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Top 10 Things Not to Do While Having Trouble Writing

10. Do not read this blog.

Whuuut? That’s right. It’s only more procrastination. But on the other hand…read it anyway.

9. Do not take your hands off your writing utensil.

Hey, now! There’s a toddler present. And that is not what I meant by writing utensil. …Though that would be impressive.

8. Do not think about where your writing is going.

Look at me writing all these postcards at the last minute. You think I thought about what I was writing? …Well, yeah, I did. But I’m obsessive and never stop thinking about my writing, no matter what the form.

7. Do not pass Go. Go directly to Jail.

By which I mean, now is the time to sit and reflect. Think about what you are doing and where your story is going. I know this contradicts #9., but just trust me on this. Pull up your handy structure map, and fill it in with the main plot points for your protagonist’s journey.

6. Do not ignore my effing instructions! Print out this structure map and fill it in with your major plot points. Seriously. If you can do that, move onto drawing up an outline, and from there your scenes. But if you cannot fill in the blanks, stare at this map until you figure out the route your story must take.

Print me.

5. Do not waste your time. Use it to your advantage.

Because these are the days of our lives. …Vomit.

4. Do not forget your art.

Remember that your art and your voice are simply dictated by your perspective on the world. Write things as you see them and you will never trip up.

3. Do not forget your craft.

Remember that screenwriting is born out of the ancient oral tradition of telling campfire stories. To hook cavemen into sitting down quietly and listening to you yabber on for an hour requires great skill, and a certain amount of calculation. That is your craft. The logic element. Think of the contents you want to put in your basket as your art, and the basket as your craft. It is what holds everything together.

And is best done in the buff.

2. Do not forget yourself.

Now is maybe a good time to journal. Reflect on your day, your week, your overall existence and experience with the human condition…that sort of thing.

Wise are you, Sage One.

1. Do not Google yourself.

Seriously? Not even close.


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MFA Showcase A Success

This past Friday, Northwestern’s MFA Writing for the Screen + Stage department held it’s annual showcase, featuring the work of the year’s graduating MFAs. Each of the 12 members of the cohort were allotted 10 minutes for a table read done by professional actors and directors from around the Chicago area. The talent was undeniable, the show a pleasure to behold, and the entire evening a delight. In addition to watching the highly entertaining and thought provoking work of these amazingly talented burgeoning writers, the night featured some guest stars including…

Julia Louis Dreyfus. (That’s right, it’s Elaine!)

Brad Hall. JLD’s husband and producer on such shows as SNL, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Frasier.

(By the way, both Julia Louis Dreyfus and her husband Brad Hall are alumni of Northwestern. Feels so good to wear purple sometimes.)

We were also graced with the presence of…

Amanda Watkins, the Director of Development at the Araca Group in NYC.

And last but certainly not least…

Kia Corthron, playwright, and Academy Award Winning TV writer for The Wire.

I’m truly counting my blessings right now as I look back on what unfolded but a few days ago. For the first time, all the hard work my cohort and I have been putting into building our portfolios really felt like it paid off. Not only did these notable people watch a play by little old us, but they actually seemed to enjoy it! I must, at this point, give many thanks to David Kersnar from Lookingglass Theater for directing my scene, as well as to Leah Karpel, JJ Phillips, Stone Pinckney, and Mandy Walsh for their spot-on acting in my atypical little story.

In case you are interested, here is the link to my Showcase submission. It is the hook scene from my play Lucky Penny –> Press Here.  If you are interested in reading the full script, please contact me by email at hollywould.ink@gmail.com.


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Northwestern MFA Showcase

Tonight I have the honor of hearing my work read along side that of my 11 distinguished colleagues in the Northwestern MFA in Writing for the Screen + Stage Showcase. We are the graduating class of 2012…

Writer’s Bios

(in alphabetical order)

Chris Bowen

Chris Bowen graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Studies and Creative Writing. While there, he received the UNCW Blank Slate Productions Best Cinematography and Achievement in Filmmaking awards.  He was also producer/writer/director of The Roaming Reporters, a bimonthly public access show for Student Body Television, and SIDES, a live, weekly sitcom for the stage.  Chris has received numerous honors for his short films including Best Comedy for Off the Wall and Best Film for Mime Unit at the One Take Film Festival, both of which he wrote and directed.  This past summer, he was a development intern at Lionsgate in Los Angeles.

