Writing Tip Tuesday

I didn’t see a quote yesterday that really spoke to me but I did find this writing tip that I have had to remind myself of a time or two, so I thought I’d share it in the hopes that you would find it useful too.

I somehow had it in my head that I could write and edit simultaneously. It was a terrible habit I had formed and took quite a bit of effort to break. I still catch myself doing it from time to time and have to remember that those two sides of my brain need their own time in order to be most effective.

A lot of professional writers say the same thing about getting the first draft written quickly. In that draft you are telling yourself the story so you need to write it out while it’s fresh. If you stop to edit, you’re breaking up your momentum. When I came to this realization and finally just wrote, I created a full length feature script in two weeks. Was it good? Eh, it wasn’t my best work but the essence of the story was there because I didn’t stop to fix things along the way. And as they say, all writing is rewriting.

I think I was also using this technique as a way to procrastinate. We make a lot of excuses for why things are the way they are, and fear is a big one. If I was constantly working on a script and yet not finishing it, it wasn’t going to go out into the world and disappoint. Oh the way our minds work.

So, if you’ve found yourself in a similar situation, I hope this tip helps you in your own process.

Happy Writing!

How to Write a TV Pilot

Writing a teleplay is quite a bit different from writing a feature…or so I’m learning. With the ever expanding television market in need of fresh content, a screenwriter looking to break in must have a well rounded portfolio.

I hadn’t really given writing for TV much attention prior to the new “golden age” because none of the story ideas I had felt like they could be sustained for multiple episodes over multiple seasons. That was until The Demeter, my sci-fi/space/family drama. As I dug in and got to know my characters and the new world(s) I was creating, the more I realized it could not be contained to a single film, or even two.

I suppose that’s a good measuring stick for a story’s place and purpose.

So I gave my idea a go and wrote a pilot.

After what I was hoping would be my last rewrite, I asked one of my AFF friends to give it a read and offer some feedback*, and goodness, did she deliver. The most useful note I received was that my protagonist had become passive halfway through the script.

I did not see this. And this is why it’s useful to get an outside perspective.

There are a lot of points to hit in any screenplay but in a pilot, it needs to happen quickly. You not only need to introduce your characters, the world, the plot, your voice, where the story is going to go, and your characters’ desires but you also need to do all this in anywhere from 30 to 60 pages. Roughly.

And all while making it unique and interesting and coherent.

When you write a feature you still have all the same boxes to tick but without the need to sustain the story long term, the information given is precisely chosen, and therefore the story is streamlined.

Among the feedback, my friend also sent me this graphic from writer, David Steinberg which is both helpful and maddening.

According to the graphic, there are 10 things your pilot must do or set up in addition to some of what I listed above. Take one of your favorite tv shows and compare the pilot to these necessary elements. Does it hold up? Is anything missing? In light of these elements, or lack thereof, are any of these the reason you tuned in each week?

If you’ve been considering writing a pilot, and you find yourself overwhelmed by all of this information, don’t be put off, like I was initially. Discovering my protagonist had stopped being proactive makes a major rewrite the inevitable next step, and while a crushing blow, a necessity. This is why rewrites are considered the actual writing. They fine tune and make us aware of what’s needed to create a well rounded, compelling story.

I’ll have more tips on this topic in the coming weeks, but if you have any questions in the meantime, please feel free to ask!

Happy Writing!

*With any feedback, it’s important to note that you should take it with a grain of salt, at least until people are paying you for your work. And then you may have to pick your battles. Your story is yours, and while feedback is helpful, pick and choose what best serves your story.

A Few Rewriting Tips

EditingIn a recent post, I mentioned the brain dead side effect of rewriting.  I am happy to relay that I have at least kept up the momentum, for a whole three days now.  My goal is 15 pgs. a day and I have made it to page 50 in my script, but I am nearing the corner towards that dastardly Act III, so the ambitious page count may falter in the coming days.  And of course, I’ve had another idea for the third act.  Maybe I should write a novel, then I could use all the story ideas I’ve had and propose them as “if you turned left instead of right, this could’ve happened” story lines.

