Certificate of Appreciation

GLAWS certificate of appreciationBack at the December GLAWS Special Speaker Event I was one of four members to receive a Certificate of Appreciation “For Your Outstanding Service, Important Contribution of Time and Energy, And Invaluable Support of the Society’s Mission and Vision”, from the GLAWS president, Tony N. Todaro. My contribution consists of volunteering at the monthly Special Speaker events and at the last five or six GLAWS writer’s conferences – I’m beginning to lose count.

Years ago, my wife and I attended Quattro University, an educational program for entrepreneurs. One of the things co-founder Cheri Tree would say is if you want to be a certain kind of person (i.e. business person), hang out with those kinds of people. Spend time with those who are successful in the field you’re interested in, that’s how you can learn from their success. For me, those people are successful writers and the people they need like agents and editors.

When you’re new to a field like I was, you have no contact to go to. Going to events like writer’s conferences is a good way to find those contacts. Another thing Cheri Tree would say was go early to events, volunteer to help set up and stay late and help tear down. That’s how I started. But it’s become much than that to me. I’ve made friends, colleges, and yes, contacts.

I’m grateful for all I’ve learned through GLAWS, not only improving my skills, but also what it takes to get my work out into the market. I want to give back, I’m glad to give back and volunteering is a way I can do that. I want to help Tony give others the same opportunities he has given me. In the end, we all benefit from it. The conferences run a little smother and over time I make some contacts. Some agents and editors already know me by name and many others recognize by sight.

I’m not exactly Thurston Howell III, so I can’t always throw money at things that I’m grateful for – but I can donate my time. I’m grateful to the American Red Cross for being there when my father needed emergency ulcer surgery. There is nothing scarier than having an ER doctor examine someone you love and say, “We’re operating NOW”. I donate blood regularly and host a yearly blood drive at Loscon, the Los Angeles Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. I’m also on kitchen staff at my church. I love to cook, so it’s the perfect place for me to serve.

Be grateful for what you have and the opportunities you are given. When you step off the road of gratefulness you step onto the path of arrogance.

WHAT NOT TO SAY

The first GLAWS special speaker event of the year was held last weekend on Saturday, January 17, 2015.  The topic was “What Not to Say to an Editor or Agent” with speaker Steven Hutson.  Mr. Hutson is a literary agent and editor who receives thirty to forty letters a week from aspiring writers looking to publish their book.  Most are professional, well written letters.  But some have a line or two that tells the agent that you are not at a professional level yet, that you don’t understand the publishing industry.  That’s the quickest way to get your letter rejected.

With thirty or forty submissions a week, you can see how an agent wouldn’t have time to read even a sampling of that many novels.  So making a professional first impression is very important.  Here is a sampling of a few of the wrong thinks to say that Mr. Hutson has received:

“Dear Agent:” Unless you are writing to Joe Agent that is not his name.  Be courteous enough to at least address him or her by their name.

“I’m a bestselling author.”  Really?  Where?  If it’s not on the New York times best seller list, this is a meaningless claim.  First, if you are, why are you looking for an agent?  Second, if you are self-published, the way the Amazon rating system works is tricky.  On a given day, you could out sell Harry Potter between the hours of 3:00 am and 4:00 am.   BAM!  You’re a bestselling author.

“Sign this non-disclosure form” By asking them to do this, you are implying that you think they are going to steal your work.   Agents don’t do that.  If they did, it would come back at them and end their career.

“My book is 275 pages long.”  Again, this is meaningless.  What size page?  What size type?  What an agent or publisher looks for is word count.  Mr. Hutson suggested that 110k words was about the limit for a new author.

At this point, literary agent and attorney, Paul Levine, spoke up from the audience.  He said that 60k to 80k words for a new author was the limit.  Any more than that and it becomes too expensive for a publisher to edit, print and ship.  Again, this is for a new author.  Once you are an established writer with a following, this no longer applies.