David Crawford

Prior to entering the Writing for Screen + Stage program at Northwestern, David Crawford served as an academic advisor, where he worked with underrepresented student groups He is a recipient of the Regina Taylor: State(s) of America production grant for Cy.cle, a film he wrote, directed and co-produced. David also interned at Syfy in the unscripted department.

Neal Dandade

Neal Dandade has lived in Chicago since 2006. He has trained and performed at the Annoyance, Second City, and iO theaters. He was also a member of Stir Friday Night, Chicago’s Premier Asian American comedy group. He is currently an understudy for the Second City National Touring Company and an MFA candidate in the Writing for Screen and Stage program at Northwestern University. In Summer 2011, Neal was a writing intern at The Daily Show and the Colbert Report as part of Comedy Central’s Summer School Internship.

Erin Hays

Erin Hays holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater studies and psychology from Yale University and is a 2012 MFA Candidate from Northwestern University’s Writing for the Screen + Stage program. In 2011, her short play, CRUDE, was produced as a part of the Regina Taylor Project at Northwestern, and in 2012, her play, LOST AND FOUND, was a semifinalist at the O’Neill Playwrights Conference. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America.

Allyssa Hynes

Jersey girl Allyssa is the founder of the HynesSight Players, which performs adapted Shakespearean comedies for children. Since Allyssa jumped right into grad school after getting a BA in Psychology and Theatre Studies at Montclair State University, she is frightened of entering the so called “real world.” Allyssa is an aspiring TV writer.

Ethan Kass

Ethan Kass is a Chicago-based playwright and graduate of Northwestern’s MFA Writing for the Screen & Stage program. His play Square Peg, Round Hole was a 2012 semi-finalist at the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, and his most current work, Fat., will be workshopped at American Theater Company this summer.

Jenni Lamb

Jenni Lamb is an MFA candidate at Northwestern University in Writing for the Screen and Stage. Jenni came to this program after being an actor and improviser in Chicago for over 10 years. In 2006, her play Memento Polonia was “Highly Recommended” by the Chicago Reader. She has had readings of 10-minute plays at Chicago Dramatists, and was a semi-finalist for the 2012 O’Neill Playwrights Conference.

Holly O’Brien

Holly O’Brien holds a Bachelor’s in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College, and is currently an MFA candidate in the MFA Writing for the Screen & Stage program at Northwestern University. This past summer, Holly interned at Chicago Filmmakers where she curated the short film program for Reeling: The 30th Gay & Lesbian International Film Festival. Holly plans to release a self-published anthology of her screenplays in January of 2013. To learn more about Holly O’Brien, and read samples of her work please visit hollywouldink.com.

 Dan Ochwat

Dan Ochwat worked as an editor and reporter for 10 years before enrolling in the Writing for Screen & Stage program. “Adrift” is his first stab at a monologue play. He is happily married, despite what
you might think after the play. Dan concentrates on feature-film writing, namely small American stories that range from cyberbullying to cuddling. Dan placed as a quarterfinalist for the Nicholl Fellowship. He has written and directed short films, and appeared in festivals you’ve never heard of. Upon graduation, he plans on forcing his 1-year-old son into modeling.

Milta Ortiz

Milta Ortiz is a playwright with an MFA from Northwestern’s Writing for the Screen and Stage program. Milta’s play, Fleeing Blue won the 2012 Wichita State University Playwriting award and will be produced in their upcoming season. Her play, Last of the Lilac Roses is a 2012 finalist at Repertorio Español’s Nuestra’s Voces play contest. She was a member of American Theater Company’s 2012 Chicago Chronicle playwriting team. She received grants from City of Oakland Cultural Arts and Zellerbach Family Foundation to write and perform original work and co-founded HyPE theater troupe and Las Manas Tres Spoken Word troupe.

