Thursday, August 11, 2011

Your Story Flash Fiction Writing Contest

In the Your Story flash fiction writing contest writers of all genres may vie to place by submitting their original flash fiction manuscripts (300-500 words) for a $10 entry fee, writing their stories using one of these inspirational phrases:

"love poems for a girl"
"best chocolate in the world"
"romance village"

1st Place Winner: $200 & publication of submission on Your Story

2nd Place Winner: $150 & publication of submission on Your Story

3rd Place Winner: $50 & publication of submission on Your Story

4th Place Winner: $25 & publication of submission on Your Story

5th Place Winner: $25 & publication of submission on Your Story

Honorable Mentions: The option of having their submission published on Your Story. All non-winning entries will receive feedback from the judges to help them hone their craft.

Check it out at: http://yourstorywritingcontests.blogspot.com

Our amazing guest judges are Crymsyn Hart, Ashley Blade, and Erica Ridley.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How to Get an Agent and Other Bits of Advice

Randy Peyser is a book coach. I listened to a very informative interview with her this past weekend through a website that is called the Author Summer School. The interview was very enlightening in terms of the process of going about getting an agent and of getting published in this day and age.

Agents Receive 15,000 Manuscripts a Month!

First off, agents are very busy people. Did you know the average agent receives anywhere from 15,000 manuscripts a month? How can your manuscript stand out amongst the rest of the mush that is headed straight for the slush pile?

Peyser says you can go to writers’ conferences, where you can pitch directly to agents. But, even there, you’re probably going to be in a line with at least 50 other eager-to-be authors in front of you.

This is why you need to demonstrate what is so compelling about your book. According to Peyser, too many aspiring authors make the mistake of thinking it’s their story that is going to sell their book. The story is important too, but what agents, and publishers for that matter, are looking for is that you already have a publicity machine in place. In the end, it's all about numbers.

Social Media Following

In other words, an agent and a publisher want to see that you have an established social media following, in the form of a blog, Facebook presence and a twitter account.

If you are trying to sell your manuscript, also expect that an agent will want a synopsis of your story. And they will want three different versions of this synopsis: a five-page version, a three-page version, and a one-pager.

Peyser left one really good piece of advice. She said to call on all of your contacts to help you once your book is out. Her advice is to email everyone you know and to ask if they would help you by sending out an email to everyone in their address book once your book is released. This way, you might find that you have even more contacts that you ever imagined.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Good Article About Not Using Flashbacks in Screenplayss

I found this article in Script Magazine. I thought it said some great things about not using flashbacks in screenplays.

***

Used properly, flashbacks can be a great asset to a screenplay. So, why am I suggesting that you avoid including them in your script? Because, if you’re like the vast majority of aspiring screenwriters, you don’t use them correctly. Here are two common examples of the wrong way to use flashbacks:

  1. For exposition, as in: “Oops! I forgot to tell you this important information about the story or my character’s background, so I think I’ll pick up some of this stuff along the way, using flashbacks.” Quite simply, this results from lack of adequate planning before writing the script.
  2. To create audience sympathy for your main character, especially in a drama. For example, showing us in flashback that he was beaten up by the school bullies back when he was a kid. We don’t need to see this.

Remember, it’s always best to start your story as “late” as possible in the trajectory of your main character’s life — right before he undergoes a major dramatic change and he’s confronted with a crisis that is the central dilemma of the story. Start in the present, and stay there.

***

Read the whole article here: http://www.scriptmag.com/2011/08/01/breaking-in-its-high-noon-for-flashbacks/

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sacred Ground & Holy Water: Twisted Vagabondage Tale From Petra Jordan

Recently I have been guest-blogging on Mexico-based author, Lyn Fuchs', blog. I write a column called Vagabondage: For Travelers Who Like It Rough.

In the column, I am serializing many of my different wild journeys around the world. My most recent column chronicles my trip to Petra, Jordan, where the climactic scenes of Indiana Jones were shot.

Sacred Ground & Holy Water: Twisted Vagabondage Tale From Petra Jordan: "To get to Jordan from Israel, we took a taxi from Eilat, an Israeli beach town on the northern tip of the Red Sea, inhabited by a tribe of ..."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Awesome Post About Self-Publishing

What's your opinion about the future of self-publishing? Read what thriller author Joe Konrath has to say about it in his wonderful blog post:

The Tsunami of Crap

Some people believe the ease of self-publishing means that millions of wannabe writers will flood the market with their crummy ebooks, and the good authors will get lost in the morass, and then family values will go unprotected and the economy will collapse and the world will crash into the sun and puppies and kittens by the truckload will die horrible, screaming deaths....

Read more here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/07/tsunami-of-crap.html

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tips for Marketing Your Books


As you all know, writing your book is only half the battle. Whether you decide to traditionally publish or self-publish your work, you are still going to have to sell it.

But how? Set up a website. Blog. Tweet. We’ve all heard the tips. But what exactly are the nuts and bolts of book marketing? That’s where book coach Judy Cullins comes in.

Judy specializes in non-fiction book marketing. She calls non-fiction the books that fiction authors write to make money before they’ve made it. I recorded an excellent interview with Coach Cullins, which will be available on the Writers Radio Resource http://www.writersradioresource.com/ soon. But in the meantime, here is a synopsis of what we talked about.

How Does Your Book Benefit the Reader?

Judy says an important marketing technique is to let your audience know about how they will benefit from reading your book. In short, what will they learn? And, if this is a fictional work, what kind of experience will they receive? What kind of emotions will the reader feel when reading your work?

And for non-fiction writers... What need are you filling for your audience? It sounds simple enough, but people need to know what you book affords them before they buy it.

The Purpose of Blogging

Yes, we’ve all heard about the importance of blogging as a marketing technique. But, according to Judy, it’s not enough to just provide information about your books on your blog, or just to talk about yourself, as an author. According to Judy, your blog’s real purpose is to entertain and engage the audience. One way to do this is by asking questions. Write a post, then ask your audience to comment on the entry.

Or for fiction writers, provide a sample of your book where your main character is dealing with a particularly tough obstacle. Then ask the readers to comment about a time they have had to surmount their own obstacles.

HLAs, Huh?

HLA stands for High Level Activity. Judy told me that you must be performing three HLAs daily for you to successfully market your book. This means, each day, you must chose three marketing activities. It could be sending out an email promotion about one service, writing a blog entry, then tweeting about it. But regardless, Judy asks that we be specific. She said to write what HLAs you plan to do the night before— then do them! The more specific you are, the more apt you are to actually do what you say you’re going to do.

The Importance of LinkedIn

According to Judy, not all social media is considered equal. LinkedIn is actually one of the best social media outlets. This is because, on LinkedIn, your audience is very specific, tailored to exactly what you are selling. This is especially true when participating in all the groups on LinkedIn, which Judy said is important. In the groups, you can participate in different discussions, always adding in your URL to link people back to your site.

Your Website

Another thing Judy said is important, if you are selling a book, is to have a website. Create a website, then make it so that readers can buy your book there. If you expect readers to sift through all of the different books on the biggest ebook websites (aka Smashwords), good luck. On your website, Judy also recommends having a business that is related to your book, since you won’t really make as much money in book sales as you will through the business.

