Tuesday, July 31, 2007

To TREAT or not to TREAT: a note about PROCESS

I think one of the most important things one can discover as a writer is how one's own process works best. We can take courses, read books, get advice from experts, but in the end we will have to find our own way.

My process is a combination of things I've learned over the years from mentors and books and writing practice. There is no one way to go about writing a poem, story, novel, or screenplay. I'm not talking about the genre or form or the story itself, I'm talking about the physical act of getting it down on the page.

We don't dress alike, behave alike, or think alike so why should we create the same way either?

I was once interviewed by a gentleman who was working on a degree in poetry. He wanted to learn HOW to go about being a poet. He asked 20 poets what their rituals were and how they proceeded to write. I was the last poet he interviewed and I asked him what he discovered.

He said: Some poets write every day, some write only when the muse strikes, some write first thing in the morning, some write at night. Some poets edit their work 50 times, some never edit their work. Some poets read their work out loud to themselves. Some are formalists, some are cavalier. Some poets carve out their poems line by line, some are completely spontaneous.

I'm paraphrasing, of course, but this made me laugh. He was really kind of bummed he hadn't found the answer. I said, "I guess you just have to try everything and figure out what works for you."

I was cruising around writer sites and found this post on Laura Reyna's Writing and Building site about writing "mini-drafts" of her scripts before she writes the whole thing. She adapted this method from something James Cameron does. Very cool. She pointed to David Anaxagoras's blog as well, which talks about the difference between outlines, treatments and scriptments.

Want to hear a secret? I don't always write outlines or treatments for my spec scripts.* It could be that I'm lazy, but I don't think so. I think my process is just more organic. I think a lot about the story, tell it out loud to myself and others (something Alex Epstein recommends) and then complete a bunch of writing exercises and brainstorms around it. Then I write the whole thing from start to finish in as short amount of time as possible. 10 Days is my favourite length of time. I like being totally immersed in the story.

Basically, I start with a situation, visualize the end result, then create some characters and let them loose. To me, it's always been about the characters. I think if you create great characters, throw them into a situation with secrets, goals, wounds and needs they're bound to do something interesting.

I absolutely think structure is important. And it seems that if I keep asking myself the right questions, and keep moving the story forward, the structure emerges as part of the process. I simply prefer getting it all down and seeing what I've got. Then I mold it in the rewrite, making sure it all works and everything is revealed in the most effective way possible.

I am a stickler for rewriting/editing. Don't think my organic approach means I'm sloppy. I have a different process for the creation and the edit. After I've got it all down, I organize it, tighten it, and throw out what I don't need. No matter what I write, I've always preferred writing MORE than I need and trimming it down (carving it out), rather than not having enough and trying to fill it in. There's more to my rewrite process, and I'll tell you more about that when we get there.
If you prefer outlines before you begin, write them. If you'd like to try the scriptment, by all means. But if they don't feel right (i.e. they feel false, dishonest, not useful), take it from me, you can write a successful story without them. I've met several other screenwriters who don't write them either.
If it makes sense to you, do it. If it works, keep doing it.

*NOTE - since writing this post I have fallen in love with beat sheets and scriptments. I have found them both very helpful. If you want to know more about either of these, just leave a comment below.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Assignments Week Ten - The Reversal

We only have a few weeks left of assignments. Keep up the good work and bring it on home...

"Reversal" is a term we throw around a lot with our students at VFS. Reversal simply means a situation has upended itself. He had the girl, he lost the girl. She climbed to the top of the company, she was fired. In Steve Martin's The Jerk, there are several big reversals. He's poor, he's rich, he's poor, he's rich again.

Small reversals can happen in any scene: she was on the trail of the murderer, she lost the trail. He finally gets some alone time, he walks into a surprise party. Reversals are used in all genres and keep the plot moving along.

I sometimes think about scenes in terms of who has the "power" at the beginning and end of the scene. Shifts in power are reversals. The card player has all the poker chips and is on top of the world... then it is discovered he is cheating and suddenly it's 3 against 1... ooops.

Power can come in terms of physical power, mental power, situational power - any time a character has the upper hand. It could be the possession of an item or the possession of a secret. It could be something a mother is holding over her daughter's head.

In the case of The Breakfast Club (See script under Start to Finish Support Materials in the right hand column), the power shifts many times between John Bender and the Principal. The principal has the "law" of the school on his side, but Bender has the ability to humiliate him, taking away his power.

(btw - if no one ever has more "power" than another character in your scenes, you're writing flat... i.e. no drama, no conflict)

There are those who strictly follow the "standard" 3-act structure (more on why I don't subscribe to that later) who talk in terms of a story having two big reversals and where they should fall in your plot. I'm not into mapping out what page number a plot point should fall on (because, duh, screenplays run from 86 minutes to about 120 minutes), but I do think these reversals should land somewhere:

1) A reversal that pushes the characters deeper into the situation/conflict/dilemma
2) A reversal that hammers the theme home, reaffirms what the story is all about.

In terms of The Breakfast Club, about halfway through the story, Bender ends up sacrificing himself so that the rest of the students can get safely back to the library. It's a pretty selfless act for someone who pretends to hate the rest of the kids and it lands him in the closet for the remainder of their detention.

