Trainee Writer

Adventures of a screenwriter in training…

Letting Trends Set You


Okay, so it’s been a little while since I updated this little blog of mine with any kind of insightful hints and tips into the craft of writing and – as usual – it’s been birthed by my recurring and endless struggle with writer’s block.

So in today’s long awaited post, I’m going to be exploring some ways of finding inspiration through social media. Actually, I’m going to be doing it from a single source of social media (a social medium?) that we all know and love to hate: Twitter.

funny-twitter-facebook

Now, even though I haven’t blogged about this myself (because, as anyone who has read my blog *ever* will attest, I update about once every four years) a lot of the expert writing teachers are strongly recommending that all aspiring writers flock to Twitter. It’s supposed to teach us about engagement, character voices, brevity and all sorts of things that I’ve forgotten are things. Basically, the message is ‘tweeting good’ and you should take this opportunity to follow me on Twitter so that you can receive great insights like this from me on the daily:

Yep. Insights.

So why am I talking Tweeting today? It wasn’t actually to shamelessly plug my own feed, surprisingly, but to point you to the one handy tool that can help the blocked writer find inspiration: the list of what’s trending.

Now, as most of my audience is probably aware, a lot of what Hollywood does (or the publishing industry – I don’t want to forget the budding novelists) is trend-based. They’re either trying to follow one or set one at all times. Now, obviously, unless you’re a super-powered self-publishing novelist, your chances of getting your work out there whilst a trend is ongoing on Twitter are approximately similar to my chances of persuading Mila Kunis to let me film her playing NES atop Mount Everest. That doesn’t make them useless…

Most writers are familiar with the concept of a ‘word prompt’ contest; Writing.com offers one almost daily and the basic concept is this: Every day you get a word. You write a short story, or poem or haiku or ransom note based upon that word. Winner gets plaudits.

Think of Twitter like the world’s biggest word prompt generator. Instead of getting one a day, the trending function gives you unlimited, ever-changing prompts every second of every day. And you can use these to inspire you to write your way out of that block. Don’t believe me? Let’s see what’s trending right now, and we’ll see if we can’t find some loglines in there…

Trends

What should be immediately apparent is that you can’t and won’t be able to use every trend to generate an idea. For example, Pokemon and Shutter Island are existing properties. I don’t own the rights to them, I can’t use them outright… but maybe we can take Shutter Island as a concept, not a property, and do something. Things like “Bellator 158” are okay to discard out of hand, though. Unless you have a great sports movie in mind, of course. MTV Hottest, likewise, doesn’t spark anything great.

So what does that leave? Let’s take a look.

Life Lessons In Five Words sounds for all the world like it has the potential to be some kind of romantic comedy or romance novel; think “Silver Linings Playbook” or similar. Let’s think about it some more; what might those five words be? We could look at the trend and see what people are replying with, but that’s cheating our creativity. Let’s pick those five words:

Live. Love. Laugh. Dream. Believe.

I think those are five strong words we can use. They would even be title cards if we played five acts, or leitmotifs to draw from. So where’s the logline here? How about this:

Life Lessons In Five Words

“A cubicle worker is inspired in a journey of self-discovery by a cryptic five word note that he receives in his father’s will.”

I can see that movie. I already know how that could go. It feels almost like the beginnings of a Nicholas Sparks book, doesn’t it? Let’s try another…

Unmade Film Prequels could be interesting in some ways. Obviously, this goes back to the rights issue: we don’t own any film franchises, so how can we write prequels?

Well, simple. An idea isn’t something that you can own. Just because James Bond exists, doesn’t mean that a similar idea like The Bourne Identity can’t. So, let’s think of a film and figure out what happened before it, and how we can make that idea into something original.

Let’s try Rocky out for size, just for the simple reason that it’s a movie that everyone knows with a simple premise: An unknown club boxer gets the chance to fight the heavyweight champion of the world and win the heart of the girl he loves. But what happens before we meet Rocky Balboa for the first time?