Jessy Lauren Smith

Jessy Lauren Smith is a playwright and screenwriter whose work has been produced in Chicago, Boston, and Colorado. She has been a semi-finalist for the Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference and The Juilliard School’s Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program, and a finalist for the Heideman Award. Jessy’s other full-length plays include Famished, a dark comedy about hunger strikers, and Robostracized, a children’s musical about a robot who wants to be an ostrich.

Jen Spyra

Jen Spyra is a playwright and screenwriter with a BA in English from Barnard College of Columbia University and an MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage from Northwestern. Her humor writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily News, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. She was a semifinalist in the 2012 Eugene O’Neill National Playwright’s conference for her play Guts, and her comedy pilot Titans was nominated for a 2012 Humanitas Prize. Her original musical comedy Ripper was produced at The Annoyance Theater this past fall and was Reader Recommended and a Timeout Critic’s Pick. She spent the past summer as a Script intern on Conan and returned to work on an offsite Conan production in New York, and will be working on Conan’s upcoming shows in Chicago this June.

 


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Tips for Rewriting Your Screenplay

Does this look familiar?

Congratulations! You're balls deep in the writing process!

So you’ve just finished a draft, or you’re getting near to that anyway, and you’re starting to think about rewrites. Before going back to the beginning and trying to fix every little problem over and over again ad nauseum, here are some tips to help guide you through this next phase in the writing process.

Tip #1

Finish your draft!

Be fearless.

My writing mentor, Fred Strype, used to say, “At some point you need to just cut the shit, and do the thing.” Inspiring stuff, right? I mean, nobody is going to read your script unless it is complete. And nobody wants to read what you, the writer, are dissatisfied with, so why not just allow yourself to write a shitty first draft, take some time off, then come back to it with a fresh perspective?

Tip #2

Stick it in a drawer.

Don't worry if your drawers aren't as cool as these Leman ones.

Putting your work down for a while is essential to the rewriting process, because you need time for your thoughts to marinate, and for your draft to stand a lone as a completed project. That’s the old. You’re focus now is on the new. The what will be. And if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to stop thinking about it, even while the pages are tucked neatly away in a drawer.

Here’s how to think about it while you’re trying not to think about it: if character, structure, and theme are your foundation elements, you should have those in place. That’s awesome. Pat yourself on the back. That done, focus on laying “pipe” (expository information) next. How will you get out the information across in interesting and cinematic ways? Once you lay your pipe you can put up the walls. Those are your individual scenes. Paint and decor is imagery and dialogue.

Tip #3

Put a bow on it.

Treat your screenplay to something pretty.

Once I finish a first draft I make a few extra copies and send them (via snail mail – yes, the old fashioned way) to some of my closest and most trusted friends. These are people who value and respect my work, but still able to see the flaws in it and offer constructive criticism. I try to do this as soon as I finish because it usually takes a while for people, even those who love you, to make time in their busy lives to read your fledgling script.

Waiting and being patient with them is good practice for when you start sending your screenplays out to agents, managers, and production companies. Even if someone says they’ll read it as a favor, don’t expect that favor to happen on your time. That’s okay. Remember, these people aren’t going to fix your screenplay for you. And the only thing you should be concerned with is producing a piece of work that you are proud of and satisfied with.

Tip #4

Work it out.

That's what she said.

Writing should be an Olympic sport for all the stamina, and mental gymnastics it requires. Writers often find themselves hitting the wall somewhere in the rewriting process. One way to avoid this is to know exactly what your doing. Run the route several times in your mind before sitting down to bang it all out.

Here are questions you should have pretty concrete and concise answers to before starting a new draft. This list is borrowed from John Truby, and is the one I use to help sort out general character, structure, and thematic elements. I like it because it mixes Act Structure with Mythological Structure.

Try printing out this page and answering each question as economically as possible. The more you can crystalize your story idea down to it’s very essence, the better off you’ll be when trying to work out the specific cinematic elements that will help you weave all your thoughts and intentions together. I suggest focusing on the questions you have a more difficult time answering, but don’t let those minor road blockages stand in the way of making changes you know need to be made.

REWRITE CHECKLIST

(from John Truby)

The End: self-revelation

What does the hero learn about himself/herself at the end of the story?

What beliefs are challenged during the course of the story?