Of course, I am only scraping the surface here. We get much more in-depth in our radio interview, which I will post soon.

In the meantime, for more information about Judy Cullins, her informational blog and book-coaching services, please see her website: http://www.bookcoaching.com/.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Paying Readers to Read Your Book?

Yup, you heard it right. But this is just part of one writer's creative marketing plan.

You can see for yourself what Boyd Lemon, the author of Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages, has to say in his message to readers:

Many of you have expressed that you intend to read Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages this summer. In the spirit of some summer fun, I am offering A Blatant & Transparent Incentive for all of you who have not yet read the book – the winning Reader will receive a $200 gift certificate to a restaurant of YOUR choice.

Is there a catch? You bet there is! But it’s as easy as 1-2-3 to qualify!

1. Purchase your copy of my book (Kindle or print edition), DIGGING DEEP, either from Amazon, or directly from my website by Sunday, July 31, 2011.

2. Read the book.

3. Write a review (it doesn’t have to be long or erudite), post it on Amazon.com before August 14th, and send a copy of your review to me at Boyd@BoydLemon-Writer.com; if you bought it from Amazon, be sure to include a copy of your purchase receipt or order confirmation as well.

That’s it! I will draw the name of the WINNER-READER on Monday August 15th.

http://www.BoydLemon-Writer.com

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Norm Spitzig -- Another Indie Author Making It Happen

Meet another indie writer, who is doing it all on his own, with great results. Norm Spitzig is the author of not just one but two books, Private Clubs in America and Around the World and Murder and Mayhem at Old Bunbury.

At one point, Private Clubs in America and Around the World climbed into Amazon's “top ten humor books.” Spitzig is also pleased to report that both books have been quite profitable.

Private Clubs is a comical look into the unique world of private clubs. Private clubs are inextricably woven into the very fabric of America’s history, traditions, and culture—and for that matter, the histories, traditions, and cultures of all free societies around the world. Members, employees, and guests alike will enjoy the Spitzig’s penetrating insights, off-beat humor, blatant irreverence, and sarcastic wit.

Murder and Mayhem at Old Bunbury, on the other hand, is a murder-mystery. Board of Directors President Clive and waitress-extraordinaire Esther team up to solve a gruesome murder at one of the world’s most private clubs–the Old Bunbury Golf Links & Reading Club.

Spitzig’s books are published through Dog Ear Publishing. I wanted to know why he chose that publishing company in particular.

"I chose Dog Ear over both the 'traditional-get-a-literary-agent' approach—I had several who expressed interest—and other self-publishing companies for a number of reasons: Dog Ear let me set the price of my book, Dog Ear's reputation for professional, extensive, and timely publishing services was impeccable, Dog Ear's three principals all previously worked in the traditional book publishing world and are very knowledgeable, and Dog Ear let me retain complete editorial control. In retrospect, the decision turned out to be a very good one. I will almost surely use them for my next book, a humorous memoir of 'life-lessons-learned.' "

Like other indie authors, choosing to self-publish left Spitzig with the job to do all of his own publicity. I asked Norm how he has gotten the word out about his book.

"I've been working in the private club industry for over three decades, first as a General Manager of several fine private clubs, and, for the past decade, as a Principal of Master Club Advisors—a leading worldwide executive placement and consulting firm for the private club industry. As you might expect, I have a lot of contacts in the industry and many of my friends and associates were kind enough to recommend and purchase my books, both to/for themselves as well as their bosses and employees. Both books have done quite well both here in the United States as well as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and England. Interestingly, they have recently caught on as holiday gifts for private club Boards of Directors as well as favors for Member-Guest Golf Tournaments."

Still, I wanted to know if Norm had employed a professional publicist to help him with the marketing of his book.

"While I've done the majority of marketing myself (primarily through e-mail, LinkedIn, and Twitter), I did use the excellent services of Todd Rutherford to also help 'get the word out.' Todd is a talented and hard-working writing, publishing and book marketing coach, and owner of both AfterwordMarketing.com and AskthePublishingGuru.com. He's unquestionably ethical, very well-connected, and a true gentleman."

I was also impressed with Norm’s website. I wanted to know who helped him.

"I chose the Dog Ear package that included their development and maintenance of my books' web site. A fair number of my book purchases come directly through this site, with purchase directly from me the second my popular source, and Amazon a distant third."

Purchase the books at www.CliveEndiveOgiveIV.com

Watch Spitzig's two book trailers:


Friday, July 1, 2011

Toxic Feedback. We've All Received It. Joni Cole Tells Us What to Do About It

We’ve all experienced it. A brutal critique of our writing that has sent our little hearts a-fluttering and our self-esteem plummeting to the floor.

It is every writer's hope to find a supportive community in which to nurture our writing. Joni B. Cole, a writer, writing teacher, essayist and a 2011 Pushcart Prize nominee, wants to help writers find this creative utopia by learning to give as well as get better feedback. She hopes to achieve this through her book, Toxic Feedback.

Why did you decide to write Toxic Feedback?


About twelve years ago, in one of the writing workshops I teach, I learned that several of the participants were either refugees from previous classes where they had experienced toxic feedback, or were closet writers terrified to go public.

At that first meeting, I did a timed writing exercise and then invited participants to share what they had written. As usual, the panic was palpable. I remember one fellow in particular whose hands and voice shook as he read his exercise aloud.

Where was this fear coming from? Years of doing my own workshop had taught me that feedback doesn’t have be something writers dread or endure. In fact, when the process is managed properly, feedback is nothing but positive, even when it’s critical.

Seeing that writer’s hands shake as he read his piece aloud, I didn’t exactly think in that moment—hey, I’m onto a good book idea here. But it did register that this issue was real and really mattered. Almost every writer in that room, including me, had experienced toxic feedback at some point. And that’s when it hit me. This isn’t right. I wanted to do something about it.

What kind of a resource do you hope Toxic Feedback can provide for writers?


The general goal of the book is to raise people’s consciousness about how we give and receive feedback in the writing realm, and the world in general. Put another way, my goal, lofty as it may sound, is to help writers write more, write better, and be happier.

When does feedback get toxic?


My definition of toxic feedback is anything that undermines the writer or the writing. Which is not to say that negative feedback (or constructive criticism, to put it more nicely) is inherently toxic. In fact, far from it. Writers actually want to hear what they are doing wrong in order to fix it. But constructive criticism can easily turn toxic if the feedback provider gets lazy, or forgets that the exchange is all about what the writer needs right then, to move her work forward.

For example, writers can handle specifics; it’s the generalities that bring them to their knees. Yet too many feedback providers toss off easy (and dismissive) responses: “I don’t get it…” “This is boring…” Another example: red-penciling a manuscript to death—even if your heart is in the right place—usually comes across as toxic. Remember, some writers can choke on a crumb, so don’t get carried away with your brilliant insights. If you deliver your feedback in measured quantities, and with appreciation for what the writer has already achieved on the page, then she is much more likely to actually hear your feedback, and process it more effectively.

What are your tenets for providing feedback?