“My book won’t need editing.”  EVERY book needs editing.  Now, if you’ve have had your book gone over by a professional copy editor, content editor, or book doctor, that worth noting.

“I will seek an endorsement from…”  Just because you are going to seek an endorsement from an established writer, celebrity or expert in the field doesn’t mean you’ll get it.  If you don’t already have an endorsement, don’t talk about it.

“I have self-published 100 books.”  Not impressive.  Anyone can self-publish, and most self-published book aren’t any good.  Unless you’ve sold 10,000 self published copies of a book, like “Fifty Shades of Grey”, a publisher won’t be interested.

“My book is for everyone.”  No.  Every book has a target audience.

“My book is ground breaking / life changing /the next “Harry Potter”.”  Don’t boast.  It’s very bad.  The agent will decide for himself how you book stands.

You can see more of “What not to say” on Mr. Hutson’s blog at www.wordwisemedia.com  You can even look at his submission guidelines and download the query form if your work is ready.

GLAWS, The Greater Los Angeles Writer’s Society has Special Speaker Events ten times a year.  They are free to the public.  You may check for the next one at www.glaws.org.

STARTING THE YEAR WITH INSPIRATION

Well, I’m off to a good start.  I’ve already taken care of my first goal of the year, Submit entire Steampunk script for review.  Now I just have to wait to see when my turn comes up in my GLAWS screenwriting critique group.

Desk

In the meantime I have cleared off my desk of distractions and surrounded myself with things that inspire me.  The things that inspire me represent what’s important to me.  And in many cases, part of why I write.  Let’s take a closer look and I’ll explain:

One Piece Wall Scroll

My “One Piece” wall scroll.  I’m a big anime fan and this is one of my favorites.  If you’re not familiar with it, it’s about Monkey D. Luffy, the guy in the center.  He calls himself a pirate, and he wants to become king of the pirates.  To do that, he searches for the treasure left behind by the previous king of the pirates, Gold Roger.  At his execution, Roger said who ever found his treasure would be the new king, and that he left it all in one piece.

But Luffy is not really a pirate.  He’s a treasure hunter.  The only treasure he is interested in is One Piece.  He has left many other treasures behind for people in need.  They have fought many other pirates along the way.  If Luffy and his crew befriend you, they will fight to the death for you.  Additionally, each member of his crew has their own goal they want to achieve.  So while they’re having adventures in a very imaginative world, the show has very strong themes of loyalty, helping others, and striving for one’s goals.  All of which are important attributes to me.  My steampunk script is very strong on family loyalty and helping others.

On each side of the wall scroll are my badges and ribbons from the last three Gallifrey Conventions.  I’m a big Doctor Who fan way back from the ‘80s.  Again, a man who comes in out of the blue and fights for those in trouble.  See a theme yet?  I’m also a big Steve Moffat fan, the show’s Show Runner and major writer.  I consider Steve Moffat my writing guru, but that’s a whole blog post in itself.

Cork Board

On my cork board I have flyers for books on writing I want to buy – although I have five or six I haven’t read yet.  Always keep learning.  Don’t ever think you know enough.  A post card from the League of STEAM.  They’re like steampunk Ghost Busters.  Check them out on YouTube.  I also have my name badges from the American Red Cross.  Being a regular blood donor and hosting blood drives are ways I help others.  And I have some flyers from Carl’s Junior and Wendy’s.  Sometimes I just want a burger!

Some people put up a vision board.  That’s a good idea, too.  It’ keeps you focused on your goals.  But I just want to write for a living.  So what am I going to put up there, a picture of a typewriter?  I’m not really after awards like a Hugo or Nebula or Oscar.  I just want to be able to make a living at what I love doing.  Maybe I should put up a dollar bill.  Someday I will have a copy of my first check for writing up there.

Pony Shelf

Then there’s my pony shelf.  Where should I start with My Little Pony?  See my post from 9/22/15, “Bronies Anonymous”.  It’s my latest fandom and I’m proud of it!

