Archives for category: screenwriting

I’m at the proofreading stage of my new novella, and find bits of writing help echoing in my mind. Some I can actually put to use. It’s scattered all over the internet, but most is like the writing world is sewing empty hulls, instead of viable seeds. 

Here are 3 actually helpful tips.

1. One of the best ones I’ve come across is this: “That” is usually unnecessary. 

As I proofread, I’m struck by just how much I use it, without thinking. Removing it not only makes the piece read a little more smoothly, it also cuts the word count quite a bit. Especially in larger manuscripts. I’m becoming more aware of it, which may mean I’ll eventually be able to mentally cut it just before my fingers can get it typed. 

2. Tightening is always good, as long as you know when to stop. 

This one is always in the back of my mind, particularly when I’m writing a screenplay. There I can often do it mentally as I go, but that doesn’t mean the tightening is over when “Fade out” is typed. While good tight fiction is desirable, a tight script is essential in a squeeze-the-last-word-out-that-you-can kind of way. That last bit is the kind of thing that makes me stop and ponder the “that” situations above. I write largely by instinct. It’s often on the fly, with pauses to figure out if something is right or wrong, depending on how it sounds or more elusively feels. So, I dithered over the “that” I eventually committed to. But it’s getting easier to get rid of the ones that I don’t need. (Did you spot the unnecessary “that” there?)

3. “That” is far from the only often unnecessary word.

Or sentence

Or, heaven help me, paragraph right on into page. 

The actual tip is a succinct and painful “Kill your darlings.” 

This may be the most difficult piece of writing help to take not only to heart, but also to pen. Or delete key. This is the one I’ve found almost impossible to implement. It took a lot of experience to grow the wisdom needed to even begin to learn to ruthlessly slash and burn my way through a manuscript. It comes down to finding the honesty deep down beneath the euphoria born of writing a beautiful description. The crucial question to self is this: Will the story still stand without this part I love so much? If I delete it, will the story be less, in any way but word count? Often the answer is to hit the delete key. Sometimes, when I can’t quite let those darlings go, I start a file called (Story Title) Bits where I save the deleted parts, just in case I can convince myself I was wrong and justify putting something back in. I can’t actually recall a time when I put something back, except in my imagination. Do I take out everything that needs to be killed? Of course not! My writing tends toward literary, even when it’s genres where the style can be a bit startling. Deciding what should be eliminated can be a struggle, though as I write more and more I learn to use the brief amount of time that passes between formed thought and typed prose to decide before a problem spot has been actually written. It’s easier since I added /screenwriter to my self-description. It’s even fun sometimes, when I’m in just the right mood, to go all scorched earth on a   script that needs a page count pruning. 

These are the tips that help me most. If you have the patience to strain out all the nonsense that muddies the cyberwaters, there are more bits of useful information lurking. 

Oh. There’s one more tip right at the top of all things helpful. This one hovers above all others, is the most necessary, and means the most.

Believe in yourself. Always.

​Being of sound, but impatient mind, I am a notorious channel flipper. Commercials arrive…I flip. Scene drags…I flip. Cable goes out…I flip, usually futilely, since it tends to be all the cable and for ages. Mostly, I just land on more of whatever and keep flipping until I find the bazillionth showing of The Devil Wears Prada and settle in to watch Andie’s journey from beneath Miranda’s icicle thumb. Overall, a waste of time that could be better utilized. Like, say, watching leftover’s rotating microwave journey from beneath the fridge’s icicle thumb. 

Yesterday, though, I flipped past an obscure old movie. A fire raged. Flip. But, instead of a long-term flipping, I went back to see if the fire still raged. It did. Exactly the same as it had the first time. Flip. This was repeated, until the fourth flip by, when the fire still raged, but the scene had changed slightly. Fli– Wait. I checked again, and found the fire still raging, with little changed. 

Somewhere between the fourth and fifth flips, the screenwriter part of my brain finally surfaced, holding what had been nagging at the back of my mind between its teeth. I was witnessing a valuable little random lesson in how not to write an action scene. While I realize that a lot of final choices are out of a screenwriter’s hands, there are ways not to and to handle action that could make a difference. Possibly. Perhaps. 

<Way, before this revelation: 

INT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

A fire rages.

EXT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

The farmhouse is a charred ruin.>

Way, after this revelation: 

<INT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

A fire rages. 

Distant sirens wail.

EXT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

A dilapidated fire truck labors uphill, turns into the drive.

INT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

Fire continues to rage. Beam breaks from ceiling, falls. 

