Thursday, February 26, 2009

Duck Season! Wabbit Season! Contest Season!!!

This week’s really for the budding screenwriters who stop by here on a regular basis (all three of you). Writers of prose... next week I promise to have something for you, but feel free to read along. At the core of it, good writing is good writing, and while I’m discussing these things in terms of screenplays there may be a general tip or two to glean here. After all, we’re all just trying to connect with an audience beyond our mom, our significant other, or that weird guy with the beret down at the coffee shop.

Yeah, him. You know who I mean.

So, anyway, you smell that? That sharp tang in the air, like hot mint? That’s contest season, that is. And it’s in full swing. Time to clean off the desk, sharpen our quills, and win an award or three. Perhaps even some cash.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve watched the contest scene from both sides. I’ve placed in a bunch of competitions-- and when I say placed I don’t mean I got the honorary quarter-finalist position everyone who entered got. I’ve also read for several contests and spent long weekends going through script after script, often seeing the same basic mistakes (and a few phenomenally original ones) again and again. So I know the kind of things that make a reader cringe and shake their head. In one or two cases, only the timely intervention of booze kept me from gouging my own eyes out..

A few months back I mentioned some of the basic mistakes which quickly add up to sink a script. In a few cases, they can sink it in one shot. If you’re getting ready to send a script out to Austin, AAA, or that great brass ring known as the Nicholl, you should probably check through those first and possibly save yourself thirty or forty bucks.

Once you’ve taken care of the basic stuff, here are a few more hints of things to watch for and avoid.

The Director’s Draft

Every now and then a script shows up littered with stage direction, camera angles, parentheticals, editing notes, and so on. I saw one fellow on a message board who was furious his feedback had told him to eliminate such things, and it had been counted against his screenplay. As he saw it, he was planning to shoot this film himself with his friends, so not only were these notes in his script acceptable-- they were necessary!

Alas, they really aren’t, and as a screenwriter you have no business putting them there unless they are absolutely relevant to telling the story. There’s nothing wrong with writing a screenplay to direct yourself, but that’s a different type of script than what you send to a competition. It’s kind of like the difference between a spec draft and an actual shooting script.

When your script goes into a contest, it’s just a script. It isn’t the screenplay you’re going to make with your friends and it certainly isn’t the screenplay you’re going to direct. It’s just a screenplay, one standing up all on its own against all the others in the contest. And if yours is filled with a lot of camera angles and parentheticals that shouldn’t be there, well... that’s probably why it’s going into the large pile on the left.


I talked about this in a post a few weeks back, too, so you can look at that for more specifics. For now, just remember it’s always better to get one polished script submitted to a contest than half a dozen rough ones. No one’s going to win anything with the first draft of a script. Or even the second draft. Focus your efforts and don’t get distracted by every new idea that flutters across your mind’s eye.

Yes, Paul Haggis writes almost flawless first draft scripts. Crash was a first draft. So was Flags of Our Fathers. Paul Haggis has also been writing screenplays professionally for almost thirty years. He was a writer on Diff’rent Strokes, believe it or not. So when your writing resume is that long and you‘ve got so many Oscars you’re using them to prop up crooked tables in the kitchen, feel free to send a first draft off to a contest just for kicks.

Until then, go do another draft.

Therapy Scripts

There’s an interesting sub-group of screenplays that seem to have sprung out of some psychology movement or group coping session. Maybe a class exercise of some kind. Usually they involve someone telling off their mother. Or their father. Or their abusive boyfriend. Or their cheating husband. Many of these scripts involve female protagonists, but only enough so it’s worth mentioning. The overall feeling of them is you’re reading a story somebody wrote to help them work through some issues. The object wasn’t to tell a story, but to cleanse and purge or something like that.

The big problem with these scripts is there’s rarely anything to them beyond this big moment of therapeutic release. Everything leads up to that, and not much happens after it. That moment is all the character development and conflict in the script. So, in the end, it’s just a story about someone throwing out their abusive spouse or learning to trust again or yelling at their shrewish mom. And nobody wants to read that. Not even Oprah. Definitely not a contest reader.

Reality is not a Story Point

Closely related to the therapy script is the reality script. More often than not, the title page or closing cards reassure the reader this tale is, in fact, based on true accounts of me/ my parents/ my best friend/ someone I read about in a magazine article. These are tales of cancer survival (or not), orphans, Rwandan genocides, military struggles, and various other unsung heroes and villains of this world we live in. Alas, sometimes they’re also about struggling writers searching for someone to recognize their genius. Often, the fact this is a true story is stressed to give a certain validity and gravitas to what the reader is about to take in.

