February 27, 2014

The Ecchh Factor

Pop culture pun.  I don’t do puns, normally, but it works.  As you’ll see.

This is mostly going to be for screenwriters.  Writers of prose—please don’t feel left out.  There’s a couple of things in here for you, too.

Tis the season for screenplay contests.  A few of the big names have opened their mailboxes for submissions, and there’s a dozen more noteworthy ones past that.  It’s a great way to get your name out there and even win some decent money, too, if you plan accordingly.


As some long-time readers know, I used to read for a couple of screenplay contests (four different ones, in fact). I have several friends who read for some of the same ones, and some others, too. This time of year used to be a time of great sadness for us. And also a time of great drinking. Usually for the same reasons.

For an average contest, I’d probably read about a hundred scripts per year. That means there were years I’d read over three hundred scripts, usually all in the space of three or four months. It was a fascinating (and sometimes horrifying) overview of amateur screenwriting. To be honest, it’s one of the big things that convinced me to start the ranty blog.

It also gave me a real sense of certain patterns. There were certain types of scripts that would show up again and again and again. And it got to the point that I (and most of my friends) would let out a groan—an Ecchh, if you will—when we opened the next script and realized it was another one of those stories. Usually we could tell within the first few pages. In rare cases, the story would go along fine for twenty or thirty pages and the big first act reveal was… it’s just another one of those stories.

I drank a lot during this period of my life.

Now, I’m not saying any of these are automatically bad scripts that no one would ever pay a dime for. We could probably check IMDb box office listings right now and find examples of more than half of them. But contests aren’t about the box office, they’re about the submissions pool. Unless it’s something truly, utterly spectacular, each of these all-too-common screenplays is going to get an automatic response from a contest reader. An Ecchh.  And that means my script is already starting in the negative. And even if the reader’s just subconsciously knocking off two or three points for being an Ecchh-inducing script, those points could mean the difference between making it to the next round or winning a contest.

So, a few types of screenplays you should think twice about before submitting.  I’ve mentioned some of these before, so if they sound familiar… well, I thought it was worth repeating.

The 50% Script
I’ve mentioned this idea here a few times. In any pool of submitted material, around half of the submissions can be usually be disqualified by page three. It’s when I submit my stoner sex comedy to a Christian values screenplay contest.  Or my romantic comedy to a horror contest. Or my five-act play to… well, any screenwriting contest. The same goes for short stories. Very few screenplay contests want to see short stories. Hard to believe, I know, but there it is.

The 50% scripts are also the result of me being incompetent and/or lazy. If I  don’t know how to spell, have only the faintest understanding of grammar, and no concept of story structure…  that’s a 50% script. Or if I send in a first draft with all its flat characters and wooden dialogue. Or if I don’t even bother to learn how to format a screenplay. Or if I wrote my screenplay under the assumption I’d be directing it from this draft.

If my script falls in that 50% group, the reader’s going to know very soon. And they’re going to Ecchh because a lot of contests require them to read the whole script… even if they know it’s not going to win. Most readers will toss a 50% script as soon as they can. Sometimes sooner, if they think they can get away with it.

The Writer Script
I’ve said this a dozen or so times. Do not write about writers. I did the math one year as a reader and it turned out almost 15% of the scripts I read had a writer as one of the main characters (yeah, I started keeping track of this stuff). When I was interviewing contest directors for Creative Screenwriting, one joked that if her contest banned scripts about writers they’d probably lose a quarter of their entries. More than a few professional editors have said they’ll toss a book manuscript if it opens with someone writing on their computer.

No one cares about the day-to-day struggles I go through as a writer. No one. Most of you don’t—you’re here to learn about the successes. Definitely not a bunch of script readers, many of whom are writers themselves. If I’m being sincere, I’m going to bore everyone (more on that in a bit). If I make up some idealized writing lifestyle, the readers will Ecchh over that because now I’m delving into fantasy.

Let’s assume they didn’t toss my script aside as soon as they saw the writer character. If they get to the end and said writer-character finally sells their book or screenplay and wins the Pulitzer/ Oscar/ whatever… the reader will crumple my script into a ball and burn it so nobody else will have  to read the damned thing. Then they will get my personal information from the contest director, hunt me down, and cram the ashes in my mouth.

And I probably won’t advance in the contest.

