Writing and Screenplay Format

Right on the heels of the Oscars, it’s probably a good time to mention that I have always loved screenplays—and the screenplay format. I first ran across one back when Stephen King penned Storm of the Century, and I quickly realized that this was the way that all Hollywood movies were written on paper. I was fascinated.

Since then, I’ve read quite a few screenplays for both movies and television (the latter of which are often just called scripts), and have quite enjoyed them all. It’s probably not surprising, then, that I’ve felt an increasing itch to try to pen one myself. I’m curious, though: have you ever read a screenplay, in any form? And if not, do you find the format pretty readable? I can include an example here: the screenplay for Big Fish, which is hosted by its author (John August) on his personal site. If you wouldn’t mind reading through a few pages of this, I’m quite curious to know how appealing the format is or isn’t to you. To me it would seem especially appealing to anyone that enjoys movies but doesn’t necessarily like to wade through an entire novel; most screenplays are around 110 pages with plenty of whitespace. I’d be grateful if you would let me know via a comment (or Twitter/Facebook/e-mail) what you think.

If you’re curious, my two very favorite screenplay/script collections are The Dark Knight Trilogy (available on Nook/Kindle) and the West Wing Script Book. They’re both terrific looks into how movies and television are made, and also a fun chance to see these stories unfold visually in your own imagination.

Coming back to my site here, the really neat thing is that I have handcrafted a way to turn ordinary text into screenplay format, right here on my site! Here’s a quick example:

-Script-

EXT. AN OLD DIRT ROAD – DAY

Two men, both mid-twenties, stand next to a battered country road. Faintly stretching across the road in front of them are the imprints of chicken feet.

GEORGIA GRAD
Why did this chicken cross the road?

GEORGIA TECH GRAD
Well, to accurately identify that, we’d need to calculate the velocity of the wind, in combination with the weather, to determine external factors influencing the chicken’s resistance to moving forward. Then, we’d have to learn about the chicken’s social habits, including the proximity of any female chickens, because—

GEORGIA GRAD
Okay, we’re done here.

-Script-

Would love to post some bits of fiction (amusing and not) in this format, so again, I’d love to get your thoughts. If it’s a bit jarring to read (the link to Big Fish being the best indicator), definitely let me know.

Thank you for your help!

Overprotecting Our Kids

Our gut instincts tell us that we’re overprotecting our children—certainly compared to when we ourselves were kids. What would we have felt like if our childhood experiences were traded with that of our children today? Would we have been better off, or worse? This article puts considerable effort into exploring the answer, and makes for an eye-opening read.

The Overprotected Kid – (Hanna Rosin, The Atlantic)

Writing Advice: Avoiding “Thought” Verbs

Ran across this post by Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club), which features some of the simplest but most powerful writing advice I’ve seen in a while: avoiding “thought” verbs as much as possible. These are verbs like Knows, Thinks, Wonders, and Remembers. Instead, he implores us to be as descriptive as possible.

I think this is fantastic writing advice for writers of any level—not just in fiction writing but in corporate and personal settings, as well. Don’t state but show.

One excerpt:

“Brenda knew she’d never make the deadline. Traffic was backed up from the bridge, past the first eight or nine exits. Her cell phone battery was dead. At home, the dogs would need to go out, or there would be a mess to clean up. Plus, she’d promised to water the plants for her neighbor…”

Do you see how the opening “thesis statement” steals the thunder of what follows? Don’t do it.

Check out the full article here.

The Web Site – What’s Next?

Over Christmas, I formed the plans for the relaunch and expansion of my web site, which will unfold over time. I thought I’d take a moment to share some of the things I plan to include:

  • Blog-style writing, which has traditionally been the sole focus of the site, along with the more “bite-sized” posts that I mentioned earlier this month.
  • A expanded new design (developed incrementally over time), with original icons and more depth.
  • A site design journal, which will cover the changes I’ve made along with how and why I made them—especially for anyone interested in web design.
  • Individual pages with unique content and designs, specifically for:
    • Scrabble: My current ranking, recent and upcoming tournaments, general posts, play advice, and various favorite resources.
    • Fiction writing: A place for stories I write, either in prose or screenplay form. May eventually include writing contributions from others, as well.
    • Movie and TV reviews: I often find it fun to see what friends and family think of movies and television shows, so I’ll do my part here.
    • Gaming: Posts about and links to the current games I’m playing online or on desktop/mobile/console, along with reviews for other games I tried recently.
    • Book reviews: There are fewer things better than the love of a good book. You’ll be able to see what I’m currently reading along with reviews of recently read books (fiction and non-fiction).
    • Cool things: Links to and brief posts about things I’ve used or come across recently that are worth sharing.

That’s probably enough, right? It certainly is a lot of content, so of course this will take a long time to roll out in its entirety. But that’s the great thing about web design: it can be progressive, and expand as time allows. The two most significant things are: 1) to get started, and 2) to know where you’re going. Even if it’s my high school graduation present to Tyler.

