Trimming the Fat

May 6, 2013

Last week I finished up a script I’ve been working on — a screen adaptation of Laura Gallier’s paranormal thriller, The Delusion. As an editor, this is my favorite part of screenwriting: that last read through, when I get to go through the entire thing and just trim the fat; find those places where just by cutting out a couple of words, that chunk of description goes from three lines down to two:

Cutting lines

or that chunk of dialogue goes from five lines down to four:

Cutting lines 2

For this script, the cascading effect of those kinds of changes ultimately reduced the page count from 123 to 115 — and more importantly, made for a stronger, tighter read.

I think this step is a must for any script before you do anything with it. I try to avoid prescriptive rules when it comes to screenwriting (or any kind of writing), but I always notice if there are a lot of dangling words (like “him” or “running” in the first example above), and I feel like it’s a sign of an amateur writer. I wouldn’t consciously pass on a script because of that alone, but it’s one of those things that can make a script drag, and people will pass on your script if it drags.



Your Baby Is Ugly

April 16, 2013

Just a had a guest post on editing published on the Book Elves blog. This is probably one of my favorite blog posts I’ve written. Enjoy.

Completing 2012

December 31, 2012

Every year I take a look at my goals from the previous year and set new ones for the upcoming year. This year I’m about two and four halves for 11. Not a great showing, but still, I think progress has been made.

  • Finish ScreenwritingU’s ProSeries and graduate into the PS Alumni.
  • 52 blog posts and 1000 visits a month by the end of the year.
    38 blog posts and about 500 visits per month. Like last year, I hit some major lulls, so the overall average is moving up, though I think it could continue to go up more with more consistent posting.
  • A stage show at TRF, getting paid a living wage for the time I put in. Write and publish a book of poetry (written by my character) that I can sell as part of that.
    No, although there has been some progress there. I expect to achieve this result next year.
  • Sign with an acting agent and land 2 auditions per week.
    Done the first part, not so much the second.
  • Land a paid screenwriting gig.
    I realized recently that I’ve had a lot of opportunities here that I’ve self-sabotaged. In 2005 I landed a paid screenwriting gig, simply because I did the work on a spec project that someone contacted me for and asked me to work on with them. Over the past few years, though, over and over I’ve seen some kind of opportunity to work on a project that I then just haven’t done the work on.
  • Edit 6 books. Close sales on two more ghost writing projects.
    2, and 1.
  • Pay off all interest-bearing debt (including the car I just bought) and max out my wife’s and my IRAs for 2012.
    Paid off a lot of that debt, though not all of it. In the process of buying a house.
  • Finish three personal writing projects, and a rewrite of one more.
    I finished that  rewrite and am finishing another personal writing project right now.
  • Semi-finalist in at least one national screenplay contest.
  • Direct a feature film, or at least start pre-production on it.
  • Bring internal peace and confidence to the likelihood that my wife and I will be having children in the near future.
    We’re pregnant! So, there’s that …

I’ve got more work to do before setting my 2013 goals, so that’s going to be done in a separate post. I’m going to plan for awesomeness, though.


Publishing Predictions for 2012

January 4, 2012

Last week, Author Media produced a post predicting how the publishing industry will change in 2012. Some highlights:

  • eBook sales continue to go up (duh), and may comprise more than half the fiction market in 2012.
  • “a pricing structure will emerge in which price is proportional to quality.  The market will reward books that are priced “correctly” on the price-quality curve and the market will punish those books that are priced either too high or too low.”
  • Major shakeup in companies – a lot of smaller publishers will be bought or squeezed out of the market, self-publishers and (their freelance service providers) will continue to become more popular, and at least some of the Big Six will finally realize that they need to rethink their publishing models if they want to survive.

Of course, my favorite part of this is the prediction that freelance editors, like myself, will have banner years, and that “entre-authors” (entrepreneur authors) will do well while people who “dabble at writing will see decreased success.” Combine this with the fact that the Year of the Dragon usually brings prosperity, and I’m feeling pretty good.

How to Get Started Writing Your Book

August 3, 2010

Got this question recently:

I am a 24yr old single mother to two wonderful boys. For the past two years I have advocated, fund raised and raised awareness for prematurity. Both of my children were born very early and have had a long journey to having a stabilized life. I have a passion for getting the boys’ story out to the public, recently I have found myself really wanting to write a book more than usual. There are various books published about being a premature parent and the journeys the preemies go on. I thought my book would differentiate based on the fact that I was a single mother during both births, and I am not a medical professional, so unlike most of the books out there I was a regular girl in a very unknown world. Yet I have made it to a place where I know I am able to help others, and I feel as though my story will be able to relate to others.

