Take-aways from On Writing

OnWritingBookCoverWhile reading On Writing by Stephen King at the beginning of the year, I made notes, wherever was convenient at that particular moment – things I wanted to remember.  I like getting a resource messy – highlighting passages, underlying things, and making notes in the margins because the book is a tool, and although I felt that way about On Writing, I couldn’t force myself to mark up it’s pages.

In some way, I suppose, the book didn’t feel like a resource.  You know the kind.  You ear mark pages, and put in little sticky notes out the side to refer to at any given time.  His book was an easy read, a lesson, but not one I thought I would go back to in the same way.  I don’t know if that makes any sense…?

These are a few of the topics that stood out:

1.  Our influences as a child cause us to be “built” a certain way.  I can attest to that.  I was designed with a love for being swept off my feet and happily-ever-afters.  Of course, that’s not how my life has been, but those are the types of stories I want to write, regardless of how un-feminist it may be considered.  There’s enough darkness in the world, and movies are for escape.  Besides, fads come and go, and the desire for a feel good movie will always be in fashion.

2.  King noted that we write with one person in mind – the one we want to WOW.  For him it’s wife, for me it’s The Sis.  I never even thought about that until I saw the words on the page.  I do remember how proud I was that one of my screenplays made her cry, just a little.  She’s a tough nut to crack, and if I could get her teary-eyed, then I knew it worked.  I realized with his words, that it was her I wanted to impress, not the masses.  Although, yes, I want them to come running too.

3.  When you’ve finished writing your story, ask yourself, “Why did I bother?”  What was so important about this story that you had to tell it?  This is a great note to post on your computer or wherever you write.  Sometimes we get lost along the way, and this may help us remember the spark of the idea that instigated the story in the first place.  I wrote about this once in regards to my last full length feature I was working on.  I had sort of lost focus, hence the mid-stopping point.  Now I know how to get back into it.

As I’m trying to be better about sharing what I learn (and I am so behind in that), I thought you might find these ideas interesting while shedding a light on your own writing.

Do they strike you the same way they did me?

Happy Writing!

Goal Setting

After coming to the realization that I had accomplished very little last year, I decided to make some changes.  Any time you want to do anything, you have to be ready for the change.  You have to commit.  Going in all willy-nilly only leads to failure and subsequent disappointment.

DisciplineI wanted to be…better, in all aspects of my life.  So, I decided to mix things up and create for myself a new schedule that would lead me to the things I wanted.  I wanted to get fit, so I’ve made it a goal to work out every other day.  So far, I’ve been pretty good about it, and I do feel better.  I wanted to read more, since last year I didn’t read a single book, and I’m close to finishing no#5.  I wanted to write more, and I’m on a third rewrite of my tv pilot, I’ve written more fanfic, and I’ve taken on more Writing Prompt Challenges.

Additionally, I’m working on the show bible and making headway into the many writing books I’ve had on my shelf for years to determine which are truly useful.  The only “new thing” I wanted by now was a different job.  I’m still working on it.  Of course there are plenty of other things I’d like to do this year, but you know, one step at a time.

I’m not sure where I found this three step system, but I thought I would share it with you in the hopes that you can achieve your goals, writing or otherwise.

  1. Identify your big picture – brainstorm all the things you’d like to see yourself accomplishing and then streamline them into one overall phrase: “I want to…
  2. Outline the steps you need to take to accomplish the goal.
  3. Set benchmarks – create accountability and assess forward movement.  Set dates.

set and reach goal concept

Because of the job situation, which has lead to monetary issues, I am unable to enter any writing contests this year, which is disappointing.  Instead of looking at it as a negative, I’m trying to think of it as a gift – I have a year to get my writing “show” ready.

I printed out monthly calendars in order to set those benchmarks, dates when I want to have certain projects completed.  I’m working with only three months at a time, so it doesn’t seem so overwhelming.  I’ve tacked the calendars to the wall next to my computer to use as motivation.  I’m a big advocate for visually identifying deadlines.  Just holding on to the idea of a deadline somehow makes it feel less relevant.  Seeing that April 15th (let’s just say) date circled, highlighted, marked in red, or what-have-you gives it more weight, makes it feel more real and impending, and sometimes we need that pressure to get things done.

