Binge Watching HBO’s The Newsroom – A Lesson In Character Development

Nov 11, 2014 by

THE NEWSROOM

Several of my friends posted on my Facebook wall Saturday p.m. about how distraught I must have been about Auburn losing to Texas A&M.  I really was not.

Truth is, I didn’t even watch the game, and for that matter, haven’t sat beginning to end for an entire collegiate game all season.

I’ve had other things going on.

Namely, I’ve continued to use every available moment to work on my first novel project, what I’m calling, The Privacy Patriots.

So what was I doing most of Friday evening, nearly all day Saturday and three hours on Sunday?

My homework, prescribed by Author Suzanne Frank from Southern Methodist University.

I was binge watching, the HBO series, The Newsroom. Yes, from about 1:30 p.m. Friday until 10 a.m. Sunday, I watched all 19 episodes of Season 1 and 2, and then at 8 p.m Sunday night, watched the first episode of Season 3.

WHY THE NEWSROOM?

I’d never heard of the show before Thursday night’s class at SMU with Suzanne.PS newsroom

As class was beginning, she handed back 36 pages of 12 scenes involving my lead character, Kip Rippin. The exercise was designed to learn about what 12 major events had shaped him before the book begins. We were supposed to develop things that made him weak, strong, wounded, needing to change; the guy he is when we meet him on Oct. 13, 2016 in the newsroom of the fictional media blend of TV, radio and print called The Washington Broadcaster.

On the cover page of my submission was a note from Suzanne: “PS: you need to watch ‘The Newsroom’ especially this final season.”

Suzanne cautioned me about binge watching. “Every show is so intense.”

And is it ever. From the beginning scenes you’re sucked into an emotional roller coaster with multiple character archetypes and storylines.

Twenty hours of viewing later, I’m a much different person than I was Friday morning. I’m a much different budding author and writer, too, as I’ve seen some excellent examples of what I need to be planning and revising in my own characters. Not to make them like Will, Mac, Maggie, Jim, Don, Sloan (BTW, how in the hell does Aaron Rogers from the Packers wind up with a girl like that?) Charlie, and Neal, but to give them places to grow and develop in the pages I have yet to compose and then revise a dozen times before they hopefully appear printed before your eyes.

HBO

HBO has a great show on its hands. Regrettably, there are only five more episodes to go before the series is over and the character arcs are completed. The important thing about this new season is that Neal, one of the techies in the show, is now entangled in a mess with an Edward Snowden type of character, much like my Kip Rippin is in The Privacy Patriots. Naturally, my storyline isn’t going to be like the Newsroom and the premises between the show and my work are completely different, aside from involving whistleblowers. The richer experience for me, no matter how the Whistleblower storyline goes, is an example on making characters come to life, play off each other, and live rich lives in the conflict that’s created in their tiny world of a cable newsroom in New York City.

I can’t wait to see how the next five episodes go. But more importantly, I can’t wait to see where my own characters go because of the experience of watching excellent storytelling on TV.

 

 

 

 

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The Writer’s Journey

Aug 31, 2014 by

The Writer’s Journey

For much of my life I have been in love with writing. If you jump over to TraverseAdventures.com, you’ll see a reference to the window at 208 Fortress Street on what was KI Sawyer AFB, in Gwinn, Michigan. From that window of opportunity,  I would sit at my kidney bean desk and a children’s typewriter and construct stories.

Admittedly, I long have had a problem in my writing. I like people and dislike controversy so much, I found it hard to create characters who I began to care for and then needed to throw every sort of imaginable adversity in their way to make a compelling tale. As I told the class I was in at SMU over the summer, “I hated to skewer my characters.” Essentially, however, that’s what makes a good story; one worth reading, one that has something to say.

My life has changed drastically over the past four years. I have had a lot of bad things happen to me emotionally, physically and any other kind of -ly you can come up with to where I’ve been able to punch through what I didn’t have in me before. I’ve experienced how bad things happen to people that shouldn’t, how nutty and dishonest people can wreck one’s life. I’ve witnessed how mean and disingenuous people really can be. Disillusioned now, I have seen how the truth has so little to do with what goes on in court rooms, and how jealous, greedy and evil some people really can be. I’ve seen what demise the use of meth can bring about to a person and their family. Ultimately, I’ve learned to put new value in the simpler things in life.

