Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Last Monday was our biweekly meeting of GLAWS Screenwriting Critique Group that meets at Los Angeles Valley College.  Every other meeting we take fifteen pages of two submitted scripts, read through them and critique them.  This is the second time since I have joined the group that my work has been up.

The first time showed me some big problems I had.  My steampunk screenplay starts with the birth of my protagonist on the night a meteor hits just outside of town.  The point of the meteor is that it causes my protagonist’s father to leave his wife while giving birth.  He is a doctor and his skills are needed.  There is a midwife, so he really isn’t needed there.  And later on, you discover that the meteor marks the point where history changed from being as we know it to being an alternative, steampunk reality.

That’s it!  That was the importance of the meteor.  But that’s not how the group saw it.  I opened up with a bang (literally) and people expected the meteor to be more significant.  Bear in mind that this group is not particularly versed in steampunk.  They do not know that there is a whole subgenre of the supernatural in the alternate Victorian world.  Yet quite a large percentage of them thought that the meteor was endowing my protagonist with some kind of supernatural ability.  That is a completely different direction than where I am going.

What this showed me was that I way overplayed the meteor.  Sometimes you are so close to your subject that you miss obvious problems.  In the second version they read (actually, the eighth draft) I cut back the whole meteor thing to less than half a page.  Only two people speculated on supernatural abilities, which isn’t bad.  That was one step forward.

Of course it can go the other way.  You can know your character in your head so well that you forget to tell the reader some really important detail about them.  Or, in rewrites, you can delete a character’s introduction.  Then they just pop up in the middle of your story with no explanation.

These are some examples of major story problems.  But a key reason for having a group read your work is to listen for repeated comments.  In this second reading, a lot of people said they liked my dialogue.  That’s encouraging, it’s something I’m doing right, and it’s my second step forward.

A lot also said I had too much exposition.  I explain things too much.  As one person put it, my characters are telling each other what they already know.  That’s my one step back.  But this is also a good thing.  I tend to write long.  My screenplay is 149 pages long.  It should be about 120.  Now I have a better idea of where to cut.

There is a natural progression of getting feedback.  First, you show your work to your family.  But they’re most likely to love anything you write because they love you.  “That’s great, honey.  Keep it up.”  Then, you show it to your friends.  Really good friends will tell you when something stinks.  But they might not have the professional eye to tell you why.  They might just say something like, “It just didn’t catch me.”  But if you are serious about your writing, you need to take it to others who are equally serious.  And hopefully led by a teacher or industry professionals.  As I tell anyone who will read my work, “I rather you tell me it stinks than an agent or producer.”

If you live in or near the Los Angeles area, I strongly recommend you look up   http://www.glaws.org/html/mainmenu.html .  Their critique groups are one of the best opportunities they offer.

Where are you getting your feedback?

Interview: Cherie Priest

As I said in my last post, Gaslight Gathering 4: A Martian Holliday, was my first steampunk convention. The Writer Guest of Honor was Cherie Priest, the author of the Boneshaker series. I interviewed her for our show on Krypton Radio, The Corsair’s Closet. You can listen to it on the link down below. The interview starts about five minutes in, or you can listen to the whole show. Enjoy!

For those of you who are not familiar with the show, my wife Kris is Time Siren, our friend Liz Carlie is Mad Woman with a Box (Mad Woman for short) and I’m the ALOF (Adult Fan of Lego) Husband.

Convention Review: Gaslight Gathering 4: A Martian Holiday

Though my interest in writing is novels and screenplays, I have also written a few articles for Krypton Radio.   This particular one was not published, but it was a heck of a lot of fun to put together. Since I’m currently writing a steampunk trilogy, I had been anxiously waiting to attend my first steampunk convention. Fortunately, there was one in nearby San Diego, CA.

Gaslight Gathering 4: A Martian Holiday

May 2nd – 4th, 2014

Town & Country Hotel, San Diego CA

Science and Fantasy conventions generally cover a spectrum of many interests. Occasionally, one of those sub interests grow large enough to sustain its own conventions. We saw this a number of years ago with Anime. Within a decade, anime went from being a niche interest to holding its own conventions, such as Anime Expo in Los Angeles which now rivals the size of San Diego Comic Con International.

