That Was Then. This Is Now.

December’s a pretty busy time of year what with all the Christmas shopping, Christmas parties, Christmas itself (which realistically only lasts two hours), my sister’s birthday, school projects, the ballet, two plays, etc, so my friend and I decided it would be a good time to write a novel. Yes, we ripped off Chris Baty‘s November NaNoWriMo event and moved it to December because we were too lame (and late) to do it last month. 50,000 words, plus we get an extra day to do it in.

Oh, we also decided it would be well worth the effort to eat healthy and exercise every day while we were at it.

It’s the end of week one and I am totally impressed with ourselves. We both made our weekly quota of over 11k words. This is more words than I have probably written in the past ten years. They are not great words; it is not even a great story. In fact, I didn’t even have a clue what I was going to write about up until I sat down at my laptop on December 1 and had to write something.

My story is not going anywhere in the sense that I will never revise it or even consider doing anything more with it. At first, my Inner Critic was appalled.

IC: “What’s the point of spending all this time and energy and getting so stressed out to just write a piece of crap?” inner-critic

ME: “Well, Inner Critic, that is the point. Thanks to you, I have reread, rewritten, and reviled everything I have ever written to death, and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere. Why can’t I take this time to write something you have no control over and have fun with it? You know, fun, the way writing used to be before you showed up? And by the way, who the hell let you out of the kennel?”

So now my Inner Critic just sits on my shoulder and sniggers about the drivel dripping from my fingers as if he’s saying, “One day you’ll come back to me.”

That was then. This is now.

My friend and I posed the same challenge to ourselves in July. 50,000 words in 31 days. This time we failed. Neither of us even started past an idea in our head. We did manage to work on a graphic novel at least. But I felt kind of guilty that I wasted a whole month and never reached my goal even though I had already written three short stories. So I told myself that I would definitely write a novel in August.

Okay, it’s August 14, and I officially hate my Inner Critic. I’m seriously thinking about firing him because he’s a pain in the ass. When I was a  kid I wrote for fun, for me, for escape. I was the main character in all my stories and I led some pretty cool lives; I lived with rock stars, I dated rock stars, I was a rock star. I didn’t care about “character” or “plot” or “pacing” or “setting.” I just wrote and I’m pretty sure I hit all those elements without even trying.

Rock-Star

Then I got this brilliant idea: let’s go to school to study creative writing! And guess what? That’s when my stupid Inner Critic showed up! Now everything I write has to “measure up” to some invisible audience’s expectations. Or worse: a publisher’s. Consequently, education sucked the spontaneity, creativity, and innocence out of writing for me.

There’s been one project that I’ve been working on for awhile that I’m pretty proud of. It’s a fan-fiction serial based on World of Warcraft that I write in installments. I don’t write it for anyone but me and a few guildmates who may or may not even read it. I don’t plan on doing anything serious with it (like trying to get it published), so it’s actually fun and probably some of my best off-the-cuff writing.

That’s what I want to get back to with everything I write–that non-feeling of dread when I sit down at the keyboard (if I even get there). I don’t want to do character sketches, or plot summaries, or scene outlines. I just want to write with the same non-pressure feeling I used to when I could be anything I wanted. (Which was always apparently a rock star.)

 

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Priorities, people!

I am a deadline fiend. Give me a date and a time when I need to have something done by, and I will do whatever it takes–stay up late, skip school, call out of work, etc.

In grad school, I thrived on deadlines. As part of a low-residency program, the creative writing degree required four submissions per semester via email to our mentors. Each submission consisted of two craft annotations, revisions from the previous month’s work, 30 pages of new material, and a cover letter detailing our experience. On top of that, we had to read between four-to-six books per month directly related to the genre we were working in or on the craft of writing books.

For the first two weeks of the month, I worked full-time, read all my books, and wrote my two papers. For the last two weeks, I took Fridays off from work and spent the entire weekends writing. On Fridays I would write from about 10:00 AM until 2:00 AM. Saturdays were the same except I would break from about 9:00 PM to 12:00 or 1:00 AM to play video games with my friend then back to writing until I fell asleep. Sundays I wrote from about 10:00 AM (or whenever I woke up) until 9:00 PM. I tried to write about one and a half chapters or roughly 15 pages per weekend. I got less done on Fridays because I always reread my manuscript from the beginning to get into the character, mood, feel, voice, etc.

The reason I excelled at this type of deadline was not just because I was getting something out of it (a terminal degree) but I didn’t want to let my mentors down either.