EXT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

Firemen spill from the truck, run to the house. They battle the fire.

INT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

Firemen beat out the last burning embers.

The fire is extinguished.

EXT. FARMHOUSE – NIGHT

The farmhouse is a charred ruin.>

Okay, so I’ve added a third of a page. And it may be a futile endeavor. But at least this hypothetical script would leave me with a more channel flipping proof raging fire. After all, channel flipping and page turning are rooted in the same basic idea. Keep the audience/reader interested in watching/reading. Only opposite. In this case, an endlessly raging onscreen fire will lead to a flip on by, or a script reader with an irresistible urge to build their own fire…to toss the script onto. The fire whose raging is interspersed with related, yet separate bits of action, would be more likely to hold attention. At least that’s what the always lurking screenwriter part of my brain tells me.

The rapid rise in development of artificial intelligence and all its ramifications is fascinating. The potential for the betterment of mankind in its many advancements is boundless. But everything has to start somewhere. 

As a longtime user of smart devices, I’ve been feeling I have a front row seat in the entertaining horror show that is autocorrect.  Emails, tweets, blog posts…they all are enhanced by or fall victim to this oh so useful tool of the technological age. Sometimes I fear the cyberworld at large will think I suffer from some heretofore unknown form of illiteracy. Or worse. At times it could seem a gibbering idiot has gotten loose and launched into an undecipherable tweet storm. 

Yes, I do proofread. With autocorrect diligence is immaterial. I’m noticing more and more that that handy dandy ubiquitous tool has gone behind my back and made “corrections” after I’ve finished with a sentence. By finished with I mean already corrected autocorrect and moved on. Only after I need to go back for some reason to reread a sentence do I find bizarre gibberish that has nothing to do with what I think I’ve written. This can be particularly annoying as a writer, because it drags me way, way out of whatever world be it dark dystopian or fairy and unicorn otherworldliness I happen to be inhabiting at that moment. Try regaining your train of thought, after coming across half a sentence that looks like it was written by the dreaded BEM. 

While for a long time this whole thing was a minor annoyance of infrequent occurrence, I’ve become much more acutely aware of it this past month, since I started writing a story on my tablet. I was having trouble writing, after my mom’s death. Eventually, I thought it might help to be able to just pick up my tablet any time the urge struck and write whatever was willing to come out. That’s turned out to be a really great idea. I can be writing that way, while I would still be waiting for my laptop to be ready to go. I’ve kept up a steady stream of writing every day since April 10th. Even though I’m a little worried about taking the formatting to my laptop when I’m finished with the first draft, hopefully the fact that I managed it in an early experiment means it won’t be too horrible a format wrangling quagmire, even for Glitcherella.

The only real problem is the word processor app’s autocorrect. It has an unusually aggressive tendency to over correct. I know, I know they all do. This one, though, is extremely eager to help, changing words after I think its shenanigans have been reined in. On a particular problem area, anyway. Sometimes precious plotting on the fly seconds are lost, while I try to decipher what I’d originally written. At times there is zero resemblance to my own word or words, and I may not be able to even recall what I’d actually written, if enough wordage has passed. This is not good in Writerworld.

The most bizarre instance has to be when I recently typed the word wonderful. I went back to check something and found this: worth knob fearful! What? Literally. Not just a flip exclamation, but a sincerely confused, shocked, and frustrated cry to the writing gods for enlightenment. I knew I had not typed such a meaningless clutch of words. I didn’t remember on the spot what I had typed, and had to find context so I could reconstruct the sentence. Time wasted. Head briefly exploded. Regather former train of thought. Move on.

Done.

It’s not easy, however, to completely stop the boggling of mind whenever I think of it. I mean, that particular instance of autocorrect insanity is relatively innocuous. No harm done. But what about the future? Robotics is rapidly becoming a major part of our world. Will we be able to overcome the frustrations and foibles of an auto corrected life? Or do we face something much more concerning? Will our future be worth knob fearful?

​I woke up this morning to the news that author Colin Dexter has died. His career has the distinction of leading me to a favorite author I’ve never read. I intend to remedy that at some point, because he was the creator of a most wonderful character…Inspector Morse. 

Morse is the kind of character who makes you roll your eyes, even as you wait breathlessly for him to do something brilliant, whether it be professionally or personally. The man has layers. Many, many of them. Among the deepest is a kind, compassionate, and even romantic heart. A keen detective, the prickly bachelor works diligently to keep Oxford safe from an alarming number of murders. His difficult nature is softened by his love of literature and the classical music he blasts gleefully while flying along the narrow twists and turns of British life in his classic Jag. 

