A small matter of interpretation

princess bride
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Amidst all the hubbub currently surrounding my ongoing rewriting efforts, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have received some high-quality feedback on each of them.

(Incidentally, concurrently working on three scripts may be a good exercise in productivity, but it sure is an exhausting one.)

Among this trio of projects is a round of notes on the pulp sci-fi.

Some great stuff being provided by my legion of savvy readers, which includes a comment made by more than one person.

But first, a little background…

As I mentioned, I refer to this script as “pulp sci-fi”. To me, it’s reminiscent of old-timey adventure (Flash Gordon, Doc Savage, etc), which is the kind of story I enjoy reading. It’s also the filter through which I wrote it, and had a great time doing.

What’s been extremely interesting is how people interpret that phrase.

A few readers tended to share my same opinion/viewpoint, and felt the story and script reflected that. Others thought calling it a “pulp” story indicated it would be somewhat darker and grittier (which it really isn’t). And there’ve also been some who weren’t sure if what’s on the page was supposed to be taken at face value or if I was intentionally satirizing the genre.

Quite a wide variety of opinions and reactions, all of which are perfectly valid. But the responsibility falls squarely on my shoulders to provide the story with the tone I find the most applicable.

Don’t underestimate the importance of tone. This may not be the best explanation, but I see it as the story’s attitude; how it presents itself. The writing should reflect not only the components of the genre, but also the emotions the story seeks/needs to invoke in the reader.

So while I offered up what I considered to be a fun romp of a tale through the fantastic, maybe with tongue slightly pressed against cheek, that’s not what how others saw it.

Admittedly, I probably could have cleared up a lot of the confusion at the outset by adding something like “It’s pulpy sci-fi in the vein of MEN IN BLACK, HELLBOY, and THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI,” as opposed to leaving it open to interpretation. For all I know, someone saw “pulp sci-fi” and thought, “Oh, like BLADE RUNNER.” Which it most definitely is not.

Laying down that kind of foundation lets the reader know what to expect before they start, but then it’s up to the writer to consistently maintain that tone for the entirety of the script.

No small feat using another medium to be a writer-at-large

HG Wells
The man responsible for tales of time travel, alien invasions, and assorted mad scientists, just to name a few…

After a gap of several years, I recently had the opportunity to reconnect in person with a respected colleague who has had more than their fair share of experience dealing with writers of all shapes, sizes, and levels of talent.

This person used to deal a lot with screenwriters, but now deals primarily with writers of manuscripts. Over the course of our conversation, I was asked about my scripts and my writing (What do I like to write? What genres are the scripts I have now? What kind of stories am I working on?)

As has been documented here before, my genre of choice is definitely adventure, along with hyphens connecting them to other genres (i.e. western-adventure, pulp sci-fi adventure, etc).

I gave a quick thumbnail sketch/five-second elevator pitch for the two completed and the one currently in revision mode.

You’d be harder pressed to find a stronger advocate for using your already-existing material as a springboard to jump into other mediums – primarily books and/or graphic novels.

It was their opinion that all three sounded like very original and fun ideas, which would make each a prime candidate for attracting attention. And this person has also been following the blog for quite a while, so their opinion is also that my writing is pretty solid. They cited examples of writers they knew who’d foregone the traditional route of trying to get in with one of the high-profile publishing houses and done it all themselves, each achieving respectable levels of success. Nothing to break the bank, but still some impressive numbers.

“A script is more or less an outline for a novel. And even though you’re not limited by page numbers, it still takes talent to create a novel,” I was told. “Your stories are original and unique, which makes them prime candidates for this. At least think about it.”

Believe me, I am.

My success in trying to get these scripts through to reps and production companies has been practically non-existent at best, yet I persist. I’m sure I’ll continue along that avenue, but this new alternative is definitely food for thought.

I’ve been told by more than a few people that my writing is very visual (which you would think would make it ideal for film), and that it really moves. In the past, I’ve entertained and even at times partially investigated the notion of applying my scripts to a graphic novel format (a great match), but am also not averse to trying my hand at converting it to pure prose.

