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! 😉

Introduction to Poetry

My Genre X…

In my first experiment I will be writing a series of poems. How many exactly? I don’t know. But, I do know I’m interested in experimenting with poetry because I think it will totally transform my origin piece. Since my origin piece was a 6-8 page personal narrative, I was able to write many scenes about my relationship with my brother and the paper was much less condensed. With poetry, I will be forced to pick small, specific moments to focus on. Maybe as small as important dialogue and conversations.  

I’m also considering either writing these poems partially or completely from his perspective, or at least what my interpretation of his perspective is. I think a series of poems is especially fitting for my topic because part of what makes me want to write about my relationship with my brother is because it is pretty distant, and marked by few words and interactions. I don’t need pages and pages to write this story well, I can write in a series of sentences and stanzas. 

My relationship with my brother is dynamic and has changed a lot over the years. I’d like to integrate its dynamic nature into my piece by writing each poem in a different year or stage of our relationship. 

After doing some research on poetry, I’ve found that different sources actually have some similar takes on how to write this genre. According to this lovely little writing blog, it can all be broken down into 10 simple steps:

1. Know Your Goal

2. Avoid Clichés

3. Avoid Sentimentality

4. Use Images

5. Use Metaphor and Simile

6. Use Concrete Words Instead of Abstract Words

7. Communicate Theme

8. Subvert the Ordinary

9. Rhyme with Extreme Caution

10. Revise, Revise, Revise

For some reason, this brief ten step list made me more confused and lost where to start than before. It almost seems too easy. 

Unfortunately, on my next google search I came across another list, also 10 steps and also seemingly too simple:

  1. Understand the benefits of writing poetry
  2. Decide which type of poetry to write
  3. Have proper poem structure
  4. Include sharp imagery
  5. Focus on sound in poetry
  6. Define the poem’s meaning
  7. Have a goal
  8. Avoid clichés in your poems
  9. Opt for minimalistic poems
  10. Refine your poem to perfection

So far, the only thing I’m sure of is to definitely not use cliches. 

My next move was to look at samples of poetry, hoping it’d properly show me the ropes of the genre. After googling the “best poems of 2019” I came across a very diverse grouping of poems on the New Yorker:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/poems

Lately, remembering anything involves an ability

to forget something else. Watching the news,

I writhe and moan; my mind is not itself.

Lying next to a begonia from which black ants come and go,

I drink a vodka. Night falls. This seems a balm

for wounds that are not visible in the gaudy daylight.

Sometimes a friend cooks dinner; our lives commingle.

In loneliness, I fear me, but in society I’m like a soldier

kneeling on soft mats. Everything seems possible,

as when I hear birds that awaken at 4 a.m. or see

a veil upon a face. Beware, the heart is lean red meat.

The mind feeds on this. I carry on my shoulder

a bow and arrow for protection. I believe whatever

I do next will surpass what I have done.

In this poem by Henry Cole, which according to the NY Times is one of 2019’s best poems, I noticed a very unique writing style. The way he breaks his lines, even interrupting sentences midway really intrigued me. I love the emphasis this places on every last word of a line. Each word seems amazingly intentional. I think this is what makes poetry stand out from other genres. There is no room for filler or jargon, only the “real”. 

After reading a few poems I began to realize poetry offers a whole lot of freedom and very few “rules.” Since I’m one to like a lot of instruction and direction with my writing, it will definitely be a challenge to experiment with this genre, but I’m excited for it.