How is the hero wrong about himself/herself at the beginning?

The Ghost

What is the event in the past still haunting the hero?

The Predicament

What is the difficulty that the hero finds himself/herself in at the beginning of the story?

What are the weaknesses of the hero?

The Need

What is the psychological need of the hero?

What must the hero fulfill to have a better life?

The Inciting Event

What event from the outside forces the hero to take action?

The Desire

What particular goal does the hero have in the story?

What motivates the hero?

What are the stakes?

What values are at stake?

The Ally (-ies)

Who is helping the hero reach his/her goal?

How is the ally helping the hero overcome the opponent?

Is there a false ally working “under cover” for the opponent?

The Opponent

How is the opponent blocking the hero from reaching his/her goal?

Does the opponent want the same thing as the hero?

How does the opponent attack the greatest weakness of the hero?

What values come in conflict between the opponent and the hero?

The First Revelation

What information forces the hero to decide on a new course of action?

What adjustments of desire and motivation are involved?

The Plan

What is the set of guidelines that the hero will use to reach the goal?

How and why does the plan go wrong?

How is the plan altered during the course of the story?

The Opponent’s Plan

What plan will the opponent use to prevent the hero to reach his/her own goal?

What is the main counter-attack?

How and why does the plan go wrong?

How is the plan altered during the course of the story?

The Drive

What are the specific actions that the hero takes to defeat the opponent?

How do the actions of the hero change when the conflict intensifies?

Does the hero take immoral action to defeat the opponent?

Does the ally attack the hero on the issue of “immoral action”?

The Apparent Defeat

Is there a moment when the hero feels he/she has lost to the opponent?

In what way is that a devastating experience to the hero?

How does the second revelation prevent the hero from giving up the goal?

The Second Revelation

What information restores belief that the goal can still be reached?

What decision does the hero take because of that new information?

In what way does the hero become obsessed to reach the goal?

Does this obsession mean a continued moral decline?

How does the motivation change?

The Audience Rvelation

Does the audience learn something that the hero is unaware of?

Is there an “ally” working for the opposition?

The Third Revelation

What important information makes the hero equipped for the final battle?

What decision does the hero make because of that new information?

Why is this a “point of no return.”

“Visit to Death”

How does a feeling of morality motivate the hero to enter the final battle?

How is the pressure on the hero reaching its peak?

The Battle

What values are the conflicting characters representing and fighting about?

In what ways are the opposing characters similar?

In what ways are they different?

The Self-revelation

How does the life-shattering experience of the battle change the hero?

What does the hero learn about the world?

What does the hero learn about himself/herself?

What does the hero learn about what it is to be human?

What does the hero learn about how to behave towards others?

What does the hero learn about how to live “the rest of his/her life”?

Happy rewriting!


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You Feel Me?

If you haven’t noticed already, being a screenwriter, or professional writer of any kind means always having homework. It never ends. The thinking. The scheming, daydreaming, plotting, twisting, turning. Like Charlie Chaplin said, “Ninety percent of writing is thinking, just thinking.”

"The other 10 percent is part stimulants, part scribble scribble."

Toss in a Hitler mustache and some eyeliner…trailing off, trailing off. Which brings me to my point. While it is true that so much of writing requires one to live in their head, it is also true that to be a good writer requires an awareness of and occassional abandonment to the moment. Yup, it’s about being in the “now.”

With that in mind, let’s talk about a good exercise to do anytime, but especially over the weekend. All you have to do is scan this list (see below)  of common psychological states that people often feel but don’t know the word for, and pick one that interests you. Take a notebook with you and jot down every time you have an incling of this feeling. Doing so will give you the freedom to experience the emotion in the moment without trying to remember exactly what it was. Hopefully you forget that you even wrote it down or felt it as you continue to go from one moment to the next as you enjoy your weekend. Come Sunday morning, try to write a page describing every detail associated with your latest experience(s) with your chosen emotion. When it struck, what it felt like, where you were, what it smelled like, whatever.

Once you’ve given yourself time to process that, go back over the list and try to find the opposite emotion. Congratulations. You now know what a hypothetical protagonist’s high and low points are. Cool how that works right?

