Confluence and convergence

It’s been a while between posts and that’s merely due to life and its many facets. I try hard to keep all of the things in balance, but sometimes that’s not possible. Given we can only manoeuvre settings around 24 hours in a day (life is a zero-sum game), that means some of our favourite things need to go on the backburner while we prioritise the more important things.

Too many things!

While running too hard I came down with an infection that took me out of the picture for two days of forced rest. This happens, apparently. Slowing down for a rest meant my brain could drop down a gear or two and ponder some bigger, larger ideas that have been coalescing in my subconscious. Those ideas are the spines of my two new screenplays. This got me thinking about words like:

Confluence – a place where two rivers or streams join to become one; a situation in which two things come together or happen at the same time (Merriam-Webster)

and

Convergence – the act of converging and especially moving toward union or uniformity; especially:  coordinated movement of the two eyes so that the image of a single point is formed on corresponding retinal areas (Merriam-Webster)

also

Conflux – which Merriam-Webster defines as synonymous with confluence; to me it means something altogether different. It’s nearly time for the annual Canberra speculative fiction conference! (Hope to see you there: 30 Sep-3 Oct, Novotel Canberra)

So, why am I writing two screenplays? Well, I found my muse. As I tweeted today, while technically there’s no such thing as a male muse (just ask Wikipedia), I certainly found mine in Richard Dormer. If you don’t know him, he’s an actor from Northern Ireland who stars in Fortitude, the genre-smashing psychological thriller series from Sky Atlantic/Pivot. His incredible performance as Norwegian sheriff Dan Anderssen got me right in the feels and, as a consequence, my writerly imagination has been obsessed with him since about the sixth episode of Season 1 (the next season is in post-production and should air in January 2017). You may also know Dormer from Game of Thrones but I don’t watch it (and neither does he, apparently).

Back to the muse part. So, I was having huge trouble picturing the antagonist in screenplay #3, which made it really hard for me to visualise the interactions between him and my protagonist. The more I saw of Dormer, the more I realised he could be my antagonist. But I wanted to write #2 first (it’s my second warm-up – a romantic drama told as a linear narrative) before I moved onto #3, which is a fractured narrative, post-apocalyptic drama set in the near future. It’s going to be the most technically demanding work I’ve ever written so I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. As it turns out, the muse – once found – does not want to be silenced. I can hear Richard whispering in my ear, in his Irish whisky voice, ‘Shouldn’t you be writing?’

Shouldn't you be writing

So I have been! He’s also making an appearance in screenplay #2, where I was looking for a contained but magnetic actor to play a small but significant role that takes the movie to its climax and back down the other, satisfying side. Yes, I can see Richard as Michael and that’s pretty much all it took for the gaping hole at the end of the penultimate act to close up. I haz a complete story!

I also *may* have been doing some productive procrastination in doing some *research* for my forthcoming trip to the US. I will be visiting Charlevoix and other lakeside delights, on Michigan’s mitten, in October – that’s NEXT MONTH – and I have been trying to work out the best way to get from Mackinac Island (in Lake Huron right up past the top of the Michigan mitten between the lower peninsula, upper peninsula and Canada) back down to Chicago to catch my flight across to Boston. I had hoped to get the ferry back to St Ignace or Mackinaw City (depending on where I leave my car) and then drive around the west side of Lake Michigan, but since I only have one day to do it, it’s a bit far at 8+ hours driving. It’s around 6.5 if I travel back down through the mitten, so that’s what I’ll have to do. I need to be at Chicago Airport in plenty of time to catch my flight so I don’t want to risk being late!

After leaving Michigan/Illinois, I’ll spend a couple of days in Boston, train down to NYC to catch up with a very good friend, visit Washington DC for a couple of days before heading back to New York for a three-day masterclass with the doyen of screenwriting, Robert McKee. Now that is something I have been looking forward to for a long time. Please make sure you look out for me and say g’day if you’ll be there too.

So now I have procrastinated successfully by updating this website and researching my driving tour, I can hear Richard getting impatient. Back to the screenplay!

Do you have a muse? If so, please share with me in the comments who yours is and how you found them (and what power they have over your writing).

