Thursday, May 25, 2017

JUNOWRIMO - Don't start a new book! Finish the old one!

                        Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

So who's doing Junowrimo?

It was inevitable - once a year Nano was never going to be enough. Now there's a whole community built up around Junowrimo so writers can take a month in the summer and bash out the first draft of a book.

As it happens I'm teaching not one, but TWO of my rare Screenwriting Tricks For Authors workshops in June - the DC Romance Writers weekend conference and the five-day intensive I do every year at the West Texas AMU Writers Academy. So I've been leading my workshop participants through some basic prep that would work really well for Junowrimo prep as well - here are the questions if you want to play along.


     1.  The genre of your book. 
 
     2.  The premise of your book - the story in one or two sentences.  (Read about premise here
)

(If you DON'T have a book idea yet, that's fine, too - just let us know and we’ll give you alternate homework.)

     3  This is the most important:  Compile a list of TEN books and films (at least five films, please)  in your genre that are somewhat similar to your book structurally.    

We learn best from the storytellers and stories (in any medium) that have most inspired us. And as authors we can learn a whole new dimension of storytelling by looking specifically at films that have inspired us and that are similar to what we're writing. 

     4. For extra bonus points, write out the premises of each film on your list (in one or two lines, only. This will be hard, but very, very good for you. 
 

For people who are struggling with nailing down a premise sentence, it helps to answer these questions first:


• Who’s the story about? 
 
• What’s the setting? 
 
• Who’s the antagonist? 
 
• What’s the conflict? 
 
• What are the stakes? 


Getting these answers and a bit of biographical information on my students helps me focus the class so that everyone gets the most our of our time together. And you know what the biggest Junowrimo takeaway from their answers is?

Most people SHOULD NOT be writing a new book in June.

Oh, they should be writing a book, no doubt. But I suspect what most aspiring authors need to be doing is using Junowrimo to FINISH an old book.

It is astonishing to me how many people in my classes have six, seven, eight projects in various stages of completion. It's not astonishing at all that most of these people are unpublished. Because published authors are writers who suck it up and FINISH their books. They deal with the reality of what they have written instead of the fantasy of what they thought they were writing. They develop the Teflon skin that allows them to put their work out there to be criticized and yes, rejected. Lots of rejection.

Some of these unfinished projects will never be good enough to be published. The unfortunate truth of writing is that you won't know that until you finish. But you have to become a writer who finishes what you start, even if you then have to throw a whole completed project away once in a while. That is part of the process of becoming a professional writer. You must figure out how to FINISH every book you write.

Part of that process is picking the right premise to begin with. But another critical part of that process is ramming your head into a concrete wall (metaphorically speaking) until you're battered and bloody but you finally figure out how to make that particular book work. Some books are just harder than others, but you must demonstrate to the Universe that you are willing to do whatever it takes to make ANY book work. It's a trust thing. Your books must trust you to fully commit to them.

And that time is NEVER wasted, even if you never make money off that book. It is professional and more importantly - CREATIVE development.

I have a book hidden in my files in the Cloud that I could be making quite a lot of money on if I just self-published it. People would buy it and a lot of readers would enjoy it. But it's not as good as the rest of my books and I don't want it out there pulling my reputation just slightly down. I finished it, and then put it away and wrote another. It was a big gap in my publishing schedule. But my next book was Huntress Moon, a real breakthrough in my writing, and the book I was meant to write. I don't think that's a coincidence. I think my creative mind and the Universe understood that I was finally ready to do more with my writing.

So I beg you all, just as I am begging my workshop students. If you haven't finished the book you're on, DON'T start a new book for Junowrimo just because.

Commit to the book you're already writing, in whatever stage of the process you're at, and use Junowrimo to finish THAT one.

And then go get published.

- Alex


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


Our textbook for my classes is STEALING HOLLYWOOD. The alternate text is WRITING LOVE, for more romance-centric writers. Both have the same basic structure material, but Stealing Hollywood has more material and more mystery/thriller examples, and Writing Love has more romance examples. The e books are 3.99 and 2.99 each.

