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critique More

Sorry, this is a little long, 14 pages. The thing, this piece included, is now 40 pages or so, and I am finally almost ready for the meat of the story, which should be twice as long--hopefully longer, so I can trim much of this first part. I fear that, by now, after 40 minutes of not much happening, an audience might be starting to get . . . bored.

Anyway, this seems imperfect, but I'm tired of this sequence and want to move on. :)

[file deleted]

I do try some movie-type things--voiceover, a flashback, a flashback within a flashback, some quick time compression. Kind of winging it, here.

changed a little, adding another little flashback, a rough little tangle probably best discarded. I don't know. Anyway.

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Staff Member
It was a bit over-complicated for my taste, in several ways.

I'm not at all musical, and was lost in a lot of the details. I think you can give us the sense of what Bach is doing with far less info about the French vs the Germans vs whoever.

I think you can cut out 75% of the stuff with the dukes - I just don't find it interesting.

Give us a scene where Bach tells his wife that things are about to get good for them because he's going to get whatever that position is (I lost track of that too). And then he gets the letter telling him that he didn't get it and damn is he pissed off! And he quits and lands himself in jail.

That last part is good and interesting stuff. The rest of it just didn't work for me. Not badly written, just boring.
Thanks Nate, and please don't feel in any way obligated--I promise I take no offense. God knows you seem to have enough on your plate. :)

And thanks again, Mara, for taking the time and making the effort to respond so honestly. Your reaction was, for me, really great, sparking ideas, making me really think about where this is at, where it is going, and what it is all about. It is of tremendous value to hear about what is not working. I have (probably unfortunately, lol) more to say about why I think i lost you, here, and about my intention and execution, but I'm still kind of brainstorming around it. Anyway, thanks again. :)
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Staff Member
I'm glad to help as I can :)

As I said - it's NOT that it's badly written. But since I'm sure you're aiming for an audience that knows who Bach is, can recognize his major pieces, but doesn't know a whole hell of a lot about music or composers, I figured I'd be honest. And of course others may see it completely differently.
@Spike Maybe it wasn't a great idea to read this late at night (after finally finishing a four-hour job that took three days :tear: ) but as I'd left the tab open especially to remind me to read it, I did ... and then wondered why. Perhaps it's because I was tired, but it took me until page 14 to realise that the character Sebastian is Bach (coz I know him by the initials JS) and having two "Ernst" characters - one a first name, the other a surname - complicated matters too. I decided it was time for bed when it dawned on me that this Leopold is not the same Leopold who fathered Wolfgang Amadeus ... :mope:

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I am fairly familiar with the real-life composers and patrons of this time, and would possibly be part of your target audience - but the endless dialogue between the numerous characters, none of whom seemed to have any "personality", felt quite tedious with no clear point. It feels like there are hints of a good drama in there - the unknown composer about to release his own work onto a captive audience, or the rebellious sub-contractor risking jail time for his principles ... but these tiny flames fizzle out almost as soon as they appear.

As an entirely personal opinion (from a non-script writer!) I think any dialogue written/performed in the stilted language typically used for scenes set in this period has to be accompanied by either intense emotion (dramatic, comedic, romantic ...) or intense action, otherwise it risks collapsing into a "blah-blah-blah" background noise.
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Thanks, CR, for taking the time to read and comment, and I'm sorry to have ruined your evening--I'm kidding. In all seriousness, I take it as a real compliment that you don't think you have to patronize.

As with Mara, this gives me a lot to think about. This sequence kind of grinds through biographical points that, for this story, have to be there. But I may have to find a way to do this more economically, more interestingly, and more clearly.

My goal now is to just get a first draft, as quickly as possible, and then see what I have. But both you and Mara make me think more about the larger structure and architecture, and about how stuff in this sequence fits into that, and if that can justify this being a little, perhaps, dull and pedantic.

And this all is, to me, now, a little exciting. :). So, thanks again.
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I'm sorry to have ruined your evening
:D My evening was well ruined before ever I opened the file!

This sequence kind of grinds through biographical points that, for this story, have to be there. But I may have to find a way to do this more economically, more interestingly, and more clearly.

Way back in a youthful past, I would find myself irritated by adaptations of novels and "true stories" leaving out whole chunks of the original account. Then I tried my hand at an adaptation for the big screen (Robin Hood - I wanted to see a more "authentic" version than any I'd come across up to then) and began to understand just what a challenge is was. In due course, I realised that it's damnably difficult to recreate "real life" and there are good dramatic - and practical - reasons for dropping some characters and/or events, and fusing others into a single entity or episode.

