Nicholas Reicher

Writing Your Next Blockbuster Film or Novel

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The problem with Holiday Time

One of the biggest problems we’ve got as writers is that holiday time has so many obligations on us. We have to see family, or go to Bangor for shopping, or out to Bigfork to see the holiday lights.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

it keeps us from our schedules.

We’ve got writing to do. There are demands on our time.

There are times you have to be resolute. When you’re not making a living as a writer, you need to get downright possessive about your time. “I have to do my writing.” If you’re doing it as  a hobby, and it’s only going on the internet, then you can be more relaxed. But novels take time to write. Screenplays take time to write. If you aim to be a writer (and nothing else), then you need to do just that – write.

In my case, my family time is important to me. The person making demands on my time is – me! So, this is where I’ve got to be resolute, and say to myself, “Get it done.”

Schedule time to write. What gets scheduled gets done.

If you’re working on several projects at once, write in no more than two of them at a time.

Keep social media time down to a minimum. If you spent 5 hours on Facebook, you’ve spent waaay too much time! Get back on your novel or screenplay.

Set deadlines. My deadline with myself is to have my books edited and publish ready by April. Get it done! I’ve got screenplays that need to be written and re-written. Get it done!

BUT.

Don’t make the mistake of pushing family away. Again, my time with my family is important. I need to spend time with them. I just need to prioritize!

Family.

Then writing.

But get the writing done. Quit procrastinating.

And oh, yes – go to the holiday lighting event in New Haven.

7 Common Dialog Traps Fiction Writers Must Avoid

One thing I have found out is that when you say, “They can’t teach me anything”, it is a self fulfilling prophecy. Even though I’ve written several novels and written several screenplays, I still read and watch everything I can on the subject of writing.

There’s nothing more personal than writing. And none of us can be completely objective about our writing – because it came from us. And since it came from us, if someone points out that a scene doesn’t make sense, or that it;s completely unneeded, we tend to react as if the criticism was about us, not our product. Writers are the only group of people in the world who can send a manuscript to a reviewing service and get offended by the report.

Dialog is something that apparently is my strong point. When I challenged out of a college class using a chapter from a novel I was writing, the English teacher made a comment that my dialog was strong and believable. Well, if you spend your youth doing more listening than talking, that’s going to happen.

Dialog often remains the one area that separates unpublished writers from published writers. So what can you do to improve your dialog?

