Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Three Writing Secrets from Jerry Jenkins

Do you ever feel, as I do, that sometimes your scenes fall flat and you’re convinced there’s not enough oomph on the page to move your reader, let alone make an editor want to buy your story?

Here are three things I remind myself when I face that dilemma. Then a quick, but heavy, edit and rewrite usually gets me right back on track.

1. Get off the stage. The toughest challenge for any artistic creator is to resist the urge to show off. Our name will be on the cover, and we’d love to remind the reader with a turn of phrase or a choice word, “I’m the one fashioning this message.”

But the best writers, like the best composers and painters, know it’s not about them. It’s about the art, the content.

Anything that comes between the story and the reader—yes, even you—is intrusive.

A reader aware of your technique, even of your talent, may miss your message. If the pianist dazzles with his technique, the composer’s art may be compromised.

Entice readers by making every word count, using ones they’ll understand rather than ones that will make them wonder.

A true classic transports the reader. Force yourself to get out of the way so the heart of the message can reach the soul of the reader.

2. Don’t compromise. Remain true to your message. Be able to express it in one sentence and post it where you can see it as you write. It will keep you on point throughout the process.

3. Inject conflict. This is the failsafe. When nothing else brings your prose to life, conflict will. You’ve likely seen me write about this before, and you’ll see it again. It’s a sin to bore a reader, so if you have two characters in a scene and they’re merrily agreeing with each other, you’re sinning.

Just have one of them respond in a snarky, sarcastic, mean, disagreeable, angry, or defensive way (or all of the above), and see what happens. Conflict is the engine of fiction, and it will light up the page—and your reader.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Secret to a GREAT First Draft

All screenplays go through many, many . . .  MANY drafts.

Film scripts are more built than written as we refine, mold, shape and construct the best story we can.  Most drafts are designed to winnow down and refine the material that you put down in your first draft.

But so many of us try to form and structure the story from the very beginning.

This is a mistake.

Through my private practice with aspiring novelists and screenwriters and more than thirty years as a writer, I've learned that the first draft – the first time you put concentrated effort into realizing your vision - should be a special and powerful time. It should be fury and abandon. It should be the release of the flood waters. And it should be a time of imaginings and dreams, of staring into the abyss and then suddenly rushing back to the keyboard as the ideas pour out of you.

And you should write until you are empty.  Pages and pages of inspiration and talent and creation, all gathered there in one single place that you will later mold and shape into your best work yet.

And that’s as it should be.

But if you're concentrating in the first draft on Inciting Incidences and Midpoint Turns and Dark Night of the Soul moments, you immediately put restriction of your abilities and you will not do your best work.

The first draft is not a time for choosing -  it's a time for acquiring and gathering the best of you onto the page.

Your only responsibility at this point is to get out of your little brain all the ideas scenes, notions, images and moments that you have for your story. This draft is the straw and clay that you will use to build your screenplay.  Anything – ANYTHING - that takes away from this pure moment of creating  harms your story and severely limits your chances for success.

So . . . 

Put aside the screenwriting books, Guru DVDs, and course notes for a while.  Give Snyder, Fields, McKee and all the rest a break and concentrate on just you, just your visions, just your story.  Be in touch with the reason you are compelled to write this particular story.  Look into the deeper meaning of what you’re trying to say. Allow nothing to distract you and just write. 

Write hard. 

Go off on tangents.

Fill the pages.

Explore the small little corners of your characters and peek into the recesses and shadows of the world that you've created.

Then and only then – when you’re finished with this draft - should you give any thought to structure.