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Jeremy Turkin — screenwriter

what i’ve learned as a writer

by jturkin on April 13, 2011

I just figured something out. Something about writing characters. Something so obvious, it’s going to sound dumb as a revelation.

The first important rule I learned as a screenwriter was the 3 Acts Paradigm. Even if you don’t agree with Syd Field, you have to admit, every story needs a beginning, middle and end. Each of these must have a catalyst, or “plot point,” that shoots us into the next act.
Once I mastered this, I could write a plot.

The next most important rule I learned was a character’s motivation. Each character can’t arbitrarily go on a life-altering trek. There has to be an event that catapults them into a new world, and they need to have a reason to want to return to homeostasis, or whatever it was life held for them previously.

Once I mastered this, I could insert characters into my plot.

Characters can’t exist in a vaccuum. They need to have a scene to explore. The problem with characters in scenes is they just want to stay there. They can meander about, using trivial dialogue until they stumble across something meaningful to say. The writer’s job is to curb this aimlessness. The writer needs to figure out what has to be done, and what has to be said. He needs to leave out the wandering. He needs to take the “American Psycho” Christian Bale and make “the Machinist” out of him. The minimum.
It’s like going to the potty. You go into the bathroom knowing what needs to be done, you take care of it, and you leave. No dilly-dally. It’s like going to church or your ex’s birthday party. Get in as late as possible. Get out as soon as possible.

Once I internalized this, I could give my characters a playground to advance the plot.

Today, I was reading a book on acting, “Audition” by Michael Shurtleff. He has a “guidepost” for taking acting to the next level. Find the love. He’ll ask an actor in a scene, “where’s the love?” This helps create a dynamic to complicate a pedestrian scene into a complex one.

When a mother and daughter quarrel, it’s not because they don’t love eachother. It’s because they do. The daughter loves the mother and wants to know that the mother loves her. She wants to win her mother’s admiration by demonstrating what an independent girl she is. She wants to prove how little she needs her mother, so in return her mother will realize how much she needs the daughter around, and thus will show how much she loves her daughter by trying to win her back.
The mother loves her daughter so much, she wants the girl to feel slightly inadequate and realize how she still needs her mother, and will then show an outward lovingness towards her mother.

A woman tries to leave her husband and fights with him to convince herself she doesn’t love him… but this proves difficult, because she really does love him. The man fights for this woman, because he loves her, but also because he loves himself. “How dare she think she found someone better than me.”

I took this one step further. Why does the daughter need the mother’s love so bad? Because the mother was cold and less than open about her love for her daughter when the girl was a child. Why was the mother so cold? Because the girl took the attention from her father away from the mother. Because he showed his love for the young girl more openly than he did for the postpartum woman with visible baby weight. Even after the mother lost the baby weight, the father had already become less interested in the mother, and his life became about providing for his daughter.

Why is the husband so wounded by the wife trying to leave? Because his mother showed him so much attention as a child, he believed no woman could ever resist him, no woman would ever reject him. Etc.

These aren’t just circumstantial motivations. These are inherent motivations. These are ingrained in our DNA. This is such a core part of who we are. This isn’t the a motivation for a scene, why a character acts this way for the remainder of the script… but why he is this way for his entire life.

I was struggling with a character’s motivation in a rewrite of the script EAT IT (look under the “SCRIPTS” tab for more info). Wouldn’t it suffice to say, “his motivation for eating these weird things is because it’s what he and his friends do?” I was told, this isn’t sufficient motivation for such an integral part of the story.

I just figured it out. The character Chip is a hobby-less kid. He goes to school because he has to. He had no drive to do well in school. He belongs to no extra-curricular programs. But why? Because I wrote him this way? Yes, but also…

Chip grew up fatherless. He never had a father show him about tools, or sports, or music. He has no interest in these things because he had nobody to show him how cool they can be. Nobody to pique his interest in anything. So why does he have eating competitions with his friends? Because it’s the only skill he posses: the ability to eat. He’ll never win accolades for his writing or scholarships for his GPA or trophies for his athletics abilities, but he will win the attention and respect of other students by eating what they won’t.

Once I master this, I’ll be able to create three-dimensional characters and arcs for them to slide down.

