#WritingAdviceWednesday – Incremental Progress to Write One Novel or Screenplay a Year

doctorow_150x224In The One-Hour Screenwriter and my upcoming Thriller and The Power of Truth book, I recommend writing for one hour a day.  Cory Doctorow, an extremely prolific writer, has his schedule down to 20 minutes a day.

Cory is co-parenting new father who writes at least a book per year, half-a-dozen columns a month, ten or more blog posts a day, plus assorted novellas and stories and speeches.

Here is his take on incremental progress and he recommends:

Short, regular work schedule
When I’m working on a story or novel, I set a modest daily goal — usually a page or two — and then I meet it every day, doing nothing else while I’m working on it.
Leave yourself a rough edge
When you hit your daily word-goal, stop. Stop even if you’re in the middle of a sentence. Especially if you’re in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down at the keyboard the next day, your first five or ten words are already ordained, so that you get a little push before you begin your work.
Don’t research
Researching isn’t writing and vice-versa. When you come to a factual matter that you could google in a matter of seconds, don’t. … type “TK” where your fact should go, as in “The Brooklyn bridge, all TK feet of it, sailed into the air like a kite.” “TK” appears in very few English words … so a quick search through your document for “TK” will tell you whether you have any fact-checking to do afterwards.
Don’t be ceremonious
Forget advice about finding the right atmosphere to coax your muse into the room. … You can put up with noise/silence/kids/discomfort/hunger for 20 minutes.
http://www.locusmag.com/Features/2009/01/cory-doctorow-writing-in-age-of.html
1. A short, regular work schedule
When I’m working on a story or novel, I set a modest daily goal — usually a page or two — and then I meet it every day, doing nothing else while I’m working on it (for 20 minutes a day).
.
2. Leaving yourself a rough edge
When you hit your daily word-goal, stop. Stop even if you’re in the middle of a sentence. Especially if you’re in the middle of a sentence. That way, when you sit down at the keyboard the next day, your first five or ten words are already ordained, so that you get a little push before you begin your work.
.
3. Don’t research
Researching isn’t writing and vice-versa. When you come to a factual matter that you could google in a matter of seconds, don’t. … type “TK” where your fact should go, as in “The Brooklyn bridge, all TK feet of it, sailed into the air like a kite.” “TK” appears in very few English words … so a quick search through your document for “TK” will tell you whether you have any fact-checking to do afterwards.
.
4. Don’t be ceremonious
Forget advice about finding the right atmosphere to coax your muse into the room. … You can put up with noise/silence/kids/discomfort/hunger for 20 minutes. (For those 20 minutes all you do is write and don’t all ANY distractions in.)

#WritingAdviceWednesday – Curiosity and Rigor: The Keys to Success

I’ve just discovered a wonderful new website called The 99%.  One of the videos on the site is a discussion by the photographer and now filmmaker Andrew Zuckerman on creativity, wisdom, curiosity and success.  This is really worth your time and may even change the way you think about success–

Andrew Zuckerman: On Curiosity, Rigor, and Learning As You Go from 99% on Vimeo.

Negotiation in a Scene

small_img_0Thanks to Meg LeFauve for posting this in the first place. A great way to describe a film scene … by Christopher Vogler.
Our story editor called a meeting of the readers to tell us none of us had any idea what a scene was. I was surprised; I thought I knew. A scene is a short piece of a movie, taking place in one location and one span of time, in which some action takes place or some information is given.
Wrong, she said. And proceeded to explain that a scene is a business deal. It may not involve money but it will always involve some change in the contract between characters or in the balance of power. It’s a transaction, in which two or more people enter with one kind of deal between them, and negotiate or battle until a new deal has been cut, at which point the scene should end.
It could be the reversal of a power structure. The underdog seizes power by blackmail. Or it could be the forging of a new alliance or enmity. A boy asks a girl out and she accepts or rejects his offer. The meat of the scene is the negotiation to arrive at the new deal, and when the deal is cut, the scene is over, period. If there’s no new deal, it’s not a scene, or at least it’s not a scene that’s pulling its weight in the script. It’s a candidate either for cutting or for rewriting
The story editor pointed out that many writers don’t know what a scene is, either, and put in non-scenes that are just there “to build character” or to get across exposition. They don’t know when to begin and end a scene, wasting time with introductions and chit-chat and dragging the scene out long after the transaction has been concluded. The scene is the deal. When the deal is done, get off the stage.

small_img_0Thanks to Meg LeFauve (one time head of Jodie Foster’s production company) for posting this in the first place. A great way to describe a film scene … as recounted by Christopher Vogler.

