Nicholas Reicher

Writing Your Next Blockbuster Film or Novel

Category: Novels (Page 1 of 6)

Editing your novel 1

Every writer sets out to write their novel, and thinks once you’ve finished writing it, it’s done. There’s even a famous scene in a movie about a writer’s tradition when he finishes a book, his one cigarette, his bottle of wine.

Actually, about all you get is a smile, self satisfaction, and some relief. “It’s done. I spend six weeks writing this and it’s done.”

On to the next one!

But know that once book two is finished in six more weeks, you now have to edit book one.

It’s going to take several passes.

The line by line revision doesn’t happen at first. It happens later. What are you looking at first?

Structure.

Do you have a character arc?

Is there suspense and conflict in every scene?

Can I cut this scene out? Will the story be nonsense without it?

Did I build the conflict big enough?

Did I hit all of the points I preplanned out?

If the story changed (and it always does), did I find substitute conflict points?

Do I have 50-60 spark points?

A dozen pivotal scenes?

Very often the first edit pass is almost like a retelling of the novel. It’s going to take a couple of weeks just to get through this first stage.

This stage is crucial. Nine out of ten novels fail at the premise. And since novels often change – sometimes drastically – you have to go back through and ensure the conflict still works. That means your structure can go from workable to unworkable in the process of writing.

If you don’t do this first step, then forget the rest of them.

Suspense (the denial of something) and conflict  (the interrupted attainment of something) must be present in every scene. This is one of the major steps in this first revision.

You need to examine the plot points, which you should have listed in Project properties in the Inspector. Did you hit them all? Did one or two of them lose power in the process of writing? This does happen. If it did, did you choose a substitute story point?

There has to be three turns – first turning point, midpoint, second turning point.

You have to have the climax building in the last 10% of your book. Literally, by word 59,500 you must begin the final conflict stage in your book. This has to build up. If it was a movie, this would be the car chase.

If you have a denouement, it must be short. Don’t have a 60 page wrap-up at the end of your book. If you’ve got that, you cheated the second turn and didn’t build up enough for the climax.

Ready? Now go and edit book two. Get some daylight away from this book, then we’ll come back and start on second pass.

Writing Several Books at One Time

One of the most difficult things to do is work on several projects at the same time. It’s actually recommended against.

I find myself in this same situation, as I’ve been hired to work on a screenplay, but as long as I meet my page counts, then I still can put some time into my other projects.

I’ve got several novels I’m working on, and I don’t want to let any of that lag behind. I’ve got several of my own screenplays I’d like to get done (and maybe enter some contests this year).

To get all this done, I’ve got to work on several projects at the same time.

To get this done, which most people actually can’t do at one time, you have to make sure of four things:

  1. Time management
  2. meet priority deadlines first
  3. plan your work
  4. know and be able to SEE your work.

The last step is something I’ve been VERY emphatic about on this blog. If you’re burning the candle at both ends and the middle, the only way to pull this off is to be able to visualize it. You have to be able to say, “This is the throw the plate scene.” You have to know the essence of the argument that leads to throwing the plate, you have to know why they throw the plate, what the aftermath roughly is. If you can’t SEE the scene in your head, you’re going to end up with a huge case of writer’s block.

Time Management. First is time management. You’ve got to know what needs to be done by when. I’m one of those people that is always trying to find the best time management system and software, so that’s no big deal to me. I’m almost resigned to having to design my own software, and get someone to write it!

Meet Priority Deadlines first. Someone’s paying me money, so their project comes first, above and beyond mine. I have to meet seven pages of script, no matter what. If I start getting bogged down, then the script is all that’s getting written.

Plan your work. This is ESSENTIAL.  Get your save the cat, or your list of plot points, a synopsis, SOMETHING. You must know where you’re going in every project. It’s not enough to know what’s next, you may want to write another plot point first, because that will help to write the earlier one! KNOW where you’re going to go!

know and be able to SEE your work.