Thing is, no one cares if the story is true or not. Nobody. They just care if it’s a good story and it’s well-told. And in that respect, this tale of an orphaned cancer survivor in Rwanda needs to stand up against the story of a black-ops secret agent who teams up with aliens to save the world from prehistoric lizard men that’ve just reappeared with the no-longer-lost continent of Atlantis. Whether or not one is a true story is irrelevant. If one’s difficult to read and the other one isn’t, if one has flat characters and the other one doesn’t, if one’s boring and the other one isn’t-- these are what decide if a script is any good or not. In the end, you are telling a story, and it’s either going to have its own validity or it isn’t. Reality just doesn’t enter into the equation for the reader, so it can’t for the writer.

If you want a few more thoughts on this, I talked about this aspect of writing in general way back here.


Believe it or not, I’m a straight man with a long-time girlfriend who loves Broadway and even a number of musical films that have been made over the past decade or so (although she has made comments about some of the things in my iTunes library). Moulin Rouge was fantastic. Dreamgirls was fun. Across the Universe... not so much so.

The point being, though, musical screenplays are almost impossible to pull off as specs and they always make contest readers groan. Lyrics on the page are great, but you can’t assume the reader is going to be someone with a flawless sense of rhythm and pacing. Without the actual music setting the mood and the tone, lyrics are just poetry. Often very awkward and clumsy poetry. Which means they are awkward and clumsy lines of dialogue. And awkward, clumsy dialogue is the kind of thing that gets a script tossed into that left-hand pile.

It’s probably worth noting I’ve seen a few comedy scripts which tried to do parodies of other songs. However, unless you can absolutely guarantee your reader knows the song, this faces all the same issues as the original songs up above. Since most readers are also writers, that means they’re lonely, pathetic shut-ins... definitely not the type of folks you should gamble on knowing the latest Katy Perry, Audioslave, or Rhianna songs.

Fact Check Everything

Well, okay. Not everything. Any screenplay is going to have a degree of stretching the truth and perhaps even ignoring it once or twice.

However, in this wonderful information age we live in, you shouldn’t have any trouble discovering how tall the World Trade Center was ( Tower One stood at 1,368 feet (417 meters)/ 110 stories), if Karnak temple is north or south of the Sphinx (south, by several hundred miles), or when World War Two ended. And it’s important to know these things, because if you say the World Trade Center was twenty-three stories tall and WWII ended in 1951, people are going to call you on it. I know I did. A blatant error is going to stand out, and it’s going to be yet another thing that tells a reader this is not a professional, polished script.

I can admit I’m fairly well-read, and a little quirk in my brain lets me remember a lot more stuff than most people would believe possible. There are a lot of people out there with fields of expertise, though, and they’re going to spot stuff.

Consider this—who’s going to know how many rounds a standard M-16 magazine holds? Or how much it weighs? All sounds a bit obscure, right? Well, now consider in the United States alone there are over 2.28 million enlisted men and women in the armed forces (counting reserves). Let’s double that number to include retirees and folks who’ve been discharged for one reason or another. Now add in all the NRA folks and military enthusiasts who just like this sort of stuff. Suddenly there are a lot of people who are going to be shaking their heads at your “weapons expert” character.

If you can Google a fact, it should be correct. Unless you’ve got a truly spectacular reason why it should be wrong.

The Language Barrier

It’s been said England and the United States are two countries separated by a common language. Feel free to add in Australia and make that relationship a three-way. While we may all speak “English,” anyone who’s traveled (or watched BBC America) knows there are words and phrases that change from country to country.

At the end of the day, though, Hollywood is in America, which means a screenplay going there for a competition should be using American spelling, phrasings, and formatting. It may not be “proper” in your eyes, but it will to your reader. If not, your reader’s going to get distracted by words that look (to his or her eyes) like typos at first glance, and then really distracted when he or she hits an actual mistake.

This is one of the easiest things to fix, though. Through the wonders of the internet, most of us have a friend or three who live in other countries. Get in touch with one of yours and ask them to look through your screenplay. Just go over it and spot some of the odd little differences in spelling, wording, and phrasings that work differently here than they do there. If you don’t have any friends, well... I think the nice lady at A Buck A Page charges pretty reasonable rates.

