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Posts tagged "narrative"

Apr 14, 2013
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Dissecting a Trailer: The Parts of the Film That Make the Cut

Fantastic NYTimes infographics showing how “how scenes from five of the nine best picture nominees were reassembled to promote the films.”

If you look closely, there’s a line for shots that aren’t actually in the film, which immediately made me think of the trailers for the The Master, which featured a lot of cutting room floor footage that PT Anderson left out…

These infographics also remind me a lot of of the graphics picking apart famous speeches in Nancy Duarte’s Resonate.

Dissecting a Trailer: The Parts of the Film That Make the Cut

Fantastic NYTimes infographics showing how “how scenes from five of the nine best picture nominees were reassembled to promote the films.”

If you look closely, there’s a line for shots that aren’t actually in the film, which immediately made me think of the trailers for the The Master, which featured a lot of cutting room floor footage that PT Anderson left out…

These infographics also remind me a lot of of the graphics picking apart famous speeches in Nancy Duarte’s Resonate.

Mar 27, 2013
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Bradley Campbell uses napkins to diagram the narrative structures of radio shows.

What’s cool about mapping structure like this is that the pieces are moveable. You can rearrange the parts like they’re Tinkertoys. In the Morning Edition structure, for example, you could open in a scene, then introduce two people with other views (like the lines on the right of Bradley’s napkin only on the left). Then the “V.” Then a return to the first character and the lines again. Or, maybe you start with the “V” then meet a character…. See what I mean?

Fantastic. See also: Vonnegut’s story shapes and John McPhee on structure.

Filed under: structure, storytelling

(Source: wnycradiolab)

Jan 17, 2013
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John McPhee on structure

You can build a strong, sound, and artful structure. You can build a structure in such a way that it causes people to want to keep turning pages. A compelling structure in nonfiction can have an attracting effect analogous to a story line in fiction.

There’s a (paywalled) piece by John McPhee in the January 14, 2013 New Yorker on how he has to find the structure of his feature stories before he can get down to writing them.

I had done all the research I was going to do…. I had read all the books I was going to read, and scientific papers, and a doctoral dissertation. I had assembled enough material to fill a silo, and now I had no idea what to do with it.

He likens the process to cooking:1

The approach to structure in factual writing is like returning from a grocery store with materials you intent to cook for dinner. You set them out on the kitchen counter, and what’s there is what you deal with, and all you deal with.

Pre-computer, McPhee started out by typing out all of his notes, leaving blank space after each one. After studying all of his notes, he’d write out elements of the story on index cards, each representing a component of the story.

All I had to do was put them in order. What order? An essential part of my office furniture in those years was a standard sheet of plywood—thirty-two square feet—on two sawhorses. I strewed the cards face up on the plywood. The anchored segments would be easy to arrange, but the free-floating ones would make the piece.

And then it was time for the scissors:

After reading and rereading the typed notes and then developing the structure and coding the notes accordingly in the margins and then photocopying the whole of it, I would go at the copied set with the scissors, cutting each sheet into slivers of varying size. If the structure had, say, thirty parts, the slivers would end up in thirty piles that would be put into thirty manila folders. One after another, in the course of writing, I would spill out the sets of slivers, arrange them ladder line on a card table, and refer to them as I manipulated the Underwood. If this sounds mechanical, its effect was absolutely the reverse. If the contents of the seventh folder were before me, the contents of twenty-nine other folders were out of sight. Every organizational aspect was behind me. The procedure eliminated nearly all distraction and concentrated only the material I had to deal with in a given day or week. It painted me into a corner, yes, but in doing so it freed me to write.

It’s interesting to note that McPhee usually has his beginning and ending in mind when he starts writing. How does he know when he’s done?

When am I done? I just know. I’m lucky that way. What I know is that I can’t do any better; someone else might do better, but that’s all I can do; so I call it done.

See also:

(Thx @twliterary)


  1. Funny to contrast McPhee’s cooking metaphor to David Rakoff’s: “Unlike cooking, for example, where largely edible, if raw, ingredients are assembled, cut, heated, and otherwise manipulated into something both digestible and palatable, writing is closer to having to reverse-engineer a meal out of rotten food.” 

Oct 13, 2012
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Jun 18, 2012
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Tom Bissell, Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

Finished Bissell’s Magic Hours and headed straight into this. Good read. Came to it through Mark’s review. Some notes:

The trouble with videogames is that they’re really fucking fun.

You love them because they’re fun, but you hate them because they take you away from what you feel like you should be doing:


  The most consistently pleasurable pursuit in my life is playing video games. Unfortunately, the least useful and financially solvent pursuit in my life is also playing video games…


Building worlds is what (the) videogames (that I like) do best.

Talking about Red Dead Redemption in an interview, Bissell, the fiction writer, said:


  There’s a sense of fiction in every video game… It creates a world for itself that you want to obey… Games tell stories best when they’re elliptical and ambiguous and there’s a sense of roaming and freedom…


Those worlds make maps in your mind:


  I often wonder where these mental maps reside in my mind. The same place where I have stored my extensive understanding of Lower Manhattan or my sketchier grasp of central Paris?


And re-playing the best videos is like re-visiting a city you love: you go back, if not to re-live an experience, to have a new one.


  As the game designer Jesse Schell writes in The Art of Game Design, “The game is not the experience. The game enables the experience, but it is not the experience.”


Storytelling is not the be-all, end-all device for making meaning.

“Interactivity sabotages storytelling.” That’s a quote from Bissell’s review of L.A. Noire.. He explains in the book:


  the video-game form is incompatible with traditional concepts of narrative. Stories are about time passing and narrative progression. Games are about challenge, which frustrates the passing of time and impedes narrative progression.


