Social Media and Author Platforms

The mantra in the writing world is that author’s must have platforms, that we must be active in social media such as FaceBook and Twitter. Laura and I pretty much suck at social media so we arranged a consultation session with Mindie Burgoyne, the social media goddess. We had two goals for this meeting: 1) to determine if we even wanted to try to “do” social media, and 2) if we decided to be “social” we needed a reasonable plan that wouldn’t totally chew up our writing time.

Yesterday Laura and I spent three hours talking about various strategies with Mindie. She said we didn’t have a choice. We had to do social media.

Identify Your Platform

This turned out to be the hardest part of this consultation. In the past three years Laura and I have written an award winning e-novel. We turned that novel into a movie script which landed us a manager in LA (don’t get jealous yet). Hedging our bets, we turned the movie script into an hour long pilot for a TV series with synopsis for three episodes. We also wrote the first draft of the sequel to that novel.

Marykay Powell (producer of The Curious Life of Benjamin Button) asked us to write a full-length movie script based on a book she had optioned. We also wrote the pilot for a TV forensic procedural based on robots, and half hour pilot for a TV comedy series. All of these scripts are currently being shopped. No buyers yet.

In the midst of all that we took on a pro bono project and created and published a book of Eastern Shore Christmas memories for Christmas in St. Michaels last year. That little book was called The Santa Diaries. At the time we knew there was a germ of an idea for a romantic comedy movie of the same title. It went on the “we’ll get to it someday” list.

When the Avalon Foundation in Easton approached us to write a script for their annual Christmas play, we knew that writing the play would get us on the road to the movie script, so we said, “Yes.” The fourth draft of the play went to the Avalon people last Friday. A table read is next. Casting calls will go out soon.

The Santa Diaries – the Play

Mindie thought that this is where we should focus our platform for right now. We are approaching the Christmas season so lots of memories and things to post about. There will be many ways to collaborate with the Avalon whose staff is light years better at social media than we are.

Social media is about connections, Mindie kept reminding us. So while we are building our platform, we will build connections. Mindie told us that talking about ourselves on our blog was the way to go; it didn’t have to be just about writing.

The Ben Wah Conversation

Picture three women in a room together for three hours and the conversation never turning to sex.  Yeah, right!

The ben wah conversation started innocently enough about who had read 50 Shades of Gray. That segued into Mindie talking about a necklace she has. The pendent on the necklace has a little ball inside that rings when you shake the necklace. Mindie told her granddaughters that a fairy lived inside. So when the granddaughters found her ben wah balls, they knew there were just bigger fairies inside those pretty balls.

Turns out we each had a ben wah story. Who knew! So I asked Mindie if my ben wah story would be something to post on our blog. I wasn’t at all sure since the blog is about Laura’s and my writing collaboration — and neurotic pitfalls along the way.

Mindie said absolutely. There were lots of women with ben wah stories and talking about yourself is a way to build relationships. She suggested I post a ben wah tidbit on FB and see what response I got. That’s how my ben wah list got started. When I get brave enough to post about my need for Wiffle ben wahs (when I was a hippie with waist length hair and a feather headband), that post is only going to certain people. My kids are never gonna see it.

Writing as Lasagna

Laura and I don’t start writing until we have completed an arc for our project, usually a visual on a big sheet of paper. It’s just a different kind of outline, so when we begin we always know where we are going. However, that is not where we always end up. Writers must embrace serendipity – that moment when a new character appears or a plot twist you hadn’t thought of inserts itself.

Once we have the first draft of a project complete, we start the lasagna process and go over the project adding layer after layer.  Lasagna wouldn’t be very good if it only had one layer of noodles, one of meat sauce and one of cheese. Layers in lasagna and writing make a much better finished product.

For example, we might go through our draft character by character taking a dialogue pass. What idioms have we missed? What can we layer in to make to make each character’s dialogue more authentic? (This is where we have gotten into trouble using Urban Dictionary.)

We make a pass looking at descriptions. What can we show about a character without telling the reader? Scuffed cowboy boots with worn down heels show us something very different from immaculately polished cowboy boots fresh out of the box. Can we give details of the physical setting that indicate season or the time of day?

It is important to layer in the five senses. This is about putting the reader in the scene. What does the character see, hear, smell, taste, and touch? I printed those words out in a big, bold font and posted them on the bulletin board in front of my computer. As a writer, I also need to be in the scene.

We check for “ins” and “outs.” Have we started a scene as far into the action as possible and still have it make sense? If the scene can begin inside a house the characters have visited before, you don’t need to start this scene with them driving into the driveway and opening the front door – unless it furthers the plot. The “outs” are about having the end of the last paragraph in a scene make the reader want to keep turning the page. The ends of chapters should always be some sort of cliff hanger.

Finally we make a stopper pass. This is anything in the writing that makes the reader stop and think too much. It kills the pace you are creating. Your critique group or beta readers can be helpful here. A word that you are familiar with, but nobody else knows, won’t be a stopper for you, but will for the majority of readers. Perhaps it’s a relationship that’s too complicated. Second and third cousins once removed. Please!

