Jasmine's pond of dreams

Jasmine's pond of dreams

Sunday, January 27, 2013

10th step The fight to the finish, Storyteller's log

Our character is now prepared to go after their goal. During the course of the journey, their goal has transformed and now they're fighting for something bigger and more important. It is now time for our character to confront their enemy whether it's internal obstacles, external opponents or both. The story has been building to this moment. The audience has been expecting this showdown. They want to know which side will win. Hope or fear?

Time now runs at an accelerated pace and action ramps up. It can be emotional, physical or preferably both. The clock is running out of time. 

Ever wonder why we have a ticking clock? If we feel we have all the time in the world, what to we do? We procrastinate. Am I right? If you feel you're running out of time then what do you do?  You start living now. This applies to storytelling. It makes the story come alive. This is one of the many things that stories teach us.

The seconds are counting down...



00:07 You get the idea...

While this final battle is happening, we're going back and forth between hope and fear. Keep your audience guessing.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

9th step Passion, storyteller's log 1-24-2013

The 9th step of mapping your story is a doozie, as they used to say in the cartoons. I had a very interesting surprise in my writing this blog- as if I was actually living out this story! I thought about what I discovered a lot, and whether to write about it. I cannot write about it right now. It would ruin the effect I've been trying to create, which has been to demonstrate how we feel at different parts of a story. Once the overall pattern is exposed, I will share it will you.


On to the 9th step, our character has hit rock bottom, and like the proverbial Phoenix they have risen from the ashes.

Here's what my Mac's dictionary has to say about the Phoenix:

          •(in classical mythology) a unique bird that lived for five or six centuries in the Arabian desert, after this time burning itself on a funeral pyre and rising from the ashes with renewed youth to live through another cycle.          • a person or thing regarded as uniquely remarkable in some respect.

This is interesting. Even the dictionary suggests our character can be described as remarkable like a Phoenix.

From here, there's no where to go but up. But, as in all good storytelling, it's also all uphill from here.

Let's check into where we are. The character has turned towards hope as they've been reborn. What is is it that guides us where to go from here?


Earlier when our character started up towards hope, they ignored the lesson and took the wrong path. This time they have learned the lesson so now they're doing the right thing. What they've learned has transformed them. They see a bigger all inclusive picture that involves others. They're less selfish.

As I mentioned earlier, writing stories is literally weaving stories together. Each piece is connected to the tapestry of the whole. Doing the right thing is connected to the wrong path. They're opposites. This is key as we'll see when we look at how to use our map to weave our stories. The lesson is also a key component.

The lesson was first woven into the goal when it was shown to be a false goal. That's because the lesson was ignored. 

The next path of the lesson was woven from the" lesson ignored" to the "lesson learned" in the symbolic death. It all fits together logically and more importantly emotionally.

There is something else brewing in our story. According to Aristotle, this is the peak, on his mapping, where the audience should have maximum involvement in the story. But now we know how we got there.

With the character so well prepared, how do we keep the audience hoping against fear? The hero has learned, BUT so has the opposition. And they're sore losers. They'll throw everything they've got at our hero. So our roller coaster has more peaks and valleys. 

The opposition will be so desperate that they'll even throw the kitchen sink...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The 8th step Rebirth, Storyteller's Log 1-20-2013

It's still winter but in Southern California, where I am right now, the weather feels like spring is here. So it's time to continue to our next step...

Here's the overview of where our character has gone swinging between hope and fear over time. And we've been in the roller coaster seat right along with them. This is the very big picture with the smaller bumps smoothed out. Along the way there's been lots of smaller glimpses of hope and reasons for fear. We'll explore those after we finish the big picture.

Many of these items may "sound" familiar. And they should, it's all of the items that I've learned from the plot point theories that have helped me understand the writing process. Only now, for the first time, I can "see" how they all fit together to guide me. In the next graph, you can see where the act breaks fall, indicated by vertical lines.

Being able to see it has also allowed new insights to emerge that couldn't be "seen" before. In fact, as I did this graph this morning, I noticed something new. I wanted to visually point out where the turning point are where hope turns to fear, or vice versa, and I realized they reminded me of a stop light.

First, we have the warning of the lesson. It's a yellow light.  What does it mean when you see a yellow light?