Screen

Finally, there’s my wallpaper.  This ties back to my pony shelf.  If you’re not familiar with the show, the blue pony (pegasus, actually) to the right is Rainbow Dash.  She’ll be the first to tell you that she’s the greatest athlete in Ponyville – but she can back up that claim.  Yes, sometimes she can be a bit arrogant, but you won’t find anypony more loyal than her.  The younger Pegasus in bed is Scootaloo, Rainbow’s biggest fan.  Scootaloo was looking for a mentor to take her under their wing, a big sister.  And Rainbow Dash agreed to do so.

You can see from the hot soup and box of tissue that Scootaloo is sick.  Now it’s one thing to say you’ll be someone’s big sister, it’s another to really mean it.  Here, Rainbow has taken the time to visit Scootaloo and share her favorite book.  She is not only reading to Scootaloo, she is cosplaying the hero of the book, Darring Do.  It’s a simple act, but it’s full of love.

On the wall there are pictures of Scootaloo and Rainbow Dash, Scootaloo with her two best friends, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Bell, and a picture of Princess Luna who helped her overcome her greatest fear.  So there is a lot of love going on in this picture.   That’s why it inspires me.

Which is a whole discussion for another time.  Don’t just be inspired, inspire others.  Write what moves you.  If your story doesn’t move you, chances are it won’t move anyone else, either.

 

 

A NEW BEGINNING

New Year is a great time to restart and reboot.  So first off, sorry for being away for so long.  It started with me missing a week, then another, then another.  So I finally decided that instead of trying to catch up, I’d just wait to January and start again.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions.  Tried it a couple of times, never really was inspired to stick to them.  Once, a friend of mine suggested making a list of 100 things you want to do in the next year.  Some of these goals can be big, but a lot of them have to be small, like “make dentist appointment”.  This is because with 100 things, you’d have to complete one every three-and-a-half days on average.  But this does give you a lot of opportunities for small victories ,which can be encouraging.

I prefer a list of goals.  My tag line is “Follow me on my journey from wanna be writer to has-been hack in a single life time”, but it occurred to me that I haven’t been giving you a lot to follow.  So here is a list of things to follow in 2015:

1)       Submit entire Steampunk script for review.  In my GLAWS critique group, we generally read fifteen pages of two peoples’ scripts in a meeting and critique them.  This has been very helpful to me.  Just from fifteen pages I have gotten a lot of helpful advice on my writing and how to trim it.  But there are action scenes the group has never seen.  And now I would like to get some comments on the script as a whole.  I was recently reminded that one can also submit a script as a whole for review.  It won’t be read out loud, instead, the time will be spent critiquing the whole project.

2)      Attend GLAWS’ Big Story Writer’s Conference.  This is a chance to hear from working writers, agents and editors.  I went last year and it was very helpful.  Many of my posts were derived from those lectures.

3)      Rewrites based on the above critiques.  Once I get feedback, it’s time for another rewrite.  And then…

4)      Submit Steampunk script to agents.  As GLAWS writer Art Holcome says, all your writing doesn’t mean anything unless you get it out there.  And my end goal is to be able to make a living doing this.  I want someone to pay me to play make believe with my imaginary friends all day.  I have three lists of agents to submit to.  I’ll just go down the line until someone wants to represent me.

5)      Finish rewrites on Christmas script.  With the holiday season, I pulled out my Christmas script again.  I made some changes I really like, but I’m still not completely happy with it.  I feel like I’m ALMOST there!  This will be the next script I start submitting to my GLAWS critique group in fifteen page segments.

6)      Novelize Steampunk script.  Since a script is essentially a 143 page outline, I think I should be able to complete a first draft in six or seven months.  It would be sooner, but a novel is much more detailed than a script.  So I expect to spend a good amount of time doing research on the Victorian era.

