Weekly Writing Memo: Writing Truth

Weekly Writing MemoOne of the things that is distinct about great writing is that it delivers a truth. This doesn’t mean the narrator or characters have to tell the truth, but it does mean that the writing has to be true to the story. Even if your characters or narrators are liars, their actions and their words have to be true to who they are. There are three main ways stories tell the truth:

Truth of Story

For a story to read realistic, it has to stay true to itself unless the writer has a very big reason to write it another way. However the events of your story happen, they have to be the true way they would happen and not forced for the writer’s preference. For example, in the Harry Potter novels, people had to die whether JK Rowling liked it or not. If she let everyone survive through all of the conflict within the novels she would be lying to her audience for the sake of a happy ending. In wars, people die, and without that death the story is a lie.

Whatever type of story you are writing, you have to stay true to the type of story. People die, couples break up, families are torn apart, and bad things happen. You can’t protect your characters and your audience by lying to them. If you do, the story will lose its depth and worth, and the audience will know it.

Truth of Character

Characters in stories have to stay true to who they are. If they behave out of character for the sake of progressing the plot, then the character will often lose the audience. The audience is not dumb and they know when the writer is manipulating a character for the sake of the plot. You can’t force your characters to go where you want them to. Every action has to be justified by your characters motivations. By staying true to your characters, you are strengthening your plot and your story, and your audience will buy into your story more.

Big Truths

Finally, every story has a big truth to it. In Harry Potter the truth was that people die, good has to make sacrifices to defeat evil, and that evil can be an alluring force that turns good people bad. I’m sure there are others, but these are some of the big truths and themes that the Harry Potter stories bring out in their telling. So what are your story’s truths? What is your story saying about the world? Whatever it is, make sure it is truth and not wishful thinking or a fairytale unless you are doing it deliberately.

A lot of children’s stories will have morals that aren’t always true, such as “good always triumphs.” These kinds of stories when given to adult audiences don’t work as well because adults generally know that they aren’t true for how the world works. By telling the truth about the world to your audience, you are creating a story with more depth. Of course, what is true for some is not true for all, but write the truth the best you can.

The purpose of all this is to say that you can’t lie to your audience. Your audience is buying into your story, and if you lie to them they will know and they will almost always be disappointed. You can have characters and narrators that lie, but you the writer cannot lie. Whatever you do, do it with purpose, and with truth, and if you do that, your story will be the better for it.

 

Robin Conley offers great writing advice most Wednesdays on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next week to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.


2016 Write the Rockies Conference Growing with Success

 

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When I attended my first Writing the Rockies Conference at Western State Colorado University, back in 2012, it was a three day event, with panels and workshops on genre fiction, screenwriting, and poetry. It had a couple of publishing workshops, too, but the poetry symposium was a major event. You could sign up for critiques and pitch sessions with small presses and agents, and they served delicious sack lunches made by Western State’s great kitchen staff. Every year since, the conference has gotten bigger, including more and more great events for authors, poets, screenwriters and publishers future.

The 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference has continued in that growth trend. Director of Western State’s M.F.A. in Creative Writing program and head organizer of the conference, David J. Rothman tells us that Writing the Rockies is now the most diverse of all college hosted writing conferences, boasting writing workshops, keynotes and panels, 3-day intensive workshops and critical seminars in five individual concentrations: genre fiction, screenwriting, creative nonfiction, publishing, in addition to their wonderful poetry symposium. It is now five day event, which takes advantage of inspirational surroundings of the beautiful Gunnison Valley, with one whole day for group hikes in the beautiful area surrounding near-by Crested Butte. Gone are the sack lunches of the past, but the food is still good, with Western’s kitchen staff providing both breakfast and lunch for conference attendees.

The conference is so packed full of wonderful writing events and opportunities that no one can do them all. Aspiring writers must pick and choose those events that will be most beneficial to them. I had the pleasure of attending events in all five concentrations, creating a well-rounded educational experience, from which I learned a lot.

I started off with the genre fiction panel, which featured three former presidents of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America – authors James Gunn, Robin Wayne Bailey and Russell Davis gave a grand overview of the history of SFWA and the science fiction genre. I was also privileged to attend the screenwriting panel, featuring screenwriters for both feature films and television – J.D. Payne, Alan Wartes and J.S. Mayank, where we discussed how to take notes on your screenplay or series, who to take notes from, and ways to politely disregard notes that are detrimental to the structure of your script.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend Conference Keynote, by George Sibley, or the Poetry Keynote, by Julie Kane on Wednesday evening. If they were anywhere near the quality and usefulness of the four Keynotes I did hear, then I have truly missed out.

