Like Nascar at Six Flags.

     Pacing hates me.

     The biggest problem I encounter in a script is that I know pacing.  I’m a pacing pro.  I can sense it, I can feel it, in everything I watch and everything I write.  I dominate pacing.  Pacing is like an unruly patron at a bar, and I’m like a big, burly bouncer.  With a goatee.  And a tattoo that says “I <3 Mom.”

     But the fact that I know pacing means that when I’ve just written a scene and ended it on page 10 and the next scene I have an idea for is supposed to land on page 24, I’m screwed.  I’ve got 14 pages to make up.  Out of thin air.

     It’s not formula.  Formula says this plot point comes here, yadda yadda.  Pacing isn’t like that.  Pacing says “Okay, you just had two down beats, you’ve gotta have an up beat, and your intense plot shift can’t come until the audience has settled in with the characters, which means you need some time to breathe, so things should go a little slower for the next two pages, and then pick up slowly over the five pages after that, slow down for three more, then BAM!  It’s on.”

     Pacing is about the ups, downs, twists and turns that an audience can take and in what order and how close together.  It’s like trying to organize a Nascar event at Six Flags, but that’s where I excel.  I know that I’ve gotta have two more pages, at least, before I introduce my second lead.  The audience needs to attach themselves for my first lead before I bring in the other guy.  This takes time.  Everything takes time.  Some things take no time at all.  Those are the easy parts.

     Often, I’ll use dialogue to add pages.  I write dialogue well, and it’s usually pretty snappy, but other times dialogue throws off the pacing for exactly that reason.  It’s quick, it’s punchy; I need something slow and atmospheric.  I need pauses and beats and looks and moments.  That’s the hardest for me to write.

     So what’s the trick?

     Beats me.  You learn pacing from watching a ton of movies.  You know it intuitively.  But for me, that’s not the issue.  The issue is how to follow pacing.  When I have the hero fight a battle and the only sensible thing to do after that is fight another battle, but that doesn’t work with the pace of the film, so how do I slow it down?  What do I write between the plot points?

      I’d love to see a post from another CFD contributor on this.  When you have a clear idea of where you are and where you need to be, but you need to take a certain number of pages to get there, how do you layer the cake?

An audience will out (and other confusing things).

Recently, I’ve noticed a disparity between films I love and films that receive critical and audience acclaim or which do well at the box office.  What brought this to my attention was that the past several movies I’ve seen in theaters have been with my good friend, and we seem to have a disconnect about what movies are great and what are not.

We saw Bellflower, a quite good indie drama that I thought was fantastically-made if perhaps not specifically “enjoyable” (it had infrequent bits of humor amidst very dark storylines).  My friend thought it was “an hour too long” and annoying.  We saw Transformers 3, which he thought was “pretty good” or “okay” and I thought had two or three mildly amusing jokes amidst two-and-a-half hours of boring and not-very-well-done action.  The only interesting parts of that movie, I thought, were the scenes of melodrama in the first 15-20 minutes when Sam is trying to find and keep a regular job after having saved the world twice.

We watched The Hitmen Diaries, which I believe my friend enjoyed, and which made me depressed at the state of humanity.

And finally, we watched 30 Minutes or Less, which I absolutely loved and which my friend called “a s..tty film.”

30 Minutes hit a low 44% on RottenTomatoes’ critic meter, but scored 68% audience rating, which is 12% higher than Cowboys & Aliens.  I told my friend as we left the theater that “the entire theater was laughing the whole time” and that while the film was certain to earn low box office and be slammed by critics as it already had been, I was certain that many of the people who saw it would love it.  The exceptions, of course, are those who went to “see how bad it is” or for other reasons.

And now comes Mad Men, proof of my theory that an audience will out.  Mad Men began airing on AMC in 2007; it has an IMDb user rating of 9.0/10.  The show took off immediately and has won 13 Emmy awards, 4 Golden Globes and 2 BAFTA awards, with literally dozens more nominations over just four years.

And then came Netflix Instant – the great democratizer.  Netflix recently acquired the streaming rights for Mad Men, making it available to millions of people who had never gone out of their way to watch it before, but now that it’s free and they’re bored, why not?

Let me be clear and upfront: I hate this.  Netflix has taken a show that was viewed and appreciated and loved by a select group of people who had actually sought it out to watch.  I started watching after the first two seasons were released on DVD.  I’ve now seen all 4 seasons.

So it really irritates me that now that everyone can watch Mad Men, all I see on Twitter and Facebook is “Wow, I really don’t like Mad Men.  Don Draper is such an a**hole!”  People who don’t “get” the show are now watching it on Netflix Instant and then going to Facebook and Twitter to complain about it.