Then, I’ll be a writer.


stream of blogsciousness

by jturkin on April 12, 2011

My apologies for taking 3 days off. Here are a list of excuses:

  1. I was busy (although the show I was working wrapped Friday)
  2. I was working on other creative things, like thinking.
  3. What’s the point of blogging? Nobody reads it, I don’t use meta tags, and it’s more for personal use than anything. Also, please pay attention to me.
  4. I don’t have any clean socks (okay, not the most relevant excuse, but it’s true).
  5. If I don’t have time to shower, I sure don’t have time to blog.
  6. If you’re happy and you know it, blog your hands (that just sounds like a call for help).
  7. My dog ate the internet.
  8. My fingernails are too long to blog.
  9. I was busy memorizing show tunes (donde esta, la biblioteca, me llamo “T-bone,” la araña discoteca…)
  10. I was too busy thinking of excuses.
  11. I’m an artists, I’ll blog when I feel inspired.
  12. I’m unemployed, get off my back, Whitey.
  13. I thought of a really clever topic to blog about, but I needed three days to prepare for it.
  14. I blogged in my other pants (that one didn’t work as well as I would’ve liked).
  15. Is that a blog in your pants, or are you just happy to see me (at this point, I’ve abandoned any momentum I had toward my fake excuse list, and have opted to instead blog the first blog that blogged to my blog – I would kill at mad libs right now)
  16. The quick brown blog blogged over the lazy blogger.
  17. Who let the blogs out?
  18. Kermit the blog, here.
  19. It’s raining cats and blogs.
  20. My favorite Bob Dylan album is Blonde on Blog.
  21. The most overplayed song is “Wild Thing” by the Trogs… I screwed that up. I meant, by the Blogs.
  22. …All night long, Let me see that blog, blog blog blog blog blog (whatever happened to Sisqo)
  23. Honey, I shrunk the blogs.
  24. Cellar Blog.
  25. I smoke two blogs in the morning. I smoke two blogs at night. I smoke two blogs in the afternoon, it makes me feel blog-right.
  26. Ode to a Grecian Blog. Truth is beauty. Beauty, blog.
  27. I’ve seen the best blogs of my generation destroyed by madness. By Allen Ginsblog.
  28. How much is that bloggy in the window? The one with the meta tags?

Congratulations if you made it this far. Or should I say, conblogulations (no, I guess I shouldn’t say that).

I’ve now restored my faith in my blogging ability. This is the confidence booster I needed to return to the blogosphere (note to self: never use the term, “blogosphere” ever again. Gross).

Looks like I’ll be seeing you around tomorrow. Until then, I will boldly blog where no man has blogged before (the toilet store).

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YouTube suggestions

April 8, 2011

Here are some of the suggestions from YouTube (of videos I might like). KKK Display stuns Oregon Community I thought this was because I’ve been watching a lot of “Community” clips lately (it is my favorite show on TV). Turns out, it’s not “community” which is the focus, but rather “KKK.” Let me explain. I […]

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Litmus Test for Crazy

April 7, 2011

Here’s one way to tell if somebody you know is crazy: Do they refer to their parents as “mom” and “dad” and not “my mom” and “my dad?” This might make them crazy. So, Mom said Dad shouldn’t have given me his truck, but you know Dad, so laid back. By not inserting the teeny-tiny […]

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wedding woes

April 6, 2011

(the following was written as a stream of consciousness via 750words.com – I apologize for any grammatical errors or lack of clarity) Allow me to express my animosity towards the American-consumerist tradition known as, “the wedding.” Before I jump into it, allow me to explain: I’m engaged. I’m probably going to get married next February. […]

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RUNAWAY (1984) – written/directed by Michael Crichton

April 5, 2011

This evening I came across a film which I was coerced into viewing. Michael Crichton’s 1984 classic, RUNAWAY, starring Tom Selleck and Gene Simmons (yes, the dude from KISS). If you like bad movies, then you’ll love this one. Here are ten things you’re certain to love about RUNAWAY. 10) The imdb.com synopsis: “In the […]

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Money Car

April 4, 2011

There’s a car by my house with a giant “$” written in soap on the windshield. I’m assuming the car is either a) for sale, b) recently purchased, or c) the owner just wants everyone to know, this car is money. Here’s my favorite part: the “$” is on the right hand side of the […]

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750 words

April 3, 2011

April 2nd, So far, two for two. Last month I tried the “750 words” challenge. What’s that? 750words.com is a site dedicated to being a private online journal. It’s like blogging, but secretive. It’s a great way to keep you accountable as a writer. If you want to write everyday, 750words.com is a fun way […]

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It’s April – time to return to the blogosphere

April 1, 2011

What excuse could I possibly give you guys for my absence? It’s been 2 months and 6 days since my last post. The gang wars in Mexico have spread up the coast and I sided with the Juarez Cartel. I gave them my allegiance, they took my internet. I went to Israel on my Birthright […]

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an elegant website critique

January 26, 2011

Admittingly so, I know little of creating websites, but I recently applied for a job from a production company with a sinful homepage. Upon further investigation, I had a lot of issues with it. 1) Please never ever ever make a flash site that not only takes 20 seconds to load, but also proceeds to […]

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