[Guest Post] Survival of the Easiest

As a veteran Nano and first-time Screnzier, I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between National Novel Writing Month and Script Frenzy. Mostly, I’ve been thinking about which is easier.

As a seasoned Nanoer, you’d expect me to go with Nanowrimo. After all, I’ve never even written a script before (barring a few five-minute skits I wrote for high school theatre class), while I have roughly half a dozen half-finished novels floating around my bedroom and ideas for at least half a dozen more.  On the Script Frenzy site there’s a forum for Nano-turned-Screnziers, where novelists share the woes of trying to write a script.

Most of these woes have to do with formatting, but I think that’s just silly. Sure, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but that’s what the free version of Celtx is for. Admittedly I still sometimes have questions about how to imbed a flashback in a scene or how to cut away from one room to another room to show simultaneous events, but generally speaking, formatting is pretty easy if you don’t try to do it yourself.

(I did do it myself in class one day when I was handwriting more of my script rather than paying attention to “Death of a Salesman,” but by then I had been using Celtx for a few days and knew what the script should look like. Later that night I brought the paper to Biggby for our write-in, and it made Feliza’s diaphragm contort in hilarity.)

(For those of you who don’t know, that’s the pseudo-scientific way of saying it amused her.)

And then a lot of Nanoers say they have trouble keeping in their head that it’s page-count, not word-count, that matters in Screnzy. To me, that means these people just like doing things the hard way. I mean, come on: 50,000 words (roughly 175 double-spaced pages filled with writing) vs. 100 pages (with lots of space due to formatting). Being the lazy bastard I am, I’ve had no trouble at all thinking in terms of pages instead of words. Consider the difference, here. If you write five words during Nano, you look like this:

Whereas if you write five pages during Screnzy, you look more like this…

Remember: Pages > words.

The only real problem I’m having with Screnzy is the writing itself. The reason being that when I write a novel, I usually have at least most of the scenes and dialogue planned out. Not in a wrote-a-detailed-outline way, but in a daydreamed-about-it-in-my-head way. I visualize while doing the dishes at work or driving. But with this script, I have done very little visualizing, which is probably a bad thing since scripts are extremely visual. So I keep getting stuck because, although I know what’s happening, I don’t know how it’s happening – I don’t have a clear idea of what the setting looks like, how the characters are interacting, or what the characters are saying. But I think that’s a personal problem.

As of Day 10 I should be on page 33.3 (if my math is wrong I’ll use the excuse that all good English teachers use: I don’t teach math), but without any script-writing yet done today I’m on page 40. This is my deciding factor on whether Screnzy or Nano is easier: I am NEVER ahead on Nano. In fact, though I won Nano 2011, I spent most of November behind. I had days when I had to force myself to write at least 2500 words just so I could be almost caught up.

Whereas during Screnzy, most of my tweets are like this one:

I rest my case.

Elizabeth Anderson is an education major at the University of Toledo, specializing in language arts and sciences.  She is a two-time Nanowrimo participant, a first-year Screnzier.  In her spare time she likes to read, write, draw, sing, play piano, take walks, garden, and be generally weird and nerdy.  Check out her blog, Twitter, or Facebook page.

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[Script Frenzy] Plot Bunny

Script Frenzy has begun, and you may already be stuck.  I’m going to share a few plot outlining tips and familiarize you with my SF project, which I’ll be discussing quite a bit this month.

The first is the logline, one of the first things your Frenzy profile asks you for after title and genre.  A logline is a one-sentence summary of your plot. Essentially, writing a logline means you have to boil down your entire 100-page script into a single concept.

Still confused?  Here’s the logline for my SF project:

Two teen delinquents team up to overcome obstacles and attend college despite their lifelong gang leader rivalry.

While it doesn’t go in-depth – and doesn’t even give the characters’ names – the logline is an effective plot summary.  While it’s not exactly the most exciting, it’s good enough to get me started.  The nicest thing about a logline is that you can edit and change as you go along, but I’m going to save those kinds of things for after I finish the script.  That way, I’ll be able to examine the plot and create a better hook for my logline.

Exercise: Write loglines for “Terminator,” “The Proposal,” “Spider-Man,” “Bring It On,” and “Star Wars.”

Next, we’ll talk about the “____ meets ____” format.  While it’s not technically a real format, it helps you think about your story in a different way – plus the Script Frenzy website features “____ meets ____” on the front page.  This format is less about the basic concept of your script – which is what the logline is for – and more about the style in which you’ll write your script.

I like this format because it’s an interesting way to work out the kinks in your style, especially for loose adaptions.  Compare your project to two movies or books that others might be familiar with:

My script is 10 Things I Hate About You meets Toradora!.

Quick and painless, right?  If you want to learn more about either of those things, you can click on the titles – though I’m sure you’ve seen 10 Things I Hate About You, especially if you were a 90’s kid.

Exercise: Use the “____ meets ____” format for the following books: “The Hunger Games,” “The Da Vinci Code,” “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” “Ender’s Game,” and “Holes.”

Now that you’ve got your concept and your style straightened out, we can talk about plot. I’m sure most of you are familiar with outlining, a pretty common trick for working on a big project, whether it’s a novel or a film. We’re going to try a different way to outline your plot: using the three-part format.