Remember, two weeks after deadline is not when you want to find out “Tim was nibbling on one of Sophie’s pasties” means something very different in the U.S. than it does in the U.K.

So, polish up, revise, and rewrite. The Page contest isn’t going to win itself, after all.

Next week... I have no idea what we’ll talk about next week, past focusing it on the prose folks. I’ll just start writing next Thursday and we’ll all see what happens.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Let's Get Critical

A bit early this week to make up for the time off.

Anyway, let’s return to that mechanic analogy I used a few weeks ago. I’d like to explore it a bit more, because it works really well.

Let’s say you get up tomorrow morning and your car won’t start. The engine will turn over, the headlights and radio work, but that’s it. Unless you happen to be very repair-minded yourself, odds are you’ll contact a mechanic, because working with automobiles is what he (or she-- we’re progressive here) does for a living and they know a lot more about it than you do. Car repair is, after all their field of expertise, and they’ve been working in it for a while.

Now, when the mechanic tells you the car’s head block is cracked and it needs major work, would you start to argue? Would you say he doesn’t know what he’s talking about? Or she doesn’t understand your car and then march off in a huff?

What if you took your car in for a tune up and the mechanic told you the brakes were shot and the steering column was dangerously close to failing? Would you ignore the warnings and head out on that cross-country road trip? Perhaps take the car to your cousin Chris, the butcher, with the hopes he’ll give you an answer you like the sound of more?

Hopefully not. It would mean you’ve probably bought a lot of cars in your time. And maybe had some hospital visits in there, too.

If you ask someone with more experience than you for an opinion on something, it’s kind of silly to then ignore that opinion. If an expert gives you advice from their chosen field, you should probably at least consider what they’re saying.

And yet... how often have you heard the angry amateur writer complain the editor/ professor/ contest judge was an arrogant so-and-so who didn’t get their story? That these people were so hung up on perpetuating the system-- with stupid, inconsequential stuff like spelling and dialogue and believable characters --they didn’t see the inherent ART!!!

Now, some folks may argue that writing and auto repair are quite different, so my analogy doesn’t really hold up. Writing really is an art, after all, and art is more subjective and gray than, say, fixing a cracked head block, which is pretty black and white. You can’t apply hard-fast, black and white rules to writing.

Well... yes and no.

Based off my own experience (which is not gargantuan, but sizeable enough I feel safe using myself as a reference), I would guess about half of most rejections are because of the small, basic elements of writing—and those are black and white. Spelling and grammar. Punctuation and dialogue. Characters that are little more than cardboard cutouts. I’m not talking about the odd typo here or there—that’s completely understandable. I mean the ones where your eyes are bleeding two pages in.

A short story...

I once ran the builder port for an online text game. At its simplest, we were constantly writing dungeon room descriptions, like the ones for old D&D modules. “This chamber has been carved from the living rock of the mountain, and in places the walls are still raw stone.” That sort of thing. The game amounted to tens of thousands of individual files (a simplification), each one containing five or six (or more) hopefully-coherent sentences forming a solid description. Being who I am, I held the rest of the builder staff to a pretty high standard when it came to spelling, grammar, and continuity. A few of those folks read these little rants, and I’m sure they can tell you I was close to a dictator when it came to such thing.

Well, one time I got an application from a fellow who ignored all our forms and just sent me a huge list of stuff he had done for other games. His first room description had six typos in it. There were seventeen grammar mistakes on the first page. Two days later he began asking when he could start on the builder.

When I explained he couldn’t, and why, he was furious. Where did I get off saying his writing was no good? It was good enough for other games he’d worked on, wasn’t it? And when I tried to explain why-- what gives me the right to tell him he needed to work on his spelling?!

Needless to say, after his passionate and strongly worded response, I did not invite him to try again later.

Now, there is a flip side to taking criticism. When it comes down to it, you shouldn’t listen to everyone, and there are some people who you should ignore altogether. Not every single opinion should count. You should be considering who you’re asking and what their own relationship to the material is (you may remember a while back when I talked about the downside to getting opinions from certain folks). Neither of my grandmothers is really qualified to judge rap music or torture porn films. My best friend is not the guy you go to for a review of your girly young adult romance novel, and he’ll admit that, too.

Another story...

Years ago I had this one client, a beautiful woman who wanted to write a specialized exercise book. Well, who wanted me to write an exercise book for her. I tried to explain non-fiction books are more about pitches and proposals, but she really wanted to see a manuscript. And she was paying well. So, over the course of a month or so we did lots of interviews where she talked at length. Then I would go home to edit, do some research, and arrange it into drafts I could show her.

