Getting Started

It's been a while since I've done a post on writing.  I haven't stopped writing, in fact, I've been writing more regularly this past year than any year before in my life.  But writing doesn't yield an image to post on the blog, or anything that I can share at the moment. prettyrose_small

(Meanwhile, the roses in the backyard are blooming.)

The most difficult part about writing is actually sitting down and writing-- at least it is for me.  Once I've gotten past the hump of starting, writing is usually easy.  The words tumble out, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.

I've found a few ways over the hump.  I do yoga or some sort of exercise beforehand.   (Working out the stiffness in my muscles seems to help me work out any stiffness in my brain as well.)  I write in the morning, when my mind is fresh.   I pull up the playlist for whatever chapter I'm working on, and listen to music.   My imagination wakes up,  boosts me over the hump, and I can write.

The playlist for the chapter-in-progress:

Sansa's Hymn - Karliene ReynoldsDevil's Backbone - The Civil WarsMy Featherbed - Karliene ReynoldsYoung and Beautiful - Lana del Ray

Here's an excerpt from a wonderful essay by Susan Cooper (author of The Dark is Rising series), about how she gets in the mood to write:

Writing is one of the loneliest professions in the world because it has to be practiced in this very separate private world, in here.  Not in the mind; in the imagination.  And I think it is possible that the writing of fantasy is the loneliest job of the lot, since you have to go further inside.  You have to make so close a connection with the unconscious that the unbiddable door will open and let the images fly out, like birds...

It makes you superstitions.  Most writers indulge in small private rituals to start themselves writing each day... The very first half hour at the desk has nothing much to do with fantasy or even ritual: It's what J.B. Priestley used to call "sharpening pencils" -- the business of doing absolutely everything you can think of to put off the moment of starting work.  You make another cup of coffee.  You find a telephone call that must be made, a letter that must be answered.  You do sharpen pencils...

Finally guilt drives you to the manuscript--and that's when the real ritual begins.  (I should go back to the first person, because in this respect everyone's different.)  I have to start by reading.  I read a lot of what I've already written...even though I already know it all by heart.  I read the notes I made to myself the day before when I stopped writing--those were the end-of-the-day ritual, to help with the starting of the next.  During this process I've picked up one of the toys scattered around my study, and my fingers are half-consciously playing with it: a shell, a smooth sea-washed pebble... I have been known to blow bubbles, from a little tube that sits on my desk, and to sit staring at the colors that swirl over their brief surfaces.  This is the moment someone else usually chooses to come into the room, and I can become very irritable if they don't appreciate that they are observing a writer seriously at work.

What I'm doing, of course, is taking myself out of the world I'm in, and trying to find my way back into the world apart.  Once I've managed that, I am inside the book that I'm writing, and am seeing it, so vividly that I do not see what I'm actually staring at...

We cast spells to find our way into the unconscious mind, and the imagination that lives there, because we known that's the only way to get into a place where magic is made.  "Open sesame!" I am shouting, silently, desperately to the door of my imagination, as I play with the pebble I found on a distant island beach, as I stare at the wall.

-Susan Cooper, "Worlds Apart." Origins of Story: On Writing for Children.  Eds. Barbara Harrison and Gregory Maguire.

Good luck to everyone starting a project--of any kind.  The hardest part is to actually sit down and start.  If you can do that, you can do anything, provided you have enough patience and persistence.

 

Journey Home, Part II

The conclusion of the book I wrote and illustrated at the age of seven-ish.  You can read the first part here. Warning: some embarrassing Southern-isms ahead.

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Seventh Page: Soon She Came to a sign. It said, (my mother's handwriting) "Candy Forest." "Yee-ha! (my handwriting resumes) I Can't Wait"

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Eighth Page: She went along the path till She came to another Sign. It said "Candy Forest" "OK!"

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Ninth Page: "Candy! Candy! OK!" So off She wint.

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Tenth Page: The Forest was not very big Soon She came to the End of it. "HH" She Side.

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Eleventh Page: She up and done. But She Staid on the path.

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Twelfth Page: So She Went along the path She Saw Some Smoke. "AAHH"

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Thirteenth Page: "I AM Home!"