Rebecca McEwen

Fulcrum Press Editor Rebecca McEwen

Publishing Keynote Speaker

The Publishing Keynote was given by Fulcrum Press editor, Rebecca McEwen, who talked about the value of small presses and when you might want to consider submitting press that is not among the big five. According to McEwen, there are currently 30 small independent publishers in Colorado.

Robin Wayne Bailey

Author Robin Wayne Bailey

Genre Fiction Keynote Speaker

The Creative Nonfiction Keynote was delivered by author Broughton Coburn, who has created story from many of the events in his extraordinary life and turned them into bestselling books. His touching story of bringing an elderly Indian woman to America with him, brought smiles to all faces in the audience. He talked about finding common threads in your true-life story which can then be used to tie things together as you put the story on the page.Broughton Coburn

Author Broughton Coburn

Creative Nonfiction Keynote Speaker

Author Robin Wayne Bailey, gave an inspiring Genre Fiction Keynote on the importance of life experience in writing, and how moving writing can be, coming near to tears himself as he spoke of times past as he recounted parts of his own personal history for emphasis. And, there were chuckles from the audience throughout screenwriter J.D. Payne’s Screenwriting Keynote on the journey to becoming a screenwriter, ways to handle the criticism and rejection that are so very prominent in the Industry, and how to take notes, another big part of writing for television or film.

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Screenwriter J.D. Payne

Screenwriting Keynote Speaker

I attended a genre fiction workshop and two screenwriting workshops, since these are my major concentrations. The first screenwriting workshop, led by screenwriter, Mary Beth Fielder, was on the transformational arc that every story and every major character needs to have. She talked about looking at the subtext to indicate what’s really going on in each scene, and how to use basic human needs to determine what your characters goals are.

The second screenwriting workshop, on creating conflict, was led by screenwriter J.S. Mayank, pointing out that in story we do the opposite of what we do in real life. In real life, we tend to avoid conflict, while in story we invite it. To provide examples of scenes with well-crafted conflict, video clips from several different movies were shown, some that made us laugh, others that made us want to cry.

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J.D. Payne, J. S. Mayank, and Alan Wartse

Screenwriting Panel at the

2016 Writing the Rockies Conference

The genre fiction workshop, on creating complex female characters, led by women’s fiction author Candace Nadon. She talked about the female stereotypes used in creating female characters, and ways to recognize and avoid them in your writing. Most of her advice for creating strong female characters, was in the form of what not to do, proving that there is a fine line to balance strength and feminity.

Screenwriter and co-organizer of the Crested Butte Film Festival, Michael Body was both educational and entertaining in his screening lecture. He used actual clips submitted to the festival for consideration. Two of the clips were humorous, but the other one was just plain bad, illustrating well the many reasons films do, or don’t get into film festivals. The bad one was so bad that the audience elected not to finish watching it.

Micheal Brody

Screenwriter Michael Brody

Co-Founder of The Crested Butte Film Festival

Along with everything else, the talent featured at the Writing the Rockies Conference also grows each year. In addition to the genre fiction and screenwriting names above, this year’s poetry symposium featured were renowned poets and critics, such as A.M. Juster, Jan Schreiber, John Talbot, Bruce Bennett, Christopher Norris, Emily Grosholz, Thomas Cable, Paul Edwards, Natalie Gerber, Niles Ritter, Frederick Turner, Richard Wakefield, and Robert Maranto.

Of the thirty publishers in Colorado today, at least seven were represented at the 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference: Conundrum Press Publisher, Caleb Seeling; Fulcrum Press editor, Rebecca McEwen; Slant News editor, Kyle Harvey; Dave Trendler, of VeloPress; Fred Ramey of Unbridled Books; Lithic Press Publisher, Danny Rosen; and Senior Acquisitions Editor of NavPress, David Zimmerman.

Creative Nonfiction is a new concentration which was added this year, featuring award-winning author, Kase Johnstun; essayist, Kelsey Bennett; and nature writer, Alissa Johnson. Genre fiction authors not mentioned above included Clay Reynolds; children’s author, Stacia Deutsch; and speculative fiction author, Michaela Roessner.

The 2016 Writing the Rockies Conference appeared to be a great success. It holds many opportunities for aspiring writers, and 2017 promises to have e1ven more, becoming larger and more prestigious than ever before. I anticipate 2017 conference attendees will have quite a treat in store.

 

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“Hollywood Game Plan” Prepares Upcoming Screenwriters to Hit the Ground Running

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More than any other industry, the film making arena is a world where connections are everything and success may depend on who you know. Breaking in takes persistence, determination, and maybe even a dash of creativity.  Oh, and talent helps, too.

Hollywood Game Plan, by Carole Kirschner, is a must read for anyone trying to break in to the entertainment business. This book gives you the lowdown on what jobs there are in both the creative and the production areas and tells what it takes to land each position, all the way to the top of the Industry.