Think about what we know about him: He’s a small-time club boxer, he’s involved as some kind of enforcer for a loan shark, he’s a labourer. He loves animals. That’s a lot of unanswered questions to work with. Why did he become a boxer? How did he get involved with the mob? Why does he love animals so much? Rocky’s backstory could be a great movie.

So, let’s turn this into a logline:

Unmade Film Prequel: The Boxer

“After witnessing his father’s murder, a young farm hand trains as a boxer in an attempt to infiltrate the mob family who killed him.”

This character isn’t Rocky, but I’ve taken just a few unanswered questions from his past, given them an answer and spun a story from it. It makes sense in the context of who Rocky becomes, but it’s original enough that nobody can sue for it.

Now, I’m going to semi-skip “Turkey” for good reason: they’re currently having a bit of a sticky political situation (a coup which might eventually be a movie in its own right) but I will say this: there’s one hell of a Christmas or Thanksgiving comedy that could come from that as a name itself…

Finally, because I’ve now written more words in this entry than I ever intended, let’s circle back to “Shutter Island.” Now, obviously, that’s already a movie: an outstanding mystery-thriller set on a psychiatric facility on the eponymous island. That doesn’t mean that’s all the title has to offer. It’s time to channel my best Ted Mosby impression.

“Kids, way back in the day, we had this wonderful invention that we called a Dictionary, which was sort of like spellcheck but with some work involved. A Dictionary told us what words mean. It had a companion book that was also useful, called a Thesaurus. That told us what words were similar to the words in a dictionary. Together, they allowed us to do more with the English language.”

The kids, naturally, shrug at this point and return to Pokemon Go. But we’re going to go old school: we’re going to put the words ‘shutter’ and ‘island’ into a dictionary.

So, we learn that a ‘shutter’ can be a cover for an opening, a person who shuts (or closes) something or it’s a mechanical part of a camera lens. Those are things we can use for inspiration. And an island? Obviously, we have the geological definition of land surrounded by water. But it’s also something isolated, it can be a kitchen work surface, something a fuel pump sits on or a clump of woodland. That’s a lot of possibilities from two words. Maybe there’s something interesting about a man who photographs fuel pumps? Perhaps there’s a story about a hidden island in there. Interesting places to start. Let’s see what our Thesaurus throws our way, shall we?

So, a ‘shutter’ could be replaced with a screen, a cover, a shade or a curtain… all things which we use to hide things. Suddenly we’ve got a theme developing. Maybe our guy who photographs fuel pumps is doing it to solve a mystery? That’s certainly interesting. Can we add to that? I think we can.

Take a long look at some of the synonyms of the word ‘island’ and remember, we’re not necessarily taking them at what they mean in context.

Key. Refuge. Haven. Shelter. Retreat. Bar. These are all very evocative, versatile words. Maybe that fuel pump thing isn’t the most interesting thing we can do with the word ‘island’ after all. What if we take our photography theme and our mystery that needs solving and find a logline that looks a little like this:

“A photojournalist investigating a mysterious murder takes shelter among refugees in the aftermath of a tsunami.”

Yes, it needs work. It’s imperfect. But there’s a story there. You know that one of the refugees is going to be the killer without being told. You know that he’s got all kinds of difficulties to prevent him solving it. It’s a beginning.

And a beginning is the one thing every story has in common.

Try it for yourself, and let me know in the comments (or on Twitter) if you manage to make this work for you. It’s worked for me – my block is gone (for now!) – and now I have a whole bunch of new ideas to work on.

Keep writing, keep smiling.

Kriss

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July 16, 2016 Posted by | Ideas, lessons, screenwriting, specs, Theory, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Guest Blog: “Tips for Creating an Author’s Website” by Lauren Williams


If you’re an author, having your own website is an excellent way to promote your work, develop your personal brand, and connect with others. It’s just about essential nowadays, and with so many helpful website building tools, it doesn’t have to be incredibly difficult, either. Your website is a direct reflection of you and your work, so it pays to take the time to get it right. Here are some tips to help you create a successful author’s website.

