Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Guest Post: The Crucial First Pages by Serita Stevens

What a delight to have the prolific Serita Stevens back with us at Write Away. I hope you read her earlier post on script writing a couple of months ago. Not only will this post help all of us who struggle with those critical first pages, but she has two new books out this fall! And, of course, you must already own The Ultimate Writers Workbook for Books and Scripts.

"It was a dark and stormy night."  Those words have been made famous by many including the Peanuts dog, Snoopy. 
While it is a beginning to a story, you have to ask yourself "Is it the best beginning?"
Do you have a great first line - one that not only introduces your protagonist gives us a hint of what will happen?   Have you established the tone of your story?  If it will be comedic, you have to have comedy; if horror, there has to be a hint of scares.
Readers will stand at the bookstore counter and, after reading the back cover, will flip though the first few pages to see if it entices them before putting it back on the shelf.  Script readers will give you a few pages to prove your worth before they dump your script.  In fact, while the pervading myth is that they give you ten pages to hook them, after talking to a number of studio readers I have learned that the facts are they can usually tell from the first page or two if you are a professional writer and if they want to continue reading your script. 
Whether you are writing a book or a script, today's fast paced world demands that you keep the audience attention.  This means engaging them with the main character and his problem as soon as possible; it means engaging us on an emotional level.  After all, it is the universal emotions to which the reader relates and this helps the reader to bon with the character. 
The characters, especially the main character or your protagonist, needs to be introduced within the first two pages at the latest.  This is the person we will be following throughout the story.  It is he who will change and develop in the story.  It is he whom the audience identifies with. 
We don't need to know what color his hair or eyes are, we don't need to know how tall he is, though the type of clothes he is wearing can tell us something about him -pressed pants tell you one thing, while torn jeans and dirty tee-shirt tell you something else. It is the character's personality that we need to experience. 
What is the character's need, his want (which often is two different things,) and his flaw?  We need a hint within the first few pages.  What are his intentions, plans and outer goals?  The writer needs to give the reader a hint of the problem and an idea of how it will get worse.  The goals have to be visual and something that the reader can see and measure the progress by i.e. he will get to point x by the end of the week to rescue his wife or he will accumulate so much money so that he can ransom his daughter.  (This is the outer need, but you have to understand the character's inner need, as well, and that can be totally different.)
While one has to describe the location, to a point, and give the reader a sense of the world that our character inhabits, there is a limit as to the description you are going to give here.   If you get too lost in the narrative of the world, you will lose the reader.    One of the worst problems new writers have is being too descriptive.
Back story has to take a back seat.  (Often new writers tend to tell too much of the character back story and bore the reader.   Hint this in bits and pieces and don't do too much of it until page 50 (book) or Act 2. 
There has to be an incident or a catalyst that starts off the book or script.  This is the hook that pulls the reader into the story.  Is there a time clock started?  Is suspense going?  Is there dramatic irony - that is does the audience know something that the character does not?
The protagonist can be in the middle of something that perhaps has been going on for a while, but it needs to be something that establishes the conflict going on.  This event will showcase the character's humility, fear, need or dream.  It will give us a sense of the complication that he is facing and how he will grow and change.   
However, until we start to bond with the character and identify with him, we won't care if he wins or fails.  Establishing the emotional core from the beginning of your story is of the utmost importance.

So the first ten pages must -
·       Engage us on an emotional level
·       Establish your protagonist and his problem, goal and fears and how the problem will  get worse.
·       Hook the reader's attention with compelling conflict
·       Have strong, vivid characters
·       Establish location and tone
·       Format correctly - this is especially true if you are doing a script
·       Beware of too much exposition
·       Make sure you are starting your story in the right place without too much back story

Happy writing and keep reading. 

An established writer of mystery, crime, historical, thriller, western and young adult novels, as well as several produced and many optioned screenplays, Serita also teaches writing.  Her newest books include The Ultimate Writers Workbook For Books And Scripts - based on her teaching at USC. UCLA and other universities and Against Her Will, a teen drama based on her experiences as a psychiatric nurse. The script/book is now being considered by Lifetime.

Serita has two new books coming out from Oak Tree Press this fall. Heathen Heart is an historical romance about Boudicea's revolt against the Romans in 60 AD (to be released at the end of September), and Deceptive Desires, a female-driven western romantic suspense (released at the end of October).

She frequently lectures at both national and international writing conferences and mentors young writers.

Trained as a forensic nurse, she helps other writers with their medical and investigational questions.  One of her popular book is The Book of Poisons from Writer's Digest for writers to get their poisons correct when killing off their victims.  Recently, it was featured on a Law &Order!!

