2015 Dialogue-Writing Challenge: Week 4

February 28th, 2015 by

Here are all of Week 4’s prompts for this year’s Dialogue-Writing Challenge for which you can win one of my Craft classes — for free.

Day 16 challenge: Someone applying for a job.

Day 17 challenge: A drunken tirade.

Day 18 challenge: A conversation involving texting.

Day 19 challenge: A prayer.

Day 20 challenge: A scene in which characters can say no more than five words per side.

Want to join in? For the Week 1 writing prompts, go here. For the Week 2 writing prompts, go here.

We have several challenge winners already! They are Stu Anderson, Ricardo Bravo, Liz Correal, Brian Helton, Evan Skarin, John Suriano, Michelle Takahasi, and Carolyn Wang. Many more working overtime to reach the goal.

NOTE: The challenge ends midnight Pacific, February 28. You must have posted all ten of your own scenes and all ten of your assessment of other scenes by that time to qualify for the prize.

For background on the Challenge and to learn how you can win a free one-week online Craft class with me, go here.

My thoughts on “constructive critique”

February 27th, 2015 by

All the screenwriting classes I teach have some sort of workshop component to them, where participants are invited or depending upon the course expected to post pages for peer review. It occurred to me with this most recent class, I don’t think I’ve ever shared my take on something really important: “constructive critique”. Here is what I post at the beginning of every one of my courses:

A professional screenwriter knows how to give and accept critiques on written material. This is called constructive critique. What that means for this course is two-fold: I expect you to give honest feedback on your classmates’ writing assignments. A second and equally important element of constructive critique is that I also expect you to provide creative suggestions as to how to possibly improve the material.

The goal is to create a positive evaluative environment. This does not mean everything you say about your classmates’ writing has to be spunky and upbeat. As I say, I expect you to provide honest feedback. If something doesn’t work for you, then as a professional, it is your responsibility to convey your thoughts.

Posting the comment “It sucks” does not qualify as a constructive critique. Why? Because you haven’t specified what you perceive the issue/problem to be. Honest feedback not only requires honesty from you, but also some specific evaluation of the material in question.

Now I understand none of us likes to be criticized. But please get this point: Criticism is not the same as criticizing. It is, rather, a critique, one person’s honest assessment of the material, not the writer.

So a writing mantra: “Always critique the material, not the writer.”

That’s that about honest feedback. But we don’t leave it there. As part of constructive critique, I expect you to do your best to follow up your assessment of the material with creative suggestions as to how to make the material better. This is critical in part because it helps to ensure a positive evaluation experience in our online classroom, and also forces you to become a better critical thinker.

It’s simple to take pot shots at material. It is not nearly as easy to come up with creative suggestions to make the scene, story, or characters work better.

Robert Towne, screenwriter extraordinaire who wrote Chinatown, among many other scripts, made this comment: “In rewriting what you have to be able to do is read a piece of material, say what’s wrong with it, know how to say what’s right with it, and then be able to do it yourself. That’s really what it comes down to. Some people say what’s wrong with something, some people can even say what’s right with it, and some people can do all three. But, you know, the more things that are required, the fewer people can do it. I think I can do it.”

A big reason to engage in constructive critique is so that you can learn to do all three.

And so yet another mantra. Regarding constructive critique: “Say what’s right with it, say what’s wrong with it, then say what you’d do to make it work better.”

It is important that each one of you engage in active constructive critique on every assignment. Your feedback will not only benefit your classmates, the process of formulating your opinion will improve your own creative understanding of screenwriting.

However you do it, connect with other writers. Good ones. Create a writing group. Commit to reading each others’ pages and provide a constructive critique. You’ll help them. They’ll help you. Everyone will become less ‘precious’ with their work. You will be learning how to accept critiques of your material, lock in on the good ideas, then implement them in rewrites.

If you can’t find other writers, consider taking one of a Screenwriting Master Class course. Great workshop environments and literally dozens of writing groups have emerged from my classes.

A great opportunity starts Monday with my Prep: From Concept to Outline workshop. Work out your story with the benefit of my feedback and that of writing peers in a positive evaluative environment.

2015 Dialogue-Writing Challenge: Day 20

February 27th, 2015 by

As noted in this post last month:

What if in February, we put the spotlight on writing dialogue?

A Dialogue-Writing Challenge!

