Creative Writing

The Vulcan Mind Meld: Story Development Notes

Posted by on May 30, 2014 in Creative Writing | 0 comments

The Vulcan Mind Meld: Story Development Notes

Grandpa Hank here. This week we’re fortunate to have a new voice, guest blogger Allen Ivers taking on the always sigh-inducing and often hilarious world of studio notes. Take it away, Allen…

The Vulcan Mind Meld: Story Development Notes

By Allen Ivers

The notes process is one of mystery, hope, frustration, and the occasional recreational drug use. Not necessarily by you. Probably you. Not exclusively you. Or something.

Navigating the labyrinth of a notes process can often be mind-numbing, and many people have their own clever metaphors for this development hell: too many cooks in the kitchen, and… maybe that’s the only metaphor. I refer you to my first broken sentence.

The notes process demands a certain kind of psychic ability. You need to be able to perceive intention, weave through word and thought to reach the driving point behind the initial urge of the producer to open his mouth; a lucid dreaming, if you will. A kind of experience one has outside of one’s body. You have to go into their mind like Leonardo DiCaprio and find out what they’re thinking… and then steal it.

I need a cup of coffee.

I’ve been knee-deep in the swamp of Hollywood development for two straight years now, and the only echoed response I’ve ever heard was “we like it, but…” Two people will never give the same note, because once you crest a certain structural objective level—one of simply architectural stability—the quality of your product rapidly becomes subjective instead.

My wife attended USC’s MFA for Screenwriting, and she wrote her thesis as a TV Pilot: a Sci-fi tale about a woman assassin caught between organized crime and a corrupt government—all the sex, drugs, and rock & roll you always wanted to see in Star Trek. Very cool piece, vivid world. But she was given one of the most asinine notes I’ve ever heard:

“Can the hero be a guy instead?” When pressed as to why, she was told: “I just can’t picture a woman being this violent. If this was a guy, I wouldn’t have to change anything.”

Two problems: The first being that any man who’s been married for any stretch of time can tell you: we can imagine it pretty vividly.

“I drink or he dies, these are the options.”

Second, this guy just gave a collection of what I like to call “Chaff.” Information completely unrelated to his note. All three statements side-step his actual issue, one of believability. This guy has a particular misogynistic hurdle to clear, but a hurdle none-the-less, and as writers we have to clear it. In and amongst this chaff is his actual note, and we have to go find it, suppressing anger, rage, terror, and personal injury.

The notes are, at the same time, subjective and objective. It takes a borderline Vulcan mind-meld to determine what the note REALLY MEANS.

The note she got means that we’re not buying our protagonist yet. We could start a fight about Hollywood’s misogyny, a fight worth having to be sure, but ultimately, the note says: “I don’t buy your protagonist yet.” Hence my Inception reference. You need to find out what they’re thinking behind the note. Because notes you get… will be dumb. They just will.

I was once given a note to have a character sneeze. That’s it. Why is he not sneezing?

She’s in a room full of asbestos, after all.

Another instance: I wrote a script called FINDER, still one of my best pieces, about a social outcast-turned inventor who builds himself a best friend. He has dozens of robots in his house. I was told the script needed “more robots.” And in the same draft, a different person said: “We can cut back on the robots.” Different people will have different readings, but what you need to see is: they seem pretty fixated on the robots. Why are they not fixated on my story? I must be missing something.

The notes process is a Mind-Theft, a Jedi Mind-Trick, a tricksy little riddle. And if you can crack what they MEAN to say, you’ll get what’s actually going to improve your story.

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Writers on Set – Your Purpose Isn’t What You Think

Posted by on May 23, 2014 in Creative Writing | 0 comments

Writers on Set – Your Purpose Isn’t What You Think

So you’ve written a screenplay and by some miraculous act of a warm and loving universe, it got to the right people. Now those people have invested a bit of money, found a director, cast your characters, and hired an entire crew. My god, your words and ideas are going to be captured on tiny computer cards! And they want you on set to help out should any problems arise during filming. Awesome.

Just know this – how long they’re going to want you on set is inversely proportional to your level of intrusive brooding. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen writers melt down and destroy their own projects because they wanted to puppet master every little detail.

