Monday, July 26, 2010

Dramatica For Screenwriters: How To Get The Most Out of Dramatica Pro & Write Great Scripts by Armando Saldana-Mora

Today I finished reading Dramatica For Screenwriters: How To Get The Most Out of Dramatica Pro & Write Great Scripts (2005) by Armando Saldana-Mora

"Dramatica for Screenwriters by Armando Saldaƃ±a Mora is a must for any writer who wishes to get the most out of the DramaticaƂ® Pro story development software. Written by a working screenwriter, this book gives real world, practical applications for using Dramatica to develop and write screenplays. Book topics include: What Dramatica offers the screenwriter, Dramatica in thirty seconds Characters: Beyond the archetypes, Character Relationships as subplots, Note and sketch story development, How to get a complete plot, Four Dramatica Acts, Three Classical Acts, Narrative flow & writing the screenplay and many more." -

Monday, July 19, 2010

Hostage by Robert Crais

Today I finished reading Hostage by Robert Crais.

Learn to Write by Reading Project.

It's a fun read and the movie starring Bruce Willis is good too.


On Saturday, I did something really stupid and I'm paying for it this week.

My daughter needed to borrow my riding lawn mower.  I went to Lowe's and bought a set of aluminum ramps to facilitate loading the mower into the back of my pickup truck.

I set up the ramps.  Put the mower in neutral and pushed.  The mower went up the ramp about two feet and then began to come back down the ramp.  Not to be out foxed.  I decided to put the mower in gear and drive it up the ramp.

Bad decision.  The mower got up about three feet.  Then, unbalanced, I fell off the back of the mower.  Landing flat on my back.  Then the mower fell over backwards and landed on my chest.

Lying on my back with the mower on my chest, I realized that the gasoline was pouring out of the gas tank onto myself. 

Thanks to lifting weights for the past seven years, I was able to bench press the mower.  It's amazing what adrenaline will do for you.  I probably couldn't press that 350 pounds ever again.  But at the moment, it just had to be done.

Went to the doctor today.  Nothing broken.  But I hurt everywhere.

Hope I can remember how this felt. I'm sure the pain will wind up in a story.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

How I Write a Script by Scott Myers, Part III

Ok, I’ve got forty-five 3x5 cards, one for each scene in my work-in-progress, Bon Secur. I think I have all the major story points covered. Now what? That’s the subject of Scott Myers sixth part of his How I Write a Script blog. You can read his full blog at:

He writes, “I start by transcribing the content of the cards into a new Word file called Story Outline. I generally will have written down notes and ideas on the cards related to each scene or beat, so that information goes into the outline as well.”

“The goal here is to create a blueprint with Scene 1, followed by Scene 2, Scene 3, all the way to the last scene and FADE OUT. The hard work here is to make sure as best as I can that the story tracks and handles all the subplots. A final consideration is to think about the transitions, how to make each shift from one scene and sequence to the next is as smooth and seamless as possible.”

“Apart from locking down the story’s structure, I also think about every scene, asking a series of questions:
* What is the point of the scene?
* What is the scene's Beginning, Middle, and Ending?
* What characters should be in the scene and why?
* How do I enter / exit the scene?”

“That can change in the actual writing of the script – as well as scene order – but I like thinking through my scenes in advance.”

“My outlines can be quite long. I just pulled out one from my files that is 22 single-spaced pages. But then, I like to throw in everything I dredge up for each scene: images, bits of dialogue, Internal World dynamics, transitions, and so on.”

“Okay, now I want you to take a deep breath and realize something: All that -- story concept, brainstorming, research, character development, plotting, and outline -- and I haven’t written one word of the actual script. I have found doing the hard work up front, what I call prep-writing, gives me more room for creative thinking in my page-writing process.”

“Let's me be clear: I am not saying that every writer has to work this way. Each writer has to find the approach that works for them.”

Tomorrow, I’d like to introduce you to Scott’s Script Diary.

Like most of you, I have Word loaded on my computer and could create my outline in Word as Scott suggests.  But, as you might guess, I'm a sucker for gadgets and software.  I purchased Write Brothers' Outline 4D.  I've been using it to outline novels written by favorite authors and films as a part of my study of story structure.  I've been very pleased with it during the limited time that I have been using it.  When I've answered Scott's questions regarding each scene I'll be dusting off Outliner 4D and applying it to Bon Secur.  That will be the real test.

Monday, July 12, 2010

How I Write a Script by Scott Myers, Part II

I am so afraid of not being able to write with an interesting voice like my favorite authors that I am beating my story's structure to death. A friend asked me Thursday when I was going to actually begin writing my work-in-progress, Bon Secur. I replied, "When I have the story completely figured out."

My thinking is, "If my story's structure is good enough my reader might forgive the greenness of my prose." That’s my hope anyway.

