A little depth perception on my part

July 29, 2014
I can see so much clearer now!

I can see so much clearer now!

There’s no way to say this without sounding smug, so I’ll just come out and say it.

I think my writing has reached a new level.

I say this not out of ego, but from a sort of realization that stems from a discussion I had with a trusted colleague last week.

He’d read my western and had lots of praise for it, which is always nice. What he thought it was lacking was more depth to the characters. As it reads now, there’s a lot on the surface, but he recommended going deeper to get a better idea about who they are and why they do the things they do.

In some ways, I thought I already had a somewhat firm grasp on how to do this, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what he said really rang true.

While I may be adept at putting the basics of a story together and making it entertaining to read, I still need to work on further developing the characters, or at least more than I do now.

Like I told him, it’s a little intimidating to look at the work as a whole and think “I have to fix this. But how?”

So the rewrite is underway, albeit with a little more attention being paid to..well, everything. Which is as it should be.

I’ve always been a staunch believer in the idea that you should write scripts for movies you would want to see. I was already excited for this one, but now that I feel like I have a stronger grasp of how to be a better writer combined with the actual process of making it better (he said with fingers firmly crossed), the anticipation levels are shooting through the roof.

-Also got this from another set of notes: “It’s clear you have a sense of fun…One weird deficiency I see from a lot of amateur screenwriters is that they forget it’s their job to be entertaining.  You get that, and it’s very welcome.”

Nice.


Fall back. Regroup. Hit ‘em again.

July 25, 2014
Disappointed? Sure. Defeated? Never.

Disappointed? Sure. Disillusioned? A little. Defeated? Never.

Oh, what a week this has been.

The first round of the Nicholl Fellowship competition is complete. The quarterfinalists have been named, as well as those who placed in the top 10, 15 and 20 percent of all entries.

Regrettably, my western fell into the latter-most category. In some ways, that’s not too bad. Obviously not was I was hoping for, but at least worth noting.

It goes without saying that while there may still be hope for the script in the handful of other contests I entered this year, it’s also safe to say I should probably expect similar results.

But here’s the silver lining to all of this. I sent the script out, thinking it was ready. Since then, I’ve received lots of great feedback about how it could be improved – tighten this, work on that, etc. – and more is on the way.

This script was pretty good before. With a little more work, it could be fantastic.

I’ll be dividing my time between that and the rewrite of the mystery-comedy spec, of which I will definitely seek out professional feedback (Lesson learned here – after I think a script is good to go, I’ll spring for 1-2 sets of pro analysis. Definitely worth it.)

The silver lining to all of this: there’s no reason I couldn’t have two scripts ready to go for next year. Three if I really push myself with the pulpy adventure spec, but that might be overreaching.

Movie of the Moment – YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974) One of K’s favorites, so we watched it as a family. V liked some of the jokes in the beginning, but her interest waned as it went on.

As for me, still holds up as one of the best comedies ever. Smart, funny and a cornucopia of quotable dialogue.


Here’s what you need to know

July 22, 2014
Not THAT kind of exposition

Not THAT kind of exposition

As the rewrite/polish of the mystery-comedy continues, it suddenly hit me that while I knew the backstory of what came before, somebody reading it for the first time would have no idea what was going on, or at least how we got here.

A little exposition was in order.

But among the many problems with writing exposition is when it’s out-and-out obvious.

“You mean your brother John, who went through a terrible divorce, ran off to join the circus and became a cross-dressing serial killer?”

Sometimes it’s done very effectively, but unfortunately, a lot of the time it isn’t, resulting in a blast of information crammed into one scene.

No thanks.

Rather than go down that road, I’m exploring the potential of doling out the details over several scenes. A sentence or two casually placed here and there so as to not draw attention to itself, all for the purpose of helping you learn where everything is coming from and how we got here.

It’s a work in progress, so we’ll see how it goes.


Not done just yet

July 18, 2014
Made one of these to ease my pain. Ate one piece, gave the rest to coworkers

Made one of these to ease my pain. Ate one piece, gave the rest to coworkers

No matter what level of success a writer has achieved, they are always learning.

Or at least they should be.

So far, my western is 0 for 2 in the competitions I’ve entered, at least in terms of making it past the first round.

Once I got past the initial shock and heartbreak, I took a more analytical approach – why was I not getting the results I was hoping for?

The most logical and practical explanation – the script isn’t as perfect as I thought. It needed fixing.

But what to fix?

(I’ve no inflated sense of ability. I know what I’m good and not-so good at, and expertly analyzing a script falls into the latter category)

So I did what any sensible writer would do – I sought out help from those in the know.  People who write for a living, or advise other writers on how to improve their material.

I asked if they’d take a look at the script at their convenience, let me know what they thought about it, what worked and what needed work. Constructive criticism, not praise, was my objective.

Let’s not say the results were eye-opening, but more like “oh, I see.”

The two most frequent comments were to trim the page count down (many conceded the current 132, while a very fast read, would initially be off-putting to potentially interested parties) and to flesh out the main character a little bit more.

As I said to one person, tough but not impossible assignments.