                                        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
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $12.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








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.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE







You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:




        

Sunday, May 14, 2017

What does your protagonist WANT? (Dear Evan Hansen)

                            Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns


Hey, long time no blog, right? How is everyone?

I know, I've been very, very silent here, due to all the craziness. I've had a triple deadline - Book 5 of the Huntress series (out in October), the pilot for the TV series, and a piece for a non-fiction anthology called "Hollywood Vs. the Author", also out in the fall. And, oh yeah, the so-called President of the United States just FIRED the head of the FBI who was heading the investigation into said so-called President's COLLUSION WITH THE RUSSIANS, as well as so much conflict of interest I have no idea why the entire country is not out lining the streets saying NO MORE OF THIS RAPACIOUS BULLSHIT.

Personally I've had a lot to say and it hasn't been about movies.

But I finally got all three projects in last week and I am exhausted with outrage over the not-so-slow-motion collapse of our democracy.

So here's a short blog, because this article caught my eye in between all the latest news of the Criminal-in-Chief:      How Ben Platt Became the Toast of Broadway - Dear Evan Hansen

(And if you're not subscribed to the NY Times, why not? Now more than ever…)

I am always saying that looking at musical theater is an excellent way to learn how to present Key Story Elements like Inner and Outer Desire, Into the Special World, the Hero/ine’s Plan, the Antagonist’s Plan, Character Arc, Gathering the Team – virtually any important story element you can name. Musical theater knows to give those key elements the attention and import they deserve. What musicals do to achieve that is put those story elements into song and production numbers. They become setpiece scenes to music. And you know how I’m always encouraging you all to SPELL THINGS OUT? Well, there no better way to spell things out than in song. The audience is so entertained they don’t know you’re spoon-feeding them the plot.

Yes, I know, you can’t put songs on the page. But - you can most certainly learn from the energy and exuberance of songs and production numbers, and find your own ways of getting that same energy and exuberance onto the page in a narrative version of production design, theme, emotion and chemistry between characters, tone, mood, revelation – everything that good songs do.

And one thing Broadway does very, very, VERY well is the DESIRE song.

It is critical for you, the author or screenwriter, to tell your reader/audience what your protagonist WANTS. Not just in Act One, but as early as possible in Act One. We must know what the main character wants so that we can want it for them. Or so that we can see how wrong the character is about what s/he wants so that we can root for her to get what s/he NEEDS instead.

Because the TWIST of almost any story comes from the protagonist NOT getting what s/he wants, but rather what s/he really NEEDS (or sometimes - getting what s/he wants in a totally unexpected way).

Let me just say part of that again. The reader/audience must know what the main character wants so that we can want it for them. This emotion is the basis of our engagement in the story.

And no art form is better than musical theater about spelling out what the protagonist wants in a way that doesn't just engage, but electrifies our emotions. Take a look at a few DESIRE SONGS in a row (that's what YouTube is for, people).

 “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” (My Fair Lady), “Reflection” (Mulan) –) “I Hope I Get It" (A Chorus Line). “If I Were A Rich Man” (Fiddler on the Roof), “I’m The Greatest Star” (Funny Girl). 

Or just take a look at this one, "Waving Through a Window", from Dear Evan Hansen. 






I don't think I have to say anything else - that amazing explosion of DESIRE speaks for itself. But don't you want that kid to get what he wants? Don't you even long for it?

That's emotional engagement. Do you have it your story?

Think about it.  And please take three minutes to call/fax/email your representatives and save our democracy.

- Alex



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

A few announcements:

- Tomorrow,  May 15, is the deadline for submitting feedback for me and my producers on the Huntress TV series. Everyon who answers the questionnaire will be entered in a drawing to win a Kindle Fire or $100 Amazon gift card. The questionnaire is here.

- I have a few Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshops coming next month.

