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.

Dipping into the archival depths

miners
Just unearthing a few more invaluable nuggets of wisdom

Lots and lots of activity going on for the hard-working staff at Maximum Z HQ. Writing of pages, giving of notes, assisting with development of outside projects, and assembling material for future posts, just to name a few.

So what does this mean in regards to today’s post?

While our number one priority remains, as always, to provide you with entertaining content, sometimes the producing of original material runs into a bit of snag, resulting in a lack thereof.

But never fear. All is not lost.

Thanks to having just over 8 years’ worth of material to pick from, there are plenty of opportunities to occasionally run a classic (i.e. old) post.

And today is one of those times.

Here’s a post from April 11, 2012, and the subject matter is still relevant. Plus, it features one of my favorite titles and photo captions.

Vamoose! Amscray! Skedaddle! Rampaging thesaurus on the loose!

Added bonus: stronger brainpower!
Egad! A gargantuan leviathan extirpating a metropolitan venue!

I read this the other day and loved it.

It’s too easy to rely on everyday verbs while you’re putting a script together.  The more picturesque a word, the more visual it becomes.  It makes the script that much more exciting and interesting to read.

I usually have two minimized windows running while I’m writing. Pandora for creativity-inducing background music and Thesaurus.com for when I just can’t think of a solid alternate verb. It might take a little effort to find the one that fits, but oh the satisfaction when you do.

Not sure if  a verb works? Follow the example in the quote and read the sentence aloud. Try it with different verbs. Which one sounds spot-on? Does it not only convey action but mood as well?  If somebody storms into a room, you can probably guess how they feel.  Compare it to somebody who slinks, sashays or (always a favorite) moseys in.

The writer’s job is to paint a picture of the story in the reader’s mind. And you want to hold their attention by using words that will do just that. A compelling story with fleshed-out characters helps too, but dull writing makes for boring reading.

I can’t remember the exact wording or who said it, but there’s this great quote that says something like “There are a million words in the English language. Use them.”

Sound advice indeed.

That moment of clarity

Don't you love when these show up?
Don’t you love when these show up?

I’ve always said that with each draft of every script I work on, my writing gets a little bit better. Definitely a “learn as you go” scenario.

If you looked at my earlier work, you’d probably say it was pretty basic. Very straightforward. Average. With the later stuff, you’d see improvement. Better, but still some room to grow.

Among the helpful comments I received regarding the previous draft of my western was “give us more flair in the prose…make the details a bit more colorful.”

This can be a trap a lot of writers fall into. You want your writing to be vivid and descriptive, but it’s easy to overdo it and before you know it, the storytelling overshadows your actual story.

Since I started the rewrite, I’ve been doing my best to maintain an equal balance of both so the story is told in an entertaining way and easy for a reader to visualize what’s happening. If they feel like they’re actually there, experiencing it along with the characters, then I’m doing a good job.

Working on an action sequence earlier this week, I was struggling to come up with the best way to describe the events as they played out. Ordinary words weren’t cutting it, and the ever-present thesaurus wasn’t offering much help either. I knew what I wanted to say, but couldn’t come up with the right way to say it.

You can describe how something happens, but is it strong enough to hold somebody’s attention? Is there a “more colorful” way to say it? How could you add “more flair”?

If I were reading this, what would make me want to keep going? What would compel me to want to know what happens next?

Since this is, at its heart, my take on a pulp story, I decided to embrace that aspect and run with it. I mean really run. Let loose and color those words in the perfect shade of purple.

To say it made a difference is putting it mildly.

Words and descriptions that refused to make themselves known before were sprouting up left and right. This was exactly how I imagined the sequence and exactly how it should be written.

A key point to remember in all of this is that this is what works for me. Your writing and your style are totally your own, and only you can find the best way to do it.

I won’t say that everything from here on in for me will be as easy or productive, but it’s definitely a change for the better, and I for one am looking forward to seeing the end result.

 

 

Simple now, fancy-schmancy later

What? This isn't what you wear when you're writing?
What? This isn’t what you wear when you’re writing?

Right now, it’s all about finishing the first draft of this spec. Just get it done. Hopefully this momentous event will occur sometime in the next couple of days.

The script as a whole will of course need a lot of tweaking and reworking – it’s foolish to think otherwise – but it’s also important to get the words on the page to paint a strong mental picture. The more picturesque your text, the more vivid it becomes inside the reader’s mind.

Despite using the “write it now, fix it later” approach, I try to work with a wide variety of words, descriptions and phrases throughout to keep things interesting.  Remember – the thesaurus is your friend. Use it wisely.

Changes will be made where necessary in forthcoming drafts. It’s more than likely a word or sentence will be modified several times, then changed back to what it originally was. This happens all the time.

As this draft was put together, the words that met my needs at the time were used. Are there ones that work better, or at least do a better job of conveying the intended mood?  Without a doubt, but rather than spend too much time now to come up with the perfect word or phrase, I’m more interested in maintaining that nice, steady momentum.  There’ll be time to spruce it up later.

You can have great language in your wide margins or dialogue, but it all boils down to this: if the story’s not rock-solid, the whole thing will fall apart.

I was especially reminded about this listening to a recent episode of Scriptnotes. One of the entries in the Three Page Challenge featured the colorful phrase describing a room:  “A dragon’s lair of treasures.” Nice, huh?

I don’t know if the writers had that in there from Day One, but it’s definitely not something I would have come up with the first time around. It’s not hard to imagine this is the result of a little brainstorming. It’s short, descriptive and effective.

Don’t worry about getting it all perfect when you start. That’s what rewrites are for.

Vamoose! Amscray! Skedaddle! Rampaging thesaurus on the loose!

Egad! A gargantuan leviathan extirpating a metropolitan conveyance venue!

I read this the other day and loved it.

It’s too easy to rely on everyday verbs while you’re putting a script together.  The more picturesque a word, the more visual it becomes.  It makes the script that much more exciting and interesting to read.

I usually have two minimized windows running while I’m writing. Pandora for creativity-inducing background music and Thesaurus.com for when I just can’t think of a solid alternate verb. It might take a little effort to find the one that fits, but oh the satisfaction when you do.

Not sure if  a verb works? Follow the example in the quote and read the sentence aloud. Try it with different verbs. Which one sounds spot-on? Does it not only convey action but mood as well?  If somebody storms into a room, you can probably guess how they feel.  Compare it to somebody who slinks, sashays or (always a favorite) moseys in.

The writer’s job is to paint a picture of the story in the reader’s mind. And you want to hold their attention by using words that will do just that. A compelling story with fleshed-out characters helps too, but dull writing makes for boring reading.

I can’t remember the exact wording or who said it, but there’s this great quote that says something like “There are a million words in the English language. Use them.”

Sound advice indeed.