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The joys of loglines and other news

Blase Pascal

So, I’ve been writing. And editing. And learning the joys of writing loglines, which this post is ostensibly about. But first, my big news:

I have finally been awarded the degree of Master of Philosophy!

Huzzah! I will graduate in December and never a more relieved graduand ever there was. It’s taken more than two years since I submitted my dissertation to convince a seemingly endless parade of academics that my research has value. What have I learned from this experience? The most important part of your research is, in fact, the methodology. Without the right methodology, your research question and findings can be rendered near worthless. I had to do a lot of work to justify mine and I could have saved myself two years of (very part-time) effort if I’d known this up front. So, my advice to aspiring researchers: the first thing you should do after you decide your research topic is to determine your methodology. Then test that approach with a wide range of academics, especially those who may end up being your supervisor or examining your thesis. Only once you are satisfied that your methodology is sufficiently robust should you start your literature review and set your research question. The methodology is the backbone of your work.

This learning can be applied to creative writing. For screenwriting, this comes in the form of a logline. What is a logline, I hear you ask? It is the encapsulation of your story in a single sentence. It is the basis of your pitch to development execs. The logline therefore needs to grab the reader’s attention and make him/her want to read the screenplay. Not only does the logline need to have a hook, it needs give the reader an instant understanding of genre (If the logline is for a horror film, is it scary? If it’s for a comedy is it funny? If it’s for a drama, is it dramatic?), who the protagonist is, what their goal is and what struggles they will have in obtaining (or failing to obtain) that goal.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Well, it is. However, the art is in the execution. I have (so far) written upwards of 50 variations on the logline for my adult romantic comedy (which I referred to in an earlier post as SUMMER SOLSTICE, but whose working title is now CHARLEVOIX, after the town it’s set in) and I still don’t have it right. This is because I wrote my first screenplay before I wrote the logline. Just like I wrote my dissertation without having a clear understanding that the academic merits of a master’s level thesis based on a single qualitative case study was hard to justify. Call me a slow learner.

Now that I’ve realised how important the logline is, I’m researching my butt off to learn everything I can about how to do it well and then I’m practising, practising, practising. And revising, revising, revising! Here is my logline for CHARLEVOIX as it currently stands:

Escaping from New York to Michigan’s Sunset Coast, a neurotic romance writer struggles to meet her publisher’s deadline when she tangles with a free-wheeling bluesman straight out of one of her books.

The logline, while still needing work, is only as good as it is through having been workshopped with a bunch of very generous and talented writers over on the Bang2writers’ group on Facebook, run by Lucy V Hay, whom I name-dropped in my previous post. There are also a gazillion logline resources on the web for those who want to join in the fun.

Now that I’ve realised a weak logline makes for a weak story, I know the very first thing I’ll do when I launch into my next screenplay (AFTER NO. 10) is to make sure I write and road test the logline.

So, two lessons for today:

  • Sort out your approach before you begin writing. This doesn’t mean you must plot out every detail, but if you don’t know what story you’re going to tell and how before you begin, you’ll most likely run into issues down the track which will take a lot of work and time to resolve.
  • Surround yourself with kind, generous and talented people whose experience can help you learn. This doesn’t mean asking your BFF to give you feedback that makes you feel good about yourself but doesn’t help you write commercial-grade narrative fiction.
  • (I know I said two lessons, but here’s a bonus) Don’t pull the ladder up behind you. Give back to the community once you’ve gained some experience and success. This can only make the creative arts stronger and better.

And, finally, very exciting news! My reward to self for completing the MPhil (and demonstrating the power of resilience and determination) is an October trip to the East Coast of the USA. I’ll be taking a field trip to Charlevoix, among other Midwest destinations, and visiting Boston, NYC and Washington. More about the trip in my next post!

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Best of 3: Australian crime fiction

Aussie crime fiction is some of the best in the world. I had the pleasure this week of profiling three of my favourite crime novels over at British author and script reader Lucy V Hay’s author website.

Well, what are you waiting for? Go and check it out!

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Making movies

The Canberra film community pulled out all the stops for the recent Lights! Canberra! Action! short film competition. I was lucky enough to be involved as cast in two of the competition films, Horrorology, written and produced by Hannah and Laura White from Little White Lies Productions, and Million Dollar Angel, written by Sebastian Chan and produced by Vorfreude Films.

