Friday, November 27, 2009

Throwing in the towel on NaNoWriMo

This is the first time I haven't 'won' National Novel Writing Month since I gave it a try 4 years ago. This was my 5th attempt. There are still almost 4 days to go in November. So, why am I giving up now?
  1. With only 4 days to go, I have just over 1/2 my word count yet to write. That's over 6,000 words per day. I've managed one 4,500 word. Even if I had nothing else happening on those 4 days (like my day job on Monday), the probabilities are against me.
  2. My excuses for such a poor word count stem mainly from getting a late start. Trying to return from a long vacation and hit the ground running with a writing project was a bit over-ambitious. Then there were a couple of sick days when my brain wouldn't work. About a week ago, I figured out that I was about 10 days behind. I made up a few of those, but not enough.
  3. My other excuse probably stems from having been writing fiction for 4 years. I just could not build up momentum because I kept paying too much attention to the characters and story. I just couldn't let go and slam stuff out.
  4. As usual, I didn't have enough of my story planned out before I dove in. I kept writing my way into it and was about to get started on my third story angle. I do like this new angle. It's promising. But I want to flesh it out and give it the attention it deserves. This sort of goes back to the previous point where I couldn't just keep driving down a dead end once I saw it was a dead end.
  5. I wanted my life back. I needed to get some stuff done this weekend that didn't involve staring at the screen waiting for words to come out of my fingers.
Am I sorry I even tried? No. As usual, I got to learn more about the writing process and my strengths and weaknesses.

Will I try it again? Perhaps. It will depend on where I am in the process next year. If I'm finally in the middle of finishing off the first draft or first (or second edit) of a story (maybe this one), I will probably stick with it until it's done (at least I hope I will).

In the meantime, I'm going to keep on reading. Nothing is more motivating for me to write than to experience a good story and think that I might be able to do that. Except maybe reading something like 'Atlantis Found' by Clive Cussler and being pretty sure that I can write better than that.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Broke 1000

That's not really a big accomplishment, considering it's day 5 of NaNoWriMo and I'm supposed to be somewhere between 8000 and 10000 words. But at least I'm getting some stuff down. I'm still hopeful that I can get some big numbers this weekend and maybe even catch up (if not get ahead).

Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNoWriMo begins

I'm a day late and a couple thousand words short. But I've begun and that's what counts. National Novel Writing Month is all about overcoming inertia (getting started) and building momentum.

Word count: 375

Saturday, October 17, 2009

NaNoWriMo is coming

Just a little over two weeks to go until National Novel Writing Month ( This will be my fifth time.

It looks like I'll be starting something completely different than I had been thinking. The start I got on my previous project proved that it really didn't have the legs it needed. So, I've got a related but different concept that I hope will get me through the month. Now I just have to get some sort of outline down so that I'm not firing blind, like I have in previous years.

read: Spook Country

Read two other books before finishing this one. 2 (& 1/2) stars It just didn't click with me: Shelfari review.

Next up: Vacation reading in some order. Saucer: The Conquest by Stephen Coonts; The Gold Coast by Kim Stanley Robinson (revisit); The Anatomy of Story by John Truby

read: Vanished

I gave this one 4 stars a few days ago: Shelfari review

Whipped right through it before returning to Spook Country.

Monday, October 5, 2009

read: Whiskey Sour

I gave it 4 stars, about a week ago: Shelfari review

What happened to Spook Country? I made it halfway and had to put it down. It was not connecting with me. A friend noted that he had to start it three times before finishing. I'm hoping I'll get back to it soon enough to not have to revisit the first 150 pages. We'll see.

Currently reading (and liking): Vanished by Joseph Finder

Added to the backlog: Saucer: The Conquest by Stephen Coonts

Learnings from the Weekend

This place is as good as any to catch up with myself and refocus. It's been a little over a month since my last post. What's changed and what will change? And what's a learning anyway?

Let's get that last bit out of the way first. A learning is an appalling nounification that I have repeatedly run into, am using here for the first time, and which I hope is now out of my system, never to be used again. It seems to mean something that has been learned from a class or an experience.

One thing that's been learned (earlier in the month) and changed is that I've decided not to spend any more time on screenwriting. I was not really getting any better at it. It was taking way more time and energy than can afford right now, with very little hope of ever paying off in any way whatsoever (other than a bit that I've learned about story structure). I'm going to focus on novels and short stories. I have managed to get a start on a novel, and some of the planning for it already got mentioned here in previous posts. I'm not as far as I'd like to be. But how unusual is that for anyone?