This subject was on my mind as I watched a short film/TV pilot that I’d written called “Reasonable Men,” come to life in a dark and dusty Pittsburgh basement last week. It was a small project that quickly blew up into something much bigger. I was on set through a majority of the filming, trying to walk that tricky line between detached and hovering – which is way harder than you might think. As a writer, you want things to turn out perfectly – just the way you saw them in your head. But unless you’re directing your own piece, you’re not the one in charge. That distinction goes to the director.

So how do you avoid Chernobyling on set? Well first of all, calm the hell down. Take a few deep breaths for the love of god. And if that doesn’t work, see a doctor. Modern science has created some wonderful pharmaceuticals.

Otherwise, all you need to do is remember one simple rule.

Unless you’re doing a one man/woman show, storytelling is COLLABORATIVE!

You want great performances from your actors? Let them make their own choices along the way. Let elements of the character burst from within them instead of playing an adult version of “Here comes the choo-choo.” Don’t spoon feed them. If they make the discoveries themselves, you’re much more likely to get the riveting or hilarious delivery you hoped for.

You want the set to look amazing? Let the producers and set designers have at it. Let them get creative. Don’t tell them they have the Beatles poster on the wrong wall or that the makeup should have more purple in it. It’s what they do. Let them do it.

Want great shots and a well paced film? Let the director/DP figure out the best way to deliver the visual narrative to the audience. If there’s one thing directors and DP’s hate, it’s anyone saying, “Are you sure that’s the best angle for this? We can’t even see his sideburns. Don’t you think we should see his sideburns?” They like you making suggestions about their shots as much as you like them making suggestions about your dialogue.

So if you’re not there to be a human hornet just zipping around from one room to the next making everyone nervous, then what exactly are you there to do? Well, I’m glad you asked. Your main job on a set as a writer really boils down to one main thing. Remember this and it will go a long way toward tempering any inclination you may have to sulk and be grumpy.

You are there to HANG OUT AND EAT COOKIES.

Yup, that’s it! Why? Cause your work is done. You did all your heavy lifting months ago at your laptop when you created the characters, outlined the plot, and crafted your witty dialogue. At this point, your main job is to crap around with the photographer and the extras beside the craft services table. You are there to enjoy the experience.

Now obviously that’s not entirely true. Occasionally you’ll have to do some honest to god work. But as most writers who’ve ever been on set can attest, flipping through magazines or playing games on your phone is how you’ll spend a majority of your time.

On this particular shoot, I was really only needed one time. I was taking a nap on the couch upstairs when I heard, “Cramer, we need you!” from the basement. So I sprinted downstairs trying to pretend I hadn’t just spent the last fifteen minutes drooling.

Apparently one of the actors was having trouble with a mini-monologue on page 14 and it was throwing off the scene. So the question became, “Can we change this somehow to make it a bit easier to deliver?”

As a writer, there are two ways you can react to this. The first is to start melting down and tell the actor, “It’s your damn job to learn my words! Say it the way I wrote it!” It’s America, damn it. That’s a choice you’re allowed to make without being sent to the Gulags. But what’s going to happen is the actor will keep screwing it up, the crew will blame you for the following twenty-six needless takes, the work will suffer, and the actors and director will change it without consulting you anyway. So you might as well just listen and help.

Your second option is to say, “OK. What’s the problem?” Don’t take the proposed change as a personal insult to your ability. More often than not (on good productions with quality actors anyway) it’s just that the phrasing or action you’d originally written doesn’t fit the actor’s interpretation of said character. This is fine – desirable even. Why? Because if the actor has internalized your character that fully, it means your script is jumping from the page to the camera. It’s coming to life. It’s vibrant.

Just know that if you choose this option, everyone on the crew will be cramming suggestions into your ear canal. The director, the actors, the producers – they’ll be scribbling notes in the margins of their scripts and mashing paper in your face going, “What about THIS?” Don’t get annoyed. They’re just trying to help. The solution is to simply say, “I’ve got an idea but I need a minute or two.” Then go find a secluded desk or table somewhere away from the insanity where you can concentrate on the task in front of you.

Or… and it’s going to seem like this is one of my dumb little jokes, but it’s a serious suggestion…
Go to the bathroom.

