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All opinions on this site are those of Mike Jones and are not intended to represent his employers or associates.

 

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Friday
Jan302015

Re-Frame: The Storyworld Writers Workshop

I firmly believe that the creative work you make is only ever as good as the creative process that generates it. In a multi-platform world, the rigour, focus and discipline of that development process is more crucial than ever. 

In the midst of developing cross-platform projects with studios in the US and my own supernatural gothic horror project, ‘Transgressions’, here in Australia, I’m going to be putting my money where my mouth is with a dedicated workshop looking at storyworld development process for episodic TV and cross-platform projects entitled ‘Re-Frame: the Multiplatform Storyworld Writers Workshop’. 

The blurb reads like this….

“Following a structured process for shaping and framing a dynamic, narrative driven, storyworld for delivery across platforms, participants will be taken through a series of exercises, concepts and templates that will challenge the way they think about writing and story development.

From defining the rules that shape a dramatic cross-platform engine, to the interactive role-play for audiences immersing themselves in your storyworld, the workshop will encourage participants to engage with a fresh approach whilst grounding consistent and long-standing narrative principles, universal to platforms old and new. 

This workshop is suitable for writers with some experience, and would also be really useful for any producers developing their own dramatic concepts.” 

Details here. Love to see you there.

 

Tuesday
Jan202015

Zodiac Signs as Monster Archetypes

It may be a bloody useless way to predict the future or pre-determine character personality - but for the writer, the astrological signs of the Zodiac a rich vein of narrative ideas, character archetypes and story principles. Particular for writers of horror and supernatural fiction. 

Artist and Illustrator, Damon Hellandbrand has reimagined every sign of the Zodiac as a monster and the imagery he has constructed from the core elements of the star signs themselves, give us a great starting point to think about what makes a monster compelling? 

Libra

Good Monsters are not arbitrary, they embody scary ideas, more than simply scary appearances. As a simple test, show these 12 images to your friends and ask them which one they would be most scared of in the dark - which one terrifies them the most? I’ll wager the responses will be not be uniform, but differ between people. What is most scary to one person is not the same as to another. The important question then is why? What is it about that image that makes the fear it generates personal?

Certainly you can’t  design a story monster that is all fears to everyone, but you can design a monster that is the sum of all fears to the protagonist of a story, a character through which the audience aligns and fears as they do. In the illustrations below each monster of the zodiac holds a specific kind of archetypal terror that has been amplified. 

Leo is the man-beast who threatens to devour you, animalistically and savagely with claws and teeth. Eaten by an animal is one of the longest standing fears humankind has ever harboured. An obvious survival trait for stone age peoples. But claws and teeth also represent a kind of savagery which is the opposite of ‘civilisation’ and that beastial nature instills a particular kind of fear - an animal within us all - one that is perhaps only barely contained.

Damon Hilldandbrand as not given his drawings these qualities randomly, each is drawn from the archetypal fears the Zodiac signs embody and express. 

Astrologers would suggest that being born under such a sign dictates your personality and future but for those of us who aren’t intellectually retarded the signs of the Zodiac are much more useful as tool for understanding the human condition as narrative metaphor and allegory, manifestations of distinct and personal fears - the beast within, judgement, inversion, transgression, gluttony, wrath, hate, hunter and hunted, subjugation, redemption. 

Good monster design for horror and supernatural stories is about tapping into the fearful, and very human, idea the monster represents, not just the grotesque of what it looks like.

 

Friday
Nov282014

Transgressions is coming June 2015

Today I wrote the final lines of the final book of my supernatural gothic horror series, TRANSGRESSIONS… 

Author upon signing Book DealAuthor upon finishing writing final book in said Deal

This has been a bit of passion project for me. On one hand my love-letter to the supernatural horror story tradition that I love, and on the other hand a concept-project designed from the ground up to be developed in parallel across platforms (page, screen and interactive) whilst also testing fresh ground in terms of publishing, business models, narrative branding and development processes. 

The three books are entitled - ‘The Mothers’, ‘The Scrimshaw Marionette’ and ‘The Reparation’ (the third being a collaboration with Leonie Jones) and the books will be released all together as a set in an e-first publishing strategy by Simon & Schuster, June 2015.

With one foot in the Victorian Gothic and the other deeply influenced by the unified anthology ideas of The Twilight Zone, Transgressions represents a host of ideas for me that have been simmering away for many years. The books are deliberately short and focused, cinematic and contained. A character with a deep failing, a transgression that unleashes a darkness, a road to redemption that will cost them dearly - all enveloped in labyrinths both literal and metaphoric.

