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Tony Soprano is a Mafia Power of Will character. He believes that expanding his power base, extending his territory, protecting and defending what is rightfully his (according to Tony) and swiftly avenging any wrong (or perceived wrong) is how one gets along, gets ahead and stays ahead in the world. Life is a battleground.

J.K. Rowling’s Handwritten Plot Sheet

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Always interesting to see how other writer’s think and conceptualize.  Even more interesting when the novel is a hit.

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Getting to the Heart of the Story

I talk a lot about the Heart of the Story in my workshops and consulting. The Heart of the Story is the simplest emotional statement distilling the story’s essence.

At UCLA I always had my students do a poster for their movie. The image and logline was to be the distilled essence of their screenplay. I recently came across a blog post by Edan Leucki about another kind of assignment for the same purpose. This assignment was for a rewrite class where writers were stuck.

Go wild, I said.  Do whatever it takes, to keep writing this thing.
Melissa came to class with these…boxes.
They were cardboard jewelry gift boxes, and there were three of them, one inside the next. The first bore the title of her novel, A Tiny Upward Shove, on its face. The inside of this box contained a smaller box, decorated with a monkey (“Because…duh,” Melissa said, or something like it), and a piece of paper, which described her book’s premise.
Inside the monkey box was an even smaller box, this one decorated with a plastic heart. On the inside of the monkey box, Melissa had written a shorter version of the novel description, distilled from the notes on the piece of paper.  The smallest box — we all leaned forward to see — was empty, except Melissa had written the book’s premise on its inside.
She’d distilled it to a single sentence: “Chronicles the life of a woman who was separated from her bipolar mother and placed into foster care at 15.”
She told us she’d been struggling with how to describe her book to people who asked about it. This project forced her to find the book’s main idea, its essence.  It ended up thrilling everyone in the room.
The boxes were funny, and strange, and beautiful, and important. I keep imagining Melissa struggling to write in the margins of the smallest box, and it moves me. Making this project wasn’t novel writing, of course, but it enabled Melissa to return to her book with a fresh perspective. It helped her to keep going. That’s what we’re after, isn’t it?
Go wild, I said.  Do whatever it takes, to keep writing this thing.
Melissa came to class with these…boxes.
.
M41They were cardboard jewelry gift boxes, and there were three of them, one inside the next. The first bore the title of her novel, A Tiny Upward Shove, on its face. The inside of this box contained a smaller box, decorated with a monkey (“Because…duh,” Melissa said, or something like it), and a piece of paper, which described her book’s premise.
.
.
.
.
M5Inside the monkey box was an even smaller box, this one decorated with a plastic heart. On the inside of the monkey box, Melissa had written a shorter version of the novel description, distilled from the notes on the piece of paper.  The smallest box — we all leaned forward to see — was empty, except Melissa had written the book’s premise on its inside.
.
.
.
.
M6She’d distilled it to a single sentence: “Chronicles the life of a woman who was separated from her bipolar mother and placed into foster care at 15.”
.
She told us she’d been struggling with how to describe her book to people who asked about it. This project forced her to find the book’s main idea, its essence.  It ended up thrilling everyone in the room.
.
The boxes were funny, and strange, and beautiful, and important. I keep imagining Melissa struggling to write in the margins of the smallest box, and it moves me. Making this project wasn’t novel writing, of course, but it enabled Melissa to return to her book with a fresh perspective. It helped her to keep going. That’s what we’re after, isn’t it?
What kind of project would help you get to the Heart of the Story?
Okay, so here’s the homework part of this post:  Make … something as unwriterly as possible. No outlines, no character sketches. Instead, do something surprising and weird and beautiful and fun; the only requirement is that it provides you with a new outlook on your work, and gets you pumped to write.

Advice from John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck — Pulitzer Prize winner, Nobel laureate, love guru — with six tips on writing, culled from his altogether excellent interview it the Fall 1975 issue of The Paris Review.
Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4156/the-art-of-fiction-no-45-continued-john-steinbeck

john-steinbeckJohn Steinbeck, a Pulitzer Prize winning author (Grapes of Wrath) and Nobel laureate offers six basic tips on writing in his interview it the Fall 1975 issue of The Paris Review.

1.  Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised. (This concept of small daily incremental progress is key to long term writing success.)

2.  Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.  (Self-censorship and a constant reworking of material day-by-day is absolutely antithetical to finishing anything!)

3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one. (This helps to tell a story with real intimacy.  It’s just you and one other person.)

4.  If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there. (Constant forward momentum is the only way anything gets done.  Don’t let any one scene, or sequence stop or stymie you.)

