Rage Against the Machine

Louisiana. Minnesota. Texas. WTF?

Times like these it’s tough to write. Or is it?

The morning after 11 police offers were shot in Dallas I found myself trying to find the motivation to lecture at Reinhardt University’s new MFA program in creative writing.

Until I remembered… this is why we write. To make a difference.

Everyone has something to say. About gun rights. About racism. About police brutality.

Now’s your chance.

Stewing with anger? Ripped with guilt? Crushed with sadness?

Pick up a pen.

What do you want to say? About these topics? About others?

Not only is this your opportunity to express your opinion, criticism and suggestions for others to hear, but you will find the catharsis of laying your thoughts on the page will allow you to heal.

Two of the most important bits of advice I pass on to any writer are these:

1. Have something to say.

2. Say it different.

That’s it. Do that. And you’re well on your way to being heard, being hired and being healed.

Searching for an idea? Turn on the news. There are countless stories looking back at you.

Today the passionate MFA brood returned from whence they came. All over the country. Just think. If armed with new vigor and inspiration, what changes they could make in their community. Writing scripts, books, articles, blogs. As the saying goes, think global, act local.

What changes do you want to see in the world? What’s stopping you?

Pick up a pen. It’s easier than a gun.

Rewrite Retreat

Every now and then you have to retreat.  Get away from the world. Turn off the phone. The tube. The laptop. And let the mind rest. Eek! Really? All of it? Yes. 

It’s best if you can get out of the house. Away from the fam. And the job. And even the hum of the city. Sound impossible? Why? There are 365 days in a year. Can’t you carve out one day? For you? How about for your writing? 

This week the good folks at AIR Serenbe, the Artist In Residency program situated an hour south of Atlanta in the super cool, holistic, green Serenbe community were kind enough to give me a week in a cottage to work on my upcoming book on screenwriting. Even here I had a difficult time unplugging. But not from what you might think. There were cafes and cocktail hours. Films in fields and poetry readings. Bike rides and hiking trails. It did my body good being here. As well as my mind. And no doubt my soul. It gave me a place to rejuvenate and refuel, but much to my surprise, I wasn’t able to get done what I hoped. So as we writers are wont to do, I spent my time away from my writing riddled with guilt for not writing. And that’s my point. We all could use a helping hand steering our creative minds to complete our creative tasks.  

Often I am asked for a follow-up course to my Screenwriting 101 workshop. From that, people are armed to tackle the blank page and burn through 100 more of their first or fourth script. What then? They want to take it to the next level. To get it to a place where it’s fit to share with agents or investors and try to make something of their pile of ink. For some time, I have been toying with the idea of creating a Rewrite Retreat. A time and place where you can get away with your script and surround yourself with likeminded souls to finish what you started.  Fortunately, AIR Serenbe has kindly offered to host just such a screenplay soiree.  

We’ll hold the first one over the long weekend of October 13-16. It will be a small gathering of dedicated writers sharing ideas and wine in an intimate setting, and helping one another make their scripts the best they can be. Care to join us?

Pitching 101

Got :60 seconds?  How do you pitch your idea?  In an elevator.  In a room.  At a lunch.  What if you have ten minutes?  Or even thirty?  The art of the pitch in any business is a finely tuned craft.  But in the business of ideas it is absolutely paramount.  Knowing what to include, what not to and how to structure your pitch is what every writer labors over before they head out to meet with studio executives, producers, directors, actors and financiers.  Want to know how to get anyone to want to be in business with you?  Here are a few tips:

Start with an intriguing lead. Leading questions are often the best way to lure someone in.  “Have you ever been to an astrologer?  Do you know someone battling cancer?  Do you believe in past lives?  Have you had a bad experience with a doctor?”  Once you’ve piqued their curiosity in the subject matter, they’re more receptive to hearing the rest.

Who’s your hero?  Pull them into your hero right away.  Let them know who they should be rooting for and why.  Explain what they’re after and how they need to grow.  Flawed characters on difficult journeys that force them to grow make great stories.  

Paint the plot.  Give a clear picture of what the significant act turns are that propel your hero in directions they weren’t expecting.  There should be three.  They should build in drama and raise stakes. “Joe loves a girl.  She is kidnapped.  His best friend is behind it.  She’ll be killed at midnight if Joe doesn’t do as he’s told."

Deliver a theme.  What do you want your audience to ultimately learn from your story?  "Crime doesn’t pay?  Only the good die young? There is hope for politics in America?  God will catch you if you fall? Best to end on a message that leaves the listener understanding why the story is being told in the first place.

Scripts that Sell

Every aspiring screenwriter wants to know how to write a script that will sell. Sure, you can write something fun to read around the campfire with friends and family, but don’t you really want to sell it to a major studio? To get paid? To get it made? But how do you do that? Here are a few tips!

1) Write something different. Yes, I know, Hollywood tends to regurgitate similar fare that has proven successful, but the studios already have 15 of those in development. Writing something fresh that they have not seen before will get it talked about in studio circles and heat up the market.

2) Know your craft. If you’re not setting up your hero’s need in the first ten pages, they will toss it on the pass pile. If the hero is not called to action by page 10, tossed. Over 120 pages? Tossed. Punctuation and grammatical errors? Tossed. And so on. If script readers find you have not spent the time hitting all the tenets of good storytelling, why should they take the time to read it?

3) Attract great actors. Studios buy screenplays they can get major actors to star in. So your job is to write compelling characters that will attract those actors to the project. Make sure your hero is heroic. Has depth. Has a want and need that are fulfilled. And is transformed as a result of the adversity they face. And clothes. Actors always want to know what clothes they get to wear.

4) Know the poster. Studios sell movies to audiences around the world by a poster. A title, a tag line, a face, an image. They only have seconds to reel them in on Fandango, Netflix or the Cineplex cue. So make sure your concept can be conveyed quickly. Is your title catchy? Your hero handsome? Your tag line intriguing? If it can’t be sold in seconds, it won’t sell at all.

Screenwriters make a 1,000 decisions a day facing the blank page. Be sure you have the answers to the ones above before you get started. They will help steer you down the right path toward success.

Good luck! 


The Reason for Writing

Look around you. This is your life. Really. Sure, you have dreams, notions, goals jotted down of a life more grand. But as they say, life is what happens when you’re making other plans. Here we are in another January. Another year. What are you doing differently? The fact is there are a lot of things beyond our control. That’s part of life. So go easy on yourself with those. How about the things you can control? What are you doing about those?

You’ve always wanted to write. To tell a story. To tell your story. But how many of you actually are? Some philosophers believe we are doomed to make the same mistakes in life unless we learn from them and change. Others believe we repeat those mistakes in life after life unless we change. If you’re a writer, if that’s the reason you were put here on this earth, I think, you’re doomed to make the same mistakes unless you write about them for others to learn from and change.

That is your raison d’etre.

Has there been one story stuck in your head for days or weeks or months or years? What if you’re supposed to tell it? That is why it was put there in the first place. What’s stopping you? Just think… if I’m right, just writing it will open up a whole new world of possibilities for you. And, of course, possibilities for others.

Why not let this year be the year you tell your story? After all, you have a whole year. Twelve months. 365 days. That’s plenty of time to write a script or a book. Or even learn how to write one. And then do it.

There are plenty of people who can help. Who want to help. Whose raison is to help.

So what’s stopping you? Really.