Saturday, April 29, 2006

How to Write While Sleeping

I'm through my first week at the new job. Haven't gotten so much writing done, but actually more than I expected, so thus far my plan is working. Mwaahahahaha!!!

I haven't done much because in addition to having to adapt my body to sleeping during the day, I am trying to finish up projects and tie off loose ends at the church where I [used to] work. This means I've been sleeping six hours or less each day and working non-stop. I slept for 1.5 hours today. No lie.

But once I was through with my two days of training and had the nights to myself, I tried to get a second start on plotting out my next script, which for the moment I am referring to as "The Hero Script."

I plotted this out once already and went over it with Greg, but I didn't really like it, Greg didn't really like it, and I just felt it wasn't doing justice to the concept. It's a big concept with multiple thematic possibilities, and Wednesday night I started exploring those possibilities to find the one that would actually become the movie.

Thursday morning I staved off sleep for a few hours more to meet with Greg, and I told him what I'm about to tell the rest of you.

Let me note in advance that I'm aware of the pathetic pretentiousness that is the following sentence:

This movie wants to be a trilogy.

Now I'm aware that this puts me in bad standing on the Fantasy Novelist's Exam, and I can't think of anything sadder than being so incapable of coming up with a plot for a movie that you switch to plotting three movies, but I stand by what I said.

This movie wants to be a trilogy.

So having endured Greg's attempts to talk me out of such foolishness, last night I began making notes about the three different movies. But let me just say, in mitigation, that I took one scrap of Greg's comments to heart, viz., that I should figure out which one of the three was the one I most wanted to do, and do that one first.

Fortunately, it's Part One of the trilogy.

So I wrote down as many notes as I could currently think of for Parts Two and Three (in nice columns in my spiral), and then started to dwell on Part One.

Unfortunately, this was c. 4:30 in the a.m., right about the time I hit the only-four-hours-of-sleep wall. It's kind of completely against the point of the job to fall asleep, so I had to stop pretending to think about the Hero movie (while actually repeatedly nodding off) and switch to reading The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I gleefully discovered among the scant library at the House. So far, it's everything I expected. But that's beside the point.

After a full night of work, followed by an almost-full day of work punctuated with the aformentioned 1.5 hours of nap on the couch in my office at the church, I went to help my small group work on one of our houses (floor sanding makes much dust). When I couldn't really remain upright anymore, I drove home and watched Suspect Zero. Rather an interesting movie for the kind of script I'm starting at the moment. Worth a viewing, although don't get too excited about the Ben Kingsley. If he had done any acting in this movie, I'm sure it would have been wonderful, as usual. But he wasn't allowed to, so he had to stick to looking mysterious and threatening. Which he does well.

I've held off going to sleep because I want to get out of the habit of sleeping at night, but it's getting about time to let my body have it's way, so I'm not going to stick around here talking to you people.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Can You Believe They're Going to Pay Me to Write?!

I got the new job about which I posted several days ago. As of this afternoon, I officially am employed by Lifeline Youth and Family Services as a Youth Treatment Specialist. I start work tonight.

It's true that Lifeline pays mostly in thanks, so I'm taking quite the substantial pay cut, but this is a third-shift job where I will do practically nothing. Thus I will be able to spend almost eight hours every night writing. For the first time in my life, I won't have to use spare time on career-building. Gnash your teeth in envy, jealous fellow scribes!!

Now we have to see if this new freedom results in actual scripts, not to mention improvement in my skills and advancement of my career.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

People who live around here know that there's a particular job that I really, really want.

For those who don't: There's a particular job that I really, really want.

Tomorrow I have an interview for it. Those who pray, pray that I get this.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, April 17, 2006

I got my next script plotted!! Aaahhhahahahahahahaha!!!

Well sure, it blows right now. But tomorrow I'm going to talk to Greg about it, and he's a genius. So soon it will be amazing, you'll see!

Of course, I'll have to actually write it then, but let's not discuss that right now.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Make it Better

When I grow up, I'm going to be in development.

Okay, I'm not. I'm going to be a screenwriter. We all know this is the goal.

But for the past couple days, I've felt kind of like I'm in development. For those unacquianted, development people are the ones who seek out scripts and develop them to the point where they can be good movies. That's a super-simplified definition, but it's not the point right now, so bite me.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of reading a script by David. I gave him lots of mean notes, all the things I could think of that were wrong with his story. Today I spent all day thinking about his script and his characters and their various intertwining plotlines, and I just finished a ginormous long email full of more notes, but positive ones this time.

This is starting to become a trend.

Because a couple weeks ago, I did the exact same thing with a script by Blair. I read his stuff, told him lots of mean things, and then sat on it for half a week before straightening out his story in my head and emailing him a bunch of what I hope were helpful suggestions, thereby causing him to remove the pins from his little Ryan voodoo doll.

I quite enjoy this process. Probably too much, as it leads me to spend two hours writing an email to someone and another 20 minutes blogging about it. I should be writing instead, slacker that I am. But it's not only a fun process; it's an incredibly constructive habit for a screenwriter.

