Writers on Writing: Some Favorite Quotes

There are infinite shades of grey. Writing often appears so black and white. – Rebecca Solnit

The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an understanding of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary. – J.K. Rowling

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.  – Ray Bradbury

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – E.B. White

 

The road to hell is paved with adverbs.  – Stephen King

Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence. – Alice Walker

I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. – Harper Lee

A word after a word after a word is power. – Margaret Atwood

You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. – Octavia E. Butler

 

Founder Chat: Screenplays — Part 2

 Nancy: Books rely heavily on description and dialogue to reveal character. How does that differ in a screenplay?

Wren: This is one of the greatest challenges when it comes to screenwriting. You not only have to rely on the actor’s intuition to convey the emotion but also on the director’s overall vision for the film. This is why it’s so important to write the best screenplay you can because you’re really creating a blueprint for the production team and the cast. On the screen, visual elements are really what’s telling your story. Yes, exposition comes through dialogue, but the audience is responding to what they’re seeing on the screen.

Nancy: How long do you think it normally takes to write a screenplay from a novel? Is it common for an author writing a novel to create the screenplay simultaneously?

Wren: The length of time really depends on the complexities of the novel. One of mine went through 32 rewrites while going from stage play to film. In the end, only 10 pages remained from my original script. Many of the changes were required based on production limitations and budget issues. Yes, many writers write both a novel and a screenplay simultaneously. They really inform one another during the creative process.

Nancy: When you write a screenplay, how do you know when you are done? Do you hear fireworks or are the angels singing?

Wren: I would love a choir of angels to announce the end of a screenplay. That would be wonderful. I feel like the screenplay is done when I’ve told the best version of the story I can — when I feel I’ve done the characters justice. It’s tough to know when you’ve reached that point because it’s hard to be objective about our own work. At some point, you have to force yourself to get up and walk away.

Nancy: From horror to romance, what differences does genre make in an effective screenplay?

Wren: Genre is everything in a screenplay because each genre comes with their own set of rules, their own set of audience expectations. For this reason, I think some of the best screenplays are genre hybrids. Kelly Fremon Craig’s screenplay for Edge of Seventeen is a great example of this. That movie successfully fit into multiple genres.

Nancy: How important is the format?

Wren: The format in screenwriting is critical because it’s industry standard. It’s one of the biggest challenges for a new screenwriter.

Nancy: Can a screenplay be reviewed and edited in the same way a book is edited, or should you find people who specialize in screenplays?

Wren: I recommend that screenwriters have their work critiqued by other screenwriters, or someone in the entertainment industry that is familiar with the format, such as a producer.

Nancy: I have been a fan of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat for several years. Are there other screenwriting books you would recommend?

Wren: Yes, I really recommend The Screenwriter’s Bible. I use this book each time I teach a screenwriting course. It’s a terrific resource for many reasons, including learning the rules about formatting a screenplay. I also recommend Syd Field’s classic book, Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting. Both of these books are resources for most screenwriters. I also recommend checking out a wonderful program called The Script Lab. They offer a low-cost online program called Screenwriting Summit that is fantastic. They have a tremendous library of videos that are conversations with executives, agents, producers, and screenwriters. Each is filled with very valuable information about the industry and your life as a professional screenwriter.

Nancy: Once completed, polished, and ready for publication, my guess is that a screenplay requires an entirely different approach for marketing, compared to books. Is that true? What should the author be focusing on at this point?

Wren: Once your screenplay is finished, the next step is getting it into the hands of someone who can get the project to the screen, whether that’s a producer or an agent, or even an actor. It’s almost impossible to sell a screenplay without having an agent. If a screenwriter has finished a script that they feel has potential, I would recommend securing an agent. The Writer’s Guild of America publishes a list of reputable agents for screenwriters.

Nancy: For me, I think the real work of writing a novel is perseverance coupled with humility. I have to work on it every day and be willing to recognize where I am wrong. You are such a prolific writer of books, plays, and screenplays. What would you say is the ‘real work’ of it for you?

Wren: Disciplining myself to write every day has been a challenge for me over the years. I love the end result, of having written something, but the actual writing process is tough for me. Any writer can talk about the many sacrifices required to be a writer in this world but the finished result makes each of them worth it. Before I became a professional writer, I didn’t realize how much work each step of the writing process required. The writing itself is hard work, but so is the planning, marketing, and business side of what we do. Writing takes more stamina, dedication, and discipline than most people realize. It’s a demanding career, but it’s also incredibly fulfilling.