The Current Events Script
I’m going to go out on a limb here. If we could look at the pool of Nicholl submissions for this year, I’d bet we’d see a fair number of Olympic scripts.  Several of them would be about stray dogs in Sochi. Also a bunch of screenplays that tie somehow to health care laws. A few on government gridlock, too. And most of them were probably written in four weeks or less.

Y’see, Timmy, if I saw a news report about some fascinating nuance of the world and realized it’d make a great script… it’s a safe bet at least a thousand other aspiring screenwriters saw the same news story and had the same idea. Probably more with the way stories spread on the internet. Even if only half of those writers do anything with the idea, and even if only ten percent of those people are sending their script to the same contest as me… that’s still fifty people rushing out scripts about the exact same thing I am. Even if half of them are completely incompetent and the other half are just barely on par, it means the contest reader is going to be reading a dozen scripts just like mine. Ecchh. And that’s if we stick to a thousand as our base number.

Mine may be the best in the batch, of course, but it’s going to lose a lot of appeal because now it’s a tired, overdone idea. And none of us want to be thought of as the best take on a tired, overdone idea.

The Actor Script
When people are trying to be positive about this one, they’ll call it “a character script.” It means my screenplay is just a thin plot with a handful of over-detailed character sketches piled up in it. There’s usually lots of deep and meaningful multi-page conversations about mundane things, often held in a few basic locations, and very little action. Of any sort.

The thing is though, is there anything remotely interesting about a story that’s indistinguishable from the boring, everyday life we all lead? Is there anything impressive about me putting all that boring stuff down on paper? Is there any sort of challenge there, for me as a writer or you as a reader?


As it happens, this leads nicely into…

The True Script
A kissing cousin of the character script is the true script. On the cover or either the first or last page (sometimes several of these) I assure the reader this tale is based on true events involving me/ my parents/ my best friend/ someone I read about in a magazine article. These true events are often stressed to give a certain validity to what the reader is about to take in. After all, they can’t call my story or characters or dialogue unbelievable if it really happened, right?

Thing is, no one cares if my story is true or not. Nobody. Ecchh. They just care that it’s a good story and it’s well-told.  So my tale of prepubescent paraplegic drug addicts in 1990s Los Angeles needs to be as enjoyable—on some level—as a story about Neanderthal superheroes battling prehistoric lizard men in 1990s Los Angeles. Whether or not one of them’s a true story is irrelevant. In the end, I’m telling a story, and it’s either going to be good or it isn’t. Reality doesn’t enter into the equation for the reader, so it can’t for me.

The Formula Rom-Com
The man pursuing his dream girl realizes his best friend has been his real dream girl all along. A woman’s engaged to a condescending, controlling executive and then meets a poor artist and discovers he’s the real love of her life. Aphrodite/ Cupid/ an angel comes down to Earth on an assignment and falls in love.

Do any of these sound familiar? They should. Pretty much every one of them has been made into a dozen movies and a few thousand screenplays. Yeah, flipping the genders doesn’t make them any more original, sorry. Once it’s clear on page three this is a rom-com… Ecchh.

My romantic comedy has to be really spectacular and original to impress a reader. Again, it’s that sheer numbers thing. In four years of contest reading—a hundred romcoms, easy—I read one that stood out. Just one.

The Holiday Script
If you add in straight-to-DVD, movies of the week, and pretty much everything Shane Black‘s done, there’s a good argument to be made that holiday films are one of the best selling genres out there. However, just because my script is very sellable does not mean my script is very good. Or original. And if my contest is looking for good (see above), well…

The trick is to come up with something a contest reader hasn’t already seen again and again, to the point that they go Ecchh as soon as they see the mention of Halloween decorations. And—speaking from experience—they’ve seen most of it. They’ve Santa Claus quit, get fired, and get replaced by a temp, an elf, Mrs. Clause, his son, his daughter, his evil twin, his evil other personality, a robot, an alien, another holiday figure, another supernatural figure, Jesus. It’s all been done. The Easter Bunny has learned the true meaning of Easter, Cupid has learned the true meaning of love (see above… again), and Gobbles the Turkey has learned the true meaning of Thanksgiving. The hard way. Many, many times and in many, many ways.

There you are.  Seven very common types of scripts that will make a contest reader Ecchh. Probably more like eight or nine if you read between the lines a bit.

Again, I’m not saying I could never, ever win with one of these scripts. But I am saying that if I’m going to go this path I absolutely must knock it out of the park. No questions, no conditions, no exceptions.

