Hate to coattail another blog, but they keep putting up important stuff. At The Artful Writer, Craig Mazin explains your rights to reacquire your work from a WGA signatory company if it doesn’t get made. Craig is very knowledgeable and very involved in the WGA. If you are a writer who has sold a work to a WGA signatory (or to anyone who incorporates the WGA terms into their contract) and that work has been sitting around gathering dust, this is your chance to ask Craig your questions. Go to this post at The Artful Writer before your chance slips away.

P.S. If you do not have a work sold to a WGA signatory, don’t waste time asking questions over there. It really doesn’t matter at this point. Bookmark the post for later and focus on the writing.


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.


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 “A WRITER’S BOOKSHELF”


Before you get too attached to an idea for your next spec, remember you will be investing months of work into it and repeat the following:

1. Studios are not more likely to buy my script because I think it has great sequel and franchise potential. They are more likely to buy it because it is a solid concept that is well written.
2. If I am not a novelist, I will not write my story as a novel first in order to sell it to Hollywood. It is no easier to sell a first novel than a first script.
3. Studios will not buy my script because it has a good message. They will by it because it is a solid concept that is well written.
4. The fact that I can say my idea in a single sentence does not mean it is a good idea.
5. Evil corporations are lousy bad guys.
6. The fact that it really happened does not mean it is a good idea for a movie.
7. The fact that it is “just like” a highly successful movie is not necessarily a good thing.
8. I will not come up with an idea that is just what the market is looking for. By the time I’m done writing it, the market will not be looking for it.
9. I will not write something because the top A-lead likes to play that kind of a role. The top A-lead is unlikely to see my script or select it out of the barrelfuls shoved at him/her on a daily bases.
10. I will not write a script because it is an easy no-brainer that is guaranteed to sell. There is no such thing.

The only reason to select a particular story idea for your next spec – “I really really love it.”


I’m going to share with you a powerful screenwriting secret. Take notes. Here it is: You can’t learn to write screenplays in a weekend. Don’t try. Don’t get dejected when you haven’t done it. It doesn’t matter how many tips, structures, frameworks, conflict patterns, ennagrams, secrets, approaches or anything else you’re given; it won’t happen. Here’s another secret: You can’t learn to write scripts by reading a book. There is no magic process to follow that results in a “script that sells.”

Am I saying don’t go to weekend courses? Don’t read books? No. Do whatever you want. There are lots of great books out there and lots of popular weekend courses. Some of them have valuable insights. But here’s how you actually learn to write scripts. Read scripts on an ongoing basis, write scripts, study scripts, rewrite, examine ideas about writing, write more, challenge your approach, strive to improve, sweat, think, imagine, write and rewrite more, hone, polish…repeat as necessary.

Writing is a complex and difficult process. It’s like playing piano. It involves hard work over a sustained period of time and it never gets easier, only better.

Nothing less will forge you into a real writer.

Got it?


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 “THINGS TO DO: (1) WRITE BETTER DIALOGUE”


If staring at my pages were an Olympic event, I’d win. Right now, I’m thinking about my characters – their very conception. True, for me, the focal point of the script is the story as a whole and how it explores the related questions that interest me (a/k/a the theme). Like Aaron Sorkin, Gary Ross and many others, I organize my scripts around ideas that I hope are important, a set of ideas to bind all the scenes together.

That doesn’t mean I can ignore the characters. A common note every writer receives at some point is, “Your characters need more development,” or “They don’t seem real.” The development exec doesn’t really mean what she says. It’s not her fault; she isn’t a writer. What she means is, your characters must involve the audience. If the audience (which may be the reader in the case of a spec script) is not involved in the characters – the story is not working, pure and simple.

So, aside from organizing the story to explore a set of ideas that matter (and that is no small aside), how do I get the audience involved in my characters. That’s where the text and subtext ideas come in. “Text” is the literal meaning of the words on the page. “Subtext” is what the words really mean. If they are one and the same, the audience is bored.

The central concept I use to draw life into the words – to add subtext to the text (e.g. to make the words mean something other than what they literally say) is this: Continue reading “TEXT VS. SUBTEXT, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH…”


Everybody reads the trades – writer gets low-six against mid-six figures. Just for a dose of reality, do the math and see what it really means. Start by remembering that most spec sales are the result of a huge amount of the writer’s work – not just noodling for a few months until 120 pages spit out of the printer. Honing, taking notes, rewriting, more and more until you hate the project then, if you’re naive enough, love it again. Finally, after 6, 7, 8 months, maybe even a year filled with your serious sweat, the script is ready to go out into the market. (How it gets there is another topic – for another post.) So, you’re talking about a lot of labor and, likely, a lot of down time until the next project. With that in mind, here’s the math.

“Mid-six figures against…”
– Wow! That’s around $500,000. Unfortunately, you can write this portion of it off. You only get this if the movie is made and, usually, subject to other conditions. Most scripts are in development for years and never get produced. Even if it is produced, if other writers are brought in (and they almost always are), here come those pesky “conditions”. If you don’t get on screen credit or “separation of rights” (a WGA term of art – again, the topic for another post sometime), you may forfeit some or all of this money even if the movie is made. Don’t mortgage the house betting on this chunk of change.

“…low-six figures…” – Wow! That’s $100,000 or more. Do the math. 10% out for agent, leaving $90,000. 10%-15% out for manager, leaving maybe $80,000. 5% out for lawyer, leaving $75,000. If you are single and did not earn a lot more income, that puts you in the 28% tax bracket, leaving about $54,000. Just for kicks, throw in a writing partner and divide it in half.

Keep in mind that you don’t even get that up front. You usually have to rewrite the script again taking into consideration notes from the studio and producer, so your eight months of work now becomes twelve months of work. You just earned about $25,000 for your effort.

In Los Angeles, a midlevel loan officer at the neighborhood bank makes about $95,000/yr. (Source –

Bummer? Not really. Working writers can make a terrific living. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any. It’s just a lot easier if you love the work and understand that writing is not the road to easy street. It is hard work with often uncertain returns. You need to hone your craft to be competitive with the very best writer’s out there and you need to be in it for the long haul.