The 3 books came form a host of half-baked ghost and horror story ideas I had floating around in my digital notebooks. But in choosing the three for the series, and pitching them to my publisher, I wanted to find and evoke two key elements which are not the usual origin point for literary works.  

Transgressions is a project designed from the outset to move across platforms so from that angle it needs to have the mechanisms of adaptation built in from the start not extracted after the fact. I wanted stories that embodied game mechanics and spatial dynamics as much as character conflicts and plot reversals. Such elements would feed interactive and cinematic versions from an internal logic.

The first element was a triptych of Time/Place/Topography. It wasn’t just story ‘Setting’ I was after, rather the right conflation of these three components. The Place had to be definitively Gothic, a location that embodied the recurrent themes of the genre - isolation, dislocation, madness and the fringes of civilisation and rationality. That placed needed to also possess a dynamic topography and visual and visceral shape that generated dramatic pressure on movement, orientation and navigation - spaces that demand to be explored. Time then governed all of these; as the Transgressions stories were to all be ‘period’ stories I wanted historical periods of time that embodied great moments of social change, the shifting of world views, the collision of old and new value systems. 

So from this we get ‘The Mothers’ set in the late 1880’s on a remote Tasmanian island quarantine station,  ‘The Scrimshaw Marionette’ set during the depression in a fading Whaling Port, and ‘The Reparation’ set in the aftermath of WW2 in a depressed inner city suburb and a deconsecrated cemetery. 

The second key element was Game Mechanics. For Transgressions to be able span textual, cinematic and interactive modes, it needed to have internally logical play mechanics sewn into the DNA of the story. The dominant metaphor of the stories is the Labyrinth - all three books deal with Labyrinth mazes and this gives rise to a natural set of mechanics for both characters and audiences to Explore, Navigate, Escape, Find, Solve and Collect. These active verbs are the heart and soul of good interactive experiences.  

So whilst I hope that Transgressions works as a book series - that it delivers on the promise of a punch, scary, kick in the arse supernatural ghost story people hungrily read late at night during winter storms - I also want the project to speak to a platform-agnostic approach to writing and storytelling. The books are in many ways the ‘Minimum Viable Product’ (MVP) of the Transgressions project. The leanest and cheapest version that allows me to develop the stories, learn lessons about what works and what doesn’t, test and build the audience, evoke the genre and establish a base from which other works naturally extend.

Transgressions is ultimately a brand I want to a built, a playground of genre, experience and form that I want others to come and play in. 

Look out for the release of the books in June 2015 and stay tuned for developments in other media to follow…

Monday
Oct272014

Superstition and Supernatural Stories

Theres a lot of supernatural going around. 

I’ve been blogging and speaking a lot of late about my forthcoming supernatural horror book series, ‘Transgressions’. So with that alone my head has spent a lot of time in the twilight zone. But I’ve also been working on a TV series that is currently shooting, as well as a hybrid interactive production in the US - neither of which my contractual NDA’s permit me to say much about - But what I can say is that all are rooted in very cool, mythological, high-concept, supernatural shit..!

Good times! It’s always a fun to go playing in big supernatural creative sandpits - they make for the kind of rich, fertile, larger-life, metaphorical narratives I love. But when you’re working on multiple projects in different mediums that share a common genre base, you’re inevitably compelled to try and understand what makes those genres work at a core level and what it is that underpins those stories irrespective of medium and platform?

It’s been a bit of drum I’ve been banging for a while now. Amidst all the hype and guru-speak about new media forms over the past decade, I’ve often been concerned that creators spend too much time examining what is different between formats, rather than seeking to understanding more holistically what unites and connects them. The result is an over-emphasis of the ‘new’ rather than engagement with substance.  

So, as I work on 3 simultaneous supernatural story projects, in 3 different mediums (screen, page and interactive) I’ve been thinking a lot about what they have in common rather than what’s different or unique about them. And moreover, what makes supernatural stories work? In fact this very question is one that comes up quite often when I speak to fellow writers. And the answer I give, that many find strange, is ‘Realism and Plausibility…’ 

Ostensibly this would seem an anathema to what we think of as being the key element of Supernatural - that it is unnatural, unrealistic, beyond reason, not plausible or possible, that it is a form of ‘fantasy’. But whilst this might be a valid understanding for an lay audience, it’s actually not very helpful for a writer trying to write a supernatural story because it doesn’t provide a toolkit for development and execution…. 

