Sunday, September 20, 2009

Learning from the Best

Today I finally had a moment to sit down and watch Cinema Paradiso directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. My sweet brother, Dino, sent me a DVD of this magnificent film that won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1990. Dino thought it would be a good example of, not only an excellent screenplay, but of one that revolved around flashbacks. Since the screenplay I am writing also involves flashbacks, it was interesting to note, as Dino insists, the audience can "fill things don't have to explain everything." I am beginning to understand that, similar to good literature, screenwriting helps the audience see what is happening without having to explain every scene. You can explain with a sound, or a shadow, or a color.

As much as I enjoyed the movie, I am frustrated (again) that tomorrow is Monday, which means a week of regular work - a week of not being able to concentrate on my screenplay. I do have time to ponder Cinema Paradiso, however, and that will be good. I need to take it in, digest it, and contemplate how I can effect the same emotions in my audience.

Thanks for the gift, Dino. You're the best!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Inciting Incident

August 27, 2009

Today I am studying inciting incident. When I developed my beat sheet, my co-author, Dino, offered some advice. "You need to define your inciting incident more clearly." This presents a challenge because I haven't yet decided WHICH inciting incident is THE inciting incident. My screenplay involves flashbacks, so does the inciting incident come from a present experience of my search to recall my past...or is the inciting incident that event that happened in the past that brought me to the place I am now? Now I'm really confused. Let's take a look at the definition of an inciting incident.

On, Peter Reeves suggests...

"The inciting incident is the moment or plot point in a script that kicks the story into motion. It occurs after the set up or exposition and everything that follows the inciting incident should be a result of the inciting incident. It is where a story really begins. It is that moment in the script where the protagonist’s world is turned upside down and he/she must then set about resolving the change in circumstances that the incident has brought about. It is generally a clear and defined moment that is easily identifiable."

I am faced with deciding if I can pull off an inciting incident in a past event (flashback) but still focus on the present search as the "action" of the play. I have some work to do. Today I will discover the inciting incident and continue redefining my beat sheet. I have 3 hours before the kids come home from school.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Are there really only 24 hours in a day?

August 25, 2009

Soon after I posted my last blog I completed the first chapter in The Grapes of Wrath. I was so proud of myself. Although it is probably the shortest chapter in the book, I had finished a chapter! That was also when I decided to go online and order a CD of the book so that I could listen to it in the car rather than reading the book. The car seems to be the only place where I have uninterrupted time. Some good friends commented on that blog and encouraged me to keep going (or choose a shorter book - good thinking, Susan!). Thanks, everyone! Now, several days later, the book is still in the same place on the couch because my "real" job takes up way more than 8 hours a day and I haven't had time to get back to Steinbeck. The CD has several holds before my name comes up, so I will keep plugging along, on my days off. There's also waterpolo practice, a sick child (boo-hoo, Analisse), the "other" part-time job, laundry, dinner (thanks, Mark)...Who decided on a 24-hour day anyway?

In the meantime, to those of you who are following my blog, pass it along. Anyone who has written a screenplay will certainly be welcome advice.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

To Read or Not to Read

August 22, 2009

Last night I set out to start reading The Grapes of Wrath. Instead, I continued writing a photo book I started after our vacation. Realizing my children had never heard the story of my childhood, I decided to create the story using photographs from our trip. The trip, which involved returning to the place of my childhood, was the impetus for writing my story in a Shutterfly photo book, just for my children. That was about six months ago. My current venture of writing a screenplay is the "offspring" of the original photo book. Looking back, the photo book was the outline. I am still waiting to see if library volunteers can locate the archived newspaper article that relayed the story of my abduction; I'm almost sure my mother showed me a newspaper article many years ago. Once I have that, the photo book will be complete and that will be my first "published" piece.

Six-hundred nineteen. 619. 619. 619. I laugh. I've just picked up Steinbeck's novel and the first thing I do is flip to the last page to see how many pages I need to read. Page 619 is only a third of a page long. That's good. It starts on page 3, so I feel like I'm already 2 pages ahead. But then there's the introduction - it's 38 pages if I exclude the Suggestions for Further Reading. Maybe I should skip the intro. I begin on page 3. The entire first page is descriptive, what teachers call "showing" writing. Good. I know about that. Steinback has painted a picture for the reader. Even if I'm unfamiliar with Oklahoma's countryside, I SEE it. I feel that I can touch the fertile earth. I love the picture of "gophers and ant lions (starting) small avalanches." I giggle and think about all of the avalanches in my backyard. The smell of the fields pierces my nose. I tune into the sounds of nature. The first "was" I encounter is in the third line from the bottom. That's always been one of my teaching points..."Don't use was." I'll remember that. I turn the page and continue reading.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Emulate a Great

August 21, 2009

I have never read an entire book. I know that sounds incredible, especially coming from a teacher, but it's almost true. If I exclude children's novels, which I could count on one hand, and one short book, The Bridges of Madison County (I realize that should be capitalized, but I can only italicize, not capitalize in this blog) it is a true statement. Having said that, I find writing easy. I don't know why since one would expect that good writers learn to be so from reading good literature. So then I begin to question, "Am I really a good writer?" Perhaps I should start reading something good. After all, this adventure is all about learning. I should learn from a master. I peruse my double sided, 5-shelf bookcase filled with children's literature. The books are all alphabetized (I'm a bit compulsive that way) - everything from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to Z Goes Home. I've always taught elementary school or parents of preschoolers, so the selection is limited to mostly preschool through third grade books. I keep looking. I spy my sons' high school literature books on top of the bookshelf. They are dusty and the pages are well worn (my children all read (that's present tense) voraciously). Wow! They're thick. That is what always deterred me in the past. I'd read a few pages and boom, I'd be asleep. It has always been too overwhelming when I see that many pages. I remember when I was in school the first thing I'd do when I was assigned a book to read - count the pages. Then I'd try and figure out how many pages I'd have to read in a day to finish the book in time. I never made it...not once! I keep dusting the shelf.

