Thursday, March 31, 2011

Script Frenzy!

ScriptFrenzy_468x60Yes, like Yahoo! the name includes a bang (!).

Script Frenzy! is a month-long excursion into the art of writing a screenplay. It’s sponsored by the same folks who bring us NaNoWriMo, but the goal is to write 100 pages of script in 30 days. Easy? Hard? Who knows, I’ve never written a script.

For me, script writing has some key differences from novel writing. The first is length and scope. A script’s story is more compact. Much of the “story” is told through the camera. The length is equivalent to a 20,000 word story. Second, the POV is obviously 3rd cinematic, told only through dialog and action, therefore a character’s thoughts and motivations must be shown. Third, unlike telling a reader about concepts and themes, you’re giving a director and actors specific directions. And lastly, since the actual number of words in a script is so small, every single word must count. Every scene must have a purpose, every character must contribute and be essential.

So wish me luck as I work towards that elusive 100 pages!
Click on the image above to “friend” me if you’re doing Script Frenzy too!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Interjections! Excitement! Emotion!

interjectionsInterjections (Aw!) show excitement (Darn!) or emotion (Hurray!).
They're generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point,
Or by a comma when the feeling's not as strong.
  –Schoolhouse Rock

Well, it’s time for a little bit of honesty here. After all the excitement! of getting requests for Steam Palace from agents, the response so far has been less than enthusiastic. Damn!

A couple of the rejections have been nice without any kind of feedback except the “it’s not quite right for me” to the depressing “needs editing, show don’t tell” kind. I’m still waiting to hear back from a few more agents, but I’m getting the sense that it’s not quite “there” yet. Flibbertigibbet!

I had another epiphany last week during during a local talk by Bill Kenower, editor of Author Magazine. He was talking about the “Rules of Writing” (BTW one of his  is, “there are no rules”), and he presented this one:

  • Feel First, Write Second

Which is to say, “write the emotional change(journey) of the character, not the physical change of the scene.” I went, “huh?”  I’d never thought of it that way. I’m a procedural, “this happens then that then he says this etc.” Like a programmer: x=x+1;

Here’s what he said (paraphrasing): “What does it feel like for your POV character to do all these things in a scene? Don’t just report on the rain, let the reader know what the rain feels like.”

I don’t know what happened, but I had a “light bulb” moment. Yes! I’ve been aware of “show don’t tell” for a long time, and really struggled with it (as do many writers) because my mind pictures the activity of the scene as if I’m a faraway observer. I’ve thought about putting a “camera” over a character’s shoulder, in their eyes, above the room, but I now see that maybe all those directions are wrong. Consarnit!

Maybe what I need to do is turn the damn! camera around and point it at my POV character’s heart. And keep it pointed there. Because what happens outside of their heart doesn’t matter. Maybe this is a key piece of “show, don’t tell” (or deep POV).

So I went through a scene and added all kinds of emotive language. The scene now just feels different. It doesn’t read like my writing, and I feel like I’m being hammered with my character’s emotions. The thing I’m worried about is that all this new emotive language is just telling on a new level—telling the reader the emotions. Curses!

So the jury’s still out. I don’t think that this is my only issue with Steam Palace but at least it’s something I can work on.(Reducing word count, scene transitions, suspension of disbelief are some other issues, For the Love of All that is Holy!).

Interjections show excitement or emotion,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah... YEA!

Darn! That's the end!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Writing a Script

Film-Script-WritingSo in preparation for writing a script for my History Story, I’ve been been practicing by trying to script out scenes from Steam Palace. Below is my attempt at the first scene. You can read the original scene here. Here are my observations about the process so far.

  1. It took me 4 pages to script out 5 written pages. Since my ms. is 386 pages, that translates to a ~300 page script, the equivalent of a 5-hour movie (miniseries?).
  2. My novel has 97 scenes. A movie script is ~40. I’d have to cut over half my scenes…which may also help figuring out how to reduce my novel down to 100K words. Still, it’s a lot of story to leave out.
  3. I’ve been reading some scripts for major motion pictures. These are available online through sites like,, I’ve found that scripts aren’t the dry, emotionless set of directions I thought they were. Here’s an example from Jurassic Park:
    1. Lodged in the cracked earth are the partially-exposed fossilized remains
      of A VELOCIRAPTER, a carnivorous dinosaur. WIDEN OUT to a SWEEPING
      PANORAMA of a dinosaur dig, a major excavation filled with workers
      shoveling earth and stone, making measurements, taking photographs,
      scribbling notes, and conferring with each other.

      The center of all this activity is one man. In a roped-off area that
      circumscribes the exposed bones of the raptor, is DR. ALAN GRANT, head
      paleontologist. Good-looking, late 30's, with a think beard.

