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Lou, at the urging of the late Arthur Nadel Jr, was the first producer to hire me, the first one to put me on staff as a writer, and the first one to regret that decision, I’m sure. At one time Lou had me, Sam Simon, and John Dorman working for him simultaneously.
A lesser man would have snapped.
But Lou was made of sterner stuff as a brief look at the history of Filmation Studios will tell you. Filmation was my introduction to animation, my boot camp, my finishing school, my crucible. Thanx to him & the wonderful, wonderful staff he recruited I learned more in 8 months about writing & creativity & film making than I could have learned in 48 months in a class room.
I’ve described Lou as a gent and a class act and he was. He was also a mensch and when others were shipping jobs overseas to line their pockets, he was squeezing each nickel so hard the friggin’ buffalo would fart…but he kept those jobs in the US of A.
…here’s a clip of Ultraman beating the snot out of a giant monster.
There. I’ve just saved you $28.98 ($19.99 at Amazon)
call it the harpooner’s shack with rich delicious deliberate irony
they gather to talk
and swap lies
about the one
they are going to catch
the one that got away
this time but oh brother next time…
the counterfeiter comes in lays out his wares
the true hunters ignore him
[though truth be told
more than a few
he smiles and
waves at them and
a few grunt in return
but most pointedly
their disdain is wasted
acts oblivious to it
in a few moments
someone comes in
looking for an idea
unable to go through
the impenetrable barrier
between the real and unreal
such people come
to where idea hunters gather
and seek to buy
what wares they offer
genuine idea hunters
real idea hunters
turn their noses up
at those who hunt
rather starve in pride
than soil their souls
for someone who
couldn’t hunt themselves
but even those
who hunt on demand
are at least acknowledged
as genuine members
of the company
not like the counterfeiter
even the most proud
of the idea hunters
shifts ever slightly
so the customer
can see their wares
rattle their instruments
clear their throats
the customer ignores them
the bright dazzle
of the counterfeiter’s wares
isn’t particularly good
at his craft
his wares bear only the faintest of resemblances
to real ideas that real hunters bring back
cobbled together as they were out of a myriad of properties
and while colorful were all a dull mismatched motley
not the shimmering iridescence of a real true genuine idea
but the customer
like most customers
has the taste of a pig
a pig who can not tell
turds from truffles
walks over to
the counterfeiter’s table
“See anything you like, sir? Anything that catches your fancy?
Oh, this one here is particularly beautiful. My, such a job I had landing him –
not that you’d want to hear anything about that, sir. But it is fine, sir, it is good.”
Could you perhaps
lop off this portion
in the middle and
replace it with maybe
a piece of that one over there.
No, not from the middle,
from the end.”
“Yessir, very good, sir. Most folks would not have
your discerning eye, but you I can tell see there is no harm –
no harm at all! – in putting those pieces together just the way you require.
See? There, done lickety-split, just as nicely as you please.
Shall I wrap it up for you, sir?”
customer pays up
[real hunters grunt in surprise
hate the counterfeiter they might
but the dirty little bastard
sure knows how to get paid!]
and leaves with his counterfeit idea
bits and pieces breaking off
and trailing behind him
the counterfeiter smiles at the real idea hunters
not a smile of triumph or even a smile of contempt but
more like a sad smile as if he had…well…not really
an idea perhaps more of a clue as to
the vast gulf between him and them
a clue flavored perhaps with a bit of
an appreciation for the irony of it all
“That’s the way it’s done”
he says packing up his wares
and hustling out the door
he doesn’t bother to offer
to buy any of them a drink
© Buzz Dixon
Once upon a time there was a _____ .
Every day, _____ .
Then one day _____ .
Because of this, _____ .
Because of that [or] However, _____ . (repeat as necessary)
Finally, _____ .
This is important because _____ .
This template derives from a talk by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park and the Pixar story point list (via Brian MacDonald’s Invisible Ink as related by Emma Coats) with a few tweaks by yrs trly. While the ideas expressed by Parker, Stone, and MacDonald are not new, they’ve certainly been distilled to their purest essence. This is an extremely useful tool for finding & strengthening the spine of your main story as well as all the characters’ personal sub-plots.
“Once upon a time…” identifies the protagonist/s. This can be an individual, a group, a team, a family, or a community.
“Every day” = the status quo, mundane or outrageous; good, bad, or indifferent. This is the backdrop against which change (i.e., story) will occur.
“Then one day” = permanent change or the potential for permanent change. Whichever it is, it will force the protagonist/s to respond. There is no point in having an inconsequential or self-correcting change (i.e., the status quo returns on its own, including the protagonist/s acceptance of it). Any change that causes the protagonist/s to react is an important change to them even if inconsequential to others. And it can be self-change; the protagonist/s can decide they’ve had their fill of the current situation and will do something about it.
“Because of this” = the step/s the protagonist/s take to either restore the old status quo or establish a new one of their liking. This is what your story is about, even if the protagonist/s later change goals/objectives/tactics as a result of challenges they encounter.
“Because of that” = a direct reaction to the preceding plot point. Whatever “this” is in response to “then one day“, “that” will be a further response. It can be either an obstacle or a help (or even a combination thereof) but it changes the nature/direction of the protagonist/s’ response.
“However” = an alternative to “because of this“, a random and/or external event that adds a new complication/element to the story. Sometimes a “however” is a response to a much earlier plot point that the protagonist/s have moved past but are now forced to deal with again. “Howevers” are permissible to make the protagonist/s’ objective more difficult to obtain, they’re cheating if used to arbitrarily help the protagonist/s without consequences.
(repeat as needed) = follow the story through logically, with appropriate responses to prior choices or plausible random external input.
“Finally” = the protagonist/s reach a logical conclusion and new status quo they are either willing or forced to accept (viz. a tragic end)
“This is important” = why this story is worth telling. Unless telling a shaggy dog story, the ending must make a crucial difference to the protagonist/s. If they re-establish the old status quo, the reader must understand why this makes a difference to the way they lived before. (In truth, just as one can never enter the same stream twice, one can never return to the way things were before the protagonist/s were aware change was possible; at the very least a return to the original status quo now includes the wisdom to fully appreciate that status quo.)
As noted, this is useful not only for the main plot involving the protagonist/s but also all sub-plots involving the antagonists and supporting characters. Everybody has a story, and while one doesn’t have to fill in the details of every character’s story to the same degree as the main plot, it never hurts to know what their story is vis a vis the protagonist/s’. Often a group of protagonists will have overlapping motives for participating in a story, some of which may be at odds with one another. They will each certainly have their own unique manner of dealing with the challenges facing them. Too often supporting characters are empty suits designed to trot onstage, do their business, then trot off. By figuring out what their stories are, one opens up the main plot for far greater nuance and detail.
Caveat! This template will not guarantee a good story. What it will do is make it easier to diagnose your plot, to find/clarify/strengthen the spine of your story. You still have to provide interesting characters, interesting situations, and write in an interesting manner.
And that takes practice…
1. What’s the series about? (goes to the primary theme)
2. What do you want to say about that? (goes to point of view)
3. Why should anyone else care? (goes to audience relatability)