Founder Chat: Screenplays — Part 1

The manner in which our small group of friends helps one another with thorny writing problems is one of the roots of Amelia Indie Authors. From time to time we’ll share a Founder Chat — one of the founders interviewing another author about an area of particular interest or expertise. Enjoy!

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Upon completion of a recent blog post, I realized I had the core for a new book set in the 17th century. I began blocking the content right away and began the first chapter. Starting a new project like this is an exciting time full of outrageous dreams and marvelous promise. As I watch historical programming on BBC, Netflix, Amazon and elsewhere, I think my story could be a movie at least, if not a series like Poldark, Outlander or Versailles.

But I have never tried writing for the screen before. Am I crazy? Should I just go wash the dishes and get a hold of myself?

Fortunately, a dear friend introduced me to someone who has some answers. Wren Valentino is the award-winning author of several novels and collections of stage plays and poetry. He has written over 50 stage plays that have been performed in three languages in nine countries. His work has appeared in over 100 publications.

And so, I am deeply honored that he has agreed to answer some questions about writing screenplays, which I share today with Amelia Indie Authors. Thank you, Wren, for sharing your knowledge and experience. Here goes:

Nancy: First of all, how do you know if a story idea has potential as a screenplay?

Wren: Screenwriting is really a form of visual storytelling. When I start working on a project, one of the first things I do is determine what form suits the story the best. When a strong visual component is there, that’s a big indicator that the story needs to be told on a screen, instead of on a stage or page.

Nancy: Some film or series productions are based on novels, while others are developed directly for the screen. Either way, there has to be a screenplay. Other than length, what are the main differences between a book and a screenplay?

Wren: There are many differences between books and screenplays, all of which can make the adaptation process difficult. In most cases, when audiences reject a film version of their favorite book, it’s related to the difficulties the screenwriter had in adapting from one form to another. Novels and screenplays are written so differently, that they’re not always compatible when it comes to adaptation. One of the biggest challenges is adapting a novel written in first person narrative into a cinematic story. In a book, we have insight into the characters internal thoughts and emotions, but translating that onto the screen can be tough.

Nancy: When would it make sense to start with the screenplay, instead of a book?


Wren: I recommend writing any story in multiple forms and then deciding, as the writer, which form is the strongest choice. Some stories will only work in one form, so then the decision is made for you. I often know immediately that a story is a screenplay when I visualize the story more than I hear it.

Nancy: What if I already have a novel that has potential for the screen? What is the best starting place for an author to adapt a book into a screenplay?

Wren: This can be a really helpful exercise for any writer who thinks their novels has cinematic potential. By adapting your novel into a screenplay, they will inform each other. For example, whenever I adapt a novel or play of mine into a screenplay, I always end up going back to the original story with new discoveries I’ve made by writing the same story in a different form. Writing a screenplay is a challenge, especially because the format is so specific. I really recommend that if a writer is considering a screenplay, they should take a screenwriting course. If anything, this will help with learning and understanding the complexities of the format, the rules and why they’re necessary.

Nancy: Is it common for authors of novels to do their own screenplays or is it better if done by another writer?

Wren: I highly recommend that if a novelist has an indication that there’s interest in adapting their book into a screenplay, that they write the screenplay. I know many writers who will write the screenplay version while they’re writing the novel simultaneously. Emma Donoghue did this very thing with her novel Room. When producers came to her wanting to adapt the film for the screen, she already had a screenplay ready for them. Who knows the story better than the person who created it?

Nancy: It is my understanding that all good screenplays follow the same basic structure. Is that true in your opinion? Have you tended to follow any particular guideline or does the idea that ‘rules are made to be broken’ apply in this case?

Wren: Screenplays for most American made films do follow a fairly similar three-act structure, with significant plot points happening at prescribed times in the film. This has a lot more to do with the attention span of an audience, rather than storytelling. For this reason, I tend to watch and admire foreign films and foreign TV shows more, as they tend to not only break these rules but demonstrate a greater devotion to true storytelling, especially where character development is concerned. I’m all for breaking rules, but it’s important to learn the rules first so you know how and when to cross those lines.

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What is a Brand Persona?

What is a Brand Persona?

Your brand persona is a valuable thing that will help you build trust with customers. If you were to weave together all of your values, activities, and interests, they would create a multifaceted gem that defines you as a person.

But suppose you meet a potential customer in an elevator, and you want to shine? You want them to remember you. They will probably only remember one or two things about you. What would you want those things to be?

