The Leviathan Chronicles Season 2 – The Director’s Cut (Part 1 of 2)

Post on my audio drama review site.

Audio Drama Reviews

It took a long time to get into the first season of The Leviathan Chronicles. To be honest, I never did. The closest thing I got to experiencing the first season of this underwater sic-fi adventure was the Season one recap. After listening to that, I was intrigued to not only listen, but to buy the director’s cut. Let me just say, it’s worth every penny.

The thing that caught my attention were the three main story lines of Tully and Oberlin, the Black Door group and the Leviathan rebels, and Macallan’s team. Two out of the three were in direct conflict with one another. The execution of the story was brilliantly done. It seemed that in the first few episodes of season one, Macallan was reactive, rather than proactive. On top of that, she didn’t have any traits that made her sympathetic for me. That’s the main reason why…

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Three-act Format Breakdown: The Pledge, The Turn, and The Prestige

So, I was watching The Prestige and my writer brain turned on after the second line. The one where Cutter (Michael Caine) explains how every magic trick consists of three parts. I dug deeper into this epiphany and what I found on the other side was quite cool, if I do say so myself. What I’m going to propose is another way of looking at the three-act format.

The Pledge

Your first chapter is a promise to the reader. For example:

The body lay in rigor mortis as I attempted to find more clues.

Simple, yes. But that sentence implies a murder mystery, albeit an obvious one. A “pledge” is another word for promise. The writer promises in the first chapter what the story will thematically be about. Theme n regards to whether the opening gives a sense of an action/adventure story, fantasy, horror, or science fiction. The Writing Excuses podcast did an excellent episode on the subject of fulfilling promises to the reader, which is what a good beginning should do: set-up the promise for fulfillment later.

The Turn

The beginning of the second act is when the reader/viewer/listener knows that the problem is much more insurmountable then they were originally lead to believe. The first act  is often a Macguffin in Hollywood movies, Thought it doesn’t have to be. The second act in a Hollywood movie tends to be the longest of the three, and the one filled with the most tension. Sometimes this act is called the “try/fail cycle” act, because things just get worse and worse for the heroes, until they finally succeed and the story can move onto the third act.

The Prestige

There are many ways to write a third act, but the one I try to strive for is a “full circle” ending. Depending on the story this can be easy or hard. Its mostly hard if you don’t know what your final scene is going to be. For example in my novel (Editing Phase) I knew how my protagonist was going to defeat the bad guy. However that kind of ending is premature. There needed to be another chapter. This is part of the reason why epilogues are still around. After a few weeks of staring at a blank screen, I thought back to the beginning of the book and asked what promises I was making to the reader. After a quick Q&A brainstorming session, I realized what I needed to have happen.

Act I and the Act III are mirrors of each while Act II can be used to misdirect the reader by making them forget about the events of the first act. This type of plotting technique is done quite well in Ocean’s Eleven (2001), where upon re-watching the film you notice that all the ground work was established. The danger of this method is that your clues can sometimes be too subtle. The first Mistborn book does this, I feel. But more on that in a future blogpost.

Another way to look at this is via the screenwriting term: “surprising, yet inevitable.” The writer made a promise you didn’t know was going to be fulfilled a the end, and you love that they did.

Discovery Writing, Word count, and Act II Problems

Be wary of the middle. Some writers love it, others hate it. I—up until quite recently—hated middles, because I could never get past them and start to tie the loose ends in a cohesive fashion for an explosive climax. I just kept leaving more bricks in the yellow-brick road. For the longest time I thought I was an outliner. I plan my beginning, middle, and end…but the middle always gives me difficulties. The problem isn’t getting past that 1/4 mark, where the freedom starts to disappear, it’s knowing that I’m at the 3/4 mark and have only written 15k words. I’ve compressed the story to its essence when writing the outline that I’ll need to add a lot more scenes in order to give the reader the emotion I want them to experience when reading. It’s a mental block that I couldn’t get past.

That is, until I threw out my outline when writing the middle. I can’t believe I never connect the pieces together. When I write using an outline, I deviate from it within the first few paragraphs. I need the outline to get started, otherwise I have no idea what to write about. That’s the thing though, the keyword in “discovery writing” is writing. Outlining is planning, nothing more. Now I feel that I’m more on the pantsing side of the writing spectrum. Going back to my original point about writing the middle and an insufficient word count to have a publisher want to produce the book, the biggest realization for me was that I can crank out more words when I discovery write, than if I know where the story is headed. A lot of it may be fluff, a darling needed to be cut perhaps. The point is to keep writing, because the more you write the more solutions you’ll get for problems you thought were insurmountable.

