Thursday, March 03, 2016

Google hangout: End violence against women

Anyone who reads my books and this blog knows how passionately committed I am to the fight to end violence against women and children. This month I will be participating in The Pixel Project’s fundraiser, Read 4 Pixels, with all proceeds going to various charities focused on ending violence against women.

You can join me at a live Google hangout this Saturday, 10:30 am ET, 3:30 pm UK time, where I’ll be talking about what we can do to combat violence against women and children in our books, in the media and in fact.  (Links to the hangout on the poster below).

AND – you can win great goodies by donating to the Pixel Project’s fundraiser, including a ½ hour writing consultation with me via Skype (I'll post more on this on Friday.) I very rarely do one-on-one consultations, so this is quite the opportunity for someone! Please check out the event and the other great authors participating this month. 

It’s time to end violence against women. Together.

FIND OUT MORE



Sunday, February 14, 2016

Nanowrimo Now What? Essential Love Story Elements

by Alexandra Sokoloff

                      Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

Happy Valentine's Day! Let's get in the spirit of things and talk about essential elements that make for a great love story.

The whole basis of what I teach in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors books and workshops is that we learn the most when we look at the stories that have had the greatest impact on us, personally — look at them in-depth to really figure out what those storytellers are doing to create that impact. And I teach writing through looking at movies because movies are such a stripped-down form of storytelling that it’s often easier to see structure patterns by analyzing movies than it is to analyze books. Plus, since we’ve seen so many of the same movies, it’s just an easier focus for discussion.

What I am always pushing to my classes and readers is the idea making a list of ten movies and books (at least five movies) that are structurally similar to the book (or script) that you’re writing.

One of the most illuminating AND most fun discoveries you make when you do this list is that you immediately see patterns and key elements of stories in your genre (or cross-genres). And this is invaluable when you’re writing a book, even more when you’re editing a book, because these are the elements your readers unconsciously EXPECT to be in a story like yours; even elements they actually crave, and you can get all kinds of great ideas about what you might be missing in your story.

When I was writing the second book in my Screenwriting Tricks series, Writing Love, I quickly discovered these recurring scenes and setups that are very typical in romance and romantic comedy. The following are just a partial list. I’ve tried to focus mostly on plot points or premises instead of just gags or bits – that is, these are actual story elements that can help you build a story, if you use them wisely. And these elements will often overlap with the key story elements that I’m also always writing about: that is, the CALL TO ADVENTURE in a love story might be a case of FATE INTERVENES; THE PLAN might be to PRETEND WE’RE MARRIED; THE HERO/INE’S GHOST might show up at the MIDPOINT and radically shift the dynamics of the story, and so on.

Now, any of these love story elements can be done badly and devolve into the worst kind of cliché. Part of the point of knowing the common elements is to be aware they’ve been done before and find your own unique ways of using them, if you’re going to use them.

I’m not going to waste time on the clichés for which there probably is no hope, ever, but just for example of those clunkers, here’s my own partial list, which I’m sure you can add to:

- The hardboiled career woman who needs thawing
- The heroine working as a book or magazine editor (Really? Another one?)
- The heroine loosening up in a drunk scene (and recently, promptly vomiting on the - hero’s shoes. I’m sorry, this is comedy?)
- The hero/ine meeting the love interest by spilling something on them (truly vomit-inducing, usually a pathetic version of Meet Cute)
- The African-American or gay best friend who has no other purpose in life but to support the hero/ine (and of course, show how wonderfully open-minded they are)
- The climactic race to the airport to stop the loved one from leaving

Okay, I’m already nauseous just making that much of a list, but you get the point. Let’s go on to some common elements that are much used, but still useful, used wisely.

MEET CUTE

Okay, I lied. There’s nothing useful about this one. Please, please don’t do it. Instead, why not try thinking about what it really is to meet the One – to see someone for the first time who might just change your entire destiny. Go into your own life, and the lives of everyone around you, and really ask yourself what that moment is. You can dress it up with comedy, that’s totally fine, but find something real and meaningful about it. Otherwise, why even bother?

THE INCITING INCIDENT/CALL TO ADVENTURE

In a love story, while the INCITING INCIDENT that starts off the story action may be a job offer, a wedding invitation, a misbooked hotel room, or any other inciting incident common to any genre, the actual CALL TO ADVENTURE in a love story is very, very often that first look at the beloved. This is why so often that first look seems on the surface to be HATE AT FIRST SIGHT – it’s a variation on the RELUCTANT HERO/INE (or REFUSAL OF THE CALL). When we meet that true love, there’s often as much or more fear and panic involved as joy and relief. Life is never going to be the same.

LOVE INTEREST INTRODUCED AS COMPLETE IDIOT

An example of MISAPPREHENSION, which is a form of MISTAKEN IDENTITY. Bridget Jones’ Diary, New In Town.

