Sunday, December 31, 2006
What this book offers is a roadmap for plotting a screenplay (or book). It sounds a lot like Paula’s three-act structure of screenplays, or like Evan Marshall’s The Marshall Plan, or like the Discovering Story Magic plan that the members of Southern Magic have fallen in love with. All these roadmaps have many features in common, because they’re all describing a similar satisfying plot. Maybe it’s because Writing the Romantic Comedy is specific to the genre I write, but something about the language of this roadmap clicks for me better than any of the other roadmaps I’ve seen. A summary:
1. The Chemical Equation: Setup--A scene or sequence identifying the exterior and/or interior conflict (i.e., unfulfilled desire), the “what’s wrong with this picture” implied in the protagonist’s (and/or the antagonist’s) current status quo.
In The Sure Thing, we see John Cusack’s 18-year-old character, Gib, strike out with girls at his New England college. At the same college, Daphne Zuniga’s character, Allison, misses her long-time boyfriend across the country.
2. Cute Meet: Catalyst--The inciting incident that brings man and woman together and into conflict; an inventive but credible contrivance, often amusing, which in some way sets the tone for the action to come.
Gib and Allison have a study date that goes terribly wrong. Now he thinks she’s uptight, and she thinks he’s a pervert.
3. A Sexy Complication: Turning Point--Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 1, a new development that raises story stakes and clearly defines the protagonist’s goal; most successful when it sets man and woman at cross-purposes and/or their inner emotions at odds with the goal.
At Christmas, Gib hitches a ride across the country to visit his high school friend (Anthony Edwards) who has lined up a beautiful “sure thing” for him (Nicollette Sheridan). Allison hitches the same ride to visit her boyfriend. Forced proximity! Also, the driver (Tim Robbins) is hilarious and, to Gib and Allison, very annoying. It’s worth it to rent this movie just to hear him sing show tunes.
4. The Hook: Midpoint--A situation that irrevocably binds the protagonist with the antagonist (often while tweaking sexual tensions) and has further implications for the outcome of the relationship.
Gib and Allison find that, rather than fantasizing about Gib’s sure thing and Allison’s boyfriend, they have begun fantasizing about each other.
5. Swivel: Second Turning Point--Traditionally occurring at the end of Act 2, stakes reach their highest point as the romantic relationship’s importance jeopardizes the protagonist’s chance to succeed at his stated goal--or vice versa--and his goal shifts.
Allison overhears Gib tell the truck driver with whom they’re hitching a ride that he has a sure thing waiting for him.
6. The Dark Moment: Crisis Climax--Wherein the consequences of the swivel decision yield disaster; generally the humiliating scene where private motivations are revealed, and either the relationship and/or the protagonist’s goal is seemingly lost forever.
After trying to make each other jealous at a college party, Gib leaves with his sure thing, Allison with her boyfriend. But, still wanting each other, neither follows through.
7. Joyful Defeat: Resolution--A reconciliation that reaffirms the primal importance of the relationship; usually a happy ending that implies marriage or a serious commitment, often at the cost of some personal sacrifice to the protagonist.
Gib and Allison return to their New England college after the holidays and get together--in freshman English class. Perfect!
Friday, December 29, 2006
My friend Jenn and I joined a scriptwriter's group and started working on one-hour TV drama spec scripts so we'd have something in our portfolio. And we managed to win a couple of contests and catch the eye of an agent and a literary manager, but when it became clear that to do what we wanted to do, we'd have to move to Los Angeles, we both decided that we just didn't love it enough to make that big a change in our lives. She had a good paying job in New Jersey; I had a good job here in Alabama and all sorts of family ties. So I bid screenwriting goodbye and returned to my first love--novels.
However, my foray into screenwriting wasn't a waste, because I learned some valuable lessons about writing that have helped me tone and shape my prose fiction. I thought I'd share a few of those lessons with you.
1) Show, don't tell. We've all heard this one. But in screenwriting, this rule is taken to the extreme. In fact, I've heard some screenwriting teachers stress that you should be able to tell your story almost entirely through action, without any dialogue at all. I've never gone to that extreme, myself, but writing scripts does force you to put all the action on screen. Everything has to happen visually. You can't get away with long passages of description and narrative in a script.
2) Subtext, subtext, subtext. In novels, writers have the advantage of delving inside the minds of their characters, but in scripts, the character's thoughts and emotions have to be expressed visually and through what's not said as much as what's said. That same spare use of internalization can be used in novels as well. Let the context of dialogue speak for you.
