Archives for posts with tag: screenwriting

Very happy to announce that my 2019 Big Break Screenwriting Contest entry has made the cut to Semifinalist! I just realized I’m smiling as I type. Screenwriting is such a cool thing to do. Being recognized for it is even cooler.

Grateful.

I’m very happy to announce that my drama feature entry is a 2019 Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest Quarter-Finalist.

As I’ve written about in some previous posts, it’s difficult to deal with the years when nothing happens. In 2017 nothing happened, because I decided to sit out the screenwriting competitions to destress. It helped and this year I entered the Nicholl and Big Break. Not getting any positive reads in the Nicholl was disappointing and discouraging. So I seriously braced myself when the Big Break QF email came. It was such a wonderful feeling to get that reassuring, validating, thrilling moment of seeing my name and title as a Quarter-Finalist.

As the saying goes, I can dine on that for quite some time. I never stop believing in myself, but that belief gets shakey sometimes depending on how hard the winds of defeat try to blow me over. I really like this place where anything can happen and if I go right back into the doldrums that’s okay too. I’ve had the reminder that I know what I’m doing and love doing it. 

Now, I get to look forward to the upcoming Semifinals announcement. Whatever my result in that, I’m so proud to be a 2019 Big Break Quarter-Finalist.

This is one of those years that make me want to just pretend I didn’t enter the Nicholl, maybe even pretend it doesn’t exist. No entry, no results, no blog post.

But, it does and I did, so here it is. 2019 is one of the rare times when neither of my two feature length screenplay entries moved the needle at all. Not a single positive read. There’s usually at least one, often more.

There. It’s out.

This blog is intended to not only cover the good things that happen to me, but also the not so good to out right bad. The good for obvious reasons. The bad so someone else dealing with something hard in their lives may stumble across it and feel a little better being reminded that we’re not in whatever it is alone. Sometimes just thinking of even one stranger sharing our pain or disappointment from afar can make enough of a difference to actually help. From Alzheimer’s caregiving, to grief, to the events that take peripheral positions to that kind of thing, we all carry burdens. Even if the “only” burden you carry today is a disappointment, a setback in your writing life, don’t ever forget that’s a legitimate thing to deal with. In some ways it’s actually a grief within itself. We put our whole selves into our scripts and stories and novels and poems. Of course the setbacks are hard to deal with.

This year I have an “advantage”. A compressed sciatic nerve is pretty much consuming my life. That kind of physical pain can outscream just about anything else. So, I was upset about my screenplays performing so poorly, especially after doing so well other years, for a few hours, then shrugged it off and carried on, as must be done when you’re addicted to screenwriting competitions.

We carry on, while running an internal question-with-no-answers session involving a loop of “why?”, “how?”, and “when will things turn back around?”. We think and hope and wonder, and keep on writing and learning and dreaming. That’s the writer’s life. Sometimes we curse it . Hopefully, briefly. The rest of the time we love it. We live it. We make happen whatever we can. If all we can make happen is our writing world, that’s enough. Where else would we want to be?

After sitting out last year’s screenwriting competitions, I’ve entered two this year. I have two dramas in the Nicholl and a drama in Big Break. 

It’s interesting how deciding to forego the stress that comes with waiting for, then getting the responses for a year sort of rebooted the experience for me. For whatever reason, some years I do better than others. I can’t make sense of the very real fact that the same script can do really well, even several times in a row, then suddenly tank another year. It may well get a good response the very next year. Or not. 

Eventually, the see saw burnt me out to the point that removing myself from it seemed like the best move. Takng care of my mom for so long, then finally getting us both through the end of her life introduced an element of deeper stress than I’ve ever experienced. It will be three years since her death in July. I’ve realized that recovering from all that will take me as long as it takes me. Basically, I need to rest. A lot. I have and I do and I can feel it helping. 

I can also feel that taking last year off from screenwriting competitions helped too. I feel more normal now about anticipating whatever happens, and accepting it as part of the experience that’s mostly enjoyable. So onward, hopefully upward, and always loving screenwriting.

I’ve entered a lot of screenwriting competitions. So many in fact that I can’t say off the top of my head how many years I’ve been doing it. I actually got kind of addicted to it. It’s helpful to keep yourself setting and meeting goals, keeping up your A game, and with the right attitude it’s fun.

I’ve hit some pretty high highs, as far as advancing goes, with three dramas and a science fiction, all feature length. The dramas have all been Moondance finalists, one twice, and one was a semi-finalist. Two have made the top 25% of the Page Awards, while the science fiction one was a Page Awards quarter-finalist twice and a semi- finalist once. A drama made the top 10% of the Nicholl, the science fiction one the top 15%, and they have all had several variations of one and two positive reads. Not bad at all.

So why did I suddenly put a freeze on all competition entries this year? Under slightly different circumstances I’d call it competition fatigue, reached at last. Rejection fatigue certainly plays a part in it. Between this and fiction rejections, I have endured a near constant barrage for many years. There’s a lot to be said for what the human spirit rises to when properly motivated with a high enough reward potential dangled at the end of a long, rocky road. However, bluntly put, this human spirit is exhausted.