I’ve no intention of stopping writing scripts. I like it too much. But I also like the pure act of writing by itself, so for the time being, all this talk about working in other formats is nothing more than speculation and conjecture.

But in some ways, still worth considering.

All that on a single piece of (digital) paper?

bad 1st impression
It can only go downhill from here

You only get one chance to make a good first impression. And that also applies to a screenplay. If your first page doesn’t make us want to keep going, why should we? Chances are the rest of it is exactly the same.

The first page is your golden opportunity to start strong straight out of the gate. Show us from the absolute get-go you know what you’re doing. A lot of the time, I’ll know by the end of the first page what kind of ride I should be expecting.

Just a few items to take into consideration.

-First and foremost, how’s the writing? No doubt you think it’s fine, but face it. You’re biased. You want a total stranger to find it fault-free, so look at it like one. Is it easy to follow and understand? Does it flow smoothly? When I read it, do I get a clear mental image of what you’re describing? Does it show, not tell?

-Is there a lot of white space? Are your sentences brief and to the point, or do they drone on and on with too many words?

-Do you point the reader in the right direction and let them figure things out, or at least get the point across via subtext, or do think it’s necessary to explain everything, including what a character is thinking or feeling? Yes, that happens on the first page.

-If your protagonist is introduced here, are they described in the way you want me to visualize them for the next 90-110 pages? Does a notable physical characteristic play a part in the story? Are they behaving in such a way that it establishes the proper starting point for their arc? Are they doing something that endears them to us, making us care about them?

-If your protagonist ISN’T on the first page, does it do a good job in setting up the world in which the story takes place? Do the characters introduced here play any kind of role later on in the story?

-Are there any mistakes regarding spelling or punctuation? Are you absolutely sure about that? SPELLCHECK IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. A team does not loose a game, nor do I think they should of won either. Two glaring errors that your software will not recognize. But a reader will.

-Does it properly set up the genre? If it’s a comedy, should I be prepared to have my sides ache from laughing too hard? If it’s a horror, should I make sure the lights are on, even if it’s 12 noon? If it’s a drama, should I have a box of tissues within arm’s reach to dry the expected river of tears?

-Do your characters sound like people saying actual things, or are they spouting nothing but exposition and overused cliches?

Not sure about any of these? Read it over with as critical an eye as you can muster, or get help from somebody within your network of savvy writing colleagues. DO NOT go to somebody who doesn’t know screenwriting.

Think I’m being overly critical? Ask any professional consultant or reader, and I bet 99 out of 100 will say they know exactly what kind of read they’re in for by the end of the first page. And number 100 might also agree.

Then again, there’s also the possibility that the first page could be brilliant and it stays that way until FADE OUT.

Or the wheels could fall off anywhere between page 2 and the end.

Your mission, and you should choose to accept it, is to make that first page as irresistible as you can, grab us tight, and not let go. Make us want to keep going. Then do the same for page 2, then page 3, page 4, etc.  Make us totally forget what page we’re on.

Take a look at the first page of your latest draft. Does it do what you and the story need it to?

-Didja notice the spiffy new look? Had to make some behind-the-scenes changes, and this is the result.

A splendid use of a month’s time

pilgrim-marilyn
Most apropos Pilgrim-related photo I could find

Bit of an Election Day shorty today (and for readers in the US – make sure you vote, if you haven’t already).

Count me among the legion of writers using the month of November as a 30-day writing exercise.

My project of choice: first draft of a script that’s been in development for about a year and a half. Looking forward to talking about it more once the draft is complete and some next steps take place; but for now – mum’s the word.

The daily goal of 2-3 pages has again been established. So far, so good, especially working with an outline that’s pretty solid. That really helps.

Working on this reminds me of how much I enjoy the writing process, particularly when it involves my genre of choice (action).

My objective is to be finished, or at least as close to being finished as I can get by the end of the month. Fingers remain, as always, firmly crossed.

I sincerely hope your November is equally as productive.