A small gesture with big results

April 14, 2017
cheer squad

Yay you!

Something a little different today.  A humble request from me to you, which will hopefully become a regular thing for you (provided it isn’t already).

I’ve been exceptionally fortunate to have been on the receiving end of compliments and encouragment from my network of fellow writers (thanks, chums!), but have also gotten an immense amount of satisfaction in being the one doing the giving.

Nothing too gushing or overly effusive; simply words along the lines of “Way to go!” or “You can do it!” Maybe a little more if I know the writer and/or the project.

It may not seem like a lot, but that sort of thing can be much more effective than you’d imagine. Any writer appreciates knowing there’s someone out there rooting for them.

So what does this have to do with you? Easy. Take it upon yourself to do that for other writers you know; probably would take you all of ten seconds. And I bet you can think of least a dozen people for whom you could do this.

I’m not necessarily a big believer in “good deeds build good karma”, but there’s nothing wrong with just being a nice person, right?

And speaking of being nice to people, a couple of items added to the bulletin board this week:

-Author Cali Gilbert is happy to announce the release of her 8th book, the historical fiction Timing the Tides. The book is available for pre-order in both hard copy and Kindle versions.

-Writer/webcomic creator Gordon McAlpin has launched a crowdfunding campaign to create an animated short based on his webcomic Multiplex, which recently wrapped up a very entertaining 12-year run. Donate if you can!


Digging towards the emotional core

October 18, 2016
big-dig

I don’t think you’ll need that much gear

Due to both of our busy schedules, my daughter and I go for some quality father-daughter time when we can. Sometimes that means we’ll watch something together.

It might be a movie or a TV show. We’re not picky. No shame in admitting she’s picked up my enjoyment of superhero- and fantasy-based (LOTR, Hobbit, etc) material.

Despite her occasionally sullen and blase teen exterior, V is, at heart, an empathetic and sensitive soul, so no matter what we’re watching, if there’s any kind of hint of emotional resonance in a particular scene, she will feel the full brunt of whatever emotion the film/program is conveying.

Almost any kind of a joke (the sillier the better), and she laughs her head off. Something scary and she hides under the blanket. Something sad and she immediately tears up. Even after years of me saying, “You do know this is just a movie/TV show, right?”, her emotional receptors remain cranked up to 11 (and the teenager reappears with the immediate response, “Will you stop saying that?”)

Looking at these from the writer’s perspective, I can’t help but examine how the writers were able to do that. How did they get to the emotional core of the scene? Jokes and scares aren’t hard to figure out, even though each is pretty subjective, but a good, solid tug at the heartstrings, when done effectively, can be some pretty intense stuff.

A key part is making it relatable. Love. Joy. Heartbreak. Loss. All are universal. Everyone’s experienced them in some form or another. As the writer, you want to convey that emotion so anybody reading or watching your story will not only immediately identify it, but also connect with it on a personal level.

Like this. One of the most effective emotional sequences ever. And not a single word spoken. If you don’t feel anything as a result of watching it, you have no soul.

Even though we may not have gone through the same things as Carl and Ellie, we can relate to a lot, if not all of it.

This isn’t saying that every scene has to be a major tearjerker, but you want to really let us know how the characters are feeling in that particular moment. They’re human, so they feel the exact same things we do. Make us feel how they’re feeling.

Each scene serves three purposes: to advance the story, the characters, and the theme. Let the emotions come through via the best way you envision them enhancing the scene (making sure not to overdo it). It might take a few tries, but the deeper you venture into the emotional level, the easier it’ll get for you to show it, and it’ll also be easier for us to identify it and relate to it.


Do you know what you don’t know?

May 24, 2016
scarecrow

I’m no ThD (Doctor of Thinkology), but I try

Throughout the online writing community, among the many forums and networking groups, there will always be someone, most likely just starting out, who asks a question along the lines of:

“How do I go about accomplishing THIS?”

The variations on this are endless (as are the number of possible answers, but that’s another subject for another time).

A lot of the time, the question stems from a simple lack of knowledge; they just don’t know. Most likely, it’s about a subject which the more seasoned of us have an answer, probably having lived through it ourselves. Hoping to pass on the benefit of your experience, you provide an answer.

