Think of it as a story renovation project

This is kind of what it feels like
They’re the writers and the house is the first draft. See? It’s a visual metaphor!

When I started this rewrite, I wanted to really shake things up and take it beyond just putting on a new coat of paint and rearranging the furniture.

This had to be really different from what it already was. Major changes require major brainstorming and planning.

The starting point was breaking down the previous outline on a scene-by-scene basis. What worked? What didn’t?

One subplot has already been cut because it just didn’t mesh with the rest of it. A more suitable replacement has been developed, and not only does it still work for the story, it opened up more possibilities.

Each scene is still evaluated to determine how it advances the story as well as how it fits in to the plot.  Yes, some darlings must be killed as work progresses, but if they don’t serve a purpose that supports the overall story, then they weren’t needed in the first place. Maybe they can be reconfigured and used another way.

Working through all of this reminded me of a significant bonus to writing on a regular basis – your creativeness gets a constant workout, which has made it slightly easier than expected to come up with ideas of how to make a scene stronger or at least more effective.

And since this is a mystery, it’s extremely important that all the intricate details are in place. Clues and red herrings are in the process of being planted, a key factor of which is making sure their place in the puzzle is organic, and not shoehorned in.

Taking a steady, methodical approach to this has made it not as imposing as originally expected.

When I started this rewrite, I had the standard fear/concern that I wouldn’t be able to figure things out and come up with solutions.

Now, not so much.

Finding the spark to get those synapses firing

The solution to your problems is somewhere in there
The solution to your problems is somewhere in there

Finding time to work on the outline of the rewrite has been a bit challenging these days, but I’m managing. I do what I can to make the most out of a limited timeframe. Do this often enough, and it actually gets easier.

One of my biggest concerns with this new draft was “what if I can’t think of anything?”

Trying to figure things out had been bothering me for the past couple of days. No matter what I was doing, I’d be going over potential scenes and scenarios in my mind. How about this? Does this work?

All that was missing was the cartoony stormcloud over my head.

So I’m riding my bike home from work. All of a sudden, a metaphoric lightning bolt springs from that cloud and hits me dead center.

A small idea pops in.  Just a two-word phrase, but within it is the potential to have a widespread impact throughout the rest of the story.

This then triggered a steady flow of still more possibilities. If I redo this part, then this could happen, thereby changing that and the other thing around completely.

How could I not see any of this before?

Writer’s block happens to everybody. It can be extremely frustrating, but you can’t let it stop you. It takes time to break it down, but don’t force it.

Do what you can to encourage your creativeness, and eventually it’ll be a lot more cooperative.  Once you have that breakthrough, you’ll feel like there’s nothing that can stop you.

Pretty cool, isn’t it?

I’ll take “Potpourri” for $300, Alex

All this AND he plays hockey
All this AND he plays hockey

-I’ve been burning through my stash of unplayed podcasts at a rapid pace (including Scriptnotes), so I’m looking to add maybe one or two more to my library. Any suggestions?

-Since my current project has a 40s/50s noir vibe to it, playing era-appropriate music on Pandora really helps capture the mood (dig that crazy sax, man).  I may even don my fedora while I write to complete the transition.  If I enjoyed scotch or bourbon, there’d definitely be a glass of it on the desk. Guess a stiff cup o’ joe will have to do.

-My original intent with the rewrite was to completely start over, but the more I read the previous draft, the more potential I see. For now, it’s all about figuring the best way to combine ideas and elements from both.

-If there’s a writer whose work you really like, find out if they have a website, blog or on Twitter and send a friendly note telling them exactly that. Everybody likes a little compliment now and then.

-Could somebody please tell Netflix to get their act together and put Season 3 of THE WALKING DEAD and Season 7 of DOCTOR WHO on streaming? Haven’t we waited long enough? This might be my chance to finally start watching BSG, BREAKING BAD or MAD MEN.

-Definitive sign autumn is here – pumpkin pop-tarts (or toaster pastries, if you want to avoid the copyright infringement) at Trader Joe’s. They’re…okay. Maybe I’ll just make more pumpkin bread instead.

-Hope your latest project is going swimmingly. Enjoy the weekend, and try to write something.

Isn’t a rock a hard place to begin with?

Gotta pick one, but which one?
Gotta pick one, but which one?

Hard choices. That’s what it comes down to for your protagonist.

Someone in my old writing group put it very succinctly: each scene should force the protagonist so they have no choice but to go with the option that makes things harder for them.

If things were easy for your protagonist and everything went right for them, it wouldn’t be much of a story, would it?  We’d be bored silly.

It all stems from the necessary key word: conflict. Something must be opposing them reaching their goal.

This doesn’t mean it’s someone or something physically blocking them, although that is one option. It could be something out of nature, like a great white shark, a hurricane or a killer virus, or something from the grand scheme of the universe, like time, fear or silence.

One of the great things about conflict is there are countless ways to present it. It comes in all forms, but it really boils down to something in the scene (as well as the overall story) preventing your protagonist from moving things forward.

Taking it one step further, not only do you have to make sure they do, but they have to be the one doing it. Anything else is a cheat, and totally negates their development as a character.  Imagine if Dumbledore said, “Here’s a step-by-step list of what you have to do, Harry.” The mentor figure is there to guide the protagonist down the right path, not take the path for them.

The protagonist has to endure all of these conflicts in order to not only accomplish their goal, but grow or change from what they were when we first met them.

So go ahead and put ’em through the ringer. It’s the way it must be.

-I had the pleasure of doing an interview with Henry Sheppard, aka Adelaide Screenwriter. Check it out here.

What happened to the action movie?

Often imitated, rarely equaled
Often imitated, rarely equaled

A little over a week ago, a friend posted the following question on Facebook – “Is RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK the best action movie of all time?”

As would be expected, this led to a somewhat lengthy discussion. Several other titles were bandied about (DIE HARD, ALIENS, several John Woo HK films), and was summarized quite succinctly with “The main lesson here is that the 80s were a goldmine for high-quality action films.” (mea culpa – I’m the one who said it).

All I can think of for the 90s are TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY and SPEED.

While you’re thinking about those, compare them to some more recent ones, such as:
-THE EXPENDABLES – a nostalgic remembering of the genre itself
-THE EXPENDABLES 2 – silly, over the top parody
-PACIFIC RIM – cool to look at, but that’s about it
-FAST & FURIOUS 6 – haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about it
-THE LONE RANGER – couldn’t bring myself to see it, but will catch it on home video. Is it as bad as they say?

Now there’s this. Oy. Someday I’ll discuss how much I dislike reboots.

So why do action films from 20-30 years ago still hold up?

Looking at strong examples of the genre, they all have: Original stories. Smart writing. Three-dimensional characters. Action that enhances and supports the story.

If you’re writing an action spec, these should be your goals and objectives. Yes, it’s a lot of fun to blow shit up, but don’t use an explosion or shootout just for the sake of having one. It’s pointless.

Make the action part of the story, not what the story’s about. Use it to move things forward. Ratchet up the tension and create more conflict for your hero.

Need a refresher course in how it’s done? Pick one you’ve always liked, and watch it as a writer. Take notes. See how it all fits together. Then see if any of it can be applied to your story and rewrite accordingly.

If only all learning could be this enjoyable.