Nanowrimo Now What? Lessons from Musical Theater

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I know, it’s Panic Sunday, four days to Christmas, and nobody is writing this week except me, right?

Well, but here’s a little exercise you could do to hone your story structure skills and get into the holiday spirit at the same time.

Last week I went to see Wicked and was reminded once again that the best training I ever got for writing novels, and screenplays, was my musical theater background (acting, directing, choreography).

Looking at musical theater is an excellent way to learn how to present key story elements like Inner and Outer Desire, Into the Special World, the Hero/ine’s Plan, the Antagonist’s Plan, Character Arc, Gathering the Team – virtually any important story element you can name. Musical theater knows to give those key elements the attention and import they deserve. What musicals do to achieve that is put those story elements into song and production numbers. They become setpiece scenes to music. And you know how I’m always encouraging you all to SPELL THINGS OUT? Well, there no better way to spell things out than in song. The audience is so entertained they don’t know you’re spoon-feeding them the plot.

Yes, I know, you can’t put songs on the page. But – you can most certainly learn from the energy and exuberance of songs and production numbers, and find your own ways of getting that same energy and exuberance onto the page in a narrative version of production design, theme, emotion and chemistry between characters, tone, mood, revelation – everything that good songs do.

So in the spirit of the holidays, how about finding 90 minutes to screen The Nightmare Before Christmas? We’ll take a look at the songs in that piece one by one and identify the key story element, or elements, that each song is dramatizing.

• Overture –

(An Overture does what an opening image or credits sequence does: it establishes mood, tone, theme and expectation. In this film the Overture ends with the Opening Image shot of the circle of trees in the woods that turns out to be a portal to all the different holidays. An important set up and a visual depiction of the premise of the entire movie, really.

• “This is Halloween” – The Nightmare Before Christmas cast/ choir

The opening number is big production number, as befits a musical, which sets up THE ORDINARY WORLD of Halloween Town, and almost all the principle characters (except Santa Claus).

• “Jack’s Lament” – Jack

Nothing is better than musical theater for externalizing character’s needs, desires, plans and wishes. But there’s often more to a Desire song than that.

As I am always saying, a great deal of what creates dramatic conflict and character arc comes from the conflict between a hero/ine’s Inner and Outer Desire. For MOST characters, what they think they want is not what they actually need, and during the journey of the story, they will come to realize that they are WRONG about what they want. This musical is a strong example of that storytelling principle in action. “Jack’s Lament” is a Desire or Want or Wish song; he’s tired of doing the same thing every year (basically, he puts on Halloween) and feels there’s something missing. He is going to seize on Christmas as the answer to that desire, when very soon we realize that what he really needs is Sally. Jack’s Character Arc has to do with realizing that very thing himself, as well as realizing that he’s good at what he does, he’s supposed to be the Pumpkin King, and thus finding new excitement in his life and life’s work.

A Desire song is very, very often a “Careful what you wish for” moment. It certainly is, here!

• “What’s This?” – Jack

Here we have a song of Jack exploring the Special World, after he’s gone through the door to Christmastown (The Passageway to the Special World – which is also the Opening Image of the film: the circle of trees in the woods, with each tree having a door to a different holiday. This passageway scene has elements of C.S. Lewis’s The Mageician’s Son, The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland, and probably a whole slew of other classics I’m not thinking about.)

• “Town Meeting Song” – Jack and Citizens

Here is a GATHERING THE TEAM song; Jack calls a town meeting to try to explain Christmas to the Halloween people, and rally them around this exciting new idea. Unfortunately, the team doesn’t get it.

So Jack’s first PLAN is to figure out Christmas so he can rally Halloween Town behind a new and exciting celebration, but the more he studies it, the more it eludes him.

• “Jack’s Obsession” – Jack and Citizens

A musical depiction of the HERO’S PLAN and OBSESSIVE ACTIONS (Obsessive and/or Immoral Actions and Crossing the Line are key elements of Act II, part 2).

• “Kidnap The Sandy Claws” – Lock, Shock, and Barrel

A PLAN song: in this case it’s Jack’s Plan, but carried out by these three villainous henchmen, which turns it more into a Villain’s Plan without making us completely hate Jack. However, Jack has definitely Crossed the Line with this plan, as illustrated by the song, which should cause some recoil in the audience!

This song is also a SIDEKICK song; one of the perennial delights of musical theater, which often, as here, employs the RULE OF THREE (even the names of the characters, Lock, Shock and Barrel, are a classic Rule Of Three pattern: same, same, different. In straight musical theater this is often a tap dance song; tap epitomizes playful exuberance and some comic slyness as well.)

(Of course one of the most wonderful examples of the Allies’ Song or Sidekick Song
and the Rule of Three is the three choruses of “If I Only Had a Brain/Heart/Nerve) in The Wizard of Oz, which also serves as the Gathering the Team Sequence.)

• “Making Christmas” – The Nightmare Before Christmas cast:

This is the production number that dramatizes the Storming the Castle scene; Jack Storms The Castle (Christmas Town) by reindeer and sleigh, and proceeds to terrify the sleeping citizens of Christmas Town by delivering horrifying and in some cases, vicious presents.