Christopher Vogler‘s The Writer’s Journey

The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

There are two upcoming classes at SMU I look forward to beginning the next two weeks. One is called Story, a five-week class that features the book The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. The second is a class called, “Stakes,” which is a two-session class designed to help writers “raise the stakes” their characters will endure in a work.

I’ve begun reading Vogler’s work, which also led me to Barnes and Noble yesterday to purchase Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Vogler wraps a lot of what he has to stay around the works of Campbell, which are largely based on premises of Freud and Jung–and as much as modern psychology has undone the concepts they put forward years and years ago, I have to wonder about some of what Campbell says–but I’m enjoying the aspects of what Vogler has put forward. But Campbell also dissects the essential elements of what stories have been about for thousands of years of recorded human history, largely through myths. Volger and Campbell’s contention is that stories, even today, are still deeply rooted in the tales of yesteryear and will be until the end of time.

At this writing, I’ve only ingested the first part of the book but it has been exceedingly insightful into the essential elements of the characters a successful work theoretically should contain.

Of course, a story needs a hero. But then there are certain other foke that a hero must get help from, or be opposed by, to make a good story work.  I highly recommend this book already. Yes, I’m still a fan of Bob McKee’s STORY, but Vogler is able to say things in some ways that are simpler to comprehend than McKee.

The Privacy Patriots Progress Update

For the Stakes class, yesterday, each of us in class were to have sent in two chapters of our work, and a 12-point plan for our “hero’s journey.” That’s a dynamic spelled out in the Vogler book where the progress of a story is broken down into 12 logical steps from setting the stage of the hero’s ordinary world, getting called to go on an adventure, refusing to go, meeting with a mentor, crossing the first threshold or point of no return, going through tests, meeting allies and fending off enemies, to approaching the lair of the biggest enemy, the ordeal, getting the reward or seizing the sword, the road back, the resurrection or climax, and then the return with the elixir.

Essentially, any good tale is going to have all of those elements, not necessarily in that order, but they will be contained in the work to make it compelling to read or watch.

In some ways, it almost ruins the reading or watching of books or movies, because instead of concentrating on the content of the story, I’m now more mindful of which element is in play and where. The trick of all writers though is to make the tale so compelling, that while one might be aware of those elements, the reader is still captivated.

So I’ve begun the process of writing the book. The two chapters I sent in were a prologue–which many books argue is out of fashion today, but if you go to the book store and pick up a book, it’s still likely to have one–and then blocks of what’s theoretically going to happen in establishing the “ordinary world” of my primary characters.

This past summer, along with massive client projects, I’ve managed to build some in-depth character profiles for each person in my book. And now, almost as if I were a character in a story about writing a book, I’ve been given my call to adventure (START WRITING IT WILL YA?!)  and in part, answered it metaphorically with, “I’m not ready.”

My two instructors over the next six weeks are going to be the “meetings with the mentors” to get me further down the road with this tale I so desire to tell. It’s time to skewer some characters and make them hurt before helping them emerge on the other side, stronger, better and more human because of it. Much like the last four years has done to me.

 

 

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The Road Taken Along The SMU Writer’s Path

Jul 13, 2014 by

The Road Taken Along The SMU Writer’s Path 

The exciting thing about life is we really don’t know where we’re going to wind up next. Honestly, we can plan, we can arrange, we can have goals, and we can strive to get somewhere, but there are no guarantees and life and the Lord have this wonderful way of showing us we needed to veer off the course a little here and there to actually get to where we were going.

That’s where I am with the SMU Writer’s Path. Classes began last Monday evening under the tutelage  of Carmen Goldthwaite who in a matter of minutes nudged me to thinking about concepts I’ve been weighing the past few months about the construction of my first novel, but in a more fundamental way.

As noted previously, my walk prior to last Monday included the works of Robert McKee and his tome STORY. Then there are dozens of other works that have peppered the thoughts of my mind from a handful of authors whose names I do not recall. Clearly, I’ve been significantly moved and influenced by the works of Jeff Gerke in his two books–The First 50 Pages and Plot Versus Character–because I have done so much study now with Myers-Briggs temperaments and how they affect my characters and more importantly, ME.