WhereFocusGoesLife gets busy.  It’s easy to get sidetracked.  Sometimes it’s comforting to get lost in TV and gaming, I should know, but in order to reach our goals and follow our dreams, we have to be relentless in that pursuit.

Not every step toward our goal needs to be a big one, even the small ones get us a little closer each day!

As you know, I love a good quote, so here are a few to keep you motivated:

And remember, it only takes a couple of weeks to create a new habit. 😉

Wishing you all the very best!

World Building, Character Creation, and Knowing When to Start Writing Part II

OriginSome time back in July, I wrote the first part of this topic.  You can read it here.  I can’t believe it took me until January to write the first draft of the pilot, which was what inspired that post – world building, etc.  (I was such a lump last year.)  I know I was excited by the idea, and the research phase did take some time, but it is clear that I lost my way and floundered for a while before I made the effort.  I remember just being clueless as to some decisions I needed to make.  There were so many things that didn’t seem right, and that derailed my enthusiasm.

My biggest hurdle, oddly enough, was in regards to my protagonist.  I had backstories and loads of ideas in place for all the other characters, but something about her was off.  I finally decided to do research on character development, in the hopes it would shine a light on her.  Here is a link to a few of the things I discovered, which may help you too, if you’re ever struggling.  Before I begin a story, after some research, I’m pretty sure of my characters, so this hurdle was new for me.

I mean, how could I not know who she is?!  She is the reason I’m writing the story.

I finished the rewrite of the pilot a couple of weeks ago, and it got me thinking that I never did come back to this topic, and I wanted to share a few things I learned along the way.  I had planned on continuing this topic some time closer to the original post, but now, who knows what I intended all those months ago..?!

Everyone develops a strategy for their writing over time.  We learn what works for us and what doesn’t.  I am not a fan of outlining, but I tried do create a rough outline so I knew what I wanted to hit within the pilot and where I wanted it to end.  This is one of the first times it sort of worked for me.  I have so many ideas for this story, and not writing a full length feature made it clear that while I needed to touch on some ideas, I only needed to allude to others.  Writing just one episode means leaving a lot open for later, and that is something I was not used to doing.  Also, by creating the rough outline, I had an idea of where I needed to interject the subplots, so that made it easier to see the holes.

ItsOnlyAFirstDraftTired of dragging my heels, I finally made it a point to write the first draft, regardless of how much information I was still lacking, and this was a huge step forward for me.  I’m one of those who painstakingly writes each word.  I tend to rewrite while I’m writing, and this causes a lot of lag time.  I wanted to pound out the first draft as quickly as possible (I think I wrote it in 3-4 days), then I would know what I was missing and how to proceed in my research and decision making.  So here is a suggestion for something I have never done before.

Knowing there were still things that needed names, or language issues, because I’m writing about aliens, I used asterisks or parentheses around words I knew would need to be changed in the rewrite.  I still didn’t know the name of the galactic order so I generically used the word Empire (thanks, Star Wars) and put an asterisk next to it.  It allowed me to continue the flow knowing it wasn’t a decision that needed to be made right then and there.  I did the same with alien terminology and location headers within the screenplay; anything really that I didn’t have an answer for right on the spot.

The other thing I learned was a way of introducing nearly a full cast in one scene.  I’ve never done this before, and I had to think of an activity that would showcase their individual personalities in a short amount of time.  During research mode, I wrote up note cards on each character which included where they were from, their race, occupation, positive and negative traits, and some background info.  This helped me to see how they would each respond in a given situation.  The first draft included a generic scene where all the characters were introduced and described, but I knew it didn’t work.  I put a big asterisk next to the scene and moved on.  Before the rewrite, I thought about the different kinds of group activities that could take place, but it was one thing in particular that made the difference.

I had been limited in my thinking.  World building includes a number of topics to take into consideration – there’s government, military, religion, customs, and trade, all of which I had thought about, but I hadn’t thought about entertainment.  What did my characters do for fun?  How did they blow off steam?  It didn’t take long after that to figure out their new introduction.