See more about her at www.seritastevens.com or reach her at sswriter400@gmail.com

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Guest Post: "The Best Book Promotion Advice I Ever Got" by Ann K. Howley

I am delighted to share my blog this week with fellow Oak tree Press author, Ann K. Howley. Her first book is Confessions of a Do-Gooder Gone Bad. Her post certainly made me examine what I can do to promote my work and help others along the way Let's give a good "Write Away" welcome to this new author on the publishing scene.

“Solve, don’t sell.”
That’s what Beth Caldwell, a local businesswoman, who is a powerhouse leader amongst women entrepreneurs, said in one of her live webinars a year ago.
“Nobody wants you to sell them something to them. They want you to solve their problems.”
I was skeptical. After all, I was the brand new, baby author of my first book, a humorous memoir about growing up in Southern California during the Sixties and Seventies. How on earth were my funny stories going to solve anyone’s problems?
But I understood her point. I know enough about marketing to know that consumers essentially buy things that they think will make their lives easier, more organized, convenient, less painful and, of course, sexier.  Everyone has certain pain points in their lives… wrinkles, a closet full of clothes that no longer fit, or an overgrown lawn. That’s why we buy cosmetics that make us look younger, clothing that make us look slimmer, and self-propelling lawn mowers we barely have to push to cut the grass.
People buy things that solve their problems.  So the key, Beth claimed, is to know where the pain is.
It all made perfect sense if I wanted to sell kitchen gadgets or snake oil, but I still didn’t know how this applied to a small-press author who was trying to figure out how to promote her first book.
“It doesn’t matter what your product or service is,” Beth explained. “You still have to find the pain points in people’s lives. And you do that by listening to what people say. What questions do people ask you the most? What do they want to know?”
I wracked my brain thinking about this, but I still didn’t think it made a lot of sense for me. I just couldn’t see how my book was going to be anything other than an entertaining and enjoyable read. But I took Beth’s advice to heart and I started to listen to people. As I told my friends, family, friends-of-friends and friends-of-family about writing a memoir, I began to hear the same thing over and over.
“I always wanted to write a memoir,” people wistfully told me. “How did you do it?”
Then I realized something important. THAT was the pain point.  People kept telling me they always wanted to write stories about their lives and they just didn’t know how or they needed a little guidance to start.
How could I have missed it? That had been MY pain point. For decades, I wanted to write. I had stories practically bursting out of me.  And when I finally started to write, it wasn’t because I knew what I was doing, but I believed I had a story to tell and I was determined to write it. I was elated when Oak Tree Press published my book in 2014.
Small press and indie authors know that book marketing is never as much about selling as it is about connecting with people. And if Beth Caldwell was right, then maybe I could connect with people who were just like me  - people who wanted to write a memoir and needed the encouragement to try.
I had previously called several libraries to ask if I could come in to talk about my book, but more than one librarian warned me that sometimes nobody comes to author talks. This time I asked a local librarian if she thought her patrons might appreciate a presentation on how to write a memoir. She immediately scheduled a date. Since my first presentation in January 2015, I have been invited to speak to many library groups and organizations. The local community college asked if I would do two intensive 4-week workshops on writing and publishing a memoir. Later this year, I will be speaking at a writer’s conference and at another book event where I am, by far, the least well-known author amongst all the other speakers.
I’m not a bestselling author and I don’t pretend to be a literary genius. I still have much to learn. But I’m a proud, published author and I have learned many things about writing and publishing in my own writer’s journey over the last few years, and I am eager to share my experience. When people who attend my workshops buy my book, I feel like it’s an added bonus.
I love when people read my book. I genuinely appreciate every Amazon reader who has honored my book with a 5-star review. But the greatest satisfaction and fulfillment I have experienced as an author is to offer advice to people who want to write and to help, in some small way, to solve someone’s problem.
Beth Caldwell was indeed right when she said “solve, don’t sell.”
It was the best book promotion advice I ever got.

Ann K. Howley, who is a regular contributor to Pittsburgh Parent Magazine, was thrilled when her humorous memoir, Confessions of a Do-Gooder Gone Bad, won an Author Zone Book Award in October 2014.
Website www.annkhowley.com
Do-Gooder Gone Bad Blog http://annkhowley.com/blog/
Twitter @annkhowley
Email akhowley@gmail.com
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Confessions-of-a-Do-Gooder-Gone-Bad/697332883669295 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

5 Tips for Turning a Short Story into a Short Play into a Short Story

As I wrote on June 3rd, I tried play writing as a challenge and arrogantly assumed it was easier than novel writing. Ha!

Well, having my comeuppance was good for me, but I continue to write short plays, some of which I created out of short stories I’ve written and some are original short plays that I can turn into short stories. My tips for doing that are further down.