Here is the most important one: spend as much time (if not more) on positive feedback. What specifically is working in the text? Where were you blown away in the story? What passages exemplify good writing? Obviously, this kind of positive feedback is lovely for the writer to hear, and for that reason alone it’s important. But more to the point, positive feedback is hugely instructive in helping the writer build her story from its strengths up with confidence and direction.

***

Joni B. Cole is the author of the forthcoming book, Another Bad-Dog Book: Tales of Life, Love, and Neurotic Human Behavior (PublishingWorks), Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and the anthology, Water Cooler Diaries: Women Across America Share Their Day at Work.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Three Examples of Great Hooks

I've written some about story hooks in previous posts. Here are three wonderful examples of excellent story hooks from the winners of Narrative Magazine's Winter Story Contest.

Now I know why these stories won...

Read the hooks for yourself:

FIRST PLACE
Christmas Eve
by Kevin A. González
“TWO DAYS AGO, my father was making French fries and started a fire in her kitchen. It didn’t spread too bad, but the cabinets all melted and the stove was a total loss. When I heard the sirens from the pool, I knew it was my father: it’s not the first place he’s burned down.”

SECOND PLACE
Maine Night
by Debra Spark
“IN NORMAL FAMILIES, a late-night phone call means only one thing: tragedy. A drunken mishap. A car crash. A heart giving out. Maybe a decapitation or a roadside bomb, the twenty-first century offering an escalating range of horrors. But the Pearlmans are not a normal family.”

THIRD PLACE
Fatherland
by Viet Thanh Nguyen
“EVEN AFTER A WEEK in Saigon, Vivien would appear no more of a native than on the day she arrived. On the streets, she was easily mistaken for a Korean businessman’s frazzled wife or a weary Japanese tourist, her frosting of makeup melting under the tropical glare.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hard Boiled True Crime Served Up Hot: Meet Jeannie Walker

I want to introduce you all to an exceptional individual, Jeannie Walker, who self-published her true-crime memoir, Fighting the Devil, which chronicles the story of how the father of her children was poisoned to death by his new wife and bookkeeper and the legal case that ensued.

Walker was a 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards True Crime Finalist and a 2010 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Awards True Crime Finalist.

Shares Walker: “My book is the horrifying true story of the cold-blooded murder of my ex-husband, a Texas millionaire and the father of my children. I wrote the book to speak for my ex-husband as he no longer has a voice.”

Here’s the synopsis of Fighting the Devil:

In the midst of Texas ranch country, on a quiet and peaceful spring day, a 49-year-old millionaire rancher sat down to lunch with his wife and bookkeeper, as he often did. Less than half an hour later, he was deathly ill, with stomach pains, severe vomiting and intense intestinal distress. Three weeks later, he was dead from a mysterious illness. His wife seemed to show no emotion when she learned of his death. However, his bookkeeper became very nervous and upset upon hearing the news, and ran through the hospital corridor to the nearest elevator.

The Texas millionaire rancher discovered his wife and bookkeeper had stolen thousands of dollars from him. After he demanded the money back, he started getting sick. While in the hospital, doctors were mystified as to how an otherwise healthy, energetic man could become so deathly ill. The dying man told everyone within earshot that his wife and bookkeeper were killing him. The man's wife said her husband was hallucinating from drugs the doctors were giving him. The millionaire rancher succumbed in the hospital while strapped down to his bed with restraints on his hands and feet and tubes in every orifice. After the rancher died, an anonymous caller tipped off the police. The widow was the sole beneficiary of the estate and a $350,000 life insurance policy. A week before the man's death, a teenager visited the rancher's home and became deathly ill after he drank juice that was in the rancher's refrigerator. Two years after the millionaire's death, a bottle of arsenic was found in a storage locker rented by a woman under an assumed name. That’s when Jeannie Walker, the mother of his children, became a sleuth to help solve the murder.

I asked Walker some questions about her book. Primarly, I wanted to know why she felt that she alone was the person to take on this monumental task.

“I set out to seek justice,” shares Walker, “because it was something I had to do for my children’s sake. "


Why did you decide to write a book on this murder case?

“The story was on TV at least twice. The last time was in 2005 on the Oxygen Channel series Snapped. Everyone kept telling me I needed to write a book on the case, because they wanted to read it. I knew more about my ex-husband and the murder case than anyone, so I finally decided I needed to write a book about the murder case, which, by the way, is still an open murder case.

Why did you feel the need to give a voice to your ex-husband, who no longer had one?

“Because it was the right thing to do.”

Why did you feel you were the right person to do it? 



“Over the years that followed the murder, I collected information, studied things for the sheriff’s office and became a key player in the team that held one woman accountable for Sternadel’s [Walker’s ex’s]death.

“I started taking notes on the plane ride from my home in Long Island, N.Y., to Texas for the funeral of my ex-husband. I started writing down the thoughts that were racing through my mind. That note taking was paired with the snapshots I took during my first visit after the murder. After I met with the chief investigator, Clay County Sheriff Jake Bogard, I started getting deep into the case. I made phone calls, talked to specialists and did large investigation projects the county could not afford or did not have the resources to do. The sheriff would call and ask me, ‘Do you think you could help us out on this?’

“In the book, I recall getting questioned by some of the people I called, such as the head of the FBI, John Douglas, who questioned, ‘What agency are you with?’ The sheriff fixed that problem for me. He had me put my hand on a Bible, and, over the phone, he swore me in as a deputy.

“As I continued to search for justice, I continued to take snapshots and keep notes. I was encouraged by the Sheriff to record interviews if I could, too. I started documenting my memories and put them in a folder. I would write down what was said in an interview and transcribe the tape if I recorded it. People would tell me, ‘This needs to be a book, and you’re the one to write it.’ I started thinking I need to write a book about this.

“I would write, then would put the book aside. Then something would trigger me, and I would write some more, then put it aside. I had folders and folders and folders to go through, and I basically wrote three or four books.

“For a while I struggled with how to end the book. The bookkeeper, Debra Baker, who was convicted of First Degree Murder of my ex-husband, was given probation by the jury. That’s not a very good ending.

“But in 2003, Debra Baker was put in prison after she violated the terms of her probation. This again triggered me to pick up and start writing. But this time, I had an ending— at least one suspect was behind bars.

Is the book self-published?



“Yes. After I finished writing the book, I didn't want to wait for a traditional publisher to decide whether or not to publish it. I wanted it published right away.

“One of the steps I am taking to market my book is by being giving interviews, such as this interview for your readers.

“This book was very difficult to write. I still cannot help but cry when I think about at certain parts that I felt I had to put in the book, since it is a true story. But, I am glad I wrote the book to speak for my ex-husband, who no longer has a voice, and to let others know that if their lives are ever touched by anything as horrific as a murder; that they have the ability and the right to become their loved one's advocate, and if necessary their own, real-life Sherlock Holmes."


Friday, June 24, 2011

The Future of Freelance Writing. Is There One?

Everyone knows: Print mags are folding. Their spines are becoming slimmer and slimmer. Newspapers are on-line. Print journals are becoming a relic of the past.

Is there a freelance market anymore? I spoke with journalist Kristi Singer about this very fact. Singer specializes in entertainment reporting and music journalism. You can learn more about her writing on her blog: http://kristisingerisalmostfamous.wordpress.com

“Sadly, I want to be honest here and say it is a very tough time for writers," says Singer. "Magazines and newspapers were the bread and butter of the freelance writer. Now so many magazines are folding because advertisers can't afford to advertise. Content is so readily available for free online as well."

