May 2008 archives

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May 25, 2008

essential makings of a story

by sven at 3:30 pm

I'm trying to integrate both what I've learned from Barnaby King's clown classes and from the book "Techniques of the Selling Writer," by Dwight Swain. I want to understand how to make stories.

I've come across a number of assertions from fiction coaches that I disagree with. Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" and John Truby's "22 steps" both feel like lists of possible plot points to me; that's not the essence of story. Another author I'm reading puts characterization on a pedestal; that also feels off-center.

My conviction (shared by King, Swain, and Disney animator Ollie Johnston) is that emotion is the core of story. For now, I'm going to defer going into that concept in any detail. BUT, going with it as my premise, I've just this morning formulated my own recipe for story-making...

(I don't doubt that I'll recant it soon enough -- but even just beginning to develop my own theory of Story is exciting, so I want to get this down.)


Proposal: To create a story, you just need four things. There are volumes to be written about how to juggle them with other important factors... But I think if you start with these basic ingredients, your recipe will at least produce something edible.

1. Two emotions
Come up with two emotions. One goes at the beginning of the story, the other at the end. In the middle, you crescendo the first emotion until it breaks, and you switch over to the second.

"Happy" and "sad" are too blunt. You have to come up with emotions that are more nuanced. The old truism, "write about what you know," shouldn't preclude writing about dragons and spaceships -- but in the case of emotions, I think you really do need to find something in your own life, which you've actually experienced. The work of capturing the two emotions is ideally a physical process, where you're up and moving around, reliving a particular moment in your life, and re-experiencing/imagining anew sensations in your body.

2. An eccentric
Stories are wish-fulfillment in a sense. At times, all of us wish that one of our personality traits could be taken to an extreme. Let a character come to you that can really indulge in the emotions you've picked; who for one reason or another is extreme in some dimension of their being.

The point of your performance is to connect with the audience: to take an emotion and wear it on your outside, which they can then experience vicariously. Let your character (your mask) come to you intuitively. And if you grow dissatisfied, discard them. You are painting with a palette of emotions -- lots of different characters could embody what it is that you want to present to the audience.

3. A spectacle
There has to be at least one thing that happens during the story that is an amazing sight. A planet-killer that destroys Alderaan. Kong breaking through the gates. A marching band parading through a hospital. One moment that is visually compelling, and will stick in the audience's inner eye.

4. A disaster
Elongated stories have lots of disasters; structurally, they're a basic building block of fiction. For a short, maybe you only have one -- but you have to have at least one. What's the worst thing that you can do to your character? What's their darkest moment? For a movie or a novel, come up with a whole list of ways to torture your characters -- then put them in ascending order of severity. Crash Luke's X-wing on Dagoba. Make it further sink into the swamp. Cut off his hand...


And that's it: four essentials. If you can come up with those four things, then most of the rest of the work of creating a story is just coming up with segues. If you know where you're starting, where you're ending, and a few points you want to hit along the way, then you probably have enough to puzzle out what should go in the gaps.

The test of whether or not this proposal works will be to see whether or not it actually starts me thinking up new story ideas. It's sort of a mad-lib approach to creating fiction...

Once upon a time [emotion A] was felt by [eccentric individual]. In his/her world [disaster] is going to happen... And as the story progresses, there's going to be this event, [spectacle], which is going to amaze you. Following the crescendo of [feeling A], pushed on by [disaster] and [spectacle], the emotion breaks and [eccentric individual], transformed, feels [emotion B].

posted by sven | permalink | categories: writing

May 24, 2008

new collage on woodstock

by gl. at 5:32 pm

by the way, a new collage & diy lounge opened on woodstock this week! it's at 4429 se woodstock in the safeway shopping center. i'm so excited to have an art store & workshop space to bike to!

last week i helped collage their counter (all the scarlet stars are my influence ;). there were several of us there, including ms. bridget. if you want to come see for yourself, their grand opening is next saturday, may 31. see you there!

posted by gl. | permalink | categories: classes & workshops, exhibits & events, miscellany

May 21, 2008

j&m's wedding card

by sven at 8:00 am

Third wedding this year: our friends Jacqueline and Mari are getting married in July. (Yay Oregon!)

Their gift is still a secret, but here's the hand-painted card I made.

"take care of each other"

And here's the inside... Simple, but heartfelt.

Interesting story: I actually figured out what I wanted to write inside the card during one of my clown classes.

There's an exercise called "Experience," where you imagine that someone from your life is going to be leaving on a boat the next day, never to return. You do a guided meditation about spending the night talking with them, driving them to the boatyard in the morning... And then at the last moment, you go with impulse and run up to end of the dock to shout one last thing.

And this is what came to me:

Take care of her!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: painting

May 20, 2008

k&t's wedding gift

by sven at 6:21 pm

A fun little painting project...

Our friends Kristen and Todd just got married. Seemed like their gift should have some snazzy decoration -- so I pulled out the butcher paper, acrylics, and white artist's tape, and threw together this stained-glass/Mondrian-sort-of thing.

What's inside the box? This print of "Almond Branches in Bloom" by Van Gogh, which was the image on their wedding invitation cards.

In hurrying to the wedding, we actually forgot to bring our gift along! So, we took it by later that day, and consequently got the satisfaction of seeing it opened.

Both box and gift made a big impression. Yay! :D

posted by sven | permalink | categories: painting

May 16, 2008

artist's way open studio (may)

by gl. at 2:17 pm

last night's open studio was quiet -- and quite hot! perhaps it's just as well that the studio won't be hosting any summer events, unless we include a spa/sauna package along with them. ;) it was a very small group; the other rsvps must have been enjoying the sunshine (or hiding from it!).

