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Old 12-20-2017, 08:31 AM   #1
Cyfress
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Default Things I see over and over in amateur writing...

Let's face it, we all know how difficult it is to pay your bills as a writer of fiction. To those that do it on the scale of JK Rowling or as the unknown author barely making it, my hat goes off to you.

I'm convinced amateur writers all make the same mistakes, it's not even mistakes, it's just not having that sixth sense for story. I can literally say this for everything I've read in the last twelve months (13 scripts, 7 TV pilots). I can also say this for everything I've read prior as well.

Here's the three biggest mistakes you are making and you don't even know it:

1) You are not expanding your concept. You are writing a story about two brothers that rob a bank, or a guy climbing the corporate latter, etc, but stories are about change. You have the beginning of a concept and you write the entire script around the beginning of your concept, you have no middle or end to it. You need to identify those tent pole moments in structure. Those moments that will impact the reader and be defining moments for the story and the character. Traditional storytelling says you need an event like this at the 25%, 50%, 75%, and 100% marks of your script. There are no rules on how many impactful moments you can have, how many scenes of true metamorphosis and no rules on where they have to be in the telling? But would you want to group them all together? No, they'd lose their impact like that. Would you want to spread them far apart? No, the reader will lose interest before they get to them. When you have a concept, do yourself a huge favor and wrack your brain for those 4 defining moments in the change process of your character. You write the screenplay around those moments, this way you know for sure your story moves and the reader is witness to change.

2) I hate to say this, but most amateurs are clueless when it comes to structure. They are lost puppies wandering in a black wilderness with wild animals in the distance. The question is why. Why are amateurs horrible at structure? I think it's because they can't see that they don't have it. To them it works, and works well. That's what they see. But after reading ten pages of their script, you can tell right away the structure is not tight and they are 100% unaware of the structure conventions of the genre they are writing in. When you make people aware of this notion that they are WAY off base in the structure department, you have two reactions. Some people hate your guts and remain in denial, for others you just made the jigsaw puzzle way more difficult. I think writers find the structure through writing. Either pages or outline or treatment form. They find it by writing about the type of character they are dealing with and the kind of problems that kind of person would face, and they are probably not taking their first thoughts and getting married. They are seeing what works and what doesn't, they are shedding what doesn't and moving on to variation 2.0 of the structure. Everything from variation 2.0 doesn't stick but some does, they shed what doesn't and move on to structure 3.0, and so on. Amateurs come up with structure 1.0 and immediately write a script then they hand that script to peers, managers, agents. They are on Done Deal asking for the William Morris email structure. The screenplay market is like the coolest kid in high school. It doesn't even know you exist and it doesn't have to. Doesn't matter that you know everything about it, it still has no need for you. But do something that grabs that cool kid's attention and then all of sudden 'You da man' as they kids say. You will never be the man with structure 1.0. Think about this, pro writers probably spend 6 - 8 hours a day, 40 - 50 hours per week writing. Before they start the actual writing, they may spend a few weeks in the think tank writing things like an outline, character bios, treatments, practice scenes, story flow charts. So that's 150 hours lets say they spend on coming up with a solid structure, character depth, impactful moments. How many hours did you spend on your structure before writing? Most of us are writing an hour or two here and there when we can and when we are motivated. Think about how much longer that makes the process. Plus, pro writers are hyper aware of #1 - expanding the concept - which is like the keys to the fancy car.

3) After doing steps 1 and 2, which should take you a while, unless you have 50/hrs per week to spend on it. You'll then want to start creating scenes, the building blocks to that structure you put more than a hundred hours into. There's one real principle to scene construction that you really should remember. That is, scenes must be about something. Ok, you say that's a vague statement and you are right. What is something? Something could be two friends in a car talking about how much they love Starbucks coffee. You'd say that scene is about something it's about their love of Starbucks and I will tell you that scene is about nothing. Any scene where you have characters agree from beginning to end that scene is about nothing and it probably there as an exposition dump. A scene is about nothing, unless it contains warring objectives. The reader will not read chit-chat, especially agents or managers. The next time you are channel surfing and you come across a movie, any movie, stop and watch. Listen to how the characters are talking to each other. They speak to each other in rebuttals. Each one has a will, and objective and they are up against someone else's objective and only one can win. Let's go back to the example. Which conversation would you read, two guy agreeing Starbucks is the best, or one Dunkin Donuts guy and 1 Starbucks Guy arguing who has the better coffee? Every scene needs to be like that or else your dialogue will be impossible to read and all exposition lines will stick out. Now that being said, objectives have to tie into plot. Characters need motivation to hold the objective they do, can't be for any old reason. Everything has to connect. This is all the stuff you'd want to figure out in that 150 hours or work you're gonna do before you start writing.

