Saturday, June 30, 2007

So You've Decided to be EVIL

(JB (octopus sting victim) shared this link with me. Thanks, J!)

So, you're working on your script (right?), but there's still something missing. There's a presence not accounted for in the story. Perhaps there doesn't seem to be a clear and present danger. Or perhaps there's no force to be reckoned with. That's because we haven't talked much about...


Now, villains come in all shapes and sizes and don't necessarily live in dark castles surrounded by deformed and dangerous henchmen. If you've seen the film ELECTION the villain comes in the form of Reese Witherspoon playing an overzealous high school senior.

(Speaking of high school... your English teachers most likely taught you that antagonist = villain. This is not always the case. For our purposes, we define antagonist as the one who instigates the change in the protagonist. Meaning, the one whose striving, pushing, goading, teasing, prompting, chiding, testing, defying, etc. directly effects the change in your protagonist. (i.e. the CHARACTER ARC). More on THAT later. VILLAIN is the BAD DUDE or DUDETTE.)

However, if you do happen to be writing the next SpiderXmen-Matrix Nightmare- Die More Than Hard-Lord of the Underworld... perhaps THIS may be of assistance.

How EVIL is your character? Freddy Kruger or Dick Cheney evil?
What KIND OF evil is she/he? Avatar for a Supernatural Creature Beyond All Comprehension or Internet Spammer?
How do you create evil objectives and goals?

This WEBSITE is an in-depth exploration of what it takes to be evil, career choices in evilness, how to select your lair location, and what kind of evil henchmen you should select.

It even tells you how to select an Evil Name. I'm thinking of becoming Mistress Blood Spawn.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tag, You're It!

So apparently I've been "tagged." This seems to be some kind of blog chain letter type thing. I'll play along. I'll try anything once (if no one is harmed in the process).

And btw, when did "meme" become a questionnaire one sends out to people over the Internet? I kind of get it, since a MEME is a bit of cultural information (like catch-phrases (Where's the beef?) jokes, jingles, facts, beliefs, etc) passed down from generation to generation (sort of like pop culture genetics). So I guess it's sort of passing information, but I don't know that any of it has any cultural stickiness.

In any case, here are the rules:

A. Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves.

B. The rules (that you're reading right now) of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed.

C. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to check your blog.

(please don't hate me if you're on this list of 8 and you didn't want to be tagged. So few of my friends actually blog. They do other things to procras.... I mean occupy their time. There won't be a mad fairy who curses you for seven generations if you don't participate. Bees won't fly up your anus. At least I don't think so, I'll have to check on that.)


1) She used to take ballet and tap dancing as a child, but when her instructor told her they were going to be televised, she got scared and told her mom she didn't want to take lessons any more.

2) The worst thing she did as a child was to leave a pile of dogpoop on a neighbor girl's porch. Most kids made fun of this girl, although Danika didn't mind her and had even been inside her house. She had older and odd parents and a dog named Freckles. Danika would like to apologize in person some day.

3) When Danika was 14 she told her mother she wanted a tattoo. She was thinking perhaps a blue butterfly on her hand. Her mother told her to wait for 10 years and then decide.

3) When Danika was 15 she painted everything in her room purple.

4) Danika spent the night in line waiting to buy Duran Duran tickets when she was 16 (yes, kids, gather around and I'll tell you tales of the days before the internet... when we walked to the library up-hill over broken glass...)

5) When Danika's boyfriend broke up with her when she was a senior in high school, she ran through the streets crying. Her Father followed along in the car to make sure she was all right. The police stopped her to ask if the man in the car behind her was harassing her.

6) Danika had the nickname "Dinky" in college because one of her professors misremembered her name. Her friends thought it was HI-LA-RI-OUS.

7) At the end of her sophomore year in college, Danika and her friend M (Danika is not a rat, M can confess on her own blog) dumped environmentally friendly bio-degradable suds in the school fountain. It was beautiful. The next day, maintenance cleaned out the fountain. They wanted to tell them the suds were safe, but, uh... yeah... (they also climbed onto the roof of the science building and snuck into a room and spent the night. Shhhhhh!)

8) Danika gave Allen Ginsberg a ride home from a party while she was studying at Naropa. Afterwards, her silly friend L. shook his hand and said "Thank You." They laughed and went to the store to buy two rubber fish to celebrate the moment (they were on sale for 1/2 price). Later they took the fish on a road trip to New York.

9) At 24, Danika got a tattoo. (it was not a blue butterfly, nor was it on her hand)

10) 15 years passed during which Danika wrote. A lot. Poetry, prose, journals, dreams, screenplays, songs. She wrote so much she couldn't stop.

