Thursday, August 30, 2007

Weekend Writing Workout #1 (NEW!)

I'm a big fan of writing exercises and warm-ups. I never just jump in and start working on my story. I do backstory exercises, plot brainstorms, I type up notes, anything to get my brain working and thinking about that particular story. I usually keep doing exercises until I have an AHA moment (discovering something new), which launches me back into my story.

Each week I will post an exercise I've been recently using.

I'm currently working on a novel series. This is new territory for me. I accidentally wrote one novel. Now it looks like I'm going to accidentally write 6 more. Whoops!

In order to do this, I've stepped back to look at the big picture. Reading the final Harry Potter book helped me to do this. Each of Rowling's books has a story arc, which is a sequence within the larger series arc. Having the larger arc in sight will help the writer to develop the story so that it comes to a logical and satisfying conclusion at the end.

(If each book in the "series" is an individual, self-contained story, like The Wizard of Oz for example, I consider that a collection rather than a series. The difference being, for a series like His Dark Materials, you have to read the books in order for them to make complete sense. I don't know if this is how the industry differentiates between the two, it's just for reference here).

The same ideas behind the story structure of a single screenplay or novel apply to the entire series:

There is a dilemma (intruduced - or at least referenced - in the first book)
There are complications (that build in sequences)
There is a final crisis that our hero must face (and, of course, the hero usually succeeds. How many death threats would there be on Rowling's life if Voldemort had taken over the world?)

I actually have a lot of issues with the Harry Potter books, as much as I love them and can't put them down, which I'll address later in my Summer Reading Review post. Regardless, it's a great tool because the story arc for the series is so clear and the stakes get higher with each book. It HAS to work this way for the series to be effective.

Think about one of your favourite movies. There is an "inciting incident" that propels our hero into this journey. The hero faces a dilemma (two equally painful / dangerous / difficult choices). Complications ensue. The stakes get higher and higher. You think it's about as bad as it gets... but wait, there's more! As the drama builds, our character must face her SPLAT. She is forced to make a decision or take action. She succeeds or fails. The story concludes.

This isn't just action/adventure. In the moving drama Away from Her by Sarah Polley, the protagonist must face the fact that his wife has alzhiemer's. His dilemma - he can't take care of her at home any longer and he can't put her in a home because he's never been away from her. Eventually, he must put her in a home and can't see her for a month. He's devastated. But wait, there's more! When he can finally see her again, she can't remember who he is AND she's got a new "boyfriend" in the home. Now what is he going to do? He can't NOT see her, because that is too painful and he can't visit her either, because THAT is too painful. Wow - dilemmas are us!

For this week's Weekend Writing Workout:

Whether you are working on a screenplay, novel, or book series these exercises will apply. If you are working on a novel series like I am, use these exercises to think about the LARGER story arc of the series.

Set your timer for 7-10 minutes. Write for the entire time without stopping. Do not edit, this is a brainstorm. Let it flow, it doesn't matter how strange, silly, stupid it sounds. No one will ever have to see it.

1) My protagonist's dilemma begins when... she can't _________ because... and she can't ________ because...

2) Complications ensue when...

By the end of this series/story my character must...

Advanced Workout:

1) If you are writing a series, do the above for EACH book in the series as well as the ENTIRE series itself. I've been writing dilemma/complications/conclusion for each book in the series and it's working really well.

2) Write out the beats of the story, mapping out all the complications, making sure the stakes are increasing at each point.

Have a great weekend!

TT #8 - Thirteen Words I Bet You've Never Heard Before

Artwork by Baylee, age 11

Thirteen Words I Bet You've Never Heard Before...

... because I made them up.

Some of you may know that my first novel is a middle grade fantasy adventure (currently being marketed by my agents). Last week I began writing the 2nd book in the series. Because I had created an entirely new world, I also had to create a reference book for myself in order to keep track of things. At the end of this World Book is a glossary of terms. I highly recommend this to anyone who is writing fantasy adventure or Sci-Fi or any other genre where you've made up terminology. I can't tell you how many times I've had to look up my own creations in my glossary.

Below is a sampling of terms from the novel, which is about two young faerie girls who must save their forest from a devastating curse (a few minor spoilers).

1) Bone-Dwellers
Large rodents that lives off of dead flesh and bones. Somewhat blind and deaf, they are not very skittish. They are also not dangerous to living beasts, just ugly and foul-smelling, with long, wiry whiskers, bald pink heads and tails, and thick matted brown fur on the rest of their bodies. If you see one, you know there is something dead close by.

2) Deodyte
Faeries may procreate with faeries bound by other elements. As when giving birth to a boy or a girl, there will be a dominant element. For instance, an earth faerie and a fire faerie may give birth to a fire girl, fire boy, earth girl, or earth boy. Once every great while, a deodyte will be born. This is a faerie of duel elements.

