Thursday, January 26, 2012

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshops 2012

Yes, I will have a new craft post up this week, possibly later this afternoon, but people have been asking about what Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshops are going to be happening this year and where, so I'm posting the list so far.

February 25, 2012 - Long Beach, CA
Passion and Prose
The Westin, Long Beach
Saturday, 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM

This is not a Screenwriting Tricks workshop per se, but many of the authors attending this great first time event are scheduling little adjunct meetings and chats (in the bar, of course!) at the conference, so I'm happy to do a brainstorming session with anyone registered at the event who wants to talk about their WIPs. Just drop me an a mail at alex AT alexandrasokoloff DOT com and let me know you're attending.

Hosted by the wonderful Mysterious Galaxy Books!



March 29-April 1: Sacramento, California

Left Coast Crime has asked me to do a 2-hour Screenwriting Tricks workshop for their Thursday craft conference in Sacramento. Details here.



May 11-12, Strongsville, Ohio

An all-day and half the night Screenwriting Tricks Workshop for my awesome friend Erin McCarthy's RWA Chapter; non-chapter members welcome to sign up for the conference as well.



June 17-22, 2012: Canyon, Texas

For anyone looking for a writing intensive with lots of hands-on, personal feedback, this is the one. Class size limited to 15.

I did this workshop last year and loved it; I think it's the most successful workshop I've ever taught because the entire class got so intensely involved with everyone else's stories - you could see improvement in everyone's storylines by the hour.



July 25: Anaheim, CA

Romance Writers of America has asked me to do a 2-hour Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop with a special Young Adult focus at their YA craft conference on Wednesday, July 25.



August 16-20: Queensland, Australia

And I'm very excited to be going to Australia in August (that's winter in Australia!) to do a full-day Screenwriting Tricks workshop at the Romance Writers of Australia national conference in Queensland.

- Full-day Story Structure workshop: August 17
- Panels and signings
- plus 2-hour Screenwriting Tricks Workshop TBA

QT Hotel, Gold Coast
Queensland, Australia


For the most up-to-date information on workshops, you can always check my website appearances page.


And if you can't attend a conference,Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE


Monday, January 16, 2012

So what is a Sequence, really?

I got a great question in the comments a couple of weeks ago and wanted to expand on it in a post.

I don't completely understand what a sequence is. I can tell you its climax will have a setpiece, will deliver on the premise, will be a genre scene, has a beginning, middle, and end, there are eight of them in a movie . . . But I don't understand EXACTLY what is a sequence. I understand an Act, I understand a scene. Can you help me understand the difference between sequence and scene (besides that a sequence is series of scenes)?

Well, I think I know exactly what is confusing you about sequences, and the reason is because it's confusing.

The confusion is because we're talking about two different kinds of sequences.

1. When I talk about the "Eight Sequence Structure", that's a term very specific to movies (that I think is useful to understand and work with when writing novels). See full explanation here:

BUT --

2. The term "sequence"actually is more often used to mean something different, which is - "a collection of scenes focused on a single central action (and sometimes taking place in the same location, in real time) with a beginning, middle and end."

Really, when I'm talking about the eight sequences of a movie, a better term would be SEGMENT. Because Sequence One, or Segment One, of a movie might be just one SEQUENCE, as I defined in #2 above, but more often it will be composed of two or three SEQUENCES as defined in #2.

For example, Sequence One (or Segment One) of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which you could call the South America sequence, or the Cave sequence, is also a complete SEQUENCE unto itself. It is composed of several scenes all focused on one central action (stealing the gold idol), taking place in approximately the same location and in a discrete time frame. (That is, there is unity of time, space and action, which I really should do a whole other post about, but if you’re not familiar with this concept, check out what Aristotle had to say about it.) There’s the approach to the cave, finding the cave, the perils inside the cave, the snatching of the idol, the escape from the cave, the reversal that rival Belloq and the warriors take the idol away from Indy, and the escape from the warriors and departure in the plane. It’s all continuous action with one particular goal (that turns to simple survival in the end.) (My breakdown is here ).

But more often what is called Sequence One of a movie (or book), that is, the first segment, will not be as unified and cohesive as that; instead of being one unified sequence as in the example from Raiders above, it will ramble through different scenes you could loosely call the SET UP, which will usually end with a twist or revelation that will take the action in another direction.

In fact, I would start calling the eight sequences eight SEGMENTS here for clarity, but it's never a good idea to mess around with such an entrenched vocabulary. I'm just going to have to be more clear about it in subsequent posts.