7)      Join a GLAWS Science Fiction Critique group.  Once the novel is written, it will be time to get feedback on it.  Fortunately, GLAWS has separate critique groups for every genre from poetry and young adult to horror and screen writing.

8)      Volunteer at GLAWS events.  To be a writer today you need to do more than write.  You need to get feedback, promote your work, get an agent and network.  Networking is my weak spot.  So to work on this, I am going to volunteer at events such as the monthly GLAWS Speaker Events.

9)      Novelize Christmas script.  Don’t know if I’ll actually have time for this.  But it’s contemporary, a lot less research.

I’ll post updates as I work on these goals.  And I could use some encouragement from all you out there.  For more information on GLAWS, the Greater Los Angeles Writer’s Society, go to http://www.glaws.org/

What are your writing plans for the year?

Bronies Anonymous

Hi.  My name is Dennis Amador Cherry and I’m a brony.  I guess it started a few years ago when somepony someone showed me the first couple of episode of “My Little Pony:  Friendship is Magic”.  I thought it was cute, but being into Dr. Who and Cartoon Network at the time, I didn’t really get into it.  We also did not have the Hub Network.

Two things earlier this year started my decent into pony mania.  A friend of mine showed me a Youtube clip of Weird Al Yankovic guest staring as a pony named Cheese Sandwich.   Well, I thought, if Weird Al thinks it’s cool, maybe I should check it out.  And now I could because with a new cable provider, we had to go up one tier to get the package that included BBC America, and coincidentally, the Hub Network.  (Side note:  I just love the Time Warner commercials that say, “You shouldn’t have to pay for things you don’t need”.  Meaning if you only want internet access, you shouldn’t have to buy a package that includes phone and cable service.  But I have to buy a fifty-channel tier when all I want is two more channels. Oh, the irony.) 

So I started recording three episodes of MLP:  FiM every Saturday morning.  That wasn’t too bad.  I was still in control. But then, on the first week of August, the Hub ran a MLP Mare-A-Thon.  All ninety one episodes in five days!  I loaded up my DVR and still got only two-and-a-half out of four seasons.  And now I’ve seen them all!  So I scavenge my local Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Toys-R-Us for season three, four, and the theatrical movie “MLP:  Equestria Girls.”  “pssst!  Hey cashier, got any ponies?”

And then there’s the merchandise.  Should I collect the Funko vinyl figures?  Or the Hasbro toys – even though they are smaller than the original toys?  The itty bitty mini ones?  Should I just collect the mane (not a typo) six?  How about the secondary character?  How about the background ponies that have developed their own following, like DJ Pon 3, Photo Finish, Derpy and Dr. Whooves (fan named pony that Hasbro now acknowledges)?   And why can’t I find the Cutie Mark Crusaders in any form?  They keep staring in their own episodes, for Pete’s sake!    And the t-shirts.  I’m going to need more closet space.

And which of the twenty six pony conventions should I go to?  Oh, and that list didn’t even include Equestria L.A.!  How about all of them?  I see a lot of frequent flier miles in my future.

So does my wife help me with my addiction?  Actually, she is an enabler.  While I was becoming a brony, she was becoming a pegasister.  She always liked the moon, so it makes sense that her favorite pony is Princess Luna.  And then there’s my sister.  On almost every Facebook pony related page I checked out, she already “Liked” it.  So I guess it runs in the family.

So why do I bring up my newest fandom here?  Because of one of my favorite Solomon Short quotes:  “When you transcend the medium, you achieve art”.  In other words, when you take a subject and go beyond what its medium is expected to accomplish you pass from project to art!  The Hub has had a lot of shows geared toward young girls, from “Strawberry Shortcake” to “The Littlest Pet Shop”.  But none of them have come close to the popularity of “My Little Pony:  Friendship is Magic”, not even the earlier versions of MLP.  This can be attributed to the writing quality, production value and their musical productions.