Morse is a Renaissance man wrapped in a curmudgeon, and viewers who fall in love with him despite his glaringly obvious shortcomings owe their devotion to two people. One is the uniquely talented  actor who portrayed him, John Thaw. The other is his creator Colin Dexter. Sometimes author and character and actor meet in a way that causes magic to spring forth from the TV screen. Morse is a wonderful, if unlikely, example of this feat. 

At first I was devastated by the final episode of the series, The Remorseful Day, wishing desperately it had ended earlier, when Morse went up the hotel steps, arm in arm with love at last. He’d waited so long for true, joyous love, why couldn’t he have ridden off into the sunset, as it were? Because, along with the heartbreak of that remorseful day, we finally got to truly see the depth of the sweetness, loyalty, and, yes, even love, he is capable of, in his final moments with his long suffering sergeant, Lewis. We also learned the secret he’d been carrying for far too long, when the extent of that innate loyalty extended toward a friend and colleague was finally revealed. What a man he was. And what a writer was Colin Dexter!

My favorite moment from the entire series:

Inspector Morse, The Remorseful Day, Ensanguining the Skies Scene

​I was minding my own business, channel flipping my way through an afternoon lull in any hope for productivity, when I got captured in the gossamer steel storytelling of a Grey’s Anatomy rerun. Even though I never became a regular viewer, somehow I managed to come across some of the most touching and poignant episodes of this show made up of heat, hate, and heart. Today, it was the one where George died.

So now I’m crying. 

Even coming in partway through. 

I think it’s the way they don’t know for so long. Caring for a brutally devastated dying anonymous John Doe is one thing. That he is a selfless hero is another entirely. Eventually, heartbreakingly discovering he is a colleague, a friend, a beloved essential part of your life, depending on who you are is something different and all but unbearable. And that’s just the characters.

For viewers both casual and devoted, this level of storytelling is devastating too. Even when you aren’t extremely invested in, or even familiar with, the characters involved, it feels like a personal attack on a gamut of emotions. How can we be so torn and shredded by images and words and actions carried out by people we don’t even know? People who aren’t even real? How is it possible for us to find ourselves crying over mere figments of imagination that ride into our hearts and souls and minds on bits of ink and flickering light that glitter along with our tears? It all comes down to talented writers and actors gifted with the ability to elicit emotion in a brief time, often with only a word, a gesture…a tear.

When the weeping viewer is also a writer and/or screenwriter, there’s a part of that person watching and feeling from the sidelines, awed and aspiring. This is the top tier of storytelling. The level where it’s not just the characters being moved and touched and made to cry beyond their own will, but the people who become involved in story. I’m sure this level is produced by the best storytellers. Often and well. I also think lesser beings achieve it sometimes. It is infinitely possible. 

That’s why it’s so important for people who love to write to keep writing. Even when it seems the writing is for a party of one. Every word written is part of the path, the growth, and the wonder that comes from creating something with your mind. If it happens to be that you, the writer, are the only one moved to tears over your stories and novels and scripts, so be it. It’s a beautiful thing that is a gift to be experienced. 

Izzie saying George would give it all, when asked about organ donation, then weeping by his bedside, holding his ruined hand is going to haunt me for the rest of the day. That’s another level of storytelling. Haunting  readers and viewers. It’s something Grey’s Anatomy does almost too well. But only almost.

Izzie says goodbye

Writers seem like normal people, when you meet just one at a time. Well, mostly normal. Get in the company of two or more, and you’re likely to lose the thread of various conversations. Writer speak is peppered with its own unusual, unique, and sometimes quaint lexicon. Here are five of the headscratchiest examples.

1. Pantsing — This one is my personal favorite. The variations “pantsy” and “pantser” add an extra quality that sounds even more bizarre to nonwriters. The origin is an old pilots’ saying about flying by the seat of their pants, meaning depending on their instincts and how the plane feels as its motions, vibrations, and possible problems resonate throughout their body, through the plane seat’s connection, to the seat of their pants area. It essentially means just starting to write and letting the story come out however it wants to. I don’t really do this very often, from word one. My thing is more getting things going and then sitting back to watch it unfold. Both come down to writing by instinct.

2. Window Staring — The fine art of looking out a window, or at a wall, while the brain’s inner workings figure out a stuck place. It looks like day dreaming, and that can be involved. It actually can be productive, while looking like doing nothing.

