10.22.14 - Why Do You Write?

By JT Ellison

I find the following question to be one of worth to all writers, at every stage of the game, from aspiring to NYT bestseller:

Why do you write?

I admit to a deep interest in the question. I have a number of author friends whose opinions matter to me a great deal, and I’m curious to see if any of them will stop by and share their answer.*

I ask also because I recently had the pleasure of attending a writing retreat with a number of brilliant, talented writers, and we touched on this, albeit briefly. I came out of the discussion with this — I think it’s one of the hardest questions a writer can ask themselves, and truthfully answer.

Because there are a million answers to the question of why create art. Especially when there’s quite a precedent that shows creating our unique “art” does not guarantee fame, fortune, or self-actualization, as so many of us are hoping. On the contrary, it often leads to rack and ruin, unhappiness and divorce, even, at its worst, death.

So why do we keep at it? What is it that drives us?

Here’s a top of mind list of why we write (and by write, I mean create, in any form):

  • To be read
  • To make a living
  • To win awards
  • To become famous
  • To get a job
  • To tell stories that need to be told
  • To entertain
  • To affect change
  • To give people something to think about
  • To alter the course of humanity
  • To show someone you can
  • To get rich
  • To win over a love interest
  • To get revenge
  • To chase away demons
  • To satisfy some indefinable inner urge to write
  • To heal thyself

There are many more reasons. What do you think, fellow scribblers? Are you willing to share why you do it? I’ll go first.

I write to entertain, to affect change, to make a living, to chase away demons, to heal my soul, and because I can’t imagine doing anything else.

What about you?

*The comments section of the blog is back open! All previous issues with SPAM have been fixed, and I’ve discovered I like having the conversation here. So feel free to join in, writer and reader alike!

null

Via: JT Ellison

    

When In Danger Or In Doubt, Run In Circles, Scream and Shout

By JD Rhoades
The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

OK, everybody, just calm the heck down. Ebola is not going to kill you.
You’re more likely to get struck by lightning than you are to die of Ebola. You’re more likely to die of food poisoning (as 3,000 people a year do) than you are of Ebola. You’re even more likely to get killed by a guy shooting up your workplace, school, or local McDonald’s than you are by Ebola.
Now, don’t you feel better?
It’s true that there have now been a whopping three reported cases of Ebola in the U.S. The first was Thomas Duncan, who apparently contracted the disease while visiting his relatives in Liberia. He then apparently lied about his exposure to the disease to Liberian authorities before returning here. (Liberia threatened to prosecute him for that, but the poor fellow died before they could.)
The other two victims are health care workers who treated Duncan, all of whom caught Ebola in the only way you can: by contact with the bodily fluids of a person showing symptoms.
This last part is key: You’re only infectious if you’re showing symptoms. This is why that second nurse, who got on an airplane to go to Cleveland to plan her wedding after treating Duncan, most likely hasn’t infected anyone.
Just to be on the safe side, the people on the plane with her are getting checked, but unless she was both (1) symptomatic; and (2) drooling, bleeding, spitting, sweating on, or otherwise enfluidizing her fellow passengers, they should be in the clear. (Yes, I made that word “enfluidizing” up. Maybe it’ll catch on.)
The biggest fear people have about Ebola seems to be the possibility that it will suddenly mutate and go airborne, meaning you wouldn’t have to come into contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids to get it. If that happened, you could get it just by being in the same room with an infected person.
But, as Granddaddy used to say, “If a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his butt when he jumps.” Which is to say, Ebola’s not airborne, and the chances of it getting that way are — well, the aforementioned frog has about as good a chance of developing wings.
Don’t just take my word for it, or even Grandaddy’s. Dr. Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, a man who’s been doing research on viruses since 1975, writes in his blog: “We can ask: Has any human virus ever changed its mode of transmission? The answer is no. We have been studying viruses for over 100 years, and we’ve never seen a human virus change the way it is transmitted.”
HIV, he notes, can still only be transmitted via sex, dirty needles, or childbirth. Same for Hepatitis C. Both have infected millions, and they haven’t changed the way they do it. Ever.
Sure, you can say, “Just because we’ve never seen a virus change how it spreads before doesn’t mean it won’t this time.” But you could just as easily say, “Just because we’ve never seen a virus mutate so as to cause people to turn into flesh-eating zombies doesn’t mean one never will.”
This isn’t a scary thriller novel. It’s not a disaster movie. We don’t live in Africa. There’s no need to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape. This can be contained, and it will be.
The kind of hysteria we’ve seen, with CNN trotting out thriller author Robin Cook as not only an expert but as “the man who wrote the book on Ebola,” when what he wrote was an admittedly entertaining but fanciful novel, is irresponsible.
The man’s pre-author job was as an ophthalmologist, for crying out loud. For him to say, “This kind of an illness is probably the scariest thing we can deal with,” is not only not helpful, it’s downright dangerous. Hysteria, for example, is a lot scarier, because it makes people do terrible things.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” is as true a statement now as it was when FDR said it. Maybe even more so.

Via: J.D. Rhoades

    

Nanowrimo Prep: Elements of Act I

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

by Alexandra Sokoloff

So now we’ve talked about basic filmic structure as it might be applied to novels, and you have your structure grid, and a grasp on how you’re going to use index cards to brainstorm and lay out your story.