Much of the advice found within its pages, basic things like being on time, working hard, dressing appropriately, or listening and following directions, could apply to any industry. But, it also contains tips and tricks that are Industry specific to the world of film making, and pays heed to the rules of Hollywood etiquette, which should never be broken unless you’re trying to commit career suicide. From how to use your Industry contacts to move your way up the ladder, to when it is appropriate to seek out advice or assistance from higher-ups. Among the list of cardinal rules not to be broken are:

  • Start at the bottom and work your way up – everybody has to pay their dues.
  • Be willing to do any chore your boss requires, even the most menial, or most nerve racking, tasks with a smile.
  • Never talk badly about an employer, even if he’s the boss form hell.
  • You’re going to get fired. Everyone gets fired. Don’t take it personal. Move on.
  • Be nice to people. You never know who may turn out to be a future boss.
  • Network, network, network. Keep a record of contacts and follow-up appropriately on all.
  • Work for free, if you can afford to, and do the best job possible. You never know where it could lead.
  • Work harder than anyone else and anticipate your employer’s needs.

Hollywood Game Plan helps you create a solid plan for launching your career as a screenwriter, even if you must begin in a job other than the one you aspire to. This book outlines the step by step approach to laying the groundwork for your new career, from honing your resume and crafting a solid cover letter, to landing that first job, making preparations to make the move to L.A., to working your way up the Hollywood creative or production ladders, and into your dream job.

I give Hollywood Game Plan four quills.         Four Quills3

 

Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read, and she never charges for them. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Weekly Writing Memo: Setting Writing Prompt

[Sorry for the delay this week, there was a glitch in posting yesterday.]

Weekly Writing MemoI’m off in Gunnison, Colorado this week for a writing conference at my old graduate school, Western State Colorado University. For me, a writing conference is a chance to talk writing and get inspired, so I thought I’d post a writing prompt this week to spread some of the inspiration.

Since I’m in a place that is known for its beautiful scenic views, I thought I’d go with a writing prompt that is all about starting with setting to find your story. Try to use the prompt to help visualize the setting, and see where it takes you for creating a story.

 

A Tree Grows in the Desert

A tree grows alone in the desert. What kind of tree is it? What does it look like?
Describe every detail you can think of. What do those details tell us about the tree?

How does it grow there?

Who discovers it? Someone has to come across it and be our narrator. So who? Why are they in the desert? How did they find the tree?

Who are they?

What does the tree mean to them? Do they interact with the tree somehow?

Is this all a dream?

Or a vision?

A miracle?

A mirage?

Don’t just have this character be at the tree, give them a reason, a purpose. Why are they there? Why is the tree there? How do the tree and the character impact each other? Where do they go once they part?

This prompt is about character and setting, since they are the two core parts of the prompt. It’s also about using mysterious elements to help draw the plot out. If there is a mystery element to be investigated, and a character to investigate it, then there is a plot in there somewhere. So explore the tree, develop the character who interacts with the tree, and see where the story takes you.

 

Next week I’ll be back with my usual post, but for now, happy writing! If you want to play with this prompt, you can try to set it in other unusual places if you want (the ocean, a grocery store, etc). The key is, that the tree is somewhere unusual, and the story comes from someone interacting and exploring the tree and why it is there. So explore, have fun, and get writing!

 

Robin Conley offers great writing advice most Wednesdays on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next week to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.

 


Weekly Writing Memo: When to Include Movement with Dialogue

Weekly Writing MemoOne thing I’ve noticed during my time reading and critique fiction, is that not everyone includes movement of characters, or actions, within the dialogue scenes. This is a pretty obvious thing, as not all scenes would call for it, but how do you know when you should or shouldn’t include movement with the dialogue?

Forward Momentum

One reason to include movement in dialogue is that it moves the story forward physically in a way that dialogue generally cannot. The exception to this is if you write like Shakespeare or other playwrights where they often imply or describe the movements in the speech. If a scene of dialogue goes on for a long while without any movement, it can make the reader feel like the story is standing still as two or more characters talk things out. Adding in the body movements can make the reader feel like the characters are actually doing something and that the story is still progressing forward, even if the characters are staying in one room.

Emphasis

Movement can also help emphasize certain words that are being said, as well as how they are being said, and can even be used to tell more about the character who is speaking. For example, if your character is trying to act tough but doesn’t feel very tough at all, you can give them strong words in the dialogue but have their body language be weak to show they’re not confident in the words. This can be a subtle way to show a lot about the character without telling.

Another example of this is if you want to emphasize a characters anger, you can have them throw something or slam something. Yes, these types of gestures can venture into cliché, but when done well they can also really highlight how a character is feeling and what they mean by their words.

