Thursday, March 28, 2013

Peanut Brittle? Right Now!

            Pop culture reference.  I have no idea why, but that commercial always made me giggle like a little kid.
            So... I’ve only got a couple of minutes, so let’s talk about right now.  Starting... now.
            When I used to read for a couple of screenplay contests, one of the most common mistakes I’d see would be writers loading the page with information that wasn’t being shown on the screen. 

Push in on PHOEBE, sitting at a table, sipping her coffee.  She’s young, blonde, and pretty in that girl-next-door way.  She’s also heartbroken because she just found out her boyfriend’s been sleeping with someone from his office.  They got in a fight when she confronted him and he told her to move out.  She moved here to Seattle to be with him, doesn’t have any nearby family, and has realized that most of her friends were his friends first.  So now she’s sitting here in a cafe, with all her belongings out in her car in the parking lot, trying to figure out what to do with her life.

          Now, in the scene I just scribbled out... what’s happening in the movie right now?  What do we, as the audience, see?  What actions are taking place? 
            Screenwriting is about right now.  Not a year ago, not last week, right now.  Nothing matters except what’s on the screen right now.  If it’s not on screen right now, it’s not important.  If it is important, it’ll come out on screen later (later, at that point, being right now).  If all the words on page one of my screenplay aren’t related to the first minute of my movie, I’m doing something wrong. 
            So, just to clarify, my script should only be talking about what’s happening right now
            Now, there are lots of screenplays out there by some amazing screenwriters that mention a character’s background, past relationships, all that sort of thing.  Thing is, if I really pay attention when I read all those scripts, I’d see that these elements are only brought up when they’re relevant to what’s happening on screen right now.  Because screenwriting is about right now.
            Here’s my quick little common sense analogy for you. Feel free to swap genders or locations as you like...
            If I’m out at a bar talking with Phoebe, she’s what’s important.  If I’m talking to Phoebe but thinking about Dot, it means I’m either A) a jerk or 2) focused on the wrong thing.  Because if I’m talking to Phoebe, I should be focused on Phoebe.  If I’m thinking about my boss, I’m doing something wrong.  If I’m on the phone talking with a friend, I’m doing something wrong.  If I’m thinking about my ex-girlfriend or the woman I met earlier in the evening, there’s something wrong.  And if I’m thinking about where Phoebe and I are going to be two hours from now... yeah, I’m probably still wrong.  Phoebe’s in front of me right now, so I should be focused on her. 
            Right now.
            When next week becomes right now, I think I may talk a bit about flashbacks.
            Until then, go write.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Vocabulary 101

            Yep, you’ve had some time off from my rantings.  Now it’s time to get back to basics.
            I keep coming back to spelling.  There’s a reason for that.  Talk to any editor, publisher, contest director, or producer and they’ll say the number one problem they see in writing is spelling and grammar.  No matter what the story is, lots of manuscripts get rejected because the raw number of mistakes make them look amateurish and unprofessional.  It’s not the only reason they get rejected, granted, but I’d put money down that it’s a major factor in most rejections.  There’s a reason I lump such things into the 50% rule.
            I can’t be a chef if I can’t distinguish between chicken and turkey.  If I can’t tell an alternator from a carburetor, my career as a mechanic is going to be very short-lived.  And if I want to succeed at this writing thing—not in a spiritual way or a making-Dad-proud way or an I’ll-show-my-ex way, but in a serious, financial, this isn’t just a hobby way—I need to know how to use words.  There’s no way around it.  None.
            So here are some words that get misspelled—or misused—a lot.  And the writer doesn’t know, because they don’t know how to spell.  They just use a spell checker, because they thing it will never, ever mace a mistake... even if they did.
            The list is going to be a bit shorter this time around.  One of my regular contest-reader sources cut back on his hours a bit, and I haven’t read as much as I wanted to the past few months.  But my regular rules still hold—pretty much all of these words come from major websites, screenplays, or manuscripts.  Two of them are from published books.  My definition is for the word they thought they were using.  So if you’ve got a good vocabulary, you’ll probably get a chuckle or three over these.
            Pick up your signaling devices and....

solid and soiled – you only want to step on one of these things
foul and fowl – one of these tastes like chicken
balaclava and baklava – only one of these should be on your head
grisly and gristly – one of these is a tough piece of meat
grizzly and grisly – one of these is a bear
bear and bare – one means to endure or tolerate
passed and past—one of these means you didn’t get the promotion
definitely and defiantly – one of these is absolutely correct
succeed and secede – one of these means your state ends up alone
succession and secession – one of these is the process of ending up alone
due and do – one of these you pay
capital and capitol – one of these is money in the bank

