Sunday, September 9, 2012

Critical Incision

So I had the idea a few weeks back to exercise my brain a little (while I'm not writing Valbrook [since Drew's animating the shorts]). The plan became to write a series of short, live-action skits connected by a few characters. The hook was that they'd be based (kinda loosely) on my favorite short stories; I was going to find the common threads between the stories. I'd also find the common character types and link them (preferably so the same actors could appear in the series playing the same characters).

Ultimately, I didn't go through with it because the stories I wanted to use weren't in the public domain. Since I didn't really have anybody in mind who might like to do this series, I figured it probably wasn't worth the potential legal hassle. I mean, the shorts are more transformative works than they are adaptations, but I'd still have a little trouble justifying that to myself.

I told you that story to tell you this story: the first one I had in mind was based on "The King of the Cats" by Stephen Vincent Benét (of "The Devil and Daniel Webster" fame). I first read it in ninth grade and it made a little impact on me. When I read it now, I can see the faults--but it's still a clever, weird story. I was almost not going to write this short, but I decided that since I'd gotten the elements together, I might as well follow through. So here's the first (and probably final) draft to my transformation of the original:

Cats and Kings

When I write shorts and skits like this, I always think in terms of beats and rhythm. It's something Drew and I can communicate in terms of, since it's a language of emotional waves and audio-visual action. When you read a short story, on the other hand, everything happens one after the other. The only way to break the action and separate the emotion is to insert a break. Paragraphs work to a certain degree, but the rhythm is harder to control because the reader can read as fast as he or she damn well pleases.

Beats! It's all in the beats. Virtually every Valbrook short is divided into five beats. The first is the narrator setting the pieces, the next three are the character setup, joke, and punchline, then the final is the narrator tying everything up with the town as a whole. I mean, that's the ideal and that's what we think in terms of, and sometimes we don't hit those exact notes.

For "Cats and Kings", I wanted something similar time-wise because I was shooting for summing up the short stories in feeling in just a few minutes. I measure most of the time in terms of cuts--and I tried to establish a rhythm based on that:

1. (Pieces Set): Intro scene (pretty simple stuff, with the twist being that TIBAULT has a tail)
2. (Character Setup): "Magic Cat" and "Professor" scenes (only four lines in the first, which segues into explaining PRINCESS)
3. (Joke, or in this case, Conflict): "Cast a Spell" scene (shows that PRINCESS loves TIBAULT because he offers something TOMMY can't give her)
4. (Punchline, or in this case, Climax): "True Names" and "Port of Departure" scenes (shows that TOMMY will do anything to get PRINCESS, including use what he doesn't respect to destroy the magic in the world)
5. (Tying Up): The end of "Port of Departure" and the credits (all alone, TOMMY has lost the person he loved...but he didn't really deserve her anyways, eh?)

I also put in a bonus scene with the Professor because I thought it was a fun option.

So, what did I do wrong in this? What could've gone differently?

Well, for starters--I made a decision while writing not to have a flashback scene with Tibault. I thought about a scene showing how self-absorbed and enamored of Princess he was, but I felt it was unnecessary and didn't speak to the themes. In the original, Tibault is spoken of, but rarely speaks. I figured it was best to keep him as much of a mystery as possible.

I'm not sure how clear the last scenes are, from "True Names" until the end. And the way the Princess disappears isn't very clear, either. My idea would be to have a scene with another cat appearing along side Tibault when he transforms; that would probably make the magic tie up nicely. But Tommy's really the main character--so maybe I didn't make that clear enough?

Anyhow, I've probably gone on too long. I hope anybody who reads this gets something out of it!

Bonus Time: A MIDI version of Iphigénie en Aulide