Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Lesson Learned from 'Making the Band'

Though my recent Brush with Fame in Baltimore happened during a non-writing-related conference, it did teach me a few important lessons.

For one thing, I learned that putting a photo of Danity Kane on your blog can make for a pretty good traffic draw. Even more so than photos related to children's literature. Shocking, but true.

I also learned a couple of things about reality TV production that might translate well to fiction writing.

During the brief time I spent watching the Making the Band cast and crew, the two camera crews filmed everything. The cameras were constantly rolling. They filmed the entire cast disembarking from the bus, the unloading of the suitcases from the bus, the wheeling of the suitcases into the hotel, etc. I am guessing when the episode about the band's tour finally airs, all but about five seconds max of that scene will end up on the cutting room floor. Maybe a shot of the hotel entrance and a short clip of my new buddy Brian (finally figured out the corn row dude's name!) stepping off the bus. Let's face it, the band's arrival at yet another hotel on yet another tour stop is not going to make for exciting TV.

In fiction, we need to know everything that happens to our characters and everything about our story's setting, i.e., we need to "film it" all in our minds, but we don't need to put it all down on the page. We need to provide just enough information on the setting to give our readers a sense of place, and we need to describe just enough of their activity to provide context for the story.

Bad: Brian stepped off the tour bus onto the sidewalk. The sign in front of the hotel read 'Hilton Garden Inn - Inner Harbor.' Brian and the rest of the band walked to the front of the hotel, through the turn-style door, and into the lobby. Meanwhile, a bellman got the bags out from under the bus. Brian watched as the man filled several carts with their bags. It took about five minutes because there were a lot of them. Most were pink, Danity Kane's. Once he had unloaded all the suitcases, the bellman rolled the first cart to the door. Another bellman got the door for him...."

Better: "Brian squinted as he stepped off the tour bus. Which city was this again? The sign in front of the hotel said 'Hilton Garden Inn - Inner Harbor.' Must be Baltimore. So this must be Thursday. The days and the venues all blurred together. Brian watched as the hotel bellmen unloaded the bands' bags from under the bus. Pink suitcase after pink suitcase. Dagg, those Danity Kane girls could pack."

The pink suitcases (and there were a LOT of them!) bring me to another lesson. As the hotel's poor bellman struggled to wheel his loaded cart through the front door, a duffel bag tumbled off the pile and onto the ground. It was one of Shannon Bex's (yes, I learned her name too ... she's the blonde!). One of the crew pointed this out to Shannon, who simply shrugged. This was not caught on camera. Now, had Shannon thrown a fit and yelled at the bellman, I'm guessing it would have taken a cameraman all of about two seconds to run over and start filming.

In fiction, we need to relay only those scenes where things happen, scenes with conflict. No conflict equals no story. (The great thing about fiction is, we can create the conflict. If this had been a novel about a fictional girl band, the Shannon character surely would have had a hissy fit to end all hissy fits!)

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