Go pee. You’re alone and divorced from all the chaos of the set. No one is likely to bust in there with a script and say, “What if he said DOG DIRT instead of CABIN FEVER!” And if they do, you’re on the wrong production.

That’s how I solved the minor hiccup on last week’s production. I took a nice long piss. By the end of it, I’d figured out how to condense six lines of dialogue into one and not really lose any of the meaning. (Special thanks to Gatorade.) And filming ramped back up within minutes.

Would I rather have had the actor say what I wrote verbatim? You bet. I wrote it that way for a reason. Was it worth sending the whole production into a death spiral over? Hell no. In a lot of ways the actor stumbling over his lines made the overall production better. It forced me to realize that his block of dialogue could easily be consolidated, which in turn kept the energy up and the flow going in that particular scene. In the finished product, will any viewers have the slightest idea there was originally more there? Not unless we’re selling autographed scripts on eBay someday, and if that’s the case then the omission of those few lines must not have mattered much.

Now obviously these types of suggestions are only valid on productions where people seem to know what they’re doing. Occasionally you’ll get an actor (or even a director) who just randomly changes things for the sake of changing things with no consideration given to the story. That’s an entirely different ballgame. I’ll have stories about that in coming blogs. That’s not what I’m talking about here.

In the end, “Reasonable Men” turned out better than I could’ve ever hoped. Amazingly enough, it did so despite the fact that not every line was delivered precisely the way I’d envisioned before showing up on set. Hell, not every line was even delivered at all. But that’s OK, because it was the COLLABORATIVE EFFORT OF EVERYONE INVOLVED that made the production so exciting to be a part of.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to do as a writer is to remember that the story isn’t yours alone. In order to become something truly extraordinary, the story has to belong to everyone on set. Because then and only then can your narrative be brought to life in the way that it truly deserves.

Ya know – the way you pictured it in your head all along.

And hey, if nothing else – free cookies.

photo credit: Mrs Magic via photopin cc

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Well That Wasn’t Helpful At All – How To React To Awful Script Notes

Posted by on May 17, 2014 in Creative Writing | 1 comment

Well That Wasn’t Helpful At All – How To React To Awful Script Notes

One of the biggest events in the University of California-Riverside’s theatre department each year is a festival called “Playworks.” People come from all over southern California and actually pay $15 a pop to see what UCR’s graduate-level playwrights have to say. It’s a great bridge between the university and the community, featuring new and innovative works from a diverse group of individuals. In the two years I was there, our plays ran the gamut from funny to absurd to heartfelt to completely off the wall. (Admittedly, the off the wall ones were mainly due to me.) My roommate Rob’s 2007 play even got turned into a half-million dollar movie.

Because it was part of a larger collegiate festival with an absurdly long acronym I can’t remember, the university brought in a dramaturg to review all of the plays. Now you might ask me, “Grandpa Hank, what is a dramaturg?” To be perfectly honest, I still don’t know. In my experience they’re some sort of theatre-y person whose main job it is to be snooty, fixate on very trivial things within the production, and make insane suggestions that conspiracy theorists would have trouble following. Perhaps they serve some greater purpose, but if so, I haven’t yet been exposed to it. They’re like the theatre version of sideline reporters.

Case in point, the lady who was there that night (who again, was PAID by the university to show up) was so bizarrely out of touch with the plays she was critiquing that by the end of it, many of us were convinced that she’d been huffing turpentine on the way into town.

For instance, she asked my friend Molly…

“Where did this play take place? I was very confused by the setting. Was it in a mall? It really felt like it took place at the mall.”

“It was set in a kitchen,” Molly answered.

“See, I didn’t get that at all.”

Molly squinted and pointed to the stage. “The main character went to the oven and pulled out a roast.”

The lady stared at the rafters. “See, to me, it felt like it was at the mall. So that’s your first problem.”

We later went over the entire script for anything that could’ve remotely hinted that the play took place at the mall instead of a family kitchen. I believe one of the characters mentioned she’d recently bought new jeans. And that was about it. Otherwise, every single context clue available let the audience know it was set in a kitchen. Including ya know, all the props and uh… the playbill. But to hell with context clues, the dramaturg said. TO HELL WITH THEM!

