ScriptFrenzy: Too much of a challenge?

6 04 2010

I stared at my script for ten minutes today. I didn’t do anything with it–I just stared at it. Why? Because I have no idea what to write next. I feel like the material I already have written is laughable, and so I’m in that slump of thinking, “So why should I continue this challenge if all I get out of it is a pile of crap that I’m even embarrassed to re-read?”

***Beginning of script for internal argument

JESSIE: (sighs) I just don’t know if it’s worth it. Is the thrill of writing my first script worth the pain of having to look at what I’ve got every day and know that it’s horrible?

INNER VOICE: (a tiny whisper) Every writer has to start somewhere.

JESSIE: But what if some writers are only meant for one medium? What if I’m just not meant to be a screenwriter?

INNER VOICE: You’ll never know if you don’t try. You might end up learning something in the process.

JESSIE: If this were “Leave it to Beaver,” I’d smile and say, “By golly, you’re right!” But this isn’t “Leave it to Beaver,” and I’m swamped with school work and life and other obligations right now. I can’t even remember why I thought this was a good idea.

INNER VOICE: You wanted to try something new.

JESSIE: Next time I want to try something new, I’ll reach for the cookbook and find a new recipe. I won’t choose something that takes a month and a lot of work to complete.

INNER VOICE: Next time… Sure. But how about you make it through this time first?

JESSIE: (rolls her eyes) Yeah, yeah. I’ll try. But if I can’t make it past the twentieth page because I can’t stand wading in any more muddy words and faltering plot lines, I’m giving myself a “free out”.

INNER VOICE: How about we wait and see how it turns out before planning to quit?

JESSIE harumphs.

***End of script

Now that’s some quality writing… Is anyone else out there stuck in the middle of a writing challenge and wondering why in the world they decided to take it on in the first place? What are you doing to make it through?


On Characters #4: Description through a Mirror

5 04 2010

When you’re writing–especially from a first-person point of view–it can be difficult to throw in a description of your main character. Many authors, when faced with this conundrum of how a character should describe him/herself, will turn to a clichéd method for description: a mirror. The main character will stop in front of a mirror and describe what (s)he sees, which might look something like this:

Walking through the hall, I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye of where the light hit a mirror and reflected it back toward me. I stopped and slowly turned toward the mirror, subtly checking to make sure I was alone in the hall. I hadn’t taken the time to really look at myself in more than a month, so I was almost afraid of what I’d see there. I stared. A medium-height woman with muddy green eyes and slightly frizzy, long blonde hair stared back. I smiled. Her lips pulled up at the same time to expose slightly crooked front teeth and smile lines around her mouth.

I understand the temptation to do something like that, but as a reader, I’m tired of mirror scenes. If a character looks in a mirror, I want it to be because something is out of the ordinary. If the mirror is an excuse to describe the character as (s)he looks everyday, I get frustrated. If a mirror scene is the only way an author can introduce a character’s looks, then I start to wonder if the character’s looks weren’t really that important in the first place. I start to wonder if  some authors simply add that information in because they think they have to or they think readers have to have the same image of the main character as they do.

While complaining about using a mirror scene, I will say that well-done mirror scene can be totally justified. For example, compare the following paragraph to the previous one:

I ran out of the apartment, hoping I would make it to the next block before the city bus pulled away from the curb and left me with 15 blocks to walk to my interview. My feet pounded into the concrete sidewalk, and I kept my head forward, but I couldn’t help but notice the people around me turning to stare at me. What are they staring at? I wondered, running my hands down my outfit to make sure my clothes were where they were supposed to be. Nearly every day since I had moved into my apartment, I had seen at least one person running to catch a bus, but not once in those times had I seen everyone on the street turning to stare at the running person. “Wait!” I yelled as the bus at the end of the block roared to life. “I need that bus!” I ran closer to the curb when I passed the bus and turned to look at the windows to signal to any passengers inside to tell the driver to wait. What I saw in the reflective bus windows brought me to a sudden stop. My blonde hair was mussed from the run with little stragglers of frizz framing my now-red face, but I could deal with that. My cheeks flamed with embarrassment as my muddy green eyes stared at the dark streak of paint across my forehead. The bus drove away as I watched my reflection move down the windows and then disappear when the bus had gone.

