Writing

Some people don’t understand Snyder’s Save the Cat!

I love Blake Snyder’s storytelling book, Save the Cat!  I would say that it is a must-read for all storytellers, but I’m not sure every storyteller would necessarily understand it.  The patterns Snyder identifies are much more subtle than one may think when considering only the examples he provides.  A good reader would attempt to analyze films and stories on his own and look at how stories that are vastly different actually follow similar inherent structures.  That is, Snyder is not identifying arbitrary trends found in modern stories, he’s uncovering much deeper foundations that dwell naturally in the ways we humans process, relate to, and understand stories.  If you read his book as simply a how-to guide for writing a formulaic blockbuster, which you can, you’re completely missing the point.

This article says:

In Save the Cat!, [Snyder] stresses that his beat sheet is a structure, not a formula, one based in time-tested screen-story principles. It’s a way of making a product that’s likely to work—not a fill-in-the-blanks method of screenwriting.

Maybe that’s what Snyder intended. But that’s not how it turned out. In practice, Snyder’s beat sheet has taken over Hollywood screenwriting. Movies big and small stick closely to his beats and page counts. Intentionally or not, it’s become a formula—a formula that threatens the world of original screenwriting as we know it.

And whose fault is that?  It’s the fault of lazy screenwriters, uncaring directors, and cowardly producers.  It’s not Snyder’s fault that a lazy screenwriter takes his beat sheet as a formula and ignores the countless possibilities he has to express each beat in an infinite variety ways.  It’s not Snyder’s fault that directors accept the word of these lazy screenwriters.  It’s not Snyder’s fault that producers fund these projects, relying on a “formula” to generate a hit.

I don’t think this article is necessarily trying to blame Snyder; my point is simply that blaming Snyder is nonsense.

I found the above mentioned article on author Nathan Bransford’s blog, where he writes:

Save the Cat! doesn’t just offer suggestions on structure, it literally says what needs to happen on specific pages, from the opening image that sets up the protagonist’s problems to the false victory at 90 minutes to the closing image, which mirrors the opening image.

It sounds like Bransford is commenting on a book he either hasn’t read or hasn’t understood.  Snyder does not “literally say what needs to happen on specific pages.”  He gives guideline page numbers for a 110-page screenplay based on where a beat should hit within a film’s overall structure, the page numbers naturally correlating to the time at which a beat would appear in a film.  If any beat is out of place in this structure, the story will risk feeling slow or rushed or both.  Good screenwriters and directors should naturally be aware of how their creative decisions affect story pacing, so I fail to see how giving page numbers is some horrible sin that dares to stifle creativity.

Furthermore, the “opening image” beat has less to do with setting up the “protagonist’s problems” and more to do with setting up the story’s tone and mood.  Read the book, pages 72 to 73.  Most storytellers naturally understand that the opening of a story will set up audience expectations, so delivering an “opening image” that promises a different sort of story than the one planning to be told will naturally risk alienating readers.

That the opening image and closing image should reflect each other should also be understood naturally, as the end of story will relate to its beginning in some way, either providing a great contrast or a more literal reflection.  “And the story starts again…”

Lastly, Snyder’s beats have nothing at all to do with guaranteeing success.  It is very easy to follow the beats and still create garbage.  But just as the sound of a toilet flushing will never suddenly be considered a beautiful symphony, no purposeful shunning and avoidance of Snyder’s beats will result in a surprise success.  Snyder’s beats are not arbitrary; they are ingrained in human psychology.  That a “formula” becomes recognizable in some big-budget modern films is entirely the fault of the artists working in the industry.  It’s still an art after all.

———-

ETA: I think Steven Spielberg’s fears about the film industry imploding has less to do with big budget films becoming formulaic and more to do with the marketplace for big budget films becoming overly saturated.  But I don’t know how the money flow goes in such a big budget industry.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Philosophy

It’s so hard to be us

A famous man says, “There are very few African-American men in this country [the USA] who have not had the experience of being followed when they are shopping at a department store. That includes me. There are probably very few African-American men who have not had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me – at least before I was a senator. There are very few African-Americans who have not had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had the chance to get off. That happens often.”

What’s his point? What is he trying to say?

There are different experiences between all sorts of people. Men and women, rich men and poor men, black men and white men, old men and young men, men of this religion and that religion, men of this ancestry and that ancestry, men of this country and that country, men with medical conditions and men without, men who had this sort of childhood and that sort, etc.

