December 29, 2012 / 2 Comments

That What Got Done

            Well, it’s the end of the year.  Time to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions and all the things we really want to make sure we do this coming year.  And to celebrate the fact that 2012 was not, in fact, the end of the world.

            However, it’s also a good time to look back and think about what we did this year.  Did last year’s resolutions get met?  Did we get close?
            Did we even really try?
            I started off the year working for Amazon Studios, the film branch of the well-known online media giant.  I had a meeting and did a treatment for a sci-fi film called Original Soldiers they were trying to develop.  It was pretty clear early on that we had different opinions on it, but they decided to see what I did with it anyway (I saw Liam Neeson in a glorious B-action movie and they thought they could get… I don’t know, Schindler’s Robot).  They still went with someone else (or possible, as my girlfriend supects, just canned the project when they didn’t see a potential Oscar anywhere), but they paid very well for the work I did.
            After that it was diving back into Ex-Communication, which I’d only barely started.  That was a good chunk of the year (I think until late August or early September).  The final, sixth draft came in at a little over 100,000 words. And I’ll be doing some more work on it before the Crown release.
           It’s about time to mention Crown, too.  As some of you may have heard, I was offered a four book deal with Crown Publishing, a division of Random House, for the Ex-series just as I was finishing up Ex-Communication.  While it’s great on one front, it did sort of put me on hold for a while as far as “what to write next.”  If the deal happened, Crown was going to want another Ex-book.  If it didn’t happen, well, I usually wrote something non-superhero-and-zombie related between Ex-books as sort of a palate cleanser.  So there was a period of about two months this fall where I wasn’t really sure what to start working on.
            I ended up going back to a sci-fi horror idea I’d started ages ago (before my Crusoemash-up) and doing a fair amount of work on that.  But then some things shifted, negotiations hit a certain point, and I shelved it again.  Alas, at this point I think I can honestly say Dead Moon has become my booty call idea.  I should keep that in mind next time it’s late at night and I’m feeling the need to poke at something…
            For a couple of reasons, I shifted over to an idea that had been tickling my mind, a concept for a new series.  After a false start, I ended up scribbling out almost 15,000 words of notes and outlines and huge swaths of action and dialogue.  I stopped because I didn’t want to burn out on it, and also because the Crown deal was finalized.
            So, right around Halloween, I started working on the fourth Ex-book.  Still working on a title for it, but the book itself is about 2/3 done by now.  I think I might actually be on schedule for the April 1st deadline.
            I also had to do a bunch of layout stuff and edits for the new editions of the Ex-books.  It wasn’t tough, but it is time-consuming. And there’s more of it coming in January.
            I also managed to squeeze in about ten reviews for Cinema Blend here and there.  I enjoy writing reviews because when they’re done right they’re a good mix of critical analysis, storytelling, and a bit of snark (when deserved).  Which reminds me, I still owe them a review for this box set…
            And of course, here on the ranty blog I scribbled out forty-four articles about writing.  In all fairness, this is one of the weakest years here since I started this.  Plus thirty-three articles on another page I keep up.  And those H.P. Legocraft pages.
            So that’s what I did.
            What did you do?
            Yeah, I know, I’ve got a bit of an advantage.  I don’t have kids.  This is my day job.  So I get to focus a lot more time on this than most people.
            But y’know what?  I had a full-time journalism job when I wrote Ex-Heroes. Almost all of my fellow authors at Permuted Press—Craig DiLouie, C Dulaney, Tony Faville, Jessica Meigs, Thom Brannan, and more—still have full time jobs.  Michael Crichton started writing when he was in medical school.  You don’t get much more full-time than that.  Edgar Rice Burroughs, Maya Angelou, John Grisham, David Wong, Clive Cussler, Stephen King… all these famous writers and many, many more had full-time jobs when they started their writing careers.  Heck, King had a full-time job and two kids.
            So, with that in mind… I ask you again.  What did you do this year?
            As I’ve mentioned before, it all comes down to priorities.  If I want to spend a few hours each day with my (hypothetical) kids or watching Netflix with my lovely lady, that’s my business and my decision.  It says where my priorities are and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Likewise, the fact that my lovely lady and I live together, both work out of the home, and only see each other for a total of four or five hours a day on an average day… well, that says something about our priorities, too.
            A fellow I know got the screenplay rights to a fairly well-known book series.  It was at the same time I was starting a novel, so I jokingly said we should make a contest out of it.  He kind of brushed me off, but loudly announced his upcoming adaptation to the Twitterverse.
            The book I was starting was 14.  To the best of my knowledge, he still doesn’t have a first draft of his adaptation.  Granted, he’s trying to start a business and has two kids.  And there were a lot of movies he had to see.  And some opening night parties.  And a bi-weekly poker game he never misses…
            The only way to get ahead is to write.  There is nothing else. There are no tricks or magic bullets.  The work will not get done if you don’t do it.  It doesn’t matter how you spin it, if you’re not writing, you’re not getting any closer to selling something.  And if you’re not selling anything, it’s really hard to make a living at this.
            Which is why you’re here, yes?  To get some tips on making a living at this.
            A page a day.  That’s it. That’s all you need to do.  If you can write a page a day, you’ll have a solid draft of a novel by next New Year’s Eve.  You could have the first draft of that script done by April Fools Day.
            If you write it.
            But if the latest episode of Dexter or Dancing With The Stars deserves your time more than writing… well…
            Next time—or next year, if you prefer—I’d like to go over what this little collection of rants is trying to accomplish.
            Until then, pour yourself a glass of champagne, kiss someone special, and then go write.
            Just write one page.
January 26, 2012 / 2 Comments

Feels Like The First Time

            Okay, first off, a bit of shameless self-promotion that also pushes my street cred, as the kids say.  Amazon Studios is developing a film with the working title of Original Soldiers.  It’s a sci-fi tale about human soldiers leaping into action when America’s droid army is shut down by an opponent.  I’m one of five folks (well, four folks and a writing team) who were hired by Amazon to expand my simple pitch off their logline into a full treatment.

