Monday, November 20, 2017

Readsy Takes the Dread Out of Writing Queries

You've just written The End on your WIP.  The synopsis is perfect. 

mantasmagorical/morguefile



Hurray for you, and now you're ready to send it off to the agent who's waiting to read it. (We must have a bit of humor in all of this.) There's just one more teensy hurdle to publication. 

jeltovski/morguefile



Yep. The Query Letter. 



But do not fear. Readsy's here for you with a fantastic post titled How to Write a Query Letter in 7 Steps. 

You'll find those steps outlined and easy to follow. Here's the outline, so be sure to check it out. NOW!




1. Writing an Effective Query Letter

  • Capture the agent’s attention with your greeting
  • Craft an irresistible hook
  • Write a tantalizing synopsis
  • Reveal your credentials and your publishing savvy
  • Personalize the letter for each agent
  • Proofread everything you’ve written
  • Thank the agent and sign off

2. Infographic: How to Write a Query Letter
3. Get a Professional Query Letter Review

Do you have query letter phobia? Or are you getting results from your queries? Did you check out the Readsy post? What's your take? 

Monday, November 13, 2017

How to Beat Back Writer Insecurity

Ken Rahmoeller joins us today! The winner of the IWSG Show Us Your Writer Insecurity contest and IWSG blogging member (number eighteen on the list and still rising!), Ken agreed to tackle that very subject – insecurity. We all feel it – now, how do we deal with it?

Where do you hail from? How long have you been writing? What genre(s) do you write? Published work? What are your goals?

I’ve lived in the Midwest all my life, bouncing between Illinois and Missouri until I finally moved to Michigan after finishing my Ph.D. in chemistry. I’ve been writing fiction for about ten years, although the first couple of years were rather sporadic. My preferred genre is Fantasy, although I like to think of it as Science Fantasy. My pattern is to create a few fantastical elements for my story world and then let science fill out the resulting ramifications. It makes my worlds seem more real to me. I’m not published, probably because I haven’t finished a story yet. My goal is to finish a story, publish it, then start the process all over again (hopefully not taking ten years the next time around).

When you first began writing, was insecurity a problem?

No. My writing journey started when I began writing Harry Potter fan fiction, and back then I had no insecurities. I hadn’t heard of fan fiction sites and I don’t think Wattpad existed yet, so I never expected anyone to see my words. And even after I discovered I could upload my words to the internet, I didn’t know enough about writing to feel insecure. Who said ignorance can’t be a blessing? Fortunately, by the time I learned enough to be insecure, I was already hooked on this writing stuff, so I had no choice but to slog through it as best I could.

When did you really begin to question what you wrote? What happened to initiate that?

I was quite happy with my words for a while… until I compared them to the ones in my favorite author’s books. Especially Rowling’s books. It was clear my writing wasn’t anywhere near the level of those books, but I didn’t know enough yet to understand why. All I knew was my writing sounded amateurish next to them. So I pushed myself to understand what I was missing. I studied Rowling’s words. I read writing blogs and bought books on craft. The more I learned, the more I realized how much I didn’t know. Talk about insecurity! To be honest, if I hadn’t been hooked on writing by that point, I probably would have abandoned this whole writing business right then and there.

Before we knew the rules, we wrote uninhibited. But without those writing rules, our work sucks. What’s the balance between the two?

I’m a big proponent of “the rules are only guidelines” mindset. After studying the books of authors I respected, it was clear they didn’t always follow the rules either. Especially Rowling. I eventually concluded that much of an author’s voice depends on which writing rules they followed and which they chose to ignore. The hard part for us newer writers is deciding which rules your readers expect you to follow. Every book, every genre, every reader age group has a different expectation. Your job as an author is to figure out what that expectation is.

Back before I came to this conclusion, my mind was often paralyzed with indecision. I’d write a simple, straightforward sentence, then obsess for hours over whether it was telling or showing. I avoided finding a critique partner for years simply because I was afraid my chapters were so full of hidden telling that any critique partner worth their salt would drop me immediately. Turns out that most crit partners (and readers) aren’t nearly as worried about telling as some of the experts would have us believe. As authors, it’s our job to tell our story in a way that maximizes the entertainment value for the reader. And if that means more showing (or more telling), then so be it.

So how do we determine the appropriate amount of rule breaking? Get critique partners. Lots of them. Listen to what they have to say. Remember, the rules have reasons for existing, and you need to understand them before you break them.

How do critique partners or writer’s groups sometimes add to the insecurity? How do they take it away?