Here’s my idea: We crowdsource a bunch of dialogue-writing prompts. From that, we choose the 20 best ones. Then next month, Monday through Friday, much like the scene-writing exercises, I invite people to take each prompt, use it to write dialogue, then upload the dialogue to the site for peer feedback.

People submitted some great dialogue-writing prompts, so let’s do this!

Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific in February, I will upload a post with a prompt for writing dialogue. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your dialogue as well.

To provide extra motivation for this series — to get people to WRITE PAGES — I am giving away some of my Craft classes to Dialogue-Writing Challenge participants. That’s right: For free!

The Craft classes highlight key principles and practices tied to the nitty gritty of writing a script. Here is the Craft lineup, the only time I will teach each of these courses in 2015:

January 19: Craft: Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling

February 2: Craft: Story Summaries

February 16: Craft: Handling Exposition

March 16: Craft: The Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling

March 30: Craft: Character Development Keys

April 27: Craft: Create a Compelling Protagonist

May 11: Craft: Write a Worthy Nemesis

May 25: Craft: Scene Description Spotlight

Each is a 1-week online class featuring 7 lectures written by me, lots of screenwriting insider tips, logline workshops, optional writing exercises, 24/7 message board conversations, teleconferences with course participants and myself to discuss anything related to the craft of scriptwriting.

A popular option is the Craft Package which gives you access to the content in all eight Craft classes which you can go through on your own time and at your own pace, plus automatic enrollment in each 1-week online course. All for nearly 50% the price of each individual class.

To qualify to take one of my Craft classes for free, write and submit ten [10] Dialogue-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers. The former to get you writing, the latter to work your critical-analytical skills.

A chance to take any of my eight Craft classes, interface with me online along with the usual stellar group of writers who take Screenwriting Master Class courses, while using writing exercises and feedback to upgrade your skill at writing and analyzing dialogue.

ISN’T THAT AN AWESOME IDEA?!!!

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your post to 2 pages. Out of fairness to everyone participating in the public dialogue-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* Give your scenes a beginning, middle and end. You may enter late and exit early, but provide an arc to each of your posts. Even monologues or telephone conversations, both of which we will be doing this month.

* Don’t be concerned about proper script format when you copy/paste your pages, rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Today’s prompt: A scene in which characters can say no more than five words per side.

This is a test in economical writing. Characters can say lot in a few words and this is your chance to explore the potential of short sentences and key words. Remember: No more than 5 words per side.

SCARLETT: What is a side?

RHETT: What you just said.

SCARLETT: What?

RHETT: That was a side, too.

SCARLETT: I don't understand.

RHETT: Did it again.

A side is any character’s single exchange. It could be one line or multiple lines.

Focus on the dialogue, not the action to drive the scene. In most movies, it’s the other way around because movies are primarily a visual medium, however sometimes the script requires a dialogue-driven scene and we need to hone our chops at being able to do that effectively.

Write a 1-2 page dialogue-centric scene, then copy/paste in comments.

If you are interested in qualifying for 1 free Craft class with me, please note in each post you submit the number of scenes you have written. If today is your first effort, note that it is Scene 1. The next one, Scene 2. And so forth.

Also when you provide feedback on someone’s scene, please note in each reply the number of comments you have uploaded. So if today is your first response, Feedback 1. The next one, Feedback 2.

You are on an honor system, as I don’t have time to check every post, so do the right thing!

Remember: In order to qualify for one of my free Craft classes, you need to submit ten [10] Dialogue-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers.

FEEDBACK TIP: Less is more, but it’s a challenge on multiple levels. First, just writing shorter sides of dialogue. But they also have to be effective in conveying what the character means. So when you assess a scene, make sure each side is clear in its meaning. If not, note that for the writer and come up with alternate ways of using 5 words or less to be clearer.

Want to join in? For the Week 1 writing prompts, go here. For the Week 2 writing prompts, go here. Week 3, here.

Day 16 challenge: Someone applying for a job.

Day 17 challenge: A drunken tirade.

Day 18 challenge: A conversation involving texting.

Day 19 challenge: A prayer.

It’s the 2015 Dialogue-Writing Challenge! Give a jolt to your creative and writing muscles… and win 1 free online class with yours truly.

NOTE #1: If you have done all 10 exercises and provided 10 feedback posts, you are eligible to take one of my Craft classes for free. Just get in touch with me via email and I’ll handle the rest.