3) Drutan
A “Tree Person.” There are several scattered about the continent of Foraglenn. They live a very long time (longer than faeries) and are solitary beings. They have humanoid features, except that their skin grows progressively more bark-like as they age and they lose their facial features. They are quite good with magic, especially dealing with plants. When they die, they simply stop where they are and take root, almost indistinguishable from the actual trees.

4) Globelight
A faerie’s flashlight. Not difficult to make, but tricky to make well. If you can read a cook-book, and have a good mould, you can make a globelight. However, it takes a skilled faerie to make one that stays charged for any length of time. They are round, fit in the palm of one’s hand, and give off light from any part that’s rubbed. Use a thumb to make a spotlight, wipe the whole thing and hang it for a night dance.

5) Grovens

A furry toad-like creature, with very large eyes and fat lips. They are slow and not very bright. Sometimes faerie children keep them as pets, but they aren’t very exciting. They aren’t sad, but their expressions might lead one to believe they are. Playing with them is harmless, but it’s best not to follow them home, as they live in a slimy stench-mould bog, where they gather to mate, give birth, and raise their young. They spend the rest of their time wandering around the forest, eating creepy-crawlies and sleeping in damp places. They have no sense of smell, but their hearing is pretty good.

6) Gundle Beans

A hearty, versatile faerie staple. “Eat your gundle beans” is probably the most common phrase out of a mother faerie’s mouth at the dinner table. Plump, meaty brown beans that grow in great clumps on vines around trees in the shadiest parts of the
White Forest. Can eat them straight off the vine or cooked in many different dishes such as pie or stew.

7) Lola Moon

The smaller, oranger of the two moons. Lola means “small one” or “little one.” Sometimes older sisters call their little sisters “lola” or parents use it as a term of endearment. Also referred to as Sister Moon, especially in faerie lullabies.

8) Munshmins

Extremely annoying, precocious, and loud-mouthed plant. Dark purple, thorny, with large-lipped bulbs. They make great burglar alarms and are also used in potions that involve making inanimate objects speak.

9) Rock Dragons

Leftover beasts from an ancient time. Usually pretty lazy unless provoked. Only live in the vicinity of the castle at
Dead Mountain. The ancient Sages had conjured them up to keep the curious away from the castle. There are about a dozen of them left. They do not procreate.

10) Shadowfly

Shadowflies are quiet flying beasties that perform patterned dances in the sunlight in order to communicate. Lots of faerie children daydream while watching them as they are quite mesmerizing. If you study their shadows long enough, however, you can figure out what they are saying. The messages are usually reports about the weather or where certain flowers were in bloom.

11) Sharmock Roots

A common ingredient in a variety of faerie stews, herbal medicines and spells. They are extremely versatile and pleasant enough tasting on their own (raw or cooked). The roots are bright orange, like plump carrots, but they are difficult to spot on the forest floor because the top of the root looks like a common moss. However, they usually grow in large clumps, like crabgrass, so when you find one, just pull and you’re in business. They grow well in the
White Forest due to its particular balance of water and light.

12) Thunder-bug

Thunder-bugs cling to branches and shake their back ends to make rhythmic, percussive sounds. They each tend to have their own rhythm, though, so a swarm of them can be quite dizzying. Faerie children like to catch them when they are drunk on discarded goldenfew and put them in jars.

13) Whisper Light

The seeds of a Whisper Light are carried off by the breeze, like a dandelion. The “whisps” glow yellow, which indicates they are ready to plant themselves. But if the light is extinguished before it manages to plant itself in the ground, then the seed loses its fertility. Not only does it emit light, it also emits sound. The sounds are whispers, hence the name. And although it doesn’t actually say anything that makes sense, it can drive one crazy trying to figure out what they are saying, because it sounds like something. In addition, what you hear them whispering is entirely a reflection of what’s going on in your own mind.

Have a terrific holiday weekend!

(forgot to put my Mr. Linky up, so I added those of you who had visited already)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Monday Poetry Train #3

For you, Vicki, I picked #9. Also, everyone seemed to be in a romantic/erotic mood. (actually, when are the Poetry Train folks NOT in the mood for it?)

It doesn't have a title... it's actually one of my 3:15 Experiment Poems from August 1997. I've mentioned this several times before, but every year since 1993 a shifting group of poets have been waking up every night at 3:15 AM during the month of August to write. We don't normally edit our 3:15 poems, because the idea is to find out what dream mind looks like on the page. I did take a few lines out of this one, though.

Again, all my spacing is off, and this poem has a lot of it... I still haven't figured out why blogger won't accept spaces, so I tried to indicate them with dashes instead.


Late up with moon and I
know your heart rests in
sound deep slumber

race my thoughts
by candlelight and longing
tempt myself with touch
smooth - dark - wise

cheating the cheater

defeating boundaries
of fields where I
once met you
too quiet to love
too soft to fear

In this moment
let there be a smaller moment
a frame - stop
chasing after things
you’ll only get your feet dirty
and lose all else behind you

no return

There is a moon and a girl
and a lover of magic
they are all snake charmers, but
only one will get bitten

the others remember how
to heal themselves

It goes beyond names, being
able to name
makes memory one moment

and leaves the girl hungry
for reptile blood

A prize for the person who can spot the most metaphors. Haha.

