Tag Archives: LANGUAGE

My novel is here!!

Visit a bookstore near you and get your hands on Mrs. Ravenbach’s Way.
Get your hands on several copies!

About the war between a 4th grade boy and the Lucifer of teachers, it is now in bookstores and Amazon. Published by Regan Arts in New York, it’s darkly hilarious and was the most fun I’ve ever had writing.

Hope you like it. Tell all your your friends! Share on social media!

Take a peek at the book trailer: https://vimeo.com/156424500

MrsRavenbachsWay_Cover

4 Comments

Filed under Good Writing, Uncategorized, Writing Process

Nice use of adverbs.

Most writers, from Stephen King to Elmore Leonard to me, disdain adverbs. Rightfully so. They’re pretty useless.
But not all the time. Not always. Not every SINGLE time.

Every now and then, you need them.

This by my son:

“It’s a return to form after his last novel, the dismally awful _________.”

Hunter S. Thompson is my adverb hero.
Thirty-five years after reading it, I’ve never forgotten “unnaturally massive bill.”

The Great Shark Hunt

At this stage of the gig, things like mosquitoes and sand fleas are the least of our worries. . . because in about two hours and 22 minutes I have to get out of this hotel without paying an unnaturally massive bill, drive about three miles down the coast in a rented VW Safari that can’t be paid for, either, and which may not even make it into town, due to serious mechanical problems — and then get my technical advisor Yail Bloor out of the Mesón San Miguel without paying his bill, either, and then drive us both out to the airport in that goddamn junk Safari to catch the 7:50 Aeromexico flight to Mérida and Monterrey, where we’ll change planes for San Antonio and Denver.
So we are looking at a very heavy day. . .

And elsewhere in the same book…

Dr. Squane, the Bends Specialist in Miami, says Thompson is “acceptably rational” — whatever that means — and that they have no reason to keep him in The Chamber beyond Friday. My insistence that he be returned at once to Colorado — under guard if necessary — has not been taken seriously in Miami. The bill for his stay in The Chamber — as you know — is already over $3,000, and they are not anxious to keep him there any longer than absolutely necessary. I got the impression, during my talk with Doc Squane last night, that Thompson’s stay in The Chamber has been distinctly unpleasant for the staff. “I’ll never understand why he didn’t just wither up and die,” Squane told me. “Only a monster could survive that kind of trauma.”

The Eagles, “Life in the Fast Lane”

He was a hard-headed man
He was brutally handsome, and she was terminally pretty
She held him up, and he held her for ransom
in the heart of the cold, cold city

1. Daniel goes to the bathroom and washes his hands.
2. Shirtless, Daniel looks at himself in the mirror.
3. A group of kids are playing soccer.
4. Daniel watches the soccer game thoughtfully.

Randall, in his 30’s, is unemployed, living with his parents and absolutely single.

This scene is beautifully awkward.

With those examples in mind, here’s my thought on adverbs: use them only if they REALLY change the meaning of the adjective in a supremely gigantic way (which that one does not, btw).

dismally awful
unnaturally massive
acceptably rational
absolutely necessary
distinctly unpleasant
brutally handsome
terminally pretty
Daniel watches the soccer game thoughtfully.
absolutely single
beautifully awkward

These are marvelous uses of the adverb.
99% of the time you won’t need one.

But, if you’ve got the RIGHT one, use it!

Leave a comment

Filed under Good Writing, Rewriting, Screenwriting, Uncategorized

Work on the big stuff first.

Don’t waste time on sentences if you haven’t fixed your paragraphs. Don’t waste time on the paragraph if you haven’t fixed the page. Worry about big picture first, then the details.

If you spend a monumental amount of time tweaking sentences and then cut the whole scene, you will feel like an idiot.

This is true in editing as well as writing. Get the story structure right, then start worrying about what’s happening in the scenes.

What you don’t want to do, ever, ever, ever, ever, is spend one second on something you’re going to throw away later.

4 Comments

Filed under Details, Rewriting, Scenes, Uncategorized, Writing Process

A tad more on happy endings.

Yesterday, watched a very old movie with Gerard Depardieu. At the end, he’s dead. It’s very sad. I felt awful.

But.

They bury him outside the walls of a lonely fort in a Saharan desert hell, with a ton of his loyal soldiers looking on. And his young and elegant wife. And their little boy, holding her hand… His adoring commander says wonderful things about dead Depardieu. It made me feel a little better. Then, the little boy looks to one side and there, standing on the edge of the desert is the Arab soldier whose life Depardieu had saved long ago.