At the beginning, attending critique group meetings made my stomach hurt, because the other writers found so many problems in my submissions. I walked into these meetings thinking my words sucked, and they confirmed it. They tried to be encouraging, but I realized I had so much more to learn, it was hard not to be depressed. But somehow, despite all this negativity, I always came away from these meetings supercharged for more writing. I wanted to dive right in and fix the problems. I kept working on my craft, and as time passed my critique partners found less and less to complain about. So now my critique groups help banish my insecurities. The moral of the story? Don’t give up.

Why do we struggle with it? Why does fear and doubt mess with our creativity?

Because we have no standards against which to judge ourselves. There’s no metric that can tell us if our writing is book-worthy or not. Writing is too subjective. Our only option is to compare our words with those of other authors, and that usually just makes us feel worse. At least it does for me. The only way we’ll ever know if our stories are good is if people like the book when it’s finished. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do us any good when we’re in the middle of writing the darn thing, and that’s when our insecurities are at their highest.

What can we do to battle insecurity? Rituals, thought processes, activities, etc.?

I may not be the best person to answer this. I have loads of insecurities about my writing, but I have one superpower that helps protect me against them. An almost child-like ability to ignore reality. I’m serious. No matter how depressed I might become after a night of crappy writing, all I need is a good night’s sleep, and when I wake, the insecurities are gone. Like magic. I don’t know how it works, but it always does. If I could bottle it, I would.

My one suggestion for battling insecurity is to create a writing space that draws you so deeply into your story that insecurity can’t follow. Much of what I write involves magic and alchemy, so my office is decorated in the style of a potion’s master lab. When I’m surrounded by flasks and beakers and tomes on alchemy, I can’t help but feel excited about my stories.

Despite the insecurities, can you see your growth as a writer?

OMG, yes. Every once in a while, when I’m stuck on a particular scene, I look back at my early writing and am staggered by how much better my writing is now. I used to be so clueless about writing. Of course, this knowledge can be a double edged sword. If I could be so clueless about being clueless back then, how do I know I’m not still clueless now? I don’t know what I don’t know, and that scares me.

Any other advice for all the insecure writers out there?

1. Find critique partners you trust, as many as you can. Join online critique groups. Get your work in front of as many eyes as possible. Listen to their feedback, even if you don’t always agree with their comments. Not only will your writing improve, but their value as a support group cannot be overstated.

2. Accept that insecurity is an occupational hazard of being a writer, and that you will always suffer from it, no matter how many books you write. That’s just how it is. In fact, I believe that being insecure is a prerequisite for being a good writer. Insecurity forces you to push yourself into becoming a better writer. Insecurity keeps you from pushing out unpolished dreck. Yeah, having to deal with the negative consequences stinks, but your insecurity is one of the best tools you have in your writer’s toolbox. Embrace it. Nurture it. Because the instant your insecurity goes away, your writing will suffer.

Thanks, Ken!


Ken Rahmoeller:
I'm a chemist living in Michigan who wondered how J.K. Rowling might go about writing another series based on the Harry Potter universe - and then decided to find out for himself.
Find Ken at his blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Top Newbie Mistakes Made by Writers Adapting their Book into a Screenplay

By B. O'Malley from Screenplay Readers.

For an author, adapting their novel into a screenplay can be extremely rewarding, both creatively and financially.

Creatively, because the author is opening themselves up to a whole new discipline and form of telling stories.

Financially, because if you know how to adapt your own novel into a screenplay, and know how to do it well, you can cut out a lot of the "middle men" and "middle women" between you and that screen credit, and that sale, and those fine, fine residuals from the WGA.

But turning a novel into a screenplay isn't exactly easy.

I own and run Screenplay Readers, a script coverage service. Our job is to read screenplays and provide feedback to their authors or representatives, or producers who have rights to the material. Our clientele ranges from amateurs and new writers to A-list screenwriters and producers.

So, as you can imagine, we read a lot of screenplays -- many of which are adaptations of novels by the writers of those novels. One great benefit from having read so many books-turned-screenplays over our almost two decades in business is that my team and I now have an acute sense of what most writers get wrong when they're trying to translate their book into a screenplay.

Here's the top 3 things we see writers doing wrong when adapating their books to scripts:

#1 Not editing themselves

A novel, to quote Andrew Marvell, has "but world enough and time" to "seduce" its reader. That is, the page and word count of a novel can be as long as required, with only arbitrary, industry standards of word count placed on it for reasons of financial and technical viability.

The imagination of the writer is practically unbridled when it comes to rendering "scenes" in a novel.

Not so in a screenplay.