Steampunk is the newest of these breakout genres. Still in its infancy, steampunk conventions have only been around for four or five years. My wife and I (Time Siren and the AFLO Husband of the Corsair’s Closet) recently attended Gaslight Gathering 4: A Martian Holiday in San Diego, California. What struck us most about the convention was the newness and the freedom. Not just because we are new to the genre, but because of an overwhelming attitude of freedom in the expression of the genre. As one badge ribbon puts it, “It’s not steampunk to say ‘That’s not steampunk’”. In other words, there are no rights and wrongs in doing steampunk, either in costuming or writing. Though it’s set mostly in the Victorian Era, it doesn’t have to be. It can be straight scientific speculation of a future that never was, or it can include the supernatural. A costume can be historically accurate, but mostly you can fudge it to fit your persona or narrative needs. You won’t find any costume Nazis here. As panelist Diana Vick put it, “Steampunk needs historical accuracy like a dirigible needs a goldfish”.

The main goal in doing steampunk is to have fun, and this con was full of fun from start to finish. It’s a relatively small con, about 400 members. Everyone was very friendly, laid back, and the con staff bent over backwards to keep things running smooth and problem free.

It’s been a long time since a con offered more panels than I could possibly hope to attend. The good news was that some of the major panels were repeated to give you a second chance. Here is an overview of the panels I attended:

FRIDAY

Steampunk 101: The basic feel of steampunk is that it’s more freeing and more fun. About 90% of the members were in costume. And since there is a lack of steampunk on the big screen or TV, everyone is making up their own character. So there is no one to tell you you’re doing it wrong. The entry level of costuming is also lower than other cosplays. I bought a Dickies (mundane brand name) airship shirt, tan cargo pants and I was in. Add a top hat, goggle, etc. and you’re on your way. As one panelist put it, ”It has a more welcoming nature; more love than other nerd cons.”

Recovering a Parasol demonstration:   This was one of a myriad of maker (prop/costume piece) demonstrations. The panelist demonstrated a method of recovering a parasol that solved endless headaches for Time Siren. She even got a chance to show the panelist her Bohemian Dreams parasol which he grabbed gleefully and showed everyone as a comparison to his maker models, commenting how beautiful hers was! There were twenty four different maker panels in all.

Researching Before Writing: The Devil Is in the Details: One of the best pieces of advice was to find an expert to ask about what you need to know. Experts love to talk about what interests them. Then you have to figure out what to keep and what to throw away. How historically accurate should you be? It all depends on narrative convenience.

Basic Steampunk Archetypes: This covered all types of characters from adventurers to zombies. From what they might wear to what equipment they might carry. Are they aristocratic or paupers?

Friday Night Concert: This featured live performances from Professor Elemental, Fishtank Ensemble and Poplock Holmes. Poplock Holmes started with a song about the recent newsworthy event where a group of local steampunk cosplayers were thrown out of a shopping mall. All the steampunkers wanted to do was ride the carousel in costume. The mall had had some recent problems with some vampire cosplayers and did not trust anyone in costume, hence the harassment.

Saturday

How to Create a Steampunk Persona: The take away here was to create a persona close to your own personality. It will be easier to stay in character and will be more fun in the long run.

Zeppelins in Combat: This was a fascinating historical panel presented by Gordon Herman of the San Diego Air and Space Museum. It followed the history of zeppelins in battle from the Civil War to World War Two. I took more notes on this than any other panel. The thing that struck me most was that Ferdinand Count Von Zeppelin died-broken hearted. By the end of the First World War, his invention that he created for peace became a war machine that became known as a baby killer.

Adding Science and Whimsy to Your Costume: The funniest thing to note here is that we think of the period as being very elegant, when in fact, the Victorians had no taste in fashions! It was a period that new color dyes were being created. They would wear oranges with purples with new colors that don’t exist in nature. We don’t realize this because all the pictures we have of the era are in black and white.

