Who uses the “7 Deadly Sins of Writing”?? ME!

Trying to trim fat from my novel.

Pulled up the “7 Deadly Sins of Writing.” Why not? I wrote it. I can use it just like anybody.

First one I Searched and Destroyed was “of the.” An insidious little snake, “of the” lurks in the shadows unnoticed and malevolent… until you SEARCH and REPLACE.

A 40,000 word book had 175 uses of “of the.” One by one, I rooted through and cut ‘em or rewrote ‘em. Got rid of 48 of the little pests. A goodly amount.

It was a pain in the neck, but a bunch of sentences are better now. Worth it.

Hope you’re having a good holiday!

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Dragon Dictate… voice recognition is finally here.

The word a day for today is “amanuensis.” I’ve been pronouncing it wrong for a long time. But anyway.

That’s a person employed to take dictation or copy manuscripts, something mere mortals generally can’t afford.

Now you can have one of your very own, for a one time payment.

My answer to every writer’s problem…

Dragon Dictate voice recognition software.
I dictate in the car and on the treadmill. Makes car journeys go faster and makes the treadmill, which I loathe, fly by. Sometimes, I do it sitting in my office… just talking.
And it cranks out pages as fast as you can talk. Very useful for brainstorming.
It’s REALLY good and barely makes any mistakes.

Cleaning it up doesn’t take a lot of time, and reinforces what you wrote, anyway.

You have to put the punctuation in while you talk. “Comma” “Period” “New Paragraph” and that is fairly easy to get used to. I’ve written two books via dictation and Dragon Dictate makes having an assistant no longer crucial.

My thought for the morning.


Filed under Good Writing, Screenwriting, Uncategorized, Writing Process

The Judge… watch me judge…

You want my advice? I assume.

Do not write a movie that makes the reader / viewer feel bad at the end. Simple enough. I suffered through THE JUDGE last night. Lord, what on earth made someone greenlight that?

Odd, actually, to be watching a screener after the movie has already come and gone through the theaters like crap through a goose.

It’s no fun and ends on a downer note. Yuk. I should have stopped watching, but didn’t… Maybe because it was a holiday and I felt flush with time.

The story is excellent. Well, the story idea is. Robert Downey, jr. is a hot shot lawyer and Robert Duvall, his grumpy judge father, hits someone with a car and goes on trial. He’s the world’s worst client and it’s up to Downey to save his old man. They got along horribly for their whole lives, and now they’re forced together.

Over and over and over and over they have arguments, horrible arguments. Then they have wonderful, heartwarming moments where they bond. Some of those moments are truly lovely. Well worth the price (well, for me, free) of admission. But Duvall keeps acting like a jerk. Downey keeps acting like a jerk. And it’s no fun at all to participate in and goes on and on past the point of numbness. Seems a huge chunk of that back and forth could have been cut.

Finally, Duvall decides that he must have done it and sort of confesses in the courtroom, destroying all the work his son did to save him. Downer. And he goes to jail. Downer. And once he gets out of jail and everything is hunky dory, Duvall dies. Another downer. They try to pick it up at the end and make you feel good because Downey ends up with a nice girlfriend, but it’s too damn late. Too much down, down, down, down, down, down.

And then it’s over. Ugh.

When you come up with an idea, try to make the reader feel at least slightly jolly at the end, or you’re done. It’s SO difficult to get a movie made these days, you’re shooting yourself in the foot or, more likely, the head, if you make the reader feel bad. Give them some hope. Make them feel good. Make them feel like it was worth their time — either in the theater or at their desk.

It takes eons to write a movie, so don’t base it on an idea that’s going to make the reader wish they hadn’t read it…


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Gone Girl. Hmmm. The Equalizer. Zowie! Got a character question for you…

Saw GONE GIRL last night. Didn’t care for it. Can’t quite figure out why.

It was well done, but, because I’d read the book, I can’t tell if the surprises were guessable or not. Certainly the film had solid “blows the character’s world apart” act breaks. I don’t know if I cared about the hero all that much. I wanted him to win, but I wasn’t ever convinced that he was ever really in grave danger. I walked out and felt, “Meh.” It never really grabbed me and petered out at the end. The ending was like the book and what was vaguely odd in the book became, in the movie, unsatisfying in the extreme.

Have you seen it? What did you think?

I REALLY REALLY liked THE EQUALIZER. What a wonderfully fun roller coaster ride. I enjoyed every minute. Nary a misstep. He’s a fascinating character and the story works like a Swiss watch. Nice, stately beginning and then the adrenaline kicks in.