When I first started reading books on how to write a novel, my biggest problem in understanding how to write a novel was the answer to the question, “How do you structure a story?” I could grasp point of view, voice, setting, character, and conflict. But how you tell the story evaded me. Then, I discovered Larry Brooks’ blog at  where he introduced me to the idea of using screenwriting story structure for a novel. Bingo! I had my answer.

Larry Brooks labels the way writers approach creating the story as planning or 'pantsing'. A 'pantser' creates the plot by the seat of his pants making it up as he goes. A planner organizes, outlines, and plots the story before writing. My personality makes me a huge planner. And, I am fascinated about how others approach the planning process.

Yesterday, I commented on the first four parts of a ten part blog series posted at Go Into The Story by Scott Myers in June, 2008. Today I’d like to tell you about his post on Plotting. You can read his complete blog at:

In his blog, Scott Myers describes how after analyzing his brainstorming list which was augmented by scenes and moments that arose as he was generating characters, he writes down what he thinks are interesting beats, scenes or dynamics on index cards – one per 3x5 index card. “After I’ve written all the beats, scenes, and dynamics onto individual cards, I divide them into three stacks: Act I, Act II, and Act III. Basically if it feels like something that has to do with setting up the story, that goes into the first stack. If it feels like something that has to do with the final struggle, that goes into the third stack. And everything else goes into the second stack.”

“I take special care to see if I can find four major plot points….You gotta know four things before you start to write a script. What's the beginning? What's the end of Act One? What's the end of Act Two? And what's the ending? If you know those four things, you can write a script."

“Then I go through the three card stacks, sorting and re-sorting the cards. I’ll read through the beats to get a sense if a narrative flow is starting to emerge. If I’ve done my job right, really brainstormed, really researched the story world, really dug into my characters, then the plotting process can be a pretty smooth one. I pay particularly close attention to the Protagonist's transformation [assuming the story has one], what I look at as four movements Disunity (Act 1 - Deconstruction (Act 2A) - Reconstruction (Act 2B) - Unity (Act 3), as that almost always provides an emotional spine to the story.”

“Every screenplay paradigm seems to have a certain number of "plot points": My own approach (Narrative Throughline) has ten. Before I move on, I want to identify those ten major events. If I know I need to have a major plot point, but haven’t come up with the specifics, then I just write “Something Happens Here” on a card, and include it in the stack. Of course, I have to do some brainstorming to try to come up with a great sequence to serve that narrative function, maybe more research or spending time with characters, but eventually I try to uncover those 10 plot points.”

“Then I like to tack the cards up on a wall, so I see the plot unfolding left to right. I may shift cards around as the story can feel different when looked at in a linear fashion. When I feel comfortable with the plot, I know I'm ready to go to the next step -- outline. “

In my next post, I want to share with you Scott’s approach to outlining.

Many how-to-screenwrite books describe the story board / 3x5 card method of organizing a story.  I like the way Scott describes it.  If you need another software program, there is a cool storyboard application sold by Save The Cat.  It gives you a great way to digitally organize your story and print 3x5 cards that you can post on the wall or a bulletin board.  I purchased it and am using it for Bon Secur. 

Other than not being able to locate the Avery 3x5 cards that will work with my printer at my local Office Depot, I have no complaints.  For now, I'm printing onto plain paper and gluing to 3x5 cards.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Thank You Jimmy!

Tonight Jimmy Buffett gave a free concert in Gulf Shores, Alabama to encourage tourism at the gulf coast.  Only 35,000 parrot heads were able to get tickets.  Others, like Suzy and I, enjoyed the concert live without commercials on CMT.

Thanks Jimmy and CMT.  We appreciated the show and the effort to show people everywhere that the gulf coast is alive and well.  A good time was had by all. 

We'll be here till the coast is clear!

Develop Structure During the Re-Write of a Novel – No, Start With Structure!

I read the most incredible book review this weekend. And by incredible, I mean, "I don’t believe it."

Backstory:  [book title] was written a few years ago. It consisted of a series of exercises which if followed each weekend would guide the beginning novelist through the process of creating a novel. (The name of the book and author will remain nameless because I’m not supposed to say anything if I can’t say something nice.)   Anyway, [book title] sounds like the kind of book I'd buy, a how-to-write for a beginning writer.  You can't get more newbie than me.

Today, while waiting for the Jimmy Buffett concert to air on CMT, (I couldn’t get any free tickets either) I was flipping through the pages of the latest issue of The Writer and my eyes spotted the review of a new book that was billed as Part 2 of [book title] described above.

I said to myself, “Oh, good! It’s another how to write a novel book. I wonder if I’d like to read it?”

The reviewer wrote, “While [author’s] [book title] was aimed at aspiring authors, this companion book assumes a reader with a first draft in hand. You should be prepared to revise extensively by adding and recasting scenes, inventing backstories for characters, even exploring the roles that major objects play. [words followed about rewriting a novel using film structure.]