And if you examine the end, there are many reversals that = the big reversal that hammers in the theme of the story, such as Andrew (tough jock) breaks down crying and Claire kisses Bender.

There is no way at the beginning of the story Andrew would have broken down crying and Claire would have kissed Bender, but at the end, we completely believe it due to the events that led up to these things. That's the magic of good storytelling.

Your assignments this week:

1) As per usual, take 10-15 minutes to type up your hand-written exercises (you're still hand-writing your warm-ups aren't you? Hmmm?)

2) Then, take 7-10 minutes each (set your timer), to do riffs on the following start lines:
At the beginning of the next scene, the power lies with (Character) because...
At the end of the next scene, the power lies with (Character) because...

3) ALTERNATIVE - if you're writing every day and you'd like some variety, try substituting these start line pairs:

The first big reversal in my story happens when...
The final reversal that hammers in the theme of my story happens when...

My protagonist loses his/her power at the beginning of the story when...
My protagonist regains his/her power at the end of the story because...

4) Set your timer for 20 minutes and write your next scene. Take a break, stretch, pee, refill coffee, and set your timer for another 20 minutes. Complete at least one scene.

NOTE: I always turn my timer off when it beeps the second time and I keep writing until I feel like I've come to the conclusion of something: an idea, a scene, a transition, etc. It could be the end of a block of dialogue in which a decision is made or an agruement settled.

Have a great week!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Memed Again

Annie at Reading is My Superpower tagged me for the Blogging Tips Meme. This is only the second time I've been tagged for a meme and I feel like the girl in Junior High School who finally got an invitation to the cool kid's party.

I like the idea of memes, but I don't like having to tag other people. It's like a chain letter. I don't pass chain letters of any kind to my friends, especially not ones that contain threats. Demons haven't flown out of my anus yet.

: When this meme is passed on to you, copy the whole thing, skim the list and put a * star beside the tips you especially like.

Add the next number (1. 2. 3. 4. 5., etc.) and write your own blogging tip for other bloggers. Try to make your tip general.

After that, tag some other people. It was originally 10 others but I don't know 10 people who would do this. So make it 5-10. I'm changing the rules. Haha.

1. Look, read, and learn. ***-http://www.neonscent.com/

2. Be EXCELLENT to each other. **-http://www.bushmackel.com/

3. Don’t let money change ya! *-http://www.therandomforest.info/

4. Always reply to your comments. ******-http://chattiekat.com/

5. Link liberally — it keeps you and your friends afloat in the Sea of Technorati. ****-http://chipsquips.com/

6. Don’t give up - persistence is fertile. *-http://www.velcro-city.co.uk/

7. Give link credit where credit is due. *****-http://www.sfsignal.com/

8. Pictures say a thousand words and can usually add to any post.***-http://scifichick.com/

9. Visit all the bloggers that leave comments for you - it’s nice to know who is reading! ****-http://stephaniesbooks.blogspot.com/

10. When commenting on others’ blogs, a few kind words go a long way. – * http://shelflifeblog.blogspot.com/

11. When you’re starting out, comment on all the blogs you like to read; that way the bloggers will know that you exist! *;) http://astripedarmchair.blogspot.com

12. Make sure you check your links! http://superfastreader.com By way of explanation–when you cut & paste the text of a meme, you don’t get the underlying links. If you just see text, you need to turn the text into links manually. If you see hyperlinks, you can cut & paste from the Page Source to get the HTML code and preserve the links. In Firefox, you can use Command/Apple-U to see this. The whole point of a meme is to spread link love, but you need more than just the text to do that.

13. Give your blog a theme/focus; make a niche for yourself. http://www.theaccidentalnovelist.blogspot.com/

Thanks to SuperFast for the tag. I’m supposed to tag (up to) 10 people... here goes:

Vicki at Writing With Vicki

Anita at Anita's Owl Creek Bridge

Erin at Newport Business Branding

Susan of West of Mars

Linda at Raven's Roads

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thursday Thirteen - 13 Books Challenge (TT #3)

Thirteen Books I Have Been "Challenged" to Read
(graphic brought to you by Love All Books)

I like challenges, so when I came across Poodlerat's book challenge I knew I had to participate. I am admittedly a slow reader, so I'm doing a less ambitious challenge. It's taken me two weeks to finish American Gods by Neil Gaiman (which I recommend, but only if you are not easily offended by graphic descriptions of ancient gods being run over by cars or grossed out by things like "undead" characters coughing up maggots).

I think Poodlerat is reading something like 100 books in a year. Wow.

This week I asked 13 people to "assign" a book to me (It was easier than making my own list). My challenge is that I will read them all before the end of the year. (I asked specifically for fiction as I already read lots of non-fiction and some poetry).