But wait, there’s more! My wife’s play was centered around a precocious five-year-old with a massive IQ digging a giant hole in his front yard while his mother and grandmother sat in lawn chairs debating how to best raise the young genius currently burrowing to China in the pit below them.

When it was time for the play to be reviewed, the dramaturg lady spent a few minutes cleaning her tiny glasses and came up with the following gem.

“What if he wasn’t digging a giant hole in his mother’s front yard? What if he was digging a hole right in the middle of the grandmother’s living room? It would bring an immediacy to the situation that the play hasn’t yet achieved.”


The scariest thing to come out of that comment was that presumably it’s possible to get the entire way to your late forties, earn an advanced degree that enables you to adjudicate college theatre festivals and somehow NOT KNOW THE VERY BASICS ABOUT HOW HOMES ARE BUILT! Sure, he’ll just dig a hole in the floor. Cause that’s simple. There are only two scenarios where this is possible.

1) The grandmother lives in a mud hut.
2) This kindergartner has access to heavy machinery he should in no way have access to.

“Well gol-lee Bobby really tore up the carpet. Told you we shouldn’t have bought him that Bobcat.”

The worst part was that even when we pressed her further, she never understood why the suggestion was so ridiculous.

“Just imagine mounds of dirt in the grandmother’s pristine living room,” she said. “And he’s just digging away. It gives the grandmother the objective she’s currently lacking.”

Because of comments such as the one above, we had a field day imitating her at the cast party at the end of the festival.

“Ok, what if your play wasn’t set in a hospital, but rather in a small lifeboat in the middle of a hurricane?”

“What if instead of your main character being a young gay man, it was a large bucket of chicken?”

“What if instead it being a bar full of cowboys, it was a mouth filled with teeth? And instead of “A Texas Story,” you could call it “Sarsaparilla Sam Explores His Own Cavities?”

Looking back on it, I really do hope she was a drug addict who just fell off the wagon because if not, there’s a 50% chance she’s currently stuck in a canyon somewhere with no idea where she is. Anyway, whatever the reason was, none of us got a single useful note out of the entire experience.

And that’s frustrating. Why? Because decent notes from other people are absolutely essential to the process of guiding an idea through the minefield of development. As good as I like to think I am, I’ve never really gotten one of my stories to do exactly what I was aiming for on the first try. Or the second. Or the third. (Hell, I tend to get three opinions on this silly little blog before I throw it up there on the Interwebz.) With all the moving pieces in the giant creative puzzle in your mind, any writer is bound to overlook a few things. Chances are, you’re so invested in the work, you’re going to be a bit story blind. Good notes help you see your work from differing perspectives – and eventually end up with a well-rounded final product you can be proud of.

So how do you avoid bad notes? And more than that, how do you identify bad notes before you start having a five-year-old attempt to dig through a concrete foundation with a trowel? Here are a few tips.

Know your story inside and out: The biggest thing you can do to keep bad notes from killing your work is to fully understand what your story is and who your characters are. What are you trying to accomplish by telling the story you’ve chosen to tell? If you know and understand that Bernice’s Irish heritage is what drives her to do many of the things she does, you’ll recognize that someone saying, “I think you should make Bernice Swedish,” isn’t especially helpful. The better you know your story and characters, the more you’ll be able to tell whether the notes you receive will actually help your words and characters blossom or if they will unnecessarily gut the whole thing.

Develop a network of trusted readers: These don’t necessarily have to be professionals. The first person I have read any of my scripts is my father. He’s a retired chemistry teacher who’s never taken a script writing class in his life. But that doesn’t matter. I don’t send my stories out to anyone until I get his stamp of approval. He’ll tell me straight up whether he enjoyed the story and more than that, if there were certain parts of it he just didn’t buy. He often gives me notes that are on par with those of my former professors simply because what he tends to see is so damned obvious. My professors are asking me questions like, “What is the main character’s overall dramatic question?” and my father is like, “I don’t think she could get to Ohio and back in two hours. You should make it two and a half. Unless they live out by the airport.” And those are great notes because the last thing you want is people debating travel times in their heads while they’re supposed to be paying attention to a crucial scene.

