Five months ago, I began the journey of AURELIA. It seems like I’ve lived a lifetime since then. From hiring a creative team for the first time, to recruiting actors (many of whom quickly became friends), to traveling to Los Angeles and being featured on a Huffington Post blog to experiencing the ups and downs of a story that went exactly where I thought it would (and nowhere near it at all!) . . . it’s been a whirlwind of a journey.
Along the way, in the spirit of Kelly’s latest post, here are a few things I’ve learned, from a showrunner’s perspective:
1. The world is always deeper.
Whatever I thought I knew about Aurelia from Rise of the Tiger, the Aurelians always found a way to challenge it. Sometimes it was as simple as a really smart question that set me thinking. Those questions often led to clarifications or even adjustments to my personal (or our collective) understanding of the world. At the end of the day, the deeper the world, the more for actors to play with. Don’t be afraid to confront those gaps.
2. Collaboration enhances story.
As writers, it’s so easy for us to be possessive about our worlds, or obsessively anxious about our “intellectual property.” While common sense is always good, I think for most of us it goes too far. The digital age, and digital storytelling thrive on that cheesy acronym TEAM: “Together, Everyone Achieves More.” If you’re not willing to create together, you can’t achieve the “more” that’s waiting.
3. Detours are part of the journey.
As a showrunner, it’s tempting to want to get somewhere . . . fast. The story has to hurry. The actors have to hurry. Everything has to hurry, or we don’t think we’ll make our deadlines. If I learned anything, it was to slow down and let things unfold naturally. Often, in that time, the actors would invent whole new plot lines or take things in a completely different direction. And nine times out of ten, that direction was better than what I had in mind.
4. Characterization is exaggeration.
Aurelia’s best characters weren’t strictly “everyday people.” They were the people who evidenced a particularly exaggerated trait or two that colored their every appearance on stage. Now that I’m going back to my usual writerly “grind,” I’m taking that principle and filtering every character through it. Before, I understood characterization at an intellectual level; now, I’m beginning to understand it from an experiential level–having lived characters and watched them unfold through others.
5. Questions drive storytelling.
At the end of the day, human beings love mystery. The more mysteries you can spin, and foster, the better off your story will be. Not that showrunners (or writers) should invent things superfluously, but if the more you can build organic mystery into your story, the more invested your audience will be as the story unfolds. And as an added tip, I’ve found that questions involving people’s true loyalties (ie: political/social intrigue) are the juiciest, and most polarizing.
And with that, it’s time to wrap up Aurelia. I hardly know what to say at the end of the journey. Except that it’s been phenomenal. Our actors, audience, and partners at Theatrics have been more amazing than I could have ever hoped.
May the City of Aurelia live on, in many more stories, and in our imaginations.
Rise Above, Citizens of Light.
As a writer, the Aurelia experience has given me some new insights into writing which will benefit me in days to come. When the time presents itself, I will finally commit words to my long-overdue and heavily-researched first attempt at a novel.
I have learned that sometimes, the best of characters aren’t great and powerful heroes of renown but the common person who rises to the occasion in the struggle for survival. We all know how a lot fantasy is driven by these great epic adventures, but I think what helps make it a story worth reading is not this person who can defeat armies with a flick of a wrist or slay dragons like strolling through a park on a Sunday afternoon.
No, truthfully, we long for those common every day people who stand with the world against them and reach harrowing low points only to pick themselves up and prevail. These people are us. It gives the reader hope that even they, the common person can be something of greatness with perseverance and willpower.
In Aurelia, I watched a few characters have what we call the “god complex.” They fell short on their storylines. They’ve had a few interactions here and there with other performers, but the overall story fell flat and some of us breathed the sigh of relief when it was over. Our favorite characters were those of ordinary means, who for whatever reason rose to the occasion to do something out of the ordinary.
I have also come to realize that sometimes, life’s stupid mistakes, albeit fatal mistakes, often make for an enjoyable twist in a story. It’s nice to see our favorite characters survive great peril, but something about making it true to life makes a story resonate. For example, I played a character named Graccus who was a powerful Inquisitor for the Serpent’s Temple, tasked with tracking down heretics. Well, a “hot lead” led him to find another character who was drowning, and he offered to save that drowning man. But in the process, Graccus lost his footing and, while wearing heavy armor, ended up drowning. Harsh way to go, I’ll admit, but at the same time, very humorous and in its own way realistic in that sometimes stupid mistakes can be fatal.
Lastly, post-Aurelia, as I writer I have considered using a medium in which I could allow others to spin part of the story to make the randomness of life ring loudly in the story. It’s good to know small details of the character and to fall in love with each one of them. In this manner, the story takes on a life of its own and really pulls the reader in.
With the final curtain closing, I have to say, I’ll miss you, Aurelia.