Cause I’m free! Free writing!

Just a friendly reminder before I get into the post that StoryPros Screenplay Contest‘s final deadline is October31 with an entry fee of $50 for a regular submission.

Okay, so the last few days I’ve decided to skip the outline, skip the scene cards and just a do a free write. It was awesome. My script went to places I didn’t expect it to go and I got about 40 pages written without realizing it. I love a good outline, don’t get me wrong, and they are important to help keep your script together; but, sometimes having a free write session can help just as much as having super detailed scene cards.

The only downside to free writing is that sometimes it just trails off. The story can be great and then what? That’s it? This doesn’t always lead up to a spectacular ending as you haven’t planned how everything is going to tie together.  That’s why it’s important to know where your script is headed but leave some of the details out and let them create themselves.

When I’m having problems coming up with good scenes I like to do a free write.  I think my best free writes come from revisiting the logline.  Take a look at a logline you have. Maybe you have some ideas for that script, maybe you just have the inkling of an idea.  If you don’t feel like free writing in your script, do a free write treatment on your logline and see what happens.  A free write is a great way to get your creative juices flowing and allow your story to go places the outline may not factor in. Have fun with it!

~Happy writing

10 Questions that fuel a script

I could write outlines, scene cards and treatments until my fingers bleed but sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes when I sit down to write, the story starts writing itself and my outline doesn’t work anymore.  Your script will change as you write and especially when you rewrite.  Certain scenes will survive but at the same time certain characters will completely change.  Accept this. Your script will not be exactly what you imagined.  Sometimes you’ll even get stuck in the imagining phase.

Writer’s block is a great enemy.  Working through it can bring up a lot of questions: Is it the plot that is giving me trouble? Are the characters not developed enough? Do I even know where this script is going?  All of these questions need to be dealt with at some point of the writing process. Yes, the idea is fabulous and you have a few characters sketched out.  Sometimes that’s enough to get the creative juices flowing, others you need more to write a really compelling and creative script.  Here are some of my favorite questions to help me get over writer’s block:

1. Why does this story need to be written?

2. Can anyone identify with the main character or what their ultimate need is?

3. Is there a deadline or time constraint for the main character to reach their goal? Would the script be better with that kind of pressure?

4. What isn’t the protagonist aware of? Does the audience know something they don’t?

5. Do the supporting characters help the plot move forward? Are any of them catalysts to set things in motion?

6. Is the theme/mood reflected in the whole script?

7. Are there other ways to reach the climax?

8. What does the protagonist figure out for themselves?

9. Does the character grow or do they stay static?

10. What do we learn about the antagonist? How are the protagonist and antagonist connected in this story?

OK, some of them have a second question added, but you get the idea!  If you have any questions or ideas on how to better develop a story or even get over writer’s block, please fell free to add them in the comments section below!

Love the logline

A contest that I’m entering, Screenplay Festival, is closing on October 1st.  Their entry from asked for the logline and I blanched.  Obviously wanting to be a screenwriter I know what a logline is, but condensing my script into one to two sentences is hard. I probably rewrote the logline four times.  I want to grab the readers’ attention without giving too much away: a good logline should tease the person and make them want to read the script.

My logline covered the the who and the what.  The script will show the reader when, where and why.  Another thing to keep your logline in the front of someone’s mind is to use a unique feature.  What makes your script different from the others that are of the same genre or maybe even the same plot.  Generally I start with an idea, write the logline, create the outline and develop the treatment.  But for some reason this script was different and it made me think about the importance of loglines.

It’s important that you craft a strong logline because that is what people will remember.  Honestly, think about every movie you’ve seen, you’ve probably said the logline when your friends ask you, “well, what was it about?” You can practice on your own ideas and scripts or here’s a fun exercise to try: create the loglines for these popular movies:

Wedding Crashers — Two party-loving bachelors attend weddings to pick up women until one falls in love at one of their crashes.

Jurassic Park — Two scientists visit a theme park with dinosaurs until the power fails and the dinosaurs get out and wreck havoc.

Titanic — A poor man and upper class woman fall in love on an ill-fated ship.