Ah-ha!!! There it is...
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Wonderful. I read the back cover. Yes, I remember it, sort of. I remember I didn't finish it. It's still as thick as it was in high school; maybe even thicker. The print is small. I begin to read the back cover, then the introduction by Robert DeMott. Maybe I should skip the intro since it wasn't written by Steinbeck. No, I should start there. Immediately, I'm captured. He begins with a quote from Steinbeck's personal journal written more than 3 weeks after starting The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck writes,

"If I could do this book properly it would be one of the really fine books and a truly American book. But I am assailed with my own ignorance and inability. I'll just have to work from a background of these. Honesty. If I can keep an honesty it is all I can expect of my poor brain...If I can do that it will be all my lack of genius can produce. For no one else knows my lack of ability the way I do. I am pushing against it all the time."

Excellent! Even John Steinbeck questioned his ability. Now, I'm sure I'm no Steinbeck, but honesty - that I have. The book/screenplay I'm writing, after all, is MY story, my TRUE story. No one knows it better than I do. And a poor brain - I have that, too. I begin a sentence and forget where I was headed. I have a thought and as I'm writing it, it disappears. Interestingly, however, the story I'm writing is not something I've always remembered. Growing up, I don't recall telling many people about my past. It didn't define who I was or who I was becoming. It merely was. It is only in traveling to the site where my story takes place and meeting the people that knew me then that I begin to remember. The puzzle pieces begin to fit. I'm consoled by the fact that Steinbeck questioned his ability to write. I laugh. I look at the thick book sitting next to me on the desk and sigh. The house is quiet. I'll begin reading it tonight...right after I e-mail my kids to read mom's confession herein. Look, kids, you've taught mom a lesson about reading and finishing what I start. Thanks, children!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Screenwriter or Novelist...or Both?

August 20, 2009

I anticipated today, my day off, so that I could continue writing. Instead, I busied myself with menial chores - laundry, baking, pulling weeds. I was thinking about my beat sheet all day, however, and am still puzzled as to how to maintain only 15 beats. I think what I have written thus far is more of an outline than a beat sheet. I need to rethink the beat sheet. The outline will serve me later. For now, I will read more sample beat sheets to try and get a feel for how they are written so succinctly.

Another thought occurred to me today, too. Why am I writing a screenplay rather than a novel? Most screenplays are developed from novels, aren't they? So why don't I write a novel first? Hmmm? That seems to be much more difficult to me. Although a good novel helps the reader "see" the action, a film actually portrays that action. Maybe it's because I lived this story that I want it portrayed in film exactly as I remember it. A book, after all, requires the reader to paint the picture of the scene, the characters, and the setting. I may not be a good enough writer to do that. In writing a screenplay, it may be easier to control these factors. In my head, for example, I've already chosen someone to play the part of my mother (Drea). So maybe that is why I'm drawn to writing a screenplay. I wonder if anyone has ever written a screenplay AND a novel at the same time...?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Introduction to beat sheet

August 17, 2009

My brother, Dino, suggests I complete a beat sheet as a beginning step. Of course, I have no idea what a beat sheet is, so he explains that a beat sheet is used by screenwriters to outline the major dramatic moments, or beats, in a screenplay. OK, I can do that. 16 beats - beginning, middle, and end. I'm a school teacher and that's how I teach the writing process. Same thing, right? Well, not exactly.

I plan and write my beat sheet. About half way through, however, I realize I've forgotten an important thing Dino had told me. You must limit each beat to one sentence. Hmmm...I am already on page 6 and each beat is paragraphs long. Oops. I am adding way too much detail, even dialogue and camera angles, scared that I might forget a really good thought if I don't add it. My film involves flashbacks. How do I write a one sentence beat that shows two separate events?

I keep writing. Pretty soon, I have a lot of pages of pretty good stuff. I have a solid beginning and a solid ending. There is a lot of middle. I'm worried that there is too much back and forth - flashback, flash forward, flashback, flash forward. Will the audience get lost? Dino says the audience is intelligent; you must give the audience credit for its ability to fill in the gaps that are unspoken.
Although I realize I'm not following the "rules" of beat sheet writing, I continue to write long paragraphs for each beat because I want to include everything that's in my head today. I finish. Good job! I sleep like a baby because my head is cleared.

Today, I reread the "skeleton" of my screenplay and I'm proud of myself. I take a look at by Nicholas Jarecki, which is a collection of beat sheets from screenfilms. Ah, I'm starting to understand
the one sentence thing. Dino's going to send me examples, too. Thanks, little bro! And thanks to my friends who have been encouraging me - Susan, Katie, Debbie St., Debbie B-G, Angela, and Michele. I'll see you on the red carpet, baby.