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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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More Than Ever

More Than Ever

“What author inspired you the most while growing up?” This question was posed to me by a critically-acclaimed writer and professor on my first day of graduate school. I was sitting in an old classroom in an old college in an old Southern town. The other students all responded to the question with very “literary” answers: William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen.

I answered with, “Judy Blume“.

In the world of literary fiction, writing for and about teenagers can often result in a steadfast stigma, labeling you forever as “the one who writes the teen stuff.” For some reason, our work is often not taken as seriously as our grown-up, elite counterparts. We get grouped in with other categories muttered with similar lowly disdain such as “chick lit”, “beach books”, and “anything written by that Nora Roberts woman”.

I’m often quick to point out 27 books by Nora Roberts are sold every minute. And Judy Blume’s books have been translated into 31 languages and over 80 million copies have been sold…and counting.

Not bad company to be in if you ask me.

Yet, selling a gazillion copies is not my driving force as a young adult author. I write for teenagers simply because I love to.

I write for teenagers because when I was 13 years old, a woman named Norma Fox Mazer changed my life.

Just weeks after experiencing my first kiss with a Latin boy named Pedro (after he slipped me a crumpled note that read, “Meet me after school because I like your stories”), my eighth grade world was lit on fire when it was announced Norma Fox Mazer – one of my favorite authors – would be making a guest appearance at our school.

After some serious campaigning to the junior high powers that be, I was one of the few students selected to have lunch with her in the library. I was beyond thrilled, having read every book she’d written. Although I was terribly star struck, I bravely showed her a section of a short story I was working on at the time and told her how much I wanted to be a writer.

Norma Fox Mazer scanned the first page and informed me, “You already are.”

Two years later, I published my first short story. And the rest, as they say, is history.

But I never would have become a young adult author without first being a young adult reader.

Norma Fox Mazer was my best friend, without even realizing it. Each step of the way, she was there for me, guiding me through the field of adolescent landmines. She helped me cope with my parent’s divorce with Taking Terri Mueller. She taught me about death and grieving in After the Rain. She let me know that it was okay to not live like the rich kids in Silver. And she answered the questions I was too embarrassed to ask in Up in Seth’s Room.

Similarly, I learned valuable life lessons in every Judy Blume book I could get my hands on (particularly Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t). I devoured every volume in the Nancy Drew series. I hung on every suspenseful word written by Lois Duncan, and later, Christopher Pike.

Yet, as much as I read and loved each book by these authors, I could never find a true version of myself in them: a young gay boy growing up in the conservative 80s in northern California.

My first young adult novel, (set in 1986 in Sacramento), has just been published by Bold Strokes Books. While the novel explores a very timely and important topic (the life of a young girl is deeply affected by the murder of her gay older brother), the book is truly a literary tribute to the young adult authors who made me the writer I am today. Without them – and their beautiful words – I never would have sat down and taught myself to type at the age of 13.

I wouldn’t be able to recognize how much weight our words as writers carry, especially when read by young people.

Teenagers need us now, more than ever. They want us to be their best friend, their older brother or sister, their confidant. They want our experiences: the choices we made or didn’t, the decisions we’ve never second-guessed, the regrets we’ll always have. It is imperative that we share our lives with young people – not just through our words, but also by example.

After hearing Norma Fox Mazer had passed away last October, I reached out to her daughter, Anne, who is a successful writer. In a letter, I recalled my eighth-grade memory of her mother in my junior high library, and of the tremendous influence she’d had on my career since.

In her response, Anne shared with me, “I was touched to hear the story about how you met my mother. She would have been so happy to hear from you again and to learn about your novel.”

In my heart, I will always carry Anne’s words, right beside her mother’s. Right next to Judy Blume’s, and Lois Duncan’s and Christopher Pike’s. Next to the characters and the stories that helped to shape my youth.

In my lifetime, I only hope my own words will one day resonate with a 13-year-old who has yet to be told, “You already are.”

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This article was originally published here.

 

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Writing Tips from Robert Dugoni

Creative 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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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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