I got a compliment at a critique group meeting. Or at least I am taking it as a compliment. It was couched in a criticism of my descriptions of characters and setting. To use the vernacular, I “suck” at descriptions. And my critiquer agreed. But the compliment came in the form of what we in the school-discipline business called a “re-direction.”

“I see you as a playwright. You are so plot-driven. In your plays, that comes out. I can see why it is harder for you to do the descriptions in novels. That is not your focus.” Or something sorta kinda like that. 

So, am I a “natural” playwright (HA!), thereby giving me permission to ignore setting except in the case of stage directions, costuming, and set design? Or am I a non-observer who hides behind scenes and acts and minimal stage directions, incapable of taking my reader to where my characters are?

Hmm. Knotty problem, eh?

But does it matter? 

Well, yes, if I continue to write novels, it matters a great deal. If I just want to write plays, maybe lack of description is less important. But, no, that’s not it, either.

The better I can see my characters, the richer the setting is to me, the easier it is to write dialogue that is consistent with my play. And that would be true with novels as well, right?

But maybe that’s why I like to write plays. I can imagine it all, but I don’t have to put it down for the world. Plays are interpreted by directors and actors all the time. You ever wonder why so many people watch the same play with different actors? Maybe it is that interpretation, the nuanced scenes.

So how do you write a short play from a short story? The process of turning one into the other is pretty simple. Here’s how I do it:

How to adapt a short story to a short play:
1) Read over your short story synopsis.
2) Identify 3-5 key ideas in the short story,
3) Identify characters needed for the key ideas.
4) Pick out dialogue from the short story that carries the key ideas.
5) Paralleling the short story, write scenes and link them with transitions.

It’s that easy. I can go the other way, too. I have written original short plays that can be short stories simply by expanding the range of scenes and characters a wee bit.

Give it a try if you haven’t. Let my know how it goes for you.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Guest Post: Three Things You Need to Know When Writing for Children and Teens

Anna Questerly shares her insights to help you be a successful writer for a youth audience. She has created some wonderful tales for young readers so she knows whereof she speaks. Anna has been a guest on Romance Righter, so she's one of my blogging pros. Welcome, Anna!

It’s a lot of fun writing for kids. I love their whole-hearted hugs during book signings and school visits, opening the sweetest handwritten fan mail—ever, and I have a bulletin board covered with colorful drawings of my stories I’ve received from my young readers.
For those of you who want to give it a go and gather your own hugs, here are three things I know about writing for this younger market. Fortunately, the first two, I knew before I started The Minstrel’s Tale Trilogy. After writing and rewriting those three novels and dozens of fairy tales, I finally learned the last lesson. While this knowledge came too late for The Minstrel’s Tale, I can, at least, save you some trouble.
First, and probably the most important thing, is to have the right mindset for your target audience. I don’t just write for kids; I write for smart kids. Knowing my readers are intelligent and already love to read, keeps me from ‘dumbing down’ my vocabulary or my concepts. (Of course, if you use unfamiliar words, you try to make the meaning clear in context, just as you would for adults.) Since every writing book warns against writing down to kids, this seems to be one of the biggest mistakes new writers make in writing for children. By changing my mindset from the start, this was never a problem for me. Plus, an additional benefit is that adults enjoy my books too.
Second, the mechanics of story-telling are the same as for adult writing. Story structure, character development, dialogue, and narrative, all of the devices we use when we write for grown-ups come into play in writing for kids. There are no short cuts simply because your readers are younger.
As you can see, so far, other than adjusting for content, there’s really no difference writing for kids versus adults. Ah, but there is—the lesson I learned too late.
Once I finished rewriting and editing my trilogy, I began to send out query letters to agents and publishers who specialized in books for children. I was beyond excited to get three requests for the full manuscript right away. Then, I was devastated when I received their gracious rejection letters.
The gist of the rejections: “This isn’t a children’s book.”
Fortunately, I was able to have a conversation with one of the publishers. This isn’t exactly how it went, but it’s close enough.
“What?! Of course it’s for kids—it’s half-filled with fairy tales!” I argued.
“Nope. A children’s book must have a protagonist the same age or a bit older than the target reader. Your main character is a forty-year-old minstrel. Therefore, not a children’s book,” he informed me.
“But what about Snow White, Cinderella, Gulliver’s Travels, The Hobbit?”
He shrugged. “Those are classics. Feel free to submit your next manuscript, but this isn’t for us. Have a nice day, now.”
Later, I fumed to my friends. “What a ridiculous box! Who made that silly rule and why was I never told about it? It wasn’t in any of the books I’d read on writing for kids. No one mentioned it in the writing workshops I’d taken. Stupid rule!”
I considered rewriting it with a younger main character, but decided to self-publish instead. After all, an entire 5th grade class beta read the first book, and they loved it. I’m glad I did. I like my minstrel, Amos, and the kids do to, too. But the next book I write for kids will have a younger protagonist. Lesson learned.
As a matter of fact, my most recent book, Pangaea: a Utopian Fantasy, was written for the new adult market, and I made sure my main character was exactly twenty-years-old.
The essence of this lesson is to know the confines of your genre. If you’re going to submit to the big publishers, you’d better stay in your box. If you decide to break out of the it, you’ll probably need to self-publish. Isn’t it great that’s an affordable option now?
I hope these tips help you with your next book. Good luck and keep on writin’!
Contact Anna:

