Go for the hard turn

bullitt gif

I just finished reading a friend’s comedy script. It was okay. It needs work, but the one thing I couldn’t shake was how the story played out pretty close to how I expected it to. There weren’t any real surprises.

However, one of the things that really stood out about this story was that deep within it was the idea for the same kind of story, but from a totally different angle. Not only would this open up new and original ideas, but it also made me think that this new story would be one I don’t think I’d ever seen/heard of before.

How many times have you read a script and known what was coming? Don’t you love that feeling when you read something and get what you were totally not expecting? A story that keeps you eagerly wondering “what comes next?” is one to be thoroughly enjoyed. The more surprised we are, the better.

Cliches. Tropes. Clams. Old reliables. Whatever you want to call them, writers with less experience use them because they’ve worked before. It takes a lot of effort to NOT use them.

The challenge is to come up with a new way to present these old ideas. “Familiar yet different,” as the saying goes.

It can be a little intimidating to take those first steps into unfamiliar territory, but you want the journey the reader takes through the story to be memorable, right? So why not take that chance and head in a new direction?

Go through your latest draft. Are there elements to it that feel tired or overused? You’ll know them when you see them. Is there a different way to do or say the same thing?

You can even go so far as to imagine “What’s the least likely thing that could happen/be said here, but still takes the story in the right direction?”

Try it. You might be surprised. And if you’re surprised, chances are the reader will be too.

A refresher course we can all use

Okay, class. Who needs more time to work on their script?
Okay, class. Who needs more time to work on their script?

I’ve had a lot of goings-on with loglines over the past couple of days, which prompted me to re-post this gem from a little over 2 years ago.


“Scenario:  You’re at a social function, engaged in idle chit-chat. The topic of you being a screenwriter comes up.

“What’s your story about?” they will undoubtedly ask.

The chance you’ve been waiting for!  What do you say?

You want to pique their curiosity, and not bore them.

In the simplest of terms:  provide a quick summary of the main characters(s) and what happens in the main storyline.

Avoid too much information, non-essential characters, intricate subplots, how it’s a metaphor for this totally different other thing, or generic phrases like “and learns about themselves” or “stumbles into a world she wasn’t prepared for” or the ever-dreaded “wackiness ensues.”

What are the components of an effective logline? Just the following:

1. A protagonist with a flaw.

2. An antagonist with a goal.

3. The situation that pits them against each other

4. What’s at stake/what happens if the protagonist fails?

That’s pretty much it. Keep it simple. Nothing too specific or generic.

Make sure you emphasize the genre. If it’s a comedy, play up the comedic angle. A thriller, go for the suspense. That sort of thing.

And most importantly, make it sound interesting. This is your best chance to grab their attention, so make the most of it (and make sure the script is just as good).”

-3rd half-marathon of the year this weekend. Training’s been more sporadic than I would have liked, so hoping to break 1:55, but will settle for under 2 hours.

Climbing back in the saddle. Again.

It helps to have a patient horse
It helps to have a patient horse

The results are in, and it’s not looking good.

Out of the 100+ query letters I sent out last month, a whopping total of 2 managers asked to read the western. One is a larger, more well-known place that has asked for my scripts before but has a reputation for non-responsiveness, so not much hope there.

The other was a smaller one-person operation who seemed very interested. I sent the requisite follow-up email, but was told that they “unfortunately didn’t respond as strongly as I would have liked,” and wished me good luck with it.

I hate this part of this process.

Was I upset and disappointed? Of course.

Was my confidence and belief in my writing ability shaken to its very core? Yup.

Was I convinced that I was pursuing a foolish dream and that things would never work out? Pretty much.

Jump ahead to today. I’m still upset and slightly disheartened, but intent on movin’ forward. Giving up continues to NOT be an option.

I’ve revised the letter, have my previous list of email addresses, plus a new one, so a new round of queries is forthcoming. I also learned after sending out the previous batch that the industry for the most part shuts down in August, so it’s more than likely that those queries were never even seen, let alone read.

All I can do is send this latest round out and hope for the best. I’ll distract myself by writing a lot, but also know that a few weeks after they’re sent, every time an alert of a new email pops up, I’ll secretly hope it’s one of the many recipients saying “I’d like to read that.”

Chances are it won’t be, but it doesn’t hurt to think positive thoughts.

Fingers, as always, remain firmly crossed.

Let’s get those brains stimulated, people!

You mean movies can be smart AND good?
You mean movies can be smart AND good?

One of my favorite things to do as a parent is go to the movies with my daughter. It’s a nice feeling knowing I’ve instilled in her the appreciation of the whole moviegoing experience. It also helps that there’s a fantastic two-screen (one of a handful of similar small neighborhood theatres in San Francisco) a few blocks from us.

And as she’s getting older, our choices are growing in number. Strictly kid-based animation has given way to PG-13 fare, so we try to see what we can when possible.

Earlier this summer, we caught JURASSIC WORLD and INSIDE OUT within a week’s time. She really enjoyed the dinosaur flick. I thought it was fun, but felt it relied more on the nostalgia factor rather than smart storytelling (“Remember when we helped Grandpa fix that old car?”). I found the latest offering from Pixar to be pure genius, while she found it to be simply “okay”. I asked why she liked the first movie more than the second.

“I think I like movies where you don’t have to think too much.”


I won’t go so far as to say it was a dagger in my heart, but you can probably understand my being taken somewhat aback.

I could easily chalk it up to that she’s still relatively young and hasn’t latched on to my love of the movies to the extent that I have. Like I said, the list of what she’s seen is somewhat limited. I’ve done what I can, and hopefully can continue to contribute to it.

But as a writer, what’s my biggest takeaway from this?

Obviously I want to write scripts for films that will be embraced by the general public, which means they’d have to be simple enough that anybody could follow along, but also written in a way that the reader/audience doesn’t feel insulted or talked down to.

All this talk about needing to appeal to the lowest common denominator has always bothered me. It makes it sound like there’s no point in trying to write something smart.

I beg to differ.

Getting the reader/audience to really think about the story gets them more involved. You hooked with them with the beginning, kept them intrigued throughout the middle, and now they’re compelled to find out how it all ends. Isn’t that what it all comes down to?

I love it when I read a script where it’s obvious a writer knows what they’re doing when it comes to telling a story. Setups and payoffs. Multi-dimensional characters. Plotlines where I know what the endpoint is, have no idea how we’re going to get there, and am getting a real kick out of taking the journey.

This is the kind of writing we should all strive to create.

It’s easy to write something that doesn’t try to challenge the reader/audience, and the reaction will probably be similar. “Boring.” “Unoriginal.” “Meh.”

Push yourself to write something that offers up something new, or at least a new twist on an old standard. Give us something we haven’t seen before, or totally weren’t expecting. Not just one part. THE WHOLE THING. There’s something exhilarating about venturing into new territory. Take us there.

We’re writers. It’s what we do.

Hey kids! Time for a fun & easy experiment!

No lab coats or bunsen burners necessary
No lab coats or bunsen burners necessary!
  1. Go onto your social media network(s) of choice.
  2. Find 5-10 people whose work you enjoy, admire or just think is plain awesome.
  3. Connect to or follow them (if you haven’t already)
  4. Send them a brief note saying exactly what it is you like about their work. Nothing too gushy.
  5. Enjoy the rest of your day knowing that you were very likely a bright spot in theirs.
  6. (optional) Enjoy a piece of pie for having accomplished step 5.