At face value, the show teaches lessions about friendship.  But it does it without being preachy.  Also, you don’t have to be young or a girl to have friends.  It’s not about ponies doing what little girls do.  It’s about character interactions, problems that can arise and resolutions.  The show has also created its own mythos with a history dating back a thousand years.  It’s didn’t just create a setting for the stories, it created a universe.  A lot of imagination was poured into this show and it invites the viewer to engage their own imaginations.  We’re use to Star Trek having many conventions in a year, but a four-year-old kid’s show?  It’s because, like Star Trek, the audience is engaged.

The point is that publishers and producers like to categorize books and movies.  It gives them an idea on how much money to spend and how to advertise.  But a well-written or produced project will transcend its “target audience”.  “My Little Pony” is not the first.  Cartoon Network’s “Regular Show” has a large adult following because its creator, J. G. Quintel treats it as a sitcom, not a cartoon.  “Harry Potter” was a Scholastic Books series, but it became an international phenomena.  The “Twilight” movies were targeted at young adults, but how many “Twilight” moms are there?  “Star Wars” was targeted at science fiction fans, but has since created its own empire.

Whatever it is you’re writing, don’t short you story or your characters.  Don’t write a children’s story and think, this is just for kids so the story doesn’t have to be deep.  Don’t write a villain and think, this is an action/adventure movie so he doesn’t have to be three dimensionally fleshed out.  People connect with characters, so write the best characters you can no matter what genere.

Don’t write a children’s story, or a science fiction story, or a romance, or a comedy.  Write the best story you can no matter what genere it happens to be in.  Transcend the medium and achieve art!

The Dreaded “Info Dump”

 

Often in a story a character has to learn some pieces of information in order for the plot to keep moving.  Sometimes it’s a few lines, sometimes it’s a whole lot of information that threatens to bring the fast action adventure pace of an exciting story to a screeching halt.  That is the dreaded info dump.  But there are a number of ways around it.

There are different kinds of information you may have to give your audience.  Science and history, whether real or fictional,  are the most problematic.  Even if your hero has to sit through a lecture, you don’t want to lecture your audience.  One way to do it is to break up the information.  Give a little piece of information in one scene, then some more later on.  This also works with the principal of telling the audience only what they need to know at the time.  This can also work as comedic frustration for your character.  “Now you tell me this?”  “You couldn’t have told me this sooner?”

Or you can get it out all at once at the beginning before it can slow down your plot.  Think of James Bond movies.  They start with a big action scene and get you hooked.  Then 007 goes into Q’s office and is basically told everything he and the audience will need to know for the rest of the movie.

If it is a larger concept, there is the rule of threes.  That is, you hit a major point three times.  Look at the original Star Wars.  We are introduced to the Force when Obi Wan explains it to Luke as the “binding energy of the universe”.  We next see how it can be used when Luke practices using his lightsaber against that floating, laser-shooting ball.  So by the time Luke has to use the Force to destroy the Death Star, we have enough of an understanding of it.  The same principle was used in Back to the Future.  Marty McFly is given a flyer about the thirtieth anniversary of the clock tower being hit by lightening.  Then, when Marty is back in 1955, that flyer provides the only way he is going to have enough electricity to get back to his own time.  Then we see Marty and Doc Brown use that information to get Marty back to the future.

Another way is to focus on how the information effects the character that finds out about it.  “Luke, I am your father.”  Now the focus is on the character even though it’s the information that’s important.  You can also disguise the information.  When Marty is given that flyer, it’s unimportant to him.  It seems like a throwaway line.  Or the audience can see something the character doesn’t.  Then there is the tension of when is the character going to find out?

Or if you need to know how something works, have it break.  One thing Gene Roddenberry said about the technology of Star Trek is that Kirk would never sit down and explain how a phaser works just as Joe Friday wouldn’t explain how his revolver works.  Both men would just use it.  But if it breaks, now they have a reason to explain to someone what they need to find to fix it and why.