I don’t know about you, but when I start a project, I know much, much, much more about the first act than any of the rest of it. I can see the mountains in the distance, but at first, I know much more about the basic set up and characters. So it makes sense to start at the beginning, and fill out the Elements of Act One.

What actually goes into a first act?

The first act of a movie (first 30 pages) or book (first 100 pages, approx.) is the SET UP. By the end of the first act you’re going to be introduced to all the major players of the story, the themes, the location, the visual image system, the conflicts, and especially the main conflict.

When you’re making up index cards, you can immediately make up several cards that will go in your first act column. You may or may not know what some of those scenes look like already, but either way, you know they’re all going to be there.

- Opening image

- Meet the hero or heroine

- Hero/ine’s inner and outer need
- 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

- A mirror character (sometimes)
- Meet the Love interest (and please don’t “Meet Cute”)

- Plant/Reveal (or: Set ups and Payoffs)

- Hope/Fear (and Stakes)

- Time Clock (possibly. May not have one and may be revealed later in the story)

- Central Question
- Plan/Central Story Action (may not be introduced until early Act II)

- Sequence One climax

- Act One climax (or curtain, or culmination)
- Crossing the Threshold or Into the Special World (which we’ll talk about later)

Yeah, it’s a lot! That’s why first acts are often the most revised and rewritten sections of the story. It’s also why it’s often the section most in need of cutting and condensing. The answer is usually combining scenes. All these things have to be done, but they all have to be done within such a limited time frame (and page frame) that you simply HAVE to make each scene work on multiple levels.

Let’s break these things down.

OPENING IMAGE:

Of course in a film you have an opening image by default, whether you plan to or not. It’s the first thing you see in the film. But good filmmakers will use that opening image to establish all kinds of things about the film – mood, tone, location, and especially theme. Think of the opening image of WITNESS – the serene and isolated calm of wind over a wheat field. It’s the world of the Amish – the non-violent, unhurried world into which city violence will soon be introduced. It’s a great contrast with the next image to come – the chaos and noise of the city. This is a great opening image because it also suggests the climax (which takes place in the grain silo – the villain is killed by the spill of grain as the townspeople keep him surrounded.

The opening image of THE USUAL SUSPECTS is a man taking a piss… a sly reference to Verbal and the whole movie “taking the piss” – as the British say – on the audience.

The opening image of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is a dark, misty forest, through which Clarice is running as if in a dream.

Well, novelists, instead of (or in addition to) killing yourself trying to concoct a great first line, how about giving some thought to what your opening scene LOOKS like? It takes a lot of the pressure off that first page anxiety – because you’re focused on conveying a powerful image that will intrigue and entice the reader into the book. What do we see? How does it make us feel?

Try it!

(I’ll talk more about this in posts on VISUAL STORYTELLING.)

MEETING THE HERO/INE

Of course you’re going to devise an interesting, clever and evocative introduction to your main character. But there are a whole lot of structural things that you need to get across about your hero/ine from the very beginning. You have to know your character’s INNER AND OUTER DESIRES and how they conflict.

In fact, let’s just stop right there and talk about this crucial idea of

INNER AND OUTER DESIRE.

The first thing any acting student learns in terms of creating a character and building a scene is to ask the question: “What do I WANT?” – n every scene, and in the story overall. When I was directing plays (yeah, in one of my multiple past lives) and a scene was just lying dead on the stage, I could always get the actors to breathe life into it by getting them to clarify what they wanted in the scene and simply playing that want.
This is something that starts in the writing, obviously, and should always be on the author’s mind, too: Who wants what in the scene, and how do those desires conflict? Who WINS in the scene?

But even before all that, one of the most important steps of creating a story, from the very beginning, is identifying the protagonist overall desire and need in the story. You also hear this called “internal” and “external” desire, and “want” and “deep need”, but it’s all the same thing. A strong main character will want something immediately, like to get that promotion, or to have sex with the love interest. But there’s something underneath that surface want that is really driving the character, and in good characters, those inner and outer desires are in conflict. Also, the character will KNOW that s/he wants that outer desire, but probably have very little idea that what she really needs is the inner desire.

One of the great examples of all time of inner and outer desire in conflict is in the George Bailey character in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. From the very beginning George wants to see the world, to do big things, design big buildings – all very male, external, explosive goals. But his deep need is to become a good man and community leader like his father, who does big things and fights big battles – but on a microcosm, in their tiny, “boring” little community of Bedford Falls, which George can’t wait to escape.

But every choice he actually makes in the story defers his external need to escape, and ties him closer to the community that he becomes the moral leader of, as he takes on his late father’s role and battles the town’s would-be dictator, Mr. Potter. George does not take on that role happily – he fights it every single step of the way, and resents it a good bit of the time. But it’s that conflict which makes George such a great character whom we emphasize with – it’s a story of how an ordinary man becomes a true hero.

In SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Clarice’s outer desire is for advancement in the FBI. And Harris conveys this desire in what is a brilliant storytelling trick: He has Dr. Lecter tell her so. “You’re sooooo ambitious, aren’t you?” He purrs. And “I’ll give you what you most desire, Clarice. Advancement.”