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Fourteenth Page: The End

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Author's Note:

I have no idea whether the mysterious Miss Lydia was a villain who kidnapped the infant April, or a compassionate guardian. Miss Lydia's villainy is suggested by two things: first, the fact that April had never owned a doll, and second, April's secret midnight escape. Her innocence is supported by the fact that she gives April the doll from the attic, and that I drew her as a pretty woman in a green dress. As a child I was raised on the most basic fairy tales, where ugliness meant villainy, and beauty meant goodness.

I must also admit that my concept for the Candy Forest came from Candy Land, which was my favorite board game for most of my childhood. (Later replaced by Pretty Pretty Princess, then Clue.)

Also, I don't know who to blame for the phrases "Yee-Haw" and "She up and done."

Journey Home, Part I

I recently moved to Texas, and I've been unpacking boxes that have been in storage for years. In one box I found a storybook that I wrote and illustrated at the age of...I don't know, maybe seven?  I hope I wasn't much older than that because the spelling is atrocious. Here it is, for your entertainment:

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Journey Home by Paige Carpenter, age seven (?) bound in cardboard and contact paper. Illustrated in pencil and Crayola marker.

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Overleaf: "ACHEINT GARDEN" Statues standing in folds of ivy, Flowers blooming ever more, Trees that sway without noise, (continued in pencil) The ruins of a castle, orcherds overgron Woods of Enchantment A view of mountains, Rivers and Brooks Water lilys in the ponds. Romantic acrting briges over brook strea rivers

First Page: In a little house in the Wood lived a lady and a little girl named April. April had a colt named Silver Sapphire. (Was just a colt?)

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Second Page: One day APril was playing in the attic She found a doll and a Book. She took them downstairs to ask Miss Lydia if She could keep them.

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Third Page: When she did She Said yes. April was very happy! She had never Had a doll before.

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Fourth Page: She Sat down and began to read. It Was a story about how she had taken from her parents when she was baby.

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Fifth Page: She made up her mind to go home that night. When it was dark She began to make ready. She took food and clothing her doll and her book and her horse. So She Set off.

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Sixth Page: She would take a path Which led to the west. She set off.

(To be continued...In the next part, April and her colt Silver Sapphire enter the Candy Forest.)

Old and New

planner2013 Last year's planner, out of focus, in a tree, because it looks pretty.

A few New Year's resolutions:

1) Go to more museums and other interesting places. I'm now living in the Houston area, and Houston is full of museums, zoos, aquariums, parks, and stands selling fireworks. (I'll avoid the stands selling fireworks.)

2) Write. I'm finally on a writing schedule that works. My aim is to keep doing what I'm already doing, and if possible, more of it.

3) Learn to paint with oils. I've become frustrated lately with watercolors, and I want to try something different.

4) Learn to fight with a sword. This will be a useful skill if the zombie apocalypse happens, and if it doesn't, it's still a useful skill for a fantasy writer and artist. There's a local chapter of the ARMA that hosts classes.

planner2014

This will be the year of the purple planner.

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective. Unless a man starts on the strange assumption that he has never existed before, it is quite certain that he will never exist afterwards. Unless a man be born again, he shall by no means enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

~G.K. Chesterton: 'Daily News.'

World-Building Class 2013

I've registered for Sean Murray's World-Building Class.  World-building is something I've always loved.  I grew up with Narnia, Middle-Earth, and Dinotopia.  There's something especially magical when words and images come together to create a world. During the course I'll be working on developing a new version of the Golden Realm for the Norse book project I'm in the process of writing.

Here's the prologue assignment - a brief verbal description of the world I'll be designing:

Once they called Asgard the realm of endless summer, where the trees grew so high they were burned by the sun, the stars sang at night, and the Rainbow Bridge spanned the sea between heaven and earth.
But ever since Odin Oath-keeper broke all his oaths and died, everything has gone wrong.  Fields that had never known frost are buried under snow.  Odin's bright halls in Gladsheim are dark.  The Rainbow Bridge is fading.  Odin's son, Thor, rules in Gladsheim, struggling to bind his fractured realm together before the final winter comes and the last fire goes out.