But of what value is it to define yourself by those differences? Of what value is it to set yourself apart from others? Of what value is it to say only certain people can relate to your experiences or your suffering? Do you think they entitle you to something special?

We cannot end racism, sexism, classism, ageism, whatever, by looking for the differences we experience and clinging to them as if they define us and set us apart from others. This will only divide us and perpetuate the problems. (This is the problem with things like affirmative action and feminism and dedicating months to celebrating the history of some special group. They perpetuate the divisions they claim to want to close by putting differences on a pedestal as if they’re something to be celebrated for their own sake.)

This isn’t to say that differences don’t exist, that we don’t experience difference sorts of hardships. Of course we do. But these differences are completely meaningless. (For that matter, it is self-righteous snobbery, and self-torture, to believe it’s any easier to be someone else.)

We all love, we all laugh, we all cry, blah blah blah, cue heartfelt piano music. When you truly care about your neighbor, you don’t look for your differences.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Philosophy

The Nature of God

Here are some of my thoughts on the nature of God. Nothing new here in the Christian sense, certainly. The subject was on my mind due to a project I’m working on, but I thought I’d record my thoughts here. That said, I don’t claim these thoughts necessarily represent the “Christian view” of God in some sort of scholarly totality or summation, but they certainly don’t oppose it. These thoughts are short and quite basic. (And rather sloppily written. If one is interested in the subject, I’m sure plenty of philosophers have done a better job of writing about the subject than me, and certainly in more depth.)

Firstly, the nature of God is supreme goodness. As in, they are equal, they are the same thing. One does not exist independently of the other. God does not “decide” what is “good” as if God exists first, and then creates or decides what is good, or as if He defines what is good by doing arbitrary things that are then considered good just because He did them. Rather, they are the same thing. To believe that there is an absolute goodness against which anything else may be judged is to believe in God. Notice that you cannot judge goodness to be good or bad in and of itself. It is good by definition. You can’t say, “Ah, good is actually bad!” In this way, you cannot logically say that God is bad or does wrong things. Otherwise you are judging Him to a higher standard, and that higher standard would then be God, not the entity you’re blaming for doing wrong things.

God is also absolute truth. Again, the same thing. Not “God defines truth” or “creates truth” or something. They’re inherent in each other. To accept one is to accept the other.

God is also love. Once again, the same thing. Not “God loves” or “God decides what love is”. God and love are the same thing. When one experiences love (though its incomplete in this life), one experiences the actual God (or at least part of God, because our experience is currently imperfect).

In this way, we see these things — supreme goodness, absolute truth, and love — are all inherent in each other, and that is what we call God.

From this, one can see that the nature of God transcends human consciousness (and is “invisible” and “mysterious” in His totality in this way). That is, God is not a human-like consciousness with just a bunch of power, as a god like Zeus might be understood. He is not inherently separate from the physical world or a human consciousness in the manner that our minds are separate from each other’s minds and our physical bodies are separate from other objects in our environment. (I think this is usually the sort of God atheists reject, which I do too. The misunderstanding comes from thinking of God and absolute truth as separate sorts of things that can be compared to one another.)

Finally, and this is the most profound part and difficult to express, God and humans are part of each other. Not metaphorically, like in a story when some character says “I’ll be in your heart!” Literally. A human soul is made of God. God made you out of Himself, and you remain in Himself (whether or not you experience it). You and God are more intimately connected than you can understand in this world; seeing God allows you to know yourself completely. This is why God “knows you” better than you know yourself and why you can keep no secrets from Him. He is not “spying” on you from outside your consciousness with magical powers; you are part of His nature. This is also why He can hear all your prayers. This is not to say that you are God. Obviously you’re not. God is the totality of which you are a part; you are a part of God and God is present in your being. To do good deeds is to act in accordance with your nature, which is in accordance with God.

Furthermore, to “see” this connection, to see God through the self, or the self through God, is to experience the most comfort and joy and purity you can ever know. Of course, we are clouded from this connection in this current life, save for an intellectual or spiritual understanding, but it can be experienced before death. (I don’t know how. Wish I did! Certainly an honest prayer is probably where to begin.)