Speaking of movies, next week I’d like to talk about the lessons we can all learn from that fine classic film Satan Met A Lady and its slightly more well-known remake, The Maltese Falcon.

Until then, go write.

February 23, 2013 / 2 Comments

How To Lose A Screenplay Contest

             My apologies for being a bit late, but I think this is worth it

            This is going to be one of those screenwriting-centric weeks, although you could probably find some helpful hints.  If nothing else, I’m feeling a little slappy this week so you’ll probably find it very entertaining.
            It’s that time of year again.  The big-gun screenplay contests have opened their doors and are accepting entries.  Thousands of scripts are pouring in, ready to be judged, all with the hope of winning fortune, fame, and possibly a whole new life.
            Really, who needs that kind of pressure?
            It’s so much easier not to win, isn’t it?  Less work, less effort, and less responsibility.  Nobody really wants to deal with the money or the buzz or the constant calls from agents and managers and studios, right?
            As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve watched this play out from both sides.  I used to read for a few contests and spent long days and nights going through script after script, often seeing the same mistakes again and again.  I’ve also placed in a bunch of contests– and when I say placed I don’t mean I got the honorary quarter-finalist position that was given to everybody who entered.  I’ve won prizes and been singled out a few times. 
            So I know the kind of things that make a reader cringe and shake their head.  The things that make them shout and scream.  In one or two cases, only the timely intervention of booze kept me from gouging my own eyes out.
            I’m going to share those secrets with you right now.  Here are eight insider tricks which will help you ensure that your screenplay never makes it past the first round. In fact, if you can manage all of these, your script will go down in flames.
            And that’s what we all want, right?
Don’t Worry About Spelling
            Spelling is one if those outdated, elitist things that pretty much every contest uses as a general guideline, even when its painfully abhorrent whit some won meant too spill.  That makes this then easiest way to fail.  All I need to do is trust in my idiot spellchecker and never bother to look anything up.  A dozen or so misspelled and misused words in the first ten pages of my script will make sure any reader is biased to think I have no idea what I’m doing, and that means any good stuff that accidentally slipped into my story later on will be viewed with a much, much more critical eye.
Don’t Bother With Punctuation
            When I screw up my punctuation, it really grates on a reader’s nerves because it affects how they take in the story?  This is a slow, cumulative, thing that can really kill my chances and help swing the vote if someone’s on the fence, about my manuscript!  And anything, that can help lower my chances of moving on, is a good thing, right.
            A fantastic, screw-turning punctuation mistake is not knowing how to use apostrophe’s.  Yeah, they’re almost always used to show possession, almost never plurals, but it’s easy to forget that simple rule and use them for lot’s of thing’s.  Not knowing it’s or its is a great one that will make sure the reader can’t take me seriously as a writer.  That’s one of those easy mistakes that will make the odds of winning inch away little by little until it’s a good, safe distance away.
Ignore the Rules
            Contest have a lot of weird, arbitrary rules and requirements.  Some only want to see certain genres or themes.  Others won’t take adaptations.  A few of them will even put certain requirements on me as the screenwriter. 
            Ignore all of this.
            I make a point of sending torture porn scripts to competitions that are looking for  strong family themes and morals.  I submit romantic comedies to sci-fi contests.  If it’s for feature films, I send them the television pilot I wrote in college.  I make it a point to go at least ten pages past the maximum acceptable length.  If the competition is only for women or minorities, I make sure there’s a picture of my pasty-white junk on the cover so the readers know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’m an Anglo-Saxon male.
            Doing something completely unacceptable like this takes a little more effort on my part, but it’s a pretty much guaranteed way to make sure I fail.
Don’t Sweat Formatting
            Hollywood is like any industry, and “industry-standard” is a term that shifts and changes all the time.  Learning the current, proper script format is tough, and can require typing things into Google and then looking at the results.  I don’t know about you, but I just don’t have time for stuff like that.

            As I see it, all these rules about headers and sluglines are just as arbitrary as spelling and grammar.  If I must format something, I like to use classic screenplays from the ‘40s and ‘50s as my guideline.  After all, if that page layout was good enough for Casablanca it’s good enough for people today. 

