Tag Archives: screenwriting books

A Rewrite Does Not Have to be a Mountain of Despair

When surging forward on your first pass, attacking that diabolical blank screen, it’s crucial to feel you’re Wonder Woman or Thor, knocking away bullets of self-doubt with your magic bracelets or Mjölnir, your super duper hammer! Rocket forward so fast that the gremlin of failure is left choking in your dust and Get. That. Draft. Finished. You do that by successfully pretending to be all-powerful, Almighty, all-knowing, and really, really talented.

Only after you write FADE OUT. are you allowed to turn into a runny-mascara puddle of insecurity.

Sadly, stewing on the epic list of disastrous messes in your first pass can turn a rewrite into a Gibraltar of pain and misery. How could anyone ever solve all these horrible problems? How could anyone ever eat this granite mountain one tiny stone at a time? Staring down the double-barrels of an entire rewrite is a daunting assignment.

However, there are pain-free actions to keep you chugging toward the distant goal of: Next Draft! Non-anguish-inducing exercises will move you forward with minimum to zero stress.

Make a list of simple projects that won’t push you to suicidal thoughts.

Fix your slug lines! Check punctuation at the end of each sentence! Go through every line of dialogue, character by character, to see if that dialogue sounds like them… say, Catherine the Great instead of Emo Phillips! See if an action is followed by no reaction! Or, if a reaction is not set up by some kind of action! Simple!! Do any characters say two lines that basically repeat the same thought?! Cut the weak one! Would adding a prop to this scene help?! In each scene, can you raise the conflict, even a little?!

What about research?! Less pressure than rewriting, and now that you’ve got a draft, you’ll waste far less time researching dead ends! Lose starter words in dialogue! Easy peasy! Go through each paragraph of action description and tighten it until it squeaks! Are there words in there that you don’t quite know the meaning of?! Ask that simplest of questions, “Are my character names confusing?!” Read scenes out loud! See if your sentences end with the most powerful word! Check for eighth grade grammar mistakes! Check for fourth grade grammar mistakes!

Solving a small puzzle, Sherlock, does not require higher brain function anything like cracking the Enigma code of “I can’t fix my main character so I’m gonna die in a ditch…”

Find simple tasks that will help.

The great thing about non-depressing mechanical chores is that they effortlessly get your head in the story and, from time to time, grand ideas will shimmer to the surface and easily solve part of that whole giant Gibraltar rewrite agony.

Small steps lead to big bites.

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Filed under Good Writing, Rewriting, Screenwriting, Writing Process

Winning The Fade In: contest

So, my clients, Colleen Schukei and Heather Peterson, besides getting to the Nicholl Semi Finals, also won the Fade In: contest. Grand Prize. Yay. Make me feel good!

My book goes to the Nicholl Award ceremony!

My book goes to the Nicholl Award ceremony!

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Filed under Screenwriting, Uncategorized

What do YOU want to know?

I am giving a five hour seminar on writing in about a month and I want to change up what I normally do… and wanted to know what you think I should talk about… what is it you want to know about, in the world of writing…?

These are mostly beginning writers. What do you wish someone had told you early in the game? What do you wish you understood better? Heck, I can write about what you want in my blog, and you won’t have to wait for the seminar!

What is missing from seminars, lectures, screenwriting books or your brain? I would love to hear what you would like me to tell you, assuming I can…

That’s my thought for the moment. I’d like to hear from you!


Filed under Screenwriting, Writing Process

Can Screenwriting Be Taught?

Aw, hell yeah!  It better be; I’ve been teaching it at Vanderbilt for fifteen years.  If I say it can’t be taught, they’re gonna stop paying me. 

However, I actually do believe it can be taught.  You can’t teach someone to be talented, of course, but you can show them a lot about screenwriting.  If they listen.  If they do what you say.  Amazingly enough, a lot of baby writers already think they know all there is to know, and consequently learn very little.  Listening, I daresay, can’t be taught.

“There is no one more arrogant than a beginner.”
Elizabeth Ashley


What can be taught in screenwriting?

Format can be taught.  How to separate character’s voices.  Words to avoid that will shout “I’m a bad writer!”.  How to construct a character.  Stupid mistakes that will sink your script for the reader.  How to use outlines.  Structure, to a degree.  Why cutting dialogue is a good thing.  Not to give up.  How to deal with the frustration you feel when you just stare at the computer screen and the words don’t leap out of your little pea brain and onto the screen.  Tricks to get you to generate ideas.  How to avoid / deal with writer’s block.  How the business works (not that that’s writing, but it is fully half of the success equation.)  Methods in rewriting: ways to approach a script, a scene, and a piece of dialogue.  Handling fear.  Being professional. 

A lot can be taught.  What can NOT be taught in screenwriting?

How to think up a great idea!  An ear for dialogue!  How to construct a character an actor will be dying to play!  How to have a voice!  The correct structure for your story!  What genre you’re good at!  How to be lucky!! 

The difference between what can be learned and innate talent is the tough thing.  You can do a lot in a classroom, but the alchemy is up to talent, luck, and sweat. 

After I’m done pounding them for a while, my students’s scripts look like scripts, sound like scripts and are not embarrassing.  Some are good.  A few, over the years, have been great.  When they come to me, they know nothing about writing screenplays.  I can’t teach someone how to write, but I can teach how to write a screenplay that will pass muster. 

A good teacher can get a student to the starting line.  That is a lot, by the way.  Getting someone to the door, and opening it for them, is a good beginning.  What they do in the race is up to their talent and perseverance. 

I share these six items from a talk I give called “Fatal Errors Beginning Writers Make.”  Will Aldis (STEALING CARS, KEEP COMING BACK) is a staggeringly talented writer and I love his list.

Number One:  trying to write what you think the biz wants you to write.
Number Two: writing for the cash only.
Number Three: writing to get laid.
Number Four: writing a screenplay because you think it sounds like a cool, hip thing to do.  It isn’t.
Number Five:  writing about something, anything, other than yourself.
Number Six:  taking a screenwriting class from someone who doesn’t fully grasp the horror. 

Keep Number Six firmly in mind when selecting a teacher, because the very last thing you want is a teacher who gives you any hint that this foolishness is easy. 

It isn’t.


Filed under Screenwriting, Writing Process