Fine-tuning in progress

lady-scientists
Aha! Almost missed that extra “the” in that sentence!

As of this writing, the early bird deadline for the Nicholl is about a week away. After some back-and-forth, I decided that, yes, I’ll take the plunge and once again submit my western.

Last year it made it to the top 15 percent, which isn’t bad, but I know it can do better.

And that’s what the next couple of days are all about: taking what I consider to be a pretty solid script and doing a little more editing/tweaking/polishing to make it even stronger.

For a long time I was convinced there was nothing else to be done on this script. Now I’m thrilled to have been so completely wrong. It doesn’t need a lot, but probably just enough to make a significant difference.

Earlier this year, I got some really good professional notes on it that raised some questions I hadn’t considered before. Implementing the suggested fixes really would make a difference.

So that’s what I’m currently in the process of doing. Nothing major, but some little tweaks, modifications, and minor rewriting here and there. And as is usually the case for me, these aren’t as insurmountable as I’d expected.

Part of this also involves going through the entire thing line by line, red pen in hand, just in case anything catches my eye as if to say “CHANGE ME!” Surprisingly, there have been quite a few of those.

I couldn’t say the last time I actually read through the script, but it’s definitely been a while. And it’s probably safe to say that this long stretch of not looking at it has definitely helped in enabling me to identify what needs editing/fixing.

And not to toot my own horn, but gosh this is a fun read.

In retrospect, I probably should have done this before submitting the script to PAGE, but if all this helps it do better with the Nicholl, who am I to complain?

My scripts won’t win Oscars

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

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

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

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.