Bruce Almighty — A man who feels he has been wronged by life meets God and acquires his powers.

X-Men — A Professor has a special school for students with mutant powers in a human world.

Click — A workaholic father gains a universal remote that allows him to fast forward through life.

Think of other movies that you love and see if you can create the logline without giving away the message of the movie.  Sum up your story in one sentence because that one sentence is your strongest selling point.

And the title is….

Sadly, my biggest problem with writing is coming up with a title. I can think of all the major scenes, hear the music, even pick out actors to play them… but what movie are in they in?  What’s it called?  I don’t know!  Some ideas have a title instantly as I think it’s catchy and cool until someone points out that it’s weird and doesn’t convey anything about the story. Oh.

A good rule of thumb is to keep your title short (1-2 words). Like a logline, I should have an idea of what this movie is going to be about, but I’m not going to read a 25 word movie title.  Some things to consider putting in your title would be the main character, where it takes place, and the main concept of the movie.

What I consider good movie titles:

The Mummy —  I’m biased as this my favorite movie, but I know one of the main characters already: a mummy.

Back to the Future — Um, how do you go back to future? Obviously this movie is going to be a good adventure through time!

Fight Club — Okay, so a shirtless Edward Norton and Brad Pitt help, but I knew the main concept: this movie is about a club that deals with fighting. Why? Well let’s watch it and find out!

The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King –LOTR is a great series, no doubt about that, but with the “Return of the King,” now I have a reason to watch.  Something has taken the King away and he’s coming home…from what?

Slumdog Millionaire — Two opposites: slum and millionaire.

The Truman Show — Again, a fabulous movie, but I know who the main character is and his life is worthy of a show.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl — Kick-ass movie! Based on a Disney ride, this has a great story, great CGI, deals with pirates, a cool location and a curse. Where do I sign up?

Think of some of your favorite films and their titles. Do you like it?  Why does the title work?  A fun exercise in writing titles is looking up synonyms about the main theme of your story and putting together different option.  Is the main theme love? What if you use the word “devotion,” or “amour,” “affection,” “irresistible.”  Maybe your script revolves around Lucy’s love life. You could call the film “The Love Life of Lucy Davis.” Or, if the story is the main struggle of Jon to date Lucy: “Winning Lucy’s Love.”  Maybe it’s from Lucy’s perspective: “The Irresistible Lucy Davis.”

Now the only problem is once you get rolling it’s hard to stop coming up with titles. A title can be a great hook to getting your script read, but at the same time a title can also erase any interest in a script.

StoryPros Screenplay Contest

Since I live in Denver and most screenwriting action takes place a little west of me in California my one big shot of getting a script optioned is to enter it into a screenplay contest.  One contest I’m thinking of entering a script or two, depending on how fast I write and edit, is StoryPros.

Regular deadline is September 30th, 2011 with an entry fee of $40 (means no feedback) or $80 to enter and receive feedback.  Final deadline is October 31st, 2011 for $50 regular or $90 for entry and feedback. Quaterfinalists, Semifinalists and top ten finalists will be announced in November and December 2011 and the five final winners will be announced on December 10th, 2011.

Grand Prize winner will have their script read by Foremost Films and all winners will get a read from Radmin, Elements Entertainment and Category 5 Entertainment.

Grand Prize winner gets $1,000 cash, $1,500 scholarship for Writer’s Boot Camp, Final Draft 8 software, Script Delivery (Queries to over 5,200 Producers, Agent, Managers), and six month placement of your logline on Inktip.com’s newsletter, plus a bunch of other great prizes. Second place is $500 cash and $1,000 scholarship and other prizes; Third place is $250 cash; Fourth place is $150 and Fifth is $100 cash.

Some stipulations:

Script must have a title page containing: the title, author’s name, email address, phone number and home address. WGA Registration or Copyright is OK but not required.

Scripts must be feature length between 85-135 pages. They must be in industry standard format as formatting is taken into consideration during judging.

Multiple entries are OK but each entry must have its own Entry Form and entry free.

The screenplay cannot have been optioned, sold or produced for profit. Prior winning scripts are acceptable but not prior StoryPros “prize winning entries.”

