Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Ouija

I once took a class at Bellevue Community College (now known as Bellevue College). In fact, I took a number of classes: over time I accumulated enough credits to be well on my to a certificate in Multi-Media Authoring; had I not needed to keep getting real jobs with real companies, or having travel schedules in support of my consulting business – the pretend business that tanked when Y2K came and went, not with a bang, but a whimper – I probably would have kept taking classes and finally would have gotten that certificate; I might even have accumulated enough credits for a degree in multi-media authoring. But one had to move fast in that then-emerging discipline. Whatever it was that multi-media authoring was was changing so fast that every time I returned to the curriculum after a work or travel induced absence the name of the discipline had changed, as had its supporting curriculum. It finally got to the point that understanding what I needed to graduate, or if graduation without starting over were even possible, was beyond me, and to some extent beyond my advisor.

But I didn’t mention the class to posthumously weep over milk now long spilled. I mentioned it because that class opened a window I didn’t know existed. And that window, once opened has had periodic significance to me ever since.

The class was Script Writing for Digital Media. I learned a lot from it. One of the most interesting things – because I had no idea that there was anything to know, and therefore didn’t know that I had no clue about it (a dominant and recurring theme in my life) was the structure of a movie. That structure is actually the same as the structure of a much older medium, the three act play. Basically the structure is the hook – to get you interested; the twist – to pose a problem; and the rest of the story – the solution to the problem. I never knew that. It made watching movies a lot more interesting.

We did a lot of projects that were snippets of the activities that go into producing a finished video work of some kind. We did story boards, we created budgets, we shot shots in support of concepts. We probably did a lot more but those are the only things that I can remember. Except for one other thing, which has imbedded in it the whole point my telling of this story.

As a final project, turned in the last day of class (night of class really) in lieu of a final examination, we wrote a short chunk of an original script – whatever we wanted to write a script about. It needed to be in script format – I bought and learned Scriptware to that end – and it needed to be robust enough to start from something and lead to something. In other words, it needed to be big enough and coherent enough to tell at least a little bit of a story.

That didn’t sound too hard. In fact it sounded pretty interesting.

I couldn’t believe how hard it was.

Installing Scriptware, mercifully, took some time, so I could pretend that I was doing productive work on my final project for Script Writing for Digital media. So also did learning the application take time. But after a time, all that had been done and it had become time to put some kind of words into the computer. But there just weren’t any words. I had no idea of a story to tell, and with no story to tell I had no words to feed to Scriptware.

I made an appointment to talk to Michael, our instructor about the problem. He was a really good guy and a good instructor and he took seriously my problem. He said “just think about something of significance or importance that has happened in your life and then make it into a story – a story, of course in script format”

That at least narrowed the field of possibilities. On the other hand, it forced me to realize what a really bleak life I had led. There wasn’t anything of significance or importance that jumped to mind..

Until one thing did leap to mind.

That thing was a really serious encounter that I had had with myself and with another person one time in my life on a bridge over a deep canyon in the middle of nowhere on toward sundown of what had just turned out to be one of the best mid winter days that I had ever experienced. The other person was a woman, so I would need to be able to write some kind of male stuff and some kind of female stuff. I had always wondered how writers did dialogue at all, let alone dialogue that came from mouths other than their own. “I guess I am going to find out” I thought I heard someone say.

So I set out to write.

Mercifully there were start up point of view statements and ambience description statements and time of day statements, but ultimately I had to start having words come out of the mouths of my two characters.

My words were pretty easy. “Great” I thought to myself. The “great was not directed at the quality of those words but at the fact that those words existed, glowing on my screen before me, at all. However, as always must, I would guess, happen, no matter how much a fledgling dialogue writer might want to postpone it, a reply becomes necessary from the other person.

I had reached and passed that point. Taking a deep breath I started keying the reply. I had started, I think, with the barest of concepts of what she was going to say, that concept being based upon some sort of memory of what words had actually been said in my actual past when the event had actually occurred. Beyond that barest of concepts there was nothing, so I had expected a word or two, a pause a word or three, a pause and so on until something took form.

So it was with amazement that I beheld what actually occurred.

She started saying things that I had no idea from whence they came. She was funny, ironic, whimsical but most of all desirable; she was electric; she had a life that I could believe existed independent of the script.

The fact that the person upon whom I was modeling the female script character was all of those things was neither here nor there: the script character that I had conceived and that my fingers - I thought - had been keying into life was, in my mind a sort of cardboard cutout of the real person. That was also true of the male script character. And so he remained as he spoke his lines. But the female just came forward, crashed around, and became a living, breathing being.

That was an amazing experience.

It is I am happy to say an experience that I have had repeated many times while writing Screen Saver, which although it is narrative non-fiction, nonetheless, in my estimation, needed some of the mystery of fiction, albeit encapsulated in an exterior husk of absolute factual truth.

That experience is that of some-Ouija-from -somewhere taking command of the keyboard and just taking off with whatever it is that he has on his mind. After these encounters I behold my most satisfying writing.

I have told this tale because when I set up this blog I took the high risk approach of missioning it with being a goad to me in getting six thousand words of a novel that I had started either out of the ditch or abandoned, and if so-abandoned, with a new novel started in its place.

I am now into twenty three days and I haven’t done those things. And I realize that the only way to start them is to just sit and invoke the Ouija. But that is terrifying. What if he doesn’t come?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting tale, Noel. I cannot imagine writing a novel. I don't have the patience (or, probably, the imagination). Scriptware: I presume that makes it easier on a practical level. That sounds like a great experience seeing the people come alive in dialogue. Unrelated to writing, I took a drawing course via PCC community offerings for a couple of years and was surprised at how differently I saw the world as I was focused on shape and form. In terms of writing, being part of a poetry group led by a successful poet (and essayist and novelist) was a great experience. Good luck with the Ouija.