Have a great week!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Week 13 and Beyond

So, you've finished the first draft of your screenplay. Congratulations! Well done. Take yourself out to dinner and a movie, you deserve it.

So now what? you ask.

I can only tell you about my own process from here, and share some advice from others. As I've stated before, everyone has to figure out how it works for themselves. But there's one thing for certain, and that is you are NOT DONE YET. This is really only the beginning.

Writing a first draft of a novel or screenplay is an accomplishment. You should be proud. Making it into a salable, marketable thing is another thing entirely. I have never met anyone who has written only one draft of a novel or screenplay and had it published or produced. Rewriting is part of the process. Rewriting is also writing. It's another kind of writing, but it's writing.

I work as a story analyst and editor and my favourite part of the job is seeing the AHA go off in a writer's head when she sees how something can be done better, more effectively, or more dramatically. If you're happy with your first draft, fantastic. Just wait until you've done 2 or 3 edits! It will only get better.

Here's what I do with my first draft:

1) I RARELY show it to anyone. First off, your friends and family won't be much help. They might not understand what a first draft looks like (as they probably only ever read the final product of anything) and they'll probably only tell you how nice it is anyway. Or if they say critical things you'll get defensive because it's all so precious when it first comes out. It's a very personal process. I have some writer friends, who have good critical eyes and know what the process looks like. I also have a pretty tough skin when it comes to criticism. DO NOT show your first draft to an editor, publisher, agent, or producer. They might not read it a second time, in which case you've lost your chance with them.

2) If I haven't yet typed up all my hand-written exercises, I finish doing that.

3) I start a binder. Yes, some good old fashioned organization to switch gears. Inside this binder I put:

-my typed-up exercises
-a copy of my first draft
-any other information (i.e. my Howler binder has a section on research of endangered species in South America, my Brigitta binder has an entire World Book I had to create, plus maps and drawings, and a glossary of terms I made up)

4) I take a little break for a few days to clear my head. I write some poetry, take some time off, clean the house (always a good one).

5) I review my typed exercises with my trusty red pen, starring passages, making notes in the margins, especially about where I want to include these parts in the story.

6) Finally, at least a WEEK after I've written it, usually more, I read my first draft. Sometimes it's worse than I remember, sometimes it's better. Whatever the case, I take lots of notes.

7) I organize my thoughts. For screenplays I make a list of the main beats of the story (Final Draft makes this easy) and print that out as well. Sometimes I make notecards with each scene written on it. I examine each scene to make sure it's necessary, it moves the story, it has conflict and mystery, etc. Things I will talk about in posts to come.

(BTW - when I say "scene" I mean what happens in a particular time and place. Whenever there is a change of time or place, that is a new scene.)

8) When I have worked through my ideas enough, I do the first rewrite. I rewrite from START TO FINISH just like I wrote the first draft. This is important, otherwise you might end up rewriting the first 10 pages over and over but neglect the rest. I see this a lot, where the first part is tight and then it falls apart after page 20.

Here are some other things you might do before you attempt your rewrite:

-Read Stephen King's On Writing if you haven't already.
-Read Jeff Kitchen's most excellent book: Writing a Great Movie. You won't need me any more after you've read it, but read it anyway.
-Check out other author's books and blogs. See how they organize themselves (especially in the rewriting process). Author Erica Orloff always has some really interesting topics. And if you think you'd like something more super-organized, try working with story-boards, like Erica Ridley. Her anal-retentiveness is admirable (I mean that in the nicest way, honestly, I'm envious).
-And here's something I've been meaning to do, give you a list of what structural elements I look for in my work. But The Unknown Screenwriter did it first. Ah, well, I'll probably still do mine.

And come back here for more exercises and insights as I continue on my own journey. Starting this Friday, I'll post a weekly "Weekend Writing Exercise" so you'll always find something new to do.

And again, congratulations!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Thursday Thirteen - Another 13 Lines... (TT#7)

Albert le Chat, Supervisor

Because it's late and I'm tired, I'm going for another Thirteen Start Lines from 13 Poems. These are from a journal spanning May 1997 - April 1998. A very rough time in my life. I hit my Saturn Return, got a divorce, and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. There was a lot of death at that time (my grandmother, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Princess Diana...). It was also a very productive time for poetry. Go figure.

I was really into playing with FORMS at this time, so there were loads of sestinas, pantoums, acrostics, etc. in my journal. I don't do that so much any more, so it was a fun romp.

Again, let me know which poem you'd like me to share on Monday on the Poetry Train.

1) Era ghost penis, you are my undoing

2) It was a dream of complex characters

3) A boy growls and sticks his tongue into his girlfriend's mouth

4) The have of not having the
gift of simple time

5) The last thing I put on before I walked away

6) I didn't go home with you because I'm having
an identity crisis

7) If my head were any thicker
I'd be an ocean

8) Do ordinary gatherings differently,
detach any yanking subversiveness

9) Late up with moon and I know
your heart rests in sound deep slumber

10) Page boy & very maroon she says...