The starting point worth acknowledging is that Supernatural is not the same as Fantasy. As the name itself suggests, Super-Natural is about being above nature, nature extended, the natural world pushed beyond what we can comprehend or understand as Rational. But, by doing this, Natural order is tested, subverted, challenged and dislodged. So in order to have this ‘super’ quality in our stories we have to have the rational Natural bit as well. And then we break it… 

So, by this,  great Supernatural stories are rooted in the real world as a launching off point where you are asking the audience to take great leaps of logic, yet still feel that there is an immediacy and connection to the ‘real’ - taken from what they know and is familiar, to what they don’t know and is foreign. This is something much more than just simple ‘suspension of disbelief’ at work in supernatural narratives - the audience are undertaking a much more concerted engagement with allowing themselves to entertain uncertainty about their real world, not escape to a fantastical one.

This is not just an arbitrary imposition but speaks directly to the emotional experience and expectation of supernatural stories on the part of audiences - to entertain uncertainty, to evoke mysteries that come from within the world around us, not worlds we have to venture away to. Ghost stories, witchcraft, demons, monsters, super powers, astral travel, time travel, mind-control, telepathy, possession, body swapping, werewolves and vampires and dopplegangers and anything we can’t explain that happens at the shadowed fringes of our homes, towns and villages - these are all supernatural story triggers that effect us most when they begin in our real world. 

H.P. Lovecraft unifies this blend of the weirdly extraordinary in his essay ‘Supernatural Horror in Literature’..

“A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”

The crucial part of what Lovecraft observes as fundamental to this form of storytelling is the desire for audiences to entertain the idea that the natural laws which hold back chaos might not be as stable or consistent or inflexible as we perhaps would like them to be. That the very world around us, the natural real world, contains forces beyond us. And as audiences we choose to entertain those possibilities for a thrill in the short term, and for metaphoric reflection in the long term. 

Now, certainly ‘Supernatural’ is a broad church of narratives, including forms of Horror, Magic Realism, Super Hero stories, Mystery and even certain sub-genres of Science Fiction that delve in to the ‘soft’ end of the hard-soft spectrum of SciFi. But this idea of natural laws subverted is the remarkably consistent component.

By a story extending supernaturally from a familiar rational world where there is an anchored reality to the weirdness and doubt becomes a major element of the drama. Characters doubt what they see, they struggle to rationalise their fear, they must learn the new rules of a defied natural order before being compelled to take action with or against powers they don’t fully understand. These are all dramatic journeys that an audience can actively go on and be aligned with in a supernatural mythos.

Now, from a writing and creative perspective in having to create such supernatural forces that are entertaining and engaging, the important connection that is helpful is that between Superstition and Supernatural. These two ideas are deeply connected as Supernatural forces are those that Superstition warns and wards against. 

It’s an ancient idea, rooted in the narratives of mythology and folklore, that certain behaviours control, ward against, influence or evoke supernatural forces - don’t walk under a ladder, don’t open an umbrella inside, don’t say Bloody Mary 3 times in a mirror, and indeed the very notion of formal Religion and religious practices which are inherently ’superstitious’. In such supernatural stories there’s obviously no rational logic but there is a compelling and metaphoric internal logic.

The simple term for this is ‘Superstitious Causality’ where there is an imagined cause+effect between otherwise rationally unrelated events, a casualty not based on realty, but on supernatural reality. 

And this is where the behaviour of pigeons is interesting…

“In 1948, behavioural psychologist B.F. Skinner published an article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, in which he described his pigeons exhibiting what appeared to be superstitious behaviour. One pigeon was making turns in its cage, another would swing its head in a pendulum motion, while others also displayed a variety of other behaviours. Because these behaviours were all done ritualistically in an attempt to receive food from a dispenser, even though the dispenser had already been programmed to release food at set time intervals regardless of the pigeons’ actions, Skinner believed that the pigeons were trying to influence their feeding schedule by performing these actions. He then extended this as a proposition regarding the nature of superstitious behaviour in humans”

So, this is all well and interesting from a sociological point-of-view (and for pigeon fanciers). But for a writer it is also enormously helpful as a guide to constructing a viable and exciting supernatural narrative by simply asking, What is the Superstitious Causality in your storyworld?, What behaviours are naturally illogical in ‘reality’ but have potency and power in the supernatural part of your storyworld? This is the crucial friction point where the drama springs in a supernatural story. 

Such behaviours and casualty needs to have a clear internal logic, must be governed by rules and specificity. Such powers will form the points of discovery and revelations for your characters and for the audience to ride into such worlds on the shoulders of those characters. 

In the projects Im currently working on, most of the collaborative development work has been spent on defining those causalities, those storyworld rules that govern how the supernatural works, what it can and cant do, and what rituals, behaviours and effects must take place to evoke it. Any plotting or even character work is arbitrary and weak until that work is done. The supernatural rules and their relationship to the ‘natural’ need to be clearly defined first.

And in truth, this is where there is so much fun to be had. The dramatic, conceptual, metaphoric problem solving that goes on to wrangle big ideas into a cohesive logic, is a great creative test for even the best writers. High-concept narrative genres provide great creative playgrounds that are rich with archetypes, structures, patterns and dramatic tools - alive with audience engagement, expectation and enthusiasm for those familiar emotional states. But if you are going to make great supernatural stories you have to bring your A game and be prepared to ask the right questions to get you past tropes and allow you to stand on the shoulders of giants.

And importantly these principles of Storyworld design and superstitious causality are as equally true and applicable in an interactive game as they are in a book or TV series. Genre is platform agnostic and what genres have in common as basis for storytelling needs to be engaged well before their differences.

On the topic of Genre and its universality, I’ll be moderating a panel at the Australian Screen Producers conference - ScreenForever - entitled “Is Genre the Universal Language?”

We have a pretty impressive line up of folks on the panel including Greg Mclean, director of Wolf Creek, Chris Brown, producer of Daybreakers, and Roy Lee, producer of such standout creations as The Ring, The Grudge and more recently on TV the superb new take on Psycho, Bates Motel. 

Full details about ScreenFutures here….

Monday
Oct202014

ScreenForever - Australian Screen Producers Conference 2014

ScreenForever the Australian Screen Producers Association conference program is now live. I’ll be there discussing two topics very dear to my heart - Games and Genre. 

I’ll be on the panel, ‘G***E is Not a 4 letter word’ which will approach games from both creative and financing perspectives, focusing on how to adapt linear narrative to interactive platforms using game design. We will focus specifically on story-based games and look at some examples from local and international markets over the last 12 months. The panel will be moderated by all-media producer Ester Harding and include such local luminaries as Morgan Jaffit of Defiant Games and Nathan Anderson of The Project Factory.

In addition to this I’ll also be moderating a session entitled ‘Is Genre the Universal language?’. Genre films are understood universally – and make up the greatest proportion of the top films at the yearly box office. A genre film can dissolve cultural and language barriers at film markets all over the world. They attract audiences and have the most commercial appeal in the international marketplace. However creatively they are often misunderstood. The panelists are an amazing mix of local and international producers including Greg McClean (Wolf Creek), Chris Brown (Daybreakers) and Roy Lee (The Ring, The Grudge)

Very much hope to see you there.


Monday
Oct202014

Storyology 2014

Pleased to announce I’ll be speaking at STORYOLOGY in December here in Sydney where I’ll deliver a presentation on Adaptive Writing in a Multiplatform world, as well as a Masterclass on Storyworld design. The full program is out now.

Monday
Oct062014

Speaking about Writing, Creative Process & the Future

“There’s never been a better time to be a writer. But when the audience are spread out across all manner of mediums, both old and new, you better be flexible if you want to make a living…” 

On the 30th of October I’ll be the guest of ScreenTasmania and the Australian Writers Guild for a special event at the world renowned Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). The official descriptor reads:

Mike Jones, in conversation with CEO of Screen Tasmania, Karena Slaninka, on his experiences both in Australia and overseas, future industry trends and where the big opportunities lie for creators, as well as the grounded toolkit of the professional writer in a multi-platform world.

I’d love to see you there…

WHEN:  Thursday 30 October from 18:30 - 20:00.

WHERE:  Cinemona (the MONA Cinema), 655 Main Road, Berriedale, Hobart.

COST:  FREE event (but bookings recommend)

Full Details here…. http://goo.gl/JEoyLF

 


Monday
Sep292014

PlatformX - Interactive & Multiplatform Development

The Australian Writers Guild and StoryCode Sydney present the next iteration of PlatformX.

Last year we delivered the first version of PlatformX, a dynamic development program for writers working across mediums old and new. We’re continuing PlatformX this year and applications are now open for writers anywhere in Australia.