     - Washington DC Romance Writers - full weekend workshop:  Washington DC Romance Writers

     - West Texas AMU Writers Academy (Plot Your Novel in a Week) -   West Texas AMU Writers Academy


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

                                        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
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $12.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








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.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE







You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:


     




Monday, April 17, 2017

Help me develop the Huntress series as a TV show and win a Kindle Fire!

My producers and I are looking for reader feedback as we develop the Huntress Moon books as a TV series and make casting and other decisions.

Everyone who returns a questionnaire will be entered in an exclusive drawing to win a Kindle Fire (or $100 Amazon gift certificate, your choice). Winner to be announced the first week in May.

                                                      Go to questionnaire

You can also discuss these questions, see other people’s answers, and keep up with news about the books and show on our new Facebook page

Like” the page to get an additional entry in the drawing!


All four books are currently on sale on Amazon UK and AU, so if you haven’t caught up with the series, yet, you can get a great deal: 99p and 1.49 AD!



Huntress Moon         
Blood Moon
Cold Moon
Bitter Moon

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Using a narrator character to create a mythic story


Pop quiz!

   - Who’s the main character of To Kill a Mockingbird?   
   - Who’s the main character of Moby Dick?
   - Who’s the main character of The Great Gatsby?

Did you have to think about that for a minute? Are you even maybe still thinking about it?

These three classics all use the same structural technique. They’ve created a mythic character (and three timeless novels) by telling the story through the eyes of what I’m going to call “The Narrator Character.” The actual literary term for it - the “intradiegetic narrator” - has never exactly caught fire, for pretty obvious reasons .

I’m talking about the narrator who is within the story but NOT the main character. The narrator who observes the main character, and in good stories, is changed by the influence of the main character.

I could make a strong argument that in both fiction and film, a great way to create a mythic character is to keep their point-of-view minimal, and instead depict them mainly from the outside observation of a narrator or point-of-view character: Nick Carraway observing Gatsby, Ishmael observing Captain Ahab, Scout Finch observing Atticus, Watson observing Holmes, Marlow observing Captain Kurtz.

The Shawshank Redemption, which we re-watched last night, is another classic example of that very effective structural paradigm, with narrator Red observing Andy Dufresne. 






And for a TV example (on a smaller level, but also effective) – there’s the first season of True Detective. We are never really inside Rust, but rather observing him ourselves or through his partner’s eyes, and that’s a big part of what made that character the most interesting part of the show. Bloodline also does this to a certain extent, with Kyle Chandler/John’s point-of-view narration serving to create a more layered character in his brother Danny.

Note that this is different from the more widely dissected “Unreliable Narrator” storytelling technique. The Narrator Character can certainly be an unreliable narrator – you can even argue that a narrator character is always an unreliable narrator, because an outside person will never have the full scoop on the character they’re talking about. But you could equally argue that no human being is capable of telling the full truth about their own experience (I know for freaking sure that I’m not!) and by that standard, no story is ever fully “reliable.”

Anyway, the point is - the term “Unreliable Narrator” is usually used to describe a narrator who is deliberately holding something back from the reader (The Death of Roger Ackroyd), or incapable of telling the full story because of mental illness or impairment, youth, etc. The lying narrator creates a twist in the story because the narrator knows more than the reader, and the reveal of the lie plays as a surprise.  The impaired narrator creates a sense of pathos for the reader by putting them in a position of knowing more than the narrator (Flowers for Algernon and Charly, To Kill a Mockingbird).

A narrator character can be overt or covert. Nick Carraway and Ishmael are overt narrators, first person tellers of their tales. In the original Road Warrior movie, it’s only at the end that we understand that the narrator is the Feral Boy, and that reveal plays as a satisfying twist.

A narrator character can be useful when the main character is disintegrating mentally or morally, because that point of view character can pull back from hero or heroine worship to arrive at moral judgment.

And I should point out that in film, you don’t have to necessarily use voiceover to achieve the effects of a narrator character. In film Inception, there is no narration, but the Ellen Page character, Ariadne, is set up as a point of view character who observes (and falls for) Cobb, the Leonardo DiCaprio character, giving him a bit of a mythic quality. Then Ariadne gradually takes charge of the action herself as Cobb falls apart. I don’t think this was done particularly well in this movie – mostly because of bad casting. But if you can look past that misfire, you can see the potential is there in the script.