Bookseller and bibliophile turned author, Anna Questerly writes medieval fiction and fairy tales for smart kids and young hearts. For adults, she creates Utopian fantasy as A.J. Questerly.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Year of Becoming a Playwright

One year I decided to challenge myself by trying a new writing form. Like I had mastered the novel, right? Har de har har. Still, I love to learn new things.

I happened into this avenue of fiction serendipitously. After nearly 45 years out from my last theater experience, I auditioned for a community theater production in northern Arizona. To my delight (and fear), the director picked me for a role. I was thrilled that I might still have some of that acting spark I displayed decades ago, but I had crushing fear that I would no longer be able to learn lines. I did learn my lines, entry and exit cues, and increased my vocabulary with stage craft terms like downstage, stage right, and proscenium. 

However, I was cast as a 24 year-old nurse. I hadn’t seen 24 for four decades! Still, in community theater, who shows up for auditions is who gets cast. One of my writing group partners (also cast in a show—as a 20 year-old) and I realized there must be a niche for plays with older cast members. Relatively few of these plays are available to community theater groups in age-restricted areas. So, we decided we would write plays with older characters.

“How hard can it be?”, I wondered aloud to any and all who would listen to me blather on about my writing efforts. After all, I had several completed novels under my belt. Plays are a bunch shorter than a novel! Pshaw! Bring it on.

Playwrighting? Oh, the arrogance was palpable!

I had planned that summer to be the summer to finish a novel I had begun years ago. But, that didn’t happen. The play consumed my summer as surely as a whale dining on krill.
I read about scriptwriting. I learned proper play formatting and that it is different from screenplay formatting. But the thing I learned best, the most humbling thing, was that writing a play is darned hard work. And I didn’t just dash it off in a week or two as I had thought, in my arrogance, I would.

In my novels, I have paragraphs explaining the setting or character motivation or revelations that lead to plot points. I have words, lots and lots of words.

In a play, other than the set design and some stage directions that a director may or may not attend to, all you have is dialogue. The dialogue carries the story. Dialogue can’t be paragraphs long. It has to sound like real people speak since Shakespearean soliloquies are out of fashion and the Greek chorus disappeared long before Shakespeare.

I am delighted that I learned so many new things while completing my play, Ghost in the Pines. And, once the fourth draft was done, I shopped it around to various community theater groups to see if I could get it produced. Nope. I guess, like first novels, first plays are more of a learning adventure than a viable product. I may go back in, now years later, and see if a fresh eye can save what I thought was a pretty good premise. Whether or not it is ever performed, I learned a lot about writing dialogue that I transferred to novel writing. 

Additionally, I watch plays now to see how it was put together so that I can be a better playwright. What would the stage directions look like? Why is it important that the door open out? Oh, yes. The bug bit me. 

I took a workshop on writing one-act plays, I’ve given a workshop on writing one-act plays, I ran a contest judging one-act plays, and I have entered contests for one-act plays.
To date, three of my one-act plays have been performed by two different community theater groups. I have an idea for another full-length play and ideas for more short plays. Play writing is fun for me and a break from the novel writing I do. I find it recharges my batteries to work in a different form. 

If I keep it up, maybe some of them will be published and performed more widely. Hey! These plays could come to a theater near you!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nancy Drew: Detective … and Writing Teacher?

An earlier version of this post appeared on Write on Sisters in 2014.

I was hooked on mysteries with my first Nancy Drew (Carolyn Keene). Who wouldn’t want to be her, zipping around in her little red car with her girlfriend, George, and boyfriend, Ned? She was intrepid, daring, smart, and very independent. In the 1950s, when I was reading Nancy Drew books, there weren’t many examples for preteens of strong, smart girls/women figuring out things as the men tagged along. She solved things without being saved. She used her wits to outwit culprits above what her punching weight would expect. And there are 84 books. 84!

Feminist literary critics have analyzed the character's enduring appeal, arguing variously that 
Nancy Drew is a mythic hero, an expression of wish fulfillment, or an embodiment of 
contradictory ideas about femininity.

It’s interesting to note that a number of high-profile women (e.g., Laura Bush, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Hillary Clinton) cite the influence of Nancy Drew on their formative years. Nancy Drew mysteries, published from 1930-2003, positively affected generations of women. We were imbued with her can-do attitude and clever problem solving, and

Nancy not only introduced me to action-taking women and the mystery genre, but also I learned, in a rudimentary way, how to write. Yes, Nancy Drew, writing teacher. Of course, she didn’t set out to be that, but the elements of genre writing were clearly demonstrated.

Genre fiction has been criticized for being clichéd, predictable, and hackneyed. But that might not be so bad for a youngster who reads a lot. Reading lots of genre books implants, subliminally, elements that are harder to teach out of context. In reading genre fiction, it is as if the young reader internalizes elements of fiction without being aware of it and before having labels to attach.

Compare the internalization of fiction elements to learning to drive. In America, the majority of young children and teens have the opportunity to observe driving elements thousands of times before ever getting behind the wheel. They are easier to teach how to drive because of those observations.

Just imagine how hard it would be to explain all the components of driving to someone who had never seen it done. Adjust the mirror before engaging the engine. Huh? Put on your right turn signal far enough in advance to let others know a turn is coming. Uh, how far is that? Three pedals and two feet in a stick shift car. How does that work?

By experiencing elements of character development, for example, as recurring facets as well as deepening aspects over books, the young reader learns what it takes to give a character unique as well as universal appeal. From Nancy, I learned there need to be distinguishing traits or tics that separate characters one from another. I learned that I had to make my characters likeable but flawed so the reader can relate. I learned that in series writing, keeping characters familiar but still fresh results from testing characters in new ways. All from Nancy Drew!

Now, did I recognize that at the time? Heck, no! I was a kid reading for the mystery, thinking along with her, trying to solve it as fast as she did. But later, in my own nascent writings, I found elements revealing themselves there.

I am reflective by nature and reflecting on how to create interesting characters others would like to know led me to the revelation of the origins of my earliest writing lessons. Those books, and others from my youth, imprinted me, in the psychological sense, with a basic understanding of the fiction elements of plot, setting, conflict resolution, and character development.

That wasn’t enough, of course. I have taken classes, discussed character development with critique groups, and read books and articles about character development. But it all began with Nancy. How did you get hooked on mysteries (or some other genre)? Want to see what I tried. Here's the link to Mission Impastable.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Guest Post: "Create Your Own Source Material" by Serita Stevens

I am very happy to introduce to you the author of one of my favorite books, The Book of Poisons! Serita Stevens is well-published as a novelist, writing authority, and script writer. One of her books is up for consideration as a TV series! Watch for Red Sea, Dead Sea.

Producers these days are looking for source material – books, articles, stories, plays or anything with other backing.  They like knowing that there is a fan base already established for the story they are buying.   So why not double your chances of a successful sale?
Each story has its own home; Its own best way of being told.  Some stories, however, can be told in more than one form.  To do this, however, takes knowledge and understanding of what the other forms need and how they are prepared.  Each form requires a different way of thinking and a slightly altered writing style.  You can do it, but it takes thought and time to learn.
As an established writer of both books and scripts, I do many book/film deals.  One may think it is only a matter of learning a different format, but it is truly more than that.  There are many similarities since a good story is, after all, a good story, but there are also differences.   
 Many hold the myth that writing scripts are easier.  I believe that is false.  It takes just as much work to write a compelling script as it does a fascinating book, but the techniques vary a bit.
Some of the things that are the same in books and scripts are this –
No matter what you are writing, the work requires good structure- including inciting incidents, plot twists and dynamic scenes; well-drawn characters – both protagonists and antagonists - with their own goals, flaws and desires; and, of course, dynamic endings. 
For all my stories – be they books or scripts – I do a complete character biography of ALL of my characters.  These people must be well-rounded and believable.   You must understand their journey and their arc.  This includes the secondary participants, as well, since they can often effect the plot, the theme or have their own subplot, which can promote the theme.   
Many new writers think that physical description is crucial to the character. It’s not.  It’s their attitude and what action that they are involved in that tells us about who they are.   Be sure to balance the good and bad aspects of the person. No one is all good and very few people are all evil.
Outlining, may not be for everyone, but I find, is essential to make sure that I cover all the plot points and plant the twists and clues in the right places.  It helps me to keep the stakes high and focus on the genre I am writing.  It also helps me to do more than one project at a time as I can see what needs to be done on that story for that day.  It doesn't mean I stick like glue to the outline.  It does mean I use it as a guide.
Beginnings, the first few pages, are crucial for both books and scripts.  Today, unlike in the past when the author could meander about history and setting, stories must start with action and jump into your characters.  We must be hooked immediately with the problem, situation, identify the setting, and get to know the main character, at the same time.   Not an easy task, but it can and, often, is done.
In neither case do you get the luxury of wandering around your setting. Back stories , if referred to here, must be only hinted at to give the reader a reason to want to continue reading.  Prologues can sometimes be used in books, and occasionally in scripts, to set the tone, but should be used sparingly. 
Titles are another bugaboo for many writers.  Your title must give a hint about the genre and the story.  While titles are not copyrightable,  it is a good idea to research your title and see other stories with your same title as you do not want to be identified with a story that did not do well.  One of my stories, now being done as a script, The Unborn, has been used as a title for many films and books and in order to make mine more unique, I changed it to Unborn Witness. 
The writer must understand their audience. Who are they writing for?  Don’t say that your story is for everyone because very few stories are.  It’s naïve to think that all will like your work.  Are you doing a chick-flick?  A mystery? An action or thriller?  Is it something that young men will like more than women?  It is something for the older viewer?  Understand who the reader is and write for them. 
Grammar and spelling must be checked no matter what you are writing.   We are writers and there is no excuse for doing this poorly.  I often write my first draft quickly and miss things but it's important to go over what you have done.  I find that even after re-reading my material several times, mistakes can be found and I have an outside reader to go over my material before I hand it in. 