NOTE #2: This is the last prompt in the 2015 Dialogue-Writing Challenge. Participants have until Midnight (Pacific), Saturday, February 28 to post their scenes and scene reviews to be eligible for one of my free Craft classes.

How to attack “Talking Head Syndrome”

February 26th, 2015 by

In a recent class I taught on Handling Exposition, we were discussing the use of Fascination to make exposition entertaining. Here is an excerpt from a forum discussion thread that started with a scene from Training Day and ended up one of the most famous exposition scenes in movie history. A post from Dean Friske:

Not sure if this, from Training Day by David Ayer, is right either. It’s exposition. I’m calling it fascinating because it’s a conversation that reveals the why of the movie, the question the protagonist has been asking for the last 99 minutes, just before he’s to be killed and he knows it.

Ayer’s has gone for two people talking about a 3rd, but he’s set the conversation against the subtext of two people also toying with someone they’re about to kill.

SMILEY: That’s why I never shake his hand. He don’t respect shit. (to Jake). Know what the money’s for?
JAKE: – No.
SMILEY: Alonzo’s a hothead. Last week in Vegas some Russian dude was talking shit. Alonzo spazzed out and beat his ass to death. Oops. Turns out the dude was somebody. Alonzo’s into the Rooskies for million, wasting that cat like that.
JAKE: How do you know?

Smiley gives Jake a look.

SMILEY: They gave Alonzo till today to pay up. But his name’s already on a list. No one thought he could get cash that big. Good thing he got his blood money, ’cause a crew’s waiting on standby. He don’t get downtown and pay up by midnight and not a minute after, Cinderfella turns into a corpse.
MORENO: It’s all about punctuality, ese.
SNIPER: Dude made a pact with some shit ’cause only coulda saved his ass.
JAKE: It’s no miracle.

My response:

Dean, this is exposition, absolutely. All of that information is backstory. And you’re right, it’s about a third character, so we are two levels removed from ‘show it, don’t say it’. So what did screenwriter Ayer do to make this exposition work?

As you point out, he uses fascination to the scene’s advantage, both the specifics of Alonzo’s situation with deadly consequences and the way Smiley conveys the information, street slang. It’s entertaining to read because it has a jargonesque lilt to it.

Also there is a subtext of conflict at work: the conflict between Alonzo and the “Rooskies”.

That said, if this were a script someone was working on in one of my writing workshops, I’d offer this suggestion: Why not accompany the backstory with images of Alonzo? You could show him killing the Russian, essentially a flashback. Or you could simply cut to Alonzo wherever he is now, staying low, freaking out, arming up, whatever. To do this, you’d have to have established a certain narrative flexibility to veer away to other peoples’ POVs.

That said, a reminder that movies are primarily a visual medium. Should always be thinking about how to enhance the visual nature of our stories.

Dean’s response:

So glad you mentioned the visuals thing. I liked that it was some 3rd party solving the puzzle for the protagonist instead of the evil villain and the use of street slang, but there was something in the staging maybe? Looking at the rest of the script, popping out at that late stage to a different pov with VO could be too much left hand turn in style. But that they were just playing cards… dunno. If they had him in the bath-tub about to blow his brains down the drain, that would’ve felt gratutious. Hindsight and all being what it is, I wonder whether they could’ve used the fact that Alonzo wasn’t there (JAKE throws his cards and starts to fight) to have them talk about where he is and why? Or would that be almost too cliched a scene? I only ask because I wonder where one draws the line in feedback. You get a note saying “it’s just guys talking” – would you push back with reasons like “the whole movie is two people talking in a car for goodness sake” or say “okay, lets look at it?”

My response:

Dean, you raise a key point, what we may call “talking head syndrome”. I read far too many scripts by aspiring screenwriters where their default for a scene is this: Two characters. Static location. Talking. Nothing inherently wrong with this… unless the dialogue is flat, the setting uninspired and the characters not compelling. This becomes especially problematic when the writer handles scene after scene like this.

But as I say, a talking head scene, even with lots of exposition, need not fall flat. One of the most famous exposition scenes in cinema history is this one from Jaws. But what have we got going on here:

Three characters: Each distinct, each with an interesting background, personal issues, and narrative arcs. Plus the combination of the three creates a kind of volatility due to their respective personalities. Plus this particular moment is set up by them drinking and basically breaking down some of the barriers between them, so in effect, the story of the USS Indianapolis is a kind of confession.