5.  Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing. (Kill kill kill your darlings.)

6.  If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech. (This is excellent advice even for purely narrative passages too!)

The whole interview is here– http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4156/the-art-of-fiction-no-45-continued-john-steinbeck

Thriller Book Excerpt – Power of Truth Conundrums

300px-BigComboTrailerIn a Power of Truth story the conundrums at the heart of the main character’s inner conflict are:

Loyalty vs. Betrayal When does betrayal look like loyalty and vice versa? Who can your character trust? Can a character be loyal to someone as he or she is betraying that person? Can loyalty be an act of betrayal?

Ally vs. Enemy How does the character’s view of “good” and “evil” shift or change? Who is hiding what? Who is working behind the character’s back for good or ill? How does the character work against him or her self?

Pursuer vs. Pursued What is the character running after and what is he or she running from? How does this change or reverse itself?

Truth vs. Lie How does the “truth” move and morph depending on perspective, or new or reinterpreted information? What is really the truth, how does the truth shift or change depending on shifting perceptions? What is delusion, what is misleading and what is outright active deception?

Desire to Suspect vs. Need to Trust How does the character wrestle with suspicion, paranoia, and the aftereffects of betrayal or seeming betrayal? Can your character fully know the heart of anyone? Can your character fully trust him or her self? Can anyone ever be 100% certain of anyone or anything?

Illusion vs. Reality What is real and what is a set-up, a lie, misinformation, a conspiracy, a delusion, or hidden below the surface of things? How much of perception is preconception, prejudice, ignorance, naivety, pretense, paranoia, duplicity, trickery, or a set up?

Certainty vs. Uncertainty What can be pinned down, proven and quantified, and what will always have an element of the unknown, the mysterious, or the unexplained? Is anyone ever all “good” or all “bad”? How does the character deal with moral ambiguity, shifting perceptions, or shades of gray? Isn’t every situation a shade of gray? Aren’t all people combinations of good and evil?

All great Power of Truth stories — mysteries, thrillers, suspense, and detective stories answer these key questions.

April 2012 – Writing Lessons from Norway

P1030798At the Western Norway Film Summit I looked at a number of projects under development by writer/directors and their producers.

First of all, let me say what an inspiring range of talent there is in the region.  The films were all very different and had a wonderful local sense of place combined with the potential universal emotional appeal that gives a film “legs.”

This isn’t to say there weren’t challenges to overcome in the stories and characters in the films discussed.

Here are three key take-aways about common issues that make a film project less effective and less emotionally compelling.

CONFLICT

No matter how poetic, beautiful, or inspired the visuals in a film are, without conflict you don’t have a story.

There are three levels of conflict–

External conflict (obstacles presented by the physical environment or terrain, the weather, the society or culture, or any other obstacle presented by the larger external world of the story)

Relationship conflict (conflict or opposition between the people or creatures in the story)

Internal conflict (conflict within a character– the personal or psychological obstacles the character struggles with inside him or her self).

The Internal conflict drives the other two kinds of conflict.  By this I mean how a character deals with any challenge, opportunity, or threat depends on who they are emotionally.  Emotion always drives action.

CONSISTENT OVERALL TONE

A film’s tone should be consistent and yet surprising.  The film can and should have ups and downs, shifts and reversals, and comic or dramatic turnarounds.  But the story should an overall tone that works as an underlying point of view about the story world.

If a film is a black comedy then the ending must be funny in an ironic way or end in a sharp or biting comic twist.  You don’t want to end a warm romantic comedy with a sad, ironic, or scathing twist at the end.  Nor do you want to end a sharp dark comedy with a moment of emotional violins.

Be careful that shifts in tone fit a consistent comic or dramatic sensibility.  Comedy must, of course, have moment of drama or pathos and drama must have moments of humor or absurdity.  But reversals in tone should not be confusing, jarring, or pull the audience emotionally out of the story.

FOCUS

Detail makes for a rich story world.  Avoid details that only complicate the story plot. Strip away all details that don’t support the main character’s emotional journey.

Audiences love SIMPLE stories about COMPLEX emotions.  Complex stories about simple emotions are confusing.  There is a great difference between what is complex (consisting of many different but connected parts) and what is confusing (extraneous information that is bewildering or difficult to follow).

I find that no matter how experienced or talented a filmmaker is he or she has to keep returning to the basics in every project. It’s so easy to forget the key tenets– we all need to be reminded of what is fundamental in each new story.

How to Evaluate Stories

HOWTOEVALUATESTORIESHow to Evaluate Stories is available now on Amazon– $4.99 for a limited time–

“This little book is so packed with story wisdom it is mind boggling. Each concise suggestion is so clear and — easy —and yet as you apply them to your work, they will continue to open up and deepen in your understanding. These are the great film story tenants that the best storytellers—and executives!—know and work from. Read it, learn it, use it, because these checklists are packed with a story punch that will get you way ahead of the pack.”

—Meg LeFauve, producer, screenwriter, former President of Jodie Foster’s Egg Pictures

“Laurie’s storytelling techniques have shaved HOURS off of my work day and off of the script development process. I’ve been able to apply her lessons to film, television and even advertising projects. I wish every writer, director and ad industry professional would buy this book.”

—Bernadette Rivero, President of The Cortez Brothers production and multi-platform content company

“This is an excellent guide for any new and existing writer or producer to have by their side as they embark on a project. It gives a really clear reminder of what is vital for success”.

—Naomi Joseph, Executive Director of International Scripted Programming, Endemol Group, London

“It’s a great little guide, very useful, and dripping with truth. The creative process can be messy, murky, and bewildering, but Laurie’s short, precise story guide shines enough light for all to see.”

—Nick Malmholt, screenwriter and former Head of Drama, FremantleMedia Worldwide Drama

“This is the most comprehensive overview of screenwriting I’ve read. Why read 100 pages of some other writer’s journey when you get what you need in just a few pages? This is a quick amazing read. Don’t spend your time reading while you are trying to write.”

— Jamison Reeves, actor, writer, director

“Though I’ve written almost twenty screenplays, after reading Laurie’s How To Evaluate Stories book, I hurried to revise a treatment I’d just written. I’ll go back to this book again and again, each time I start a script, because Laurie’s clear, concise concepts about what makes a good script and a good story are dead on. This book would be helpful to any writer, novice or veteran. I highly recommend it.”

— Lisanne Sartor, screenwriter and CineStory Board President

“This is SO great and useful! It’s amazing how it dovetails with some truths I’m coming to learn about my own character as I move through the crises in my own life. I’m gonna keep it right on my desk because it reminds me WHY we write and fuels my passion for it. Having read it and used it, it’s a steal for the price.”

— Rita Augustine, screenwriter

“Laurie Hutzler’s How to Evaluate Stories is an invaluable resource for any filmmaker who wants to thoroughly “interrogate” their script, asking the tough questions. If you’re serious about telling a compelling story, one that grabs the audience and refuses to let go, read this eBook…Now!”

—Derrick Pete

“It is sound for every screenwriter to collect second opinions on a finished draft. In most cases, though, we do not get the advice we need. What we do get instead is other peoples´ version of our story. Laurie Hutzler´s concise book How To Evaluate Stories enables us to detect potential flaws ourselves.”

—Wieland Bauder, screenwriter, university teacher DffB Berlin Film School


Writing Rules from Kurt Vonnegut

kurt-vonnegutThis from Brain Pickings

Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.
Start as close to the end as possible.
Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Workshops & Consulting in Norway

April 17th: Master Class in Bergen
For screenwriters, directors, and creative producers
Format: Around 5 hours
April 18th: Film Summit Presentation
Morning: Fjord ferry with the participants from Bergen to Ullensvang Hotel
3:30pm Arrival at Hotel
5:00pm 60-120 minutes presentation to the whole group
PS: we can also move this presentation to April 19th
Evening: Dinner at hotel
April 19th: Film Summit: Individual Meetings
10:00-5:00pm Conference programme or a few one-to-one meetings
Evening: Excursion along the fjord, and dinner at special location

220px-Hardanger1I am delighted to be returning to Norway to work with the talented film producers, directors, and writers in Scandinavia. The Master Class below is open to all filmmakers and is a great introduction to or refresher on using The Emotional Toolbox method to solve problems in your project. The ETB method is a specific, practical approach which immediately pinpoints story and character problems and offers clear character-based solutions.

I hope you can meet in Bergen me if you are in or around Scandinavia in April.

April 17th: Master Class in Bergen, Norway

An introduction to the Emotional Toolbox, the Character Map and the Nine Character Types for screenwriters, directors, and creative producers. Session open to the public.  For more information contact: Sigmund Elias Holm sigmund@wnfc.no

April 18th: Film Summit Workshop

Applying the Character Map to specific projects under-development. Closed session.  By invitation only.

April 19th: Film Summit: Individual Meetings

One-on-one consulting discussing projects in development.  Closed session.  Juried project selection.