I'll tag.....

Erin Berringer
John Berringer (yes, both of you)
Ken "Clean-Air System"
Frank Parker
SR Duncan
Mickey Cohen
Max Adams
Jennica Harper

Monday, June 25, 2007

Week Five Assignments

Okay, this week I'm going to give you something a wee bit tedious (but OH so helpful in the long run) and something really fun. You with me? Smashing.

First, if you've been doing the warm-up exercises, you are going to find it's getting harder to locate information within them. Or you might forget stuff even though you circled it 3 times in red. So this week, I want you to start typing up your handwritten exercises.

What?!? you ask. Well then why did I hand write them in the first place, you taskmaster?! Because I told you to. And because handwriting and typing are two different things. Editing is too tempting with your hands on the keys. Hand-writing keeps you moving forward.

So for the first 10 or 15 minutes, each time you sit down to write this week, I want you to work on typing up your exercises. I'm asking you to do this now so that you are reminded of where you've been. Jogging the ole memory.

You can leave portions out if you were just blabbing on about not knowing what to write (I get that way sometimes in my exercises). It's up to you. I suggest typing up anything that has to do with the characters and story, though, even if you don't think you'll use it or think it's a stupid idea.

Trust me, it sounds like a pain, but it will be worth it. (More on that later, all you have to do right now is type them up. I have a master plan. I won't lead you astray, I promise.)

NOTE: I keep having AHA moments while I'm doing my warm-ups, so I've taken to writing a big red AHA on the page every time this happens. That way, I can easily spot it later.

Now for something really fun!!! (Don't you hate it when people use extra exclamation points? This should be outlawed. As if one could have that much excitement!!!!!!!! My younger students do it all the time for emphasis in their creative writing.)

For the next 15 - 20 minutes, work on this assignment:

(I must give credit to Geof Miller and Stewart Stern for this one. They give a very similar exercise in their program at University of Washington.)

Take any character you'd like to work on. Protagonist, antagonist, villain, it doesn't matter. Any character you'd like to explore further. Start a file on them on your computer so you can refer to the information later.

Go through the categories below and find the picture that BEST represents your character:

1) ANIMALS (9 photos to choose from)
2) FLOWERS (9 photos to choose from)
3) LANDSCAPES (10 photos to choose from)
4) BUILDINGS AND STRUCTURES (15 photos - or more thru links)
5) MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS (tons to choose from!)
6) WEATHER (tons to chose from!)
7) FOOD (tons to chose from!)
8) VEHICLES (too many to choose from)

My younger students get confused with this one and start picking things their character might LIKE (as in prefer). This is a metaphor exercise. Pick the object does your character most resembles.

When you pick the picture, stick it in your computer file so you can use it later. Go on your gut instinct. I tried to limit the amount of photos to make it easier, but that wasn't always possible.

After you've picked all your images, complete 1 or 2 timed writings (7-10 minutes each) using the startline My protagonist is a __________ because....

Sandra is a lily pad because she drifts in and out of life. She doesn't see the big picture, she can only see the sky. She's a dreamer. She has no roots on solid ground. She would drift wherever fate took her, she said one day in a melancholy mood and then she was gone. Just like that...

Feel free to try it using the CHAINING technique (last word in sentence is first word in next) or in one long sentence (no punctuation and connected by conjunctions).

You may be surprised how effective this exercise is. Write for at least 7 minutes. Let it really take you away. This exercise is very free-flowing... like a lily pad on a river staring up into the sky...

After you've done these warm-ups, write your new pages. Set you timer for 20 minutes and work on your script. Then get up, stretch, pee, reheat your coffee and sit down for another 20 minutes.

Have a great week!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Week Five Check In: scene development

Howdy! How are you all doing? We're starting week five. Two weeks of prep writing and two weeks of actual screenwriting so far. A few of you started late, but that's all right. Keep going!

I would love if you could check in and let me know how you're doing. And be honest! I'm here to help. Let me know if there's anything I can do if you're stuck, unmotivated, frustrated, you name it.

My personal goal was to write 7 days a week for at least an hour. I missed two days in the past two weeks, but that's it (missing only 2 days in 4 weeks is a personal record for me).

I also wanted to write 20 pages a week on the screenplay and I'm on page 44. That's 22 pages per week and an average of 3.7 pages per day, so I'm on target. (44 pages / 12 days)

I was very pleased with how the warm-ups got me going each time this week. I hope you found them helpful as well. As I said in an earlier post, sometimes I just want to skip them, but they're always worth it. Many AHAs!