THE HERO/INE’S GHOST

In a love story, the Ghost or Wound is most often related to love and attachment, obviously: the heroine’s parents died when she was a child (The Proposal), the hero’s father has had a succession of failed marriages (Made Of Honor, You’ve Got Mail), the heroine’s father was always chasing rainbows, impoverishing the family (Leap Year).

The ghost often comes out deep into the story, in a confessional scene in which the hero/ine reveals to the love interest WHY I’M LIKE THIS (often at the MIDPOINT), but it’s generally better storytelling to dramatize it: In You’ve Got Mail, when Tom Hanks’ father leaves his much younger wife and moves in with Tom in his temporary crash pad (boat) Tom realizes he doesn’t want to be like his father and that he loves Meg (which in this story is THE ACT TWO CLIMAX/REVELATION into the FINAL BATTLE).

HANDCUFF THE COUPLE TOGETHER

In Romancing The Stone, Joan needs Jack to take her out of the jungle and back to Cartagena; Jack needs Joan’s money because he’s just lost all the rare birds he was smuggling. In The Proposal, Margaret needs Andrew to pretend he’s married to her so she won’t be deported and she threatens him with career annihilation if he refuses; Andrew agrees to do it if Margaret promotes him and publishes a book he loves. In Leap Year, Anna needs Declan to take her to Dublin, Declan needs Anna’s money to save his pub from foreclosure. In What Happens In Vegas, a judge orders Cameron Diaz and Aston Kutcher to remain married for six months if they want to split the three million dollar casino payoff they won together. (This story beat is also often an OFFER S/HE CAN’T REFUSE.)

A common variation on Handcuffing The Couple Together is:

FATE (OR THE WEATHER) INTERVENES

It’s amazing how often romantic comedy uses this device. Fate, very often in the form of the weather, prevents the heroine from leaving town (New In Town, Groundhog Day), or deposits them on the opposite side of the country from where they are supposed to be (Leap Year), so that the hero/ine can meet his or her true love.

This is especially well done in Groundhog Day.

THE OFFER S/HE CAN’T REFUSE

A plot point that usually comes early in the first act: the hero/ine is locked into a situation because their boss or family or a judge gives them an ultimatum – eg. in The Proposal, if Margaret does not fake a marriage with Andrew, she will be deported. See New In Town, Leap Year, What Happens In Vegas.

MISTAKEN IDENTITY OR FALSE IDENTITY

False identity was a staple for Shakespeare’s comedies, and is still widely used in romantic comedy, sometimes as a scene or sequence (pretending to be a sister or a fiancée), sometimes as the whole premise of the story: While You Were Sleeping, Tootsie, Mulan).

GETTING TO KNOW YOU

I don’t have to explain this one, do I? It’s the first time the hero and heroine let down their respective guards and start to spill personal information. It’s very often done very badly, as an information dump.

COUPLE FORCED TO PRETEND THEY’RE MARRIED

A staple of romantic comedy; it can be a scene, as in Leap Year where Anna and Declan must pretend to be married in order to get a room for the night at a B & B owned by religiously conservative proprietors, or it can be the whole premise of the story: whether it’s to get an inheritance or some other large chunk of money (What Happens in Vegas) or get a green card (The Proposal, Green Card).

LET’S PRETEND WE’RE MARRIED

A different kind of scene, more spontaneous – in which the couple find themselves digging in a garden or working well together in a kitchen (Leap Year) or one of them talks the other off an emotional ledge (Sally gently calming Harry down after he explodes in front of their best friends in When Harry Met Sally), and we get a glimpse of the well-matched couple they would be.

TICKING CLOCK

A staple of all genres, often used very unconvincingly, so be careful. Some good examples: In Leap Year, Anna needs to get to Dublin by Leap Day to propose to her reluctant boyfriend. In The Proposal, Margaret and Andrew have four days to get to know each other well enough to convincingly pass themselves off as married to a suspicious INS agent. At the climax of When Harry Met Sally, Harry is desperate to get to a New Year’s Eve party in time to kiss Sally at the stroke of midnight, something he utterly failed to do the year before.

THE BET

Can be a scene, or a whole premise, in which the hero/ine bets friends that s/he – usually he – can bed or dump a lover in a certain timeframe. Or some other bet that leads to a romantic entanglement. (My Fair Lady)

EX-SEX

Sometimes the second time is the charm. Or not. Sweet Home Alabama, It’s Complicated.

THE MAGICAL DAY (YEAR, PLACE, HOUR)

The idea that there is a magical day, or hour, or place, that will lead magically to true love and/or marriage. Leap Year has a heroine racing across Ireland in order to propose to her reluctant boyfriend on Leap Day, when traditionally men are obliged to accept any proposal they receive. Four Weddings and A Funeral plays with the idea that a wedding is a magical moment in time in which not only the bridal couple but anyone in attendance can find true love. Groundhog Day – well, it isn’t pretty, but it’s that day, repeated over and over, that changes surly Phil Connor’s life.