One last thought about science and history is something steampunk author Cherie Priest once said.  “You will always have too much and too little.”  You will always have readers or viewers who will be fascinated with the information and want more, or they will say they would have understood the plot better if they were given more.  Others will say it was too much unnecessary information and it just slowed everything down.  You can’t please everyone.  So just give out the information you feel is necessary.

Book Review:  “Screen & Stage Marketing Secrets” by James Russel

 

I really should have reviewed this book earlier.  When I attended USC Cinema/Television we spent a lot of time on screenwriting, but not a lot of time on how to sell a script.  Then, years later, when I picked up the keyboard again, I needed to know what to do to sell my finished work.  Fortunately, I found this book on Amazon.com.

The book starts out with the basics.  Story structure, plot, character development.  These are all things that you should really know before you even try to sell a script, but it’s a good review for anyone who’s been away from writing for a while.  It then goes on to the basics of format – and the importance of format.  Never underestimate the importance of format.  Throughout the book there is an emphasis on professionalism.  If you don’t look professional, you work won’t be taken seriously.  Format is one of the key factors of that.

The book then goes into how to write a query letter.  This was the most important part of the book for me.  A qerye letter is the letter you write to an agent to try to get them to represent your work.  As I said in my last post, most production companies won’t even look at your work if it doesn’t come through an agent.

There is an art to writing an effective query letter, just like there is to writing a good screenplay.  You introduce yourself, you have your log line, and you include any credits you may have like education, awards you’ve won or work you’ve sold.  That’s it.  If they like your letter, they will ask to see your script.  Two agents did ask to see my Christmas screenplay.  And thought they didn’t decide to represent it, my screenplay is in the hands of two professional agents.

The author even goes into how to assemble your package.  What order things go in, what size envelopes to use, even what kind of stamp goes on the envelope.  Yes, even the stamp on the envelope.  Agents get hundreds of query letter a week.  They are looking for any way to cut down their workload.  If you have some goofy looking stamp (like Goofy or some other cartoon character) they will think you are not serious about writing.  Only a “Freedom” or other serious stamp will do.  Again, everything has to look professional.

The author ends the book with a list of agents that will look at your work if you mention that you have read this book.  To them, reading the book shows that you are serious.  This list alone is worth the price of the book.  Be warned, some of the agents have either moved or gone out of business, so you will get some of your letters back.  It’s still worth it.

This is the book I recommend most to anyone who is ready to sell his work.

Who Are You Writing Your Screenplay For?

 

Hopefully your first answer is for yourself.  Because you have something to say.  You have a message, or a point of view you want to share.  Or you thought of something funny and a good joke needs to be shared.   But besides yourself, who are you writing for?  Are you writing for science fiction fans?  Mystery fans?  Fantasy fans?  Romance fans?  Young adults?  These are all popular genres with their own audiences.  I, myself am currently writing for science fiction fans, specifically the steampunk sub genere.

But the truth is, before your screenplay gets produced, it has to be bought by a studio or production company.   And before that happens, it is going to be read by a lot of people.  The first of which is a script reader.  A reader is a person who is either an employee of a production company, or is an independent contractor hired by the company to read through the onslaught of scripts that come into a studio every month.  I was a reader for a very short time while I was going to USC Cinema/Television.

Aside from have some kind if background in screenwriting, a reader could be anybody.  They may have an interest in you genere, they may not.  Probably not.  What they are is a person trying to make a living.  If they are an independent contractor, they are getting paid by the script.  They may walk in on Monday, be given ten scripts to read, and have to have their scripts coverages (synopses with critiques) in by Friday.  They are not someone who can buy your script.  They can only give the opinion of yes, no or maybe.  And a “Yes” will only get your screenplay to the next level where it will be scrutinized even closer.

This is who you are writing your script for.