Scene building through character development:

Whenever I'm working on a scene, I try to keep three things in mind for each of the characters in that scene:

And then, make each scene a balance of dodge and reveal.

For instance, I have a scene in which Howler is asking a very large favour from a boa constrictor named The Lamp (the mob boss of the animal world). Howler wants The Lamp to help him get to the World of Waiting Spirits. He comes right out and asks him. That's information I need him to reveal at this time. The stakes for him are that he might lose his brother forever if he doesn't go. He is hiding the fact that it's his fault his brother is there.

The Lamp wants to gain back power he has lost. The stakes for him are if he doesn't, he'll lose control of "The Vine." He is hiding how much is at stake for him as well as the fact that he plans on recruiting spirits in limbo as his agents. Not only is he hiding this fact from Howler, he's hiding it from the audience. The audience doesn't learn about his plan until Howler does much later.

All of this info feeds the character's motivations, directing their action and dialogue. The Lamp is a snake of few words, since he's got a lot to protect. He reveals very little.

If we know what our characters want, what the stakes are for them, and what they are hiding, we will build complex and consistent characters whose actions are driven by motivation (and not randomly because we need them to do something to make our plot work). We will also create conflict, because the characters' desires are at odds.

Can Monkeys Give Birth to Twins?

Yes, another odd thought I had while working on my script today.

I was thinking if humans could give birth to twins, why not monkeys? Turns out I'm right. There are even records of conjoined monkey twins. (Doesn't that sound like a great name for a punk band? Conjoined Monkeys)

These are albino pygmy monkeys (marmosets)
Here's the article.

These guys look like something out of a Star Wars movie. They are amazing. They are the smallest monkeys in the world. Adults grow to 5 inches.

Ah, research... the best form of procrastination.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

I'm such a sap

I never watch Canadian Idol, American Idol, Pop Idol, or any other kind of idol. But I found this episode and had to share. If you haven't seen this yet, grab your hankie.

This is what you call natural talent.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Code Cracked!

So, I'm doing my laundry and I look on the back of the tag to read the care instructions. There are no instructions. Instead it's got what I call "Housewife Hieroglyphics."

I've seen those symbols a billion times and never have I asked anyone what they mean. (Like any of my friends would know anyway.) The iron with the little X through it is pretty self-explanatory, but other than that I don't even know if 30c is cold or warm or hot. When it's 30c in Vancouver, it sure feels pretty good to me, but I don't know how my hoodie feels about it.

In the past I'd just make a guess and hope for the best. And I'd end up line drying half my stuff because I didn't know what a triangle or square with a dot means. Don't want to take a chance on shrinking one of my favourite creature comforts... oh blue hoodie of the grey day refrain...

I'm wondering how the hell people are supposed to know this stuff? There's no lesson at school to decipher these and who made them up anyway? Of course, I managed to finagle my way out of Home Economics in Middle School, so perhaps that's where I went off course.

I decided enough is enough and I feel SO much better now. Like I've cracked some code that's been taunting me for years.

Oh how I LOVE the Internet: THE LAUNDRY CODE

The first draft sux

It's true. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the first draft SUX.

Stephen King says he never shows anyone his first draft. In Bird by Bird Anne Lamont says her first draft is always crap. Geof Miller (instructor at University of Washington) always told us DARE TO BE BAD. You have to, otherwise you'll never write a word.

I have to keep repeating this because people keep bringing it up and thinking they are doing something wrong. CREATION IS MESSY.

Just GET IT DOWN and tweak with it later. If you were sewing a dress, you'd start with a humougous bolt of material. It doesn't look like anything. But by using your tools and skills (or following instructions if you have no sewing skills), you eventually make a dress. Your first dress might not be a fashion statement, but when it's finally wearable, you'll be proud. And then you'll make another one and it will be even better...

If you want to go on believing that every successful author popped out of the womb fully formed and every time he or she pens a word it emerges perfect and precise... go right ahead. I just don't think it will serve you very much.

One of my students at VFS found this quote from Hemingway, which I think is brilliant:

It's none of their business that you have to learn how to write. Let them think you were born that way.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Assignments Week Four

Take a look at what you accomplished last week and pat yourself on the back. Whether you wrote 5 pages or 25 pages, you're further along than you were a week ago.

You can design your own program, but I suggest you keep doing the suggested warm-up exercises before you begin writing. When I'm feeling lazy, I always want to skip this step. But, I set my timer and do the warm-ups anyway. And I'm always glad I do.