Transition

Movement can also be used as a transition of subjects in dialogue. If you jump from one subject to another in dialogue without any sort of physical break on the page, the story can feel clunky or awkward, and sometimes throw the reader out of the story. Adding in the movement between a subject change can slow things down for the reader and make the transition smoother by helping the reader follow the speaker’s train of thought. An example:

“I want to go to the park,” Bobby said. He looked down the street as the milk truck drove by, then turned back to his brother. “Did mom go to grocery store yet? We should eat first.”

If you remove the dialogue tag and the action, the dialogue seems cluttered, rushed, and not necessarily cohesive: “I want to go to the park. Did mom go to the grocery store yet? We should eat first.”  Written this way, the character seems almost like his has an attention disorder. By using movement, you can create a pause between the subject shifts if needed, or use the opportunity to help show the reader what is the cause of the subject shift as done above.

 

Exceptions

There are a few spots where movement should not be in dialogue, but really it should be judged on a scene-by-scene basis. If you are having an important conversation where the emphasis really needs to be on the words, then the focus should be the dialogue with movement only added in where an action is needed for the story.

If you have a long scene with a lot of movement and little dialogue, then keeping the dialogue sections movement free can help balance the chapter out. If you add more movements into a scenario such as this one, it can make the dialogue feel cluttered and buried in all the actions in the story.

Another exception is if you have a slower chapter and want to speed the dialogue up some, then you can take out the movement. A segment of dialogue with minimal movements or dialogue tags can really speed up a chapter because the reader can move through it quickly, focusing just on what is being said by the characters.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, each instance of where to put movement within the dialogue should depend on the scene and the writer’s goal for the scene. If you understand what the effect of the actions and movements in dialogue are, then you can understand how to use them in the strongest way for your story. If you really want to understand it, take some of your favorite novels and look at the scenes with dialogue. See how the author handles them and try to figure out the effect it has on the story. Really, when working on any aspect of writing, seeing how it has been done and then experimenting with it yourself is the ultimate way to understand it.

 


Weekly Writing Memo: Parts of a Scene

Weekly Writing MemoWhether you’re writing a novel or a screenplay, you are going to be writing scenes for your story. The breakdown of a scene for each is essentially the same, and requires that three things happen.

The Setting

The first thing that has to be established in almost any scene is where it is taking place. Sometimes this can be as simple as establishing that it’s a mysterious unknown place, that’s fine, but some form of setting has to be established. Showing the setting helps ground the audience and helps them visualize what is happening.

To do this in a screenplay, you use the scene heading and then give a brief description of the location in a line or two. Find a succinct way to set the tone and layout of the scene without giving long descriptions. Also, make sure to mention any elements of the setting that are vital to the action of the scene. Don’t wait to mention there is a newspaper on a chair if a few lines down that newspaper is going to be used to slap someone!

This is true for fiction as well. It’s best to set up details that will come into play early on so that way when they are used, the audience feels they have been established instead of feeling like they were just thrown in when the writer needed them. Unlike in screenplays, fiction can let the setting unfold a little more naturally as the character interacts with it. You’ll still want to mention key elements as soon as you can for the best effect, but you can let some details come out more fluidly as the scene develops.

The Character

The second thing to establish in any scene is who the scene is about, and who the protagonist and antagonist of the scene is. In every scene there is one of each, even if one is an inanimate object or something. Every scene is driven forward by a character wanting something, and whatever is getting in the character’s way at that moment is the antagonist for the scene. There can also be an antagonist that is not present in the scene as well, but do consider who the antagonist within the scene is.

You’ll also want to find a way to introduce other characters that are present for the scene as early as possible. If a character is in the room while something is happening, and the audience isn’t aware of it, it can be startling when that character finally “appears” to the audience. It can also change a scene completely. So make sure to find a way to introduce each character within a scene so the audience knows who the players are.

The Conflict

Every scene is about one thing – someone wants something, and something (or someone) is stopping them from getting it. If this isn’t happening in your scene, then your scene has no conflict or tension and really needs to be reconsidered unless you have strong motivations for it.

The other key thing to remember for every scene is that every single character in the scene has a want, and their behavior is going to be driven by whatever that want is. You want some of those character desires to conflict to create tension. If the conflicts are the same (like two characters want a sandwich) then find a way to make the wants conflicting. For example, maybe they both want a sandwich, but they want the other character to make it for them. Or they both want a sandwich, but there is only enough bread for one.

If you know what your characters want, then you know how they will behave in a scene. You also know what you need to keep them from getting it for as long as you naturally can within the scene. Don’t let them get what they want easily, unless what they want isn’t really what they need! If it isn’t what they need, then the moment they get what they want, it’ll create new conflict. The point of every scene is to create tension and conflict, and to drive the story forward.