11) I have never held a more beautiful silence
than your breath - intake and rest

12) Dig in. Know what's inside.
Mediocrity is stopping at an invisible line.

13) And a final WHOLE poem, a haiku:

Depth - such hard embrace
under skin shudder, tongue spun
undoes all my done

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Coming Soon! Books vs. Movies...


A few of you have sent private messages asking if I'm going to write a follow-up post for the Start to Finish segment of this blog. By all means, yes, I meant to do that this week and I apologize. It will focus on what to do now that you've finished your first draft... aside from open a bottle of wine and celebrate.

I haven't had much time to blog, I've been busy with, oh, you know... stuff. I spent 3 days on the set of a reshoot for The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, which is coming out on Oct 5th in both Canada and the U.S. It was primarily shot in Romania, so it was interesting to hear about the cast and crew's 3 month adventure there.

There's been some controversy about what "Hollywood" has done to this beloved story, based on the 2nd book of a series by U.K born author Susan Cooper. I totally understand the concerns. But some of the comments towards the "American kid" playing the main character are particularly venomous (in the book he's an 11 year old Brit and in the film he's a 13 year old American). It just breaks my heart that anyone would give him a hard time. First of all, he's Canadian, not American. Second, he auditioned for the part and they picked him - it's not like he was purposefully trying to ruin the story. But mostly, he's just a really GREAT kid. One of the sweetest and most conscientious young actors I have ever met. He was so eager and so excited about playing this part. He worked very hard at it, too.

As well, the rest of the cast and crew were the nicest people you could ever work with. And this doesn't always happen in the film business, so I was really impressed. I hope it's really good and does well. Everyone on that set was doing their best to make a really good film.

I used to be a snob about movies not representing books properly, and then after becoming a screenwriter and working in the film industry, I now understand that they are two completely different mediums. First off, novels are mostly solo projects. The author is the writer, director, actors, cinematographer, etc... and authors have far more luxury and leeway. You can do things in a novel that you can't do in a film. Films are collaborative, costly, have time / length limitations, and the stories need to be whittled down to their core in order to fit the format and keep an audience interested. Subplots and characters often need to be cut to make it work. It's a high pressure, high finance endeavor with many people making decisions (and audiences being very difficult to please).

I really discovered the difference between books and films when I wrote a treatment for the film version of Geek Love (I SO wanted to write the screenplay, but alas, didn't get the job). It's one of my favourite books and I had to cut out all the material set in the present, including the character of Miss Lick, as well as a few other subplots to make the story work for film. I thought Katherine Dunn would be offended, but when I told her I would have to make those cuts she said, "of course you do, it's an entirely different medium." I don't think I "butchered" it, but hardcore fans might have been upset.

She also pointed out that making the movie, whether it's good or bad, does NOT take away from the book. The book will always be there to enjoy. If someone makes a great movie based on a book, well then Bravo, even better! In addition, sometimes movies are "based" on stories or "inspired by" stories and not necessarily direct adaptations. You have to take all this into consideration.

And to all the people claiming they will boycott it because they don't like the way it's being done, film-makers have had over 30 years to make this book into a film and it hadn't been made. I'm sure Susan Cooper will get plenty of new fans out of it. I know I'm going to read her books now, I've already looked them all up on Amazon. And I think anything that gets people to read more is a good thing.

Some movies manage to stay closer to the book, some have no choice but to make changes. Some don't even try. Two of my favourite books-into-movies are High Fidelity (loved the book and thought by placing it in the U.S. it would be ruined, but I love the movie, too) and The Sweet Hereafter (It was totally necessary to change the structure of the story or else it wouldn't have worked as a film).

If anyone has read the Dark is Rising series, let me know what you think. I guess people think that if it's a BAD film, then no one will ever be able to fix it.

I have PLENTY of complaints about Hollywood, mind you. I just wanted to address the fact that books and movies are two different things and that people don't usually set out to make BAD movies. If you've ever made a film, you'll understand what a challenging process it is.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Monday Poetry Train #2

This is a poem that was dropped from my book her red book because I never got it edited to my satisfaction. It's still a work in progress.

NOTE: This is not the poems proper spacing... it won't let me put in spaces or tabs - the best I could do was put in dashes --- does anyone know how to solve this issue?

On the Morning After the Rough Train Ride

She doesn’t like that she listens
for feet behind her - gunshots and strangers
in the alleyway when will she stop noticing
the moons point
and shoot

last night the toaster caught on fire and she blew it out
birthday candle of a rough day
what if it all did go up in smoke?
her housemate left his candle burning
all night on his desk
how quickly
they could ignite - how brittle in sleep
to dream the longest dream
she is obsessed
with this now - the steps toward
it makes her reckless
in a schoolgirl kind of way

last night they watched a staged play:
a boy spun a tale of a man being swallowed by a whale
a girl watched in the mirror while he
entered her from behind
the girl had lost a friend
and wanted to hear the breath
of someone alive

she turned to her own friend in the audience
I want them to live happily ever after
I want them to be in love

her friend said
This is theater

we don’t have happy endings

Friday, August 17, 2007

Cosplay This!

