Q: Can you describe some of the things writers need to think about in writing a salable story?
A: Since my entire career has been built on answering this question for writers and filmmakers, it’s pretty hard to reduce it to a single answer. But the best advice that comes to mind to cover all situations is to suggest that writers ask themselves three questions about every screenplay they write:
These seem like simple questions but I challenge each of you–new and experienced writers alike–to come up with solid, easily communicated answers for your current projects. If you can, consider yourself well on your way to creating a clear and compelling story. If you have some work to do, well, what are you waiting for?
The fiction writer has to realize that he can’t create compassion with compassion, or emotion with emotion, or thought with thought. He has to provide all these things with a body; he has to create a world with weight and extension. [...] The reason is usually that the student is wholly interested in his thoughts and his emotions and not in his dramatic action.
For writers of all forms, this is a point not to be overlooked. Practically, it means that we may want to rethink a character–let’s call her Mia–uttering the words, “Gee, Larry, I’m just so terrifically sad” if we actually want the audience/reader to feel Mia’s sadness. The same goes for the narrator, I’d say, unless used very, very carefully. We’ve all read an intensely personal blog post or watched a film where this happens, haven’t we? Our most likely response was in opposition to the author’s intent; perhaps disbelief. Or perhaps we laughed. Ouch.
Writers can often be heard grumbling about the drudgery of rewriting. Those of us who make a living from “the rewrite” are no exception. But I’m here to tell you, there are great joys to be found within those looming pages. Really.
Rewriting is the work you do on a manuscript or screenplay (or anything else) once that first tremulous blush of committing fresh words to the world has passed. It can be a general pass to see what crops up or a focused pass solely on, say, diction. It may be a combination of both. Everyone’s process is different.
The one constant is that rewriting is what makes good work, brilliant (okay, at least much, much better). Five tips to make your rewrite shine, after the jump. Read on …
Those of you who read THE STORY SPOT regularly will know that we’re fans of screenwriter John August’s highly entertaining and informative blog. Recently, he posted a little video about tightening up the openings of your scenes. Just because it’s screenwriting-focused, doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant to you novelists and memoirists out there.
In a nutshell, the illustrious Mr. August illustrates how to get to the core action of the scene right away while adding a bit of visual color along the way. Good stuff for writers at all levels.
In all these years, believe it or not, I’d somehow managed to avoid writing a good old-fashioned, dragged-through-the-mud, elbow-to-the-eye battle scene. Until now.
Like you, I have certainly read my share. From hissing cat-fights to laser-gun fueled space war, I’ve read scenes that were so animated and spot-on that I had not a word to say. Or, in other cases, I had given notes that asked the writer to please, for goodness sake, use the generic situation (the fight) to convey story information (character growth, plot advancement, etc.). But somehow none of my rewrites or personal projects required more than brief physical confrontation.