Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Going Rambo on Time Travel

So now Sylvester Stallone is a time traveler? I can imagine, were it true, he would have loftier ambitions than Pope Gregory IX at the Vatican. Snooze, right? I picture him in more of a butt-kicking revolutionary soldier. Here's Jack Black, Brad Pitt and a few others celebrity doppelgangers if you're up for comparing.

Now that the Vortex is re-calibrated for time travel again, I present my theory that has only recently solidified: time travel and television don't mix.

Sure, there are a few obscure series who have found a niche audience, but for the purposes of my argument, I'm talking major networks, major audience, major prime-time exposure. And sure, shows like the Twilight Zone and Star Trek tackled time travel successfully, but in the context of single, self-contained episodes. 

First, lets tackle the audience. We have the attention span of a gnat. We find men who can withstand extensive groin-kicking entertaining.We have hundreds of channels at our fingertips that splinter our viewing experience to channel-surfing sound bytes.

Then, there's the networks. Executives at pitch meetings hear a fantastic high-concept for a series: Awake,  Alcatraz, Journeyman, Terra Nova, Life on Mars to name a few. Perhaps they are people like me who love time travel and all its complex dynamics and inherent conflict. They think if they cast hotties from the UK into lead roles, it will drive American audiences to their couches each week.They forget their audience is comprised of gnats who would rather see fake tans and bad sex than anything remotely stimulating to the intellect. But mostly, they forget that if the premise of their show is based on time travel, it can't be wrapped up in a pretty bow at the end of the hour. And therein lies the problem.

Television is inherently fragmented. Anyone not on board from the beginning will not step onto a moving, swirling vortex of time travel confusion and the series is headed for cancellation before it ever starts.

The late 1980s series Quantum Leap worked because, for the most part, each episode was self-contained. There was a larger mythology, but it wasn't necessary to understand the bigger picture to enjoy Sam and Al's time leaps. It also aired at a time of fewer choices, thus, a more concentrated, devoted audience.

Another exception was LOST. However, the time travel element was brought in long after it hooked audiences based on the initial scenario of plane crash survivors when audiences were so far committed into the WTF-ery that they would think: polar bears? On a tropical island? Sure, why the hell not!

This all makes me want to write J.J. Abrams a letter. Tell him I adore him for loving time travel the way that I do then advise him to stick to movies. Self-contained vessels for a more discerning audience.

What is your theory on why time travel shows can't succeed on network television?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

On Word Clouds and Rituals

Greetings, Vortexers! I have emerged from the Twilight Zone writers refer to as "deadline hell" relatively unscathed. The novel I was ghostwriting is finished, soon to be turned in (and published), and it has left me a little bereft. Maybe it's because I haven't been here at the Vortex for awhile. Maybe I need to get my time travel mojo back. Maybe it's because I have to say goodbye to characters. Sounds nuts, I know. But spend all day, every day for months with the voices in your head, and they become real.

I'm not sure what book-ending rituals other writers have. I have Wordle. The absolute final thing I do before I call a work finished is cut and paste it, in its entirety, into the wordle text box. Wordle takes the most frequent words and creates a montage, which you can then jack with artistically. This accomplishes two things. Practically, it helps the writer to know if there is a glaring overuse of some inconsequential crutch word-the larger the word, the more frequently it appears in the text. Visually, it's a beautiful representation of a lot of hard work.
Wordle: Novel
I'm not sure how much of this novel I'll be able to share with Vortexers since it was ghostwritten, but I wanted to share its wordle. It's a romance novel, so I suppose it's a really good thing the hero's name, Chase, turned up the biggest. In this case, size does matter. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be at wordle no longer allow a simple cut and paste and increasing its girth only distorts the words. Ahem. But if you click on the mini-graphic it'll link you to wordle's page and a larger version if you're curious.

I look forward to catching up on life and friends and chores (crazy, I know). I might finally stop watching British television, clean out the meat drawer, paint a room or two and get back to volunteering.

For writers here, what are your book-ending rituals? For readers, do you have any rituals after you read that last page?