Last week the warm-ups helped me to clarify who the antagonist is and what he wants, figure out who the villain is and what he wants, answer several questions I had about the story-line, and the exercises also brought up a major theme I hadn't considered. I honestly felt better each time I did the warm-ups. They only take 10-15 minutes and they get your hands and thoughts moving, so try to make them part of your daily routine.

This week, before you begin, look through your RED marks and notes in your exercise journal. Look at the words you circled for the scene exercises and at the scenes listed in the moving image exercise. Note any research you will have to do... later.

I find that sometimes in the middle of writing I want to stop and look up some information. Resist the temptation. Last week I stopped and started researching animals to make sure they lived in certain parts of South America together. This may be important, but it's nothing that can't be changed later. I pushed myself to just keep writing, getting the story down. I can go back and research details later (like the names of fruits a Howler Monkey might throw at someone).

Again, rotate the kind of writing exercise you do: short sentence, chain, LSR, etc. I always do a few chaining exercises each week. That one is always the trickiest to me.

This week, try your hand at these combinations:

The scene that needs to be written is...
In this scene Character A wants Ch. B to...
In this scene Character B wants Ch. A to...

When my protagonist looks in the mirror she sees...
(When my antogonist looks in the mirror he sees...)
My protagonist thinks my antogonist should...
(My antagonist thinks my protagonist should...)

My protagonist's darkest moment occurs when...
My protagonists's deepest secret is...
My protagonist breaks through his cage when...

After you have done your warm-ups, it's time to work on your script! Set your timer for 20 minutes and go. Do not look back, do not edit.

After 20 minutes. Take a little break, stretch, pee, refill your coffee, and then write for 20 minutes more.

I have found that I usually write about 3-4 pages of screenplay in this amount of time. Any less and you're probably overthinking. Any more and... well, I'm jealous...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Blogs Updated Hypnosis

Have you ever noticed the "Blogs updated at ________" list on the Blogger home page? It's just under the B Blogger logo.

I find it fascinating. And hypnotic.

It's simply a continuous list of blogs flashing on the screen that have been updated in the LAST MINUTE. I'm fascinated by it because it never stops; it's so rhythmic. But also because of the sheer amount of people in the world who are updating their blogs. And this is just on Blogger. How many blog spaces are there on the internet? So many people reaching out to communicate. To connect. To be heard.

The world is getting smaller, I say.
The world has always been small, he says,
we are only gripping it tighter...

After a while I start to get overwhelmed and have to click off.

I have yet to see my own blog come up when I post a new message.

Props for j.d. munro!

My friend Jenny (j.d. munro) is in a new anthology just hitting the stores:

The Bigger The Better The Tighter the Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image, and Other Hazards of Being Female

Knowing her, it will be hysterical. Jenny is known for her strange and twisted sexual tales. If you like sex and you like dark humour (or if you don't like sex, but still like dark humour), get this book. Or any other book Jenny is in. You can find them HERE.

And then e-mail her every day and tell her she must publish a book of short stories, dammit!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Rock Bottom Remainders Wannabe

In the past, I've told my friends that my two goals are to be interviewed on the Daily Show and to be an answer in a NYT crossword puzzle. The Thursday edition.

My new goal is to go on tour with the Rock Bottom Remainders. The members are made up of famous authors (and sometimes a few talented musicians to balance it out). I'm not a stellar musician, but I can carry a better-than-average tune. I'm certain if I get famous enough they'll let me in.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Space of Pain

This entry has nothing to do with our screenwriting challenge. Or perhaps it does.

On Monday I was suddenly paralyzed by a deep sense of grief. A missing. I was deleting some junk mail and I got to one that said "A Reminder for Father's Day." This happens to be my first Father's Day without a Father. My Dad died last June 16 of an aggressive cancer. We had found out less than a week before that he had a brain tumor. I flew out immediately and was present at his side when he drew his last breath.

I lost it when I saw that e-mail. That well of pain erupted into heaving sobs. Luckily Baby was near to comfort me. To remind me to breathe and let it go. After a while the tears subsided and that heaviness one gets in the chest and head after such a cry left me completely spent. I decided to forget everything I "needed" to do that day and just be sad. I curled up on the couch by Ken's side and stayed that way, drifting in and out of sleep for several hours.

I wasn't feeling sorry for myself, I wasn't wallowing, I wasn't angry. I was just sad. I was reminded strangely enough of a Simpson's episode, one of my favourites, where Lisa Simpson gets the blues. She starts expressing her pain through her saxophone. When Marge asks her what's wrong she says she's "sad."