  1. Stilted dialog. This happens to people who don’t realize that dialog not only has a rhythm, but also has pitch. I used to mimic human speech musically, to show people how this is done. You need to improve your dialog to the point that it has, even on the written page, the same spoken rhythm. The best way to do it is read your dialog out loud. If it seems awkward when you’re reading it, then it’s because it isn’t fitting the common rhythm we associate with it.
  2. Repetitive dialog. Yes, indeed. It repeats. And says the same thing over and over again, echoing what it already has said, mimicking itself. As Robert McKee says, dialog is subject to the law of diminishing returns. Saying it once has maximum effectiveness. Saying it twice has less effectiveness. Saying it a third time is now yielding limited effectiveness. Saying it a fourth time has no effect. “I need to talk to you.” “Go away.” That exchange is done. We’ve expressed that IDEA. To repeat that idea is to now start making the reader agitated. “You need to listen to me!” The next line had better be, “All right, but I don’t know how you’re going to change my mind”, or you just ruined the scene. Or, “Well, I’m going to talk – you can either listen and get this resolved, or you can walk away and lose everything we’ve worked so hard to build.”
  3. useless dialog. Sometimes, writers resort to dialog that simply doesn’t say anything. “How is mother?” Okay, you’ve got a great, great opportunity here to suggest something’s wrong with mother. “Mother is… you know mother.” Three or four word narrative sentence to show the subtext message is received… then, “Yes. We all know.” That dialog did something. But, “How is mother?” “She’s fine.” is useless, unless for comedy effect. If you’re writing dialog that does nothing for the sake of two people having conversation, you’re wasting precious white space on your screen. Dialog must have PURPOSE. We could even change the exchange to being more powerful. “How is Mother?” He looked away, not meeting her gaze. “You have to even ask?” He answered. “You know we’re still… Look, skip it.” See, that dialog has purpose, subtext, and it pushes the plot along.
  4. Dialog with no purpose. Dialog must push the plot along. The people in your book or script are having many conversations between pages that you’re not writing down. They’re stopping at the Wawa to buy a salad and a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda, and chatting with the bored kid behind the register in his red shirt. It doesn’t need to be in your novel, unless it somehow is part of your story. For instance, how many times in any Tom Clancy novel did Jack Ryan fill his gas tanks? He drove around a lot. And he probably said something every now and then to the people at the gas station. And Jack Ryan was married, and had a daughter. But we rarely saw him speaking to either of them – unless it pushed the story forward, or was part of the plot.
  5. Flat dialog. Dialog has emotion. I got very good at insistent communication when I was young. We call that “Whining” today. Plaintive communication, sorrowful, reluctant – there’s a million different forms. Flat dialog is dialog without any emotion. This too can be used for effect, to show someone is beyond caring or over it. But if your whole book is full of flat dialog, go do something exciting, then come back and write. When someone is talking to someone else n your novel, they want something, whether it’s asking or giving. There’s emotion involved in that. “How’s Mother?” “Why do you keep asking about her? Leave it be!” That’s dialog. “How’s mother?” “Fine, just fine.” Flat.
  6. Excessively wordy dialog. If your character just talked for four pages about shoelaces, um… chop that. Yes, I know War and Peace was eighty nine billion words, but you’re not Tolstoy, and I don’t think Tolstoy could get away with that even today. If you suffer from this, get a Twitter account – that will fix it. Or write on a piece of paper in your writing space, “What’s the shortest way to say this?” and the famous ONW – “Omit Needless Words.” If you have friends, you’ve learned to speak to them in the shortest way possible. If you have no friends, ding ding ding ding!!!
  7. Pretentious Dialog. The obsessive need to write something because it sounds like great literature. If you can elevate your writing craft over ten years to being someone who writes great literature, that’s a beautiful thing and I’m envious. But if you’re on novel one and you’re trying to write Wuthering Heights… um… take baby steps first. Write dialog that sounds real. Write narrative that communicates powerful actions, describes things with cinematic focus. Let age, maturity (maturity??? We’re talking writers, here!), and experience naturally give you the great literature skill. Don’t sound like Hyacinth from “Keeping Up Appearances” trying to write a novel!
Conclusion

Okay, I went about 400 words over the limit on this one. But I wanted to seriously talk about dialog because some people just don’t get it. If you’re a writer, I want you to get published. If you’re a reader, I want you to know how to read and understand the inner language of the novels you read. Character dialog is a powerful tool, if used effectively. Use it effectively!

Open Live Writer

Okay, I’m trying Open Live Writer to write my blog with. I’m still doing the rest of my writing (including Twitter and Facebook) in Scrivener.

Why?

It’s because I’m trying to save a step or three in my blogging process. Scrivener’s good, but it doesn’t use HTML formatting. Open Live Writer, Thingamablog, Blog Jet and Blog Desk all are geared for writing blogs.

In the last month, I’ve tried about every blogging program, and I liked Thingamablog about the best, but it doesn’t have a word count feature, it isn’t set up to automatically post to WordPress, and indeed, it’s not really set up to work with WordPress at all! If the author of it would make his appearance again and fix that, I’d promote that program like mad! But it’s been 8 years, and no sign of him, so that project is abandoned.

Blog Desk was good, but it didn’t exactly sync up with my blog the way it was supposed to. It too has been abandoned for the same amount of time.

Blog Jet is not free. It too has been abandoned, and the last update to it was two years ago. Listen, if you’re going to abandon your program, stop charging for it. If you’re going to charge for it, keep working on it. If you feel you want to move on, then go on your website, put a note up there saying, “We’re closing down the shop. Here’s a user ID and serial number you can use to register the program.”

Or just take the registration part out of it. It’s kind of like charging for Sidekick or some other great old program from the 90’s.

I liked blogging in Scrivener, but all the formatting I did in it was lost the minute I copied it to WordPress, and that made for extra work, not less. It almost took me as long to edit and format it as it did to write it in the first place!