Biography

One of the most important pages on your website is a biography page. This is where people will get to learn more about you personally. It will help them understand who you are and what the motivations and values are behind your work. Take time to craft a bio that provides a clear, concise look into your life. You don’t want to go into extreme detail, but mention things like where and how you grew up, how you came to be an author, and what your life is like now.

You should also mention all of the professional honors, awards, and designations you’ve received, which may or may not be its own separate page, depending on how many you have.

Photo

You should include at least one professional photograph on your website, because people want to be able to put a face to your name. You don’t have to plaster it all over the site, but one discreetly placed photo on your bio page is appropriate. If you’d like, you can include a few more personal photographs to represent yourself, but make sure all your photos go with the image you want to portray to the world.

Contact Information

Provide a page with contact information, which will generally include an email address and a mailing address. If you want, provide a contact form so that people can email you directly from your site; this encourages more feedback from visitors.

Book Pages

Unless you have dozens of books, it’s a good idea to make a separate page for each book you’ve written or collaborated on. On each book page, describe the book and provide brief commentary on something like your personal vision for the book. Include information on where the book can be purchased, along with a direct link if applicable. People want to learn more about your work, so give them some information they can’t find elsewhere.

You may also want to include a separate page that will talk about or tease your upcoming releases.

Mailing List and Social Media

On the homepage of your website, include a box where people can input their email addresses to become part of your mailing list. This way you can contact people when your next book comes out! On your homepage or your contact page, you should also include links to your social media, such as a direct link for people to like or follow you.

There are many ways you can organize your author’s website – just remember that it should be an informational site that can act as a sort of portfolio for you.

Lauren Williams is a freelance writer and published author.  She enjoys journalism and creative writing as well as fiction novels.

November 20, 2012 Posted by | Guest Blog, writing | , , , , | Leave a comment

NaNoWriMo: Day 10


So, we’re ten days into this year’s NaNo and I’ve finished the day on 14,301 words, which puts me 4,032 behind schedule for day 11. This is particularly annoying to me, because I spent most of the day looking up Mexican recipes online to decide what to feed Detective Reyes for dinner, then decided that she was eating burritos. If I’d come to that conclusion just eight hours earlier, I might have been ahead of myself. I also may not have eaten so much today.

Otherwise it’s not going too badly and I’ve learned a few things about myself:

1) I spend way too much time procrastinating. Especially by doing things like updating my blog when I could be adding these words to my novel. Well, not these words, but you know. This number of words. That’d be weird if I added these words.

2) I really struggle to write when I’m at home. I mean, I can write scripts at home with ease, but I can’t focus on a novel. I think it’s sheer volume of words: a standard 50ish page TV script has about 5,000 words, give or take. I’ve written three times that so far, and in a format that I’ve not written in since I was at school. Which brings me to:

3) Writing a book is ridiculously mentally and emotionally draining. I’m trying to focus on my book, but I’m just getting sick of typing. I’m having to keep information in my head that I wrote almost three chapters ago to use later on so as not to leave plot holes. I’m constantly questioning every characters motives and style of speech. I’m also now writing gibberish, which is why my blog entries during NaNo will probably lack any real substance.

And on that note, I’m off to bed. I need to get up early tomorrow; I just found out that I’m in a word war with a guy who’s 34,000 words ahead of me. And if I try really, really hard and get really, really focused, I might just be able to make a dent in his lead tomorrow.

Until next time,

Kx

BTW: I’ve added a NaNo widget to the sidebar of the site so y’all can watch my progress. Green means I surpassed my word target and ended up above par. Red means I wrote nothing. Yellow means I’m at par, Orange means I’m slightly below. You can literally see the pattern of my work change before your eyes. Fun, eh?

