Thank you for being better than me

August 26, 2016
fancy pie

Mine don’t look like theirs yet, but give me time…

Via a writing colleague, I recently found myself in the possession of a pair of scripts written by a pair of pros.

“Open one and read a few words and you’ll be in for the rest of the script,” I was told.

And you know what? They weren’t far off.

I only got a few pages in, but found the writing to be extremely vivid and descriptive. No problem at all in painting those mental pictures with a powerful brush.

My only complaint – all that dazzling wordsmithing got a little too distracting, making it slightly tougher to focus on the story. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to reading both scripts.

But I totally got my friend’s point: the writing was exceptionally engaging. It really grabbed you and made you want to keep going.

Compared to it, my writing comes across as kind of dry and might even be considered sort of dull and lackluster. Not to totally disparage my own work, but these writers are professionals. I, as it has already been established, am not.

But reading these scripts and others like them are good reminders of what I and every other writer should be trying to do. You don’t want a stick drawing. You want a finely-crafted elaborate work of art.

Speaking from experience, this isn’t easy. It’s almost like learning a new way of writing. It requires a lot of work, nor will it happen overnight.

But don’t despair. The good news is you can start working on these improvements practically immediately.

Take the last scene you wrote. How does it read to you? Does it compel you to want to know what happens next? Feel free to tinker with it until it gets to that point. Then do the same with the scene after it. And the one after that. And so on, and so on.

Think of it this way – you want the reader to “see” the scene in the same way you imagined it. Therefore, your challenge is to write it so the actions, images and dialogue in it come as close as possible to matching your version AND that no other description would do it justice.

Reading these professional scripts was at first intimidating in a “I’ll never be able to write like that!” kind of way. But with a continuous effort and a lot of work, there’s no reason to think I couldn’t come mighty close.


Just the push I needed

August 23, 2016
push

What are friends for?

Notes are coming in for the comedy spec, and reactions are pleasantly positive. My always-reliable readers have provided some extremely helpful notes, including an across-the-board opinion about a key plot point.

A lot of what they had to say made some good sense and are really helping solidify the script into something more-than-decent.

While they had nice things to say about the script, each reader threw in an extra little tidbit in the form of comments directed at the script’s writer.

AKA me.

“These two lines of dialogue are an anomaly compared to the rest of it. I know you can do better.”

“Great story, but I’d like to see you dig deeper.”

And these are comments from experienced writers who’ve read some of my other scripts, so they know what I’m capable of. They’re not just saying these things in a casual, generic feedback kind of way, or because they’re trying to be nice. They really mean it, and I take what they say to heart.

I thought the script was okay to begin with, but after getting comments like these, it makes me want to try even harder.

When you’re in the process of putting a script together, you really dedicate yourself to doing a good job, and then try to do better with each subsequent rewrite. It’s how we improve.

But it’s also kind of tough to be able to get yourself past a certain point. You think you’ve done everything you can, but then you get a bit of a supportive nudge and your journey resumes.

It’s quite the confidence booster to know there’s somebody out there rooting for you (especially somebody without a vested interest in you). They want to see you succeed just as much as you do. So you buckle down and throw yourself into making that next draft even better.

End result – you have a stronger script and their belief in you and your abilities is confirmed. Wins all around.

And when the time comes and they ask me for notes on their script, I have a strong suspicion I’ll be able to do the same for them.


Q & A with Agent Babz Bitela

August 19, 2016

Babz Bitela

Barbara “Babz” Bitela is a literary agent operating out of northern California, a “hired gun” editor for fiction writers, and hosts the Babzbuzz internet radio show “because folks were nice to me and helped me, so I’m trying to pay it forward, and believe me, I’m keeping it real.”

“We want voice on the page. We KNOW it when we ‘hear’ it.”

Her book Story of a Rock Singer is currently being adapted as a Broadway musical.

What’s the last thing you watched/read that you thought was incredibly well-written?

Justified and Bates Motel are my top two. Joss Whedon is by far one of my favorite writers. Buffy the TV series –  WOW!  You can youtube his interviews: it’s like an AA degree in writing and it’s free to anyone.

How’d you get your start as an agent?

