Archives for posts with tag: screenwriting

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.

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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.

​Killing 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.

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