Was that scene a perfect description? No. But it was an example of how a character might describe herself as she looks at her reflection for a reason. I don’t want the character to use the mirror as an excuse to tell me what she’s wearing–if her clothes are important, her clothes should be mentioned some time other than when she’s standing in front of a mirror.

Now I’m just starting to rant… What do you think? Do you mind the clumsy mirror scenes authors use to describe their main characters? What better examples do you have of how an author might describe a character without relying on a mirror?

Panic over a script

1 04 2010

It’s April 1, and ScriptFrenzy has begun. I should be excited–after all, this is my new writing adventure, and I have no expectations beyond a page count. So why am I staring at a blank screen and freaking out? Because writing a script sounds like it should be … not easy, but also not torturous. I’ve been planning out a storyline for a couple weeks, I’ve got my list of characters, I’ve created backgrounds for those characters, and I’ve got ideas for the settings. And yet, I have no idea what to do with any of that. I’ve read scripts, I’ve seen how they’re arranged, and I understand the basic principles of putting fingers to the keyboard and writing a beginning script. AND YET, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO WITH ANY OF THAT. Holy cow. What did I get myself into?

Adventures and Insecurities: A writer’s props

31 03 2010

Tomorrow is April 1. I don’t care that it will be April Fool’s Day–in fact, I think the last time I pulled an April Fool’s Day prank (or had one pulled on me) was in high school. To me, April 1 would be just like any other day … Except this year, I signed up for ScriptFrenzy, which means tomorrow will be the first day of writing my very first screenplay.

I’m nervous even though I have no expectations for my screenplay beyond its length. To be a winner of ScriptFrenzy, I will have to write 100 pages, so 100 pages is my goal. My goal is not to become a famous TV screenwriter, though in my wildest dreams, I do see the pilot I’m going to be working on as a successful TV show. I’ve chosen to write a pilot for a TV show I’ve wittily named “The Profs” about a group of professors in a department. The show will feature those professors as they live their daily lives and navigate academia (including all the departmental politics and dealings with students). For anyone who knows my background, you might be saying, “Shocking” with a bit of a sarcastic voice. This screenplay will be pulling on some of my own experiences of being a professor as well as the “horror stories” I’ve heard from colleagues about past jobs and interviews and what not. I’m excited about writing it, but again, as a first-time screenwriter, I have no expectations going into the month of April. If you’re doing ScriptFrenzy, too, my username is joiedelire. I’ll take all the writing buddies/support I can get!

While my brain is mostly preoccupied with writing up some last-minute characters sketches for ScriptFrenzy (as well as familiarizing myself with CeltX, the screenwriting program I’ll be using), I’m also going through a bit of a panic attack about another writing project: my first completed novel that I finished last year. Since August, I’ve been trying to find an agent (unsuccessfully), and I’ve entered the manuscript in a writing contest (again, unsuccessful), and all the failed attempts are starting to eat away at any confidence I had built up in myself and my manuscript. I entered the first page of my manuscript in the Page-to-Fame on WEbook (an amazing resource for writers), and every day–I can’t help myself–I go into my profile and check my submission’s progress. Right now, it’s doing okay. Which should make me feel better, but I don’t. I’m afraid to make any predictions about whether or not it will make it to Round 2 (where I would get to submit the entire first chapter), and I’m even afraid to hope for that admission into Round 2. My confidence is a yellow ball of string being batted around by a large cat named Insecurity. One minute I’m feeling okay (and possibly even better than okay) about my future as a writer; the next minute, a giant paw reaches out and bats me around until I don’t know how to feel anymore.

From what I understand, every writer goes through these periods of insecurity. Yet when I’m in the midst of an insecurity attack, I feel alone. Desperately alone.

I feel alone right now, so I’m forcing myself to put that aloneness out there online for the world to see (should the world stop by and read my humble blog). I can imagine there are readers out there who will stop and read this and think, “I know just how she feels.” Being able to imagine that makes me feel a little less like a solitary figure and a little more like a part of a community.

Challenging Myself

9 02 2010

I signed up yesterday for Script Frenzy, which begins April 1.  As a participant, I have 30 days (i.e., the month of April) to write 100 pages of a script.  Mind you, I have no idea what I’m doing–I’ve never written a script, nor have I ever really considered writing one before I started thinking about joining the Script Frenzy challenge.  So why am I doing it?