Here's an example from my current WIP:
"Oh. You again."
Maddox looked up to find Charles Kipler standing in front of him. "Chuck! fetching lunch for the missus?"
A glint of humor lightened Kipler's eyes, catching Maddox by surprise. "Yeah. You, too?"
Maddox looked down at the take-out ticket in his hand. "She said she wasn't hungry. But she needs to eat."
Kipler sat next to Maddox, flipping his own take-out ticket between his fingers. "Did Ms. Browning tell you what she and Celia spoke about?"
"You don't know?"
Maddox shook his head. "Me, either."
Maddox is my hero. Charles Kipler is the personal assistant to Celia, a celebrity psychic. Maddox has been giving Kipler a hard time about being Celia's lackey--her "cabana boy," as Maddox puts it. But in this scene, the conversation with Kipler forces him to see that his relationship with Iris Browning, the woman he's falling in love with, is also plagued by walls separating them and putting him on the outside just as surely as Kipler is doomed to live on the periphery of Celia's life. I don't come out and say that in this exchange of dialogue. But by parallelling their situations--they're both standing in line to buy food to offer the women they're trying to please--we see that Maddox is dissatisfied with his outsider position in Iris's life.
3) Start a scene as late as possible and end it as early as possible. In screenwriting, time is money, and the shorter you can make a scene the better. It keeps the story flowing quickly, keeps up the pace, and it doesn't bore viewers with unnecessary details. When you're writing a scene, read it over and see if you can start the action any later and end it any earlier. For instance, if your scene ends on a phone call telling the hero that there's been an accident, you don't have to show that conversation. Let the hero answer the phone, someone on the other end says, "There's been an accident," and then do a time shift to the next scene, which is the hero dealing with the aftermath of the accident. The who, what, when, where, why and how can be dealt with during the action of that next scene, and it keeps the story moving forward without bogging it down.
4) Use the three act (or four act) structure of screenplays to help structure your novel. Most people are aware that plays and screenplays are usually based on the three act structure. Let's say your screenplay is 120 pages long (1 page = 1 minute of screentime). Your three act structure would divide your story into Act 1 - the introduction/setup (approx. 30 pages), Act 2 - the complication (approx. 60 pages) and Act 3 - the climax/resolution (approx. 30 pages). Your novel can be similarly divided. If you have, say, 12 chapters, the first 3 chapters will be setting up the characters and the story goal, ending on a twist that pushes you into Act 2, which will be the middle six chapters, in which you introduce a complication that forces your hero/heroine to change their plans and try new ways to reach their goals. Act 2 escalates in conflict and tension to the black moment, which happens at the Act 2 turn. It's the point at which you see no way for the hero and heroine to possibly meet their goals. Then, in Act 3--the last three chapters--you provide that solution, give the characters an exciting and rewarding climax, and you resolve the conflicts and end the story.
Now, this is flexible. It won't always be neatly divided into those page or chapter counts. But the basic structure is sound, and it follows the story pattern we've all learned about over the years.
A great movie to watch to study how the three act structure works is, believe it or not, LETHAL WEAPON. The scene in the desert, when the bad guys have Murtaugh's daughter, have disarmed and disabled Murtaugh, and then catch Riggs, who's hiding to back up Murtaugh, is the quintessential Act Two turn. It's the blackest of black moments, when all the good guys' plans have been shot to pieces and you don't know how they'll possibly get out of the mess they're in. Every time I'm trying to come up with a black moment for my book, I think about that scene and try to evoke that same sense of hopelessness I got when I saw that moment the first time around.
Screenwriting isn't as easy as it might look. It requires very visual thinking and a good feel for dialogue and action. But even if scriptwriting isn't for you, you can take lessons away from the genre and apply them to your novel writing to write a stronger, more exciting story.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
This year I plan to make the most of the few days we have left in 2006. Luckily, I was able to take this week off from work so I have time to play. Before I do play, I'm taking down my tree, undecorating the front porch and mailbox. Then I'm making myself sit and write. I've been writing in my head for the past 3 weeks and I'm beginning to feel overloaded. My pre-resolution is to write 15-20 pages on my book before Sunday midnight.
Does anyone have any pre-resolutions they need to work on before Sunday night?
Monday, December 25, 2006
The madness is over. The malls and shopping centers are quiet for a day. The last minute shoppers have finished. The trip for Santa and his reindeers is at an end. Presents have been exchanged and opened. We can breathe and take time to enjoy family and good food.
This is the second Christmas without my mother. The memories will live on forever. She and my aunt always alternated Thanksgiving and Christmas lunch, but you could always count on me and my husband and my brothers and family being at my mother's on Christmas Eve. She put out food no one ate. I received gifts I didn't want and I'm sure, gave gifts they didn't want, but we were together. That was what was important. Everyone will be at my aunt's for lunch today, but there will be a hole left by my mother's absence.
Tomorrow the madness will start over again as people exchange presents and hit the after Christmas sales. I'm sure some stores don't even wait until after Christmas day. Living in the middle of the Bible belt, most of our stores will be closed. I can't even buy alcohol legally in my county. I'll leave the shopping for others. I'll be home back to my old routine or trying to start a new routine so I can lose weight.
What's your favorite Christmas memory?
Here's wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May all your dreams come true in the new year.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
It started one fall about 40 years ago when my mother and aunt were lamenting their status as football widows. As a joke, my mom sent my aunt Bobbie a gaudy, tasteless two-piece nightie in an eye-burning shade of pink. Her thought was that perhaps Aunt Bobbie could use it to lure Uncle David away from the television set. We never knew if it worked, but the nightie took on a life of its own. It began appearing at various family occasions over the years, such as the going away party Bobbie gave my parents the year they won a cruise. And when I opened my suitcase on my honeymoon, there it was.
Then it took a starring role during the Dirty Santa game at our annual family Christmas gathering. My siblings and relatives were incredibly devious with their covert nightie operations. It’s been found tucked into pockets of shirts, hidden underneath a layer of chocolates in a candy box, and lurking inside a duffle bag. The most ingenious hiding place was the battery compartment of a really nice flashlight.
Sadly, my aunt passed away a few years ago, and my mother followed soon after. I was the lucky nightie recipient the last Christmas my mom was alive. At the time, I wondered if perhaps it were time for the nightie to retire (so to speak). The game had lost some of its sparkle without the two instigators. But then I thought about how much joy Mom and Bobbie’s playfulness had brought our family. We missed them both terribly, but we knew they were giggling together somewhere and making mischievous plans. I made a decision. The nightie went into mourning for one year, and then reappeared the next year. I must say, it’s more loved than ever before. Each Christmas, I like to think that Mom and Bobbie pull up ring side seats to watch our madcap gift exchange. And that they’re very pleased that we’ve continued this unorthodox tradition.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good nightie.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
I always feel harried and worn out this time of year...unlike many wise shoppers who begin their shopping the day after Christmas for next Christmas. I tell myself every year I'm going to do this and I never do.
As I showered this morning in preparation to go out once again to search for that perfect gift, I realized that I'll never find it. Yes, I can buy gifts my loved ones can use or think they want. They'll bring smiles to my niece or nephew's little faces and provide a few hours of entertainment, but it'll never be that perfect gift. And here's why. That perfect gift can't be purchased with money.
What is the perfect gift? What would I give if I had the power to do so? I would give peace on earth. I would do away with disease, illness, abuse, poverty, mean thoughts, pettiness, jealously, envy and all the things that create sadness. In its place, I would give laughter, joy and thanksgiving to all.
Since it's not within my power to do this, then allow me to wish it for all of mankind and most especially my Southern Magic family. May peace, joy, happiness and health follow you into the new year and beyond.
Now I'm off to find that almost perfect gift.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
With the end of the year around the corner, I find myself having to finish up several tasks before our January chapter meeting. And that doesn't count personal and paying-job obligations. So in honor of reserving my time and in the spirit of giving, I present to you lots of eye candy.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
What a cute idea! If I'd treated myself when my book came out, I would have gotten a bracelet like this. But the months went by. Just recently I went to Wal-mart and splurged on a $2 frame for the MAJOR CRUSH cover flat for my office.
What about you? Do you reward yourself for your writing milestones? Or is writing itself reward enough?
Friday, December 15, 2006
Robby started writing columns for his local paper earlier this year. His disease has advanced to the point that he's barely able to move and speaks in guttural spurts that only his wife seems to be able to interpret, but he's managed to write a series of amusing, intriguing and heart-breaking columns on life, love, loss and the disease that's taking him inch by inch.
I look at Robby, at the strength and grace he brings to the final chapters of his life, and I feel so ashamed when I decide I just can't write today because my back is a little achy or that touch of arthritis in my fingers makes typing seem like too much to contemplate. Robby doesn't write for money or for recognition; he writes because he still has something to say about the world he lives in, and he wants to get it out before he's gone.
I'm going to buckle down this weekend and get some new pages done on my WIP, and maybe I'll even start plotting the next book I want to tackle. Because I can. Because I'm alive, and relatively healthy. Because of Robby.
How about you?
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
What about last names? Where do they come from? What about foreign names? How do you make them up? Have you ever been at a lost for a name?
Please share your ultimate wisdom.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Unfortunately, I'm a glass half empty type person. No matter how good things are, the bad seems to be more heart-felt. I have much to be thankful for and I do thank God every day. I guess I need to pray to be more positive.
You're wondering where the ugly comes in. That would be my new driver's license picture.
So, are you a glass half full or glass half empty person? How do you handle the bad stuff?
Saturday, December 09, 2006
There's an interview with Bill Bryson in the January 2007 issue of The Writer. I love his books, so I started reading the article with great anticipation, soaking up his words and storing them for future reference. I even felt a sense of encouragement when he mentioned that all published writers started as unknowns. Then this sentence, addressed to the unpublished, had me skidding to a halt: "You have a much better chance of becoming a published author than, say, a major league baseball player."
A major league ball player, a nationally known nightly news anchor, a Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter, countless actresses and actors -- all have a better chance of being published than I do. And indeed, all were published before I will ever be.
[Karen kindly and gently pointed out that I just might have misinterpreted Bill Bryson's comment; i.e. that it would be easier for me to get published than for someone to become a major league baseball player. My apologies to Mr. Bryson! But I still get worked up about celebs "writing" books.]
Oh, I know the publishing companies are just trying to make a profit, and big names mean big bucks. But, dammit, it makes me mad. Writing is hard. And every time a celebrity goes on Good Morning America touting her latest bestseller, I feel as if every moment I spend in front of my computer, carefully crafting, thinking, and creating is futile.
I try to shrug it off with "Oh, well. She didn't really write the book herself" or "The poor copy editor must have had her work cut out for her." And to be honest, it hasn't stopped me from writing. It hasn't dashed my dreams. But sometimes I wonder if maybe I need to adjust my career path. I'm sure Simon & Schuster would snap up a book by the first female major league baseball player. I think Academy Sports has baseball gloves on sale this week...
Celebrities as authors: What do you think?
Thursday, December 07, 2006
I believe it's a good story, very high concept and hopefully, someday, a doggone good read. However, I'm afraid it's more than I can handle.
So what's the solution? Give up and admit defeat? I'm not big on giving up, so I'll plug along. But I was wondering if anyone else has ever had this feeling. If so, what did you do about it? Did you overcome your doubts and fears and do it anyway? If so, how? Were you pleased with the outcome?
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Speaking of contests. Check out this stack of entries I'm about to send to first round judges. And to think that this is over 50 sets (x2 = 100) fewer than last year. Of course, today is the last day for me to receive the mail postmarked 12/1/06. So there may be more.
Our judges are avid romance readers and booksellers who can't wait to get their hands on your books! Many of them tell me they look forward to the contest all year because they find new favorite authors this way.
We have a YA category, which is a bit unusual in my experience, and a novella category. Romantic suspense is divided into series and single title. Contemporary entries are divided into short series, long series, and single title. We also have a paranormal/fantasy/futuristic/time travel category, inspirational, and historical. We offer a 50% discount on the entry fee after the first book, so if you have more than one book to enter, we're a great choice!
We welcome e-book entries if they have a 2006 copyright date and are published by a RWA-recognized publisher. E-books do NOT need to be published as print books to be entered in this contest. However, we do ask that you print your e-book like a print book, with pages printed on the front and back and bound together (e.g., Kinko's binding), for the judging process.
Please e-mail me at email@example.com with questions, and tell your friends about us. I hope I'll open a package to find your entry soon!
2007 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence
The Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, sponsored by RWA chapter Southern Magic, was conceived in honor of multi-RITA Winner Gayle Wilson to award excellence in published romance fiction. The contest is judged by avid readers of romance and booksellers. The winners of each category are awarded a gold bookmark engraved with the author’s name and the book’s title. Winners will also be included in a full-page RWR advertisement.
Eligibility: Participation is open to all published authors of novel length romance fiction published by an RWA-recognized publisher. Books must have a copyright of 2006; entries must be received by January 15, 2007. Electronic books may be entered provided they are presented in print book format, published through an RWA-recognized publisher and complete with copyright page produced by the publisher with print on both sides of the page.
Entry fee: RWA Members — $20 for first book; $10 for subsequent books.
Entry fee: Non-RWA Members — $30 for first book; $15 for subsequent books.
Author must provide three copies of the entered book, which will not be returned. Finalists will be notified approximately March 1, 2007. Winners will be announced on March 31, 2007, at the 2007 Romance in the Magic City Conference in Birmingham, AL. All finalists receive a certificate. Winners receive an engraved gold bookmark and inclusion in full page RWR ad. Authors may enter more than one novel; however, the same novel may not be entered in multiple categories.
Categories for entry:
Short Contemporary (Under 70,000 Words)
Long Contemporary (Over 70,000 Words)
Single Title Romantic Suspense
Series Romantic Suspense
Paranormal/Fantasy/ Futuristic/Time Travel
Contemporary Single Title
Novella (20,000 – 40,000 Words)
Judging: All entries are judged by avid readers of romance and booksellers. The top two scores are added to form the final score. Lowest score is dropped. In the event of a tie, ties are broken using the dropped low score.
Books are given to the judges as a “thank you” for judging. They are not returned. Scores and finalist placement are not revealed. Score sheets are not returned. The decision of the judges is final.
Send entries (three copies of book, entry form + entry fee) to:
P.O. Box 190032
Birmingham, AL 35219
Find details, past winners, and a downloadable entry form at http://www.southernmagic.org.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
The top ten clues that you're a Romantic Suspense Junkie.
10. You suspect every grieving widower of having "a hand" in the death of his wife.
9. You see a report of a wreck on the interstate and shout at the television "the boyfriend did it!"
8. You believe you can solve any crime if your husband was a sexy police detective.
7. You suspect the clean-cut guy in your office of being a potential serial killer because he has "that look."
6. You eye the small sunken area in the backyard and wonder if a body is buried there.
5. You eye the small sunken area in the backyard and wonder if your husband plans to bury you there.
4. You feel a need to explain to the checkout boy that you really use the black plastic bags for leaves.
3. You leave the shower curtains open during a shower.
2. You drive past your house believing the car in the rearview mirror is tailing you.
1. You become worried that your husband is plotting your death because he’s being too nice after watching a marathon of Cold Case.
What clues have you found?
Sunday, December 03, 2006
I know juggling projects is common in this business. Multi-pubbed authors have a due date for one book around the same time another book is released and they need to be concentrating on publicity. Or, just when they're writing the climax for one book, they get a revision letter for the last book, with the revisions due...yesterday. The ability to juggle projects is part of what makes a successful author.
I'm new to this, so I'm slowly developing some tricks to get myself back into a book I've had to set aside. First, I make a soundtrack of songs to go along with the book I'm writing. When I come back to it, I come back to the songs. Second, I cut out photos from magazines of the hero and heroine and possibly the villain, and put them on my bulletin board. When I come back to the book, the photos go back up. These audio and visual cues seem to help get me back to that place when I read the whole manuscript and my notes all the way through.
Do you have trouble manuscript-hopping? How do you outsmart yourself?
Friday, December 01, 2006
So I thought for my blog contribution today, I'd give you a couple of easy recipes for party goodies to take the next time you're called upon to bring something to snack on.
First up--easy peanut butter cookies. Three ingredients, one bowl, no fuss
1 c. sugar or Splenda
1 c. peanut butter
1 egg or egg substitute
Mix until well blended. Scoop out in spoonfuls onto a cookie tin sprayed with Pam or other cooking spray. Flatten slightly with fork, making criss cross pattern if so desired. Bake at 300 degrees for 8 - 12 minutes, or until the bottoms are lightly browned. Cool and serve. They're crispy, rich, delicious and sooooo easy.
The next one is also super easy--it's Ranch dressing flavored oyster crackers. Take a package of oyster crackers and dump them into a large plastic zip-lock bag. (one-gallon size is ideal). Add approximately three tablespoons of oil (olive, canola, vegetable--your choice) and shake the bag to thoroughly coat the crackers with oil. Or, to cut down on the calories a bit, you can also spray them with a cooking spray. The main thing is to moisten the outside of the crackers so that the flavorings stick. Once the crackers are coated, add salt and garlic powder to taste, plus one package of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix powder. Shake again until all the crackers are coated with the flavorings, then spread the crackers on a cookie sheet or in a shallow baking dish. Bake at 300 until the crackers start to slightly brown. Remove, cool and serve in a bowl or a tin.
These also make great, easy gifts for the holidays, too.
Do you have any easy, no frills recipes to get us through the holidays without taking too much time away from our writing?