Sweating Out the Words

I am an easily distracted writer.  I always need to trick myself into concentration.  For the past few weeks I've been exercising before I sit down to write.  Stretching my arms and legs switches on my brain.  I sweat out my reluctance to confront a blank page. My preferred form of exercise is a hike up a mountain, but I live in Florida, where the temperature in August varies from Sauna to Sixth Circle of Hell, and the only mountains are made by fire ants.  So I don't do much outdoor exercise.   I prefer to sweat in a comfortably air-conditioned room with a fan blowing and a glass of ice water a few inches from my hand.

This is where Youtube comes in.  This morning I worked through Day 18 of Erin Motz's Yoga Challenge:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Gcemdyw-38

I don't know why setting the body in motion sets the mind in motion, but it does.

Working Titles

My brilliant new writing schedule is working so far.  Here's a quick update on my current projects: WWII Manuscript :  Finished.  181,000 words.  (Yikes, it's long.)

Still out making the rounds with agents.   This novel is an odd animal, so I'm expecting it to be hard to place with an agent/publisher.   Traditional publishing is a long process.   Working title: Jacob Have I Loved.  (Yes, I know there's already a book by this title.)

Vampires Manuscript : In Progress.  25,500 words so far.

Vampires, Manhattan, and musical theatre.

This sucker is moving along now that I have a writing schedule that works.  I've been writing bits and pieces of this novel since I was in high school.  Serious frustration has led me to seriously considered scrapping this project, but guilt keeps me committed.  Working title: The Majestic.  (Look!  A movie already used this title. )

Norse!Quest : In Progress.

I'm writing this on the weekends to reward myself for surviving another week of writing about vampires.   Odin, Thor and Loki go on adventures.  And Ragnarok happens.   Also that time Loki had the brilliant idea of putting Thor in a wedding dress to get Thor's stolen hammer back.

Here, have an Odin:

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A Bit About Writing

I like to read more than I like to write. Unfortunately, most of the stories I want to read haven't been written.  These stories exist in my head.  When a story nags at me, I start searching books in hopes that somehow-- impossibly-- somebody else has done all the work and written it down for me.  It would save a lot of time.  I could skip all that trouble of putting thousands of words on paper and go straight to basking in: "Oh yes.  That's it.  That's the story."

Sometimes I can't find a book that scratches that itch.   I let the itch fester for a while.  If it goes away, fine.  If it doesn't...

The old saying is that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

I hope that the stories I want to read and end up writing because I can't find them anywhere else-- I hope they scratch another reader's itch, that someone will open a book I've written and say, "Yes!  That's it.  That's the story."

Otherworld

Wardrobe_PaulineBaynes

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Pauline Baynes, 1950.

I am haunted by doors.

I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a child and since then I have never entirely given up hope (even as a grown-up person) that  someday I will open a door and find another world on the other side.

Oddly enough, the first time I read that book, I felt the strangest sense of recognition, like I already knew the story.  I'm not saying I could predict the plot-- all those twists and turns were new to me.  I mean that I came upon the book and recognized it as an old friend that I happened to be meeting for the first time.

I did not read the Harry Potter series until after I graduated university.  I knew almost nothing about the books while I was growing up-- other than that they were wildly popular, and involved magic.

So when I opened Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, with the idea that I would finally see what all the fuss was about, and have a few days of entertaining reading.

Within the first few pages, the same sense of recognition come crashing down on me.  I knew this book.  I had always known this book.  It was my old friend, my friend that I had never met before.

All my life I’ve wanted to be the kid who gets to cross over into the magical kingdom. I devoured those books by C.S. Lewis and William Dunthorn, Ellen Wentworth, Susan Cooper, and Alan Garner. When I could get them from the library, I read them out of order as I found them, and then in order, and then reread them all again, many times over. Because even when I was a child I knew it wasn’t simply escape that lay on the far side of the borders of fairyland...There was a knowledge―an understanding hidden in the marrow of my bones that only I can access―telling me that by crossing over, I’d be coming home. That’s the reason I’ve yearned so desperately to experience the wonder, the mystery, the beauty of that world beyond the World As It Is. It’s because I know that somewhere across the border there’s a place for me. A place of safety and strength and learning, where I can become who I’m supposed to be. I’ve tried forever to be that person here, but whatever I manage to accomplish in the World As It Is only seems to be an echo of what I could be in that other place that lies hidden somewhere beyond the borders.
-Charles de Lint
Perhaps this is the reason why I write.  I must go on building doors for others, until my own door opens.