I have since tried to make my own deadlines to finish this novel or that screenplay, but I have never been able to enforce them or meet them. I blame it on my lack of priorities. I can sit at the computer and level my World of Warcraft toon until I use up all my rested XP or I hit the next level, but I can’t just sit at my computer and finish what I say I’m going to by my deadline. I guess I’m just not tough enough on myself.

Recently, it’s come to my attention that I am missing two opportunities to send my manuscript out to different publishers during their open submissions this month and missing an opportunity to enter a screenwriting contest with one of the prizes being a reading with Robert McKee. And it’s all because I failed to meet those self-imposed deadlines over the past few years. Oh, I get stuff done; it just takes forever.

Well you know what? I don’t have forever. I don’t want to miss anymore of those open submission calls. I’m sick of being a loser. I want a backlog of  manuscripts/screenplays ready to send out a moment’s notice. I mean, really, is this so hard?

(And don’t even get me started trying to complete NaNoWriMo or ScriptFrenzy. They happen in the two busiest months for me school-wise.)

I’ve decided what I need is to not call it a deadline. Because seriously, no one’s going to fail me if I don’t finish by a certain date. My “goal” is to finish revising/rewriting a specific manuscript by the end of the year (where have I heard that one before?).  And the reason why I think it might be doable this time is because I have a list of priorities.

The story needs some help not only with plot but with character. I also want to change from first-person, present tense narration to third-person, past tense narration. That will require one set of revisions. At the same time I’m going to focus on sentence variety (simple, compound, complex, compound-complex) and beginning sentences with more than just a noun, pronoun, or article.

Secondly, I’m going to do a major rewrite because my protagonist seems to have come down with multiple personality disorder. (I blame the photo I found for inspiration). I’m hoping this will lead the story to a plot more in line with my original vision.

And lastly, I’m going to tackle the first chapter. I’ve never really liked it and I think it’s because I’m not happy with the protagonist, so hopefully that by starting my revisions/rewrites after it, I won’t get frustrated and give up before page 10.

Pre Frenzy Week 3- We Got the Beat

By now you’ve done some work on your characters and found out what makes them tick. Hopefully you’ve discovered their major character flaw through listening to their back story. You’ve figured out what it is they need most in life even if they haven’t figured it out yet. You’ve also come up with a situation, a quest so to speak, to help them get what they want. After all, that’s what storytelling is all about–creating a situation that forces your protagonist to get over himself and live a better life. (Yes, even in tragedy and death the protagonist grows.)

Last week’s exercise was a sort of fill in the blanks of the ten elements of screenwriting. Here’s an example of what yours might look like:

1. Back Story— Rumer’s father, an assassin for SI:7, is accused of treason against the King of Stormwind and executed in front of her and her sister, Whisperra. While trying to help Rumer escape their father’s murderers, Whisperra is kidnapped, and Rumer is left to fend for herself. Growing up alone and despised for her family name, Rumer takes to drinking and refuses to form close relationships with anyone except her giant saber mount and companion. She travels Azeroth searching for her sister.

2. Internal Need–to trust and open herself up to others without fear of abandonment; to allow others to help her.

3. Inciting Incident–While chasing yet another lead on her sister’s whereabouts, she learns her father’s charge of treason could have been part of a larger conspiracy against the entire Stormwind Alliance.

4. External Goal–to stop the murder of King Varian Wrynn of Stormwind.

5. Preparation–She infiltrates SI:7 to confront Master Mathias Shaw, who supposedly ordered her father’s execution. She gathers a group of would-be heroes, a healer, a hunter, a magic user, and a warrior, to raid the conspirators’ stronghold and rescue her sister. She devises a strategy for stopping the assassination attempt on King Wrynn.

6.Opposition–Death Knight Malthrassus, advisor to the king and head of covert operation within the Empire to destroy the Alliance. (By the way, it’s important to do just as much character work on your antagonist as well to discover his/her character flaw, internal need, and external goal. You might want to look for something in his/her back story to create sympathy. Antagonists need not be wholly evil, just as protagonists should not be perfect.)

7. Self-Revelation–After rescuing her sister, Rumer knows that together they can clear their father’s name and stop Malthrassus from destroying the Empire.

8. Obsession–Dark Moment: Whisperra is mortally wounded during the escape, and Rumer is left alone once again. New Stimulus: She will avenge her sister’s death by asking her companions for help.

9. Battle–While her friends and SI:7 armies come to her aid, ultimately she must fight Malthrassus alone before he assassinates King Wrynn.

10. Resolution–Rumer and her merry band of heroes are honored by the King of Stormwind. Whisperra’s life is commemorated in a statue. Their father’s name is cleared. The leader of SI:7 offers her a position as his second-in-command.

