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.

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?

Log Lines

What is a log line? Put simply, it is your elevator pitch. It is your story in three or four sentences. This is not an easy thing to do. You spend months, maybe even years, on your screenplay, then you have to compress it into three or four lines. It may not seem fair, but when you start sending out query letters to try to get representation, that’s all you get to represent your work.

Writing a query letter is an art in itself – but that’s for another time. But it all comes down to the log line. In as few words as possible, you have to catch the interest of your reader. You have to make your main character interesting, say what his goal is, and what are the obstacles in his way.

During my time in GLAWS, I have come across many methods of writing a log line. But the best exercise I have found so far is by writer Christine Conradt, the subject of my last blog post. She wrote this article for www.screeplayhowto.comm . In it, she gives the six elements that need to be in a good log line, then uses examples from her own screenplays. The direct link to this article is www.screenplayhowto.com/screenplay-blog/how-to-write-a-logline It’s short, but then again, so is a log line.

You can also see Ms. Conradt’s page at www.christineconradt.com

Writing Scenes That don’t Exist

 

So after I wrote my last blog on Christine Conradt’s GLAWS presentation, I thought I’d check out her two articles in the two “Now Write” books.  In, “Now Write!  Screenwriting” she has an exercise called “The Scene That Doesn’t Exist”.  It is an exercise to help overcome writer’s block.  Basically, you take your two main characters and just put them in a scene you know won’t be in your screenplay.  She uses the example of a pizza parlor.  Then just see what happens, what they talk about, etc.  The idea is to get to know your characters better.  Sometimes they surprise you.

The thing is I often do this inadvertently.  I’m a nonlinear writer.  I jump around from scene to scene.  If I get stuck on one scene, I’ll jump to another scene further down the road.  When I started on my current steampunk script, I started at the beginning.  But there was a chase scene on a moving train that I really wanted to write.  So I wrote it, then I went back and built up to it.   I have a friend and fellow writer, Kristen Roach Harris ( Fireplace Girl on Krypton Radio’s “The Corsair’s Closet”) who cannot wrap her head around this style of writing.  She is a romance writer and she has to write from start to finish.  I have only ever written one script like that.

Actually, I had a professor at USC Cinema/Television who had us write the first twenty pages of our scripts first, then the last twenty pages.  Those are usually the easiest to write.  Most people know how their story is going to start and they know what the climactic scene is going to be.  It’s the stuff in the middle that gets hard.  At USC they would have us outline our stories, use index cards and other devices like that.  That never worked for me.  Now I think about a story I want to write – maybe for a couple of months.  I imagine scenes I want and develop characters and conflicts.  Then, when I have about 80% plotted out, I start writing.

But sometimes you do end up with a scene that will never be in the final script.  I wrote a scene where one of my protagonist’s brothers fancies my protagonist’s best friend.  He thinks no one has noticed, but everyone knows.  And when it comes out, he is embarrassed and tries to deny it.  I liked the scene because I wrote it with a very Monty Pythonish flavor.  But as I developed the story, I changed their relationship.  They fancy each other and everyone knows it.  No big deal.  So that scene can never be in the script.

So was that a waste of time?  No, I don’t think so.  It helped me develop his character and gave me practice in a particular style of comedy writing, a style which I intend to use with my protagonist’s love interest in the second part of the steampunk trilogy.  He is the straight-laced business type who’s brain flies out the window when he sees her.  This style of comedy is better suited for his character.  In the end, it’s all practicing your art.

How do you practice your art?

On a side note, in “Now Write!  Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror”, Christine Conradt has a chapter on The Eleven Tenets of Fear.  But what caught my attention was the very first chapter of the book, “Where Does He Got Those Wonderful Ideas?  Making Speculative Fiction Speculative”.  Finally, about thirty five years later, my offence to that horribly titled film strip, “Where the Weird Ideas Cone From” is vindicated.

GLAWS Special Speaker Event:  Christine Conradt

Less than twenty-four hours ago as I write this, I was attending Christine Conradt’s presentation on Creating Strong Female Characters.  Going into this, my thought was, “how is creating a strong female character different than creating a strong male character?”  The answer is that it is not.  This lecture was more about gender biases and how to overcome them.

Every culture has its gender biases, and as writer’s we have them too.  A bias is a generalization we have about gender roles.  What is a male role and what is a female role.  If we create characters that fit into these generalizations, we aren’t creating anything  new or different.  As writer’s, it is our job to create characters (male and female) that go beyond these roles.  That’s how you create interesting characters.

There has been criticism lately that there is a lack of strong women characters is film.  Ms. Conradt mentioned that there is actually a test to determine if a film has strong female characters:  The Bechdel Test.  The test goes as follows:  1)  Are there two named female characters? 2) Do they talk to each other?  3) Do they talk about something other than men?  Wikipeda has a comprehensive article about this test http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test .  But for now, think about it.  If two women in a film don’t talk about anything other than men, how deep can their characters be?  You may think that is obvious.  If two character only talk about one subject throughout a whole story, how believable can those characters be?  How three dimensional?  Yet most films, according to Conradt and the Wikipeda article fail this test.  And in failing, these films make less money than those that pass the test.

So why do these films keep being made?  Partly because of the bias producers have.  Some feel that the female character can’t save the male character.  It makes the male look weak.  But that’s the wrong attitude.   If you have to make the male character weak to make the female character look strong, then you’re doing it wrong.

Conradt covered a myriad of other topics.  Some of them were obstacles writers have to overcome, history of gender roles, helpful and harmful generalizations, and overcoming the feminism trap.  Conradt’s powerpoint  presentation is available at www.writersstore.com .  I would also suggest you look up her website www.christineconradt.com .  She has published articles she has written, movie reviews from a story structure standpoint and offers small group seminars and script consulting.  You can also check out her Facebook page.

As for the lack of strong women characters in films, I’m not so sure.  America Ferrera, Astrid of “How to Train Your Dragon”, has expressed similar concerns.  But there is her character in “How to Train Your Dragon 2”.  And while her character is not as central as it was in the first movie, Hiccup’s mother, Valka, is.  Then there is Anna and Elsa from “Frozen”, and Katniss from “The Hunger Games” movies.

Maybe it’s just the movies I see.  What do you think?