Friday, July 30, 2010

Checklist of Champions

I was recently given a checklist from Will Akers. This checklist was written by Jeanette Winterson and is very good for aspiring screenwriters... and practiced produced screenwriters, too. Like Will!

I wanted to share it with you because it's just so good.

1. Do your work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom.

2. Never stop when you're stuck. You may not be able to solve the problem, but turn aside and write something else. Don't stop altogether.

3. Love what you do.

4. Be honest with yourself. If you're not good, accept it. If the work you're doing is no good, accept it.

5. Don't hold on to poor work. If it was bad when it went in the drawer, it will be just as bad when it comes out.

6. Take no notice of anyone you don't respect.

7. Take no notice of anyone with a gender agenda. A lot of men still think that women lack imagination of the fiery kind.

8. Be ambitious for the work and not the reward.

9. Trust your creativity.

10. Enjoy this work!

Hi again, it's Screenwriter Chic.  I would like to touch base on a few things.

You must write everyday. Not as a chore, but as a work out. An Olympic champion can't just skip a few work outs and then expect to win the gold. They have to stay finely tuned. Same for the writer.

If you're stuck, and I've been there before... I suggest the following. Take a sheet of paper and write the characters name (or type it, whatever) and make a list of the first thing that comes to mind. It's very freeing.

Bonnie Spailsenberg
She could:
learn to shoot
be abducted by aliens
have a baby
go back to school
sell bottled water

It doesn't matter how silly or weird it becomes, because only you will see it. And it can spark some truly wonderful ideas. Everyone say thank you to John Truby for this exercise.

You MUST love what you do. If you don't, and you consider this work, well, you'll probably be miserable.

If you can't seem to "get it" and you're work stinks, like Ms. Winterson said, maybe you should walk away. It's not that you don't have talent. It could be that your talent is elsewhere, like directing. Writing is hard and not everyone can do it.

Seriously, don't hold on to poor work. I've gutted scripts and reworked them only to gut them again. If I've written a scene that I love, but it doesn't push the movie forward, it gets cut. Actually, I put it in a file on my computer because I may actually use that scene, but for a different script. That's the fun part of my job.

The taking no notice of anyone you don't respect is HUGE. Say you have Daddy issues. All your life you have just wanted to please him. You write a touching story about a dog who saves the world by flying to space on a giant hot dog and in the process discovers who his father is. By the end of the movie Papa Dog has accepted Astro Dog and told him he's proud of him. Fade Out.  And what do you do? You let Daddy read it. He hates is. No guns, no sex, no swearing, you name it. And you're crushed. You throw the next Pixar gem in the trash because of what Daddy says. Unless he's a producer, director, or screenwriter, don't do that! He has no idea what it's like to 1. write a screenplay and 2. get it made. Surround yourself with people you can trust and respect.  I personally, have my script read and reread by folks. My 'club' consists of Jill, who is a smart screenwriter with great insight. Kristy, who will read it from an 'audience' point of view and show me where she gets confused. If she gets confused, a reader will get confused. I can't have that.   Then Ann, who is my editing queen. She locates all the grammar mistakes that spell check missed. Again, she tells me if my scenes are confusing. Once it looks okay to me, I'll hand it over to Will. From there, it comes back, bathed in red ink and I start the rewrite. The point is, all of these people I respect highly, and all help me form this work into something that could possibly wind up on the coveting silver screen.  And none of them kiss my butt. If they don't like something, they tell me.

Take no notice of anyone you don't repect. You can love Daddy and respect him as Daddy, but he doesn't determine if your script is made or not. Shrug and walk away.

The gender agenda is huge. I recently set a query to an agent. He wrote back and said, "Not interested... women don't write like that."  I can't wait for my stuff to get made and I'm going to track him down one day. Poo on narrow minded folk. Break molds!

Being ambitious for the work and not the reward, trusting your creativity and enjoying it all is totally up to you. I write because I love it. I come up with stories and get them out. It's a fun puzzle piecing for me.

Anyhow, dear fans, I hope this helps you.

Good luck!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Drama is Action

Thanks to you, my wonderful readers, for your patience as I grieved (and still do so) the passing of my sister, Tracey. If I know Tracey at all, she’d be severely upset with me for not posting another blog entry sooner, and about screenwriting. SO! Here you go!

I read in a fantabulous book called “Essentials of Screenwriting” by Richard Walter that “drama is action.”

“Well, duh!” you say. But let me ask you. How many times have you seen a bunch of characters sitting around talking about nothing that advances your movie plot? It’s the lull in the movie where folks go to the bathroom and get more popcorn. Or worse.