Illustration by Pauline Baynes from the 1978 HarperCollins edition of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lews.

Quote by Charles de Lint from chocolateinthelibrary.tumblr.com.

Elie Wiesel at University of Florida

Last Tuesday I heard Elie Wiesel give a lecture at UF.  Yes, the Elie Wiesel, author of Night.  When the local paper announced (in a tiny column at the bottom of a page) that he was coming the the university, I knew I had to go. Apparently everybody else in town also decided they had to go, because when I got there, a huge crush of people were already waiting in line.  Students had already seized ALL the tickets the day before, so the general public stood for an hour hoping that some students wouldn't show up.

Maybe about ten people got in.

The rest of us waited in vain.  Finally we were told that a screen and speakers had been set up on the lawn so that we could hear Professor Wiesel speak.

Wiesel

Here's the screen.  And obviously, that isn't Prof. Wiesel.  Once he started speaking they told us we weren't allowed to take photos, so I took this during the previews.  Yes, they ran previews.

When Elie Wiesel finally was introduced, they pronounced his name wrong.  He corrected them.  (For the record, it's Eh-LEE Vee-ZEL.  Seriously, all they had to do was Google it.)

He told one story about a time he was in the hospital recovering from surgery.  His young grandson came to see him and said, "Grandpa, I love you very very much.  And you suffer very, very much.  If I love you more, will you suffer less?"

I can't remember all that he said.  I wish I could.  But after the lecture, there was a time for questions.  One girl asked him what it was like to meet Oprah.

That I won't forget.

Another person asked him what would happen when the last Holocaust witness dies.   Wiesel answered,

"That will never happen.  'You are my witnesses,' says the Lord, in the book of Isaiah.  Witnesses testify about what they have seen.  I have told you what I have witnessed.  And now,"  (Wiesel smiled) "I appoint all of you witnesses.  You can tell what you have seen."

And suddenly my novel about the Holocaust feels legit.

Writer's Conference 2013

When I have to get up early for an important event, I need a good night's sleep so I won't be a zombie in the morning.   (I have all the symptoms: grunting, lurching around, feeding off of the nearest warm object.) But no matter how early I go to bed the night before, I never get enough sleep.  I wake up over and over again to stare at my alarm clock, thinking:  "I have three hours left to sleep...I have two hours left to sleep...I have one hour left to sleep..."  And when I finally nod off, I dream that I'm still awake and can't fall asleep.

Nothing is less restful than dreaming for hours that you're an insomniac.

I had one of those nights this past Thursday, when I woke up at the crack of dawn to drive down to the Florida Christian Writer's Conference.

On Lake Yale

The conference was held on Lake Yale.  (Obviously, this is not a view of the lake.)  My father and I only got lost twice trying to navigate through the back woods of Florida, which is pretty good for us.

It's an interesting experience trying to coherently pitch a book to agents and editors on four hours of sleep.  I had several appointments in a row, and between each appointment I found a quiet corner where I could shut my eyes and let my brain fizzle.

But the conference was worth the lack of sleep.  I made good connections with several agents.  Most of them wanted me to submit my book proposal to them-- after I trimmed the manuscript.  My WWII book is currently 181,000 words long.   Most publishers don't want anything over 100,00o words.

(I like reading massive books like Les Misérables, Gone With the Wind, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoneix, etc.  So I wrote a massive book.)

Fortunately, the WWII brick is already divided into two parts, which are more or less two complete books.  Nevertheless, I'm eying my manuscript with a giant pair of pruning shears, wondering if I should start chopping or go ahead and submit book one as it is.

AGENTS.  SUBMISSIONS.  FUN.