November 11, 2011 Posted by | Contests, Novels, Nuevo Oro, writing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NaNoWriMo: Day 4


I realize that this is the first time that I’ve mentioned this on the blog, but I decided to take part in this year’s National Novel Writing Month in the hopes of not just gaining a new experience, but also of finally finishing King Of Hearts in some sort of reasonable time frame. Sadly, I’m finding that the trouble with writing a novel is that it’s just too damned easy to get distracted, especially with the variety of options available as past-times in modern life.

I’ll get to that in a minute, let me explain NaNoWriMo first. Yes, it’s one of those posts, where I’m procrastinating and writing whatever pops into my head in the hope of kick-starting the project at hand. Bear with me. NaNoWriMo is simple: 200,000 authors attempt to write 50,000 words apiece in 30 days or less. Some decide to try to do it in one – God bless them – others, myself included, set themselves bigger challenges. Mine is to write 110,000 words this month. My total so far? 6,689. Yeah. I need to be at closer to 3,500 every day. I’ve only broken that number once, so far. Yesterday.

So the distractions? Day 1: I got on with it, but didn’t budget my time well. Lesson learned. Day 2: Got bored of writing. Went to pub. Got drunk. Forgot about writing. Wrote 200 words. Day 3: around 3,500. Worked hard, didn’t drink, didn’t get distracted. Today? About 300. Why? Watched television, went to dentist, played Angry Birds. Those damn Angry Birds, they’re ruining my masterpiece.

Time to stop procrastinating and get back to work. I love you all. Feel free to encourage me, it’s pretty obvious I need it!

Kx

November 4, 2011 Posted by | Contests, Development Diaries, Novels, Nuevo Oro, writing | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On the ‘write’ path…


God, I hate cheesy puns, but having walked five miles home in the wee hours of this morning, I’ll hope you’ll forgive me for not exactly being on top form today.

After taking a depression-induced week off from writing anything at all (I may blog about that over at AC at some stage) I’ve decided I need to get my head back in the game, because work is piling up. I have four reviews to write for OMS (two of my reviews from last month can be downloaded from that page, actually – they’re in The Sampler) and I need to get my head back into the novel, as well as writing this blasted one-sheet, which I really mustn’t keep putting off.

The novel, it seems is going really well. I’ve just come to the end of my prologue and already I’m starting to get inside the head of Detective Reyes and feel my way into her story. As I’ve said before, I’m not a planner. I have no idea where the track is leading at this stage – I know the basic outline of my story and a few of the key characters. I know my prologue and I know my opening chapter at this point, but everything beyond is a mystery. Incidentally, if I get the opening chapter right it’ll be a real tear-jerker for some.

Without spoiling too much, I hope, I’ve gone into extensive research about the procedures for a police funeral – the pipes, the last call… I was tearing up just reading about it, let alone when I started actually listening to the calls on Youtube. If I can create one tenth of the emotion I felt while doing the research on the page, y’all are going to hate me and I’ll have to get the book sponsored by Kleenex. Seriously, you’ll be drowning in tears, not choking them back.

On the screenplay front, I’ve been strongly considering adding a few more pages to what I feel is going to be my magnum opus, Trailer Park Blues. It’s a working title – one I’m working on – but it should be a really special piece if I get it into the right hands. I actually have a fairly good idea who those ‘right hands’ are, too. When it’s finished, I’ll see if I can attach them to the picture (and talk about that process extensively on here, I’m sure) and get the ball rolling on things.

Actually, talking of getting the ball rolling on things, I was contacted recently by a producer from LA about the possibility of coming on board with an Anglo-American sitcom. It was literally just a touch-base e-mailing session, but it’s given me some hope for my week.

On a final note, I’ll be adding a few more works to 26 this week, because I kind of have a hankering to drop some deep emotional thoughts on paper. Hopefully I’ll finish it before I have to rename the collection 27!