It's not that any one really stinks at being a writer. When I get handed a script that has as many problems as Disney has Dalmatians, I don't think the writer is terrible. They are just unaware of the effort that is need to go into writing a good script. They are writing with 1/10 the effort and want to stand shoulder to shoulder with pros. Some writers wake up to this fact and some don't. They ones that do will be better writers for it, the ones that don't will forever be stuck in a pipe dream that never had a chance of fruition.
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Old 12-23-2017, 06:57 AM   #2
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Default Re: Things I see over and over in amateur writing...

This is on one hand a really great, insightful post.
On the other hand, you're so angry/mean/belittling in your tone I am not sure many people will read the whole thing and learn anything.


- Things I see over and over on Done Deal.
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Old 12-23-2017, 08:28 AM   #3
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Default Re: Things I see over and over in amateur writing...

Quote:
Originally Posted by cvolante View Post
On the other hand, you're so angry/mean/belittling in your tone I am not sure many people will read the whole thing and learn anything.
To me, the lack of formatting - the great bludgeoning blocks of text - are what will keep people from finishing.

Quote:
This is on one hand a really great, insightful post.
I respectfully disagree.

1. I really tried to engage with this advice, to see if I could offer anything, but phrases like "4 defining moments in the change process of your character" are completely impenetrable to me, and I've been doing this awhile. Apparently I need four "tent pole moments" at pages 30, 60, 90 and 120, that impact story and character in some way... Are those set pieces? We have a set piece on the last page of a script? That also is about the "change process?" The relation of all of this to "expanding concept" is beyond me.

I don't understand what's being said enough to weigh in, but I have a strong suspicion it's off-base.

2. That doesn't sound like the process of pro writers I know. We aren't in the business of writing scripts and throwing them out again and again to help us figure out the story. I'm not saying writers don't rewrite - some more than others - but this seems like a wildly inefficient way to proceed.

Also, "William Morris" ceased to exist a decade ago.

3. I think this paragraph is saying "scenes should contain conflict." That's not bad advice.
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Old 12-23-2017, 09:28 AM   #4
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Default Re: Things I see over and over in amateur writing...

Belittling and mean? And I was in a great mood when I wrote it. Any kind of assessment of tone is a guess at best on your part. I was just trying to highlight the same deficiencies I see in most amateur scripts.

Jeff, a rounded out concept gives a glimpse of who the character is, what the vehicle of change will be, and what the character will look like coming out on the other side. So that's how expanding the concept and the change process are related. How could what I've seen with my own eyes be off base? I'm talking about my experience reading and working with writers. If your experience varies that's fine, but I'm gonna take a guess and say you don't read many amateur scripts.

No one throws anything out either, but you may wear out the letters on the delete key. So, when figuring out the structure to a script, you never delete scenes or shed scenes and try to fill the holes with something more compelling? You never do that? The way you find your story is unique to you. People do not work on the structure of their script nearly enough. I always talk about an interview I read back in 2000 with M. Night. He wrote 7 drafts of the sixth sense. The first was about a Detective whose son saw the Ghosts of the victims of a serial killer. Did he throw any pages away or hit the delete button? I guess writing seven drafts sounds very inefficient to you, but it worked great for him.
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Old 12-23-2017, 11:16 AM   #5
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Default Re: Things I see over and over in amateur writing...

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Jeff, a rounded out concept gives a glimpse of who the character is, what the vehicle of change will be, and what the character will look like coming out on the other side. So that's how expanding the concept and the change process are related.
Are you saying a screenplay needs to have a character who has an emotional journey that's affected by the plot? If so:

1. The buzzwords are really confusing to me.
2. IMO, that's a reductive view of screenwriting that ignores many types of movies.

Quote:
How could what I've seen with my own eyes be off base? I'm talking about my experience reading and working with writers. If your experience varies that's fine, but I'm gonna take a guess and say you don't read many amateur scripts.
I read for contests (like Austin), I read scripts from people trying to break in that I meet through shows and films I'm on, and when I'm hiring writers for staffing, I will read probably 100-150 scripts, some from established writers, some from amateurs. Your reading 20 scripts in the last year doesn't really seem like an unassailable pedestal of knowledge to me.

Yes, I rewrite, as does everyone (to varying degrees). I don't use scripts the way you seem to be describing, as ways to test out a structure. I also don't write "test scenes," (not that I'm really sure what those are) or "story flow charts" or some of the other steps you talk about.

Not that there's anything wrong with any story breaking method. Whatever gets you there! But I don't think the thing that separates amateurs from professionals is that they're not putting exactly four tent poles in the correct positions, on the correct page, or that the story doesn't fit one archetype.