WHY THEM?

This is appallingly lacking in most love stories: some indicator of why we’re supposed to want this couple to get together to begin with. I know, love is a hard thing to define, but please, give us something! Some common explanations here:

- Opposites attract (Leap Year, Groundhog Day)
- A shared passion (New In Town)
- In a class by themselves (Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn in Philadelphia Story)
- They bring out each other’s best selves (Sense And Sensibility)
- They make each other laugh
- They understand and support each other’s most cherished dreams (While You Were Sleeping, Sense And Sensibility)

I’m sure you can think of lots of others – I’d love to hear them!

THE DANCE

One of the most crucial scenes in any romance or romantic subplot, and one that goes a long way toward explaining WHY THEM? The Dance is a scene in which we see that two people are perfect for each other: they have the same rhythm, they work around each other’s flaws, they have the same passion, they complete each other. One of my favorites is the beautiful scene in Sense And Sensibility in which Edward and Elinor coax Elinor’s younger sister Margaret out from where she has been hiding under the library table by pretending ignorance of the source of the Nile. We see that Edward and Elinor are perfectly matched: both intelligent, witty, sensitive, kind, and off-the-wall. They are at their most charming when they’re together, and we are totally committed to the relationship by the end of the short scene. So much more meaningful than “Meet Cute”!

FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE FAMILY

It’s very common to have a scene or sequence where we see the hero/ine falling in love with the loved one’s entire family (While You Were Sleeping, The Proposal). A variation of this is FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE HERO/INE’S FRIENDS (Notting Hill).

OOPS, WRONG BROTHER! (or WRONG SISTER!)

You know this one: the hero/ine thinks s/he’s happily engaged until – uh oh – s/he meets the loved one’s brother or sister (While You Were Sleeping, Holiday).

WRONG MAN/WRONG WOMAN

Not to be confused with Hitchcock’s “Wrong Man” story, about an innocent falsely accused (or set up). What I mean here is, in a story where the hero/ine is dating or engaged to the wrong person, there are going to be scenes that demonstrate clearly that this is the WRONG MAN, or WRONG WOMAN. I would venture to say these scenes are going to happen in virtually every love story in which there is a rival for the hero/ine’s love interest’s love.

GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS/BOYFRIENDS PAST

Obviously, having an old flame around makes for conflict and sometimes dramatic suspense in a love story, but it also often makes for good comedy. Four Weddings And A Funeral has not just one, but two great examples of this scene: at one wedding dinner Hugh Grant is seated at a table with four of his exes, comically dramatizing his problem of chronic serial monogamy. Then later his love interest Andie McDowell has a great monologue about her exes, all 33 of them.

THE AWFUL TRUTH

The hero or love interest scathes the heroine, or vice-versa, and knowingly or unknowingly hits the nail squarely on the head about what the hero/ine’s problem is. (While You Were Sleeping, and there are several good zingers in Leap Year.)

PRATFALLS

This is of course a visual, but I’m including it for the screenwriters (and some authors do it wonderfully on the page – Helen Fielding being a good example). Since the early screwball comedies, romantic comedy heroines have been falling over. This can be tiresome, but good physical comedians/comediennes can make it sublime – Lucille Ball, Katharine Hepburn, and Meg Ryan perfected the art.

THE REVOLVING DOOR

Another staple of physical comedy, but it’s one you can use on the page. The wrong person shows up at the wrong time and the hero/ine is forced to hide someone in the closet, under the bed, on the windowsill, etc. Another component of this is more people keep showing up to complicate the deception. This is a variation on:

WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME

Another staple of comedy. In Four Weddings And A Funeral: Charlie gets caught in the bridal suite just as the bridal couple decide to consummate their new marriage.

THE CATCHPHRASE or TAGLINE

While real-life lovers often play word games, the catchphrase is a dangerous thing, not often pulled off. “You had me at hello” from Jerry Maguire is one of the best. The Proposal doesn’t do too badly with “We’re just two people who weren’t supposed to fall in love, but did.” Try a making a Top Ten list for inspiration!

THE RIDDLE

Sometimes the love interest asks a thematic question that the hero/ine finally comes to understand, usually at the climax of the story – an interesting fairy tale touch (Leap Year).

GOSH, S/HE’D MAKE A GREAT PARENT! (or THE YEARNING FOR A FAMILY)

It’s very typical to show the hero/ine looking longingly after children or show the hero/ine noticing how good the hero/ine is with kids: Aston Kutcher coaching Little League in What Happens In Vegas, Meg Ryan reading aloud to preschoolers in You’ve Got Mail. A much funnier scene – Dustin Hoffman as Dorothy being run ragged by Jessica Lange’s baby daughter in Tootsie.