The list is as follows (in no particular order):

1) Dr. Neruda's Cure for Evil by Rafael Yglasias (recommended by Jackie)

2) Seduction by Light by Al Young (recommended by Gwendolyn)

3) Was by Geoff Ryman (recommended by a producer I met)

4) The Alchemist by Paulo Cuelo (recommended by Ami the Llama)

5) Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (recommended by Matt)

6) Hey, Nostradamus by Douglas Coupland (recommended by Erin the Tiger)

7) Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (recommended by Barbara)

8) The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (also recommended by Barbara)

9) A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine (recommended by SuperFast Reader)

10) Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (recommended by Mickey) - technically "non-fiction" as it's autobiographical, but truth is in the eye of the beholder...

11) Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins (recommended by Baby)

12) Fifth Business by Robertson Davies (recommended by both Superfast and Poodlerat)

13) Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (also recommended by Poodlerat)

As a bonus I'm adding the new Harry Potter book, The Time Traveler's Wife, and The Da Vinci Code (I have mixed feelings about this one as friends say it's not all it's hyped up to be). So that's a total of 16 new works of fiction by the end of the year.

I noticed most of these are male authors, and I would have liked more balance, but I said I would read them, so I will.

Thanks for all your recommendations, folks! And please visit the websites of all the blogging book reviewers. They provide a great service.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Intruder Alert - Start to Finish Bonus Assignment Week Nine

If you ever think one of your scenes is dull, you're having trouble starting a scene, or you just want to try an interesting warm-up assignment, The Intruder Alert exercise is for you.

An intruder is basically anyone who interrupts your scene. He or she could literally enter the room or he or she could enter "through" a conversation (Meaning a couple is arguing and he brings up the fact that she spent the whole party talking to his best friend. His best friend has "intruded" in on the conversation.).

I have found that rarely can any film/screenplay hold my interest when there's just one person in the scene. Cast Away managed to do it with Tom Hanks stranded on an island, but notice that they created "Wilson" so they guy could talk to someone. Monologuing doesn't go over as well in film as it does in theatre.

Notice that when you add a person to the scene, the drama/conflict has more potential. Especially if they want different things.


1) Start off with a warm-up: The Scene that needs to be written is... ( write for 5-7 minutes)

2) Pick THREE characters who are central to this scene and label them A, B, and C.
EXAMPLE: A = Howler, B = Celia, C = Stilt

3) A and B will be "on screen" and C will be the "intruder."

4) Pick one of the following start lines of dialogue and take 10 minutes to quickly write the scene (action and dialogue).

One character says to the other:
What do you think you're doing?
Where is the...
Tell me about the....
I don't know if I can...

At some point during your scene, have the intruder (Character C) enter the room. Does he pick sides? Does he make the other two uncomfortable? Are they hiding something from him? Does he have an agenda? (remember: what do your characters want? what are the stakes? what are their secrets?)

5) After you have written the scene once, write the SAME SCENE again. This time, make Character B the Intruder. Character A or C has the start line.

6) Repeat this process for a third time, making Character A the Intruder. Character B or C says the start line.

It is important that it is the SAME SCENE each time - meaning it's in the same place and time in the story. But notice how the dynamics change when different people are put together alone in a room and the intrusion happens in another manner. It's just a way to write it differently that you might not have thought about.

Also, it MAY help you decide how many points of entry to have. Say you really like the dynamic of your protagonist being the intruder and knowing what's been going on before she stepped into the room. You might decide to have another point of entry in your script (or a different point of view in your novel).

Have fun!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Assignments Week Nine - Basic Warm Up

Week Nine, wow. You're really heading for home now, or you might already be there! If you've been doing 10 pages per week since week three, you should be around page 70 now.

This week, we're going back to basics.

1) First, warm up by typing up more of your handwritten exercises for about 10-15 minutes. Again, this is great way to get those creative muscles moving. I have really enjoyed typing up my exercises because I've discovered useful ideas I had forgotten about.

2) Since we're just getting past that crunchy centre and I want you to keep things moving, we're going to return to a tried and true warm-up exercise:

The start line: The scene that needs to be written is... (5 minutes: short sentence wind up)

GO TO THE MIDDLE of that exercise and pull out a sentence. That's your next start line. (7 minutes: chaining)

GO TO THE MIDDLE of that exercise and pull out a sentence. That's your final start line. (10 minutes: long sentence release)

I call this the BASIC WARM UP. It's a great one to return to if you're blocked, it moves you into your next scene, and gets the pen moving.

3) Write your pages. Either 20 + 20 minutes, or 30 minutes, or 2-3 pages, whichever you prefer.

Pat yourself on the back for how FAR you've come!

Later this week, I will teach you a useful exercise that explores how any scene might be written differently. Until then, have a great week.

Point of Entry = Point of View

I've heard this idea called different things, but I prefer point of entry. It is similar to point of view in literature. In a screenplay point of view (pov) usually refers to a camera angle. For example, if a father is looking down at his daughter you could do a "reverse pov" and suddenly the camera is looking up at dad from the daughter's perspective.

(btw - you are NOT writing camera angles in your spec script. Do not, do not, do not. Your job is action/dialogue - i.e. moving the story forward. Camera angles are decided by director and DOP and added to the shooting script.)