For complete information about the contest, please check out StoryPros’ website.

Attention! Attention!

I’ve read screenwriting books, blogs, tips, tweets, watched PowerPoint presentations and videos on how to write a stellar screenplay.  One major thing I’ve taken away from all of that is this: Have an attention grabbing opening.  There is debate on whether it’s the first ten pages that matter or the first three.  Either way you need to make the reader excited to be holding your script or it will never be filmed.

One question to ask yourself is, “If I didn’t know where this was going, would I be interested?”  The reader doesn’t know that at page 15 the most amazing thing ever written happens.  They know how the movie starts and if it has a crappy start, it’ll get tossed in the crappy scripts pile.  Once you have an established presence, this rule tends to go away, but amateur writers must have a compelling opening.  There are a couple exercises I use to help decide if my opening scene will keep the attention of the readers.

Break down the scene

Take the first ten pages of your script. Read through it as though you have no idea what happens to these characters.  Are they interesting? Will I come to care for these characters? Is something out of the ordinary happening? Is it funny? Is it dramatic?

Know the theme of your script and see if the opening sets up your theme. If not, time to revise.

Rewrite the scene

Yes, your opening is fabulous, but could it be better? Are the characters appropriate to open with? Is the dialogue captivating? Rewriting can often give you a fresh perspective on your script.

Use strong characters

Compelling characters will also hold the attention of a reader.  A monologue or dialogue is great, but having a unique character with unique action will grab anyone’s attention. Think of The Matrix, there isn’t much dialogue but there is a lot of action. Who is Trinity? I don’t know, but she can definitely fend for herself.  It keeps my attention because I want to see her story explained.

Have a kick-ass first page

Look at your script. Take out the fluff. Leave only what is necessary.  Can you condense your main point onto the first page?  Think of it like an article using the inverted triangle. Let me know the who, what, when, where and at least let me know there is a why. The rest of your script can explain why, but if there is no why; why should I read it?

Writing a strong opening takes practice.  Remember, that most people who read your script are looking for box-office value (if you’re aiming for Hollywood), so a great opening could mean great opening sales!

Don’t worry, this is how you’ll feel when you have a fantastic opening:

~Happy writing!

The Rewrite

I did it!  I finished my screenplay!  As excited as I am, I’m still not done.  Now I get to enter the rewrite stage. Some call it editing, some call it revisions; either way it accomplishes the same thing.  I’m going to read my script so many times I will know exactly what’s happening halfway down on page 64.  The great thing about this stage is that my screenplay should only get better.  I’ll realize that certain dialogue doesn’t fit with a character, or the action doesn’t move the plot forward at all, or a scene needs to be added here to arrive to the next scene better.

Why am I boring you with this?  Because a rewrite is essential to a good script.  If you think your first draft is going to cut it in Hollywood….well then you really are a dreamer and I’m sure we’d have fantastic conversations about unicorns and what color a T-Rex really was.  But, a serious writer knows that no matter what you think of your own script, most of the people in the film making business will ask for a rewrite; so it’s best to hone those skills now.  I’m sure your script is the best thing since Citizen Kane, but professionals in Hollywood will find every flaw and ask you to fix them.

What do you mean my script isn't perfection? You want a rewrite? Say what?

Right now I’m at that stage with a script of mine that has been brewing for years, yes, you read that correctly: years.  Since it’s been a part of my life for so long, I know what scenes are essential and what scenes definitely need to be tweaked.  For my first edit, I read the whole script through. I fix minor things: grammatical errors, accidentally skipped a word here, etc.  For my second edit, I’m going back to “the drawing board.”  I’m going to take my scene cards and see where I can pop in scenes that may have been axed initially, but now I’m realizing actually would work with the current draft.

I’m also going to create a second outline–based on the script I have and see if it’s the best outline.  If not, I’ll keep creating them until I have one that makes absolute perfect sense.  Will this happen in one night?  No, not unless I buy an espresso machine.  Or, maybe I’ll ask my sister if she wants to read it.  She’s not a screenwriter, which helps decide if my script is worth pitching.  If someone who goes to the movies doesn’t like the idea, no way in hell a producer will.