Sometimes I think I'm on top of the pop culture game, and then I discover I'm as hip-less as a snake.

I had never heard of the term COSPLAY until a few days ago. It's probably because I've never been to a comic book convention or any kind of Sci-fi convention (surprising, I know), although I have plenty of friends who have (Wait, is that something I should admit?).

I love subcultures. I love discovering entire communities of people who are participating in activities and rituals that most other people know nothing about. From spelling bees, gamer communities, collectors, pet show participants, or the American Harp Society... anything where people share a passion, obsession or fetish. The writer in me just loves all this and considers it great fodder for writing.

If you've never heard of COSPLAYING (combination of Costume and Role Playing) it started in Japan and is a subculture centered on dressing as characters from manga, anime, videogames, and sometimes fantasy TV shows and movies. Apparently there are Cosplay parties and even certain streets where people hang out in their COSPLAY gear. It's catching on elsewhere, too, my friends. Many sci-fi/fantasy authors use it to market their books. I would pay to see J.K Rowling dressed up as one of her characters.

Check THESE PHOTOS of people in their Cosplay gear.

I must, must, must work a cosplayer into a screenplay somehow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Thursday Thirteen #6 - 13 Quotes from 13 Poets and Writers

Thirteen Quotes from
Thirteen Poets and Writers

I graduated from Naropa University (The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics) in 1993, but stayed on as an assistant in the writing office for another year. I used to carry a notebook everywhere so I could write down random things that came from the mouths of visiting writers and poets. These are from the 1994 Summer Writing Intensive, which was (and probably still is), one of the best summer writing programs in the world.

If there is no name accredited to the quote, I probably overheard it in passing and just wrote it down. The TT logo above is from my journal that year.

1) Did you go out into the rain? It was like the Apocalypse! ~Joanne Kyger

2) If you want Yeats, Pound is no fun.

3) Why do you sing?
Territory. Like the birds.
~Steven Taylor

4) Think of the happy grass after we leave. ~Cecelia Vecuna

5) If one is going to receive a story or wisdom, then one should give a story or wisdom. ~Peter Lamborn Wilson

6) The end of western civilization means the end of claiming to tell everyone else's story. ~Dennis Tedlock

7) My ancestors were scrappy little women who would kill if they had to. ~Jennifer Lane

8) Writing is a perpetual lyric. ~Katie Yates

*9) Find the best minds of your generation... and stay in contact with them. ~Eliot Greenspan

10) In being a writer there's an ironic uselessness that's recognized. ~Rebecca Bush

11) Form is nothing more than a confrontation with content. ~Ron Silliman

12) You can find theory through practice, but you can never find practice through theory.

13) Write, then get out of the way of the reader. ~Mark DuCharme

*reference to Allen Ginsberg, who founded the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa.

I think my favourite is #10.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Monday Poetry Train #1

Several people have suggested I jump on the Poetry Train, so here I am. What a great idea and thanks for the invite.

This week's PT poem is from last week's Thursday Thirteen post. I've been exploring some old journals and last week I posted 13 first lines from 13 poems written in one particular journal.

I'm posting the whole poem (edited) as requested by SpyScribbler. The original is from Jan 2000. It's from an exercise in a workshop where we put a bunch of poem titles in a hat and each drew one out. The title then became the first line of our poem.

The Uniform of the Day

is morning blend or dark roast

it’s breathing slowly

when you wake up and realize

you are no longer married

even though in your dream you

skied together and he so tenderly

reminded you

again how to balance yourself

two letters came for him in the mail

and you didn’t open them

it was your mother who made you

afraid of breaking the rules

so as your hair flies in the wind

of a Mexican sunset

all you can think is

-put on your seat belt-

the uniform reminds you

we are bound by duty

you wear it when you don’t want

secrets to show

as you greet at the door

dreams of snow

letters in the mail

submerged in winter clothing

original: 1/19/00
rewritten: 8/11/07

See you next week!

From My Brain to Yours: Monday Poetry Train #17

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Week 12 - Dénouements Are Us

Congratulations on making it to Week Twelve, the week you push on through to the end. And after SPLAT, you want to get through to your end fairly quickly in film. Don't dawdle, your audience won't like it. In some films, there's barely any falling action or dénouement at all.

In novel writing, you've got a little more luxury at the end, a little time for reflection. But really, the climax is what people have been waiting for. She passed the test, he won the race, she found her daughter, he solved the crime, she won the case, he got the grail (or didn't get the grail, as we know from Indiana Jones, winning isn't everything). Since what they've been waiting for has happened, if they're there too much longer, the audience will wonder why and get restless.