As a consequence of the shift away from screenplays, I'm no longer planning to post movie reviews of any sort here, unless of course, I feel compelled to. My previous motivation was to try to capture some of the screenwriting insights I found for future reference. Now it will probably be just because I found something particularly enthralling (or appalling).

Another thing that's been learned is that I'm still dissipating my time on watching way too much television, trying to follow too many blogs and other Internet beasties, and stimulating my mind with meaningless puzzles to be a writer. I thought I could control this, but it is out of control. These activities completely absorbed my weekend, other than a few household chores and some errands, leaving me feeling completely fruitless, despite having written several hundred words on Saturday morning.

So, thankfully Stargate: Universe appears to a be a non-starter and will not be added to my television menu. Likewise, I'm not feeling the buzz for NCIS: LA. Heroes is still feeling a little iffy, but I'll have to go with Jurgen Wolff on this one, where's the drama in a show where noone stays dead and time travel is possible?

Learnings? Less TV, more writing. Less blog reading, more real reading (and writing). And, given what the scale was telling me this morning, less dessert, more exercise. Not all at once, mind you. But I have removed SGU from the DVR and unsubscribed from at least 1/3 of the blogs. These are my commitments to myself.

For now, it's time to get to my day job and work on commitments for that place, too.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

read: Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets

I gave it 3 stars: Shelfari review

Next up: Spook Country by William Gibson

Characters Are The Thing

Even in a plot-driven story, characters are key. I've found that one of the easiest things to do is to get so wrapped up in my protagonist, that I fail to create an adequately drawn antagonist. It's often unclear what exactly the antagonist wants and what they're willing to do to get it. And without that, the story withers and dies somewhere in the middle and has no clear ending.

For my current project, I've already sketched out both characters, but need to spend more time. Again, the antagonist needs clearer goals and motivations. I also need to make sure that the cast of secondary characters is well-rounded, since the plot will be complicated and they will add much to the texture of the story.

The good news is that I'm actually working on the project, instead of just thinking about it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Once Again, I Have Been Remiss

Blogging is hard. So is writing. Trying to do either one on a fine summer day is even harder, as I'm obviously finding. Trying to do either one, while keeping up with everyone else's blogging and writing is also difficult. Something needs to be ignored. Alas, for me it has been both this blog and my writing.

Mind you, I have actually worked on a couple of new projects. Just a little. I've captured a few bones of the skeleton of one novel and the idea for another. What hasn't happened is the actual committing to characters and plot and launching into the writing. That needs to happen soon. I'm pretty sure it can happen soon. This week? Let's assume so.

A new month starts tomorrow. It's as good a time as any. Then again, a new day starts tomorrow. It's also as good a time as any. Lest I forget, a new day started today. It was also as good a time as any. Too bad the morning is gone and my day job beckons. Tonight is another chance.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


A great rule of thumb from the Screenwriting Tips blog:

"Good villains have something to gain. Great villains have something to prove." Then the killer: "Your villains have no comprehensible reason for doing anything."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

"Up" [A]

The opposite of the self-explanatory movie title is "Up". It could be about almost anything. In fact, it's about a man who seeks to fulfill his promise to his dead wife by going to a mysterious place in South America known as "Paradise Falls". He does so by hoisting his house out of the city with several hundred helium balloons just as they come to cart him off to the old folks' home. He encounters a young Wilderness Explorer, the actual wilderness, a wiley giant bird, an outcast talking dog, and his boyhood hero, now gone bad.

What worked: characterizations, story elements, gags ("squirrel!"), and animation. The 3D system was more astonishing and less intrusive than with Coraline.

What didn't work: my disbelief system kept kicking in whenever the old man stopped needing his omnipresent cane and was able to accomplish physical feats worthy of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger. His disabilities vs abilities shifted a bit to conveniently for the plot.

Friday, July 3, 2009

"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" [B]

The self-explanatory title is one of the many indulgences of this film. There are few surprises here. Jesse James is alternately a bad man, good father, and psycho. Robert Ford is alternately a weasely hanger on and a calculating, cold-blooded killer. They spend the entire film in a sort of macabre dance, like a moth and a flame, ultimately destroying each other.

What worked: The characters are rich and deep and well acted. This history is palpable. The story is as sparse as the landscape and feels like that's as it should be. The color palate and narration give the work a feel similar to Ken Burns' epic "The Civil War". There is tension in every scene, which is the only thing that allows the deliberate pacing to work.

What didn't work: As I wrote above, this is a self-indulgent film. It often languorously wallows in its own sense of self-importance, perhaps a bit like Bob Ford. And while it inhabits the same vast landscapes as other Westerns, it seems to give that up for a claustrophobic fixation on the two antagonists.