If I do ever find myself stuck, I free write. Most writers know what free writing is. Simply put, it is writing without editing or thinking. Let the words flow out of your writing utensil or keyboard. I never understood how one can write without thinking because, at least for me, a writer is constantly thinking about the next word or punctuation point. Even now, as I write this, I’m thinking ahead a few words at a time. There’s a difference however between what my high school teachers called “free writing” and how I define it now. How I define it is more like: free thinking using the medium of the written word. When I “free write” I already have a good chunk of the story written out. When I reach a roadblock and don’t know what’s going to happen next, I skim over the previous scene and ask a question. An example of a question from my work in progress is: “What happens when Luke travels back to Sincota? What does he find there?” My answers tend to weave in what I have planned and occasionally what I’ve already written. When that happens, I get giddy like a school girl. I even laugh like one too, but don’t tell anyone okay? It’ll be our little secret…internet.

Discovery Writing, Word count, and Act II Problems

Blog post from my personal site about my writing endeavors.

Michael Bergonzi

Be wary of the middle. Some writers love it, others hate it. I—up until quite recently—hated middles, because I could never get past them and start to tie the loose ends in a cohesive fashion for an explosive climax. I just kept leaving more bricks in the yellow-brick road. For the longest time I thought I was an outliner. I plan my beginning, middle, and end…but the middle always gives me difficulties. The problem isn’t getting past that 1/4 mark, where the freedom starts to disappear, it’s knowing that I’m at the 3/4 mark and have only written 15k words. I’ve compressed the story to its essence when writing the outline that I’ll need to add a lot more scenes in order to give the reader the emotion I want them to experience when reading. It’s a mental block that I couldn’t get past.

That is, until I threw out…

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Hothouse Bruiser

This audio drama attempts to walk the line between episodic content and one full-length audio production. It doesn’t do a fantastic job, but it isn’t bad. The way this audio drama plays out, the chapter-by-chapter structure hurts the impact of the overall story. One episode will focus on one thing and introduce a mystery all in the 20-30 minutes per episode. The answer to the mystery is answered a few chapters later and it loses the “oh my god” impact that most mystery resolutions need in order to resonate or satisfy the individual experiencing the story. That’s not to say they didn’t occur, it just could’ve been stronger. The best reveals came at the end. The reveals and twists towards and during the climax were along the lines of “wow, I knew it.” (I don’t mean that in a bad sense. The plot with the mysterious voice, I figured out about a minute before Bruiser was aware. That is a great way to end a mystery. Having the reader figure out whodunit a page or paragraph before the characters is one of the best experiencing an author can give someone. Audio Drama is no exception.

Iron Man 3 (I’ll link to a review of it on my personal blog, if and when it’s written) handles the “twists along the way” structure quite well. Then again it is a movie and not broken down into smaller chunks—other than Hollywoods traditional three-act format. Unlike Iron Man 3, however, the climax of Hothouse Bruiser more than made up for the semi-low resonance level throughout. If you believe the end of a journey is greater than the adventure itself, then you’ll probably enjoy the ending of Hothouse Bruiser immensely. However, if it wasn’t for that ending, this would have been too episodic for my liking.

The Lost Elevator

The second audible drama from Northern Lights Media is an adaption of a play. This is the very definition of a full-cast production. I could picture the stage and the actors who inhabited it, making this an enjoyable experience. Even if you aren’t a fan of live theater—though from my experience most audio drama fans are some form of actor/actress—the piece is short enough that it doesn’t become boring.

The ending didn’t have any big twist that redefined the story. The twist came at the end of the play when the people trapped figured out what happened to the elevator. Most stories these days have a big twist that changes the nature of the story. Back when this play was written, the exact opposite must have been true. in terms of writing, the twist was inevitable, just not surprising.

 

Neverwhere

When you have the star of BBC’s Sherlock and a young Charles Xavier from X-men: First Class as part of the cast, the possibilities are endless. You don’t see the words “all-star cast” in audio dramas too much, but this deserves it. I’m just talking about the production value now. Don’t get me started on the story. I feel like I’ve reviewed Dirk Maggs’ work before on the site. Or at least, I’ve heard that name somewhere before.

The story is simple and at times, filled with too many tropes—at least in the first episode. That’s not to say they’re cliche, however. When they introduced the majority of the characters in that first episode, the main problem was that I could see the almighty hand of either the author or the person adapting the work for audio. For example, they make the protagonist be nice to everyone right from the start. That’s a good way to make a reader like a character, because we’re being shown who the character is, rather than being told. In an audio drama however, this feels a little awkward. I thought this throughout the first episode, but once episode two came along, I forgot all about it. That has to be my only complaint about this six part BBC Radio 4 production of Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere” (that and it’s no longer available). 😦

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