Friday, April 29, 2011

I Won Script Frenzy 2011!

imageThe final tally: 107 pages, with a day to spare. I probably wrote on ~20 of those days, since I went to a convention among other things.

Not sure how I feel right now. Definitely glad to have a First Draft. Now I have a real clear roadmap as to what I want this story to be. I don’t have a specific revision plan for it yet, but here are some general steps:

  • Let it rest for a few weeks at least.
  • Formulate a plan for revision.
  • Identify all areas requiring further research.
  • Send it to a couple alpha readers (mostly family) for revision ideas.
  • Research screenplay format so I can present the best screenplay I can (I kinda winged it).
  • Try to acquire more family stories to add more authenticity to it. Sometimes it’s the small details that matter.

Next week I’ll post some analysis of how I felt about screenplay story structure and how well I thought it worked. But for now I just want to sit back and enjoy my accomplishment. Smile

Monday, April 18, 2011

Halfway to a Script

frogsSo far, who knows? Hard to believe all the things in my script already: Gambling schemes, train wrecks, spies, hostile insurgents, vicious soldiers, and religious overtones. And I’m only halfway. And since this is the 18th day of Script Frenzy…I’m actually behind.

One thing I’m struggling with is scenes. My whole script is supposed to have ~40 scenes. I think I have ~50 so far. Part of this is how I define scene vs shot. It’s one of those screenwriting things I’ll have to learn. I think the trick is to make each scene do more and have fewer of them. Each scene should be ~3 pages. Revision’s going to be a bitch.

Speaking of religion, I watched a show yesterday that tried to come up with rational, scientific explanations for the Ten Plagues and some aspects of the story of Moses. They provided explanations that derived from a sudden climate change that year, since most of the effects were biological (swarms, disease). Then at the end of a show, a rabbi came on and said (paraphrasing), “does it really matter that any of these things actually happened? The story is what’s important, and the lessons demonstrated therein. Scientific inquiry is all well and good, but it’s not what the story is about. It’s not going to teach you anything.” (For the record I disagree with that assessment because I think any line of legitimate scientific inquiry has merit…in this case it could be a lesson in the dangers of climate change.)

This is what I’m doing with my own story. Does it really matter that I create an accurate accounting of my cousin’s journey? Should I just stick to the facts? Or is the important thing the story, the reasons for the journey and why the outcome is important? If we can look at the Bible as metaphorical rather than literal, then why not any history? A history book tells us the X, Y, and Z’s of who did what to whom. A story tells us why all these things happened and how they impacted the people who lived through those times. (Personally I think the Bible is more a series of stories based on certain events and folklore, but not an actual accounting of real events).

The “story” of my cousin isn’t a list of events and travails. It’s the tale of a man trying to come to grips with his own sense of self, of remaining steadfast to a single goal, to persevere when it looks like all hope is lost (starting in approximately 20 pages from now). So I’m going to create events and characters that clearly demonstrate this commitment.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pitch Contest

I’m posting the obligatory link to YAtopia’s Pitch Contest with Natalie Fischer.

It’s open ‘til April 21 or first 150 entries.

Good luck!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Lessons from Screenwriting: Act I

Screenwriting-101Well, it’s been an interesting 8 days so far. I’m a little bit behind, but I’m not concerned. It’s taking a while to really get this screenwriting thing going. It’s such a different medium than literature. Everything is so condensed, so every line is critical. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Screenwriting, like pimpin’, ain’t easy. There’s no convenient inner dialog, there’s almost no description, yet it requires the same emotional content as any writing. I’ve realized there’s something I call “embodied debate” where a character’s inner conflict must somehow be demonstrated with external action or dialog. It must be given voice. I have to create situations that demonstrate the internal struggle and the stakes, even if those situations never happened.
  2. Show, don’t tell x 1000. I suppose a narrator could blab, or like Star Wars, a long bunch of words could introduce the scene: In 1911, a young man sets foot on America, and over the next 9 years, blah blah blah. Then in 1920, he receives a letter. Open scene.
    Meh. But, for instance, how do I reveal the content of the letter without just throwing it up on the screen? In a novel I could just include it. Here ya go. (Not to mention the fact that the letter was written in Yiddish).
  3. Backstory? We don’t need no stinkin’ Backstory! Sure, I can throw dates up on the screen, do the whole “10 Years Ago in the Old Country” bit. Maybe I will upon revision. But I’m throwing it in like a drive-by shooting. Here a sentence, there an argument over the past. But it’s impossible to include an explanation of who the characters are, what their relationships are, what they do for a living, etc. It just needs to come out in the dialog.
  4. Nothing goes to plan. I spent a month thinking about all the scenes I could write. I looked at screenwriting books that screamed that I needed 40 scenes divided into fifteen major “beats”. Whatevs. Did I ever mention that I’m a natural pantser? Within the first couple days I threw out all the cards. Why? Because the story was boring, just a dude filling out paperwork and dealing with red tape. There was no emotional content, just a sense of vague frustration. This is a guy who has to go up against hostile forces and bad weather, not to mention backstabbing traitorous “friends.” Red tape bedamned! This is not a police procedural, it’s a gutsy drama. It’s not important how he gets the passport, what’s important is that he’s woefully unprepared for the  journey. So show that.
  5. Unlosing my religion. I’m not a religious person. The last time I went to a service outside a wedding or funeral was a 9/11 memorial service. I barely give a thought to the holidays. I don’t feel that my MC is particularly religious. But while doing the research for this story, I revisited Judaism, subjects and events that I hadn’t thought about since before my Bar Mitzvah when I was 13. Many of the major events of the story coincide with major Jewish holidays. While perhaps a coincidence, I can’t ignore this low-hanging fruit. So my MC may have a crisis of faith along with everything else that’s going on. It feels cheesy, but I can’t help but think that he’s going to experience an affirmation of his faith.

So what happened is that a couple days ago I was stuck; the story was going nowhere. I made a decision to just throw out about 8 pages and rewrite—something you’re technically not supposed to do during Script Frenzy. Whatevs. If the story isn’t working, do what you need to do to get it on track.

Another thing I did was to make a decision about the style of the story. I know this isn’t “my” story. It’s the story of a cousin (2x removed) of mine. But the thing is, I have my own style. I write how I write. I’ve written SF, Steampunk, Mystery, Spy Thrillers, etc., but they all have a similar feel. I realized that I have to write how I write. I have to write stories in the way that I enjoy, that motivate me. I needed to make this my story. My style, my pace, my types of conflicts. Once I made that decision, the pages suddenly started to flow. Characters crept out of the woodwork into importance. It may not be true to the “story”, but it’s true to me.

So on to Act II. Wish me luck!