Advice for Freelancers in a Difficult Time

“I would say just be persistent," shares Singer, "make the connections, network and don't give up if this is what you want to do. Many online magazines, blogs and websites have to use writers as well as print.

I do have a few common sense rules though:

1) Don't ever write for free. It causes a downward slide in the pay scale for all writers across the board.

2) If you are starting out as a freelance writer, keep your part or full time job until you know that you will make enough to survive.

You Still Want to Be a Freelance Writer. How Does One Break In?

“The answer is that there are many routes, like with any career. You may get your start at the college newspaper and make contacts with local media. Others write as a hobby and on a whim submit a story for publication and are often times surprised that they get accepted. I think the bottom line - with any form of art - is that if it's good, it's good. If you have natural talent, it won't go unnoticed no matter which route you take."

Networking

"If you are serious about a freelance writing career," says Singer, "you have to be very organized, deadline oriented and understand the importance of networking and timing. Join websites for writers and definitely LinkedIn and Facebook. Create a website or blog with your work that you can send potential clients/editors to. Then, start researching. If your focus is music, look up every music magazine and website you can find and start contacting them. Eventually you will get someone who needs you and your journey will begin.

Finding Your Niche: Kristi’s Is Music

“Finding your niche as a writer I think begins with your interests and passions. I chose music and entertainment because that was my love and slight obsession. I knew all of the bands and songs on the radio and was excited to learn about everything 'behind the music.

"If you want to go the music journalism route, you will have to build relationships with bands, managers, local clubs, promoters, record labels, etc. It may be difficult to do initially, but eventually they will recognize your name and respond quickly.

"My relationships in the entertainment/music business began while I was in college writing for the university's newspaper. I became friends with the local bands, went to concerts that came to town, became friends with local DJ's who got me access to backstage and interviews artists I probably might not have had the chance to get to as easily on my own. I networked and made friends. And I'd say it was a snowball effect."

Singer's Advice for the Aspiring Freelancer?

- Write about those things you are passionate about. Otherwise it will become work too quickly.

- Don't be discouraged when you get your first, second, third and fourth "no." That just means you are one editor closer to a "yes."

- Network, network, network.

- Promote yourself. Sell yourself. You are your own business.

- Be organized and pay attention.

- Don't give up on your dream and pursue it no matter who believes in you or who doesn't.

- Enjoy the feeling of seeing your byline and be happy about it. You earned it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Brainstorming Consequences for Your Characters

Here's a really wonderful post I found on Jurgen Wolff's Time to Write blog about mapping out different options for consequences to your character's actions.

http://timetowrite.blogs.com/weblog/2011/06/need-ideas-for-your-novel-or-screenplay-plot-try-consequences-mapping.html

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How to Write a Scene with Cecilia Russell of How Movies Work

Writing compelling scenes is the basis of any good screenplay, novel or short story for that matter. But how does one do this?

Practice, practice, practice

According to Cecilia Russell of How Movies Work, the only way to get better at writing scenes is to practice

“It’s like playing scales for a concert pianist, or practicing a putt for a golfer," says Russell.

“One of the things that used to mess up my ability to write was the idea that I needed to 'know' what I was writing in order to write something. So not true. Writing characters, dialogue, conflict, subtext, action narration doesn’t require a story. It doesn’t require a reason to write. You don’t wait to practice your craft when you are in a situation where you have to perform. You practice so you can perform. Big difference.

“Also, there’s something magical about practicing writing without an intended product. For so many of us, especially those who are producers and professional copywriters, we’ve been to school in structure, [told to] outline heavily before you start writing. For some, it shuts down another avenue for accessing your story – writing purely through character.

“When you let your characters speak, roam around and find their internal direction you can often find your story that way too. The characters are more liberated to act when they aren’t constrained by your roadmap.”

The tennis match

In order to practice writing scenes, Russell came up with all the different types of scenes that she typically reads in scripts. 

One of these basic conflict scenes between two or more people Russell calls the “tennis match.”

“One character serves up the problem, the other character answers, deflects, lobs, changes the problem or loses the point. There’s two people NOT talking about the conflict. Then there’s pure action. There’s a scene that creates tension and suspense. A scene that introduces and reveals character. Another where a character is challenged to change his/her core wound (what we call the internal character flaw that’s the core of the hero’s journey). As a writer, you want to know how to do every one of these scenes artfully. It’s so much easier if you practice before you are ‘in the game.’ "

What are the components that need to be in each scene?

According to Russell, each scene needs change.

“Something needs to change or be different between the beginning of the scene and the end of the scene, whether that’s emotional, informational or physical. Sometimes it’s all three.”

Also:
- Every character has to have a desire or a motivation.
- They need a willingness or lack of willingness to reveal their desire or motivation.
- Conflict must occur. Either as a result of the characters’ actions or differing desires or as an outside conflict (a bomb explodes).
- The end of the scene reveals a new conflict that will need another scene to resolve it.

Other tips for showing more in scenes and telling less?

Russell advises:

1. Imagine having to write your story without dialogue. How would that change your scenes?

2. Play with character who lie and missing information. When a character lies or has limited knowledge, the writer has to SHOW how they are lying. The story tends to reveal itself in action, not words.

3. Remember the audience is smart and looking for story connections. If you show a gun, you assume someone’s going to use it. If a character says they are happier than they have ever been in their lives, you assume that something bad is going to happen. 

Learn more about the workshops that Cecilia Russell offers on her website www.howmovieswork.com. Her next scene writing class starts next Wednedsay night, June 22cd, 6-9pm. It's online, $279 for 9 weeks. Click here: http://wp.me/P1hbAr-fm to get a 20% discount: $237!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Meet the Great White Agent, Janet Reid

Hey everyone, I had the pleasure – yes, I will repeat – pleasure of interviewing the ultimate sharktress, Janet Reid of Query Shark, yesterday for my new radio program, The Writers Radio Resource.

I am happy to report that I am still here, all limbs attached. Reid's bark isn’t all that bad either, even if she does maul queries.

According to Reid, she tears apart our queries for our own good. And she said so without an ounce of snarkiness (sharkiness?). The fact of the matter is, how else are we going to learn to write queries? Reid shared that publishers and agents used to do aspiring authors a serious disservice by demanding that they know how to write the perfect query without giving them any of the tools as to how to do so.

That’s like demanding someone become a virtuoso piano player without lessons. Impossible, right? Luckily we now have Query Shark.

The idea of Query Shark is not to mock the attempts of aspiring writers to pen queries, but to show how not to write queries through example. You can lecture writers all you want as to how to write a query, but if you can’t give any examples, how does one expect writers to learn?

Enter Query Shark.

So how does a writer write the perfect query. I queried Reid.

“It needs to entice me,” said Reid.

Okay, so what does that mean?

One tip Reid shared was to include at the top:

Who is/are the main character/central characters?

What’s the setup?

What are the stakes?

The higher the stakes, the better the story, people. If you want to learn how to raise the stakes in your story, you can read my blog post dedicated to the subject.