Setting: In a way, static. However, one key thing: It’s a boat. In the middle of the ocean. An ocean with a gigantic white shark roaming around. So despite their relative safety, there is a threat looming, quite literally, underneath them and therefore under what transpires in the scene.

Talking: The previous two elements create a context. But it is the dialogue itself which shines because it is Revelation (a shocking experience in Quint’s past). It evokes Action (men desperate to survive in the water while many of them die). It is Mystery (what the hell happens after the men are left floating in the water). And mostly it is Fascination (the jaw-dropping details of the horrific event).

Cap it off with Robert Shaw’s almost understated, almost ironic delivery – and we have to acknowledge Spielberg’s direction with a few judicious cuts to Brody and Hooper’s faces – and you have one of the greatest exposition scenes ever.

So talking heads can be entertaining. But you’ve got to bring your A Game when writing these type of scenes. And if you have a story like Training Day or The King’s Speech, which are basically two-handers, you have an even greater challenge.

Just remind yourself, we have tools to make exposition entertaining: Fascination, Mystery, Revelation, Conflict, Action, Humor, along with assorted tips I’ll be providing this week.

About that scene from Jaws, check it out one more time. It’s all exposition. And it’s all great!

There are different kinds of exposition, sometimes requiring us to use Talking Heads. But there are different ways to handle exposition. One of the best is to make fascinating.

2015 Dialogue-Writing Challenge: Day 19

February 26th, 2015 by

As noted in this post last month:

What if in February, we put the spotlight on writing dialogue?

A Dialogue-Writing Challenge!

Here’s my idea: We crowdsource a bunch of dialogue-writing prompts. From that, we choose the 20 best ones. Then next month, Monday through Friday, much like the scene-writing exercises, I invite people to take each prompt, use it to write dialogue, then upload the dialogue to the site for peer feedback.

People submitted some great dialogue-writing prompts, so let’s do this!

Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific in February, I will upload a post with a prompt for writing dialogue. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your dialogue as well.

To provide extra motivation for this series — to get people to WRITE PAGES — I am giving away some of my Craft classes to Dialogue-Writing Challenge participants. That’s right: For free!

The Craft classes highlight key principles and practices tied to the nitty gritty of writing a script. Here is the Craft lineup, the only time I will teach each of these courses in 2015:

January 19: Craft: Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling

February 2: Craft: Story Summaries

February 16: Craft: Handling Exposition

March 16: Craft: The Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling

March 30: Craft: Character Development Keys

April 27: Craft: Create a Compelling Protagonist

May 11: Craft: Write a Worthy Nemesis

May 25: Craft: Scene Description Spotlight

Each is a 1-week online class featuring 7 lectures written by me, lots of screenwriting insider tips, logline workshops, optional writing exercises, 24/7 message board conversations, teleconferences with course participants and myself to discuss anything related to the craft of scriptwriting.

A popular option is the Craft Package which gives you access to the content in all eight Craft classes which you can go through on your own time and at your own pace, plus automatic enrollment in each 1-week online course. All for nearly 50% the price of each individual class.

To qualify to take one of my Craft classes for free, write and submit ten [10] Dialogue-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers. The former to get you writing, the latter to work your critical-analytical skills.

A chance to take any of my eight Craft classes, interface with me online along with the usual stellar group of writers who take Screenwriting Master Class courses, while using writing exercises and feedback to upgrade your skill at writing and analyzing dialogue.

ISN’T THAT AN AWESOME IDEA?!!!

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your post to 2 pages. Out of fairness to everyone participating in the public dialogue-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* Give your scenes a beginning, middle and end. You may enter late and exit early, but provide an arc to each of your posts. Even monologues or telephone conversations, both of which we will be doing this month.

* Don’t be concerned about proper script format when you copy/paste your pages, rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Today’s prompt: A prayer.

All sorts of ways to approach this prompt. Someone praying out of desperation. Perhaps a benediction. Maybe grace at a meal. A minister offering last rites. A plethora of ways to go at it.

Focus on the dialogue, not the action to drive the scene. In most movies, it’s the other way around because movies are primarily a visual medium, however sometimes the script requires a dialogue-driven scene and we need to hone our chops at being able to do that effectively.

Write a 1-2 page dialogue-centric scene, then copy/paste in comments.

