Thursday, July 21, 2011

Script Tips On Hiatus

My weekly Script Tips have taken a backseat to my latest projects, including a TV Pilot that has been optioned and is in development, a short I've been asked to write, and an all-new and exciting project soon to be announced: a feature that I am producing with the help of a ton of awesome filmmakers. Official news will soon be announced at my website. Thank you for stopping by!

UPDATE: January 2014

What is the saying? "We make plans...and God laughs." I don't think She actually laughs at us, but She does have her own plans for us. And so here I am two and a half years later, following a long, debilitating illness that meant I had to cancel most of my projects. (And the TV series deal fell apart. Oy.) But I'm still here to tell about it. And so a new show goes on, even if I'm not exactly what my life's show will entail. But I do know it will be joyous. Cheers!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

All Writing Helps Your Writing

Lest I allow May to escape sans a post, I will interrupt my incredibly hectic schedule to pen a quick tip...with a nod toward some of what's been keeping me too busy to write weekly script tips of late.

I just polished version five of my speech for next week's Concord Boys and Girls Champions for Kids Breakfast. Prior to that I was working feverishly on the script for the video that is to be shown there.

Any writing helps your writing. And with projects like these that remove me temporarily from the scriptwriting realm, I am reminded how important it is to practice your craft, no matter what the form.

I've also been catching up on thank you letters. And congratulatory notes. 'Tis the season of graduations. And now that my children are both post-high school, the graduation announcements are flying back and forth.

I have three recommendation letters to pen (and if any of the three stop by this blog, they will wonder why I am writing this post and not their letters). And I sent an apology to an acquaintance of mine (never mind why!).

Used to be I'd dash off a note as a warm-up to my daily scriptwriting, especially when I was in grad school. It was a good habit then, like stretching before a run. Perhaps I should resurrect the daily ritual. If not to hone my craft, then to at least return me to the habit of writing daily screenplay pages, especially now that I have several screenplays due for a project that I and my partners are preparing to launch.

Try it for yourself: write your mother, your friend, your Congressperson. Pen an editorial. Or simply tweet a cohesive message. Then dive into your screenplay, novel, short story, memoir, or what have you. And write on!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Screenwriting as a Collaborative Project

Some non-writer friends have asked if I'm ever lonely as a writer. Hardly! With all those characters in my head I always have a slew of on-going conversations. The difficulty is trying to hush them, especially when I need to sleep.

Of course admitting I hear voices may be cause for concern to some--maybe even grounds to book me in the nearest facility with a white-padded room and a chef's coat that ties in a funny way. But as a writer, if you don't hear the voices of your characters, then you should really be concerned.

The really tricky part is acting as mediator. There are always going to be active power struggles going on in your head. "Pick me!" "Write about me!" the characters invariably shout. "Listen to my side of the story!" Another bellows. "Get my story right!" Still another echoes.

And once you do--get all their stories right, that is--the voices finally quiet, satisfied with your job well done. So that when you finally hit FADE OUT, the peace begins. Until the next day when you start your newest project....

Monday, April 18, 2011

Seeking Understanding

Last week I attended a reading of Townie, the fabulous new memoir by Andre Dubus III. While it was wonderful hearing him read from his work, it was also enlightening listening to him talk about writing.

One quote about writing resonated with me in particular; it was from Hemingway who said, "The writer's job is not to judge, but to seek to understand."

With that statement I felt like a window was opened in a sauna, delivering me a much-needed cool breeze. For I have been obsessively judging one of my characters in a serial drama I'm currently writing. I've even told my students, "I hate her. She's such a bitch." And because I judge her to be selfish and mean toward her fiance, I can't begin to write her properly.

Until now. 

The quote completely frees me to examine this character's life and to seek to comprehend what she lives and experiences. I don't have to like her, but I do have to understand her. And through better understanding of her, I hope to empathize with her enough so that I can honestly write her story.

I'm actually already there. That one Hemingway line has illuminated my path. And reminded me of my job: to record the lives of my characters as they grow and breathe and live both in my head and, eventually, on the page.

"Our job is not to judge, but to seek to understand." Wouldn't it be nice if more than just writers would take that mantra to heart?

{And a small note of apology to those of you who check in for the weekly scriptwriting tip: I have been battling bronchitis for more than three weeks, and it has now developed into a sinus infection. I've never had bronchitis before; I had no idea what a walloping punch it delivered. Be well. Write daily. And read twice as much. Oh, and drink plenty of fluids....}

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Picturing Where Your Characters Are

Do you know where your characters are and where they need to go? How long does it take them to travel from location to location? Do they need to take a train? An elevator? The stairs? Knowing these details helps you keep their reality in tact for them, for you, and for an audience.