If you're not trying to write a documentary, and you don't have an obsession with sticking rigidly to the Absolute Truth, then it would seem sensible to take a step back, reassess the arc of the narrative and demand of your characters an explanation as to why they need to be included in when a one-line comment by another could give us all the information we need.
Ok, I read it.

I think your stylistic layer is pretty good, except for the guard, who would have been acquainted with Ernst's antics enough not to bumble into the trap. I get that it's a humor moment, just seemed like it would have been more believable if the guard didn't decline the retirement. There's some good detail in there that I think people will appreciate, such as the staff drawing tool. People watch these to learn about periods they are interested in, and if you can deftly introduce them to artifacts of the age that they may not be aware of, it heightens the sense that they are learning something by watching this.

It might be more useful for me to talk about the meta level. It's been difficult to know how you plan to ratio aspects from reading brief scenes, but now that we have a decent handful of pages available, I'd say that the psychological structure of your plot is too diluted, and you need to consider pacing more.

Rather than dissecting these scenes, I'd paint a picture of a different design approach. First, write the structure of a compelling human drama with the stakes being as high as is realistically possible for your scenario. Then, look at the timeline, and make sure you are delivering a relatively steady cadence of interesting events to the audience. This is typically accomplished by having a main plot and a number of subplots, I'm sure you know this. You need to continually surprise the viewer, and it's easier than it sounds. Simply develop a variety of interesting techniques, and then revolve them semi randomly. The Sound of Music had a number of different themes that people enjoyed, and interwove them expertly. So there was war and the threat of death in the air, a forbidden romance blooming, The drama of the Von Trap Family's high profile singing career. There were unique characters who's individual charisma could hold the screen for a minute or two at the time. They also used music to entertain, which I assume you'll be doing a good bit of. So during the film you are entertained one minute at a time, with this parade of themes and variations, not unlike the writing of the classical music you describe. Music, love, war, family. The sound of Music. That works.

Anyway, my advice is to write more threads with both short and long term psychological payoffs for the audience, and try to get into a rhythm where there are smaller resolutions more often. So 14 pages would be maybe 12-15% of a movie, and while I've learned a bit about the characters and world, and the scene where Bach is jailed is fun, I also had to imagine people sitting for ten full minutes waiting for a single dopamine hit.

Your writing has some really good aspects, and the story idea seems really good. Definitely keep at it, but do yourself a favor and do some scholarly research. This exercise will help get you in the zone with pacing. Watch a few movies that have really good pacing. Read some reviews for each one you are considering. Make sure you aren't watching movies with pacing problems while you learn pacing. While watching the movie, take note of every time an interesting turn of events takes place. Note the timestamp. Your level of detail should be medium. No notes about how the cake decoration was interesting, just any plot resolution that got a response from you, or instance where you are introduced to a new component of the film's world that held your attention. Marty McFly plays Johnny B Goode at the Enchantment under the sea dance. Marty realizes he's gone back in time. The introduction of Biff. The Skateboard scene. Lightning strikes the clock tower. Hatching the escape plan to return to the future. The flaming tire tracks behind the DeLorean. Every moment where you were introduced to a new and interesting detail of the films world. Draw a chart, time left to right, how engaging a reveal or resolution was vertical. Now step back and look at the whole movie. There should be many dots, maybe 10 for an average indie film, maybe 100 for a Star Wars movie. This is a way to get a broader view of how interesting and creatively rich your film is. Obviously, draw a similar graph of your story as it evolves, and just make sure that there isn't this huge gulf in the pacing metrics of what you are doing, vs what you enjoy when you see other writers doing it.
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I've taken quite a bit of your time, and so will try a quick summation here.

First, Nate, your little pacing exercise is freaking great. I will absolutely do this, after a full draft is in place. Anytime I can make a spreadsheet and a graph I get enthused. Again, this is just great, one of the best writing exercises I have ever encountered.

And yes, each scene needs a little punch, needs a point. I think in most of them it's in there somewhere, buried in what Celtic correctly notes as blah blah blah. And I do have a larger thematic and emotional architecture; the thing, as I imagine it, is pretty ambitious. Once this starts to take place, and it hasn't yet, which is part of the problem, I think it will help inform some of these prepatory scenes, tightening them up.

Anyway, most of what I've written in the past has been in an academic setting, that is, has been an assignment. And so, for these things, I gave myself a little assignment--by the end of the day, get this part readable, load into indie talk, and just hit post. Then I got a little encouragement, and then did another piece. So this forum is almost certainly responsible for my getting this far.

Now, I think, I'm on my own.

Let me talk a little about this sequence. Beginning on page 12.