If you are interested in qualifying for 1 free Craft class with me, please note in each post you submit the number of scenes you have written. If today is your first effort, note that it is Scene 1. The next one, Scene 2. And so forth.

Also when you provide feedback on someone’s scene, please note in each reply the number of comments you have uploaded. So if today is your first response, Feedback 1. The next one, Feedback 2.

You are on an honor system, as I don’t have time to check every post, so do the right thing!

Remember: In order to qualify for one of my free Craft classes, you need to submit ten [10] Dialogue-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers.

FEEDBACK TIP: What can be surprising about a prayer? Who can forget this cinematic prayer?

Ironically, George gets smacked by a guy in the bar whose wife George berated on the phone. As George says, “That’s what I get for praying.” Nope, George. You get this guy!

That’s a nice twist: A prayer that ends with a punch to the face. Whatever scene you assess, see if there’s anything surprising about it. If not, make a suggestion.

Want to join in? For the Week 1 writing prompts, go here. For the Week 2 writing prompts, go here. Week 3, here.

Day 16 challenge: Someone applying for a job.

Day 17 challenge: A drunken tirade.

Day 18 challenge: A conversation involving texting.

It’s the 2015 Dialogue-Writing Challenge! Give a jolt to your creative and writing muscles… and win 1 free online class with yours truly.

NOTE: If you have done all 10 exercises and provided 10 feedback posts, you are eligible to take one of my Craft classes for free. Just get in touch with me via email and I’ll handle the rest.

The importance of an outline

February 25th, 2015 by

You probably get sick of me harping on the importance of ‘breaking’ your story in the prep-writing phase, ideally ending up with a comprehensive outline. So I have featured interviews with screenwriters who extol the virtues of outlines like Dustin Lance Black, who wrote the screenplay for Milk:

But allow me to make this point even more tangible for you. Here is a photograph of Paul Schrader’s outline for the Raging Bull script:

This corroborates what I have posted before from an interview with Schrader:

“I know exactly where I’m going beforehand. I know to the half page if I’m on or off target. I draw up charts before I do a script. I endlessly chart and re-chart a movie. Before I sit down to write, I have all the scenes listed, what happens in each scene, how many pages I anticipate each scene will take. I have a running log on the film. I can look down and see what happens by page thirty, what happens by page forty, fifty, sixty and so forth. I have the whole thing timed out to a hundred and five, a hundred and ten pages. You may go two, three pages ahead or behind, you may add or drop dialogue or scenes; but if you’re two pages ahead or behind, you have to work that into the timing. Especially if you get five pages ahead, or, worse, five pages behind, then something you had planned to work on page forty may not work the same way on page forty-five.”

Let’s add one more chip to the pot to get you to go all-in and embrace outlines. You can go here to download the “step sheet” for the Chinatown screenplay, crafted by Robert Towne and Roman Polanski. It is in effect an outline with considerable detail for each scene.

This is what most professional screenwriters and all TV writers do: Wrangle the story in prep.

Okay, I get it, prep-writing is hard. Working up an outline is a pain in the posterior. But here’s the thing: You are going to have to do the hard work anyhow. Why do it after you type FADE IN, spending all that time and energy wandering around, stopping, starting, going back, re-starting with a very good chance you won’t ever finish the draft because you will get frustrated at being lost… when you can ‘break’ your story in prep, then type FADE IN with confidence since you already have a strong sense of the narrative’s structure.

So yes, consider this a sales pitch for the online workshop I created five years ago: Prep: From Concept to Outline. I have worked with countless writers who absolutely loathed outlines who, after learning this approach to prep, now swear by them.

In the end, by breaking your story in prep, you will save time… exponentially increase the chances you will actually finish your script… and be able to enjoy the page-writing process because you pretty much know where your story is heading.

[clears throat]

Chinatown: Academy Award, Best Writing, Original Screenplay [1975]

Raging Bull: Nominated, Golden Globe, Best Screenplay [1981]

Milk: Academy Award, Best Writing, Original Screenplay [2009]

[drops mic]

My next session of Prep: From Concept to Outline begins Monday, March 2. For more information and to enroll, go here.

2015 Dialogue-Writing Challenge: Day 18

February 25th, 2015 by

As noted in this post last month:

What if in February, we put the spotlight on writing dialogue?

A Dialogue-Writing Challenge!

