I’ve previously covered various screenplay coverage services on the blog, and I’ll keep updating you on the results. But what about novels? Should we try to get our novels reviewed by professional readers? When should we do it, and how much does it cost?
I have a beta reader who has been immensely helpful with the first three chapters of my novel, both with language and story. A couple of other friends have read and enjoyed the manuscript overall, though I’m not going to claim they were incredibly objective, I’m confident they did have a good time: I know their tastes, and they have read and commented on my stories before. So it was a safe bet.
So far, I haven’t been able to hook an agent, at least not with the first few pages of my story. Now that some of those pages took some rewriting thanks to my beta reader, I’m ready to send more queries and see if I get any requests.
I’ll also probably send the manuscript to Coverage Ink (included in the list below) for an overall review. They reviewed my pilot script before, and I found their comments very helpful, and to the point. And if they made 20 points, I probably only disagreed with (or wasn’t sure about) 2 of them, which means they got what I wanted to do with my story.
That’s one of the most important aspects of coverage for me: for the reader to be as objective as possible, comment on the marketability of the story and suggest ways on how to make the story catchier and irresistible, without changing its heart. I tried Coverage Ink after hearing about them via Stephanie Palmer’s Good in a Room blog. I’ll also resubmit the pilot after completing my editing.
They also offer proofreading services, and if you can afford it, I strongly recommend getting your story proofed as well as critiqued by people you trust.
So without further ado, below are some of the services you might consider starting your research with:
*(Please note that with the exception of Sigrid’s e-book, I haven’t used affiliate links in this article.)
- Writers & Artists:
Their services come in several stages, so you can send in anything from your first draft to final. Full manuscript review ranges from £680 – £1020. They also offer other packages, so do check out their site for more information.
- Sigrid Mcdonald:
Sigrid is the author of Be Your Own Editor. I own this e-book and I’ve found it tremendously helpful. While it wouldn’t substitute for Sigrid reading every page herself, it’s a great alternative when you can’t afford editing services.
– Coverage Ink:
Coverage Ink offers different levels of coverage, so be sure to check your options out. You might also want to get a quote for your novel by submitting the first 5 pages.
- Writer’s Digest:
Writer’s Digest Shop offers manuscript critique for your novels. It’s currently 3 dollars per page.
Please keep in mind that this is not meant to be a comprehensive list, just a starting point for your research.
If you have tried editing services, please share your experiences in the comments.
Terrific Resources on How to (Re)Write Your Screenplay: Writing better scene descriptions, introducing characters & more
After entering numerous contests, getting different professional feedback for the same script and editing according to what I’ve learned from studying other screenplays, screenplay writing resources and the notes from professionals, I’m a lot more confident in my editing and rewriting skills. That’s not to say I feel I’m done, far from it. But I know a lot more than when I started out.
Currently, I’m in the process of editing my screenplay for the BlueCat competition according to my reader’s notes, and I wanted to share which resources I’ve also perused for further help:
1) Not Screwing Up Characters
Bang2Write is the popular screenwriting blog run by screenwriter, blogger, script editor and teacher Lucy V Hay. She often provides funny, practical and blunt tips on how to improve your script and your screenwriting career.
I like a lot of her posts, but I chose this post in particular because you definitely wouldn’t want to disappoint your reader(s) in the characters department.
You’ve witnessed this in a lot of novels and movies, where characters keep doing out-of-character things so that the plot will move forward.
Well, consistency matters. But it is only one of your problems. You need to introduce your characters well, make their motivations count and more:
2) Introducing a Character
One of the ways writers screw up their characters is their introduction, as the linked article above points out. So it’s only appropriate to include the same writer’s tips on: How to Best Introduce a Character
3) Writing Good Scene Description
One of the aspects of screenwriting I struggle with is writing great scene
descriptions. I’m not saying I’m bad; I’ve some great moments. But I find it increasingly difficult to sustain those moments in every scene. Nagging questions fill my mind, such as:
“Have I written too much?”
“Maybe I haven’t said enough?”
And guess what? It’s exactly one of the things one reader mentioned in his comments: I have included too much in certain scenes, and not enough in several others. While I keep studying other screenplays and getting better hang of it, these two articles below definitely helped:
Also, John August (Go, Big Fish) offers video tutorials on his YouTube channel:
4) Formatting Properly
Obviously, you can’t ignore standard formatting expectations. You don’t want to be overlooked just because you failed to apply some basic rules.
I don’t have to worry about this because I already use Final Draft (aff. link below), a screenwriting software that readily formats everything; I just have to choose which element (action, scene, dialogue…etc.) I’m working on.
But if you don’t own such a software, do check out Lucy V Hay’s Screenplay Format: One Stop Shop. I also recommend Chuck Sambuchino’s Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript (aff. link below), which includes formatting guidelines for whatever manuscript you might be working on, be it a short story, novel, screenplay or article.
