Market Yourself; Market Your Blog

These days, a You Tube or blog persona is even more of a focus than the content. If your content quality pales, audiences will remain loyal because they enjoy the very fact that it is you making the content. This is because, mostly, bloggers and by extension their persona’s take the “do what you love for a living” so if you really want to make money on a blog, base it around your lifestyle interests. Also, a marketing Ted-Talk once noted that a lot of companies go “What, How, Why” but it leaves motivation – the reason audiences invest – until last. It is much more effective to take the approach of “Why, How, What” so this is my strategy. In my case, my blogs are about storytelling, and my approach is thus:

Why:  I enjoy the concept of storytelling and was once an anxious amateur reading through every Storytelling Theory book I could find – and always thought it would be good to have one place where all of that information has been collected. Note that this immediately gives me a target audience: new writers who relate to that anxiety, and old writers who want to refresh on their theory.

How: I will adapt my wordpress blog into an official blogging website, add a large image / logo, and then create small magnetic business cards – they would be magnetic because I was once taught in a short course “People are more likely to keep fridge magnets than fliers or business cards – fridge magnets have a pre-designed keeping spot” On top of that, I would become a walking advertisement. I would design a shirt with my logo and, since I live my interest, discuss my storytelling blog wherever possible and by extension meet potential customers / competitors.

What: I will post weekly blogs, every sunday for consistency, and then organize the blog into elements so that the topics of the blogs are more easily sorted into bigger topics.

My marketing goal would be to become the go-to site of the industry; as there are a few out there already that I follow but they are not very nicely / creatively designed or well organised, so mine would have a more colourful design to it, and pool different kinds of theory from everywhere possible in an attempt to become the definitive collection. It would also be to get a regular audience, potentially through analyzing movies so that after most of the theory is covered there are still new weekly storytelling subjects to write about.

 

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Emotional Impact

Emotions are the soul of any story. What can make a story great is when a character has conflicting emotions; if you ever see an audience complain that a character is too one-dimensional, or the story is too simple and straight forward, you can bet that it is because they reacted to every event they came across in a similar simplistic way.

If a character comes across a situation and it makes them happy, or perhaps annoyed, that is fine, but events need to shift a character into action, so instead of them being simply happy or sad, it gives a stronger impact if the event makes them feel bittersweet. In the same instance, in (for example) a mystery drama, it is bare-minimum to make the main character confused or curious; however, if they are fearful yet curious then there is a sense of foreboding and a perceived risk to their curiosity, and if they are confused yet optimistic, then it lends an exploring tone to the adventure.

Romance as a genre is a good example: if a character goes through an entire story simply feeling attracted to the love interest, not much happens. In order to create conflict, there is often love-hate, or forbidden love, or love-disinterest; there is always something at odds with the initial feeling, or they would simply feel it, do it and end it.

My favourite trick in comedy writing is to give an unexpected emotional reaction, because there is nothing more amusing to audiences than a character taking such a simple common situation and having an absurd reaction (at least seemingly, it must be justified in the context of the story). In the case of Lano And Woodley, they mistake a murderer for a prankster, so when the murderer stabs Colin Lano he sarcastically laughs “ow, that hurt” and then asks the murderer to take a second stab at it to show him how the “fake” knife works. In an eddie murphy movie, he is forced into a police car, and instead of complaining or making excuses he remarks how nice the police car is. And my personal favourite, one I made up myself: If a character is walking down the aisle, have them be as agitated and grumpy as possible, mumbling to themselves .

The key here is that straight forward emotions from straight forward situations lacks surprise and depth. It’s when characters have unexpected and intense reactions to situations that audiences get hooked; we can’t help but ask why they feel that way, and what they intend to do about it. And What Happens Next is the most powerful tool to keep an audience hooked.

 

 

Rhythm, Pacing, and Music

Pacing is underrated in storytelling structure; story structure often wants to mirror everything and contrast everything, with “bringing everything back” being the best way to make moments pay off and “book ending” (meaning having the beginning be either exactly the same or exactly the opposite of the end) as the best way to make sure the story comes “full circle”.

But this makes pacing misleading. If there are four acts, it is still a good idea to make the second half nothing a direct deconstruction of the first half to make sure everything neatly returns and nothing in the plot wastes time, but this implies that there must be the same about of moments in both acts. There are the same amount of plot points, but while one plot point may need three scenes to properly set up its full impact, another plot point may need only one scene because the natural timing of such a moment would take as long to setup as those three scenes.