Sounds simple, right?

Not necessarily, says Reid. "Like anything simple, this is hard."

Oh, and don’t brag about how your book is the best book ever written. Your work will speak for itself

Reid also added that, as a fiction writer, it doesn’t make a difference if you have a big social media following.

“Writers who spend all their time on social media aren’t writing,” says Reid.

I don’t totally agree with that. You can’t spend all your time on social networking, but a little is fine. I don’t think it hurts to arrive on an agent’s doorstep with just a bit of a built-in following.

But what do I know?

I guess what Reid is saying in a nutshell is, if the book's good, she can sell it, regardless of how many friends you have on Facebook. Besides, it’s got to be more than just your grandma and all your nephews and nieces who are going to buy your book anyhow.

I’ll let you know when I have the entire interview posted.

E-Book Success Story -- Diary of a Mad Fat Girl

Are you questioning whether you can really achieve success if you do choose to self-publish your novel?

Let me tell you about one success story, which comes in the form of an author who was a total unknown until recently, who goes by the name of Stephanie McAfee, who last year decided to make her novel, Diary of a Mad Fat Girl, available digitally.

Says McAfee:

"It's a crazy story. I listed [Diary of a Mad Fat Girl] on Amazon's KDP website on Christmas day of last year and put in on Barnes & Noble's PubIt! on February 4, 2011. It made the New York Times Bestsellers list in the fiction/ebook category on March 27, 2011 and managed to hang in there for ten weeks. It also made the combined print/ebook list the week of its debut and was on there for 3 weeks. Needless to say, when the book appeared on the Times list, that's when I started getting emails from agents and publishers. I signed on with LJK Literary Management at the end of March and had a three-book deal with Penguin by the end of April. See what I mean? Crazy.

"It's been a whirlwind experience (to say the least) and the shock has yet to wear off. I am a high-school teacher from Mississippi, who quit a great job when my husband joined the Army and couldn't find another one when we relocated to Colorado. In March of last year, I decided to give the 'book writing dream' one last shot and wrote Diary of a Mad Fat Girl around my son's nap schedule. I thought I'd sell about six books and have to buy three of those myself. The entire experience has been humbling, scary, stressful, unbelievable, and incredibly exciting all at the same time."

Learn more about Stephanie McAfee here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is There Life for a Screenwriter Outside of L.A.?

According to Lisa Walker England, a screenwriter living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there is.

“I have sold a short that is set to go into production this summer,” says England. “In addition, I have just been offered a job, developing and writing a full-length feature for an independent production company in Los Angeles. (I was offered the gig based on sample pages from my spec scripts.) It’s still early in the contract negotiation process, so I can’t say more about the project at this time. I am working on finishing several other specs and have a children’s book under official consideration at a respected publishing house.”

So why not just move to LA?

England lists the cost of living as one of the reasons she stays put in Milwaukee.

But there is another great thing about her unpaid internship at the Wisconsin Arts Board.

Huh, say that again?

“When I arrived on the first day, I found out that my new boss was a board member of Film Wisconsin, the equivalent of the state film commission. Cha-ching! Not long afterward, he ‘loaned’ me to an Emmy-winning writer/director, who, in turn, invited me to collaborate with him on several professional projects. I can’t describe for you the opportunities that are opening up because of that partnership – all because of an internship outside LA that people told me was a ‘waste of time.’ If I were a young writer in LA, I’m convinced my knuckles would be bloody by now from all the locked doors I’d be banging on, just trying to slide my resume or script sample inside."

Less competition outside of LA

England also cites less competition as one of the reasons she enjoys living outside of LA.

“Why live in a town where you’re just one of nine million other hungry people, all at the same skill level as you, all competing for the same tiny pool of gigs? Why not live in a town where the scarcity of your kind breeds some demand? The challenge is: you have to develop the creativity, innovation and foresight that can turn your small fish pond into that stepping-stone opportunity.”

Fresh, original content

Tired of only seeing movies and TV programs about LA? So is Lisa Walker England.

“I cannot believe how many movies are shot in L.A., about L.A.,” says England. “I mean, really? The world is full of fascinating places with fascinating stories! I’ve been told repeatedly by LA-based writers that LA is starved for fresh, different content set in unique locations. I’ve found that advice to be so true. If you’re not in LA, use your location to your advantage! Cultivate an artistic voice, characters and situations that will get noticed in LA precisely because they’re not about LA. I personally think it’s harder to maintain originality if you’re surrounded by the often-myopic Southern California culture. Even if you try, it’s just hard to maintain a really strong grip on other places in the world.

"This does not mean I won’t move to LA at some point; it just means that I’m actively discovering and leveraging the advantages of not currently being there. And that’s my whole message: don’t allow conventional wisdom about your circumstances to sabotage your career.

"There is life outside LA! If you, like me, live far outside the City of the Angels, get busy discovering the resources that are at your disposal – and figure out how you can leverage those resources as strengths to bolster your LA pursuits."

Finally, how does one stay connected with other screenwriters?

Says England: "I stay active in many different organizations – screenwriters’ associations in LA and in my home area, social networking via LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook, meeting other writers in the area face-to-face. In short, as everything else I’ve said, it takes WORK (and probably extra work). But especially with the social media platforms we have today, if you don’t stay connected and meet new writers, it’s your own fault. Honestly.

"You’ll also need to be willing and able to invest money in periodic trips to Los Angeles for conferences, networking, pitching, etc. And you must develop a strategic plan for keeping up those relationships via social media after you leave town. Time and time again, I find that these relationships – the one’s I’ve built successfully from afar after a single face-to-face encounter – are the ones that yield valuable opportunities and wisdom.

"I’ll admit that I’ve had an added advantage in that I’m an alum of the 2010 writing program at Act One: Hollywood Above the Line (http://www.actoneprogram.com/). It’s an intensive program that allows a select group of young writers to learn the craft from Hollywood insiders and then participate in an ongoing mentoring program with working Industry writers. The Act One community of faculty, alums and staff are a huge source of connections, opportunities and professional growth for me.

Get in touch!

Says England: "I’d love to get to know your readers! If you’re intrigued by this approach (or disturbed!) or want to share your own story, feel free! Shout out to me at JourneyCraft via social media: LinkedIn, Twitter @JourneyCraft or my website: Journeycraft.tv. In fact, as a thank-you for contacting me, I’ll send you a free brochure I’ve developed, packed with tips for maximizing your opportunities outside the LA market."

Friday, June 10, 2011

What's at Stake and Giving Your Story a Sense of Urgency

What's at Stake?

Each main character of every story needs to be facing serious struggles for the story to keep the reader's interest.

Writers are continually told to create a life-and-death issue for the protagonist, but this "does not mean that every protagonist must face death in every story," says Nancy Ellen Dodd in her new how-to-write tome, The Writer's Compass.

"It means making the stakes as high as you can crank them so that to this protagonist at this time in his life on this day it feels like a life-and-death issue."

I see this problem in many writers' work I consult on.

I must admit that I have trouble with this very issue myself.

I like what Dodd has to say here: "The seriousness is not measured by whether the issue is life or death, rather by the intensity of the desire."

