Pressing the Reset Button

“If some people didn’t tell you, you’d never know they’d been away on a vacation.

– Kin Hubbar

Vacation is a time of peace and relaxation meant to give you a break from the day to day. So how is it Thursday already?

I have been off from my day job since last Friday, but all things considered, I have been busier than I am during a normal work day. One thing has lead to another which has lead to another which has lead me to the final two days of my vacation feeling short of sleep, and without having accomplished anything on the list of what I had planned to do.

Looking back on vacations throughout my life they seemed to be full of constant events. Rather than relaxation, they have been a constant stream of activities, odd or otherwise. Especially the family vacations when I was growing up.

There was the world’s deepest hand dug well in Greensburg, KS. We bought a penny for well over one cent after throwing our own penny down into the well.

There was Albert, the world’s largest bull in Audobon, IA. By world’s largest bull, I actually mean a concrete replica of a bull. The graffiti on his nuts was quite possibly the most entertaining part of this attraction.

That isn’t to say that all our journeys were so uneventful. There was the trip to New Mexico. I got into a fight with my sister, and as punishment, we both had to write essays about the trip. The true punishment was probably that we made the trip in a Chrysler Le Baron. Not exactly the roomiest of cross-country travel vehicles, but cars like that, with a trailer full of camping supplies took us anywhere within driving distance, including over mountains that made me worry we might not be able to cross.

My dad likes to stop at every attraction and historical marker a long the way. There are some duds, like the ones I already mentioned, but there were some pretty cool stops, as well. The Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, IA was beautiful. The city of Santa Fe was full of things I had never seen before. Everything had a story behind it.

The trips were sometimes fun, sometimes boring, sometimes more stressful than daily life, but all in all, they were a big part of my life. Maybe vacation is less about relaxation and more about pressing reset, temporary suspension of the every day. I took the week, in part, to work on my screenplay for Script Frenzy. So far, in five days, I managed five pages.

Still, it has been a good week, one that was necessary in many ways. I’ll see how many pages I can crank out in the next few days, and then go back to the office on Monday. It will be good to get back, it will be sad to go back, but it will be temporarily new. Sometimes, that is all you can ask.



Fundamentals of Beginning Screenwriting

Screenwriting can seem like an intimidating process. The format seems too technical, even the font is odd. Of course, the format and the font are functional, allowing a known pace relationship between screen and script. In general, one page of a screenplay will equal one minute of screen time.

I’m not going to spend a bunch of time on the format of the screenplay. There are a lot of books out there, and quite frankly, you can get free software from Celtx that will basically format the thing for you. What I want to do is lay out the process I use for screenwriting.

This process was taught to me by Ron Peterson, a screenwriter and story editor, in his bootcamp. It was the first writing workshop I ever attended, and I learned a lot about screenplay structure from his class. All credit goes to him for this process. Since then, though, I have read a lot of screenwriting books, and most processes are similar.

Ron has what he calls a five step process. It is as follows:

1)      Determine your plot points.

2)      Write character biographies.

3)      Write an outline.

4)      Sequence the script.

5)      Write the screenplay.

Your plot points are basically act breaks.  When I am writing them, I will also jot down my premise on the same page. My plot points will be associated with my premise. Your major plot points are the Inciting Incident, Plot Point 1, the Mid-Point, Plot Point 2, and the Climax.

The inciting incident occurs approximately ten minutes into the movie, and is the thing that sets the story in motion.

I think of Plot Point 1 as being the protagonist’s first reaction to that inciting incident.  It happens around twenty minutes into the movie (the end of the first act) and starts him towards his objective.

The Mid-Point is half-way through your script probably around the fifty minute mark, depending on the length of the movie. Something about the way your character is going about his goal will change due to a major event, although not as big as the two Plot Points, this is a big part of your script.

This will lead to Plot Point 2, an incident which sets up the climax and drives the protagonist to the resolution of the conflict. This occurs at around seventy pages in to the script (the end of the second act).

The climax is self-explanatory. The drama comes to a head, the story question is answered, and the loose ends are tied up. This happens around page ninety.

Most scripts are laid out in this way. It sounds like a formula, but it is based on classical dramatic structure, and it works. It’s what the industry expects to see. Most scripts, you can almost turn to that page area and find the plot points without reading anything else.

You could look at this as being restrictive, but it really isn’t. In fact, it is liberating. You have five major incidents already decided. You spend the 20 to 30 pages between each getting from one to another and building your subplots.

That is where the character bios and your outline come in to play. Character bios are just what they sound like. The important thing is that by defining your characters in a more detailed fashion, you find subplots and conflicts that might not be apparent, otherwise.

The outline is not as technical as it sounds. For our purpose, the writer’s purpose of writing a spec script, the outline is just a narrative of what happens. This is not a treatment for presentation.  We are just getting out story thoughts down on paper. This is quick, dirty, stream of consciousness storytelling. Just get it down on the page. Ten to twenty pages, whatever you need. Be as detailed as you want, or as vague as you want. You are developing your idea. There is no need for scene headings or even dialogue unless something specifically good comes to mind that you want to make sure you remember later. Just get the story down.

When you sequence the script, you break down that outline in to individual scenes. You can put them on note cards, or use the note card system in Celtx or Scrivner. The important thing is that we are breaking the narrative, plot, and sub-plots into moveable pieces. From there, you arrange your cards in the way that works the best. You can color code your plot and each sub-plot, and then weave them together in a congruent story.

Now that you have your plot sequenced, all that is left is to write the script. By the time you have done all the prep work, this is pretty simple. Be open to change, as needed. After all, you may get another idea or think of something that works better as you are writing. Either way, the majority of the leg work is over at that point. It is just a matter of getting your story into a presentation format.

All of this may sound intimidating and like it is a lot of work. But once you try it, you will find that writing a screenplay is a very obtainable goal. Try it this April as part of Script Frenzy. By the end of the month, you will be able to call yourself a screenwriter.

Good luck and happy writing.

Site News – Script Frenzy and FREE FLASH FICTION!

Sometimes, when a piece of fiction gets published, the writer retains the rights after the initial publication.

I have decided to make some of that work available on my site, free of charge to my readers. If you look beneath my photo on the right side of your screen, you will see a new page featuring the first story I ever had published, Thousands Died This Morning.

Feel free to check it out. It will be available on this site as a free sample of my writing. Once the initial run of C Is for Cat has completed, I will post it here, as well. In the meantime, check it out at, and support all of the amazing writers featured there.

Also, lower on the right side of the frame, you will find a meter that will track my progress on my upcoming screenplay Close to Home, which I will be writing in April as part of Script Frenzy.

Thank you all. It is easy to keep writing when you get such great support.


– Jack

Diversify Your Writing Assets

Script Frenzy is coming up next month, giving me an excuse to dust off those screenwriting skills that haven’t seen the light of day for way too long. I’ve noticed that it is not nearly as popular as its NaNoWriMo sibling.

I get it. Writing a book is every writer’s dream. It seems so easy when you think about it. You just write. Scripts use strange formatting. They have strange rules that no one seems to understand. Of course, any writer who has read much writing or dramatic theory knows there are just as many “rules” in writing prose, especially if you plan on formatting a manuscript for submission, but that is a whole different blog topic.

As writers, there is a danger of pigeon-holing yourself into a specific genre or medium. You start out to be a writer and suddenly you only write post-apocalyptic werewolf comedies. There are definite reasons for that. You find a style and a content you are comfortable with, that seems to work best, and you capitalize on it. Maybe you get readers who want to see werewolves making wisecracks in Thunderdome.

But, unless you are making a lot of money as a writer already (in that case, feel free to make a donation), then you should not be limiting yourself. There are many genres of writing, and nearly all of them have paying markets.

How can you say you can’t write poetry if you have never written a poem? Why not find a topic you are interested in and write an article to try to sell as a freelancer? Who says that script formatting is really all that difficult anyway? There is software that practically does it for you, and no shortage of books to tell you exactly what to do, especially for screenplays. Trust me. I have several.

You have ideas. A lot of them. Sometimes, you have ideas that don’t quite seem to work. Try them in a new medium. What may not be a sufficient premise to carry a novel may work as a screenplay. Screenplays are traditionally more in line with the length of a novella. Maybe you only have an image of an idea, not a full-featured premise. This might be enough to generate a poem.

Write prose of every length and genre. Try writing in every medium. You may find you have an innate  talent you didn’t know you had. You may open yourself up to new readers and new ways to sell your writing, if you are trying to do so.

There are a lot of screenplays sold every year. While there are a lot of books being made into movies, someone is writing all of those screenplays, as well, and it is very rarely the writer of the books. The world needs writers who have diverse experience and technical expertise in a variety of mediums.

Participating in Script Frenzy would be a good start. I know you have an idea. Here’s how to make it a reality:

1)      Go to the Script Frenzy website and set up an account, find your region, and join it.

2)      Go to CeltX and get their free screenwriting software if you don’t already have Final Draft or the equivalent. If you use Scrivner for writing prose, it has a script feature.

3)      Read some scripts. There are lots of places online to find them for free. Pick movies you really like and know well. Watch them scene by scene as you read the script. I use SimplyScripts.

4)      If you feel you need some book help, check out Syd Field’s Screenwriter’s Workbook, which will give you a step by step process.  His book Screenplay is wonderful. I also recommend Robert McKee’s Story regardless of whether you ever write a screenplay. I also learned a lot from Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 431Your local library probably has some of these books.

There is a saying that you could lay a truly good screenplay on a restaurant table in Hollywood and it would get made. What do you have to lose? April could be your shot to try something new.

Also, check back here next week. I will outline the screenwriting process I use. I learned it from Ron Peterson in the first Screenwriting workshop I ever attended and it is a great way to make screenwriting more accessible.

Let’s spread the art of screenwriting to a new group of writers. April is the right time to give it a shot.