I can’t even be punctually insecure…

September 7, 2012

Or – I was so excited to tell you guys about Dragon*Con that I forgot about Insecure Writer’s Support Group until today. So sorry about that.

What I’ve been feeling most insecure about lately is storytelling and narrative. I feel that I’ve grown more capable in my use of language over the past year or two, and I’ve never doubted my creativity and imagination. But I’ve also learned that you need to have an instinct for putting together a plot in a way that it’s satisfying to other readers, and I’m despairing a bit of being able to do that, worried that every premise I come up with is cliche, or that every story structure I try to write is broken.

And yet – I keep writing, keep working on the craft, because it’s what I do, and because I know that incredible things can happen if you just keep at it. I’m not sure if I came up with anything actually usable in Camp Nanowrimo this year, but I certainly had fun. And I’m back on Block Revision for ‘Save the Children’ now – and I’m certainly learning good things there, with the HTRYN course.

Are you insecure or secure lately?

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A little insecure about Camp Nanowrimo…

August 1, 2012

So, yeah, I remembered about Insecure Writer’s Support Group at the eleventh hour. 😉

But it’s a fairly good day for it, because I just started the August session of Camp Nanowrimo. I’ve pushed myself to a pretty good day 1 word count – in fact, the scene with my character’s mother and the witch just started flowing so well that I didn’t want to stop in the middle of it, and I’ve got 1897 words now.

But this is really the first time that I’m going to Camp Nanowrimo and not hanging out on the rebel side of Camp. August last year, I said that I was a rebel editor for camp, and I didn’t really end up with much to show for my editing, though I learned a lot about structure from Lani Diane Rich’s Storywonk revision class. In June, I got about 20,000 words done and more than half a dozen stories, so I’m calling that a rebel win.

This time, it’s fifty thousand or bust. I’m excited and yeah, a lot nervous about that.

But onward! The only way out of camp is the finish line. 😉


Novel revision: Structure and conflict

August 21, 2011

Well, I had my final class session for the Storywonk revision class this afternoon, and overall the class wasn’t really what I was expecting.

I learned quite a lot, but I guess I thought that the manuscripts that I had were ready to the point where they just needed some fairly small changes made to them and they’d be ready to get queried.

Now, I don’t think that anymore. Most of the class wasn’t about the small-changes stuff, though Lani did cover that in ‘The paper edit’, which was today’s topic, actually.

But everything up to this point has been on more fundamental stuff – the structure of the book, the conflict, the relationship between the protagonist and the antagonist, the role of the major supporting characters – and I’ve started to see that I have a lot of work to do here. I think I’m nearly finished rewriting the basic structure of “The way back home” to up the stakes of the conflict between Naveli and Merlik, but I’ll have a lot of rewriting to do to match things up to that structure.

Which in a way, should be exciting. At this point, I’m not sure if I’m terrified or just disappointed.

So, here’s the first part of my structure – what do you think, does it sound like a story that you’d want to read? Are the stakes high from the beginning? Do things keep on getting worse?

Opening scene: While having fun with her friends at the Royal Jubilee, Princess Naveli is taken prisoner by rebel agents, along with her pet ferret Ereyu, her friend and bodyguard Tuma – and her possibly-crush, the Lady Jenna.

Things get worse: At the rebel fortress, Naveli meets Merlik (change name?) the warlock who arranged for her capture. He scoffs at her references to ransom, and tortures Tuma and Jenna in front of her to try and break her spirit. Naveli tries to use magik to escape, but the rebels have taken precautions against the few elementary wind magik spells that she knows.

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Thoughts on rewriting a plot structure.

August 14, 2011

I’ve been working for about a week now on revising the plot structure of my manuscript “The Way Back Home”, as part of my participation in Lani Diane Rich’s Storywonk Revision class.

It’s been tough, partly just from coming to terms with Lani’s critique of the structure outline that I submitted and facing the idea that the book that I’ve spent several years doing cosmetic surgery on has bigger and deeper problems that need to be worked on.

I fell in love with bits that came out of me during Nano, and those are the toughest things to let go of, to admit to myself that they don’t really serve the storyline I want, at the end of the day (year? decade??) to tell. Merlik, the bad guy who I showed you a bit of in the I hate you Blogfest, is kinduv a good example of that. Not that Merlik’s character is bad in general, he’s essentially a powerful antagonist, but I hadn’t met him yet when I started to tell the story. He was first mentioned in stories told to my main characters around halfway through the book, and then finally appeared in that little showdown with Naveli.

So there were some things that had ultimately to be folded into his plan that weren’t really Merlik’s style, and most of all, I had to come up with a way for my heroine to get out of things alive. So I had Merlik spout some mysterious nonsense suggesting that it was his plan that Naveli had escaped, that he wanted her to see the world without her family’s agenda, and that was all.