The first scene is Leopold scheming to hire Bach. There is the little running joke about Handel, getting rich in London, and it ends with Leopold saying, "not, I believe, him." To most of his contemporaries, Bach was by far the premier keyboard virtuoso, but was considered a second rate composer, well behind Handel and his friend Telemann. But here we see Leopold seeing in Bach what we see. The dialogue here seems better. And it is a half a page.

The next scene. The heart of this story will be the relationship between Prince Leopold and Bach. So this scene is pivotal--Boy meets Girl. Also Bach compliments Marchand who to everyone else the butt of a joke. And the phrase about Marchand's music being "well and proper," comes from Bach's obituary, written, some fifty years later, by young Carl Philipp. It says something about Sebastian. And again, a quarter page.

The next scene, the actual job offer, is again pivotal. I think I stole this from the last episode of season 4 of The West Wing, the last one written by Aaron Sorkin, where Bartlet is told about Zoey's kidnapping from outside the room, through a glass door, with no dialogue. I do the same thing here. It may or may not work, but it is quick.

The next scene. The resignation. Nate is right about the guard. This breaks the scene, and I think it would get a laugh to just have him give a little facial expression, probably only to himself, where he thinks about it. Then Wilhelm Ernst doesn't have to slam the table.

On the first pass at this scene, I had Wilhelm Ernst tearing up paper, slamming his fist, shouting things like "I forbid it!" etc. Then I thought "imperial storm trooper" and had him say, quietly, "You may not resign. You are not released. I have spoken." To the extent this is better (and I think it is) it is Nate and Mara.

And a word about the Ernsts. I thought about just calling them Wilhelm and August, but in the literature it is always Wilhelm Ernst and Ernst August, so I stuck with this. But Celtic experienced some Ernst fatigue, and I thought this might happen, and so for the next reader I think they will just be Wilhelm and August.

Then the jail scene. This has, I think, a fun tone, and again, the dialogue is better. The bit with the calendar is iffy, setting up a way to show time passage in the next month, but it probably doesn't need to be here. But otherwise. . . And, less than a page.

Anyway, these three pages seem to have some life. They may be the only part that survives intact. It may have taken forty pages to get these three, and it may take forty more to get another three. So it goes.

Anyway. I noticed, by the way, in this Keep & Share site I've been using (I like how it loads fast and clean, unlike google docs which is a little clunky) that some of these have been viewed 50-plus times. Most of these are probably just open and close, but it still freaks me out a little, and I will probably just kill these links, ending this chapter.

It's been fun, but a little embarsssing. I am a thoroughly post-modern man, in that, whenever I re-read something I have written that has a lot of "I"s in it, I ask that I, "who are you?" To which that I responds, "who are you?" To which I respond, "just shut up." To which the first I responds, "you shut up." And on and on. Anyway.

Anyway, You are all released, lol.

And, and I hate to be a broken record, but . . . Thank you .

Now let's talk about the cat.
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I think you're on a good track here. The worst historical films, that get the lions share of negative feedback, are ones where the people who made them don't really care about the subject material. You don't have that issue. It's difficult to describe scientifically, but the spirit in which something was written really does come across in the finished product a lot of times. Much of the technical part of writing probably still lies ahead, but you already have something key, which is that to some degree, your audience will find this world interesting because you find it so interesting. You're writing about classical music, and pipe organs, and cathedrals, with a sense of wonder and appreciation, and I think with some refinement, you'll be able to transmit some of that perspective to your audience.

Watch the opposite scenario, shown here, and you'll probably understand what I mean better. Here's a movie made by someone who knows that fighting, violence, explosions, etc, fill minutes and sell films. He just doesn't care anymore, and he's burned out on his own genre. In this film shown here, Segal has zero enthusiasm for martial arts, or policework, or anything, and just does the minimum to fulfill contractual obligations, and stop people from demanding refunds. Now contrast this against "The Karate Kid" or "The Last Samurai". Both of these films were based around types of martial arts, and contained about the same number of fights as the Segal film, but in the two good films, we are introduced to martial arts as not only a fighting style, but as a mentality, a tradition, a culture, a code. It's something that changes people, that builds character, and in each of the aforementioned movies, the authors make it a point to show the depth of that topic, and how the flashy combat techniques are part of a cultural aspect that's much deeper. In the end, we come to understand that a person's moral code is the most important thing about them, and that strength is often seen in the decisions not to abuse power. In this Segal movie, He just keeps punching people, and that's about as deep as it gets. That's someone who really isn't interested in martial arts, and as an audience member, if the writer doesn't care about his own topic, why should I? I can tell you're really enthusiastic about this world you're writing about, and I think for some that enthusiasm will be infectious. Tourism in Europe literally picked up following the release of the DaVinci code.