Final Notes

The final thing to consider when writing a scene is that you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the beginning setting up what your character is doing or trying to achieve. If you find yourself doing this, try jumping forward in the scene and seeing how it reads without the introduction.

For example, if a neighbor wants to borrow a cup of sugar, but the other neighbor wants someone to talk to, try this: Instead of showing Person 1 knocking on the door, show them already in Person 2’s kitchen and show Person 2 blabbering on about some subject that Person 1 cares nothing about. Maybe show Person 1 with an empty measuring cup in their hand and have them eyeing the cupboard.

Doing that tells us everything we need to know without going through the motions of the knocking on the door and asking for the sugar. It jumps straight to the conflict. And you almost always want to cut to the conflict when you can do so without the story suffering.

Robin Conley offers great writing advice most Wednesdays on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next week to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.


The Making of a Screenplay: The Creative Process (Part 4)

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We’ve looked at how a screenplay goes from idea to beat sheet or outline in Part 1. And we’ve seen that the tools used to sell your screenplay, such as the logline and the pitch, are created before you ever start to actually write the script in Part 2. Last week, in Part 3, we looked at the type of research that goes into writing a screenplay. Today, I’d like to look another important step in creating a finished script.

Rewriting

The final step in completing any writing project is rewriting, or revising, to make sure that the finished piece you’re going to submit is the absolute best it can be. In literary writing, it’s called revision, and there may be several revisions before the piece is ready to be sent off in hopes of discovery. But you finish the first draft, before you start revising, or at least some writers do. Me, I’m a firm believer that the more things I fix as I go, the less I will have to fix later, so I do some revision during the writing process of the first draft. In screenwriting, it’s called is rewriting, and it actually takes place all the way through the writing process, which is more in sync with my writing style.

Once the draft for ACT I is finished, you look it over, get feedback from other screenwriters, if available, and then make changes and adjustments to the sections that aren’t working for whatever reason. You repeat the process when you’ve finished the draft up to the end of ACT II, but this time, you also watch to be sure that the two acts flow together well, in addition to ascertaining that ACT II works well. Again, after ACT III is finished, but on the final rewrite, you must be sure that it work as a whole, the flow of the beats are smooth and you’ve maintained a constant tone throughout. If you’ve done a good job on the prior revisions, there may be very little rewriting to do at this point, and it’s really just a matter of fine tuning your script.

For my thesis, I originally wanted to lead viewers through the story with a series of voice-overs by Bonnie, which included imagined journal entries and letters, as well as some of the poetry she actually wrote. I knew I wanted to do this from the start. However, on the last read through, my peers and my instructor brought it to my attention that the way my script was written, I stuck the poetry into scenes where I thought I wanted it, but the way it was written my audience would be looking at a blank screen while they listened to Bonnie’s voice-over, which was not the way I intended it to be.

The majority of my final rewrite was positioning these voice-overs, especially those with the poetry, some of which were quite long at strategic sections where they would seem to refer to what was happening in the story, and to keep the action going during them. In one scene that meant showing Bonnie writing the letter while the voice-over tells us what that letter said. That’s one that I had right. Other scenes needed to have the voice-over over the action, like a car chase. And in some, like at the end of ACT III, I needed the voice-over to play in sync with a montage of single snapshot scenes. There are different ways to write it, so that the voice-over is played the way I wanted it to in each case, and a good portion of my final rewrite consisted of tweaking the scenes with voice-over so they would play the way I wanted them to.

In the end, I came out with a screenplay that flows together well, tells the story I wanted to tell in a compelling and original way, and has a lot of commercial potential. Maybe someday you’ll see The Life and Times of Bonnie Parker on the marquee at the theater as you’re driving down the street.

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The Making of a Screenplay: The Creative Process (Part 3)

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Many students of literary writing issue moans and groans when it comes time to do the research for their book. After all we’re writers, not researchers, right? But the fact is, that in order to write the story, even though it may be fictional, you half to know your stuff, and with literature, that could mean being familiar with the time period you’re writing about, or when certain items or words came into use, or being familiar with the place in which your book is set. If you’re writing a science fiction novel, you must at least be somewhat familiar with the science of the technologies you’re writing about, and even in fantasy works, you must be familiar with what the fantasy creatures you’re writing about are capable of.

It’s no different in screenwriting. You need to be familiar with the time period and location your screenplay takes place in, as well as being familiar with what the tropes are for your genre and what has been done that is similar to your story. But, I haven’t heard screenwriters complaining, maybe because the research is a little bit different than literary research. In fact, research in screenwritng can be fun.

In Parts 1, I talked about how the story goes from idea to beat sheet and/or outline. In Part 2, I described the tools used to sell a screenplay. Now, let’s look at the research that goes into a screenplay, and don’t shy away, because in screenwriting, the research is the fun part.