            Casablancawon an Oscar, you know. 
            I’ve even submitted stage plays to a few screenwriting contests.  Because at the end of the day, it’s still going to be a story in front of an audience, right?  I’ve never been clear why this gets some readers so frustrated that they start marking down for it.  The important thing, from our point of view, is that we can depend on them to do it and keep us out of that semi-finalist round.
Submit A First Draft
            The people who want to win often do a second draft.  Sometimes even a third.  They cut and rewrite and restructure and a bunch of other stuff that… well, you’d need to be a screenwriter to understand.  It’s a lot of work to get into that very uncomfortable position of being the winner.
            I prefer to go off the assumption that my work is perfect and needs no alterations or adjustments of any kind.  It’s like a diamond in the rough, just without the rough part.  It doesn’t even need polishing.  This is a great mindset to be in, because when my script gets rejected it casts all the blame squarely on the reader.  Because my script was perfect.
            Bam.  How great is that?  No work.  No pressure.  No winning.  It’s  a screenwriting trifecta.
Submit the Script You’re Going to Direct
            This method succeeds in getting me kicked out of the contest for a few reasons.  I don’t need to learn formatting, because it’s just going to be for me, Colleen, Patrick, and Sam.  I don’t need to explain a lot of stuff or go into detail because we all know what we’re talking about.  And it saves me time because I don’t need to take out all the stage directions, camera angles, parentheticals, editing notes, and other things cluttering the script.  You know, the stuff I added in to help me out when we shoot this next summer in Marcus and Gillian’s garage.
            See, readers are going to get hung up on all this stuff and say it’s not relevant.  That’s just a bonus.  Now when I get rejected, I’ve got proof Hollywood doesn’t recognize my genius. And probably that the contest is rigged.  In favor of people from Hollywood.
Base It On A True Story
            Okay, if I want to use this method to lose, one of the first things to do is make sure the reader knows this is based on a true story.  I need to put it on the cover, preferably as part of the title.  Opening monologues that explain this is all based on real events are good, closing monologues are better.  If I can figure out how to do both, that’s great.  Being very clear about this up front puts all the pressure on the readers, because now they must find my story believable.  Because it’s true.
            The next thing is to make sure the true story I’m basing this on is very boring and common.  If it’s something that happens to, say, half the people on earth in a given year, that’s excellent.  A quarter of the population isn’t bad, but I really want my true story to be as banal as possible.  It’ll improve my chances of failure a lot if the events can actually be dull in and of themselves, so I need to be honest with myself about how interesting they are.  I don’t want to mess up and tell a story that most people might actually want to see on the big screen.
            This one’s a bit tougher because I’m depending on everyone else in the contest to make up stories that are inherently more interesting than my true one.  Which isn’t that hard, but I don’t want my failure to hinge on someone else doing a better job than me.  So it’s best to choose a topic like cancer, a non-competitive sporting event, or maybe something about a gutsy schoolteacher.  These things will almost always drag my script right down, assuming the reader can stay awake long enough to judge it.
Make It As Hard to Read As Possible
            Last but not least, this is the knockout punch in my “losing a screenplay contest” arsenal.  If for some reason I can’t use any of the above tricks or angles, I need to actually make the script itself difficult to read.  Using a non-standard font is good for this, and only takes a few clicks of my mouse to get the script out of Courier and into something unacceptable like , Garamond, or Papyrus. 
            Another good trick is shrinking the font.  Readers see enough scripts every day that they’ll immediately notice this and it will drive them nuts, trust me.  The downside is this will actually make my script shorter, so if I do this it means I have to make my script even longer so it stays past the maximum acceptable length (as mentioned above).  If I’m not careful, this can lead to a vicious circle where I eventually end up with a 400,000 word script in 6-point font, and that’s a lot more work than I want to put into a contest I’m trying to lose.
            There are some other tricks, too, like giving lots of characters similar names (David, Davila, Danny, Danielle, Darcy).  You can also try naming every character, including bit parts and non-speaking roles.  Y’see, Timmy, this will confuse the hell out of a reader and make them waste a lot of time trying to keep things straight, and that will get them really frustrated with my script.  I can also confuse them by naming and describing as many characters as possible at the same time.  I like to call this “the dump truck approach.”
            And there you have it.  Eight sneaky tips and tricks you can use to make sure your screenplay never gets past the first round of judging.  You might like to know these methods also work if you’re submitting to agents or film studios. 
            So, take the easy way out and avoid all that extra work and stress. 
            Don’t win.
            I’m going to be taking next week off while I deal with a lot of things for the re-release of Ex-Heroes (available everywhere Tuesday the 26th).  But Thom Brannan, author of Lords of Nightand co author of Pavlov’s Dogs, is going to sit in and talk to you a bit about getting stuff out of your head and onto the page.  Then I’ll be back the week after to talk about one of my favorite topics.
            Until then, go write.
November 16, 2012

The Mona Lisa

            Dear God, I’m running behind here.  So very sorry.  There was Halloween (which I got kind of drunk during) and an election (which I got kind of drunk during) and then an old friend was in town (you’re sensing the pattern, I’m sure)…

            Anyway, I don’t have much time, but I didn’t want to neglect the blog any longer.  Mostly because I’m sick of Thom mocking me in the comments.  So here’s a quick note from playwright, screenwriter, and Nicholl Fellowship recipient Arthur Jolly.  Arthur made a brilliant observation about the Mona Lisa a few months back, and–being a lazy bastard–I saved it for an occasion just like this…
            “If the Mona Lisa had a clumsy red brush stroke, a glob of scarlet somehow left unfixed on the side of her head, people seeing the painting would hardly notice that the rest of it is a masterpiece, they’d say ‘Why is that brushstroke there?’
            “When people read your script, that one line that’s wrong – they’ll notice it. Fix it.”
            Next week, even with Thanksgiving, I promise to tell the story of punching Rick Springfield and how it relates to world building.
November 6, 2010 / 2 Comments

Why You Didn’t Win

This week’s rant is a bit screenwriter-centric, but it really applies to any sort of submission anywhere. The following words are going to be a bit harsh (even for me), so if you’ve got thin skin… well, next week I was going to talk about characters a bit. If you’re quick to offend, maybe you should just go check out John August’s blog for now and come back here next week.

So, last night I was at the Nicholl Fellowship dinner to see the five new folks get awarded their fellowships. I couldn’t help but notice a lot of you weren’t there. In fact, lets be honest… most of you reading this weren’t there. I’d even be willing to bet a few bucks none of you were there.

Granted, I’m betting not all of you entered the Nicholl this year, but I’m pretty sure a couple of you did. And you weren’t there last night, were you?

A shame really. The steak was fantastic. I mean, seriously, it was amazing. Three of the best meals I’ve ever had have been at Nicholl dinners.

But I digress…

First off, let’s get one thing straight. Nobody deserves to win a contest. Just because all your friends won doesn’t mean you get to as well. It’s never your turn, it’s never about time, and luck has very, very little to do with it. We’re not talking about statistics. A screenplay contest (or any writing submission) is not a lottery.

With that being said, the ugly truth is, most of you reading this don’t deserve to win a contest anyway. Especially not one as prestigious as the Nicholl. That’s all there is to it. You can argue all you like but that’s the way it is.

Let me explain.

For the sake of this discussion, let’s say I’ve decided to hold a contest for horror screenplays. One grand prize, with four lesser prizes. Everyone who subscribes to the ranty blog enters, and let’s say some folks past that, too. By fortunate coincidence, I end up with 100 entries.

Let’s look at those 100 scripts (or short stories, or novels, or whatever it is sitting in a big pile in front of me).

Well, first off, there’s the 50% rule. Out of these 100 screenplays, odds are half of them are going to go right out the window. Figure some people submitted comedies or dramas that features zombies, but they figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. Some of them probably didn’t even have a horror element–they were just straight romcoms or fantasy or sci-fi. I’ll probably recognize their genius and give them an award anyway, though, won’t I?

Plus a few of them will be short stories, not screenplays, and probably a few that are in stage play format, too. One or two will be novels that were very poorly converted into a screenplay template (I mean, it’s all essentially the same thing, right?).

And some will just be God-awful. No other way to say it. Twenty blatant typos on page one. Characters so flat they could slide under a door. Dialogue that makes it sound like English is everyone’s second (or third) language. A plot that sounds a lot like a five year old explaining where dinosaurs came from.

So right there, 50% gone from my horror screenplay contest with almost no effort on my part. Maybe as few as 40. Perhaps as many as 60. In my experience, though, 50% is a great rule of thumb.

The next level of cuts will be those scripts that just don’t measure up. They’ve got an interesting premise, maybe a very clever take on an old idea, but they just didn’t do enough with it. Maybe the writer didn’t work on the screenplay enough because they took the lottery mentality and tried to enter four or five scripts that all could’ve used another two or three drafts. Or maybe it was just one script and it really just needed one more polish.

True story. A few years back I entered a contest that kept their own message boards up so people could talk. One guy proudly stated on these boards that he’d entered over a dozen screenplays. He also directed people to his website, where he had loglines for the three dozen or so scripts he’d written in the past two or three years. When none of his scripts placed, it was all the proof he needed that this contest was obviously a scam.

(I came in third. Got a free copy of Final Draft and a nice certificate.)

If this is the first draft of your script, it’s not going to win a contest. A lot of you may argue that there’s always a chance, I shouldn’t be negative, you may be a truly gifted amateur, blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. This is true. It’s also true, by every known law of physics, that random atoms in the air could come together in just the right way as to form an ounce of pure gold that drops right into your lap. True, and statistically possible, but the odds of it happening are so insanely, ridiculously low that you might as well say it’s impossible.

Please note, this doesn’t mean the script is bad or the writing is inherently flawed. It just means it isn’t polished enough. Despite what you may believe, there are actually tons of diamonds in the world. Literally, tons of them. They’re not all gem-quality, though, and not all of the ones that are get cut and polished correctly. That’s why engagement rings cost half a year’s pay.

So, that kills almost 2/3 of the scripts that are left. They’re good, but they aren’t great. Now we’re down to seventeen entries (rounding up, because I’m feeling generous).

Next is the rough one. It’s the human factor, and it pervades every single level of the judging process to a small degree. Readers are human beings doing a job. They have good days and bad days. They can get distracted or they can focus on the wrong thing. Think of your day job– are you 100% focused on it every minute you’re there? Or does your mind wander to your holiday shopping, your personal life, wondering about the cute temp’s personal life, wondering if your boss is that clueless or that brilliant…?

Well, readers do the same things. And, alas, they do it while reading your script.

There’s plusses and minuses to this. On the downside, your sci-fi romance screenplay might land on John’s desktop. John hates sci-fi and he just found out Phoebe’s dumping him for someone else. So today, well… today it might be a little tough for him to be impartial. You’re probably going to lose a point or three from him, and those points are crucial.

Or it might land on Wakko’s desk. Wakko loves sci-fi. Lives and breathes it. He’s got an Enterprise telephone and a TARDIS cell phone charm. Plus, he had his third date with Phoebe last night and… well, the third date went very, very well. So he’s thrilled to get your script and he’s almost definitely going to pass it on to the next level, even if maybe it doesn’t really deserve to make the cut..

Then again, it could go to Dot. She’s okay with some sci-fi, doesn’t mind it, but your script will get a fair shake with her. But little indy character dramas with no plot? Man, she loathes those things…

Maybe you’ll luck out. Maybe you won’t. Alas, statistically, the human factor is more likely to hurt than help. Y’see, Timmy, a good script that gets shot down stays shot down. A so-so script that doesn’t get shot down now most likely will get shot down later and then stay shot down. So if the human factor has a permanent effect, it’ll be a bad one.

At the most though, as I said, we’re only going to lose a few scripts to this. Let’s say three.

Now we’re down to fourteen out of the original hundred. See how quick they go away?

Last but not least…not everyone wins. When it comes down to it, contests have only so many slots for winners, and they can’t hand out prizes to every script that may deserve them. I’m giving away five prizes. That’s it. You can write a spectacular script and still come in second. Or even eighth.

That’s not just math, it’s life.

Keep in mind, while not winning is heartbreaking, it doesn’t have to be the end. Many contests offer feedback and judges’ comments on entries, so losing can still get you valuable information about how your script was perceived. You can use these responses to hone and polish your script even further, so the next time it goes out it will be stronger than ever.

It’s also worth noting that several producers, agents, and managers who keep track of contests look at the semi-finalists and finalists with just as much interest as the actual winners. James V. Simpson was a finalist for the 2006 Nicholl Fellowship. He didn’t get the fellowship, but his screenplay, Armored, still ended up selling for almost half a million dollars and got released earlier this year with a star-studded cast.

You will not win every contest, but–as special-snowflake as it sounds– you can try to make every one a positive experience.

Next time around, I want to talk about character. Because good characters rule.

Until then go write. And don’t get discouraged just because you didn’t win this time.