In truth, I’m also using this site as a playground, to build and try new things. That’s the best way to hone web design skills, which is something I very much want to do for work and beyond. There are few people that would call any corporate environment a “playground,” I’m afraid. So hopefully I’ll have fun creating one of my own.

If you have any suggestions for things you’d like to see, send me a note!

Are Our Stories Good Enough?

Browsing through Facebook, I’m always a bit stunned to find how often we share things from strangers (i.e. the internet) instead of ourselves. It’s so easy to view others’ extraordinary achievements (“Man leaps over fire to propose to fiancée!”) as much superior to our own (“Man nervously takes wife to a park only to give away proposal intent.”). We can’t compete, right?

But we can and should. Why? Because the internet is full of such extraordinary things, but our lives are not. Personally, I don’t care about random larger-than-life stories from the internet, but I do care about your everyday ones. The experiences of friends and family are far more valuable than strangers’, because it’s friends and family that we build our lives around. We should care much more about what happens to each other—whether serious, silly, or somewhere in between.

So in 2015 I implore you to share your thoughts and stories, and we’ll all enjoy them more. Even if they don’t involve catching a shark with your bare hands, or painting an incredibly realistic seascape on your sidewalk. And better yet, don’t be afraid to create new stories—because even though others have already done so, it’s your stories that matter most to those around you.

The First Step: Moving From Bite Size to 3-5 Bite Size

One of the more difficult aspects of social media (particularly Twitter) is its limiting us to bite-size posts—the challenge of summarizing complex thoughts into a small set of characters. It’s rather indicative of our culture at large. Of course, we’re all pressed for time in various ways, so expanding these posts into novellas isn’t going to do the trick, either. The key, I would hope, is giving such thoughts exactly enough room to breathe and no more.

Therefore, it’s time to bring my web site back to life, slowly at first and hopefully in a way that gains a lot of momentum throughout 2015. I gots plans, you see! (More on that soon.)

For now, though, I will be posting any thoughts longer than 140 characters here, where links will be automatically shared on Facebook and Twitter—simply because that’s the easiest way to share them. Manually checking a web site is no fun, and using RSS isn’t exactly popular to talk about at dinner parties. Yet.

Facebook actually has quite a bit more room to post, so you’ll see more things shared in their entirety there, but of course it also has its own private algorithms that determine what you can and cannot see. This might be an interesting experiment in itself: from time to time you can check the web site (http://www.andymurphy.com) to see if there were posts that Facebook hid from you. In which case you can tell it to go to the Naughty Corner.

Here’s to a terrific 2015, and hopefully we’ll all give our thoughts a little more room to breathe.

Heart and Soul

My grandmother, who is unarguably the heart and soul of my extended family, passed away yesterday in North Carolina. Behind her she leaves a void that all of us know will never be filled.

And yet, to an extent, it already has.

In some ways, we measure ourselves by the impact that we make upon the world, and whether we leave it a better place than we found it. I, for one, know that my very existence is largely a product of my grandparents, who worked together to create something bigger and more meaningful than anything I’ll create in my lifetime. They built not just a family but one that works ceaselessly to improve the world through kindness and humor. And so while our hearts are unbearably heavy today, I take solace in the fact that my grandmother lives on—not just in the family that she created, but in the many acts of kindness that she instilled in others. There are truly parts of her in all of us.

When I graduated college, my parents had divorced, Kelly (who I’d only been dating for three months) was moving to Maryland for a job that she wasn’t sure would be permanent, and suddenly I found myself in an adult world with no job and only a hint of a direction. My brother had also joined the Air Force, and for the first time in my life, family felt like a distant thing to me.

My grandparents changed all of that.

Although they were in their seventies, they didn’t blink when they offered for me to come live with them until I figured out what I wanted to (or could) do. They knew their home of forty years couldn’t match the excitement of the Athens nightlife, and I’ll never forget my grandmother laughing as she told me she was aware of that. But in those weeks I lived with them, they instilled a sense of family that I didn’t entirely realize I’d been missing. We had home-cooked meals and talked about things around town and my grandmother silently (and happily) made meals that she knew that I liked, even though I protested. When my grandmother made up her mind about something (especially related to a kindness she was offering), it was best to just accept and be grateful. And I was and am so truly grateful.

As of yesterday, she is no longer with us, but in some ways she is always with us. She’s the catalyst whenever we decide to bring family together, and she bats away the hesitation we might feel when we hug instead of shaking hands. She’s the foundation of our sense of home whenever we walk in our front door, and the laughs we make whenever we see something silly (her eye rolling was the best). There are few things in our lives that she hasn’t touched.

I hope so much that in those final days, she smiled to herself and knew that her work here was done. I hope that she felt rewarded in knowing that she would be leaving the world a better place than she found it, and that her five remaining daughters (and their children) would continue to build on that impact long after she was gone. Most of all, I simply hope that left this world with a profound sense of satisfaction.

