The great exchanging of 2 cents

team vs wall
Sometimes you’re doing the lifting or pulling up, and sometimes you’re the one to whom it’s being done

One of the greatest benefits I’ve found from developing and interacting with my network of fellow writers is the mutual willingness to help out when that help is requested.

Just within the past month, I’ve had three requests for script notes and two for logline feedback. (Although I’ll be the first to admit my timing could use a little improvement. It always takes me longer than I think. But I make a point of doing it. That counts, right?)

And during this same time, I’ve contacted several associates, asking “If you have the time, what do you think of this?”

The advantage of this kind of arrangement cannot be understressed. While I’ve gotten a lot out of using professional feedback, I’ve also been extremely fortunate to have received some very insightful and helpful comments from other writers. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how much their suggestions have contributed to the improvement of my scripts and loglines.

Since politeness actually does count (and people will remember it, or the lack thereof), I make sure to send them a thank-you note, which includes “More than happy to return the favor.” Which I am. I enjoy reading and commenting on other people’s stuff. And I’ve yet to have one person say my notes weren’t helpful. To my face, anyway.

One of those written-in-stone tenets of screenwriting is “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” While this primarily applies to people working in the industry, it can also work for those of us trying to break in.

Take a look at your own personal network. How many of them would you be willing to contact and ask for a little help? And how willing would you be to help them if they came to you? Being helpful and supportive goes a long way for both parties.

Two evils. No waiting.

Either way, things aren’t looking good

Good conflict makes for good story, right?

There’s the overall conflict of the story (hero vs antagonist), but there’s also the conflict that must be present in each scene. That metaphoric moment where the two opposing forces collide on some level.

And sometimes that conflict comes from choices your hero must make.

Given the choice between an easy solution and a difficult one, the easy one is…well, easier. You’ll see this in a lot of new-writer scripts.

But easy’s dull, no fun and makes for a boring story.

Conflict is key. Showing how your hero deals with it shows what kind of person they are. Without it, how can they end up different than when they started? We want to see how they deal with all of the conflicts they encounter over the course of the story.

How about if your hero didn’t have any alternative but to make the difficult choice? They could make the easy choice, but that would take them further away from their goal, whereas making the difficult choice gets them closer to it, albeit in a now-tougher set of circumstances.

You’ve created a bigger conflict, and made things more interesting.

Now let’s take it a step further. What if both choices were difficult? A is bad, but B is worse, and the only viable option is B. Don’t just make things tough for them. Take those circumstances to the edge of impossible.

You’ve just multiplied the level of interesting, not to mention grabbed your reader/viewer’s attention, with them guessing “what happens now?”

The best conflict comes from when a character has no choice but to choose the option that makes their situation worse.

Bonus points if you can organically tie those tough options into the whole story, rather than have them seem like isolated incidents.

So this is what inner peace feels like

zen garden
Serenity, calm, and all that

Philosophy, metaphysics and existentialism aren’t really my thing, but I suppose you could say I’m feeling very “zen” these days.

Part of it is stems from completing the last-polish-before-contests of my western. It definitely reads better, and I’m extremely happy with the results.

Working on this rewrite also renewed my sense of “don’t hold back”. It was exhilarating to write material that felt so alive and vibrant. I am fully confident this will continue with each draft of each of my scripts from this point on.

For some reason, this may also tie directly into a majority of my anxiety and stress and self-imposed pressure simply disappearing, or at least being drastically reduced.  Seriously. Maybe it’s from just accepting that success will happen when it happens, and that beating myself up until it does is just counter-productive. I suspect there will be times when I’ll still get a little down, but expect it to occur on a less regular basis and definitely not as severe.

Big things of a positive nature are ahead, chums. I will do my best to maintain this blissful sensation while I keep working toward reaching that inevitable goal.

Which I do expect to happen. Preferably sooner than later, but either way I’ll get there.

**Editor’s note – this is my 700th post. While the ideal subject matter would have been “I sold a script!” or at least along those lines, I’m quite content with it covering the topic it does.

I hope you’ve enjoyed being part of this for the previous 699 posts over the past 7 years, and that you’ll keep coming back for more.

Thanks for reading!

Not perfect, but getting closer each time


It’s that magical time of year once again: screenwriters are entering their works in some of the major contests. And I plan to be among their number. At least for a few of them.

Buoyed by some recent success (thanks, Screencraft!) and dismayed by the even more recent lack thereof (WTF, Bluecat?), I’m taking one more look at my western before sending it out. Nothing major; just seeking out any necessary last-minute fixes (of which there was at least one, which totally caught me off-guard and has since been taken care of).

I’d considered sending the end result out for some feedback, but quickly opted not to because I actually don’t need to. The script is pretty rock-solid as it is (at least in my opinion),  and is exactly what I want it to be.

How will it do in any of these contests? Beats me, but I believe it’s a quality script about unique characters in a fun, original story. I hear those are pretty popular. Is it the best you’ll ever read? Probably not, but I bet you’d still remember it long after reading it.

It’s taken me a while to trust that gut instinct about my own work. Sometimes the self-doubt and second-guessing is there, but definitely not as much as it used to be.

Ever get that feeling that truly amazing things are going to happen for you?

I do. Quite often. Especially lately.

And I intend on doing everything I can to make them happen.


The learning never stops

Class is in session

I had the good fortune this past weekend to attend a writing retreat in the serene hills of Malibu, the core of which was a seminar given by noted screenwriting consultant Bill Boyle (who was featured here in my recent Ask a Script Consultant series).

This was by no means “Intro to Screenwriting”, but more along the lines of taking your writing beyond the basics and making it richer and more layered so it reads more like a script written by a professional. Each idea and concept was explained using examples both written and visual.

The way you describe a scene so the words really pop off the page. Writing a character’s introduction to create a solid image of what kind of person they are. Creating dialogue composed of exactly-right words and with a rhythm so it sounds exactly as it should.

And this is just a small part of what was covered. There was a lot of information to process – in fact, I’m still processing it now.

Added bonus for me – a one-on-one with Bill to talk about steps to take to help get my career going.

The big question at the wrap-up session was “Did you get anything out of this?” This isn’t something I could answer right away. I really had to mull it over. In the end, my response, which still applies, was this:

There was a lot to take in, so I don’t think the results will be immediate. It’s not a superficial fix. All of it is something you really need to think about before and while you’re writing.

I have a strong suspicion that in the coming weeks and months, the more I write, the information that was presented will work its way onto my pages. I’ll probably develop my own method of doing it, which will then most likely become an automatic part of my writing process.

Am I glad I went? Very much so. It also gave me the chance to meet and talk with other writers, which is always great. Would I recommend this sort of thing to writers seeking to improve their skills? Definitely. (Here’s a link to Mia Terra Tours, the company that runs them)

No matter how much you think you know about screenwriting, there’s always more of what you don’t know. So when you get an opportunity like this to increase your knowledge and improve your skills, take advantage of it and do it.