ConQnA #2 features Lynnie Purcell! Lynnie and I know each other from being Just About Write TV recap staff buddies. We’ve chatted about screenwriting a few times and Lynnie was just always super encouraging! Lynnie lives in LA, pursuing her writing, and has written a few books, one of which is available for FREE online right now! Visit her website, check out her Just About Write reviews, and follow her on Twitter!
I’ve realized over the last year that I’ve gained quite a few screenwriting friends.
Whether just becoming interested or been writing scripts for a few years, I have quite a few friends who at least know what Final Draft is and intend to use it soon. Because of this, because I’d love to have a solid reason for more content on my blog, and because it’s always good to hear about people’s writing journeys, I’m starting a ConQnA series! (I’m a little on how Con worked its way in there…)
Basically, I will interview my friends (and whoever else wants to jump in — email me below) and post their responses here.
I think it will be good to explore what inspired others to become TV writers — and screenwriters and playwrights, because I don’t discriminate against medium (except reality. I middle-key discriminate against reality TV folk). Also, in this #OscarsSoWhite era, it is important to me to highlight my friends of color who want to write for TV and Film (and Theater). Our voices need to be heard as much as possible. The early stages of writing a project is often a great place to begin your diversity and inclusion — by the time it gets to the screen/stage, it feels more authentic.
Next week, I will be uploading these interviews. I’m excited! I’ve already gotten a couple and it makes me so happy that these friends of mine want to support this project of mine. I’m also proud of myself that I finally took the initiative to ask them to do it — something that’s not always easy for me as an introvert and a procrastinator. I’ve made great strides in starting projects in 2016 — which I hope continues (and becomes a lucrative adventure).
If you’d like to be apart of this series, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include ConQnA in your subject so I know what it’s in regards to.
First ConQnA Post next Tuesday! Then weekly after that for as long as I have interviews to post.
Banner stock photo from RekitaNicole.com. Shout out Black-owned stock photo sites!
I’ve been on hiatus (not really on purpose, just life and work getting in the way), but sometimes I still collect links for ConStar Clicks and then never post them because I either have too few or no time. Here are some links I’ve accumulated during this sorta hiatus. More Clicks coming soon (for real, there’s already a draft for next week’s!).
Search for a story that is meaningful to you, and excavate the depths of your imagination — what have you dreamed about writing, what do you wish you could watch? It doesn’t have to be a pilot, even. Is there an indie movie idea you’re dying to get out?
Basically, write what you want to write, no matter how wacky or unconventional, because agents will see the potential of it and it could get you work. Definitely something I needed to hear. Lesson of the day: Write it anyway.
Two articles on TV Staffing season (which has passed for this year, but is always useful for next spring!)
I’ve applied to three writing fellowships this year (!!). As notification season quickly approaches, this article was a very helpful read. Cross your fingers for me guys!
- 10 Things I Have Learned on My Way Into Two TV Writing Fellowships [Scripts and Scribes]
Award season is here and after last Sunday’s Golden Globes and this week’s Oscar nominations, a lot of the articles going around have to do with the severe lack of diversity in Hollywood. Here are just a few (from before Oscar noms were announced — they didn’t change the conversation much anyway) articles on the diversity deficit.
♠ This USA Today article talks a lot about the lack of diversity in Into the Woods and other fictional pieces, but also delves into the excuses made when diverse actors aren’t considered for roles and how even with a PoC director on a film or showrunner on a TV show, it’s still hard to achieve the diversity needed to match the actual demographics of this country.
♠ Here’s an interview with Selma cinematographer Bradford Young in the Huffington Post on how the lack of diversity in the industry spreads beyond even the top roles we normally think about, the above the line players (actors, producers, directors, etc). Here he points out that the lack of diversity exists below the line too — he’s speaking primarily as a cinematographer, but it counts for editing and sound design and costumes and all the rest of the crew. Most of the Selma crew was not people of color. Hollywood sets and Hollywood Academy voters, neither represent the diversity of America.
♠But it’s not all bleak, the Golden Globes honored my most recent fave Gina Rodriguez with a best actress in a comedy win — I literally screamed when they said her name. Her speech was amazing (see top photo and the one below for quotes).
If only other people in power were more like those at CBS/CW and Jane showrunner Jennie Urman who took a chance on Jane. See what it gets you? A new hit show and award nominations! The CW is on the map now, all because they went with a person of color. Others networks could benefit from the same choice.
