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INSIGHTS: How people will be different in the future – a writer’s guide…

INSIGHTS: How people will be different in the future – a writer’s guide…

In Ian’s previous articles, we’ve seen how technologies of the future (and present!) can quickly invalidate our future-writing efforts. But the easiest thing for writers to misjudge is how people themselves will be different, within the future worlds we create.

We may be very happy to accept any implausible or kitsch elements in your future-writing if they make for a more vivid and exciting world than our own – but if people (and the way they live) don’t seem to be changed, then you’re missing out on one of the massive appeals of writing the future: that it offers audiences a vision of how we could be different if we lived in such a different world, and how we could make different choices in life if they see life in that new light. The future is, ultimately, a place to play out our dreams of what life today really could, or should, look like, if only we had the chance. Future-writing creates a rare, neutral space in which to play out our conflicting visions, and fears, for the present and the future, all within the safety net of someone else’s story about a totally different world to our own.

If our technologies – or destructive tendencies – smash the way of life we know, then the post-apocalyptic visions of many popular future-stories (MAD MAX, THE BOOK OF ELI, etc etc) may prove a good guide – because people whose lives are a step backwards from ours, are likely to play out in ways that life and history can help us recognize today. So I’ll focus instead on how people are likely to change if that doesn’t happen, and if other historic trends continue instead. Here are some trends I’ve noticed which are extremely likely to continue to change our personalities and choices. If you’re looking for subjects to inspire your next script, the answer might be somewhere here!

  • Ever-presents of human nature, like family bonds and tribalism and attraction, will continue to forge our key relationships and allegiances and priorities – far more than rational reasoning would like to admit. We will never actually want to be “one unified world community” – whatever we might tell ourselves, we’ll choose to keep dividing ourselves into tribes and sub-tribes. I’ll write about these in more detail another time.
  • Almost every medical condition will become treatable, and most will be fully curable. People will develop ever-more-perfectionist expectations of themselves and others for their health, capacities and looks. Technologies will become better integrated within people’s bodies too, with far-reaching implications, first for treatments and then for enhancements. These trends will create losers as well as winners, mainly due to economic factors that give or limit people’s access to these treatments.
  • Almost every conceivable aspect of life and the world will become connected to, or monitored by, our grand digital networks. Going ‘off the grid’ will get harder and harder, with important consequences for thriller stories in particular – many scripts we receive feel quite dated to me already with this in mind. The ‘internet of things’ will pose significant risks for privacy and security, with our everyday lives utterly interconnected with single networks that put us all at risk of having our lives invaded.
  • The culture war of the 21st century will continue to be that between fundamentalism (of all kinds), against relativism and tolerance. Western countries may need to start reining in more of the free-for-alls that have risen since the 1960s – because if we can’t, fundamentalism may offer many people a much more reassuring vision than the issues that they perceive in the world around them. I notice that few sci-fi writers want to embrace religious believers into ‘their’ visions of the future. But those people will be there anyway – how will they feel about the world they’re living in? How many of those wonderful 1960s visions of the 21st century (THUNDERBIRDS, etc etc) predicted a global surge in religious fundamentalist terrorism? Perhaps, comparing modern trends to the worldview and expectations of religious fundamentalists, we should have seen it coming.
  • War will also be designed to keep actual human beings (from our own country, anyway) completely remote and safe from the intrinsic dangers of the battlefield. This is already basically the case for headline conflicts, we just haven’t invented a way to occupy hostile territories without ground troops yet. I reckon the next major war between global powers will be won or lost by technology (such as cyberattack) within hours without a single bullet being fired. All this has big implications for action stories – where we want to see our heroes put their own lives on the line for the story, without getting immediately cut down by some drone-robot fly.
  • Power and knowledge and the ‘moral high ground’ will continue to decentralize away from governments and religious institutions, through technology and the continued trend towards individualization of modern job roles. Improved technologies will also make it harder and harder for anyone to maintain lies and secrets (and foment conspiracies successfully). However, at the same time, we will all be relying on common technologies and platforms, such as the internet, ever more, and so the risks will grow that would-be tyrants and hostile powers will turn our powers and everyday devices upon us.
  • Supposedly ‘ignorant’ patterns of thought and behaviour (from racism to superstition to religious bigotry) will continue to decline, but will keep persistently recurring in new forms in every generation, and the continued migration and tourism of people to other countries will ensure that old issues like these will never become ‘a thing of the past’ anywhere.
  • Controversial cases that come to light in the news will continue to stiffen public opinion and the law against people who create injustices and avoidable suffering for other people (from our own culture or countries!). Proliferating devices like smartphones will continue to make it easier for victims and others to record and prove that these injustices are happening – albeit via networks and platforms that many governments and others may be demand to control.
  • People will continue to intensively map, scan and explore any areas of life or the universe that could be described as ‘the unknown’. Fewer people will believe in the possibilities that rely upon it (such as magic, monsters, aliens and direct ‘divine intervention’) – though interest in stories about them might conversely rise as a result of their ‘otherness’! But people will continue to interpret things in the ways that feel most natural to themselves, so don’t expect religion and superstition to die off anytime soon.
  • Automation and robotizing of all aspects of life will continue to render more and more job roles obsolete. The more this continues, growing numbers of people may lean towards anti-globalization movements, backward-looking politicians or authoritative voices. Meanwhile educated, versatile people may find themselves in a minority for remaining economically active and having a secure sense of their own identity and purpose in the world. Which impacts significantly upon my next point…
  • While globalization will continue to make countries ever more interdependent, but sociopaths will continue to find ways to take power (click HERE to understand what I mean by ‘sociopath’ – it’s perhaps a much more widespread personality type than you realize). Pacifism will remain naïve in the face of this, and the proliferation of technologies that can empower them in new and ever-more-pervasive ways. But in economic terms, centralized nation-states will be unable to keep up with those that don’t try to maintain full control of all aspects of the economy.
  • The environment everywhere will continue to be carved up and predominated by human activity at an escalating rate, until technological changes make it possible (and convenient) to live far more efficiently than people currently choose to. Changes of power and circumstance will keep upsetting whatever is agreed to protect the environment; people will have to innovate within their own spheres of influence instead, to make any difference, but this won’t change the overall direction of travel. Anything that environmentalists achieve can be easily reversed by breakdowns in international or local law and order, and crippling population pressures on resources, not to mention reverses of government policy.