POINT OF ENTRY means how we, as the audience, enter the story. For instance, if you have ONE point of entry, you have one perspective, usually the protagonist's (similar to 1st person limited in literature). This means the audience ONLY knows what the protagonist knows. We see what she sees, we hear what she hears. If someone leaves the room, building, car, etc, we do not follow that person. They are off camera.

This "point of entry" person would be in EVERY scene. Adhering to this technique creates mystery, because we experience the story as the protagonist does. We learn as she learns.

The other side of the spectrum is unlimited points of entry (like omniscient POV in fiction). It means we can see anything happening anywhere around the world from an perspective, including when no one is around (i.e. a shipwreck underwater). This works better in some genres. In horror films we often jump from perspective to perspective as the victims are killed off. In science fiction we might see a spaceship flying past a planet and then landing on another. In Lord of the Rings sometimes we were with Frodo, sometimes with Elrond, sometimes with Gandalf... you see where I'm going with this.

Ensemble casts usually have multiple, but limited, points of entry. We usually only see what the core characters see and not just any old character in the film. In Breakfast Club, for example, we could be with the principal or any of the students, but we never saw anything from the parents' perspectives.

Some people believe that it is best to stick with the LEAST amount of entry points possible, to avoid confusion, which is a difficult task. I think it really depends upon the genre and story and how you want to reveal information. It's something you should definitely consider.

My script Brigitta of the White Forest has only ONE point of entry. Brigitta's. She is in every scene and we only see what she sees. If she doesn't witness it, neither do we.

I recently decided to change Howler from one point of entry to TWO points of entry, that of the protagonist and that of the antagonist. This means that one of these two characters must be in every scene. I decided that I wanted to reveal some information to the audience that Howler doesn't know. Having your audience know something your protagonist doesn't can create another kind of tension (eek - don't go into the house, the bad dude is waiting for you in there!).

I believe HOW information is revealed is key to creating a good mystery and story. Being conscious of how many points of entry your screenplay has, and making a conscious decision to write it a particular way, will only serve to improve your writing. Your story can become confusing, and your audience might lose interest in your protagonist, if there are too many points of entry.

If you want to read more about this, I found an article about Point of View in Screenwriting by David Terusso.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Thursday Thirteen - WURDZ

I've been at the Women in Film and Television International's Summit in Toronto all week, so I'm pretty full right now. You can watch some of the summit on line, which is cool. I especially liked the "glass ceiling" panel with Ann Medina, Trina McQueen, and Phyllis Yaffee on Tuesday, July 17th. These women were persistent pioneers who never stopped following their life's passions.

This week's quick Thursday Thirteen comes from my very sleep deprived braincells.

Danika's Thirteen Favourite Words (believe it or not... in order of preference):

1) uber
2) demonstrative
3) copasetic
5) periwinkle
6) quintessential
7) chartreuse
8) monkeyshines
9) wirklich
10) pompier
11) plethora
12) phalanges
13) and my all time favourite word: pamplemousse

If you asked me why I liked these particular words, it would be a different answer for each. Some I like the way they sound when I say them. Some I like the meaning and the sound of the word. Some I have a memory or emotional attachment to. Like periwinkle and chartreuse - I remember pulling those crayons out of my crayola box and being thrilled that colours could be named such things. I wrote a poem about a girl named Chartreuse Integrity when I was in school.

And pamplemousse, well, how in the world could you NOT love that word?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Week Eight - The Crunchy Center (and the Ticking Clock)

(Sorry all you chocoholics... I'm talking about the center of your story, not the center of a Kit Kat bar. Didn't mean to get your hopes up.)

Yes, the crunchy center.

If you've been writing your 10 pages per week, you should be smack dab in the middle of your story right now. I mentioned earlier about Digging Plotholes, but I also want to say that in general, the middle is where things get a little wacky.

Usually the opening scenes have been played out in our minds a gazillion times, so we've got that one down. And we usually know how we want it to end (although it doesn't always end up there, mind you). It's the big gaping middle section that's got to keep you and your audience engaged.

This is about the time you'll feel tempted to go back to the beginning and edit, because you know that part. I can't say how many times I've read an amateur script that has a honed and polished first 10 pages, then falls to pieces. Stick with moving forward so your story stays even.

OSV (Octopus Sting Victim) sent me this tidbit:

I think the big challenge is that you have to aggressively move the plot forward from mid-point on (no more setting things up) and you're trying to increase the tension and start to pay things off instead of setting them up --

I think OSV is right. This 1/2 of the story is about pay-off. Whatever you foreshadowed, whatever goal you introduced, whatever clues you've gathered, it's time to pick up the pace and start putting it all together.

To increase the tension in this section, it's good to have a ticking clock. If you haven't set one up in the beginning, think of how you might incorporate one (you can add it in the beginning during the rewrite). Not every story absolutely needs one, but see if it will increase the stakes and keep your story moving.

In Big Fish the protagonist needed to make peace with his Dad before he died and it was too late. In Indiana Jones the protagonist must rescue the Arc of the Covenant before the Nazi's do or they will use it to take over the world.

One way of looking at this is:

My protagonist MUST __________ BEFORE __________ or else ___________.

If you can fill this in, you've just found your stakes and your ticking clock.