Climaxes can be BIG or subtle. In an action or horror movie, you'd expect something intense, like the final scenes in Cape Fear or any of the Star Wars films. They would be extremely disappointing if they didn't provide that kind of drama. But in Big Fish and Pieces of April, all we want is for the protagonist to make amends with his father and her mother. Or in Sarah Polley's beautiful new film Away from Her, it's simply a man facing his fears regarding his ailing wife and doing something completely selfless for her out of pure love.

Regardless of how big or subtle your climax is, the story is done. I'm partial to more open-ended stories. I don't like things all wrapped up in neat little packages. Mostly because life isn't like that. I'm a little more forgiving with certain genres - mostly comedies, romances, and animated films - because, again, it's kind of expected in a romantic comedy that the end will be tidy.

One of my favourite film endings is from Trainspotting. I just like the fact that we have no idea if he's going to use again or stay clean. For now, for today, he's all right.

Okay, time to bring it on home:

1) As we've been doing for several weeks now, keep typing up your hand-written exercises. 10-15 minutes to warm up. You should have quite a pile of typed notes by now. We'll be talking about these notes next week.

2) I love this exercise when getting towards the end. Sometimes I do it sooner, but now's a good time. Simply write your story from start to finish in one long-ass sentence, connecting all the beats with the word "and." It's kind of like a little kid would tell a story:

There's this prince and he is in love with a princess and her parents have promised her to another guy and so they run away and then the other prince comes after them and captures them both and he tells the princess he'll kill her true love if she doesn't marry him so she agrees and they leave the prince on a deserted isle and...

Try to do this, tell your story, in 10 minutes. This will ensure that you aren't going into too much detail, just focusing on the main beats. Do this exercise at least once during the week. If you have time, try it again and see if anything changes.

3) If you are having trouble with your ending, it's a great time to play "what if." Set your timer for 5-7 minutes and simply make a list of what if's. Don't stop writing no matter HOW silly the idea is:

What if she decides not to take the job?
What if there is an earthquake and she has to rescue her mother?
What if her best friend dies?
What if the killer turns out to BE her best friend?

I use the "what if" exercise all the time, especially when I'm heading into uncertainty. What if you strike upon a brilliant idea that has the domino effect on your entire story? Now you're going to have to rewrite the entire middle section!

Hey, you're going to have to rewrite it anyway. A brilliant idea is a brilliant idea. If it makes it a better story in the end, it will be worth it.

ALTERNATE exercise

If you're pretty sure about your ending, you can simply warm up with one or two of these start lines (5-7 minutes each):

By the end of my story my protagonist has overcome...
By the end of my story my antagonist is left with...
By the end of the story I want my audience to feel...
By the end of the story I want my audience to think...
I'm going to end the story when ________ because...
I'm going to end the story BEFORE ________ because...

4) Go for it! Finish your script. Take a little more time if necessary.

If you were writing steadily for 10 weeks and still have quite a bit more to go, keep going. Review some of the exercises and use the most appropriate ones.

And please write in to let me know when you finish!

Friday, August 10, 2007

External Goal vs. Internal Need = SPLAT

In a previous entry I used the film Indiana Jones and the Last Cruisade as an example of the protagonist's exterior goal (finding the Holy Grail) versus his interior need (to "let go" of certain things, including his resentment towards his father).

Exterior goals don't have to be world-saving like Indiana Jones' usually are (saving the world from nazis and the like). They simply need to be important to the protagonist, and we need to care enough about the protagonist that we want her to accomplish her goals... OR we don't want her to accomplish her goal because we know that her interior need is in direct conflict with it.

Two of my all time favourite films are Pieces of April and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. If you haven't seen these I highly recommend that you do. Unfortunately there are no copies of the scripts on-line, although there is a transcript of the dialogue for W.E.G.G. Both stories were written by Peter Hedges. Both have beautifully simple plots and well-developed characters.

April's exterior goal is that she wants to make the perfect Thanksgiving Dinner for the family from which she has alienated herself. We want her to succeed because we want her to be reunited with her family. She has realized how much she needs them and we empathize with this. There is also a time concern that I won't spoil, but suffice it to say that she needs to fix this relationship before it is too late. At the climax of the story, the dinner and the relationship are almost both lost.

(spoiler alert)

In What's Eating Gilbert Grape his goal is to be a good person. That's it. That's what he wants. But we don't want him to succeed because he has sacrificed his own happiness. Well, we do want him to be a good person, just not in the way he has interpreted it. His interior need is that he has to stop being responsible for everyone else's happiness and express what he wants. At the climax of the story he finally loses it because can't make everyone happy. He does the one thing he says one should never, ever do. He hits his mentally ill brother. He realizes that sacrificing his own happiness is detrimental to his relationships.

This is a great example of one's external goal colliding with one's internal need. Gilbert can't have them both. He is reunited with his larger self when he pushes through SPLAT. Yay!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Thursday Thirteen - 13 Start Lines from 13 Poems (TT#5)

Thirteen Start Lines from 13 Poems
(graphic brought to you by Love All Books)

After the last TT, you can't blame me for wanting to do something easier this week, so sorry if you were expecting another elaborate performance. It was fun, though, wasn't it?