I went to film school, but many of the tools I have learned for screenwriting have come from my own research and interest in bettering my writing; books, articles, and teleconferences.  If you’ve read some of my other posts in regards to the differences between screenwriting and novel writing, you’ll understand what a different mindset screenwriting requires, but I’m not going to go into those details here.  This one is meant for rewriting.

I thought I’d share a few tips, some good ones, or those that I think are good because I found they made the biggest direct impact.  These tips are more inclined for screenwriters, but some of them should be helpful to writers of all forms.  Most of us know about cutting scenes that don’t move story, creating subtext in dialogue, and making sure there’s conflict, etc. but here are a few others I’ve been keeping in mind during this final (please let this be my final) rewrite.  Also, thanks to irscriptwriter who encouraged me to stick with my two spaces after a period rule because it was causing aneurysms. 🙂

1. Wordsmithing – more meaning with fewer words.  For screenwriters this is key as a page count limits us.  It also means to take generic words like “walks” and replace it with saunters, struts, or lumbers which immediately gives the reader a visual and negates further description.

2.  Imagine the location or setting and try to describe it in three vivid and evocative terms.  Do the same with your characters.  As with wordsmithing, the right word can have multiple meanings, and immediately stir the reader’s imagination.

3.  Make the script fun to read.  Screenplays have a specific format, but you can build momentum and action by the style on the page.  We create the story and how the reader will follow it, so in that we have freedom.  There’s also an unspoken rule of making blocks of action only four lines a piece so the reader doesn’t skip through larger blocks of text, just FYI.

4.  Make it a silent film.  Read only the action.  Would a reader still understand what’s happening?  This helps solve the “talking head” problem where exposition is given via dialogue.

I have pages upon pages of rewriting tips, so if anyone is interested in more, I will share them in another post.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Open to Suggestion

Hi all!

suggestion_box_icon

I am calling on my fellow bloggers – Who or what blogs do you recommend?  Offer up to me some of your favorite writing, screenwriting, geek culture, sci-fi/fantasy, history, something for an Anglophile, or anything that piques your interest blogs…I am open to suggestion.

Feel free to promote yourself! 😉

Thanks!
xx, Rach

A Writer’s Life

EditingVictory!  Last night I had a small breakthrough on the rewrite, and I am starting to fall in love again.  I know I’m not alone in feeling a little love loss when a story you’ve poured yourself into stops loving you back; the hours invested, the sleep lost, the tears, the borderline mental breakdown…I’ve complained about this one long enough, and I don’t like the feeling that a story and characters that once brought me such pleasure could turn out to be the bane of my current writing existence, especially when people, whose opinion I trust, tell me how much they like the story.  It makes me wonder if I’m thinking too much, trying too hard, or am afraid?

I know for a fact that I think too much.  I over-think everything.  But as writers, we all want our stories to be the best they can be.  So trying to think of every possible story thread or outcome is just part of the trade.  Wondering about every facet of the story is just what we do.  And I know I have to get out of my head, more often than I do.

As for trying too hard in relation to my writing, I don’t think such a thing exists.  In regards to becoming a writer, is there any other way?  I’m a new writer, and a woman, trying to make it in Hollywood, so what else am I going to do?  The Writers Guild recently released this article about the state of women in the industry, and it’s a little bleak.  In an already tough business, the uphill battle just got a little rockier it seems.  I need my stories to be compelling.  I want them to be recognized for what they are.  And I want the fact that I’m a woman to be irrelevant when looking at my scripts, although it will be clearly evident because I’m a bit of a feminist and I write for women primarily, but you know what I mean.  I am trying too hard because I want to succeed.