• “Oogie Boogie’s Song” – Oogie Boogie

Meanwhile back in Halloween Town we get a classic Villain’s Plan song: main villain Oogie Boogie is going to torture Santa Claus. This is a down and dirty New Orleans- style song, which musical theater loves, especially as a musical style for the villain. It undercuts the villainy by making it seem sexy and appealing and danceable, which in a children’s film takes the edge off the scariness of this monster.

• “Sally’s Song” – Sally

The love interest’s DESIRE SONG comes quite late in the film, but her desire for Jack has not only been clear from the beginning, it’s actually been the emotional core of the whole film. We get completely behind Sally’s Desire at the same time that we’re getting more and more uneasy about Jack’s Desire. Here her Desire song is actually used as a Black Moment or All Is Lost scene for her, too; she does not believe at this moment that she’ll ever be with Jack (which makes us WANT that for her even more.)

• “Poor Jack” – Jack

Jack’s All Is Lost Moment comes as he has been shot down from the sky by the police of Christmastown, and has fallen onto a cross in the cemetery. He sings as he hangs from the cross that he has failed utterly at his attempt to take over Christmas. But in the middle of the despair of this song, he also finds a Revelation: that he is good at exactly what he does, and he becomes excited about planning for the next Halloween. He races off with a New Plan, to save Santa Claus and restore him to Christmastown before it’s too late. He Storms The Castle again, this time Oogie Boogie’s castle, to fight Oogie and rescue Santa Claus and Sally in the Final Battle.

• “Finale” – Jack, Sally, Citizens of Halloween Town

Besides the production number of the finale (in which Halloween Town citizens frolic in the snow that Santa has sent as a gesture of forgiveness), Jack and Sally’s final love song at the end is a REPRISE, another favorite trick of musical theater. A Reprise is a great way to show Character Arc and a change in the hero/ine’s core philosophy or life outlook, as the second or third version of the song changes in lyrics and tone/mood (often with key changes from minor to major) to show progression. The love song is the same as Sally’s lament in Act II:2, but the words change from “Some things will never be” to “Some things are meant to be”. Of course, this and the kiss out on the frozen wave under the moon show us their NEW WAY OF LIFE: happily in love.

The point I’m trying to make here is that whether or not you’re using music, song and dance in a story, you can learn volumes about creating emotionally effective scenes from looking at how musical theater handles key story elements. Take a favorite musical and watch it with that idea in mind. I think you’ll be amazed.

So today, I’d like to brainstorm other great examples of Key Story Elements in song. I’ll start it off:

PLAN songs: “Follow the Yellow Brick Road/We’re Off to See the Wizard” in The Wizard of Oz. “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” in Oklahoma (hey, I’m always saying, dating is a Plan.) “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl. “Tevye’s Dream” – Fiddler on the Roof.

Interestingly, “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King is a PLAN song: Simba’s Plan at the moment is just to have a good time (like Prince Hal in Henry V). Of course, we know that Plan is not going to save the Kingdom from Scar! We want Simba to get his act together and do the responsible thing. I would also say “Luck Be A Lady” from Guys and Dolls is not just a Desire song but also a Plan song; often songs fulfill several story element functions.

Oh, and let’s not forget dark PLAN songs! One of my favorites is the duet between Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett: “Have a Little Priest”. Their PLAN is for Sweeney Todd to butcher people in his upstairs barber chair, and send the bodies down for Mrs. Lovett to bake into her pies, thereby fulfilling both their Desires: ST’s for revenge on humanity (especially the Judge) and Mrs. Lovett’s: to have a thriving pie shop and get closer to Sweeney Todd.

DESIRE songs:

Too many to even name! – there’s at least one in every musical. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” (My Fair Lady), “Reflection” (from Mulan – also a great Inner/Outer Desire song)”. “Corner of the Sky” (Pippin). “If I Were A Rich Man”. “I’m The Greatest Star” from Funny Girl. . .

When you have a character cluster such as the three oldest sisters in Fiddler on the Roof, they will almost always sing the Desire song as a group number as in “Matchmaker” (again, also, the Rule of Three). The male soldiers of Mulan (one set of her allies) express their own desires in “A Girl Worth Fighting For”.

It’s also very effective to use a group number to express a group Desire: as in “God I Hope I Get It”, in A Chorus Line. Every single one of those auditioning dancers wants the same thing: the job.

Sometimes instead of or along with a DESIRE song, the Hero/ine has an I AM song, in which s/he expresses a belief or philosophy that will be challenged during the course of the musical. A great, hilarious recent example: “I Believe” from The Book of Mormon.

I AM songs also can be, and often are: WE ARE songs: ensemble numbers in which a town or a group sings together about a group philosophy. “This is Halloween”, from Nightmare, is one of those, and there are some great ones throughout musical theater: “When You’re a Jet” and “America”, from West Side Story (which expresses battling philosophies within the culture and the song), and “Tradition”, from Fiddler on the Roof, also “Officer Krupke” from West Side Story, which is simultaneously a “We Are” song, a comic male specialty number, and a searing statement of the societal FORCES OF OPPOSITION in the story.