War of the Worlds USO Dieselpunk Ball: This featured live swing music performed by High Society Jazz Band of San Diego. It was the most fun and energetic dances I’ve been to in a long time.

Sunday

Seven Stampunk Fallacies: Too many funny stories to count. But here is the list: 1) Steampunk is anything you want it to be. No, there are guidelines. 2) Steampunk must have “punk” in it. “Punk” being chaos, anarchy, fighting against the machine, etc. No. What you are doing is punking history. 3) Victorian recreation is all you need. No, it’s just a start. 4) You must make it all yourself. Really? Did you make your underwear? 5) Well, my props really work!: You mean it blinks and spins and make noises. 6) If it’s not metal it’s crap. You try carrying around a fifty pound ray gun for a day. 7) Never wear goggles, everyone wears goggles, so you shouldn’t. And it’s converse: It’s not steampunk unless you have goggles. 8) Disney doesn’t do steampunk. Every heard of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? When it comes to steampunk, Disney built the boat! 9) Steampunkers take themselves very seriously. Obviously, people who think this have never been to a convention. And finally, obviously the panelist couldn’t count.

Airship Ventures, A Zeppelin Ride in 2012: Up until 2012 there was an airship you could ride in San Diego. The flight was about an hour long and cost about $400.00 per person. It was larger than the Goodyear blimp and held a crew of two and twelve passengers. The company, Airship Ventures, still operates in Germany.

Airships Over San Diego: A historical look at Airships used by the U.S. Navy and Air Force used through the 1930s. Some interesting facts: The Navy started using helium instead of hydrogen. While helium won’t ignite, there is a 22% to 30% loss of lift. Zeppelin is a brand name for a dirigible, like Kleenix is a brand name for tissue. A dirigible has a ridged frame with gas bags in it, and a blimp has an elastic covering. Both dirigibles and blimps are airships. They can be controlled. A hot air balloon cannot be controlled, hence, is not an airship.

Overall it was a fun, exciting and educational weekend set in a beautiful and casual hotel. Next year the convention will be held in September, no specific date set yet. For the latest new, visit www.gaslightgathering.org or visit their Facebook page.

For more steampunk resources:

www.steampunempire.com

www.aishipambassador.com

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A LONG TIME AGO…

In a Starlog magazine far, far, away science fiction writer David Gerrold wrote about being a writer. He often wrote about being a writer, and one of the things he said is that a writer has to be an egotist. If you are walking into a publisher’s office, or are about to pitch your script to a producer, you have to be excited about your story. You have to believe it’s the best story in the world. Why? Because if you’re not excited about it, you can’t expect anyone else to be. Publishers and producers listen to pitches every day. You can’t walk in and say, “Here’s something I wrote. I hope you like it.” You have to walk in with the attitude of, “I’ve got this great story. Let me tell you about it!” Of course, there are limits. You don’t want to be obnoxious. And you want to stop and listen to what the person you’re pitching to has to say.

The point is to be excited about your work. And that starts with writing something you’re excited about, a story you want to tell, an idea you want to explore. Right now, I’m excited about steampunk, so that’s what I’m writing. Some writers make the mistake of trying to follow a trend. For example, zombie movies are big now. But let’s say you started writing one right now and sold it within a year. It will still take at least two years to produce. The trend will probably be over. But if you happen to be passionate about zombie movies, there’s a greater chance you’ll write something original, with a new twist. And even if the trend is waning, some studio might still say, “Nobody has done THIS before.”

The truth is that writing can be a long, hard process. Not every scene is going to be a thrill-a-minute or a laugh riot. Some days you’ll just get stuck or write yourself into a corner and have to back track. And there is no guaranteed payoff. Write because you love writing. Even if only your friends and family will ever see it. David Gerrold once wrote that he writes because there are books he wants to read, but no one has written them yet. So he has to write them. That’s my philosophy. There are books I want to read, movies I want to see, but no one’s written them yet. So it’s up to me.

What’s your story?