If you can’t see your work, how all the scenes fit together, I guarantee you’re not going to finish it. NOTHING is more demoralizing to a writer to have a bunch of unfinished novels.

start using the three step plot process – the Save the Cat 15 step template, your 21 point story template, then a 60 point template.

60 points sounds like a lot, but John Truby insists that every novel and movie  has 50 to 60 pilot points.  I was able to write out 8 spark sheets in 3 days last week – its just a matter of mindset.

if you think plot point,  you’ll be paralyzed – what if I choose the wrong thing? What if I limit myself?

But if you think, “this is something that sparks my interest, a scene I can’t wait to write…” then filling that sheet out becomes EASY. and QUICK.

Fun.

Writing should be fun, enjoyable. You write because essentially that’s how God designed you – you HAVE to write.

I HAVE to write. No matter what else I’ve been doing all my life, I’ve come up with ideas for movies and books.

Write your novels. If you’re stuck in the same situation I’m in, where you’re working on many projects at once, statistics say it’s a recipe for disaster. You’re not likely to make progress in any of them – unless you use serious time management techniques, solid planning, and know where you’re going before you get there.

Scene Construction 2

What is a scene, at its basic level?

this is a big question, really. And the answer to effective writing is in answering this question.

According to David Gerrold, screenplay writer and inventor of the Tribble, “A scene is a confrontation between two persons.”

Confrontation is conflict.

Every scene must have its conflict.

If you master this, people keep turning pages to read your books.

If you’ve been reading my blog from the beginning, you’ll remember me describing a truly terrible book that I couldn’t put down at ALL.

Why?

Because the author had this DOWN. He wrote suspenseful conflict in every scene. People were dying left and right, and you flipped the pages quickly to discover if the heroes were going to survive.

If the beta reader stops reading the page 80% of the way down to flip the page, you’ve got it made. You’ve mastered this.

That’s your goal.

Every scene is about someone trying to do something, or get something, or say something. Sometimes they get it. That’s a reward or payoff. Most of the times they don’t.

That’s conflict.

When your novel is too long

None of us set out to write War and Peace. Although it seems like a beautifully written book, it’s also drudgery to read through!

I remember thinking I was really something for making it through Shardik, the monstrous book by Richard Adams about a giant grizzly in the steppes of Russia worshipped as a god by primitive peasants. I don’t know what the word count was, but it dwarfed all the other books on my bookshelf.

When I wrote my first novel, I had in mind a particular sequence. I still didn’t know much about writing, and it’s created a big headache.

Because my book has topped out at 196,000 words.

Now, if you’re truly terrible at writing, here’s how you fix it, Stick it on a shelf for a year or two, and write five other books.

Now that you’re a lot better at writing, here’s one of two possible solutions.

Solution one – Chop every scene that isn’t crucial.  This is easy when you’re first starting out. Just look at the scene. Does it move the story along? No? Kill it. Put it in the research section of Scrivener so you’re not losing all that work, you’re just removing it from the story. Here’s the sneak way to get it back in your novel. When you’re talking to your agent about it, tell them you wrote a really good scene about buying a box truck. You hated to lose it, but you chopped it from the book. Your agent may well say, “Send it to me”. Then you send it, and now she can’t imagine your book without it.

Solution two – here’s for the people that have a lot of writing talent. It’s very probable you’ve got 62 chapters in your novel, that all of them are crucial to the story, and you’ve chopped EVERYTHING you needed to chop, and you’re still – like me – at 195,000 words.

Write out your spark sheet as if you’re plotting a new novel. Put your six or seven word synopsis on every line. Somewhere in the middle you’ve got to plot in a break.

Switch genres. A simple action novel can become a suspense novel. That imposes a new template in your mind. “Where can I put the conspiracy?” Ah… I’ve got it…

And now you can split your War and Peace sized novel into two books. 196,000 divided by 2 is…93,000 words. NOW the idea of chopping scenes is easier. You’ve just got 6,000 words to chop from each book. And if you’ve got the book TIGHT where it’s now a page turner instead of a shelf breaker, the agent and the publisher are going to just say, “Well, you know, that’s how many words it takes!”