Here’s my idea: We crowdsource a bunch of dialogue-writing prompts. From that, we choose the 20 best ones. Then next month, Monday through Friday, much like the scene-writing exercises, I invite people to take each prompt, use it to write dialogue, then upload the dialogue to the site for peer feedback.

People submitted some great dialogue-writing prompts, so let’s do this!

Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific in February, I will upload a post with a prompt for writing dialogue. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your dialogue as well.

To provide extra motivation for this series — to get people to WRITE PAGES — I am giving away some of my Craft classes to Dialogue-Writing Challenge participants. That’s right: For free!

The Craft classes highlight key principles and practices tied to the nitty gritty of writing a script. Here is the Craft lineup, the only time I will teach each of these courses in 2015:

January 19: Craft: Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling

February 2: Craft: Story Summaries

February 16: Craft: Handling Exposition

March 16: Craft: The Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling

March 30: Craft: Character Development Keys

April 27: Craft: Create a Compelling Protagonist

May 11: Craft: Write a Worthy Nemesis

May 25: Craft: Scene Description Spotlight

Each is a 1-week online class featuring 7 lectures written by me, lots of screenwriting insider tips, logline workshops, optional writing exercises, 24/7 message board conversations, teleconferences with course participants and myself to discuss anything related to the craft of scriptwriting.

A popular option is the Craft Package which gives you access to the content in all eight Craft classes which you can go through on your own time and at your own pace, plus automatic enrollment in each 1-week online course. All for nearly 50% the price of each individual class.

To qualify to take one of my Craft classes for free, write and submit ten [10] Dialogue-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers. The former to get you writing, the latter to work your critical-analytical skills.

A chance to take any of my eight Craft classes, interface with me online along with the usual stellar group of writers who take Screenwriting Master Class courses, while using writing exercises and feedback to upgrade your skill at writing and analyzing dialogue.

ISN’T THAT AN AWESOME IDEA?!!!

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your post to 2 pages. Out of fairness to everyone participating in the public dialogue-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* Give your scenes a beginning, middle and end. You may enter late and exit early, but provide an arc to each of your posts. Even monologues or telephone conversations, both of which we will be doing this month.

* Don’t be concerned about proper script format when you copy/paste your pages, rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Today’s prompt: A conversation involving texting.

This is interesting as there is the actual texted conversation plus the dialogue of the texting character: Talking at the other person, reading aloud the other person’s texts.

Focus on the dialogue, not the action to drive the scene. In most movies, it’s the other way around because movies are primarily a visual medium, however sometimes the script requires a dialogue-driven scene and we need to hone our chops at being able to do that effectively.

Write a 1-2 page dialogue-centric scene, then copy/paste in comments.

If you are interested in qualifying for 1 free Craft class with me, please note in each post you submit the number of scenes you have written. If today is your first effort, note that it is Scene 1. The next one, Scene 2. And so forth.

Also when you provide feedback on someone’s scene, please note in each reply the number of comments you have uploaded. So if today is your first response, Feedback 1. The next one, Feedback 2.

You are on an honor system, as I don’t have time to check every post, so do the right thing!

Remember: In order to qualify for one of my free Craft classes, you need to submit ten [10] Dialogue-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers.

FEEDBACK TIP: A big part of the fun of this prompt is the difference in tone, honest, and even vulgarity between what the texter is saying versus what they are actually texting. Track that in the scene you critique, then see if you can heighten the disparity of the lines, making the scene even more entertaining.

Want to join in? For the Week 1 writing prompts, go here. For the Week 2 writing prompts, go here. Week 3, here.

Day 16 challenge: Someone applying for a job.

Day 17 challenge: A drunken tirade.

It’s the 2015 Dialogue-Writing Challenge! Give a jolt to your creative and writing muscles… and win 1 free online class with yours truly.

NOTE: If you have done all 10 exercises and provided 10 feedback posts, you are eligible to take one of my Craft classes for free. Just get in touch with me via email and I’ll handle the rest.

A.B.C. Always. Be. Creating.

February 24th, 2015 by

Some advice I offered writers in my recent Story Summaries: From Loglines to Beat Sheets class:

If you write a script and it generates interest with a manager, agent, or producer, when you meet with them, the first thing they’ll say is, “Love your script.” The second thing will be this: “What else you got?”