Many stories have a blatant downfall that they are seemingly unaware of: nothing happens for a long period of time, because they believe their structure carries the film. The idea of structure is that these moments are all perfectly placed so that the audience can’t go too long without getting bored, and so the story remains clear because the moments are all evenly spaced. However, all of these moments mean nothing if they don’t have the intended impact, so this is where story beats are treated like the rhythm of the story. Pacing issues are what come up not when the story structure Key Moments aren’t precisely where they are required to be, but when scenes – much like music – have a disorganized sequence of beats and thus it is not enjoyable to sit through. One scene can have 10 beats and so a lot happens, then the next scene only has 2, but if a key moment is something that is a surprise then it may require many beats to distract and keep the audience on their toes; if the Key Moment is meant to be a fast action scene, then the beats before hand may be few and far between but all in the name of creating suspense. The issue is when stories believe they are creating a certain type of emotion or moment, but they don’t do justice to how long or how many beats such a moment would naturally require.

Group Project – Perry Frightening

For Making Network Culture, we made a group project called Perry Frightening. It is clear that our group works well together when the original concept was to do something Batman related and we each contributed towards the shift in concept.

Neko (being the visual influence) suggested we needed simpler characters and costumes – so we dropped the batman idea and agreed on a detective story.

I, (being the story influence) suggested we needed a simple structure, so we drew up a short story map ensuring each part of the story only had two links and that they over-lapped so that our options wouldn’t go too far outside the core story.

Kallen (being the spontaneity influence) came up with the name Perry Frightening after a team-effort joke involving the initials P.I. (which originally meant Private Investigator, but the meaning shifted as as the name initials changed and the joke got lost). He then wrote an on-the-spot script for a scene just to see what sort of jokes and story we could get from it, and then when we all read from the script, Daniel was a clear winner as the main character’s voice because by being both the voice and editing influence, he was able to add lines and change things up to really suite the character he was going for.

In the second stage, I was unfortunately sick with migraine, but Kallen wrote up a beat-script for each stage of the map, and Neko wrote up the storyboard for what would happen in each scene. I then made up for my absence by taking the beat script and created the official script, which required tightening the structure and adding dialogue to make the story come to life while also ensuring that it made sense. The biggest flaw I found was that due to having story beats overlap, it had both simplified the direction of the story and yet over-complicated the multiple places an audience member could have been linked from.

By the end, shifting everything around resulted in an original link map so different that we stopped paying attention to it (and then lost it). Due to our teamwork early on, certain story points had been collectively agreed on in order to keep a basic foundation under the project, and these story elements (such as who the dead body was, why they had been murdered, or who murdered them) remained the same all of the way through the project.

When the third stage of filming kicked in, trying to navigate from script to map to filming was complicated only with so many elements going on, but we eventually recognized that the unintended strength of post-dubbing the dialog meant that I could hold the map and direct whoever filmed (which was Daniel mostly but Neko for some of it), ensuring that everything in the script was located by camera.

Daniel and Neko then both edited together, with me and Kallen overseeing on the outside in case there was anything Daniel or Neko couldn’t see due to hours of working personally with it. In the end, it came out as well as we had all hoped and all considered it a collective achievement.

Pressure Your Characters

The whole idea of a protagonist, the thing they want, the conflicts that get in the way, and the risk in the very attempt to get it, is all leading up to one thing: a character choice. Choice makes character for it reveals everything deep down in one final motion; the final choice is like the final bet of a poker game, once every option has been exhausted you finally see what a character truly believes in and what they’re really willing to risk their entire chance on.

In order to do this however, we need to pressure our characters. Make sure that whatever their goal is, they are desperate enough for, so that every time conflict arises they do not just move on to something else; another way to look at it is whatever the character wants, they believe will improve them, almost to perfection. It will literally give them a happy ending, or at least an absolutely no-doubt-about-it happier life than what came before even if they previously believed they were happy, and thus giving  up on that goal is to give up on themselves. This should be the sacrifice that this character is making, and so any final choice that involves giving up on their goal is still seen as the death of their old self, only because it is a final choice it is seen as an improvement towards the true happy ending – in which case the character often has a secret need underneath their goal (and it often contradicts their goal entirely). We must then make sure that the conflict and stakes keep the character being an inch away from total failure at all times, lest they become content with waiting or doing something else and the goal loses its weight.

The pressure is something a lot of stories miss or drop the ball on. Writers want their characters to be “like-able” because if audiences don’t care then the final choice doesn’t have any impact at all. So we over-power our protagonists, show them off and try to impress, but then these characters feel above us somehow; distanced, because they don’t struggle, we can’t relate to people who win all the time because life doesn’t work like that, and we write as wishful thinking rather than relateablility. We watch certain genres to relate to certain values or goals (eg. if an audience member wants romance, they relate to romantic characters, but if an audience wants something pointless and silly, they relate to comedic characters) and it is true here too. In order to “like” a character, it isn’t specifically about their traits but merely what they stand for. If they want what we want, struggle like we do and we relate to the risk they’re taking, then it’s very easy to get vicariously invested in the characters life, so their revelations become our revelations and that is what makes the final choice – the whole point of story – resonate. Pressure is what keeps both the character and audience on their toes and keeps both character and audience on a simultaneously journey through life at its best (and worst).