♠ Shameless self promotion of the week: After the Globes, I felt my post on New Emmy Categories was especially relevant. Let’s be honest, there were some weird category combinations — shows like Jane the Virgin, Orange is the New Black, and Transparent all in the comedy category? Jane is pretty funny, OITNB has some humor, but I’ve never, ever gotten the impression that Transparent was a comedy/musical. (Chelsea Peretti tweeted something about how even comedy and musical aren’t even similar — though it was in true Chelsea Peretti fashion) Ads always lean towards serious. And these shows submit for comedy categories because the drama categories are over-saturated and straight comedies have no room! All of this would be resolved with a Dramedy category. More shows get more recognition. No? We don’t want that?
♠ I love this article on Hitfix on how it’s a Golden Era for geeky TV shows because I watch a lot of these shows. As I explained last week when I talked about the “mid-reputable” TV shows article, a lot of the shows I watch tend to be sci-fi/fantasy/mystery (most of whom are never Emmy/Golden Globe contenders), so it’s great that there are more and more “mid-reputable” shows that happen to be SFF/mystery on network television. If I have to deal with a continuing lack of diversity, at least part of my geek soul is being fulfilled.
♠ In that same vein, here’s an article in Ad Week about The Flash and the other DC Comics shows on The CW (and mentions of Supergirl coming to CBS) and the way they are bringing life to television. The article goes through a bit of Marvel vs DC in terms of their known strengths: Marvel excels at movies, while DC excels at TV. This, to me, has always been true. I don’t know a lot about the comics themselves, but each creator has shown their live-action/animated strengths known since the 90s. Marvel had massive success with the Blade movies, the Spiderman movies, even the X-Men movies even before the current MCU revitalized the superhero blockbuster. In the TV-verse, DC was always better: besides the X-Men cartoon series, Marvel didn’t really have any standout cartoons in the 90s; compare to the different Batman and the Justice League cartoons and their incarnations. In live-action, I was always partial to Lois and Clark, the New Adventures of Superman, whose 90s cheese was absolutely perfect the era. And of course there was Smallville. It’s great that each company, Marvel and DC, are succeeding somewhere specifically. It just means everyone has somewhere to go to get their superhero fix.
And for a random take away from that same article: “Under Time Warner, DC is tied to a broadcaster (the CW), cable networks (Adult Swim, Cartoon, TBS, TNT) and, of course, the movie studio.” Just a random fact for when thinking of your favorite DC comics and what networks you could match them with (don’t forget CBS, as they own The CW). Remember, of course, that Marvel is owned by Disney, so when mentally pitching Marvel TV shows, stick to Disney owned nets (though now there’s Netflix getting in on the Marvel game).
♠ Finally, how do I combine the two main themes above, diversity and geekdom? Easy, with this article by Daniel Jose Older in The Guardian on the lack of people of color in fantasy fiction. “And while “urban” has become publishing industry code for books by and for black people, throw the word fantasy on the end and suddenly the characters and authors are very white.” The work of achieving diversity is still being labored at in all media.
Oof, these Clicks are long. Should they be shorter?
I don’t really do New Years Resolutions, but I’d love to finish something I write this year. My first challenge? Finishing a spec script. Tis the season for TV writing fellowship submission deadlines and I think I am going to take a crack at actually submitting something. So, right now, I am working on a spec script for the show Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
I’ve worked on a few specs before. I wrote a Castle spec a few years ago that got completed, but wasn’t good story wise and was way too short. I wrote a Parks and Rec spec that, upon reread, felt authentic to the show and actually had some jokes (!) but was missing a third act resolution and pieces of a plot point were done by the show itself after I’d stopped working on it. And earlier last year, I tried my hand at a Scandal spec. It seemed to be going well while writing it during a show hiatus, but once the show returned, a lot of little points I’d thought of were used on the show and plots/relationships/etc were more and more invalidated each new episode. I’ve also written a few short teaser-type scenes for a sit-com pilot and the first few pages of a drama pilot. Again, nothing I’ve completed.
Even though each script has gone unfinished or left something to be desired, I’ve felt stronger and stronger about my writing after each attempt. But it is time to finally finish something. The point of writing fellowships is to hone your craft, so hopefully, should I finish something and submit it, it is more about the potential within my script rather than how brilliant it actually is, but as with most writers, you want it to be brilliant from the get go.