Is it what they were expecting to hear? Maybe. Maybe not. But you are giving them THE TRUTH.

With any luck, the question-asker is grateful and appreciative. A win for both sides. They learn something, and you fulfill the mentor role. Even if you just told them “For God’s sake, DON’T DO THAT!!”

And sometimes they don’t like the answer, possibly even getting angry and resenting you for telling them what is, in essence, THE WAY THINGS ARE. How dare you shatter their illusion in which they can do no wrong? They probably don’t realize how petty and thin-skinned they’re acting; two traits which will doom their potential writing career before it  even gets started. Hey, at least you tried to help.

(Side note – this process is a two-way street. If somebody asks you a question straight out of the first day of Screenwriting 101, don’t insult or belittle them for asking it. You were in that exact same situation once too. Plus, it makes you come across as a total dick.)

If you’re among those just starting out, remember that nobody’s first script is at 100 percent. Mistakes will be made. Don’t be afraid of making them. It’s the only way you’re going to learn.

If you’re among those who’ve been down this road many times, be willing to take on the role of patient educator and help when you can.

Even though writing is for the most part a solitary activity, we’re still part of this community, and all in this together.


Expiration date: NEVER!

April 15, 2016
arthur dent

Don’t throw in the towel just yet, Arthur

A friend emailed me earlier this week to vent his frustration regarding the latest development for pitching his TV pilot. Suffice to say, it didn’t go the way he’d hoped.

“Writing is hard work for me, and to have a project like this dismissed completely deflates me. I think I need to set a deadline (end of 2016?), and if I haven’t gotten a sale or at least representation by then, exit, stage left.”

I can totally sympathize. Who hasn’t been in that boat before? You try and try, feel like you’re making no headway and going nowhere fast.

But setting up a deadline of when you’ll stop once and for all?

Um, no.

As we all know, this is not an easy thing to do. The odds are already stacked against us, and it takes an extraordinary amount of effort, determination and perseverance to keep moving forward. And that’s just to get your first break.

I of all people can attest to feeling like nothing good is ever going to happen for me, and why again am I putting myself through the agony of all of this?

Because we’re writers. WE WRITE BECAUSE WE LOVE DOING IT.

For a writer willing to give up writing is, to quote the late, great Vizzini, inconceivable. As crazy as it sounds, I’d rather write and continue to fail than not write at all. (But in theory would be improving after each failure, thereby resulting in an inevitable success.)

DON’T GIVE UP. You never know when things will work out for you, so continuously having at it will always increase your odds.

Continue to work on getting better. Even if only a handful of people read your stuff and like it, that’s still a victory. And they do add up.

IT’S A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT. It takes a very, very long time to get to the finish line, let alone at your desired pace. And even then, you’re always striving to improve on it. Take this from someone who writes screenplays AND does half-marathons.

Believe me, there will be shitty days. Lots of them. You will be angry and frustrated. You will see others succeed while you feel like you’re going nowhere. It happens. But that’s the price you pay for setting off on this seemingly impossible journey.

But also keep in mind that you’re not alone. There are lots of us out on a similar path. Feel free to make the occasional turn so your path intersects with somebody else’s. It can help make the journey a bit easier.

My friend responded with a note of thanks and gratitude, which included “I’m ultimately a storyteller, a writer. This is what I exist to do, even if my audience is a small one. I will work hard to find it and share my stories.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. Hang in there, chums.


Ask a More-Than-Ready-for-Prime-Time Script Consultant!

March 3, 2015

Jen Grisanti

 

The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today is about writing for television, with the spotlight on Jen Grisanti of Jen Grisanti Consultancy, Inc.

