Huffpo: Every Writer Should Watch Jersey Shore

Jersey, baby.  Jersey.
Photo: dougtone @
Huffington Post blogger and author Deanni Fei gives this earnest discussion of Jersey Shore as great storytelling and recommends it for all writers. From its clear character development, its honest depiction of gender and ethnicity, its use of tension in every moment, to its tightness and efficiency. According to Fei, the story has everything that makes great writing. Wow. Maybe even Jwoww. I had no idea.

KURT VONNEGUT (1922-2007)

In his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction, Kurt Vonnegut offered the following advice on writing:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Goodbye, Mr. Vonnegut….


Oklahoma GifI am publishing this entire question from Jack of Oklahoma despite its length because his experience is unique only in his perseverance, not in the difficulty he is having getting a break.

Hi. This is a combination question/remark/plea. I have been writing since the 1980s and have had my share of agents representing me. As of now, I have given up. I have written 30+ original screenplays and 6 (completed) novels. I need help. Lately, I have been posting my scripts on They are legit, because I’ve seen and read about the results they are receiving. To attempt to make a long story short, is there anyone out there who can lead me to a site that can help me in gaining “real” representation for my scripts? Two years ago, I had two of my scripts pushed all the way to the top of Hallmark Hall of Fame and HBO, by my then-agent, only to be shot down from the top after the scripts being okayed by everyone between here and the words ‘the check is in the mail’ being spoken. Anyway, I have, in the past year, on my own, since my agent and I parted ways, been asked to write a script for an Indie Co. They found me on, liked what I had posted (the entire script) and then asked me to sign a contract to write a script using one of their ideas. I did so, and now I am waiting for word…any word, from them. So, still trying to make a long story short here, I am desperate, to say the least, in my search for a reputable agency to represent me. I used to have those thoughts running in my head, like I’m a hack, and can’t write my name, etc., but now that I know people like HBO and Hallmark, and Indie Co’s., believe my writing doesn’t suck wind, I know now I can send out my original scripts and not be embarrassed by them. So, to end, can someone give me any ideas as where to go to find reputable representation? What to do?I read the previous page from this site and looked over the “paying agents” article. Believe me, I’ve been there…and just recently, paid $79 for a critique of one of my novels, and being asked for another $79 for each and every critique rendered…(I know, I’m stupid for doing this, but desperation doesn’t exactly bring out the best in me)..and these are the same scripts and novels I already have had edited by reputable outfits. So, if this letter is answered, thank you, because I believe I have what it takes to make it, going by what little track record I have, but I need help getting to a WGAw signatory agent. I don’t mind paying for copies of my scripts to be sent out, it is just I don’t like paying for something I am not getting, as in deeper in debt. I can’t afford to be paying for critiques by someone who won’t do anything with it after the job is done…I have two daughters, a wife, a dog, and a bird to feed…besides trying to write while working two jobs. So, if there is anyone out there who can point me in a somewhat right direction, I would truly be grateful. Thank you.

I can’t refer you to an agent, Jack, but I can tell you that many, many writers get their first breaks without an agent. You obviously have a great deal of experience and probably have at least a reasonable personality if you’ve gotten as far as you have. You may want to change tactics and take to the phones yourself to contact producers directly. It will take regular efforts and many, many rejections, but when isn’t that the case in entertainment. A good place to start would be to call the people who liked your writing in the past – the folks at HBO, Hallmark, etc. Writing careers are all about making fans in the industry and you have already made some. Capitalize on it. When you call, pay attention to sounding professional, not desperate. Remember, you are talking your way through receptionists who get yelled at if they waste their boss’s time. Know what you want to say and be ready to pitch your ideas. No matter what you do, do not let lack of an agent stop you.

If anyone out there has any concrete suggestions for Jack, now’s the time to speak up.


After a lengthy holiday break, the Thinking Writer is back. I’ll start with something light.

Aiken from Canada writes:

A silly little question but how would you write out in words a year like “1905”. It’s the “0” of course that’s bugging me.

I would not write it out in words. The number is more concise and clearer to the reader. However, if you have to write it out for some reason, I would spell “0” as “O”.


Tavis from Portland has a lot to say about a number of challenges to breaking in. He says:

Everyone knows of the main catch-22 concerning screenwriting and agents. You can’t get one until you sell a spec, but to sell a spec you need an agent.

Not true, Tavis. You need a good screenplay and a referral to get an agent. You do not need a spec sale. Many screenwriters have entire careers without ever having a spec sale.

There is an initial quandary though, and that is finding the time to write a really great spec script while working a full-time job. I often find myself frustrated, thinking that if I could only spend 40-hours a week focused on writing I could really put something of quality together. But as it is I only have several free hours each day and they are after a mind-numbing full day at work.

This is a real challenge. Ron Bass, who is arguably the most prolific working screenwriter in Hollywood (and at one point was the highest paid writer), used to get up at 3:00AM to do his writing before he started his day job as an attorney. It took him 17 years to get his break. It’s hard, but it’s part of making it. You might consider doing your writing before your day job, too, so the writing is sharp.

So, basically this question is about funding and grants. Is it possible if you have a story which requires a good amount of research and is rooted in some sort of historical/factual/scientific background that a grant would be available to assist a writer in developing a project?

There are many grants and fellowships designed specifically to help emerging writers who show some promise focus on their writing. Alex Epstein at Complications Ensue recently ran this list.

I never hear anyone talking about these issues and just wonder are all the writers out there independently wealthy and can just spend their time writing whenever they want, or do they have spouses supporting them or what?

Of the working screenwriters I personally know, most of them were bartenders or production assistants (another low paying Hollywood job) before getting their breaks. None of them were wealthy.


flickr|WTL photos
Writer/Screenwriter Rex Pickett, whose unpublished novel became the basis for the screenplay Sideways (and then the novel got published) is out with the sequel novel, Vertical. Pickett is thrilled with Alexander Payne, but not thrilled with the book’s original publisher. To get hopelessly depressed about both the movie industry and the publishing industry, read about his travails in the Yamhill Valley News Register. (Yamhill Valley is Oregon wine country and apparently part of the new novel.)


Jeff from Austin asks:

Is this blog dead? I hope not.

No way. Just on “hiatus.” This has been a very, very busy year for the Thinking Writer. I plan to return to blogging shortly with a review of two books and software. Until then, my apologies to everyone for the lengthy absence. If you sign up for the RSS feed, you will get notified automatically when the next column is posted.