My biggest mistake was thinking the script was good to go, when what I should have done at that point was get this kind of advice, make the fixes and then do the whole contest and query circuits.  Something to remember for next time.

So for now, another rewrite is in store, which is totally fine.  Anything to make it better.

Sometimes it’s too tempting to finish a project and declare it ready. That’s when your internal editor/critic needs to stand up and ask “Are you absolutely sure about that?”

Make sure you listen to them.


Just call me Dante, because this sure feels hellish

July 15, 2014
Seems pretty appropriate at times

Seems pretty appropriate at times

I wanted to rework the logline for my mystery-comedy spec, so, never one to totally learn from previous experience and hoping for best possible results, I took the plunge and posted it on a few forums, seeking potentially helpful feedback.

Thus did the floodgates open.

It’s me and my story out there in the open, waiting for the world to let itself be heard.

And it did. Oh boy, did it.

One response was a literal interpretation of the words, and why it didn’t work. My assumption that certain details were implied was apparently incorrect.

Several focused on presenting the story in a way I repeatedly explained just didn’t apply. No matter how much I emphasized it was THIS kind of story, they just could not get away from thinking it was THAT kind of story.

Then there’s the omnipresent “I can’t see this being a story” and “It doesn’t sound solid enough.”

Well, I can and think it does.

My words, meet deaf ears. I got similar responses when I was starting the western, and that turned out pretty well.

It’s my sincere belief that everybody’s intentions are good, and they probably don’t mean for their comments to come across in such a “why don’t you know better?” and “THIS is the right (read: only) way to do it” manner.

Even if I totally disagree with somebody, I still appreciate the fact they made the effort to read it, analyze it and create what both of us hope is a helpful response. That doesn’t mean I have to take their word as gospel.

And unless I’ve actually met the person, I have no idea how much legitimate experience or expertise they have. For all I know, everything they say stems from reading SAVE THE CAT a couple of times.

Putting together a logline is an exhausting process. Some people are better at it than others.

As it so happens, I’m not one of them.


Semi-regular post with a joke in it

July 11, 2014
Don't forget to tip your wait staff

Don’t forget to tip your wait staff

The past few days have been all about sending out a disproportionately large amount of query letters, so I’m a little tired and not exactly motivated to write something of an inspirational nature.

So instead, here’s one of my favorite jokes. You’ve probably heard it, but bear with me.

-Three morons were getting ready to hike across the desert.

The first one said, “I’m going to bring a canteen full of water.”

“How come?” asked the other two.

“In case I get thirsty, I can drink it.”

The second one said, “I’m going to bring a bag of food.”

“How come?”

“In case I get hungry, I can eat it.”

The third one said, “I’m going to bring a car door.”

“How come?”

“In case I get too hot, I can roll down the window.”

Thanks. You’ve been a great audience. I’m here all week.


Here’s the windup…

July 8, 2014
lincecum

I admit it. Local bias.

Interesting discussion the other day with a professional hyphen (writer HYPHEN director HYPHEN script consultant) about my western.

They wanted me to pitch them the story, but without notes. Pretty much without any preparation whatsoever.

This way, they explained, it comes across as “more natural” and “less rehearsed”. I don’t necessarily agree, especially because I despise those momentary pauses which make you rely on saying “um” while your brain races to come up with the next words out of your mouth.

Despite not really having thought about the story that much over the past few months, I did my best to work my way through it and think I did okay. Maybe B-plus/A minus territory. Not fantastic, but not bad operating with pretty much no prep time whatsoever.

I made sure to include key story points and not go into too much detail, and tried to sound excited and upbeat while describing the high-octane action.

After I’d finished, there was a dread-inducing silence that grew with each passing second (maybe 3 in total, but felt more like neverending).

“Hmm,” came the reply. “Not bad.”

Not exactly a standing ovation, but I’ll take what I can get.

They listed what they liked and what could use a little work. Surprisingly, they felt the ending was a little ‘soft’ and their explanations why, to which I calmly disagreed and gave my explanation why.

Even more surprisingly, they then revealed they’d only read up to page 15 and wanted to hear my pitch to see if the rest of the story warranted continuing.

(Just to set things up, this person claims to have given 3 pages of notes just on the first page alone for other scripts. Apart from a few comments about the dialogue, they didn’t really have any for mine, and that when they usually get to around page 10, they jump ahead to the middle, then to the end. But mine they wanted to keep reading. Make of that what you will.)

After hearing my rationalization for the ending, they admitted that they should “probably read it to see if they agree.” In theory that will be happening this week, but we’ll see.

Our discussion then turned to my experience and some of my other scripts, 2 of which they requested to read. A victory, no matter how you slice it.

Looking back, I could have done a much better job at pitching my story – if I’d known I was going to have to do it. Still, if I’m going to be sending out queries about it, I should be prepared to talk about it in a moment’s notice.

So while I while away upcoming hours engaged in the rewrite of the mystery-comedy spec, I’ll try to make the most of potential down-time and re-read the western and maybe put together some kind of FAQ/cheat sheet in case this kind of situation arises again.

And it probably wouldn’t hurt to do the same for those other two – just for good measure.


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