It’s brilliant because it makes Lecter all-knowing, but it also clearly spells out Clarice’s desire, which the audience/reader really does need to know to commit to the character and relax into the story. I’m a big believer in just spelling it out.

But what Clarice REALLY needs is not advancement. What she needs to save a lamb – the lamb that haunts her dreams, the lamb she hears screaming. In the story, the kidnapped senator’s daughter Catherine is the lamb, and Harris uses animal imagery to subtly evoke a lamb and the scene of the slaughter of the lambs that haunts Clarice.

And again, Lecter is the one who draws this deep need out of Clarice.

Also Clarice’s need and desire come into conflict: what she WANTS is advancement, but in order to save Catherine, she has to defy her superiors and jeopardize her graduation from the academy.

It’s usually true that the external desire will be a selfish want – something the protagonist wants for him or herself, and the inner need will be unselfish – something the protagonist comes to want for other people. This is a useful guideline because it clearly shows character growth.

But even in a romantic comedy, where the inner and outer desire might not be so deep, there can be a lot of meaning and change. In Romancing The Stone, Joan Wilder’s obvious plot-driven outer desire is to save her sister – she’s a good person and she’s already got an unselfish drive. But she’s also got a personal outer desire: for a great love with the man of her dreams, the one she keeps writing about.

But her inner need is to become the self-realized woman she is capable of being: the intrepid, independent, and loving woman she writes about. Through the course of the movie we see her becoming that woman before our eyes, and we see her flawed real-life man fall in love with her because of that independence and adventurousness. She gets her man by finding herself.

CHARACTER ARC

Closely entwined with the inner/outer desire lines is the ARC of the character (and this is important to think about from the very beginning of Act One, since you are devising the end of your story at the same time as you’re planning the beginning.)

The arc of the character is what the character learns during the course of the story, and how s/he changes because of it. It could be said that the arc of a character is almost always about the character realizing that s/he’s been obsessed with an outer goal or desire, when what she really needs to be whole, fulfilled, and lovable is (fill in the blank). On top of that a character will go from shy and repressed to a capable and respected leader, from selfish to altruistic, from pathological liar to a seeker of truth… and the bigger the change, the more impact the story will have, as long as you keep it believable.

So it’s essential to know where you want your character to end up. Once you know that, you can work backward to create a number of personal obstacles and external problems that are keeping that character from being everything s/he can be.

INCITING INCIDENT/CALL TO ADVENTURE

This is the event that starts the story and forces the hero/ine to react.

In JAWS, it happens on the first few pages of the book, and the first few minutes of the movie: the shark swims into the quiet bay and eats a swimmer. That’s the event that forces the hero, Sheriff Brody, to take action. (In mysteries and thrillers the first death is often the inciting incident – it’s so common that writers refer to it as “the corpse hits the floor”. In the case of JAWS, the corpse hits the ocean floor.)

In STAR WARS, Luke Skywalker finds the hologram of the captured Princess Leia pleading for help that she has hidden in the robot R2D2.

In CHINATOWN, a woman claiming to be Evelyn Mulwray walks into Jake Gittes’ office and hires him to prove her husband is cheating on her. (In a detective story, the inciting incident is often the case that lands in the detective’s lap, or again, “the corpse hits the floor”.

In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, the government guys come to Professor Indiana Jones and want to hire him to recover the lost Ark of the Covenant – before Hitler gets it.

In SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Clarice is called to FBI agent Crawford’s office, where he tells her he has “an interesting errand for her.”

In HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, an owl delivers Harry’s invitation to Hogwart’s School. (The Call to Adventure is very often a literal phone call, summons, knock on the door, or mailed invitation).

Each of these incidents propels the hero/ine into action. They must make a decision – to take the job, accept the task, answer the call. This is not an optional step for you, the writer – it is a crucial part of every story.

Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler detail another step here – THE REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The hero/ine is often reluctant to take that step into adventure and at first says no to the job. Let’s face it – we all tend to resist change and the unknown, right? So much easier to just see what’s on TV tonight.

In CHINATOWN, for example, Jake initially tries to talk “Mrs. Mulwray” out of pursuing the case. In HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE there’s a whole sequence of Harry’s uncle trying to prevent Harry from receiving his invitation to Hogwart’s school.

THE ANTAGONIST

The antagonist, opponent, villain deserves his/her own post – see here and here. For the purposes of this post I’ll just say, either you’ll be introducing the antagonist in the first act, or you’ll be introducing a mystery or problem or crisis that has actually been set in motion by the antagonist.

ALLIES

Also in the first act, you’ll set up most of the hero/ine’s allies – the sidekick, the roommate, the best friend, the love interest, the brother or sister.

MENTOR

Not all stories have mentors, and the mentor might not be introduced until some time in the second act.

LOVE INTEREST

Again, optional, but it’s rare not to have one! This character generally plays a dual role: the love interest can also be the antagonist (in most love stories), an ally, a mentor, or the actual villain.

Obviously, meeting the love of your life is an extremely significant moment and it should be treated as such in your script or book. Unfortunately this usually translates into appalling “meet cute” scenes in which – more times than I can freaking count – the hero spills coffee on the heroine, or vice-versa, ruining her or his new suit just before that big job interview, so the heroine has an excuse to hate the hero even though he offers to pay for the suit. Or vice-versa.

