And then there were three

Bit of a self-promoting shorty today.

My third book – GO AHEAD AND ASK! INTERVIEWS ABOUT SCREENWRITING (AND PIE) VOLUME 3 is in the final preparation stages, and an official release date of October 7th.

This is the last collection of interviews done for this blog over the years, including helpful and insightful comments from script consultants, writers of TV and film, playwrights, and writers in other mediums.

Responses to the first two books have been overwhelmingly positive, and fingers are firmly crossed for this one. They’re available here and here.

While a lot of other screenwriting books are more of a “here’s how you write a script”, these are geared more towards “how can I make my script better?” The advice from the experts within can help with that.

Plus, lots and lots of pie suggestions, which is always a good thing.

Bonus – the holidays will be here before you know it, and the complete set of three books makes for an excellent gift. A great resource for any screenwriter’s library.

Want a signed copy? Let me know.

Happy to help

A few of my writing colleagues got in touch with me this week, each seeking input on a few assorted topics.

One was asking for my thoughts on their short script.

Another asked for my advice regarding how to approach some business and legal issues of working with a director.

I offered what guidance I could for both, and both expressed their gratitude.

Similarly, I met with another writer friend who offered up some great suggestions and guidance for potential ideas regarding other avenues for my scripts.

I’m definitely not the type to go around saying “Got a problem? I’ve got the perfect solution!”; maybe more “Don’t know how much I can help, but I’m certainly willing to give it a try.” Most of the time it works out, along with the occasional totally unexpected but still positive results.

A lot of this wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t taken the time to establish and maintain a professional relationship with each of these writers. It’s how I operate overall, and a practice I heartily recommend every writer do.

Although writing is primarily a solitary activity, that doesn’t mean you have to stay isolated. Connecting and interacting with other writers is beneficial on several levels. Any help or boost you can offer another writer is always appreciated.

Same thing for when the situation is reversed and I ask another writer for help. Got time to read my latest draft? Could you look over this query letter? You’ve worked with this person before – how did that go?

A hashtag I frequently use in social media is #WritingCommunity, because that’s exactly what it is. I may not be the most active or vocal member, and sometimes it takes me a little longer to respond than I like, but I take part or help out when possible.

I’ve enjoyed it, look forward to continuing to do so, and hope you do too.

-A friendly reminder that my book GO AHEAD AND ASK!, INTERVIEWS ABOUT SCREENWRITING (AND PIE) VOLUME ONE is now available in both print and ebook formats.

Now available for your reading enjoyment

Well, today’s the day.

My book – GO AHEAD AND ASK!, VOLUME 1 – is officially available.

It contains 42 interviews with script consultants, and offers a wide variety of helpful advice that could benefit any screenwriter, no matter how much or how little experience they have, as well as each person’s contact info (where applicable), and of course, their favorite kind of pie.

And as the title indicates, this is the first volume. The second and third, featuring interviews with not only more consultants, but also screenwriters, filmmakers, and writers in other mediums, are slated for release in the late June/early July and mid-September timeframes, respectively.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll be interested enough in wanting to take a look at this one.

Thanks for reading, enjoy the book, and have a piece of pie with my compliments.

From the archives: If only you could eat a bad script

pineapple upside down cake
Let the metaphors commence!

Author’s note: got some other stuff that requires my attention, and a recent discussion about pineapple upside-down cake reminded me I did a post involving it a few years ago, so hope you enjoy this blast from the past from July 2016.

“Before we get to the gist of today’s post, let’s address the elephant in the room: my western did not advance to the quarterfinals of the PAGE contest.

Honestly, I was a little surprised; I thought it would have done better. After a brief wallow in disappointment, I shrugged my shoulders and moved on. It’s just another one of those things over which I have no control. I still have a ton of confidence in this script and might submit again next year. Also waiting to see how it fares in Austin and the Nicholl.

True, it was a rather lousy way to start the weekend, but over the next couple of days, I managed to redirect my focus, which included a nice long run that involved traversing the Golden Gate Bridge, and attempting something I’ve always wanted to try:

Making a pineapple upside-down cake (from scratch, naturally).

Guests were coming over for dinner, and I’d made pies for them before. But this time,  I wanted to try something entirely new and preferably a little challenging. I’d say this falls into both categories.

I scoured the internet for an ideal recipe, found one to my satisfaction, and followed the directions to the letter. The result? It looked like it was supposed to, and that’s where the similarities end. A little too sweet and the center was still kind of goopy. Nevertheless, my guests still liked it, and K & I split the last piece after they left. Not bad for a first attempt.

Why did it not turn out the way I expected? A lot of reasons. The oven’s a piece of junk. It didn’t bake long enough. The ingredients and the amount of them probably need to be tweaked. No matter what, I know now that I can adjust all of these next time and get closer to the results I seek.

Except for the oven. It will forever remain a piece of junk until it dies. Which can’t happen soon enough. But I digress.

Notice all of the comparisons you could make between baking and writing a script? Trying something new and long-sought-after. Seeking advice and guidance. Following the guidelines. Doing what I was supposed to. An okay-but-was-hoping-for-better initial result. Planning ahead on what to fix/adjust for next time.

If a less-than-determined baker ended up with the cake I made, they’d probably denounce the whole process, give up entirely and probably buy pre-made stuff at the supermarket. But we’re made of sterner stuff. We hit a snag or some kind of unforeseen development, and we compensate as best we can. We learn what not to do next time. Sometimes you end up with something jaw-droppingly amazing, and sometimes you end up with something totally inedible.