Then there’s the possibility of fear.  Fear is an enormous detriment to a writer.  If I’m honest, which I will be here, I don’t feel fear in regards to my writing.  I relish the blank page.  It’s an opportunity to create new worlds and escape into adventure.  I don’t fear endings.  Some times, after spending so long with certain characters, it’s hard to say goodbye, but I like the idea of moving forward and creating a body of work.  But there is one thing, the fear of success.  The unknown.  We get comfortable in the daily struggle, the routines we’ve created, and lives we’ve built around this dream.  This may seem strange, but all the years building up to the next stage in the journey makes me nervous at times.  Am I prepared?  I think, not just as writers, but as people, when we dream about something for so long, the idea of actually getting what we want can cause fear.

So, back to the breakthrough.  I decided to take a different approach to my writing and use some of the tools I’ve discovered along the way.  Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat (this is the link to the website and information, but there is a book too) is a great resource for screenwriters, but I think all writers could use some of the techniques to help their story.  Blake designed a checklist, all the components needed in a screenplay.  As my rewrite is an entire perspective shift, I’m changing protagonists, I needed to get into the head of the new lead character.  This is someone I know well, but until I sat down and started writing out her journey, all that time spent in my head was time wasted.  I can think on it all I want, that over-thinking thing I do, but until I sat down and physically worked out the details, I was never going to move forward.

Maybe there was a little fear, actually fear might be the wrong word, perhaps anxiety is better to refer to my feelings about this script and its necessary rewrite.  The love had slowly melted away under the constant scrutiny and struggle to get the third act right.  This is a story I have been working on for a long time, and when I had that light bulb moment to change the perspective, it was almost like I was writing a new story and I was afraid of what it might do to the original idea.  Maybe this is why I’ve been reluctant and dragging my feet to actually attempt the rewrite.  But like I said above, “fear is a detriment”, and I can’t let that hold me back from moving forward.  So, as I sat in my writer’s group last night working out the details, I had a glimmer of the love that drew me to write this story in the first place.  I made a mental decision to look at this new rewrite with a positive attitude, and I think that worked.  As I discussed the idea with a fellow writer later, I felt better and more hopeful with the idea.

So I throw this out to you my fellow writers…what obstacles do you have in your writer’s life?  How do you overcome them?  Or are they what drive you to succeed?

I wish you all the best in your endeavors!

The Business of Rewriting

EditingAs I embark on yet another rewrite, and hopefully the last, on my first screenplay, I’ve been reviewing all the notes I’ve taken on rewriting (from books, articles, webinars) and thought I’d share a few things that should be relevant for all writers.  We’ve all heard it, and I’ve said it a time or two here, that all writing is rewriting.

First off, there should be a distinction made between editing and rewriting.  Editing is working with that final draft to make it great (and ready).  Rewriting is improving each element within your story; characters, dialogue, scenes, using the right words for impact, etc.  According to Dictionary.com – Editing means:

1. to supervise or direct the preparation of (a newspaper, magazine, book, etc.)
2. to collect, prepare, and arrange materials for publication
3. to revise or correct

Whereas Rewriting means:

1. to write in a different form or manner
2. to write again

So we will first rewrite, then edit.  Unless you’re like me, who loves to edit while they write.  Don’t follow my lead.  The first draft should be all the things you hope your story will be.  You should write it from the heart, because the subsequent drafts will be from the head.  The first draft should be free of restrictions, over-thinking, and self-censorship.  You should be carefree and wide-eyed, because it might be the last time you feel that way for the rest of this story.

One of the first lessons I learned in regards to rewriting is to remember “your vision”.  Sometimes while writing our vision gets lost.  Rewriting is the time to get reacquainted with it.  Remember why you wanted to tell this story.  Look for holes, problems with story or structure, forgotten characters (I did this once.  I had a character in the first half of a screenplay who I forgot to use later.  Oh yea, they must have been really interesting.), and logic.  Logic is one of my favorite rewriting techniques, “What would really happen?”  Trying to force a situation to get our characters where we want may make it read false.  How our characters (and people in general) would really respond in any situation is a great way to judge if our story is reading true, and might actually solve some problems we’ve run into.