Ultimately this is a good, but flawed, film. One must be in the right mood to tolerate its moodiness.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"The Day the Earth Stood Still" [B-]

An alien who appears to be a man lands in the middle of New York's Central Park and tells us that he's here to save the Earth. It takes another hour and a half for him to reveal and us to realize 'from whom'.

What worked: I added marks for being a little more sciency than much of what passes for science fiction today. I also actually liked Keanu Reeves as the detached alien. Given the situation, there was little hope of him acting entirely human. The response and response team of the government was almost realistic. The little kid. John Cleese. Some actual thought and philosophy.

What didn't work: Jennifer Connely as the astro-biologist. What? Why did GORT have to appear as a super-buff humanoid? I'd have thought we'd learned by now that robots have no business looking like humans, especially if they're coming from a non-human planet. I didn't like that the government was portrayed as quite so heartless. The overall feel of the movie was a little too deliberate (plodding?).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"Swing Vote" [C+]

What would happen if the entire presidential race boiled down to one vote? With just as preposterous a premise as giant flying robots, this film attempts to find out.

What worked: I loved the small Southwestern town and the population just managing to scrape by and the kids with lousy parents trying to do better. The rapacious media and the disingenuous politicos were fine-tuned and right on. Having the daughter find out that her mother was in even worse shape than her loser father was a nice touch (as opposed to having her actually live up to the hopes the daughter had for her). There were some laughs.

What didn't work: The Kevin Costner loser character did not elicit much empathy from me. He was simply a loser and didn't care that he was a loser, even though he supposedly loved his daughter. The plot worked, but it was missing a real driving force. There was much mugging going on, but not much acting.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Truly Madly Deeply" [B-]

I needed to see something with a strong psychological theme (as in someone is crazy) and this sort of fits the bill. Odd that the entire time I watched it I was thinking it was decidedly from the late 70s or early 80s. It turns out to be from 1991--almost 20 years ago, but not 30. I suppose it's partly because it was decidedly British (not in a bad way).

What worked: the acting and the dialog. The writing is crisp and often poignant and even often humorous, even though a main topic is death and grief.

What did not work: major parts of the plot hinge on allusion and inference, rather than storytelling. This left me somewhat confused about what was supposed to be happening and why. And the whole 70s vibe.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Not a Film Critic

No, I'm not a film critic. That's why if anyone actually reads this blog, they won't find any actual film reviews. What you will find are occasional film opinions. These are really just notes to myself about why I may or may not have liked a film. This is, after all, a personal weblog, not really meant to be read by anybody but me. Right?

One reason I'm not a film critic is that I am too much of a film fan, even of bad films, to be that critical of them. I am truly fascinated and enraptured by almost any moving picture.

Another reason I'm not going to attempt to write actual reviews is that such things usually include a summary of the plot. This is something I am loath to do. After all, if these are just notes to myself, I've already seen the film. I don't need any reminding of the essence of the plot. If I do, I can certainly find it elsewhere. And if I did attempt to summarize, I would more than likely write too little or too much, rather than just enough.

Finally, I'm not going to write critical reviews because I don't like being critical in general. There are plenty of other people out there, and in this case those other people are paid professionals, who accomplish plenty of criticism on my behalf. I'd much rather err on the side of nice-ness.

notafilmcritic: "Inkheart" [B]

I was very much looking forward to watching this film, even with the mixed (to be generous) reviews it was receiving. I love books and I loved the idea of characters coming out of books into the real world. And I like, or don't mind, the presence of Brendon Fraser.

Inkheart is a pleasant fantasy film, nicely executed on many levels. There were quite a few nods to the classics, especially for some reason, The Wizard of Oz (Toto, flying monkeys, a tornado, and Dorothy's farmhouse all make appearances). Perhaps it would have been even better if characters from these real books would have taken center stage, rather than those from a third rate novel that can't even be kept in print.

I can see why the 'real' film critics generally marked it down. The directing sagged at times. The screenplay was a bit rough, with too many characters for too little (too much?) plot and not enough genuine peril. That, perhaps, was on purpose, in order to bring in the kids. But in that case the plot was certainly too byzantine. It was almost as convoluted as the streets in the bad guy's mountain village. So even though the film worked for me, I can see most adults resisting its charms.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I Love Soundtracks

I like to listen to motion picture soundtrack recordings while I'm writing. I find it lends a motion pictury quality to what I'm doing, whether it's an actual screenplay or even a novel.