What does it mean when you see a yellow light?
a. Stop
b. Slow down
c. Speed up
d. Turn around
e. All of the above

The answer from the drivers manual is, of course, (b) slow down. But what do drivers do when they see a yellow light? They speed up to make it through the light. Isn't that like ignoring the lesson. The psychology behind this structure is amazing.

When the character thinks they've achieved their goal, they have to stop. They reach the red light. It's in the silence that they realize their goal was empty and they face the consequences.

Then they symbolically die. Doesn't it seem like red lights last forever? Maybe red lights were invented to give us moments to look at our lives. Think about it next time your'e waiting for a red light.

Our next step in the big picture of mapping our story structure is for death to somehow be turned around. After all, our character is not really dead, only symbolically. I, being visually oriented, would add in the imaginary too. Film is a visual medium. Even novels are describing the world visually. The character has died symbolically and imaginarily. We need to show it to the audience so they can feel it. I covered this in my first book, Directing the Story.

So what turns the situation around for the character? Is there anything in our story to give us a clue? We're weaving a story together here and the item, I'm thinking about, has already returned once. It's the lesson. The lesson returned around the red light showing the consequences of ignoring the lesson. Now, the character has grown from painful experience and is now ready to hear the lesson. They have realized their way of doing things has not worked. It's been a painful death of the old ways. The lesson returns. It has traveled the path of the lights, from yellow to red to green. Easy way to remember it just like a real stop light- yellow, red, green.

Now they learn the lesson and they are reborn. What does this mean? In the great cycle of birth and death comes rebirth. Spring is here.

The rebirth is a change in perspective like seeing something you couldn't see before. That's exactly why the character ignored the lesson. They couldn't see it or weren't ready to hear it. We're talking about a paradigm shift. It reminds me of a story...

There was once a bunch of ants walking along on a giant flat field gathering food. Over time the food seemed to be diminishing. But they keep walking ahead. One day the food was all gone. At that point a butterfly arrived. They asked the butterfly if had seen any food. He told them that he had been watching them and was puzzled why they keep walking around the Mobieus strip they were on. He saw that they had looped around eating the food until there was none left. Told them this and explained that a Mobieus strip is a loop of paper with a single twist in it that makes the paper have only one side. What did the ants do? Well, they thought the butterfly was absolutely crazy. He wasn't making any sense. So they ate him.

What's the point of this story? Well, the ants could only see things from their perspective. Their "reality" was the images they saw and the symbols they used to represent their experience. They only knew they were walking on a flat surface. The butterfly's experience of "reality" was different because he could fly around in multiple dimensions. He had a different paradigm.

There's one more point to this story. This one is about the real. The ants ate the butterfly. Did they eat him because he was food or because he was blowing their minds? People don't like to have their worlds shattered. Thats what happens when a paradigm shifts. Trees that don't bend in the wind break.

Two blog posts back, I presented a quiz. If the character's life unravels, what does that do to the story weaving. And secondly, if the character dies, is that the end of this blog. 

At first I was puzzled by this apparent contradiction. Then I remembered Gregory Bateson, in his Steps to an Ecology of Mind, faced the same problem. The solution came when he realized that these are two different levels of abstraction, or logical types as he called them. When we separate them the problem goes away. 

(Level 1 ( Level 2 ( Level 3)))

The story should be woven tightly. The character should unravel. Which is it? They're not on the same level. The first is the structure of the story. The second is an event in the story. Level 1 Story (Level 2 character unraveling)   

But the second question adds even another level.

The blog is about characters going through the events of a story. The character dying is a story event within the blog. 
{ Level 1Blog [Level 2 Story structure (Level 3 character dying)]}

The larger structure contains the smaller fiction. Before I figured this out, I confused them to being on the same level. The deadlock that presented itself was a kind of "dead"lock. The new information allowed a greater perspective on the problem that I hadn't seen before. Just like in our story structure, my old idea died and was replaced by an idea with a more complex structure.

Gregory Bateson showed how these logical type confusions could result in double binds. This is communication structure in which any choice you make is wrong. "You're damned if you do and damned if you don't," as they say. 

However, Bateson also discovered that something else could happen. They were studying dolphin learning and found they could teach the dolphins to learn that if they did a trick they could get a fish. They wanted to know if the dolphins could (learn (how to learn)). So they decided to only give the dolphins a fish ONLY if they did a NEW trick. The dolphins came out and did their tricks but no fish. The dolphins got annoyed. However, after a short while they did a new trick and got a fish. It was amazing the dolphins did 15 new tricks that no one had ever seen before!