Break down your story into three major plot arcs: the beginning, the middle, and the end. This author does a nice, rather in-depth post about the three-part plot structure – he even has pictures – so I’ll just give you a little suggestion instead: try writing your three arcs as three separate paragraphs. Fitting with the concept of the three-part structure, the first paragraph should be more of an introduction, whereas much of the action would take place in the second and third parts.

Your paragraphs can be as long or as short as you like. Here is my first paragraph:

Ryan, a physically intimidating teen, fronts as the leader of the Blue Dragons gang, but he’s actually a big softie who loves cooking and keeping house more than fighting. After a huge fight against rival gang the Tiger Grrls – and rival gang leader Tori – Ryan decides he wants to quit the Blue Dragons to pursue his dream of following the lovely Kate, Tori’s best friend, to college. Tori, who has a huge crush on Ryan’s best friend David, threatens to reveal his humiliating crush unless he helps her get into the same college as David.

I do have two more, but that should give you a decent idea of how to begin – the second paragraph describes Ryan and Tori’s exploits as they attempt to get into college and the third paragraph introduces the plot after a crisis erupts. Got an idea of how to do it? Now it’s your turn.

Exercise: Write a three-paragraph summary of your Script Frenzy project. You can also do “The Godfather,” “The Lion King,” “The Parent Trap,” “Miss Congeniality,” or “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” for outside practice.

Finally, it’s time to title your project! Titles can be tricky, but you can always change it later.  Pick out a specific phrase or image from your project to start with.  Decide if it would make an eye-catching title – or even just make a nice working title – and stick it on your title page.

I chose “Half-Sized Tiger” as my title.  That’s the nickname of one of the characters, Tori, that Ryan gave her as something rather rude or unpleasant.  Eventually, the meaning of the nickname changes as Ryan’s perspective of Tori changes.

What is the title of your Script Frenzy project?

Workshopping: Scripts

Fourth in a series about writing workshops.  The first article was about general workshop guidelines, the second about short fiction, and the third about poetry.  The fifth will focus on workshopping and editing long fiction.

Scripts, including stage plays and screenplays, are quite a different genre to work on in a workshop, particularly if it is a general workshop without a specific genre.  (I imagine if you signed up for a scriptwriting workshop, you would know how to critique it and you probably wouldn’t be reading this right now.)

Scripts – particularly screenplays, which this article will focus on – are primarily about dialogue, while poetry rarely has dialogue and fiction has less of it.  Let’s talk about what you want to bring to a workshop in terms of scripts as well as what you should be looking at once you have the manuscript in your hands.

Part 1: What to Bring (and How to Bring It)

Before you bring a script into a general writing workshop, you should probably have a few key points downpat.

First, make sure you know exactly what you’re trying to get across.  This can be a bit difficult for beginners – in fact, in the first script I wrote, what I wanted was nothing like what actually appeared in the script.  This is important, especially if you want to get good, strong criticism, because you can ask for extremely specific criticism.

You should also make sure the characters have distinct mannerisms, including “catchphrases” or some such.  Everyone can associate some specific quotes with characters: “The name is Bond, James Bond,” or “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” or “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”  Strong lines like these – though only one is a catchphrase – is the basis of a script.  Keep your dialogue focused.

As an added bonus, format the script correctly so the readers have it in proper format, the way a director or actor would read it.  It’s very straightforward and simple to do if you write the script in a scriptwriting program, such as Final Draft or the free program Celtx.  Personally, I use Celtx, which is the best option for students or newcomers.  Programs like Celtx also offer a variety of formats, including screenplays and stage plays.

Part 2: How to Read It and How to Critique It

When you critique a script in a workshop, there are a few things to keep in mind in order to make your criticism as constructive as possible.

First, check if the plot is clear and say something if it isn’t.  If the writer brings in a partial script, this isn’t as important, but if he or she has brought in a one-act or short film, the plot must be exceedingly clear.  If you don’t understand who the main character is, suggest a way to explain a bit of backstory or characterize the lead a little better.  If you’re not sure why the couple is at a dance in one scene and on a lunar base in the year 2074 in the next, ask questions about how they got there and suggest a better or smoother transition.

Next, examine the dialogue and make sure you can tell each character apart by his or her speech, unless the writer intended them to be indistinguishable.  Characters should have different inflections – Northerners don’t tend to say “y’all,” for example, and poor peasants probably won’t call young ladies “fair maid.”  Each character should speak realistically for the person he or she is, and it should make sense in the script.

One other thing you should probably thing about, though it is purely subjective, is whether or not the script is interesting.  Would you see this play?  Would you watch this film?  If the writer is seriously pursuing the sale of this script, or the sale of any piece, it is important for him or her to understand if and why viewers would be interested.

Conclusion

As usual, when workshopping a script, it’s important to keep the entire thing in perspective.  Maybe this part that you don’t understand in Scene 5 makes sense when it all goes together.

It’s also important to remain civil and upbeat.  While it’s more than okay to criticize, it’s not okay to put the writer under attack.  If you feel like you cannot remain civil in a workshop, please either remove yourself for that piece or simply say a few words, like “I’m not sure what I think right now,” and ask to be passed over.

Remember: if you feel uncomfortable during a critique, let the workshop leader know so he or she can help you.  Don’t be scared to do it: that’s what the workshop leader is there for.