Last week's project inspired me to look more thoroughly through all my old journals and mine them for gems. I'm thinking I could make this old journal exploration into a weekly theme here at TT, but we'll see how it goes. If nothing else, I've learned I'll never run out of things to edit. Ever.

This week's TT is a list of thirteen first lines from thirteen poems I found in one particular journal. And because I'm feeling nostalgic, here's a photo of a page of that journal:

This page is an exercise similar to the "place the rock" over the writing exercise from last week. I do this sometimes instead if I can't get a hold of a rock.

How much would you say you are worth
in dollars and cents?

I know that I am no longer the fragile weapon we discovered one slow night under a rain-tapped roof.

In dreams we are cosmic companions and Charles Barklay is president.

He knew everything. No really, he did.

I am not here to entertain you.

epiphaneia ~ the appearance, the arrival,
of a divinity among mortals

Greetings from the Land of False Emotions: you are insane
and I can't love you like you think I can.

Young Angel of Cleopatra eyes - beyond which lie the only
fixed Truths of the universe...

You think therefor you are

This is weight
I've put on your body is furniture

I am up late because of
next to you

Everything has become our small business

The uniform of the day is morning blend
or dark roast

(After everyone's comments below, I've decided to JUMP aboard the Monday Poetry Train, so let me know which line is most intriguing and I'll type/edit that one up for Monday.)

Have a great rest of your week.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

More about Bleak and Splat

I've noticed that beginning screenwriters sometimes avoid actual drama. I've seen them protect their protagonists by making them too "good" and by solving their problems for them.

Conflict and drama are hard. Messy situations are difficult to resolve. Writing confrontational scenes is scary!

There was a moment in one of my scripts where a daughter had to confront her mother after resenting her for 20 years. Ack! I avoided rewriting that scene for so long because everything I wrote sounded so cliche and on-the-nose (more about on-the-nose dialogue later). But I kept chipping away at it until I was satisfied (well, as satisfied as I could be).

The best thing to do is to plunge headlong into the mess. Do not avoid the mess. Do not have the mess resolve itself. Do not let the mess's mother clean-up after it.

Your protagonist should be an Active Hero in Conflict.

For instance, say your protagonist's exterior goal is to make a huge splash at her high school reunion. But what she really needs is self-confidence. At the moment of her greatest humiliation (SPLAT) don't have the old football star come to her rescue. Make HER face her fears and over-come them, thus gaining the confidence she needs (whether she makes a splash or not, that part is up to you).

Monday, August 6, 2007

Assignments Week Eleven - The Darkest Moment

Forgive my tardy post. I kept thinking today was Sunday, since it's a holiday in B.C. today. It's B.C. Day as a matter of fact. I asked my husband what one does to celebrate BC Day and he said to enjoy everything BC has to offer. Which is a lot. We live in Vancouver, one of the most beautiful cities in the world if you ask me. Take a look!

Well, here we are at Week Eleven and if you've been sticking to your commitment, you should be getting close to the end. Again, if you're not, keep going until you get there. This is called Start to Finish, not Start to 3/4 of the Way Through.

Next Week (week twelve), I will give you your final writing assignment for this particular round. The following week I will focus on what to do next, which involves celebrating, organizing your typed up writing exercises, reviewing, and editing.

I will continue to give writing tips and exercises at the beginning of each week and continue to discuss whatever else pops into mind while I'm writing. It won't be organized into a lengthy "course" like Start to Finish. It will be more like a drop in. So... drop on in!

~ ~ ~

Before you reach the end of your story, your protagonist experiences her darkest moment. The Bleak Moment, or the SPLAT as Stewart Stern so appropriately calls it, is the moment when the protagonist reaches her greatest fear, obstacle, or threat and pushes on through to the climax, beyond which lie redemption and/or reunification.

It is also the point at which the external goal and internal need collide. In Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade Jones' goal is to get the Holy Grail. At the climax, he is touching the grail with his finger, but risking certain death. His interior need is to let go of his obsession, which mirrors his need to let go of the resentment he feels for his father, or he'll certainly die. He listens to his father for the first time in the story and does let go of the grail, losing it forever... but ensuring another sequel, due to be released in 2008.

I'll talk more about Bleak and Splat over the week, because I'd like to address this further. Briefly I would like to say, keep these three things in mind:

-Make your hero actively participate in her SPLAT. No Deus Ex Machina.
-Make her work for it. Run head-on into that drama!
-Make sure it IS the actual Splat, and that the climax didn't in fact take place 10 pages previously.

Here are your assignments for the week:

1) Once again, keep typing up your hand-written exercises. We're almost done and they will be very useful in the rewrite. I promise! 10-15 minutes.

2) Warm-ups. The theme this week is SPLAT. Before you write your 10-12 pages, complete one exercise from group I and group II.

In WIND UP format (short sentence listing until you connect with an idea an do a spontaneous rif on it), pick one of the following and write for 5-7 minutes:

My protagonist's splat (looks, feels, smells, sounds, tastes) like...