You don’t have to go all out with this technique with it to be useful and powerful, either. I actually use it in my Huntress Moon thriller series.  In one way, the books have the normal structure of protagonist vs. antagonist: my FBI lead, Roarke, is hunting a vicious mass killer, The Huntress. But the uniqueness of the books is that Roarke is also a Narrator Character who is constantly observing and commenting on the Huntress. For my purposes, this structure helps to keep the Huntress mysterious. There’s an elusive quality about her that is much more effective than shining too much light on her.

Reviewers have also made the point about the Huntress books that as a man, Roarke is struggling to understand the world of female experience, and that we need the more familiar male point of view or “male gaze” to take us into that alien world. (Then of course, I can turn that point of view completely inside out.)

So what are some other examples of the Narrator Character in movies, books, and TV?

I’d also love to hear about examples from authors who have a Narrator Character in their own books. How is that working for you?

For the New Year I’m experimenting – I’ve just set up a separate Facebook page where I can get deeply into topics like this, and where people might be more inclined to join a discussion than on a blog.

If this kind of thing interests you, come on over to Stealing Hollywood for the discussion (and Like the page if you want to get updates in your FB feed).

- Alex

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

                                        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
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $12.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








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.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE




You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:



Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Writing five minutes a day for a year equals a book

by Alexandra Sokoloff

                        Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

I don’t think it’s said often enough that you CAN write a novel (or a script, or a TV pilot....) in whatever time you have. Even if that’s only five minutes a day. If you have kids, if you have the day job from hell, if you are clinically depressed – whatever is going on in your life, if you have five minutes a day, as long as you write EVERY DAY, to the best of your ability, you can write a novel that way.

I wrote my first novel, The Harrowing, by writing just five minutes per day.

My day job was screenwriting, at the time, and yes, it was a writing job, but it had turned into the day job from hell.

But fury is a wonderful motivator, and at the end of the day, every day, I was so pissed off at the producers I was working for that I would make myself write five minutes a day on the novel EVERY NIGHT, just out of spite.

Okay, the trick to this is – that if you write five minutes a day, you will write more than five minutes a day, sometimes a whole hell of a lot more than five minutes a day most days. But it’s the first five minutes that are the hardest.





Sometimes I was so tired that all I could manage was a sentence, but I would sit down at my desk and write that one sentence. But some days I’d tell myself all I needed to write was a sentence, and I’d end up writing three pages. I finished that book, and sold it to a major publisher, in less than a year.

It’s just like the first five minutes of exercise - something I learned a long time ago. As long as I can drag myself to class and endure that first five minutes of the workout, and I give myself permission to leave after five minutes if I want to, I will generally take the whole hour or hour and a half class, and usually end up loving it. (There are these wonderful things called endorphins, you see, and they kick in after a certain amount of exposure to pain...)

The trick to writing, and exercise, is – it is STARTING that is hard.

I have been writing professionally for . . . well, never mind how many years. But even after all those many years—every single day, I have to trick myself into writing. I will do anything – scrub toilets, clean the cat box, do my taxes, do my mother’s taxes – rather than sit down to write. It’s absurd. I mean, what’s so hard about writing, besides everything?

But I know this just like I know it about exercise. If you can just start, and commit to just that five minutes, those five minutes will turn into ten, and those ten minutes will turn into pages, and one page a day for a year is a book.

Think about it.

Or better yet, write for five minutes, right now.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Alex 

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

                                        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
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $12.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








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.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


---------------------

You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Nanowrimo Now What?

by Alexandra Sokoloff

                 Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

YAY!!! You survived! Or maybe I shouldn’t make any assumptions, there. 

But for the sake of argument, let’s say you survived, not only what was arguably the worst November in modern history, but Nanowrimo, too, and now have a rough draft (maybe very, very, very rough draft) of about 50,000 words.