Here are some things that could go either way, but won’t just stay the same.

  • Our attitudes towards the suffering of other people (especially those we don’t have any connections to) and animals or nature. – Humans would mostly like to be compassionate, but they would also like to be able to take things for granted so they can get on with life uninterrupted. Economics and politics play a massive role here – and people who are struggling to maintain their way of life have a much less compassionate attitude towards outsiders and those whose inferiority makes their own way of life possible.
  • The spread of decentralized media platforms such as the internet means new challenges for debate and decisionmaking. ‘Truth’ and ‘lies’/’fake news’ are heading for an interesting clash which may set in law what ‘truths’ or ‘accuracy’ can be stated or published, and what the punishments will be for those who go against that. This will be an interesting showdown between delusionals, tyrants, sociopaths and their allies (click HERE to see who I mean), and the institutions of the 20th century liberal West. It may have different results in different places, influencing the ideological wars of the century ahead.

Alright, so there’s my two cents. Hope it helps you future-proof your writing and keep clear of some of the mistakes that we see so often. Maybe you can even find the central question of your next script here! If so, let us know where you take it and how you get on…

Read more of Ian’s insights right here and check out the previous entries to this future proofing series…

© WriteMovies 2017. Exclusive to WriteMovies – To syndicate this content for your own publication, contact ian (at) writemovies dot-com.

INSIGHTS: Nothing dates faster than the future. Writing Science Fiction…

INSIGHTS: Nothing dates faster than the future. Writing Science Fiction…

Most sci-fi is just fantasy in a different setting. But when writing science fiction all writers need to pay attention to what’s really changing and happening now, if they want their writing to catch our imaginations and stand the test of time.

Watching ALIENS again after twenty years (it’s actually over 30 years old, but I was 4 then), I’m seeing all kinds of things that now look quite dated – the opposite of futuristic. Despite the fact I’ve always thought this was one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen, and that it’s still a touchstone for screenwriting theories. The experience brought home something I’ve been saying for a while: that nothing dates faster than the future. As writers, the same things that make it such an attractive subject can also leave our works quickly stranded.