1) Continue to type up your written exercises. Take 15 minutes each day to do this.

2) One way I keep ideas flowing when I feel I'm stuck in the middle is to play the "what if" game. You have to be willing to let yourself totally go on this one.

Look at where you are in your draft. What's the next scene going to be? Let's say it's the scene where Stilt takes Howler and Tiger Cat to see Madame M (an octopus of course).

So write the title of the scene at the top of your page. Then, for 5-7 minutes, as fast as you can, make a LIST of what if statements.

What if Madame M works for The Vine?
What if Stilt kills Madame M?
What if Madame M gives Howler a magic charm?
What if Madame M is really a goddess?
etc. etc. etc.

Then, pick one of the scenarios and do a "scene dump." This means basically telling the scene as quickly as possible (no need to time, but 5-7 mins if you want). No dialogue. Start with WHEN instead of WHAT IF, like so:

When Madame M gives Howler a magic charm in the form of a locket, he doesn't realize what it is. He only takes it out of fear and respect. He later gives it to the child in the World of Waiting Spirits, not realizing that when she opens the locket...

3) Work on your script. Your scene should be ready to go after this exercise. You know the drill, drop and give me 20... and then give me 20 more...

Have a great week!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Thursday Thirteen Again Already? (TT #2)

Wow, time flies... This TT thing isn't as easy as I thought (even with my TTTT List). You really gotta be on your toes. And when I tried to actually THINK of 13 things, I went through several lists before I came to one I could do. So, by process of elimination I present to you:

Thirteen Objects I Have Named

1 Bear-Bear (later to be renamed Bare-Bear after he
lost all his fur) - My first stuffed teddy bear. I still have
him. He's 37 years old.

2 The Green Machine – My moped. She was bright green.

3 Bossie - The first car I paid over $1,000 for. A white
1988 Toyota Corolla FX Hatchback.

4 The Hags – Technically not an object but it’s MY list.
A spoken-word performance trio of bitchy women. We met
and performed in Boulder, CO.

5 Cedar, Redwood, Willow, etc. – When I was in college
I worked for a builder. They were putting up townhomes.
I was only an office assistant, but for some reason they let
me name the different designs. I guess they thought I was
creative. Ironically, I named them all after trees.

6 The Acorn - My household north of the U District in
. We called it that because we said we were all"corny."
I had 5 different house-mates during the three years I lived there.

7 The Refugee Camp – My household in South Seattle. There
were three of us. One of us was from Bosnia.

8 ForWord FourTete – A spoken-word quartet I performed
with in Seattle. 2 males, 2 females. We rocked.

9 Katmandu – My household on the Eastside of Vancouver.
Two cats and 4 humans.

10 Katmandeux – My current household (just *Baby, me, and
the two cats).

11 Asta – My motorcycle. A red Yamaha Radian YX600. Named
after a kick ass chick heroine in an Aussie flick and also a play
on the Spanish word Hasta.

12 Bob – A brown accordion folder I used to have my students
turn their work into. I have no idea why I called it Bob. It just
seemed appropriate at the time.

13 Baby – The object of my affection. I can’t remember what
his first name is. He also calls me Baby. It makes things easier.

Links to other Thursday Thirteens:
1. Poodlerat
2. Miss Profe
3. Mommyba
4. Starrlight
5. Lisa
6. Joy T.
7. Expat Mom
8. Scribbit

Can anyone tell me how to get that nifty box where folks can add their name themselves?

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Website of the Day - Reading is my Superpower

It's summer. And you know what that means. Summer reading lists.

As I was unpacking and organizing my bookshelf after our recent move, I got melancholy over the amount of books I have yet to read.

Baby and I both agree that an ideal vacation would a month in a cabin (mountains or beach) with nothing but a stack of books and some good wine. Clothing optional.

For your summer reading needs, check out READING IS MY SUPERPOWER: Tales of the Superfast Reader. She reads fast. She posts after each book.

Okay, I admit, I am in total awe of superfast readers. Baby can read 3 books to my one.

I used to think I was slow or dumb because it took me so long to read. It made being an English major a little challenging. Over the years I have realized why it takes me so long.

1) I still subvocalize. I read everything in my head as if reading out loud to someone. I didn't realize until I was in my mid-20's that fast readers don't do this. I could spend time and energy doing exercises to change this if I really wanted to. It's something that is meant to happen naturally, but no one ever told me this in school!

2) My mind wanders. It doesn't matter how engaging the story, I just have one of those minds. I'm reading about a trip to Alaska and then I start thinking about my own travels and my family and then... oh, shoot... gotta read that entire paragraph all over again.

3) If I read a humourous exchange of dialogue, well-crafted description, clever turn of words, or sheer poetic language I find that I have to read the line again just to appreciate the writer's craft. Stuff like that makes my toes tingle.

So if you, too, have been puzzled over why your reading speed is sub-par, fear not, you just may have an active mind.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Assignments Week Seven - Now You've Done It!

Now you've done it... you've dug yourself into a plot hole you can't crawl out of.