The problem arose when she would then show the draft to someone else and take their opinions as gospel. Her husband the real estate lawyer. Her best friend. A personal trainer she knew. So every time I came to talk to her, she had a new list of things that “needed” to change in the book. Once she even insisted on showing a copy to an acquaintance of hers who was a literary agent—a copy we’d covered with red ink and editing notes. I begged and begged her not to, she did, and much to her surprise (but not mine) the agent said it looked like it still needed work. The six drafts I did for her ended up being six page-one rewrites.

At least, as I said, she was paying well.

So, a few helpful hints when it comes to criticism.

First, ignore anyone who can’t give a why or how for their opinion. Just toss their notes out the window, delete them from your inbox, or turn up your iPod if they happen to be sitting in front of you. If someone’s just going to say “this sucks” or “you suck” or “you’re a sucky writer”... shrug it off. It’s tough, but let it roll off your shoulders. An opinion needs to come with a few concrete examples to back it up if it’s going to have any weight. “This doesn’t work” doesn’t help you at all. “This doesn’t work because you didn’t set up a relationship between Yakko and Wakko” is constructive criticism, because it lets you look back at something specific.

Second, once someone’s given you specifics, pay attention to them. If someone explains a problem that runs through A, B, and C, look at it. You don’t have to agree with them, but if they’ve taken the time to list a handful of what they see as particular trouble points, you should at least have the decency to look at what they’re talking about. This is one of the biggest problems I see—people who are closed to receiving any type of constructive criticism.

Third, be clear on the different types of feedback you’re going to get. Some things you will have to change. Spelling. Grammar. Formatting. Structure. These are the black and white things we talked about up above, and that I often talk about here. There are no maybes or howevers here. You can yell ART as loud as you want but apostrophes still have nothing to do with possessives and black hair cannot compliment blue eyes.

Other things are more fluid. Story elements. Characterization. Locations. And that brings us to...

Fourth, take suggested changes with a grain of salt. Especially those story and character-based ones. In the end, you’re the one telling the tale. It really doesn’t matter if your best friend thought Yakko and the nurse should’ve gotten together in the end. Or if another one of your critics felt Dot should’ve killed Wakko because of that thing with the girl. Or if somebody expected the story to be about zombies and it turned out to be about clones, so it didn’t seem as good. These are personal preference matters. You’re the person writing the story, and if in your story Yakko and the nurse go their separate ways, Wakko lives, and there’s a swarm of clones wandering around... then that’s the story being told. There are lots of other manuscripts floating around out there in a variety of different formats. Just because your story wasn’t what someone wanted to read does not mean your story is wrong.

On which note, shouldn’t you get back to writing that story? You want to polish it up before you show it to anyone, right?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love Scenes Are in the Air

Well, as the weekend approached I had great plans to get a piece done on writing romances. Then I was reminded that screenwriting contest season is coming up, and I had a few critical ideas...

Ahhhh, I’m a romantic at heart. Let’s go with that.

When was the last time you read something that was going along great and suddenly, out of nowhere, two characters started kissing and professing their love for each other? Or maybe a movie where the characters suddenly make dinner plans or randomly fall into bed? It makes people roll their eyes while reading books and it makes movie audiences laugh. Nothing sinks a story faster than a pasted-on love interest.

We all love a good romance. Yeah, even the guys. Because we all love the idea that there’s someone out there who’s an absolute, 100% perfect match for us. Even more so, we love the idea that we could meet this person while disarming warheads set by mad computers, fighting zombie pirates cursed by Aztec gold, or fleeing ninjas. Because, hey... think of the stories you could tell your friends. And that’s what we all want, right? To have a better story to tell.

So, what are some of the ways you can avoid that horrible relationship trap?

Okay, first and most important thing to remember. People get together because they want to get together, not because other people think they should be together. And “other people” includes the writer. If you’ve based your whole story around the computer geek and the cheerleader hooking up at a frat party, then you need a real reason for them to get together. And no, the reason can’t be “because they need to battle the dark overlord as a couple in chapter eleven.” Nor should it be “we want the actress topless in act three.”