There are plenty of trends we need to recognize, if we want to write science fiction or show the present in a way that’s, well, future-proof. You’d be amazed how many ‘futuristic’ scripts we receive that feel outdated now, never mind soon. Even worse are the ones set so near in the future that by the time the film would make it to cinemas (a minimum of 18 months, realistically, for any mainstream production) they’d already be almost backdated. So much for making a long-term profit thanks to the ‘long tail’ life of DVD/Blu-Ray sales, TV screenings or streaming. And here’s what’s even worse – lots of the scripts we receive don’t even seem up-to-date now, never mind for a release date two years from now and a ‘long tail’.

What will the future look like, even ten years from now? We won’t know until it hits us. A lot of what happens now in the news feels like a surprise at the time – 9/11, Trump, Brexit etc – but wouldn’t be if we all had our ears to the ground more and faced up to reality a bit more honestly. These articles aim to help writers do that, to avoid getting left behind by reality, it’s only human nature to not want to face uncomfortable truths. Wherever possible I try to take a fully inclusive view and avoid bias, but hey, I’m only human – and not everybody will want to agree with the picture painted here, and that’s an important thing to reflect in your writing too.

Many future-proofing issues for writers aren’t so much about machines, technology and other advances – they’re about what people will be like in the times ahead. Writers should keep an ear out for changes and subtle long-term trends in all aspects of life – just to reflect the world as it already is, in fresh ways. That’s true even if you don’t have any need to envisage the future within your writing. After all, a huge part of making your writing sellable is about tapping into something that’s both fresh and convincing. All writers should listen out for changes that will influence our futures – because even historical or fantasy stories still have to anticipate what we’re about to become interested in, and our unconscious desires for the kinds of world we’d like our imaginations to occupy (to escape our dull realities).

A lot of the things that still bug me about future-writing are the same things that bugged me about sci-fi TV shows and films when I was a teenager, which inspired a lot of my own best writing. I studied science hard and tried to push whatever technology I included towards the absolute limits of what might eventually be possible within the laws of physics – but no further. In contrast, most future-writing doesn’t pay much attention to facts. It’s far more interested in creating a dream – or a nightmare. And that’s fine too, as long as it can convince us.

Science is much abused by the fiction that takes its name. I prefer the Italian word fantascienza – a dream or a fantasy of science. Because that’s what most sci-fi really gives us. When writing science fiction, the writers start with a dream of what a future (or alternate reality) could be like, and explore that vision rather than anything that corresponds to science or realism. Then they dress it up with silly science-lite technobabble to make it sound more plausible. While pretending that, for example, we can fly faster than light, and arrive at distant stars in a couple of minutes, rather than the many years it would do even then. (Our bored imaginations are yearning for space to become an intensive and exciting place, rather than the overwhelmingly vast, empty, and almost action-free reality revealed by astronomy.) Relativity has implied – for 100 years now! – that flying faster than light might mean travelling back in time anyway, even if it were possible to put more than 100% of the energy contained in our mass into propelling ourselves forward to make that possible. Ridiculous, and impossible, but STAR TREK and other franchises take this as their premise. Meanwhile, other SF has relied on parallel universes, or controllable ‘wormhole’ portals instead – both ideas that badly distort an obscure scientific speculation in order to imagine the kind of exciting universe we’d much prefer to the reality. But most sci-fi would be very dull and empty if we couldn’t let our imaginations fly away from reality. If we’re honest, that’s the main point of the genre. Scientific realism and caution is usually the opposite of what writers and audiences go to sci-fi for. We yearn for a flight of fancy, not a cautious science lecture. We want the ‘What if’, not the ‘but really’!

NEXT UP – ALIENS AND OTHER DATED VISIONS OF THE DISTANT FUTURE…

© WriteMovies 2017. Exclusive to WriteMovies – To syndicate this content for your own publication, contact ian (at) writemovies dot-com.

Why Hollywood is ready for subtle storytelling at last. Part 3: The ARRIVAL of a new, subtler wave in cinema?

Why Hollywood is ready for subtle storytelling at last. Part 3: The ARRIVAL of a new, subtler wave in cinema?