5) Using Feedback Effectively
OK, so you got your feedback. How do you use it? Do you accept every suggested change? Well, the answer depends on what changes were offered, and how you feel about them.
You don’t have to accept every change. After all, this is your story. I pay very close attention to suggestions to make the script read better, and to suggestions on how to improve aspects like scene descriptions, action writing and dialogue. However I’m not suddenly going to change my protagonist dramatically because one reader thought he was unlikable or hard to relate to.
Even though your readers are industry professionals, they are still human, with their own tastes. At the end of the day, you have to be proud of your story. One piece of advice most screenwriting blogs agree on is that you need to tell the story you want to tell; and not the story you think the industry expects you to tell. Because then you won’t be able tell the story the way it’s meant to be told anyway.
So pay close attention, and don’t make the changes that make it an entirely different story – unless you are comfortable with that direction.
Oh, and I should mention, that one reader’s least favorite character can be another’s favorite. I’m not generalizing; this happened to with one of protagonists. So keep that in mind as well.
Without any further ado, I present Lucy’s tips:
There you are: an epic collection of resources on how to make your next draft better. If you find this article useful, please spread the word. And don’t forget to share your own tips and favorite resources in the comments.
Premium WordPress themes come with so many advantages, and usually at about 40-75 bucks, so I decided to take my blog design to the next level and search for the perfect WordPress theme for my blog.
I looked at the usual suspects first, like Studio Press and Elegant Themes that are recommended by a lot of respectful and tasteful bloggers. I have seen many blogs that use these themes and make them look just right for their brand,
And I looked at Wpexplorer, themefuse, themeforest, and to quote a U2 song I love, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
Basically, I want full control over everything. I want to easily change whatever I want without knowing any sort of coding. I’d love to have a SEO-optimized theme, as well as one that comes decorated with all the important social media sharing buttons.
Problem? Either the color scheme feels wrong or the patterns don’t seem right. I tried the demos of all versions available, but none solved the key problem.
It’s kind of like being set up on a blind date by a good friend, isn’t it? You have a lot of things in common, and your friend knows what you want, but what feels right on paper doesn’t match what happens in person. Lack of chemistry and passion. Personalities not matching.
I’m all for an easily-readable, professional looking blog. I’m also sucker for full, easy control over every element. But so far, this free theme I picked (after days and days of searching all free themes, mind you) still remains a favorite.
And “a 50 dollars/month for all themes” packages don’t tempt me because I only found one theme that I might sort of want.
So have you found “the one” when it comes to themes? Any premium themes you might suggest for someone who doesn’t want white or black to dominate? Who wants neither extra-plain nor overtly colorful?
And as it’s apparent from the this theme you see, I do love the look of a writer’s desk. I like the overall look, and not just one shot of a coffee mug (and premium “coffee mugs” usually belong to restaurant-appropriate designs) or one computer (and they seem to have been developed for tech bloggers or creative agencies)?
Suggestions and personal experiences are always appreciated.
And happy hunting to those who are still looking for “the one” amongst WordPress themes…
Alexis Grant, in her own words, is an entrepreneurial writer and digital strategist with a focus on careers. She is also a writer who has practiced what she preaches – she took her travel break in 2008.
Alexis Grant’s guide is perfect for anyone who’s planning s career break to travel, but it just makes sense for those of us that are rational romantics and risk-takers. What do I mean by rational romantic?
You know who you are. You’d consider sleeping with a stranger, but you wouldn’t do it without birth control (preferably on both sides). You’d quit your job if you hate it, but after you have some savings and a sanctuary plan (like living with parents if need be) beforehand.
I’m one of those people. I take some risks with my heart, and peace of mind, every day; I’m a freelance writer who also writes fiction and is trying to get into Hollywood. There are enough uncertainties in my life to spin anyone’s head.
But I wouldn’t be the friend to offer going skydiving just because or try the foreign cuisine if I don’t know what it is in the dish that I’m eating. And I wouldn’t take a career break without having a plan.
That said, in several ways, it is easier for a freelance writer, especially an established one, to just go ahead and do it. We are our own bosses, our clients can be reached via email from most parts of the world, and we are a bit more used to the unknown.
Yet, even for a freelancer, it’s much easier to go about our free-spirited ways in our own country where we’re used to the customs, body language, health care system (despite how unsatisfactory it might be) and so on. It’s however a whole other escapade to take a career break to travel or to move to an entirely different place.
This is why I jumped at Alexis e-book: it seemed to offer exactly what I needed, and it didn’t disappoint. Here’s a breakdown of contents:
– Part 1 starts by reminding you why you absolutely need to do this, and the differences between “scheming and planning,”
– Part 2 destroys your 4 biggest, albeit most logical, excuses like your family obligations, not having a fat enough bank account, your job and your house.
