Moviebytes.Com is one of our favorite web sites. Lotsa info on contests and such. But did you know they also have, like, some solid info about the writing-to-sell process? We didn’t either. But this makes us glad we found out:
Quit Bitching,Start Pitching – by Joey Tuccio
You’ve spent YEARS writing your script. You’ve outlined it, you wrote it, you rewrote it, you turned it in for feedback, you rewrote it AGAIN. Now what? As my company dives full force into virtual pitches, I learned that A LOT of writers do not know how to pitch. And some are blatantly too scared to even try! Paralyzed by the thought that they actually have to talk about their script with a live person. I think some writers get a little too comfortable in their solitude of writing. It really is a shame that so many writers spend so much time writing their script but are too afraid to praise it and pitch it to people.
Here is some friendly advice to help you conquer your fears of pitching, or simply to make your pitch even better!
Start with the logline AND genre of your story. Why genre? A brilliant producer once told me that if a writer doesn’t start with their genre, it will be unclear how they should interpret it. If a writer is pitching a story that sounds slightly funny, a producer might feel too awkward to laugh because it could very well be a drama. Alleviate the stress and say it up front. Also, think of ONE movie out there that resembles yours. This could really help an executive visualize your story immediately and have a better sense of it. DON’T START a pitch with So, what are you guys looking for? What would you like me to pitch? I have this, this and this. Be confident in your pitch. You have their attention right off the top, so the quicker you can get into the pitch, the better. If time allows, you can quickly say at the end Oh, by the way. I have a comedy too about (logline).
Pitches should be 2-3 minutes MAX. Have you ever had a friend that just goes on and on about a story and half way through all you can think about is What are they talking about? I wonder what I’m going to eat later? Wow, he got so fat. Don’t let their minds drift. Usually around the 3 minute point is when a mind might start wandering.
Really. So you ever wonder what goes on in fiction writer’s lives that keep them writing the fiction they create or stop them, inspire them or throw up road blocks?
Frequently we talk here about nuts and bolts of writing, but really it’s all about reading and writing. Writers who follow this blog are interested in tips and helpful websites and that sort of thing.
Readers, no doubt are more interested in the inside scoop. Correct me if I’m wrong, readers.
So, for today’s post I decided it’s time to open the door just a bit more and talk about a writer’s habits. How I write and keep it moving forward.
One of my biggies and it always has been is write my fiction at the crack of dawn. No kidding, for me the morning is a glorious time to write.
I know, I know, a lot of writers “write all night” and “consume gallons of coffee”. Nope, not me, I love a great night’s sleep, popping out of bed all perky and getting down to writing right after a quick breakfast. My perkiness can definitely be a bit grating for others, but I’m good with it. Bouncy, perky me.Another thing has always been to give my writing priority in my life. Never did play games about it. If you’re a reader aspiring to be a writer, then you’ll just have to get down to it. I’ve written since I was in my early teens, passed up a lot of things other kids were doing so I could write. It wasn’t any sacrifice when what I really wanted to be doing was writing anyway.
When I got older I dedicated many evenings to writing the books I eventually got published. Even did research and wrote notes on my lunch hours. It was a matter of stealing time wherever I could to make it happen. Obsessive I guess, but writing was always what I loved to do, what I WANTED to do. Check out some other writer’s blogs like Mary Pax who’s a science fiction writer and you’ll begin to understand the high priority for writing thing. M Pax is always at it.Another good writing habit? Drink a lot of water. You laugh. You’d be surprised how we writers can forget these things when in the throes of a great story. And drinking a lot of water is great on many levels. Makes you take a break from fingers clicking keys to lift the water glass to your mouth. It hydrates you and keeps those brain cells happy and fatigue at bay and eventually it will make you get up from your desk and move – if only to the bathroom.Ah, the mystery and romance of a writer’s life.Hey, did you readers think all this was easy?