This leads nicely into my second point. They’re almost one and the same. You can’t have real emotions without real people. And real people, oddly enough, act in realistic ways. I’m not saying rational ways, because love is one of the most irrational things most of us will ever encounter in our lives. If your characters are real, they’re going to have needs, desires, plans, and tastes. And it’ll stand out if they’re making choices that go against all those traits. Is that backstabbing, career-minded office bitch really going to see something she likes in the guy who cleans her pool? Will a blue-blood, British noble really find himself fascinated with a toothless hillbilly girl? What the heck are a professional mercenary and a Peace Corps worker going to talk about?

Yeah, opposites attract. They even have a lot of fun together. But if we’re talking about real emotions, the opposites will tend to have a lot in common. The mean-girl cheerleader isn’t going to make a move for the scrawny honor student kid. Unless she needs a book report done.

Or maybe, unless she’s a closet sci-fi/ action fan who desperately wants to talk to someone about last night’s episode of Chuck. Could be that she’s a lot smarter than she lets on, but is scared of not being popular. Or perhaps she was the ugly duckling until her second year of puberty and used to be friends with a lot of the AV club kids.

Even then, how far and how fast they take things should be consistent. Some folks live for the moment. Others like to wait and plan. People can be confident or nervous, experienced or awkward. Some relationships are established with a wild half-hour in a hotel room, others when two people hold hands for the first time. If your characters are real, their reactions should be, too.

My third tip would be this-- hard as it may be to believe, there are just times when romance isn’t appropriate. As the man likes to say, there’s a time and a place for everything. Someone could be starving, terrified, or in a blind fury fighting for their life. At moments like these, it’s not terribly realistic they’d be noticing what pretty eyes their new partner has. If you’re writing an action/ sci-fi/ horror story, is there really time for an extensive relationship? It might be better to plant the subtle seeds of one and let your audience fill in the rest, much like James Cameron did between Ripley and Hicks in Aliens.

A quick story...

Late least year a friend of mine let me read the fantasy novel he’d been working on. There was a lot of good stuff, but one part lost me just a few chapters in. The main character, in the midst of looking for his abducted son, starts getting starry-eyed and bashful around a pretty elf he’s just met.

“Wait a minute,” I told my friend. “Jayme’s son has been kidnapped, missing less than a day, and he’s taking a time out to flirt wildly with some elf he’s just met?”

This bothered me far more than the fact Jayme had grown a set of functioning butterfly wings since arriving in the fae realm. It was, as I told my friend, the point I would toss the manuscript on the big pile to my left.

The last point, as silly and motherly as it sounds, is not to confuse sex with love. There are lots of times where it might be completely acceptable for two characters to have sex. It’s fun. It’s a stress-reliever. It lets you not think about other things. Heck, it can even keep you warm.

Sex doesn’t always translate to a relationship, though, in stories any more than in the real world. If two characters fall into bed (or onto a couch, or against a wall, or into the back seat of a car), make sure you’re clear what it means for both of them. Forcing something casual into something serious will just read as forced.

So go and spread the love among your characters.

Where it’s appropriate, of course.

Next week, some criticism for you.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Go With the Flow

Wow, this is overdue, isn’t it? I blame my editor, who for some reason I can’t fathom refuses to process my invoices until I’ve turned in my assignments. And I also blame my landlord, who is so insistent about getting rent every month.

No, that’s not fair. My landlord’s a pretty cool guy.

So, anyway, have you ever read a book you just can’t put down? One where you start reading just after lunch and suddenly realize it’s two in the morning? I actually sat down to read the script for the new Witch Mountain movie last week and found myself completely engrossed. Almost missed a meeting because I was so into it.

There’s a term some gurus like to toss around called flow. I first heard it used by a woman named Drusilla Campbell, writing coach and self-proclaimed Simpsons addict. Put at its simplest, flow is the readability of your writing. It’s the way every line, paragraph, and chapter rolls into the next and carries you along for the ride. It means your writing is smooth, slick, and slides better than Bruce Springsteen at halftime. Readers can’t help but keep reading because it’s actually easier to keep reading than to put the book down. A friend of mine calls them “beach books”—the ones that are great to occupy your mind when you’re sitting on your towel between dips, because you also don’t care if they get a bit wet or sandy.

Another way to define flow is in the negative light. A story that makes you stumble a lot doesn’t flow well at all. Clumsy, wooden dialogue and poor characterization doesn’t work either. Whenever a reader pauses to scratch their head or roll their eyes, that’s another bump in the road. If you’ve ever tried a book and just couldn’t get into it, odds are the flow sucked. You’d read, trip over a page or two, and put it back down.

A story...