Ian Kennedy continues to discuss the sublte storytelling reneaissence in cinema and how ARRIVAL could be the sign that this trend will continue…

In the cases of MOONLIGHT and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, personally I appreciated them more than I enjoyed them! I can see why they were successful and critically acclaimed, but they never fully won me over. I took more of an interest in the film ARRIVAL, a film that applies similar subtlety in its storytelling techniques, but within the usually bombastic high-budget genre of sci-fi… and the ARRIVAL storytelling deserves a close look too.

Spoilers alert… this article will discuss the outcomes of the story in order to demonstrate how and why it works. 

On the face of it, ARRIVAL is about an alien invasion, but this extremely provocative scenario provides the vehicle for subtle implicit storytelling rather than an action-packed, over-the-top, blockbuster story in the usual style.

Instead of invading or threatening humans, alien ships simply hang in air in obscure places, waiting for us to travel to them and engage them. We, as a race, have to work out why they’ve shown up unannounced and, more strangely (to audiences, at least!), why they are seemingly serene and peaceful.

Our protagonist, Louise (Amy Adams), an expert in languages, is called upon to decipher the language of the aliens in an attempt to avert any possibility of interplanetary war against clearly superior opposition (or even against fellow nations). So this becomes a story, not about alien invasion, but about communication – about why we and other creatures need to reach out to one another to survive. Telling this story from female perspective with great subtlety makes it a far more stimulating and rewarding thought-experiment than the usual whizz-bang sci-fi fare.

In a clever manipulation of our expectations of storytelling, this film presents us with a series of flashbacks showing the bereavement of Louise. Only at the end of the film do we discover these are actually premonitions of what will happen to her, which are generated by her understanding the language that the aliens teach her, which enables us and them to predict the future, and link past, present, and future in ways we could not have imagined. The aliens finally reveal they’ve done this, not because they want to conquer us, but because in thousands of years they’ll need our help. War is averted – through their subtlety and inaction, they’ve negotiated a peace treaty with us.

Conventional sci-fi stories play out male obsessions with power, control, colonialism, war and exploration, whereas ARRIVAL embodies a more subtle and feminine approach to the profound questions of life which sci-fi is uniquely placed to explore. Although there is an explosion in middle of the film (something that is poorly explained and has limited consequences on the story), the real story explosion takes place in our mind and in the hearts of our main characters, as the clues fall into place and the scenario begins to make sense. This film intentionally confuses its audience, so that its reveal can be more mind-blowing to us.

MOONLIGHT, MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, ARRIVAL – in all 3 of these films, we see subtlety is used to reward intelligent audiences. Audiences who are tired of having their intelligence insulted by convention get rewarded for their patience, through stimulating and often powerful and unconventional stories.

MOONLIGHT winning Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards 2017 suggests critics, audiences and awards ceremonies are now more open to subtle and implicit films.

In return, these films have been rewarded by audiences, awards ceremonies, and critics – hopefully this signals the beginning of a new era of cinema and film storytelling, in which writers and audiences will be rewarded not through explosions or CGI action, but through the emotional and intellectual connection they make through the characters they’re watching. At WriteMovies, that suits us and scripts we love just fine. We look forward to sharing more of these with you in months and years ahead…

 

 

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© WriteMovies 2017

Insights: Genre and what it really tells us

Insights: Genre and what it really tells us

insights-ian-kennedy

By Ian Kennedy, WriteMovies Director of World Wide Development:

 

Genre is so often key to convincing producers, and audiences, to take an interest in your story. Yet at the same time, I hear lots of writers and viewers complaining about formulaic, predictable, derivative stories that lack originality and interest precisely because of their adherence to a genre. So why does genre matter so much, for better and worse?

The more I’ve explored this subject – in my classes and meetings with writers, and in my own work – the clearer the subject has become to me. To my mind, genre exists – and works – because fundamentally, it tells us what kind of emotion we can expect to feel while we experience a certain story.