Ideally, your trusted network should be diverse in as many ways as possible. If your network is a bunch of like-minded yes men, you’re going to get a lot of positive feedback. And while thumbs-up and a pat on the back feel great, if your script really needs some work, their notes are as useful as the ones from the dramaturg I mentioned earlier. Not only that, but the script has now been angelically validated in your mind, so you’re more likely to be resistant to the honest, helpful notes you receive down the line. In other words, be your own gatekeeper. Keep the bad notes away by finding a group of trusted readers. You’ll be a lot happier avoiding the people whose feedback is consistently bonkers.

Learn how to give good notes yourself: Obviously, if you don’t know what a good note is, you can’t differentiate between script advice that is helpful and script advice that makes as much sense as the weather lately. If you’re reading someone else’s script and you feel that Bernice should be Swedish, you need to have ACTUAL REASONS WHY. I know, crazy, right? It’s amazing how many people will read your work and throw a note out there simply because they feel guilty or dumb not having any sort of response. And they just saw a documentary on some Swedish bobsledders so now you’re stripping Bernice of her culture and heritage all to appease someone in your workshop or class who simply needed to hear the sound of their own voice on Thursday.

It seems obvious, but many people forget that the ultimate objective of giving a note is to help the writer create a better script. You can’t give a good note unless you as the reader have a conscious grasp on the story you just read (i.e., you can distinguish between a kitchen and a mall). Many people don’t realize that giving notes has everything to do with helping the writer across the table and zero to do with their own personal preferences. When people either forget or don’t realize that simple fact, you get awful, completely unhelpful notes.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be exploring the concept of script and story notes in a few related posts that highlight the types of suggestions you’re likely to get as well as the best ways to implement them. In the first one, I’m going to talk a bit about…

Wait, what? What? I’m sorry, the dramaturg is interrupting me here.

“Instead of using words for this blog, why don’t you record a series of sneezes and assign each one a corresponding number based on their intensity? Then you can post those numbers on a billboard in eastern Kentucky. This blog is just screaming for a confusing Appalachian billboard.”

That’s a fantastic suggestion, ma’am. I’ll get right on it after I’m done digging this hole in the floor.

photo credit: theloushe via photopin cc

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Way To Go, Ron Walters!

Posted by on May 1, 2014 in Writer Interviews | 0 comments

Congrats to Grandpa Hank’s interviewee Ron Walters, whose novel “The Watchmaker” has made the semifinals in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novelist Award! Check out his first two chapters here and if you can, leave a review. Also, check out Ron’s interview from February where he talks about writing “The Watchmaker.”

Congrats, Ron. Grandpa Hank takes all the credit for no reason whatsoever other than it’s my blog and nobody is going to stop me from blatantly fibbing about where all the credit lies.

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Script Writing – Three Lines That Need to Go Away Forever

Posted by on Apr 11, 2014 in Creative Writing | 0 comments

Script Writing – Three Lines That Need to Go Away Forever

Urgent Alert: If you’re a writer, put down your…

Uh, well, I was going to say put down your pen, but let’s be honest nobody uses a pen anymore. Everyone types. And saying “Put down your fingers” makes even less sense. Also, it’s nearly impossible to do without a lot of needless blood loss. And you most likely weren’t typing anyway. You’re simply scrolling and clicking so…

Urgent Alert: If you’re a writer – ya know – continue reading this.

The following is an admittedly tiny list of lines you must stop using from this moment forward. Trust me, your characters will thank you.

I’m not sure why these three particular lines annoy me so much. Probably because they’re like mosquitoes – they suck and they’re EVERYWHERE. If you find any of these lines in your script, novel, or play, you have two options, eliminate them immediately or eliminate them sooner than that.

So without further rambling, I present the list…

1) Hey… be careful out there.

Oh damn, I was going to wander outside with complete and total disregard for my own safety but now that you mentioned it…

I mean, it was perfect timing too because I was about to reach for the door to head OUT THERE! And it makes sense that you’d say that to me because I was being a completely oblivious dolt IN HERE. So I totally needed the warning.

But wait, wait, wait. Run that by me again so I know we’re on the same page. There’s a monster out there destroying the city and I shouldn’t act like it’s just another typical Thursday night? I should creep around and be aware of my surroundings and like – do things to avoid being killed by the monster? That’s genius! I’m going to take your advice to heart and BE CAREFUL.



2) Little help here.