The boy runs over and takes his hand. They tell each other their names. I got choked up.

Then the Arab puts the boy on a camel and they take a ride. Wonderfully moving. I felt great.

And that’s all the happy ending I needed. Just a bit to make me fee there is hope for us all. And as I felt that jolt of a feeling, I thought I should share it.

2 Comments

Filed under Details, Good Writing, Uncategorized

JOY. Best “low point” in recent memory.

Go see JOY.
Learn a ton from the “visit to death” “low point” etc. moment.

Whatever the hell it’s called by writing teachers, the low point in JOY is the clearest and “worst” in years. It was so low that someone I was with said something OUT LOUD to the effect that she couldn’t believe what was happening.

Not gonna tell you anything more. Go to the theater and see for yourself. I’ll discuss it later, when it’s out of the theaters.

Reminds me of an “in theater” moment eons ago. Went to a screening of SNOW WHITE at UCLA. A man behind me had his little girl on his lap. Right at the moment when the Queen, disguised as an old hag, reaches out to Snow White with the poisoned apple and tells her how good it is…

The little girl behind me, with true horror in her voice, said, “She’s lying…”

An amazing moment where the drama was real to the viewer. Just like my friend, who didn’t believe the bad part in JOY.

Leave a comment

Filed under Good Writing, Screenwriting

What “The Music Man” teaches about dialogue research!

Do your research. Get your dialogue right! When it’s right, no one notices because it’s so smooth and accurate. When it’s wrong, you go to hell.

The film was made in 1964. The musical, 1957. The story takes place in 1912. The dialogue is incredibly specific.

“Trouble in River City”

Great scene. You can learn a lot about story structure from this scene! Look how the action builds!

Here’s a guy with a burning desire, for money (as well as the local librarian). He wants to stay in town to court the librarian and, to do that, because he sells band instruments, he must create a need in the townspeople to have a boy’s band. Does the town need a boy’s band? No town needs a boy’s band.

HAROLD
Well, either you are closing your eyes
To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge
Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated
By the presence of a pool table in your community.
Ya got trouble, my friend, right here,
I say, trouble right here in River City.
Why sure I’m a billiard player,
Certainly mighty proud I say
I’m always mighty proud to say it.
I consider that the hours I spend
With a cue in my hand are golden.
Help you cultivate horse sense
And a cool head and a keen eye.
Did you ever take and try to give
An iron-clad leave to yourself
From a three-rail billiard shot?
But just as I say,
It takes judgement, brains, and maturity to score
In a balkline game,
I say that any boob can take
And shove a ball in a pocket.
And I call that sloth.
The first big step on the road
To the depths of deg-ra-Day–
I say, first, medicinal wine from a teaspoon,
Then beer from a bottle.
And the next thing ya know,
Your son is playin’ for money
In a pinch-back suit.
And listening to some big out-a-town Jasper
Hearin’ him tell about horse-race gamblin’.
Not a wholesome trottin’ race, no!
But a race where they set down right on the horse!
Like to see some stuck-up jockey boy
Sittin’ on Dan Patch? Make your blood boil?
Well, I should say.
Now, friends, lemme tell you what I mean.
Ya got one, two, three, four, five, six pockets in a table.
Pockets that mark the difference
Between a gentlemen and a bum,
With a capital “B,”
And that rhymes with “P” and that stands for pool!
And all week long your River City
Youth’ll be fritterin’ away,
I say your young men’ll be fritterin’!
Fritterin’ away their noontime, suppertime, chore time too!
Get the ball in the pocket,
Never mind gettin’ Dandelions pulled
Or the screen door patched or the beefsteak pounded.
Never mind pumpin’ any water
‘Till your parents are caught with the cistern empty
On a Saturday night and that’s trouble,
Oh, yes we got lots and lots a’ trouble.
I’m thinkin’ of the kids in the knickerbockers,
Shirt-tail young ones, peekin’ in the pool
Hall window after school
You got trouble, folks!
Right here in River City.
Trouble with a capital “T”
And that rhymes with “P” and that stands for pool!
Now, I know all you folks are the right kinda parents.
I’m gonna be perfectly frank.
Would ya like to know what kinda conversation goes
On while they’re loafin’ around that hall?
They’re tryin’ out Bevo, tryin’ out cubebs,
Tryin’ out Tailor Mades like Cigarette Fiends!
And braggin’ all about
How they’re gonna cover up a tell-tale breath with Sen-Sen.
One fine night, they leave the pool hall,
Headin’ for the dance at the Armory!
Libertine men and Scarlet women!
And Ragtime, shameless music
That’ll grab your son and your daughter
With the arms of a jungle animal instinct!
Mass-steria!
Friends, the idle brain is the devil’s playground!