(And I still believe the Order of the Phoenix should have been longer.)

There and Back Again

"There are no original plots," said a boy who thought he knew everything. He was a seventeen year-old artist, and as world-weary and cynical as only teenage artists can be.

I strongly objected to what he said.  But I was a few grades younger, and I was shy, so I kept my mouth shut.

Really, there are no original plots, like there are no original babies.  If you ignore hair, eyes, gender and personality, all babies are pretty much the same.  And all books, from War and Peace to a Harlequin romance like The Billionaire CEO and His Virgin Secretary, have certain things in common, even though one is full of confusing Russian names, and the other is full of confused secretaries.

Supposedly all stories can be boiled down to two basic plots.  The first is A stranger comes to town.

Pride & Prejudice:  "My dear Mr. Bennet, have you heard?  Netherfield Park is let at last!"

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: "You're a wizard, Harry."

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:  "Suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her."

The Hobbit:  "Gandalf came by."

In essence, the stranger is a disruption of everyday life.  It doesn't haven to be a mysterious person.  It could be  a tornado.  A pretty girl at a party. The birth of a child.  Something happens, large or small, an d nothing will ever be the same again.

The second plot is this: The hero takes a journey. 

This often follows the arrival of the stranger, or the strange event.  The hero's life has been shaken up, and now he must do something about it.  In books like The Neverending Story and The Hobbit, this is a literal journey.  The hero trudges from one end of the earth to another, a literal there and back again.  In other books, this is a figurative journey through that much more terrifying landscape-- the human heart.

I believe BOTH of these plots will exist in almost every story:

1) Something happens to shake the hero out of the status quo. (The stranger.) 2) Now the hero has to do something about it.  (The journey.)

So the boy who thought he knew everything was right.

And he was totally, totally wrong.

Writing a Looking Glass World (Part II)

There's another problem that often appears in retelling an old story. It fades like an overexposed photograph, or a copy of a copy that gradually loses detail and color.  If your adaptation is less powerful than the original-- if it doesn't have that same twist of horror or joy that makes a reader catch their breath-- then something's wrong.

Let's look at another frequently adapted tale: The Ballad of Mulan.

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Mulan is an ancient Chinese ballad that tells of a girl whose aged father is drafted into the army.  To save his life, Mulan disguises herself as a man and joins the army in his place.  It's a tale of courage, and a daughter's deep love for her father.

Here is the original ballad's account of Mulan's decision:

Tsiek tsiek and again tsiek tsiek, Mulan weaves, facing the door. You don't hear the shuttle's sound, You only hear Daughter's sighs. They ask Daughter who's in her heart, They ask Daughter who's on her mind. "No one is on Daughter's heart, No one is on Daughter's mind. Last night I saw the draft posters, The Khan is calling many troops, The army list is in twelve scrolls, On every scroll there's Father's name. Father has no grown-up son, Mulan has no elder brother. I want to buy a saddle and horse, And serve in the army in Father's place."

Probably the most famous adaptation of Mulan is the 1998 film by Disney.  Here is the animated version of Mulan's decision, told without dialogue, through music and images.  I still get chills when I watch it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AARl1cMxS9w

Last, let's look at an example of an adaptation that goes through all the motions of being faithful to the original, but has about as much heart as a well-oiled robot.

Wild Orchid, by Cameron Dokey, is a novelization of Mulan intended for YA readers.  Here is Dokey's account of Mulan's decision:

If I had been a son, I could have gone to fight in my father's place.  My father could have remained home and our family could still have kept its honor.  But I was not a boy; I was a girl.  A girl who could ride a horse...A girl who could shoot an arrow from a bow made for a tall, strong man and still hit her target... A girl unlike any other girl in China.

I must not let my father go to fight, I thought.  I will not.

...And so I would do the only thing I could to protect both my father's life and our family's honor: I would go to fight in his place.  I would prove myself to be my father's child, even if I was a daughter.

Wild Orchid is a decent book.  Dokey obviously did a good bit of research.  But it reads more like what the author thinks Mulan ought to think, rather than the story of a terrified girl who does the impossible to save her father.