And this is why there is a certain format you must follow in order to look professional and guidelines you must follow in order just to get your script read.  Professionalism is the first thing they look for.  If you just look like you’re not taking your art seriously, they won’t take you seriously.  You won’t even make it into the “To be read” pile.  For legal reasons, most studios won’t even look at an unsolicited  work  that doesn’t come through an agent.  So now you have to get through the agent’s readers before you can get to the studio’s readers.   You have to follow standard script format.  People in the business know what to expect from this format.  If you don’t follow the format, your work may be confusing.  The last thing you want to do is confuse your reader.  If they get lost, you story is history.  Fortunately, a program like Final Draft can take care of this for you.  It’s quick to learn and you probably won’t even use one tenth of the functions it has.

Even if you follow the right format, there are still other mistakes you can make.  For example, spelling and punctuation.  A misspelling or two won’t kill you.  But too many shows a lack of professionalism.  Length is another concern.  Reading a script is work.  And a really big script looks like a lot of work.  Given a choice, a reader will probably go for something thinner.  This is something I struggle with.  The rule of thumb is a page per minute.  Mine tend to go 140 or even 149.  This is where rewrites come in.

Flipping through the script, pages that are heavy in scene description also look like a lot of work.  Keep your scene descriptions short.   Describe only what is necessary.  Too much description also slows down the pace of the story.  Keep it moving.  This is the one big difference between writing a novel and a screenplay.  Say as much as you can in as few words.

If you can do all these things right, the one best thing you can do to get your story read is to have a compelling story.   You have to catch the reader no matter what particular genere they like.  Remember, a good story will transcend its target audience.

Buy the Saddle

An old friend of mine once told me something.  I don’t know where he heard it, but it’s very true.  “If one man says I’m a horse, I’ll ignore him.  If a second man says I’m a horse, I’ll slug him.  If a third man says I’m a horse, I’ll buy a saddle.”  Critique groups like the GLAWS critique group I go to, are a great way to get feedback.   But they only work if you are willing to listen.

This is how our critiques group works.  We meet every other week.  At each meeting, two people present fifteen pages of their screenplay.  They assign parts to the other members of the group and we do a read through.  Afterwards, each person gives a two minute critique, uninterrupted by the author.  Then, it’s an open discussion.

The first time I had my first fifteen pages read, I was in for quite a surprise.  My steampunk story starts sixteen years before the body of the story – sort of a prequel.  It starts when a meteor hits London the same night my protagonist is born.   The head of my family of adventurers sees the meteor hit as an indication of how unprepared England is for disasters, manmade or natural, so he establishes his scientific institute.   So the point of the meteor is that history started becoming steampunk on the same night my heroine was born.  That’s it.  Nothing more.

But the group saw the meteor as meaning a whole lot more.  Three quarters of them attributed some kind of supernatural element to the meteor.  Many thought it affected my heroine is some supernatural way, giving her unearthly powers.  This was a surprise to me.  While there is a large section of steampunk that includes the supernatural, most of the group wasn’t even familiar with the genera.  A few others thought it was the cause of a plague that occurs in the body of the story.   Considering that the body of the story happens sixteen years after the opening, it never occurred to me that anyone would connect the meteor to the plague.

In retrospect, I can’t blame them.  I started off the screenplay literally with a bang.  So, of course, they expected it to be meaningful.  It overshadowed what I intended to be meaningful – my heroine’s mother’s reaction to the events the meteor caused, her husband, a physician, being dragged away while she’s giving birth.  This is also why it’s important to have an impartial critique group.  The friends and relatives I told my story to knew what to expect.  So when they read the screenplay, they weren’t thrown off.

With this feedback, I had a lot of rewrites to do.  I liked my birth scene.  It was humorous and introduced most of my main characters.  The meteor crash was dramatic, but it was taking readers off in the wrong direction.  I cut the meteor crash, birth scene and other parts of the first fifteen pages.  With the second read through only two people thought my story would have supernatural elements.  Two out of about twenty was not bad.  Only two people called me a horse.  The rest were where pretty much where I wanted them to be.  There are still a few questions about the direction of my story, but the next fifteen pages, which will be read the next time my turn comes up, should answer those.