One big advantage that most soundtrack music has over other music for me is that there are no words. Lyrics mess up my writing, because my brain wants to listen to them instead of putting my own words onto the paper (or screen). In the same way, if the music requires some attention, like some jazz and most classical, it ruins my concentration on the words.

I do listen to other instrumental music while writing. Good old surf guitar music (e.g., Dick Dale or the Surfaris) is good for a pick-me-up, while still avoiding the whole lyric issue. And jazz. And some classical.

But what's playing right now is pretty typical, it's a Lalo Schifrin tune from the "Mission: Impossible" television show. Nope, now it's an instrumental version of "Thunderball". I've got Windows Media Player on random, so soon I'll be hearing something from a cowboy movie or maybe something more sci-fi.

It's interesting to see other writer's posting there writing music preferences. But most of them would never work for me, because they involve, again, words. See, now Shirley Bassey is singing "Diamonds Are Forever", so I'll have to retag that track to not play when I just want "Soundtrack" music.

notafilmcritic: "Terminator Salvation" [C+]

This movie was not as bad as I feared. From the reviews and analysis that I'd read, I thought it was going to be an unintelligible mess. Christian Bale as John Connor was going to show up in places he wasn't meant to and be useless and Sam Worthington (as Marcus, the part Bale was wanted for) would be the heart of the story. In fact, John Connor was an important part of the story and helped move it along. This much was right: Marcus was the heart of the story. Oh, and it is an unintelligible time-travel mess.

You've got time-traveling John Connor trying to operate in the future based on Sarah Connor's semi-prophetic cassette tapes from the past. He should have been much more concerned with the present. You've got time-traveling Marcus awakened in the future after being lost in some weird government cyborg experiment for fifteen years (or is he?). And you've got time-traveling Kyle Reese, who's supposed to go back in time and be John Connor's father, doing his "I Am Legend" schtick in a wiped out Los Angeles as "the resistence". And you've got SkyNet an AI we can only make films about leap-frogging about forty or more years of technological advance in only nine to gain real artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and metallurgy, and some pretty cool flying machines.

It's a mess. Yet, it's all done with such polish and aplomb that I was again willing to turn over my two hours (including trailers) and $10 (!) and come out the other side glad I did it. It's not a science fiction film I could recommend to a non-fan, even one that likes action. It's not an SF film I would place anywhere near the likes of the original Terminator, or Alien, or Blade Runner. But it wasn't bad.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Private Detective Couples

While I work on plotting a new screenplay, I'm also thinking about the next project. I'm pretty sure this will be a revisit (actually complete rewrite) of my first ever novel, written for National Novel Writing Month, which was (supposed to be) a bit of a thriller/mystery. I've often thought of taking an underlying theme of that, old cars, and building a series out of that. The idea appeals to me.

It seems that in order to really do that, I'll probably have to follow the herd and center the series on a single protagonist. As I thought that through, it sure seemed like what I was coming up with was yet-another-loner-hero. Is that what the world needs? Is that all it wants? Sometimes it looks that way. Even the women detectives I've read lately are almost just female versions of the same stereotype.

What if I did something different? What if I did a husband/wife team of detectives? How often has this been done? Is it too off the mark for the market? These are the questions I need to answer. I put part of the question out there to Facebook and Twitter and got a couple of answers from folks that are not really writer's market analysts. But they point to the only ones I could think of, too:
  • Nick and Nora Charles from "The Thin Man"
  • Jennifer and Jonathan Hart from "Hart to Hart"
  • Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro from "Gone Baby Gone", etc. (not married, but a couple)
Is that about it? I'm just getting started on the research. I know I don't want to spend much energy on this question, because it doesn't really matter that much. Except, I still wonder if it's different enough or too different.

Friday, June 19, 2009

notafilmcritic: "OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies" [B+]

Outstanding spy spoof in the tradition of "Get Smart" and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", laced with plenty of "The Pink Panther" played by a real Frenchman. It was a little disconcerting to start the film with WWII era Nazis speaking French with English sub-titles. But once one realizes what's happening, one adjusts. One thing is for sure, this film is not subtle. The music, the script, the attitude, and the stupidity are all over the top. It's wonderful. I can't wait to see the next film in the series.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

notafilmcritic: "Dan In Real Life" [A-]

This is the way to write a love story. Real people. Real situations. Real consequences. Real love, both romantic and familial. I'm not the biggest fan of romantic comedies of this 'ilk'. That's because they usually come off as grating melodramatics or are based on flimsy 'meet cuts' or play out in improbable, unmotivated vignettes. But Dan In Real Life misses all of those bumps and potholes and comes out at the end an amusing and warm story that seems populated by people you might actually know and doesn't try to resolve all the questions. Recommended.

notafilmcritic: "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" [C+]

I read that Lucas moved this from television to the theaters because of how good the first few episodes of the tv series looked on the big screen. After watching it on my big screen at home, I can see a little of that. In fact, that's what moves it from a C- to a C+. But I'm glad I didn't pay money to sit through this extended Saturday morning cartoon in the movie theater. The even bigger screen wouldn't have made it that much better. For me the most obvious thing wrong with this disaster starts with the script, including the characterizations. Everything is so geared toward a young audience that it hurts. The youngling padawan for Anakin. The smart-mouth repartee. The baby Hutt. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. Anakin is not right. Jabba is not right. I can't think of a character that's really done right (as in matching the movies). But the animation was interesting.

Friday, June 12, 2009

notafilmcritic: "The Darjeeling Limited" [B-]

Three brothers set out on a spiritual quest in India a year after their father's funeral. Of course, what they find is not what they expect. But they learn about life, death, family, and each other. Presented in a meta-reality style similar in feeling to the director's previous "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou", this film is never quite as potent or funny as the earlier work. The acting and directing have the potential of being great, but the script never quite gets us to care about the characters as much as we should. The series of adventures the brothers have come across as flimsily threaded vignettes, rather than a compelling story. The meandering style allows the viewer's eye and mind to also wander a bit too much over the background characters and setting. Even so, I found myself drawn in to the brothers' misadventures and strangely satisfied with the film's almost predictable ending.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Quick, Good, or Cheap. Pick Two

I was recently reminded of this old project planning adage and it got me to wondering if it applied to my current occupation as a part-time writer. I've seen it worked out time and again in various software projects at the places where I work full-time. Please stay with me as I think this through.

Good + Quick = Expensive

This makes sense to me. In order for a writing project to get done quickly and well, you need one or more experienced writers focusing on it full time. The bigger the project or the quicker you want it, the more (or better) writers you'll need (although there is certainly a point of diminishing return, as shown by Brooks in The Mythical Man-Month). This is probably why most television shows use a small army of writers to get a teleplay written every week--divide and conquer. Plus, the more experienced the writer the more expensive (in theory) they will be.

This doesn't preclude, of course, the serendipity of an experienced (or even inexperienced) writer singlehandedly pouring out a complete and polished first draft in an amazingly short period of time. But from what I've been reading and experiencing, that is the exception and not the rule.

Good + Cheap = Slow

This seems to be where I am at, no matter how much I'd like to change it. Since there is only one of me and I am still learning how this writing stuff works and I have only so many hours in the day (of which many are filled by my day job and other obligations and desires) and I want what I write to be good, it's taking me a while to get things done. I've been working on the outline for a new screenplay for over a month now and it's still not quite there. Likewise the planning for a couple of novels. I did manage to whack out a first draft of a short story in a week. But it still needs a rewrite or two (or more) before it's ready to submit to anyone other than my wife and friends.

On the other hand, there is a hidden cost to constantly not having finished a project (or at least a step of the project). There is a point where (A) it's just got to be done (no more procrastinating) and (B) it's good enough. This is the battle I'm fighting.

Quick + Cheap = Inferior

As I wrote above, there are probably times where a single writer can finish a great work in a short amount of time, even if they are inexperienced (I've read that Mickey Spillane wrote his first novel, I, The Jury, in nine days, disregarding any arguments about how great it is, it's certainly been influential). But again, that's the exception, and not the rule, and is not what should be expected of most writing most of the time. If I were to bang out a novel in nine days, it would probably be crap. Heck, I've knocked a novel in 30 days during National Novel Writing Month, and all four times it's been crap. But I've learned about writing and about my writing. And now I've at least got four (almost) book length manuscripts saved to my hard drive.

Where does that leave me? I'm a part-time writer. I'm just way too practical and settled in my lifestyle to walk away from a high paying job and write full time. But I've been bitten by the writing bug, so I'm going to keep on writing. I just have keep my perspective and not expect to have a novel or screenplay pop out of my computer every few months. I also have to read more books, read less Internet nonsense, and write more words.

Writers Needed (1909)

In Scientific American for June 2009: 100 Years Ago

JUNE 1909
WRITERS NEEDED— “Moving pictures are exhibited in about ten thousand theaters and halls in the United States. With the rapid spread of this new amusement has also come a marked change in the public taste. Spectators were once quite content with a view of factory employees going to and from their work, the arrival and departure of railway trains, and similar scenes. Nowadays, a more or less coherent story must be unfolded, for which reason the makers of moving pictures have been compelled to write plays (or at least to conceive them) and to have them acted before the camera.”