– Part 3 is called Planning Mode and helps you discover your options like traveling while blogging, earning from your blogging efforts, as well as other ways to make money during your traveling. It also guides you through your trip planning (like picking destinations according to your budget).
– Part 4 deals with logistics: your potential expenses and a comprehensive to-do list including visas, luggage, footwear, your financial plan and a lot more. Just print out the whole book while you are at it. You’ll want to make notes.
– Part 5 preps you for when you get back.
All in all, How to Take a Career Break to Travel (aff. link) is a 94-page comprehensive and practical guide that starts with smart encouragement, and guides you through all stages of preparation for before, during and after. I recommend reading the book and keeping it as a reference even if you are planning to move to a certain location. The price is $29.
Want to read more about travel breaks? You can check out her posts here.
– Do you own this book? Let me know in the comments how it has helped you.
– Are you planning a career break? Have you already taken yours? Please share your experiences in the comments as well.
Something’s Gotta Give – Life Is Stranger (and Funnier) Than Fiction & How Much Fiction is Your Fiction?
Something’s Gotta Give is one of my favorite romantic comedies of all time. It’s hilarious, pretty original in a lot of places, feautures one hell of a cast (Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Frances McDormand) and its script is available online for fellow romantic comedy/drama writers. If you are looking for a movie review, or need more (spoilerless) info on the plot, please check out my review post. You can also watch the trailer for a better picture.
This post will concentrate more on the main character Erica, a playwright, and the events that inspire and fuel her latest play (so let there be many spoiers!):
Playwright Whose Real Life Becomes More Interesting Than Fiction:
Erica Barry (Diane Keaoton) is a successful and prolific playwright in her 50s. She’s divorced; her ex-husband is her director – he still directs her plays. She has a 20-something, pretty auctioneer daughter and a sassy, college professor sister (Frances Mc Dormand).
When Erica comes to her house in the Hamptons with her sister to work on her new play, the two women get a huge surprise in the form of 60-something Harry Sanborn (Jack Nicholson) – who happens to a famous businessman/bachelor –who’s dating Erin.
After the initial shock, they decide to stay together in the house, though Harry can’t wait to get out of there. After all, Erica hates his guts. But when he has a heart attack before he can have sex with her daughter, the women rush him to the hospital, and there they meet a young, polite and eye candy of a doctor named Julian (Keanu Reeves). To their shock, he turns out to be a big fan of Erica’ plays and is smitten.
In an ideal world, they would send Harry packing, but he’s neither willing to stay in the hospital, nor is he well enough to go back to the city. So Julian recommends Harry stays closeby, where he can check in on him. So he ends up staying with Erica despite her objections. To make things more frustrating, everybody leaves for the city too, and Erica ends up staying in the same house with Harry, all by herself.
But as she gets to know him, she realizes he’s fun, smart, and quite charming when he wants to be. Despite going on a date with Julian and having a good time, as she and Harry get close, she forgets all about Julian, eventually sleeping with, and falling for Harry.
Harry is shocked by how much he is into Erica, but he isn’t sure if it is all because of his heart attack. After all, he is used to dating much younger women.
When he gets better, he pretty much leaves things undetermined. But when Erica sees Harry on a date with a young woman, she loses it. After dealing with her, Harry has to go to hospital again, which Erica doesn’t know about.
Back in the Hamptons, she gets into a bouts of crying and writing, she finishes her play. She also starts dating Julian (the young doctor) thanks to a chance encounter with her sister Zoe.
Harry seems to be doing OK, on a date with another young woman, when he almost chokes on his food: she’s an actress auditoning for a hilarious part in a play – which is pretty much all about Harry-Erica-Merin-Zoe, just with differently named characters.
When he goes to confront Erica, she seems happy and over him. She tells him the story isn’t exactly the same, until he sees the same scene from the hospital. Aren’t there any differences? There are: in the play, Henry is called Harry. And he dies. And that’s pretty much all Erica changed. She has even used bits of dialogue exchanged between them.
Yep, this is a romantic comedy, Harry is the male protagonist so you can guess he will eventually own up to the fact he’s head over heels with Erica and do something grand to win her back.
How Much Fiction Is Your Fiction, Really?
Many writers believe you need to live interesting and exciting lives to be able to write (well). And I mostly agree. Some of my stories were inspired while I was doing writing-worthy stuff in my life, like staying in gorgeous Santa Barbara for a month, or learning about the true potential of Public Relations from a great teacher.
And while I might not have written a certain event in my life, changed a couple of things and labeled it as fiction, I use a lot of real events in my blog posts. After all, what fun would dating blogging be if we couldn’t dis exes (while keeping names private, obviously) publicly?
In all seriousness, though, where do you, or should you draw the line? Where does your story stop being your own? Is it OK to write a play about your life, without notifiying other parties involved?
And while Harry might have deserved some humiliation, did he really deserve to die in a play about him?
Frankly, I think what Erica did to Julian was much worse than what Harry did to her. She went on a date with him, forgot all about their next date after confirming it, didn’t call to apologize, hooked up with Harry after professing her disdain of him, got back with Julian and ditched him for Harry on her birthday (OK, Julian left her saying she still loved Harry, which was the truth, but still…)So if I were Meyers, I would probably have an alternate ending or an additional scene where Julian wrote a play about Erica and killed her at the end.
When you use things from your life in your writing, where do you draw the line?
For more writer characters, check out my Writer Characters category.
Raspal Seni is a freelance blogger specializing in WordPress and technical computer stuff that a lot of us dread. You can learn more about him through his blog I Write About Blogging where he helps out beginner bloggers.
Having been blogging for over 4 years, I frankly didn’t think I’d be finding more than one or two blunders on my part. I was wrong. I thank my friend Raspal for making such a thorough guide. This is a review of the highly useful e-book.
There’s a chance you are making at least several mistakes yourself, so let’s go over the contents of the book:
1. Comment Form Blunders
From moderation to allowing comments at all, this part covers everything you need to check for a more user-friendly blog. You may not agree with everything, or you might have to commit some of them due to the popularity and/or topic of your blog (such as not allowing comments at all).
I enable comments on my blogs, but despite warnings, some threads might get too heated (and not civil!) and you might be better of disabling comments on certain posts.
However I’m a big believer in community, and interacting with your audience through comments, as well as letting them interact with each other, usually does work wonders for your authority and blog engagement levels.
So make sure you aren’t making any unfortunate mistakes when it comes to your comment form.
2. Security Blunders.
You are probably way too past the need to be reminded to make your password tougher to crack, e.g. not using obvious stuff like your age, birth date, your name, your pet’s name…etc. But what about changing the username from admin?
I tried to change my username from admin, and it got so complicated that I had to quit. But with Raspal’s method, it’s no hassle, and your WordPress blog you worked so much for is more secure. Isn’t it fun making hackers’ lives more difficult for a change?
3. WordPress Plugin Blunders.
I love that WordPress comes with so many Plugin options, but this means you need to update them regularly (for security reasons, and for the plugins to work properly with your constantly updated versions of WordPress.)
But there’s more upkeep you need to do, such as getting rid of useless plugins, testing new ones, avoiding certain ones and more. Raspal covers them all in 9 different subsections.
4. Image Blunders.
At this point, even the newest bloggers know they need pictures. And many know they need good pictures. The problem is, quality pictures can take up a lot of space, leading to slow uploading of your site. You might also get in trouble if you’re not crediting them properly, or using pictures you aren’t allowed to use.
From formatting to attribution, from keywords to resizing, he goes over everything you need to know and do when it comes to using images on your blog.
This part has 15 subsections.
All in all, The 50 Beginner Blog Blunders And How To Avoid Them (affiliate link) is a highly practical e-book you need to have if you still have doubts and complaints when it comes to your blog uploading speed, security, traffic and more. The book will help you tackle a lot of these issues and improve your blog.
You can follow Raspal on Twitter too!
I’m guessing you aren’t already an established screenwriter with industry connections. Maybe you don’t even live in L.A.
I’m also assuming you wrote and edited that screenplay. Maybe you pitched, and nobody bit. Maybe you entered some contests, and your results didn’t earn you the industry attention you were hoping for.
You also don’t have (m)any screenwriter friends who can offer you solid advice. Or maybe you do, but their style and taste are far too different for you to take advantage of this.
You want professional opinion of someone who knows what they’re talking about, but you can’t decide where to begin.
You aren’t alone. I want detailed feedback on my screenplays, but there are many options out there. Offers and prices vary greatly.
So while there are far more services than I can cover in a single blog post, I’m sharing the ones I’m considering using myself.
Now, ideally, you’d want the most honest, detailed, relevant yet encouraing feedback from someone who you could afford.
None of the links in this article are affiliate links. This article exists to make your (and my) quest on finding the ideal coverage service a little easier.
What’s screenplay coverage/consulting exactly, anyway?
Very, very roughly, it’s an evaluation of your script’s strengths and weaknesses. However the length, depth and contents depend from service provider to service provider.
Of course more details and pages usually mean more money. Some even offer marketing packages. Some offer their industry position (pass/recommend/consider), etc.
Now that we’ve covered that, let’s start with the Blacklist.
I plan to write a separate entry detailing Blacklist and my experience on it.
But for this article, what you need to know is that Blacklist is a popular screenplay hosting-evaluation site where you can host a single script for 25 dollars a month.
You fill in your logline, keywords, genre and a lot of other information, such as your agent (if you have one), how many episodes you are planning (if it’s a TV show, etc…)
Now, you want your screenplay to be highly visible, and for that it needs a high average score of 8 or upwards after being evaluated by at least two of their readers.
Evaluations cost 50 bucks a screenplay, and they are a page-long descriptions of your strengths and weaknesses, budget (low/high/medium) and a logline written by the reader, and some tips on what to improve .
Those lucky souls who get 8 (over a scale of 10) or above are promoted within the site, and a lot of Blackist favorites have been made into movies. You should remember that 8 needs to be the average of all areas, and you’re graded on the plot, premise, characters…..
The problem is, it is pretty difficult to score that high. Even if your story is strong, this is a highly subjective matter. And getting one or two bad scores shouldn’t put you down.
However with two low/average scores and a couple of months of no/little traffic (more on this on the upcoming post), it might be time to spend money elsewhere and take your project(s) down.
Mind you, this isn’t me being pessimistic. The site’s own guidelines suggest this.
Of course there’s a chance that even if your screenplay hasn’t scored high, the keywords you used to describe your projects can help you get found by industry professionals.
I might try Blacklist again for another project of mine, but for the time being I’m adhering to their advice and will suspend my account for the current ones.
Bluecat Screenplay Contest and Screenplay Consulting
I gave some details about this contest in my previous post The Elusive Craft of Writing Better Screenplay Dialogue & Useful Resources to Improve Yours.
The contest sends your written feedback in a month, and after that you are allowed to resubmit (only once) before a certain deadline, should you choose to make the changes requested. So if you’ve entered earlier, $55 will give you a contest entry, and about a page of written analysis. After that you can resubmit for an extra $40 (or more, depending on when you submitted).
I’ve recently received my feedback, and I’m quite happy about it. Sure, there are elements that made me panic a little. For instance, I was told my characters were prone to saying exactly how they felt (as opposed to hiding it, expressing through actions, or saying the opposite…)
And the thing is, I edited very harshly before submitting it to this competition. The script was at its shortest version, and I had cut a total 7 pages of dialogue and description, following Gordy Hoffman’s (and other respected experts’ advice on dialogue).
That said, this was the first review where I felt the reader and I are on the same page when it comes to what the story is about, why my protagonist is acting in a certain way, and who he is, and how the characters are interacting the way they are interacting.
And I’ve gotten so used to killing darlings (do Stephen King’s ears ring every time writers use this phrase of his?), I’m sure I can kill some more on my next editing spree.
The great thing about the Bluecat site is that there’s lots of great tips on all aspects of screenplay writing. The only cost is your time (and attention, obviously).
You can also choose to join workshops or get script consultation by the Gordy Hoffman (Bluecat Founder and Contest Judge). The downside is, if your script has been evaluated by him, it can’t enter the competiton, which is only fair.
Doug Davidson (Four Star Feedback)
Doug is a freelance writer, screenwriter and Nicholls fellow.
He’s affordable, friendly, and open to questions. He also offers a fixed price/service, so you won’t scratch your head for long. He has posted a sample review on his webpage, and I do like his approach and tone.
His rate is $100, and you get several pages of feedback on what works and what doesn’t.
Happy Writers Stage 32
My screenplay got to be a quarterfinalist in the Happy Writers at the last competition (before they merged with stage32).
I also love the network of Stage32 (which is also where I met Doug Davidson).
The great thing about Stage32HappyWriters is that it’s free to join. You can connect with other writers and entertainment professionals, learn from your peers as well as more experienced veterans. Helpful posts are frequently published, and there are lots of informative discussions going on.
There are also labs you can attend for a fee.
The good thing about Stage32HappyWriters’ coverage service is that you have several alternatives to choose from. The readers’ credits have been listed, and you can choose a reader whose work you already admire.
Ashley Scott Meyers is a working screenwriter with IMDB credits to his name, and he runs a very helpful site loaded with screenwriting tips, including writing better, networking and how to sell your screenplay.
In addition to his free e-mail course (5 emails, an email per week upon signing up) on how to sell your screenplay, the site also features a screenwriting library where you can download actual scripts of movies for free, though mostly they aren’t the shooting scripts. Still, it’s a great resource.
Sellingyourscreenplay.com also offers a premium membership where you can join classes.
As for coverage services, you can choose one of the industry specialists (whose resume highlights are listed) on the page to evaluate your script.
Page Awards organizes a yearly TV script/movie screenplay contest. You can choose to get professional feedback before submitting your screenplay to the contest, or you can do it without entering the contest.
They have several packages to choose from. What I like about their packages is that you can even choose to get a marketing package where they write your synopsis, query letter and logline.
They also have a very nifty newsletter that offers tips, links to resources and several calls for the types of screenplays studios/executives/producers are currently looking for.
Page Awards also lists the accomplishments of their previous winners, and that alone usually fires you up, and want to enter.
I entered one feature screenplay and one TV pilot (drama, one-hour) this year. They are a couple of weeks away from announcing their quarter finalists, so please keep your fingers crossed for me.
Scriptapalooza is respected competition for both TV pilots and screenplays. Like many competitions, you can get your judge’s feedback for an additional fee. You can also just enter the competition, or skip the competition all together and order a consultancy service.
David Trottier is the writer of Screenwriter’s Bible, and also called Dr. Format. His website Keep Writing comes with great articles.
He also offers query evaluation, courses and workshops.
His script consultation comes in different packages ( 14 Point analysis, one sheet or synopsis, first 10 pages…..), and the prices vary greatly.
Specscout has a fixed service rate for feature film screenplays (you can’t yet get analysis for TV shows yet.)
Their coverage costs $197, but the price includes the detailed evaluations of 3 professional reader. And should you score a 70 over 100 and higher, you can list your script on the site for free, and forever.
You can also see what scripts have sold, and by whom.
Sample evaluations, along with their scores in every area, can be viewed on the site.
Important End Note:
Remember your favorite movies. Remember your friends’ favorite movies. There have likely been arguments on what’s better, and why. One friend might find your adored “masterpiece” mediocre, and you can question your friends’ sanity/logic/taste for loving the movies they do.
Remember the different kinds of movies that have become box office hits and/or award favorites.
Even if you get a very pessimistic review, or get pessimistic after what you read, you should remember the objectivity of it all.
One person’s genius is another person’s what-the-hell.
So keep writing. Keep editing. Keep studying and pitching.
And please share your results and experiences in the comments if you have tried any of these consulting services.
Actor/director/screenwriter Ethan Hawke (Before Sunrise series, Training Day, Dead Poets Society) is quoted to have said dialogue writing is easy; you just have to be honest. While I agree with Hawke that honesty is a must, I don’t necessarily think it makes your job a breeze.
You see, I’m honest to the core when I’m writing a screenplay. I try to keep my characters honest too (as long as they are not delusional, dishonest or just plain evil in nature). And this sometimes causes problems. For instance my dilaogue can be viewed as lacking subtext, and my characters being too precise at expressing themselves.
While I appreciate the importance of subtext, especially when it’s needed to create tension and/or mystery, I’m not a big fan of characters being vague, evasive, or sarcastic just because. Is it wrong to have characters that aren’t afraid of speaking their minds, or characters that are just forthright during their emotional outbursts?
Yes, not all people are like that. But not all people (or great characters) are evasive. I just try to do what works for my story. (It’s not to say upon a reviewing of my script I didn’t make add more subtext, I did.)
But while screenwriting has many, many delightful moments, it also has excruciating ones. I’d love to pick Hawke’s brain on how he made his process so smooth, as I mostly love the writing he does.
And since honesty doesn’t do the trick alone, let’s get some more help on how to write terrific dialogue from the articles below:
Gordy Hoffman, who is a screenwriter/screenwriting consultant and the founder of BlueCat Screenplay Writing competition, offers tips that work not just on a competition level. They also serve as great guidelines to edit/rewrite your entire screenplay.
His tips include getting rid of bad jokes, unnecessary/flowery description, making your script as tight (and as short) as possible, rereading and more.
Gordy Hoffman’s screenwriting credits include Love Liza, an offbeat drama comedy starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.
*Note on BlueCat: BlueCat offers something more than your typical contest: written feedback on every submitted script. And if you get to submit before a certain deadline, you can resubmit your edited screenplay. You need to pay for the resubmission, but it’s still a great way to improve your writing, as well as your chances to win.
You can of course disagree with the comments, and choose not to resubmit.
I’ve entered with a feature drama script, after editing an already edited version. This new version is 7 pages shorter, has more subtext and is much tighter. I’m looking forward to the feedback. We’ll see whether I’ll resubmit afterwards.
Also penned by Gordy Hoffman, this article reminds you that you’re writing a screenplay, and not a novel. If you’ve gotten used to killing your darlings in your writing, it’s good news. Because you’ll be killing more darlings than ever.
It also reminds you of the required balance between dialogue and description. You shouldn’t have too much of either. Of course while some screenplays can be exceptions, yours might not necessarily be one of them.
So basically, be coherent and succinct. Give it your best shot. And don’t forget to read the entire article.
A judge of the BlueCat contest offers tips that will be useful for getting better contest results. But applying these will make your script more marketable.
Yes, it warns you against typos and grammar mistakes, and doesn’t diverge from Hoffman’s views on dialogue and description. But it also offers some great guidelines when it comes to exposition, using your imagination and more.
How To Write Screenplay Dialogue by Rob Tobin
Rob Tobin is a script reader, doctor and exec who has gone over thousands of scripts.
I love this article because he believes great dialogue writing is a skill that can be learned and improved. He makes his case through a movie that won the Oscar for Best Screenwriting in 1998: Good Will Hunting.
Written by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and directed by Gus Van Sant, Good Will Hunting is a delightful movie experience by itself. However, it is, as pointed out, a great screenplay to study as well.
The characters and their lines are often nothing short of brilliant. And the clip of the scene, most mentioned for masterful dialogue, is available on YouTube.
That scene is one of the most memorable scenes in the movie as the trouble-prone Will (Matt Damon) saves his best friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck) from humiliation, and potential jail time (as Chuckie would have proceeded to kick the pampered ass of the meddling Harvard student) just with his self-read and self-earned wisdom and education. This scores him the phone number of one of the girls Chuckie was trying to impress, the satisfaction of having shoved to one obnoxious character (we also cherish the feeling as the audience), as well as showing an interesting irony: Will can’t get out of trouble himself. Let’s be frank, we often crank out some wise advice, while we can’t or don’t follow it ourselves.
As Tobin suggests, it is crucial to know your characters very well. I’ll leave you with this great quote from the article:
“So you want brilliant dialogue? Make it the only dialogue your character can possibly say given who he or she is, where he or she is, and to whom he or she is saying it.”
Some things in life are just amazing and should be experienced, such as:
– A rocking stadium concert by an artist you adore (and by that I mean you know pretty much all the songs), where you are ideally close enough to the stage so you don’t just watch things from the big screens.
– Writing at least one story where you pour out your soul. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction is irrelevant. And since you are a writer, chances are, there’ll be tens of stroy ideas where can you share bits of your soul. Don’t hold it in;)
– Dancing to one of your favorite songs without caring about anyone or anything else.
– Finding your favorite spot/city/country.
And probably the most important one for us writers:
– Making a living writing about a topic you truly enjoy. And most of us love traveling. We just happen to run out of money or time to do it as often as we’d like.
What if we could make enough money travel writing? Whether it’s from your own travel blog(s), writing for others or a combination of these, you can start your travel writing career. But if you feel stuck, or not quite sure where to start, I’ve just the resource for you.
Travel writing is easy – if you are writing for yourself.
It’s writing with the right voice, for the right audience and with the right structure that’s hard. Finding ideas and the right markets for them can be challenging, just like any other writing market.
Finding unique slants can be even more difficult in this niche. After all, it has existed for a long time, and pretty much everything has been covered. Luckily, no one covers anything like you. It does help, however, when you can take advantage of a savvier writer. It makes the climb to success less daunting, and a lot more fun.
One of those savvier writers is the lovely Kirsty Stuart, and the recommended resource is her e-book How to Start a Travel Blog and Make Money. This e-book comes with 69 pages featuring:
- practical tips and experiences from other expert travel bloggers,
- Kirsty’s own story,
- how to start and run your travel blog (including which pages you should have and what information each page should contain),
- examples of thriving travel blogs,
- how to find ideas,
- how to find an audience,
- how to manage and deploy social media for your travel blog,
- earning money with information products (including tips on how to market them),
- earning money with affiliate marketing,
- sponsored posts and paid trips,
- advertising on your blog (along with pros and cons),
- how to pitch to publications and other clients,
- list of some travel writing markets,
- earning from blogging for others (as well as additional services you can offer),
- writing an awesome travel post,
- finding work when you need to,
- inspirational quotes,
- tips to kill your fears and feel encouraged.
Why I loved the book (besides the awesome content, of course):
- it’s great for anyone who wants to write full-time about a topic they love, not just travel. The tips can be applied to any niche, but it is a lot more specific if you are interested in travel writing and blogging since she provides so many relevant tips, resources and first-hand experiences.
- the lifestyle mentioned, and how she came to choose travel writing, is easy to identify with: she calls it the struggle to adapt after you’ve been traveling a long time. I call it post-Erasmus depression. (or blues, if you are having an easier time.This shall be one of my future travel posts!)
- it’s honest.
- it’s comprehensive. It fills you in about the effort level from the beginning. And you don’t need to be a beginner blogger to take advantage of it.
- it’s fun. I’m big on fun.
- it offers places/ways/markets you can find travel blogging work.
Oh, did I mention the price is £2,99 ? You can check out Kirsty’s site Freelance Writers Online for more useful tips on freelance writing. And you can check out one of her own travel posts: Must-See Temples in Chiang Mai.
She was also kind enough to answer my questions on travel writing.
Kirsty on writing about politically “hot” countries:
“I personally write travel articles for companies like Viator and Flight Centre, and while I’m sure they wouldn’t want me to cover up any truths, their business is promoting travel! They want people to travel – it’s in their best interests – so for clients like this I don’t really write about political instability or anything of that nature. They’re not news sites so it’s not really relevant.”
Kirsty on whether or not great stories have an expiration date (because what if you had a breath-taking experience years ago and you are only writing about it now?):
“I don’t think travel stories have an expiration date, no. Those tremendous experiences and stories need to be told! If there are details that I feel could have changed – the cost of a visa at the land border between Thailand and Cambodia springs to mind – then I’ll just say that. Something like, “It cost $20 USD (at the time of writing)” should cover it. If there’s a good story there, don’t let the passage of time prevent you from telling it.”
Even though some of the first articles I sold in my freelancing career were travel articles, I had somehow gone into a writer’s block-induced hiatus. But after going over the book for the second time, I made a plan, and made my “returning” travel pitch. It’ll hopefully lead to other ideas and acceptances.
Let me know what you think about traveling, traveling writing and the e-book
My agent search has begun. So while I have several posts in progress including (but not limited to):
- Review for extremely helpful and fun guide by Kirsty Stuart for making money travel blogging,
- Review for another terrific resource for bloggers, The Blogger’s Guide to Freelancing by Ali Luke,
- A descriptive piece on steampunk,
- Getting attached to fictional characters (and how sometimes writers need to kill off key characters).
But it’s only relevant and timely that I update you on my agent search, as well as the resources – yep, there’ll be some affiliate links- I’m using during the dreaded query and synopsis-writing phase:
Submitting and Formatting Your Manuscript by Chuck Sambuchino
Written by freelance writer/editor Chuck Sambuchino, this Writer’s Digest book guides you on the process of writing, formatting and querying both fiction and non-fiction. You’ll find invaluable tips on querying, cover letters, manuscript pages; as well as samples for anything you will need to write.
In addition to novel writing and submitting, the book includes sections for non-fiction, memoirs, graphic novels, screenplays and more.
2014 Guide to Agents
After having spent two hours and having only completed a detailed list for a handful of agents, I wanted to have a readily compiled book at hand with tips on the querying process as well:
2014 Guide to Agents includes contact details, agent interviews and their genre preferences, query letters agents liked, percentage of new writers vs. established writers, contracts and more.
Yes, I couldn’t recommend this book enough. That said, always check the website of the agency in question and combine the information you find in the book and on the site. Agencies tend to update their needs, so make sure you do your homework well.
For instance, while some agencies preference for romance is not mentioned in the book, you might find they’re especially after romance these days. Yeah, I’m speaking from experienceJ
AgentQuery, by their definition, is an online database of literary agents.
Agent Query is more than just a database, however. It includes information on the industry, including genre descriptions, reasons for needing an agent, other resources for writers and more.
QueryTracker, by their definition, is a free database of agents and publishers. It’s free to register, and you can use it to track your own queries, hence the appropriateness of the name. The site has been repeatedly named as one of the best sites for writers by Writer’s Digest.
Literary Agent Janet Reid runs the essential query critique blog Query Shark where she analyzes real queries on what works and what doesn’t. Read her submission guidelines (and the rich well of previously critiqued queries) before querying yourself. There’s a chance she already corrected your mistakes and evaluated your strengths and weaknesses on somebody else’s query.
Writer’s Digest Posts on Agents
Just keep clicking on the related links you come across while reading these. There’s a ton, and it would take me months to generate a complete list here. I’ve, however, selected a few to get you started:
This is a very insightful and practical resource on all aspects of writing in general.
But when you are looking for an agent, there are some questions you’d like answered to do a better job, including:
– What does an agent want to see when they google you?
– What do they want or hate in a query letter?
– Is it OK to query multiple agents at the same agency?
– How many queries without answers should be a warning sign for you to improve that query?
(*Please note that some of these have been excerpted from the 2014 Guide to Literary Agents, the book recommended earlier in this post.)
Frankly, I was a fan of The Write Life before. But these posts above turned me into an addict.:)
Of course it’s a good idea not to only apply these tips, but take notes of the names of agents that offered them as well. They might be amongst the people you’ll be submitting your work to after all.
Agents information are generally featured on the websites of the literary agencies they work for. However they tend to offer even more about what they want through interviews, tweets and blogs.
So learn what you can about each agent’s preferences before you send that query letter.
Currently, I’m absorbing and deploying these resources. Please add what you use in the comments.J
And good luck to everyone, whether you need it for inspiration, submission or just selling more.:)