Not only did I have a very small role in each, my kids joined in the fun too!

My daughter and I were zombie extras in Horrorology.

Horrorology RJ LilyAnd my son had a role as ‘young boy’ in Million Dollar Angel. I played his mum. Yes, it was a stretch😉

MDA TJ

Both kids enjoyed the experience, although my son nearly ate his t-shirt when we went to the competition screening, because Million Dollar Angel was one of the finalist films and it was a little confronting for him to see his cute face up on the big screen! He was so funny in his little role that he got a huge laugh from the crowd. Here he is, with winner of the most Memorable Performance award, Daniel Tonon.MDA TJ Dan

It was all a little overwhelming – my little guy gets very shy when I mention his superb actor’s eyebrows. You can watch the film here:

I really enjoyed the experience. It not only gave me great insights into how a screenplay needs to support the producers, art department, cinematographers, directors and cast in making the film, but also my first acting credits! I won’t quit my day job just yet.

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A finished crappy first draft is better than an unfinished draft

Michigan Sunset Coast

“A finished crappy first draft is better than an unfinished draft”

I read this in a meme on Facebook today. And so it is that I find myself with a finished first draft of my debut screenplay, Summer Solstice (working title), an adult romantic comedy set on Michigan’s Sunset Coast.

I’ll give myself a ‘huzzah!’ for that achievement.

And then, it’s straight into the edits. There are several areas I’m planning to target in my first revisions:

  • genre consistency throughout (starting as you mean to go on. i.e. don’t start out with rom com in mind but deliver straight drama)
  • comedic tone consistency throughout
  • character consistency throughout
  • make sure time and space are working properly
  • make sure titles are consistent throughout
  • ensure names are consistent throughout
  • removing redundant description to boost showing and reduce telling (everything has to play visually in a screenplay)
  • reduce and remove ‘on the nose’ dialogue (I went to a writing workshop years ago with Canberra author Craig Cormick. He advised us to use description to colour in the peripheries of a scene, rather than listing details head on. I think this advice applies as much to screenwriting as to short story writing)
  • get my characters moving – I’ve made heaps of classic first-timer mistakes, like too many phone calls used to move the plot forward. This is not very visual, so therefore stinks in screenplays. From what I’ve understood from my research. One phone call is okay. Two phone calls are stretching the limits. Three? Well, you’d better be a Coen brother or a Tarantino to get away with that shit. So, I have three phone calls. LOL. Time to convert those suckers into face-to-face action.

What other tips do you have for revisions of the first, crappy draft? Apart from being prepared to kill our darlings, that is. I learned that requirement through my short story writing.

The second set of revisions will focus much more on character arcs and make sure they are working and have stayed true to the overarching theme of the screenplay (the *concept*). I will also check that the movie described in the logline and outline is what’s actually delivered in the screenplay.

Third set will focus on length and scene structure. My first draft has come in at 113 pages and I need to get it down to around 95 (or thereabouts), which is pretty standard in the rom-com genre.

Some of my sources for understanding how to edit our little babies include:

Where do you get advice on screenplay editing from?

Image credit: Joseph John, https://pixabay.com/en/lighthouse-sky-sunset-beach-484822/

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A good start to the new year

IMG_0369

Summer Paints the Sky. Photo: Lily Mulholland CC-BY-NO-CA-4.0

I read over my writing goals for 2016 and I’m pleased to report I’ve made some progress! I am going great guns on getting the first draft done of my first screenplay. I’m just about up to the third act, having just about ruined my protagonist’s life (well, at least she thinks it’s ruined). I’ve got about 15 pages to write and it will be done. Of course, that’s when the real hard work begins! Killing my darlings, garrotting my clichés and ensuring every scene is doing its job in propelling the story to a satisfying conclusion. That’s the hardest part, I think. Writing a conclusion that a) ‘works’, b) isn’t too obvious and c) that leaves a lasting impression in the reader/viewer’s mind. Then I have to go back to the beginning and make sure the first two acts lay sufficient groundwork for the final act. And then back to the beginning again to check the whole thing still makes sense. No sweat!