That is why it is critical to be brainstorming story concepts and developing the best ones along with writing scripts. Once you’ve landed on a strong story concept, work it out and write it up as a synopsis or treatment, along with a logline. If you have at least three of those in hand, then you’ll be in good shape when that opportunity arrives.

Think of it as A.B.C.: Always. Be. Creating. You can do this by learning how to stack projects.

Hopefully this class will spur folks to embrace the story development process.

So there you go, a new writing mantra emerges on the fly: A.B.C.: Always. Be. Creating. Yes, a nod to David Mamet:

Going back to that meeting you’ll have when you write that spec that gets someone’s attention in Hollywood. When they say, “What else you got,” you can’t close them unless you’ve got something to sell. And how do you get something in hand? Generate story ideas. Develop them, see which ones get you excited. Assess them by pitching them to friends and other writers. Take the best ones and work them up into treatments, so you are prepared for your L.A. meet-and-greets.

A.B.C.: Always. Be. Creating.

2015 Dialogue-Writing Challenge: Day 17

February 24th, 2015 by

As noted in this post last month:

What if in February, we put the spotlight on writing dialogue?

A Dialogue-Writing Challenge!

Here’s my idea: We crowdsource a bunch of dialogue-writing prompts. From that, we choose the 20 best ones. Then next month, Monday through Friday, much like the scene-writing exercises, I invite people to take each prompt, use it to write dialogue, then upload the dialogue to the site for peer feedback.

People submitted some great dialogue-writing prompts, so let’s do this!

Every Monday-Friday at noon Eastern / 9AM Pacific in February, I will upload a post with a prompt for writing dialogue. Each day, write a scene per those guidelines. If you really want to get in the spirit of things, upload your scene here in the comments section of the original post. That way you can critique others’ pages and receive feedback on your dialogue as well.

To provide extra motivation for this series — to get people to WRITE PAGES — I am giving away some of my Craft classes to Dialogue-Writing Challenge participants. That’s right: For free!

The Craft classes highlight key principles and practices tied to the nitty gritty of writing a script. Here is the Craft lineup, the only time I will teach each of these courses in 2015:

January 19: Craft: Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling

February 2: Craft: Story Summaries

February 16: Craft: Handling Exposition

March 16: Craft: The Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling

March 30: Craft: Character Development Keys

April 27: Craft: Create a Compelling Protagonist

May 11: Craft: Write a Worthy Nemesis

May 25: Craft: Scene Description Spotlight

Each is a 1-week online class featuring 7 lectures written by me, lots of screenwriting insider tips, logline workshops, optional writing exercises, 24/7 message board conversations, teleconferences with course participants and myself to discuss anything related to the craft of scriptwriting.

A popular option is the Craft Package which gives you access to the content in all eight Craft classes which you can go through on your own time and at your own pace, plus automatic enrollment in each 1-week online course. All for nearly 50% the price of each individual class.

To qualify to take one of my Craft classes for free, write and submit ten [10] Dialogue-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers. The former to get you writing, the latter to work your critical-analytical skills.

A chance to take any of my eight Craft classes, interface with me online along with the usual stellar group of writers who take Screenwriting Master Class courses, while using writing exercises and feedback to upgrade your skill at writing and analyzing dialogue.

ISN’T THAT AN AWESOME IDEA?!!!

A couple of logistical notes:

* Limit your post to 2 pages. Out of fairness to everyone participating in the public dialogue-writing workshop, let’s not abuse anyone’s patience or time with really long scenes.

* Give your scenes a beginning, middle and end. You may enter late and exit early, but provide an arc to each of your posts. Even monologues or telephone conversations, both of which we will be doing this month.

* Don’t be concerned about proper script format when you copy/paste your pages, rather the content and execution are the important thing. So as a default mode, do this: (1) Don’t worry about right-hand margins on scene description or dialogue, just keep typing until it manually shifts each line. (2) Don’t worry about character name position, rather do this:

SCARLETT: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?

RHETT: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Today’s prompt: A drunken tirade.

Somebody’s been hammering alcohol. Maybe they’re an alcoholic, so this day is no different than any other. Maybe they never drink, but something has happened to provoke them to get blotto. A party. By themselves. With a friend. All sorts of ways you can go with this. A monologue. A back and forth conversation between the drunk and others. This is a chance for you to explore a character getting sideways and see what they have to say.