VILLAIN’S PLAN:

Scar’s song in The Lion King: a production number that climaxes Act One. We see exactly what will happen to the animal kingdom if Simba doesn’t get his act together and defeat Scar.

The Villain’s Plan song also expresses our FEAR of what will happen, and concurrent HOPE – that the Hero/ine will prevent this dire vision from happening.

I want to point out that very often in musicals and especially in film musicals and animation, the Villain does NOT have a song; he or she will express the plan in words and action, not music. Except in the rare case like Sweeney Todd, music tends to undercut the impact of the villainy – you wouldn’t want to see the Wicked Witch of the West burst into song, now, would you? The fact is that absence of music is suspect and scary, as Shakespeare said so eloquently:

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music.
(The Merchant of Venice, 5.1.91-7)

However, as we see in Nightmare Before Christmas, having a scary villain sing can make him or her less threatening to children, which is an important consideration.

Also, secondary villains are often given the songs so you can have a vicarious musical delight in the evil, before the real evil kicks in. Herod’s flashy honky-tonk song in Jesus Christ Superstar is a good example.

TRAINING SEQUENCE songs:

“I’ll Make a Man Out Of You” – from Mulan. Some great irony, there, as the song also expresses the hero’s philosophical flaw as well as the theme of the movie.

MENTOR SONGS

This is also a kind of training sequence song. “On the Right Track” from Pippin (also could be read as a Temptation Song) “True to Your Heart”, from Mulan, “Hakuna Matata”, from The Lion King, Aunt Eller’s “The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends” in Oklahoma! “Bear Necessities” from Jungle Book is both an I Am song and a Mentor song. Most of the songs in the first half of Godspell are Training/Mentor songs, as befitting one of the ultimate Mentor stories.

The TRIUMPH or BREAKTHROUGH song:

“The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly In The Plain.” “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead”. This number is often at an Act Climax or Midpoint.

The Triumph can be and often is the realization or reciprocation of love: “I Could Have Danced All Night”, “If I Were A Bell” (from “Guys and Dolls”), “Now I Have Everything”, from Fiddler.

ALLLIES’ SONGS and SIDEKICK SONGS.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a very streamlined story, so subplots are sparse, but in full-length musicals some of the best numbers are ALLLIES’ SONGS and SIDEKICK SONGS. Allies’ Songs very often, if not almost always, express the Ally’s Desire, and are often a comic counterpoint to the hero or heroine AND also the hero/heroine love relationship (Ado Annie and Will in Oklahoma!) These songs are also often character dances such as tap, hip hop, regional dances. modern, swing, salsa, samba, tango, etc.).

I have to add that my absolute favorite kind of musical theater song is the SPECIALTY DANCE NUMBER, a group of usually five to seven women in a song and dance showstopper like the ones Bob Fosse is so famous for: numbers like Steam Heat, Big Spender, Mein Herr, He Had It Coming. At the moment I can’t think of any equivalent in film; it’s much easier to find specialty showstoppers with a small group of men, the classic tap numbers you see time and again both on stage and in film and the breathtaking gang numbers of West Side Story, but I wanted to bring the female equivalent up as an example of subversive female empowerment.

Okay, I could go on and on, but I’d like to hear some examples from you guys! And by the way, I’ve made up a lot of those names for songs and dance numbers, so I’d love to hear other names for them.

- Alex

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All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks. Any format, just $3.99 and $2.99.


- Amazon US

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE

- Amazon FR

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If you’re a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories.

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

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Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

An Appreciation of Stephen Colbert, aka "Stephen Colbert"

By JD Rhoades
The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

You know, I’m really going to miss “Stephen Colbert.”