Crane'sWar - JulianFaylonaMy last insight is this.  Fantasy and sci-fi, in particular, allow for a number of freedoms in their stories, but it also offers writers the opportunity to highlight social and political issues under this guise.  Just another topic to consider while you’re world building.  Is there something going on in the world that you want to talk about?  Setting your story against an alien/fantasy backdrop may offer you the freedom to share your insight.  This is something I learned years ago, when I decided I didn’t want my first story to be just a fluff piece.  I utilize my fantasy and sci-fi worlds to highlight the current state of humanity, the deterioration of the environment, and the pros and cons in the advancement of technology.

There is a lot to think about when creating a world from scratch, and I’ve just touched on a few.  It’s a lot of fun because it truly is a blank slate, and this is one reason research is so important, but don’t let it become the sole focus for too long.  Keep your momentum, and try a variety of tricks to help you get that story out as quickly as possible.  You’ll have plenty of rewrites to work out the details.

I’ve been trying to keep an eye out on Pinterest for writing tips as well, so click here, for some more.  If you’ve learned any tricks along the way, please share and let’s help each other make great stories!

Happy Writing!

Finding Your Writing Voice

TypewriterFontWriterI hate, that as screenwriters, we are often told that our first screenplay is rubbish.  No one ever says that about a first time novelist. (Although, obviously, there are exceptions to that rule in either case.)  It’s an infuriating statement.  I’ve been writing something since I was eight, of course, that was all rubbish and I had no idea what I was doing, but when I wrote my first screenplay in college, I was in love.  That’s when everything changed.

Now, the premise of that screenplay has sort of remained through subsequent drafts, but it has seen a major overhaul of story and characters a number of times.  So yes, that first screenplay was terrible in comparison, and I would never have considered sending it out, but I don’t believe that’s what “they’re” talking about.

Regardless of how many revisions a screenplay has seen, I think “they”, the elusive industry people, believe that a first screenplay is just a starting point.  They don’t believe we have found our voice, learned enough about structure and pacing, and all the other technical screenwriting terms we’re supposed to know because writing a screenplay is nothing like writing a novel*.

*I’m currently reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms.  Gracious.  If a screenwriter wrote like that, we’d be blacklisted.  For those who have read it, you know what I mean, for those who haven’t, eek, it’s a tough read.

As a screenwriter, I have not focused on any other writing styles as part of my portfolio or tried my hand at being a freelancer.  I wouldn’t even know where to begin.  Whenever I tell someone I’m a screenwriter, the next words out of their mouth are almost always in regards to having anything published.  Nope.  I don’t write the kind of stuff that can easily be published, anywhere.  And then I feel like a failure.  Although, in all fairness, I’m not going to hone my screenwriting skills writing an article on cats, or what-have-you.

Reading Stephen King’s On Writing didn’t help morale either. (Now, I learned years ago not to compare myself to others, not in writing or in success, but, and this is a BIG “but”, he currently has 50 titles to his credit, in addition to so many other things while I’m sitting proudly behind my 4 1/2 full length features, which I round up to 5 to sound better and the immense TV show floating around in my head.  Ugh.)  He started writing when he was a kid too, influenced in a completely different way than I was.  Where he enjoyed the horror movies of the 50s, I was drawn to princess stories and the fantasy films of the 80s.  He was encouraged to create his own stories, but honestly, I don’t remember having that same sort of support.  Here’s that discrepant part of my memory.  I don’t remember really sharing anything I had written until my senior year in high school when I took a creative writing class.  That was the first time I had ever read my words aloud, and although the feedback was positive, I didn’t feel compelled to send my work out.  Again, I didn’t even know where to begin.

I continued to write in the privacy of my room, taking a variety of English classes, playwriting, and creative classes along the way, but nothing satisfied the way screenwriting did, and I wouldn’t find that for many years.  I remember I wrote this one-act play that my teacher loved.  She said I should have it put on by this theater group that performed at a coffee bar across from the university.  I never pursued it.