TOWNSPEOPLE
Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in River City!
With a capital “T”
That rhymes with “P”
And that stands for Pool,
That stands for pool.
We’ve surely got trouble!
Right here in River City,
Right here!
Gotta figure out a way
To keep the young ones moral after school!
Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble…

HAROLD
Mothers of River City!
Heed that warning before it’s too late!
Watch for the tell-tale signs of corruption!
The minute your son leaves the house,
Does he rebuckle his knickerbockers below the knee?
Is there a nicotine stain on his index finger?
A dime novel hidden in the corn crib?
Is he starting to memorize jokes from Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang?
Are certain words creeping into his conversation?
Words like “swell?”
And “so’s your old man?”
Well, if so my friends,
Ya got trouble,
Right here in River city!
With a capital “T”
And that rhymes with “P”
And that stands for Pool.
We’ve surely got trouble!
Right here in River City!
Remember the Maine, Plymouth Rock and the Golden Rule!
Oh, we’ve got trouble.
We’re in terrible, terrible trouble.
That game with the fifteen numbered balls is the devil’s tool!
Oh yes we got trouble, trouble, trouble!
With a “T”! That rhymes with “P”!
And that stands for Pool!!!

And here’s the meaning of the specific dialogue that the writer got right.

rig — slang for any carriage or coach

tank town — A small town. So called because trains would stop there only to replenish water.

grip — A suitcase or valise.

Billiards — Also known as caroom (or carom) billiards, played with three balls (one cue ball and two object balls) on a pocketless table

Pool — Developed much later than billiards. Also known as pocket billiards, using a cue ball and 15 object balls on a table with six pockets
iron clad leave to yourself from a three-rail billiard shot — leave is slang for a favorable position for a stroke in billiards (circa 1850). Three-rail billiard shot refers to the fact that in caroom (or carom) billiards, the cue ball must contact at least 3 cushions before it hits the second object ball in order to score any points. This sentence seems to imply that the player has, through excellent strategy and difficult maneuvers, put the balls in such a position as to give him an excellent shot at making points.

balkline — A line parallel to one end of a billiard table, from behind which opening shots with the cue ball are made.

pinch-back suit — from pinchbeck – serving as an imitation or substitute; “pinchbeck heroism” (noun): an alloy of copper and zinc that is used in cheap jewelry to imitate gold. Made of pinchbeck; sham; cheap; spurious; unreal.

Jasper — any male fellow or chum, usually a stranger

Trotting race — A horse that trots, especially one trained for harness racing. Very genteel pastime.

Horse race — With a jockey on the horses back, running much quicker than the trotting race.

Dan Patch — (1897-1916) Most famous trotting horse ever, from Indiana. Dan Patch was a pacer, under his second owner he lost only five heats in 56 starts. Dan Patch had his own private railway car to travel in, and at home he lived in a huge barn that was so grand it was called the “Taj Mahal.” There is still a trotting competition named for him, and an historical railroad line because “Dan Patch was a famous race horse a hundred years ago, and the railroad was named after him because its tracks between Minneapolis and Northfield passed very close to his owner’s farm.” There seem to be whole districts in Indiana still named after this horse, and there was a movie called The Great Dan Patch (1949)

Frittering away their time — To reduce or squander little by little; frittered his inheritance away. To waste.

cistern — A receptacle for holding water or other liquid, especially a tank for catching and storing rainwater.

knickerbockers — Full breeches gathered and banded just below the knee (which is why moving them above the knee is such a shocking thing to do)

shirt-tail young ones — 1) Very young; shirttail kids. 2) Of little value; inadequate or small; a shirttail cabin in the woods

Bevo — From Anheuser-Busch. A non-alcoholic drink that tasted like beer. “Anheuser-Busch introduced Bevo, its new nonalcoholic beverage, in 1916 and elsewhere the flood of cereal beverages (near beer) were introduced during the 1917-18 period.”