3. Getting an Entire Novel from One CD — This one sounds like gibberish to a nonwriter, but to writers with a brain that generates storytelling from music it’s the language of productivity. And I mean it literally. It’s pretty rare to this extent, but on a few occasions I’ve sat down to listen to a new CD on headphones and by the end emerged with a fully plotted novel. No inkling to full blown. A lyric snatch, music note, or even entire song will inspire characters, dialogue, or plot. Sometimes all of it together, in a glorious cinematic unfolding of story.

4. Doing Index Cards — Wouldn’t want to leave out screenwriting. A lot of people write out plot points on index cards and arrange them into a story flow. I can’t say more about it, because, as with fiction, I do my plotting in my head. I’ve always thought it was cool, though. Any temptation to try it gets shot down pretty fast, since I love my own personal style too much to risk messing it up.

5. Buttons — In screenwriting, a button is the bit at the end of scenes and acts that makes a reader want to turn the page. Oddly, I had to become aware of buttons and learn to create and use them when writing scripts, but later on I realized I’d been instinctively doing the same thing at the end of scenes and chapters in my fiction. In scripts, they eventually became a natural part of my flow, but trying to make myself do them at first was like hitting speedbumps on the interstate.

The language of writing and screenwriting evolves, as experience and ability grow. It can almost seem as if it was learned by osmosis. Then something new comes along to remind us it was more like a brainstrain at first. Much like any other language, integrated into everyday life.

I’ve been sidelined by a wrecked back. The kind that’s so bad it makes walking an ordeal. More than a decade ago I injured a muscle in my lower back, lifting an old style computer monitor. After the fact I found out they weigh about forty pounds. No wonder I actually felt the muscle tear. I was incapacitated for weeks, wanting tomato soup and toast daily, for some reason unknown. I had an old cane that my aunt used when she broke her leg, and used it to hobble to the bathroom. I still have the cane. Still use it, though the hobble isn’t quite as bad this time. Probably due to the absence of muscle spasms. Those things would sideline a moose. This time pasta with an excess of shredded parm loaded on is my food of choice, liberally interspersed with chocolate and ice cream, and tomato or avocado sandwiches. My palette has apparently shifted over the years.

Other than struggling to stand (and hobble) sufficiently to acquire food and make necessary trips down the short hall that seems at least a mile long these
days to the bathroom, I’m mostly only good for sitting and staring at the TV. I’ve gotten through a bunch of movies. I’ll do a roundup or something about the best of them in time.

At the moment I’ve used up a big quota of my concentration ability on writing a few hundred words of my zombie story last night. It’s an unfamiliar struggle to write, since my mom died in July, so a few hundred words is a real accomplishment right now. Yes, I am aware of the irony. I started that story in the spring, just because I wanted to try something different. Unfortunate timing, but I want to finish it before starting something else…or going back to my serial killer script. Oddly, I think zoning on the Walking Dead marathon this week shoved me back into the world of the living, breathing writer I am, since it dragged zombies right up to the front of my mind again. I should just call this the year of death.

So how did I hurt my back this time? It would be funny, if it hadn’t ruined at least two solid weeks of my life.  I try to do a Travel Tuesday pic on Twitter every week. A couple of weeks ago it was this one I titled Scenic Roadside New Mexico.

image

It was in an old photo album of a lot of cross country trip pictures. Old and big and heavy. Without thinking, I grabbed it up with one hand and carried it around. There was at least one twist in there somewhere. It took a day for the pain to kick in. I’d gone to a Chinese buffet and went inside fine. When I got up to hit the buffet, I suddenly could barely walk. What the–? Took me a couple of days to figure it out.

This weird, suddenly destroyed back thing runs through the women on my mom’s side. Her sister had a terrible episode once, finally got it better, only to sneeze and cripple herself again. I’ve learned to brace wherever I am when I feel a sneeze coming on, to the point of once almost taking down a section of metal CD racks at Walmart. A weird, bad back can be a hazard to more than one’s personal…person.

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I managed last week’s Travel Tuesday, despite my own personal faux zombie apocalypse (more than once I thought of how my painful shuffling gait was like a Walker parody). This White Peacock on Oahu one didn’t involve heavy lifting.

Here’s Today’s Travel Tuesday pic, while I’m on the subject. A beautiful and dramatic hillside vineyard near the Mosel River in Germany.

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I’m hoping this forced break from normal life will reboot me back to a long term more normal life, after the disruptive, surreal, and heartbreaking years of living life through the lens of my mom’s long journey through Alzheimer’s. I miss her every day, but emerging from that period of our lives is like walking into bright sunshine, after living in a cave.