I’m not going to go into my whole rant about “meet cute” right now, I’m just bringing it up as an example hoping you will cringe as much as I do and vow to do better. A lot better. As always, I suggest you make a list of your favorite meetings of soon-to-be lovers, and see what great storytellers do with the moment – whether it be comic, erotic, or downright bizarre.

HOPE/FEAR (STAKES)

Just as good storytellers will be sure to make it perfectly clear what the main character’s inner and outer desires are, these storytellers will also be very clear about what we HOPE and FEAR for the main character. This is one of the most dynamic storytelling tricks you can employ in your writing, in fact, because it engages your reader or audience fully in the action of the story.

Generally what we hope for the character is the same as her or his INNER NEED. We hope George Bailey will defeat Mr. Potter. We fear Potter will drive George and his family into ruin (and George possibly to suicide). Our fear for the character should be the absolute worst case scenario: in a drama, mystery or thriller we’re talking madness, suicide, death, ruin. In a comedy or romance the stakes are more likely the loss of love.

Our awareness of the stakes may grow along with the main character’s growing awareness, but it most stories there are clues to the bigger picture right from the beginning

STATEMENT OF THEME:

A reader or audience will get restless if they don’t have a good idea of what the story is within the first five (I’d even say three) minutes of a movie, or the first twenty pages of a book. Sometimes it’s enough to have just a sense of the central conflict. But often good storytellers will make it perfectly clear what the theme of the story is, and very early on in the story. In the first act of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, George is impatient to leave pokey little Bedford Falls and go out in the world to “do big things”. George’s father tells him that in their own small way, he feels they ARE doing big things at the Building and Loan; they’re satisfying one of the most basic needs of human beings by helping them own their own homes. This is a lovely statement of the theme of the movie: that it’s the ordinary, seemingly mundane acts that we do every day that add up to a heroic life.

FIRST ACT CLIMAX/CENTRAL QUESTION:

We talked about sequence and act climaxes last week – that an act climax will have a reversal, revelation, and often a setpiece and/or change of location set piece that spins the story into the second act. What we didn’t talk about is the idea of the central question of the story.

I will be didactic here and say that by the end of the first act you MUST have given your reader or audience everything they need to know about what the story is going to be about: what kind of story it is, who the hero/ine and antagonist (or mystery) are, and what the main conflict is going to be. It’s useful to think of the story a posing a central question: Will Clarice get Lecter to give her the information she need to catch Buffalo Bill before he kills again? Will Sheriff Brody’s team be able to kill the shark before it kills again (and in time to save the tourist season?) Will the crew of the Nostromo be able to catch and kill that alien before it kills them?

(All right, those are some bloody examples, but that’s me.)

It’s the question on which the entire action of the story hinges.

Here’s an interesting structural paradigm to consider. In a lot of stories, the central question is actually answered in the second act climax, and the answer is often: No.

What’s the second act climax of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS?


(Hint: it’s the one scene/setpiece that EVERYONE remembers, and Clarice has nothing to do with it.)

Right – Lecter escapes. Well, what does that have to do with our heroine?

It means that Lecter will NOT be helping her catch Buffalo Bill. In fact, in the movie, when she gets the phone call that Lecter has escaped, she says aloud, “Catherine’s dead.”

Because Clarice thinks that she needs Lecter to save Catherine. But Lecter, like the great mentor he is, has TAUGHT Clarice enough that she can catch Buffalo Bill and save Catherine herself (okay, with help from the teaching of her other mentor, Crawford).

Ingenious storytelling, there, which is why I keep returning to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS for my story structure examples.

Obviously your ASSIGNMENT is to create index cards for the first act, all the while of course making index cards for other parts of your story as they occur to you.

And if you don’t know what an element is yet, like the opening image, or the call to adventure, then I strongly suggest that you just write a card that says OPENING IMAGE. And one for CALL TO ADVENTURE, and pin it up there on your structure grid in approximately the right place. Our creative minds are so very eager to do this work for us that if you just acknowledge that you need a scene like that, your subconscious will jump right to work and figure one out for you. I swear. It is one of the great miracles of writing.

Alex
——————————————————————————————–

If you’d like to to see more of these story elements in action, I do full story structure breakdowns of various movies in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks. Any format, 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.

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon US

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

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

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

Scott Kelby World Wide Photo Walk

By Toni I met up Saturday night with a group formed from the Scott Kelby World Wide Photo Walk – which has apparently been an annual event for a little while now, and I hadn’t realized it. There was a really great group meet-up in the Quarter–met some terrific people. I had to leave early for a family […]

Via: Toni McGee Causey

    

The Curious Incident of the Supreme Court

By JD Rhoades
The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Ah, the first Monday in October. A day of great interest to those of us in the law biz, because that’s the day the Supreme Court of the United States officially starts its term.

This year, the Supremes began by, like the dog in the Sherlock Holmes story, doing a curious thing: nothing. They decided not to review the decisions of lower courts which struck down bans on gay marriage in seven same-sex marriage cases.
Because those appeals courts also have jurisdiction over more than just the states the original cases came from, bans on same-sex marriage will almost certainly fall in those other states as well. For example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which struck down Virginia’s gay marriage ban on constitutional equal-protection grounds, also has jurisdiction over West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Therefore, while a challenge to North Carolina’s egregious Amendment One hasn’t yet reached the Fourth Circuit, it’s legally dead in the water, waiting only for the harpoon, and the Supreme Court isn’t going to try to resuscitate it.
On Tuesday, the mighty Ninth Circuit, which covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, struck down same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada. By the time the effects of the decisions are fully felt, 35 states will likely have to recognize the right of same-sex couples to enjoy the same legal rights the rest of us take for granted.
As one might expect, the haters and bigots went nuts. Sen. Green Eggs and Ham himself, Mr. Ted Cruz of Texas, referred to the decision of the SCOTUS not to intervene as “the worst kind of judicial activism.”
Get that? Doing nothing is now “activism.” Proof once again, as if you needed any, that the words “judicial activism,” like the words “liberal” and “leftist,” have been robbed of all meaning other than “anything I don’t like.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah fell back on the tired and hackneyed complaint about “unelected judges”: “Whether to change that definition [of marriage] is a decision best left to the people of each state — not to unelected, politically unaccountable judges.”
Sadly, Sen. Lee, like most right wingers claiming to be defenders and upholders of the Constitution, seems to know very little about it. See, according to that pesky old Constitution, federal judges, including those on the Supreme Court, aren’t elected, and therefore not “politically accountable.”
That’s how the whole thing was set up from the beginning, for the very reason that the interpretation of federal law (including the Constitution) shouldn’t be subject to the vagaries of political opinion, and that you can’t “leave it to the people of each state” if what they decide to do, even via popular vote, violates the Constitution. You got a problem with that, take it up with the Founding Fathers.
It’s particularly amusing because Sen. Lee himself used to work for one of those “unelected and politically unaccountable” judges, namely Justice Samuel Alito, for whom Mr. Lee clerked. So we can assume he knows better and is just playing to the rubes — sorry, I mean the “base.”
As of this writing, the rulings and others like them have not caused the collapse of so-called “traditional” marriage. Despite the fretting of Butch Otter, Idaho’s wonderfully named governor, allowing same-sex marriage has not led “opposite-sex couples to abuse alcohol and drugs, engage in extramarital affairs, take on demanding work schedules, and participate in time-consuming hobbies.” At least not any more than they already do.
As Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt drily observed in responding to that argument, “We seriously doubt that allowing committed same-sex couples to settle down in legally recognized marriages will drive opposite-sex couples to sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.” Dang it, I was so looking forward to that.
All that said, the issue isn’t completely over. It’s entirely possible that another federal circuit — say the Fifth (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas), Sixth (Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee), or Eleventh (Alabama, Florida and Georgia) — which still have cases on marriage equality pending, may decide differently than the ones whose decisions the Supreme Court left alone.
That would create the dreaded “split between circuits,” at which point the Supremes would almost certainly decide they needed to step in and resolve the question once and for all as to whether states can deny people the fundamental right to marry and equal protection of the law just because they’re different.

Let’s hope they decide to stay on the right side of history and tell them, “No, you can’t.”

Via: J.D. Rhoades

    

7 Minutes With... Pam Jenoff

By JT Ellison

Welcome Pam Jenoff to the Tao! I’m absolutely fascinated by her books, and jealous of her covers, because the meaty stories within give the art department so much to work with! Pam and I share a publisher, so I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on her books before others, and I’m telling you, if you haven’t read her before, you’re going to love them.

We are also fellow alums from George Washington University, and she followed a path into the foreign service which I’d originally been aiming for, so I’m doubly fascinated by her life and writing. Which, of course, influences her books. Maybe she’ll pop into the comments and give us an extra answer – does life imitate art, or vice versa? Regardless, Pam’s the whole package, people, and then some. So here we go!

_______

Set your music to shuffle and hit play. What’s the first song that comes up?

Return to Innocence by Enigma. But the truth is, I don’t work to music. Sadder truth is I have the worst musical taste on the planet – think Mandy Patinkin meets Counting Crows.

Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?

I just turned in my next book, called Summer Boys. It’s the story of Adelia, a 16 year old Italian Jewish refugee who makes her way to America in 1941 and meets an Irish family with four sons. She falls in love with the eldest just as America enters the war and when tragedy strikes, she flees her pain to wartorn London.

While my editor is reading that manuscript, I’m starting No Man’s Land, which is the story of a single mom trying to protect her homosexual son in Nazi Germany.

What’s your latest book about?

The Winter Guest is the story of twin Polish sisters, Helena and Ruth Nowak, who are struggling to raise their younger siblings in Poland during the Second World War. Things get complicated when Helena finds a wounded Jewish American paratrooper in the woods and hides him.

Where do you write, and what tools do you use?

I can write anywhere. I have written in castles and mountaintop retreats, but also in my doctor’s waiting room and in my car. I can tell you which Starbucks in my town open at 6 versus 6:30 on the weekends. But I’m most comfortable in my office where I teach. In the early stages of a book when I’m just throwing down words, I can use a notebook computer, but in later stages I need the big screen of a desktop. I take notes and brainstorm long hand.

What was your favorite book as a child?

I was a huge reader. Mary Poppins stands out, because it was so formative in my dream to go to England, which was fulfilled when I went to Cambridge. I was also big on the Betsy Tacy series, about young girls in turn of the century Minnesota.

What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?

Anne Lamott has a quote and I’m going to paraphrase here, that before kids she couldn’t write if there were dirty dishes in the sink, and after kids she could write if there was a corpse in the sink. So true. You have to let the house be messy and things go undone if you are going to preserve your precious writing time.

I also like a lot of the writing advice from Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones about silencing your inner editor and just getting the words out.

What do you do if the words aren’t flowing?

I work very hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. I don’t believe in writer’s block. When I was practicing law, I couldn’t simply say, “I can’t write that brief; I’m not inspired.” I just did it, and I take much the same approach to writing. That said, there are things that help: I read something at night, a book on craft or some research and take notes so that I have prompts to write from the next morning, even if I’m bleary eyed from not sleeping.

What would you like to be remembered for?

Being a good mom. But since I think we are talking about writing, I want to be remembered for handling the very difficult material surrounding World War II and the Holocaust with respect, and for making people think about that era in a way that challenges some stereotypes and conventional wisdom. I lived in Poland and became very close to the survivors and my assumptions about that part of the world were challenged; I want that to come across in my books. I call them my love songs to Jewish Europe and I hope they will be taken that way.

_________

Pam Jenoff is the internationally bestselling author of seven novels, including The Kommandant’s Girl and The Winter Guest, as well as a short story in the anthology Grand Central: Original Stories of Postwar Love and Reunion. She is a graduate of GWU, Cambridge and Penn Law. A former diplomat with the State Department, political appointee at the Pentagon and attorney, Pam lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and three small children where in addition to writing, she teaches law school.

Pam is always happy to skype with book clubs and will be touring the country extensively this year. You can find her full tour schedule at www.pamjenoff.com

More About THE WINTER GUEST

9780778315964.indd

Life is a constant struggle for the eighteen-year-old Nowak twins as they raise their three younger siblings in rural Poland under the shadow of the Nazi occupation. The constant threat of arrest has made everyone in their village a spy, and turned neighbor against neighbor. Though rugged, independent Helena and pretty, gentle Ruth couldn’t be more different, they are staunch allies in protecting their family from the threats the war brings closer to their doorstep with each passing day.

Then Helena discovers an American paratrooper stranded outside their small mountain village, wounded, but alive. Risking the safety of herself and her family, she hides Sam—a Jew—but Helena’s concern for the American grows into something much deeper. Defying the perils that render a future together all but impossible, Sam and Helena make plans for the family to flee. But Helena is forced to contend with the jealousy her choices have sparked in Ruth, culminating in a singular act of betrayal that endangers them all—and setting in motion a chain of events that will reverberate across continents and decades.

Via: JT Ellison

    

Nanowrimo Prep: The Three-Act, Eight-Sequence Structure

By noreply@blogger.com (Alexandra Sokoloff)

by Alexandra Sokoloff

What I’m going to talk about in the next few posts is the key to the story structuring technique I write about and that everyone’s always asking me to teach. Those of you new to this blog are going to have to do a little catch up and review the concept of the Three Act Structure (in fact, everyone should go back and review.)

But the real secret of film writing and filmmaking, that we are going to steal for our novel writing, is that most movies are written in a Three-Act, Eight-Sequence structure. Yes, most movies can be broken up into 8 discrete 12-15-minute sequences, each of which has a beginning, middle and end.

I swear.

The eight-sequence structure evolved from the early days of film when movies were divided into reels (physical film reels), each holding about ten to fifteen minutes of film (movies were also shorter, proportionately). The projectionist had to manually change each reel as it finished. Early screenwriters (who by the way, were mostly playwrights, well-schooled in the three-act structure) incorporated this rhythm into their writing, developing individual sequences that lasted exactly the length of a reel, and modern films still follow that same storytelling rhythm. (As movies got longer, sequences got slightly longer proportionately). I’m not sure exactly how to explain this adherence, honestly, except that, as you will see IF you do your homework – it WORKS.

You can read older film scripts and see the sequence designations typed into the script: Sequence One, Sequence Two, Sequence Three, etc.

Obviously these days we have digital projection and no one is up in that projection booth scrambling to change reels, but modern films still follow that same storytelling rhythm. Because what storytelling form came along mid-twentieth century that really locked that cliffhanger rhythm into place?

Right! Television! Network TV writers always end a sequence on a cliffhanger before the station cuts away to a commercial break. It’s just too easy to change channels, otherwise.

And the eight-sequence structure actually translates beautifully to novel structuring, although we have much more flexibility with a novel and you might end up with a few more sequences in a book. So I want to get you familiar with the eight-sequence structure in film first, and we’ll go on to talk about the application to novels.

If you’re new to story breakdowns and analysis, then you’ll want to check out my sample breakdowns (full breakdowns are included in the workbooks) and watch several, or all, of those movies, following along with my notes, before you try to analyze a movie on your own. But if you want to jump right in with your own breakdowns and analyses, this is how it works:

ASSIGNMENT: Take a film from the master list, the Top Ten list you’ve made, preferably the one that is most similar in structure to your own WIP, and screen it, watching the time clock on your DVD player (or your watch, or phone.). At about 15 minutes into the film, there will be some sort of climax – an action scene, a revelation, a twist, a big SETPIECE. It won’t be as big as the climax that comes 30 minutes into the film, which would be the Act One climax, but it will be an identifiable climax that will spin the action into the next sequence.)

Proceed through the movie, stopping to identify the beginning, middle, and end of each sequence, approximately every 15 minutes. Also make note of the bigger climaxes or turning points – Act One at 30 minutes, the Midpoint at 60 minutes, Act Two at 90 minutes, and Act Three at whenever the movie ends.

NOTE: You can also, and probably should, say that a movie is really four acts, breaking the long Act Two into two separate acts. Hollywood continues to use “Three Acts”. Whichever works best for you!

So how do you recognize a sequence?

It’s generally a series of related scenes, tied together by location and/or time and/or action and/or the overall intent of the hero/ine.

In many movies a sequence will take place all in the same location, then move to another location at the climax of the sequence. The protagonist will generally be following just one line of action in a sequence, and then when s/he gets that vital bit of information in the climax of a sequence, s/he’ll move on to a completely different line of action, based on the new information. A good exercise is to title each sequence as you watch and analyze a movie – that gives you a great overall picture of the progression of action.

But the biggest clue to an Act or Sequence climax is a SETPIECE SCENE: there’s a dazzling, thematic location, an action or suspense sequence, an intricate set, a crowd scene, even a musical number (as in The Wizard of Oz and, more surprisingly, Jaws. And Casablanca, too.).

Or, let’s not forget – it can be a sex scene. In fact for my money ANY sex scene in a book or film should be approached as a setpiece.

The setpiece is a fabulous lesson to take from filmmaking, one of the most valuable for novelists, and possibly the most crucial for screenwriters.

There are multiple definitions of a setpiece. It can be a huge action scene like, well, anything in The Dark Knight, that takes weeks to shoot and costs millions, requiring multiple sets, special effects and car crashes… or a meticulously planned suspense scene with multiple cuts that takes place all in – a shower, for instance, in Psycho.

If you start watching movies specifically to pick out the setpiece scenes, you’ll notice an interesting thing. They’re almost always used as act or sequence climaxes. They are tentpoles holding the structure of the movie up… or jewels in the necklace of the plotline. The scenes featured in the trailers to entice people to see the movie. The scenes everyone talks about after the credits roll.

That elaborate, booby-trapped cave in the first scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The crop-dusting plane chasing Cary Grant through the cornfield in North By Northwest. The goofy galactic bar in Star Wars. Munchkinland, the Scarecrow’s cornfield, the dark forest, the poppy field, the Emerald City, the witch’s castle in The Wizard of Oz. The dungeon – I mean prison – in Silence of the Lambs. In fact you can look Raiders and Silence and see that every single sequence contains a wonderful setpiece (The Nepalese bar, the suspension bridge, the temple in Raiders…)

Those are actually two great movies to use to compare setpieces, because one is so big and action-oriented (Raiders) and one is so small, confined and psychological (Silence), yet both are stunning examples of visual storytelling.

A really great setpiece scene is a lot more than just dazzling. It’s thematic, too, such as the prison (dungeon for the criminally insane) in Silence of the Lambs. That is much more than your garden variety prison. It’s a labyrinth of twisty staircases and creepy corridors. And it’s hell: Clarice goes through – count ‘em – seven gates, down, down, down under the ground to get to Lecter. Because after all, she’s going to be dealing with the devil, isn’t she? And the labyrinth is a classic symbol of an inner psychological journey, just exactly what Clarice is about to go through. And Lecter is a monster, like the Minotaur, so putting him smack in the center of a labyrinth makes us unconsciously equate him with a mythical beast, something both more and less than human. The visuals of that setpiece express all of those themes perfectly (and others, too) so the scene is working on all kinds of visceral, emotional, subconscious levels.

Now, yes, that’s brilliant filmmaking by director Jonathan Demme, and screenwriter Ted Talley and production designer Kristi Zea and DP Tak Fujimoto… but it was all there on Harris’s page, first, all that and more; the filmmakers had the good sense to translate it to the screen. In fact, both Silence of the Lambs and Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon are so crammed full of thematic visual imagery you can catch something new every time you reread those books, which made them slam dunks as movies.

So here’s another ASSIGNMENT for you: Bring me setpieces. What are some great ones? Check your watch. Are they act or sequence climaxes?

Another note about sequences: be advised that in big, sprawling movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, sequences may be longer or there may be a few extras. It’s a formula and it doesn’t always precisely fit, but as you work through your master list of films, unless you are a surrealist at heart, you will be shocked and amazed at how many movies precisely fit this eight-sequence format. When you’re working with as rigid a form as a two-hour movie, on the insane schedule that is film production, this kind of mathematical precision is kind of a lifesaver.

Now, I could talk about this for just about ever, but me talking is not going to get you anywhere. You need to DO this. Watch the movies yourself. Do the breakdowns yourself. Identify setpieces yourself. Ask as many questions as you want here, but DO it – it’s the only way you’re really going to learn this.

