What’s wrong with PG-13?

One of the two movies which resulted in the creation of this rating
One of the two movies which resulted in the creation of this rating

In recent discussions with other writers, I’d be asked what I was currently working on. I’d mention the western and mystery specs, and give a thumbnail description for each.

Among the responses I’ve come to expect is usually the follow-up question:  “Who’s your target audience for that?”


While what I write would probably be too much for very small children, there’s no reason it couldn’t be enjoyed by anyone between 8 and 108, as the saying goes.

In addition to all the usual criteria, I want to make sure the story is interesting enough so it would appeal to a wide spectrum of viewers, as well as keeping the content dead-center on that fine line between “not enough” and “too much.”

One writer sent back his notes on the western. He had some very good comments, but some of them seemed to be through a DJANGO UNCHAINED filter (which he also admitted being influenced by). It was suggested I go for a more intense level of violence in some scenes.

Which would be fine if I were writing something that was a hard ‘R’, but this isn’t.

I’m just more of the family-friendly sort, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing that kind of material. (FROZEN has earned $350.7 million so far. Not too shabby, with the sing-along version ready to be unleashed.)

Although I want my stories to be fun and exciting, it’s also important to me they respect the audience’s intelligence, no matter what age they are, while also being fairly easy to follow.

I appreciate it when a movie does that, and hope to keep the practice going.

The second half is all uphill

The first and last time I do a race like that. Maybe.
The first and last time I do a race like that. Maybe.

A few weeks ago, I did a half-marathon that was easily the hardest I’d ever done. The distance wasn’t the hard part – it was that most of it involved going up and down a small mountain. Radical inclines, steep dropoffs right next to the path, the whole shebang.

Sure, some of it was extremely daunting, and sometimes I had to walk, but I was determined to keep pushing until I crossed the finish line (2:22:26, which wasn’t too bad, especially taking that whole mountain aspect into consideration).

The whole time during that first half, as I was working my way up, there were two thoughts that kept me going:

1. Even though this is harder than I expected, I want to keep going and do the best I can
2. Once the halfway point is reached, it’s literally all downhill from here

While the first thought can easily be applied to writing a script, the second one – not so much.

There’s a reason the midpoint of a script is sometimes referred to as The Point of No Return. Not only is your protagonist now fully committed to achieving their goal, but so are you.

While their situation becomes more daunting and their goal more unreachable, it might feel just as insurmountable to you.  But, as I once again utilize the running analogy, your diligent training and extensive preparation have made you ready to take this on.

You know what has to happen between here and the end. The stakes are raised, and only you can ensure a satisfying finish. All you can do is dig deep, draw on your reserve strength and keep pushing yourself until you’re done.

Make sure you pace yourself and take your time. Rushing can only hurt you, so stay focused.  It may seem like the end will never arrive, but you’ll get there before you know it.

What’s great about finishing a race is you get a medal, and most likely the desire to do better next time. Finish a script and you’ve got a finished draft and hopefully the desire to make it better.

She kicks ass just right

There were too many to choose from, so I opted for a classic example
There were too many to choose from, so I opted for a classic

Encouraging feedback on the western spec continues to roll in, with a recurring theme developing regarding opinions about the main character.

-“calm, cool and witty in the face of danger and indomitable odds”
-“a really great character to get behind”
-“actor bait”

Did I mention the main character is a woman?  More than a few considered that a major plus.

When I first started figuring out the story, which included seeking online help for the logline, anonymous posters on assorted forums pulled no punches in letting me know what a terrible idea they thought it was.

Yet despite all that negativity, I still felt this was a story worth the time and effort to tell. The West was a harsh, brutal place. You had to be tough to survive. Why wouldn’t the women be as tough as the men?

When I write action, I’m hoping to create a sense comparable to a thrilling rollercoaster ride; one that grabs you tight and pulls you along at top speed. Whether the main character behind it all is a man or woman is a non-issue. It really comes down to two things: an entertaining story with three-dimensional characters.

To me, this had both. Being a fan of the genre helped – I know what works, what doesn’t and what I as an audience member would want to see. And as far as I could tell, it was a story that hadn’t been done before.

So I wrote it, and now it’s all about the wait-and-see.

Not surprisingly, articles continue to pop up about how a female main character in an action film is still considered somewhat of a novelty, or that since an action film with a female main character absolutely tanked at the box office, logic can only dictate it was because the main character was female, and not because the story sucked.

Count me among those hoping these ways of thinking will someday not be an issue.

Meeting again for the first time

Hi there

A day short of one year ago, I wrote this.

Since then, through social media and community forums, I’ve connected with writers from all over the world as well as several from right here in my neck of the woods.

Whether it’s exchanging feedback on a script or offering up a solution to a story problem, or even just meeting for a get-to-know-you chat over lunch or coffee, networking and communicating with other writers can provide a kind of support system that benefits everybody involved.

The other day I met with a guy very busy with several projects, each one offering up a special brand of stress, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. He’s getting to write as well as be involved with the actual production of projects he’s written. Who doesn’t want that?

(An interesting side note – he has severely cut back on his involvement with Done Deal Pro because the negative comments and constant in-fighting became too overwhelming. I don’t blame him and have pretty much done the same thing.)

Try this little experiment to get you started: connect with up to 5 writers a day for one week. Do it through whatever format you want – a blogger you enjoy, Twitter or a respectable forum (Despite the aforementioned issues, DDP is still pretty good). Don’t forget to be polite. Give it a go and see what happens.

Caught in the ripple effect

It starts a chain reaction you just can't stop
A chain reaction you just can’t stop

When I work on pages, I make a point of adhering to the story as it’s written in the outline. There may be some slight alterations here and there, but that’s not an uncommon thing.

At the moment I’m in the middle of a sequence, that, according to the outline, was all planned out. No problems.

Little did I realize that over the course of the pages before this, all of those slight alterations would drastically change the circumstances surrounding my protagonist’s situation in that sequence.

Without knowing it, I had made things much harder not only for him, which is how it should be, but also for myself, which isn’t exactly the greatest of news.  Most of the details now had to be thrown away.

And because I’m such a glutton for punishment, this sequence was slowly becoming way too similar to one from about 20 pages before it. How I didn’t see this while outlining I’ll never know.

So it’s not necessarily back to square one, but I’ve got some work to do. Looking at this from the silver lining perspective, this is actually some pretty good stuff:

-My protagonist now faces bigger challenges, which still advance the story, theme and character development.
-I’m forced to come up with better, more creative ways of depicting how things play out.
-Recognizing and handling the domino effect those earlier changes have made and will make on the rest of the story.

Fortunately, we writers are a hearty lot and not easily deterred.  Time, experience and constant rewrites provide us with the determination and intestinal fortitude to work our way through this sort of thing.