The hardest part of writing for me is writing dialogue.  I tend to feel the dialogue from all my characters ends up sounding the same–I have a hard time finding individual voices for my characters.  Because dialogue is hard for me, I’m terrified of writing scripts: Scripts are entirely made up of dialogue.  But what are fears for if they’re not for facing down and conquering?

A writer friend of mine said she was also considering Script Frenzy, so I decided if she could take the plunge, I could, too.  After all, I’m not shooting for the best script ever–or even a script I’d want anyone else to see.  My goal is to simply complete the challenge and know that I can grow through trying new styles of writing.

Plus, a cool side effect of the challenge is that I get to try Scrivener‘s screenwriting side of its program.

Writing on a Mac: Jer’s Novel Writer

28 01 2010

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about my love for Scrivener, writing software made to make writing and organizing an easier task.  For anyone who is curious, I am still in love with Scrivener and use it for everything from creative writing (working on my novel) to academic writing (organizing research for papers).  It also has screenwriting features, but I haven’t yet attempted to write a screenplay, so I can’t tout those features quite yet.  In my previous post, I had said one initial reason I wanted to use Scrivener is that they seem like a good company with business practices that are fair and oriented toward the customer.  I have a new reason to respect them: After combing their website, I went to the “Links” page and found that they provide links and descriptions for other writing software (including separate lists of writing software available for Macs and PCs).  In today’s world, it’s refreshing to see that some people still care that the customer is getting what (s)he wants and needs–even if that means sending the customer to another place to get it.

One of the other writing software possibilities on that list of links is Jer’s Novel Writer.  I was intrigued by the description, and so I headed on over to the website to check the software out.  The developer, Jerry, created this software specifically for creative writers working on longer projects, though I’m sure writers could also benefit from using it for short stories or novellas or other such shorter forms of creative writing.  I downloaded Jer’s Novel Writer and began playing with it.  It is so fabulous that I started writing something new just so I could have a reason to keep playing with it.  The appearance is clean-cut, making it feel like I’m playing with a shiny new toy instead of writing software, and the features offered are designed just for creative writers–something I will keep mentioning because their being tailored to a specific audience makes the software that much cooler.

The first screenshot is the basis of my general overview of the cool features of the software:

A basic screenshot of Jer's Novel Writer

Jer’s Novel Writer has a feature that lets you put in margin notes, which is something I love (in the above picture, you can see a margin note in the left column).  I like knowing that if I want to revise, I can put the virtual version of a post-it on the page for easy reference to remind myself what it was I didn’t like (or what it was I liked) about a particular scene.  The margin notes are more than just post-its, though, because they can be linked to a specific word while still being placed in the margin.  That specificity makes it so you can mark a single word that you want to play with and have an entire note dedicated to it.  You can also move the margin notes so that if you have a lot on one page, they will appear in the order you want them to be in (or so they will be equally spaced from each other–whatever it is you aesthetically like).

On the right, you can see the outline for the current work (Jer’s Read Me file) in a drawer that you can choose to have open or closed.  Using the outline makes it easy to navigate through your text (so if you want to find a particular scene to reference, you can easily do so) because all you have to do is click on the section title or text that you want, and it will take you directly to it.  The outline can break your work into chapters, parts, sections, and text blocks.  The text blocks are what you see in the center–where you do the actual typing of your creative work–in alternating yellow and white background blocks.  When you want to put in a new text block, all you have to do is hit the “Insert” button, and it lets you have the option of putting in a new chapter, section, part, or text block.  Every time you create a new dividing line, it automatically shows up in your outline.  The more you provide, the more specific your navigation abilities will be.  While you can title the chapters, sections, and parts, the text blocks will show up in your outline as the beginning text of the first line, which is handy for reminding you exactly what was written in that portion.

While I would love Jer’s Novel Writer solely for the margin-note capabilities, I am fascinated by the possibilities the drawer presents.  When you open the drawer (which in the above picture has the outline), you get three options: outline (pictured above), database, and notes.  The notes are what you would expect them to be–a place where you can write notes to yourself that will be visible from any place in the text.  I want to focus on the database feature, as I think it is particularly helpful for creative writers.

