Write on Wednesday – What You See Is What You Get – October 24, 2018

An establishing shot in a movie or teleplay script tells where the subsequent action takes place. What you see is what you get. The New York City skyline shown at the beginning of Blue Bloods lets the viewer know the action takes place in New York City. Because I watch this show, I also know that when I see a shot of the brick facade of a traditional style home in an upscale neighborhood, the subsequent action is taking place inside Frank Reagan’s home in an unnamed suburb of the city.

NYC skyline

In a novel, if there is a Welcome mat and a wreath on the front door, you must tell the reader. Is the door painted an unusual color? Is the mat clean and new or ready for the trash bin? Is the wreath on the door seasonal, letting the reader know it’s Christmas or Halloween or Spring?  Does the shrubbery outside the front door indicate Spring while the wreath on the door says Christmas?

In narrative fiction you tell or show the reader where the action is taking place. If you don’t the reader gets confused and readers don’t like that. If they get confused too many times they’ll give you a bad review on Amazon.

In the revisions of my novel this is coming up over and over again. Apparently when I wrote the novel draft I was in screen play mode. I knew where the action was taking place — in my head. But sometimes I forgot to tell the reader.

In a screen play or teleplay you write in the words Establishing Shot: New York City and you’re all set. The viewer will get visual cues.

In narrative fiction you establish the setting with words. The visual cues are in the authors mind and must be put into words. This also provides an opportunity to expand information about your characters. Here’s an example:

“Martie wrestled a bag of groceries from the back seat of her vintage Candy Apple red Beetle–an expensive custom paint job she had come to regret. As she headed for the suburban home’s front door she noted the weeds in the flower beds along the brick walkway and realized she needed to call the gardening service in her sister’s address book. She opened the door with the key Julie gave her six months ago. Just three days before her sister disappeared.”

In a screen play the director figures out how to show the information in this paragraph or the writer puts it in dialogue. Phone dialogue between Martie and the detective assigned to her sister’s case could fill in some details. There could be a close-up shot of a calendar with the date of Julie’s disapearance circled in red.

As I revise my novel I have to keep reminding myself that what the reader reads is what the reader gets. It’s my job to make sure they have enough, but not too much. Enough so they can be in the scene, but not so much that it makes the writing ponderous.

If the paragraph above was the beginning of a novel I’d better make sure that a Candy Apple red beetle is important to the story. As I reread what I wrote I immediately began spinning off into another story. Focus your squirrel brain, Mala. Focus! You have a Caribbean novel to finish.

 

 

Write on Wednesday: #Santa

Originally posted on September 22, 2014
#Santa tableread

Yesterday afternoon writers from our critique group, local actors, and friends joined us at Laura’s house for a table read of our #Santa screenplay. Laura’s terrace was decorated with a crab pot Christmas tree, and a small tree graced the table. The weather was perfect with a light breeze off the Miles River.

Our Working Writers Forum members had read some of the screenplay over the last few months, but for others at the table, it was their first exposure. It was wonderful to see the expressions on their faces as the story unfolded. We were interested in which lines got laughs, and which got sighs. After the reading was finished, we had more critiques about the pacing, the characters, and the unexpected ending for a Christmas movie.

I was particularly pleased by the comments of Mike, a local actor (one of the fabulous leads in the recent Easton production of Kiss of the Spider Woman), who thought the lead character in our script, Scarlett Cross, was strong, independent and feisty. Would Laura and I write any other kind?

After the reading, we feasted on burgers and dogs on the grill, drank some wine and had good conversation. Then we cut the cake!

#Santa cake

If you are interested in a quick laugh-out-loud read, you can get the #Santa: The Naughty List script on Amazon, formatted for easy reading on your Kindle. If you like it, we’d appreciate a great revue.

#Santa- The Naughty List

Write on Wednesday: Hiring a Script Consultant

When Laura Ambler and I finished our movie script for The Santa Diaries, we knew we wanted to hire Dara Marks to help us polish it. Laura had used her in the past on a couple of screen plays. We consulted our checkbooks, took a deep breath and called Dara. We booked an appointment and sent her a copy of the script which was ultimately called Santa, Flawed.

Santa Flawed

Laura and I have used writing consultants in the past. We hired two different editors to look at Big Skye Ranch. It was a better book because of the money we spent and went on to be a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest. It won international awards at the London and Paris Book Festivals and an IPPY award.

A week ago we had our four hour telephone conference call with Dara. We were nervous. What would her reaction to the script be?  It was a somewhat fitful start because the email outline she sent us got hijacked by some virus scrubber on her computer which decided to scrub at precisely the moment she was emailing us. And her dogs went bananas when the UPS man came calling, but after a few minutes of sorting things out, we got to work.

By the end we were exhausted, but exhilarated. Dara told us our script was “highly marketable, it’s got everything, a really good piece, the writing is terrific, there is a strong structure in the script.”  She really said all those things. I took notes! …and then she told us the plot needed strengthening and we could be clearer about the theme. She said the first 25 pages needed to be totally rewritten. Well, that’s what we were paying her for – brutal honesty.

The theme thing is tricky. It’s the universal denominator and the theme drives the characters, the dialog, the setting. Theme should underscore everything in the script. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around because in the past our writing has been more character or plot driven. That’s not to say there wasn’t an underlying theme, but we didn’t spend time really trying to get that down to the bones.

In this telephone consultation we spent at least half an hour sorting out the theme. Turns out the theme is more elemental than Christmas, finding your inner Santa, nostalgia for small town life, or reconnecting with a lost love. The theme of The Santa Diaries script is “we’re all in this together.” We had not known that! Of course, the flip side of that theme is “we are alone” and that is Will’s fatal flaw. If he doesn’t change, he will be alone.

Will is isolated because he has sold out to Hollywood. He has lots of people around him, but they all want a piece of him. His business manager, Josh, whom Will calls his best friend, is a suck-up. Even his girlfriend has her own career agenda. If Will doesn’t find his authentic self (as opposed to his inner Santa) he will never be happy or fulfilled.

There were a couple of times when Dara pointed out that we were still thinking play, not movie. She was right. In the play we couldn’t have Sandy in the hospital with a broken leg. Heck, we couldn’t even get him staged in a bed in traction which is the way we wrote the original script. Sandy in a wheel chair with his leg propped up on a stool had to do. In the movie script he gets to be in a hospital.

Dara suggested that we start with a clean slate for the rewrite and we did. We are now 22 pages into the first 25 (Act 1 up to the First Turning Point). After that it will be more tweaking than a total rewrite as we make sure any changes in the beginning are reflected in rest of the script. All the characters are slightly different than they were in the original play and the script we sent Dara. We hope that gives them more depth.

Will Hawes is a little softer, more redeemable. His father, Sandy, is no longer the paragon of virtue. We’ve roughed up his edges a bit. Brandeee is smarter and shrewder. We haven’t decided if Brandeee and Will are engaged anymore. It always bothered me that Will broke up with Brandeee and moved on to Jessica so quickly.

The point is, do these changes drive the theme to its logical conclusion? We hope to have that figured out in the next month. Then the script will go back to Dara for notes. After that it should be ready to pitch. We think/hope the investment in using a script consultant will be well worth the cost.

Note: This blog was first published June 14, 2013. Gosh, almost five years ago. The script was eventually titled Santa, Flawed. No one bought it, but you can buy it on Amazon formatted for Kindle for $3.99. Using a script consultant was a great learning experience. In reading this post again, I am struck by the importance of theme. Whatever kind of fiction you are writing, figuring out your theme is paramount.

On the Writing Front

Lest you think Laura and I aren’t writing any more, we sort of aren’t. But that doesn’t mean we’re not working.

One of our scripts made the quarter finalist list on Scriptapalooza’s Screenplay Contest. We didn’t get to semi-finalist, but we keep trying. Sometime in December we are supposed to get some feedback about the script from the people who read it. That will be very helpful.

We also entered the same script in Final Draft’s Big Break contest and made the quarter finalist list. We didn’t get to semi-finalist in that contest either, but someone who was one of the judges for another category asked to see the whole script based on the log line. We sent it off that Friday afternoon (people read scripts over the weekend) but haven’t heard anything since.

We had been asked to write that movie script by a producer we know. It was on spec (we didn’t get paid to write it) and we liked it so much we registered it with the Screen Writers Guild of which Laura is a member. That means we own that script. We had another idea about how the script might be tweaked for TV and pitched it to the producer. He liked the idea and pitched it to some other producers. That project has generated some interest and now we have more research to do.

I can’t tell you any more about the project at this point, but if something begins to happen, I’ll let you know. It’s exciting, but we’ve been excited before so I haven’t bought that expensive bottle of celebration wine – yet.

Note: We thought our play, The Santa Diaries, was going to be produced by The St. Michaels Community Center this year, but despite a lot of hard work, they weren’t able to cast the male lead. Everyone else was in place.

Dancing Santa

They’ve got a year to find someone to play Will for 2017. They really want to do the show and we really want it to be back home in the community that inspired the original idea.

Work Hard, Play Harder

Laura and I have started a new project. We are taking the script of #Santa and turning it into a novel — probably Chick Lit if you need a genre classification. And we decided the story arc won’t be focused on Christmas. It’s the wacky characters that will keep the story going.

Anyway, we spent three days last week figuring out what we wanted to do. We took the script, which is essentially dialogue, thought about where scenes needed to be added, and how we wanted to expand characters. A novel gives us so much room to explore inside characters’ brains.

The challenge is to put in the details that novelization requires. In a movie script you give some broad strokes and the director and his staff make the decisions about what a room looks like or the kinds of clothes a character wears. Now we have to make those decisions and write the descriptions. I actually like this process since when I’m writing I’m watching a movie playing in my head. I just have to write down what I see. And both Laura and I have learned that what’s really important is to get something written. You can tweak, rearrange, or delete later, but getting the ideas down on “paper”, even if you think what you’re writing sucks, is what you have to do.

We made enough progress that we will be able to meet for lunch this week and assign scenes we will each write. Our process is that we then pass them back to one another and overwrite. Because our writing styles are quiet similar, this makes for a fairly seamless product. I don’t think readers can tell who wrote what. When the first draft is completed we’ll start moving things around. Sometimes you just have to read the whole thing to see where the problems are.

At noon on the third day we finished what we had set out to do and decided to play. We went to lunch and then explored consignment shops and antique stores. Laura was ready to buy a pair of love seats for her house and asked the price. “They’re sold,” she was told. She thought they were kidding until two big guys walked in and walked the love seats out of the shop. If we’d been there an hour earlier, they might have been hers.

IMG_0945

We had fun trying on shoes, hats and clothes. It’s the kind of thing our husbands don’t like to do, but was a perfect guilty pleasure for a couple of gals on a ramble after doing some creative work. Don’t you just love this hat.  I’d love to know its backstory. Who the heck wore this and where? Hmmm…that could be the beginning of another novel.

 

 

Dialogue When a Character Can’t Speak

Before Laura and I worked yesterday she showed me the photo of the Easter eggs she and her husband made. She said they organized all the necessary components for dyeing eggs she’d boiled the day before. They had a pizza delivered, and then they made martinis and started coloring eggs. I imagine just about any activity is more fun with martinis. She said next year she’s having an Easter Egg Party. That sounds like fun.

Easter eggs don’t really have anything to do with script writing, but we usually spend the first ten minutes of each work session bringing each other up to date on what’s happened in our lives.

eggs - Laura

Yesterday we worked on a script after lunch, tweaking dialogue according to notes we got a week ago. We’re making progress.

A challenge with this script is that one of the characters can’t talk because he lost his tongue to cancer. Mute characters make dialogue tricky. The notes we got wanted us to ramp up the conflict between two of the characters; when one of them can’t speak we have limited options. He can write a note or someone else can speak for him. Or he can act his ass off. Maybe we can give him a bell or buzzer like that character in Breaking Bad. If this gets made into a movie, it will be a fabulous part for somebody.

We should probably watch The Piano, a film in which Holly Hunter plays a mute woman. However, she can sign. I remember that as being one of the most depressing movies I’d seen. Everyone came out of the theater silent and downcast. It won three Academy Awards out of ten nominations. So much for my discriminating taste.

Writing In Between Life Happening

All of us who write have other commitments in our lives. Finding time to write is a pressing problem for those of us who have full time jobs, and families. I consider my volunteering a full-time job. This is what I will be in charge of this week.

2014 sale photo 2Consignment Capers is a St. Michaels Woman’s Club fund-raiser that funds our annual 6K scholarship to a St. Michaels High School Senior and other civic outreach programs. We like to think it’s several notches above a flea market. Pictured above are just some of last year’s sale items.

People bring their unused things and the club sells them at a two day event. 50% to the consignee and 50% to the club. It’s a win-win. De-clutter your house, get some money and help send a kid to college, fund the local food bank, etc. My co-chair says it’s like waiting for D-Day. Perhaps a little perspective is needed.

I am a full-time retired person. Retired doesn’t mean I don’t work; it means I don’t get a pay check. I seem to be busier than ever, but on the plus side I have the luxury of being able to schedule my time. Volunteer activities intrude on writing, however, often as much as a paying job.

Like most writers, Laura and I have to shoehorn writing into our busy lives. Lunch times when Laura can get an hour or two away from the office and weekends if her husband is flying. My schedule is more flexible.

The planning of this Consignment event has taken up a lot of my time for the past month. Laura is busy with her business, but we are on to a new project – turning our scripts into e-Scripts and putting them up on Kindle. The idea is that you can read a script almost like a book, and in a lot less time. The reader can visualize her own movie.

Laura is having way too much fun designing covers and I’m turning the scripts into epub files on Calibre. A new skill set for me. We have a total of seven scripts and one play that we can put on Kindle. We might as well get them out there since no studios are knocking on the door – yet!

After Consignment Capers is over, shoehorning in time to write will continue as Spring is on the way and soon I’ll be back in the garden.

If you’re a script writer, have you considered putting your scripts on Amazon’s Kindle? We’d love to know about your experience.