I pitched a semi-retired agent named Ed Silver on a book I wrote. He was Lee Marvin’s manager and finance guy, also for James Coburn and many others. The guy’s ‘seen’ stuff, man – Hitchcock napping, for one. He loved my style and offered me a gig to take over and he’d mentor. We clicked big time. He’s Jewish, I’m Italian. As Sebastian Maniscalco says, “Same corporation, different division.” That’s us.

Is recognizing good writing something you believe can be taught or learned?

You for sure can learn it IF you want to. Here’s why – bad writing obviously sucks. It just does. How do you know that? By reading GREAT (not just good) scripts. I read so much so often I can now tell what’s going to go and what MAY go but here’s the rub: in the absence of money behind it, it may not matter. And I may love it and another may say “meh”. So pov does matter.  So you can learn and pitch but Lady Luck is no lady: she’s a tramp in cheap shoes and she’s fickle. We press on because we believe in the story/writer we hawk. If it goes, it goes, if it doesn’t, well, I’ve had the benefit of “seeing” incredible “movies” and the only down side is, so few others will see that. THE WRITER however, benefits. Why? Job well done. And if you don’t write for the JOY of the craft, there’s no point. Write for the sale? That’s an industry sucker punch. I’ve learned to find great scripts and I’ve learned it can be like screaming in space once you do.

What are the components of a good script?

VOICE, RISING ACTION and TWISTS.  What is voice: it’s a lot like porn – I know it when I see it but it’s hard to describe. Think of it this way: you open a novel, settle in and by page two you’re thinking “Ugh, this just sucks”, but you press on and by page ten you know it’s not the book for you so you donate it to Goodwill. It’s the same with a script. I once read a tv pilot by my client that I couldn’t read it fast enough. Why? I WAS DYING TO SEE WHERE IT WOULD LEAD. The action and characters were alive on the page. That is what makes a good script: I call it NARRATIVE TUG.

What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Where to start? Typos, for sure. It’s a speed bump.

Wrylies. Just don’t. UGH! Makes me crazy. There’s only one time I’ve seen it used where it worked. ONCE. And that writer is a five-figure-income writer.

Novels posing as scripts. The writer MUST understand the economy of words and do VISUAL storytelling. Telling a story with pictures is a movie. Telling a story with talking is a soap opera.

Avoid using “ing” words – slows narrative, slows the readers eyes.

Avoid “very”. Just find what IT IS. Don’t say “very smart”, say “bright”  – just pick! Not kidding. You’ll thank me. Rodale’s The Synonym Finder is invaluable for writers.

And never fall in love with your stuff. It’s gonna get cut.

What story tropes are you tired of seeing?

Well, many work. Some don’t. My favorite recently was probably in draft form: “Fire all phasers!” But instead he said “Fire everything!” Love it!

But I say write bad and cliché in the draft, leave it there, then go back and rewrite it.

Lots of folks say “Not my first rodeo.” I say “Not my first rocket launch.” Anything to WAKE UP the reader.

What are the three most important rules every writer should know?

I’ve got more than three.

-Don’t enter a script contest pitching a word doc.

-Don’t send a script unless invited.

-Don’t ask me what I think if you don’t want to know.

-Don’t go past 120 pages. I mean it. Try to stay around 100 if you can.

More rules? I think it’s just wise to do 12pt Courier font as it’s tradition. The Coen Brothers don’t use Courier. But they’re already famous, so when you’re famous do what you want. In the meantime, stick to tradition.

What do you look for when it comes to potential clients, both personally and professionally?

No dope. No booze. No drama.

Feet on the ground, and committed to spending tons of time doing what you love, regardless of the outcome.

My clients pitch themselves. They must. If that’s not for you, then I’m not the agent for you, and also, you’re in the wrong business.

Yes, the agent makes inroads, but you must pitch you and build relationships. When you do; AVOID using “I” and ask the person “What do you do, and how do you do it?” Ask about them. We’re people FIRST. That’s why I do Babzbuzz. People like me. They helped me. So I take what they tell me and mush it up with what I’ve learned, and talk about it on my show to try to help.

I’m a small company: I’m WGA.

Meh. Folks hang up on me all the time.

Why?

“Babz, love the script! Who’s funding?”

Crickets.

“Babz, baby. Call us back when you have the dough and I’ll show my client. He may want to star in it.”

EEEK!

What happened to love of story?

Hell, that left the building and moved to an island the actor/director owns. He’s got to feed his family too, ya know. So bring the bricks.

EEEK!