The database portion of the drawer in Jer's Novel Writer

The database is a way you can keep track of your characters, settings, and more.  You can create full sketches on your characters and group them into folders; you can write descriptions of your settings and have them laid out for easy reference; you can really put in anything you want for background information to have at your fingertips during any stage of the writing process.  It’s a fancy way of taking organized notes.

And, of course, you can choose to have the drawer closed, in which case, all you have staring at you is the space where you’re writing and creating margin notes.  In the text portion, when you add in titles, you can format the titles to look however you want them to look:

Jer's Novel Writer with the drawer closed and titled segments

The document I’ve been showing is the “Read Me” document that comes with Jer’s Novel Writer, and it is one of the most helpful and user-friendly guides I’ve seen for getting started with new writing software.

For my particular writing style, I still prefer Scrivener, primarily because its corkboard feature works with my outlining system but also because it works with both my creative and academic writing needs.  However, I think Jer’s Novel Writer is an amazing product, and I hope there are readers out there who will give it a shot and support Jerry as he works toward further developing the software.  I don’t think a writer can ever have too many options when it comes to writing software choices because new projects bring new needs.

Backing Up Your Work: Mac Time Machine

24 01 2010

I tell my students time and time again to back up their work in several places every time they work on a paper or project because I know, from personal experience, how devastating it can be to lose work in the middle of a project.  I made the mistake of beginning my dissertation data collection without backing up what I was doing as I went.  Three weeks in (and hours and hours and hours of data collection in), my computer died.  It wouldn’t start; it wouldn’t respond; it wouldn’t do anything.  It died, so I had to start over because I hadn’t taken the time to back up my work.  I learned the hard way, but my hope is that there are still people out there who can learn the lesson the easy way: listening to someone who has been through it.

The first thing to remember is that your computer will die at an integral point in your work.  Your computer will eat every word you’ve slaved over without caring about the blood, sweat, and tears that went into picking those words.  It is the only thing you can count on in the world of computers: They die or freeze or explode only during critical moments.  Count on it.  Be prepared for it.  That way, the only thing you’re mourning when your computer dies is the fact that you have to get a new one–you won’t have to mourn the loss of your hard-earned work.

After my computer died, I learned my lesson and invested in an external hard drive for my computer, which at the time was a PC.  I bought a Western Digital external hard drive and hooked it up; shortly after, I hit my first wall.  I found out that if I wanted the instant update feature on the hard drive, I had to buy special software from WD.  Otherwise, I had to remember to drag and drop new files I had worked on onto my external hard drive.  I was good about it for a few weeks, but then… I started forgetting to update; once I started forgetting to update on a regular basis, I couldn’t remember which files I worked on that needed re-saving on the hard drive.  After a while, the hard drive started collecting dust on my desk, and I was once again counting on my luck to keep my work safe.

And then I bought a Mac and was introduced to the wonderful world of the Time Machine…

I hooked up my handy WD external hard drive and turned on the Time Machine, and my Mac took over from there.  It asked me if I wanted to make the hard drive my preferred Time Machine, and I said, “Yes, please.”  That was the smartest computer decision I made since I got my Mac.  When my hard drive isn’t hooked up, nothing happens.  But as soon as I hook my hard drive up, an automatic update begins; if I keep it hooked up, it will continue doing automatic updates every hour (my preferred time interval) until I eject the hard drive.  The updates are saved at those intervals, and if something happens, I get to pick which point I want my computer to be restored to.

With the Time Machine feature, there doesn’t have to be a catastrophe–I might simply want my computer to go back to the way it was an hour ago, before I made a drastic change that I’m not happy with to a story I was working on.  As long as I had my hard drive hooked up and doing the automatic updates, I’m only a few clicks away from erasing the unpleasant changes.

While doing NaNoWriMo, I had my hard drive running every time my computer was running because I was paranoid I would lose everything.  As computer axioms go, since I was prepared for computer problems, my computer performed perfectly.  Yet I was happy to know that my novel was securely saved on more than one device.

If you have a Mac and haven’t yet hooked up a hard drive to start your own Time Machine experience, I highly suggest you do so.  You don’t need to be a writer to want to take advantage of the continual updates–you just need to be a computer user who keeps personal documents stored on your computer.  It’s minimal hassle for maximal ease-of-mind.