I realize that comedian and writer Stephen Colbert, creator and star of TV’s “The Colbert Report,” will still be with us, as David Letterman’s replacement on CBS’s “The Late Show.” But I fear that “Stephen Colbert,” the bloviating, self-important, clueless conservative pundit Colbert-the-comedian plays on his late night show, will be gone forever when the show ends its run this Thursday.
(In classic “Colbert” fashion, the supposed reason for the show’s ending is that its host has “won television” and to continue would just be “running up the score.”)
I confess that, when the “Colbert” character got his own time slot, a spinoff from John Stewart’s now-essential “The Daily Show,” I had my doubts. I thought basing an entire half hour, four times a week, on a single character, would be a one-joke premise that would quickly run out of steam. Eventually, I thought, Colbert would have to break character.
Boy, was I ever wrong. On the very first show, Colbert coined a word that would soon find its way into the actual dictionary: “truthiness.” Webster’s dictionary now defines truthiness as “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts of facts known to be true.”
When he introduced the concept as part of his regular segment called “The Word,” Colbert promised, “Some of you may not trust your gut, yet. But, with my help, you will. The truthiness is, anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news ‘at’ you.” It was absolutely perfect satire, summing up in a single made-up word the anti-intellectual, facts-are-what-my-gut-says-they-are attitude that permeates so much of American culture, politics and journalism. “Truthiness” caught on so fast that Merriam-Webster named it the 2006 “Word of the Year.”
Colbert followed up with some of the most brilliant on-screen pranks ever committed to video. Like his “438-part series, Better Know a District,” in which “Colbert” interviewed a congressman or congresswoman from some district, always referred to as “The Fightin’ [district number]!” He would then proceed, with a totally straight face, to tie the hapless lawmaker in such verbal knots that eventually Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel began warning members of the Democratic Caucus not to go on the show (a prohibition which Pelosi later lifted).
Then there was the time when Colbert discovered that the Hungarian government was holding an online poll to name a bridge over the Danube River. “Colbert” urged his followers (aka “The Colbert Nation”) to go online and vote to name the bridge after him.
After 17 million votes were cast for “Colbert” (7 million more than there are actual people in Hungary), Hungarian Ambassador András Simonyi appeared on “The Colbert Report” and announced that “Colbert” had won the vote, but unfortunately could not have the bridge named after him because he was (1) not fluent in Hungarian; and (2) not dead. He then gave “Colbert” a consolation prize of a 10,000 forint bill (about fifty bucks American) — which “Colbert” promptly tried to use as a bribe.
Colbert didn’t even break character when he was invited to be the featured entertainer at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which was attended by President George W. Bush and the first lady, as well as a variety of other VIPs. “Colbert,” in the guise of a glowing tribute, delivered one of the most scathing critiques ever delivered to a sitting president’s face.
“There are some polls out there,” he said, “saying that this man has a 32 percent approval rating. But guys like us, we don’t pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in ‘reality.’ And reality has a well-known liberal bias.” He went on to say of Bush that: “You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday.”
He didn’t spare the members of the press corps for their lazy acceptance of everything that came out of the Bush White House: “Over the last five years you people were so good, over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, and the effect of global warming. We Americans didn’t want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out.”
It was brave, and brilliant, and boy, did it make some people angry, even as it made many more laugh. That, my friends, is the purpose of great satire.

Can Colbert the comedian deliver the same bite and sting to a mainstream late night talk show on stodgy old CBS? I have my doubts. But then again, I’ve learned not to bet against him. RIP “Stephen Colbert.” Long live Stephen Colbert, America’s greatest living satirist.

Via: J.D. Rhoades

    

Rewriting: Something has to happen

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

by Alexandra Sokoloff

For those of you who are into the rewriting process, now, I want to do a few posts on some key elements of Act I.

Of all the many things I love about e books, I may love this feature the most: sampling. I’m a voracious browser and when I want something to read, unless I know exactly the book I want, I’ll often go through a few dozen first chapters of a few dozen books in a row to find something that grabs me.

This is a fantastic exercise when you’re struggling with a first chapter of your own.

I read through a bunch of first chapters last night, a couple dozen books at least, and it was pretty shocking how few of them grabbed me enough for me to want to keep reading.

Now, I’m not saying these books are badly written. The prose is fine, really. I’m just like everyone – there are very few books out there (proportionately) that I’m actually going to take the time to read. I like certain things in a book and if they’re not there, I’ll move on. Nothing wrong with that AT ALL – the wonderful thing about books is that there ARE books that deliver the exact or almost exact experience we’re looking for. So of course we look for those over less satisfying ones. I’m perfectly aware that just as many people discard MY books after the first few pages because I’M not delivering the experience they’re looking for. I’m certainly not for everyone’s tastes.

But there was something I was noticing in book after book that I started and then discarded last night that was just a structural error that could so easily have been fixed to – I think – increase the number of people who would want to keep reading. It’s pretty simple, really.

I couldn’t figure out what the book was about.

Or why I should care, either.

What was missing in the first ten, or twenty, pages I was reading was the INCITING INCIDENT (or the term I prefer – CALL TO ADVENTURE).

The Inciting Incident is basically the action that starts the story. The corpse hits the floor and begins a murder investigation, the hero gets his first glimpse of the love interest in a love story, a boy receives an invitation to a school for wizards in a fantasy. (More discussion on this key story element coming up this week.)

SOMETHING HAS TO HAPPEN, IMMEDIATELY, that gives us an idea of WHAT THE STORY IS ABOUT.

You can do this to some extent by setting mood, tone, genre, hope and fear, and an immediate external problem, but there is something about that first action that lets us know, at least subconsciously: “Oh, I get it. That teenage girl was murdered and that cop is going to find the killer.” “Oh, I get it. There’s a shark out there off the coast eating tourists and that police chief is going to have to get rid of it somehow.”

And once we know that, we can relax. It is a very disorienting and irritating thing not to know where a story is going.

Which means in general you should get to your INCITING INCIDENT and CALL TO ADVENTURE as soon as possible. Especially if you are a new writer, you cannot afford to hold this back. And I would argue it’s critical to get it out there if your book is or has any chance of being an e book, too, because it’s just so easy to go on to the next e book on your reader.

Genre fiction is popular because we go in knowing pretty much what the story is going to be about. The kid is kidnapped and the detective has to get him back. The house is haunted and the new residents are going to have to fight to survive. But setting your book in a certain genre does not always guarantee that the reader is going to know what the story is going to be about (as evidenced by what I was reading last night.)

So I’m suggesting – find a way to get that critical inciting incident into the first few pages or at the very least, strongly hint at it right up front.