THE MAKEOVER

This can be a terrible cliché, so be careful. For an example of how to do this right, look at Romancing The Stone, which has wonderful fun taking Joan Wilder’s expensive but mousy wardrobe and shredding it until she’s dressed in a good approximation of her romantic alter-ego Angelina’s buckskins and bodices. New in Town and The Proposal realistically depict their heroines’ wardrobes changing from executive stiffness to a more practical and appealing softness.

COUPLE FORCED TO KISS

It’s kind of amazing to me how often a romantic comedy will have a scene like this. Forced to kiss? How do writers come up with these things?

COUPLE FORCED TO SHARE A BED

Look at that! This hotel room has only one bed!

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

The couple is forced to stay overnight in an isolated place. There a nice variation on this one in Romancing The Stone, where the “cabin” is the wreck of an airplane that crashed in the jungle – carrying a cargo of marijuana. Which Jack promptly uses to build a fire…

SEX AT SIXTY

All of the above often leads to this – that’s sex at 60 minutes in a movie, or the Midpoint, meaning it’s around page 200 in a 400-page book. This is common to find in all genres, even more common in romantic comedy. Yes, it can be almost sex at sixty. If there is actual sex at sixty, it usually crashes the relationship immediately.

THE CONFESSION SCENE

This is different from the DECLARATION below. The confession is where the hero or heroine or both open up about their childhood, ghosts, fears, hopes – their INNER DESIRES opposed to their OUTER DESIRES. It often occurs at the MIDPOINT.

YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE WHO UNDERSTANDS

Often during the confession scene, the hero and heroine will express a long-held, secret dream (Jack’s is to own a boat in Romancing The Stone. In While You Were Sleeping another Jack’s is to start his own business. In Sense And Sensibility Edward’s is to be the vicar of a small parsonage) and the loved one totally gets it and supports it, when no one else (usually the hero’s family) ever has. I don’t think it’s accidental that I’ve listed a bunch of male secret dreams that the heroines support; women have a long history of being better supporters that way.

This beat is separate from:

ONLY YOU

The scene where the hero and heroine bond over some song or piece of poetry or dog or combination of foods that only the loved one could ever understand. (This kind of improbably works in The Proposal.)

GET THE COUPLE TO SOMEONE ELSE’S WEDDING

Many romances have a scene or whole sequence at someone else’s wedding – throwing the hero and/or heroine right into that crucible to show their reactions to the whole idea in general. Not just romantic comedies, but romantic suspense will do this; see Sea Of Love.

CINDERELLA GOES TO THE BALL

Another version of going to a wedding, and usually involves a MAKEOVER. The original Arthur does this well, with John Gielgud as the world’s most charming (in a deadpan way) fairy godmother.

INTERRUPTING THE WEDDING

This is usually done by mistake, for comic effect (and it’s often not funny at all, be careful). But sometimes it’s a deliberate act, as in:

I’M GOING TO BREAK UP THAT WEDDING IF IT’S THE LAST THING I DO

Can be one scene, but it can also be the whole premise of the story, as in Philadelphia Story and My Best Friend’s Wedding, or Made Of Honor.

“IF ANYONE KNOWS OF ANY REASON…”

Speaking of interrupting weddings - very often once the couple is at someone else’s wedding, some kind of disturbance will occur just at this critical juncture in the ceremony. Often it turns into a plot point (in the climax of Four Weddings And A Funeral).

THE PROMISE or DEATHBED PROMISE scene, or DYING WORDS scene.

In Four Weddings And A Funeral – one of the last things Gareth says to his circle of friends before he dies of a heart attack is: “I want to see you all married. Go forth and find husbands and wives.” Of course Hugh Grant takes that to heart…

THE LOVER MAKES A STAND

This scene seems almost always to come in the very last part of Act II:2, but sometimes in Act III. Basically, it’s the crux of Sequence Six or Sequence Seven. In this scene the Lover, the one who loves most deeply, says to the Loved One, “I’m not going to take your bullshit any more. Make up your mind. Either commit to me or don’t, but if you don’t, I’m out of here.” It’s often the ALL IS LOST MOMENT.

It’s Complicated: Steve Martin tells Meryl Streep that she’s not done with Alec yet, and he doesn’t want to see her while she’s still emotionally involved with him. Notting Hill: Hugh Grant tells Julia Roberts in the bookstore that between her “foul temper” and his far more inexperienced heart, he doesn’t think he would recover from being discarded again, and turns down her offer to date. When Harry Met Sally: Sally refuses Harry’s offer to go to the New Year’s party as a friendly date because “I’m not your consolation prize, Harry.”