This is what brand persona is all about. If you want people to remember you, by all means, capture everything that defines you. Then, go the next step.

If you are an author, artist or businessperson, your work defines you to a great extent, but also the realm in which you work or the subject matter on which you focus. Add to that your activities. For instance, are you a runner? An equestrian? A motocross enthusiast? Do you love to cook, read, dance? And then there are societal interests like improving literacy, reducing poverty, protecting the environment, and so on. Take the time to write it all down. You’ll be surprised how illuminating it can be, and how few people actually do it.

Next, narrow down your list to a handful of things. Consider the top 10 that you might converse about with your new acquaintance. In other words, which things do you think others can most easily relate to?

In most cases, people relate to values. They may not care much about what you do or how you do it, but if you talk about why you do it, what drives you, you’re likely to pique their interest. People are attracted to passion. If you only have 30 seconds before the two of you shake hands and say goodbye, wouldn’t you like to tell them about your greatest passion?

That’s how a defined persona can help, by making your most memorable facets easier to communicate and, therefore, easier to remember. Once your persona is defined, what’s next?

 

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Writing Tips from Robert Dugoni

Writing Tips from Robert Dugoni

Not long ago I had an opportunity to attend a creative writing seminar series on getting your novel started, and it happened to be led by Seattle author Robert Dugoni.

He is the best-selling author of 13 novels and legal thrillers including the Tracy Crosswhite series and David Sloane series (both set in Seattle).

Dugoni offered a number of suggestions to budding authors. First, start with the action. This is recommended by many authors of thrillers, suspense and mystery, and you’ll hear it at every writers’ conference you attend. You’ve got to hook your reader right away.

Another of Dugoni’s recommendations was to make sure you create a question in the reader’s mind with the first paragraph, and really with every paragraph. That’s how you create a page-turner. Keep the reader eager to find out what happens next.

When telling your story, Dugoni said it’s best to avoid the use of flashback. If you need to go back in time, you’ve got to put the reader right in that time. Flashbacks stop the story.

And, a famous quote from Dugoni:

“Whether you’re an unpublished novelist or a sixteen-time New York Times bestselling author, you can always improve your craft. You can always become a better writer.”

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Do I Need a Copyright?

This is a question most writers ask, whether for a short story, a poem, screen play, blog or novel. What if someone tries to use as their own the product you have just poured your skill, heart and soul into? Do you need copyright protection?

At a recent Writers by the Sea meeting in Fernandina Beach, visual artist and attorney Deborah Reid provided an overview of things writers commonly need to know about copyright. From the moment you create the work, it is your intellectual property, she said. You own it. Should someone try to claim it, you have rights. Infringement on copyright is the same as theft.

If you need to take legal measures, however, you will have extra protection if you have gone through the registration process via the U.S. Copyright Office, part of the Library of Congress. You can do it online, but Reid warns there are many copycats out there who will gladly take your money for nothing in return. Be sure you are on the right website, ending in “dot gov” as in https://www.copyright.gov. Use form TX for written works. Your date of registration is the date you register, but your submission also will include the date of creation for the work.

Copyright for your work continues for your lifetime plus 75 years, and then the work becomes available in the public domain. U.S. Government documents are almost always public domain, because they are created using tax dollars. For most other items, anything created prior to 1923 is in public domain and free to use. However, be sure to do your homework before using artwork, photography or other items, particularly on commercial items, those things you are intending to sell.

Joint projects. If you have two or more contributors to a project, there would be joint ownership of copyright. In other words, you can do whatever you want to with the work, but so can the other owners. If you want more control over who can do what with the work and under what circumstances, and who gets paid, etc., each person will need to sign a written agreement in advance of the copyright date.

A compilation, such as a poetry anthology, requires the publisher of the work to secure a license from each person who contributes a copyrightable work. Each story or poem would be considered a distinct original creation.

Works for hire relates to a person who contributes work that is within the defined scope of his or her employment. The person is paid for his/her time, but the business owns copyright. Still, you should get a signed agreement, and those employees have an “assignment” to do for your project that you copyright.

A few more notes of interest:

You can’t copyright

  • Titles, slogans or mottos; these must be registered as trademarks
  • Methods, procedures, systems (patent)
  • Utilitarian objects like a chair, or clothing
  • Plots, themes
  • Public domain items (works created prior to 1923)
  • Fonts, facts

 

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