I liked that. Just being sad. Just feeling the feeling of sadness. To me it means being alive and in love with the world. Being so in love with the world that it hurts. I feel that way sometimes when I hear a particularly beautiful or meaningful song or view a certain piece of art. I remember feeling that way and crying the first time I saw Van Gogh's Starry Night. I cry every time I hear Badly Drawn Boy's song The Shining:

Faith pours from your walls, drowning your calls
I've tried to hear, you're not near
Remembering when I saw your face
Shining my way, pure timing
Now I've fallen in deep, slow silent sleep
It's killing me, I'm dying

To put a little bit of sunshine in your life

Soleil all over you, warm sun pours over me
Soleil all over you
Warm sun

Now this slick fallen rift came like a gift
Your body moves ever nearer
And you will dry this tear
Now that we're here, and grieve for me, not history
But now I'm dry of thoughts, wait for the rain
Then it's replaced, sun setting

And suddenly you're in love with everything

Soleil all over you, warm sun pours over me
Soleil all over you
Warm sun

I love the juxtaposition of beauty and sadness, holding them together. Life is like that. Painful and beautiful all at once. And I think that's where art comes from.

I don't think being sad is bad or wrong and I don't think if someone is sad they need fixing. I'm not saying sit around and mope all day. I'm not saying let it invade your life and to spiral into a deep depression. I'm just saying when it comes, feel it like you're a living being. Then use it later when you want to write something real.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Assignments Week Three (And we're off!)

Well, here we are. The start of the script. Don't know about you, but I'm pretty excited. I feel wound up from all the writing exercises and ready to rock and roll.

It's been pretty quiet out there aside from the few private e-mails about wild octopus attacks and youtube video links (yeah, thanks, as if I don't procrastinate enough). And Tod is on his way to the Banff World Television Festival (yes, I am jealous, I admit it! Everyone in this town is off to Banff! Well... there's always next year...). Good luck, Tod! Pitch like the wind!

This week when you start out on page one of your script (i.e. day one of week three), I'd like you to set your timer for 5-7 minutes and warm-up with the start line:
The story I'd like to write is about...

This is slightly different than "this is a story about" because it's about what you'd like to say through your story. What you aim to achieve through this story. You can do a short sentence "wind up," a chaining, a long sentence release, it matters not.

You can continue that as a warm up every day if you want, then do 1 or 2 more. For the start lines below, set your timer anywhere from 5-10 minutes (depending on how long you have to write) and run through the list. Rotate through them so that by the end of the week you've done them all at least once. Also rotate the kind of writing you do short sentence, chain, LSR, etc.

My protagonist's exterior goal is...
(What is it in the outside world that the protagonist wants in order to succeed)
My protagonist's interior need is...
(what is it that the protagonist needs in order to heal - i.e. to forgive himself for his brother's death)
If my protagonist does not achieve his/her goal then...
(what are the stakes, sometimes they are personal, sometimes they effect the world: if Indiana Jones allows the arc of the covenant to fall into Nazi hands they will take over the world)
My antagonist enters the story when...
My antagonist's deepest fear is...
My antagonist's secret is...

After you have done your warm-ups (I recommend at least 2), then it's time to write. Set your timer for 20 minutes and go. Do not look back, do not edit. On computer or by hand. In Final Draft or in Word. It's great if you've got the format down, but you can always format it later. Right now, we're getting the story OUT.

After 20 minutes. Take a little break, stretch, pee, refill your coffee, and then write for 20 minutes more.

I'm not going to say don't read what you've written, because I always read my own (I usually read the previous scene just before writing to remind myself where I left off). Just don't get caught up in fixing it. Keep writing each day, MOVING FORWARD. Remember, there's a reason I call this from Start to Finish.

For those of you who have never written a script before:

When I say "write the script" what that looks like is Slugline/Action/Dialogue. Keep your descriptions minimal or you will get too caught up in them. Description does not move the story forward. For example:


JOE (17) and SAM (18) enter a loud sports bar. A football game is on the television and crowds of drunk men cheer. The boys sneak up to the bar and a surly BARTENDER approaches them.

You've got to be kidding.

I'm looking for my Dad.

Notice that I didn't describe the bar except that it was a sports bar. There's a game on and it's loud. Notice that I didn't even describe the kids except their ages. Their personalities will emerge in the script, which will help readers picture them in their minds. I said surly bartender and you know what I mean. If you need to add something to identify the kids better, like punk, goth, nerdy, athletic, etc go ahead. Just limit your adjectives.