What next?

Well, first of all, did you write to “The End”? Because if not, then you may have survived, but you’re not done. You must get through to The End, no matter how rough it is (rough meaning the process AND the pages…). If you did not get to The End, I would strongly urge that you NOT take a break, no matter how tired you are (well, maybe a day). You can slow down your schedule, set a lower per-day word or page count, but do not stop. Write every day, or every other day if that’s your schedule, but get the sucker done.

You may end up throwing away most of what you write, but it is a really, really, really bad idea not to get all the way through a story. That is how most books, scripts and probably most all other things in life worth doing are abandoned.

Conversely, if you DID get all the way to “The End”, then definitely, take a breakAs long a break as possible. You should keep to a writing schedule, start brainstorming the next project, maybe do some random collaging to see what images come up that might lead to something fantastic - but if you have a completed draft, then what you need right now is SPACE from it. You are going to need fresh eyes to do the read-through that is going to take you to the next level, and the only way for you to get those fresh eyes is to leave the story alone for a while.

In the next month I'll be posting about rewriting. But not now.

First, no matter where you are in the process, celebrate! You showed up and have the pages to show for it.

Then - 

1. Keep going if you’re not done

OR

2. Take a good long break if you have a whole first draft, and if you MUST think about writing, maybe start thinking about another project.


And in the meantime, I’d love to hear how you all who were Nanoing did.

Alex

                                          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
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $14.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








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.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


---------------------

You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here:

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

NANOWRIMO: Act III Questions and Prompts

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Yes, we're into Act III, now.  Or maybe you're not that far yet, which is all perfectly fine. Personally, I know my endgame, but I needed to stop and go back over some earlier things before I push through to the end.  I'm still well over 50,000 words. Just remember, as long as you're writing, it's all good. The book will be done when it's done.

But if you are into Act III, here are the prompts for that last act.

                         Get free Story Structure extras and movie breakdowns

- Alex


ELEMENTS OF ACT THREE

The third act is basically the Final Battle and Resolution. It can often be one continuous sequence —the chase and confrontation, or confrontation and chase. There may be a final preparation for battle, or it might be done on the fly. Either here or in the last part of the second act the hero will make a new, FINAL PLAN, based on the new information and revelations of the second act.

The essence of a third act is the final showdown between protagonist and antagonist. It is often divided into two sequences:

1. Getting there (Storming the Castle): Sequence 7.
2. The final battle itself: Sequence 8.

• In addition to the FINAL PLAN, there may be another GATHERING OF THE TEAM scene and a brief TRAINING SEQUENCE.

• There may well be DEFEATS OF SECONDARY OPPONENTS

Each one of the secondary opponents should be given a satisfying end or comeuppance. (This may also happen earlier, in Act II:2.)

• THEMATIC LOCATION

This is often a visual and literal representation of the Hero/ine’s Greatest Nightmare.

We see:

• THE PROTAGONIST’S CHARACTER CHANGE

• THE ANTAGONIST’S CHARACTER CHANGE (if any)

• Possibly ALLY/ALLIES’ CHARACTER CHANGE and/or GAINING OF DESIRE(s)

• Possibly a huge FINAL REVERSAL OR REVEAL (twist), or even a whole series of PAYOFFS that you’ve been saving (as in Back to the Future and It’s a Wonderful Life)

• RESOLUTION: A glimpse into the NEW WAY OF LIFE that the hero/ine will be living after this whole ordeal and all s/he’s learned from it

• Possibly a sense of coming FULL CIRCLE

            Returning to the opening image or scene, and is a great way to show how much things have changed, or how the hero/ine has changed inside, which makes her or him deal with the same place and situation in a whole different way.

• CLOSING IMAGE



What do you want to leave your reader or audience with in the end?


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

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 14.99.


                                           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
STEALING HOLLYWOOD US print  $14.99
STEALING HOLLYWOOD print, all countries 








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.


Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon/Kindle

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


---------------------

You can also sign up to get free movie breakdowns here: