Posts Tagged ‘#screenwriting’

“Things Taken” is a feature length screenplay in which an award winning journalist and rape-survivor struggles to regain her sense of identity in the years following her attack. When a series of home-invasions becomes too bizarre for her detective boyfriend to handle on his own, she decides to assist in solving the case. As the two get closer to unraveling the mystery they are terrified to learn that the perpetrator may not be of this world.

Fear of woman victim of domestic violence and abuse (Shutterstock)

Fear of woman victim of domestic violence and abuse (Shutterstock)

Things Taken” is written in a lean and visceral style that allows the reader/viewer to be transported to both familiar and alien landscapes. The script also offers a unique perspective on what exactly may lie beyond the grasp of human consciousness while staying true to the basest human desires.

A green energy expert claims humans and aliens have made hybrids

The protagonist to “Things Taken” is a woman named SARAH who is searching for more than the outer story arc of the script suggests; she is determined to regain the strength and dignity that was taken from her by the murderous rapist that left her for dead. The abduction of her friend, MELINDA is the inciting incident that demands she face her inner demons in order to keep others from suffering her own hollowing fate. Her inner journey depicts a broken woman’s reclamation of life’s most important elements: feelings of safety, self-respect, and personal beauty.

It would make sense that the process of editing and finalizing would be the most drawn out and pain-staking to a group of individuals (writers and other creatives) that are traditionally self-critical and border-line paranoid about how their work may be received.

Yet, despite this unfortunate reality, editing and proofing is not only the best way to make a work stand out, but also for an author to transcend from amateur to professional. Many literary powerhouses have passed on their wisdom about the editing process and regardless of what they say or how they say it, the end result is generally the same:

Writing down your ideas is only the beginning!

or the ever-popular euphemism,

Real writing begins AFTER the first draft is complete.

For me, the thought of editing is no different. I feel the urge to tell another story the second I wrap up the one that I am working on. But, how fair would that be to the characters that inhabit the pages, the meters within the stanzas, or the themes shrouded beneath the webs of prose that we, as writers labor so hard to create?

The answer:

Not at all.

Image result for editing

Editing takes determination and patience, but the resulting drafts are far more rewarding than half-finished or open-ended manuscripts that are not just unsuitable for the market place, but questionable for even sharing with a friend or family member!

As some of my more regular readers probably know, I have just completed a close-to-final edit on my upcoming full length novel, The Legend of Thunderbird, Coyote, and Joey Gordon. The time spent in editing that beast could have allowed me to create a couple of smaller sized works from concept to print (or kindle), but like the ideas outlined above:

The end product was totally worth it!

To effectively end this post, I would like to leave you with a couple of my favorite editing quotes:

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

-Stephen King-

“I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”

-Truman Capote-

HAPPY EDITING EVERYONE!


Being a writer comes with its own set of unique challenges. Many writers would argue that the biggest challenge is the act of writing itself; others would likely state that finding the time to write is the hardest part. Despite these differences, most, if not all writers would agree that the act of putting words on the page is one that is both intimate and personal. Some have even likened the sharing of one’s writing to a metaphorical baring of the soul or as being viewed naked and vulnerable by anyone who reads it.

This brings us to the elephant in every writer’s living room and the subject of today’s blog:

THE FEAR OF REJECTION.

                Many writers use their words as a source of introspection or even self-supplied therapy. This is why it is such a big decision for a writer to choose to share their work with even a single person. For non-writers this feeling of vulnerability could be replicated, or at least understood, by a hypothetical breech in personal privacy such as the reading of a journal or diary, personal emails, or even text/voice messages.

This delicate situation presents one of the most important transformations that one must undergo in order to be a successful writer:

DEVELOP A THICK SKIN.

                Stories of overnight success are certainly present in all disciplines, such as acting, music, writing, and just about any other outlet in both the creative and non-creative worlds. In the screenwriting world, many would think of Shane Black upon hearing the words “overnight success”. Black sold Lethal Weapon, his first screenplay, for $250,000, and has had several high-grossing/ successful projects since. Of course, what you don’t hear about is HOW Black ended up at the top. Did he get a good break? Sure. Did he connect with just the right people? Absolutely. But, what he did first was write and when he was finished; he did not let the fear of rejection keep him from realizing his dream.

Very few writers will experience the rapid rise to notoriety that Shane Black did, in fact, many well-known writers have had more than their share of rejection. Stephen King, in his must-read book, On Writing, tells of how he fell in love with the craft of writing at a young age and how he endeavored to become a writer. He would tack rejection letters on his wall and when the weight of the letters became too much he used a nail; by the time he was fourteen the letters were so numerous and weighty that he pinned them to the wall with a spike. If King had not pushed through the endless rejections, to eventually receive a glimmer of hope in the words “not bad”, the world would have been denied some of the most original and groundbreaking horror/thriller stories ever told.

King’s lesson:

BE PERSISTENT.

                Neil Gaiman echoes this to some degree in a 2004 journal entry on his website. He recommends building such a powerful ego/confidence that rejection is not an option. Of course, the possession of iron-clad confidence will not be enough to prevent rejections from coming, but it can definitely help to make them into something that can be used productively (or as Gaiman says in his journal, “Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!”).  There are many more great insights on Gaiman’s original post: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2004/02/on-writing.asp

Gaiman’s lesson:

TAKE CRITICISM AND KEEP WRITING.

                Any blog or article on writing craft and rejection would be lacking if it didn’t borrow something from one of the most professional and inspirational writers of the recent past: Steven Pressfield. Pressfield is perhaps best known for his novel The Legend of Bagger Vance, which was later turned into a movie (one that Pressfield was not particularly thrilled with) starring Will Smith. One of Pressfield’s crowning achievements however, comes in the form of a short work of non-fiction. The War of Art is a must have for anyone that hopes to make a living in a creative discipline. I could write an entire blog on each and every chapter of this book, so I have opted to include a couple of quotes from the book that are relevant to the subject:

“We cannot let external criticism, even if it’s true, fortify our internal foe. That foe is strong enough already.”

“Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working.”

                Perseverance seems to be the underlying theme. A writer will never be able to write professionally without putting themselves in a position that could illicit rejection. Hypothetically, a writer could hit it big on his or her first submittal, but it is far more likely that their road to success will be paved by rejection letters and ‘pass’ emails. The professional will not only move forward after rejection, but use the criticism to further their own ideas and constantly improve upon their work.

So with that being said, it is up to the individual to judge within him or herself if rejection is a crippling rebuke or simply an opportunity for improvement. I have had my share of passes and rejection letters from movie studios and like King, I save them (in my cluttered email archive as opposed to the spike!). I have had some that were short and impersonal and others that were more of a personal attack. Like with most things, NEVER taking it personal is something that is easier said than done; I have tried my best to treat rejections like building blocks to hone my craft or stepping stones to my next success. A particular writing style might not be for everyone and sometimes rejection can take a form that actually makes you feel better about your work. One of my favorite rejection letters was from a mid-sized and fairly young UK based production company. The letter praised my script (a modern-day paranormal thriller), and even outlined what they liked and how excited it made them. The reason for the pass: the last scene was effect heavy and they didn’t feel like they could do it justice. They recommended a couple companies and gave me their best.

 To me, that rejection is one that I will always cherish.

Until next time horror fans!

For those of you that read my last blog post: “Which do you feed, the Id or the masses?”, may have thought that there was some specific reason that I posted on the topic. Those readers would be correct. While writing my first screenplay, Red Reaper, Burn, I was constantly questioning if the subject matter was relevant to the film market at that moment in time. For that project, I found that the story was in fact more relevant to the current market near its completion than it was during early development. I didn’t expect this, in fact I knew that I HAD to write that screenplay because the story was just too powerful to pass up. The second time I found myself a slave to the muse turned out to be a very different ride altogether.

My second feature length screenplay was a complete labor of love. The excitement I felt while prepping for this project was greatly due to the fact that I had come up with the basic premise of the story years before and after the successful completion of Red Reaper, Burn, I felt that I finally had the ability to tell this story that had been building in my subconscious for nearly a decade. It is a very empowering feeling to know that you have a unique and dynamic story idea that is all fleshed out and that you possess the tools to tell it.

The screenplay took me about half the time to complete because, as I said before, it was mostly mapped out in my head. It is also the only project that I have ever written that retained its working title after completion; Ice Box was more of a brain child than a writing project and like some human children, the story started growing in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. I had originally envisioned the story as a psychological horror that took place mostly in the California Desert, a place that I spent many of my youthful years. After a couple of drafts, I was satisfied with the sense of foreboding I had created in the familiar landscape of my childhood, but as the story unfolded something unexpected happened: two of my characters fell in love.

I knew that it would take some work to make this unexpected love story ‘POP’, but I did not want to take away from the insane content of the story (which is discussed below). It worked out well in this case, as the characters were so clearly defined that their dialogue and actions became oftentimes apparent and sometimes even instantaneous.

The story ended up being a total Id project for me! It may not ever win an Academy Award, but it is a fun read that would make a fantastic movie.

Using the traditional formula for an elevator pitch I would say:

The bizarre love depicted in “True Romance” and the hyper-real violence of “Pulp Fiction” meets the paranormal suspense and mystery of “The Sixth Sense”.

Below I have included my original logline and teaser intro for Ice Box.

Logline

Desperate to escape from terrifying glimpses of the spirit world, a self-medicating medical delivery driver finds himself caught in a murderous conspiracy when the girl he is transporting becomes the target of an ailing Yakuza crime boss.

Teaser Intro

THOMAS has been able to see the spirit world since receiving a life-saving organ transplant. As a young man with no family and no higher-education he gives back to the altruistic cause by delivering transplant organs and transporting sick patients. Due to his proximity to the dead and the dying, Thomas is forced to interact with spirits on a daily and seemingly endless basis. It was becoming too much to handle, until he found that drugs could keep the visions at bay. The downside is that the spirit of MIKEY, the young boy whose organ now resides inside of Thomas, is anchored to him and is becoming a dark and twisted reflection of Thomas’ drug addled body.

ARI is a high school senior who like all young people is desperate to find her own identity. This is very difficult, living with overbearing parents and surrounded by friends who try their best just to “fit in”. When Ari gets her driver’s license, she finds herself able to make her first serious choice as an individual: she decides to register as an organ donor. When her long-time friend convinces her to sneak out for a big weekend party her life changes forever, the car she is in is hit head-on by a truck, leaving her in a medically induced coma. The worst part is that she can see the pain on the faces of her family and friends as her detached spirit watches from the sidelines.

Every writer has likely asked him or herself what they should write about next. Early writers of modern fiction had a much broader realm of uncharted subject matter and unexplored topics. By contrast, it can seem near impossible to think of a story idea that has not been done before at this point in the world’s literary evolution. It is the writer’s responsibility to both themselves and their readers to tell their story in the most entertaining style while staying true to their own writer’s voice. So let us say that a writer has made the conscious decision to create another novel, screenplay, stage play, short story, poem, etc… Where do they start to look for ideas? And perhaps more importantly, to whom do they strive to appeal?

Several tools are available to aspiring writers, musicians, and filmmakers to give them insight as to what subjects are trending or what the most popular internet search terms are. These tools include the wide spanning Google Analytics ( http://www.google.com/analytics/ ) and many blog sites and social media sites also offer a more limited insight into the same trends on their own respective sites. This can be seen in the freshly pressed section of WordPress or the worldwide trend section on Twitter. So should writers feel obligated to appeal to readers by writing a book on “#NOCHILLPHILLIPINES” (whatever that means) or should they be more inclined to indulge their own selfish desires?

Anyone who has had the luxury (or misfortune, depending on the professor) of attending a college level psychology class is likely familiar with Sigmund Freud and his school of thought. Freud theorized that every person was composed of a selfish inner component known as the ‘Id’, a reasonable idea of self known as the ‘ego’, and an ideal sense of self known as the ‘super ego’ that takes societal expectations and things like religion into consideration. The selfishness represented by the Id is a gnawing feeling that many writers have learned to either embrace or to consciously avoid. This constant battle between writing something that is socially relevant and marketable and writing something that they actually want to write can be frustrating for a writer.

In the case of choosing subject matter, an author may want to consider what is popular if they want to sell more copies of their work or be seen as more marketable by the companies to which they pitch to. But one thing that a writer should NEVER do is write something that they are not interested in writing. It troubles me to think of how many would be writers wrote a ‘supernatural romance’ to ride the Twilight coat tails just to try to exploit that segment of the fiction market. Don’t get me wrong here; if they genuinely wanted to write a story in that genre then more power to them. The truth is that the reader will know if the author’s heart was in their work and if it isn’t, the reader will be very reluctant to commit to reading the author’s future work.

With all that being said, I’m off to write my new novel, NOCHILLPHILLIPINES: a Vampire Love Story.

Until next time!

Image result for harvester combine

Like many things in life, the first piece of creative work that a writer produces will always hold a special place in their heart. Sure, there were countless short stories, poems, and ditties that preceded it, but Red Reaper, Burn was my first serious piece of work; I think that it holds up well and may very well be the first spec script that I sell. It was the hardest one for me to pull together and I think that the amount of effort I put into it shines through on every page.

The story originated from a very lucid dream that I had years ago; a seemingly ancient black farmer talking in a sincere and patriarchal tone about “sustaining the farm land that sustains the very life of the family”.  After months of grueling research I had the bones of the story: an epic about generations of an African American farming family that must fulfill a dark and terrible commitment to the farm that they call home. The research took me to subjects that I had little to no familiarity with, these included the world of professional baseball (which I have been disconnected with since my childhood) and the economics of the Tuskegee land grants in Macon County Alabama.

 I thought I would share the logline and the beginning of the summary with you all. I hope that you enjoy, while simultaneously remembering that sometimes the best stories do not come easily and can reveal themselves in the least expected places: a dream, a memory, or a look from a stranger in the grocery store that lasts for just one beat too long.

 

Logline

After suffering a devastating injury, a star athlete returns to his family’s farm only to find terrible memories and ghostly apparitions that suggest that something dark has overtaken the innocent place he remembers from his youth.

Beginning of Summary

Lawrence Prichard is a star baseball player with a beautiful wife and a 12 year old son that is full of potential. Things are going great for the Prichard family and Lawrence is at the top of his game in all aspects of life. That is until a wild throw lands him in the hospital with severe head trauma. Their lives are devastated; Lawrence, normally the rock-solid foundation of the family struggles to regain his composure especially after seeing visions of his father’s gruesome death in the jaws of a harvester combine known as the Red Reaper. Lawrence’s dreams continue, causing him trouble in discerning reality from his nightmarish visions. When his physician refuses to clear him to play baseball, Lawrence decides that he and his family must return to the farm he was raised on to recover from his injury while trying to come to terms with his father’s tragic death.

As I was re-writing one of my earlier screenplays this last week I came to a point that I wanted my main protagonist to have wicked inner tension. The type of internal conflict that a person can only have if they are making a decision that can completely change or in some cases even end their life. I thought to myself, “how can I get the maximum effect while still maintaining the absolute present tense in my script and keeping the whole thing fast paced and linear?”

I sat back in my chair for a moment and contemplated picking up one of the Walking Dead trade paper backs that I have been meaning to read, but I knew that was just the ever present and incredibly evil goblin of an entity that we writers have come to know as distraction. I decided to go get a drink of water instead and as I passed my movie collection my eyes were drawn to the cult classic (and one of my personal favorites), Fight Club.  I know how Tyler Durden creates tension in films; he splices single frames of pornography in them! With the thought of single frame usage my mind was immediately transported to the DVD release of the 1973 horror masterpiece, The Exorcist. The single frame inserts (in hindsight they may have been 2 or 3 frames) of Captain Howdy’s face against a black backdrop were pretty damn scary, mostly because they broke up the linear aspect of the story for an instant and gave our sub-conscious’ something to chew on for the whole rest of the movie! I remember thinking of that creepy bastards face more than the reverse crab walking Regan after I left the theater.

This technique has been employed in several other films with great success and can also help show the thoughts and inner workings of characters, which is normally taboo in the concise format of the traditional screenplay. The way I chose to employ these QUICK FLASHES in my script were slightly reminiscent of Arnold’s ride with Simon, the used car sales men in True Lies. As Simon talks about how hot Arnold’s wife is (and how dickless he is) the writer uses classic physical indications to show Arnold’s growing rage, such as the narrowing eyes, tensing of the muscles, and the white knuckled grip on the steering wheel.  None of these physical actions could portray his anger as well as the three second clip of Arnold killing the man in one punch, causing his bloody head to dangle lifelessly in the back corner of the convertible… Classic.