…or some reasonable facsimile.

So while you were exploring the elements as they pertain to your own story, you probably started getting ideas for scenes. Great! Now it’s time to connect the dots and really begin to plot out your script by creating a beat sheet or step outline.

Sometimes you’ll see the word “beat” written within a script. This generally indicates a moment of pause for dramatic effect before a reaction or response. As writers, we don’t want to dictate every action a character will make–that’s the actor’s job–but there may be a specific place where we want to make sure the change of action/reaction isn’t missed.

A beat is also an exchange of behavior in action or reaction. Beat by beat these changing behaviors shape the turning of a scene. This will be discussed more next week when we work on subtext, but for now think of beat as the motivations behind each character’s actions or dialogue: to beg, to condone, to scorn, etc.

For our purposes this week, a beat sheet (it’s very hard not to write beet sheet or beat sheat) is a one or two-sentence statement that simply and clearly describes what happens in each scene. It can also be called a step-outline in which you number each scene, describing not only what happens in it, but how it builds and then turns again. Remember, each scene should attempt to answer a question as well as pose a new one. In this sense, you can also think of each scene as its own little cliffhanger because what happens in one scene should naturally move the story forward to the next one.

As we begin to plot out our story based on the revelations we’ve made on our characters, their actions and reactions, we also begin to think about structure. The most common structure you’ll probably be working in is the three-act structure. And once you grasp the inner-workings of each act, it becomes much easier to plan scenes.

Here’s a brief overview of each act.

Act One: We meet the major (and some of the not so major) characters in the story, particularly the protagonist. In a few brief scenes, we establish the opening value of the story (positive or negative or somewhere in between), the status quo of the protagonist’s life up to this point, perhaps a glimpse at his or her internal need, and a bit of back story. There may also be the beginnings of a subplot or two. But the biggest thing that happens in Act One is the Inciting Incident–something must happen to upset the status quo. It may also upset the protagonist because, remember, he has a character flaw that is trying to prevent him from acting. (Think about what he fears most.) Next, we introduce some kind of external goal that the protagonist thinks will solve the problem presented by the inciting incident and make everything better. This comes directly out of your premise statement. And to end the first act, we must see the protagonist taking the initial action to achieve that goal. This can be called a plot point, turning point, or first major reversal. The opening value has just changed in a big way.

Act Two: This is the bulk of your story and is all about creating conflicts, barriers, and antagonism. Create progressive complications by gradually raising the stakes. How far is your protagonist willing to go to achieve this goal? With each action and each reaction to these complications, she will pass the point of no return and a new level of conflict is aroused. This is also where we see our character preparing herself and devising strategies to overcome each new obstacle. We meet the antagonist full-force. We witness the strength and magnitude of all his resources and power so that it’s no wonder our protagonist fails. And finally, our main character must face her darkest moment. This is the moment when she becomes conscious of her internal need and despite losing everything, she has to continue toward that goal–even if it means death. Just as Act One ended with a plot point, so does Act Two. Our main character, now obsessed with achieving the external goal and the internal need, tries one more time. Think of what action, rather than dialogue, she will take.

Act Three: Short and sweet. We present our battle scene/climax/showdown/big finish. There is a moment of crisis in which the wrong decision at this time will lose the external goal for both the antagonist and the protagonist. There is no going back for either of them. There is no more planning. There is only doing. They square off. Who wins? Regardless of who does, our protagonist has to achieve his/her internal need. Anything left after the goal has been won is called the resolution. In a scene (or two at most) we can show the spread of climactic effects on other characters by bringing them all to one location like the beach or a party or a wedding. Now with everyone in one spot, we can wrap up any subplots, and we can provide a “slow curtain” for the audience to get their emotions under control. Didn’t you ever wonder why some people stay to watch the credits (myself included)?

Week 3 Exercise: Write a beat sheet/step-outline of your entire screenplay. Just one to two sentences will do, and it doesn’t matter where you start either. Sometimes it might be easier to start toward the climax and work your way backwards. Another idea is to write each scene on an index card then arrange them in an order that seems sensible and logical to you. If you’re a visual writer, and you probably are if you’re interested in screenwriting, it might be easier to visually see your story enfold before you as you shuffle cards into order. And don’t forget to include subplots as well as the main conflict.

