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.

This is feedback?

I'M LOUD, WHICH MEANS I'M RIGHT!
I’M LOUD, WHICH MEANS I’M RIGHT!

Oh, the hell and agony I must endure so as to spare you, my loyal reader, from hopefully having to experience the same thing.

Once again, your humble author has been savaged by the sharp knives of online criticism. This time around, it was regarding the logline for my mystery-comedy.

Perhaps I’d been lulled into a sense of false security by recently receiving positive feedback on it from other sources. Feeling buoyed by those encouraging comments, I posted the logline somewhere else. Even though I like how it currently reads, that doesn’t mean it can’t still be improved.

Ever notice that a lot of online forums are usually organized with the intention/suggestion/guideline that participants “offer up helpful advice” to those seeking it? More on that in a minute.

There was one positive response, which was quickly shoved aside by one of a more…negative nature.

Among the highlights:

“…probably one of the worst concepts I’ve ever heard.” (*Ahem* PIXELS?)

“Maybe if it was written for 5-year-olds…” (because that hasn’t worked for Disney)

“That’s how hokey your entire concept comes across as. Sorry, but I think it’s truly dreadful. (sad face emoji)” (So glad they threw the emoji in or I would have totally missed their point.)

Younger-writer Me would have not taken these comments well. Present-day Me laughed my fucking head off.

You don’t like it? Fine. Makes no difference to me. But why all the hate and insults? All I’m reading are the thoughts of a bitter asshole who doesn’t understand the term “constructive criticism”.

If your overall message is simply “Your idea sucks, and now I’m going to shit all over it!” then what’s the point of even saying anything? Do you think your vitriolic rant is going to make me suddenly stop working on it?

There were so many ways I wanted to respond, and came really close to doing it several times, but instead opted to just stay silent. No matter what I said, it would probably be misconstrued and more than likely start an unnecessary battle of words. Not worth it.

Remember that little guideline for the group regarding “helpful advice”? How exactly does anything that was said do that? Anybody can say they don’t like something, but at least give a valid reason why. Another member chimed in that “you have to take the comments if you post”. I agree, but that means the comments have to be worth taking in the first place.

A friend offered up this reminder: “When someone criticizes, it needs to be specific and constructive. Otherwise, it has no value.” I’d say that’s pretty accurate, and definitely applies here.

An even more amazing aspect to this whole thing is that this is the exact same person who issued a similar diatribe over the logline for my western last year. As far as my research can tell, they are still a self-proclaimed “director, producer, screenwriter and script consultant,” although without any identifiable credits or internet presence.

The whole purpose of providing feedback is to use your knowledge to help the other person make their something better, and in a way that’s not insulting or belittling. In this case, neither happened.

This was just an angry opinion showing a total lack of knowledge, help and encouragement, and definitely could not be considered feedback in any true sense of the word.

Class is in session

All I need now is the magnifying glass
All I need now is the magnifying glass

When I start on a new project, I make a point of reading scripts and watching films that are similar to the kind of story I’m trying to tell.

This time around, it’s a rewrite of my mystery-comedy, so among the works being studied are CHINATOWN, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (comedy, remember?). There are a lot more to consider (suggestions are always welcome), but I don’t want to overdo it. As much as I love submersing myself into these stories, I would like to eventually get around to actually working on the script.

Putting myself through this has a double benefit: I get to see solid examples of elements of the story and genre, which forces me to come up with different ways of how to tell a similar story but with my my own stamp on it. I’ll also be the first to admit that my skills at putting a mystery together aren’t exactly the best, so studying these will hopefully help me get a better sense of how to develop that part of the story.

Since this also happens to be a story I’ve worked on before, a lot of it is already in place, but there’s still a ton of work to do, with lots of ideas and changes being considered. Luckily, I have a few previous drafts to mine for material. Almost like starting anew, but with something very familiar.

My hope is that studying these scripts and films will help me get a better understanding of how all the puzzle pieces fit together in those stories, which will in turn will help me figure out how to do the same with mine.

This is the kind of homework I actually look forward to having.

A moment of evaluation and introspective

Certainly a lot of things to...ponder
Certainly a lot of things to…ponder

Whoo! What a week this has been. Lots of goings-on on several fronts. Big picture stuff first.

-The semifinalists were announced earlier this week for this year’s Nicholl. 149 in total, out of somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,500 initial entries. Turns out I know at least 7 of those writers on a somewhat personal level, whether it be through social media or from actual physical contact.

I am equal parts thrilled for and jealous of all of them, but also made sure to send each a note of congratulations. They definitely earned it. And several of them have made it to this point before, and probably will do so again in the future, so that means the rest of us have to really step up our game.

Watching this as a non-participant definitely puts things in perspective. I didn’t enter any contests this year, so I can’t even begin to speculate how my script might have fared. It’s been a major effort to work on improving it to the point that I like to think it’s good, possibly even really good (he said, trying not to sound totally biased), but how would it do in a contest, especially one of this magnitude? There are no delusions of grandeur, but who doesn’t daydream about grabbing the top prize? Jittery nerves and lofty ambitions all at the same time. Only way to find out is enter it next year and hope for the best.

-Operation ManagerQuest continues. Fingers firmly crossed that all the research, fact-checking and list-assembling will result in something positive. Thanks to everybody who’s offered their good wishes and support.

Although this time is all about the western, I put together and sent out a handful of queries for the fantasy-adventure. Since those were sent to places that might be more interested in that kind of thing, each letter was customized for its designated recipient. Queries about the western will go out next week.

-As things continue to wrap up for the western, focus is shifting to what’s quickly evolving into a total rewrite of the outline of the mystery-comedy. Not gonna lie. This is the one that grabs people’s interest and attention, so we’ll see what I can do with it.

While the overall plot and concept remain the same, several new ideas, angles and approaches are being developed that I sincerely hope will make it better.

Not a bad week. Hope it was equally, if not more productive for you.