June 19


READER PREJUDICE (Classic Post)

Here is the preamble to a question I have for you:

Some people criticize story analysts/readers as being overly harsh on all material because they are frustrated writers bitter about their own lack of career. I have never bought that excuse for getting poor coverage, but that is just my opinion. In another post, the subject arose of submitting your script directly to buyers, for example through a direct contact inside the buyer, versus submitting through a producer. A variety of differing and conflicting opinions emerged regarding the best way to submit. Being strategic is important, but there are obviously different ideas about how to do that. In addition, story analysts are not uniform in their attitudes or prejudices. About the only thing they are uniform in is that flawed or poorly executed scripts get uniformly hammered. That’s what readers do – look for storytelling flaws and poor execution. However, well-executed scripts often get hammered, too, by various readers for various reasons.

So, today, here is my question for you. What are your experiences with readers? If you’ve seen coverage of your own material (which is usually a brutal experience), tell me, did you see any reader prejudice?

March 14


A WRITER’S BOOKSHELF (Classic Post)

I’m in that daze that follows completing an intense draft – excitement, concern, and feeling the natural let down. Right now, the draft is “in the drawer” for a few days to give my writing partner and me a little distance before we decide whether it’s really finished. (We usually decide it’s still a mess when we look at it again – but in this moment, I’m feeling pretty damn excited.)

During these infrequent lulls in writing, I spend time revisiting my books and thinking about the basics. I’m hoping that it will help get me out of the particulars of the story so I can have a fresher look when I get back to it. I’d probably be better off going fishing.

BOOKSHELF

Tonight, I took a look at one shelf in particular. There’s some great stuff in there, but I was surprised to see how much utter crap I’ve accumulated in the mix.

Here’s what I think of these books: Continue reading

January 30


MYSTERY PEOPLE (Classic Post)

Mystery Man GifKevin of Cincinnati saw a listing like this on Craigslist:

Screenwriters Opportunity

Can you do it better than
the films you see?
Do you have the next SIXTH SENSE
or WEDDING CRASHERS?
Now’s your chance to prove it.

Award winning Hollywood producer/manager
Looking for motion picture scripts.
All genres. Send synopsis
plus contact info. Cinn.

Kevin asks:

What would you make of a posting like this; is it to be trusted? Is there any difference between a synopsis and an idea? Can a synopsis be legally more protected than an idea?

There are some legitimate managers who solicit via the Internet. However, a legitimate manager will share his or her identity and credentials, usually on a website, and these credentials will be easily verifiable. Also, usually, a legitimate manager will make the writer sign a release before submitting material.

I am not saying the person above is not legitimate. I am saying you probably want to learn more about the manager before sending in your material. Email him (or her, who knows?) and ask for the manager’s background.

Aside from the lack of disclosure about the identity and credentials, the fact that the manager is in Cincinnati is also a red flag, or at least a yellow flag. Managers must be in regular discourse with producers and other dealmakers. Most of these contacts are in Los Angeles (at least, for the American market) and, naturally, so are most successful working managers. (There are also a good number in New York.) While it may not be impossible to function as a legitimate manager from Cincinnati, knowing the manager’s credentials is even more important.

As for the last part of your question, I assume it means, “Do I have to worry about my idea being ripped off?” Any time you share an idea with an anonymous source, you have to worry about being ripped off. Irrespective of the legalities of intellectual property law, you normally would not send ideas or synopsis to an anonymous email address. You should always keep a submission log and know exactly where and when you submitted material, always submit material with a cover letter or email (of which you keep a copy), and always follow up in writing if you hear no response.

The bottom line on listings like the above: before sending in your material, inquire of the person’s identity and credentials in order to make an informed decision.

April 13


LET’S ASK ARISTOTLE (Classic Post)

ARISTOTLE GIFChris from somewhere asks:

Character motivation — how do you make sure the characters are sufficiently and plausibly motivated?

Too many of my stories start with the main character deciding he “wants to do something,” and this leads to the main plot. I’m starting to realize this type of motivation isn’t very strong, and I haven’t been able to make a good story about someone who just “wants to do something,” no matter how bad they want it.

Does that make sense? I think it’s a problem of motivation, and I think people can tell when a story hinges on a character doing something that they really didn’t have to do, particularly when there are many other things the character could have done that were a lot easier, less dangerous, but unfortunately less interesting.

For example, to make money the character decides to start a porn business instead of simply taking a job as an accountant, for which he has training. Or any other job. Like flipping burgers.

Thanks!

When in doubt, ask Aristotle. In his Poetics, Aristotle says:

Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude.

The goal of your protagonist must be “of a certain magnitude”. It must be important to him or her. It is not merely something he wants, it is something he is compelled to do. His or her drive must eventually arise to the level of compulsion and obsession. Your protagonist will do anything, suffer to any extent, pay any cost to achieve his or her desire. It takes that level of commitment from your character to keep him motivated.

That level of compulsion/obsession does not come merely from external forces. It comes from something deep inside the character that he or she must do in order to be a complete person. And we as an audience must sense his deep need and know he must do this thing for the sake of his very being. Our understanding of his need is what makes us want to see whether he achieves this goal.

For example:

Sixth Sense – Malcolm believes he is a fraud and that he failed the first boy. When a second boy with the same problem comes along, he must help him in order to redeem himself. He cannot live with himself is he does not help the boy. He is driven to help Cole and suffers until he does so.

Gladiator – Maximus must exact revenge on Commodus. His happiness in the afterlife depends upon it. If he does not, he will not be happily reunited with his family. He is driven to obtain his revenge and suffers until he does so.

In The Line of Fire – Frank must protect the president at the cost of his own life. He does not know whether it was his cowardice that changed the world for the worse (when Kennedy was shot and he did not take the bullet). He will suffer until he answers that question by proving he is not a coward. He is driven to hunt the man who will shoot the president and driven to put himself in harms way to protect the president. It is not mere choice; it is compulsion.

The same compulsion you have to be a writer….