The twist in the end that reveals the witch is the princess's sister doesn't work and the spell the princess uses in defense was revealed earlier only to work on inanimate objects. Curses! Time to crumple up the whole thing and start over... or throw it into a drawer and forget about it until the next spring cleaning...


I'm addressing this now because I seem to have dug a doozy. I've created a scenario that will be a bugger to make work properly. Doing so has made it really difficult to move forward. I felt blocked on several occasions last week.

When this happens, I do one of three things (usually in this order):

1) Push through it. Some blocks are more stubborn than others, but truly, if you push, the walls eventually come tumbling down. Even if you don't feel like it, do your warm-ups and keep writing. Even if the writing seems impossible, dumb, and you know you'll have to fix it later, keep going. NO ONE TURNS IN THEIR FIRST DRAFT for publication, for production, for anything. You will have to rewrite it later ANYWAY, so keep sailing until the end.

I was really slogging along one day and then finally came to a standstill. What did I do? I took a shower.

2) Sometimes when I reach a road block, I take a walk or take a shower. I've heard of other writer's doing this. I think it's about doing something rote (hopefully you don't have to think to put one foot in front of the other). I've had epiphanies while washing the dishes, too. It's a space where thoughts can tumble around without consequence. In the secret depths of your mind, you can sift through them without committing to any of them until BINGO! I used this technique this week and it worked. Magic.

3) Change hats. There is writing mind and there is editing mind. Sometimes when I reach a block my brain just feels fried. I've overworked its circuits. So, I put my current new project aside for a few days and spend my writing time editing something else.

DO NOT go back to the beginning of your new piece and begin editing it. This has the domino effect and you'll just want to fix it all. You'll see all the flaws, all the holes, and all the buttons that need polishing. EDIT SOMETHING ELSE, something familiar, something that takes your mind off of your current story so you can come back to it with a fresh mind.

I used this technique last week. I took a four day break from Howler and edited another screenplay (one that just needed some minor tidying up, no total rewrites) and transcribed the rest of my 3:15 poems from my journal. That was refreshing. It really helped, so that when I came back to the task on Sunday, I was much more relaxed.


1) Continue to spend 15 minutes typing up your previous writing exercises. Unless you type extremely fast, or write extremely slow, you should have plenty to type up.

2) Spend 7-10 minutes warming up with one or two of the following start lines:

This is a story about...
(always a good one to come back to, especially if you have a block)
What I'm really trying to say in this story is...
The "holy grail" in my story takes the form of...
By the end of the story my protagonist has learned...
The climax
* of the story happens when...
I'll know this story is over when...

*climax = the crisis or confrontation point, what the story has been building up to, where the protagonist either succeeds or fails in reaching her goal

ADDITIONAL work: If you are having a block and want to try the "pushing through" technique, pick ONE of the above start lines and do the Super Scene Writing Formula from week two OR simply do the exercise two more times, picking a line from the CENTRE of the previous writing and setting your timer 2 minutes longer each time.

3) WRITE! Set you timer for 20 minutes and work on your script (or novel, because I've seen some looky-loo novelists in here). Take a quick break, stretch, pee, warm coffee. Write for 20 more minutes.

Have a great week!

P.S. I was looking up some examples of plot holes and came across this gem:

Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep is a Film Noir classic that has been revered for its overly convoluted plot noted for a major plot hole that has baffled both audiences and the makers and even the writer of the source novel, Raymond Chandler.

In the film, a chauffeur is found dead in his limousine which is fished out of the docks. In a later scene, a character admits to knocking the driver in the back of his head and escaping with a roll of film. However, this still doesn't explain how the driver and his car was mysteriously found in the bottom of the sea. This plot hole was present in the source novel as well and when he was asked who killed the driver,
Chandler's reply was, 'Damn! I don't know either.'

Friday, July 6, 2007

The 3:15 Experiment

Some of you may know about The 3:15 Experiment, but most of you probably don't.

In a nutshell, since 1993 a shifting menagerie of poets has woken up at 3:15 AM every day during the month of August to write. Any form, any length, any topic (although there have been themes).

We began a website in 1999 so that poets could share their work. Not all choose to post. We just ask that if poets do decide to post, the work is completely unedited. Fresh from the 3:15 mind. That's the whole point, to examine middle-of-the-night mind. We like spelling mistakes, strange twisted grammar, illogical conclusions, etc.

I am tardy and just finishing up typing my 3:15's from last year. I just typed this one and was especially impressed. My 3:15s are usually a combination of things that happened the previous day, dream images, and wacky hypnogogic thoughts. In the following poem, I was recalling 2 documentary films I had seen and a trip to a museum.

Usually I do not remember writing the poems, so they are always just as much of a surprise to me as any reader. That's one of the things that makes it so much fun.

August 27
Vancouver, BC

There are girls whose skin
could kill them who
must scrub themselves for hours
each day and butter themselves up
so they don’t dry away there’s
a boy whose skin fell off
he watched @ nine years old, as his
legs were wheeled away
both arms, too, eventually.

We are not our skin. Or
hands or feet. I say this
over dinner. Stripping
corn off the cob. I have
been that immobile. This
is not a metaphor. Sometimes
I cannot move. I
haven’t made fists in years.