And, boy does it ever. If you like shoot ‘em ups, this is the movie for you.

Working on the sequel to my book and that still-dark-outside early morning work has generated a question for you.

Can you tell me of a memorable “character steps on the stage for the first time” moments? Like meeting Don Corleone for the first time. Or, when we meet Trapper John in Altman’s M*A*S*H. I’m writing about that crucial moment where we meet the hero for the first time and am looking for marvelous examples.


Thank you!


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Michael Arndt on Beginnings

This is on the TOY STORY 3 Blu-Ray DVD feature. Thought I’d share. This is amazingly helpful.

introduce the character
introduce the world
the thing they love to do most – their grand passion
Woody loves to play with Andy.
Marlin loves his family and a wife
Mr. Incredible (a.k.a. Bob) loves being a superhero.

and they have a flaw
Woody loves being Andy’s favorite toy
Marlin is insecure about being a parent
Mr. Incredible doesn’t want to share being #1

introduce dark storm clouds
Andy… birthday party … everyone frets…
Nemo… outdoors where they are not safe
Bob… things will change when they marry… resentment from normal people against super heros

something blows the hero’s life apart! (inciting incident!)
Buzz arrives. Woody is displaced.
Nemo… family is killed except one egg
Mr. Incredible, and superheros get banned…

and their grand passion… is taken away from them!
changes their sense of their future will be

add insult to injury
Woody is replaced by a doofus… Buzz thinks he’s not a toy, thinks he can fly, and they think he can fly… everyone is impressed for wrong reasons
Nemo… we know the world he lives in in unfair
Mr. Incredible is trying to do wright thing, ad they are banned…

comes to fork in road
must make choice on how to adjust
if they do the right thing, the story is over
make the unhealthy choice… we are rooting for him to do the unhealthy thing, because we feel his pain

Woody knocks Buzz out the window, and now he can’t stay in Andy’s room without getting Buzz back
Marlin must get Nemo in open ocean… he has to go after his son, who says I hate you… gets caught by diver… Marlin has a goal for rest of story
Bob’s wife tells him to make choice, and it’s boring, but he lies to wife, and we are rooting for that, because we saw how much he loves being a super hero… sneaking around leads to crisis and then you’re into the SECOND ACT…

story comes out of deepest desires
and darkest fears
the thing they love is taken away
and it’s unfair
and they have to take journey and will get back what they lost…
and fix the flaw

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Drawing a Line

I just went up to my office door, which has a Post-It note or two stuck there. My office is a wreck, always has been. But a vertical space is pretty easy to keep tidy. At least it is for me.

One of the Post-Its is a list of the major projects I’m working on. Since I put it up, I’ve drawn three lines through projects. Two are finished. THAT felt good.

One I abandoned.

That felt even better, in some ways.

I had this great idea for a TV series for a long time. Based on true events from our nation’s past, I had the idea to set it in the modern era and repeat history. Great idea. The problem was, I had no business writing it. None. Just because I thought it a lovely idea, didn’t mean I needed to waste my precious time working on it. For years, I’ve thought, “I’m capable of anything. There’s nothing I can’t do well, if I spend enough time and energy on it.”


Knowing when to quit is a wonderful thing. I am not suited to write a political thriller. I need to be writing what is more or less easy for me to write, not make some giant (impossible) stretch into, not only, unknown territory, but suicide mission territory. Why be stupid?

Drawing the line through that project suddenly gave me MONTHS of free time, yawning ahead of me, to devote to something I am suited to write.

I am changing my tune about this stuff. I used to tell people, “If you watch bank robbery movies more than anything else, you should really think about writing bank robbery stories.” I don’t think that any more. I think you need to write what you want to write, but to take a long hard look at your skill set before you dive into the deep end. What are you naturally suited to write? What are you better at than the other folks on their laptops at the Starbucks? What are you better at than anybody?

That’s what you need to be doing.

I can’t tell you how good it feels to look at that Post-It note, knowing I won’t waste a year of my life on an idea that I am 100% unqualified to write.

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Gonna Be At The Story Expo?

Howdy, howdy!!

I’m giving two talks next Saturday at the Los Angeles Story Expo.


Everybody in the screenwriting world will be there, including me.

I’ll be pontificating about: Beating Writer’s Block. Working on that lecture now, and, to my surprise, I have a LOT to say on the subject.

I’ll also give a talk from Your Screenplay STILL Sucks! Greatest hits from my upcoming book. Well, it’s upcoming if I can finish writing it.

So, hope to see you next weekend in Los Angeles.



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