So, I went and found Livewriter. It won’t install on Windows 8.1, so I found the Open Source project for it. Open Live Writer is still the same as it used to be, but actually it has a lot more features now. The bugginess of it is now gone. Yes, it still has the feel of the Microsoft Live stuff, and looks very Windows Vista, which to me is still the best Windows Operating system.

The good news is, Livewriter now is a BREEZE to interface with your blog. I’m self hosted on Blue Host, and believe it or not, all I had to do was tell it my URL, then wait until prompted for username and password.  It then retrieved all of my categories and tags.

So yeah, it works much better than the old Livewriter did. If you’re looking for a great blogging tool, give Livewriter a try.

It seems to be the only PC program for desktop blogging that is still in development!

The process of creating

Before you can become a writer, you must begin to be creative. Of course, it helps if you’re a creative person already.

To some extent, everyone is creative. It’s that little flourish you add when decorating a cake, or when you’re working on even the most simple wooden thing you’re building – but you built it entirely from thinking about it and then grabbing your tools and going for it.

Everyone’s walked away from movies either saying, “what if?” or “What do you think happened to them?” or “Why didn’t they just?” I know a lot of my movie writing motivation ended up being, “They should have… instead!”

Even if you plan on writing a non-fiction book (which oddly enough seems to be more popular than writing a fiction book), to a certain extent you need creativity to be able to do it well. And trust me, I’ve read a lot of really badly written books by both.

So… how do you foster creativity?

It’s a frame of mind that one enters. You train it by habit. One of the things I’ve recommended is a dedicated writing space. If you’re downright stubborn about “Don’t put anything into this space” to everyone else in the house, then after a while just entering that space already has your mind ready to create.

It’s something you develop through exercises. People who don’t know how to write (but want to), I make several recommendations. Play the what if game. “What if a man comes home and…”

Finish that sentence.

Exercise 2 – Take an article, and a noun. Write them down. “The car….”

The car what? Speeds up, slows down, pulls into a parking spot? Or screeches in, stopping with a lurch?

If you’re already self trained in creative writing, those little examples are writing prompts that should foster up an entire little story. Is it a FBI raid on a serial killer? Is it an angry house buyer confronting a crooked Realtor? Is it a pizza delivery guy who’s late habitually because in reality he’s a multi-dimensional traveler, and some kind of monster had him trapped away from the gateway?

Exercise 3 – describe an object. Okay, it looks like a cell phone. But is it really? Could it be a homing beacon for a horde of extra-terrestrial aardvarks, come to destroy the earth? The irony of it if someone is carrying this thing around, then drops it into a toilet by accident! You’re complaining about ruining your cell phone, but you just saved the earth!

One of those things a producer or an editor almost never has to tell a writer is to “Think outside the box.”  If you’ve finished something, you’ve already shown you pretty much live outside the box.

Learn to live outside the box. All that “let’s pretend” you did as a child – that’s your only required training. Remember how you did that? Sure you did. Let’s get started.

Your Best Year Ever

I got my advance copy of Your Best Year Ever, a book by Michael Hyatt that should be available on book store shelves in early January 2018.  I’m going to start reading this tomorrow!

I just took a quick, impatient look last night. I’m a Michael Hyatt fan, and I try to take his online seminars whenever I get the chance, although very often I end up missing them because they coincide with a deadline (argh!). Right away I was struck by a graphic display on one page of a planner system… My interest was peaked, because I’m the kind of guy who loves productivity and planning!

This looks like it’s going to be life changing stuff! I can’t wait!

(sorry about the picture – it was with my cell phone in my office!)

9 Must-Do Steps to Writing your novel in Scrivener

ForWriters

If you’ve never used Scrivener, it has some little-known tools that are exceptionally powerful, and make planning and editing your novel much more effective. I’m going to go through the first ones I’ve done, and then explain the ones I still need to do. This way, this blog post acts as a public reminder to me to get theses done!

  1. Set project target. That’s done. I try to keep my novels at 150,000 words, since that’s standard for an action/apocalyptic novel. Which means my current first book is about 50,000 words over the target, and needs judicious editing.