Modern science makes me walk
hold a pen
hold a thought w/out it
suffocating upon release
Far from the shore
intelligent design rests like
a spider in a web.
The girls are sisters and go to
The boy joins the
paraplegic rugby team
I make love on a Saturday night
all life echoes between
moments of forgetting the vessel
The vessel is a pulpit
not a machine

The Master of Long Fingers knew
where the magic was contained
He laughs now long gone
his work hung in museums
because he left a trademark

How to be immortal leave part
of your body behind
In this case elongated phalanges
Like waves
from the palms, arched
impossible inhuman
although his earth name
is still unknown

The boy dreamt once
of flying over his Grandmother’s house
w/arms and legs like superman
and longed for the freedom
far from the mad crowd

We are not our bodies. We are not
our pain.
We survive each moment
through that moment
be here now

Whatever form
with or w/out fingers
legs bones and those
who live symmetrically
are in for a surprise
when the grid becomes
brittle the glass breaks
and they are left w/
the rope in their hands
and no words
to explain how it got there
eloquence my friends
hot or cold
is what will make you whole.

If you are interested in joining us this year, e-mail me at "info at danikadinsmore.com"

Dealing With Rejection

Someone sent this to me the other day and I just had to share.

Anyone who has had any success as a writer has gone through "rejection." I can't even guess how many rejections I've gotten. If you want to be a professional writer, get used to it.

This bit is from Jack Canfield's book The Success Principles, How to get from where you are to where you want to be:


To get over rejection, you have to realize that rejection is really a myth. It doesn't really exist. It is simply a concept that you hold in your head. Think about it. If you ask Patty to have dinner with you and she says no, you didn't have anyone to eat dinner with before you asked her. The situation didn't get worse; it stayed the same. It only gets worse if you go inside and tell yourself something extra like, "See, Mother was right. No one will ever like me. I am the slug of the universe."

If you apply to Harvard for graduate school and you don't get in, you weren't in Harvard before you applied, and you are not in Harvard after you applied. Again, your life didn't get worse; it stayed the same. You haven't really lost anything. And think about this -- you have spent your whole life not going to Harvard -- you know how to handle that.

The truth is, you never have anything to lose by asking, and because there is something to possibly gain, by all means ask.


Whenever you ask anyone for anything, remember the following: SWSWSWSW, which stands for "some will, some won't, so what -- someones waiting." Some people are going to say yes, and some are going to say no. So what! Out there somewhere, someone is waiting for you and your ideas. It is simply a numbers game. You have to keep asking until you get a yes. The yes is out there waiting. As my partner Mark Victor Hansen is so fond of saying, "What you want wants you." You just have to hang in there long enough to get a yes.

Some cynics out there will think "That's easy for him to say, he's sold 80 millions books." Or ask "But how many times do I allow myself to get rejections until I give up?"

The answer is never. You keep going. If it's something you really want. You focus, you get clear, and you keep going. You'll eventually get it.

I tell each new intake of students at VFS that talent has very little to do with success for writers. I know some absolutely brilliant writers who never get scripts optioned or books published. And well, we've all seen some horribly written films get produced and some god awful books published.

Talent you can work on, you can hone your craft, you can take courses, you can practice and you can LISTEN to the input of people who know more than you. What really matters is that you don't give up.

The recipe I give them goes something like this:
1/4 Talent
1/4 Listen/Learn/Apply
1/4 Passion
1/4 Perserverance/Commitment

What you don't know you can learn. If your manuscript is getting rejected, find out why and learn how to make it better. Then start the next one.

Want it and be committed to getting it. Success is non-negotiable.

Or as Beaver Chief (aka Fred Jamison) used to say Don't quit before the miracle happens.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Thursday Thirteen's Thursday Thirteens (TT #1)

I'm not sure if this will be a regular feature, but I was invited to be part of the Thursday Thirteen. Of course, before you can get on the blogroll you have to do it a few times to make sure you are committed and not just saying "sure, yeah, i'll do it." I get that. I just have to decide if I'm committed (or should be committed for doing it).

I've had a week to think about it and decided I'd start my Thursday Thirteen with a list of Thirteen things I'm considering making a Thursday Thirteen list about.
(I figured if I couldn't come up with 13 things, I'm probably going to run out of ideas very fast...)

13 Things I've been thinking about
writing a list of 13 things about

1) 13 books I'm ashamed to admit I have never read

2) 13 favourite words

3) 13 places I want to go before I die

4) 13 I secrets I have kept (until now)

5) 13 blogs I have to check on a weekly basis or I get anxious

6) 13 start lines to 13 of my original poems

7) 13 bad ideas for a screenplay

8) 13 objects I have named

9) 13 ways I entertain myself since we sold our TV

10) 13 images that make me sad

11) 13 things I do instead of smoke cigarettes now that I have quit

12) 13 films I'm shamed to admit I love

13) 13 defining songs from my youth

Links to other Thursday Thirteens!
1. Vicki Lane
2. Raven's Roads
3. Susan Helene Gottfried

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

Well, that wasn't so bad after all... tune in next week to see if I do it again.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Antagonist Part II - Breakfast Club

I was thinking more about antagonists today (and protags and villains) and realized that The Breakfast Club is a great tool to discuss this topic. And actually, The Breakfast Club is a great tool to discuss multiple topics, so if you haven't seen it (or haven't seen it in a while), rent it and watch it. That way I can refer to it and we'll all be on the same page.