 

Genre is Marketing; Focus is Storytelling

Sci-Fi confuses people because it used to mean a focus on scientifically-based plots, so Jurassic Park and Inception qualified, but Star Wars was a Space Opera. However now when people hear Sci-Fi, they immediately think of either any movie set in space or any movie involving robots, because spaceships and robots are the most common technology used in a Sci-Fi film.

It then became a revelation when Genre’s have been blended so heavily that I began to wonder: what is the point of a movie genre? If comedies are any movies that contain jokes, action movies are any movie that contains a fight scene, romance movies are any film that features a couple in love, then movies like Princess Bride and Marvel films could basically be considered the same thing; if not for the fact that one movie is based on a comic book. But it just proves how hard it is to classify movies like Princess Bride; one could claim “Fairy Tale” because it is set within a book that a grandfather reads to a son, but when Genre is constantly being re-defined, should we even box in a movie to one focus? If these genres prove anything, its that the best movies have a mix of everything, because most genres tend to either give a clear setting or a clear emotional focus. A comedy provides laughter, a tragedy provides tears, a romance provides love, a thriller provide suspense, a crime story provides mystery, and a horror provides fear.

Each genre is trying to tell audiences “if you focus on eg. romance, then this is the movie for you” but then genre becomes more of a marketing term than a storytelling skill, so movies like Toy Story or The Princess Bride, despite being completely different tone and setting, use multiple genres to give their story a maximal emotional effect. Toy Story uses Horror to create the fear that should be felt within Sids house; by having the carpet reference The Shining, or also using mystery and suspense when Woody is walking around with a flashlight as shadows move across the screen – and when he finally sees them, there is a long suspense as the face turns out to be a babys face that is missing an eye and has a metal crab body. They turn this around by having a hand-in-a-box grab Sid’s leg, horror-style, and Woody having his head completely rotate around when they attempt to get revenge. All this, plus plenty of jokes that kids would be too young to have experienced, like knowing who Picasso is or what Laser Envy is a reference to, even an adult joke “the word I’m searching for I can’t say because there are preschool toys here.” They even go so far as to have a punch-on early in the film, and a (sort-of) car chase near the climax, because to have a character go through only one single emotion or setting will quickly spoil the audience for whatever you’re trying to put across.

Blending genre is life; a mix of emotions or settings within a single focus. When asking “What Genre”, ask only “how would you sum up your main story in one word” – for Dark Knight, the main story is a superhero fights a supervillain, and so it is primarily considered that despite many claims it defies superhero films. Princess Bride would actually be a fairy tale because while it could be referred to as action due to Wesley being a pirate, or romance due to the film title referring to the princess he is rescuing, or a comedy purely based on the witty dialogue consistently throughout the movie, it is primarily a fairly tale because it is the story of all of these things being read by a grandfather to his grandson.

Genre provides the core focus for explaining your story, but skills in mixed genres provide good storytelling.

Setting Is Relationship

Setting is never just a backdrop. It sets the tone for how the character is feeling, it is the environment your characters live in, and like any other character your protagonist interacts with, there is a relationship. While Setting may not be a complete character with it’s own intentions and actions, but it has a physical presence and affects the protagonist like anything else. In the case of Harry Potter, every setting has purpose. The Dursley house is plain, and small, with Harry Potter’s cupboard even smaller, and then house on a rock represents Harry’s isolation all the more.

Note then that when he arrives at Hogwarts, it is large, it is whimsical and fantastical, everything the Dursleys are against, a proper home for Harry, and thus he loves it. Hogwarts isn’t just a school, it is played off as Harry’s true home, and that common theme is parallel with the idea that Voldemort, his arch enemy, grew up in an even more isolated orphanage and refused to go home during the holidays – Voldemort even discontinued his use of the chamber of secrets as soon as the school became under threat of being shut down if the attacks continued.

It is messed with time and again; in the first book, the focus is on the magical aspects of the school, such as Quidditch (which Harry is very good at) and Wizard Chess (which Ron is very good at) and spells (which Hermione is very good at) and the whole school environment plays off as a representation of the good things; the bad things in Hogwarts (trolls, Snape, rogue brooms, the forbidden forest) are a representation of Voldemort’s looming presence.

Setting’s entire purpose may just be to give the Protagonist and the conflicting characters an arena in which to function, at its most basic, however it provides an extra level of Goal, Motivation, Conflict and Stakes if the setting also pulls its weight in escalating drama.