Here are a few famous genres, and the emotions that we can expect any good story in that genre to give us. The clearer and stronger the emotion, the more clearly it fits its overall genre – and this is why ‘genre stories’ work and appeal. But if a story belongs to one of these genres, and fails to generate the emotional effect that we expect, audiences will probably say it’s a bad story (even if they’re wrong and the film later goes on to become a cult classic!). Meanwhile, of course, you can blend several of these genres at once, to give audiences a new way of experiencing a familiar emotion – and doing so is often very successful at the box office. In any case, you’ll probably span a few of these emotional effects within any satisfying story, even if you don’t cross genre boundaries (for long).

  • COMEDY – should give audiences laughter and humour.
  • HORROR – fear.
  • ACTION – excitement and danger, leading to elation and triumph.
  • THRILLER – excitement, suspense.
  • PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER – uncertainty and anticipation.
  • SCIENCE FICTION, SUPERHEROES, and FANTASY, and also RELIGIOUS STORIES – awe and wonder – plus any of the other genre effects mentioned here (because more ordinary stories and genres and emotional effects are also present in every scene, within an exotic genre like this).
  • DRAMA – is actually about concern (for better or worse) for other people (usually people who we’d like to feel are ‘like us’ in some important way!) and what will happen to them.
  • MYSTERY – confusion and revelation.
  • CRIME – fascination. Fascination with how other people can do things that we would like to convince ourselves are unthinkable. For audiences, the pleasure (or relief!) comes in the explaining, solving, and punishing, of the crimes we see. This is all true of gangster stories (such as in THE SOPRANOS) because the punishment and consequences for criminals who transgress or get unlucky is often administered internally by other gangsters and criminals rather than by external law enforcers. The automatically high stakes and consequences – for all characters at all times – plays a big role in making this subgenre so compelling.
  • ROMANCE – love (even towards a character who isn’t real who we will never meet) and affection (towards the person of our own gender/circumstance who is aspiring towards that love interest).

It might seem counterintuitive at times, when we ask ourselves why audiences are drawn to particular genres that give them emotions which they would avoid in real life. But these questions often miss the point of why human beings are drawn to stories at all. Our own lives are usually quiet and unremarkable – in fact we’ll usually go to lengths to keep them that way.  Which is why we rely on stories in order to take us into spaces and feelings that – to our relief – our own lives never will, so that we can still feel like we’re experiencing rounded and emotionally varied lives, even though we probably aren’t.

Endings are particularly interesting ways to play with audience expectations. Because – by that point – a story has already achieved the overall tone and emotion that audiences would expect, the writer has the opportunity to either elate us (with an uplifting ending) or sadden us (with a downbeat ending), or sometimes to challenge us with an indeterminate ending or cliffhanger. Because of the big uplift in audiences’ emotions, most writers and producers play it safe by giving us an upbeat ending. This is another key reason why we get frustrated with predictable happy endings, and feel that writers have stuck too closely to our expectations of the genre; unconvincing or indulgent happy endings feel like an insult to our intelligence. Downbeat endings are often more plausible and intellectually rewarding, but it’s a risk to take with our audience’s feelings – we can end up feeling hurt and betrayed, even bereft, when characters we care about are left to suffer or die.

So writers always need to remember what emotional effect they want to have on their audience – and what emotional effect their audience will be expecting a story of this type to have on them. This is at the heart of making every scene and every sequence work well. You can play with our expectations and surprise us – in fact you will probably need to – but the key to it is to still give us the emotional effect we expect, in a way that we wouldn’t have expected. And if you don’t respect and value the expectations that audiences will bring to your story, you’ll probably find that they soon feel the same way about you and whatever story you’ve arrogantly or complacently tried to palm them off with.

 

Suggestions for developing this in your work

  • Think of other genres or subgenres not yet covered here. What emotional effects are at the heart of these genres?
  • Think about the endings of successful stories in each genre. What emotional effect do they leave the audience with, at the moment when the audience leave the story again at the end? Why? What marks out the finest examples of the genre from the disappointing ones?
  • Look at your past writing. Try to find the genre and emotional effect you most often try to bring about in your audiences. What does it tell you about your aspirations and priorities as a writer? How can that help you find your own distinctive voice and identity as a writer – the must-have quality that will lead producers to come to you when they want to achieve a certain effect or tone? What do you need to do with the style or genre that you favour, to elevate your writing – and particularly its effect upon the audience – to a level that its genre has never been before?

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© WriteMovies 2017