The show earns critical and audience acclaim within its select audience, but when it’s opened up to people who don’t appreciate the style of the series, it becomes open season on Don Draper.  The fact is, the show found its audience.  It had it and it earned it and it conquered it.  Even though Season 4 was the worst of the show, when they return for Season 5 in 2012, I’ll be sitting here in my recliner staring at the screen like a… ahem… mad man.

And I’ll probably see 30 Minutes or Less again the week it releases on DVD.

No glory in an ebook world.

Let me say straight off the bat that I know this post is on dicey grounds, and if we had more than five regular readers of coffeeshopdaily, could potentially offend or irritate self-published/ing authors.

Okay, now down to business.  I hate the idea of self-publishing.  I love it, and I hate it.

See this Post by J A Konrath.  (Please note that I’m not saying Konrath wants the following to occur, but it’s a possibility he hinted at in that article and others).

Yes, please, let’s all self-publish and “democratize” the world of books.  Let’s get rid of those pesky bookstores, and make everything digital.  Let’s get rid of publishers.  Everyone knows they’re mean and they don’t pay us well.

Because you know, real writers are in this for the money.

So according to Konrath Continue reading

Write what you don’t know.

     90% of writing books and advice columns use the same old phrase “Write what you know.”  I understand the general thought behind this cute little trope, but it doesn’t hold water for me.  When I read a book or watch a movie, I don’t want a sermon, I want an adventure, an exploration of the human psyche.  I want to go on a journey with the author, not be lectured on some subject on which the author is an expert.

     I’m not saying that every writer should suddenly write about rocket science simply because they don’t understand it.  I’m saying that every writer should discover something about the world when they write their stories.  When I write, I’m constantly on Google-

“What kind of hats did they wear in the 1930’s?”

“What’s a role in the military that is open to women that requires a lot of intelligence?”

“Are there wheat fields in Northern California?”

“When did the Germans bomb London?”

“What’s the minimum sentence for first degree murder in California?”

     -these are all real searches I’ve done on Google (only one of which was not for writing, I’ll let you guess which… awk-ward!).  These aren’t long hours of research into a subject, which I’d like to do but I’m not entirely sure where to start on some things.  But while every search pulls me away from the word document for ten to fifteen minutes, I always come away knowing a little more about my world and often find more interesting things to include in my writing than simply what I’d set out to know.

     I suppose in reality, I should recommend writing a combination of what you know and what you don’t know.  There should be a part of you and your life and your experiences in everything you write, that’s simply how you relate to the stories you’re telling.  But I often find the best stories are the ones where I feel like I’m watching the author’s own journey, not just the characters’.

     So what do you think?  Write what you know?  Or learn what you want to write?

Reading equals win.

“I find television to be very educating.

Every time somebody turns on the set,

I go in the other room and read a book.”

Groucho Marx

“The man who does not read good books

has no advantage

over the man who can’t read them.”

Mark Twain

     As a screenwriter and filmmaker, I watch movies so frequently and constantly that if I were paid to do this, I’d be rich no matter the rate.  As a novelist…

Continue reading

Calling off the hunt.

     Yesterday (Sunday), I posted that I was going to finish my novel in 4 days.  I knew from the get-go that it was a totally insane idea, but I didn’t realize how troubling it would actually be to try and pull off.  Shortly after I posted that, I had to go help show a couple of apartments, and when I got back, I promptly slept for 4 hours.  I woke up, wrote a little, then slept for 2 more hours.  I woke up, wrote some more, walked about 5 miles, had lunch, then slept for 7 hours.  It wasn’t inherent laziness — though I am inherently lazy — it was that every time I sat down to write, I looked at the task ahead of me and became exhausted at simply the thought.

     Writing quickly became a dreaded thing, and even though I managed 2,000 words a day, I felt as if I wasn’t getting anywhere — which is ridiculous, because I almost never manage 2,000 words a day!  I also felt that my writing was suffering for it.  I was sucking every word out of every sentence that I possibly could (and that means adding words, if that wasn’t clear).  I was driving for word count, not quality.

     It was a fun exercise, and got me from 8,000 words to 12,000 (which is a 50% increase, for those who suck at math).  If I can keep up 2,000 words a day, I’ll finish in two weeks, and that ain’t half bad.  Maybe someday I’ll be to the point where I can write 8,000 words a day and have them all be excellence personified, but for now I’d rather write slowly and write well and appreciate the achievement of writing 2k/day, instead of seeing that as only 1/4 of a day’s work and becoming depressed about it.