OK, I’m tired, so I’m not sure I’ve expressed my thoughts as well as I might have otherwise, but there it is. God bless!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Fake news

Boycott The Hobbit films!

The second Hobbit film will be coming out soon, but you can count me out! Why? Well, it’s come to my attention that Mr. Tolkien, author of the book on which the film is based, is an evil bigot! Why? Well, just read what he wrote about sex!

This is a fallen world. The dislocation of sex-instinct is one of the chief symptoms of the Fall. The world has been ‘going to the bad’ all down the ages. The various social forms shift, and each new mode has its special dangers: but the ‘hard spirit of concupiscence’ has walked down every street, and sat leering in every house, since Adam fell. We will leave aside the ‘immoral’ results. These you desire not to be dragged into.

Clearly any person who still holds this ancient and unpopular view is a hateful bigot who just doesn’t want certain people to be happy by doing whatever they sexually please. So intolerant! These people must be punished with boycotting. We all know that it has recently been discovered that the only way to happiness for the human race is if we all embrace and celebrate sexual indulgence in all its beautiful forms. If you see The Hobbit film, you’re giving money to the estate of Tolkien, which might go to some people who believe what he believed! How awful is that?!

What you can do instead:

* Start a pledge and sign it and keep your hard earned dollars away from Tolkien’s estate and people who believe in certain sexual morals.

* Tell all your friends what Tolkien really believed. The ultimate plan is that people who believe in these sexual morals will run out of money and starve or will switch their opinion to celebrate our sexual choices.

* On whatever day the movie comes out, instead of going to the theater, attend a Skip Hobbit event with your wise and tolerant friends. We’ll be hosting events all over the place, because nothing says “tolerance!” like pre-organized events dedicated to keeping money away from one specific person who is famous and thinks we’re doing something that’s not good for us, like acting on our sexual desires, whatever they may be.

* Donate money or volunteer your time to organizations that support the celebration of sexual indulgence!

* If you have any control in the media, report this boycott! Pretend you’re being unbiased, of course, and are just reporting the news.

By doing this, we’ll send an ominous message to all those who do not bow to our sexual indulgences that they will be publically singled out, shamed, and financially punished for being honest about their evil beliefs.

We’re going to nobly and heroically change the world by singling out one oppressive bigot at a time! If sexual indulgence itself was enough to make us happy, we wouldn’t need everyone’s approval. But of course everyone’s approval is actually a big factor to our happiness, so we really need to fight for it! Equality!

———-

In the interest of letting all sides of this controversial issue express their views, here’s a letter from a reader:

Dear New Blather,

I agree that Tolkien is an evil bigot, but I sure don’t think a boycott is the way to go! Think of all the other people who worked on the movie! I mean, art and artists are two separate things. But, I must be clear, I agree with you about all the sexual indulgence stuff. I mean, Tolkien is just so bigoted in that area. I can’t argue with that. I want everyone to like me, so I really want to be clear about that. But, yeah, a boycott is going a little too far. I really want to see the movie, after all. So I think my opinion is a bit more mainstream than yours. But, again, I do agree that Tolkien sure is evil what with his religious views and all. I mean, we should be able to have some sexual indulgence without other people saying it’s wrong. To say it’s wrong is just evil. And to have what we think is wrong reflected in law is evil because separation of church and state and stuff and imposing religion is wrong. But a boycott? No.

———-

Finally, the movie studio has released a statement:

We here at the Hobbit movie studio just want to make it clear that Tolkien is dead and we really don’t care about his beliefs. We just want your money, so whatever your beliefs are, we think they’re OK. If you feel like you’re part of some sort of community, we just want you to know that we support you. We only made the movie based on Tolkien’s work because his book was popular, not because we agree with any of his old stupid sexual beliefs. Sex for everyone, that’s what we say!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Music

That book on melody…

I started writing a book on melody back in 2008, I think it was. Maybe even a bit before then. But then I got sidetracked programming melody generators, namely my Android app and my online version. I learned quite a lot from these endeavors, so I’m glad I spent time with them before continuing my book; it made for fantastic research. I still plan on creating a desktop version of the melody generator, but there’s a lot of interface programming to learn. I really hate interface programming!

In the meantime, I’m returning to writing that book on melody. I’m starting it from scratch, though I have plenty of notes to work from that I made while programming the melody generators, so I have almost all the content I need. It’s just a matter of sorting it out and presenting it in an easy-to-follow way.