[moments not minutes: click the image to see all our collages]

this became a collage of the return of my imaginative and freer self during my creative hiatus, i think. i spent much more time gathering images than usual, most of which i didn't use. the text says, "no more minutes. let's count moments-- moments that wedge themselves between days and weeks and rainfalls." i imagine my life being allowed to be more organic: being outside, spending time w/ friends, being inspired by colors and shapes and light. hidden behind the monopoly money is a handwritten note found in the collage pile: "i didn't know i was ready to receive."

[creative advocate, sven's homage to the last collage night]

also, this is one of sven's collages, which he says he created in homage to me (eep!). he's photocopied & tinted some of my collages and created a transparency of me to lay on top. he says he especially likes the placement of the third eye on my forehead and how the hand in "heal" looks like it's being held to my lips.

that wraps it up for the studio events i'll be offering until after the sabbatical, though i will be teaching "creative business basics" at the iprc may29:

"Starting a business is easy! Keeping it running is harder. Whether you're struggling with your identity, finances or business planning, this workshop will help you identify the next step you need to take to make yourself legal, stable and profitable in Oregon. In addition, learn about the other people and organizations who are on your side, including inspiration and support from other DIY business owners."

and then onward through a savoury summer!

posted by gl. | permalink | categories: artist's way

May 9, 2008

artist's way guided intent (may)

by gl. at 6:19 pm

i think i just found my new favorite activity! thursday's guided intent event was based on the theme of "autonomy," and we created full-sized self-portraits in response, all of which were bursting with life, creativity & vitality.

[painting in the studio: click the image to see more of the process]

it's similar in setup to the blind painting activity we do. we started off with some bodywork (breathing, stretching and a guided meditation), then moved into pose practices: we did pairs of possible positions like restful/active, open/closed, spiritual/earthly. then we laid people down onto styrofoam insulation covered with a large sheet of butcher paper. to keep things moving i split them into teams of three: one person getting traced, and the other two doing the tracing. then we hung the tracings on the wall and used the insulation as walls on the side of the room that just has windows. once they got started with the brushes & the paints, there was no stopping them!

i was worried this was going to be too ambitious a project for just two hours, but they all managed to create awesome paintings and none of them seemed rushed. still, it would make for a fun 1/2 day or full day activity, i think.

my only regret is that i didn't get to participate in this activity, because it looks so fun! speaking of which, while people were arriving we noticed a guy run by with a conical party hat, throwing flour at the street at regular intervals. about 10 minutes later, a whole crowd of people also in party hats ran past, following the trail of flour spots!

this was our last guided intent of the season: like last year, I'll be taking the summer off to enjoy the sunshine and I encourage you to do the same. :) but we have one more collage night before that happens, and i'll be teaching "Creative Business Basics" at the iprc may 29:

"Starting a business is easy! Keeping it running is harder. Whether you're struggling with your identity, finances or business planning, this workshop will help you identify the next step you need to take to make yourself legal, stable and profitable in Oregon. In addition, learn about the other people and organizations who are on your side, including inspiration and support from other DIY business owners."

posted by gl. | permalink | categories: artist's way

May 8, 2008

lsgl - babbling

by sven at 11:59 pm

I'm trying to finalize the model for the Elder Things' coliseum... Which I've nick-named "Babel."

Here's a selection of the models I've developed so far:

Too human.

Nice arch - but repetitive.

Too busy.

Nice and tall - but dull.

Bendy... But why?

Needs more curves.

Activating radiosity in that last pic makes a big difference... It fills in some of the overly-stark shadows -- and adds an interesting texture.

Slow going... Had to write a post just to show myself I'm making some kind of progress!

posted by sven | permalink | categories: let sleeping gods lie

May 5, 2008

moving pictures

by gl. at 4:54 pm

in addition to last month being a big poetry month, it was also a big theatre/movie month for us.

we saw sweeney todd on stage and on the small screen, flawed genius, and a weekly movie (or sometimes two). i also saw darkmatter.

but nothing compared to seeing cirque de soleil! i've never seen it before and i was enraptured the whole time. it was like burning man without the dust! though the subject was potentially macabre (a clown imagining his own funeral procession & death), it was transformed into something magical and beautiful. i've often said my favorite genre is "cute & horrible," ala edward gorey. but generally i'm delighted by making ordinary things magical, so dancing on chandeleirs and tumbling on beds is right up my alley, and i liked those scenes better than the more traditional circus acts after intermission. the only thing i regret is not taking toby with us. ;) afterwards while waiting for the traffic to die down we took a pedicab for a short trip down the waterfront, which was also lovely. i even got a chance to wear a dress w/ mismatched stripey socks!

[if you can't wear this to the circus, where can you wear it?]

also, i'm taking an acting "class," for lack of a better word. it's ongoing, so it's not a workshop, and it's not a place where we learn techniques, so it's hard to describe. but it's taken up a significant amount of brain & emotional space the last couple of months.

posted by gl. | permalink | categories: exhibits & events

May 3, 2008

artist's way open studio (april)

by gl. at 10:45 pm

the studio was packed with other creative spirits for last month's collage night; i had to pull out a little tray table for me so that everyone would have enough room. we had three teen artists and it was delightful to meet them and see old friends. it was a quiet spring evening and we were quite focused, creating 19 collages between the lot of us.

[the poems are gone: click the image to see all our collages]

this features the poem still floating around since the edible book tea: eating poetry. it also includes a piece of the popcorn container from cirque du soleil, which i have yet to write about. i don't know what the light bulb & the pears were about, but i liked the shapes and colors.

like last month, we had an attendee from france! linda has decided to "attend" collage night from afar, using our collage momentum to inspire her own.

just two more events before my summer sabbatical!

posted by gl. | permalink | categories: artist's way