There are, however, many differences between writing scripts and writing books.   
Script writing, even more so than book writing, is a team effort.  As a novelist, it is easier to write alone in Iowa.  You might get notes from your agent and/or the editor, but you are more autonomous as writer.  Whereas being a scriptwriter, you will find notes come not only from the producer, studio, director, actor, and others.  You must understand that the script is a blueprint for a movie.  You must understand that not everything you write is gold and if you cannot accept notes and be willing to change, you will not get very far.   There is an art to listening and accepting notes. 
While it looks like format is the main difference between scripts and books, this is just the tip of the iceberg.   As for formatting, I like Movie Magic the best because they do not charge for tech support as Final Draft does.  No matter which program you use, understand things like the use of parentheticals, slug lines, etc.   Read produced scripts to see what the format is and don’t have numbering or camera angles on your spec script as that marks you as a novice. 
Length is one big thing.  While a book can be as long as your publisher will allow it and most books are a minimum of 300 typed pages or much longer, a script can be only 90 to 100 pages. (120 used to be accepted, but lately, a shorter page account has come to be expected.) Should you turn in a script longer than 120, you will, especially if you are an unknown writer, have difficulty getting read no matter how protest at the merit of your story. 
White space is crucial.  The overwhelmed reader will often flip through the pages.  If the pages are too dense with narrative, they might just put your script down. 
Point of view in the script is far more focused than a book.  While in books you can alternate POV and tell parts of the story from other characters and even go off onto subplot tangents, the script should be mainly from the main character and that protagonist should be active in solving their own problem.   It is said that the main character should appear in, or be part of 80% of the scenes. 
Writing short sentences creates suspense in books, but even more so in scripts.  Less is more here.  Be succinct in your writing.  While in books you do not want huge unbroken descriptive passages, narrative in scripts should be, if you can help it, no more than five lines.   The white space actually pushes the reader forward where as the longer paragraphs slow them down.   
When writing your book, you must consider and explore all your senses. What is the character feeling, seeing, smelling, hearing, sensing, etc?  In scripts, you are limited to the visual.  In both, specifics are important, but even more so in scripts.  Leave the script’s stage dressing to the designers. 
While books can have more on-the-nose dialogue, subtext is crucial in the script.  No more than five lines of dialogue.  Think of the poor actor trying to memorize all you have written when you have a huge monologue.   Try reading it out loud, yourself.  If you must have a dialogue longer than five lines, try breaking it up with an action line. 
Books will allow you to get into your character’s head and talk about their feelings and hear their thoughts.  Not so in scripts.  Everything, and I mean everything, must be visual.  If you say that the character is angry, how do we know, what do we see? 
Especially if you are a fairly new writer, if you want your script to be produced, you have to keep the budget in mind.  The fewer the characters, the less it will cost.  When doing an adaptation of a book, I often find that I have to combine excess characters.   Think about the locations you have, cast of thousands, car chases, uses of animals and use of children.  It’s okay to write them if you only want to have this as a reading sample, or if it really is crucial to the story, but keep it to a minimum. 
Another myth is that the book writer is paid handsomely for their rights.  This, alas, is often false.  Since the production company, often before they sell the story, must pay to have the script written, will hire another writer to expand and focus the story into what is needed for a script. 
The book writer - who in today's publishing world might be lucky to get a small advance from the publisher, sometimes must kiss their stories goodbye and let the A-list script writers to do what they will do.  That doesn’t mean you, the book writer, can’t do a first draft of the script.  It does mean that you will be, if you are lucky, partnered with an established scriptwriter that the studio or production company feels more confidence in. 
Books turned into film are often vastly different from the printed word for a variety of reasons.
As I said, it is possible to do both, but you need to be aware of the limitations of each and what is required of each format.   It might take you longer to write the book because you have to write more words, but the script requires just as much prep time in characterization, plotting and research as the book does. 
Good luck.