I've forgotten nearly all of Wild Orchid, but I still remember Disney's Mulan, weeping in a thunderstorm.  A girl who is small and powerless.  A girl who stands up and steals her father's armour.

So when you write an adaptation, stop and ask yourself if you're going through the motions.  Are you writing about Mulan, or are you Mulan, hands bleeding, knuckles white, hands clenched around a sword?

If not, shelve it.   Lock the story in a drawer and forget about it for a month or a year.  Then take it out and try again.

---

Translation of the Ballad of Mulan from Chinapage.com. Image of Mulan by Zhou Wenju from the Smithsonian Institution.

Writing a Looking-Glass World (Part I)

I love a good retelling of a familiar story.  It's like meeting an old friend all over again.  My bookshelf is cluttered with different versions of Beauty and the Beast and Sleeping Beauty. Telling an old tale in a new way is a powerful device.  A writer doesn't have to work to make their readers love a new Snow White.  The readers already love Snow White.  They spent their childhood watching, singing, and reading Snow White.   Their mind is already soaked in affection for the story.

Or say that a writer needs good villains for a TV show.   Why not use the Nazis?  The Third Reich is still in the memories of our parents and grandparents.  The horror of the Holocaust is near to us.  Write a Nazi in your script and you don't need to bother working to make the audience afraid of your villain.   They already are.

This isn't a creative retelling of an old story.  This is lazy writing.

An example of this is Captain Hook, that much maligned villain, that pirate of pirates.   He has been the subject of countless adaptations: movies, books, comics, and stage plays.

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Here is Hook, as described by James Barrie in the original Peter Pan:

In person he was cadaverous and blackavized, and his hair was dressed in long curls, which at a little distance looked like black candles, and gave a singularly threatening expression to his handsome countenance. His eyes were of the blue of the forget-me-not, and of a profound melancholy, save when he was plunging his hook into you, at which time two red spots appeared in them and lit them up horribly.

At its root, the tale of Peter Pan is not about a pirate who hates a boy, but about an aging man who hates eternal youth.  Hook is always fleeing the Crocodile (Tick Tock), trying to outrun Time and Death.  He can't, of course, and the Crocodile gets him in the end.

More than anything, Hook is obsessed with Peter Pan.  Peter, who describes himself thus:

"I'm youth, I'm joy...I'm a little bird that has broken out of the egg."

Hook hates Pan and is secretly jealous of him-- because Pan has no fear of age, time, or death.

At the beginning of its second season, the show Once Upon a Time has portrayed its own version of Captain Hook.   This Hook is young.  His hair is short.  He's a womanizer.   He's got rings of eyeliner borrowed from Captain Jack Sparrow.

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The heart of Hook's character has been cut out: this Hook does not fear Time or Death.  He is not obsessed with Peter Pan.   In short, he is not Hook.   He's a new character that the writers of Once Upon a Time have called "Hook."  The writers have scrapped everything that makes Hook who he is.  This isn't a new adaptation of an old story.  It's a lazy way to market a character.

---

Illustration of Hook by F.D. Bedford for the 1911 edition of Peter and Wendy. Photograph of Hook from Once Upon a Time Wiki.

Query Letters & Painted Deer

Yesterday I mailed the first query letter for my novel.  The agent I'm contacting has represented some wonderful books, so I'm hoping to get a "Please send more" response.  Hoping.  Then again, I think authors are supposed to get, like, twenty rejections before an acceptance.  So...I took a photograph of the letter when it was all pretty and ready to mail, then I realized that it wouldn't be smart to post the photo on the internet because A.) My address was visible, and B.) The agent's address was visible. Instead, please enjoy this in-progress photo of my St. Patrick's painting.

The Screenplay: Day Twenty-One

I'll conclude my series on screenplay writing with a quote from How to Write a Movie in 21 Days.  The quote is about quitting.  Yes, quitting.  Sounds like such a downer, right?  Actually, it's surprisingly inspirational:

Definition of a winner--If the goal doesn't work, change it and win.

This is just a movie. It is not you. You will live whether or not you finish the script. You just think you won't...Make a decision now. Can you go on with the script? Can you find the way to move forward? If you can't, then let it go. Letting it go is also forward movement.