It was these early mistakes that I think stunted my growth as a writer.  Without proper encouragement, I was left flailing – never to develop my voice, never to see my work in print or on stage, never to pursue a career with any fervor.  Now here I am, all these years later, finally getting it together.

So, here’s the point.

If you truly want to be a writer, you have to work at it.  That’s how we develop our voice.  We have to read.  We have to write.  Everyday.  This has been reiterated by every writer throughout history.  And it is absolutely true.  I am not the same writer I was when I was 8, at least I hope not.  I’m not even the same writer I was in my 20s, and that is due to exposure.  When we are exposed to other voices and styles, we see what we like, what we don’t, what works, what doesn’t (at least for us), and that makes us better writers by adding to our toolbox.  Another lesson from On Writing.

It is through trial and error that we develop our writer’s voice.  We have to practice everyday.  Find new ways to explore our voice.  That’s why I started writing the flash fiction pieces, and the fan fiction, for that matter.  This blog has helped me tremendously as well.  I thought that if it wasn’t screenwriting, it didn’t matter.  How wrong I was.

Don’t make my mistakes.  Let my errors be a lesson or a cautionary tale.  Find avenues to get your work out there.  Attain feedback.  Find a writers group.  Find a beta reader.  You can be your own cheerleader, most of the time we have to be anyway, but find someone who will encourage you.  You may already have this person in your life, or maybe they’re a friend waiting to be made in a writers group.  They don’t have to be a writer, but only other writers understand the life.  It’s tough, it’s lonely, and often thankless, but we do it for the love.

We love to tell stories, and hopefully one day, others will love reading them.  As for that first screenplay, I’m still going to send it out.  I love it…now.  It doesn’t remotely resemble the first version all those years ago in Screenwriting 102, and that is in part because I have written and rewritten and written some more, not nearly as much as I should have by now, but I like my current voice and style, and that is reflected in it’s most recent rewrite.

Although in the real world, by which I mean Hollywood, I would not be allowed to keep rewriting my script 10+ years later.  Oh my gods, if someone doesn’t buy it soon, I’ll be known as the George Lucas of rewrites. 😉

If you ever need an encouraging word, you know where to find me.  Wishing you all the very best!

2016 Screenwriting Contests

HelpfulTipsI try to keep the Deadline section of my own blog up-to-date to help those looking for current contest information a place to find it, but someone else has already done that for me for the new year.

Stephanie Palmer of Good in a Room has released a list of the 10 noteworthy screenwriting competitions in one place, here.

If you’ve been thinking that this is the year to enter a contest, these are the ones that have cache.  Write them down on your calendar, post them next to your computer for encouragement, and make this the year that you follow your dreams!  Also, take note that some of the deadlines are already fast approaching, so don’t delay if you want to be a part of them.

And if you’re not already following Good in a Room, put yourself on her list.  You’ll receive helpful tips and advice via email, and that’s invaluable for us novices.  Wishing you all the best of luck!

Fun(ish) Fact Friday

I discovered this wonderful infographic in my email and had to share with all my writer friends! Originally posted on Global English Editing’s blog The I Love Writing Blog, it offers 8 reasons why writers make great, excuse me, incredible friends.  I suppose we could use some of these tidbits in the way of a personal résumé when trying to make new friends, or to help us feel better about all those random things we know, or how OCD we may be. 🙂

WritersAreGreatFriends

Do you agree?  Are there other reasons missing?

Have a great weekend!

A Little Shameless Self-Promotion

AllAboutMeBunnyHappy Wednesday!

I’m breaking from the norm because it’s technically my Saturday and I’m feeling a little lazy after a hard week, and because I received my final rejection from this year’s round of submissions, ((sigh)) so I’m moping, just a bit.

I was going to post a Writing Prompt, but nothing quite struck me today, so instead, I thought I’d do a little self-promotion and hopefully find new ways to connect with all of you and find interesting new sites, creative resources, etc.  I’m also hoping it will make me seek more things out in order to be useful and resourceful myself.

The following is a list of social media sites and the like and how I currently use them.  I’m open to suggestions on how to utilize them better or any others you would like to recommend.

I use Facebook as a means of sharing quotes (y’all know how I love me a quote) and any helpful writing tips, submission deadlines, or other writing related info I come across.