Communication paradoxes can result in pathology or creativity. 

That is the power of structure. Aren't you glad you can see it now? Stay tuned, it's a whole new world, there are more, never seen before, tricks coming...

How long does the character stay dead? Storyteller's Log 1-20-2013

We've shown the audience what happens when the character fails. This was the negative stake we setup early in our story. We've also shown the audience what can happen if the character does it wrong and yet reaches what they think is their goal. They only appeared to reach the positive stake. What's next? What do we still need to show the audience? What have we promised them in return for them following the interwoven threads of our story?

The character has died, symbolically, whatever that means. How did you feel reading the previous blog post? Remember those feelings. I'm sure you've felt like this at some time in your life. What happened to turn it around? Remember those feelings and use them when you write this part of your movie. It will help make it more real and give it depth.

Think about what it means to turn this death around. In the next blog we'll see how structurally that happens. Think about what we've woven together already. I could just spell it out, but you'll learn more if you think about it and come up with your own answers. The other thing is that if I just spell it out, is that good storytelling?

It's always darkest before...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The unlucky 7th step of story mapping, Storyteller's Log 1-17-2013

Today, we're approaching the 7th step of our mapping of the character's ups and downs to see our story structure. 

Friendly warning: It's not too late to turn back and stop reading this blog now. 

It is too late for our character. For them, all hope is gone. They've reach the point of no turning back.

In the last blog post, I came across a conundrum. If the things start unraveling in our story, how does that fit with the fact that we're learning about how to weave a story. Which is it? Are we weaving and is unraveling part of that process? 

Yesterday, I was actually puzzled by this and didn't have an answer. That made me tense. I'm supposed to know this stuff. That's why writing this blog has been really helpful to me to evolve this approach to story structure. There is a method to my madness. Usually there always is a method to madness, but it's not always apparent. Extra credit if you can solve this question.

For an excellent book about method underlying "madness" read George Atwood's, The Abyss of MadnessThe Abyss of Madness

Our character has alienated his friends, his enemies have gotten the upper hands and they're sinking fast. Have you ever heard the expression, "Everything is going dark?" That's what's happening to our character, they're dying. 

This is known in a lot of screenwriting books as a symbolic death. However, again they don't tell you too much about it. What exactly is a symbolic death? What is it a symbol of?

It can actually take two forms and many films will have both. Often the sidekick can  die, or the main character can feel like their life is over and has no longer has any meaning. They can even feel suicidal like Bill Murry in Groundhog Day.

As a storyteller, I want to know how to make this moment as powerful as possible. I want to know how it feels and how we represent it to make it REAL for our audience.

So, I'm going to leave you with a second pop quiz. If the character dies, is that the end of this blog?
Sadly then, they'll be no extra credit...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

6th step Empty Success Storyteller's log 1-16-2013

So our character has seen that the goal they've quested so hard after was not what they expected. It was a fool's mission, a get-rich-quick scheme. So they start crashing down, accelerating at the speed of gravity. Things start unraveling.

Things start unraveling? We're learning about story weaving. Is unraveling part of the process?

The Animator's Eye clip available on YouTube
Score by Hans Karl 

What happens on this descent? How do these parts weave in with the rest of the pattern of our story structure? So far we've seen that each piece is logically connected and progressively leads to the next. They're connected in sequences of causality. Cause > effect. In storytelling terms, this is setup and payoff. We set up a cause and later pay if off with the effect of that cause. We may also need to plant extra information so we don't surprise the audience with something out of the blue.

We've set up that the character has ignored the lesson of the story and traveled up the wrong path. In life, whenever we act there are consequences to our actions. We may hurt others feelings or make them mad. Our character probably has done both and now has to face the music. The character might try a last ditch attempt to stop his or her fall but they'll probably use their old defenses and make matters worse, way worse.

The character hasn't learned the lesson, their enemies are stronger and their friends are abandoning them.

Since we're mapping the ups and downs of the character, the audience will follow the character. They will follow the character with one caveat,  they are not the character. They know more than the character. The audience is more like a good friend of the character who knew they were doing things wrong but were helpless to stop them. 