Dodd asks us to explore several issues in determining what the stakes of our story are:

1. What's at stake for your protagonist?

2. How serious is the outcome?

3. Is this the most important issue in the protagonist's life at this time, and will the outcome determine the course of his life to be the best or the worst it can be?

4. Is what's at stake organic to the characters and what really matters for this story?

5. Does what's at stake become more intense when you consider the setting, the people, the circumstances and the obstacles?

What's at stake for the main character definitely needs to made clear in the beginning of the story, before the character decides to jump into the action of act two.

According to Dodd, "The thread that pulls the reader through the story is knowing what's at stake for the protagonist if he or she falls."

A Sense of Urgency

One way to build a sense of urgency is create high stakes for your main character.

However, not every story is a thriller with a ticking time bomb.

Dodd also shares that we can create this sense of urgency in our story by tightening the story "to occur in as short a time period as possible. A story with a quicker pace tends to have more intensity than a slower-paced story."

Another way to increase the story's urgency, opines Dodd, is through "the goal you give the protagonist. Is there a time issue in that the goal needs to be accomplished or met by a certain date or time? If Jerry doesn't arrive in time, his best friend is going to marry the antagonist, who Jerry knows has three other wives."

Dodd says that this is "a countdown [but] of a different nature than a ticking bomb."

According to Dodd, "a countdown can also be accomplished by the way things are changing in the world or in the protagonist or in another character. If something doesn't happen to stop the change, it will soon be irreversible. Emotions developing from good to bad to worse can be a type of countdown."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Secrets of Pitching for TV

On our most recent edition of the Writers' Radio Resource, I interview Mark Simon of Sell Your TV Concept Now about the best ways to get your TV idea made into a TV show.

Listen to the interview here.

Here's what the show's about:
In a business starved for 600 channels worth of content, it is still a huge challenge to write for TV. Why? Because writers and concept creatives at large don’t have the foggiest idea how to pitch an executive.

Enter Mark Simon of Sell Your TV Concept Now. Mark has conceived, storyboarded and presented nearly 3000 TV concepts for many major networks. He now consults with creatives on how to get their ideas produced. In addition to providing (at least) 10 pitching commandments as a guideline, he stands steadfast by the belief that TV concepts hinge on the critical trifecta of character, relationships, and story. Seems simple…well it’s not.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Radio Interview With Producer Adam Coplan

Today, on the Writers Radio Resource, I interview producer Adam Coplan about what it takes to sell your screenplay.

Go here to listen to the interview.

Over the course of his career, screenplay critic Adam Coplan has swam with producing sharks Joel Silver and Scott Rudin. One of his primary roles was to sift through the avalanche of submitted screenplays, judging instantly which ones to pass along and which to toss in the bin. Coplan acknowledges that most movies are entirely derivative of the past — a formula — yet these movies are greenlit all the time. Coplan issues aspiring screenwriters this tall order — offer originality in a world of predictability. On this edition of Writers Radio Resource, learn about “high concept”, where to focus storytelling energies, and creating a realistic scope for your project. And perhaps your piece will have a chance to actually escape that trash heap.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Who Says Fiction Authors Can't Be Great Marketers?

Let’s face it, as fiction writers we can be some of the worst businesspeople on the planet. But we don’t have to be. With a savvy marketing campaign, you can even learn to market your fiction writing.

I listened to a great webinar last night by Emily Craven of E-Book Revolution. I will blog some of the other things she said about e-publishing in another post. But for now, here are some of her tips about marketing your book as a fiction writer.

Facebook

Join interest groups and promote your work there.

My two cents worth: Don’t abuse this or you’ll come off as spammy. You have to become part of the community, comment on others writer’s work too. It can’t be all about you (even though many of us narcissistic writers would love it to be).

Free stuff

Yes, everyone likes free stuff. With the purchase of your novel or short story collection, why not include a free short story? Once you create a fan base, your fans will be dying to get their hands on more of your work.

Why not also give away free audio copies of your book? It’s a great way to create a buzz around your work.

And when you’re writing that new book, consider also giving away a free chapter online that people can read.

Trailers

Shoot a trailer of your book or pay someone to do it for you. Then post that trailer on youtube.

Engage your audience

I just found something interesting on author Jim Brown's website. Brown offers turning you, the reader, into a character in his next novel if you sign up for his newsletter before he’s done with the book.

These are all but a few of the ways for us as fiction writers to market ourselves.

More About the Hook and Plot Structure With Story Deconstructionist Larry Brooks

I recently discovered writing coach Larry Brook's website, Storyfix. Brooks offers some great tips about the hook, which you, if you read my blog, might have deduced I've been studying a lot about lately.


Says Brooks: "The mission of a hook is to grab the reader early – very early – by establishing dramatic tension or posing a question (a can of worms) that compels further interest and promises a rewarding ride.  Sometimes it’s huge, sometimes more subtle."


Brooks continues to deconstruct other aspects of plot as well as the hook, utilizing Kathryn Sockett's The Help as a model. http://storyfix.com/the-help-structure-from-10000-feet


I recommend Brook's site as a great resource for writers who want to learn more about plotting.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Addendum to the Hook Thanks to Mark O'Bannon

Just came upon another really interesting idea for your story's hook.

Hook your audience by introducing an element of mystery into the opening of your story.

I read about this in author Mark O'Bannon's free e-book, entitled How to Tell a Story, which you can find on his website, www.BetterStorytelling.net.

This book is very simple, only 31 pages. But I actually use it a lot to help me plot out my stories.

Perhaps because it is so simple, it helps one cut to the chase and plot out a simple method to tell your story, instead of a convoluted one.

O'Bannon bases his storytelling techniques on his years of study of story structure as well as on John Truby's methods.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

More About the Hook

I recently blogged about Nancy Ellen Dodd’s new book, The Writer’s Compass.

In this book, Dodd writes about the hook, or that sentence or paragraph your short story or novel begins with, which is supposed to pull in readers.

I honestly have not spent a lot of time thinking about the hook. Obviously I know that there has to be some interesting line or paragraph at the top of your story that entices readers. But I didn’t know how to construct one.

I am looking into Dodd’s book because she has some good tips about constructing the hook of your story. This is mainly because I am having some short stories I wrote professionally edited (read: I’m being professionally told just how much time I have to spend rewriting them). The editor advised that I rewrite my hooks.

In terms of the hook, Dodd asks us first to define who our audience is. “If you know your audience, then you should know or learn what interests them.”

Your Hook Can Be Founded In Current Events

Dodd also suggests we find ways to interest our readers through current events.

"What do people care about? What are they thinking about as you write your
book? How can you incorporate something from today into your story hook? What
are the concerns or fears of this particular audience? Is there a new science
discovery or a major catastrophic event or a political scandal or war that will
be on people’s minds? Your story may not have anything to do with that event
(you don’t want to date your book by being too specific to a reader of a certain
era), but it may have impacted your protagonist and how she is thinking, just as
it has your reader. The story may have evolved from that moment or be what is in
the back of the minds of the characters in your story world. You don’t even have
to mention the event, but you might allude to it in a way that your reader will
get the comparison."

The Theme of Your Story Can Be Your Hook

Another way that Dodd advises we mine for our hook is “by placing the dramatic question or your theme in your hook.”

