Monday, July 13, 2009

It's all about relationships

I read the blog of comedy writer/baseball announcer Ken Levine pretty regularly. A blog post that he put up a few days ago coincided with a podcast that I was listening to a few days earlier while I was at the gym. It featured Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci the two writers of the new Star Trek movie.

All of these people were talking about the importance of characters and how, in the end, there is nothing more important than characters and the relationships between them. None of the things that happen in the story matter if the relationships don't work.

Levine's post was about being pitched ideas for sitcoms. He complained that people always told him about funny situations but no one ever tells him about the people who are in those funny situations. He put it this way.
Here’s what nobody ever pitches me: a show about a relationship. THE OFFICE is funny because of the relationship between Michael and his employees. It is funnier still because of the relationships among the employees. What they actually manufacture is completely unimportant.

Start with the characters first.

What about the dynamics between them are interesting, fresh, and could sustain stories week after week? And then, what is the best setting to put them in? One that hasn’t been seen before is a plus but not imperative. How many shows and plays and radio series have been set in bars?
The guys who wrote Star Trek -- which I liked, by the way, but not as much as many others -- said that in their writing process they don't start outlining their story until they know who their characters are going to be and what kind of relationships they will have.

Before they worked significantly on the story they were going to tell they had to figure out that the relationship they focused on was going to be the brother-like relationship between Kirk and Spock.

For some reason all of this is sticking with me lately. I don't know what it means or why I am keying in on characters and their relationships lately, but I am. And these observations by others has been a wonderful reminder for me and a bit of a wake-up call.

In the pieces I have been working on lately I have been writing from one exciting incident to another, working my way through my mental outline just trying to get to the next bullet point. What I have been ignoring are the characters I am putting in those exciting incidents.

It's a nice reminder that this is something I need to work on.

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