If you’re reading this, Grandma, know that I love you so much, and that we will never, ever forget you.

Setting Course for 2014

As we enter the new year, we’re all thinking—consciously or subconsciously—about New Year’s resolutions. The idea of starting anew has an irresistible quality to it. And although 2013 departed us less than a week ago, it already grows smaller in the rearview mirror.

There are many kinds of resolutions, but mine tend to fall into realm of focus: things to focus on more, and things to focus on less. Much of our day-to-day experiences are largely about perspective, and few things are as easy to change (relatively speaking) as our perspective. But we have to be willing to change.

2013, for me, was often a year of frustration. There were all of the obvious frustrations: moving to a new city, raising a one year-old, trying to find time for the many things I can’t find time for, sitting in traffic, and so on. I try to dwell on these frustrations as little as possible, because often it is wasted effort. It is time spent focusing on the negative. Like everyone else, I just get through them the best I can, and make a few improvements when the opportunity presents itself. But the *real* frustration happens with the things that I seemingly cannot hope to change. For me, the most glaring example of this is the ugly combination of hate and ignorance. They are everywhere: in the “news”, in Facebook/Twitter, in conversations overheard at a bar or local café. And surprisingly, they are increasingly common in close friends, good people, and, at times, myself.

As time goes on, and the internet sprawls outward, reliable information will come at a premium. Our ability to harness it, as a society, may largely determine our fate in the years ahead. For when everyone has a voice, whose voice is it that we hear the most? Those that are the *loudest*. We like to think that the loudest voices are those that most represent the truth, but deep down every one of knows this is not the case. The world doesn’t give volume to those with the largest accuracy, or depth; it gives volume to those with the most money.

Hate is a terrible thing. It always feel justified but too often isn’t. It can be based on misinformation, hearsay, “facts” spun in misleading directions, and the more obvious origins of bigotry, discrimination, or—as is too often the case—fear. What alarms me about hate is how much we’re seeing it manifest within ourselves based on what we’re told, not by what we experience. We invent large-scale battles based on wars that don’t truly exist at an individual level. In other words, we fight for people we don’t know and who may not need fighting for. Whenever I feel myself turn in this direction, a sense of revulsion comes over me, because I feel that the line between who I am and who I don’t want to be is increasingly thinning.

As with many things, there is no clear answer to this, but going into 2014, I want to do the following:

* Do not respond to hate. Hate needs an audience to flourish, and responding with disdain (or “correction”) only gives its fire the oxygen it needs to survive. If you are hateful, I vow to ignore you.
* Do not spread any information that I don’t: 1) feel a strong trust in its originator, or 2) know from personal experience. Random internet links, regardless of how logical, are not helping any of us.
* Give every single individual, in my life and others, a chance to start on equal footing. *That* is the essence of what being an American is all about, and it stuns me how much we abandon this principle at the first sign of struggle. No matter how much 15 people in one group are alike, the 16th person is not one of those 15, and doesn’t deserve to inherit their mistakes *or* successes. They deserve to be viewed for who they are.

I write this as a way to see these resolutions in print, so that I can pull them up at any time and remind myself if needed. I want to hold myself accountable to them.

I hope you will help me do that, and perhaps join me along the way.

Every Day is Groundhog Day

It’s fascinating to think that this very moment is the culmination of everything you’ve ever learned to date—skills, habits, mannerisms, education, and even which things are truly important to you. On its own, each bit of learning seems so insignificant. But compiled over time, they represent an enormously important part of who we are.

Amusingly, I think I first started to realize this after watching the movie Groundhog Day. In the movie, Phil (played by Bill Murray) finds himself in a situation where he wakes up every morning to find that he’s living the exact same day as yesterday. It’s always Groundhog Day. The key, though, is that he retains his memory from day to day—and after some initial despair (and humor, of course), he realizes that he can use this to his advantage. He learns more about the girl he loves. He learns when to save people from ill-fated accidents. He learns to play the piano.

It is this last that really got me thinking: aren’t our lives, without the repetition of days, still essentially the same story? We float from one day to the next, often reacting to the events around us, without stopping to think about the true sum of these events over time. We turn away from piano when we consider how difficult a song seems to play, without taking a moment to think about easy it would be to learn ten notes.

And then ten more notes.

Going one step further, we can look at this in the context of our most important dreams—dreams that often seem so unattainable. But if we can break down the steps to those dreams, to the smallest of steps, we can create our own Groundhog Day experience.

Some people ask me why I’m so driven to move myself forward—mostly because it often seems to my detriment. Is it really helpful to study web design in the depths of the night, when sleep tries to force my hand? Is it mentally damaging to try to hold on to so many goals at once? I am not sure I know the answers to these questions, but I do know one thing: I don’t want to look back on my Groundhog Day and say that I’m no better off than when I started.  I don’t want to be the version of Phil that stares blankly at a piano on Day 74.

I hope that you don’t, either.