I started out using Twitter as a means of connecting with other screenwriters and people in the industry, but at the moment, I really use it to just geek out. I share Dragon Age and other gaming related topics of interest, Captain America, Doctor Who, Star Wars, etc. and the occasional screenwriting tidbit.

By now I’m sure you’re all aware of my Pinterest fixation.  I currently have 34 boards (and counting) that include everything from writing to cosplay to castles to fandoms and so much more.

For screenwriters and industry people, Stage 32 is an organization for networking, promotion, and employment I’m a part of, although I haven’t utilized it to its fullest.

I recently joined Wattpad, but am unsure of how I want to utilize it so far.  I was thinking about uploading my fanfic(s) and maybe my flash fiction pieces to get a little feedback…are any of you using this site?  Do you have any tips?  Do you like it?

I’m planning on updating my YouTube channel to offer more/better playlists you can write to, so stay tuned for that.

If you decide to connect with me on any of these, please send me a message that you’re a fellow blogger, and I’ll be sure to follow you as well!

Wishing you all the best in your endeavors!

Developing Your Characters

CharacterQuoteIn Sunday’s post, I mentioned how I’ve been struggling to get to know the protagonist of my space odyssey pilot.  I have nearly every other character worked out, backstories in place, and even a number of future episode ideas plotted, but this one character, the main character, still sort of eludes me.

I decided to find ways of getting to know my character better and found two useful tools.  The first is a list of personality traits ranging from positive to negative from MIT.  The second is a list of questions to answer that will help you create a fully fleshed out person, not just a character.  I found two separate sources:

1) Gotham Writers has two lists.

2) Is a link to a page entitled, The 100 Most Important Things to Know About Your Character.  This page incorporates many of the questions from Gotham and then added on.

I have found both tools rather useful.  I went through each character and assigned them all a handful of positive, neutral, and negative traits each to encourage diversity and to better understand them individually.  Not all characters are all good or bad (I’ve written a bit on this before.  Click here.), and this helped me to learn more about them and how they might respond in a given situation.

The questionnaire is a bit more daunting, at 100+ questions, but even just looking over the list allowed me to take other facets of my character’s life into consideration.  There are big things to consider, such as what were her biggest fears or her dreams before arriving in this new world? And there are trifling matters, such as did she secretly have a crush on someone?  Will she be upset that she’ll never know how Game of Thrones ended?  I know I would.  Okay, I threw that one in just for giggles, but you can see my train of thought and how these questions will shape your character.

Novel writing and screenwriting vary in a great many aspects, but knowing your characters is not one of them.  Although many of those personal aspects will not find themselves on the page of your screenplay or even on the screen, and some of those topics may never be visited within the pages of a novel, but as the writer, understanding your characters will help you determine their actions, their feelings, and their responses – and sometimes it’s with this understanding that they help us write the story.  If we know how they will react to a certain situation, it makes the writing that much easier, because we are writing what is in their nature, and not trying to force a situation to work a specific way because it’s what we want.

I hope you find these tools useful, and if you have any other sources or tips, please share!

Happy Writing!

Writing in Character (Even If They Aren’t Your Own)

TypewriterFontWriterI’ve been struggling to get into the head of my protagonist for the pilot I’ve been working on.  I have a few big decisions to make, but have yet to settle on anything definitive.  As the story is about sisters who have been separated – set against a space odyssey backdrop – I had this idea to begin or end each episode with the elder writing letters to the younger.  I thought of it as an exercise, in the hopes it might give me more perspective on these characters as a whole.

While I’m at work, I often find I have large blocks of time to make notes, write scenes, story ideas, etc. and it was my plan to utilize this time for this specific purpose, instead I have begun to write letters from Dragon Age characters to each other.

Yes, yes, I know.

I’m currently on my second play-through of Inquisition, so I suppose it was just a matter of time.  I had this random idea of what some of the current characters might say to their old friends from the first game, specifically, the hero, who is referenced in each game, but has yet to make another appearance.  A number of other characters make appearances throughout the series, a few becoming major characters in Inquisition (game three, and the most recent).