[Author] believes that story and structure (the strategic arrangements of parts) comes first, Specifically, he addresses writer’s tools, backstory and flashbacks, suspense, subplots – the story lines of antagonists and minor figures and seven critical scenes proceeding along the novel’s main plot….

The bulk of rewriting involves major scenes tied to the protagonist’s plot. Most readers will already place extra weight on the beginning and end, the climax, and the first meetings between major characters. Less familiar – but just as vital, [Author] says – are the midpoint – the central scene and “the heart of your novel”) and two “plot points” situated in the first and third acts.

[later in the article] Like any writer, [Author] makes some assumptions about just what a novel should be, stating that “you are rewriting a novel that must fight for space in a world of screens (TV, film, computer).” Thus, his advice tends to favor fast-paced, traditionally plotted narratives and near-cinematic prose.”

Whoa! Wait a minute! You don’t tell me about cinematic structure until I’ve finished writing my novel. And, then, you want me to tear up what I've just spent a year of weekends writing.  You want me to go back and write it again, this time using the cinematic structure you didn’t bother to tell me about in your first book. Author, doesn’t that seem to you to be a huge waste of weekends for anyone buying your current edition of [book title].

Author, if you think cinematic structure is the best way to write a novel, own up to it and publish a new edition of your first book to reflect it.

Stories need structure from the get go. Not as a rewrite step. I’m a rank newbie, but, even I get that.

Friday, July 9, 2010

How I Write a Script by Scott Myers, Part 1

Today I studied a very interesting ten part blog which appears in Going Into The Story by Scott Myers titled, How I Write a Script. It was originally posted in June, 2008 at  I heartily recommend this blog.

About conceiving a story concept, Myers writes, “The two most important words in the story concept process are What if?” Once a story concept is found he enters brainstorming ideas into a word processing file on his computer. The key to brainstorming the right way is, “no pre-judgment” All ideas go into the master brainstorming file. “Research generally goes hand-in-hand with brainstorming as research feeds that process.”

“As you are brainstorming and doing research, characters emerge, plot ideas pop up, themes evolve. At some point, you will have accumulated enough story ‘stuff’ that key characters will spring to life. Then it’s time to dig into them. He creates individual files for the primary characters. The single biggest key he found about working with characters is to be curious about them. Ask them questions. Interview them. Talk with them. That works for some characters; others I find myself writing a narrative of their past.”

“At some point, I apply seven questions to my characters to try to see what narrative functions might play in the story:
• Who is my Protagonist?
• What do they want (External Goal)?
• What do they need (Internal Goal)?
• Who is keeping them from it (Nemesis)?
• Who is connected to the Protagonist’s emotional growth (Attractor)?
• Who is connected to the Protagonist’s intellectual growth (Mentor)?
• Who tests the Protagonist by switching allegiances from ally to enemy (Trickster)?”

I think these character archetypes link to the James N. Frey book, The Key, How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth, that I read in January, 2010.  Frey wrote, “Myth-based fiction is patterned after what mythologist Joseph Campbell has called the monomyth. According to Campbell, the monomyth is structurally a reenactment of the same mythological hero’s journey; it is prevalent in all cultures, in every era, from the dim beginnings of human consciousness eons ago to the present.”

Frey writes, “Jung thought that the components of myth were actually biological structures of the brain – that they are, so to speak, hardwired into a mental computer. Myths, Jung proposed, were automatically responded to upon an individual’s hearing them. The individual uses these structures and the myths themselves to help in his or her own transformations. They are patterns of behavior, stored away for future use… To accomplish any kind of personal change, you will find yourself following the path of the hero of a monomyth.”

I have so much to learn about myths. The concept is fascinating. And if we are in-fact hardwired to respond to them, authors, especially new authors, ignore them at our own peril.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Save The Cat! Goes To The Movies: A Screenwriter's Guide to Every Story Ever Told by Blake Snyder

Today I finished reading Save The Cat! Goes To The Movies: A Screenwriter's Guide to Every Story Ever Told (2007) by Blake Snyder

"In the long-awaited sequel to his surprise bestseller, Save the Cat!, author and screenwriter Blake Snyder returns to form in a fast-paced follow-up that proves why his is the most talked-about approach to screenwriting in years. In the perfect companion piece to his first book, Snyder delivers even more insider's information gleaned from a 20-year track record as ?one of Hollywood's most successful spec screenwriters, ? giving you the clues to write your movie. Designed for screenwriters, novelists, and movie fans, this book gives readers the key breakdowns of the 50 most instructional movies from the past 30 years. From M*A*S*H to Crash, from Alien to Saw, from 10 to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Snyder reveals how screenwriters who came before you tackled the same challenges you are facing with the film you want to write ? or the one you are currently working on." - Google Books