If you don't want to do something, then acknowledge that you don't want to. Don't pretend to try. Use that energy to do what you do want to do.

Which is exactly what I'm going to do.  I have a half-finished novel that needs finishing, and a finished novel that needs to go on a quest to find a publisher.

The Screenplay: Day Nineteen & Twenty

For the past month I attempted to work my way through How to Write a Movie in 21 Days.

Twenty-odd days after I began, I have a partially finished screenplay and a lot of frustration.

I would not recommend this book if you're actually expecting to write a quality screenplay in twenty-one days.  The author gives HUGE assignments, like writing thirty pages in one day. (Yes, really.) Some writers might be able to do this, but I couldn't-- not with a project as vague and undeveloped as my screenplay concept.

But I would recommend this book as an introduction to screenplay structure and formatting. The author includes some good advice about avoiding procrastination, knowing when to push ahead, and when to quit.  (More about that tomorrow.)

The concept of death probably frightens you profoundly.  You feel that if you finish anything, it means you will die.  (I've worked with many writers who feel this way.  You are not alone.) ...It's not death that you are afraid of.  It's more life.    If you can take your character from point A to point Z and are willing for him to experience unknown adventures along the way, then he will not end in death: he will end up more alive...So put your hero on the roadway.  Give him life.

-How to Write a Movie in 21 Days, Viki King

The Screenplay: Day Eighteen

A few people have asked me about how I find inspiration for story concepts.  I've posted previously about using music to overcome writer's block.  Music is also a great trigger for inspiration. This piece of music led to the idea that became my screenplay.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0i6YFrSs6c

But I didn't go hunting for inspiration.  Hunting for inspiration is like hunting for Bigfoot.  If you're looking for him, he's nowhere to be found.  But go blundering into the woods with other business on your mind, and he'll drop on you.

The Screenplay: Day Sixteen & Seventeen

They say that in order to write great fiction you should read great novels.  It follows that in order to write a great film, you should read great screenplays.   So I hunted down some examples from screenplay writers I admire. Jane Espenson has written for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, A Game of Thrones, and is currently writing for Once Upon a Time.  In my opinion, she wrote all of Once Upon a Time's best episodes last season, including THE best episode: "Skin Deep."

This scene did not make it into the final cut for the episode. It's not essential to the plot, though it does show that Belle (by this time) is completely unafraid of the monstrous Rumpelstiltskin.

Jane Espenson writes her actions and directions very informally.  She's not writing narration.  It's like she's writing a letter, speaking directly to the director, actors, cameramen, etc.   More of the "Skin Deep" screenplay is available here.

For a completely different style of screenplay writing, look at this example from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers:

Suddenly I feel just a bit sorry for Wormtongue.  Yes, he's a traitor, but poor little Grìma probably didn't get enough hugs as a child.  The whole screenplay is available here.

The Two Towers screenplay has four authors cited-- Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, and Peter Jackson.  It's much tighter than Espenson's work.  While Espenson seems to leave space for the actors to adapt her words and directions to their creative impulses, Lord of the Rings does not.

Though it's not obvious from this excerpt, the Two Towers screenplay has many, many directions regarding camera angles and cuts.  Nothing is left to chance-- very different from Espenson, who seems to leave the mess about cameras to the director.

"Skin Deep" is an hour of television, trimmed to forty-odd minutes with commercial breaks.   The Two Towers is a huge two-plus hour film without even an intermission.  Two very different screenplays, but both brilliant.

The Screenplay: Day Fifteen

I spent most of today revising my mess of a screenplay.   As usual, whenever I get stuck, I go back and revise.  Usually once I've sorted out whatever problems there are, my writer's block melts away.  Usually.  Not always. (Some writers label their drafts: Draft 1, Draft 2, etc.  By the time I've finished something, I'm usually on Draft 394* or something like that.)

It's obvious by this point that I won't finish my screenplay in twenty-one days, whatever the book says.  But I'll take it as far as I can before time's up.

*Yes, this is an obscure Harry Potter reference.