"Cool."

Happy writing!

1. Dysphoria
Often used to describe depression in psychological disorders, dysphoria is general state of sadness that includes restlessness, lack of energy, anxiety, and vague irritation. It is the opposite of euphoria, and is different from typical sadness because it often includes a kind of jumpiness and some anger. You have probably experienced it when coming down from a stimulant like chocolate, coffee, or something stronger. Or you may have felt it in response to a distressing situation, extreme boredom, or depression.

2. Enthrallment
Psychology professor W. Gerrod Parrott has broken down human emotions into subcategories, which themselves have their own subcategories. Most of the emotions he identifies, like joy and anger, are pretty recognizable. But one subset of joy, “enthrallment,” you may not have heard of before. Unlike the perkier subcategories of joy like cheerfulness, zest, and relief, enthrallment is a state of intense rapture. It is not the same as love or lust. You might experience it when you see an incredible spectacle — a concert, a movie, a rocket taking off — that captures all your attention and elevates your mood to tremendous heights.

3. Normopathy
Psychiatric theorist Christopher Bollas invented the idea of normopathy to describe people who are so focused on blending in and conforming to social norms that it becomes a kind of mania. A person who is normotic is often unhealthily fixated on having no personality at all, and only doing exactly what is expected by society. Extreme normopathy is punctuated by breaks from the norm, where normotic person cracks under the pressure of conforming and becomes violent or does something very dangerous. Many people experience mild normopathy at different times in their lives, especially when trying to fit into a new social situation, or when trying to hide behaviors they believe other people would condemn.

4. Abjection
There are a few ways to define abjection, but French philosopher Julia Kristeva (literally) wrote the book on what it means to experience abjection. She suggests that every human goes through a period of abjection as tiny children when we first realize that our bodies are separate from our parents’ bodies — this sense of separation causes a feeling of extreme horror we carry with us throughout our lives. That feeling of abjection gets re-activated when we experience events that, however briefly, cause us to question the boundaries of our sense of self. Often, abjection is what you are feeling when you witness or experience something so horrific that it causes you to throw up. A classic example is seeing a corpse, but abjection can also be caused by seeing shit or open wounds. These visions all remind us, at some level, that our selfhood is contained in what Star Trek aliens would call “ugly bags of mostly water.” The only thing separating you from being a dead body is . . . almost nothing. When you feel the full weight of that sentence, or are confronted by its reality in the form of a corpse, your nausea is abjection.

5. Sublimation
If you’ve ever taken a class where you learned about Sigmund Freud’s theories about sex, you probably have heard of sublimation. Freud believed that human emotions were sort of like a steam engine, and sexual desire was the steam. If you blocked the steam from coming out of one valve, pressure would build up and force it out of another. Sublimation is the process of redirecting your steamy desires from having naughty sex, to doing something socially productive like writing an article about psychology or fixing the lawnmower or developing a software program. If you’ve ever gotten your frustrations out by building something, or gotten a weirdly intense pleasure from creating an art project, you’re sublimating. Other psychiatrists have refined the idea of sublimation, however. Following French theorist Jacques Lacan, they say that sublimation doesn’t have to mean converting sexual desire into another activity like building a house. It could just mean transferring sexual desire from one object to another — moving your affections from your boyfriend to your neighbor, for example.

6. Repetition compulsion
Ah, Freud. You gave us so many new feelings and psychological states to explore! The repetition compulsion is a bit more complicated than Freud’s famous definition — “the desire to return to an earlier state of things.” On the surface, a repetition compulsion is something you experience fairly often. It’s the urge to do something again and again. Maybe you feel compelled to always order the same thing at your favorite restaurant, or always take the same route home, even though there are other yummy foods and other easy ways to get home. Maybe your repetition compulsion is a bit more sinister, and you always feel the urge to date people who treat you like crap, over and over, even though you know in advance it will turn out badly (just like the last ten times). Freud was fascinated by this sinister side of the repetition compulsion, which is why he ultimately decided that the cause of our urge to repeat was directly linked to what he called “the death drive,” or the urge to cease existing. After all, he reasoned, the ultimate “earlier state of things” is a state of non-existence before we were born. With each repetition, we act out our desire to go back to a pre-living state. Maybe that’s why so many people have the urge to repeat actions that are destructive, or unproductive.