The theme of your story is the “over-arching message you want your story to convey to your audience.”

Dodd argues that if “the writer’s theme doesn’t come across clearly, the reader is left unsure about what they are supposed to take away from the story.”

Mnemonic Device as a Hook

Dodd explains that a “mnemonic device is used to plant a word or a thought in someone’s mind, often through an image or a metaphor that represents an idea. Every time that device is mentioned, the reader’s subconscious remembers the idea that was planted.”

Dodd uses the example of the word “green.” Green can mean jealousy or environmentally protective.

Her example of a mnemonic hook for the word green is: “Now that I’m not green anymore, I don’t know who I am.”

In the above case, green can also mean Kermit. But in the very least, the sentence is mysterious and therefore pulls the reader in as he now wants to know more.

Anyhow, I hope this sheds a little more light on what the hook of your story is. It does for me, and now I have a better idea of how to recraft the hook for my short stories.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Creating Character "Windows" Through the Performance of Mundane Activities

Last night, in the writers group I participate in, one of the writers had a great window into his main character’s flaw. The only problem was that this window came on about page 45 of his script when we should have already started getting a whiff of it on pages 1-5.

This writer’s main character flaw was that the protagonist was a petulant, self-centered spoiled brat, who jumped into action impulsively without thinking because he had grown up rich and therefore thought he ruled the world.

He was also a very “wounded child”, meaning his father had abandoned him at a young age, but still demanded that the son oversee the family’s wealth as the son was a businessman. The character had a lot of issues about his father, as any of us would. But sometimes he was just a bit too precious.

While I was commenting on this fact, the writer asked me what my recommendations were for showing this flaw in the earlier scenes of his script. I tried to brainstorm a few methods on the spot, but didn't think of one great way to give insight into what a character is all about until this morning, as I sit here, slogging through a rewrite of my own work.

Provide insight into who your character is by showing how they perform mundane tasks.

Many screenplays and other stories begin with the main character waking up in the morning. While this might seem rote to some, one of the uses of this technique is in demonstrating how characters react to the mundane details of their life.

For example: A very uptight person is going to clean up his breakfast plates in a very different way than a slovenly, rather “liberal” person might, who might not even bother cleaning up his breakfast plates at all.

And what if these two different characters happen to drop a glass on the floor? They are both going to have a very different reaction.

The uptight character might overreact to the glass breaking, while the more slovenly person might under-react and perhaps not clean up the broken shards all that well. Then he ends up stepping on one of the shards later, lodging it in his foot, his penance for being such a slob.

You as the writer can then bring in other characters to these mundane situations. The uptight character, who perhaps is already late for work, might lose his stack the second his wife walks in the room, misdirecting his anger at himself for breaking a glass against her.

The slovenly guy, on the other hand, perhaps tries to shirk responsibility for his own accident, seeing if his wife can clean up the mess for him.

Both instances are both flaws that a character would have to confront during the course of his journey.

This is a great way to show character, instead of telling.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Major Elements of Story According to Nancy Ellen Dodd

I was lucky enough to recently learn about a writer, writing teacher and author of The Writer's Compass, a wonderful how-to-write tome that is now available for presale and which will be available for regular sale the second week of June. Her name is Nancy Ellen Dodd, and she teaches writing at Pepperdine University.

Dodd and I have been in contact, and I wanted to know what, in Dodd's opinion, were some of the most essential components of story.

Here's what Dodd said:

Hook:

Of course we all know how critical the hook is. The hook is one of the areas most revised or sometimes one of the last things you write, after you are clear on your story. A hook can be the first sentence, the first paragraph, and occasionally the first page. You want to show the tone and perhaps the setting for your story. Is it funny, sad, cryptic, a mystery? Does it include an insight into your key characters? When writing the hook, you want to think about your target audience. What appeals to them? Are there concepts or words or current events that would trigger interest for your audience? Read hooks in stories in your genre for examples of good and bad ways to intrigue your audience.

Goal:

The protagonist needs a goal. He or she may start with a goal that changes as the story progresses, or develop a goal that is challenged throughout the story or is attempting to thwart the antagonist’s goal. At some point during the beginning (first act) the protagonist clarifies the goal. While the goal is important so that the reader knows what to root for, it does not have to be static. The goal can change or evolve as the circumstances change and evolve.

First Turning Point = Conflicts—Internal and External:

The first turning point is when the protagonist has to face the conflict that will either cause him or her to take action. At that point, we should learn about the protagonist’s internal and external conflict. What is the actual event she or he is dealing with? How does the protagonist internally feel about the conflict? The protagonist may decide to meet the challenge and face the conflict or refuse it. If refused, a second turning point would then occur that forces the protagonist to move forward and begins the middle act.

Obstacles (3-7):

Obstacles are in the middle (second act) and are the challenges or events that your protagonist will face and fight in trying to achieve the goal. Sometimes the protagonist wins and sometimes the antagonist wins. The obstacles can be separate events or the story will be tighter if the outcome of each challenge then creates the setup for the new challenge. The number of obstacles depends on the type of story and the nature of the obstacles.

Revelation:

A revelation can occur anywhere in the story or be the reveal in the end (third act). The revelation can be something that the protagonist or antagonist doesn’t know but learns that explains the events. It can be something the audience wasn’t aware of that explains the story. If there are secrets and mysteries throughout the story, there should also be some reveals throughout the story so that the reader feels “let in” and not disenfranchised from the story. Too often writers want to keep secrets thinking they are increasing the tension in the story, however, too many unrevealed secrets only frustrate the reader.

I will blog some more about the book soon. Buy it on Amazon here.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Want success as a screenwriter? Write every day and don’t have a plan B

I recently spoke to Glenn M. Benest, who is an award-winning writer/producer with seven produced film credits, as we are discussing him teaching workshops through Your Plot Thickens. I wanted to know, in his opinion, what is the secret to screenplay success?

5 Tips for Becoming a Successful Screenwriter According to Glenn Benest:

1. Create a writing schedule

When I was a young writer, I had a job teaching. I got home at 2:30 pm, took a nap, then wrote every night from 7:00 to 11:00 pm. I also wrote all weekend. That was how I was able to churn out material that eventually got me my first paying job and launched me as a writer.

2. Write, write and write

The more you continue to hone your craft, the better off you'll be. Screenwriting takes a certain muscle or group of muscles and the more you exercise those muscles the stronger they become.

3. Don’t send your work out too early

We face a very tough environment today. Producers want screenplays that don't need much work to go into production. The closer the screenplay is to a final shooting script the better chance it has of being bought.

4. Get professional feedback

We all have tunnel vision when it comes to our own material; so we lose objectivity. We all need that kind of professional feedback that will push us to take our material to a higher level and give us a much better chance of a sale.

5. Don’t have a plan B

You have to want this more than you want anything else in the world. Decide you're going to make it no matter what. Take classes and go to seminars. Network. Live and breathe screenwriting. If you're going to treat screenwriting as a hobby, don't have illusions you'll make a career for yourself in this field.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

L. R. Horowitz's "While the Sands Whisper"

I want to let you all know about an author I have just had the privilege of learning about. Her name is L. R. Horowitz, and she’s both American and Israeli, but resides in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Her debut novel is called While the Sands Whisper.