But I have seen some people, in this GLAWS group and at USC Cinema/Television, that argue the feedback they get.  Instead of hearing a problem everyone is repeating, they argue why they wrote it that way.  In their minds, they know what they are trying to accomplish.  They argue their point.  But they don’t get what they intended is not coming off the page.  When they submit their script to be read, they won’t be there to explain what they are trying to accomplish.  What’s in the page has to stand on its own.    Writing is a learning process.  You join critique groups like this to learn what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong.  You have to be willing to listen in order to improve you story and improve your chances of selling your work.

It’s not easy to listen to criticism.  People can spend hundreds of hours on their screenplay.  It’s their baby, it’s precious to them, it speaks of something from their heart.  The natural reaction to criticism is that the reader didn’t get it.  It’s their fault, not your work’s.  Sometimes that’s true.  But if a lot of people tell you the same thing, you better listen.  Especially if those people are at the same writing level you are or higher.

I wrote earlier that to be a writer, you have to be an egotist.  You have to be excited about your story to get others interested in your story.  But that’s at the selling phase.  There is no room for ego at the writing phase.  You have to be willing to admit that you don’t know everything.  That what’s clear in your head may not be coming off the page.  And that you may be blind to some problems that are clear to everyone else.

One Little Thing Changes Everything

I’m working on my latest draft of my steampunk screenplay. It’s draft 9. You never really finish rewriting, but that’s another story. I felt the need to change one thing. During the climatic fight/escape scene the leader of the group tells my protagonist what to do so they can all escape. Now, she comes up with the idea herself. This led to massive changes to the next eight pages which have taken me several nights to figure out.

Why so much work? Because when the leader made the suggestion, knowing she could accomplish the task despite her misgivings, he knew what to expect. And he and his wife (my protagonist’s mentor) coordinated the fight accordingly. Now the leader doesn’t know what to expect. In fact, he was trying to protect my protagonist. But she has now gone off with her best friend. He only sees the results of what they are doing and surmises their plan. This changes various element of the fight, but certain key elements have to stay in sequence for the overall scene to work. This is where it gets tricky. I’m also giving my protagonist more to do, things that show off her unique talents. But that takes time. So the main fight has to go on longer (or seem to go on longer without adding script pages) to give my protagonist time to save the day.

I also dropped one good guy, he really wasn’t doing much. When I started this story, I saw him as the leader’s right hand man. Part of the core fighting group. But as the story progressed, I just didn’t have much for him to do. He just became more of a driver. Not even the leader’s personal driver, more of the estate’s driver. Even here at the climactic scene he has little to do. So he’s gone. That didn’t change things much at all, which shows you how unimportant he was.

So why go to all this trouble? Why make it my protagonist’s idea instead of the leader’s idea. Because it s my protagonist’s story. She is the heroine of the story. She is the one who has to change and take action. She starts off just wanting to be a gear head with no intention of being any kind of hero. But toward the end (the end of act two, actually), when her father is kidnapped and no one around her wants to help, she realized she must be the hero and rescue him herself. Then in this scene, a fight is going on. She is not a trained fighter like the others in her group. But she can use her mechanical skills to help everyone escape. In this way, she becomes the hero of the story and a key part of the team.

The story centers around a family of fighters, a family of heroes. This is the story of my protagonist joining this group. She is THE hero of the story, but she also is the everyman character. She is the character through which we learn about the steampunk world she lives in, are amazed by the inventions available to this family, and are thrilled, amazed and terrified by the journey she takes. She is the character that has to be changed by the experiences she goes through. She starts out not wanting anything to do with being a hero. She ends up taking the initiative to use her skills to save everyone despite the danger. So for that reason, that little change in the script, regardless of how much extra worked it caused, had to be made.

Rewriting