This is our dramatic irony in action. We want to help them because we care about them. Haven't you even seen a horror movie and spoke out loud, "Don't go in the basement?" And what do they do? They go in the basement. But if they didn't go in the basement, would we care about the story?

So, where is all this leading...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The 5th step The goal changes Storyteller's Log 1-15-2013

If you know anything about physics or animation timing of a bouncing ball, or if you've ever thrown a ball up into the air you know what happens to it. It comes back down. Our character thinks they've achieved their goal. Let them think that. Let them bask in the glory for a while.


Ok, that's enough. But then the story needs to start moving again. A story is like a shark it needs to keep moving or it dies. That sounds familiar, didn't Woody Allen say that in Annie Hall? Oh, he said it about relationships. But it applies equally to stories.

So something has to happen to allow the character to see that what they thought was the goal is actually empty and not fulfilling. It might be an event or another character who shows them where they really are. Remember, they took the wrong path to get there so, of course, they've arrived in the wrong place. Their goal was like a "hot air" balloon and now the air is cooling and they're sinking fast. Hence, the metaphor, "You're full of hot air."

How could they have achieved their goal if they didn't learn the lesson? I told you the lesson would return. This is one of the weaving threads of the story.

So a ball going up will lose energy and come to a stop along the Y axis. Succumbing to gravity it will begin to fall.

A ball going up is a simple case. Characters are more complex. Yes, gravity affects them too, but they'll try and do something about it. Remember those cartoons where the character runs off a cliff. Not until they realize it do they begin to fall. What do they do? They try to fight it by scrambling.

Our character now realizes that what they thought was the goal was actually walking off a cliff. So what do they do? They scramble to try and stop their fall.

Going back to our physics metaphor, when an object falls, it's falls at the speed of gravity.

As we continue to map our character's ups and downs we see they're in trouble now...

Monday, January 14, 2013

Francis Glebas One sheet resume

When I was searching for ideas to make a cool memorable resume, I looked at some online timeline resumes. This lead to the idea of making a movie poster (or one sheet as it's called) for myself. I gathered posters from most of the movies I worked on and composited it together in Comic Life. I used SteelTongs font for the movies poster style text. You can find SteelTongs font for free online.


Disney's Hercules Descent to Hades Storyboards

These are storyboards from Disney's Hercules, the descent to Hades sequence. These were completed using watercolor on watercolor paper and charcoal on story pads around 6x9 inches. I loved working with charcoal because you could get such moody effects. The downside was that the mood got all over me and my clothes. It was also hard to correct mistakes or add fine details when using charcoal. It might be cool to start in charcoal, scan it and then work digitally over it.

Below you'll see some full size panels and a complete 4x8 presentation board.


Here are some of the full size samples. As usual for the process, I created several versions of this sequence fine tuning and refining the story. Unfortunately, as beautiful as it was, most of it was passage work and needed to be condensed. Travelogues do not work well in narrative films.

Directors, John Musker and Ron Clements chose James Woods to play Hercules. Before that they auditioned Jack Nicholson for the part. He came in looked at the storyboards and pulled out a lighter to act out the part. It was eerie.

Before the age of digital art, we used to present our storyboards on 4x8 foot cork boards. The story panels were pinned to the boards. I have no idea how many fingers were pierced making all of those animated film. This was yet another version of the sequence.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Treasure Planet storyboards and visual development

Here's some visual development art from Disney's Treasure Planet. I used acrylic on illustration board. It was fun to explore a science fiction world. We called it visual development. When did it become concept art? So am I a "concept artist?" Darn, I just printed new business cards...

Storyboard panels from the Cosmic Storm when the star goes supernova. I completed over 200 acrylic paintings about 6x9 inches for this sequence. 

Hercules Kidnap Storyboards

Here are some storyboards from Disney's Hercules. In this sequence, Pain and Panic sneak in to kidnap the baby Hercules. Their stealth mission leads to a lot of pain and panic as they sneak in disguised as a Trojan rocking horse baby gift, . This was a fun idea to take something that might be a normal baby gift  and transpose it into the story world of Greek mythology. An innocent rocking horse became a sinister gift concealing dangers. It was also fun to explore the characters letting the rocking horse cause pain when it... (Well, you'll see.) 

I use Comic Life software to assemble the storyboards and add the speech balloons and titles.