 

Research

Both literary writing and screenwriting require research. The type and extent of research required depends on what you’re writing. I watched every documentary on Bonnie and Clyde that I could find, as well as every DIY film on YouTube I could find, in order to get a feel for who these two people were. This helped a lot in determining what their bios would look like and how they would be portrayed in the film. I also visited websites with information on them and websites on the depression era, where I picked up slang from the 20s, which I salted my screenplay with to give it the proper feel.

But there’s a different kind of research you do in screenwriting, in addition to the research mentioned above. In screenwriting, you examine movies that are similar to yours in some way to learn what’s been done, and what worked and what didn’t. Sometimes you may chose a movie just because it has a scene similar to one you’re trying to do and you want to see how they went about it. This is one of the neatest things about screenwriting, you get to sit around and watch movies and call it work.

For my thesis, obviously any fictional portrayals of the outlaw couple needed to be on my list, but I also wanted to watch other gangster type movies to get a feel for the lifestyle, and the era. I watched biographical pictures to learn how they make real life events fit into the screenplay formula, and buddy love films to see how they allow one character to lead another into things, without portraying the leading character as a villain. It was amazing when I realized the different things I learned from each one.

 

Movie List

  • Bonnie and Clyde, 1967, written by David Newman and Robert Benton – this was the original movie that we all think of when we think of the outlaw couple. It glamourizes Bonnie and Clyde, what they did and how they lived, and portrayed them as cold, blood-thirsty killers. This was not how I wanted to portray them, and I didn’t want to do what had already been done, so this film showed me what I didn’t want to do.
  • Bonnie and Clyde 2013 miniseries on the History channel – this portrayal of the couple really played up the cold blooded killer image of all of them, Blanche and Buck, as well as Bonnie and Clyde, and it’s a ruthlessness that I don’t believe was truly there. Again, I learned what not to do. I wanted my screenplay to be very different from this.
  • Donnie Brasco, 1997, adapted by Paul Attanatio from the book by Joseph D. Pistone and Richard Woodley– I found this to be one of the best mob movies I had ever seen. I was truly impressed with the craftsmanship seen in this film. I chose it because of the similar situation, getting caught up in circumstance and events beyond the character’s control.
  • Black Mass, 2015, written by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth – Not only is this film a crime drama, but it is a bio-pic, based on the true story of the criminal career of mobster Whitey Bulger. The similarity here was found in the way the character Whitey Bulger rationalized his actions, which I considered when having Bonnie rationalize her actions, and what she was willing to do in order to be with Clyde. I also looked at this film in regards to how they set the events to the beats in the film.
  • Dillinger, 1973, written and directed by John Millius – Not only is this a bio-pic, but they make mention of Bonnie and Clyde in this movie, which gave me the idea to make mention of Dillinger and other well-known gangsters of the time in my own screenplay as a means of marking the time period.
  • Scarface, 1983, written by Oliver Stone – This is an excellent movie, but I didn’t take a lot away from it which could be used in my screenplay. Bonnie and Clyde weren’t anywhere near the big time criminal that character Tony Montana a.k.a. Scarface, was in this bio-pic.
  • The Untouchables, 1981, written by David Mamet – This movie gave me a feel for the times, and the public sentiment towards the criminal element which was prominent in the times.
  • Public Enemies, 2009, written by Michael Mann, Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman – This is a period film that was set in the same time period as my own screenplay. It deals with the gangster subculture of the times, of which Bonnie and Clyde ran on the fringes.
  • Thelma & Louise, 1991, written by Callie Khouri This buddy love is similar in circumstance to my screenplay in that the protagonist gets swept up in the circumstances, and that the circumstances were created by the choices the protagonist makes, and that they both die in the end.
  • The Falcon and the Snowman, 1985, from the book, The Falcon and the Snowman: A Story of True Friends and Espionage, by Robert Lindsay and adapted by Steven Zaillian – I viewed this movie for some of the same reasons I viewed Thelma & Louise. The protagonists gets caught up in circumstances of their own creation, brought about by the choices that they made, which send them on a downward spiral. Plus it is a biographical film, based on a true story.
  • Natural Born Killers, 1994, written by Quentin Tarantino and revised by David Veloz – Although this movie is very bizarre, the protagonists are lovers on a crime spree. Like previous portrayals of Bonnie & Clyde, these two are portrayed as cold-blooded killers, ruthless, killing for the fun of it. That is not the story I wanted to tell, therefore this movie showed me more of what I did not want to do in my own screenplay.
  • Blow, 2001, adapted by David McKenna and Nick Cassavetes from the book by  Bruce Porter, Blow: How a Small Town Boy Made $100 Million with the Medellín Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All – This is a biographical film of cocaine smuggler Gorge Jung, so I was looking at how the events were shaped to make up the beats of the movie, and it is another story where the protagonist gets caught up in the criminal elements due to the choices made, and their life spins out of control in a downward spiral.
  • Coal Miner’s Daughter, 1980, written by George Vecsey as an adaption of the biography of country singer, Loretta Lynn – In this film I was looking for how the events were molded into the beat sheet formula of screenplay, as well as the romance elements.
  • What’s Love Got to do with It?, 1993, adapted by Kate Lanier from the book I, Tina, by Tina Turner and Kurt Loder – This biographical film tells the story of how Tina Turner found the courage to break out of an abusive relationship. What I took away from this film was the way that Tina rationalized staying with her husband, Ike, how she kept telling herself that things would change, which is very similar to how my Bonnie rationalizes staying with Clyde, first believing he will change and go straight, and when it became obvious that wasn’t going to happen she allowed herself to believe they would go away to California.