Reading a bunch of first chapters in a row points out a lot of common errors, actually. So here’s a brief list.

1. Inexperienced writers almost inevitably START THEIR STORIES IN THE WRONG PLACE.

Now, please, please remember – I am not talking about first drafts, here. As far as I’m concerned, all a first draft has to do is get to “The End”. It doesn’t have to be polished. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you. Screenwriter and novelist Derek Haas refers to his first pass of a story as “the vomit draft”. And that’s what Nano is about. Exactly. Just get it all out – you’ll make sense of it later.

BUT – when you’ve gotten to the end, you will probably want to start your story 20, 30, 50 pages later than you do. And this is partly why:

For some reason newer writers think they have to tell the whole back story in the first ten pages. Back story is not story. So -

2. NEVER MIND THE FUCKING BACKSTORY!!!!!

With almost no exceptions, you should start your book with an actual scene, in which your main character (or villain, if that’s who you start with) is caught up in action. You should put that scene down on the page as if the reader is watching a movie – or more specifically, CAUGHT UP in a movie. The reader should not just be watching the action, but feeling the sweat, smelling the salt air, feeling the roiling of their stomach as they step into whatever unknown.

We don’t need to know who this person is, yet. Let them keep secrets. Make the reader wonder – curiosity is a big hook. What we need to do is get inside the character’s skin.

Here are two tips:

3. IDENTIFY THE SENSATION AND EXPERIENCE YOU WANT TO EVOKE IN YOUR READER – AND THEN MAKE SURE YOU’RE EVOKING IT.

I cannot possibly stress this enough. We read novels to have an EXPERIENCE. Make yourself a list of your favorite books and identify what EXPERIENCE those books gives you. Sex, terror, absolute power, the crazy wonderfulness of falling in love? What is the particular rollercoaster that that book (or movie) is? Identify that in your favorite stories and BE SPECIFIC. Then do the same for your own story.

Now that you know what the experience is that you want to create, start to look at great examples of books and films that successfully create that experience FOR YOU. Make that Top Ten list!

4. USE ALL SIX SENSES.

A great exercise is to make sure that every three pages you’ve covered specific details of what you want the reader to see, hear, feel, taste, smell, and sense. All six categories, every three pages.

5. SHOW, DON’T TELL.

This is one of those notes that always annoys me until I have to read 15 pages of “telling”. Then I realize it’s the essence of storytelling. If your character has a conflict with her brother, then let’s see the two of them fighting – don’t give me a family history and Freudian analysis.

6. DETAIL THE INTERNAL DRIVES OF YOUR CHARACTER AND SET THE GENRE.

You don’t need to detail the family tree or when they moved to whatever house they’re living in or their great love for their first stuffed animal.

What we need to know their DESIRE and WHAT IS BLOCKING THEM. We need to feel HOPE AND FEAR for them. We need to get a sense of the GENRE, a strong sense of MOOD and TONE, and a hint of THEME.

So while you’re writing your brains out today, take a few minutes to ask yourself these key questions:

Do you know where your inciting incident is? Is it soon enough? Honestly?

Do we KNOW where your story is going by page ten of your book?

Can you maybe do a little rearranging to make sure this happens, before you move on?

And for more discussion and examples of all of these terms, see.Elements of Act One.

- Alex

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The writing workbooks based on this blog, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are available for just $3.99 and $2.99.


- Amazon US

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE

- Amazon FR

- Amazon ES

- Amazon IT

If you’re a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories, and more full story breakdowns.

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon US

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

Reader Mail, plus More Hilarious Wingnuttery

By JD Rhoades
So this letter ran today in the Pilot:


Dusty Rhoades’ column in the Dec 7 Pilot disturbed me. To say that the prosecutor in the Ferguson case “threw” the case or deliberately lost it for the state involves a level of cynicism that is difficult to take.
Certainly, the prosecutor could have gotten an indictment if he “wanted” to. And just as certainly, there were political pressures for him to do just that. But Mr. Wilson is not a ham sandwich, of popular grand jury lore.
No he was not. But the rest of us would have been treated like one, which was part of the point.
Imagine for just a minute, even if you are as arrogant as Mr. Rhoades and are able to reach conclusions based on a superficial view of the evidence from newspapers and TV reports, that the prosecutor who did see all the evidence had a good-faith belief that the actions of Darren Wilson may have been justified.
Wrong. I actually read the transcripts. And I’m betting I read more of them than Mr. Muller. if actually doing your research is your idea of “arrogance,” then guilty as charged.
A prosecutor represents the state in an adversarial system, but he is not a pure advocate and must believe that the evidence on review supports a criminal conviction. Can you imagine a prosecutor asking a jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is guilty of a criminal offense when the prosecutor himself has significant doubts?
Yeah, actually, I can, because I live in the real world.
But, understanding correctly the highly charged nature of this case, rather than deciding himself to not proceed further against Wilson, which prosecutors do all the time, he presented the case to a grand jury as a check on the use of his discretion.
Again, a break which no one but someone like Wilson would get.
Yes, doing so and presenting evidence on both sides was highly unusual.
And thus, not “equal justice.”
But viewed in this way, the prosecutor was hardly giving Wilson a “break,” and just maybe was trying to do justice in the best way he could.
Justice which the average Joe (or Michael) would not have access to.
I acknowledge that I don’t know where the truth lies, but I respect the process and don’t share the view that “justice” requires a particular result here.