My advice is that you watch and analyze all ten of your master list movies (and books). But not all at once – screening one will get you far, three will lock it in, the rest will open new worlds in your writing.

And every time you see a movie now, for the rest of your life, look for the sequence breaks and act climaxes, and setpieces. At first you will embarrass yourself in theaters, shouting out things like “Hot damn!” Or “Holy !@#$!!!”as you experience a climax. An Act Climax. But eventually, it will be as natural to you as breathing, and you will find yourself incorporating this rhythm into your storytelling without even having to think about it. You may even be doing it already.

So go, go, watch some movies. It’s WORK (don’t you love this job?) And please, report your findings back here.

And I may regret saying this, but I’ll take suggestions of movies for me to break down here. I may not have the time this month, but no harm in asking!

- Alex

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

If you’d like to to see more of these story elements in action, I strongly recommend that you watch at least one and much better, three of the films I break down in the workbooks, following along with my notes.

I do full breakdowns of Chinatown, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Romancing the Stone, and The Mist, and act breakdowns of You’ve Got Mail, Jaws, Silence of the Lambs, Raiders of the Lost Ark in Screenwriting Tricks For Authors.

I do full breakdowns of The Proposal, Groundhog Day, Sense and Sensibility, Romancing the Stone, Leap Year, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sea of Love, While You Were Sleeping and New in Town in Writing Love.

Any format, 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.

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon US

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE

Via: Alexandra Sokoloff

    

Latte Is The New Teleprompter

By JD Rhoades

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Once again, the shrieking outrage over a photograph of President Barack Obama saluting with a cup of coffee in his hand as he steps off Marine One reveals that there is nothing too small or trivial but that the American right won’t throw a giant hissy fit over it.
It’s all very amusing — until you realize what it says about the state of right-wing thinking.
By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the photo: President Obama, on his way to the U.N., stepping off the helicopter, flanked by saluting Marines on either side. He has his coat slung over one arm and is returning the salute with, horror of horrors, a cup in his hand.
Of course, the right-wing hysteria machine, apparently made up of people who have nothing better to do than comb through every photograph of the president looking for something to be apoplectic about, leapt immediately into action.
“How disrespectful was that?” Republican strategist Karl Rove asked. Half-Term Governor Sarah Palin mocked Obama’s lack of military service in a speech to a “Christian values” convention, a speech in which she also identified the president’s home address as “1400 Pennsylvania Avenue” — actually the address of a park next to the historic Willard Hotel. (It should be noted that neither Rove nor Palin served in the military.)
The National Republican Senatorial Committee even created a website — yes, an entire website — to protest.
Thing is, the president isn’t required to salute at all, and in this situation probably shouldn’t have. According to the regulations published by the Department of the Army (and available online), a salute isn’t required when “carrying articles with both hands” and “when either the senior or the subordinate is wearing civilian clothes.”
In addition, for 192 years of our nation’s history, presidents (including war heroes like Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower) didn’t return the salute at all. The practice originally started with Ronald Reagan, who apparently ran around saluting everything in a uniform.
When a Marine aide let him know that that wasn’t standard protocol, Reagan went to the commandant of the Marine Corps, who told him, “You’re the [bad word] president. You can salute whoever you want.”
Of course, you can just imagine the howling that would have ensued if Obama hadn’t saluted at all. Or if, like the President Who Must Not Be Named, he was photographed, several times, saluting while holding his Scottish terrier in one hand. That’s different, we’re told by the Raging Right. Because — just because it is, OK?
So what next? Will Darell Issa convene hearings on “Latte-gate?” Will there be subpoenas demanding to know if the president took cream or sugar, and if so, was it an American brand? Will there be a breathless (and quickly debunked) expose on “60 Minutes”?
“Tonight on ‘60 Minutes,’ some guy you’ve never heard of who claims to have been a barista on Marine One has written a book in which he details his harrowing experiences on Sept. 23, 2014. He tells us how he would have heroically taken the cup from the president’s hand himself, but received a ‘stand down order’ for some reason we don’t know, but which we know is somehow Obama’s fault. I’m Lara Logan, and am as baffled as you are as to why I still have a job.”
More likely, “latte” will became the new “teleprompter”: a word wingnuts randomly drop into any conversation about the president in an attempt to craft a clever insult that only serves to point out how mindless and ill-informed the person delivering it actually is.
Example: “Wow, did you hear some guy jumped the fence and broke into the White House?” “Yeah, Obama was so surprised he nearly dropped his latte. Get it? Latte! HAW HAW HAW!”
It’s important, the wingnuts say, because it shows a pattern. They’re right, but not in the way they think. The real pattern is this: The right has certain narratives, certain themes they cling to. In this case, the theme is “Obama hates the military.” This is patently absurd, as anyone outside the right-wing anti-information bubble knows. But the truth doesn’t matter to these people. Any information that contradicts the narrative is rejected. Anything they come across, no matter how minor, is warped to fit the theme.

Fix the facts around the theory, instead of the other way around. Sound familiar? That’s the right-wing mindset that got us into the Iraq War. And that’s where it stops being amusing.

Via: J.D. Rhoades

    

Page 1 of 26712345...102030...Last »