Breaking A Story: Hollywood Style (A DisCon III Panel)

In December of 2021, I had the opportunity to attend DisConIII. Here are my other DisCon posts.

The panelists for the titular panel were: Michael R Underwood, Nikhil Singh, Sumiko Saulson, and Rebecca Roanhorse as moderator.

What Was Your Scriptwriting Experience Like?

For Michael, he sold his IP to a company that produced an 11 episode series. He came in with the story bible of characters, settings, and a plot skeleton. The team refined the concepts and core pieces together, fleshed out the outline, and then split it into story beats and episodes, of which each writer took point on two or three.

For Sumiko, ze started out in the media world with video editing of episodic stuff while absorbing a lot about pacing. A lot of hir work was with family. Novels came when writing solo.

For Nikhil, he’s familiar with the film industry using South Africa and Cape Town in particular for cheap movie shoots and their lack of labor laws. Then having the industry ignore works from actual African artists because it doesn’t match their Hollywood image of what it should be. He’s seen the streaming services replace a lot of indie works, and put a lot of movie and tv creation back under studio control — but has hope for the future. The power of phone recordings, etc, means there’s a lot of room for new and creative concepts that break the mold of what’s out there.

How Does Scriptwriting Translate To Novels?

  • A TV episode equates to about 10,000 words, or 4-5 chapters, but in (obviously) more explicitly episodic archs.
  • The movie standard 3-act structure, with the big inciting incident at the end of the 1st quarter of the book, and the climax in the last quarter – and that works well to pace novels.
  • There’s always going to be a core of emotional impact for which you’re writing.
  • Characters often come first and inform the plot
  • There are always tropes and systems to explore

What Tools Are Used For Each/Both?

  • Novels have the ability to use the character’s internalizations to a much greater degree.
  • Role-playing game character sheets can be used to develop characterizations
  • Notebooks and notepads
  • Shamanic dreaming and lucid dreaming – for conceptualizing and building a storyline
  • Scrivener – writing/story boarding
  • Writer’s Room Pro – collaborating, especially for script writing
  • Slack channels – a chat-platform, can be used for script collaborations
  • Scabard – it’s a wiki and more used for role-playing world building and more
  • Miro – a white-boarding project management tool (didn’t work for the panelist’s project) [looks similar to Trello, which I use]

What Doesn’t Translate Well Between?

Scripts use minimal description, the set and costume designers handle the look.

Very few movies or tv shows use voice-overs for internality, the most you get is facial expressions and body language.

Tips To Work Well In a Writer’s Room

  • The storyboarder must be a good listener
  • You need to be able to let go of your ego and possessiveness of worlds, characters, etc
  • Like a garden, you never know how a collaboration is going to grow
  • Fluidity and flexibility will go a long way

Have you worked with scripts? With novels? Which do you prefer and why?

Are you interested in trying either?


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