You only capitalize the characters names the first time we see them in the story to indicate it's the first time we're seeing them.

Slugline is either interior or exterior and then place and time. For time, just put "day" or "night." You don't need to worry about anything else such as camera angles.


Action and Dialogue are the key concerns.

For script samples, visit Drew's Script-O-Rama
Make sure you pick "film scripts" not "film transcripts"

And feel free to ask more questions. I sometimes forget what it's like starting from the beginning. I'm purposely keeping it simple so you don't get caught up in stuff that doesn't (say it with me) MOVE THE STORY FORWARD.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Sample Script Format and Week Three Preparation

So, to recap...

Week One was all about warming up to your story. Getting that hand working.
Week Two was about learning a formula to help you when you're stuck and more warming up to your story.

Week Three... we're diving in. We're beginning our scripts and writing from Start to Finish. No time like the present. We can do preparation exercises until the cows come home, but my preference is just to start writing.

The thing is, the first draft is poop. It sucks. Take it from me. I save all my drafts and I can barely read my first draft of Brigitta it's so embarrassing. So why not write it, get it over with, and see what you've got. For inspiration I recommend you read Stephen King's On Writing or Anne Lamont's Bird by Bird. They'll tell you the same thing I just did.

I'm not going to give you page number requirements because everyone writes at their own pace. It's all about moving forward and being committed to your writing time. Staying on track is crucial at this point so the story stays fresh in your mind.

Each week I will give you a list of warm-up exercises to help develop your plot and characters. After you complete the warm-ups your job is to write as many scenes as you can (starting with page 1). When you write the actual script, I don't care if you do it directly into your computer, AS LONG AS YOU DON'T START EDITING. If you find yourself going back and tweaking your work, stick to hand writing it out and transferring it later.

If you don't have Final Draft or a similar program here's my favourite screenplay format sample. It's from the Nicholl Fellowship page. It tells you how to format inside of an actual script. It's pretty amusing.

TIPS for preparing to write...

1) Read what you've written so far these past two weeks. Take that RED pen and mark the passages you like. Make notes in the margins.

2) Fill in blanks or gaps. Do some research if necessary. While you are writing your script if you don't know how fast a hummingbird travels and you need to know, just leave it blank and do the research later.

3) If you're happy with some of the scenes you came up with this past week, try putting each one on an index card. Just a sentence like: Howler's brother is taken by Eagles. Put the cards into order. If you think of any other scenes you'd like to include, put those on cards, too. It helps to organize your thoughts.

4) Recommit to the time. You can do this. No stories, no excuses (other than octopus bites, of course).

Oh, and if you need to, ask questions! I will answer them as soon as I can.

The Mighty Octopus Strikes Again

So, one of our participants e-mailed me to tell me she hadn't been able to write for the last few days due to... get this... an octopus bite. What is it with this blog and octopuses?

I have been teaching for 18 years and this has really got to be the most original excuse ever:

On Sunday, R. and I were picking up marine debris from the bottom of the ocean and inadvertantly grabbed a small hitchhiker... The tiny night octopus was possibly 2 inches around at most and was dismayed to find himself above water. I had already taken off my gloves when R. handed him to me and I meant to put him right in the water...but he was so cute.... I let him slide around on my hand for a while. Then, he decided that the space between two of my fingers made a nice crevasse in which to hide. At that ponit I squeezed my fingers slightly to keep him from disappearing through them.

The bite felt like a small pinch on my middle finger until the poison started making its way down my finger and across the back of my hand. Then it burned like hell. I immediately flung the little demon into the water... after 30 minutes of burning, stabbing pain, my hand swelled up to the size of a mitten and for the last three days I've gone around with no knuckles - just a huge, throbbing, bulbous paw where I should have a hand.

Today I woke up and my hand looks like a hand again. Sure, it is bigger than the right hand and the skin is streched and shiny -- plus it still hurts like hell. But I won't have to worry about drawing sickened glances today when people notice it and I can actually type a bit. So I guess my excuse for not writing is almost over. :)

Let this be a lesson to you all... do not pick up strange octopi.

The funny thing about this (other than the fact that J. has a great sense of story) is that I needed a witchy potions master character. A creepy animal who could supply a potent poison. I decided to make it a giant octopus named Madame M. (which stands for Megalocyathus - the scientific name for the giant octopus that lurks off the coast of Chile).

And BTW - a giant octopus can have arms (not tentacles) up to 12 or 13 feet in length. Not something you'd put in the palm of your hand.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Am I Doing This Right??

I've had a few people wonder about this.

