My scripts won’t win Oscars

February 24, 2017
Nate D. Sanders Auctions Collection Of Academy Award Oscar Statuettes Set To Be Auctioned

“And the Oscar goes to…not me”

The Academy Awards are this weekend, and as is our usual custom, we’ll be watching it on TV while enjoying Chinese takeout from the place up the street.

Naturally, as a writer, the categories that interest me the most are about the screenplays; Best Original and Best Adapted. No slight against the rest of it, but let’s be honest. Movies start with an idea written down on paper.

What aspirational screenwriter doesn’t imagine that scenario where their script is the one they announce as taking the top prize? No doubt the number is legion of those who have given their acceptance speech to the imaginary crowd represented by the bathroom mirror.

Oscar-winning scripts are often held up as examples of HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE, so those are the ones we devour, studying them, picking them over, straining to get every ounce of help for our writing out of them as we can.

As entertaining and informative as these scripts are, I’ve also come to the conclusion that the kind of stuff I write – escapist adventure fare – isn’t exactly on the same wavelength as what the Academy appreciates.

Some writers want to write compelling tales about the human condition. Me, I want to spin ripping yarns involving the amazing and fantastic. Last I checked, those kinds of stories don’t usually win a statue of a little gold man.

And that’s quite okay by me. I just really like telling these kinds of stories. They may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but play to your strengths, right? You can’t please everybody.

Don’t get me wrong, being forever known as an “Academy Award-winning screenwriter” would be utterly amazing (and finally give me a good reason to want to go to my high school reunion), but that’s not what this is all about.

If I ever have the incredibly good fortune to establish a career as a working screenwriter who’s even more fortunate in being able to see their work up on the big screen, then just that in itself I would consider winning the biggest prize of them all.

 

 


Dipping into the archival depths

February 21, 2017
miners

Just unearthing a few more invaluable nuggets of wisdom

Lots and lots of activity going on for the hard-working staff at Maximum Z HQ. Writing of pages, giving of notes, assisting with development of outside projects, and assembling material for future posts, just to name a few.

So what does this mean in regards to today’s post?

While our number one priority remains, as always, to provide you with entertaining content, sometimes the producing of original material runs into a bit of snag, resulting in a lack thereof.

But never fear. All is not lost.

Thanks to having just over 8 years’ worth of material to pick from, there are plenty of opportunities to occasionally run a classic (i.e. old) post.

And today is one of those times.

Here’s a post from April 11, 2012, and the subject matter is still relevant. Plus, it features one of my favorite titles and photo captions.

Vamoose! Amscray! Skedaddle! Rampaging thesaurus on the loose!

Added bonus: stronger brainpower!

Egad! A gargantuan leviathan extirpating a metropolitan venue!

I read this the other day and loved it.

It’s too easy to rely on everyday verbs while you’re putting a script together.  The more picturesque a word, the more visual it becomes.  It makes the script that much more exciting and interesting to read.

I usually have two minimized windows running while I’m writing. Pandora for creativity-inducing background music and Thesaurus.com for when I just can’t think of a solid alternate verb. It might take a little effort to find the one that fits, but oh the satisfaction when you do.

Not sure if  a verb works? Follow the example in the quote and read the sentence aloud. Try it with different verbs. Which one sounds spot-on? Does it not only convey action but mood as well?  If somebody storms into a room, you can probably guess how they feel.  Compare it to somebody who slinks, sashays or (always a favorite) moseys in.

The writer’s job is to paint a picture of the story in the reader’s mind. And you want to hold their attention by using words that will do just that. A compelling story with fleshed-out characters helps too, but dull writing makes for boring reading.

I can’t remember the exact wording or who said it, but there’s this great quote that says something like “There are a million words in the English language. Use them.”

Sound advice indeed.


Start with similar, venture into different

February 17, 2017
path

With one you can play it safe, while the other offers up more of a challenge

In the handful of times I’ve helped out as co-writer or script polisher on somebody else’s project, there have been variations on the following conversation:

ME: And then THIS happens!

THEM: Oh, we can’t do that. ACTUAL MOVIE did the same thing.

ME: Not exactly. ACTUAL MOVIE did THIS, and what I’m suggesting is maybe at the very foundation the same concept, but if we did it THIS WAY so THIS HAPPENS, it would be entirely different.

THEM: But won’t people think we’re just ripping off ACTUAL MOVIE?

ME: First of all, ACTUAL MOVIE has been out for a while, and you’re at least a year away from having this thing done, so I highly doubt the first thing anyone’s going to think is we’re ripping off ACTUAL MOVIE. Second, this is exactly why I think THIS is how it should happen. True, both use the basic concept, but we’re putting our own spin on it so it doesn’t resemble ACTUAL MOVIE at all. They’re similar, if you could even call it that, but still different.

THEM: (thinks it over). Well, okay. We’ll give it a try.

And…scene.

I’ve read about this in articles and seen it firsthand while reading scripts, both times usually associated with newer writers. Somebody really likes how something happens in a film or a script, so then they go and have the EXACT SAME THING happen in theirs. I get that you liked that original, but why, oh why would you want to use it practically verbatim in yours?

Doing the screenwriting equivalent of a “copy, cut, and paste” will do you no good because it’ll be painfully obvious that’s what you did. You’re trying to tell an original story, and THIS is what you do?

If anything, people will definitely think you ripped off that original thing and berate you for your total lack of originality. Was that your goal? Probably not.

Time to get analytical. What was it about that particular something that really got to you? Why do you feel the need to have the same thing happen in your script? That’s the angle from which to approach it.