7. Repressive desublimation
Political theorist Herbert Marcuse was a big fan of Freud and lived through the social upheavals of the 1960s. He wanted to explain how societies could go through periods of social liberation, like the countercultures and revolutions of the mid-twentieth century, and yet still remain under the (often strict) control of governments and corporations. How could the U.S. have gone through all those protests in the 60s but never actually overthrown the government? The answer, he decided, was a peculiar emotional state known as “repressive desublimation.” Remember, Freud said sublimation is when you route your sexual energies into something non-sexual. But Marcuse lived during a time when people were very much routing their sexual energies into sex — it was the sexual liberation era, when free love reigned. People were desublimating. And yet they continued to be repressed by many other social strictures, coming from corporate life, the military, and the government. Marcuse suggested that desublimation can actually help to solidify repression. It acts as an escape valve for our desires so that we don’t attempt to liberate ourselves from other social restrictions. A good example of repressive desublimation is the intense partying that takes place in college. Often, people in college do a lot of drinking, drugging and hooking up — while at the same time studying very hard and trying to get ready for jobs. Instead of questioning why we have to pay tons of money to engage in rote learning and get corporate jobs, we just obey the rules and have crazy drunken sex every weekend. Repressive desublimation!

8. Aporia
You know that feeling of crazy emptiness you get when you realize that something you believed isn’t actually true? And then things feel even more weird when you realize that actually, the thing you believed might be true and might not — and you’ll never really know? That’s aporia. The term comes from ancient Greek, but is also beloved of post-structuralist theorists like Jacques Derrida and Gayatri Spivak. The reason modern theorists love the idea of aporia is that it helps to describe the feeling people have in a world of information overload, where you are often bombarded with contradictory messages that seem equally true.

9. Compersion
We’ve gotten into some pretty philosophical territory, so now it’s time to return to some good, old-fashioned internet memes. The word compersion was popularized by people in online communites devoted to polyamory and open relationships, in order to describe the opposite of feeling jealous when your partner dates somebody else. Though a monogamous person would feel jealous seeing their partner kiss another person, a non-monogamous person could feel compersion, a sense of joy in seeing their partner happy with another person. But monogamous people can feel compersion, too, if we extend the definition out to mean any situation where you feel the opposite of jealous. If a friend wins an award you hoped to win, you can still feel compersion (though you might be a little jealous too).

10. Group feelings
Some psychologists argue that there are some feelings we can only have as members of a group — these are called intergroup and intragroup feelings. Often you notice them when they are in contradiction with your personal feelings. For example, many people feel intergroup pride and guilt for things that their countries have done, even if they weren’t born when their countries did those things. Though you did not fight in a war, and are therefore not personally responsible for what happened, you share in an intergroup feeling of pride or guilt. Group feelings often cause painful contradictions. A person may have an intragroup feeling (from one group to another) that homosexuality is morally wrong. But that person may personally have homosexual feelings. Likewise, a person may have an intragroup feeling that certain races or religions are inferior to those of their group. And yet they may personally know very honorable, good people from those races and religions whom they consider friends. A group feeling can only come about through membership in a group, and isn’t something that you would ever have on your own. But that doesn’t mean group feelings are any less powerful than personal ones.

*written by Annalee Newitz for io9.


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So You Do Want to Be on the Black List: Cornering the Market

I was pondering the whole to be or not to be on the Black List issue, when I had an epiphany. A plan really. One that I think anyone who is seriously interested in being a writer and wants to make a name for herself can do. It’s a simple idea really. Be a triple threat.

Like this cat this is doing yoga, giving itself a bath, and flashing us a look at his goods all at the same time.