            Did you know all of them?   
            Bonus round.  Which of these words get applied to a horrific scene?  Which one’s a tasty dessert?  If I owe money, which two of these words will probably be on my next bill?
            As I’ve mentioned many times before, it’s not enough just to know the words I’m asking about.  As a writer, I need to know all of them.  These are the tools of my trade, and I can’t be half-assed with them.  Knowing three ingredients in a recipe and winging it with the rest just doesn’t work.  If I’m going to call myself a chef, I’ve got to know them all.
            Because if I don’t know my words, my story starts to become muddled and unclear.  And I can’t be lazy and say “people will understand it from the context,” because using the wrong words changes the context.  If Phoebe decides to grin and bear it, it means she’s not going to let on how much the current situation is getting to her.  If she decides to grin and bare it, though, it means she just pulled her shirt open in a moment of naughtiness.  That changes the whole tone of the scene, and it could really change our view of Phoebe as a character.  So to speak.
            I need to learn to spell.  Me.  Not my spell-checker, not  Me.  The more I depend on someone else to do it for me, the weaker I am as a writer.  And if I’m a weak writer who’s decided to partner up with an idiot, well...
            Next time, I’d like to offer a quick tip I came up with while down at ConDor a few weeks ago.
            Until then, go write.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


            First up, my sincerest apologies.  Again.  Two weeks missed in a row is not a good habit for me to get into.  I could make a bunch of excuses about the Ex-Heroes re-release and all the publicity work I’ve been doing, plus last week was ConDor con down in San Diego and I think I was on half a dozen panels over the weekend (including a writer’s workshop and an editing class).  Not to mention I’m trying to finish the fourth Ex book during all this...
            Actually, those are pretty good excuses.
            So, while I finish getting caught up, Thom Brannan has offered to step in with a post about scheduling your writing time.
            (maybe I should’ve read this two weeks ago...)

* * *

            Hello is all right.
            I know, I know. You came here to glean some of Peter Clines' wisdom, and what the hell is this? Right? I'll do my best to keep your disappointment to a minimum.
            My name is Thom Brannan, and some of you know me from Cthulhu Unbound, some from Survivors, some from Pavlov's Dogs, and some from filing restraining orders. Some of you don't know me from Adam. This should help.
These are Adams.  I am not one of them
            I'm here in Pete's blog to help you with your writing. I'm not a guru, and if you've read my work, you'd probably agree. I'm probably only a notch above "adequate." But one thing I do well is produce. I am a productive individual for someone who does not write for a living. And the reason for this is scheduling. So, I'm here to talk about scheduling and its importance for writers (and for any other creative endeavor, really) in my experience.
            (It should be worthwhile to note, for the rest of this blog entry, whenever I say "it's this way," or "this is what works," I'm speaking of what I've experienced for myself and through others. I have no guru hat.)
            The first thing to realize is we are creatures of habit, all of us. Good habits, bad habits, everything in-between. It's hard to break habits, so rather than suggesting you alter something about yourself that may require the assistance of a psychiatrist, let's talk instead about forming good habits, which will hopefully be just as hard to break.
            Pete has hammered home the point: to be a writer, you must write.  I agree wholeheartedly. I've found that doing it at the same time every day helps the process. Your body and mind know when it's time to do something. There are things you do so often and so insistently that you feel off if you're not doing them. Liken the creative process to a workout, and you'll see what I mean.
            These things are part of your daily routine, and if you are fortunate to be able to carve out a niche in your day for writing, you should definitely do so. Allow me to share with you my experience.
           After finishing work on Survivors, I had the opportunity to write a novel for the same audience. I leapt at the chance, and after wrestling with several ideas (and gathering input from friends) I chose one and got started.
            I'd written before, but always for myself, or to have a Cthulhu Mythos story in my back pocket for whenever an anthology opened, or what have you. I had never written with a deadline before. Now, I know myself pretty well, and I know this is how I am: if you give me a deadline, that's when I'll turn it in. If you wanted it earlier, you'd have made the deadline earlier. Right? Right. That's kind of crappy, and I want to change that.
            So, to that end, I tried something new and scheduled myself some writing time. And, to keep myself honest, I tracked my daily and weekly progress in an Excel file. The first week, I averaged about twelve hundred pages a day, say five pages in standard manuscript format.  That seemed pretty good to me, and in keeping with Robert B. Parker's self-enforced rule.
I felt like one of these, kind of.
            My second week of writing at the same time every day yielded slightly better results: eight pages a day. By week three, I was up to thirteen pages a day. By the last week of working on the novel, I was churning out eighteen pages a day.
            I leaned to take the weekends off, which allowed the grey matter to decompress, and it kept me from burning out. I also only do this four weeks at a time, with four weeks off in between.  
            To date, when working on a solo project, I write an average of twelve SMF pages a day. Slightly less when collaborating, but that's to be expected. Compared to a powerhouse wordfount like Eric S. Brown, it's not very much. But if I compare it to my previous output of one or two pages a week, it's a vast improvement.
           I've also found that if I sit and play my guitar for five or ten minutes before writing, that primes the pump, so to speak. But that's me. Everyone has something different to get them started when it comes to write. I've read that Hemingway would leave off in the middle of a sentence. The proprietor of this very blog makes sure he has something left over from today's writing time so he can write tomorrow.
            So, there you have it. My 2¢ on scheduling. If I'm back at some point, I'll likely blather on about collaborating.
            Until then... well, you know what Pete says here.