Like cvolante, I found the tone of your post off-putting, which is why I jumped in. It just always makes me wary when an amateur writer tells all the other amateur writers that he's identified why they're failing, he has the solution, and for a reasonable price, he will teach them how to succeed, even though he hasn't done the same.

YMMV.
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Old 12-23-2017, 01:24 PM   #6
Cyfress
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Default Re: Things I see over and over in amateur writing...

I said amateurs fail because they put forth 1/10th the effort needed not because of tentpole moments. I've read too many scripts about nothing. That go nowhere. That never escalate. Scripts that could really use big moments. So, I offer a suggestion that writers should come up with those tentpole moments to help them figure out what the story is and where it is going.

But like everyone else, you're caught up on the Act breaks of a standard 120 page screenplay. In your scripts Jeff, you don't ever have an MDQ, or a midpoint reversal, or a point failure, and a climax. Your scripts do not contain any of these elements? Your screenplays all just run together with no escalation, no moments of change, no moments of self realization?

And I never used page numbers. I used percentages. Unless you are recommending that a the set-up of a story can take 50% of the script, it doesn't have to be the first 25%.

All these scripts in the Austin contest that you read, they couldn't use a more focused set-up? An event in the middle that really shakes things up? A low point for the hero that is so low it seems the battle is over? An incredible come back, last ditch effort for the hero where he/she over comes? Those Austin scripts wouldn't benefit from any of that?

All these people that write books about screenwriting are not sold writers, at least vast majority are not. Neither are the screenwriting professors in any of the schools. Anyone can debate anything said about a craft.

if you think working on expanding the concept and taking the time to unearth a compelling structure will not help then we just disagree.
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Old 12-23-2017, 01:26 PM   #7
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Default Re: Things I see over and over in amateur writing...

Cyfress, I think that you have a lot of good insights in there. But you really do need to distill everything into a more digestible form. It was all too wordy, and that made your arguments confusing. I could not follow everything that you were saying.

I agree with you that many scripts have too much chitchat.

As for structure and development, the problem that I see most commonly is a weak (or virtually absent) second act.
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Old 12-23-2017, 01:33 PM   #8
Cyfress
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Default Re: Things I see over and over in amateur writing...

Comic, I just wrote it on my phone with no consciousness of how thick the blocks of paragraphs were. Really, I posted it because the forums are dead compared to how they used to be and no one had posted anything new in the screenwriting forum in sometime. Just trying to get an active discussion going.

People always think I'm talking down or badmouthing them. I'm really a nice guy. Why the other day I slugged an old lady in the gut for no reason at all.
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Old 12-23-2017, 02:50 PM   #9
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Default Re: Things I see over and over in amateur writing...

When I first joined this forum, I had to go to the computer room at my university to read and write a post. Now we do it on our phones. Ain't technology grand?
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Old 12-23-2017, 06:25 PM   #10
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Default Re: Things I see over and over in amateur writing...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cyfress View Post
But like everyone else, you're caught up on the Act breaks of a standard 120 page screenplay.
I'm not in the slightest. I translated your percentages into page numbers. I pretty much think a script needs a beginning, middle and end. That's about as dogmatic as I get. (And before you ask, I don't think a script has to be 120 pages.)

Quote:
In your scripts Jeff, you don't ever have an MDQ, or a midpoint reversal, or a point failure, and a climax. Your scripts do not contain any of these elements?
I've heard of a climax. I don't know what the other three terms mean. (I've heard of midpoint, but I'm not sure why it needs to be a reversal.)

Quote:
Your screenplays all just run together with no escalation, no moments of change, no moments of self realization?
I'd say there's always escalation, some characters change, some characters don't, some have self realization, and some remain clueless.

Quote:
All these scripts in the Austin contest that you read, they couldn't use a more focused set-up? An event in the middle that really shakes things up? A low point for the hero that is so low it seems the battle is over? An incredible come back, last ditch effort for the hero where he/she over comes? Those Austin scripts wouldn't benefit from any of that?
The scripts that I didn't think were great had a host of issues. I just don't understand the one size fits all school of structure, and I really don't agree that "amateur writers all make the same mistakes." I think all writers - pro and amateur - have different strengths and weaknesses.

To me, your advice is like going to a doctor who always gives the same diagnosis, no matter what disease you come in with, and then always gives you the same medicine.

Quote:
All these people that write books about screenwriting are not sold writers, at least vast majority are not. Neither are the screenwriting professors in any of the schools. Anyone can debate anything said about a craft.
That's fair. There are plenty of people who are very knowledgable about drama without being working pros. There are coaches who've never played, etc.

Bottom line: I disagree with the absolutes you're pointing out (or maybe just don't understand). But maybe it speaks to someone else.

Best of luck.
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