  2. Set scene targets.
    I’ve described before how I set them all at long scenes (1,200 words) and then, as I write them, determine if it’s an action snippet (400 words), short scene (600 words), Medium scene (900 words) or long scene. These are all done.
  3. Act Synopsis. I use a three act template to plan my novels. Each act should have its own synopsis entered. I entered very terse descriptions in my synopsis, and those need to be updated a little (as the scenes tend to change slightly as I write them).
  4. Chapter synopsis. I need to enter these. This is one thing I never did. What is the entering situation in the chapter? What is the desired outcome? Where are my obstacles and setbacks?
  5. Scene Synopsis. I need to write these as well. Roughly the same, but now on minor levels. On the scene level, you need to be thinking about what is your promises and payoffs? If you have to, create custom meta data fields to track those. (Project>Custom Meta Data>+)
  6. Add each scene to it’s character collections. This is a huge tool, one that quite a few Scrivener users don’t seem to play with, like the custom meta data fields. I add collections for every characters, then add each scene the character appears in. This way I can see how they talk, are portrayed, etc. You CANNOT allow something in any part of your book for your character’s voicing and portrayal to change, unless it’s driven by the plot over a progression. Adding scenes to collections allows you to read just those scenes they’re in, sequenced according to the book. It can take a lot if you’ve got 30 chapters and 7 scenes per chapter, and 8 major/minor characters. My first novel has over 14 major & minor re-occurring characters. Each one requires its own collection. That means 14 separate reviews of my book. That’s a huge project, but trust me, it’s worth it. Things begin to jump out at you that you’d never notice using Microsoft Word.
  7. Footnotes and Comments: Use comments upon read-through to go through your book, and label thoughts on “Move to ch.4?” “Weak…” “Tighten here” “Excessively wordy” “On the nose dialog”. You can color code the comments, or you can just use a different color for each comment so they don’t blur one into another.
  8. Highlights. Make sure you use the highlighting function to show areas that need working on. The comments can highlight some areas, but other areas can just do a quick “Green highlight” or “Blue highlight” to show you need to fix those little areas. You can color code them, or just use the different colors to keep them from blending together.
  9. Snapshots. I make snapshots for every major change within Scrivener, in case the edits I’m making cause the scene to be less powerful than how I first had it!
Conclusion

Scrivener is a surprisingly powerful piece of writing software for only $40. I’ve never looked back once I committed to buying it. Make sure you are using these tools to help you in the re-write and editing process!

What other tools do you use within Scrivener?

Out Of Coffee: A Writing Lesson

Was about to write this blog article, when I picked up my cup of coffee.

Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

Oh, no.

 

Here we go. The blog article becomes a mini-book in itself. Conflict has started.

I am out of coffee.

Character goal – get more coffee.

Setback – coffee machine is downstairs.

Goal – I must go downstairs, with cold feet, and go to the coffee machine, and get more coffee.

Obstacle – laziness has set in, and I’m comfortably writing in this chair.

I have to overcome the setback (go downstairs), which is the same as my character goal. I must overcome the obstacle.

Foreshadowed conflict – my feet are cold. So that means:

The floor downstairs is colder

I’m going to stub my feet painfully.

Hans will order Rudolph to shoot the glass. Oh, wait, that’s Die Hard.

Growing conflict – I’m now losing the will to write, due to lack of caffeine.

The coffee downstairs has a time element to it. It’s growing increasingly bitter, since it’s two hours old. If I don’t hurry, it will be undrinkable, and symbolic death will happen in the story.

Break into Three moment – my Burmese cat looks cute, and I have to pet him.

I’m growing more despondent and weaker without the coffee, which is growing more bitter at a steady pace

CLOSE IN on Coffeepot, doing nothing. A bubble rises to the top of the coffee.
Pop.

Cut to: Nicholas slumped over in chair.
NICHOLAS
Coffee….

To be continued….

Progress

I’m writing this as of Nov. 12.
My blog entries are written up to the 23rd.
Twitter tweets are written in advance up to the 21st.
Facebook posts are done.
Next month I set up my LinkedIn page, and I’ll have about 30 of those to write for the month.
I’ve got about 6 or 7 meme’s made in Adobe Spark.

Ideally, I’d like to get to about the 10th of the month, and have everything finished for the month.

Plan your work, work your plan!

Stuck in my chair on Thanksgiving Day

I’m writing this on thanksgiving. I’m stuck in my chair. My cat has pretty much decided he wants to eat a lot today. When he doesn’t get his way, he goes everywhere else for a while.

Photo by Alison Marras on Unsplash

Then he comes back and sits on my lap, putting all of his body weight – only about 12 or 13 pounds – into holding me down. There’s a big difference between when he’s resting in my lap, and when he’s trying to punish me.

You’d never think that 13 pounds would pin you down. But Burmese I guess are known for being big, heavy cats. Yes, you’ve got your 23 pound Maine Coon. But I guarantee your 23 pound Maine Coon does not way as much as a 13 pound Burmese.

Every Burmese owner is nodding right now. And grunting in agony over the heavy load of a Burmese crushing their thigh bones.

In 59 minutes, I have to push my cat off of me, so I can go prep up the turkey. Let’s get this out of the way…

Ignore turkey cooking directions. a 13 pound turkey (ironically, weighing much less than a 13 pound Burmese) supposedly only takes 3 1/2 hours to cook.

Hah hah hah hah!

No.

Have you EVER had a turkey take precisely the amount of time to cook that the directions say it does?

I’m now factoring in an extra 90 minutes to any cooking time I see, because let me tell you, my turkey is still pasty and gobbling at 3 hours into cooking.

I’m surprised there aren’t widely publicized statistics of people starving to death on Thanksgiving over the incredibly long delay in waiting for your bird to finish its cooking.

This is a time to celebrate tradition, a slice of American life, Thanksgiving, where my mother would head downstairs at 5:30 in the morning, full of resentment over all of us wanting to eat this massive feast of yams, dead bird, some bread and raisin concoction jammed inside the body of the bird, and of course, cinnamon candies boiled in water and added to apple sauce. “Mom, where’s the marshmallows?”

I’m calling the rules committee on this – you just can’t take a dead bird and stick it in oil. No. That’s a Chanukah thing, not thanksgiving! The bird gets butter smeared on its corpse, and jammed into an oven wrapped in foil like a tasty culinary mummy of some kind. If you cheat on this, I guarantee you haven’t kept Thanksgiving, and you’re going to need to repeat it 30 days later so you can get it right.

Barbeque turkey… okay, it’s a neat idea. But this is thanksgiving. You smear the thing with butter, salt, pepper, and that,s it, because that’s how the Pilgrims did it, as advised in their Ye Olde Better Homes and Gardens Cookbooke! Save the Barbeque Turkey for the Superbowl or something.

And it’s called stuffing. not dressing. See the thanksgiving rule book. I’m calling foul on most of you!

Or maybe it’s fowl.

I’m delirious with hunger now, because my cat has me pinned in my chair.

Sigh.

Thoughts on “the Island”

Okay, I wrote “The Island” in one night.

mitch-mckee-419811b

I literally wrote out a basic logline during a break in the day, wrote out a list of how everyone dies, and that was it. Then after all my nightly stuff, I opened Scrivener and began writing.

4200 words later, I was done. I couldn’t tell that story in just 1,500 words. I couldn’t give any back story, or give you an eye into the social structure of the Island, or give you developed characters in a 1,500 word story.

It required me to go to bed 15 minutes later, to be able to finish the story. And the next day I dragged at work, because that was some seriously intense writing.

What was I trying to portray in the story? I wanted to show how absolute chaos ensues when people panic. I wanted to show how a single man can completely change the way people think with a few comments.

Ernie Lee held a great deal of power over the community. The storekeeper Cary (yes, I know Squirrel Island doesn’t have stores, but I decided to make this story on a different Island!) had to divert a considerable amount of energy into watching Ernie the entire time, to keep Ernie from stealing something, or to distract Cary into letting him take something on credit he’d probably never pay.

We all know that person.

Ernie also had a single problem – he was a sociopath. He simply didn’t know right from wrong. Well, more accurately, Ernie knew right from wrong – he just couldn’t understand those concepts as they were applied to him. His responses if asked would be, a literal, “I don’t know what you mean.” So when they spotted a massive explosion that turned out to be a car crashing into a transformer and exploding, Ernie of course honestly thought it was an atomic bomb. And his words scared everyone, because when Ernie Lee states he’s going to survive, the very way that Carey was watching his store now becomes how everyone else watched their life. Ernie’s going to kill me, and if he’s going to do it, everyone else will too. It’s actually only four of them.

I borrowed one man from The Birds and from Jaws for my story – Missing Guy. In Jaws, it was Ben Gardner. These people never lived. They were dead from the moment the story was written. Who killed Missing Guy? Ernie. He beat the guy to death with the shovel. Darian only kills two men in the story. But again, that was part of Ernie’s plan – get them all to kill each other, and Ernie would just opportunistically take what was left.

The Island was originally titled “Squirrel Island”, but of course, I had to use artistic license, by putting a general store on it, and cars and trucks. And there are no permanent residents of Squirrel Island. In my story, there’s less than a dozen permanent residents.

Almost all of them are French. That’s a little known thing in some parts of Maine – There’s been a culture clash between the French and the Anglo’s for over a century. In most of Maine, it’s not so noticeable. It still can be found in some areas, like Lisbon Falls and Durham.

Where the French settle in, it’s usually in small communities. So I decided to make The Island one of those places. And because of its nature (a place where only a few people live every year), all of them are French except for one Anglo – who’s dead before the story even starts (Mike Johnson).

The antagonism between Ruthie Johnson and Ernie Lee is one of the established resident versus the outsider. Brooke was a outsider moved in like Ruthie, but because she was French, she was accepted, whereas Ruthie was not. Ruthie’s speech was designed to show them that. Probably none of the residents had ever realized that Ruthie was an outsider still, even though she lived on the Island longer than Brooke.

However, the only real antagonism Ruthie had was from Ernie. Carey’s reaction shows that the Islanders didn’t believe Ruthie killed her husband – but in New England once a rumor gets going, it gets a life of its own.

One of my goals was to give you an antagonist so nasty, you HAD to hate him. This is something I think authors have been getting away from, and it leaves the reader unsatisfied. Your villain is a villain because he’s too smart. Or he had a facial disfiguration as a boy, and so that’s why he became a body builder and a serial killer. Seriously, you don’t have to explain villains! You don’t have to justify them! Why is he a villain? Because he’s evil! I’ve found ample evidence in over 50 years of personal experience some people are just wholly given over to evil, and don’t care. Are they all sociopaths? No. The worst evil is done by people who know good from bad, understand how it applies to them, and have just made the conscience decision to go ahead and do wrong. Sometimes villains are villains because they’re evil.

Ernie murders Ruthie because he’s killing the outsiders, and purging his community. It’s satisfying to him. And he taunts her as she drowns by telling her that he knew all along she didn’t kill Mike, Ernie killed him years before.

In that one act, the reader now can’t wait to see Ernie die. Ernie killed a man, then taunts his widow for years by diverting blame? Oh, he’s got to die! Readers love to see despicable characters get their come-uppance.

Stephen Gagnon was originally named Elliot, and Brooke was originally named Elena. But that gave me three people in a short story who’s names start with “E”, and you can’t have that.

I debated the twist ending quite a bit. I wanted to write the story strong enough, so that you had to think it was a nuclear bomb, it really was World War III. But I couldn’t talk about an explosion that lasted minutes, the continuing roar, a blast of wind, stuff banged around on the Island, and then turn it into a car crash! In one of my novels I give you a blow by blow description of an atomic bomb explosion, and what it would be like to be within a mile or two of it. So that’s something I’ve done.

I could easily turn this into a movie script – the pacing is just right for it. But I’d be annoying and insist that all the actors have genuine Maine Accents.

I think the hardest part for me was this – whether to leave it like an “On the Beach” ending, or like it was. If you read it again, but stop at Brooke and Stephen in the police station after Ernie has been killed, the story has a chilling feel to it. I didn’t know if that’s how I wanted to end it or not? But for me the twist ending was the most satisfying.

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