Here’s the plan. First, write a YA novel, then get it published, then write the screenplay while you wait for the book to rise to the top of the best sellers list, and finally sell the rights to your book and your screenplay.  This plan is even better if you write a series of YA book, because Hollywood loves a good franchise. Of course all of this will feel so neat and tidy while your in the process, but give yourself, say, 5 years for this plan to come fully into fruition, maybe 10, and you’re outlook will be much brighter.  If you are so inclined to go down this path, as I am, I suggest you sit down tonight and jot down some ideas. As you do, try to keep in mind that you will be translating your own story from one medium into another. Think about what elements of your idea are cinematic and which parts will be better served by the novel. If you do take on this project, make sure you have a true and firm grasp on the major themes, character arcs, and the essential plot points of your story.  If you are lucky enough to get your book published and establish a fan base, those fans are going to hold you to your word. It’s just a fact. Audiences always compare the book and the movie. So fucking pre-empt them. Take responsibility for it. And be happy that you did. If nothing else, you’ll have two strong pieces for your portfolio and will have exercised writing muscles like you wouldn’t believe.

I mean how cool would it have been if Suzanne Collins had written the screenplay for The Hunger Games?

Now at this point your head is probably reeling with swirling thoughts and exploding synapses ‘cause you’re like, “Shhhhh-ugar, how did I not think of this before!” And all these ideas are swarming forward calling out to you, “Write me! Write me!” But before your itchy hands reach for that pen let’s address the fact that I said this plan requires one to be a triple threat, and thus far we’ve only addressed two of the three routs of attack. The last one is simply to really really think about how you want to brand your writing style, your story, and you as a motha’ fuckin’ writing machine.

No, not that kind of writing machine.

Branding yourself and your work is perhaps one of the most important factors to consider when taking on a project of such size. It won’t work if it’s sloppy and all over the place and you don’t really know what you’re doing or why. So, that said, take a moment and think to yourself, “What kind of writer do I want to be? What are the characters that I want to be associated with? What do I want to say to the world above all else?” If you can answer those questions you’ll be off to a bangin’ start. But if you’re itching to write right now, then do it, and worry about this component later. You can always talk about it with Random House.

Anyway, that’s what I’m gonna do to corner the market. And also have a lot of fun along the way.

Happy writing!


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Designing Dialogue

So you don’t want your dialogue to just sound like blah blah blah. You want it to be as rich, engaging, and true to form as possible. A good approach to dialogue throughout the writing process is to remember that it directly correlates to character. And as we all know by now, character is story. Dialogue is not story, though, just to clarify, but it does enrich the way you tell it. Just think, even now I am exercising this muscle as I talk as if to you. How did I decide on this laid back approach to academics? That’s just the way I am. And it will be easy for you to know how your characters would speak to you or anyone else once you have a firm grasp on who they are. If you’ve done your Character Detective Work you might be ahead of the pack on this next exercise, but you can always write up a quick character bio for any new character as well. When thinking about how your characters speak, and also the type of information that would go into their bio it is helpful to keep these factors that determine/defines how people speak in mind:

(in no particular order)

  • region of origin
  • class
  • age
  • gender
  • education
  • political leanings
  • state of mind
  • who talking to*
  • where they are talking (setting/environment)*
  • ethnicity
  • time period
  • self-image
  • what they want (motivations)*
  • if they are on any substances
  • occupation

The ones with asterisks are, of course, perhaps the most important to keep in mind.

Okay, cool. Moving on. Once we know how are characters speak we have to give them something to talk about. On the most basic level, language is about communicating information. In screenwriting we refer to the information needed to understand the story as exposition. Here’s an example of how exposition works in a screenplay. Read the following scene, then write down at least 10 things you learned about these characters.

Note: this excerpt is from an early and scrapped draft of one of my screenplays. You’ll surely notice that it’s not very good, but that can be explained with one word: pipe. Early drafts tend to be “pipey” when a writer is unsure of what is the most relevant information to present and the most clean and concise way to present it. That’s fine. Figuring all that stuff out is what drafting is for.

Okay, so for your homework, pick a script any script. Read the first 10 pages, and jot down 10 things you learned about these characters from the dialogue. Just the dialogue. Take note of how the information was presented (humorously? in a heated moment? off-hand? etc.), how it fit the scene, and how the characters react to the information. Your homework assignment is to write 5 – 10 pages of heavy exposition without it being clunky or obvious that that is what you’re doing. This might be the most difficult thing you do all year.

Happy writing!