July 29

SPLITSVILLE (Classic Post)

Penny from Huntington Beach asks:

A co-worker and I agreed to work on a script together, when I found out how much work was involved I quit my job and started writting full-time, but, with no help from my partner, I would have to call her and basically pull teeth to get us to meet so that we can pull ideas together. She put in about 40 hours at most. And I did all the writing, formatting, it took me nine months, but am now done. I paid for all the ink, and paper, and submitted the script to a manager to read, she wants us to polish up to bring to the next level. I contacted my partner, and she no longer wants to be a part of it, says she has no time. I typed up an agreement that she would get 25% of the earning if it would ever make it. Thats more then fair… But, she is not returning my calls. I don’t know how to get her name off of the script, I sent it in to the writers guild a while back, and her name is on it… I would like to change her title to creative consultant, but, how can I do this when she is a deadbeat. I want to start working on it again to bring it to the next level, but want her name off of it since she is no longer a part of it.. HELP. what do I do??

Your problem is very common, but you will not like the answer. Writing partnerships often fail and the only real solution is to come to agreement with your partner over handling of the material. Given that she will not speak to you, this is not likely to occur. Absent some agreement with her, you are not entitled to unilaterally “get her name off the script” for the simple reason that she helped create it.

You may want to retain an attorney. The attorney may be able to get her attention and negotiate something. However, try to get an attorney who will help you for a nominal fee. Do not make the mistake of investing much more money and time into this script unless and until you have an agreement with your former partner that satisfies you before you make the additional investment.

Should you get your partner to seriously negotiate, you should seek to negotiate away any credit for screenwriting by her. At most, she should share a joint “story by” credit with you and you should have the screenwriting credit. Also, her credit (and yours) must be subject to the terms of the WGA if the script sells to a signatory.

Your circumstance is cautionary to anyone considering a writing partner. Follow these guidelines:

  1. Choose your partner carefully – writing a script takes a long time and represents an enormous personal commitment. Casually initiating a writing partnership is a big mistake.
  2. Address partnership problems as they arise. Do not ignore them and continue to invest time and money into your script. Partnership problems tend to get worse and worse if they are not addressed up front.

This should not dissuade anyone from working with a well-chosen partner. Some of the best writers around are writing teams. Writing with a partner can be very rewarding. Just choose the right partner.

I hope this helps. Good luck….

March 7


This is really part two to of the last post. It’s about “text” and “subtext”, only looked at in a very practical way. And it’s a kick in the pants to new writers. Listen, your dialogue stinks.

In my years as a reader (a/k/a story analyst), and even today when I’m asked to read scripts from inexperienced writers, 99 out of 100 scripts are awful to the point of being unmarketable in large part because the writer has no conception of what “dialogue” really is. While only a few writers can consistently write awesome, incredible, dialogue that raises the art form, every professional writer must write competent, engaging, interesting dialogue. Dialogue is inseparable from story – not something to add on later – but an integral part of the conception of the scenes and the story itself. If you’re having trouble writing quality dialogue in a scene, your troubles run deeper than dialogue.

So how can I help? Continue reading

January 22


Book & Quill GifWhat makes you think you know how to write? Because you’ve written a pile of unproduced, unsold screenplays?

Screenwriting is very technical writing. It is scrutinized in a way other writing is not. It is evaluated in a process that comes with mountains of baggage, none of which is designed to be helpful to training the aspiring writer and much of which is very subjective. Because of this, an aspiring screenwriter can cling to the belief that he or she knows what he or she is doing with no evidence whatsoever. Rather, the writer blames rejection on a million other factors – not having a good connection, not living in L.A., another similar project beat you out (even though you were never even remotely on the radar of the buyers in the first place), Hollywood is wrong about what makes a good movie (that’s my favorite one), you are misunderstood, and on and on and on. Never that you’re writing just isn’t yet good enough.

At a storytelling level, the elements that make a screenplay work are the same elements that make any story work; they are just embedded in the most technical dramatic writing in the world.

So, here’s a thought. Take a big step back. Forget about selling a screenplay or selling anything. Forget about three-act structure, forget about formatting issues, forget about number of pages. Instead, focus on telling a great story.

And tell it in prose….

That’s right, prose. Simple narrative. Just tell the damn story. Whether it is short story length, novella, novel or ten volume opus. Feel free to delve inside the characters’ minds, have soliloquies, reveal internal thoughts, do everything you can’t do in a screenplay (or do none of it – you’re the writer). Just make sure you tell a great story.

And let the story be personal. I don’t mean write about your childhood or the girl who just left you. I mean, make sure you think about what it is you want the story to say, what points of view you want it to reflect, how you want to shape the reader’s experience of these points of view. Make this a story no one else could possibly write – only you.

Here’s what you’ll get out of it. First, you’ll have a story that is more easily accessible to qualified readers, a story from which you can more easily get a body of solid feedback. You will find out where your weaknesses are – at least the fundamental storytelling weaknesses. Second, even without feedback, you will learn a tremendous amount about your writing. You will discover things you have to say, how to say them, and what is important to you as a storyteller. Third, you will improve as a storyteller simply from having made the effort to tell a great story. You will not have the excuse of structural challenges or any other technical issue. It is just you and the story. Fourth, you will take a big step towards developing your own unique voice. And that voice – your voice – is really the only thing you have to sell Hollywood. Anyone can learn the technical end of screenwriting. Only you can tell stories with your voice. But you must find and develop that voice or you are just copying better writers and you will fail. Writing in prose is a terrific way to develop that voice.

So, write something else. Write a story, write a novel, write an opus. It will be worth it, I promise. When you’re done, Hollywood will still be there. You can dig into your next screenplay with a new zeal and, perhaps, some new insight.

Now go write.

(And, by the way, it is no harder to sell a well-told unpublished short story or novel to Hollywood than to sell a screenplay. If you do a great job on the story – you have something else to market.)