Our story editor called a meeting of the readers to tell us none of us had any idea what a scene was. I was surprised; I thought I knew. A scene is a short piece of a movie, taking place in one location and one span of time, in which some action takes place or some information is given.

Wrong, she said. And proceeded to explain that a scene is a business deal. It may not involve money but it will always involve some change in the contract between characters or in the balance of power. It’s a transaction, in which two or more people enter with one kind of deal between them, and negotiate or battle until a new deal has been cut, at which point the scene should end.

It could be the reversal of a power structure. The underdog seizes power by blackmail. Or it could be the forging of a new alliance or enmity. A boy asks a girl out and she accepts or rejects his offer. The meat of the scene is the negotiation to arrive at the new deal, and when the deal is cut, the scene is over, period. If there’s no new deal, it’s not a scene, or at least it’s not a scene that’s pulling its weight in the script. It’s a candidate either for cutting or for rewriting

The story editor pointed out that many writers don’t know what a scene is, either, and put in non-scenes that are just there “to build character” or to get across exposition. They don’t know when to begin and end a scene, wasting time with introductions and chit-chat and dragging the scene out long after the transaction has been concluded. The scene is the deal. When the deal is done, get off the stage.

The Black List Goes Big

In 2004, film executive Franklin Leonard started listing and then naming the best and most popular scripts in Hollywood limbo, according to a huge consensus of executives in the top tiers of filmmaking. The goal was to champion screenplays by talented but not necessarily well-known screenwriters based on the quality of the writing ,and not how many connections the writer had in the business.
In seven years there have been 125 Black List screenplays turned into movies. Between them they have won 20 Oscars and grossed approximately $10 billion worldwide.
The Black List is probably the greatest resource available for producers trying to find source material for their next big movie, and produced scripts include Juno, 500 Days Of Summer, Lars and the Real Girl, No Strings Attached and Inglourious Basterds.
Already in production from last year’s Black List are Snow White and the Huntsman, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Oz the Great and Powerful.
OK, point made: The Black List has been a big deal.
The news now is that the Franklin Leonard is launching a new site that will track the most popular scripts in real time, an advance for a film industry where trends are constantly shifting.
Not only that, the site will also expand its polling to include the opinions of agents and leading directors, making the site a more valuable resource than ever before.

screenplayFrom Bleeding Cool Website

In 2004, film executive Franklin Leonard started The Black List listing and then naming the best and most popular scripts in Hollywood limbo, according to a huge consensus of executives in the top tiers of filmmaking. The goal was to champion screenplays by talented but not necessarily well-known screenwriters based on the quality of the writing ,and not how many connections the writer had in the business.

In seven years there have been 125 Black List screenplays turned into movies. Between them they have won 20 Oscars and grossed approximately $10 billion worldwide.

The Black List is probably the greatest resource available for producers trying to find source material for their next big movie, and produced scripts include Juno, 500 Days Of Summer, Lars and the Real Girl, No Strings Attached and Inglourious Basterds.

Already in production from last year’s Black List are Snow White and the Huntsman, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Oz the Great and Powerful.

OK, point made: The Black List has been a big deal.

The news now is that the Franklin Leonard is launching a new site that will track the most popular scripts in real time, an advance for a film industry where trends are constantly shifting.

Not only that, the site will also expand its polling to include the opinions of agents and leading directors, making the site a more valuable resource than ever before.

Full Story Here

The Power of Truth at the Emmys

Before we go any further let’s look at what a Power of Truth story is not.
Erin Brockovich, To Kill a Mockingbird, Silkwood and The Insider all involve some kind of criminal conspiracy.  A crime is committed.  Evidence is falsified or covered-up.  The protagonist wants to expose these crimes and stop or punish the real wrong-doers.  But these stories are not Power of Truth stories.  Why?
Each of these stories deal with the Power of Conscience.  In each case, the protagonist is clear about what happened (or is happening) and what is morally right.  The story struggle is about what to do to right the wrong.  How much responsibility can or should the protagonist take in the situation?  These stories  ask, “If I am my brother’s keeper how far must I go on his behalf?”
The Power of Conscience character’s answer to the above question is:  ”All the way.”  Once the character has decided to right the wrong, the question then is how to prevail.  This character’s pursuit of justice costs him or her dearly.  This protagonist often gives up or loses his or her job, family or other important relationships and suffers  staggering personal and financial losses on the story  journey. These stories are about law vs. justice, answering the call to one’s higher duty, standing up for one’s moral code, and taking responsibility for and sacrificing for another’s welfare.
The Devil’s Advocate, Wall Street, Catch Me If You Can and The Talented Mr. Ripley all involve crimes and cover-ups to a greater or lesser degree.  Active deception is involved in all four stories.  But these stories are not Power of Truth stories either.  Why?
Each of these films deals with the Power of Ambition.  In each  story, the protagonist knows what he is doing is wrong or illegal.  Each man proceeds anyway in order to achieve or maintain the approval, prestige, status, or position he so desperately craves.
These stories are about how far a protagonist is willing to go for material or social gain. These characters let their moral scruples go one by one and they are willing to lie, cheat and steal to get ahead.  They are keenly and acutely aware of their social standing and are willing to use any kind of fraud, trick or deception to maintain an illusion of their social or material success.  At the end, when these characters have nearly lost everything that matters on a human scale, they often reform their ways and “do the right thing.”  If the story is a tragedy they continue in their illegal or illicit ways until they and everything that matters to them is hollowed out or destroyed.
The Godfather Trilogy, Scarface, The Last Seduction and The Sopranos all involve criminal activity, the suppression of evidence and the elimination of anyone who interferes.  But not one of these are Power of Truth stories.  Why?
These are stories are about power.  Each of these Power of Will protagonists does whatever wrong he or she must do to survive, to expand territory or to conquer others.  There is no struggle with morality.  There is no ambiguity or uncertainty.  Might makes right.  The Law of the Jungle prevails.  Win or die.
Never showing a sign of weakness is key to every decision this character makes  and every action he or takes over the course of the story.  These characters say to themselves and others: “I had no choice. I had to protect myself, my empire or my family.”  They sacrifice tenderness, kindness, a sense of mercy and forgiveness to dominate the situation, which leads inevitably to the loss of their humanity, their soul, often their lives.  Those who live by sword tend to die by the sword.
The Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Professional and In the Bedroom all involve crimes and cover-ups. But none of these stories are Power of Truth stories either.  Why?
These are Power of Reason stories about logical deduction, the mastering or attempted elimination of emotion (emotion being the enemy of objectivity) and some profound alienation from society.  Dr. Gregory House, the medical detective and master diagnostician in the television series House, is another great example of this kind of character and story.
Dr. House investigates each medical case with keen powers of observation, a ruthless razor sharp logic and penetrating rational deduction. He is alienated from everyone andmanages to alienate everyone around him.  The patient is more of a puzzle to be solved than a human being to be nurtured and healed.
In Power of Truth stories ambiguity and deception might be hiding the solution to the problem or crime, but the protagonist is absolutely clear-headed (often to the point of near inhuman dispassion).  There is little personal investment in the investigation merely a difficult puzzle to be solved.
I recently watched the film made from the play Equus.  A young man inexplicably blinds six horses at the stable where he worked as a caring responsible stable hand.  He is committed to a mental institution where an experienced psychiatrist tries to solve the mystery and heal the boy.
This isn’t a Power of Truth story either.  The psychiatrist is a disillusioned Power of Idealism character.  He wonders if healing the boy of his passion and madness, only to send him into a dispassionate world and a dull ordinary life, is a noble thing to do.  This film is about the price of passion and whether pain is the price of being truly alive even if for only a horrifying or mad moment.
The trick to all of this is to determine what the mystery brings out in the character.  What is at the root of the crime, the murder, the conspiracy, the unusual phenomena or strange occurrence?  What does the solution, and how it is obtained, say about how the character views the world, his or her philosophy and essential human struggle?

imagesMad Men won its fourth statuette in a row for Outstanding Drama Series at the 2011 Emmy Awards. The show is set in the world of advertising; a world of illusion, sleight of hand and outright deception.

It is a quintessential Power of Truth story and is anchored by a wonderful Power of Truth protagonist, Don Draper/Dick Whitman (Jon Hamm). Surface laughter, glamour and the sophisticated tinkle of ice in a cut-glass tumbler of scotch obscures the dark and tangled subterranean underpinnings of the man, the profession and the era. All is not well in the American “Camelot” and its aftermath.

In addition to issues of perception, illusion and deception, Power of Truth stories are also about the nature of loyalty and betrayal. These stories ask: What exactly is loyalty? What is betrayal? How do we betray ourselves? How do we betray others? Can you be loyal to someone and betray them at the same time? When should you let go of old loyalties and move on?  How is the ground shifting beneath you?  Who or what can you trust? When does loyalty look like betrayal?  When does betrayal look like loyalty?

Tyrion_Lannister-game-thronesThose questions swirl around another 2011 Emmy-nominated drama, The Game of Thrones.  Issues of loyalty and betrayal consume Emmy winning Best Supporting Actor, Peter Dinklage in the role of Tyrion Lannister.  Tyrion has suffered (and will suffer) staggering betrayals in the story.  Like his powerful father, Tyrion also has a talent for political maneuvering, sabotage, conspiracy, treachery and betrayal.

Power of Truth characters inhabit a story world that is a potential minefield, filled with explosive secrets, concealed enemies and unexpected pitfalls. This character’s philosophy might be stated: “Things are never what they seem.” “Trust no one.” “Question everything.” “Everyone has a hidden agenda.”

images-2These story themes could also describe The Good Wife and protagonist Alicia Florrick.  Julianna Margulies won the 2011 Emmy for Best Actress in Drama for her role as Alicia in the series.

Can she trust her husband?   Can she trust herself?  Who is betraying her? Who is she willing to betray?  Who is really an ally and who is really an enemy?  Secrets, lies, and lack of trust all play key roles in the plot twists for each episode.

On a personal level, Power of Truth protagonists are all hyper-aware of shifting alliances and are always on the lookout for possible falseness, duplicity or treachery in any relationship or situation. These characters are very imaginative and perceptive and that creativity and sensitivity can also get them into trouble. They can spin disaster scenarios or conspiracy theories inside their heads that have no basis in reality.

But then again, as Woody Allen famously said:  “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t really after you.”  Power of Truth character often sense something is amiss in the world before others do.  They just can’t prove their suspicions– yet.

The Power of Truth character asks, “What does society demand, expect or value?”—and then often sets out to debunk or disprove the answer. These characters are compelled to uncover the concealed nature and (often rotten) underbelly of things.

A character driven by the Power of Truth is often the protagonist in mystery stories, conspiracy stories, suspense stories, mistaken identity stories, investigative stories and detective stories. In an ensemble cast, these characters are frequently secret keepers, strategists, counselors or advisers. In whatever role they play, they look beneath the surface of things to discover what lies below or is hidden from view.  They ask: “What don’t those in charge want you to see?”

Power of Truth character Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) on The X Files voices his frustrations and the futility of nailing down the ever shifting truth in these kinds of stories: “Why is it that every time I think I know the answers, someone goes and changes the questions?” Nothing is quite what it seems in Power of Truth stories.  Nothing is certain.  The ground keeps slipping from beneath the protagonist.

But not every conspiracy story, mystery, suspense story, thriller or detective story is a Power of Truth story.

ErinBigPicErin Brockovich, To Kill a Mockingbird, Silkwood and The Insider are suspenseful stories all involving some kind of criminal conspiracy.  A crime is committed.  Evidence is falsified or covered-up.  The protagonist wants to expose these crimes and stop or punish the real wrong-doers.  But these stories are not Power of Truth stories.  Why?

Each of these stories deal with the Power of Conscience.  In each case, the protagonist is clear about what has happened (or is happening) and what is morally right.  The story struggle is about what to do to right the wrong.  How much responsibility can or should the protagonist take in the situation?  These stories ask, “If I am my brother’s keeper how far must I go on his behalf?”

The Power of Conscience character’s answer to the above question is:  ”All the way.”  Once the character has decided to right the wrong, the question then is how to prevail.  This character’s pursuit of justice costs him or her dearly.  This protagonist often gives up or loses his or her job, family or other important relationships or suffers other personal losses on the story  journey.

These stories are about law vs. justice, answering the call to one’s higher duty, standing up for one’s moral code, and taking responsibility for and sacrificing for another’s welfare.  At the 2011 Emmys, Kyle Chandler (Coach Taylor) on Friday Night Lights, plays a Power of Conscience character and took home the award for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series.  (He plays a high school football coach and is not involved in a crime story.)

09_talented Mr.RipleyThe Devil’s Advocate, Wall Street, Catch Me If You Can and The Talented Mr. Ripley all involve crimes and cover-ups to a greater or lesser degree.  Active deception is involved in all four stories.  But these films are not Power of Truth stories either.  Why?

Each of these stories deals with the Power of Ambition. Each protagonist knows what he is doing is wrong or illegal.  Each proceeds anyway in order to achieve or maintain the approval, prestige, status, or position he so desperately craves.

These stories are about how far a protagonist is willing to go for material or social gain. Power of Ambition characters let their moral scruples go one-by-one as they  lie, cheat or steal to get ahead.  They are keenly and acutely aware of their social standing and are willing to use any kind of fraud, trick, deception or cover-up to maintain their illusion of social or material success.  All they want is to be liked and to be admired.

At the end, when these characters have nearly lost everything that matters on a human scale, they often reform their ways and “do the right thing.”  If the story is a tragedy they continue in their illegal or illicit ways until they and everything that truly matters is hollowed out or destroyed.

4AE983BBD84FC51BBA3D8692147A9The protagonists in The Shield, Scarface, The Last Seduction and The Sopranos all involve criminal activity, the suppression of evidence and the elimination of anyone who interferes.  But not one of these are Power of Truth stories.  Why?

These are stories are about strength vs weakness.  Each of these Power of Will protagonists does whatever is needed to survive, to expand territory or to conquer others.  There is no ambiguity or uncertainty in their actions. Might makes right.  The Law of the Jungle prevails.  Win or die.

Never showing any sign of weakness is key to every decision a Power of Will character makes and every action he or takes over the course of the story.  These characters say to themselves and others: “I had no choice. I had to protect myself, my empire or my family.”

They sacrifice tenderness, kindness, a sense of mercy and forgiveness to dominate and forcibly control the situation.  These actions lead inevitably to the loss of their humanity, their soul, and often their lives.  Those who live by sword tend to die by the sword.  (A key difference between a Power of Will character and a Power of Ambition character is that a Power of Ambition character really wants to be liked.  A Power of Will character would rather be feared.)

sherlockholmes110914000424The Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Professional and In the Bedroom all involve crimes and cover-ups. But none of these stories are Power of Truth stories either.  Why?

These are Power of Reason stories about logical deduction, the mastering or attempted elimination of emotion (emotion being the enemy of objectivity) and some profound alienation from society.  Dr. Gregory House, the medical detective and master diagnostician in the television series House, is a television example of a Power of Reason character and story.

Dr. House investigates each medical case with keen penetrating powers of observation, a ruthless razor sharp logic and cold rational deduction. He is alienated from others and usually manages to alienate everyone around him.  The patient is more of a puzzle to be solved than a human being to be nurtured and healed.

In Power of Reason stories ambiguity and deception might be hiding the solution to the problem or crime, but the protagonist is absolutely clear-headed (often to the point of near inhuman dispassion).  There is little personal investment in the investigation, merely a difficult puzzle to be solved.  At the 2011 Emmys, Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper) on The Big Bang Theory plays a comic Power of Reason character who took home the award for Best Actor in a Comedy Series.  (He is a scientist involved in research rather than in any kind of criminal investigation.)

equus-pictures-daniel-radcliffe-85030_460_300I recently watched the film adapted from the play Equus.  A young man inexplicably blinds six horses at the stable where he worked as a caring and responsible stable hand.  He is committed to a mental institution where an experienced psychiatrist tries to solve the mystery and heal the boy.

This isn’t a Power of Truth story either.  The psychiatrist/investigator is a disillusioned Power of Idealism character.  He wonders if healing the boy of his passion and madness, only to send him into a stupefyingly mundane world and a dull ordinary life, is a noble thing to do.  This film is about the intensity of passion and whether pain is the price of being truly alive, even if for only a horrifyingly insane moment.

The trick to all of this analysis is to determine what the situation and story journey brings out in the character. What is at the root of the crime, the murder, the conspiracy, the unusual phenomena or suspenseful situation?  What does the solution, and how it is obtained, say about how the character views the world, his or her philosophy and essential human struggle?

Power of Truth stories wrestle primarily with certainty vs uncertainty, illusion vs reality, loyalty vs betrayal or truth vs lies or deception. In these stories the protagonist can’t fully trust anyone—not even him or herself.

My new book discusses exactly how to create a rich compelling plot for a Power of Truth story, how to use suspense and reversals to keep the audience engaged and guessing at every twist, how to develop fresh original characters and how to make this kind of story your own.

The book will be available for a short time at a discount to readers of this blog and newsletter.  Send an email to etbscreenwriting (at) gmail (dot) com to get on the list.

The Paris Wife

Hadley-and-Ernest-Hemingw-007After a long vacation and time away, I am back.  One of the books I read while on a relaxing dreamy vacation in Greece was The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.

This fictional story of Ernest Hemmingway and his first wife Hadley Richardson is a wonderful read.  It is a fascinating portrait of a Power of Love character (Hadley) and a Power of Will character (Hemmingway) living and loving in Paris of the 1920’s.

Hadley supports the soon-to-be great man with all the patience, determination and tenacity of a true Power of Love character.  But she’s not a victim or a martyr.  The gift he gives her is strength, confidence and the ability to live without him when their marriage is done.

When Hadley and Hemmingway meet in Chicago.  Hadley is visiting a long-time school friend.  She is a shy spinster type, living in her married sister’s house after caring for their long-ailing mother.  She is resigned to a quiet existence at the mercy of family obligations.

After her trip to Chicago, Hadley returns home to Saint Louis convinced that Hemmingway is “a beautiful boy” but isn’t all that interested in her.  She is surprised and delighted to get a letter from him after only a few days time.

The two fall in love via long letters (sometimes two or three a day).  They marry and go off to Paris where she encourages, helps and becomes the emotional pillar supporting his work.  Hadley has a life with Hemmingway filled with interesting people, places and parties.  Her voice (and influence) is clear, steady and practical in a world filled with posing and posturing and the brittle gaiety of post World War I Paris.

Hemmingway is the lusty, larger than life Power of Will character who sweeps Hadley off her feet and off to Europe.  He’s a man’s man, fascinated with boxing and bull fighting.  He is immensely talented, hard drinking and hard-working.  He can also be belligerent and a bit of a bully (eventually alienating  many of his early mentors and supporters).  Hadley gives him the loving forgiving nurturing that was so crucial to his early uncertain years as a writer.

This is a wonderful portrait of the dynamics between two very clearly drawn Character Types.  They are absolutely true to type but wonderfully unique as individuals.

#WritingAdviceWednesday – Top Ten Writing Mistakes

42-FE4-SuzanneLieuranceThis is a great post from Suzanne Lieurance. She is an instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature and reads hundreds of manuscripts over the course of a year. Every thing she writes about below is relevant to screenwriting. She tackles the mistake like David Letterman– inching up to the number one mistake.

A note about POV below– Even in a large ensemble drama or comedy there is someone who is “first among equals.”  Make sure that person has a complete story arc and is driving the story for the other characters.

10) No Clear POV Character– Children tend to relate to the POV character in a story. This is the person they will root for. Make it clear right from the start whose story is being told. Even if you have two main characters (twins, for example), you need to pick just one of these kids to be your POV character. And, it should go without saying, when writing for children, make sure your POV character IS a kid – even if Grandma has a big part in your story.

9) Multiple Points of View– Unlike stories for adults, stories for children are generally told from only one POV. It isn’t difficult to maintain a single point of view once you get the hang of it. Just remember– if you are “showing” everything from your main character’s point of view, then he or she has to be present for everything that happens. I see stories all the time where the POV character suddenly leaves the room. Yikes! If your POV character wasn’t there to see or hear what went on, then we can’t see or hear it either.

8) Telling instead of Showing– Read a good story and chances are there is a lot of action and dialogue (showing) with minimal stretches of straight narrative (telling). Too much narrative and the story sounds like a summary. Readers don’t want a summary. They want scenes with action and dialogue that make them feel they are actually experiencing what is going on. So “show” as much as possible of your story through action and dialogue.

7) Overuse of Adjectives, Adverbs, and Other Unnecessary Words– Do you really need to say someone “whispered quietly” Or “shouted loudly” Or, my favorite– she “nodded her head”? What else could she nod? Or, she “shrugged her shoulders”– she certainly wouldn’t shrug her foot!

6) Dialogue That is Not Punctuated Properly– Get a grammar book to learn how to punctuate dialogue properly. But, most importantly, remember to change paragraphs each time the speaker changes. I read manuscripts all the time where three or four characters are speaking, yet the paragraph never changes. Just imagine how confusing that is to the reader!

5) Long Timeframes– I know Harry Potter takes place over several years. But, the story also takes place through several books. Most children’s writers start out writing stories for children’s magazines or they want to write picture books for very young children. Either way, the timeframe in these stories should be rather short– a couple of hours or a day or two. If your story takes place over a couple of weeks or (gulp!) a couple of years, then you need to shorten the timeframe.

4) No Narrative “Hook” for the Reader– I know what you’re asking– “What is a narrative hook?” Well, that’s simple. It’s just an opening sentence or two that “hooks” the reader and makes him or her want to continue reading to find out what happens.

3) Dialogue That Doesn’t Sound Real– Listen to any child or teenager and you’ll find out that much of what kids and teens say (at least to each other) tends to sound like a series of grunts. So don’t have the child or teen in your story use words like “shall,” or never use contractions. If you do, the dialogue will sound too formal and your work will not have a child’s or teen’s voice.

2) Adults Who Step In to Save the Day for the Child– I know what you’re thinking. Parents and other well-meaning adults DO step in all the time to save the day for kids. So why can’t they do it in stories for children? The answer to that is– because children don’t want to read stories like that. Stories for children have strong children (or children who eventually become strong throughout the course of the story) as characters. This empowers the children who read these stories. They figure, if the POV character can solve his own problems then maybe they can too.

Now. Drum roll here.

The number one mistake new writers make in their stories for children is

1) No real conflict– There’s no story problem. Your POV character needs to face some big problem right at the start of the story. Then, he or she needs to struggle and struggle with this problem as he/she tries to solve it. That is, things need to keep getting worse and worse until finally the POV character is able to solve the problem (or at least resolve it) and change or grow somehow in the process. Without a story problem you have what editors like to call “an incident,” and editors don’t publish incidents. They publish stories.

You can read the whole post here– http://www.absolutewrite.com/specialty_writing/top_ten.htm

The Traveling Writer – Jetlag

1.1270988699.1_milan-duomoI just arrived in Milan.  Beautiful city and gorgeous food! Because I travel so much I thought I would share some of my tips on how to avoid jet lag.

1. Bring a snack. This is my advice in every travel situation and specifically for a long international flight.  The food may not to be your liking and the sooner you can fall asleep on the plane the better off you are. So why wait for meal service when it will probably be mediocre at best. I like fruit and nut bars (without corn syrup in the ingredients because it is so noxious). Or trail mix.

2. Select your seat carefully. I book a seat in the middle row (three or four seats across) on the aisle.  The aisle seats go quickly and likelihood that the middle seats will be booked is fairly slim unless the plane is packed.  Even then, if a couple is traveling together on a four seat across row they will sit together leaving the seat next to you open.  Why is this important?  You don’t want people waking you up or climbing across you when you are asleep. And you want easy access to the restroom yourself.  It’s also great to have an extra tray for your stuff.

3.  Limit yourself to water or juice on the plane. Alcohol and caffeine will do you no good in the avoiding jetlag department.  Tea and coffee are a diarrhetic.  You don’t want to wake because you are constantly running to the restroom.  Alcohol won’t do you much good either so pass even if it is free.

4.  Seek chemical assistance. Once you’ve had water and your snack it’s time to induce sleep.  I have a prescription for a low dose of Valium (now available as a generic so it’s dirt cheap).  Other people swear by Benedryl which causes drowsiness.  I am not a Benedryl fan for this purpose because it also dries your sinuses.  And Valium has a muscle relaxer which is useful if you are spending hours in a cramped space.

5.  Bring an eye mask and neck pillow. Bring ear plugs too if you are sensitive to noise.  I have a plush lavender scented eye mask and a travel pillow which is very comforting and soothing. Noise doesn’t tend to bother me so I forget the ear plugs.  My husband likes noise canceling earphones.

6.  The time is the time where you are. Never look at the time elsewhere or say well it’s really 2am for me.  Just commit to the local time and leave it at that.  Don’t have these time zone discussions with yourself or anyone else.

7.  Spend time outdoors immediately. The sun will help reset your internal clock.  Spend at least an hour outside– even if it is cold or overcast.  This is a huge help in adjusting.  Take a brisk walk or sit in an outdoor cafe.

8. Get to bed at a reasonable time. Don’t go to bed before 9pm or after 10pm (or 11pm at the latest).  Between 9 and 10 is ideal.    Take a lower dose of your chemical assistance even if you don’t think you need it.  Eight hour of uninterrupted sleep is key to making the final transition.  After the first night I don’t rely on any kind of sleep inducer.  I also don’t drink while traveling and I try to be careful about what I eat.

I can truthfully say I never am bothered by jetlag.  I might tire slightly more easily but I don’t have the spacey exhausted feeling.  If you stick to this routine you won’t have problems either.

I just bought a Kindle and it is a fabulous boon to the traveling writer.  There is always a ton of travel waiting in going anywhere.  With a Kindle time flies with a wealth of guilty pleasure reading– which I can don’t much of when I am at home working. Most of the reading I do then is usually research related. My reward for patient waiting is fun reading material.

Foreign Correspondent – Day Thirty – #40movies40days

UnknownI can’t believe it’s been a month since I started this project.  I am three quarters of the way through now!

Foreign Correspondent, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, is a great complement to The Quiet American. Again, two men fighting for different sides are caught in a triangle over a girl.  Love, war, politics and the urging of America’s greater involvement in a war swirl through the movie. This time it is the eve of World War II.

Here’s a quick summary from Hal Erickson, writing for the New York Times:

Joel McCrea stars as an American journalist sent by his newspaper to cover the volatile war scene in Europe in the years 1938 to 1940. He has barely arrived in Holland before he witnesses the assassination of Dutch diplomat Albert Basserman: at least, that’s what he thinks he sees. McCrea makes the acquaintance of peace-activist Herbert Marshall, his like-minded daughter Laraine Day, and cheeky British secret agent George Sanders. A wild chase through the streets of Amsterdam, with McCrea dodging bullets, leads to the classic “alternating windmills” scene, which tips Our Hero to the existence of a formidable subversive organization. McCrea returns to England, where he nearly falls victim to the machinations of jovial hired-killer Edmund Gwenn. The leader of the spy ring is revealed during the climactic plane-crash sequence–which, like the aforementioned windmill scene, is a cinematic tour de force for director Hitchcock and cinematographer Rudolph Mate. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/18199/Foreign-Correspondent/overview

Again love and politics get intertwined.  Nothing is quite what it seems.  Love both clouds the characters’ judgement and makes it clearer in true Power of Truth fashion.

Love and politics require some great sacrifice in both The Quiet American and the Foreign Correspondent.  The element of sacrifice is sorely lacking in many of today’s films and their storytelling is much poorer for it.

Here is A. O. Scott’s take on the movie:

Monsters Inc. – Day Twenty Nine – #40movies40days

monsters_incMonsters Inc. is set in Monsteropolis and in its main energy supply company.  An assembly line of closet doors on the company’s “scaring floor” provide entry to the monsters to pop out, scare children and generate the screams that power Monsteropolis.

Protagonist, James P. Sullivan “Sully” (John Goodman) is a genial, lovable and caring big blue furry monster.  He is a Power of Love character and the top performer in the company, followed closely by  his main rival Randall Boggs (Steve Buscemi).  Sully’s manager/trainer is Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal).  He is a fast-talking  short green cyclops who is a publicity hound Power of Ambition character.  Mike basks in Sully’s reflected glory and assists Sully in his duties.

The problem in Monsteropolis is that children are becoming harder and harder to scare.  The joke is that the monsters are actually terrified by children. An elaborate containment routine is triggered when so much as a child’s sock enters their world.  Complete chaos ensues when a little girl, Boo, accidentally follows Sully back to Monsteropolis.  She isn’t afraid of Sully at all and calls him “kitty.”

936full-monsters,-inc.-photo.jpgAfter the initial shock, Sully immediately protects, hides and cares for the child.  Boo falls into the clutches of the Chairman of Monsters Inc., Henry J. Waternoose (James Coburn) and Randall Boggs in a plot to enslave children and forcibly extract their screams. Randall is a chameleon-like Power of Truth character.  He possesses the ability to change color in an sneaky stealthy shape-shifting way that truly terrifies Boo.

In uncovering the plot and rescuing Boo, Sully and Mike also discover that more power is generated by laughter than by fear.  Randall and Waternoose are exposed and defeated.  Monsters Inc. revamps its approach and generates even more power.  Mike finally graduates to having his own door and Sully reunites with Boo for a final tender good-bye.

This wonderful Pixar movie made me wonder what in my life is powered by fear.  It made me wonder what would happen if I turned off that switch and changed tactics, like Monsters Inc.  It’s my belief that any decision generated by fear is the wrong decision. Fear always speaks to the worst in us.  What leap of faith would I need to take to generate more power through joy? What would I need to change in my life to do that?