About a year ago, I was sitting in Derek Haas’ backyard, smoking a cigar (I could have also began that sentence “A month ago” or “Last week” or “Two night ago”). On that particular afternoon, we were talking about our love for good old short stories…the ones we read as kids. Many of the stories were science fiction…Asimov, Clarke, Dick…including some that we had adapted as screenplays…but just as many weren’t.
We talked about The Lottery and Wine on the Desert and Leiningen Versus The Ants and The Catbird Seat and then pretty much anything by Poe, from the well-known ones like The Cask of Amontillado to the lesser-read works like Hop-Frog.
Then there are the short stories that aren’t famous or celebrated at all, but stick in our minds nevertheless. When I was a child, I read an anthology of science fiction short stories, and I recall one about a man whose spaceship crash lands on an uncharted planet. Even though he’s marooned and out of contact with any other humans, the planet has breathable air, plenty of natural shelter and an abundance of easy-to-hunt creatures for food. It’s perfect in every way but one: the planet doesn’t have the color green. The plants aren’t green, the animals aren’t green, the rocks aren’t green, the water isn’t green…and nothing on our hero’s person or crashed ship is green.
The only thing that is green is the flash of his laser pistol, but he has to fire it sparingly in order to conserve its power. Eventually, he comes to live for those rare milliseconds after he pulls his trigger…when his eyes can feast upon the brilliant but short-lived flash of green.
I think the story was called “A Flash of Green,” and it’s basically about how humans–creatures from a green planet–can slowly go insane when deprived of this most basic hue.
I can’t find it anywhere. So if any of you know where I could track that down in a collection or on the web, please put it in a comment!
(Ed. Note: Travis Fields has the answer. The story is called “Something Green” by Fredric Brown, an author who pretty much epitomized the pulp sci-fi writer of the post-atomic age. Thanks, Travis!)
Anyway, Derek had a pretty great idea. Why not write some pulpy short stories of our own? Why not ask some of our fancy screenwriting friends to do the same?
And by the time our robustos were done, Derek had given birth to Popcorn Fiction.
Popcorn Fiction is free to read. Every few weeks, there will be a new story. The inaugural tale is The Flying Kreisslers by Scott Frank, and predictably, it’s a really good one.
In the weeks that follow, you’ll read original short stories by John August, Les Bohem, Derek Haas, Jeff Lowell, Nichelle Tramble and even yours truly.
My own story is quite serious. I suspect everyone will defy their screenwriting genres to some extent, but since it’s popcorn fiction, you can expect twists and turns and high concepts and punchy stories…the way they used to be written. I hope you enjoy the site. Derek (and his brother, who did the webmastering) built us a nice home, and if people like the offerings, I hope more of our friends will take a shot at penning some five-page wonders.
They’re as much fun to write as they usually are to read.
So 17 years ago, I had a dream. I don’t remember much about it; it wasn’t particularly interesting in terms of setting or substance. I was wandering through a mall and talking to people about mundane things.
But something happened in this dream that I can’t stop thinking about.
Someone in the dream made a remark, and other people laughed, but I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand what was so funny about what the person said.
And then, about an hour after I woke up, I got the joke.
I wish I could remember the joke itself. I can’t. All I can remember is that maybe a week after this happened, I sat up like a shot at my desk and realized the implications.
My mind had manufactured a character. That character had a thought process independent of “my” own, and the proof of that independence was in my initial lack of comprehension. I had been surprised by a creature of my own creation. And then it occurred to me that while the joke had made this clear, it was happening every night when I went to bed.
Consider this: if you are at all surprised by anything that happens in a dream, your mind has successfully fragmented itself. You are, for lack of a better term, experiencing something akin to multiple personality disorder.
I’m sorry if you find this boring; I still can’t quite get over it. Consciousness is an extraordinarily complicated phenomenon that no one has ever satisfactorily defined. What we do know is that it’s an illusion like everything else the brain creates. We don’t actually see the color blue. Photons traveling at a certain wavelength smash into photopsin molecules in the cones of our retina, triggering an electric impulse that travels to cells in the occipital lobe, and then…
…well, that’s the magic part. “We” “experience” “color.” Yeah, each of those words needs quotes, because each is misleading. What the hell is the “we” that we think we are, are we “experiencing” anything at all or is the experience part and parcel with what we are, and what’s color other than a biological quirk of our detection of a wavelength?
Consciousness is the GUI, if you will, that interprets all the machine code of our brain’s trillions of ons and offs.
That’s big enough to contemplate (consciousness metaphorizing itself, hooray!), but now add into the mix this fun fact: our consciousness can fragment. In the dream state, it seems as if the ego consciousness, i.e. the consciousness we experience as self, can be separated apart from satellite consciousnesses that think, reason, plan and employ language as easily as we do.
When creating characters, it seems to me that the best situation is when we allow this dream-like process to fragment our consciousness and cede some control to the satellite mind of the person we’re creating. The worst situation is when we force our ego consciousness to pretend to be someone we’re not.
It’s the mental equivalent of good versus bad acting.
That’s not to say that we have to slip into frickin’ fugue states or anything. This is still work, people. But if your mind gets rubbery enough to move quickly between the different consciousnesses of your various characters, maybe even as quickly as you can type, I think you’ll find that certain mistakes will simply cease to be.
Like the “your character’s voice isn’t consistent” mistake. Or the “your character’s reactions aren’t consistent” mistake. Or the “your character doesn’t feel like a real person” mistake. Or the “your character is boring” mistake.
Naturally, the more interesting and astute your ego consciousness is, the more interesting and well-crafted your satellite consciousnesses will be. But even then, our minds are capable of creating things almost beyond our understanding. How else to create something like Hannibal Lecter? Research, yes, stories and facts, yes…but then there must be a fragmentation of the mind. In this fragment of our creation, the repugnant becomes beautiful and the will is unrestrained.
Or maybe you just need to fragment off a chunk of space for a 15 year-old girl with boy troubles. They don’t all have to be profound.
They just have to be independent.
Ideally, the ego consciousness creates the basic story and its themes and determines what characters are required. But those characters themselves need to live on their own in some small but real way. This is something we all theoretically have the capacity to do; we all definitely do it when we dream.
If you can do it when you’re wide awake, the phone’s ringing, there’s a deadline hanging over your head and you’re not sure if anything you’ve written yet is any damned good at all…well, you’re probably a writer.
I just received word from Lesley Mackie McCambridge, who runs the WGAw Credits Department, that the issue with IMDB has been resolved. She and her department were on this one before any of us in the blogosphere even knew about it, and IMDB will not be moving forward with any plan to relocate writers’ credits from their rightful position.
All of your letters and feedback definitely supported the Guild’s efforts. Thanks to all of you and Lesley for winning this one.
Some people, depending on their platform or browser, have noticed that IMDB is no longer including WGA-determined screenwriting credits at the top of the credits list along with the director.
Instead, they’re appearing below the jump, as an “additional” credit.
When I check on an IMDB page, it appears the way it usually does, but someone else has confirmed via IMDB that they are trying out a new way of displaying credits, and some users may get the version where screenwriters are demoted to the “and all the rest” section.
I urge you all to let IMDB know that this is unacceptable and completely inaccurate to the truth of how movies are created. Just go to their feedback form here. I remember using IMDB in its very early days, when writers weren’t listed with directors. I wrote them a letter then, and I was happy when they gave writers parity with directors.
Looks like it’s time to fight once more. Hopefully the WGAw and WGAE will weigh in as well. For better or worse, IMDB is the authority on credits now and likely for a very long time to come. It’s critical that their authority is responsible to truth.