what a difference a day makes

This may be a short one. I’m having a definite off-week.

I haven’t been sleeping well. Apparently, staying up all night is for the young buck. When I was an undergrad, I remember staying up until 5 or 6 in the morning, getting no more than four or five hours. That doesn’t work anymore.

Sleep is great. But I also think it’s boring. I like to spend most of my time working out story stuff in my head, and I don’t remember anything useful about my dreams. I definitely can’t write when I’m asleep. So I stay up late, either trying to write or doing something that gets my mind in a storytelling sort of mood.

I mentioned this in a previous post, but writers need to make a schedule. This isn’t just to make sure you do write, it’s to make sure writing doesn’t turn the rest of your life upside-down. Some people find structure too restrictive. They prefer to go with the flow, not make plans, see what happens. Some people go the other way with it. I lean toward that direction a little. Structure is great. But I have trouble applying it where it’s needed most. Having a daily schedule isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t have to be treated like scripture. It’s a guide, and it has as much control over our lives as we’re willing to give it. Like everything else. But I think it’s okay to say that breakfast is best in the morning, sleep is best at night, and exercise is best somewhere between those times.

For some strange reason (it may involve a problem with discipline), I’ve never liked fitting my writing efforts into one fixed time of the day. In film school, I learned that about four hours a day was a good amount of time to work on scripts and papers. It sounds like a lot, but it’s only a fraction of the day.

My problem was being consistent in choosing a specific time of day and sticking to it. Despite my preference for structure, I love flexibility. (I also loved eating out, but that’s a separate issue.) I’m not an expert at scheduling, but I think they work best when your list of daily responsibilities isn’t just floating around on the day planner.

Damn. I’m tired. But I’d like to put this in now before I forget it later.

Structure is pretty good in storytelling, too. We’re all familiar with the three act structure (beginning, middle, end). Most of us have probably even heard of Campbell’s description of the “hero’s journey.” (I used to know it really well, but I’m too wiped right now to recall everything.) His point was that there are patterns of storytelling that cross cultures and centuries. As writers, we could think of them as elements of structure. There’s a hero, there’s an antagonist. There’s a challenge, there’s some kind of resolution. Maybe it’s weak sauce. I know it’s not groundbreaking.

Of course, there are plenty of stories that don’t follow convention. Some are successful, others aren’t. I think this is where arguments about “formula” come into it. Hollywood’s notorious for producing formula films, stories where we can accurately predict the outcome of a narrative, the course of a character’s evolution, even the themes that emerge. Some audiences love it, and that’s fine. They appreciate and enjoy that sense of predictability. But there are others (myself included) that would prefer to be surprised–and challenged.

I don’t like being confused, though. (I’m looking at you Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! God, this week’s episode was frustrating. How many twists and turns does it take until you turn a TV episode into a really expensive pretzel?) There’s a fine line, to be sure.

I gotta admit, though. S.H.I.E.L.D. was confusing, but at least it was bold about it.