Leliana(Inquisition)My first letter is from Leliana.  In Inquisition she is one of your advisors, but she was previously a companion, and possible love interest, and her growth as a character has been noted throughout the series.  Her letter is a companion piece to the fanfiction I’ve been writing, so the letter is addressed to the mage of that tale.  The second letter I’ve been writing is from Cullen, a Templar who, although has had only small parts in the previous two games, has become an advisor and love Cullen(Inquisition)interest in the current game.  As my protagonist of the fanfiction knows Cullen from their time together early on in the first game, I developed a story in my head that they have remained friends all these years.

I’ve written quite a bit in just a few days, and although it’s not truly relevant to my own portfolio, it’s a fun exercise to get me out of my head, and it helps to break up the monotony at work.  I may post them, I haven’t decided yet.

As writers we have dozens of characters roaming around in our heads at any given time, and sometimes it’s difficult to know them all intimately.  We have to figure out techniques to bring all their traits and quirks to light.  In regards to my pilot, I’ve discovered I know some of the characters I wasn’t even focused on entirely much better than I thought.  As I’ve been concentrating on figuring out the protagonist, I found a couple of interesting sites and tips to help understand our characters better and will share those in the next few days.

In the mean time, if you are struggling with character development, try having them write a letter.  They could write to an old friend, someone they admire, a teacher they’ve always meant to thank, or maybe a letter to their past/future self.  Who knows what you’ll discover.

Good luck and happy writing!

Fun(ish) Fact Friday

HelpfulTipsOnce again, upon clearing out my email, I discovered this wonderful series of infographics from Good in a Room entitled “Screenplay Writing Explained in 7 Infographics.  I really need to be better about checking my email.  This was an interesting look at the world of screenwriting as a whole and a bit eye opening.  Take a look!  There’s not only great information and tips, but some stats that show what one reader saw within 300 scripts.

And then there was this…

A couple of days ago while scrolling through Twitter, I found this article from Screencraft entitled “How to Survive the Screenwriter Grind“.  I was left with a sort of “ugh” feeling.  I don’t think that was its intended purpose.

*Disclaimer: I did not intend for Fun Fact Friday to be defeating in anyway.  I just wanted to share what I read.  Okay, with that being said…this is my train of thought.

In the first article and the first infographic, of those 300 scripts, it does not say how many are by first time writers.  I think the first story we, as writers, put out in the world, should be one we are passionate about.  I, personally, am not passionate about the horror genre.  I’m not a fan in general.  Horror was the most submitted genre – 49 scripts.  I find this surprising, especially in light of Spielberg’s comments recently about superhero movies going the way of the western.  I nearly roll my eyes every time I see yet another advert for a horror film/sequel.

Now, I did not see Ant-man, and that is in part because I don’t really care for the character of Hank Pym.  Now his girlfriend, Jan, I do like, and she’s not even in the film.  Then I discovered, it really wasn’t about them anyway, and we can’t get a Wonder Woman movie?!  Yes, I am just like the rest of the geek girl squad calling out for a female driven superhero film.  Lynda Carter already portrayed the Amazon goddess and she deserves a return to the big screen!  Because seriously, did we need another Fantastic Four movie?  Or a whole new series of Spiderman?  ((sigh))

But I digress.

Screenwriting is a business.  I understand this.  All screenwriters understand this.  And it is a tough business to get in and stay in.  But what I learned is that until we make things happen, we need to live our lives.  This is something that needs to be reiterated.  We may have jobs we don’t really care for while waiting for the “big break”, but we don’t have to be unhappy in the interim.

I want to be a working screenwriter, so I’ve been taking jobs that maybe aren’t the best to allow me some extra free time to work on my writing, but, and this is a big BUT, I need to be satisfied in my daily life in order to write the kind of stories I want to tell.  At the moment I’m going to a very unfulfilling job and finding escape in my writing.  Now yes, I write fantasy and sci-fi so it’s easy to escape into those stories, but I’m not sure it should be a refuge from the outside world.

Finding balance, maybe that’s how I’ll survive the screenwriter grind.

What are your thoughts on surviving the writer’s life?