I primarily write screenplays, so I have a lot of rewriting tips specifically designed for screenwriting which I can share in another post.  I wanted to keep this one a little more broad and offer some sites with helpful tips.  Many I’ve referred to myself.  LitReactor is great.  If you haven’t discovered them yet, take a look.  Use the search bar for editing or rewriting tips and you’ll come across articles like, How To Break Up With Your First DraftWriting Sentences With Impact, or 5 Steps to a Successful Digital Rewrite, in addition to a great many other articles.  The Write Life has articles about 25 Editing Tips, or Write Better Stories By Asking These Questions.  This may be part one in a series, because there is a lot of information out there.

So, if I find anything else, I’ll pass it along.  I hope you’re all having a great and productive week!

It’s Always All About “The Work”

So I (finally) decided to take my own advice and work on something else.  One can only bang their head against the same wall for so long.  In my last blog about rewriting madness, I mentioned how we, as writers, feel guilty when we leave our unfinished beloved behind.  I think for my part, I was just so desperate to make it work, because I wanted it to be ready in time for submission season, that I lost the love.  It was quickly becoming a burden, one that I wanted to relieve my self of, and move on.  But how could I after all the effort I had put into it?  All the time, the worry, the stress, could not be for nothing.  It had to be completed.  And until a few days ago, I couldn’t take my own advice, because of this desperation.  I was so sure it was almost ready.  I couldn’t deny myself the next important step of sending it out for consideration, but that is exactly what I have decided to do.  On Monday night at my writer’s group I felt I had made some progress, by Tuesday I had shelved it.

IdeaLightBulb(jeffbullassite)

I moved on to my fifth script, which is currently in its first draft.  It was refreshing to see these other characters I had created, to visit their world, and remember why I had started this story to begin with.  Ideas were coming easily and I was happy with the progress.  Then it happened…I had an idea for the script I’ve been struggling with.  Literally, only three days had passed.  I wasn’t even writing when the light bulb flickered.  I was listening in on a teleconference about selling to Hollywood.  An hour or so in, I’m not even sure what was being discussed, it happened.  I wrote it down quickly in case it tried to escape me.  I had a new idea that could possibly change the whole story; tell it from someone else’s perspective.  I can’t believe I hadn’t come up with this before.  We have to know which relationship is the most important, who is the true lead character, and then it seems everything else will fall into place.  Or so I’m theorizing (is that a even a word?) / speculating / hoping.

We have to be diligent, but also know when to take a break.  Trying to force a story to work for our own vanity doesn’t do our story or characters any justice.  I’m thrilled to know my advice evidently works, and maybe I should’ve listened to it earlier, then I wouldn’t have wasted so much time…So here I am at another crossroad, trying to decide whether to let this new idea simmer for a few days and continue on in the other story where I’ve found myself invigorated, or carry on and get the job done…If I am to ever be a professional, I’m guessing that completing the problematic one first might be my best option.  I think I’ll touch base with my writer’s group, spitball, and see how I feel about it after.  I’ll let you know if this works.

I came across this blog post by fellow writer, Myke Cole, and really enjoyed it, because it really is all about the work and our passion for it.  Even when we feel beaten down, it is our passion that carries us forward.

Have a wonderful, passion-filled, productive weekend!

*image from Jeff Bullas’ site

Rewriting Madness

EditingI’m finding that most writers have a hard time moving onto something new when there’s still work to be done on the piece they just completed.  Take me, for example.  I am so determined to get my first script right, that I can’t move onto anything else (I have tried), and what’s worse, more ideas keep popping up for other stories or new ones, so that I feel like my brain is running in every direction possible without really going anywhere, not with any real progress anyway.  I should learn from this, go work on something else, and then maybe the answers I seek would come to me…but I can’t.  I am compelled, driven, possessed…Last night at my writer’s group, we discussed this very topic.  When you’re so close to a piece, it’s hard to gain any perspective.  Sometimes you need  little break.  I’ve written about this before and it was reiterated to me last night.  It’s the “forest through the trees” scenario.  It’s hard to leave something unfinished.  We tend to feel guilty that we aren’t working on it.  Why would we spend all this time without seeing it through to the end?