Cubebs — the dried unripe berry of a tropical shrub (Piper cubeba) of the pepper family that is crushed and smoked in cigarettes for as a medicine for catarrh, an inflammation of the nose and throat with increased production of mucus. There were several cubeb cigarettes made–Marshall’s Prepared Cubeb
Cigarettes are perhaps the best known.

Tailor Mades — A tailor-made cigarette referred to any cigarette made in a factory on a cigarette making machine. A roll-your-own cigarette was made by the smoker from a sack of Bull Durham or the like. James Jones in From Here to Eternity mentioned tailor-mades being smoked by soldiers when they had money. Until 1883 cigarettes were handmade. In 1880 a 21 year old Virginian named James Bonsack invented a cigarette making machine that dramatically increased production. A skilled cigarette roller made 4 cigarettes a minute, whereas Mr. Bonsack’s machine turned out 200 a minute. These were called “tailor mades” to distinguish them from handmade cigarettes.
NOTE: This section talking about the boys down at the pool hall means they are trying to mimic adults, and look as if they are drinking beer and smoking tobacco, although they are drinking fake beer and smoking fake cigarettes.

Sen Sen — When a country swain went courting his rural sweetheart, he often carried in his pocket an unobtrusive little envelope of Sen-Sen. When his younger brother indulged in smoking behind the barn, he too, had use for the exotic little pellets. For Sen-Sen was to the 19th century what breath mints are to our time. Any country store worth its salt, prominently displayed a box of the handy little packets within easy reach of its customers.

Rag-time — A style of jazz characterized by elaborately syncopated rhythm in the melody and a steadily accented accompaniment.

corn crib — A structure for storing and drying ears of corn.

Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang — Started in 1919 (too late for Music Man, but I guess Wilson wasn’t worried about that!). From the book Humor Magazines and Comic Periodicals, “Few periodicals reflect the post-World War I cultural change in American life as well as Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang. To some people [it] represented the decline of morality and the flaunting of sexual immodesty; to others it signified an increase in openness. For much of the 1920’s, Captain Billy’s was the most prominent comic magazine in America with its mix of racy poetry and naughty jokes and puns, aimed at a small-town audience with pretensions of ‘sophistication’” This publication was to the male adolescent culture of the 1920s what Playboy was in the 1960s. Quit publishing sometime from 1932-36. This magazine created the foundation for Fawcett Publications, the publishing company that later created True Confessions and Mechanix Illustrated.

swell — (slang) excellent, wonderful, delightful (mid 19th century)

so’s your old man — catch phrase from 1900. An exclamation, used as a retort to an insult or slur.

The Maine — U.S. battleship sunk (Feb. 15, 1898) in Havana harbor, killing 260, in an incident that helped precipitate the Spanish-American War. The cause of the explosion was never satisfactorily explained, and separate American and Spanish inquiries produced different results. But the American jingoistic press blamed the Spanish government, and Remember the Maine became the rallying cry of the war.

Plymouth Rock — Plymouth, Massachusetts, is the oldest settlement in New England, founded in 1620. Plymouth Rock is on the beach where the Mayflower landed.

The Golden Rule — saying of Jesus, from the Bible — As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. Evolved into modern saying — Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

22 Comments

Filed under Dialogue, Good Writing, Screenwriting, Uncategorized

What is your story “about”?

This is a piece of a homework I give my writing students. Just thought it up last semester and found it was very helpful. The idea being: just because you’re writing, or have written something — script, novel, short story — doesn’t mean you are actually telling the story you think you are. This is a way to check to make sure.

*

1.) Write a prose version of your story. Just tell the story, as you see it. Not the dialogue, just what happens and what the characters are feeling. See if what you think the story is about is actually on the script pages. You may be surprised at what you find. Telling me directly what the story is, will help us both.

2.) Then, write what you are trying to say with the story. Books about writing always pontificate that you’re supposed to sit down the first day and decide “your premise.” And then, that’s what you’re supposedly writing about the whole time. That’s hooey. I think you write and write and write and only slowly figure out what the heck your story is really about as you go along.

Tell me what the story is “about” (on a deeper level for you than just surface action) and what you want to get across about the characters.
Why do you want to tell this story? What is important to you to make sure you say? What do you believe in the core of your being that you want this film to get across to the world?
Whose story is it? Why?
What do you want the main character to feel at the beginning vs. at the end — about the other characters and about themselves?