Aaaah, I’ve been scooped up into a tree by one of those pesky nets that everyone in the jungle seems to have. And I don’t want to make a big deal of it. Oh, here come my traveling companions. What do I say to both accurately relay the desperate situation I’m in while simultaneously making light of my helpless position?

Oh, I’ve got just the perfect thing.

Look at them. Look how much they’re chuckling. I bet it’s because they’ve never heard that line before from anyone – ever – anywhere. Because it’s so damned original.

Man, I should’ve really taken their advice to be careful out here.

3) I can hear you, ya know / I’m standing RIGHT HERE!

Wow, Brad and Lisa are just going on and on and on about how ugly my beard is. And it’s like they don’t even care that we’re practically rubbing elbows. I can’t believe that neither of them looked around to check my current proximity before they started verbally eviscerating my facial hair. What can I say that will both let them know I’m aware of the vile things they’re saying but that I’m also too much of a dweeby dope at this point in the story to really confront them about it?

The pressure is immense. I mean, there’s two different but practically equal ways to phrase my thoughts here – and both were SOOOOOO funny back in 1922 when Fatty Arbuckle first uttered them. Man, this is gonna be one hilarious turn of events. I can’t wait to see the looks on their smug faces when they realize that the whole time they’d been gossiping, GUESS WHO was in earshot. Boom goes the dynamite!


So there you go – three mosquito lines to avoid at all costs. And if you decide to ignore my advice, don’t say I didn’t warn you if your characters revolt.

Or you come down with malaria.

Seriously, be careful out there.

photo credit: Joe in DC via photopin cc

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The “How I Met Your Mother” Finale – What Writers Can Learn From Their Big Mistake

Posted by on Apr 1, 2014 in Creative Writing | 0 comments

The “How I Met Your Mother” Finale – What Writers Can Learn From Their Big Mistake

OK, first order of business is to reassure my sister (who edits this blog) that I won’t be spoiling the final season of HIMYM for her since she’s a season behind watching it on Netflix.

Kelly, I will not be spoiling the end of this series for you. The writers have done a wonderful job of that on their own over the last three years, but I personally won’t be the one to let you know how it ends. I will be speaking in generalities that will not give away the final big twist where you learn that for nine years, Ted was simply half a nacho lying on the floor of the bar, dreaming about the adventures of the surrounding humans. And Barney is an owl. And Marshall and Lily are the leg pads on a back up goalie desperately hoping for one last chance to prove himself. And Robin’s real name is Robyn. I didn’t see any of THAT coming at all. So please, continue to find and repair all of my forthcoming errors.

Even if you haven’t seen the show and know nothing about it, what you can get from this blog post is that the writers made a huge mistake in the finale. It’s a mistake that drew the ire of just about every fan of the show that I know.

Some examples from my Facebook feed include…

“What the hell, HIMYM? Are you $%^&* kidding me?”

“Thanks for nothing, “How I Met Your Mother!” I feel cheated out of the last nine years of my life!”

“HIMYM, you owe me a new television because I just put my elbow through mine!”

“AAAAAH, the HIMYM finale made me grow a third ear!”

*I don’t even know what that last one meant but we might need to get a doctor and a documentary film crew to my friend Jeff’s house stat.

The hatred knew no bounds. I mean, from my window I can see the smoldering ruins of at least five overturned cars. The terrible thing was that as a fan of the show, I was livid. But as a writer, I fully realized that their horrendous mistake actually made perfect structural sense. The writers managed to bring everything full circle, a tactic that typically leads to a satisfying ending and content viewers with no desire to flip a Nissan Versa. I mean, HIMYM did EXACTLY what the art of storytelling says they should’ve done. So why was it such a dreadful, kick to the tender bits of their fans? In the end, it’s simple. And it’s a mistake that as a writer, it’s very easy to make.

They didn’t listen to their characters.

The writers so desperately wanted to bring everything full circle that they forgot about the journey they’d sent their characters on over nine full seasons. They gave the main character (Ted) a circle instead of the arc his character yearned for. He didn’t want to be the same person hungering for the same things he did back in 2005. He wanted to move on. He wanted to evolve. He wanted to grow up. He wanted to live and experience everything that life has to offer and like most of us, find out that what you wish for at one point in time isn’t necessarily what you end up with – and that’s OK because life tends to give you what you need and not what you desire.