William Muller, Pinehurst
“Justice” does not require a particular result. It does, however, require a fair trial, not a sham.
At least Mr, Muller was (mostly) polite. But then of course, our old friend “Francis” needed to weigh in in the comments with his usual brand of wingnut fuckwittery:
More surprising than the article you have commented on is the fact you succeeded in having the Pilot post it, you have openly criticized, and even called arrogant one of those who John protects from any unflattering remarks, not often will you read honest appraisals on the individual you mentioned, even this comment may have gone too far, a very thin skinned critic who lashes out at others with no restrictions.
Get that? The guy with over 1100 posts on The Pilot website, the vast majority of them vicious personal attacks on me (including one that said I should die a slow and painful death from Ebola) is whining that The Pilot is “protecting me” from “unflattering remarks.” Not only that, he’s doing so in response to a letter disputing one of my columns that’s on there as a “Top Letter to the Editor.” And as for no restrictions, let’s not forger that he’s still allowed to post and I’m not.

Classic wingnuttery: using a public forum to complain endlessly about how that forum is violating their right to free speech.

Via: J.D. Rhoades

    

Announcement Time - A New Taylor Jackson Novel is Coming!

By JT Ellison

It’s time to publicly share the big news from my December newsletter. Here we go!

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I will be contributing a story to SWEET DREAMS, Brenda Novak’s thriller box set. The box set will be available for $9.99 for a limited time, starting May 1, 2015. And here’s what I will be bringing to the party:

From New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison comes the long awaited prequel to her Taylor Jackson series. CROSSED, the story of a madman trying to create his own end-of-days apocalypse, introduces Lieutenant Taylor Jackson to the young, troubled FBI profiler Dr. John Baldwin.

A brand new, never before published TAYLOR NOVEL, y’all! Just like you’ve been begging for! And they say I don’t listen…

A little background on CROSSED. This is the very first book I ever wrote. It’s the book that landed me my agent back in 2005. I will rewrite a bit (she says, hopeful it’s not utter crapola), to improve the craft aspects and some story updating, but it’s high time y’all get to see how Taylor and Baldwin met and fell in love.

I can’t wait to share CROSSED with you. And just look at the lineup of authors! This is going to be the box set to end all box sets.

Now, this book is not going to be in bookstores in this iteration. It will be available in the digital box set only from May 1- July 1, and then I have plans for it, which we’ll discuss in 2015. And don’t worry, if you don’t have an ereader, all the platforms have a version that allows you to read on your computer.

So … surprise! I will give you pre-order links when we’re closer to release. I’m honored to be included with all these incredible writers, and really excited to share Taylor’s first adventure with you at last.

And if you’re interested to see the places behind the books, check out Placing Literature, where all month long I’ll be geolocating scenes from my books!

So what do you think? Does this sound like something you might be interested in????

Via: JT Ellison

    

Live chat tonight: 9 pm EST

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff) I forgot to say that I’m going to be chatting in the Writerspace chat room tonight (Sunday, 12/7) at
9 pm EST.

That’s 2 am Scottish time, so I can’t promise complete clarity (!) – but I will be up and talking about whatever anyone wants to talk about: the Huntress series, indie publishing, Scotland, story structure, movies, Deadwood, Amazon, the space-time continuum…

I’ll be giving away a couple of books, and anyone who stops in will automatically be registered for my monthly contest – to celebrate the rerelease of the Huntress series I’m giving away a Kindle in January. (If you can’t make it to the chat you can still enter by signing up for my mailing list.)

Come on by! Link to chat room

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

Nanowrimo Now What? - Rewriting

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

by Alexandra Sokoloff

All right everyone, break’s over! Back to work!

Now that we’ve had some time off from the frenzy of writing that was November, we need to get back to those drafts and – yike – see what we’ve got.

This is assuming two crucial things:

1. You have FINISHED your draft. If not, keep writing to the end.

2. You have taken enough time off from that draft to clear your head.

But now that you have taken the time off… how the hell do you proceed with the second draft?

Well, first you have to read the first draft. All the way through. Not necessarily in one sitting (if that’s even possible to begin with!). I usually do this in chunks of 50 pages or 100 pages a day – anything else makes my brain sore.
(And yes, if you’ve been paying attention (The Three Act Structure and The Eight Sequence Structure), that would mean I’m either reading one sequence or two sequences a day).
I picked up a tip from some book or article a long time ago about reading for revisions, and I wish I could remember who said it to credit them, because it’s great advice. Grab yourself a colored pen or pencil (or all kinds of colors, glitter pens – go wild) and sit down with a stack of freshly printed pages (sorry, it’s ungreen, but I can’t do a first revision on a screen. I need a hard copy). Then read through and make brief notes where necessary, but DO NOT start rewriting, and PUT THE PEN DOWN as soon as you’ve made a note. You want to read the first time through for story, not for stupid details that will interrupt your experience of the story as a whole. You want to get the big picture – especially – you want to see if you actually have a book (or film, if that’s what you’re writing).
If your drafts are anything like mine, there will be large chunks of absolute shit. That’s pretty much my definition of what a first draft is. X them out on the spot if you have to, but resist the temptation to stop and rewrite. Well, if you REALLY are hot to write a scene, I guess, okay, but really, unless you are totally, fanatically inspired, it’s better just to make brief notes.
When you’ve finished reading there should – hopefully! – be the feeling that even though you probably still have massive amounts of work yet to do, there is a book there. (I love that feeling…)
Once I’ve read through the entire thing, I make notes about my impressions, and then usually I will do a re-card (see The Index Card Method). I will have made many scribbled notes on the draft to the effect of “This scene doesn’t work here!” In some of my first drafts, whole sections don’t work at all. This is my chance to find the right places for things. And, of course, throw stuff out.
I will go through the entire book again – going back and forth between my pages and the cards on my story grid – and see where the story elements fall. There is no script or book I’ve ever written that didn’t benefit from a careful overview once again identifying act breaks, sequence climaxes, and key story elements like: The Call to Adventure; Stating the Theme; identifying the Central Question; Central Action and Plan; Crossing the Threshold; Meeting the Mentor; the Dark Night of the Soul – once the first draft is actually finished. A lot of your outline may have changed, and you will be able to pull your story into line much more effectively if you check your structural elements again and continually be thinking of how you can make those key scenes more significant, more magical.
(For a quick refresher on Story Elements, skip down to #10 at the bottom of this post, and the links at the end for more in-depth discussion.)
Also, be very aware of what your sequences are. If a scene isn’t working, but you know you need to have it, it’s probably in the wrong sequence, and if you look at your story overall and at what each sequence is doing, you’ll probably be able to see immediately where stray scenes need to go. That’s why re-carding and re-sequencing is such a great thing to do when you start a revision.
Now, the next steps can be taken in whatever order is useful to you, but here again are the

