Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Skinny up, Pardner

Posted: January 26, 2011 in screenwriting
Tags: , ,

I recently discovered the most amazing, most effective diet in the world. Severe mouth pain. When your mouth hurts bad enough, you look at every morsel of food before you put it in your mouth and you ask yourself, is this worth it? You have to be REALLY hungry for the answer to be yes.

You might only get a couple of bites into something, and the answer will change.  Suddenly and decisively to NO!

And as I looked at a bottle of water and debated taking another painful sip or risking dehydration, I thought, this is like writing.

Or I should say, writing should be more like this.

It’s a bad habit a lot of screenwriters in particular have. Because we know that the dialog is the part of the script that will ultimately get the most attention, because we have heard that producers won’t read anything else, because the dialog might actually come out of someone’s mouth exactly the way we write it, our dialog ends up bloated and fat.

Take for example, the typical love scene. In the script, the boy and the girl gaze into each other’s eyes.


You are the most amazing woman I ever met.


You are also amazing and I love you like a butterfly loves to flutter. Like the moon lives to shine. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to sit near you when you watch football. I want to wake up to you. I want to be two old people walking through the park holding hands.


You are so beautiful. I want our children to look like you. But I’m worried that the terrorists might find us hiding in this cabin. I don’t care if they kill me, but I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to you.

Yes, this movie is a romantic action film. Of course.

In my real life experience, romantic encounters are all about what isn’t being said. In my experience, some of that internal monologue is internal because I am worried that I might say the wrong thing. So must everyone else. Some of that internal monologue is, “I like him. Does he like me? I don’t want to say anything, I don’t want him to feel pressured. Maybe I could say this…NO! That sounds desperate, even in my head. Ok, maybe I’ll just smile. Yeah. Smiling. There’s the ticket.” Also, to get a guy to even admit he has emotions requires supernatural forces.

The fact is that real people don’t say everything they think. And those that do are always getting into fights and then they have to go back and apologize for what they said or explain that they didn’t mean it how the words seemed to be, but this other, more acceptable way.

Movie dialog is of course, not real speech. It is heightened speech. But it could benefit from the things that are NOT said as much as the things that are.

What if I wrote a love scene that went more like this:





(after a long moment of silence) I guess yeah.



He busies himself shaking out a blanket and draping it around her shoulder. He is very careful to get it securely around her.





They look into each other’s eyes.  His hands are still on her shoulders.


It’s cold.



They lean closer together.



(he clears his throat)

It must be a cold front.

They kiss.

See? Wasn’t that nice? Fewer words, more space for atmosphere and feeling. It’s ok to leave your audience and your characters and yourself not quite stuffed to the gills with words.

Also, I know that I failed to use proper screenplay formatting. The blog doesn’t have the tools to do it, and I don’t have the time to count spaces, so deal with it. You knew what I meant, anyhow.


Limp along, Little Doggy

Posted: January 24, 2011 in Updates from the Outlaw

I’ve been miserable, laid out sick this last week. It has hampered my writing progress, and in the meantime, I ended up taking on another small project.

January 31st, people. January 31st, I am finishing this book. Come hell or high water.

Happy Writing Trails

Posted: January 17, 2011 in Updates from the Outlaw

So one thing I find interesting about my current work, that of transforming a film script into a novel, is that I often find myself unwinding scenes. In the script, I made an effort to set up scenes quickly, to layer in meaning, to avoid repeating myself. That led to scenes that are like tight coils of words.

But in the novel form, my focus has changed. The script never had the opportunities for character development that the novel has, but in particular, I am digging deeper into the main character’s head. There are more bread crumbs in the novel. So it is much as though I were uncoiling these scenes from the script into ribbons that lead off into blind alleys and unknown territories.

I am starting to realize that after the novel, I am going to have to return to the script and rewrite it to include all the gems I am discovering along this way.

Also, go football!

Outlaw at the Lake House

Posted: December 20, 2010 in Updates from the Outlaw

Here I am, at a lake house with nothing to do but write, and what has happened? I have suddenly become an avid and intricate cook.

The other thing that has happened is I have been gripped by a story I did not intend to write while I was here. It’s an idea for a television series, a high quality, short season series that would belong on a channel like HBO. I didn’t intend to work on it because if I get to see this project to fruition, it won’t be soon.

Here’s the worst part. I have thought my way past the series time frame, when things are interesting, way down the road to the characters all settling down and having children. I am gripped by it. My thoughts keep straying away from the task at hand to this epilogue of something else I have no intention of writing right now.

Usually, when the imagination is forging new territory, that is the perfect time to bang out a first draft. But this isn’t the draft I want. This isn’t the draft anybody wants. I can’t imagine anything more dull than the junk I can’t stop thinking about.

It reminds me of playing Legos with my brother as a child. He would stage battles and build vehicles. I would build a house. Not a good house. Just a one brick high outline of a house. And I would enact Lego Man sagas of love, family, and death. I went through generations of Lego men. I wept over their little travails, that I was the author of. There were unending birth scenes, death bed scenes, and marriage proposals. I did this compulsively. There were variations of course. Sometimes the little Lego couples would get married on my brother’s bed. Sometimes they got married on the floor. The words changed. I thought they changed.

But as a writer, I now know that most of the times a child is born, it is a great moment to that child’s parents and family, but not the rest of the world. Just like I know that a story shouldn’t begin with the main character waking up. It seems like the beginning of something, but isn’t.