            So, between that and Ex-Communication, things might slow down a bit in the month of February.  Just letting you all know now.
            Oh, and check it out.  You can still pick up The Junkie Quatrain.  It’s very cheap for your Kindle or Kindle app of choice.  Just saying…
            I’d like to begin this week, if you don’t mind, with a personal question or two.  You don’t have to answer them, but I want you to keep the answers in mind.
            Your current significant other—girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, husband—do you remember the first time you saw them naked?
            Not just the date or time, mind you.  Do you remember how you felt when you saw them like that?  What thoughts were going through your mind?  What emotions?  What your pulse and breathing were like?
            Follow up question—do you remember the most recent time you saw them naked?  How did you feel then?  What thoughts were going through your mind?
            Next question—do you remember your first day at your current job?  Do you remember looking at things, meeting people, learning the ropes?  Can you recall any thoughts that went through your mind?
            Follow up question—what was today like at your current job?  What did you think about?  Who did you see?
            Some of you may have picked up on the point I’m trying to make here.  There’s a big difference between the first time something happens and the fiftieth or hundredth or five-hundredth.  My first day on a film set was exciting as hell, but at the six year mark even the days with naked women on set were pretty dull, and at twelve years I was generally known as one of the cynical people on any given set.
            Now, I make that point so I can make this one…
            One mistake I see a lot in stories and screenplays is when writers can’t make the distinction between the first time your readers or audience are seeing something and the first time the characters are seeing it.  Characters go to work, have dinner with family, or teleport to their secret lair and express confusion or wide-eyed amazement at these things.  It knocks a reader out of the story because it’s immediately apparent this is something the characters should be familiar with.
            It sounds silly to say it so blatantly, but if I’ve been living in New England my whole life, a brutally cold winter shouldn’t come as a real shock.  If I’ve worked for Discorp for over a decade, their business practices shouldn’t catch me off guard.  If I’ve been with Phoebe for eight or nine years, the odds are we’ve seen each other many, many times and had many, many conversations about many, many things.
            The thing is, many storytellers become focused on the fact that this is the first time the readers have seen Wakko in action or me and Phoebe together.  So these folks tweak dialogue and reactions to play to the audience, rather than the genuine responses of the characters.  It seems correct from a mechanical point of view, but once you really study the moments this sort of thing falls apart.
            Here’s an example of doing it right that ties back to my opening questions–Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  When the film begins, the title characters have been married for several years and… well, things are getting a bit stale between them.  They’ve had all their conversations.  This is why Mr. Smith doesn’t really react much when Mrs. Smith—played by Angelina Jolie—is walking around their bedroom in her underwear.
            Let me repeat that last bit—Angelina Jolie is walking around their bedroom in her underwear.
           While this would be an absolutely amazing moment for about half of the folks reading this, Mr. Smith barely notices it.  He’s been seeing her in her underwear for years, after all.  It may be the first time all of us have seen her dressed (or undressed) like that, but for him this is just like every other day.
            This is closely related to another problem I’ve brought up once or thrice before, the dreaded  “As you know…”  When one of my characters says “as you know,” they’re admitting right up front that they and the person (or people) they’re speaking to already know the facts that are about to be spoken.  It’s clumsy, it’s wasted space, and it’s unnatural because it sounds like these folks are having a conversation for the first time when common sense tells us this has to have come up a dozen times before.  My girlfriend and I have been together for over seven years now, so we don’t need to talk about when our birthdays or anniversaries are.  I helped my best friend move into his house, so I don’t need to ask him where he keeps the rum or how to get to the bathroom.  My dad’s been an expert in his field for decades, so I don’t think he’d be stunned to learn working on reactors involves potential exposure to radiation.
            This is why the ignorant stranger is a great story device.  When I’ve got a character who’s new to the world of the story it gives me someone who can experience things for the first time while my other characters can be well-established sources of knowledge.  Yeah, I know where the rum’s kept in the house, but Yakko doesn’t, so my readers will accept it if Yakko and I talk about where to find the booze or the bathroom.
            Another great example if this is—
            Men In Black .For James Edwards, the police officer who becomes Agent J, the MIB is an intergalactic wonderland of non-stop discovery.  He’s the ignorant stranger.  Alien life forms, alien customs, alien technology—it’s all new to him.  But consider Agent K.  Everything that excites or stuns J makes him yawn.  Invading battle fleets, extraterrestial assassins, talking dogs, rocket cars, a warp-drive powered superball… these things all bore the hellout of him.  In fact, as the story progresses it becomes clear that K is at a disadvantage because he’s become so jaded by the world he lives in.
            One of the worst things I can do as a writer is confuse the first time the audience sees something with the first time the characters do.  It’ll come across as false and it’s one of those clumsy mistakes that’s hard to recover from.  So just remember… the first time for you might not be the first time for me.  And it’s almost definitely not the first time for him.
            Next week, as we’re close to opening day for a lot of the big screenplay contests, I thought I’d talk about a lot of common screenplay mistakes I’ve seen.
            Until then, go write.