And I still like that motivation for Merlik, but I’m not sure that I can really sell it and tell a good story, because it’s not a motivation that really puts him into conflict with Naveli. So I’ve been working on revising his motives to make him a badder bad guy, and of course that changes just about everything – it’s a good change, but it means that I’ll have to let go of most of the specifics and start rewriting most of the scenes from scratch.

I’m a little scared about that, but also excited.


‘Save the cat’ Beat sheet for Die Hard.

July 31, 2011

Yet another movie I just watched because it’s homework for my Storywonk revision class.

Opening image: John’s plane lands in LA, with John gripping both the armrests, and the guy in the next seat tells him to take off his shoes and socks when he gets somewhere with a rug and make fists with his toes.

Theme stated: Again, I’m having a hard time with this – when John talks about how he didn’t come out to LA with Holly because he’s a New York Cop?

Setup: John’s trip in the limo with Argyle, arriving at the party, everything up to the bad guys showing up at the party.

Catalyst: The bad guys crash the party.

Debate: John stays out of sight as long as he can, he tries to call the LA police, he uses every trick he can think of to alert the authorities instead of being a hero himself.

Break into two: When the first bad guy comes after him, John fights back, not trying to kill him – but when the guy ends up dead he takes his gun and sends his body back down the elevator as a warning.

B story: I think this is actually the friendship that develops over the CB radio between John and Al.

Fun and games: Oh, just what in this movie isn’t fun and games? Well, any scene where nobody’s being shot at, nothing’s crashing, and nothing’s exploding I guess.

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Beat Sheets: the Forgotten Introduction.

April 2, 2011

B is for Beat Sheet (A-Z Challenge Listing)

Well, I’ve talked about Beat Sheets a lot on this blog already, but when I got a PM from somebody over at Script Frenzy, I realized that I had never really described the concept in detail, so I figured I’d do that today.

Beat sheets are a way of structuring a screenplay script that Blake Snyder described in chapter 4 of his great book “Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need.” It’s a recipe for planning a screenplay, determining which scenes are needed, which scene goes where, and what the characters will need to do at different parts of the story.

And, as a minor point, I’m not going to go into any details for this post regarding Blake’s prescriptions for WHERE in a screenplay you should place the different beats, or why. You can find some of that out different places on the web, and I want to keep myself focused on WHAT the different beats are.

There are fifteen elements to Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet:

Opening image: In the first few pages of your script, you should set the mood of your movie, and show where your hero starts out. This beat isn’t about action, it’s not the first thing that happens in the movie, it’s about where the movie is before it starts happening. But you can show style, tone, what type of story you’re telling and what scope it is, from the very start.

Theme stated: This is the part of the beat sheet that I always have the most trouble with. Basically, the theme is the answer to ‘what is this movie about?’ It should be a question that you’re exploring and giving an answer to, or a statement that you will ultimately demonstrate to be true or false, not just a general topic like ‘true love’ or ‘man versus nature.’ (It could be ‘should man conquer nature?’, though.)

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Blog the cat, Chapter Five – the Board.

February 12, 2011

Blog the cat screenwriting index.

Okay, in chapter 5 of Save the Cat, “Building the perfect Beast,” Blake Snyder waxes eloquent on The Board. I’m going to skip all of the superlatives, glowing praise, and industry anecdotes for now, and get down to describing the core idea.

You set up a big, flat, vertical working space – Blake prefers a corkboard that he can pin index cards to, and use this to arrange your story ideas on. It’s a way of working with the screenplay structure that’s visual, tactile, and ‘a great time-waster’, except that the point is that the time isn’t actually wasted, in the end. It’s just being put to a use that isn’t immediately obvious, because as you play with the board and keep rearranging things, the ideas are being arranged and correlated by your subconscious mind in a way that you could never achieve with conscious disciplined hard work staring at a blank Celtx screen.

Like a lot of Blake’s notions, the Board is fairly structured. He sets it up in four rows of approximately ten scenes each, (plus or minus one spot per row, but still to come up to a total of forty scenes per screenplay.) The timeline of the movie gets arranged on this board a little like a really huge Fan expo autograph line, going left to right across the top row for Act One, then turning the corner, going back the second row and across the third for Act Two, then back the bottom row for Act Four.

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Blog the cat, chapter Four: Beat sheets, revisited.

February 5, 2011

Beat Sheet for ‘Serenity’, in which I first described the concept.

Other Beat Sheets from the Kelworth files can be found on the Subject Index, as well as the Blog the Cat series so far.

Okay, so I went back and forth on this, and decided that I was going to spend another week with beat sheets, even though I’ve already said most of what the book has to say about them – well, not really, but about as much as I feel comfortable with saying without ripping off Blake’s words. And I’ve done Beat sheets for three of my favorite movies. But this time, I’m going to look at the three complete movies that I did for Script Frenzy, and see how closely they match the Beat Sheet structure, talk a bit about that.