      Grant lies on his belly, completely absorbed in a small piece of bone.
      A GROUP OF TWELVE STUDENTS, notebooks in hand, await his next sentence.

  4. I felt I needed to add something to the scene. In my original scene, I don’t include Dunstan, the evil Duke. But from studying movies for the last few weeks, I realize that it’s critical that the “enemy” be introduced as early as possible. The audience needs to be able to identify the conflict and stakes right away. I also thought it might be a good way to show the audience the significance of Thomas’ act in saving the Queen.

  5. It was actually pretty fun picturing the scene as a movie scene. I think it also helps by showing me what’s truly important in a scene. I don’t plan to script the entire novel, but just to use some scenes as practice.

So here is the script I came up with. Sorry for the horrible formatting.
               EXT. HIGH ABOVE GROUND- DAY

               AIRMAN peers through a scope from the bow of a gondola. A
               white dirigible balloon suspends the gondola. He takes notes.


               WE ZOOM THROUGH SCOPE to focus on second airship just above
               the horizon.

               The second airship dissolves in a burst of flames and drops
               to the forest below. A boom sounds many seconds later.


               RETURN BACK TO AIRMAN's face. He is horrified

               AIRMAN pulls levers and we hear a loud mechanical hum.

                                                                CUT TO:


               FOREST CLEARING


               PAN OVER burning wreckage and mangled bodies.

               We hear a hum then an airship descends. AIRMAN jumps out and
               examines bodies, all dead. Many are burned or dismembered. He
               finds two bodies with throats cut, obviously not from crash.
               He pulls out his weapon and assumes a defensive posture. He
               examines grass with bloodstains and trots off.

                                                                CUT TO:


               DEEP FOREST

               AIRMAN finds an 8-legged crawling war-machine with mounted
               cannon pointing toward smoking wreckage. Machine carries Nazi
               like markings.

               In the distance we hear tortured screams.

               AIRMAN turns and advances toward a black hole in ground.

                                   MALE VOICE (O.S., EUROPEAN ACCENT)
                         You will provide us the location of
                         the Sea Key. We know the Southland
                         hides it.

                                   FEMALE VOICE (O.S., SOUTHERN ACCENT)
                         There ain't no such thing. It's a

                                                          FOLLOW AIRMAN


               INT. DARK CAVE

               Visible are: QUEEN MAGNOLIA, a black woman impaled by a
               infernal torture device with spikes and with her clothing in
               bloody remnants; REICHLAND CAPTAIN wearing Nazi-like uniform
               operates device; and REICHLAND DOCTOR tends two wounded men
               on the floor. Flickering torches provide light. AIRMAN hides
               and watches.

               Quietly AIRMAN checks his weapon. He winces at the screams of
               the woman. His breath quickens, his hand tightens. His head
               nods as if rehearsing his moves.

               AIRMAN jumps into room, fires at: CAPTAIN,  DOCTOR, then two
               wounded men. CAPTAIN and DOCTOR slide to floor. QUEEN
               MAGNOLIA gasps in pain, unable to speak. AIRMAN holsters
               weapon and examines the torture device. He pulls a lever to
               release her and QUEEN MAGNOLIA stumbles forward. He catches
               her in his arms. They embrace as she sobs.

                         Please, Your Majesty, I must wrap
                         your wounds.

               QUEEN MAGNOLIA nods and releases him. AIRMAN finds a medical
               bag and pulls out supplies. QUEEN MAGNOLIA stumbles into a
               chair, fighting for calm. He wraps her bleeding torso with
               infinite care and respect. He stops when her reaches her
               breasts, but she cringes and nods. He finishes.

                                   AIRMAN (CONT'D)
                         I must protect your modesty.

               He pulls off his jacket and helps her into it.

                                   QUEEN MAGNOLIA
                         Thank you kindly.

                         My Queen, pardon my insolence, but
                         I must inform you--I intend to hold
                         you prisoner in the name of my lord
                         Duke Killingworth.

               Her face turns to rage.

                                   QUEEN MAGNOLIA
                         You rescued me only to go capture
                         me yourself? What kinda soldier are
                         you? Where's your loyalty?

                         My deepest apologies. The Duke
                         would have my head if I lost this

               She spits blood on the ground.

                                   QUEEN MAGNOLIA
                         And what would your King do to you
                         when he discovers this here

               AIRMAN blinks.



               WOUNDED ENEMY on the ground shakily lifts up a revolver and
               shoots. Blood explodes from AIRMAN's knee. He falls. QUEEN
               MAGNOLIA pulls gun from AIRMAN's holster and dispatches
               WOUNDED ENEMY. She turns the gun back to AIRMAN.

                                   QUEEN MAGNOLIA (CONT'D)
                         Oh lord, oh lord.