It was a lesson that we learned in our own lives during the nine years the show was on the air. HIMYM’s core audience went from young and carefree in a booming economy, through a major economic downturn (If you’re a fan of the show, you just saluted) to navigating marriage and kids, and divorce, and jobs, and monetary issues. By the end of it, we were desperately trying not to admit that somehow we’d ended up middle aged in a country that fundamentally wasn’t the same as it was when we’d first met the characters.

I think a big reason the audience was so angry at the ending of the show was because Ted needed to experience the same twists and turns that we have in the years we’ve been paying attention to him. He needed to end up somewhere different than he imagined at age 50 and be OK with it. Because when we all get to 50, we’re barely going to remember the future we envisioned for ourselves at 25. Our real lives aren’t a neat little package. They don’t tend to come full circle. If we’re lucky, we get a well-defined arc. We grow. We change. We meet new people. We stray from the path. And we needed the ending of HIMYM, a show that often held a mirror up to our own lives to tell us that’s OK.

But in the end, Ted got both what he needed AND what he desired and that just doesn’t fit with our experience. (I mean, for everyone other than Jeff, who now has that third ear he was always jabbering on about in college) In three minutes, they ripped away Ted’s entire journey by giving him just what he wanted all along. (Or what he thought he wanted) They ripped all nine years away from the audience and even more depressingly, ripped it all away from HIM by putting him right back where he started. And it was deeply unsatisfying. It was supposed to be uplifting, but because of the reasons I mentioned above, it turned out hollow and rage inducing.

The writers’ fatal mistake was not recognizing that Ted’s character no longer fit the predetermined ending they’d imagined years ago. And the lesson here for all writers is that sometimes you may dream up a fantastic finish, the spectacular ending to end all endings – whether it be a novel, play, short story, etc. And you outline it and you feel like a genius and tell yourself, “This is where I’m going damn it. And I’m not letting anything get in my way! I’m bringing this son of a bitch full circle!”

And by the time your characters get there, the ending no longer fits. It’s amazing how often that happens. Your characters find deeper pieces of themselves. They find more than you thought was there when you wrote FADE IN or LIGHTS UP or CHAPTER ONE. Maybe they’d no longer run headlong into enemy fire and so your dramatic death scene becomes one of gentle contemplation. Maybe they don’t hit the home run that wins the game because they no longer see that moment as their ultimate redemption. It’s amazing how often your characters have more to offer than you give them credit for.

So if you find yourself with the proverbial hammer trying to pound your rectangular characters into a round ending, the key is to recognize it as it’s happening. It’s not hard to figure out. It usually involves your inner dialogue saying, “I really love the place (character) ended up, but I really need her back over there. How can I force her back on the original track?” And the result ends up being a lot like a car on a nice country road suddenly swerving to the left, crashing through gulleys and electric fences and retaining ponds and whatever’s in the way to get back on the interstate. To which your audience will most likely go, “Hey, I wanted to see where that nice country road ended up. Why did we destroy the transmission, flatten two tires, and crack the windshield just to end up in the parking lot of a Chili’s?”

That’s how I felt watching the last three minutes of “How I Met Your Mother.” In my head, I was screaming “Why are we over here? Oh Jesus Christ, look out for that cow!” And that’s not often a good thing. Unless you’ve written a kick ass car chase scene that ACTUALLY goes off road and through a pasture. If that’s the case, don’t let me get in the way. Turn the wheel and stomp on the accelerator.

The great thing about all this, Kelly, is that you have an out. When you get to the final episode on Netflix, you have the ability to completely cancel out the writers’ one giant, awful, turd monster of a decision. I have instructions for you. Follow them very carefully and don’t deviate and you can still get out of this unscathed.

There will be an umbrella scene. When that scene is over, you do one thing for your brother and all the other fans who watched it live.

You hit stop. You mentally roll the credits. And you get up and walk away. YOU GET UP AND WALK AWAY AND NEVER RETURN! And you will say to yourself, “Yup, they nailed it.”

See, not only did I not spoil the ending for you, I enhanced it. What a kick ass brother I turned out to be.

But seriously though, Ted’s been a nacho the whole time.

photo credit: vagueonthehow via photopin cc

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