I mostly write this so I am putting it out there. Connie should be working on her spec script. I’ve got an A story (recently developed, but I finally feel good about the direction it’s going), a nemesis for the main character (though I’m still working out obstacles), an emotional trajectory, a B-story involving Terry, Rosa, and Gina, and a vague idea for a C-story that maybe should tie into the A-story?
What I’ve noticed is that I am paralyzed by choice when it comes to writing fiction. There are so many paths a character could take, so many ways a character could be, which determines where the story goes. What if I choose wrong? If I pick between two ideas and one isn’t working, does that mean the other is better? Or should I break my brain trying to make idea number one work? I spend a lot of time stuck at the fork in the road and when I pick one, I keep wondering what’s down the other path. It’s definitely a struggle. And that’s all in the outlining. Once I’ve started, the characters start speaking and want to do different things than what I’ve planned, which affects where the story goes and thus all the little pieces I’ve thought of start to fall apart. Hence why I never finish anything. Even if I stop thinking about the road to the other side of the last fork in the road, a new one comes and I become overwhelmed with choice and the fear of missed moments of awesome. Also, there’s the giving up and the getting distracted, and the chronic procrastination, and ooh books! –ooh, new TV shows! –ooh, other ideas I should write! Typical writer problems.
So my goal for early 2015 is to finish this spec script. I bought an iPad around Christmas and it’s actually been helping me to be really productive. I’ve written about 7 pages of notes in Pages solely on my iPad while rewatching the show and on my commutes to work. And I bought Final Draft for iPad, which I think will be a really good way to write while on the go. So here’s to finishing this spec script. Hopefully the abundance of choice won’t be so paralyzing — I can just use those ideas in a second script. This post is to get my feelings out and for you readers to hold me accountable via comments, or Twitter, or wherever you see me lurking on the internet. Because if I’m on Twitter, I’m not writing. (But don’t take away my internet, research spurns ideas!)
Are any of you working on some works-in-progress that you’d like completed this year?
As a media studies major, one of the first things I learned in my television history class was that it started out as being simply televised plays* EDIT: or televised radio shows. TV scripts are called “teleplays” for a reason. A lot of early series are presented as one-act plays for the small screen, lots of anthology shows, where each episode was a different story. The most famous, perhaps, might be The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, both featuring mysterious, science-fiction, and horror/thriller type stories, but others were more explicit in their titles like Playhouse 90 (90 minute teleplays) and the Philco Television Playhouse. Both media are heavily focused on dialogue and character, with plot being often secondary. This article in The Atlantic on the trend of playwrights also writing for television and vice versa doesn’t talk as much about the history of early television plays as much as I would like, but it’s interesting the way things cycle back around.
♦ It’s been a minor struggle all of my life that the shows that I like don’t get major award recognition. This article over at the AV Club finally talks about this struggle. I watch “mid-reputable” television. I’m usually not interested in the prestige shows. The Mad Mens or the Homelands or the Boardwalk Empires. I gave Breaking Bad a shot, but I wasn’t as into it as everyone else. Recently, The Wire had a marathon on HBO, and I just didn’t feel like starting it. But the shows listed in this article: Sleepy Hollow (once I catch up and the show redeems itself), Jane the Virgin, Arrow, The Flash, etc (all genre shows you’ll notice) are more my jam. I spent my teens loving Charmed and Angel, Chuck, Pushing Daisies, Dollhouse and I still miss 30 Rock and need to find all the waffles to cope with the last season of Parks and Recreation. None of these shows were ever ratings darlings or big award winners. What do these shows get? They’re so often sidelined, “There’s less of a sense that TV buffs have to watch these shows to stay current,” and when they are nominated, it’s rare for them to get recognized a second time (I’m looking at you, Brooklyn Nine-Nine).
“Astute TV watchers may hope that Tatiana Maslany will get nominated for her work on Orphan Black, but they also know—or should, anyway—that it’s a longshot.”
— True, but it hurts, because she’s just as good — better even — than the usual players on the prestige dramas that always get nominated!