This particular script has always been my baby (but is quickly becoming the redheaded stepchild – sorry redheads, no offense intended, as I’m sure you’ve noticed my love of ginger boys 😉 ).  The one I thought would do good things.  And yet every pass I make at it makes me feel further away from its original purpose.  This is why it would be a very good idea to separate myself for a little while.  There are a few impending deadlines, but getting some distance is probably best for everyone involved, because I’m not sure if the new ideas are any better at this point.  *If anyone has any resources to utilize to solve this dilemma, PLEASE share them!

When I talked with another writer, a novelist, last night, about the rewriting process, we agreed that being a novelist is better because of ownership.  You work with an editor who helps suggest ways of improving your work, but you are the author of that piece.  Your name will be the only one on it.  Whereas a screenwriter works alone for months or years honing that script into a viable, sellable work, only to be replaced.  It makes me cringe every time I think of it.  And this is where the crazy begins…

Okay, I realize I’m rambling.  Probably because I’m going crazy.  This is all madness.  Rewriting madness.  I believe it’s a state of mind that happens to all writers driven to finalize their work.  And then I heard this –

“The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated. Neurotic. Caffeine-addled. Crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.” — Robert DeNiro

I’m not quite sure how to respond to this except to say that now maybe people will understand what we go through on a regular basis.  If you’re also struggling with the “madness” here are a couple of links I shared before about editing.  One from The Write Life and the other is a list of essays regarding rewriting from LitReactor so you can decide on the topic that might work best for you.

Here’s to regaining some sanity!  Wishing you all the best!

Do Your Homework

Let me be an example to all.  Heed my warning.  Do your research thoroughly before you start writing.

I was polishing my first screenplay, getting it all pretty for submission season, when I discovered I had made a rather large error.  In trying to create a more compelling version of my female protagonist, I did a little research into women’s roles in Ancient Rome and learned something that would change everything.  Ancient Rome was not what I thought.  I allowed my ignorant assumptions, probably based on remnant memories of movies/tv/fiction past to create a world that was a bit on the inaccurate side.  As I have commented (numerous times) before, I have always struggled with the third act.  I have rewritten it so many times, and I’m still sort of displeased with it.  I thought if I could change a few character details, maybe that would give me a different perspective on how to alter the finale.  So I went into research mode.  I’m not sure if I should kick myself now, for not having done this sooner, but nonetheless, here I am…again: major rewrite in progress…*Sigh

Desert

Oh, writing.  Why are you so painful some days.  On Monday at my writer’s group, I did some “reworking” and deleted everything I wrote.  Two hours had passed and I was no closer to solving my dilemma.  I’m going on two weeks with no new developments, and I have a week and a half before I want to start submitting it.  Tick tock.  Tick tock.

There’s this idea that in order to get the story out, you just write.  You don’t worry about it being good or bad, you just get it on paper.  We discussed this on Monday, and I agree, but this isn’t currently where I am on this piece.  It had its days of being “bad”.  Until a few days ago, I loved the first two acts (and I still do).  I just wanted a way to wrap it up nicely.  Stupid period piece and your historical inaccuracy.

My tip of the day: Do your homework.  Seriously.  Don’t follow in my footsteps.  Unless you really know what you’re talking about, don’t rely on fictionalized accounts and a faulty memory, do a little research.  I love doing research, so I’m quite surprised to learn I was not more thorough.  Create special folders on your computer of sites you visit for information as a quick reference tool for each story.  Read up on different aspects (time period, male/female roles, political climate, cultural influences, scientific advancements, etc.) of the story you’re telling, and you may be surprised to learn something that changes your story for the better (or worse, for your characters anyway, depending on your tale).

Now I must go and stare blankly at my script in the hopes “M” will come to life by some sheer force of will.  That picture above is the equivalent of my mind at the moment…

I hope your day goes better.  Wishing you all the best!