Conclusion

Publishers are really amiss about publishing another Shardik or a War and Peace. Those books were written when the price of a novel meant you could stop by the pharmacy, spent $10 and buy 5 books. They used to have a “Buy 5 books, get one free” deals.

Not any more. A 200,000 page book costs a LOT to print and ship. It’s extra shipping, and that’s expensive. It eats into the profit margin, and profit margins on books are most definitely not as high as other forms of entertainment.

To get your massive tome published, you’ve either got to cut three out of every four words, or your going to have to split your book in two.

If you can’t do one, aim for the other!

Stay on track with Scrivener

One of the tools I use in Scrivener is of course the target word count. Everyone learns about the project total, but I like to set up my templates to have a target word count per scene.

When you add scenes to each chapter in Scrivener, open each scene when your done. You’ll see a little grayed out circle with a circle inside it. Click on that – it opens the space for you to put your scene word count in. If you’re doing one scene per chapter, that’ total will be 1667. If two scenes, you need to have 880 and 881. Try this, since you’re going to go over. Set every scene to 800 words.

I have four scene lengths I typically use – action sequences tend to be 400 words, a short scene is 600, average scene 800, and long scene 1200+. If I enter a chapter knowing I’m going to have action snippets or sequences, I now add a third scene and adjust my scene lengths accordingly (setting one of the scenes to 400).

It might make sense, if you’re an extreme planner, to make an excel spreadsheet and keep track of scenes, against your grand total of 85,000.

Here’s an additional word on that subject – try like mad to avoid long scenes in the middle of your book. Long scenes give a feeling of drag. Shorter scenes in the middle of your book help you to avoid what Jerry Jenkins calls “The maunder of the middle”.

Again, all this is to avoid the problem of trying to write a book, and finding you’re 45,000 words over target. Or in my case, my first novel topped out at the length of two and a half books! I’ll discuss tomorrow how to fix that.

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.

Scene Construction

Constructing a scene should be simple enough. You get a visual of what you want to happen like a little movie, and you write it down.

Well, it’s not always that easy. If it were that easy, we’d all be published authors, and publishing parties would be attended by millions, everyone wanting to compare our book to yours.

Very often, you know where you need to end at… you need to deliver the ring of power, kill the great white shark and find the buried treasure.

And you’re on chapter 4.

Um.

If you’ve used the spark sheet idea I’ve talked about, then you get into the idea of writing out 50-60 plot points, and you know now what you need to accomplish in this scene.

Point One – you have to get into the scene. Now, not every scene is like a Reader’s Digest peril in real life kind of thing – “It was 6 PM in Urbana Illinois when…”. What I write just to get me into the scene is “(name) (action)…” Carpenter walked into the room. Lynch was standing in a field. The Great White Shark was driving the 18-wheeler in 3rd gear when…

The point is, get into the scene somehow! Learning how to do this is simple, you pull a novel off your bookshelf, and read the beginning sentence of 10 different chapters. How does so-and-so start a chapter? How does this guy or that start his chapters?  Some authors prefer Readers Digest (it was 6 AM the next day when…) and some prefer a name. Grabbing a Jerry Jenkins book off my shelf, I see that in five separate chapters, it’s a name. The last one I looked at was “readers digest”. Don’t worry too much about how you get into it.

Point Two – start late, finish early. You don’t need to write “Buck parked the car, putting the keys into his pocket as he opened the door. He looked around to see where he parked, noticing he was as usual parked in front of a sign so he could easily find his car.” It’s not bad, but soon the reader’s going to wonder if Buck remembered where the car is parked, did he trip on the way into the building, was there an elevator or did he take the stairs… The problem for writers is not having too few words, but too many.

Point Three – The David Gerrold Rule. David Gerrold, who wrote the infamous “trouble with tribbles” episode of Star Trek, has a theory that essentially every scene is a confrontation. Buck confronts Rayford. Rayford confronts the Antichrist. Etc.

