Results are slowly trickling out for some of the big writing contests, and while hopes were high for my revised western, it once again failed to make the quarterfinals for PAGE.
My immediate reaction – that’s it. I’m done. No longer will I subject myself to that kind of humiliation!
And of course, later the same day, I was figuring out whether or not I should look into any further tweaking so as to get it ready for next year.
More than a few writing colleagues and connections voiced similar comments, ranging from the frustration of their lack of advancing in this contest, to the murkiness regarding the quality of contest readers overall, to the subjectiveness of it all, and whether contests are even worth it.
As you’d imagine, there’s a wide spectrum of opinions about all of these.
I dug up this post from last year which I believe sums things up quite nicely.
Contests aren’t the only way to break in, but a win or very high placement can help, or at least potentially open a door or two. It’s just one of the many routes a writer can take. Some writers are even fortunate enough to not even have to do them. I am not one of them.
A key component of all of this is persistence. There’ll be lots of disappointments, which can be…disappointing. And frustrating. Oh so frustrating. But learning to overcome those is just as important as learning how to tell a good story.
All you can do is send your script out there, hope for the best, and move on to whatever’s next. If things work out, great. If not, yeah, it sucks, but it’s not the end of the world. It might feel like it, but it’s not.
Try to look at it as a learning experience – “How can I make this better?” Also a question with no easy answer, but how willing are you to put in the time and effort necessary to accomplish that?
Thanks to my ever-expanding network of savvy creative types, I get lots of chances to be on both the giving and receiving ends when it comes to reading scripts.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to get exceptionally helpful notes from a lot of really talented folks. All this feedback has somehow managed to influence my writing for the better, and for that I am overflowing with gratitude.
So the least I can do when somebody asks me “Will you read my script?” or “Can I pick your brain about this idea?” is to say “Of course.”* Maybe I can offer up a few scraps of advice that might somehow work to their advantage. If anything, I can at least point out where a fix in spelling or punctuation is needed. For a script, anyway. That counts, right?
*caveat – it’s taken a lot of work spread over a long time for me to build up my network and establish connections, so I don’t mind if somebody I actually know drops me a note with such a request. If our only connection is being connected on social media and we’ve never interacted – at all, you’re little more than a total stranger to me. So heed that one word and be social. It makes a difference.
I had the pleasure of such an experience this week. I’d connected with another Bay Area creative, and we’d been trying for a while to arrange a face-to-face meeting. After much scheduling, cancelling and rescheduling, we finally made it happen.
This person had an idea for a project, wanted to talk about it, and see if I was interested in being involved. I stated at the outset that I had enough work on my own for now, but would be open to giving notes – time permitting.
After the initial introductions and our thumbnail backstories, we focused on their project. I won’t go into specifics or details about it, because those aren’t the important parts.
What was important was:
-this was a story they’d had inside them for a while, and even though they knew it needed A LOT of work, they were still happy with simply having written it all out
-they were totally open and willing to listen to my suggestions. Some they liked, some they didn’t. Totally fine.
But the more we talked, the more the seeds of ideas were planted in their head. Even though a lot of the details we came up with, including possible paths the story could take, ended up being totally different from their original incarnation, it was easy to see that spark of excitement reignite inside them.
Seeing that happen with somebody you’re trying to help is more satisfying than you can possibly imagine.
We parted ways, with them really rarin’ to go and start developing the latest draft. They added that they really appreciated me being so willing to help out.
I just like doing that sort of thing. I never had that kind of person-to-person help when I was starting out, so why not do what I can for others? Granted, the internet and social media didn’t even exist then, so it’s a lot easier now.
I got a few emails from them the next day showing me what they’d come up with since our meeting. Same concept, but a totally new approach (and, in my opinion, provided the opportunity for a lot of new possibilities). This also included a more thorough write-up of “what happened before the story starts”.
Even though it can be tough to read emotion in text, it was easy to see the spark was still burning strong within them. The way they talked about their plans for what comes next, I could tell they were actually looking forward to working on this.
It was nice knowing I had a little something to do with it.
We exchanged a few more emails (mostly me asking questions about story and characters and them providing sufficient answers), and I wrapped up with “Keep me posted.”
Their response: “Definitely. Thanks again. You’re a good dude.”
As the dog days of summer lazily drift on by, each of those days sees me dedicating a portion of it to working on the next small section of the horror-comedy outline. So far – it’s coming along nicely.
For now, it’s just filling in the blanks between primary plot points. Not counting those, I tend to think and plot things out in a linear manner; going from A to B to C and so on, rather than A to B to J, and then maybe filling in that stretch between D and F. This approach helps with not only crafting the developments of the main storyline, but also the subplots and figuring out how all the interconnections work. Others may do it differently, which is fine. This way works for me.