Because there is the one big question the writer has to answer with the story. So what? And this stuff I’m lingering on fails to answer that question.

I spent an hour planning how one family would make space for the Mother-in-Law to move in with them.

So why can’t I get past this?

Reason number 1: it is a sophisticated procrastination technique.

I can believe this because I sometimes feel like my own subconscious is the greatest enemy of my writing. And because I am being more compulsive than normal about it. And because I often feel the need to lay down on the couch with my eyes closed to more fully concentrate on it.

Reason number 2: it is more interesting that I think it is, and I should be writing it.

Maybe. But my judgement says no, and if I don’t trust my own judgement, where does that end?

If I got to a place where the original story got made into a television series, it would have to last fifteen seasons to get to this place. And the tone is different, and the characters are all more mellow and accepting, and the conflict is over, and really, it’s just the stuff that happens after the story ends, which is still a story, but a different story, for a different audience. But without the original story, none of this would make much sense, and people would care less.

I care. The audience is me. Because that’s part of the schizophrenia that is fiction writing. I invent people in my head that I then fall in love with and want to know their whole lives, even though the story is mostly them surviving the disasters I have inflicted on them. Yet there is also the feeling that I didn’t choose, that these things are inevitable. See reason number 4.

Reason number 3: it addresses some problem of my own personal psyche.

I am purposefully isolating myself. And this story is all about mundane interpersonal connections. Maybe my subconscious is screaming at me to have some company over.

Reason number 4: I have lost my mind.

We must acknowledge that this very well may be the motivation for everything I do.

Cowboys and Indians

Posted: December 15, 2010 in screenwriting
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Novels vs. Screenplays

When I was in grad school, my classmates had a bad habit. If they knew someone had ever written a screenplay, they would look at a story and say, “This was written like a screenplay.” What they usually meant was, “This doesn’t have a lot of detail.” Because they all assumed screenplays lack detail.

It was a mistake because we were all so new in our careers that the kind of habitual writing markers of novelists and screenwriters had yet to be ingrained in any of us. And because screenplays can sometimes be different from fiction only in the formatting. And because I say so.

So what is the difference? Why can’t every book be made directly into a movie?

Because I write both, I can tell you the difference to me.

In writing novels, an author has access to the entire inner workings of every character to cross the page, and the author chooses who to reveal. The author can choose a point of view that restricts access. HOWEVER, an author can’t hide thought that fall into the point of view she has chosen. You can’t write from the first person perspective of a homicidal maniac, and just leave out his thoughts of “Kill. Kill. Kill.” It is dishonest, and your reader will feel tricked.

In a screenplay, however, you have no ability to express a characters thoughts, unless you go crazy Avant Garde and have a running voiceover of thoughts. Even movies that claim mind reading characters are still terribly selective about the mind reading they do. You’re control over point of view is much more limited in screenwriting. In a novel, I can tell you what a character thinks is happening. In a screenplay, not so much.

In a screenplay, you can write in directions for the actor to reveal the character’s thoughts, but it is usually along the lines of an action. Sam frowns. Sam frowns angrily. Sam slams the door shut in a fury. But that script passes into other hands and some mopey actor frowns wistfully instead, and the director likes it, and suddenly, the entire thinking of that character is altered, even if the actions stay the same.

So even if you made your best effort to write a character who reveals their thoughts, ultimately, you don’t have much control over it. Better to focus on actions and dialogue, the things you have better control over. The actor changes the nature of the frown, that’s just how it goes. He changes a punch in the face to stabbing with a broken bottle, and that is a rewrite. Which they can do, too.

I’m not so much concerned about the ultimate lack of control most screenwriters deal with because I don’t write for hire. Which sounds like a self-aggrandizing way of saying I’ve never sold a screenplay. But I’m also not trying to. I write screenplays so that I can direct them. But also, I consider the interpretations of the actor to be a contribution, not a detraction. Most of the time.

When I write screenplays, I leave space for the actor to interpret. I expect to collaborate. When I write novels, I try to fill those spaces with nuance and implications, because I am responsible for everything.

Last night, I had a dream, in which Brad Pitt and Salma Hayek and Stephen Mangan, the curly-haired actor from the British television series The Green Wing, came over to my much-nicer-than-real-life house to celebrate Christmas.

It was all very friendly until Mr. Mangan got in a huff that no one knew who he was or anything about his show. I tried to console him by telling him that I had written about one of his co-stars on my blog, but knew, even dreaming, that I had done no such thing, and that I considered his series uneven at best, and thought the creator had mistaken desperate offensiveness for comedy.

Brad Pitt didn’t say much. He was pretty much a dud. Always standing in the corner and not contributing. But Salma tried to keep everything friendly and fun, then we all visited a sick kid.

Anyhow, how weird is it that I dreamt about this blog? Crazy.

The news is that I am now holed up in a borrowed lake house to write. It’s cold outside, but inside, I have chocolate donuts, no distractions, and all the time in the world, and it is my intention to kick out one new screenplay, two new novels, several revisions and world peace while I am at it.

The progress on The Making Of Iridium Consequence is stalled on all fronts, and I have no choice but to wait out other people’s real jobs or raise some money.

In the meantime, I thought I’d get back to doing what I do best: writing. And because I have been busy with other things, I have a backlog of writing I want to do. Which has led me to my current dilemma: what to do first?

Answer: whatever will sell the fastest.