But this is also where the challenge begins. Once you identify that core detail, it’s up to you, the writer, to figure out a new way to use it in such a way that not only does it serve the purpose you need, but also pays homage to what inspired it in the first place.

You know where things are going, or at least where you want them to go, but now you need to tweak how they get there. Work those muscles of creativeness! Try something new! Don’t hesitate to jump off the beaten path into new territory! If anything, you might come up with an entirely new idea that accomplishes exactly what you needed, but just a totally different way.

Sure, there’s a very slight chance it could potentially remind somebody of ACTUAL MOVIE, but they’ll definitely remember that it came from yours.


Required: a second pair of eyes

February 14, 2017
reader

It’s “should’ve”, not “should of”, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a participle that dangled this much

I’ve been doing a lot of script notes the past few weeks, and most of them haven’t been early drafts. These are long-in-development projects, and I can really see how the writers have poured heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into their efforts.

These scripts shows tremendous skill applied to the usual fronts – story, characters, plot development, etc.

But there are two categories that sometimes get overlooked:

Spelling and punctuation.

And yes, each does count.

I’m quite a stickler for both, and have had more than a few writers thank me for pointing out such items as a missing comma, or how a character has nothing to “lose”, not “loose”.

I would imagine that after having read through your own script countless times, reading fatigue can set in, and you might overlook things you might ordinarily not. It happens.

The solution: get yourself a solid proofreader. Preferably someone who knows scripts. You’d think that would be a given, but there are some writers out there who don’t take that path. Do so at your own risk.

I recently read a draft that was riddled with misspelled words and poorly-written sentences. When I pointed this out to the writer, they were surprised because they’d used a proofreader who was a writer, but not a screenwriter. I believe that to be the wrong approach on several levels. (And the fact that the spelling and punctuation were still bad after their proofing makes me seriously question their qualifications to begin with.)

After you’ve read a lot of scripts and written more than a few of your own, you develop an eye for it. But your own skills can only take you so far, hence the potential need for a proofreader.

Some might claim “My writing’s fine. I don’t need a proofreader!” I’m not saying everybody does, but what’s the harm? I read scripts from writers of very high quality, but they’re still human and sometimes they make mistakes too.

Wouldn’t you feel better about your script if somebody whose skills you trusted took a look at it? It’s very possible they might spot something you missed.

“But where/how do I find such a generous person willing to give up their precious time in order to help me out?” Once again, let’s refer to that all-powerful word: networking.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with paying for a proofreading service. Some people swear by it. But you also can’t go wrong in asking someone within your circle of trusted colleagues; preferably someone who knows what they’re talking about.

So whenever you think your script is ready, put together a list of writers of skill within your own personal network. Five is a good number. Politely ask each one if, time permitting, they’d be willing to take a look at your script. And definitely make sure to offer to return the favor. If they say yes, great. If they turn you down, thank them, say “maybe next time” and seek out another name.

While all the elements of storytelling play a vital role in writing a script, never underestimate the importance of making sure a word is spelled correctly or a sentence is properly written. Because people will notice when they aren’t.


Edits, inspiration, and the rinse cycle

February 10, 2017
housewife

Gosh, what a day! My whites are sparkling AND I have a stronger sense of my protagonist’s internal goal!

I’ve mentioned before about my tendency to overwrite, which usually applies to both outline and actual pages. This time around with the pulpy adventure spec is no exception. There’s simply too much going on, so before the amount of material got too overwhelming, some significant editing was needed.

I don’t know how or why I do this, but sometimes there’ll be a scene or sequence that’s more or less a repeat of what’s already happened. Such was the case here. In the overall context of the story, the second one was more important, so thus began the great removal of the first one, along with reinforcing the connection between what came before it and the second one. It actually wasn’t too bad. It tightened up the story much more than anticipated and, in my opinion, kept that energetic momentum going.

My slightly unusual work schedule allows me to dedicate most of the early afternoon to writing, which is occasionally interspersed with some household chores. For this particular instance, it was laundry.

In some ways, I’ve been quite content with my progress, but there was something still nagging at me about it. Things felt…incomplete.

I was somewhere in the middle of that day’s writing session when the washing machine let me know the latest load was finished. While my body went through the motions of hanging stuff on the drying racks, my mind was barreling along a continuous stream of thought.

“What if THIS HAPPENED? Or THIS? Maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong angle. A lot of this has been about the protagonist. What about the antagonist? I don’t want them to come across as a mustache-twirling cartoon villain. Their goal seems too vague. Hey, I wrote a post about that. This is their plan, but why are they doing this? How about THIS? Hey, that’s not bad. Let’s take it one step further and make it THIS. Ooh! This would tie in perfectly to the rest of the story! Hmm. Would this make them see themselves as the hero? Whoa. It sure does. Hokey smokes, I think I’m onto something. I better write this down!”

And I did. It was like the satisfaction you’d get after finding the long-lost last piece of a jigsaw puzzle snapping it into place. The more I thought about this, the more excited I got about implementing it. In fact, the editing/rewriting is already underway.

I cannot begin to explain what a surge of writing adrenaline (if there is such a thing) this created. There’s a line of dialogue in my western that even to this day still gives me chills. This new idea – same thing.

While all of this will no doubt push back the projected end date for having a completed first draft, this new development is totally worth it.

This is just another example of how inspiration really can strike when you least expect it. Embrace it when it does.

And if you’ve been sitting at your computer, frustrated that the words won’t come, maybe stepping away and doing something completely mundane might provide the solution you seek.

Plus, you’ll get the laundry out of the way, which is always good.


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