Monday, June 8, 2009

notafilmcritic: "American Gangster" [A-]

On Twitter, I noted that American Gangster was good, but seemed like just a very long episode of Kojak. It's obviously more than that. But on a character and plot level, I still think that's all it is.

Despite being three hours long and covering a number of years (a decade?), I don't recall any significant character development in either Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) or Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe). About the closest thing I see to that is that Richie suddenly decides that he really is a bit of an SOB and lets his ex-wife take their son where she wants. And Frank, once he determines he's got no other option, suddenly decides to play along with the good cops, in order to take down the bad cops and the mob. But that actually seems like more of an appendix to the rest of the film. I suppose that's what one gets in a long police procedural based on actual events.

Otherwise, this is an amazing period piece, deftly acted, and smoothly directed. I totally bought the grimy New York underbelly of the 70's, the junkies, the crooked cops, the actual grime. Recommended.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

notafilmcritic: "Cocoon" [B+]

Rewatched this last night as part of my research for a new screenplay (no, of something original). It was just as good as I thought I remembered, even though I had forgotten huge chunks of the story. I was impressed by the amount of story the writer and director got out of just the people and the effect the 'magic' was having on them without resorting to too many visual effects.

In fact, it seemed like the movie bogged down and got a little silly when the emphasis was on showing the aliens and their spacecraft. That could have been edited down even more. I mean, what was the deal with Kitty's 'soul' bouncing off the rafters before it finally shot into Jack? Foreplay? I didn't get it. I don't think they did justice to that couple.

That may also be a good demonstration of a rule of thumb I was just reading about how many main characters a film can support, which is no more than 4 to 6. In this film, you had the 2 main aliens, Jack the boat skipper, the 3 main geezers, their 3 wives/girlfriends, another geezer couple, and a grandson. That's about 11 people that figured into the plot in some way. Plus there were assorted other aliens, geezers and geezerettes, and the old folks home staff. Too many people for the way the story was structured, I think. This resulted in several throw-away scenes and dead-ends.

But it's still a good film and very recommended.

Monday, June 1, 2009

mini-review: "Ghost Town" [B]

This movie was surprisingly good. It even had the boss saying it was cute, and I didn't expect her to like it at all. One of the things I liked the most was watching how the script carried off the delicate balancing act of keeping us with the characters and their 'real' predicament while also taking us into the entirely absurd world of seeing ghosts. The film was never afraid of either aspect and was better for it. It was also a pleasure to watch two characters given the time to warm up to one another without going instantly from 'I hate you' to 'I love you'. One downside: I never quite bought Téa Leoni being interested in Ricki Gervais. Maybe they needed to make her a little more of the nerdy academic.

mini-review: "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" [B-]

I liked this movie. It was an enjoyable way to spend an evening, the sequences were fun to watch, but it had too many plot holes. It started with the obviously preposterous setup used to send the characters from New York to D.C. The rest are all too numerous to enumerate in a mini-review, but basically boil down to my befuddlement over how Washington D.C. could seem so utterly devoid of security. What? There's nobody around to notice that a 50 foot tall Abe Lincoln is wandering the streets? Fun is fun, but... huh?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Screenwriting Books

I'm back in the fight to outline this screenplay. Last night, my slightly mushy brain came up with a pretty decent idea to fix the whole thing, and it continued to work on it overnight. By this morning it seemed like the new approach was pretty workable and I started writing it down. I'd like to say a couple of words about how I'm approaching that.

I previously mentioned Blake Snyder and Alex Epstein as influences on structuring my work. It's pretty hard to really name a favorite between their two books. The couple of books I'd read before them, Writing Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge and Screenplay by Syd Field, were useful overviews, but were vague on specific techniques. Yes, they discussed the three acts. Michael even offered a way to format an outline, but his approach seemed both heavily burdened with detail about what to track for each scene and lacking in practical advice on how to figure out what scenes to include.

Then I read Alex Epstein's Crafty Screenwriting. This was helpful. He started with the basics on developing a hook and then gave solid, practical advice about plot, characters, dialogue and the rest. I used his guidance while working on my second screenplay. But I guess the part of my brain that's good at organizing some things just didn't quite absorb enough about the process to make me successful at organizing the screenplay. It still ran out of gas about halfway through. I needed more.

Blake Snyder's Save The Cat! was the book that put it all together for me. It really might be The Last Book on Screenwriting [I'll] Ever Need (but I doubt it, because I like books). From his insightful breakdown of the beats of a movie, to his useful taxonomy of story genres, to his step by step advice on breaking down a story using 'the board', this book is filled with the tools I think I need to finally put together a screenplay that works. All the other books have their place, but Save The Cat! is the one I go to first to figure out what I need to put into a script.