In all of the above scenes, the Lover’s Stand forces the Loved One to step up and commit just as deeply as the Lover is committed. But it seems that very, very, very often, it’s one character, the Lover, who has to force the issue. And that finally leads to another scene:

THE DECLARATION

Yes, it’s essential to have a well-written declaration of love, it’s one of the biggest payoffs of the genre. I suggest you make a Top Ten List of your favorites for inspiration: try Julia Roberts’ “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy” in Notting Hill, Hugh Grant stammering through “I think I love you” in Four Weddings And A Funeral, Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie: “I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man;” Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally: “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start right now;” Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire: “You complete me.”

In a love story, the declaration very often is the FINAL BATTLE. And, oh, right – it’s very often a PROPOSAL.

It is also often a public declaration, in front of as many people can be crowded into the scene. But that’s become so much of a cliché I would really suggest avoiding it, if at all possible.

And remember, if the lover has behaved particularly badly, the audience or reader probably wants to see a little GROVELING.

THE KISS

I don’t really need to explain this one, do I? Well, let me just say: in love stories there are usually two key kisses: one someplace around the MIDPOINT, or at the Midpoint, where the couple have a first kiss and both suddenly realize, usually separately, that they’re in deep trouble. This is often the COUPLE FORCED TO KISS scene.

Then the very end of the movie or book, or the Act III climax, is the prolonged, never coming up for air, make the audience or reader really feel it kiss. Unfortunately in lesser stories this often substitutes for a real ending.

And then of course there’s the INTERRUPTED KISS, a way of building sexual tension before that first real kiss.

NEW WAY OF LIFE

This is truly an essential beat to get right in a romance, and nothing beats Romancing The Stone for this moment – wouldn’t anyone want the life Joan and Jack are sailing off to? And somehow it’s much more delicious because the yacht is not on the ocean, but parked on that Manhattan street. It’s the ultimate romantic gesture by a bad boy with a wicked sense of humor.

I also love seeing Hugh Grant shyly hitting the red carpet in Notting Hill, and the flip side of their life, the payoff of the two sprawled on that inscribed garden bench.

But yes, sometimes a kiss will do it, too, especially if it’s Colin Firth doing the kissing, as in Bridget Jones’ Diary.

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As you may have guessed, I’ve made up a lot of those names for the above elements. You can call those scenes, moments and setups something else entirely, and hopefully you’ll be adding lots of observations of your own to an ever-growing list.

So what have I left out? And/or what are examples of movies and books that do some of these elements particularly well?

- Alex

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All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  e format, just $3.99 and $2.99; print 13.99.

                                      STEALING HOLLYWOOD

This new workbook updates all the text in the first Screenwriting Tricks for Authors ebook with all the many tricks I’ve learned over my last few years of writing and teaching—and doubles the material of the first book, as well as adding six more full story breakdowns.

 


STEALING HOLLYWOOD ebook    $3.99
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WRITING LOVE

Writing Love is a shorter version of the workbook, using examples from love stories, romantic suspense, and romantic comedy - available in e formats for just $2.99.


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Saturday, February 06, 2016

HUNTRESS MOON SERIES FLASH SALE - $1.99!!

The first three books of my Thriller Award-nominated Huntress Moon series are on sale for just $1.99 each on Amazon US! (February 6 only). If you haven’t caught up with the series, here’s your chance to get a great deal.

         Special Agent Matthew Roarke thought he knew what evil was. He was wrong.

   





Huntress: Amazon US: $1.99     Blood Moon:  Amazon US: $1.99   Cold Moon:  Amazon US: $1.99



HUNTRESS MOON wins Voice Arts Award for Best Audiobook Narration

Huntress Moon and my amazing narrator, RC Bray, have won a Voice Arts Award for Best Audiobook Narration, Crime & Thriller.

Bob is also the multi-award-winning narrator of the blockbuster audiobook of The Martian, and you can hear his stellar narration in all three of the Huntress books. Audiobook junkies might want to take the sale opportunity to pick up the ebooks - then add the narration for as low as $1.99


BITTER MOON coming in October


I’m thrilled to report that I’ve signed another two-book deal with Thomas & Mercer. Book 4 of the Huntress series, Bitter Moon, will be out in October, with Book 5 to come in early 2017. Just when you thought things couldn’t get more complicated for Roarke…

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

It's Groundhog Day! So - Groundhog Day breakdown, Act I

                        Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

Written by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis
Directed by Harold Ramis
Starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell
1993
Running time 101 min.

Groundhog Day is one of my favorite film love stories, with a rare protagonist: an unlikable one who goes through a major character arc because of the crucible of love (and with a little help from the weather gods). Along with being a time loop story, an alternate reality story, and a high-concept comedy, it’s a great example of a male redemption story which also manages to hit all the right love story beats while at the same time completely satirizing those love story beats. It’s an anti-chick-flick story which nonetheless charms the chicks. In fact, I’m pretty certain that Ramis or Rubin, or both, made themselves a list of romantic comedy tropes and set out to mock every one of them, starting with the concept of the MAGICAL DAY — in this case, the least likely magical day you can imagine. Who ever would associate Groundhog Day with love? (But note that it is the closest holiday to Valentine's Day....)