               AIRMAN holds out hand to her in self-defense. He gasps in

                         Please. Take my flyer. Can you

               QUEEN MAGNOLIA nods.

                                   AIRMAN (CONT'D)
                         It is back where you crashed. Fly
                         west to the river and then south to
                         New York. Hurry, the Duke is en
                         route. I swear if you do this, you
                         can evade him and return to the

               QUEEN MAGNOLIA hesitates, then stumbles from the cave. AIRMAN
               wraps his knee. Something glistens in the corner. He slides
               over and grasps it. It is a blue pendant in the shape of a
               swan. He stashes it in his clothes and then appears to sleep.

                                                         FADE TO BLACK.


               EXT. OUTSIDE OF CAVE

               Two men in the same uniform as the AIRMAN hold him on his

               AIRMAN is in obvious pain and cannot put weight on his
               injured left leg. A man in a regal uniform approaches him-
               the Duke (DUNSTAN).  DUNSTAN slaps AIRMAN in the face. A
               trickle of blood seeps from the AIRMAN's mouth.

                         How could you? How could you allow
                         the Demon Queen to escape? The very
                         witch who seduced our King? Did she
                         use her witchcraft upon you?

               AIRMAN's shakes head and cringes, fearing another blow.

                                   DUNSTAN (CONT'D)
                         Captain Thomas Putnam, you are a
                         disgrace to your uniform. You are
                         hereby stripped of your commission
                         and discharged from the Aivy. That
                         Demon Queen has obviously corrupted
                         you and you are of no further use
                         to me.

               The men throw THOMAS to the ground. THOMAS holds his knee.
               The men walk off.

                         She is no demon! She is a flesh and
                         blood woman! We cannot continue
                         this persecution!

                         We will continue it until that
                         Demon lies dead at my feet and I
                         take my rightful place on the
                         throne of New Britannia.

                                                           DISSOLVE TO:



Monday, March 14, 2011

Okay, Well, Here It Is

opening dayWelcome to the new and improved “The WriteRunner”!

I’m calling this a “soft opening” as I still don’t have all the content moved over and categorized. I’m going to have some kind of “grand opening” at some point with a contest or blogfest (but don’t hold your breath).

But from now on, all new writing-related content will be posted here (and a helpful link to new posts will be posted on the old site).

Here is the main foci of this site:

  • Writing advice based on my own experiences ranging from story construction to publication.
  • Updates to what I’m currently working on and descriptions of previous projects.
  • Writing excerpts including some full short stories.
  • Guest bloggers.

So thank you for your interest, and I hope that you find this site useful, informative, and entertaining. Please feel free to add any suggestions or requests you have for the site.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Movie Sign!

Just want to start out by saying that our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan today as they deal with the earthquake and tsunami that hit them. Japanese popular culture seems riveted with the concept of disaster but no one actually wants it to happen. Please consider a donation to the Red Cross.

Movie Sign!

gamera11I’ve been going ahead with the idea of writing a movie script for the History Story I’m working on. I have a couple reasons for this:

  1. I feel that this is really a visual story with movement and action. It’s something that falls well into the movie format.
  2. Writing a novel may take more time than I’m willing to spend on the project.
  3. A lot of people have commented that my style is a bit “cinematic” so why not put it to the test? Probably not the greatest reason but it’s given my something to think about.
  4. The potential upside is greater.

One of the things I’ve done is read the scripting book “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder. One of the exercises he suggests (among others) is to plot movies on a sheet of paper (a “beat sheet”) which contains all the major plot points. So for the last few mornings, I’ve sat with a form and watched Netflix movies and paused the movie every couple of minutes to make notes (which drives wife crazy). And amazingly enough, movies actually do follow the “beat” that Snyder has laid out. Almost down to the minute.

Note that many movies have a “beat” every ten minutes…when the reel changes (you can see a dot in the upper right corner of the film when this happens…but only in theaters). So the first reel is “setup”(Ordinary World), 2nd reel is “inciting incident,” and third is “break into Act II” (Crossing the First Threshold). There are 12 beats in all. Note that when the reel changes, the scene generally changes as well. Also note that the beats don’t correspond to the 12 steps of the Hero’s Journey.

So far I’ve screened Defiance, Gamer, and Vertical Limit. I’m trying to stick to adventure-type movies as sort of a blueprint for my own movies. So far I’ve learned a lot. I think I’m going to develop a beat sheet for novels as well, and fill them out when I read them. Have any suggestions? (that I can see on Netflix steaming)

The next step will be more complicated. I may take a couple movies and do a scene-by-scene breakdown and build a movie chart that maps the movie by emotion and conflict. It will be tough but I think I can learn this. I’ll have to say that I’m probably never going to view movies the same again.

pirates knocked up shrek