What originally starts out as one to two sentences summarizing what happens in a scene quickly becomes lengthy descriptions, including specific character actions and snippets of dialogue. This has caused the outline to appear dense and bulky, or at least that’s how it looks at first glance.
At first this would appear to be a bad thing, but keep in mind that this is only the outline, so a scene write-up that appears as an impenetrable block of text here might translate to, say, half to three-quarters of a page, including dialogue. Not a bad exchange rate.
Just as an example, as a scene was playing out, it kept getting longer and longer, which would have run way too long for both script and screen. Realizing that simply would not do, I made some minor modifications and managed to break this exceptionally large scene into three slightly smaller ones. Each one still retains the point I wanted to make, as well as continuing to advance the plot, theme, and characters. A win all around.
The way I figure it, it’s a lot better to have an overabundance of material during this stage, and then be able to cut, trim, or maybe even add more where necessary down the road.
Another key part to all this development is making sure everything I come up with plays some kind of role in the overall context of the story. Call it the “keep only if relevant” rule. If there’s something on the page that has nothing to do with the story or the characters, then why have it there in the first place?
Been splitting my time the past few days between doing notes for scripts for notes and working on the outline for the horror-comedy. This post will focus on the latter.
I’ve never really been a big horror fan. Especially the ones that push plot aside and put an emphasis on gore as the writer goes through a laundry list of devising ways of killing people. Just not something I want to read or see.
So why would I even consider writing one? Well, I came up with the idea and thought it would be fun to write. Works for me. And I want to make sure that when somebody reads this script, they can tell without a doubt that I wrote it.
Mine incorporates variations on elements of this particular sub-genre, or maybe “certain/expected aspects” is a stronger way to put it, so as I work out the core story-centric details, I find myself continuously dipping into previously untapped creative reservoirs of a somewhat…darker tone to emphasize the horror parts.
And my gosh, is it fun. Pretty much in a “mad scientist rubbing his hands together” kind of way. I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel, but, as always, striving to offer up something new and original. This time it just happens to involve adding corn syrup, red food coloring, and raw chicken parts to the prospective special effects budget.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
All the fun stuff aside, the first and foremost objective is to make sure the story works, or at least as much as it can for this kind of story. Without that, the rest of it will all be for naught. Once that’s more or less in place, I can really go to town as I seek out opportunities of where a joke would work – especially one that works within the context of the scene. I love those.
Then a little more fine-tuning, and probably a rewrite or two, and voila! A finished script.
That’s the plan, anyway.
Each day I try to get a little bit more done, and the rewriting and tweaking has already begun; to the point that it’s noticeably different than when I started on it a few weeks ago. But the core concept remains the same, which is good. It’s all coming together.
I never really pictured myself writing in this genre, but as has usually been the case for me, once I came up with the idea, I felt compelled to follow through on it and make it an actual thing.
With the added benefit of being able to use movies of a very similar nature as research, references, and guidelines, I suspect getting the outline and subsequent first draft done might not take as long as I think.
The new story has been in development for a few weeks now, and I can proudly say it’s coming along nicely. Plot points are in place, and the filling-in between them continues, albeit slowly. Still quite a ways to go, but any progress is good progress.
The more I work on it, the more excited I am to take this one on. I love the concept, think it’s got a lot of potential, and it just seems like it’ll be a lot of fun to write.
Full disclosure – it’s a horror-comedy, and that’s all I’m saying for now.
Part of my usual writing m.o. is seeking out feedback from other writers. Since the actual story is still under construction, I opted to start with the basics and asked a handful of savvy colleagues their thoughts on the logline.
Reactions were positive. Plus, some keen insight and suggestions as to what might make the story even more unique and original, and how to avoid “stuff we’ve seen in these kinds of stories before”. Those, in turn, triggered a new round of ideas, which then led to unearthing what may prove to be the most important idea of them all:
The thing that gets it all started.
Not the inciting incident, but a certain something that forms the foundation of the story itself – before the actual events of the story get underway. Without this, the story wouldn’t even be able to exist (or at least be a lot tougher to pull off).
It was perfect.
A feeling most satisfactory, to be sure.
But wait. It gets better.
A little more time (plus some invaluable real-life-based research) caused me to discover that not only does this new idea do a rock-solid job of tying the whole story together, but it creates constant, relevant, and increasing conflict for all the characters, makes for a great ticking clock, and really lets me have fun with the whole concept.
Goosebumps, I tell ya!
As fun as it was to come up with that, the hard work’s just beginning. Second and third acts need a ton of work. Doing whatever I can to avoid cliches and tropes usually associated with this kind of story. And to address the comedic aspect, really trying to make it funny.
Won’t be easy, but as I’ve discovered with my most recent rewrites, might not be as totally insurmountable as expected.