Angst, Handwringing, and Screenwriting

I live in Los Angeles. I live approximately 15 miles from major studios that  you all know and love, such as Disney, Warner Brothers, Universal, and countless other small independents. There are thousands of other businesses dependent on the movie industry, including catering, trucks, lights, sound, costumes, props, post production, special effects, and so on.

And, it seems if you’re a writer in Los Angeles, you really MUST have a screenplay.

So I was well aware of the fact that, having taken up the authorial title with the intent to produce an opus for Amazon that no one will buy but my closest blog friends (yeah, I’m lookin’ at all twenty of you. It’s going to cost you, this relationship!), I do not have the desire to write a screenplay. Despite the easy money falling off trees into the baskets of those hard-working screenwriters, I haven’t curled up with any self-help screenplay how-to books.

Enter the blog of Kristin Lamb. Many of you know her through her  blog devoted to improving fiction writing of anyone who will read. She is inspiring and also a kick in the arse for whomever will listen to her advice.  Yesterday, she posted a piece on Your Novel in One Sentence. It was essentially a breakdown of content found in the book, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.

Save the Cat is a book on how to write a screenplay. It encompasses things like genre, structure, and the one line that describes your movie, the logline. I made fun of a random internet plot generator in this post, but that thing is actually producing loglines correctly. It’s not very good at what it does, in that none of the ideas were viable, but it has the format correct and it’s doing better than most authors, if they ever bothered to summarize their novels at all.

I’ve only read a third of Snyder’s book and it’s eye-opening. I see application from screenplay into the world of novels. One of the drums he bangs most loudly is that there are rules and you can break them, but if you want to be successful you probably should stick to the rules.

Therein lies the source of most of the authorly angst that may be out there. If you’re selling a screenplay or you’re selling a book, you must be able to sum it up in about the size of a twitter post.  Tell me what your book is about in 140 characters or less. Most books don’t know what they’re about, and that gets them lost in the slush. When someone reviews the book, can they state what it’s about in less than a paragraph? I looked at Ionia’s reviews of books, and note that her style is to state the premise of the book in a paragraph (2-3 sentences). I think those are not the book blurb but her own words.

When you write, do you write for the audience, or are you creating lit-ah-rah-ture? Do you want to sell your book, or are you just trying to be an artist? People who write for a living write for the audience. The other one starves or lives off others or has a Real Job.

If you’re an indy author, do you pay attention to any of the things necessary to market your novel to publishers and agents, or do you disregard such focusing devices? Is there value in having concise summations of your novel? Are successful authors on Amazon due to having the conciseness in summation and marketing to an audience the retread story formats we know and love?

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12 thoughts on “Angst, Handwringing, and Screenwriting

  1. Good questions! I’d love to see Opalescence as a movie. It has lots of sweeping scenes of beauty with plenty of action. But then, likely every author believes his/her work would make a great movie.

    If the question is do you write for yourself or for your audience, I think you have to do both. If you write for yourself you’re more likely to love your book (and thereby do a better job). However if you write for others they’re more likely to love your story.

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    • You’d need to get a logline for Opalescence, then. What’s it about? It’s about a ______ ______ who ______ a _______ __________ and must get _______________. Mad libs for the win.

      Save the Cat is a great read, even if you don’t want to write screenplays. It helps you narrow down your focus on your novel.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I live in LA too and am constantly asking myself if I should learn how to write screenplays? Matter of fact, I’m contemplating signing up for UCLA extension’s X440A “Writing the First Screenplay” as I type!

    I agree that writing for an audience is key. Even if it’s a small audience (I write a weekly chapter of a book almost exclusively for my two kids) or an esoteric one, I find that knowing real humans are going to read my writing makes me focus and work at a much higher level.

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  3. Currently I’m still putting final ideas in place … but I don’t know what I’ll use to market. If I decide it’s good enough to market …
    Thanks for saying “…if you’re a writer in Los Angeles, you really MUST have a screenplay”. Now I have a reason not to move back to LA. 🙂

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    • I’m citing perception, not reality. Everyone here thinks they’re a screenwriter, except those of us who know they’re not. I don’t interact with the entertainment subset that much, and it’s a manic world that eats its own and lives in a bubble that real people can see and perceive. Hollywood is like Moloch.

      You use the logline, naturally, for marketing. State the story in a single line, who is in it, what it’s about, and be sparse with your words. If your logline is a mess, it may indicate problems with your novel that would be fixed by a relentless focus on “what is this book about?” Novels that don’t know what they’re about don’t sell.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi, Matt, this is a subject of real interest to me, one I’ve been gathering info and quotes on for the last month or so (towards an eventual blog post), so I may reference this post and share it again then too. Cheers! 🙂

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  5. I wrote one full length screenplay a few years ago and I liked how quickly a first draft can be written compared to a novel (this works well for me as I’m quite impatient and want to get everything done NOW!), and I’ve written a few scenes, and short films. This doesn’t really answer your questions, but just saying 🙂

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  6. Interesting post. I too live in the land of nuts and twigs and you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a screenwriter (usually because he’s waiting on you at Starbucks). And I’ve read the books, took the classes, went to the seminars, wrote a few screenplays and got an agent. Ever heard of me? LOL. Nope, you haven’t.

    I think the appeal of writing screenplays is that the format is much faster than a novel and seems so much easier. But what writers, who tend to be introverts, probably don’t realize is that you have to have balls if you want to be a screenwriter and you have to be able to pitch stories. I believe that’s where the term ‘elevator pitch’ came from in fact.

    I may check out the book though because anything with good tips works for me.

    Good post. Thanks.
    Annie

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    • It’s fun, sometimes, living here. I’m blah about the filming, since it usually is in the middle of whatever I need to do at the moment. There’s this little town near here called Montrose and they LOVE LOVE LOVE BABY! to film here. Commercials, TV, movies, whatever. So when I gotta go to the bank, I can’t. Not the route I wanted to take.

      For hoots, I was in the Blake Griffith commercial here:

      At 29 seconds, my head is next to the black banner at the back, underneath his elbow. Woot. I’m also in the last 6 seconds, guy running with the black (looks brown) banner in the middle. That was a nice $600 day.

      And my wife did some extra work for some extra cash in the summer between college classes. Here’s a blurry her:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjMcbrmTsx4 at 8:01, lady on the left sitting down. Yeah! That’s her. That paid for a few classes. Er, a class. A portion of a class. They only got paid $55 a day.

      The fun thing is I can usually spot her in a scene before she does.

      But that’s just the not-really-acting side of things. Screenwriting seems pretty dog-eat-dog. Your comment about huevos is spot on. It’s not writing the screenplay, it’s getting someone to produce it that’s the hard part.

      Just like being a writer, it’s not publishing it that matters– it’s getting readers.

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