There are very few movies or books in which each of the eight Sequences (or Segments) are actually discrete sequences, too, but some come close (usually classic movies, which tended to have more defined sequences partly because they were shot almost entirely on sets. A set goes a long way toward imposing unity of action.).

For example, Four Weddings and a Funeral has very clear sequences, with each Act actually marked off by the wedding invitation cards announcing the bride and groom of each wedding (as you look more critically at films, you’ll see that filmmakers LOVE to find that kind of visual act curtain; you see it at work in all kinds of movies: The Sting, Chinatown, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Professional, Collateral – and that’s just off the top of my head.) In Four Weddings each quarter of the movie (Act 1, Act 2:1, Act 2:2, Act 3) takes place at a different wedding, and each wedding is divided into the same basic parts: The wedding itself, the reception, then the love plot between Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell as they leave the reception to go tryst. This is a great structural pattern to follow because it’s so like real life. The wedding is a completely different experience than the reception/party that follows the wedding, and the party after the party is even better, a lot of the time. Although sometimes not.

You’ll see that three-part pattern happens twice, in Act One and Act II:1, then Act II:2 is divided into a wedding and a reception, then a funeral and its aftermath, and then Act III is divided into pre-wedding, the interrupted wedding, and the aftermath (and the wonderful wrap-up in the closing credits).

It’s great if you can find that clear of a structure in your own story, but YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE THAT PRECISE! Please don’t kill yourself trying to find a perfect mathematical structure for your story; we writers have enough OCD issues already. However, as you get more attuned to how other storytellers use sequences, you will find that especially when you do rewrites, you will be able to craft scenes into more coherent sequences that give more of a flow and urgency to your story. And the idea of the eight-sequence structure can help you find the logical breaking points for sequences.

If you’re struggling with the idea of sequences, in either sense of the word, my suggestion as always is to take several of your favorite movies and watch them specifically looking for how the filmmakers are using sequences. You'll soon catch on to how sequences keep the action flowing and the interest high, and that will keep you on the lookout for ways to combine more of your scenes into sequences.

I hope that’s a little more clear, but if it’s not, I’m happy to answer questions about it and discuss more examples.

- Alex


If you're looking for examples of the Three-Act, Eight-Sequence Structure in action, I strongly recommend that you watch at least one and much better, three of the films I break down in the workbooks, following along with my notes.

I do full breakdowns of Chinatown, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Romancing the Stone, and The Mist, and act breakdowns of You've Got Mail, Jaws, Silence of the Lambs, Raiders of the Lost Ark in Screenwriting Tricks For Authors.

I do full breakdowns of The Proposal, Groundhog Day, Sense and Sensibility, Romancing the Stone, Leap Year, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Sea of Love, While You Were Sleeping and New in Town in Writing Love.


Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Rage Against the Night

One of the things no one ever tells you about being an author is that people ask you to write short stories. Anthology editors, other authors, publishers, blogmates. To which my usual response is - Are you KIDDING ME? Do you KNOW how hard it is to write a short story?

But the thing I've discovered about short stories is that, just like novels, and unlike screenplays, once you get through the hell of writing them -- I mean, once those stories exist —— they're forever, and they have value. You can even donate them to worthy causes, hopefully to do some good.

Well, some good is what's needed, here.

I know I have some horror readers and writers here. Others of you are - not. So I want to introduce you to someone that anyone in the horror community knows, and everyone else should know.

Rocky Wood is the current president of the Horror Writers Association, and the author of Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished, Stephen King: The Non-Fiction, Stephen King: A Literary Companion, and Horrors: Great Stories of Fear and Their Creators.

Rocky is a born New Zealander, current Australian, and believe me, Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe have nothing on him. They so very seldom make men like this anymore, it’s tragic. If there’s any point of cloning at all it should be to make more of these.

First of all, there’s that accent. But that’s just window dressing, really.

He is charming in the way that the most charismatic movie stars I’ve met, and I've met a few, are charming. He is totally present and focused in exactly the moment he is in, and on the person or group he is with. He has an aura that is sexy and smart and just beyond what you see in the real world.

You are drawn to the accent and his intensity, first, and the charisma, and then you very quickly start to realize that this is a wonderful person. An exceptional person. That whatever you thought you were rushing off to do can wait, possibly forever, because you really need to be right here and just find out who this person is.

A purely good person.

All right, here comes the hard part. And if you’re not sitting down, maybe you should, because when I say hard, I mean hard.

Rocky was diagnosed last year with ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, or Motor Neurone disease. It is an evil, insidious thing. It paralyzes the body entire while the mind remains fully functioning. There is at present no cure.

The news of this, this year, made me want to take whatever pills that would get me out of this life as fast as I could exit it. It made me wonder what was the point of anything at all.

Horrible things happen to good people all the time. No one can tell me that there is not actual evil in the world.

But this is one of those – THE PERSON WHO LEAST DESERVES THIS SCOURGE – events.

So what is anyone to make of something like this?

Believe it or not, I’m not going to be dark about it. I had that phase a while ago. I’ve moved on, to two basic thoughts. Which actually might be in opposition, but here they are anyway.

1. The perfect cure can happen instantly, tomorrow, this afternoon, this second. Miracles happen. Not consistently, but they happen. As I wrote in THE PRICE, and as I believe (on good days): “If one miracle has ever happened in the world, why not this one, for you?”

2. Another, and possibly the more important point is that: this world is only illusion. What you feel, what you can touch, right now, it’s only illusion. There is a better state we pass on to, which to me is—pure energy. Without the heaviness of a body. Without the agony of what people do to each other on the earth plane.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my body, it gives me great pleasure, and I’m happy to know that it gives other people great pleasure. But it’s so very heavy. I have to think that there is a lighter kind of existence, and that it’s a much better existence. I do enough yoga to believe that, with every cell and neuron in me.

And if this is true, there is something beyond the horror of a fatal disease. Anything that is what the Hindus call Moksha: liberation, release from the earth plane, is ultimately a blessing.

But since we’re still on this plane, and these things have real world consequences, a bunch of Rocky’s friends, who happen to be pretty incredibly great writers, have contributed a passel of short stories to a collection called RAGE AGAINST THE NIGHT, edited by Shane Jiraiya Cummings, with short stories by some of my all-time favorite dark writers: Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, F. Paul Wilson, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Sarah Langan, Scott Nicholson, and many more. My story, The Edge of Seventeen, is reprinted in the book, too. You may be especially interested in a story by Stephen King, which details a deal with the devil that Rocky would never make: passing this kind of illness on to another human being.

The price is $3.99, and all proceeds go to buying Rocky an eye gaze machine, a miraculous device that allows which allows the severely physically impaired to communicate via eye movements.

Rocky has already made arrangements to pass the machine on to another family that needs it, because that’s the kind of man he is.

No one knows what will happen tomorrow. I may drop dead long before Rocky does. Any one of us could. What I do know is that anyone who has not known this man is the poorer for it. I hope this post will go a small way toward correcting that.

Thank you for reading.

- Alex


E book now available for $3.99 from:

- Amazon (Kindle)

- Smashwords (multi-format ebook)


In the coming weeks, the anthology will be available at all good online retailers, and the print version will be available this month (January).


Under the onslaught of supernatural evil, the acts of good people can seem insignificant, but a courageous few stand apart. These brave men and women stand up to the darkness, stare it right in the eye, and give it the finger. These are the stories of those who rage against the night, stories of triumph, sacrifice, and bravery in the face of overwhelming evil.

Table of Contents (in order of appearance):

· The Gunner's Love Song—Joe McKinney

· Keeping Watch—Nate Kenyon

· Like Part of the Family—Jonathan Maberry

· The Edge of Seventeen—Alexandra Sokoloff

· The View from the Top—Bev Vincent

· Afterward, There Will Be a Hallway—Gary A. Braunbeck

· Following Marla—John R. Little

· Magic Numbers—Gene O'Neill

· Tail the Barney—Stephen M. Irwin

· The Nightmare Dimension—David Conyers

· Roadside Memorials—Joseph Nassise

· Dat Tay Vao—F. Paul Wilson

· Constitution—Scott Nicholson

· Mr. Aickman's Air Rifle—Peter Straub

· Agatha's Ghost—Ramsey Campbell

· Blue Heeler—Weston Ochse

· Sarah's Visions—Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

· More Than Words—David Niall Wilson

· Chillers—Lisa Morton

· Changed—Nancy Holder

· Dead Air—Gary Kemble

· Two Fish to Feed the Masses—Daniel G. Keohane

· Fenstad's End—Sarah Langan

· Fair Extension—Stephen King

· Rocky Wood, Skeleton Killer—Jeff Strand

Edited by Shane Jiraiya Cummings.

Monday, January 02, 2012

New Year’s Resolutions/Writing One Day at a Time

I was going to do another post on rewriting today, but WHO AM I KIDDING? No one in the free world has a brain cell left after last week. The powers that be, bless them, decided that we need an extra day of holiday today, which means no one is doing anything whatsoever of use.

So pass me the champagne and chocolate, while I continue my British crime TV binge. I’ve worked my way through – well, I started with THE WALKING DEAD, not British but created by Frank Darabont, brilliant, then moved on to SURVIVORS, SHERLOCK (God, WHY do I always fall for the crazy ones?) and am now catching up on WIRE IN THE BLOOD, with a short detour into Robson Green starring in a younger crazy detective incarnation: TOUCHING EVIL.

Amazingly, I have not had any nightmares, though there have been a few apocalyptic settings in my recent dream life.

Anyway, the New Year. Writing. All that.

One good thing is about writing a blog is that it makes one – well, me, anyway – more inclined to make public resolutions. I’m not actually sure how useful a list ever is. When it comes down to it, we all have kind of the same resolutions every year. Basically. Write more books and be a better person, right?

But this year I wanted to do a list, mostly because 2011 was so hard it’s amazing just that I survived it.

I complain about the abject agony of writing all the time, but this year writing has been lifesaving, just to have one familiar thing to do every day, in the face of what, bluntly, has been a lot of death. My father, a beloved aunt, my cat of 19 years, and the fatal illness of a cherished friend. Not fun. In many ways, maybe in spite of appearances, I’ve been pretty effectively shut down.

But things are getting better. I’m feeling that I could move beyond survival to actually enjoying myself again.

So resolutions make sense, because they imply there IS a future, at least until the world ends next December. JUST KIDDING.

First, the standard ones:

Working out. This is one I don’t have to worry about. Exercise has been periodically too much of an obsession; I’m one who more often needs to say, “You don’t REALLY need to take that two-hour Boot Camp class today.” I know if I don’t work out every day I become a rabid animal within 48 hours; it’s my version of antidepressants. But these days I’m more balanced about it. I take mostly dance classes, which is the way I most like to move and it’s so easy it’s never a big deal to get myself to class to do it. So dance four or five times a week and one killer ab/ass class on top of that, not as much fun as dancing but the results are so immediate and visual, it’s addictive. No, I mean, it’s good.

Eating. Pretty good about this, too. I don’t eat too much, I eat mostly the right things, I know how to combine proteins, and I don’t keep anything like ice cream or Cheetos or macadamia nuts in the house, period. One thing here - I am going to try to eat more Superfoods next year – why not, right? Salmon, blueberries, pomegranates, almonds, yams, dark greens; I love all that stuff anyway.

Getting out more. Well, with my conference schedule this year I don’t have to worry about a social life, even though I have the typical author problem of feast or famine in this department. You live like a hermit while you’re writing, and party till you drop at the conferences. These days I’m mostly paid to go, a big perk of the job. But I am resolved to say yes more than no to social events.

Giving more. I am grateful to be feeling financially stable, and am glad to plug my favorite charities at the beginning of the year: Children of the Night, Kiva, Equality Now, Equality California. And don’t forget Wikipedia – you KNOW you use it.

- Children of the Night - Rescues teenagers from prostitution.
- Kiva You can pledge $25 or more as a microloan to small businesswomen in developing countries, the loan will be paid back and you can loan again to someone else.
- Equality Now Ending violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world.
- Equality California - Advocates for civil and legal rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Californians.

Writing more? Not possible without brain meltdown.

My problem here is not that I’m not writing enough, but that I have too many concurrent projects. But I had a really productive December and am on track to finish my latest paranormal by my deadline at the end of January, which will make me less frantic about my contractual obligations. And I am closing in on finishing the thriller that I’ve been working on this year, sometimes just a few minutes a day, in between all the death. But five minutes a day for a year equals a book.

Did you catch that? I’ll say it again. Five minutes of writing a day for a year equals a book.

Which is what I really wanted to write about today, because 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 don’t know if I’ve posted this here before, but 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. And that often ended up happening. 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.

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 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. Then pass the champagne and chocolate.

Happy New Year, everyone!

- Alex


Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II, are now available in all e formats and as pdf files. Either book, any format, just $2.99.

- Smashwords (includes pdf and online viewing)

- Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amaxon DE (Eur. 2.40)

- Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

- Amazon/Kindle

- Barnes & Noble/Nook

- Amazon UK

- Amazon DE