So, I'm back to it. My logline is revised to incorporate the new approach. I have two fresh pages of notes for how to outline about 2/3 of the story, sort of a synopsis. I plan to get the rest of the synopsis/notes written down tomorrow morning and perhaps even start arranging scenes on 'the board'. It's just possible that I'll get that done and be able to write out the detailed outline by Sunday night. We'll see. I am recharged to get back to work and might be a bit optimistic.

I still don't want to say to much in this forum about what I'm working on. What I will say is that it's supposed to be a comedy (if I can write funny) and it's supposed to be family friendly (I think I can do that). And if you read STC!, you'll find that Blake would put it in the genre of Out of the Bottle. So that, or OOTB, is how I'll refer to the project from now on. It's not really I Dream of Jeannie. More like The Brass Bottle meets Home of the Brave (though I'm still trying to find a better second feature).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

mini-review: "Juno" [B-]

Am I the only one who sees through all the hype on this? Even Roger Ebert loved it. Why?

I guess teenagers talk like this, but not all the time. It takes months to come up with witty repartee. And then you stick with it for months without moving on to the next thing. In the very first scene, I wanted to smack Rainn Wilson for talking to a customer in such a belittling manner. Yikes! Why would anyone shop there? Apparently, writing over-the-top banter, outrageous characters, and a simple plot are what get you an Academy Award for screenplay.

As for the rest, I suppose it was meaningful and raw and realistic. Juno's defensive mechanism was to always be 'on', which I found more annoying than endearing. She came off as much too cool and calculating for a 16yo. People sure argued with each other a bunch, which I also found almost as grating as they found each other. The message that everyone ultimately stuck together and made a bad situation work, for the good of the child, was probably what audiences and critics liked. In the end, that made it almost work for me. But I mark it down for being a wise acre.

mini-review: "Definitely, Maybe" [B+]

This is a very pleasant, low-key romantic comedy. There are places where the writing was probably a bit contrived and others where it could have been edged up a notch. But overall it was entertaining and enjoyable and I'd recommend it as a way to warm up an evening.

Outlining Is Hard

Having written four almost-novel-length rough drafts for NaNoWriMo and three screenplays for ScriptFrenzy, I already know that long-form writing is real work. But when I'm in the day-to-day of writing chapters and scenes, it's fun and rewarding work. Even when I know what's going down on the page is crap, I know I will (or am supposed to) come back and fix it later and I can get in the flow.

In those projects, the rough spots I ran into always had to do with story--trying to come up with at least the semblance of a feasible set of characters, setting, and plot. But once I thought I had those in hand, I dove in and figured I'd be able to to push my way through. I guess I thought of myself as a seat-of-the-pants writer--a panster. I haven't been satisfied with the results.

On my latest project, a screenplay, I figured I should probably follow the sage advice of the teachers I've been reading and following, namely Blake Snyder and Alex Epstein, and do a real outline, with beats, a basic scene breakdown, and everything. As I noted in a previous post, the personal deadline for having the outline is this Sunday, so I can start writing scenes on Monday. I gave myself last week to finish off the logline (which I mostly did) and this past weekend to do the story beats and breakdown (using 'the board'). I got my ass kicked.

Procrastination and long-weekend mentality meant that I didn't really start until Monday morning. Of course, that meant that I had the whole thing to do in a day, but I figured I'd at least get the high points and fill in the rest this week. I guess what I found out is that what I thought were settled story points had not been giving enough thought, so when I tried to nail them down they kept squishing about like jello. To top it off, my other project, a novel, kept popping into my brain. Like an idiot, I figured I should try to stay focused, so I didn't capture those, either.

It all boils down to the fact that I now see that I am probably a week behind. I need to get these story points settled. Then I can break them down and fill in the beats. Then I can write up the outline. Then I can write the rough draft. I'm getting an inkling of why writers who do this for a living call it work.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Administrivia: Removing WOTD

I've decided the word-of-the-day has to go. If more than one friend ever decide to read this, it will just be in the way. Noise.

It's not completely gone, though. I think I still need the exercise. The existing entries have been copied to a new blog ( and I'll pick up further entries there.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

mini-review: "Changeling" [B+]

Changeling (2008) directed by Clint Eastwood
Writing, acting, directing all first rate; except it was too long. Even so, it kept me involved and guessing what would happen the whole time. If it had not been based on a true story, I would have insisted that more of the characters be given more motivation. As it was, it didn't bother me (much) that people just showed up and did things. That's real life. [B+ or 8/10]

Thursday, May 21, 2009

word: immure

So there she was, immured in her cubicle with someone she didn't understand, but who had authority over her. How could she escape? Why did she feel the need to escape? Where would she go?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"...everybody is the hero of his own story."