What Is the Novel About?
While the Sands Whisper chronicles the forbidden love affair of a fifty-seven-year-old Jewish/Israeli woman with a Bedouin Sheikh, who is thirty years her junior.

After the main character, Ayishah, falls in love with her guide, Hakim, she learns of his participation in the Bedouin underground, filled with opium smuggling and prostitution trafficking.

But Ayishah’s life is also in danger. Because of her photography and Israeli nationality, she becomes a suspect of the Egyptian authorities, forcing her to leave the Sinai and the man she loves.

Autobiographical Fiction
While the Sands Whisper is based on the true experiences of L. R. Horowitz, who is a photojournalist by trade.

“The story of the novel is taken from my own adventures, based on years of travel to the Sinai desert, innumerable conversations, close friendships, love with a Bedouin and considerable research,” Horowitz shares.

"While certain events of my life in the novel are recounted, I give no pretense of telling exact truths. Incidents may have been created from my own fantasy, exaggerated or altered. This is my style of writing and why I've classified it as an 'autobiographical novel.' "

The Author’s Life
L. R. Horowitz was born and raised in New Jersey, the daughter of a Jewish Mafioso gangster. At the age of seventeen, she ran away from what she considered a “materialistic America” to Israel in hopes of finding true values and her true identity.

Horowitz’s relationship with the Bedouin began while she was living in Israel. As a foreign woman and female photographer working in Muslim societies, she was given special access to the private worlds of both Bedouin men and women.

“Often invited for a cup of tea or a meal in their open living rooms, I easily entered the male and female meeting quarters,” explains Horowitz.

“My [romantic] relationship with the Bedouin nomad, called Hakim in my novel, began at just such a meeting; twelve men sitting in a circle, serving me cup after cup of over-sweetened tea. The men always treated me with quiet respect.”

During the period Horowitz writes about her book, she was in the midst of a photographic project about the Bedouin in the mountains and desert. The man known as Hakim became her guide through this land.

“As a photographer, I have never been afraid of getting close to people. My everyday experiences with people of various cultures have been so enriching and intense, that I simply had to write them down.”

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sylvia Massara -- Champion of the Indie Writer

Not that Sylvia Massara won't interview you if you've published traditionally, but when I came upon this indie Aussie internet TV host, I was so excited to see the resource that she offers to self-published writers, who are in charge of doing all of their own publicity. Of course, it's indie writers who need the most help!

Massara hosts and produces The Lit Chick Show.

At first sight, I thought it was The Chick Lit Show, and I thought that was hilarious. But Massara's blog/show is actually called The Lit Chick Show, because Massara sees herself as the "lit chick" (literary chick). Yes, she's the author of no less than three novels: Like Casablanca, The Other Boyfriend and The Soul Bearers.

Nevertheless, Massara does like the "chick lit" genre a lot. She credits Bridget Jones's Diary as helping her through a difficult time in her life when she was involved with a married man. Before you judge, just remember how popular Bridget Jones's Diary was -- probably because a lot of us women have had similar relationship problems in the past -- at least with men who are totally emotionally unavailable.

Enjoy this video interview with Sylvia Massara, and don't forget to check out her wonderful blog for info about many upcoming authors.

And all you male authors out there, Massara also interviews men on The Lit Chick Show.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

So You Want to Be a Screenwriter...

Yesterday I did a very informative interview with Adam Coplan of Justscreenwrite.com.

Coplan is an independent producer who has a lot of experience as both a script reader and as an executive.

In short, Coplan was the gatekeeper you had to get past in order for your script to move up the rankings into the higher echelons of production.

Coplan gave me some checkpoints to keep in mind for aspiring screenwriters.

Those First Five Pages

It wasn’t the title that Coplan said grabbed the attention most, but the first five to ten pages.

If you can’t capture the reader’s attention in the first five pages, you’re in trouble.

How do you do this? My two cents worth: Action, action, action. I would also say to properly illustrate the main character’s flaw. I am consulting on a script right now that has a great second-act journey (or the potential for one), which is usually the hard part.

But I am not getting a clear picture as to what the main character’s motivation is.

The writer hasn’t spent enough time illustrating what the main character’s flaw is, and therefore I don’t see why the main character is trying to get out of doing what he needs to do (the journey he needs to take) – and also what he has to gain on his journey, in terms of his internal emotional needs.

Keep It High-Concept

Back to Coplan. If you’re an aspiring screenwriter, Coplan's advice is not to write that big drama where you’re emulating all of your icons a la Scorsese and Woody Allen.

Coplan says: high concept, high concept, high concept.

Here’s how Alexis Niki defines high concept:

A "high concept" script is one whose premise:

- is universal;

- has a fresh twist;

- involves an empathetic hero who is dealing with a BIG problem; and

- can be summed up in a 25-word logline that gives a good picture of the entire movie.

Coplan also links high concept to originality. One thing I learned while at Writers Boot Camp was about the conceit of the script.

The conceit is that one thing that makes your movie different. Of course, we are never doing anything original when we speak in terms of story. There are really only seven basic stories.

If you already know you are going to be remaking one of these stories, then you need to throw in a fresh twist.

The conceit of the film is that thing we’ve never seen before. It can also be a new, different kind of character. Gregory House (of House) is perfect example: a misanthropic medical genuis. We’ve seen doctors save people before but not this doctor.

Keep It Short

Your script should also be short, according to Coplan. Whereas I have heard that scripts aren’t even 120 pages anymore, they’re 110, Coplan informed that your script should actually be more like 95 pages.

Make It a Comedy

And stick with comedy, people. Leave that slow period drama for when you’re already established.

Of course there are the options of independently producing and directing your own movie. But if you want to sell your script to another production company, comedy is the best way to break in.

A comedy with a high-concept, broad appeal, that is. Save those dark comedies for your own time (and dime). Or just write prose (which I am doing; I just can't shake my dark comedy habit).

Be the Writer and Just the Writer

Sure, we all should by now know that screenwriting is a visual medium. Tell the story through images not through words (dialogue). In other words, show don’t tell!

But what about not slipping in music references, such as: X song rolls over credits.

In Coplan’s opinion, not only do you add seven figures to the budget every time you add a song to your script, but you are also doing the job of the music supervisor. Your job is as the writer, nothing more.

Same goes for camera angles and excessive scene direction. That’s the director’s job, not yours.

Even if you are independently producing the film, someone is going to be reading your script (read: investors); so why not keep the script in line with the guidelines you would use to sell it to a major production company?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to Publish for the Small Press Seminar in Long Beach

If you live in the South Bay (of L.A.) or Long Beach, I would like to let you know about a great opportunity we have coming up on May 24th, next Tuesday, at 7pm.

Edan Lepucki, who is an award-winning writer and the author of the novella, If You're Not Yet Like Me, will be enlightening us about how she got published with the small publishing company, Flatmancrooked.

The event will be taking place in Long Beach. I know it's a bit off the beaten track, but if you happen to live in the area...

We'll be meeting at:

Gatsby Books
5535 E. Spring Street
Long Beach, 90808

This is also a great way to support this independent bookstore (before they all die out!).

For those of you who live out of the area, I will be posting a write-up of the event on my blog.