 

Of course, this type of research, the fun stuff, has its equivalent in literary writing. It’s always good to read books in your genre to see what’s out there and know the tropes. The real difference is that in literature, the author is always trying to come up with a totally original idea, but in screenwriting, its acceptable, in fact encouraged, to use movies that have already been done successfully in describing what your movie is about in the logline or pitch, where you explain how your movie is the same as ­­­­(a movie that’s already out there), but different. It is common practice in Hollywood, apparently, to describe your movie or television series as: (Title of existing movie) with a twist. For example, I described the pilot series that I wrote, titled Unhappily Ever After, as “A reverse Once Upon a Time combined with a humorous Into the Woods.” You can tell a lot about my pilot series from that, but I’ll have to save that for another post.

The point here is, in screenwriting it’s okay to do the same story someone else has done, as long as you give it some kind of twist to set it apart from the rest. For my thesis, I told the story from Bonnie’s perspective and that made it a very different movie from the other portrayals of the same story.

Next week we’ll take a look at the last step in creating the finished screenplay, rewriting. A screenwriter rewrites constantly, for as many drafts as it takes to get the desired results and make her screenplay tell the story she wants to tell, the way she wants to tell it.

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The Making of a Screenplay: The Creative Process (Part 2)

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Last week in Part 1, I explored story origins, and the tools you use to shape an idea into a movie plot with a beat sheet. Now I’ll talk about tools, like the step outline, which are used to convince others to read and hopefully, buy your screenplay.

The Pitch

One big difference between screenwriting and literary writing is the way they handle the pitch. While in literary writing, they teach us to do the pitch for our story only when we’re close to having a finished product to sell to an agent or publisher, in screenwriting you write the pitch from the idea, before you ever start writing the actual script. This is because of the difference in the pitch itself, for in literature, your pitch is usually written and submitted in the form of a query, in screenwriting, you must be able to talk about your movie in a brief one line description and in expanded forms that explore more depth and detail, so writing pitches is something we practice a lot. The thing is, often after all the revisions and rewrites, the final product turns out to be something different from what you were pitching. Until I figured out how to write this movie from Bonnie’s perspective, I was just pitching the same movie everybody already knows.

It was during the time I was trying to get my pitch right that the title changed. I had been referring to The Life and Times of Bonnie and Clyde, until I finally figured out that this was really Bonnie’s story, from Bonnie’s perspective. I’d been saying it all along, claiming that was what set my story apart from all the rest, but I hadn’t been doing it. I was still looking at it from the perspective of the two of them as a couple. While I couldn’t change the real life events to fit the formula, I could show different events that gave the story a different perspective, and even a different tone, starting with the title.

In both literary writing and in screenwriting, your pitch is your calling card. It’s your key to the kingdom of either publishing, or production, and it must reach out and grab the reader’s attention and hold it, making them want to know more. They’ll see the pitch first, and it has to tempt them to continue on and read your script or manuscript, and that’s a goal that every writer understands.

The Treatment

A treatment is the outline for your script. It tells everything you want an interested buyer to know about your script. My treatment starts with my logline. A logline is a one to two sentence description of a movie or television series. As a rule, it’s 25 words or less, but it can be presented in longer paragraph form.  My logline for The Life and Times of Bonnie Parker is:  “The Life and Times of Bonnie Parker is the tragic story of a young woman in the depression era who falls in love with a petty criminal, and is caught up in a whirlwind of lawlessness in their struggle to survive. When theft turns to murder, they’re swept into a life on the road which can only lead to tragedy.”

 

Character Triangles

Character triangles are one thing that actually works in literature a well as in screenwriting. Every character in every story ever written or thought of has a want or desire which motivates them to take action and move the story forward. Likewise, every character has a fear or flaw, which stands in the way of achieving whatever it is that motivates them, and obstacle to achieving their goal, which must be overcome. And, once their flaw has been overcome, a transformation takes place and the character is changed, creating a character arc for your story. At this point we usually learn what it is that the character actually needs, which is usually something different from what the character’s want is, but it’s achievement must be acquired to achieve the completion of the character arc. The need might be a lesson learned, or self-discovery of an aspect of their personality they were unaware of, but it’s always an inner need. As a general rule, the character’s desire is usually an external want, while the need is internal. This applies to storytelling of any type. It works when applied to both literary writing and screenwriting.

My instructor and screenwriting advisor, J.S. Mayank, always has us determine the character triangles for at least two or three of the main characters before we try to write, because he believes that if you have your triangles figured out, the rest will fall into place. Triangles are an area I have a lot of difficulty with for some reason, and I usually make several shots at it before I get it right. My triangle for Bonnie looked like this:

Want: To be with Clyde

Fear/Flaw: Abandonment

Need: Self-reliance

Unfortunately, Bonnie never achieves her need.

Also included in your treatment are character bios for at least two or three of the main characters. In storytelling of any kind you must know your characters well. It’s a secret to writing well-rounded characters who readers or viewers can relate to. Characters without background, feel flat and two-dimensional. For my characters, the bios are already written, since they are true life characters, but I still had to write a sketch that tells how I see them.

Then comes the actual treatment, or outline, which tells what happens in your movie beat by beat. I like to write mine like a beat sheet, placing each scene in the beat it should be under. Some beats may have more than one scene, but with the formulaic nature of screenwriting, it’s fairly easy to label each beat once you have all the scenes laid out.

Again, there were a lot of revisions and changes in the rewrite, so my original treatment was different in many ways from how the final product turned out. Some scenes were thrown out and replaced by others, some scenes were just tossed out, and some scenes were added where I felt they were needed. The necessity of a revised treatment once the final screenplay is completed is obvious.

These are the tools of persuasion, or explanation which are used to try to sell a screenplay. Next week in Part 3, I’ll take a look at the research that goes into writing a screenplay. It’s the fun part, so don’t miss it.


The Making of a Screenplay: The Creative Process (Part 1)

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Writing for the screen is very different from literary writing, but there are also many similarities. Although my thesis project, The Life and Times of Bonnie Parker, is for the screenwriting emphasis, I obtained the first emphasis for my M.F.A. in Creative Writing in genre fiction, so I tend to make comparisons with my literary experiences naturally. Screenwriting is visual, whereas literature employs the use of all five senses. Screenwriting is also much more formulaic. Where literature tells us we must have a beginning, middle, and end, and we must throw a climax in there somewhere, screenwriting outlines all the beats and tells us approximately where each one should fall within your script. I think you get the idea. What you’re about to read is what goes into the creative process of writing a full length feature screenplay, from a literary perspective.

Story Origins
My thesis project, The Life and Times of Bonnie Parker, is based on the true life story of 1930’s bank robbers, Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. It’s not an idea I brilliantly plucked from the idea tree that grows in the backyard of my mind, but rather a different version of a story that’s been told many times before. It is the result of viewing the 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde, with Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, as well as numerous documentaries on the couple and their infamous crime spree. From my research, as I compared the many conflicting stories and the different portrayals of this story, it occurred to me, that really, this was a tragic love story, a contemporary Romeo and Juliet, but no one had ever shown that side of it. Their story had always been portrayed with car chases and shoot outs, glamourizing the gangster life, but to me, that wasn’t what Bonnie and Clyde were about. Hence, the idea was born to tell the story of Bonnie and Clyde from Bonnie’s perspective, the story of a young girl caught up in the circumstance of the times, willing to anything for the man she loved, including die for him.

The Beat Sheet
As I mentioned, screenwriting is very formulaic. So, where in literary writing you make an outline before you start writing your novel or book, in screenwriting, you create a beat sheet before you start. The beat sheet outlines each event which propels your story forward, and as I also mentioned each beat is supposed to occur at a certain point within the script.
Now here’s where I had a lot of difficulty, because true life events seldom conform to the formulaic sequence of a screenplay. The story of Bonnie and Clyde was no different. Because of this, and because I still thought of their story as the crime spree they embarked on between 1932 and 1934, the beat sheet I created turned out to be different in many ways from the final script. Once I began looking at things from Bonnie’s perspective, it turned into a very different movie.

Step Outline
In addition to this, a screenwriter must also be able to do a step outline, which chronicles each scene, step by step, very similar to a chapter outline for a literary work. While the beats can be noted in the step outline, this is not the same as the beat sheet.
There’s a lot more that goes into writing a screenplay, but this is how you get started. The beat sheet is a tool for your own use, while the Step Outline is a tool you use to convince a producer or director to buy your screenplay and hopefully, make a movie out of it. Next week, in Part 2 of Making a Screenplay, we’ll talk more about the tools you use to sell your screenplay.