The other day as I watched a TV show that only lasted six episodes, I wondered if part of the problem for the short-lived series was its distorted sense of place. Two characters left a state prison, arguing as they walked to her car. The fellow was so upset that he decided to walk back to the city's law firm. Walk? From the state pen? Which seemed to be perched in the middle of nowhere....

Not only did it take me out of the story, but it distracted me throughout the rest of the episode. Every time anyone traveled anywhere, I questioned where they began from and how they arrived to their destination so quickly.

For one of my sci fi stories I began with a hand-scrawled wall mural of the planets and galaxies included in my characters' universe, including light and heating sources, and how far each was located from the other. It was a required step as I penned the script; well, required if I wanted to maintain a legitimacy to the rules of the universe I was creating and establishing.

Now, as I pen episodes and a show bible for a spec series I'm working on, I realize that not only is the sense of place important to keeping it real for my characters, but also to help other writers and creative artists on the series get a sense of what the characters face each time they step out on the town or shuffle through their own homes.

Which is why yesterday I sat down with an artist and gave him my quickly scrawled (and probably difficult to comprehend) sketches of some of the places in the story. Hopefully he can picture where my characters are...and help me convey that sense of place to my creative team.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reading Aloud

Today my class of 15 awesome advanced scriptwriting students and I read two scripts from a project I'm working on. We were joined by the enthusiastic and gregarious director--my creative partner in the venture. It was awesome hearing the characters come to life.

It's not the first time I've pulled together readers for my scripts. I've hosted living room readings of my pirate script with other writers and attorneys from my husband's former law firm, even providing grog and Pirate Booty. I also invited a gaggle of moms over one morning after school drop off so we could read one of my family scripts as we sat and ate brunch.

I've been helped by, and later turned around and helped the NH Film Office pull together readings of both my own and others' screenplays by seasoned local actors before an audience. And I always require my classes to read aloud each script written by students in the class. It's a fantastic way for the writer to hear what works and what doesn't quite yet convey the story.

It doesn't have to be a formal setting, nor a reading by professional actors to help you get a sense of what's working in your screen (or stage) story. But I do highly recommend hosting a reading--or finding a good friend to host one on your behalf--as one necessary step in the creative writing and rewriting process.

Recipe for a Fabulous Home Reading of a Script:
- Thin, solid three-ring binders
- Script for each reader, preferably with their part highlighted within
- Comfy seats
- Bright enough lights to read by
- Snacks & drinks (genre appropriate makes it that much more fun; if it takes place around a baseball park, you might include franks & cold beer)
- Optional: party favors (again, genre or script specific is more fun; for my family script - THE MIRROR PROPHECY - I sent every reader home with a decorative compact mirror in the shape of a UFO, since the story took place on several planets)
- Pencils
- Time for your readers to discuss the script afterwards; this is your opportunity to LISTEN. Don't get defensive, just listen to what your readers have to say. Often there are several nuggets of invaluable ideas that work their way into your revisions.
- And finally: enough time to read the script in its entirety, to take a break part way through, to mingle, to eat, to visit, and to hear feedback.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's in the cards...

I'm working on a project that involves four or five different story lines woven into 55-60 pages of script. But how to keep track of all those plots?

Color index cards, baby!

My main storyline, or my A-story, appears on pink cards. My secondary story, or B-story, is on blue. My C-story on green, D-story on yellow, and E-story is on orange.

How did I assign each story a color? Well, that part's mostly random, though the E-story was relegated to my least favorite color in the pack, since the E-story will have the fewest cards.

Utilizing the color-coded cards makes each step of the outlining process easier. First, I can brainstorm in any order I choose, writing one scene per card.

Second, as I organize the 28-32 cards in five acts, including a teaser and an epilogue, laying them out on the sofa in my office, I can easily see where I may have bunched up too much A-story without a break, or forgotten to include a bit of the C-story in the second act. A quick shuffle of the cards, and my one-hour story is beginning to take on a nice look and feel.

Once I'm happy with the card arrangement, I number them in order, and sit down to write. I can quickly type up a beat-outline from the cards, especially if I need to share it with my creative partner. Or I can simply begin writing the script, using the cards to guide me.

Next time you're faced with the blank sheet of a new project, give the cards a try. Even if your story merely consists of one major story, with perhaps an ancillary tale or two tossed in, the cards will help you brainstorm your way to a well-rounded narrative...and make order out of the chaos once you've exhausted your ideas.