It’s fall in Oregon, which means we’ll get beautiful, crisp mornings and brilliant colors. You can watch nature in progress over at the Owen Rose Garden webcam. I, of course, am not thinking about nature at all. No, I’m thinking about Back to the Future, as one does. More specifically, I’m thinking about Marty McFly and the character arc he takes throughout the first BTTF movie. There’s a stack of things you can learn about character development by watching Back to the Future, so let’s talk about how Marty McFly can help you write better stories.
First things first, let’s talk about Marty in the first BTTF movie. The other two movies were written after the success of the first, and most of his character growth happens in the first movie. Yeah, yeah … he couldn’t stand being called chicken, but that was a bit of lazy storytelling. A kid who can travel through space and time gets triggered by the word ‘chicken?’ Gimme a break. No, Marty’s character was interesting in the first movie alone and demonstrates a very solid storytelling arc by the end of the first movie.
So to recap, Marty McFly is a teen living somewhere in suburban California in 1985. He has a single friend, a local ‘mad scientist’ who engages in eccentric science projects like synchronizing all of his clocks and building the world’s biggest guitar amp. We quickly find out that Doc Brown has invented a working time machine, and Marty ends up using it to travel back in time.
He quickly finds himself stuck in the world of his parents, now teenagers, and ends up potentially creating an alternate reality where he is never born. With the help of his now-younger friend Doc Brown, Marty manages to undo the time paradox, fix his powerless time machine and return to the restored world of 1985. Along the way, he manages to fix his broken family, and that’s where the magic happens in terms of Marty’s character. Continue reading
I responded to a writingprompt that got my juices flowing. Here’s the original prompt: You’ve always been able to twist any situation to your advantage. Accidentally saw classified data? You got a great job protecting said government data. Got captured? You ran the enemy’s tech support. Got killed by your original employers? Okay, this one might be more difficult. They buried an interesting ‘what-if’ into the prompt and I answered the question via science fiction. I hope you enjoy ‘The Operative:’
Today, my boss is going to hire a dead guy. That’s right, me. Killed three years ago in a tragic chemical factory fire. You remember, right? Over in China, raised to the ground, nothing but destruction for blocks? I was there. I lit the fuse. According to the news stories, I didn’t make it out in time. Fortunately for me, that was all according to the plan.
Yeah, I know this isn’t true scifi but it doesn’t matter. Real nerds will get it.
Wrote a new microfiction piece last night in response to the following writing prompt: “The man screamed, for he was just an inch in the fourth dimension away from his own universe, but so helplessly trapped in one that was not his own.” The premise sounded interesting to me, and I wanted to focus on why he was taken away. It quickly became a small short called ‘The Last One.’
One reason I do microfiction is that it’s a great way to keep my chops up. Another reason is, it’s a great way for me to meet new readers. Am I a good writer? Can I tell a good story? You can make a decision pretty quick when you read some of my microfiction. Here’s a quick sample:
So close, yet so far.
Scrabbling at the unseen barrier. It doesn’t feel like anything. Not glass, not metal, not plastic or wood. I can feel nothing, no texture, under my fingertips. But it’s there, separating me. Just one small more bit, not even the width of two fingers, that’s the distance between me and home.
“Help!” I scream. “Help me!” I can see them. Ordinary people, ordinary day. It’s a street corner, 85th or 86th Street. Central Park West, where my grandmother used to take us to walk her dog. Taxis, buses, people and animals. I can see them, hear them, even smell them. But that’s as close as I’ll get.
Have a great rest of your day, and Write On!
Caught an interesting writingprompt the other day and turned it into a new piece of microfiction called ‘Earth Problems:’ “In the far future, humanity has successfully colonized the Moon, Mars, and set up outposts on Mercury. Trade among the planets is common, and has been so for hundreds of years. Then, with little warning, a comet half the size of the Moon struck earth. The impact was visible from all colonies.”
I loved Brad Bird’s work before I knew who Brad Bird was. Back in the 80s, Steven Spielberg put on a TV show called ‘Amazing Stories.’ One animated episode featured the strange, stressful life of a family dog. I remember laughing at that episode, and later noticing Bird’s name on a number of other animated projects I liked: The Simpsons, the Iron Giant, and the Incredibles. Over the past forty years, Brad Bird has proven himself to be a master at the business of storytelling, and with that in mind I wanted to jot down some notes on five rules his projects seem to follow.
To be fair, there are other blog posts like this that talk about Bird’s storytelling and they have value, too. However I want to dig deeper into what the rules are, what they mean, and how they apply to people like me who want to tell stories for a living. Let’s start the discussion with the most important rule:
Catch the Feels
One cool think about a Brad Bird project is, it’s never boring. Laugh, cry, or explode, Bird is going to make you feel something deep, and you can’t say that about every movie. Think about the emotional gut-punches you got in ‘The Iron Giant,’ or even the boiling frustration of Mr. Incredible as he grinds away in that office job. Brad Bird knows how to tell a story that will catch you in the feels, and that’s why we love him. We want to feel something, we want to believe something. If you want to be a good storyteller, and lord knows I do, then you have to make your reader / audience feel something.
Created a new piece of scifi microfiction in response to the prompt: ‘Humans never managed to developed laster-than-light travel. Instead, they developed ways to discretely piggyback on ships that can. The other races in the galaxy are getting suspicious.’ So, I decided to write a story where humans are treated like pests. Guess how they decide to treat us? I hope you enjoy ‘Pest Control.’
“Oh god, here’s another one!”
“Quick, deploy the sentinel.” A whirring airbot hurtles from the darkness, lidar scans searching for the critters. They can’t hide forever, sentinels know what to look for. Air composition changes, skin oil deposits, spoor. Little beasts are cute in a way, but they’re dangerous to the traveling elite.
“There, there!” The airbot responds to the chief engineers shout, tracking to the left. They listen to scurrying sounds, feet scraping against metal and plastic. “seems to be more than one. I can hear two sets of mandibles.”
His assistant, the one responsible for sentinel maintenance, nods his head. “Should install vermin guards on the cargo bays. Keep waiting for them to appropriate the funds.”
“It’s in the next phase of ship mod work. We’ll get there. In the meantime, watch the fun!” The chief engineer cackles, one of six green bellies drapes over the handrail. “Go, go. Run you little turd!”
“Hey!” a third voice joins them. It’s Ry’legh, the midshipman. “I got five credits, says this one lasts longer than ten minutes against your sentinel.”
“You’re on,” the assistant replies. “I sent our best. This little booger don’t stand a chance.” His airbot seems to sense the new tension in the air and chirps with determination. This isn’t a matter of life and death, it’s a matter of cash! It re-acquires its target, another dirty-faced, nearly-sentient human, running for its life among the hulks of cargo containers in Cargo Bay 7.
Just finished a new fiction piece based on the following prompt: “You and your spouse are having a nice vacation, relaxing on the beach in the sunlight. You got a notification on your phone and checked it out. It was your spouse asking you when you’ll be going on vacation.” Something about the prompt instantly made me think of a Hitchcock film and Ray Bradbury. I’m calling it ‘Better Half’ and I hope you enjoy it.