Here”s the details…

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A select group of 5 writers will be chosen for a place in a one-day intensive story lab to develop their ideas into coherent, focused, effective pitch presentations and short documents to take forward for further development.

At the end of the lab, each participant will have a pitch, a succinct and compelling concept synopsis, a plan for next steps and developed ideas for concept art.

The lab will be run by experienced digital media practitioners Mike Jones, Ester Harding and Troy Bellchambers, joined by illustrator and production designer, Alan Chen.

The lab will be held in Sydney on Thursday 27 November 2014 and will culminate in a special Storycode event where participants will present their projects to a diverse audience of designers, technologists, producers & writers.

The initiative is open nationally and interstate winners are encouraged to apply to their state funding body for travel funding.

What We’re Looking For:

Exciting and dramatically engaging storyworlds that have the potential to manifest across platforms old, new and interactive.

A narrative concept that is a story engine - one that can drive experiences beyond a single plot or a single platform and which encapsulates a clear role for the audience to participate or play.

Creators with a strong sense of audience, engagement and genre and projects that will compel an audience to immerse themselves and become active within a rich experience.

You don’t have to be a technology expert. We are looking for writers with vision and ideas for constructing narratives across media forms.

This intensive lab is about distilling and articulating those ideas into a refined concept that can be presented and pitched with clarity and vision that spans multiple formats.

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For more details, check out the AWG Website. 

Monday
Sep222014

Screen 2030: Extended Interviews - Making my Content Pay

The Screen 2030 documentary event at this years Sydney Vivid Festival explored the professional future of creative producers. Now the extended interviews from that doco project are available online with episode 1 featuring yours truly. Here I rabbit on for 17mins on the future of creative media and why there’s never been a better time to be a writer…

Monday
Sep152014

The Adaptive Writer: process and platforms

The idea of ‘Authorship’ is a complicated one. In one sense it is the state of being the creator of something. But it also implies an idea of being the sole-source, the point of origin, that the Author creates a vision alone and puts it out to the world. 

From this we get the idea of being a ‘Writer’ as predicated on ‘Authorship’. And the image of the lone author toiling away behind a typewriter still pervades, with common expressions describing writing as a ‘lonely profession’. 

And yet the idea of singular authorship in writing is a myth. Nobody creates alone. All writing is collaboration and, moreover, every work of narrative fiction stands on the shoulders of the storytellers who have gone before. 

But I would take this a step further and suggest that in a digital multi-platform age, the ability to be a group-writer, to be able to build stories with others and extend the stories of others - dispensing with the idea of sole authorship - is the fundamental role of the Writer.

The singular author may not be dead, but they are certainly not very useful for becoming a professional writer.

This was the very topic I spoke on as a keynote at the Brisbane Writers Festival Story+ event earlier this month. The premise was simple - the digital age has added many new delivery mediums to the established ones and audiences are now distributed across all those forms. Traditional hierarchies and medium dominance has broken down. Hence, in such a world of distributed audiences a Writer cannot be defined by a medium. Words such as Novelist, Playwright, TV Writer, Screenwriter are simply not helpful as they are invariably restrictive and reductive with no ability to scale or adapt.

This is not to devalue the specific skills different mediums require, but rather to recognise that to be a professional writer in the 21st century means defining your craft in a platform-agnostic way. 

Of course this is easier said than done, but in my keynote I broke down 6 elements of process and thinking that help to create an ‘Adaptive Writer’, a writer who is not defined by a specific medium,  but by their skill set in building, extending, refining and articulating narratives that can flexibly move and adapt across platforms.

The diversity of narrative platforms certainly creates new opportunities but the mathematics of that diversification are really very simple - audiences are spread thinner. This directly effects the economics and business models of all traditional mediums which need to rethink their scale. Feature Films, for example, will never disappear but their share of the finite amount of audience eyeballs will continue to be reduced. Hence as a writer, if you’ve defined your craft solely by the medium of the feature film, your career is in serious trouble and trapped in a ghetto! But if Feature Films are just one of the story-forms your work and ideas can be adapted to, then you are empowered to be an Adaptive Writer - one who sees the diversity of mediums as part of a greater mix of experiences they are equiped to create.

To work in this way, Writers need to think differently about what their skills are and how they define the way they work. Story doesn’t change, nor do audience’s expectations of it, but creative processes do. And it’s on process that writers should be focused - What is the Process of Writing when the delivery medium can vary and may, in fact, not be pre-determined at all…? 

Below is the deck where I break down 6 Elements of Process across Platforms.