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JMS on Writing Well

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  • JMS on Writing Well

    Among everything that JMS has written, I'm curious if anyone knows of a particular piece where he may have described some dos and don'ts and some of the mechanics of writing fiction stories -- things like what makes good drama good, or what makes interesting characters interesting. Sometimes he has random tips in his comments for an episode, such that no mystery should be drawn out for more than one or two seasons. So I'm trying to see if he has ever written a mildly comprehensive book or even just an article on writing good fiction. Thanks!
    Last edited by FeelLikeANut; 02-10-2007, 10:47 AM.

  • #2
    There's his book on scriptwriting.
    Got movies? www.filmbuffonline.com

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    • #3
      Welcome, FeelLikeANut. Yeah, I've moved this to General Discussions. Don't worry, though, lots of folks read all the new posts.

      In answer to your question, there may well be some tips in JMS's Complete Book of Scriptwriting. It's been a while since I've read it. He *has* made one point over and over, in writing and in person, though, so I'm going to bend my own rules about posting large amounts of text from other sources and post this bit from one of the columns he wrote for Psycomics a few years ago:
      Once you have the basic story, you have differences in length, technique and limitations, but in first creating the story, the process is and must always be the same.

      You start from character.

      Because everything in the story proceeds from these basic questions: Who is my main character? What does he want? How far will he go to get it? And how far will someone else go to stop him?

      Answering those questions gives you plot, structure and the emotional spine of the story. In the end, it's all about character. Because that's what we remember, that's what stays with us. It's the engine that drives the story.

      With the passing of time, we may forget some of the specifics about whale hunting described in Moby Dick...but we remember Ahab. We may not remember exactly how the mystery of the speckled band, or the hounds on the moors, or the red haired men was resolved...but we remember Holmes and Watson. We may not know the make and model of that WW2 German rocket, but we remember Bucky Barnes.

      Fight scenes may enliven a comic book, but we read them for the characters we care about.

      Special effects may look pretty on film, but if it isn't about character, we won't go back again.

      It ain't the ring, it's Hal Jordan; it ain't the amulet, it's Doctor Strange; it ain't the sword, it's Usagi Yojimbo.

      And that's where you have to start.

      You want to know the secret handshake? You want to know how it's really done? Just between you, me and the pixels?

      Then listen up. It's as simple as a walk through your living room.

      For just a moment, imagine your best friend. (If you don't have a best friend, hack into the computer of somebody who has one and get their notes.) Really see him or her in your mind's eye, in all your friend's colors and imperfections.

      Now imagine your friend walking across the darkened living room in the middle of the night, and banging his/her shin on the coffee table.

      You know your friend.

      So you know exactly what he/she will say when that happens.

      Here's the secret: writing is no different.

      You have to create the character so well enough, know them sufficiently enough, so that no matter what kind of situation they encounter, you know instinctively how they will react, and what they will do.

      Sure, you then have to come up with the mystery, with the device, the new technology, the super-powerful armor, the magical incantationsàthe subversive plot, the assassination attempt, the invasion from another dimensionàbut all of that is informed by who your character is, what his resources are, and how that character will react to those circumstances.
      Here's a post where he talks about how he writes. There are a lot more in his posting archives.

      As for a book about writing, I don't know of any. I know JMS has taught writing but the only book about it that he's written is the scriptwriting one.

      Jan
      "As empathy spreads, civilization spreads. As empathy contracts, civilization contracts...as we're seeing now.

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      • #4
        Yes! Thank you, Jan. That is exactly the kind of stuff that I'm looking for. Is the full text of that message archived somewhere on this site? Is there more like it following similar topics and ideas?

        Thanks so much!

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        • #5
          Sorry, FeelLikeANut, that was from a column he wrote back in 2000-2001. They used to be archived online but I'm not able to find them right now.

          There are a couple of transcripts of JMS's appearances archived here, though, and he often answers writing questions in them. Try this one from 2004 where he appeared at a New Jersey high school. Or this one from Philadelphia in 2005. It has a particularly great passage near the end about writing what you *must* write.

          As for the rest, I'd advise touring around the archives of his posts and searching for terms that you have questions on. The search feature is quite good.

          Good luck. If I think of any other particularly good sources, I'll post them and I'm sure others will, too.

          Jan
          "As empathy spreads, civilization spreads. As empathy contracts, civilization contracts...as we're seeing now.