Point Four – conclude the scene. The confrontation has to end somehow. Some authors have very specific rules they follow on how a scene has to end. The “Echo”, the “Sequel”, the “buildup”. To me, it essentially must follow the rule of the screenwriter. If you enter the scene on a minus (disadvantage to the Protagonist), you must build up to a plus (advantage to the protagonist). If you start on a plus, you have to end on a minus. Minus faces pluses, pluses face minuses. If you plotted your book on a graph, it should look like a roller coaster ride.

Point Five – get out on a hint, or promise something. Did you hint at what’s coming in the next chapter? End on a question? You should be able to see if your book needs that. Point’s 4 and 5 will probably occur on your re-write, not your vomit draft. The idea is either to hint at a coming problem, or to put a promise to be rewarded in another scene. I suppose the biggest example of that, since I looked in a Left Behind book, was the relationship of Buck and Chloe. Or the resolution of “Was Rayford’s wife a spy?” Jenkins dragged the latter story out over several chapters – which is why everyone read “Left Behind” twice – once to get through the series, the second time to see what they missed from turning pages.

Last Point – Stay on schedule. You need to plot out your novel. You should have probably 30 chapters, two scenes each, so you’ve got about 800 words to play with. If your scene – like my scene in yesterday’s opening to Gojira – went over the mark, you’re down to one scene in that chapter. And you’ve got to remove the 166 words you went over the budget from other chapters on down the line. Easiest way is count your scenes, and figure the average to remove – perhaps you’ll have to remove one word each. Or you can put it in a spreadsheet. Keep on top of this, or you’re going to find yourself with a 195,000 word book, and struggling to cut out 45,000 words.

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.

Character Creation

What’s the single most important contribution you give your story? It’s not just the plot…

Let’s look at the logline.

“It’s about a guy who…”

Your character is it.

Try this. Take Dirty Harry, and put him in the lead of “Sleepless in Seattle.”

Completely different movie!

Take Die Hard, and cast Woody Allen as John MacLain. It’s suddenly becoming a comedy.

Take Ving Raimes and put him as John MacLain. Totally different movie.

Try this as a writing exercise. There are 9 persons in the Lord of the Rings. Take any of them, and make them the Ring bearer.

Or take Paul Atreides and make him the ring bearer.

Take Ged from A Wizard of Earthsea and make him the wizard instead of Gandalf.

How does the book change every time?

How do the dynamics change?

The first step of your plot is usually a mental picture of the protagonist. Luke Skywalker was one person in A New Hope. By Return of the Jedi, Luke is COMPLETELY different, and yet the same.

How would Return have been if it had been the whiny Luke from the first movie? The sarcastic and pessimistic Luke from Empire Strikes Back?

The first step to writing your book or movie is to have a half-formed idea on who your protagonist is. And most of the time, you’re really not aware that you’ve done it.

But deciding exactly who your protagonist is may be the most important decision you ever make.

Writing This Year’s Novel

Can you write this year’s novel?

Absolutely.

One of the things I’ve been writing about is those people who sit and spend eleven years writing the great American Novel. My father, for instance, never wrote his book. I actually used to try my best to convince him to write one. He wrote some stories, but never got it finished.

That changes today. If you set up Scrivener as your writing program (PLEASE do not use Microsoft Word as your writing tool!), you can write 8 novels this year.

I told you recently also about WriteWay going freeware. This is not as good as Scrivener, but the interface has features that allow you to write a book quickly. You may find it even allows you to write your book faster, due to the percentage complete wheel on the task bar! I found I could have 4,000 word days in that program.

Stop working on your great American novel. Start working instead on a different one. Get used to pressure and deadline, because as an established author, you’re going to have them.

You need 1,667 words a day, minimum. It takes 4 weeks to write a 50,000 word novel, 6 weeks to write an 85,000 word novel.

Start going through the archives of this blog! You’re going to find a LOT of tools on how to write your novel.

And I want the first draft done by March 1st.

No more excuses, no more procrastination.

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