If you have a script with that kind of scene in it, cut it out NOW. If you’re going to have a scene with people gabbing, it better darn well advance your plot. You can’t be precious about your script. By that I mean, if you write a kickin’ dialogue that you love; it really doesn’t help your plot but you still keep it in there. Why? Because you like it.

It’s not what you like that will sell your screenplay.

Your plot must always be moving, always be pushing ahead. By doing so, your reader will gladly follow and that is exactly what you want.

Again from the book mentioned above, the author states (and quite accurately):

“Screenwriters are required, therefore, to determine for each scene the action that most effectively advances the story and expands the characters and also to craft the ideal setting for that action.”

As a screenwriter, we can’t hope the reader will ‘understand’ what we’re hoping to convey. We must show them. Readers don’t have time to try and decipher. That’s what the grand round circular file is for, and I really don’t think that was the action, the drama, you wanted for your script, now was it?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

I Miss My Sister

I wanted to take a moment to share about my sister, Tracey Michelle.

She passed away on Thursday. She was 34. It wasn't fair and it sure as hell wasn't planned. She had kidney failure, brought on by lupus and other ailments. The doctors said she wouldn't make it past 30. She planned on living forever. I planned on her doing the same.

As I write this, numb from the shock, the eulogy I had to give, and the realization that my Christmases will be bittersweet for the rest of my life I wanted to say that Tracey was the best damn sister anyone could ever have. She loved my kids like they were her own. If I set a rule, buddy, that was it. She was on board with upholding it until she heard otherwise.

Tracey was a memory maker. She lit up my life, even when she broke her foot on Halloween in our storm drain. Only she could have found that in all the leaves.  I spent her last birthday with her. She cried when I took a picture of her with my daughter. She said that we were the best family and that she cherished us.  She would send me random texts telling me what a great "sis" I was. I would do the same, but she was so much better at it than me.

She was my cheerleader.  When I decided to begin screenwriting, she was one of my elite few that I would share ideas with. She wasn't afraid to tell me if she'd go and see it or not. She helped me. My children adored her.

She was a champion. She faced horrible odds with her health and she never complained. She would get tired, but she never asked, "Why did this happen to me?" I never once heard her say it wasn't fair. Which I don't think it was. Not in the slightest.  Even at her sickest she would still make time for all of us. We would have parties and movie nights. My daughter would visit and they would have girly days.

Because of seizures, Tracey couldn't see movies. I would have to see them for her and then tell her if they were good to rent.  We'd grab a blanket, turn the lights off, and share popcorn and watch (and sometimes mock) the ones she'd rent. I will forever miss that.

I found out that my sweet sister had passed from my husband. He's a paramedic and heard the call go out on the radio. He asked me to call to see if Tracey was okay, which, I did, seeing as she was only ten minutes away from me. She didn't answer the phone. Someone did. I didn't recognize the voice. They told me that Tracey was gone.

My heart shattered.

For the next 48 hours I was a blubbering mess. I'd be fine for a half hour maybe, and then the grief would crash over me like a wave and I'd lose it. I told my kids, but, it just never sank in...

... until the funeral.

When my kids, my daughter especially, saw her in her casket, it was all over. My precious thirteen year old daughter with her first real experience with death. At first she tried to be tough, but once the tears started, she sobbed the entire funeral. Why not? It was her aunt that was gone from her life. Her aunt who'd take her shopping, and out to eat, and have the girly days with. I'd say our family was devastated, but that's too light a word for one to wrap their head around the pain we all felt seeing her, cold, posed, and surrounded by satin and flowers.

Today I buried my sister, Tracey Michelle. I gave the eulogy and slaughtered it with gasps, tears, and high pitch squeaks that no human should emit in times of pain.

But I wanted all of you to know, my readers and fans, that Tracey Michelle was once credit away from graduating college. She was going to be a sign language interpreter for the deaf.

She helped out the Special Olympics Bowling Teams every year. She'd plan her life around those days.

She loved helping people and loving people.

She was full of life and oozed with love.

She battled kidney failure, lupus, autoimmune disorder, and countless other ailments but always put others first. I watched her body swell from steroids and medicines her doctors tried as they attempted to save her.

She taught me what selflessness was all about.

I always thought I'd have more time with her, that she'd be in a hospital and I'd get a last goodbye in. But I guess if life wasn't fair to her, why should I expect it to be fair to me?  I don't know what I did to deserve to have her in my life, but I thank God she was in it. Forever a bright spot, she's taken a part of my heart with her to Heaven. I pray we have mansions side by side.

I know this is a screenwriting blog, but I wanted you to know that the world lost a precious gem, a jewel, on July 1st.

And it was my sister, Tracey Michelle Barrow.

Tracey Michelle Barrow
Nov. 10, 1975 - July 1, 2010