Pre ScriptFrenzy Frenzy

If you’ve ever tried to write a 90 page script or a 50,000 word novel from conception to completion in 30 days, you’re just as crazy as me. What I’ve found from multiple attempts is that it can’t be done. At least, not with anything worth a damn at the end of the month. I’ve read different blogs and posts by participants that all say the same thing: they went off on tangents just to hit the word count. They wrote characters who had no purpose, they wrote plots that led nowhere, and they often wrote a mess that was not even rewritable let alone revisable when they were done because they did not want to fail.

What is the purpose of this? Isn’t the point of writing to express yourself in some way? And hopefully to become published? Do we really have time to write a bunch of crap that is basically useless and would take way more effort to fix than to just spend quality time writing quality prose? Granted the allure of finishing a feature-length screenplay or a novel is enticing especially if, like me, it takes you years to complete one, but I find ScriptFrenzy and NaNoWriMo incredibly stressful. I blame that on poor planning. (Plus the fact that I always start late anyway.)

Last year, I tried to participate in ScriptFrenzy by writing a screenplay I had conceived of at age 11. The only problem was, I had tons of research to do for it because obviously it had changed in concept in some ways, and I labored over the opening scene for about three weeks until I decided that it just wasn’t gonna happen.  Had I taken the time to get all of my pre-writing done ahead of time, I might have had a better shot.

Likewise, I tried my hand at NaNoWriMo one year. I’m used to writing novels, so I didn’t think it would be that bad. And although I tend to write without a whole lot of focus, I do spend much of my time editing as I write, which does not work well with time constraints. It could take me an entire weekend to write one chapter of 7-10 pages. But it’s a damn good chapter.

So the advent of 2012’s ScriptFrenzy is almost upon us. (It starts on April 1st in case you’re wondering.) And I vow to complete a screenplay based on my WoW character’s secret life. (If you’re interested in what this entails, follow my blog at www.rumertales.wordpress.com) But in order to complete this insane quest, I’m going to spend the month of March doing all my pre-writing exercises. And I’m going to share them with you, so you too can succeed at ScriptFrenzy.

I know what you’re thinking. “Why should I take advice from this nobody? She can’t even finish a screenplay in 30 days?” Well, I’ll tell you. I am somewhat adept at the art of screenwriting. I’ve studied it at UCLA and I’ve taught Introduction to Screenwriting courses at Westfield State University. I even presented my Capstone seminar on screenwriting.

So there you have it. I’m an expert and you should listen to me.

For the next four weeks, I’ll be posting a series of exercises meant to focus your ideas into a cohesive and fluid storyline. You’ll learn how to write a premise and create a beat sheet, how to create characters and scenes, and how to structure your story using the ten elements of screenwriting.

And if you don’t want to listen to me, you should listen to this guy: Robert McKee, screenwriting guru and author of Story. http://www.mckeestore.com/Robert-McKees-book-STORY_p_11.html

I can’t promise anything, but if you join me, you might just finish that script after all!

Much Ado About Nothing

As some of you may know, I play World of Warcaft, a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game. Though there’s not really much roleplaying involved. Basically you get together with your friends, if you have any, and kill things.

My main character‘s name is Nothing. She is a Night Elf rogue. “The rogues of Azeroth are the masters of subterfuge, skilled and cunning adversaries of those who dare not look into the shadows to see what lurks there. Roguery is a profession for those who seek the adventures of stalking in silent forests, dimly lit halls and heavily guarded strongholds. Using trickery in combat and able to vanish at the slightest distraction, the rogue is a welcome addition to any group of adventurers. Ideal spies, deadly to those they can catch unaware, rogues have no problem finding a place in the world. Deadly masters of stealth, rogues are the whispers in shadowy corners and the hooded figures crossing dark fields. Skilled with daggers and the art of silent death, these vagabonds and bandits skulk about Azeroth seeking targets and profit.” (http://www.wowwiki.com/Rogue)

My Azeroth Adventures installments are based on this character, whom I renamed Rumer. (Yes, even my characters have characters.)

In the past two years I’ve been playing this character, I have received much attention because of her name. Random people have whispered me saying they like my choice and that it suits the rogue class. Nothing is also the butt of many jokes in my guild. My favorite is, “We’re all standing around doing Nothing.” Pictures are posted on my Facebook and our guild’s Facebook page about anything that has the word Nothing in it, like:

 

 

 

 

 

and:

and:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So in case any of you are wondering where I came up with that name, I have written a little ditty about it.  Here goes:

Much Ado About Nothing

It’s nice to know you don’t love me for my beauty because she is ugly.

It’s nice to know you don’t love me for my money because she is poor.

It’s nice to know you don’t love me for my sex because she gives you none.

It’s nice to know you don’t love me.

Because I’m Nothing.