Yet many first-time screenwriters adapting their novel fall into the trap of simply not being able to edit themselves, when it comes to paring down what makes it into the screenplay, and what doesn't.

One of the most common critiques our readers offer our novelists-turned-screenwriters is that many scenes or sequences that end up in the screenplays are completely unnecessary.

Another common critique is that the nonlinearity that an author may have rendered to near perfection on the pages of her novel may be too hard to understand when compacted into the limited space of the motion picture screenplay.

Writers of novels can take as much time as they need to make a non-linear storyline "gel" in the mind of their readers. In a screenplay, where the space is limited, as are the "dimensions" available to the writer (see below), it's much more difficult to jump around in space and time while being 100% clear at all times.

The failure to squeeze things down, to merge key plot and character points and to see some elements of their stories as redundant or even obtrusive on a screenplay page, is the biggest failing we see in adaptations.v
We suggest to our clients who fall into this sandtrap that they take a step back and do more "logic" work. Compress more. Merge more. Think visually, rather than literally. Remember that a film is limited to, generally, 90 - 120 minutes, and a TV show episode is limited to usually 40-65.

We emphasize that significant time compression, plot point compression, exposition overhauling, and the elimination of large chunks of the novel's sequences or chapters are the key things a writer must do first when adapting their novel as a screenplay.

"Kill your darlings" is one of those sayings that come closest to what the philosophy is here, but an even better term would be "genocide." Be ready to scorch the earth of your novel, and shoot everything that moves, until you're able to distill it down to the completely different beast you're asking it to become.

#2 Overdescription and prose

Knowing what's important and what's not is good on a macro level, as mentioned above, but it's also vital to know how to stick to what's important on a micro level as well.

When a Hollywood agent or her assistant picks up a script, they look at one thing first: the page count.

Not the title. Not the author name. Not the words on page 54. Page count.

Why? Because they need to know how much time this read is going to take out of their day.

White space on a page is key to keeping a reader turning pages. By white space, I mean: blank, white space.

The fewer words you have on your script page, the easier the read, and the faster and more easily the reader will be able to visualize your script as a film. With relatively few exceptions (scripts by Coppola or Tarantino, for example.)

With that in mind, a novel writer must be prepared to take all of her pretty, evocative description out of the prose format of 20 words on a line words and be ready to say everything she's trying to say in 4. Or 6.

Keep in mind, a novel has ample space and unlimited dimensions for description, dialogue, action, inner monologues, and all sorts of florid details to squeeze into that can add to the reader's experience.

But when it comes to number of dimensions in a screenplay, we're limited to exactly two:

What we can see and what we can hear.

A film has the image and the sound, and that's it.

All of your characters' thoughts? You can't just write them in a screenplay. You have to be able to transmit those thoughts to us via image and sound only. So either the character has to say what they're thinking out loud, or say it as a voiceover, or they have to be projected onto the film screen as words, or conveyed in any number of creative ways you can think of, as long as they're either visual, sonic, or a combination of those two dimensions only.

#3 Getting hung up on script format

The third biggest mistake novel writers make when adapting their novel to a screenplay format is worrying too much about the screenplay format itself.

Yes, it's a different format than prose -- wildly different -- and there's an entire industry that worries about that and services writers with a variety of script formatting software and templates and other helpful sundries.

And yes, you should learn it, or find a screenwriting app that makes it easy for you.

And yes, you should worry about your screenplay looking like an actual screenplay so that that aforementioned agent or her assistant looks at it and sees that it's legit, and that it looks like every other screenplay she's read.

But don't worry about the format or the details of how it looks until you've made sure you've worried about the previous big areas: paring down your novel's story and character points until its lean and can fit elegantly into a screenplay, and getting your description and dialogue down to a size that serves that compact format as well.

After those biggies are taken care of, format can and should be addressed and even worried about. At least a little. (Some great film screenplays have come in some pretty atrocious packaging (i.e. formats), but those are those rare exceptions you might not want to count on your script being among.)

Before you sit down to start paring down your novel, read good screenplays. Feel the pacing with which the story unfolds. Note how little exposition we're given and yet the story still manages to work. Hear the voices of the characters. Read the description and action and see how sparse it is.

The goal is to get into the mindset of "pictures and sound only." Limit yourself to those two dimensions. Re-read your novel from the perspective of an audience member being limited to those two dimensions only: sight and sound. How much of your novel still works? I'll bet a lot works, but a lot ends up on the cutting room floor.


Visit B. O'Malley at Screenplay Readers and on Twitter - @scriptcoverages.