There are two kinds of storytelling usually deployed in videogames:


  One is the framed narrative of the game itself, set in the fictional “present” and traditionally doled out in what are called cut scenes or cinematic, which in most cases take control away from the gamer, who is forced to watch the scene unfold. The other, which some game designers and theoreticians refer to as the “ludonarrative,” is unscripted and gamer-determined—the “fun” portions of the “played” game—and usually amounts to some frenetic reconnection of getting from point A to point B.


In many narrative-based games, any meaning that derives from the game is often a battle between the game’s author(s) and the game’s player: “Authors had their say in static moments such as cut scenes, and gamers had their say during play.”

But there is a new model emerging in which a game’s meaning comes not out of the story, but more out of the actual gameplay — this type of game is benefitted by an “austere approach to narrative,” one that the company Valve (maker of Portal and Left 4 Dead 2) is very good at. In those games, very little is explained by the authors. (“The impulse to explain is the Achilles’ heel of all genre work.”)


  For designers who want to change and startle gamers, they as authors must relinquish the impulse not only to declare meaning but also to suggest meaning. They have to think of themselves as shopkeepers of many possible meanings…


Recommended.

Tom Bissell, Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter

Finished Bissell’s Magic Hours and headed straight into this. Good read. Came to it through Mark’s review. Some notes:

The trouble with videogames is that they’re really fucking fun.

You love them because they’re fun, but you hate them because they take you away from what you feel like you should be doing:

The most consistently pleasurable pursuit in my life is playing video games. Unfortunately, the least useful and financially solvent pursuit in my life is also playing video games…

Building worlds is what (the) videogames (that I like) do best.

Talking about Red Dead Redemption in an interview, Bissell, the fiction writer, said:

There’s a sense of fiction in every video game… It creates a world for itself that you want to obey… Games tell stories best when they’re elliptical and ambiguous and there’s a sense of roaming and freedom…

Those worlds make maps in your mind:

I often wonder where these mental maps reside in my mind. The same place where I have stored my extensive understanding of Lower Manhattan or my sketchier grasp of central Paris?

And re-playing the best videos is like re-visiting a city you love: you go back, if not to re-live an experience, to have a new one.

As the game designer Jesse Schell writes in The Art of Game Design, “The game is not the experience. The game enables the experience, but it is not the experience.

Storytelling is not the be-all, end-all device for making meaning.

“Interactivity sabotages storytelling.” That’s a quote from Bissell’s review of L.A. Noire.. He explains in the book:

the video-game form is incompatible with traditional concepts of narrative. Stories are about time passing and narrative progression. Games are about challenge, which frustrates the passing of time and impedes narrative progression.

There are two kinds of storytelling usually deployed in videogames:

One is the framed narrative of the game itself, set in the fictional “present” and traditionally doled out in what are called cut scenes or cinematic, which in most cases take control away from the gamer, who is forced to watch the scene unfold. The other, which some game designers and theoreticians refer to as the “ludonarrative,” is unscripted and gamer-determined—the “fun” portions of the “played” game—and usually amounts to some frenetic reconnection of getting from point A to point B.

In many narrative-based games, any meaning that derives from the game is often a battle between the game’s author(s) and the game’s player: “Authors had their say in static moments such as cut scenes, and gamers had their say during play.”

But there is a new model emerging in which a game’s meaning comes not out of the story, but more out of the actual gameplay — this type of game is benefitted by an “austere approach to narrative,” one that the company Valve (maker of Portal and Left 4 Dead 2) is very good at. In those games, very little is explained by the authors. (“The impulse to explain is the Achilles’ heel of all genre work.”)

For designers who want to change and startle gamers, they as authors must relinquish the impulse not only to declare meaning but also to suggest meaning. They have to think of themselves as shopkeepers of many possible meanings…

Recommended.

Mar 18, 2012
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Real life is messy. And as a general rule, the more theatrical the story you hear, and the more it divides the world into goodies vs baddies, the less reliable that story is going to be. […] One of the central problems with narrative nonfiction is that the best narratives aren’t messy and complicated, while nonfiction nearly always is.
Felix Salmon. Says Mark, “I was so glad to see this article this afternoon. I just created my life is messy tag last night.” (via)

Dec 09, 2011
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Dan Harmon and his storytelling circles

The creator of the TV show Community has come up with a circle diagram to “codify the storytelling process—to find the hidden structure powering the movies and TV shows, even songs, he’d been absorbing since he was a kid.”

Harmon calls his circles embryos—they contain all the elements needed for a satisfying story—and he uses them to map out nearly every turn on Community, from throwaway gags to entire seasons. If a plot doesn’t follow these steps, the embryo is invalid, and he starts over. To this day, Harmon still studies each film and TV show he watches, searching for his algorithm underneath, checking to see if the theory is airtight. “I can’t not see that circle,” he says. “It’s tattooed on my brain.”

Here he breaks it down for you:

Start thinking of as many of your favorite movies as you can, and see if they apply to this pattern. Now think of your favorite party anecdotes, your most vivid dreams, fairy tales, and listen to a popular song (the music, not necessarily the lyrics). Get used to the idea that stories follow that pattern of descent and return, diving and emerging. Demystify it. See it everywhere. Realize that it’s hardwired into your nervous system, and trust that in a vacuum, raised by wolves, your stories would follow this pattern.

(thx, @jamesfflynn!)

Oct 31, 2011
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Aug 16, 2011
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Whenever you listen to a piece of music, what you are actually doing is hearing the latest sentence in a very long story you’ve been listening to — all the pieces of music you’ve ever heard.
— Brian Eno, in conversation with David Mitchell, The Believer (When asked, “Do you agree that no new genre is ever invented, but rather hybridised from something that was there before?” Eno answers: “Yes. Nothing starts from nowhere.”)

Aug 12, 2011
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