With this whole experience behind me, I can now focus on projects of the immediate future, which includes another round of editing and revising a script, and making a pie or two for a dinner party this coming weekend.

It’s my intention to have the results of both of these undertakings be totally and utterly irresistible when they’re done and ready to serve.”

Hope you like receiving what I’m giving

Despite what some may say, it’s actually kind of tough to get a gift for a screenwriter. Straight-up cash – for contests and consultants, of course – is always good, but Murray in the accounting department says Maximum Z’s budget only goes so far, so that’s not an option.

So I figured, how about the next best thing?

You guessed it. Guidance!

So in the spirit of the season, here are some helpful tips that can benefit any screenwriter. One size fits all, the color suits you to a T, and they never fade, run or tear.

WRITE SOMETHING YOU WOULD WANT TO SEE

You like comedies? Write one that could make you laugh out loud. Horror fan? Transfer the scares onto the page. Your taste runs towards small indies? Bet some aspect of your life would be a great foundation for a story like that.

When you go to the movies or sit down to watch something streaming at home, you want your money’s worth. It’s up to the script to deliver on that.

The writer’s love of the material should be evident on the page. The reader/audience will pick up on your enthusiasm for the material, so don’t hold back and have at it. You’re your own target for this, so what would you want to be included in your story?

WRITE AS IF INK COSTS $1000 AN OUNCE

You want the words on the page to really flow, to make the reader keep going and want to turn the page/see what happens next, right? Which do you think will do the job better? Two lines of tight, concise action, or five of excessive prose? I’ve seen both, and prefer the former by a substantial margin.

The subheading for this could be “the more white on the page, the better”. You want to make the absolute most out of that valuable real estate on the page, so why would you want to clutter it up with thick blocks of text? Grab that red pen, put on your editor’s hat, and jump in. Could this dialogue or action be trimmed down from four lines to three? Or two?

The more the writing flows, the faster the read, and the more likely you are to keep your reader’s interest. Try to use as few words as possible; the ones that make the biggest impact.

SHOW, DON’T TELL

You’d think this was a basic one, but I’ve seen a lot of scripts that include what a character is thinking, why they’re doing something, or what something really means.

In other words, “How do we know that?” Film is primarily a visual medium, so if you’re able to present information we can see that’s part of the story, do it!

Here’s an example I like to use:

“INT. KITCHEN – NIGHT

Bob stands at the sink, washing dishes. His mind drifts to when he took Mary Lou to the prom, where she subsequently dumped him and then ran off with a plumber and now lives in Akron with four kids, a cat, and a mortgage.”

What would we see onscreen? A guy washing dishes. That backstory info needs to be presented visually, or as much as can be.

SPELLCHECK IS NOT YOUR FRIEND

True story: I once read a script that included the now-immortal line “She sets a bag of frozen pees on the counter.” I had a lot of trouble focusing on the rest of the script after that. Couldn’t tell you for the life of me now what the story was, but I will remember that line until the very end.

When a writer asks me to look over their script, I’m not just doing story notes. I check punctuation, spelling, grammar, the whole shebang. Having a few goofs is pretty standard; anything more than that and it becomes a problem. Sloppy writing makes it look like the writer isn’t taking this as seriously as they should. Not a great speller, or tend to overdo it with the commas? No problem. I bet there’s a writer within your network who’d be happy to do a polish for you.

DON’T BE BORING

Easier said than done, right? It’s a challenge to make any story interesting enough to hold onto the reader/audience’s attention, but it all starts with what’s on the page. Is the writing flat, or does it really pop? Does the writer have a handful of verbs they use over and over, or have they given their thesaurus a real workout?

Which sounds more visual and intriguing?

He walks into the room.

OR

He struts into the room.

Hint: it’s not the first one. Doesn’t imagining somebody strutting into a room feel stronger, more cinematic, than somebody simply walking in?

The script is your way to paint a picture in our minds using words, and words alone. It’s up to you to do that in as entertaining a way as possible, using the words that pack the most punch.

Does the writing in your script do that?

BE NICE TO PEOPLE/PLAY NICE WITH OTHERS

Another one you’d think would go without saying, but manners do count – especially when it comes to meeting people who could potentially have an impact on you establishing a career.

Which would you rather be – the congenial person who’s interested in what the other person has to say, is open to ideas and suggestions, celebrates somebody else’s accomplishments, and wants to help out, or the bitter, self-important person who constantly whines/complains about how they’re not getting the recognition they deserve, badmouths other writers, won’t change anything in their script because “it’s perfect the way it is”, and just makes it all about them?

This is an extremely tough business to break into, let alone thrive in, so wouldn’t you want as much support as you can get? And every other writer needs as much support as you do, so you should try to help them just as much. Plus, nice people are nicer to be around.

Also important – be honest. Don’t present yourself as something you’re not. If you weren’t telling the truth about one thing, why should anybody believe you about anything else? Sometimes all you have is your reputation, and you don’t want to have it work against you.

Those within the industry would much rather work with somebody who presents themselves as a team player, and not a diva. Cliched as it sounds, you really do only get one chance to make a first impression. Make sure that yours puts you in the best possible light, then you do what you can to keep yourself there.

And that’s it. Hope you get some use out of these, and feel to re-gift as needed.

Wishing you all the best for a happy holiday season that involves a slice of your favorite pie and at least a little bit of writing.