

So let’s skip ahead a bit. You have the idea now. It came to you when you were in the shower, or maybe while you were on the toilet (c’mon, let’s be honest). It’s a good idea, but it’s brief—nothing but a rude snapshot. In your head, it’s revolutionary—the best, most original idea that has ever been conceived . . . But honestly, is it really? Probably not. It’s true. We all think our ideas are the great exception; that because we’re artistes, simply spitting it out to the world will result in glory because we were true to our own self-expression.  Wrong!

In reality, if you were to share that crude image that you see in your mind’s eye with the public, 99% of the time it would most likely be just about as expressive as vomiting in public, which is definitely “expressive.”

Real artists take time; they dedicate lots of it too. They hone their craft, refine it; and most importantly, they are always seeking critique to better their future work or their work in production. Invest enough time and energy, and eventually something of worth and strength and meaning emerges. At least, that’s the concept behind the creative process.

Back to plotting . . . A tiny, high-pitched voice is heard:

“Gee, Brain, what do you wanna do tonight?”
“Same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world!”

So this snapshot of yours, it could be anything. You envision a spaceship floating by the crystalline rings of a gas giant, or maybe something more down-to-earth: A kid with baggy jeans, walking down the street to the rhythm of whatever hip song is playing on his MP3 player, when in reality, he’s actually listening to Beethoven’s ninth. You would never guess that from his appearance. It makes no difference. They’re all snapshots. All good stories are spawned from dreams, visions, nightmares; or more often than not, snapshots like these.

Catch The Bird
Good, you have it! Now, write it down so you don’t forget it. Have a pen and paper ready at all times, next to your bed, out in your living room, or simply keep the Notepad app open on your computer—it’s brainstorm irrigation. Jot down the initial idea, ponder it for a while, then, let it breathe. Return to it later.

What’s next? Well, they say every picture is worth a thousand words . . . or maybe just more pictures—et voila! The birth of movies. The point is, it’s always worth extrapolating on and coming up with some purpose to lend it meaning—whatever your idea is, it can always be better.

Be ready to capture the idea when it comes, and once you’ve accomplished that, don’t stop there, be prepared to evaluate it, testing it for weak points and considering possible solutions for strengthening it. As you prepare to do this, always remember the original idea you came up with. It should be the thesis for everything that follows.

Be ready. It’s gonna be a long haul, but try to enjoy it! It’s your passion, remember?

What'd you say?!

Creating Believable Dialogue

Unless your film is silent and relies solely on the power of cinematography to speak to its audience, there will probably be words involved. All good stories are backed up with a great script. There is only so much actors can do to carry a poorly written script i.e., Terra Nova.

Unfortunately, the acting in some shows is also lacking, in which case there is nothing you can do, except push the stop button on your remote. It sucks, too, because the plot and setting may be gold, but without a good script to boot, well . . . the show gets the proverbial boot (or it just gets syndicated for seemingly endless seasons and you begin to lose faith in humanity).

So how does one create good dialogue? The key is to write as people speak in real life. Don’t write how you think they speak, actually transcribe it into script form. One simple trick you can try is to close your eyes and listen to people talking in a room; maybe at work, or at school. If your characters sound like the people you encounter from day-to-day, then you’ve at least achieved a realistic tone. Being mindful of that is being mindful of your diction, or better known as your choice of words, and is extremely important.

Be careful not to sound too robotic by using too many words in your sentences to express straightforward thoughts. Even something as simple as, “Okay, Mom, be there in just a sec,” sounds so much better than “All right, Mother, I will be there in just a second.” It’s a small difference, but honestly, how would you say it?

On the same note, if you avoid contractions as in formal essays—words like can’t, won’t, aren’t, and shouldn’t—you risk sounding archaic.  “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” seems only appropriate in Middle-earth or in stories set during Medieval times.  In a more modern setting, don’t be afraid to shorten your words so they flow as quickly and realistically as possible.

Love your lingo . . .
but make sure you don’t go too crazy. People use text abbreviations in everyday speech these days, but only girls in the seventh grade use it exclusively. I would shy away from using “OMG” in a script, but it’s definitely more permissible than one of your characters saying, “ttyl,” instead of a simple “see you later.”

Remember where your characters come from. Tyrone might be the leader of a notorious gang of ten year-olds in the backstreets of the Bronx, in search of new blood to join his ranks, but he’ll talk vastly different from Walt, who grew up on a chicken farm in Cochran, Georgia. Setting and background afford you a little slack as a writer to be creative with the respective vernaculars.

The important thing to keep in mind is this one truth: Simple patterns of speech will get audiences attached to your story, whereas flowery language only draws attention to the person who is speaking. More often than not, you’ll be focusing on their lips moving rather than the actual plot-advancing or character-enhancing lines.

A final note: Remember that in film, the rule of “Show, don’t tell” is still just as pertinent as it is in writing. The way a character holds his silence, glances away from a pretty girl to avoid detection, smiles shyly, blushes, clenches his fists, smooths the wrinkles in her dress—all of these actions can say infinitely more about a character and what they’re thinking than what they actually say.

Happy writing!