Top Ten Things I Know About Editing
1. Cut, cut, cut.
When you first start writing, you are reluctant to cut anything. Believe me, I remember. But the truth is, beginning writers very, very, VERY often duplicate scenes, and characters, too. And dialogue, oh man, do inexperienced writers duplicate dialogue! The same things happen over and over again, are said over and over again. It will be less painful for you to cut if you learn to look for and start to recognize when you’re duplicating scenes, actions, characters and dialogue. Those are the obvious places to cut and combine.
Some very wise writer (unfortunately I have no idea who) said, “If it occurs to you to cut, do so.” This seems harsh and scary, I know. Often I’ll flag something in a manuscript as “Could cut”, and leave it in my draft for several passes until I finally bite the bullet and get rid of it. So, you know, that’s fine. Allow yourself to CONSIDER cutting something, first. No commitment! Then if you do, fine. But once you’ve considered cutting, you almost always will. It’s okay if you bitch about it all the way to the trash file, too – I always do.
2. Find a great critique group.
This is easier said than done, but you NEED a group, or a series of readers, who will commit themselves to making your work the best it can be, just as you commit the same to their work. Editors don’t edit the way they used to and publishing houses expect their authors to find friends to do that kind of intensive editing. Really.
3. Do several passes.
Finish your first draft, no matter how rough it is. Then give yourself a break — a week is good, two weeks is better, three weeks is better than that — as time permits. Then read, cut, polish, put in notes. Repeat. And repeat again. Always give yourself time off between reads if you can. The closer your book is to done, the more uncomfortable the unwieldy sections will seem to you, and you will be more and more okay with getting rid of them. Read on for the specific kinds of passes I recommend doing.
4. Whatever your genre is, do a dedicated pass focusing on that crucial genre element.
For a thriller: thrills and suspense. For a mystery: clues and misdirection and suspense. For a comedy: a comedic pass. For a romance: a sex pass. Or “emotional” pass, if you must call it that. For horror… well, you get it.
I write suspense. So after I’ve written that first agonizing bash-through draft of a book or script, and probably a second or third draft just to make it readable, I will at some point do a dedicated pass just to amp up the suspense, and I highly recommend trying it, because it’s amazing how many great ideas you will come up with for suspense scenes (or comic scenes, or romantic scenes) if you are going through your story JUST focused on how to inject and layer in suspense, or horror, or comedy, or romance. It’s your JOB to deliver the genre you’re writing in. It’s worth a dedicated pass to make sure you’re giving your readers what they’re buying the book for.
5. Know your Three Act Structure.
If something in your story is sagging, it is amazing how quickly you can pull your narrative into line by looking at the scene or sequence you have around page 100 (or whatever page is ¼ way through the book), page 200, (or whatever page is ½ way through the book), page 300 (or whatever page is ¾ through the book) and your climax. Each of those scenes should be huge, pivotal, devastating, game-changing scenes or sequences (even if it’s just emotional devastation). Those four points are the tentpoles of your story.
6. Do a dedicated DESIRE LINE pass in which you ask yourself for every scene: “What does this character WANT? Who is opposing her/him in this scene? Who WINS in the scene? What will they do now?”
7. Do a dedicated EMOTIONAL pass, in which you ask yourself in every chapter, every scene, what do I want my readers to FEEL in this moment?
8. Do a dedicated SENSORY pass, in which you make sure you’re covering what you want the reader to see, hear, feel, taste, smell, and sense.
9. Read your book aloud. All of it. Cover to cover.
I wouldn’t recommend doing this with a first draft unless you feel it’s very close to the final product, but when you’re further along, the best thing I know to do to edit a book — or script — is read it aloud. The whole thing. I know, this takes several days, and you will lose your voice. Get some good cough drops. But there is no better way to find errors — spelling, grammar, continuity, and rhythmic errors. Try it, you’ll be amazed.
10. Finally, and this is a big one: steal from film structure to pull your story into dramatic line.
Some of you are already well aware that I’ve compiled a checklist of story elements that I use both when I’m brainstorming a story on index cards, and again when I’m starting to revise. I find it invaluable to go through my first draft and make sure I’m hitting all of these points, so here it is again, for those just finding this post.
STORY ELEMENTS CHECKLIST
ACT ONE
* Opening image
* Meet the hero or heroine
* Hero/ine’s inner and outer desire.
* Hero/ine’s problem
* Hero/ine’s ghost or wound
* Hero/ine’s arc
* Inciting Incident/Call to Adventure
* Meet the antagonist (and/or introduce a mystery, which is what you do when you’re going to keep your antagonist hidden to reveal at the end)
* State the theme/what’s the story about?
* Allies
* Mentor (possibly. May not have one or may be revealed later in the story).
* Love interest
* Plant/Reveal (or: Setups and Payoffs)
* Hope/Fear (and Stakes)
* Time Clock (possibly. May not have one or may be revealed later in the story)
* Sequence One climax
* Central Question
* Central Story Action
* Plan (Hero/ine’s)
* Villain’s Plan
* Act One climax
___________________________
ACT TWO
* Crossing the Threshold/ Into the Special World (may occur in Act One)
* Threshold Guardian (maybe)
* Hero/ine’s Plan
* Antagonist’s Plan
* Training Sequence
* Series of Tests
* Picking up new Allies
* Assembling the Team
* Attacks by the Antagonist (whether or not the Hero/ine recognizes these as being from the antagonist)
* In a detective story, questioning witnesses, lining up and eliminating suspects, following clues.
THE MIDPOINT
* Completely changes the game
* Locks the hero/ine into a situation or action
* Can be a huge revelation
* Can be a huge defeat
* Can be a “now it’s personal” loss
* Can be sex at 60 — the lovers finally get together, only to open up a whole new world of problems
______________________________
ACT TWO, PART TWO
* Recalibrating — after the shock or defeat of the game-changer in the Midpoint, the hero/ine must Revamp The Plan and try a New Mode of Attack.
* Escalating Actions/ Obsessive Drive
* Hard Choices and Crossing The Line (immoral actions by the main character to get what s/he wants)
* Loss of Key Allies (possibly because of the hero/ine’s obsessive actions, possibly through death or injury by the antagonist).
* A Ticking Clock (can happen anywhere in the story)
* Reversals and Revelations/Twists. (Hmm, that clearly should have its own post, now, shouldn’t it?)
* The Long Dark Night of the Soul and/or Visit to Death (aka All Is Lost)
THE SECOND ACT CLIMAX
* Often can be a final revelation before the end game: the knowledge of who the opponent really is
* Answers the Central Question
_______________________________
ACT THREE
The third act is basically the Final Battle and Resolution. It can often be one continuous sequence — the chase and confrontation, or confrontation and chase. There may be a final preparation for battle, or it might be done on the fly. Either here or in the last part of the second act the hero will make a new, FINAL PLAN, based on the new information and revelations of the second act.
The essence of a third act is the final showdown between protagonist and antagonist. It is often divided into two sequences:
1. Getting there (storming the castle)
2. The final battle itself
* Thematic Location — often a visual and literal representation of the Hero/ine’s Greatest Nightmare
* The protagonist’s character change
* The antagonist’s character change (if any)
* Possibly allies’ character changes and/or gaining of desire
* Could be one last huge reveal or twist, or series of reveals and twists, or series of final payoffs you’ve been saving (as in BACK TO THE FUTURE and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE).
* RESOLUTION: A glimpse into the New Way of Life that the hero/ine will be living after this whole ordeal and all s/he’s learned from it.
And I’ll be posting more about how to do different kinds of passes for particular effect. But for now, I think all of the above should keep you busy for a few days…

PS: You may have noticed I’ve added several tabs at the top of the blog. It’s a work in progress, but you can now more easily access posts on Indie Publishing, Nanowrimo, Story Structure, my book/film/life essays, my monthly giveaways, etc. Any comments/suggestions gladly accepted!


=====================================================

The writing workbooks based on this blog, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are available for just $3.99 and $2.99.


- Amazon US

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE

- Amazon FR

- Amazon ES

- Amazon IT

If you’re a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories, and more full story breakdowns.

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon US

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

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