But with Ms. Goldthwaite, we set sail in a different boat last Monday evening in the class Creative Writing Foundation. Now for someone who has been writing actively for nearly 40-plus years, one might think taking a class that starts again at the foundations to be, well, insulting. But I honestly have never gone there in my mind. Being a life-long learner, I’ve come to know and understand I don’t know everything and the past few years, I’ve come to find my mind as something of a sponge when it comes to the knowledge spilled about me. I soak it up, contemplate it, and if it’s “logical” (I’m an INTJ according to Myers-Briggs and David Keirsey), I adopt it wholeheartedly.

Books suggested and required for the SMU Writer's Path Foundations class.

Books suggested and required for the SMU Writer’s Path Foundations class.

New Books To Read

Ms. Goldthwaite’s reading materials for her class include Gary Provost’s Make Your Words Work.  The assignment for the first week has been to read chapters 2, 3 and 6, which included style, grammar and description, respectively. Many good suggestions and tips have come from reading this book the past few days. This book isn’t like McKee’s STORY, where you’re into the fundamentals of the structure of a story. This is about the building blocks that make up the foundation of telling a story–largely picking the right and fewest words possible to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. The book is full of good stuff, including sections at the end of each chapter called “Coffee Break.”

The Elements Of Style

Ms. Goldthwaite also recommended William Strunk, Jr and EB White’s Fourth Edition of The Elements Of Style.  (Amazon has been good to me this week.)  Now having spent so much time in the AP Style book over the years, it’s hard to look at some of the things in The Elements Of Style and to me, worse, The Chicago Manual of Style 16, because to me, in particular about capitalization of headlines, I go with Up Style, meaning every word in a headline/title gets a capitalized first letter.  (Chicago says to capitalize the first and last word, and all other “major words” but not to cap conjunctions, and prepositions when they are used adverbially or adjectively, and don’t cap articles like a, an and the.) Provost’s book talks in the Coffee Break about description of being aware of “what a word or an arrangement of words will bring to the reader besides meaning.” I wish the fokes in Chicago would do that again.

Back To Class

Three hours with Ms. Goldthwaite disappeared quicker than the sands of time in the hourglass before Dorothy in the Wizard Of Oz. My fellow students were equally engaged in the conversation, eager to learn and it was refreshing to be in a room of so many like-minded foke.  The assignment for tomorrow night is to bring a 500 to 1,000-word character description that introduces a reader into a place or time but has no dialogue and doesn’t contain a scene. We are to show the character’s movement, thru clothing, hair, when they are, and let our readers see how emotions cross their lives and their values.

On Sunday mid-day, that’s still something of a challenge. So much of the past two months has been spent around formulating the world of my novel’s characters, figuring out who they are inside, even having bought some clay to begin molding one of them into a physical shape to better see who they really might be. Now comes the time to do the inevitable–ascribe them to paper and laser ink.

And so I must conclude this writing to begin another. And there’s client work that must be done today as well.

Ready to do some serious thinking and writing of your own? SMU soon will be opening up this class for August. It’s highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

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The Myers Briggs Temperament For Character Development

Jun 29, 2014 by

The Myers Briggs Temperament For Character Development

Sometime in 2013, I began reading and rereading Robert McKee‘s tome, STORY, to better understand what I was doing in helping authors get published, but now, I’m all into writing my own work.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon two books that have gone beyond, well beyond, what I learned from McKee and they’re both books by author Jeff Gerke. The first book was entitled The First 50 Pages. The second was Plot Versus Character.

Reading these two books was like getting hit by lightning.  Flashes of ideas exploded in my head. Why?

The Myers Briggs Temperament

I’d heard of Myers Briggs before, but I’d never taken one of the tests. As I noted last week, I’ve taken several of them now and hadn’t been able to land on anything consistent. Then with several talks with Dr. Harold Duncan of Preston Place Counseling in Dallas, and a review of my MB score sheet, it became apparent that I was having alternating scores because on all but the I (introvert or extravert) I’m pretty much mid-line for each of the three remaining categories. (I’m an INTJ).

But what Gerke says in Plot V. Character is that an author should start with deciding what the MB temperament of his/her characters are going to be and then adding layers onto them. What Love Language do they use? What tragic events happened in their lives that affected who they became as an adult? Those all are important to Gerke in his character development.

