Must-Read Monday: Another Screenwriting Gem For Writers

Typically, I reserve Must-Read Monday for fiction and non-writing related books. However, I'm making an exception today because this one is so darn good.

If you've followed me for a while, you know I'm a big fan of writing craft books. And in particular, I'm in love with books on screenwriting because I find that those techniques have clicked with my pantser brain more than anything else. I'm practically religious about Save the Cat. So anytime, I pick up a new screenwriting book, I'm hopeful, but usually am not expecting to find anything as helpful as Cat.

Well, weekend before last, I attended DFW Con both to teach and go to classes. And one of the classes I attended was Screenwriting for Writers by Lou Anders. It was definitely the most helpful class I attended all weekend. And one of the books the presentation was based on was My Story Can Beat Up Your Story by Jeffrey Alan Schechter.

I came home and immediately ordered the book and gobbled it up in a few days. It's one of those books that has so many great nuggets of information that I feel like I can't hold it all in my head at once. I'm now going back through it and making notes and worksheets from the information so that I can add it to my pre-writing routine. (This is the point where I delude myself into thinking I'll one day be able to plot before I write the book.) But whether you're a pantser like me or a seasoned plotter, I think this book has a lot to offer. And reviews seem to back me up. Out of 55 reviews, 51 are 5-stars and 4 are 4-stars. That's impressive.

AND it's on Kindle right now for a mere $3.03 (for some reason, it's not available in Nook - boo). I bought it in print because I prefer my craft books in paper so that I can flip through and reference easily, so that's a bit pricier at $15.45 but still well worth it.

And if you want to read about my other must-have writing craft books, I list my faves here.

Has anyone else read this one? Anyone else a sucker for a good screenwriting book? What's your favorite book on craft?


What Will Make An Agent Gong Your Pages

Photo by marnanel (click pic for link)This past weekend I attended the DFW Writer's Conference. And one of the most entertaining sessions of that conference is the Gong show. They did it last year and I wrote a post on it here. So I thought I'd do the same thing again since I think it's a really helpful exercise.

So basically this gong show consists of a panel of agents who sit at a table in front of the audience. They are each given their own personal gong to hit. Then either queries or first pages are read by a moderator. Everything is anonymous. And the agents hit the gong at the point they would stop reading. Once three agents have gonged, they give their explanation as to why they would've stopped reading.

I imagine this is pretty painful for those writers who volunteered their pages, but it's a fantastic learning experience. And it makes me realize that even over the past year, my own internal editor has gotten more refined because most of the time, I mentally "gonged" for the same reasons the agents did.

So what were some of the mistakes that got gonged?

In queries...

1. Starting with a question - Have you wondered what the world would be like if...

This is an old one (and was on last year's list), but apparently people are still doing it. One agent said that if you start with a question, 99% of the time, the answer is going to be 'no.' 


2. Not giving the meat of the story - And he transforms into something no one expected...

You don't have to give away the ending, but if you're hiding the twist or the really interesting part because you don't want to "spoil" it, you're hurting yourself. If you don't hook the agent in that query, they're not going to ever get to those pages you want to surprise them with.


3. In YA, sounding like an adult trying to speak teen (or sounding patronizing).


4. Complaining about what is already out there. There is a void of really meaningful vampire stories out there, my story will change that...

This starts you off with a negative and makes you seem pompous. Don't tell them what you think is wrong with your genre. Just show them why your book is worth reading.


5. Using vague language or meaningless words. A story of love and betrayal, deep inner turmoil, and forgiveness...

What is your story about? Give the nitty gritty not all these vague themes.


6. Going on for too long and not getting to the point.

They want short and sweet. Give the main driving story of the novel and get out. You don't need to go into every subplot and every character.


7. Wasting words

One agent was particularly sensitive to things like, "I am writing you in hopes that you will consider..." All those extra words and stating the obvious made him think you may not write tight.


8. Zombies

Zombies were this year's "vampires". Not all the agents gonged them, but there was a definite aversion from some.


9. In YA, the guy/girl moving to a new school or the guy/girl discovering they have a power they never knew they had.

These are getting clichéd in YA.


On the opening page...

1. Not grounding the reader

For instance, starting with dialogue but we get no sense of where the people are or what's around them.


2. Starting with someone being chased through the woods, waking up, dreaming...

All these are cliché and will get you an immediate no from most of the agents present.


3. Using clichéd language.

Your writing needs to sound fresh. It's easy to slip into cliches because they are the first things that come to our mind. I seriously recommend checking out Margie Lawson's lecture packets about fresh writing. It will scare you off clichés forever and make you want to work harder.


4. Showing too much of your research.

This is like your slip showing. If you have to do research for a novel, you don't have to show the reader all of it. Leave some things tucked under your skirt. Only give the reader what they need and move on. Historical authors are particularly prone to this.


5. Not getting to a hooky moment fast enough. 

This was the most common reason. They want conflict and action on the first page. It was okay to set up something in the first or second paragraph, but then they wanted to see the reason why they were supposed to be reading this story. Dumping in a bunch of character descriptions or yammering on about setting got old quickly. What is interesting on that first page?


There were more, but these are the ones that jumped out and got mentioned more than once. (Thanks to the brave souls who volunteered their queries and pages so that everyone else could learn.)

So what do you think? Any of these surprise you? Do you think you've fallen into any of these traps?

From Terrified to Teaching: My Writer's Con Journey

Apparently, I'm a hand talkerThis weekend I had the privilege of attending the DFW Writer's Conference. It's a fabulous con and one of the biggest in the area, so if you ever have a chance to come, I suggest you do. 

Three years ago DFW Con was the very first writer's conference I ever attended. I was a brand spanking new writer. I had just finished my first manuscript (the YA that now has permanent residence in the depths of my hard drive) and I was ready to absorb every ounce of information I could.

And I was freaking terrified. 

I'm an introvert and was still coming to terms with calling myself a "writer" out loud. So walking into a room with hundreds of people, some who REALLY knew what they were doing and were already published, was one of the most intimidating situations I'd ever been in. So I went into recluse mode, sitting at a table, simultaneously hoping someone would talk to me and worrying about what I would say if they did.

And of course, I quickly discovered that though we're often the "quiet ones", writers are some of the friendliest people out there. Plus, get us talking about books or writing and we don't shut up. So I ended up managing a few conversations and met some other people. Apparently, I wasn't going to be allowed to survive in "just go to the classes and not socialize mode". :)

I also remember being completely in awe of the published authors and the people teaching the classes. I was too nervous to talk to them. I mean--hell, they had actual books in actual stores. But I sat there like a sponge, absorbing all the fabulous info (and realizing--oh crap, I have done a lot wrong with my book, lol.)

I left that conference completely overwhelmed and totally inspired. (And it turned me into a total confernce junkie.)

So fast forward to this year and I found myself at DFW Con for the third time. But this time, instead of being the girl who was afraid to talk to a published author, I was a published author. And instead of the shy girl who was freaked out by a crowd, I was the one in front of all those people, teaching. (And enjoying it--imagine that, lol.)

Total outer body experience. 

I know I'm still at the beginning of my publishing journey, but having that kind of full circle moment was pretty amazing. 

So thank you to DFW Con for inspiring me three years ago and making me feel welcome. And thank you for inviting me this year to teach a few classes.

And most of all, thank you to every writer who came to my classes, asked great questions, and made this shy girl feel at ease in front of a group. You rock. :)

(Oh, and for those of you who bought my book: *tackle hug*)

Have you ever had a full circle moment? Have you ever been the shy guy/girl at a conference? What was your first writer's conference experience like?