For now, I aim on having it done by the Fourth of July, and then releasing it as soon as I can after that. It will most likely be a self-published ebook, though I’m not yet sure how I’ll sell it. I’ll worry about that later.

And now I better turn off my computer… big storm above…

By S P Hannifin, ago
Philosophy

For playtime

“The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play,” said Arthur C. Clarke.

Seems a reasonable guess, considering the promises of technological innovations.

But I’d say the technology is already here, today. We have it. We have the technology to allow us to play the days away, living life enjoying each other’s company rather than laboring and stressing over work done for money. There are still some things we must do, such as maintain our electric and water maintenance facilities, our farming and food distribution, our public safety and emergency services. What else? These services don’t need to cost anything but time, in the same way our household chores cost nothing but time. We just train an entire community to do these things, and then someone will only have to volunteer a couple hours every week or month at most.

A lot of the work most people do nowadays is, in the big scheme of things, unnecessary. We sell things and provide services to each other that we really don’t need. We want to protect ownership and private property so we won’t bother each other. Get off my property! We just like giving someone else the privelege of our working hours in exchange for the money so that we can turn around and make the same trade with someone else for whatever services or goods we want. Want, because other people have them. Want, but don’t need. (Plus, having grown up in such an environment, we feel safe with it, for the most part. There’s some strange fear that the world might collapse if we change things too drastically. Nevermind how drastically things have already changed in just the last century. Who wants to go live in 1913?)

Ultimately, most of our economics are based on vanity, and that may be the hardest thing to give up. We like to protect the possibility of getting that new gadget, bragging about our next achievement, buying a big house. Can we share? No, it’s mine! Socialist!

But, if we did give it up, we’d all be far wealthier than we could imagine, because life would be one big playtime. Isn’t that the sort of life people desire to gain through wealth? And all this time, the cost isn’t actually monetary.

By S P Hannifin, ago
Movies

The Sins of Jurassic Park?

Found on YouTube:

Firstly, Jurassic Park has many more continuity errors than are featured in this video. The film has a ton. It’s discontinuity heaven.

However, I don’t think some of this video’s critiques are valid, namely the ones about Hammond having to be present for all the Mr. DNA intros, about the cars visiting the T-Rex paddock second, or the cars reversing their directions on the track. Any astute viewer should recognize that the tour these visitors are taking is not representative of the tour intended for actual future guests. The point of these people visiting the island is to “sign off” on the island, endorsing it for the sake of potential investors. The park is still unfinished. As Dr. Arnold notes, “Vehicle headlights are on and they’re not responding. Those shouldn’t be running off the car batteries. Item 151 on today’s glitch list. We have all the problems of a major theme park and a major zoo, and the computers aren’t even on their feet yet.” And as Muldoon later notes, “We need locking mechanisms on the vehicle doors!” They still have things to work on, things to finish. Even the visitor’s center is full of builders and painters working on the place. Think they’ll have that on the tour?

Also, as silly as the “Unix system” looks, it was a real system:

Of course, one must keep in mind that Jurassic Park’s computer systems and programs that ran the park were very flawed, as their development was apparently headed by Dennis Nedry, who, as far as we can tell, cared more about money than the integrity of his work. In fact, his computer programs were designed to let him sabotage Hammond, not keep everyone safe. Of course, though Nedry is sleazy, part of this is Hammond’s fault; his greedy ambition to be the first one to create something like his park blinded him to its many faults, not least of all its dependence on an apparently giant (two-million-lines-of-code is a lot) highly-non-modular highly-automated computer infrastructure to control its systems, an obvious recipe for disaster even if the lead programmer had the best of intentions and was simply naive. Which, of course, Nedry was not. After all, even Nedry knew better than to mess with the raptor fences!

By S P Hannifin, ago
Stupid things

Got my twitter back

Looks like a got my twitter back! Didn’t get an email or anything from twitter support, but suspended notices aren’t popping up anymore and everything looks back to normal. It looks like my account had been compromised somehow. I’ll be searching around for how that could have happened. But the link to my website had been changed to something spammy, which I’m betting is why my account was suspended. Glad I got it back, but it looks like I lost all my followers and everyone I was following, so that will take some time to rebuild. Hope it won’t happen again.

By S P Hannifin, ago