I have to give this one to Orson Scott Card, at least for now. It's on page 92 of Characters and Viewpoint (1st Edition, Writer's Digest Books, 1988) and a ways down into this interview.

Editing a Dead Horse

One of these days I'll be here. John August has some sage words of advice on his blog for those times when an author faces the n+1th revision of their long form story, be it screenplay or novel, and is going insane.

The most obvious is to use better words. The most challenging is to remove a seemingly important scene and make the rest of the story work.

But my favorite is to imagine a secondary plot we're not seeing. This appeals to me because it's something I'm trying to do anyway in order to make my plots more realistic. It goes along with another tip I've read and will have to locate an attribution for: every character is the hero of their own story. It's important to remember that everyone in a story is trying to accomplish something. And John's advice is to figure out what they're doing when they're off-screen/offstage/off-page.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

word: fey

What was it about Dan that bothered her? He was a pretty tough boss, but fair. Forthright. Happily married, which meant he didn't hit on her. But sometimes she detected something a little off, like he was from a different time or place. Her grandmother might have said he was fey.

Monday, May 18, 2009

word: pernicious

The impulse to flee was pernicious. It was undermining every effort to be productive. Of course, that's when her boss, Dan, dropped by her desk.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

wotd: exigency

The exigency of putting on a productive face and getting something done for the company was soon overwhelmed by the nagging feeling that she shouldn't really be here. She needed to be with Nathaniel.

Novel vs Screenplay

I'd meant to get a bunch of work started on my next screenplay this weekend. But have had limited success. I think the only thing I've really succeeded at is finally convincing myself that I should drop the idea I was working on, for now. It's just not ready to be what I need it to be. But if I'm going to have something ready to write by the end of the month, I need to get something nailed down very soon. Like in a day or two.

Meanwhile, the noveling part of my brain jumped in and gave me what seem to be a pretty decent two or three pages to a first chapter. Then again, they may be too slow. But that's OK. It's a start. Now I'd better figure out a plot before I try to go much further.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

writing tip: Mind Your Anthropology

Found a handy tip entitled Writers' Tricks and Anthropology by S.C. Butler over at Science Fiction & Fantasy Novelists. It basically points out that there are rules for human behavior that should be kept in mind when writing about humans. In particular, he notes that there are studies that show that the optimal number of human interactions is about six. Thus, one should not try to write about a conversation being held in a group larger than that.

wotd: stolid

She decided to isolated herself in her work and ignore her emotions, becoming that stolid, hard-working employee that her boss appreciated. But that only worked for a about twenty minutes.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Never been there. And I have very little desire to go on a visit, other than to see the locks. But what I do need is a plan. I've spent half a month pretending to get started on my next screenplay. I suppose I've been working on the idea, a bit. It's time to get serious.

On June 1, I intend to start writing the first draft. There. I wrote it down. Now I need to execute. According to the calendar, not counting today, I have 16 days to get my outline written. That's too big to track. Break it down. If I give myself 5 days to write the outline (including one or two drafts), I have to have the story breakdown in 11 days. That's May 26. That let's me spend Memorial Day weekend creating the beat sheet (thank you Blake Snyder). That's in a week. I have one (1) week to finalize the logline and title and get 30-40 scene possibilities written out. That's just over 4 per day.

wotd: querulous

Megan was trying to keep herself in a good mood that day. But it was difficult, given that her coworkers were a tribe of querulous louts with nary a positive thing to say about anything. Her self doubts began feeding off of their negative energy.

wotd=word of the day

Obligatory First Post

It seems obligatory when kicking off a new blog to write a first post that explains it. This is that post. Since nobody is reading this but me, I must be explaining this blog to myself.

It's not beyond the realm of possibility, but certainly highly improbable, that you have discovered that I have written other blogs. Some of them even have been kept up-to-date for a time. Those tended to be very special purpose: documenting an attempt at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) or its sibling Script Frenzy. I also used a blog to track my reading for a while. This blog should be different.

The intent of this blog is to energize and direct my writing. The idea, for now, is to make it a place where I am sure to get something down in writing every day. It may be a random thought or idea. It may be a sentence or paragraph inspired by a daily vocabulary word. It may be a link or pointer to something that I've just found that I think will help my writing.