Well, write when you’re tired, write when you’re stressed, write when you slept wrong and your neck hurts half the way down your back like I’m writing this morning. It’s not like these things don’t happen to a writer. It’s not like writers can just go off in the corner and whine when there’s writing to be done. There are deadlines, external and self-imposed and a good writer will stick pretty much to them with rare exceptions usually caused by some disaster.
You wonder how that book in your hand got there? Horror fiction author Stephen King tells us “Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.”
Yep, it’s that wonderful gossamer world of the writer. Hey, if you’re an enthusiastic reader and that’s what you love being, good on you. If you’re an aspiring writer, welcome to our world.
At least, they’re saying they do. And opening up a nice little window of opportunity. “For the first time in over a decade,” as their website puts it, “Harper Voyager are opening the doors to unsolicited submissions in order to seek new authors with fresh voices, strong storytelling abilities, original ideas and compelling storylines. So, if you believe your manuscript has these qualities, then we want to read it!”
The imprint is specifically looking for “all kinds of adult and young adult speculative fiction for digital publication, but particularly epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural.” Inasmuch as this is a major league operation, publishing writers like George R. R. Martin, Kim Harrison, and Raymond E. Feist, this seems like way too good an opportunity to pass up.
The window opens October 1st and the last day is October 14th. Details are on the Harper Voyager Books website.
Good luck and let us know what happens if you give it a try!
Recently, Steven started a series called “The Writers Room“. Truth be told, his last post is nearly a month old but has moved me so hard for the last month that I wanted to share.
Enter the Spark File
The Spark File, Steven describes, is a process/tool that he uses to collect “half-baked ideas” and then revisit them. For eight years, he’s maintained a single document with notes and ideas with zero organization or taxonomy, simply a chronology of thoughts. He calls this document his Spark File.
Once a month, he revisits the ENTIRE Spark File from top to bottom, revisiting old ideas and potentially combining them with newer ideas.
I’ve adopted this process for the last 30 days and it’s had a remarkable effect. The most astounding part is how often I find myself writing the same thing in different ways. I’ve taken that pattern as a clue to explore a concept further, and see if it merits more investigation.
Your Crippling Compulsion, and the Solution
I was sharing this process with one of my co-conspirators, Tony Bacigalupo, while working with him last week and he said, “this process is amazing, it sounds like a defragmentation for your brain.”
And it is.
This is particularly important because, as Tony pointed out, we don’t have ideas all at once and we certainly don’t have them in any particular order. Perhaps more importantly, we tend to either have a compulsion to act on our ideas immediately, or not at all.
This compulsion is blocking your greatest work.
By using a Spark File, I’m able to “act” on an idea simply by writing it down at the bottom of the document. Compulsion fulfilled. But unlike the process without Spark File assistance, the idea’s destiny isn’t written yet. It has the potential to become something greater than an idea, and I’d argue something greater than most 99.9% of all execution.
Any of your half-baked ideas can contribute to the development of better answers.
Where Better Ideas Come From
Once a month (or any time I wish), I revisit my Spark File notes and look for patterns and clues. I can find inspiration and most importantly, I can find answers, sometimes answers to questions I didn’t even know how to ask while I was jotting down my half-baked ideas.
I’ve found that the inspiration and answers I’m gleaning from my Spark File are tending to be more complete, overall deeper, and more thorough than if I sit down to work on a single idea “in the moment” that I’m having that idea.
This has been especially useful while developing material for my now in session course on Mastering Community Building. (Find out more about it here.)
Hmm, “spark file” is pretty damn good too. That one’s from Steve Johnson. Do you suppose that if we didn’t keep getting sidetracked by things like this we’d have a lot more time to organize our own ideas?
But that sounds like, you know, work. And digging cool phrases is just plain fun.