Many years back I arranged a weekend away with the woman I was dating. It was off-season, so we got a little cabin up in Big Bear, California, for a decent price. Balcony with a view, fireplace, king size bed, and jacuzzi right there in the main room. What more could a couple of healthy kids in their mid-twenties ask for, right? We spent the day wandering through town, hitting a few used book stores, and I ended up finding a copy of The Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

It’s not a great book, by any means. The story is a bit clumsy, the characters are stereotypes, and there are a few plot holes you could fit a small car into. However, it does have fantastic flow. You couldn’t ask for a quicker read. There’s nothing here but action and story, and the pace builds beautifully as the narrative cuts back and forth between different groups of survivors trying to avoid the monster. I started reading it at a little cafe and picked it up again back at the cabin. As the evening progressed, my girlfriend put her own book down and announced she was going to fill up the big bathtub and maybe open that complimentary bottle of wine that came with the room. I told her I wanted to read a little more, but I’d probably be in soon.

Yes, that’s right. I had a very pretty, very naked Italian girl not-so-subtly asking me to join her in the jacuzzi with a bottle of wine and my response was “Hang on-- just let me finish this chapter...”

That is writing you can’t put down.

Clive Cussler, author of Raise the Titanic and Sahara among other novels, once talked about his “potato chip chapters” in an interview. He makes a point of always writing short chapters with compelling endings so people feel the need to read “just one more.” His books may never win the Nobel or a Pulitzer, but he’s also published about thirty more of them than all of us here put together and people are always asking for more.

Now, for the record, I don’t believe flow is something you can easily work on and develop in your writing. It’s one of those X-factors, where you can manipulate each of the variables but still not affect the final outcome. For example, in Goju-ryu, one of the original three forms of karate developed in Okinawa, there’s a kata called senchin (no, trust me, this is another one of those brilliant metaphors). The instructors would teach all the moves to the white belt novices with the vague hope that by the time they became black belts, they’d have a vague understanding of how all the moves go together and could start to work on the form itself. The Okinawan masters understood that working on parts doesn’t help you master the whole. One day, it just all clicks.

So, a few things you can do to help the flow of a story. The different parts of the form, if you will.

Be interesting. Easiest way in the world to keep readers from getting bored—don’t be boring. If you’re telling a story, get to the story. If it’s a murder mystery, give me a body. If it’s sci fi, show me something amazing. If it’s a love story, show me passion on some level.

Be honest. People don’t give long speeches about love, honor, or duty in real life (unless you just got inaugurated). Most of us stopped with the silly, mushy, giggly, fluttering eyelids in ninth grade. And it takes a lot for someone to stay angry for days, let alone years. Fake emotion comes from fake people. Fake people are boring.

Watch your word choice. If you’re picking obscure, awkward, or overly-long words just to show off your vocabulary and create flowery descriptions, there’s a good chance you’re disrupting the flow of your writing. It’s really cool that you can picture what a glabrous Caucasian male with atramentous works of muted ink inlaid in his flesh looks like, but it’s much faster, smoother, and just as visual to tell us he’s a bald man with black tattoos.

Watch your dialogue. You can get away with one character who talks like a robot. Maybe another who keeps slipping into a foreign language. Possibly one more who uses all those obscure, overly-long words I was just talking about. Too much stylized, unnatural, or just plain bad dialogue brings things to a grinding halt, though. People should talk like people, cats should talk like cats, and heavily armored mutants from Skaros should talk like... well, you get the point.

Have characters act in character. Drusilla once commented that when the nun viciously kills a gardener, that’s also when most people remember that laundry they have to fold. Doctors who constantly break medical protocol, sharpshooters who can’t hit when they’re aiming at the main character, and geniuses who miss obvious clues. They’re the people who get books and screenplays tossed in the big left-hand pile.

Take it seriously. Everyone makes a joke now and then to break the tension, but things need to carry the correct amount of gravity in your writing. Rape, death, and unrequited love should not be things you casually bring up and then toss aside. If you’re kicking puppies, slaughtering camp counselors, or unleashing deadly plagues, these acts should be getting a very specific emotional response. When the reader thinks you’re not taking the events in your book seriously, well... why should they?

Again, tweaking these things does not guarantee that your writing will now have beautiful, compelling flow. But if you keep at it and continue to work on them, one day it’ll all just click.

Hey, it took over three years before my sensei would call what I was doing senchin.

Next week I wanted to talk a bit about love for the holiday weekend, but I’m not sure I’ll have a rant formulated by then. I may just have to be critical about things.

Until then, go write.