Focus on the dialogue, not the action to drive the scene. In most movies, it’s the other way around because movies are primarily a visual medium, however sometimes the script requires a dialogue-driven scene and we need to hone our chops at being able to do that effectively.

Write a 1-2 page dialogue-centric scene, then copy/paste in comments.

If you are interested in qualifying for 1 free Craft class with me, please note in each post you submit the number of scenes you have written. If today is your first effort, note that it is Scene 1. The next one, Scene 2. And so forth.

Also when you provide feedback on someone’s scene, please note in each reply the number of comments you have uploaded. So if today is your first response, Feedback 1. The next one, Feedback 2.

You are on an honor system, as I don’t have time to check every post, so do the right thing!

Remember: In order to qualify for one of my free Craft classes, you need to submit ten [10] Dialogue-Writing Challenge posts, then provide feedback on ten [10] posts from other writers.

FEEDBACK TIP: People sound different when they are inebriated. Inhibitions get lost. Stumble over the pronunciation of words. Slurring vowels. Stream of consciousness. When reading someone else’s pages, pay attention to these and ask yourself: Does this dialogue read like how a drunk person would talk? If not, provide some suggestions on how to make the sides sound more authentic.

Want to join in? For the Week 1 writing prompts, go here. For the Week 2 writing prompts, go here. Week 3, here.

Day 16 challenge: Someone applying for a job.

It’s the 2015 Dialogue-Writing Challenge! Give a jolt to your creative and writing muscles… and win 1 free online class with yours truly.

NOTE: If you have done all 10 exercises and provided 10 feedback posts, you are eligible to take one of my Craft classes for free. Just get in touch with me via email and I’ll handle the rest.

Do you start scripts, but not finish them?

February 23rd, 2015 by

Four questions for you:

* Are you prone to starting scripts, but not finishing them?

* Do you get lost when you are writing your script, then lose faith in it – and yourself?

* Have you received feedback that your scripts have thin characters or weak plots?

* Do you have a great concept for a spec script you want to get to market as smartly and quickly as you can?

The Prep: From Concept to Outline class is designed for you.

This 6-week online workshop is unique, offering a professional approach to developing and ‘breaking’ your story. Combining lectures, weekly writing assignments, feedback, and teleconferences, it is a proven approach to take you through the prep-writing process.

Plus if you do the work, you not only end up with an outline, you also learn an approach to prep-writing you can adopt and adapt to fit your own creative needs.

Let’s take those four questions from above one by one:

* The single biggest reason why writers start but fail to finish scripts is because they don’t really know their story. In our 6-week Prep class, the focus is on precisely that: finding your story.

* The best way to avoid getting lost when you type FADE IN is to break your story in prep, like most pros do. If you do the work, at the end of the Prep workshop, you will have a thorough outline of your story, enabling you to power into the page-writing process with confidence.

* The work you do in the Prep course targets both character and plot, so you can end up with well-defined and richly drawn characters, and a solid story structure.

* Breaking your story in prep actually speeds up the scripting process, enabling you to get from concept to market faster than if you try to find your story by jumping into pages.

Here are some testimonials from writers who have taken the Prep: From Concept to Outline workshop:

“I went into Scott’s Prep class doubting I’d ever finish a script; I came out with the tools, confidence and inspiration to power through a complete first draft in just a few months. Amazing. And the class was so much fun! Scott’s got a great sense of humor and is a brilliant teacher – devoted, generous, encouraging, and kind. As an accomplished screenwriter himself, Scott’s notes are creative and insightful, and his advice about the industry is practical and authentic, informed by his own experience.” – Jessica Sada

‘From Concept to Outline’ is a course I wish I had known about a couple of years ago. I would recommend this whole-heartedly for anyone who is about to embark on their first script or ANY script. This lays the foundation stone to your story. Over six weeks, Scott posts a weekly thought-provoking lecture which gets into your grey matter even before you finish reading it. I learned how to blueprint my story, which is possibly the most important thing to do before you type FADE IN.  — Camilla Castree

The approach in the Prep class works. I know this not only from working with writers in our online courses, but also through private sessions I have had with professional screenwriters, even playwrights and novelists to help them crack their stories.

The upcoming Prep workshop begins Monday, March 2.

Isn’t it time you learned to approach your screenwriting like most of the pros do — breaking their story in prep? Sign up now for the next session of Prep: From Concept to Outline by going here.