I think this line in the article is really important, as it reminds me that while the Emmy’s may not recognize my shows for awards, that it doesn’t really matter. “And if in the end we’re all more excited about a new episode of The Flash than The Affair, maybe that says something about what’s really the best that TV has to offer.” Because while there are plenty of shows that are ratings, awards, and critical hits, I think the middle-ground shows make people happier. You look forward to them more, they often have lighter or funnier storylines. (Isn’t it a wonder that the awards that typically don’t get nominated for Emmy and Golden Globe Awards are often winners of People’s Choice Awards?) And that feeling of joy and excitement to watch your show is more important than how many awards it gets or if the big wigs over at the New Yorker or the Times think it’s “art.”
Shameless plug: Here’s an article I wrote last year about New Emmy categories we need. It basically would get recognition for a lot of midlevel TV shows out there in the Dramedy, Procedural, and Scif-fi/Fantasy genres.
♦ Want to know when your shows are returning or premiering this winter? Here’s a full list thanks to THR. Make sure to input them into your calendars so you don’t miss mid-season premieres! I definitely suggest Agent Carter, which I enjoyed much more than I’ve ever enjoyed Agents of SHIELD.
♦ Finally, as I venture into my first writing project of the year (a post coming on that soon), I probably need an app like this presented by the AV Club, that doesn’t let you use the rest of your computer until you complete the goals you set. It’s easier to get around the time limit (by not writing) than the word count limit. Though I’m sure if I write WRITING IS SO HARD over and over, I’ll hit it in no time. I won’t even copy and paste.
EDIT: Maybe I will go through some old textbooks for more blog fodder…
Check out this awesome comic by Gavin Aung Than on Zen Pencils illustrating Shonda Rhimes’ commencement address to the students at Dartmouth at this year’s graduation. I’d read the address before, but seeing it illustrated was a great reminder to stop dreaming and to start doing. I do a lot of dreaming and reading books on my dreams. I am slowly working on the actual doing, the actual writing, but I find comfort in reading about writing, telling myself that I am learning and that it will benefit my writing in the long run. And this is, of course, true, but I also need to be doing actual writing. Words on paper, Scrivener and Final Draft open for more than a few minutes at a time. They’re open, just not for long enough. So this comic is here to remind me to keep doing, and one day I could have a three-hour block of television created or produced by me.
Izzie: You know what I think George? I think Meredith and Cristina are doers.
George: They do. They’re doers.
Izzie: They do, and we, we watch. We’re watchers. (she sees Alex) We have to become more proactive, George. We have to become doers.
George: Fight for what we want.
Izzie: We have to do.
George: Yeah. (Izzie gets up to find Alex)
George: Oh, you mean… (he stands up) We are starting right now. Okay.
Let’s be doers!
TV is all about dialogue. You have to be more concise and judicial about it, but TV is maybe second to plays (or so I hear) when it comes to the importance of dialogue in the medium. This is a great article to take a look at to look at how your dialogue is being presented in your work, no matter the medium or genre.
The writer for About Last Night, a white writer, was very cool about the cast changes from a traditionally white-cast rom-com, to a black one, but others weren’t so cool about it.
It was like my script was suddenly not as good or less than or just plain not cool because of the casting. Whatever. Those people suck.
I haven’t seen the movie yet, but this is nice to hear. Just because a movie features black actors, doesn’t mean their lives must appear different than if the movie were starring white actors. There are a few cultural differences, but we have the same careers, the same relationship problems, and the same insecurities that everyone of any race has. The last quote was my favorite:
Before Headland even finished the first version of the script she told herself, “Don’t write jokes, Leslye. Write people.”
Also read more: ‘About Last Night’ Writer on Reimagining Movie for a Black Cast [The Hollywood Reporter]
From fellow blogger, Amanda. Basically these things hold us aspiring writers back: thinking you’re all that, whining instead of writing, and thinking our writing will be a reader’s saving grace after a long day of slush.
Keep working at your talent and be realistic about your skills and you just might beat the odds.
Spec Inspiration: How to Raise the Stakes by Challenging a Character’s Identity
Make the character prove his point. Once your character’s identity has been challenged, make him or her prove that the challenge is incorrect.
This idea might help me with my Scandal spec. I’ve been struggling with giving Olivia more to do. She has some role in the major plots of the episode, sure, but a lot of that is easily delegated. I’m struggling with her wanting something, more than “to clear his name” or whatever the case may be. But this helps.
I’ve been trying to find a way to explore Olivia’s relationship with both Fitz and her dad and by using this idea, I can have one refer/label her relationship with the other, then have her rebel against the idea. Haven’t figured out which way yet.
Shonda used this herself, when she had Cyrus question Fitz’ “balls.” Fitz went off and proved himself and went back to Cyrus asking, “How presidential are my balls now, Cy?” The audience loved it, but it also gave Fitz something to do, something to want in that episode. I need to use it with this one.
More spec updates soon! Once I stop distracting myself with other blog thoughts (new blog coming soon lol).
via How to Raise the Stakes by Challenging a Character’s Identity [Read to Write Stories]
Ok. It’s not nearly as bad as that (there’s a vague idea of a plot and characters are interacting blah blah blah), but it’s somewhere in the vicinity. Every time I think I have a handle on my outline, I write to a later scene and everything before comes into question.
Recently I heard the quote that “The first draft is just you telling the story to yourself,” so, in addition to the mentors and teachers telling me to continue to write forward, I’m at the moment resisting every urge to scrap everything I’ve done and just make notes of things that will need to change. That’s the hardest part for me, resisting the urge to start over, but I’m gonna try to just vomit draft this plot and then go back… We’ll see how it goes!
This year, I’m taking my love of TV and desire to write for it a step further. I am currently an intern at the Gotham Writers Workshop here in New York and we get to take a free writing class. I decided, of course, to take their TV Writing class–10 weeks of learning how to write TV. So far, many of the basics have been covered (for students who had no idea what a script looked like/was formatted like, had never written a script before), but I’m sure I’ll learn some new things that I haven’t learned from extensive reading and googling about how to write for TV.
As you may know, when learning about TV writing, you start off by writing a spec script–a script based on an existing TV show– because 1. you’ll need to be in the habit of writing someone else’s story, you don’t all start off with pilots like Shonda Rhimes and 2. because it’s better to learn and mess up on someone else’s work than on your own creative baby. (This does not apply to real babies. It might often be worse to mess up someone else’s kid when you’re babysitting, so this is a very situational piece of advice.)
If you’ve read this blog before, you may be able to guess that I chose Scandal as the show I would spec. It’s a complicated show, but it’s kind of perfect in terms of the factors that decide what kind of specs you should write. They should be 1. Shows that you know and like well, 2. shows past season 1 but not too aged, 3. shows in the genre you’d want to write in. So I’m attempting a Scandal spec. Yikes!
The first rough thing about Scandal, in comparison maybe to other shows, is how many characters there are. Scandal has 10 main characters this season (as in listed in the main credits every week) and several important recurring characters (like Liv’s dad, whose been in every episode this season, yet isn’t a main character). So one of our first assignments was to create character sheets for each other characters. It was so much work because of how many characters there are and how little, in some instances, we’ve gotten about them.
Right now, I’m working on my first 7 pages or so. But in order to figure out what happens in those 7 pages, I wanted to have a better idea of what was happening in the rest of the episode. So I turned to Dan Harmon‘s plot circles, because I think they’re a great structural way to look at episodes and plots. Here’s a link. Then, when googling, someone turned Harmon’s circle into a wave, which really helped me visualize the story and act breaks and rises and falls in momentum.
Here’s a picture of what I’ve got so far.
It’s nice to be able to visualize when act breaks should happen and what should happen in them. Basically, “breaking the story.” It’s tough, but it’s also kinda fun and is further cementing the idea that this is what I would want to do in life. Hopefully my first 7 pages aren’t terrible, according to the instructor. (But if he thinks so, I’ll just ask my fellow Gladiators, you might be able to help me make it even better. My instructor certainly doesn’t watch Scandal.)
Now I just gotta continue breaking the story, adding points to the subplots and think of ways to Olivia more active. Most of my ideas so far have her reacting to other characters, which is fine for their storylines, but she needs to have more agency in the plot, because she’s the main character. So hopefully I can think of more for her to do.
I’ll try to keep you updated! Any ideas, let me know! (Just remember that ideas are not copyrightable, so I wouldn’t get in trouble for stealing them and making boatloads of money off of them. ;-))
Not the dialogue itself, but the pressure that dialogue creates between two characters who can’t get what they need from each other.
Pretty quick article on screenwriting dialogue. Useful thoughts.
“Sometimes I get jealous of white male showrunners when 90 percent of their questions are about characters, story structure, creative inspiration, or, hell, even the business of getting a show on the air. “
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
The quote I referenced a few posts ago in its proper context and properly cited.