Lightning can and does strike. That’s what I do. I’m really a stormchaser who looks for folks with money who want to buy.

Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love and appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

Oh man, you had me at the fridge door. Dutch apple. Key lime. Rhubarb when you can find it. And pretty much any clever use of chocolate.

 


Plan accordingly forwardly

August 16, 2016
mountain climber

Know what’s ahead and what you’re going to do about it

Now that we’re well into the second half of the year, I’ve been working on scheduling out how I’d like the time between now and December 31st to be filled up, both writing and career development-wise.

As you’d imagine, there’s a lot of writing involved. Finishing the rewrite of one script, polishing another, cranking out a first draft of yet another. I’ve done what I can to establish realistic and achievable deadlines – no more writing marathons for me.

Add to that the efforts to network and meet with other writers, both in-person and online, along with pursuing viable avenues to get the work out there, such as query letters and contests.

One important part of all of this is that, for the most part, I’m the one overseeing all of this. Nothing will get done or happen if I don’t make the effort. As for the things I have no control over, especially the career-oriented ones, I’ll do what I can to get the ball rolling and see what develops.

A friend saw my list of objectives and said “Good idea. Plan to succeed.”

Part of this stems from exactly that. I’m working at this so I can succeed. Being organized about what you want to accomplish helps you stay focused on getting closer to actually achieving it.

While you’re working on your script, you should always be asking yourself “How can I make this better?” Well, this also applies to working on getting a career going. How can you make it better?

Keep writing. Your skills will improve and your number of completed projects will increase.

Seek out connections. The internet is your greatest tool for networking with other writers and folks within the industry. Very important – be nice.

Do your homework. Find out the necessary details as they apply to you and what you’re trying to accomplish. Whether it’s the best format for a query, if somebody’s contact info is still accurate, or which contest is a good match for your script.

Commit. You know all the things you need to do and want to do. Now dedicate yourself to doing them.

All of this may seem somewhat overwhelming at first, but get in the habit of making it a daily effort – even just a little at a time – and the results will start to take shape.


Lattes, lunches & kindred spirits

August 12, 2016
coffee

“And then he actually asked, “But what’s your Save the Cat moment?””

It’s been a busy week around here, and not just in terms of writing.

I’ve had some great in-person meet-ups with three other local writers over the past couple of days. Two were first-timers, the third was someone I’ve known for a couple of years. Each one was great in its own way. This really is one of my favorite parts of networking – actually meeting somebody else and getting to know them.

Because of my work schedule, lunch or early afternoon coffee are ideal. I prefer a nice little cafe because it always makes for a better one-on-one environment: quiet, sociable, pleasant. Larger networking events, usually at bars, tend to be pretty crowded and noisy, which makes it tough to establish a solid rapport. I’m not too keen on having to continuously shout and not be entirely sure either of us can hear the other.

The first meeting usually involves the exchanging of “here’s my story” mini-bios, and then moves on to what’s going on for both parties. Over the course of about an hour, we’ll share and discuss our individual journeys as writers. Everybody’s journey is different, and I always find each one quite fascinating.

We often share many similarities: our constantly working in the hopes of eventually succeeding as a writer (or filmmaker), the noticeable excitement while discussing our latest project(s), wondering how it’ll go and how it’ll be received.

We are also allowed free rein to vent our frustration about whatever’s currently sticking in our respective craws. Bad experiences, lack of funds for a project, feeling stuck with developing a story, dealing with lousy notes, and so on. One of my new connections even stated, “It’s nice to know I’m not the only one this has happened to!”

That may be what’s at the heart of all of this: knowing you’re not the only one trying to do this, and that somebody else totally understands what it is you’re going through. Simply being able to chat about it in a casual social setting can do wonders; one might even call it therapeutic.

I also make a point of offering to help out in any capacity I can, which tends to usually be either giving script notes or suggesting potential contacts and strategies, and just about everybody is more than happy to reciprocate. Who can’t use a little help?

If you haven’t done so already, I heartily recommend reaching out and connecting with somebody in your area, especially if both of you are within close proximity to each other. Chances are they’re seeking to do the exact same thing.

You know the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? Well, this not only applies to breaking in, but also to helping you work your way towards that. Building up your personal network of fellow creatives is easy, won’t cost you that much (just what you’d spend on a cup of coffee or a meal), and is a definite plus for all involved.


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