If you are doing the exercise, if you are writing and keeping your pen moving forward the entire time, then you are doing it right.

If you stray from the start line it doesn't matter. I always say that where you start isn't really the point, that's just to get you started. What emerges is what needs to emerge. If you start with a line about your protagonist's fear and 1/2 way through you realize you are writing about her father's backstory, keep writing! It's all going to be in there somewhere. It's all you discovering your story. Keep the water moving through the pipes. This is where inspiration and surprise lurk.

Just to show you what I allow in my own writing practice, here's an example of an exercise gone wild. As you can see, I ask myself a lot of questions while I write. I do this all the time. One, it's a great segue into the next thought. Two, it's simply a way to discover the story. And you don't have to know all the answers right away. I also leave blank spaces when I can't think of something, or don't know a certain fact, simply to keep moving. Don't allow yourself to get stuck!

This is a story about adventure. This is a story about survival. This is a story about love. This is a story about taking a risk, about stepping up to the plate and I keep worrying about contradicting something I've already written in the past so I think it's blocking me a little from writing anything new... This is a story about a little Howler Monkey whose brother is taken by Harpy Eagles and he must go to the World of Waiting Spirits to retrieve him and I seem to be missing great chunks of story because I've got 10 pages until his brother disappears and a few more until Howler reaches Stilt and the Cantina but what else happens along the way and why am I always writing about the jungle and I must learn some more animals and I know another animal appears but I'm not sure why I mean usually they all want something from Howler and are there giraffes in South America? No, silly, only in Africa... so Howler is led by the bird to the Cantina and does Stilt accompany him and I think he must make friends with Tiger Cat who should be a female character I need more female characters...

See what I mean? It's a mental purging, a puking on the page, if you will. You have to dig later for the diamonds. (I think I'm mixing my metaphors here. Unless you are prone to throwing up diamonds. In which case, I've got some ipecac for you.)

Assignments Week Two (Super Scene Writing Formula)

This week, as promised, I will teach you my SUPER SCENE WRITING FORMULA. This is something I use myself and have been teaching my students for years. It works every time.

This exercise takes about 45 minutes, however, you can adjust the timed writings to meet your needs. I have also listed an alternate exercise at the bottom in case you either have more or less time one day or simply want to try something new after doing this exercise a few times.

DD’s Super Scene Writing Formula (SSWF)

STEP ONE - Timed Warm-Ups (22 minutes)

a) You may begin with any start line you'd like (This is a story about... My protagonist's interior need is... my antagonist enters the story when...). I will suggest alternative start lines each week to keep you on your toes.

The one I use most often for this exercise is The scene that needs to be written is...

To begin, set your timer for FIVE MINUTES and use my "wind up" approach from Week One. Repeat the phrase at the beginning of each short sentence (like a list) until a scene jump starts your muse. Then dive in and spontaneously riff from there. Keep that pen moving the whole time, if you fumble and stall, write The scene that needs to be written is... and keep going)

For EXAMPLE, I used the SSWF while working on my script The New Mrs. Polly Dearborne. Here's a sample of how one of the exercises began:

The scene that needs to be written is the scene where Polly wins the contest. The scene that needs to be written is the scene where Polly decides to quit her job. The scene that needs to be written is when Polly goes to the shoestore the first time she comes back from from N.Y. and she usually goes to Payless and this time when she walks in everything looks cheap and dingy and the uniforms of the employees scream minimum wage and it depresses her but at the same time she feels guilty because her friends shop there and she doesn't want to be considered a snob and...

b) When your timer goes off, go the the MIDDLE of that piece of writing and pull out a sentence. Set your timer for SEVEN minutes. Use the line you just pulled from your own writing as your start line. If you get stuck, just write This scene is about... and go from there. You can always go back to listing / short sentences.

I suggest using the "chaining" method for this one, in which the last word of a sentence is repeated as the first word in the next sentence. You can try that for fun and see how it goes. Some people really like where it takes their writing.


Polly wants to explain to her husband but she can't. Can't let him know how petty she feels. Feels like a stupid imbecile because she feels guilty about shoes. Shoes that used to bring her joy and a source of ritual with her best friend. Friend whose clothes look like tired cliches... etc.

c) Repeat the above process: go to the middle, pick a line to start with, write. THIS TIME set your timer for TEN minutes. The reason the time grows longer as you go is to get you to go deeper. If your writing time is limited, try 3-5-7 minutes instead.

You can decide whether to keep chaining or to try really long sentences connected together with conjunctions. I like to switch it up.