I’ll be back with some lessons as I think of them. In the meantime, I’d like to recommend a friend’s blog to y’all. I say ‘friend’ – it’s not like we hang out and such, but she’s a fantastic writer I discovered through WP – C-C Lester’s blog, The Elementary Circle, can be found by clicking on the link. Go show her some love, especially if you’re into YA Fiction. And, let’s be honest, who isn’t?

She recently posted the prologue and first chapter of her book, Mercury’s Child on there. And it’s phenomenal. After reading it, I cannot wait to get my hands on the finished book.

Have fun, kids.

Kx

June 2, 2011 Posted by | agents, Development Diaries, Novels, Nuevo Oro, screenwriting, Trailer Park Blues, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A whole new world…


…a new fantastic point of view…”

Yes, it’s a blog (predominantly) about screenwriting, so I’m definitely allowed to quote Aladdin as a tenuous link to the content of today’s entry.

Actually, today I’m not talking about the art of screenwriting – there may not even be a lesson to be gleaned from it. Just a casual post about my latest writing exploits.

Today, I decided to finally undertake the one writing task that’s been eluding me for years. For ten years, I’ve been threatening it and now I’m finally going to do it: I’ve started work on my first serious attempt at a novel.

I always said that one day, I wanted to create a fictitious world against which I could set a variety of stories; I suppose the inspiration from that was in part drawn from my screenwriting hero John Hughes’ legendary setting of Shermer, IL, A completely fictitious town that played host to Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink, amongst others. It’s a common device for a writer, so don’t think for one second that I’m claiming to have reinvented the wheel; I’m very well aware that such great writers as Terry Pratchett, J.R.R. Tolkien and L.J. Smith have all done it, to name but a few. So, with my first novel, I’ve decided to do exactly that; it’ll be the first to be set in the town of Nuevo Oro, California.

Nuevo Oro is a former gold rush settlement on the Mexican border; originally settled by a handful of European immigrants who traveled west to find their fortune in 1850, they named it ‘Golden Hills’. In 1852 After having all but mined every ounce of gold from the surrounding environment, most of the original inhabitants left to seek their fortune elsewhere, leaving behind only the most successful family in Golden City. the Carvers. With enough money and livestock to maintain their lifestyle, they had no reason to leave.

A year later, a second wave of prospectors comes through town – this time crossing the border from Mexico. California, at this time, had only recently seceded from Mexico to join the USA, so many Mexicans felt that laying claim to the gold was their right. When they found the virtual ghost town that ‘Golden Hills’ had become, they quickly settled in, rechristening the town ‘Nuevo Oro’ (New Gold) and sparking a 150-year family feud between the Carvers and the leaders of the migrant prospectors, the Reyes family.

Where do we join the story? In the present day. Nuevo Oro has grown to become a small city; though certainly not a sprawling urban metropolis like Los Angeles or San Francisco, Nuevo Oro has all the amenities that any Californian city needs to survive; it’s a college town with a thriving technological industry, a small movie studio and a high crime rate.

Enter our hero: the first book centres around Selma Reyes, the youngest descendant of the original migrant Reyes family and the city’s only female homicide detective. Following the suspicious death of her partner – found stabbed in his mistress’ apartment – she’s determined to find his killer. To make matters worse, she has a new partner; if the stories she heard growing up are true, she should despise him – but she has a murder to solve and John Carver might be the only person she can trust.

Obviously, I only started writing this today, so don’t expect to be reading the finished book next week, but I’m excited to finally be starting on my ‘long-awaited’ debut novel.

The thing that excites me most? Being able to tell the many stories that can be found among the citizens of Nuevo Oro – having the ability to populate my city with the stories of those characters who may live there and having the scope to write them in whatever genre I see fit – all of the ones I enjoy, like YA, fantasy, satire and romance, will probably feature – is possibly the greatest freedom of all. I have a blank canvas on which to paint as rich a tapestry as I see fit.

Expect a development diary and excerpts along the way.

Vaya con Dios,

Kriss x

May 17, 2011 Posted by | Development Diaries, Novels, Nuevo Oro, writing | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment