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.

Write on Wednesday: Association of Writers & Writing Programs

Last year, in February, I attended the American Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference. AWP. People had been telling me about this conference for years – that if it ever came close to my geographic area, I had to go. Last year it was in DC. I could stay with my brother in Georgetown, so I registered. The conference welcomed between 12K and 14K people in the Washington Convention Center and the Marriott Marquis Hotel. Just a few more than the 200 plus at the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference at Chesapeake College, in Wye Mills, Maryland that I attended in March.

You have to be a member of AWP to attend the conference. One of the benefits of membership is their bi-monthly magazine, The Writers Chronicle. It’s an excellent writing resource.

WritersChronicles

All the sessions I attended were panels  with four to six participants. These folks had impeccable credentials, MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degrees and multiple publications. MFA’s seem to acquire a special language with that degree. I had to think hard about fictive culture, breaking the fourth wall, distant third and character maps. Most of the authors who spoke about fiction, wrote literary fiction. A couple of sessions I attended had authors who wrote Middle-grade and Young Adult fiction, but there was not a Paranormal Romance (or any kind of romance genre for that matter) session to be found.

I did think I was going to get close with the session titled “Writing Female Desire.” But my notes only indicate the title of that session, not that I got anything helpful from it. A week later, I couldn’t remember anything about it. Maybe I bailed and went to lunch.

For the most part the presenters were accessible and self-deprecating and regardless of the topic listed in the program, they talked a lot about their writing process.

Here are some of my favorite take-aways about process:

  1. Write for good friends first and, then, the rest of the world.
  2. Write “your” book, not what is currently in vogue.
  3. “I have a turtle tattooed on my back” was what one writer said about the pace of her process.
  4. If the door is stuck [in the plot of your book], don’t bang your head on it, go around and jimmy a window.
  5. What is the “river” that is pulling your book forward? In other words what is the book really about.
  6. Failure is part of the process!
  7. Be prepared for multiple rewrites of drafts. Not three or four but sometimes as many as forty. (That made me want to take a nap!)
  8. Several presenters had taken 10 years to complete a book, although they may have had other things published along the way.
  9. On the panel about women publishing after age fifty, one of the presenters said the pub date of her first novel was a week before she was eligible for Medicare. The room erupted in applause. This session was packed, standing room only and part of the discussion was how women find time to write with career, kids, family, aging parents, etc. #womenwritingafter50

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All in all, I’m glad I went to AWP last year. It won’t be close to me again until 2022 when it will be in Philadelphia. But truthfully, I get more that is helpful to me in terms of writing craft from the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference at Chesapeake College. And that’s just half an hour away. And at that conference no one turns down their nose at those of us who write romance.

 

Write on Wednesday: Damn Those Adverbs

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

― Mark Twain

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I suspect Twain was talking about adverbs – those pesky words that usually often end in ‘ly’.  It’s not that you can’t ever use adverbs, but it can be a mark of a lazy writer. Adverbs, which describe verbs, adjectives or other adverbs are easier to use than showing our readers what we want them to see.

I have been using an editing program called SmartEdit. I saw it reviewed on a writing blog and bought a single user license for around $70. I purchased it last year when I was reviewing my first two novels before sending them for proofing in anticipation of republishing. That project is still in the works, but on track.

SmartEdit was worth the investment. It ranked the adverbs in my writing by the number of times I used them. It allowed me to make corrections/changes on the spot. The program has eleven functions including repetitions, how many times a word or phrase is used, points out cliches and how often a sentence is started the same way. It helped me tighten my writing.

 

This came in today’s mail.

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I opened the envelope and let out a whoop. My new Dramatist Guild member card had arrived. It used to be flimsy cardboard but is now substantial black plastic. The photo makes it look brown, but it’s matt black.  Sophisticated, elegant, understated, almost a clone of a Visa Black Card.

Guild membership is a very big deal. You can only apply to become a member if you have had a play produced for a paying audience. I am exceedingly proud of my membership.

Sorry, Mark, sometimes you just have to use adverbs!

 

 

Write on Wednesday – March 28, 2018

Building Characters Using “Rooting Interests”

This interesting suggestion also came from Jeanne Adams workshop at the recent Bay to Ocean Writers Conference. She credited writer Donna MacMeans with the idea which is explained in a longer form on Donna’s website. By the way, Donna MacMeans writes “seductively, witty historical romance.”

On her website, Donna has a section for writers. On the page referenced by Jeanne Adams, Donna talks about Rooting Interests. (Since I’m a gardener I had to shift my perspective from propagation to writing.) I think by rooting Donna means that readers needs to “root for” a character. She describes the three rooting interests as empathy, humanistic traits, and admiration traits and says readers like characters with a mix from all three categories. The webpage referenced above gives lists of these characteristics.

The lists are a way to think about how to make your characters more interesting. Donna says you should have at least three “rooting interests” to make a character relatable. When readers relate, they turn the page. Check out Donna’s website for more information about this helpful writing technique.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Writing Moves Forward as Our Country Moves Backward

Life moves forward, and then I watch the news and am—for a few minutes—paralyzed with grief.

I have never written anything political on this blog, but another blogger whom I read reminded me that hate is not political. I am beyond dismayed that our president is supporting hate and violence and that our political leaders are putting self before country by not calling him to account.

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Today I am biting the bullet and sending off the contract for the first book in my Caribbean novel series to be proof read. I’ve made some very minor changes, but needed to spend the money to make sure nothing is misspelled and all the puntuation in correct before I send it off to CreateSpace. Proof reading costs more than it did ten years ago. I had to wrap my brain around spending the money on a book that had already been proofed and published (ten years ago), but my wise husband said it’s still the proof reader’s time that’s at issue. He is right.  So the contract goes in today’s mail.

Next I have to take a look at the second book in the series (also previously published) and keep moving forward on finishing the third book. Sending the contract to the proof reader means I am really doing this—getting the books republished with my name instead of a pen name.

Another decision is about the covers. I had planned to have new covers done, but other print books are out there with the old cover and they will never go away on Amazon. I don’t want potential readers to be confused. Lots to consider in this process, but I am moving forward.

And in between there are tomatoes to be made into sauce. We’ve had alot of rain and cooler temps so the tomatoes are not ripening as quickly, and they are just not as plentiful this year. That’s okay. I have sauce from last year on the shelf. I am cutting them up and putting them in bags in the freezer for making sauce on a day in the fall when the canning kettle won’t steam up my kitchen.

A couple of leaf casting appointments are still outstanding. My goal is that in two weeks I will be able to get the casting work station out of my driveway.

So my life moves forward, and then I watch the news and am—for a few minutes—paralyzed with grief.

 

 

What Were We Thinking Turned into So Glad We Did

Last Friday Laura and I flew to Los Angeles. Four months ago we had signed up for a two day Dramatist Guild workshop held in Culver City. On Thursday it was one of those “this seemed like a good idea at the time” commitments. Laura had been out of town and flew back on Thursday morning. She had the day to sort things out at her office. I was busy moving sprinklers around my garden every thirty minutes trying to save parched plants. It’s been really hot and dry the last couple of weeks on the Eastern Shore.

Laura had arranged for a driver to take us to the airport on Friday morning. Getting dropped off at the Southwest gates saved a bunch of time and parking hassle. A smooth flight to Los Angeles and we Ubered to Culver City where we had a reservation at the Culver Hotel.

The six story hotel was built in 1924 and considered a sky scraper at the time. The Wizard of Oz was filmed nearby and locals know the Culver Hotel as the Munchkin Hotel as many in the Oz cast stayed there. The hotel was essentially abandoned by the 1980’s and slated for demolition. But by the 1990’s it had been partially restored and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The renaissance was completed when the hotel was bought and fully restored in 2007.

Today it’s a charming hotel where historical touches remain.

Culver City used to be a down and out area, but has been revitalized. The center of town is full of shops and restaurants. The entertainment company, Sony Pictures, is nearby and fueled the renewal.

The first night we were at the hotel we dined on the outdoor terrace. The weather was gorgeous. We’d left east coast temps and humidity behind.

We had a wonderful breakfast every morning. Tiny croissants, little ramikens of butter  (with a sprig of dill on top) and raspberry jam, fresh fruit, Greek yogurt and granola. And of course, lots of coffee for Laura and a selection of teas for me. That’s my breakfast below. Laura is not a breakfast eater. She had half a bagel with cream cheese. Typically her breakfast is a diet coke at McDonalds that she takes to the office.

We could walk to the Kirk Douglas Theater where the conference was being held. Just 50 participants. We were the only people from the east coast. Most Dramatist Guild workshops are held in NYC but the DG is trying to extend learning and networking opportunities to its west coast members. If you are a member, check out their online classes.

Right away I met Bradetta. See my previous blog. I still can’t fathom the odds of that happening. Add to that the fact that I am a true introvert, so the fact that I actually struck up a conversation is remarkable.

 

The first day of the conference was terrific. Lots of information, good handouts and engaging instructors. The morning session was The Artist as CEO – Marketing & Social Media. The instructor was Zack Turner. I was thrilled to learn that the only social media he uses is Twitter. I, like lots of other writers, get overwhelmed with social media.

After a boxed lunch, the afternoon session was a panel called Playwrights in the Writers Room. They were all much younger than I, but it was particularly interesting to hear the experiences of the two women panelists in a man’s world. I guess some progress is being made.

That evening we walked to dinner where we met my daughter who lives in the area. What fun to see Kira and connect in person. She had asked a friend, who knew Culver City, for a restaurant recommendation and made reservations for our group at Akasha. We ordered a variety of delicious small plates. (I always forget to take food photos until we’ve made a dent in the items. There were way more shrimp to start.)

Sunday morning’s conference session was a continuation of The Artist as CEO – this time focused on the Business of Writing for the Stage. The instructor was Ralph Sevush. He’s an attorney with years of helping playwrights and was an engaging and knowledgeable speaker.

The afternoon was a Masterclass on Structure, taught by Gary Garrison. What a fabulous teacher! So much of the material also applied to writing fiction. We felt like we were double dipping.

That evening we had dinner with our friend, Shar McBee, who used to live in our area of the Eastern Shore. After years of speaking about nonprofit leadership (because of her book “To Lead is to Serve”) Shar just launched a new project “Leadership & Yoga.”  She is starting with workshops and train the trainer events.  Maybe it’s because she’s in California where there is a yoga studio on every corner, but Shar says she’s stunned at how people are responding to her new material.  It has opened up a whole new path of activity.  The week we were there, Shar had five speaking engagements about “Leadership & Yoga.”  www.JoyofLeadership.com

If you live on the Eastern Shore, you may remember that Shar organized the Leadership for Women Conferences that benefitted Chesapeake College.  Even then, she was including yoga sessions led by Freya Farley.

After breakfast  on Monday, we Ubered to the airport, boarded our flight and got home a little after eight on Monday night. A driver picked us up and took us across the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake. It was a whirlwind trip, but surprisingly relaxing, fun, full of connections, and crammed with learning.

It turned out to be an “I’m so glad we did this” trip.

 

Why This Writer Loves Google

What do tattoo parlors, volcanos, rotis, dinghies, Caribbean soft drinks, and bush medicine have in common? I had questions about all of these things this week while writing.

My first two novels were written pre-Google. I knew the Caribbean island I was writing about, so could fill in most details. I also had a couple of books I could use for historical backstory.

Now, ten years, later I am writing the third book in that Caribbean series and Google is making it possible for me to access information that I would otherwise struggle to find.

Today I’ve been writing a scene set in a tattoo parlor. I always try to add sensory information which puts my reader in the scene, so I wondered what a tattoo parlor smells like. I googled the question and got several answers. Apparently it depends on the kind of tattoo parlor, but it gave me some ideas. In the past, I would have had to find a tattoo parlor like the one I was envisioning in this scene, driven to the locaton, walked in and sniffed. And probably had a lot of explaining to do to the people working there. Just finding one in the Yellow Pages wouldn’t have given me the information I needed. I presume tattoo parlors differ. I might have needed to sniff several.

When describing the tattoo parlor’s waiting room I wanted to know about magazines published in 1984. Were there any tattoo magazines? Yes! Tattoo began publishing that year, so I could put a copy in the waiting room.

This week I also needed to know some information about volcanic activity in St. Lucia where the novel is set. What kind of scientific tools were used in 1984 to monitor that island’s volcano. Tons of information was available on line.

I also had to find out about the dinghies that are pulled behind sail boats and small yachts in that decade. If I don’t get the details right, some reader will know and call me out.

I needed to find out if Rotis (an island fast food staple – sort of an island burrito) ever included fried flying fish. Apparently not, but sometimes conch is used. That worked for me. I also required details about bush medicine for high blood pressure and the kinds of soft drinks available on St. Lucia in 1984.

There’s a Russian mob connection in the story so Laura recommended I read Red Notice. That wasn’t the same time frame, but it gave me some good ideas about how to weave that part of the plot line together. Red Notice is an amazing true story thriller. I read it last week and this week a bunch of the names of people in the book were in the news.

So this week, when it was too hot to cook or be in the garden after 9 a.m., I was at my computer researching and writing. I’m making progress thanks to Google. What did writers do before the internet? I know we spent alot of time at the library, but some of the information I needed wouldn’t have been available, or I wouldn’t have had a clue how to track it down. I love Google.