International speaker Jen Grisanti is an acclaimed story and career consultant with her own firm, Jen Grisanti Consultancy, Inc., and a writing instructor for Writers on the Verge at NBC. She spent 12 years as a studio executive, including working as VP of Current Programming at CBS/Paramount. Jen also blogs for The Huffington Post and is the author of Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story, TV Writing Tool Kit: How To Write a Script That Sells, and Change Your Story, Change Your Life: A Path To Your Success. She teaches classes for TV Writers’ Summit (LA, NYC, London and Israel) and Story Expo. She has taught at the TV Writers’ Studio (Australia), Scriptwriters’ Network, The Screenwriting Expo, and The Great American Pitchfest. Jen has also served on panels for the WGA, Scriptwriters’ Network, Final Draft/The Writer’s Bootcamp, and ScreenCraft. Her company hosts online Storywise Seminars.

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

The best movies I’ve seen recently include: The Imitation GameGuardians of the GalaxyLocke, and Chef.

Some of my other favorite movies from the past I think are incredibly well-written include: The Lives of Others, The King’s SpeechThe Untouchables and Argo.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

After studying Communications with TV & Cinema at USC, the first job that paved my way to where I am today was working as an assistant to Aaron Spelling. While working in his office I began to voraciously read scripts. Spelling was my mentor. We had a routine where I’d read all of the scripts for the current shows he had on the air and he’d review my notes and tell me what worked and what didn’t. I learned so much about what makes story work by watching him in the edit bay during rough cuts. I got my Bachelor’s at USC, but I always say I got my Master’s degree in TV in the Spelling office. It was the best place to learn.

I climbed the ladder while I was at Spelling and eventually ran Current Programming covering shows including Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place and 7th Heaven. I went on to become Vice President at CBS/Paramount where I covered shows including: Numb3rs, Medium, NCIS, The 4400 and Girlfriends.

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

I believe that for some, writing comes naturally. They have a sense of their voice from the start. They may need help with structure, but the voice is there.

With others, I do believe it can be taught or learned. I’ve definitely seen this happen many times in my career. There is no greater reward than to see the growth of a writer, to help guide them in finding their voice and to help them understand how to use story structure in the best way possible to bring their voice to life.

4. What are the components of a good script?

The components of a good script are a strong trigger incident that leads the central character into a dilemma. This creates empathy. Then, the choice that they make as a result of the dilemma defines the goal. We should be clear on what the central character wants and why they want it. Another thing that really adds to a good script is when the personal dilemma is connected to the professional pursuit. With this, when the writer comes from a place of emotional truth, it really helps to connect what they are trying to say.

A strong script should have a concept we can feel and a story with a clear message.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

We don’t know what the central character wants, or we don’t know why they want it. If you don’t know what the central character wants or why they want it, then there’s no rooting factor. The central character reacts to things that happen to them versus taking action toward the goal, giving you a reactive hero instead of an active one. The obstacles happen to the central character versus being a result of an action that the character took. There is no external stakes arc. We don’t know what the worst thing is that can happen if the central character does not achieve their goal.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

I wouldn’t say there’s a specific story trope  I’m tired of seeing. I’m just tired of seeing films being made where the story wasn’t ready. I feel like TV is in a much stronger place than film with regards to writing.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?

-Make us empathize with your central character from the start.

-Have a clear goal.

-Establish the internal and external stakes.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

I’m not a reader. I analyze story from the studio executive perspective, so I don’t give “recommend” or “pass,” which is what readers do. I give development notes that help the writer to know how to elevate their script to the best place possible.

That being said, over two dozen of the writers I’ve worked with have sold pilots. Four of them went to series. So I do have lots of projects that I work with people on that go on to sell and be produced.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

Some are very worth it. I like ScreenCraft, Final Draft, the Austin Film Festival and the Nicholl to name a few.

Competitions allow writers to put something on their bio that shows their writing has been recognized. This is a town that loves heat. If someone else thinks you’re great, everyone wants to know you. So the competitions do serve a purpose in building heat and creating possibility.

10. How can people can get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

Through my website – www.jengrisanticonsultancy.com, or they can email me at jen@jengrisanti.com.

If you want to see how I work with writers one-on-one, I recommend reviewing my Writer Proposals Page – http://jengrisanticonsultancy.com/services/proposals/

Plus, if you mention this interview, I’ll give you 10% off of your first consult.

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

I love it. I’m big on baking, and my favorite is cherry pie.


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