After all the passes and changes we do it again, and again, and again until we are satisfied. By that time our novel, or screenplay, or play has multiple layers, making it much more compelling read than it would have been if we hadn’t done the lasagna thing.

Urban Dictionary

Writers are all about resources. Here is one you should know about with a caveat… My latest favorite word, delivered into my inbox, was nerd-do-well. This is a financially successful nerd as in, “He was thought to be the loser of his graduation class, but now this nerd-do-well could easily buy the friggin’ school.” Another one, “bong appetit,” made it into a recent rewrite of one of our scripts.

How about Chik-Fil-Atheist? A person who loves Chik-Fil-A, but not God, and is therefore pissed that Chik-Fil-A is closed on Sundays.

Then there’s one I really relate to…commaphobia which is a condition of writers with comma aversions because they never know if the comma should go inside or outside quotation marks.

Here’s the caveat about this website. it’s amazingly distracting.  Ten minutes go by and you can’t remember what you were trying to find in the first place – or why. Another problem is that many of our searches are in the form of a question (e.g. what are slang terms for getting the munchies when you smoke weed), and doesn’t cope well with questions. Bong appetit didn’t come as the result of a search. It showed up in our in boxes and was so good we rewrote a scene to include it.

And sometimes Urban Dictionary just gives you way too much information… as in brozilian derived from the term brazilian which refers to the near-complete removal of….  I am not even going to think about trying to add a visual!


Rewrites Can Be Fun – Really!

Last week we had another “notes” meeting at the Avalon Theatre. This time with Tim Weigand, who will direct our play, and Jessica Rogers, the General Manager. This was the first time Jessica had read the play and she had some fantastic suggestions including adding a couple of characters which meant a huge rewrite. She was almost apologetic, because she knew how much work would be involved, but her suggestion was terrific and something we wouldn’t have thought of. She also said we needed to add another 20 to 30 pages of script. (Remember there is lots of white space in plays and scripts so this didn’t make us pass out.)

We were thrilled with what happened when we put the two new characters in the play. It was like they were supposed to be there and the pages just piled up. In another week we’ll have that draft finished. It will go back to Tim, Jessica and Cece one more time for notes, but we know changes will be ongoing. Once the show is being blocked and we can hear actors on stage we’ll find out if there are pieces of dialog that just don’t work or parts that need to be clarified or expanded.

The next step will be a table read so we’ll get a sense of how long the play will be. Tim told us they’re already thinking about actors to fill the various roles, some of which are fairly demanding. Others characters have just a few lines and some are walk-ons. In community theater, when you’re doing a show as a fund raiser, you want as many people as possible on the stage. They all have parents, siblings and friends who will buy tickets and come to see them.

Oh, by the way, we still have the actor in a dog costume, but the pirate eye patch which seemed so hilarious one morning has now been eliminated. Arrrgh.

Plein Air Quick Write

Would you be able to write if you were sitting outside (maybe under an umbrella to protect you from the scorching sun or a deluge) and had to complete a writing assignment in two hours? And your project would be judged and then put up for sale. This is what artists at Easton’s annual Plein Air Festival Quick Draw do. Oh, I forgot, it’s a juried show and the artists have to submit work in order to even get into the competition. This year the contestants were challenged by downpours.


So it made me wonder…what would a Plein Air Quick Write Festival look like?

The very thought of trying to write something with other people watching gives me the hebbie jebbies*. I’m an introvert and I covet alone time. Being closeted with my computer qualifies, and I could never share office space with my husband even though he’s a really nice guy. I know how to do social stuff, but it drains me and I have to have alone time to recharge my batteries. When Laura and I collaborate on a writing project these lines are blurred, but I have to say there is a huge amount of trust that she is not going to be judgemental when I blurt out something that just wouldn’t work. I grant her the occasional eye roll, but that’s it.

Two hours doesn’t give much time for editing or what I like to call marinating. Sometimes something I’ve written stays in a drawer for a long time before I take it out and look at it again. I read it and think, not too bad, or I read it and wonder why I wasted the paper it was printed on. Usually marinating doesn’t take that long, but, for me, it’s a really important part of the process. Two weeks ago Laura and I took out a half hour prime time comedy script that had been in the drawer for a year. Suddenly a new twist on the plot jumped out at us. We did a rewrite and were thrilled with the result.

Writing using prompts might seem similar to a quick write. There are people sitting near you (which I find really distracting), but you only have to share if you want to. However, your words are not all out in the open for the world to see like a painting would be. I don’t like to think that I am a competitive person, but at the few writing prompt workshops I’ve attended the notion that I want mine to be THE BEST always manages to intrude when it’s time to share. Then when I hear what others have written I judge my quick write as unworthy and keep my mouth closed. I am probably the classic neurotic, introverted writer.

A Quick Write Festival doesn’t seem to be in my future, but I’m curious to see if it would appeal to others.

* says the following about these words.

Heebie-jeebies – a feeling of anxiety, apprehension or illness.