My protagonist's greatest fear (looks, feels, smells, sounds, tastes) like...

Using the CHAINING technique, write for 5-7 minutes on one of the following:

My protagonist reaches her greatest obstacle when...
When my protagonist's interior need intersects her exterior goal, she must...
At the end of my story my protagonist realizes...
At the end of my story, my protagonist is redeemed because...

3) Write for 20 minutes / break / write again. Or 10-12 pages, whichever comes first.

I'd like to give many props to Stewart Stern for his marvelous insight into Going Through Splat. If you ever have a chance to see the moving biopic about his life, do so! It did the festival circuit a few years ago and may be available on DVD. It's the story of a very successful Hollywood screenwriter with the sensitive soul of a poet, who had to leave the industry in order to avoid being devoured by it. He was a source of inspiration to me when I attended his screenwriting courses at University of Washington.

Have a super week!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Thursday Thirteen Journal Sampler (TT #4)

Thirteen Pages from 13 Journals
(graphic brought to you by Love All Books)

This took so long to do it should count for TWO Thursday 13's. It was a fantastic project and I'm really amazed by the span of my own work. First of all, I have 42 writing journals dating from 1991 - 2007. I never realized this before. I never stopped to count them, much less explore them all. I have personal journals, travel journals, dream journals, poetry journals, notebooks, teaching journals, and exercise journals for my screenplays and novel.

It was really hard to choose, but I selected 13 different journals and took a photo of the inside of each of them. Enter the journey of my creative life as told by journals spanning 14 years:

1) My first 3:15 Experiment journal (1993). If you can't read it, that's because during the annual 3:15 Experiment participants wake up at 3:15 AM every night during the month of August to write. I don't even turn on my light, I just roll over and write when the alarm goes off. Sometimes, I accidentally have my journal upside down. That was the case here. I accidentally wrote back OVER the previous night's entry. I love the way it looks.

2) Naropa Journal (1994). I received my MFA in Writing and Poetics at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and Naropa University in Boulder, CO (yes, it's an accredited program). During the summer intensive, we had our lectures under a big tent outside. I would lie on the grass and let the words wash over me. This is what my summer notebooks always looked like.

3) (1995) For a brief period of time I kept a "weekly calendar journal" because a friend of mine was doing it and I thought it was cool. It didn't work out so well. I've never been able to fit my life in a box.

4) Bitch Moan (1997) I have no idea what is written underneath here. Apparently it was so disturbing I decided to counteract it by writing over it twice and drawing angels all across the top. Hmmm. Must have been some pretty powerful juju. (NOTE: I was going through a divorce that year)

5) Workshop Journal (1998) Well, this looks far more productive. This is a page from my workshop journal. When I teach creative writing, I do all the exercises with my students. I want us to be a part of the process together and I wouldn't give anyone an exercise I wasn't willing to do myself. In this exercise, we sit outside and write spontaneously for about 10 minutes, then place rocks over the text and everything inside the outline is the poem. (I did not invent this exercise. I learned it from poet Pat Reed) Here's one from this journal page:

waves. they crash

dangerous the ocean.
wind blowing s
and into
hands chapped, lips open.

take me home. I sail

we both nodded

breath on the water
breath in the air.

6) Deutsch Journal (2000) I lived in Central and Eastern Europe for most of 2000. I spent a month in Austria and took a German Language course so I would be able to shop there.

7) (2001) Apparently, I went through a minimalist phase. I think that was the year I decided to shut up and listen.

8) Love's Confusing Joy (2002). Originally titled 100 Days Without You, this is an epic love poem I wrote for my husband before we were married. I lived in Seattle and he lived in Vancouver and every day we were apart I wrote two verses for him, one before going to sleep and one first thing in the morning.

9) Her Red Book (2002). I guess being in love makes one prolific. This journal (named for the colour of its cover), became a chapbook of the same title published by en theos press in 2003. I wrote a poem in 3rd person every day until the journal was filled. This poem didn't make it into the book. It's called On the Day She Signed Up for French Lessons.

10) Spontaneous Creations (2003). This is a small journal I use for brainstorming about workshops I'm teaching. On this page, I designed a course called Spontaneous Creations and Experiments in Form. It's my favourite workshop to teach.

11) The New Mrs. Polly Dearborne Journal (2003). A page from one of my screenplay journals. For those doing my Start to Finish writing exercises, you'll recognize this one, it's the "moving image" exercise for the Super Screenwriting Formula. I thought you might like to see that I actually do these exercises on a regular basis.

12) Brigitta of the White Forest World Book (2004). This is a page from my world book, which is where I wrote down all the history, plants, animals, places, etc that exist in my fantasy novel series. On this page I was designing the geography of the White Forest and the names of the villages.

13) The 3:15 Experiment (2007). This is the poem I wrote last night as part of the annual 3:15 Experiment. This is the 13th time I have participated in this collaborative ritual (I missed 1995 and 2004). I now dog-ear the page so I don't accidentally write over my previous entry.