An established writer of mystery, crime, historical, thriller, western and young adult novels, as well as several produced and many optioned screenplays, Serita also teaches writing.  Her newest books include The Ultimate Writers Workbook For Books And Scripts - based on her teaching at USC. UCLA and other universities and Against Her Will, a teen drama based on her experiences as a psychiatric nurse. The script/book is now being considered by Lifetime.
She frequently lectures at both national and international writing conferences and mentors young writers. 

Trained as a forensic nurse, she helps other writers with their medical and investigational questions.  One of her popular book is The Book of Poisons from Writer's Digest for writers to get their poisons correct when killing off their victims.  Recently, it was featured on a Law &Order!!
See more about her at www.seritastevens.com or reach her at sswriter400@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What I Learned from the A-Z Challenge and 8 Tips for You

Next week, Serita Stevens, another Oak Tree Press author, is guest posting on Write Away about script writing. Please come by to see what’s up for your reading pleasure.

I had a swell time both writing my blog posts on mystery terms during the A-Z Blog Challenge and finding new bloggers to follow. There are some talented folks about there. And I also got some new subscribers to my blog. That’s always a thrill, to see the number grow.

How It Works
If you don’t know what the fun is all about, go to April A-ZBlog Challenge and check it out! Such fun. You sign up in advance and get listed on a rolling scroll of accumulated bloggers.    

For 26 days (you get Sundays off) you write about a different alphabet letter each day. They provide lots of cute graphics to keep you organized. Great posts on the site encourage you to keep going. Other bloggers come by and comment. And that keeps you going. Then you pass the mid-point of the alphabet, and that keeps you going.

Types of Blog Posts:
One is encouraged to label the content so folks hunting for particular topics can find you more easily. Only one year did I do it right. I should have labeled my 2015 posts WR. Sigh. Such a disability I have with things techno.

I guesstimated that only about a third of the blogs listed a category.

You can post in a category not listed. But to give you some ideas, here are the ones A-Z suggests:


On this blog (I have three blogs, so this was Write Away’s year to participate), I tried to inform mystery and crime fiction writers about mystery terms they should know about so they could write about them accurately. I had at least one term for each letter, but sometimes I had three or more.

I also broke one of my short stories into 26 parts, with each first paragraph beginning with the letter-of-the-day. That was fun! If you’re curious about what I wrote, check out my 2015 April archived posts in the sidebar.

What They Wrote
After about a week of writing my own posts and reading some that I thought sounded interesting, it occurred to me I was reading. I made a goal to read at least one post from each blog. How stupid is THAT??? There were over 2000 bloggers signed up when I began. Even reading 10 a day, I wouldn’t get close. I would have had to read 100 a day. And I didn’t. But since there were only 1516 bloggers remaining at the end, it turns out that I had sampled about 15% of them. That was a pretty good number to see trends.

And there were some definite patterns.

By far, the largest categories were Books/Reviews, Film/Movies, Music, Writing/Storytelling, and Travel. Sometime these were combined as in movies from books or music in film. In Writing/Storytelling (my category) there were an enormous number of bloggers sharing original poems or flash fiction pieces. There also were lots of writing strategy/tips posts.

The smallest categories (in my sample) were Culinary, Crafts, Education, Gaming, Gardening, History, Humor, Memoir, Mythology, Politics, Science, Sports, and Adult Content,

In between I found a smattering of Animals, Art, Fashion, Lifestyle, Personal, Photography, Social Media, and Sports.

What about Next Year?
As you read and write what others are blogging on, ideas keep popping up for next year’s challenge. I know. Crazy, right? You’re not even done with this challenge and you are looking ahead to others.

If I go with ways to kill people for “Parsley, Sage, and Rosemary Time”, I have terms for each letter of the alphabet already done, and as is usual, for some letters I have multiple options.

If I go with personality traits/quirks/pathologies for “Romance Righter”, I am good to go there, too.

Can you say, OCD?