Reading scripts that aren't done, that you know need input and therefore could be seriously impacted if you come through with something intelligent, is a great challenge. It exercises the story muscles in your brain to be able to look at a story objectively (something next to impossible with one's own work) and figure out what it needs to really make it shine.

I do this with movies as well as with unproduced scripts. Let's face it: most movies aren't that great. I can enjoy them, but there will be nagging little thoughts in the back of my head, telling me why I shouldn't. In some cases, such as the movie I watched on Friday, the nagging is so great that I find myself actually rewriting the movie as I watch it.

I know only a few of the people reading this are screenwriters, but I'll bet this applies to almost anything you might be passionate about doing. Watch other people doing it, or examine the finished work, and figure out what you would do instead. How could it be better? Do this whenever you have the opportunity. Just don't be like me, and let it keep you from actually practicing your passion.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Stale, Flat and Unprofitable

This hasn't been the greatest week for writing. I'm shifting my daily schedule around, and the shift is only temporary. Soon my life will have to be restructured yet again. So far the weekend has been consumed with small group stuff and car-fixing adventures, and that's not the same thing as writing.

But I did get some notes on my script from a couple people. One person (you know who you are - :) - ) in particular said a lot of things about the story as it now stands, and while many of them made sense and in fact agreed with what Greg had already said, some of the comments seemed completely unbelievable to me.

My story centers around a conflict between a husband and wife, and issues of the value of relationships in opposition to other concerns. And many of the notes I received yesterday showed that the person who was giving them had, against all expectation, sided with the wrong person in the story.

Now, I did a sanity check last night with a group of both men and women, and I was correct in thinking that everyone I know sides with the correct character in my story. So I was put slightly more at ease about that. But here is a comment that really kind of threw me (paraphrased):

"They both just act so immature; I wanted to slap them both in the last scene."

Now, by way of enlightenment, the person giving me these notes belongs to an older generation than both me and the two characters in question. So it is quite possible that these characters could be behaving in a way that is true to life but still seems immature to someone older.

But this brings up a point that this guy emphasizes: People don't have to like your characters; they just have to care what happens to them.

So maybe it's okay that this person thinks my characters behave immaturely. Even if it's true, it's not necessarily a problem; sometimes people are immature. The fact that someone is sufficiently emotionally connected to my characters to be irritated by their immaturity is almost a good sign.

What was more alarming was this question: "So, you actually intended the main character to have a flat personality?"

Now, I haven't figured out how this character can be both annoyingly immature and, concurrently, lacking in personality. I'm sure it's possible. But it's very worrying, because this character is definitely not supposed to be flat. He's a programmer-geek experiencing feelings of isolation compounded by guilt for both controllable and uncontrollable failures as a husband.

If after all my musings on his character, all my subtly-developed setup of his situation, all my careful tweaking of his dialogue, and all my well-crafted interactions with other characters, all I've arrived at is "annoyingly immature," I'm about to have serious rewrite issues.

There were other equally provocative notes I got from this particular person (thanks!)—not equally as troubling, but definitely requiring attention and care. So while I still plan to hold out for notes from Blair before resuming work on this monster, it's definitely maintaining a nagging foothold in my consciousness.

But on a positive note, the windows in my car all work now. Take that, screenwriting career!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Some Love

A few days ago I responded to an open invitation for guest bloggers from Church Marketing Sucks. Today they posted this piece by yours truly.

How can I leverage this free publicity (term loosely used to describe literally tens of readers) to advance my screenwriting career?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Other Eyes

There's a scene in Out of the Silent Planet, by C.S. Lewis, in which the main character arrives on a strange planet. When he steps out of the spacecraft that brought him, he looks around at the vista before him, and all he see are masses of blended color; he can't make out any objects. Eventually, his eyes adjust so that he has a context in which to recognize his surroundings, but at first his brain is unable to decipher what his eyes are taking in.

insert crazy colors here

When the first draft of my script came out, it wasn't so good. It needed lots of work, so for the second draft I moved all kinds of scenes around, wrote uncounted new pages and scenes, and generally changed the entire landscape.

I didn't give the second draft to any of my trusted readers, because I thought there were probably still things I could do to it. So whether you consider what I'm doing right now the second draft, the third draft or just another pass, it hasn't had anyone else's eyes on it since the sucky first draft.

Oh sure, I've given scenes to Greg, but they were just scenes, with no context. No one would be able to tell anything from them except whether they were well-written scenes. And I'm not just shooting for well-written scenes. We need a cohesive whole movie here, my friends.

Not only has no one else seen it, I can barely even say I've seen it. I've been so busy inspecting the details, moving single objects around, focusing on minutiae, that the thing as a whole is starting to just become a swirling mass of color. I'm too close to it to be able to see what it looks like.

So tonight the final pass should be done, and tomorrow I will get it out to the few who were unable to dodge quickly enough. Maybe if I get some other eyes on it, and get some distance from it myself, it will start to make sense again. And then: improve, improve, improve.