Intro to Genre: Fabulous Fables

What’s a fable? I’ll bet we’ve all read one or had one of their many morals preached to us. Does “slow and steady wins the race” ring a bell? Technically, a fable is a fictitious short story that conveys a moral. And just to be clear, a moral is a lesson that differentiates between right and wrong.

I thought of this genre when I recently came across an old copy of Aesop’s Fables, which my mom read to me as a kid. I’m interested in this genre because I think it’s a happy medium between the first two experiments I did. It gives me the creativity of the children’s book, with room for a higher word count like the screenplay.

Fables are centered around the moral of the story, so this should always be the author’s starting point. A moral is not something that should only apply to a specific circumstance like “don’t stick gum in your sister’s hair when she takes the last cookie”. A moral is a lifelong lesson like “treat others as you would like to be treated”, which still applies to the aforementioned gum situation, but is more general.

When picking your characters, keep in mind that they need to be of the talking animal or inanimate object kind, à la Cinderella and her mice or Belle and her candelabra. Having two characters is most common because we want to keep the moral clear and not overwhelm the message of the story with character development. To make life easier, don’t even bother naming the characters; call it like it is: the tortoise and the hare.

Now it’s time to personify your fabled friends. Give them human traits. Many animals are already associated with such traits: the clever fox or the wise owl come to mind. Then, contrast that characteristic with its antonym. Clever fox, meet foolish flamingo (or something of that nature).

Consider what kinds up trouble the fox and flamingo could get into. Perhaps the flamingo, with its beautiful feathers and long legs enters into a beauty contest and aces all the parts except for the category about animal rights. Then the fox, who is small and ordinary comes in and aces the intelligence categories and wins the competition! Bam! Moral: true beauty comes from within.

Before you get too excited to write, you eager beaver (also a potential character), remember that the simpler the better. Keep it short and entertaining, don’t be afraid of rhymes or dialogue, but overall keep it focused so that the reader comes away knowing exactly what to do the next time their sister takes the last cookie.

Now if only I could figure out what the moral of this blog post was…

Take 1: Intro to the Movie Script

The next time I watch the Oscars, I’m going to pay special attention to the winners of the screenplay categories. After researching how to be the next Quentin Tarantino, I realized that being a starving artist actually had some pretty major requirements…

Did you know there’s an actual reason why all movies scripts are written in 12pt Courier font? It’s because the time it takes to read a page formatted this way is about a minute, so each page equates to a minute of screen time. This also means that screenplays will have between 90-120 pages, because movies tend to run from and hour and a half to two hours. Rather a scientific approach for the arts, no?

Since the script is written for a visual medium, it is crucial that the screenwriter shows rather than tells (does anyone else feel like they’re back in high school english class?). So the inner monologue is a big no-no here.

If all that wasn’t enough, did you know there’s a spec script and a shooting script? To understand a spec script, picture the frustrated drama school graduate furiously penning their most recent breakup down on the back of napkins, and then spending their weekends peddling said napkins to anyone who will pay them to produce it. Spec=Speculation…

Then those napkins get the Hollywood treatment and turn into technical instructions, like where the cameras should focus, notes for the actors, and editing jargon. All the scenes are numbered and revisions are color-coded in the case of reshoots.

Margins and headings have never had a greater role (pun intended) than in screenplays. They are essential for differentiation between dialogue, action, locations, and transitions (see the first image).

I wanted to take on this experiment for a few reasons. First, I wanted to be a screenwriter for many years growing up and this gives me a change to step into the career for a week or two. Secondly, I was inspired by a short film I saw in which a dying man was given the opportunity to relive one day of his life over again, but he had to follow the script exactly as it was. He realized that what he really wanted was not a do-again but a do-over.

I thought this idea was really profound and I was inspired to rewrite the last time I saw my old friend the way I wish it had happened.

If I end up winning an Oscar for this original screenplay one day, I’ll make sure to thank my Minor in Writing family, don’t worry! 😉

Writing a Children’s Book For Dummies

So I’ve decided to write a children’s book about a girl with an imaginary friend. How hard could that be? I mean it’s just lots of pictures with a couple words on each page, right? Right?

“Hold up, Soph…”, you may be thinking. “Why are you wasting your time trying to be Dr. Seuss for a project at a distinguished university? You’re almost 21 and you can’t draw… What’s the deal?”

Well, inner voice, we read children’s books during very formative years to learn our morals and life lessons. “Be nice”. “Share”. “Don’t lie”. Isn’t is ironic that when you reread those statements, you realize that those same lessons are skills we grapple with as adults?

Some classic children’s books that I remember fondly.

So in some way, children’s books are still a relevant genre for me as I navigate early adulthood and all the lesson that come with it.

After a very intensively researched, painstakingly curated, and exceptionally credible Google search I performed, here’s what I learned:

  1. There are many kinds of children’s books based on reading ability. Am I going to write a picture book, chapter book, interactive book? Well this handy little chart will help me out.
As someone who is not a self-professed arTEEST, I might want to stick to fewer pictures…

2. Pick a writing style and stick with it. Rhyming? First or third person? Past or present? I’d better figure it out.

3. Unforgettable characters. The Cat in the Hat. Curious George. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. My character needs to be up there with the legends.

4. Suspenseful action and hook. While I might not need Jason Bourne-level action, kids have a short attention span and need the enough plot development to keep them engaged and not picking their noses.

5. Realistic Dialogue. The disconnect between the rhetoric and existential dilemma of the protagonist necessitates prose that fosters empathy betwixt the author and the consumer. Read: NOT CHILD FRIENDLY LANGUAGE

6. Storyline. Jack and Jill sat, then they went for a chat, then Jack bought a hat, and Jill turned into a cat. The end.

7. Instant Recall. If the child can remember that Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water before Jack fell down and broke his crown, then my story isn’t as memorable as I thought it was.

I was also reminded of some pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Preachiness: Their mom is already telling them not to burp at the dinner table. They don’t want a book that tells them the same thing.
  2. Stereotypes: Not all children are alike. Sure, that’s obvious. Jack can play with dolls and Jill can get messy in the mud.
  3. Point of View: Keep it simple. If Jill is telling the story, don’t bring Miss Frizzle’s inner dialogue into the mix. We don’t need Inception-level complication.
  4. Lack of Suspense: I think this is important enough to reiterate because every one of the sources I found harped on how easily kids get bored. Especially in the age of iPads!

Oh, lastly, apparently these books, despite their “less is more” word philosophy, take a long time to write. The quote that popped up in a bunch of my sources over and over again by acclaimed author/illustrator Mem Fox says that “Writing for children is like writing “War and Peace,” in haiku.”

If this is the case, I better brush up on my Leo Tolstoy…

Hello My Name Is…Sophia

Is this the part where I’m supposed to tell you I’m left-handed or that I was born in Ann Arbor before I moved around the country for the next 15 years until I finally found myself back here for college? Is this the part where I tell you two truths and a lie and you try and guess whether it’s more unlikely that I’ve have 23 teeth pulled or never been to Canada? Both are true by the way.

I could tell you that I’m a junior with a double major in history and economics that I have no idea what I’m going to do with. And I could tell you that I studied abroad this summer and that “abroad changed me”, but I’d feel pretty pretentious if I did. I’d probably tell you that I love to write, but it would fall on deaf ears because who here doesn’t? If I told you that I don’t like to read though, I’m sure a few eyebrows would raise.

But even if I told you all these things, all these truths about me, I’m still allowed my one lie. I guess I’d be lying if I told you that I knew who I am and have any idea who I will be. I guess that’s what we’re all here to find out.