Tips from the Field

1)  Go now and scroll through the list of bloggers at the A-Z site. It’s under the link for “Sign-Up”. Take a look at what people did and how they did it. Some used quizzes. Some gave straight factual information. Some wrote poems or flash fiction.

2)  Think of possible post themes in areas of interest. Start accumulating terms for those categories. Add to it whenever you think about it. Or when something you’ve just read triggers your categories. Keep your ideas in a file labeled “A-Z Challenge 2016.”

3)  Mark your calendar to start checking the A-Z site from mid-February on so you can sign up early. Most folks, I think, start at the beginning of the list to find bloggers of interest. Put your name as high as you can.

4)  Pick a theme from your “A-Z Challenge 2016” folder options. When you sign up, select a category for others to find you. Start writing posts that day!

5)  Encourage friends to sign up so you have a support group as you work you way through the month.

6)  Write ahead as many posts as you can and schedule them for publication on the appropriate date. Writing ahead makes it much more likely you will finish. If you leave it to do each day, it gets to be a grind. (That’s what I did my first year.) Writing ahead also gives you a cushion for the days everything in life is falling apart. And write short. I never follow that advice, but it is good advice, especially for your first outing.

7)  Roll out your theme on the same day in March the A-Z people suggest. This calls attention to the challenge in time for others to sign on. It also is your public commitment to participate.

8)  Visit others’ blogs and leave your calling card so they can visit you. Invite some bloggers you enjoy to guest post for you later in the year.

I hope to see you next year! It’s a great way to meet new people and ideas! And see how you get an idea for another blog post (or two) just by participating?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Write Away: Z is for Zowie! and Zugzwang

Zowie! The End! And I did it! Another year completed in the A-Z Blog Challenge. Time to start planning next year! If you are looking for another great blog to read, hop on over to www.fictionzeal.com  Great book reviews, and Diane’s mystery posts were very interesting and informative this month!

Now as to my final mystery term, I considered zany mysteries, sometimes called capers, but I already did a post on them.  

I also considered zip gun as another weapon for you to use in your mystery. These improvised weapons cobbled together by crooks are pretty interesting. And not terrifically reliable, as you might imagine. But if you want to know more, there’s plenty out there to mine.

But what got me going was zugzwang. What a cool word. And like xenogamy, it’s not really a mystery term at all. So, borrowing from the chess world, let’s see how zugzwang might play out in your mystery or crime fiction book.

Zugzwang is a chess situation. One side is forced to make a move resulting in a serious disadvantage; a disadvantage that might well determine the outcome of the game.

In your novel, perhaps your law enforcement officer is compelled by an uptight new captain to go strictly by the book. No intuition allowed. No niggles followed up on. It’s all about the evidence trail with your captain, no room for the LEO’s extensive experiences to direct actions.

So your LEO brings a guy in for questioning. The LEO can tell he done did it! He asks for an arrest warrant so he can get the bad guy off the streets or keep him from running to ground while he investigates more. This is a judgment call. Some evidence, not conclusive evidence. The time the suspect is in custody would allow the LEO to get the conclusive evidence. The captain says “Nope. Let him go.”

Your LEO is in zugzwang. The LEO knows and the reader knows this is the right bad guy. But the LEO is forced to release him. Of course, in your book, this is merely a plot twist that you will rectify. In real life this kind of zugzwang might not have a happy ending.

Or consider your amateur sleuth getting in over her head by arranging to meet in with the murder suspect. She thinks she’s got it under control, but he only agrees to meet her in an isolated location. Of course, her ego doesn’t allow her to tell anyone or get back up. She shows up and finds herself out-maneuvered. Uh, oh! Zugzwang!

Zugzwangs make terrific plot points for those decision times in the plot. Zugzwangs are "The Black Moment". How bad can you make it for your detective? Pretty bad if you go the zugzwang route. The stakes, in chess lingo, are death to the King.

Hmm. Maybe xenogamy and zugzwang will make it into the mystery terms lexicon. And you read it here first. Thanks so much for sharing this journey with me. Please come back every Tuesday to see what else pops up on Write Away.

Here’s how “The List” ends, too. 

Zooming in as she rapidly typed the list ending, Fran felt a release. With this table of contents done, the book was write itself! She’d make her deadline. She’d be back on top. She’d show Mort who was washed up!

   “And the number one way to stay happily married is:
1.              Never take him for granted. It’s easier to walk out than to stay around and work it out.”

            Reflecting on what she had listed several months ago, Fran reached over for her Magic 8 Ball. She shook it well, and turned it over to read the floating message.
“Without a doubt”
            Fran began giggling. The giggles turned into uproarious laughter. And the tears fell in great blotches on her pink silk slacks.

The End--or is it???