I grew up on John Hughes' films, so they hold a special place in my heart. To me, The Breakfast Club is a screenwriter's movie. It epitomizes the idea of "simple plot, complex characters." The plot: 5 kids spend a day together in Saturday detention. What makes it so memorable? The great characters. And the fantastic dialogue. If you want to study some good dialogue, read this script.

Let's start with the villain, because he's easy. It's the Principal. He's the bad dude. He's the judge, jury, and jail keeper. He's got the power and could do serious harm. And, even though these kids don't get along with each other, he's the only one they would unite against.

This would most likely be billed as an ensemble cast, and each of the five students does have a character arc. Antagonists and allies can have character arcs. Heck, even villains can have character arcs. However, only one of the students is the true Antagonist.

Which student is the only character who is indispensable to this story? Meaning, if this character were removed, the detention would have been business as usual, students doing their work, staying out of trouble, etc.

It's John Bender (Judd Nelson). He's the one who teases, goads, pushes, and tests everyone else. He's the antagonist. It's because of his actions the rest of the students are brought into this story.

And if you ask me, Claire (Molly Ringwald) is the true Protagonist. I say this because I believe she had the biggest character arc and she was the most intimately affected by the antagonist. She has a more personal relationship with him and she takes the largest risk. In this way, she becomes more indispensable than any of the remaining students.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Assignments Week Six - The Antagonist

Congratulations on making it this far. If you have been writing 10 pages of your screenplay per week, you're almost half-way done!

Last week I requested that you start typing up your hand-written exercises. I hope you have found this beneficial. What I discovered in doing this is that I've come a long way. Going over my ideas allows me to see the decisions I have made in the actual script.

For instance, the first week I wrote this:
Howler is being a brat, the tribe has to move due to devastation of their habitat, but he’s sulking as they move and his brother keeps having to push him away. His brother chases him thru the forest. They get lost, and Howler’s brother is taken by Harpy Eagles.

I can track my progress this way, by typing the notes, because they show a very simple version of what actually ended up being written in the script. I gave Howler a better distraction, I gave his brother a better reason to chase him, I increased the stakes by adding an encounter with humans, and I gave Howler an adversary who later becomes an ally. Reading this makes me realize I'm on the right track.

Typing up the notes also allowed me to see what ideas I had forgotten about and also reminded me of choices I have if I need to go in another direction. As I typed, if I noticed something I wanted to go back to later, I highlighted it (you can do this in any Word document).

Typing up your exercises serves a double purpose; it reminds you about your previous ideas and makes it easier to find them later.

This week, keep taking 10 or 15 minutes to type up your exercises. You will do this from now on until you have completed them. At the end, I will give you more instructions on what to do with them.

After you have warmed up by typing your notes, spend another 10-15 minutes on the exercises below.

The Antagonist

We've primarily talked about the protagonist, which I will define as the character who takes the journey and is changed through the experience. Usually the "main character" is the protagonist, but not always! I always like to point out that in the film Get Shorty the main character (John Travolta) is actually the antagonist for everyone else! He has no character arc, he does not change, he has a goal and accomplishes it. He actually manages to change everyone else around him! (I think Cold Comfort Farm works this way, too, it's just been a while since I've seen it.)

So, there are exceptions to everything.

Let's look at the film Dead Poet's Society. Is Keating (Robin Williams) the protagonist? No, he's not the one we want to change. We like him the way he is!

Who is it we are rooting for? Who do we really want to see break out of his cage? It's Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke). Why are we so moved at the end? Because he gets up on that chair... something he never would have done at the beginning of the story. And WHO instigated this change? Who's striving, goading, teaching, teasing made this possible? Mr. Keating, of course. Mr. Keating is the antagonist.

The antagonist is the one who instigates the change in the protagonist.

Think over your own story... do you have an antagonist? If you don't think you do, can you develop one out of a current character? Probably so.

Sometimes it's difficult to decide exactly who your antagonist is. I'm there right now. It could either by Celia the Tiger Cat or Stilt the Maned Wolf. I'm leaning towards Stilt and keeping Celia as an ally/sidekick. (my villain is very clear, it's Lamp the Boa Constrictor and controller of "The Vine") In either case, I've got some character development to do.


Use the following start lines this week to warm up before you write. Set your timer for 5-7 minutes.

~My antagonist enters the story when...
~My antagonist's exterior goal is...
~My antagonist's secret is...
~My antagonist opposes my protagonist because...
~My antagonist changes my protagonist through...
~If my protagonist does not change, my antagonist will...
~At the end of my story, my antagonist is...

After you have completed your warm-ups, you know the drill. 20 minutes of writing on your script, a short break, and 20 more minutes of writing on your script.

Have fun!