*

Hope that helps. Have someone read your “what is your story about” piece and then read your script (or vice versa) and see if they feel you’re on track or not…

8 Comments

Filed under Good Writing, Rewriting, Screenwriting, Uncategorized

What’s up?! My talk on Beating Writers Block…

Been out of the country. Took students to London and Paris to make films. They made ’em. We came back. Didn’t lose a one!

On the 20th of June, I’m giving a conference call talk on Beating Writers Block. It’s at 10:25 a.m. Pacific time. And, it’s free. Sign up now…

http://www.networkisa.org/class.php?id=349

Working on a screenplay, which is different, I must say, than working on student homework. I can maybe sell the screenplay. Never found much of a market for used student homework, sad to say.
Working on the sequel to my children’s book. Or my novel for grownups. We’ll find out what it is when the book actually comes out in March. The first book is about the hero’s battle with his 5th grade homeroom teacher. The sequel is about his battle with his baseball coach.
Researching baseball, about which I know next to nothing. A long uphill event, that’s for sure.

Reading Cheryl Klein’s superb book on writing: Second Sight. It’s about children’s books, but boy oh boy does she understand story. You might find it helpful in your writing.

Dying to see MAD MAX. Have you seen it? What did you think?
I adored THE WOMAN IN GOLD. Best film I’ve seen in a long, long time.

And, finally, have discovered wonderful author of witty English books: Barbara Pym. What a delight!

Leave a comment

Filed under Good Writing, Screenwriting, Writing Process

A Letter to Me as a Young Writer

Next weekend, I’m doing a workshop for young writers. All the teachers have been asked to send in a letter “to themselves as a young writer.” Here’s mine.

What I Really, Really Wish I’d Been Told as a Young Writer…

by William M. Akers
yourscreenplaysucks.com

It’s never easy. Even when it seems easy… at some point, it’s going to get difficult.

Treat your craft with respect. Work hard at it.

Never write something you don’t care about. Well, that’s not true… sometimes you have to do homework.

Nobody wants to read what you’ve written. Your teacher doesn’t. Your parents might. When you have a boss, she is only going to want it to be clear and concise. Heaping more big words on the page for a higher grade is not a way to learn to write.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. This is difficult for everybody. You don’t know that because you’re alone in your room fighting your own demons.

Everybody worries whether they’ve got talent. Michael Crichton, who wrote Jurassic Park and 29 other books, worried he was untalented. In his office bookcase, he had every book he wrote in every language it’d been translated into so he could sit at his desk and look at all he had done and think, “I did that. I can get through the next one.”

You’re never going to figure out how to do it. Every project is a new project with its own invisible rules. For decades I thought I would come up with “my method.” When I finally realized there was never going to be a “method,” my life as a writer got much simpler.

Write about what you’re interested in. I knew nothing about the fall of Saigon, but I made a lot of money because I sold a screenplay based on something I knew nothing about, that fascinated me.

Welcome notes. Do not argue with someone kind enough to give you suggestions on how to improve your work.

It will never be perfect. One reason some people don’t write is because they’re afraid it won’t be perfect. Art & Fear by David Bayles asks “What in your life, up to now, have you ever done that was perfect? Nothing, right? This won’t be perfect either. So just get on with it.”

Keep a diary. Even a simple one. You think you’ll remember stuff but you won’t. It will make a gigantic difference when you’re older.

You’ve got to learn two things. How to write a sentence that’s clean and clear. And how to figure out what you want to say. Technique and emotion. Two worlds to conquer.

It will take years to get good at this! Don’t worry about it if you’re not great now. The wonderful thing about writing is: the more you do it, the better you get!

Don’t despair. If you do despair, at least write about it.

Enjoy the process. On some level, doing it has to be fun. If getting published is the only thing that will make you happy, figure out something else to do with your time. The process of creating the work had better be the reward.

Learn to be businesslike. If you’re not businesslike, people won’t be interested in working with you.

Never miss a deadline. Be early for everything. Selfish people and idiots are late.

No matter how much trouble your writing is in, if you sit down and work on it, eventually you will solve the problem.

Try to write comedy. It’s the hardest thing there is but, who knows, you might be great at it.

Impress your teachers. If they think you’re worth it, they will move heaven and earth to help you.

9 Comments

Filed under Criticism, Good Writing, Rewriting, Screenwriting, Uncategorized

How Do You Know Your Work Is Finished?

When you put it away for a while, pull it out and find it hard to believe that YOU wrote it cause it’s so good. That’s a sure fire tip off.

1 Comment

Filed under Good Writing, Rewriting, Screenwriting