My question to you is: I have no idea where to even begin to do this project. Do I write a book, do I sell my idea, do I take classes? I am lost. Please help!! I read you do ghostwriting. What are the costs for your services? If I need to save up I will do whatever it takes to accomplish this. I want this to be a life changing project not only for my family but most importantly for the future parents of preemies. Again please help!

I generally think that there’s a very specific situation that makes it a good idea to hire a ghost writer, and from the sounds of it, this person is not in that situation, so I most definitely would not recommend hiring a ghost writer. You’re talking about spending 5 figures, and unless you’ve set up a business talking to people about this subject for a couple thousand dollars a pop, there’s a 99% chance you won’t come even close to recouping your money.

If this person wants to get the story out, then there are a couple of things I recommend.

One, read a lot of books – not just on the subject of preemies, but things that are on different subjects but similar in tone/style/genre to what you want your book to be. Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother by Jana Wolff comes to mind. I’ve never read it, but from what this person described, it sounds like one she should check out.

Two, read some books on writing, take some classes, attend conferences (the Writers League of Texas Agents’ Conference, the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference, the Texas Book Festival in the fall, and I’m sure there are plenty of others around the state). Personally, I wouldn’t spend a lot of money on classes that are only a couple of hours long. I think you get far more by, for example, spending $300 on the WLT Summer Writing Retreat, which gives you a whole weekend of classes and time to actually work on your book. Also, you will ALWAYS get more out of volunteering for a conference/festival than you will attending it. You get to sit in on the sessions for free and you get excuses to talk to important people about something other than your book, which sets you apart from the crowd of attendees.

Three, if finding the time to actually sit down and write the thing is a challenge, create structures for doing that. NaNoWriMo is a good one for some people, but far more people quit partway through than finish their book that way. Most people are better off putting something at stake, that they stand to lose if they don’t fulfill on it. In the past few months I’ve started promoting myself as a writing coach, with the idea being that the person pays me a set monthly fee, and I talk to them every day to make sure they’re writing and then I read and edit whatever they write, so they’re learning as they go along. So far I’ve had a couple of people say yes to this but none have started yet (they’ve all got stuff going on during the summer and are putting it off – which I’m starting to realize is something I need to push people out of).

I’m teaching classes on “Kick-Starting Your Nonfiction Book.” It does wonders to focus ideas and move you in the right direction, and if you sign up for my “every whenever-I-get-to-it newsletter“, you can find out when the next one is. Also, check out this article, which discusses what we cover in the workshop:

Thanks to Melissa Overy for the question, and if you’re interested in supporting her cause, please visit

Golden Rules, Part II: The Creative Law of Continued Growth

December 15, 2008

I’m making up my own law.  It probably already exists in other places, and if it does, don’t tell me, because I’m still reeling over how much of a genius I am.  One time, when I was 15, I wrote Fur Elise.  I thought it was pretty good – and it was pretty good – but then my Dad told me that Beethoven wrote it first.  I was shattered.

Anyway, my law, which I’ve aptly named the Creative Law of Continued Growth, is this: Creativity grows in one’s mind like snow grows on the ground.  With continued application, the amount of creativity will build; but left on its own, the creativity will melt away, leaving you starting from scratch the next time around.

Last Friday I worked on Charisma in the morning, and later that evening, warming up for our improv show, I felt a remarkable strength that I hadn’t felt in a while.  Our show was awesome, and when we got our notes at the end the instructor called me out for coming up with the big payoff moment.  I was, needless to say, busting with pride.

Looking back to my most recent post, on the Golden Rules of Writing, I realized that this plugs directly into two of them: rules #1 and #9.  Writing every day isn’t just a good idea; it flexes the creative muscles, so that next time you write it’s a little bit easier.  Being in a creative environment – regardless of the type of creativity – does the same.  Your brain, just like a bicep or a calf muscle, increases its strength, endurance, and muscle memory, so that next time you work out, you can lift more weight, recover quicker, or run further or faster.

An interesting idea to ponder is that in exercise, cross-training is critical.  Marathon runners don’t just run 26 miles a day: they lift weights, they interval-train, they cycle, they stretch, they do situps, they work on treadmills and run around tracks … all of these are important aspects of the marathon training regimen, to say nothing of weight and diet management.

I’ve found improv incredibly helpful in developing my skills as a screenwriter.  Reading and editing plays and short stories is helpful, too.  All of these, I think, can teach us something about our particular craft, and are a valuable part of training.  And I’ll definitely be writing before my next improv show.

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