Overthink at its finest. From, it turns, out, a site called Overthinkingit.Com
The Trickster Redeem’d: A Lévi-Straussian Analysis of “School of Rock” by Jessica Levai
Claude Lévi-Strauss was a French anthropologist who believed that the myths created and told by a society could be a window into the beliefs and conflicts of that society. A structuralist, Lévi-Strauss saw stories like language and sought to understand their underlying grammar. This he believed centered on pairs of opposite ideas, held by the culture, but creating tension within it — the raw and the cooked, the sacred and the profane, and so on.
School of Rock, a 2003 film starring Jack Black as slacker Dewey Finn, shows the tension between a truly American pair of opposites: laziness vs. hard work. While in other mythologies it is a trickster character who mediates between these opposites, the nature of this American pair, and the surrounding culture, make it necessary that the trickster not remain so; he has to join one side or the other.
I should begin with the admission that it is technically impossible to perform a Lévi-Straussian analysis on any one film, because there is only one version. Claude Lévi-Strauss sought a rigorous, scientific approach to the interpretation of the meaning of myths. To perform an analysis, he would first collect every version and variant of a myth possible. Each version would be broken down into its constituent plot elements, and these elements plotted on a chart to show how they fit together. The charts would be compared across variants, and eventually the true meaning of the myth would emerge. Any scientist knows that a large data pool is indispensable for getting good results. Unfortunately, there is only one School of Rock.
Though we cannot be so thorough as he would have liked, the structuralist principles of a Lévi-Straussian analysis can be applied to the film nevertheless. In his work, “The Structural Study of Myth,” Lévi-Strauss wrote that “the purpose of myth is to provide a logical model capable of overcoming a contradiction.” Lévi-Strauss concluded that myth provided a way for the ancient Greeks to deal with two complementary ideas, the opposition of which created tension in their lives. His analysis of the myth of Oedipus, for example, discovered two pairs of opposites in tension, and I shall describe one here. Born a prince of Thebes, Oedipus is abandoned to die by his parents, who feared the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. This being a myth, it is no surprise that Oedipus eventually does both, if unwittingly. Examining this myth, Lévi-Strauss concluded that there were two opposite ideas in tension here: on the one hand, the undervaluing of blood relations is demonstrated by the patricide, while an overvaluing of blood relations is shown by Oedipus’s incest with his mother, Jocasta. Having failed to negotiate a middle ground between these two ideas, Oedipus ends up blinding himself and retreats to exile.
Dewey Finn is a character not unlike Oedipus in that he finds himself in the middle of a contradiction. In the beginning of the movie, Dewey is an unsuccessful rock musician, evicted from the band he created with friends. His lack of success seems related to his lack of real talent, but it is helped by his willingness to use others and general laziness. In his home life he fares no better, as he finds himself threatened with eviction by the roommate, Ned Schneebly, off whom he’s been “mooching for years.” Ned himself has abandoned his dreams of rock stardom for a job: he’s training to become a teacher, and working as a substitute in the meantime. As we look at these two characters, the contradicting pair presents itself. Dewey is lazy but believes in “rockin’.” Ned is hardworking, but dull. This contrast is emphasized with the character of Ned’s girlfriend. She has a 9-to-5 job in government (she works for the mayor) and she hates Dewey, who is the antithesis of everything she stands for.
According to Lévi-Strauss, mediation between a pair of opposites is the function of a trickster. In Native American mythology, Lévi-Strauss reasons, tricksters are cast as carrion feeders like coyotes and ravens, because these creatures mediate between the opposite ideas of hunting and agriculture in that they eat flesh, but do not kill it.
Or don’t read it all because, truth to tell, we’re regarding this article as a parody of scholarly overthink. And not just any parody but an overthought one as well. That’s what makes it so brilliant. We especially think it’s important for writers to experience the mind-numbing attempt of reading this kind of overthink because, as our boss, LB, always says, “overthinking is the bane of writers,” and he isn’t talking about Batman’s Bane.
At least, we don’t think so. We’ll have to overthink about it a bit and get back to you.