So for about three weeks now, I’ve been engrossed in my “spare” time learning about Myers Briggs, figuring out who I am in it, but also, figuring out what my protagonists needed to be. And if one was an ENTP and the other and INTJ, then my bad guy antagonist needs to be an ISFJ. Two other prominent characters that help get the story going are an INFJ and an INTP.  And then there are opposing characters for them to play off of. IMG_7360

It is taking a lot of time to figure all this out, but that’s okay. When I began to tell people I was doing this in late March or early April, mentor and friend, Ron Rose cautioned me, “This is a LONG process,” he said.

In 2010, I drove from Dallas to Houston to pick up fellow dad blogger Ron Mattocks and we drove to Atlanta for a conference.  Along the way we talked about the importance of the first book. He said then that the first book defines you.

I continue to keep that in mind. I want this to be a solid and positive experience as I go thru it. It has become mentally exhausting at times, but the more of this I do, the more I can see how my characters are shaping into “real” people. They’re going to do “real-ish” type things in the work. When they react to situations the way they do, they will be doing it true to the temperament of an ENTP, and INTJ, and ISFJ and more.

Gerke pointed me to the book by David Keirsey called Please Understand Me II.  I’ve gone forward and backward in this book and continue to do so by the hour as I work.

Yesterday I printed out a notebook I’ve constructed through this process and included the Myers-Briggs Temperament characteristics for each of the characters in it. I started with a 1-inch binder. Today I increased it to a 1.5-inch binder, there’s that much information.

Myers Briggs classifications for my main characters, plus helpful info on who gets along with whom, and not so much.

Myers Briggs classifications for my main characters, plus helpful info on who gets along with whom, and not so much.

Last night I used the binder to make a spreadsheet that includes each character, their MB type, and who they’re likely to get along with and who their not. This has made starting the next step, doing a 15-page character interview, easier to begin because I can flip thru the pages of my notebook, find a particular point about a character and then jump back into the questionnaire.

I’ll let you know in a few days how that’s going, but this has been a big organizational step for me and I wanted to share.

 

 

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My Myers Briggs is an ISFP, IXFJ, ESFJ and an INTJ

Jun 23, 2014 by

My Myers Briggs is an ISFP, IXFJ, ESFJ and an INTJ DC Personality 1

In my quest to write my first novel, not as a plot-first venture, but with a balanced character-first/plot-first approach, I came to read Jeff Gerke’s book Plot Versus Character. In the opening sections of his book, he says he stumbled upon David Keirsey’s book, Please Understand Me ii, and it has made all the difference to him in the creation of his novel characters. Gerke says he works from the four common temperaments of human beings, and then adds layers to each to make for real-life characters in his works.  So for the past few days, in my spare time between work projects, I’ve been reading Keirsey and taking Myers Briggs personality tests.

So far, I’ve taken four tests–one done with about 10 questions on my iPhone–I was an ISFP–The Artisan-Composer on that one. The second was done using the 70-question assessment in Keirsey’s book–that one came out with my being an IXFJ-A Guardian-Protector or an Idealist-Counselor, and I say X because I had a 10/10 score for S/N. The third test was via 16personalitytypes.com–I turned being an ESFJ-The Guardian/Provider there. And then I took an extensive 248-question assessment at MyPersonality.info–where I came out as an INTJ-The Strategist/Mastermind.

So basically, after four tests, I honestly don’t know what I am, but I’m going to use some of my logical talents suggested in the INTJ to deduce first and foremost, that I am not so much an E (Expressive) as in the ESFJ.  What is equally disturbing was that not until the MyPersonality.info test did I have an N (Introspective) anywhere, as in INJT.  Up until that time, F (Friendly)  and S (Observant) had been common, and J (Scheduling), too.

What I’ve been able to accomplish in all four tests is wind up in each of the temperament camps, which I would say makes sense to a degree, but we’re trying to firmly categorize people here, not leave wiggle room. (See, the INTJ is coming thru?)

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO ME? 

You may think, who cares?

In many ways, I do. And not just because I’m writing a book. At 48 years of age, I’ve been doing a lot of introspection over the past few months. My counselor says that by writing this book I appear to be “unstuck” finally from the mess I’ve endured the past four years. This is cathartic.

But it is also important to me as I begin the process of constructing an intelligent story/novel, that I’m not writing just a plot-first peace where the plot drives the whole story with just explosions and very little substance to get through. My story demands some strong and intelligent characters to make it more compelling reading.

I’ve made my counselor laugh when I have told him recently that I understand now why God had to rest on the seventh day of creation.

Creating your own universe, characters and the like is DRAINING. It’s exhaustive. And it’s a very involved process. I can sit and seek to develop the characters, plot points, scenes, themes and more for where this story is going to go, but I can only do it for hours at a time before I’m virtually brain dead. But it has been exciting as I can now move my hands and almost shape these entities that are becoming characters in my mind almost as though there was imaginary clay in my hands and I was shaping them into figurines. (More INTJ there with a dose of ISFP….)

Myers Briggs

I’m fascinated by this subject and the study of the topic and will post more in the days and weeks to come as I continue through the process of penning my first book. It’s been almost four months now that I’ve been working on this (almost daily) and I have yet to seriously begin writing the first of anything in the book. I’d begun to play around with the opening sentence and opening paragraph. Then as I read another of Gerke’s books and discovered his book on Plot Versus Character, I came to fully realize, I’m just not to that point yet. There’s still so very much more I need to learn about myself before I can begin to develop the people who are going to bring my story to life.

Myers Briggs is going to provide my characters with their core personalities. But there’s a ton more that has to come with each of them beyond that. I recommend the Gerke books on writing and Please Understand Me ii, whether you’re writing a novel or not. You’re going to be amazed with how much you can learn about yourself.

My INTJ report from MyPersonality.info is available for you to read here.  It’s pretty interesting stuff…. Screen Shot 2014-06-22 at 8.06.28 PM

 

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Glenn Greenwald Is Violating What He Said In His Own Words

May 24, 2014 by

Glenn Greenwald recently published his book, No Place To Hide, on how he was contacted by Edward J. Snowden and went to Hong Kong to have 10 days of face-to-face meetings with him about the NSA files he allegedly amassed while working in the US intelligence community. The book offers many insights, some which I feel like I’ve read a dozen times on the Internet already over the past 12 months, but there is new information contained therein. Greenwald goes to great lengths to lay out in the book why he participated, and the personal observations about motive in Snowden and himself. Problem is, less than three weeks after the book went on sale, he’s violating the premises he established in 240-plus pages, which is making me wonder what else he’s willing to compromise.

NBC to air exclusive with Edward Snowden May 28, 2014 even though Greenwald says in his book, they have fought off this very behavior.

NBC to air exclusive with Edward Snowden May 28, 2014 even though Greenwald says in his book, they have fought off this very behavior.

I’m confused.  In the book Greenwald dedicates an entire chapter attacking many in the Fourth Estate and their efforts to demonize himself and Snowden.  He then counters arguments about how leaking the top secret materials wasn’t being done to inflate the egos of either Snowden or Greenwald among the two paragraphs that follow:

“…Snowden was determined to disappear from sight, as he said, to do no interviews. He understood that the media love to personalize every story, and he wanted to keep the focus on NSA surveillance, not on him. True to his word, Snowden refused all media invitations. Brian Williams dispatched several different representatives to make his case. Snowden could have spent all day and night on the most influential television shows, with the world watching him, had he wanted to do that.

 “But he was unmovable. I conveyed the requests and he declined them, to avoid taking attention away from the revelations. Strange behavior for a fame-seeking narcissist.” (Pages 222-223)

So here’s the thing. Brian Williams, three weeks after the release of the Greenwald book, is advertising that this past week he flew to Moscow and met several hours with Edward Snowden and has interviewed Greenwald.

In an effort to not be critical or demonize Greenwald, as he so carefully sets up in the book that he doesn’t want anyone to do, that he, Snowden et al have worked hard NOT to be the story, then how come so closely after the release of the book, are they doing the very things in the book that they said they have stood steadfastly against doing?

To me this amazingly weakens many of the contentions that Greenwald seeks so hard to establish in No Place To Hide. He’s the defender of the concept that Snowden is not seeking press attention, and now NBC is harping about their exclusive with both men for a May 28th exclusive to run 10 Eastern/9 p.m. Central.

Yes, this is a marketing ploy to sell more books, but it runs contrary to the very points established in the book. Mr. Greenwald, if you want to have credibility about why you participated in the leaks, shouldn’t you remain true to ALL of the arguments you’ve laid out in the book and not just the ones now that are going to help you sell more?

Me thinks denial of personal ambition and ego should be made of sterner stuff….

 

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