A few people have asked me, ‘why screenplays’? The chances of getting your story made into a feature film are worse than being struck by lightning. There’s a much better chance of getting a novel published. And, if you can’t, you can always self-publish. Better than your story mouldering away somewhere on a hard drive (not sure if hard drives can moulder, but no one has a screenplay sitting in their bottom drawer any more, do they?). Well, the answer is two-fold: first, I think the time is right for more stories to be told about women, especially about how they navigate modern relationships in an era where existing relationship rules are starting to seem very antiquated; and second, there are a lot of very talented actors out there in their late 30s/40/50s who are tired of being passed over for roles or not finding any roles that stretch them and their art – many of them have set up their own production companies. Wonderful actors like Viola Davis, Reese Witherspoon, Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, Rose Byrne, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sandra Bullock, Queen Latifah, Drew Barrymore have stakes in or own their own prodcos. They need stories to tell. I am a storyteller, so you never know, right? And, I figure, if I can’t get any of my stories to producers, I can always rewrite my screenplays as novels/novellas. That’s one way to stretch your writing chops and demonstrate your versatility! Of course, I could always try to make my own films, but for me, an introvert, that way madness lies! Think I’ll stick to writing🙂

How are your creative efforts coming along in 2016?

 

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2015…It’s a wrap!

Coogee Beach at sunsestWell, another year is in the can, done and dusted (or will be in another 12 hours). I can’t say I’m sad to see 2015 go. It’s been a hell of a year for so many people. While it has been a hard year, it hasn’t been all bad. So here are some things I’m grateful for:

  • My family. My kids are growing up faster than I can imagine. My daughter is 10 and my son is 7 years old. They’re adorable and (mostly) good together and kind to others. My husband supports me in all our endeavours and has managed to retain his sense of humour even when the low indicator warning was flashing on mine! My parents have both had health scares in recent years but are now okay and enjoying their retirement as much as any couple could. My father-in-law, who is very aged, is very seriously ill in hospital, but retains his sense of humour, is well cared for and is not in pain.
  • My job. While my job is incredibly challenging (in every conceivable respect) and occasionally frustrating, it’s tremendously rewarding and provides me with endless variety and opportunity, as well as a solid income to support the family and our adventures. I have worked hard to become a professional, but I know that hard work was only possible due to the springboard my middle-class upbringing afforded me. Not everyone is as fortunate as me and for that I am truly grateful.
  • My friends. It’s only in my mid-40s that I really feel like I have a group of friends who understand me and love me for who I am. I love them too for their creativity, energy and passion. They love life, music, food and wine and that makes us very compatible!
  • My imagination. Despite chronic illness wracking my brain and body for the past four to five years, my imagination has remained active. I have at least four big stories sitting in my head, percolating patiently and waiting for me to be sufficiently proficient in writing across different mediums. 2016 is going to be the year where I finish at least two screenplays and perhaps convert one or both into novellas/novels.

Next year looks like it will be a watershed year in so many ways:

  • I expect I’ll be taking on a new role at work – one that will bring together all of the skills, knowledge and experience that I’ve gained over my career, but particularly over the past five years.
  • We are building a house – we’ve outgrown the place we are in and have been in the planning stages of the new house for the past 12 months – we are hopeful for a January start and a June finish (although, given how long and torturous the process has been up until now, it may well be later than that). I can’t wait to move into our new home!
  • I will get more writing done. My MPhil is still unresolved, but it’s out of my hands for now, so I can concentrate on writing of the fictional kind for the next few months at least.
  • As per the above, I might actually graduate with a Master of Philosophy in 2016. Now that will be worth celebrating!

I am also embracing a new philosophy and mantra in 2016. My philosophy is to live in the present, but not be consumed by it. My mantra is “to be a pleasure to deal with always”. Life is too short and brutal to be unkind, sharp or short with people (including my children). I aim to be more philosophical about the bumps in life and to remain focused on the big picture. I want to instil in my children a sense of wonder, permission to imagine and experiment without fear of failure, and gratitude for the opportunities they have in life. I want them to be as kind to themselves as they are to others. And my hope for them is that they can live their lives on their own terms and contribute to making society stronger for all.

What are your hopes for 2016 and beyond?

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