Nicholas Reicher

Writing Your Next Blockbuster Film or Novel

Category: Writer (Page 1 of 4)

Pant’sing Vs. Planning

Most writers are pant’sers.

most Pant’sers struggle with writer’s block.

Most pant’sers have trouble finishing their books.

Jerry Jenkins thinks most writers are planners or pant’ser. I’ve got to say that at some level, any experienced writer is a combination of both.

My oft-repeated phrase of “plan your work, then work your plan” sums up writing a novel. I won’t sit down to  write a book unless I’ve planned it partially out. And lately, I’ve gotten a system that works VERY well.

Because what happens is – if you can’t see the story…

If you can’t see the scene…

if you don’t know how the scene fits into the story…

then you won’t be able to write it.

I don’t like writer’s block. I don’t like being stumped. I like to sit down, do 2 days of rudimentary planning, then I like to sit down and blast out 2000 words a day and complete the script or book in 3 weeks.

If you’re a pant’ser, no worries. Because I was one too. My first story – a star trek novel – was started in 1976. I never finished it.

I tried it again 20 years later. I never finished it.

I started it again a few months ago. It’s almost finished.

Plan. If you know where the book is going, it’s easy to get there.

Spark Sheets

One thing I’ve mentioned on my Twitter account is literally the single biggest change in my writing in the last year.

I’ve come to understand story sparks. now, other people invented the story spark, but really, they’re talking about plot points.

When I think of plot points, I tend to get a little nervous. I think if I write a plot point, I’ve limited myself. I’m afraid to put down something, for fear it’s the wrong thing.

By thinking of it as a story spark, something that sparks my interest, something I can’t wait to write – I’m free. I can write 60 plot points relatively quickly.

So quickly that recently I did 8 of them for novel and screenplay projects – in a total of 3 days.

That’s almost a full year’s worth of writing, plotted out in half a week.

When you go to a film studio or a publisher and you’ve got 8-10 completed books or screenplays, it tells them 1). you can produce a high level of output 2). you can meet deadlines and 3). you’re for real – in this for the long haul.

Showing up for a meeting with 10 completed,full length  scripts is akin to saying, “just go ahead and hire me.”

Showing up with 10 full length novels is enough to make an agent or publisher think, “okay, I’m going to work with them – they’re professional.”

Do this – try my system of writing out a 15 plot point sheet. Then expand it to 21. Then to 60.

You’ll find out once you hit the 60 point sheet you know exactly where your novel or screenplay is going. And you’ll find that the speed you write it at will astound you. 3-4,000 word day will not be unusual at all.

Essentially, writer’s block merely means that you can’t see your scene, or where it fits together with the rest of your book.

It’s what you don’t say…

Dialogue is hard for a lot of people. Something I was told back when I went to college was that dialogue was my strong point. And this is something that can make you or break you as a writer.

Sometimes it’s what you say. Sometimes its what you don’t say. People have a funny habit of not saying what they mean. And then you try to use what you’re saying to refer to what you’re not saying!

I used the example before of “How’s Mother?” “Mother is… being Mother.”

What’s not being said is “why are you asking about Mother? you know the problems she’s always creating! Leave it alone!”

Well, see, I’ve given you a whole backstory without elaborating on it in just two short sentences that don’t answer anything.

I’ve also created a promise, that requires the eventual payoff – we have to see Mother creating problems or meddling, and you’ve got to see the eventual blow up between siblings, mother to learn her lesson, and the divisions in the family to finally be healed.

I also didn’t answer the question. All that was done in two sentences, and a total of six words.

This is what we all need to strive for with our dialogue. Strive to say the most without saying it and using other words to say it.

Plan it. think it through. As we learn this, we get better at it.

An unlikeable character

One of the pitfalls of seat of the pants writing is that you toil on a book, you do a little planning, you create a person and stick them in a situation. Partway through the book, you realize that you’ve developed a strong dislike for that character.

This happens a lot more than you know. And if you absolutely can’t stand your main character, then here it is… your readers won’t either.

Reading a book for many people takes weeks, or even months. Some people don’t read as fast as others. I know I can sit and read a book through in a few days. Most people never made it through “The Mysterious island” by Jules Verne to find out that the mysterious person saving everyone on the Island was actually Captain Nemo, and learned his real name!

If you don’t have a character people care about, they’re more than likely going to toss the book and not finish it. I can name one movie I’ve watched with a budget of almost $100 million, where quite literally I hoped every last one of them died, because I couldn’t stand ANYONE in the movie!

War of the Worlds was a case in point. We all liked the first one. The remake featured a self centered, abrasive and rude character named Ray Ferrier who was snotty to his kids and ex-wife. What helped the movie was that Ray Ferrier underwent quite a change, literally killing a man to protect his daughter and taking out one of the alien’s tripods as well. The drawback to the movie was that Ferrier didn’t get back with his Ex-Wife, but that’s the subject of another article.

Your audience must care about your character. There are ways to make your audience care about your character, and if your character is unlikable, you need to pull these out. I’ve read them several places and heard them in two seminars, and pretty much everyone’s saying the same thing. I’m going to leave out one by James Rollins, because he’s the only one teach this, and since he’s the only one I’ve heard teach it, you need to buy his seminar to find out! (it’s only $5, and VERY GOOD, by the way!)

  1. Undeserved misfortune. This is the single biggest way. If something bad happens to them that they don’t deserve, they’re now the underdog, and audiences love rooting for the underdog. Avoid the plot trap of so many 80’s movies where we see so many bad things happen to the protagonist one after the other that you can’t sit through the movie. so many of those kinds of movies I ended up just watching the last 20 minutes to avoid the torture of watching them get humiliated again and again.
  2. Animals. They pet a dog or cat, or they have a pet that loves them. No kidding. So often used that there’s a book series about it – Save The Cat. no kidding!
  3. The best at what they do. This was Ray Ferrier’s tool. He was exceptionally good at moving two containers at once from two different ships and placing them on trucks, suspended 70 feet in the air. Did it work? It made me sit through a 2 1/2 hour movie about an abrasive, caustic snotty man, didn’t it?
  4. Massive underdog. This is method one to the extreme. I used this unintentionally in my series’ premiere script for Star Trek. I’d written a plot based upon someone too smart for the Federation, and the trouble it generated. By the time Lohman gets a starship, you’re cheering for him!
  5. Kind to children or the elderly. Willie Wonka… all I’m saying. He severely punished the kids for their greed and bratty behavior – but you root for him all through it, because you see he’s trying to help Charlie. By the way, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is rigged deliberately for Charlie to win – spot the clues yet?
  6. Funny. If they’re a wise cracker, you tend to root for them.
  7. Treat Others Well. Another Ray Ferrier trait. He stops to let Manny know how to fix a car engine. It helped. I finished the movie, didn’t I? Hey, I even bought the movie!

These are just some of the ways to rescue an unlikable protagonist. Use one or two of them to bail out your protagonist as needed!

Conclusion

If you don’t like your protagonist, the audience will not either – and your book will not get published, your script will not get sold! Use these keys to rescue your protagonist, and rescue your book or script from sure rejection!

Spark Sheet

Print this out, make copies and keep in your writer’s notebook.

The story spark is the creation of Karen Wiesner, but I’ve adapted the idea. Since movies have 50-60 plot points, I’ve realized books (since I wrote both) must have them also.

If you think of them as “plot points”, you freeze up. You’re afraid to commit them to paper, because it’s so final. But when you think of something that’s just a list of things that spark your creativity, or a scene you think of as, “Oh, that’s great – I can’t wait to write that!”, then it’s easy. I’ve written out three spark sheets for novels on one day, because now the worry about wasting a plot point is gone. I just thought of, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”

Here you go. Highlight the table, clip it to Evernote. print it out and keep it in your writers’ note book. make copies. Oh, and fill one out today.

1. 31.
2. 32.

3.

33.
4. 34.
5. 35.
6. 36
7. 37.
8. 38.
9. 39.
10. 40.
11 41.
12 42.
13 43.
14 44.
15 45.
16 46.
17 47.
18 48
19 49
20 50
21 51.
22 52
23 53
24 54
25 55
26 56
27 57
28 58
29 59
30 60

2018

2018! This is it. This is the year you will discover is your breakout year.

This is the year you’re going to read those books you never finished.

This is the year – if you’re an author – you’re going to get published.

This is the year that TV series is sold, that movie script is bought, that book or script writing contest is won.

A change of mindset leads to a change of actions.

Feel the excitement. This is your breakout year.

Set your expectations. Your reality expands to fulfill your expectations. If you expect big things, big things can happen.

But if you expect only trials, tribulation, and troubles – you won’t be disappointed.

I can’t speak this any more plainly. The Law of attraction is not a law, it’s a broken theory. People struggling with poverty are not dwelling on their poverty – they’re focused on wealth. Why? They’re desperate. The law of attraction does not work.

But if you focus on possibilities, then things become different. Why? You’ll take chances you never took before. That job you’re not qualified for? You won’t get it if you think you’re not qualified for it, because you won’t apply for it. But if you say, “There’s a chance…” and try for it… there’s a chance.

And you may discover that what the company really wants is not the person with a 4 year degree in English literature, but rather someone who can get the job done.

You may walk in the door with an attitude of gratitude, an enthusiastic disposition, and a willingness to try something new. And the corporate person may know that those kind of people turn the world upside down. And suddenly you find you’ve got a $110,000 a year job.

That stuff doesn’t happen, you say? You’re wrong. One of my relatives had that happen to them.

“I Can’t” is one letter too many.

I cant small

The Truby Rules

“Most screenplays fail at the concept level.”

This is something I’ve been seriously thinking about lately.

There’s almost a mathematical precision to writing movies, and Truby is right about this issue.

  • You must have a hook, something that makes people want to see the movie.
  • There must be conflict.
  • The audience must care about the character, and want to see them accomplish their goal.
  • There must be opposition.
  • The Characters must change or learn something as a result of the movie.

If you miss any of the 5, you’ve got a major problem. The story will fail.

To a certain extent, novels fall into the same needs. What’s the hook? Blake Snyder was of the opinion that irony was a key component.

A man loves a princess, but she’s engaged to be married to a prince. It’s good, but it’s missing something.

So let’s make him go from serf to Pirate Captain a couple of years later.

A common serf becomes an infamous pirate captain to win the love of his life, who is engaged to be married to a prince that is plotting to kill her. He must overcome challenges and defeat champions and an army to rescue her before the evil prince’s plan succeeds.

Got enough hook in there? Yes, it’s the Princess Bride.

A boxer wants a shot at the big time.

um… not enough.

Okay, lets make him partially deaf, a common every man, and make his opponent the heavy weight champion of the world. Every scene must contrast the champ with the best equipment, the best training, and the common every man boxer in a room lit by one light bulb and a would be retired manager. And it’s a fight to win not only the title, but avoid being killed in the ring and win the love of his life.

Rocky.

A man must expose the corruption of a Southern Asian society, because people are starving to death.

It’s an admirable plot, but you’re lacking the hook, the opposition, the conflict. Put some kind of warlord in there, actively trying to stop the reporter, add a “B” story, and you’ve got a movie or a novel. It actually got filmed, bombed at the box office, and I honestly can’t recall hearing anyone say they’ve watched it more than once. “Year of living dangerously.” I’m guessing it got sold on the strength of the title.

Karl Iglesias actually in one seminar takes people through the steps of developing a hook for a story, and proves “you don’t need special training to see a hook.” He reads through several movies that were currently in production, and of them all, I think only one of them got filmed. But he was right – you could go through it and hear – “this one has a hook, this one doesn’t.”

Self Editing

Editing. The ugly word. We’d all like to think that our first draft is perfect, and that the publisher is going to instantly write us a check for a million dollars after eagerly reading our books.

I blasted out my first novel in a few months, and at first I arrogantly assumed every one of the 179,000 words was perfect. There was nothing that could be cut from my books! And arrogantly, I decided that some chapters that my wife correctly pointed out dragged on and on were so crucial to the book, that I’d rather then not be published rather than cut them. I was sure that any publisher would back down and agree.

My writing kept me focused on my books, but at one point I got restless and began working on some movie scripts. When I came back to my first novel, the first thing I did was – cut out those chapters I’d insisted were so crucial!

What do you cut out? The first thing you’ve got to do is go through your book and find anything awkward. It’s not going to get any better. You can’t keep reading because you love your book. I know you love it! You wrote it! the very first thing you have to do is highlight awkward passages and add a comment: “Awkward.” This is your to-do note telling you to fix it or cut it.

Repeated words. By now, you’ve discovered a thesaurus. I’ll bet you a stack of pancakes there’s one in your text, too. “He ran in pursuit” can be cut to… “He pursued…” or even… “he ran”. This is what we call a “Shakes your head”. Of course you shake your head no! What else do you shake to mean no?

Echoes. “He parked his car…” is echoing “parked” and “Car”. Find echoes and cut.

Superfluous words. “Just” is often a superfluous word. Find every instance of that word. I’ll bet 80% of them can be cut. I know I spent over two days hunting for – and cutting – several hundred words just by searching for “just” and cutting almost every one of them! Other words to examine – Really, So, Now, Quite and Sometimes.

Dialogue tags. You can write an entire book with “…said”. Said, Shouted, whispered. All the “–ly” words are superfluous!  Angrily, happily, etc. When you read, ‘“LEAVE ME ALONE!” Jimmy shouted angrily’, believe it or not, most readers read the dialog, the name of the character, and skip to the next line. “Leave me alone!” Jimmy shouted is explanatory of itself. You’ve got to put “said” in some kind of fashion, but to say “Expounded” is getting pretentious.

Unnecessary scenes. I literally wrote, in my first draft, one scene three times. I don’t know why. I know it was pivotal. I had to get information in there. I cut the other two. Another two scenes probably are unnecessary. I can reduce my “buying the truck” scene to a simple line of dialog already in the script! Chop that scene. “Buying the boat” can be cut in half, because the crucial dialog in there is repeated elsewhere.

Conclusion

It’s far too easy to write a book that’s 195,000 words. I do it all the time, alas. But until you get published, the 195,000 word tome is going to do nothing but get you rejected. Start editing your book, fix it, make it good, reduce the clutter.

You’ll be surprised how strong your writing gets all of a sudden!

Genre

Genre seems to be one of those things that fiction authors rarely think about. “It’s a book. I wrote it.” But learning how to write screenplays has definitely given me a different view of this.

Successful movies often are blends of two or three genres – thriller/crime, crime/horror, action/comedy, etc. This rarely works well for writing a novel.

A novel must fit certain forms. For instance, in almost every genre, you must show that the protagonist is changed at the end of the book by the events of the novel – or its a failure. In mysteries, however, you CAN’T show the protagonist changed. Why? Everyone expects the protagonist to be the same character in the next novel. Really, the mystery genre was set in place with Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Nero Wolfe. These established the genre’s form and rules. Hercule Poirot remained in book two right up until the last of the books Agatha Christie wrote essentially the same insufferable character – because that’s what the readers wanted.

In thrillers, often the antagonist remains a puppet in the hands of the secret government – This is why Star Wars is a combination of Thriller-sci fi-samurai-western. does that work for a novel? It’s difficult to pull that off in a novel because you’ve got to fit the forms and conventions of that genre of novel.

We get ideas for novels that are a flash in your mind. “That’s a good story. What if?” Sometimes its someone relating a story, and something they say unrelated to the story gives you that flash.

Once you have that, ask “what genre is this?” if it’s a genre for action, then you know, “Okay, I have to have the protagonist do some kind of spectacular thing.” If it’s a drama, there are two or three central characters that are dominant, and everything else is setting. If it’s a thriller, you’ve got to set up your paranoia.  Failing to conform to the forms of the genre will leave your reader (if you get any) disappointed and feeling cheated. and they’ll never, never buy another one of your books.

But before you get to that stage, you’ve got to get past the agent and the publisher. Your agent is going to tell you immediately, “it’s not going to get published.” And even if you convince them, they’ll do the worst thing possible and let it go to a publisher. The publisher wants a good book, If your book doesn’t fulfill the forms of that genre, they’re going to reject it, and it’s going to make them hesitate when they hear your name in the future.

You don’t want that.

Write the best book you can. And I know that’s your goal. But keep in mind that when you say, “It’s a….” people expect it to offer what they’d expect from a sci-fi novel, from a fantasy novel, from a thriller, a drama, a romance, a mystery.

Conclusion

Some overlap between genres is sometimes unavoidable. However, try to keep most of your novel within a single genre, so your agent knows how to pitch it, the publisher knows how to market it, and the stores know where to put it on the shelves.

Writer’s Digest Shop

Hopefully you all saw it! The Writer’s Digest shop had a huge sale a few days ago. I was able to get several of the seminars at a third of the price.

During December, it’s probably a good idea to check both the Writer’s Store and the Writer’s Digest Shop to see what’s on sale daily!

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