Like coming to Casablanca for the waters, I was misinformed

You and I are kindred spirits, Mr. Blaine
Kindred spirits you and I, Mr. Blaine

I really, really, REALLY do not like making mistakes, especially when it comes to things related/connected to screenwriting, and even more so when it comes to trying to get a career going.

This time around, it’s regarding query letters. Even though a majority are now done via email, for the sake of the discussion, they’ll still be referred to as ‘letters’.

Query letters are a tricky beast. Getting them just right takes an inordinate amount of effort. Some might even say just as much as goes into your script.

I actually don’t mind researching appropriate recipients, or spending the time crafting the letter (which also includes getting feedback on it from those who know more about it than I – a hearty thanks to those who’ve offered their invaluable insight & suggestions!).

What really gets my goat is when I learn, usually after the fact, that I’ve done something that can only be classified as straight-up stupid, or at least counterproductive.

And it all stems from one small, seemingly insignificant thing: what goes in the subject line.

Turns out – not so insignificant. The subject line is your one shot to grab their interest and get them to keep reading. But what should it be? There are several schools of thought about this, but more on that in a second.

I couldn’t tell you where I read it, but the advice (from an “expert”, mind you) I’d heard recommended listing the title, followed by the word ‘query’.

Wrong. Wrong! WRONG!

Apparently including the ‘q’-word is just one big kiss of death. It screams out “Amateur!” and pretty much guarantees your email will probably be deleted without even being read.

So don’t do it! Avoid at all costs!

What should you use? As stated above, several options.

-Just the title

-Title and genre

-A noteworthy contest award (e.g. “2015 Nicholl semifinalist”)

-The hook of your story. Keep it brief!

-“THIS meets THAT” (Opinions are mixed on this. Some writers have said they use it, but a few consultants say not to.)

-Referred by _____

The floor is open to other suggestions.

As for me, lesson learned as I gear up to re-send all those emails in the coming weeks. A weighty project, but whatever it takes. I’m leaning towards just the title or the hook.

Just another project status update…

All the news about me that's fit to digitally publish
All the news about me that’s fit to digitally publish

Having recently given some notes on a couple of comedy scripts, I decided to see what I could do with mine, which I hadn’t looked at in about 5 months (due to finishing up the western).

The outline still seemed pretty solid, but could do with some minor tweaking. I’d already started on a first draft, so I thought I’d see how that read.

I honestly didn’t remember how far I’d gotten. Maybe page 25 or thereabouts?

Nope. A whopping 49 pages. Whoa. That’s around halfway through! Talk about pleasant surprises.

I read through and already see what needs to be cut, including too many instances of over-writing (a bad habit of mine that always occurs in first drafts). From what I’ve read, it looks like a lot can be taken out without too much of an impact on scenes or story.

So now I’ll see if I can settle back into that 3-pages-a-day routine and have it finished relatively soon-ish. I was hoping to have a draft of something done by the end of the year, so looks like I may actually be on track for that.

Fingers, as always, remain firmly crossed.

And how’s your current project coming along?

Is your story worth fighting for?

Will Kane knows what it's like to feel like one against everybody else
Follow Will Kane’s example (except without all the shooting and stuff)

The rewrite of my mystery-comedy has been put on hold because I’m teaching myself how to write a mystery, or at least how to be better at writing one. I bought a book and everything.

But I also don’t want to not be writing, so I’ve also decided to return to the low-budget comedy. It’s been a while since I’d read the outline, but it holds up more than I thought. Sure, it needs work and there are some spots where it says something like “SOMETHING FUNNY HAPPENS!,” but overall, I like it (hold onto that statement for just a bit).

Several months ago, I’d had the opportunity to have a brief chat with a writer who specializes in comedy. He asked what I was working on, so I pitched him the idea. He liked the concept, but was quick to poke holes in the story vis-a-vis the logline (which has since been rewritten), and didn’t care for how I had the story play out (as delivered in my thumbnail presentation).

“X should happen instead of Y! Having THIS CHARACTER connect with THAT CHARACTER is all wrong!” Plus some additional words to that effect.

Gosh.

I wasn’t expecting a standing ovation, nor did I expect it to be proclaimed a work of genius, but if this guy didn’t care for what I had, did that mean it was doomed before I even started?

Nope. Quite the contrary.

Several key things I had to remember:

-this was his opinion. One person, which is not a majority.

-his sense of humor and comedy stylings could be totally different from mine.

-it’s a work-in-progress in its very early stages. The end result will most likely be very different from the starting one.

-I think it’s a good story. Always have, always will. I have no intention of abandoning it or making any significant changes so as to gain his approval. I’m not writing this for him.

Every writer spends a lot of time coming up with story ideas, and then developing them as far as they’ll go. Stick to your guns if you believe in your story, but don’t totally block out advice and suggestions. Use what you think works best. Remember – this is YOUR story. If you think it works, then by all means, do what you can to make things happen.

It’s great when you get encouragement, but you’ll also encounter a lot of naysayers (“I don’t get it/like it, so it must be a bad idea.”). It’s all subjective. Everybody likes different things. If you believe wholeheartedly in your story, you have to do your absolute best to get the rest of us to be just as interested in reading it.

Just make sure to tell that story in the most entertaining, original and professional way possible. That’s all.

Just a moment of your time, please

It’ll only take this long, right?

Even though I don’t actively participate on a lot of online forums, I still enjoy reading them, occasionally throwing in my two cents when I think I have something worth saying.

On one such forum, an experienced writer offered to provide detailed notes on the script with the logline he liked the most. He was very detailed and meticulous in laying out the guidelines and rules, including that the script “MUST be ready to read NOW. No exceptions.”

Up until that caveat, I’d thought about submitting the logline for my mystery-comedy, but knew the script still needed work, so instead opted to hold off and wait until I thought the script was ready. And I said words to that effect in the comments.

Much to my surprise, he responded almost immediately.

“Now that’s what I love to see. Writers respecting the investment of time and energy of others. I’m taking about five hours out of my life to do this and I want to feel the script I’m about to read will be worth it. Good on you, Paul, for being so conscientious. It’s one of the responsibilities of a writer no one tells you about, but it’s absolutely vital for building and sustaining a career.”

I never thought of it that way because I was looking at it from my perspective: I didn’t want offer up a script I didn’t consider ready yet. But he makes a very good point – the other person has their own schedule, and you need to be respectful of that.

It’s easy to forget that even though you’ve put a lot of time and effort into your script, now you’re imposing on somebody else to devote a sizable chunk of their time to giving it a solid read-through. That’s a lot to ask, especially when they’ve offered to do it for free.

When somebody asks me if I can take a look at their script, I always let them know it’ll probably take me longer than I think to get those notes to them – and it usually does. Nobody’s complained about it (to my face, anyway). And when the situation is reversed and someone’s giving me notes, I’ll send the script with a note of thanks and that there’s no rush. I’ll distract myself from the waiting game by working on another project or two.

We all only have so much time to spare to devote to work on our own material, let alone someone else’s. Just be grateful and appreciative that someone’s willing to sacrifice some of their time to help you out, and definitely be just as willing to return the favor.

In a timely manner, of course.