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          • #6
            Why wouldn't that kind of message be archived here as well? Is this site restrictive, that JMS writings may only come from Internet postings?

            And a side suggestion, off topic from my own thread: Has anyone thought of getting a group of volunteers to label JMS's writings archived here into categories? For instances, "What JMS says about writing," "What JMS says about Iraq," "What JMS says about religion," and so forth. That's something that I think would be a very nice feature.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by FeelLikeANut View Post
              Why wouldn't that kind of message be archived here as well? Is this site restrictive, that JMS writings may only come from Internet postings?
              Not in the sense that I think you're thinking. The thing is, when he's written columns for other sites, I believe it's been under contract so it's not available to be reposted the way his Internet postings are. That's why I couldn't post that entire column that I quoted earlier-I don't have JMS's or Psycomic's permission. At some point I suppose that he might be able to reprint them himself, I don't know how the rights would work. The transcripts could be posted here because the site had JMS's permission.

              And a side suggestion, off topic from my own thread: Has anyone thought of getting a group of volunteers to label JMS's writings archived here into categories? For instances, "What JMS says about writing," "What JMS says about Iraq," "What JMS says about religion," and so forth. That's something that I think would be a very nice feature.
              That's a big job with over 17,000 posts. And not all of them would be whole posts or have keywords to search by. The Lurker's Guide did a *really* nice job of putting his posts about the episodes of B5 onto the Guide pages there but that was an 'as they happened' project.

              Jan
              "As empathy spreads, civilization spreads. As empathy contracts, civilization contracts...as we're seeing now.

              Comment


              • #8
                How do you have access to it then? I might be willing to purchase issues that JMS has written in, but when I tried googling for Psycomics, I couldn't come up with anything.

                And about the categorizing, I understand that it would be a big job, but it's certainly doable with even a small team of dedicated fans. If only ten people each categorize ten posts per day, then the project could be done in six months. But it's only a suggestion, of course, and not a vitally important feature.

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                • #9
                  Psycomics was a short-lived website that seemed to only last a few months. There were about 15 columns by JMS but not all of them concerned writing. My access is from my personal archives that a) are incomplete and b) I don't have permission to share.

                  Ah-ha!! I found JMS's writing columns for Newsarama.com for you. The link goes to the final one that has links at the end to the first four. You'll also find a few posts by JMS answering questions there, too.

                  Jan
                  "As empathy spreads, civilization spreads. As empathy contracts, civilization contracts...as we're seeing now.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by FeelLikeANut View Post
                    And about the categorizing, I understand that it would be a big job, but it's certainly doable with even a small team of dedicated fans. If only ten people each categorize ten posts per day, then the project could be done in six months. But it's only a suggestion, of course, and not a vitally important feature.
                    An attributing system for the posts is something I've been thinking about. We could define a set of attributes (e.g., Source, Series, Season, Episode, Subject, Actor, Convention, etc) and then grant certain people permission to apply attributes. For example, the "Topic" attribute could have values such as "Story Arc", "Ratings", "Writing", "Current Projects", etc. Once done, you could then filter subsets of the archive based on attribute(s). In your case, you could query for topics where "Subject = Writing". If someone was interested in all the posts about a particular episode, they could query using the Series/Season/Episode attributes. We'd have to design an interface that made choosing attributes and values easy.

                    Another thing that might be cool for the site here is a JMSNews wiki. We have a great community and I bet through collaborative authoring we could produce a nice set of topics about all the various JMS projects and related subjects. It might even be possible to associate the wiki topics to attributes (above idea). For example, if you're looking at the wiki topic on B5:TLT there could be a link that would take you to the associated messages in the archive.

                    -DougO

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                    • #11
                      BINGO!!!

                      I knew it had to be in my bookmarks someplace. Here's a link to JMS's Psycomics columns. They're not all about writing but I enjoyed them.

                      Jan
                      "As empathy spreads, civilization spreads. As empathy contracts, civilization contracts...as we're seeing now.

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                      • #12
                        Hotness!! Thank you sooo much, Jan!

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                        • #13
                          Try this one: JMS on Writing

                          http://www.writingonyourpalm.net/jms/
                          Only a fool fights in a burning house.

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                          • #14
                            And you really should check out his scriptwriting book. I checked it out of a local library, but the used price on Amazon (starting at $.01) seems hard to beat.

                            http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Book-.../dp/1582971587
                            Only a fool fights in a burning house.

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