One bit from the chapter that I haven’t mentioned here, is how a strong screenplay structure can serve as a movie blueprint and a guarantee of writing credit – which I think isn’t meant as a guarantee that when a final movie gets made, you’ll definitely have the credit, but that if somebody changes it enough to get the credit, they’re really changing the guts of the story, doing their own work on it, and not really taking what’s yours. But anyway.

Script Frenzy 2007 – Antarran Holiday.

Opening image – Aerial view of the desert, Liz Parker resuming her diary voice-overs, slow day at the Crashdown Cafe.

Theme stated – “If we find the people who think that they’re our friends, they might still ask things of us that we’re not ready for.” This is late by Blake’s breakdown, around page 18, but I remember that I was going some different material about the three-act structure that was up on the Script Frenzy site that year that suggested page 16 or so for this, not 5.

Setup – introducing all of the regular gang, and the basic situation, is all covered in pages 1-7.

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Another Brian Henry exercise to share.

January 28, 2011

Well, I figured that again, I’d share one of the little passages that I wrote at the Brian Henry workshop last Saturday, which was really fun, especially his slightly tweaked version of the Snowflake method.

I’m not sure if looking at an exercise like this is really the best way of judging what I’ve learned at a workshop, by the way, but they’re fun to write, and probably show a bit about how I was thinking about the workshop topic. For this one, in the morning, we were talking about how to structure short stories, and how they can grow up around a very small seed or prompt. This was based on a prompt that somebody called out, which was: “By the time I got to ______, the turtle wasn’t there anymore!”

————

“Purpose of the trip?”

I was taken by surprise at the fact that they actually asked the question outside of tv shows and movies. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, after all, they have to get cliches like that from somewhere. But it wasn’t like I was used to dealing with customs and immigration officials. Heck, I could still count the number of times I’d left Massachussets on the fingers of one hand.

“Umm, well, I’m looking for a – that is to say, business. Or education, more than anything else – or educational business. It’s a student field research trip.”

The uniformed official considered this. “So you’re being sponsored by an American university?”

“Yes.” I dove into my carryon looking for something official with the Harvard letterhead on it, until I was waved down, a gesture that I took to mean that I shouldn’t bother. “Is there a local school that you’ll be working with?”

“I… I’m not sure,” I said. “A local zoologist, at least – Doctor Hector Guerras. I think that he’s with the Institute of Reptile research in Daracas, not an instructor at a school.”

“Very good. Is the Institute arranging for your lodging?”

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Going down the Snowflake, part Four

October 18, 2010

Okay, so Project Snowflake Nanowrimo is continuing to go fairly well, I’ve pretty much finished with step 5, which is more in-depth character profiles. This did cause me a bit of trouble at first, partly because of the way it was phrased:

Take a day or two and write up a one-page description of each major character and a half-page description of the other important characters. These “character synopses” should tell the story from the point of view of each character.

For one thing, I’m a little tired of rewriting the story from different points of view, I feel like I did enough of that in step 3. And without that, I wasn’t quite sure what to put in these longer descriptions. I tried pulling out my usual character questionnaire and hit some trouble with that too, since a lot of the questions weren’t really that applicable to Richard.

What I ended up doing, was a bit more of a free-form interview, with myself asking different questions for each character, inspired by what I thought would help me write them, and then doing the answer in that character’s voice. It worked pretty well… except for one character, who I’ll talk about further down.

Here’s the interview for Perry:

Perry
– Have you ever blacked out in a church before?
Well, once, but I was very hung over and didn’t think of it as anything unusual at the time. And I only lost a few hours.
– Okay. Where were you born?
I’m practically a local, from a town just west of Rochester, actually.
– What do you think about Jessie, really?
Well, I like her, she’s cute and funny and kinda sexy. Wouldn’t object to getting to know her a bit better in general, but right now, figuring out what she knows about me, if anything, is more important.
– Have you had a lot of girlfriends before?
I’m not sure about lots – at least my fair share. After Heather Millen drove me crazy enough with jealous questions that I felt I had to cut her loose, I’ve avoided trying to find anybody else on account of the trip to Haiti already being arranged by then.
– Have you thought about the possibility that whatever it was in your missing days, you really don’t want to know it?
Yeah, but – come on, it’s my life. Don’t I really have a right to know where it’s taken me?
– What’s your favorite way of spending downtime?
Either exercising or playing old video games.
– Who would you say is your closest friend?
Probably Ace. He’s a crazy goof, but always fun to be around, and I know that he’s got my back – though he might accidentally whack it with an elbow if he’s not looking the right way.

The one character I’m still having problems with is the antagonist, Rhona… no matter what I try, I feel like I still don’t have a handle on her or her motivations. I’ve put together a request for help over at the NaNoWriMo forum, so we’ll see how that goes.

And I’ll try to keep you all posted!


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