I’ve learned that endurance tests are not necessarily meant to be endured without pause virtually forever. It is perfectly acceptable at some point to break what you’ve seen as a never ending test of talent and character into separate phases of the same journey. Interstates have rest stops for a reason.Some people are good for the long, unbroken haul, no matter how long it takes. I was. But then life throws something in that makes you reevaluate, regroup, and sometimes replan.

Life threw my mother at me. She got Alzheimer’s. I got the responsibility of caring for her. Until you face it yourself, it’s impossible to grasp what that means. As the disease progresses, so does your role in your loved one’s life. Eventually becoming completely responsible for a beloved parent is life shattering. You have to dig deep and deeper, you change into a deeply mature adult, as they change back toward childhood. I became stronger than I was, more mature than I was capable of being, and learned that words like limits and strength and courage have no real meaning, because the meanings are redifined as time passes. Love becomes redifined as well, becoming the reason for everything. As difficult as it was, I would do it again, even knowing what I faced, because such a wonderful parent deserved the best possible wind down of her life, even held submerged in the depths of the weighted enemy called Alzheimer’s.

By the time she slipped away from both of our lives, on July 15, 2016, I was more exhausted than I would have thought possible. Even as I readjusted to being only responsible for myself, I missed her every day. I still do. I rest, I recover, and I’m just so glad that I got through it.

Somehow through it all I managed to write. Not prolifically. Not really steadily. But I wrote short fiction and I submitted it. This was my piece of myself that I retained throughout. I sold a story to Analog in time for my mom, my greatest support, to know and briefly understand. I continued to enter screenwriting competitions. Eventually I narrowed my focus to the Nicholl. I entered three screenplays a year. At least one would get a positive read every year, sometimes two, at times they all did at least some little miracle of a positive read or two, occasionally not so miraculous.

A couple of years ago, I checked email on my phone in a grocery store parking lot. Hammered, nearly in public, by three responses that were not as good as I’d hoped. Okay, expected. It had started to seem that I went backwards some years. Had for a while in other years, other competitions. That was when the need for the symbolic rest area became undeniable. I entered three again last year and only one got anywhere at all, with two positive reads.

Backwards.

I don’t understand how levels of success can fluctuate so widely, from competition to competition, from year to year. It seems to be, loosely put, the nature of the game. That’s okay. I know I’m not alone in it and that I’m very fortunate to consistently do so well, for so long.

I also know that I needed a break. The moments of opening competition results emails, followed by the jolts of recognition that nothing big was happening for another year needed to be followed by a break from said moments and jolts. The realization that the sheer joy of knowing a screenplay I’d written, a story I’d told, had received two positive reads in the most prestigious, highly competitive arena in screenwritingland was overshadowed by the disappointment over the two that received none. Even though they’d gotten notice several other times. I wasn’t fun anymore. It was painful.

Somehow, stepping back for a year was the right thing to do. It lowered my stress level. It gave me a measure of peace, turning the leadup to the results announcements away from dread to a space of peace. As the time to start thinking about 2019 entries approaches, I’m doing just that. I’m not sure the fun will fully be back in the game. After going through such a life altering experience as being an Alzheimer’s caregiver, a new gravity settles over my life. It’s not always at the surface, but it colors the way I consider everything. All I can do is enjoy testing myself as much as possible, while I hope.

I can’t help but remember how much my mom loved movies, when they were coming of age together. She would be so proud if my name someday appears on that beloved silver screen. The thing about wonderful mothers, though…she would be just as proud of me if that never happens.

So, onward. Above and beyond, always…with necessary rest stops on the way toward the stars.

‚ÄčKilling off beloved characters is a dice roll. If it doesn’t work you’ve lost people who love the character, but if it does work you’ve got something sad and tragic, but glorious. After Hershel’s beheading nearly pushed me over the edge into stopping watching The Walking Dead and Beth’s untimely end shoved me a step farther, when I heard that Carl, not Negan, was about to bite the dust of the bitten, I just knew I was a watching goner. I stuck with it though, and now I’m glad I did.

Even though I hate that they killed Carl, they used it beautifully, making the letter he left for Rick touch his father so deeply. That he caught Negan and decided to keep him imprisoned and make him suffer by being confined, and possibly rehabilitate him over time, was a stroke of genius. It’s made it so that in a way Carl is sort of the eternal leader from the grave, because of the way his courage and strength and grace touched so many people and influenced how they can see the world in his wake. The whole thing mindblowingly dovetails. 

I don’t think it’s so very often that a longterm writing stream can take many characters and situations and fit them so perfectly together that, while you can’t see the entire picture until all the puzzle is completed, you get glimpses of fully realized story encapsulated in moments. When a moment appears like that you don’t care so much about what the future will bring, but more about savoring the moment at hand. That’s what the end of Carl’s arc felt like to me.

‚ÄčI’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.