ACT ONE

SEQUENCE ONE

OPENING IMAGE: This is one of my favorite, sly opening images of all time. It’s a shot of very fast moving clouds in a blue sky, with some sort of carnival music underneath. Now, this is a natural image for the story, which is about a weatherman. But I think there’s a lot more going on with this image. Those are very active clouds. I would even say they’re scheming. Yes, I’m from Berkeley and this may be some overanthropomorphizing on my part (or possibly some sort of flashback) — but I honestly think I’m on to something here. I think the filmmakers are deliberately making the weather an antagonist — and mentor — for the protagonist, who has some pretty severe need of character change. Call it weather, call it the weather gods, call it fate — but think about it. There’s no obvious human antagonist in this story. Instead, there is some kind of supernatural force working here to effect the change in surly protagonist Phil Connors.

And the shot to me also recalls the opening image of It’s a Wonderful Life, to which this film obviously owes much. In IAWL, the opening scene consists of snow falling heavily on small town Bedford Falls, with voice-over prayers for someone named George Bailey, which drift gradually upward until we fix on clusters of stars in a night sky. Two of the constellations start to talk about how this is George’s critical night — and we understand there is going to be some heavenly intercession in whatever this George Bailey’s crisis is.

And intercession is exactly what happens with Phil in Groundhog Day, in a more subtle but very effective way.

CUT TO: A news studio, with weatherman Phil Connors doing his shtick in front of a blue screen (basically waving his arms around, a nice visual depiction of the meaninglessness of his job). However, despite his sarcasm and his obvious disdain for what he does — and disdain for his coworkers, too — Phil has star quality (it’s Bill Murray, after all) and he is more than providing the show that the job calls for.

HERO’S OUTER DESIRE: Phil wants out of Pittsburg and onto a major network. One of his first off-camera lines of dialogue is that a major network is interested in him. Yes, have the hero STATE WHAT HE WANTS.

We learn right away that Phil is en route to one of his most despised shoots — up to tiny Punxsutawney to report on the annual Groundhog Day festival (the INCITING INCIDENT — he’s sent off on a job). Going with him are long-suffering cameraman Larry and wholesome, optimistic producer Rita, whom we see first on camera, trying to figure out how the blue screen works. There’s a long close up on Phil’s face as he watches her — it looks like he thinks this woman is a moron. At least, that’s what we would expect him to be thinking. Actually, this is his real CALL TO ADVENTURE (so often in a love story the CALL is seeing the beloved for the first time). And much later in the story Phil confesses to a sleeping Rita what he was actually thinking when he looked at her — it’s a wonderful PLANT.

So they’re off on the road; under the credits we see shots of the big city (relatively), Pittsburgh, then the van drives over a bridge and into snow-dusted mountains with small towns. (The song: “I’m Your Weatherman)." This is the first, more overt INTO THE SPECIAL WORLD moment. Remember that bridges are overt symbols of transition and change.  Out of the city, into a small mountain town. This kind of contrast underscores the feeling of newness and adventure we want to experience in an Into The Special World transition. But a second, more magical INTO THE SPECIAL WORLD is coming...  

In the van, Phil mocks both the festival and impossibly upbeat Rita mercilessly, but still does it with enough Bill Murray charm that we see Rita is amused, and attracted. (Right off the bat we get the DANCE scene — they play well together and Rita is unflapped by Phil’s volleys; she’s able to keep his humor from descending into outright meanness. But meanness is definitely a danger; Phil desperately needs redeeming.)

The crew arrives on Main Street, Punxsutawney, which if you ask me looks exactly like Bedford Falls. Rita has booked Phil into a nice B&B while she and Larry are staying in a cheap hotel. She tells him to “Get some sleep.”

Lights out, and then up on the clock alarm by Phil’s bed (this clock will play a huge role) — clicking over to 6 a.m. for the first time in the film as “I Got You, Babe,” plays. (I have to think this is the Fates having a laugh; they certainly have “got” Phil. But of course, it’s also a love song … ) The whole following sequence — every comic bit, line of dialogue, action and character in it — is the master sequence for all the variations on it that are to come.

• Phil washes up at the sink to the obnoxious patter of the radio jockeys talking about Groundhog Day.
• Phil is scathing to a cheery overweight guest in the upstairs hall.
• Downstairs, Phil mocks the even more cheery proprietress of the B&B.
• On the street, Phil joins the townspeople heading toward Gobbler’s Knob.
• Phil pretends he has no money for the elderly panhandler on a street corner.
• Ned Ryerson, a high school non-friend of Phil’s, recognizes him and tries to sell him life insurance.
• Phil steps in an icy pothole while trying to escape from Ned.
• Phil walks through the throngs of Groundhog Day festival-goers at the Knob (as the band plays “The Pennsylvania Polka”) to join Rita and Larry. Phil does the TV commentary on the groundhog festival: groundhog “Phil” is removed from his cave, consults with town fathers, and sees his shadow. Six more weeks of winter (FORESHADOWING).
• Phil insists on leaving town immediately.
• On the road, the crew hits a roadblock — cars are being turned back because of a big blizzard. (HERO LOCKED INTO THE SITUATION.)
(This is a trope in romantic comedy — the Fates seem to intervene in the form of the weather, forcing the hero or heroine onto a path s/he hadn’t planned for, as we see in New in Town and Leap Year. Groundhog Day takes this and many other romantic comedy clichés and mocks them at the same time as it gets all the mileage it can out of the romance of the situations — which is a big reason the story appealed equally to male and female audiences. Note that the same slightly surreal music from the opening shot is playing under this scene — it’s the Fates stepping in, I’m telling you! I’d also call this the ANTAGONIST’S PLAN. It’s just delicious that the weather has turned into Phil’s opponent. And Phil knows it, as he rails at the roadblock cop: “I make the weather.” (Uh, oh — if I’m not mistaken, this is DEFYING THE GODS. It’s never good when mortals do that …)
• Back in the B&;B, Phil can’t find transportation or even a phone line out of town.
• In his room he tries to shower and is assaulted by icy water; the pipes are frozen.
• He goes to bed. (18:30)

SEQUENCE TWO

And in the morning, Phil wakes up — to the exact same clock shot, the exact same song, the exact same radio patter. Phil assumes the repetition is a studio gaffe: they’ve put in yesterday’s tape by mistake. (A great rational response to a bizarre situation.) But when he looks out the window there’s very little snow on the ground, and people seem to be headed toward Gobbler’s Knob in droves, just as they did yesterday.

And here’s the second, more subtle, but real CROSSING THE THRESHOLD/INTO THE SPECIAL WORLD: when Phil wakes up in the morning to a replaying of the day he just spent. The filmmakers cue this moment with the shot of the clock alarm clicking over to 6 a.m., while “I Got You, Babe” plays on the radio. It’s a big visual that will repeat and repeat and repeat. The numbers on the clock are like a door, and they usher Phil into the real Special World: a time loop where every day is Groundhog Day and there’s no escaping Punxsutawney, PA.

Out in the hallway he runs into the same portly guest, who asks him the same cheery questions. Phil starts to get uneasy then attacks the guest, demanding to know what’s going on.

In the breakfast room, a dazed Phil is nicer to the proprietress just from shock.

He is increasingly distressed as he goes to Gobbler’s Knob (meeting Ned again, stepping in the icy pothole) and finds the festivities occurring in the same order. His newscast is considerably less sarcastic, and Rita wonders.

By now sure that the blizzard is coming and he’s trapped, Phil doesn’t leave in the van with Larry and Rita. At the B&B he again phones a travel agent and tries to get out of town some other way; when the travel agent suggests he try again tomorrow, Phil rails, “What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t today.” A nice bit of comic dialogue that also clearly states Phil’s FEAR. (SPELL IT OUT.)

Before he goes to sleep he breaks a pencil and sets it on the bed table. (TESTING THE RULES.) (25:44)

Phil wakes for the third time to the same song, the same radio banter. The pencil is intact, reconstituted.

Phil speeds through the same sequence of events, then at Gobbler’s Knob tells Rita he’s not going to do the show; he’s already done it twice already, and something is terribly wrong. Rita insists he do the show, they’ll talk after. (27:30)

At the diner, Phil tells Rita “I’m reliving the day over and over. I need help.”

Rita thinks he needs a doctor. (So this is the minor, initial PLAN.) Note the stopped clocks on the wall behind Phil, and the bumper sticker that says “The Spirit” behind Rita. In fact, the Tip Top café logo outside on the building is a clock — with no hands.

Rita and Larry take Phil to a doctor. The CAT scan is clean; the doctor suggests a shrink. Phil visits a very young psychologist who has no idea what to do with his problem but suggests they meet again tomorrow.

Phil gets drunk in a bowling alley with two locals. He asks them: “What if you woke up in the same place every day and every day was just the same and there was nothing you could do about it?” The men seem to feel that’s life, in a nutshell. (THEME.) As they leave the bar, the two men are way too drunk to drive, so Phil gets into the driver’s seat of the car and then suddenly takes off, asking, “What if there were no consequences?” One of the drunks answers, “We could do whatever we wanted.” And Phil says, “Exactly.” (PLAN). He races through the town, picking up a police tail, drives on the railroad tracks, barely missing a train, and crashes into a giant groundhog cutout in a parking lot. The sequence ends with the jail cell door closing on Phil … (35 min).

ACT ONE CLIMAX (A comic car chase, crash, SETPIECE.)

… and Phil wakes up in the morning in the B&B bed, to the same clock, the same song. 

=====================================================

The full story structure breakdown of GROUNDHOG DAY, plus full breakdowns of nine other movies, are available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  E format, just $3.99 and $2.99; print 13.99.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Produce your own audiobook with ACX

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I think the entire reading community is becoming aware of the rising popularity of audiobooks. What's not to like? In this world, it's multitask or die, right?  

But I've been horrified recently to read so many comments and posts by authors who are thinking of producing their own audiobooks… and who think that that actually means that they have to do the recording and production themselves. NO! NO! NO!!

Why would anyone want to take on that kind of work when there's the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX)?

I used ACX to produce an audiobook of the first book of my Thriller Award-nominated Huntress Moon series. I'm reposting my blog about it below in the hope of convincing other authors to check out ACX and add this very robust income stream to their earnings.

I also am thrilled to announce that last month Huntress Moon and my terrific narrator, RC Bray won a Voice Arts Award for Best Audiobook Narration, Mystery & Thriller!



On Amazon
On Audible

If you buy or already own the Kindle edition, you can add audio for just $3.47.









AUDIO IS THE NEW BLACK


The Romantic Times Booklovers convention is one of the biggest conventions I go to all year, and I was surprised this year at how many panels and workshops there were with titles like "Audio is the New Black." I met up with lots of author friends who have been doing a brisk business in audiobooks through the ACX program, and I thought I'd better blog a little about it here, because this is another potential income stream that authors need to be aware of these days, and ACX is a terrific production and distribution resource. Even if you know exactly zero about audiobook production (that would be me!), the ACX site has streamlined the process into a step-by-step system that anyone can follow to produce a quality audiobook. 

ACX has thousands of professional and highly experienced actor-producers already signed up for the program. When you start an audio book, you choose a five-minute segment of your book for actors to audition with and upload that to the ACX site, and specify the qualities of voice that you're looking for (comic, brooding, spooky, etc.) You choose whether you'll pay the narrator a flat fee yourself, or do a royalty share deal, which means you split the royalties with your narrator/producer and pay NO up front cost yourself (that's ZERO) - except for the minimal fee you'll have to pay your book cover designer to retool the size of the book cover to audiobook specifications). Then the project gets posted to ACX's entire stable of actor-producers, and immediately auditions start coming in. You can also browse for actors yourself by searching vocal and tonal qualities and listening to samples.  I was having flashbacks to my directing days as I listened to over three dozen auditions. (I know, yike - but you don't have to listen to the whole audition to know if a narrator is in the running). 

I actually found my terrific narrator, RC Bray, myself, by searching auditions on the site (Bob is also the narrator of the blockbuster audio The Martian, among other titles).  I was blown away by Bob's vocal range (just wait till you hear his reading of Epps!), and the way he's able to convey theme and suspense in his reading. Bob loved Huntress and signed up to do the book immediately, and he's such a professional that we had no problem working together by e mail. I could ask him to do something in a slightly different way and he'd instantly get it.  I'm thrilled with the book and I hope you audiobook listeners will be, too.

I've really enjoyed working on the audio version of Huntress, though I have to warn it's a lot of work if you decide to be hands on about it, the way that I was - former theater director, you know. But you can also just put it in the hands of your producer/narrator - if they're ACX approved, they really do know what they're doing. And ACX's team was incredibly supportive and helpful - any time I hit a snag or didn't understand a step in the process, I could contact the support team and get talked through it. 

I know other authors opt to make audio deals with great companies like Audible rather than taking on production themselves, but I love that I'm now making the lion's share of profit from this book. I think maybe a mix of self-produced and publisher-produced books might be the way to go, just as a hybrid mix of indie published and traditionally published books can be the most profitable (and manageable!) route for authors these days. 

I have audiobooks of Blood Moon and Cold Moon out from Thomas & Mercer, produced by Audible.com and narrated by Bob Bray, but I'm also releasing two more through ACX, Book of Shadows and The Unseen, which I will be posting about as soon as they're available.

I highly recommend that all authors check out the ACX site and read about how the process works. And it should go without saying, but I'm saying it anyway - if you don't listen to audiobooks yourself, it really helps to spend some time listening to audiobook samples in your own genre.  Every Audible.com audiobook has a four-minute audio sample on its product page. 

Of course I'd love to hear from others of you who have worked on your own audiobooks! What was your experience?

- Alex

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Special Agent Matthew Roarke thought he knew what evil was.

He was wrong.

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is just closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can't believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of "accidents" and murder, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.  

Roarke's hunt for her takes him across three states... while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.

As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and must race to capture her before more blood is shed.  

Amazon UK

Audiobooks of Blood Moon, and Cold Moon are also available from Thomas & Mercer/Audible.com


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