ALTERNATIVE: instead of choosing the middle line, simply start your timed writing with the line: In this scene _____ wants... and add one of the characters from that scene.


In this scene Mel wants Polly to tell him what's wrong. Wrong because even though he's a simple man he's not stupid. Stupid is how he's beginning to feel because Polly seems to be drifting farther and farther from him and he doesn't know what to do...

STEP TWO - “Moving Images” (approx 8 mins)

Are your hands tired yet? Well keep going! It's important that this process be done all at once to keep the momentum.

a) Go through the three pieces you just wrote and circle strong nouns or verbs or any other words that stand out. Maybe a thematic word. Jack and Bob called them "hot words." They are simply words that you know mean something to your story. Try to get at least 12-15 words. Write them down the LEFT HAND SIDE of your page.


b) Time yourself for FIVE minutes and after AS MANY of the words on your list, write what I call a "moving image." Meaning, how does this word manifest in the visual story you are telling? When you think of this image, what is happening on screen? I do this as a timed exercise just to keep my thoughts moving. Do as many as you can in any order. It doesn't matter if you complete all of them (I usually don't, not in 5 minutes at least).

Alone - Polly smearing blackberry lipstick across her lips
Guilty - Polly throwing out a dress her husband gave her for her birthday
Kiss - Polly being kissed on the cheek by a European supermodel
Ritual - Polly putting Mel's shoes by the door for him
Stones - Polly skipping rocks on the water with Michelle

Guess what? You now have a list of possible scenes for your screenplay/novel. Congratulations.

STEP THREE - THE SCENE (15 minutes)

Pick any one of the moving images listed above and write your scene. Action/Description and dialogue. Don't worry if it's not in script format, just keep writing. The amount of writing time is totally adjustable for your schedule, but try to take at least 10 minutes to do this. Take more if you're on a roll. Try another scene if you have more time.


Polly begins to remove things from the medicine cabinet. Perfumes from Europe, $50 lipstick. Polly removes a bottle of perfume and sprays her wrist. Smells it, likes it, sprays her neck. She puts it back and pulls out a few bottles of pills. The door opens and a dark Model enters.

The Model picks up the bottle of perfume.

Model (thick accent): The guy who makes this stuff is a letch.
Polly: I didn't, I'm sorry, I wasn't...
Model: Sure you were. Who wouldn't? Let's have a look.

The Model searches through the contents and picks out one of the bottles of pills. She slips it into her purse and makes a "SHHH" sign at Polly. She kisses Polly on the cheek.

(continue scene...)

I think you'll really surprise yourself with the results of this exercise and how many new scenes you generate. Where the scene takes place in the story doesn't matter. Just write!


Oh, so you're a masochist and ready for more?

Here's an exercise that takes anywhere from 25 - 35 minutes, depending on how long you time yourself. It's a good one for fleshing out an entire story in one sitting.

Here are the start lines in order.

1) The story I am writing is about a ______ who (woman, nurse, firefighter, cat, etc)
2) The CAGE ________ has built around herself looks like... (use name of character from #1)
3) ____________ escapes her CAGE by...
4) In the middle of the story _______ decides to...
5) At the end of my story ______ is/has... (does what? is where? has become?)

Write on each one for 5-7 minutes. I usually do short sentence / listing style for the first, chaining for the second and third, and long sentence release for the last two. But do it any way you like just KEEP WRITING.

Now go take on the week!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Just Keep Swimming

So, today I didn't feel like writing. It happens. And I especially didn't want to start out with my "this is a story about" line. I mean, I've already done that 4 times this week, right? I am my own worst student, haha.

I have a general outline of my story already (I wrote a loose treatment several months ago), and even though there are large chunks missing, I know how it starts and how it ends. So I thought to myself, I KNOW this already, why do I have to do this exercise again?

But I sucked it up and set my timer for 7 minutes and started "This is a story about," going through the motions. Half-way through the exercise it dawned on me that I needed another character and started riffing about who this was and where she might come in. Before long... WHAM... epiphany! I knew exactly who she was, how she meets the protagonist, and why she's along for the journey.

(sidenote - I've read several adventure scripts where a side-kick / helper decides to come along on the journey but there's no motivation for them to do so. This drives me batty.)

The result? I've got material for a really good scene and solved the issue of my protag having an ally. And all because I started writing "This is a story about..."

Sometimes it's not about the particular exercise at all. Sometimes it just about writing. You won't discover anything new, unless you just KEEP WRITING.

P.S. WRITING... not editing, not reading over what you've written, not thinking about writing. All that happens in its own time. When doing those exercises, keep that hand moving.