writing techniques tagged posts

“The Everything Screenwriting Book” Review

Of all the books out there on screenwriting, this on one not to waste your money on.

Because it was published in 2003, it contains a lot of unavoidable “errors.” For example, author Robert Pollock could not have foreseen the death of the video rental store or the rise of video streaming or social media. We can forgive and ignore these and other things and move on to the more serious problems with the book.

First, it’s easy to wonder why Pollock was hired to write the book in the first place. He has only one screenplay that was turned into a movie to his credit, a generally panned 1981 film called “Loophole...

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Critique Technique Table of Contents

Here’s a Table of Contents of all of the Critique Technique posts to make it easier to go directly to the post you want to read.

Introductory Posts

Part 1: Critique, Technique, and Procedure

Part 2: Series Overview

Reader Response

Part 3: How Do You Feel?

Part 3.5: Authorial Intentions and Tracking Your Own Responses

Beginnings and Endings

Part 5: Weak or Missing Hook

Part 6: The Wrong Beginning

Part 7: Scene and Chapter Endings

Part 8: Story Endings

Characterization

Part 9: Characters and Conflict

Part 10: Poor Characterization

Part 11: Lack of Character Development

Part 12: Showing and Telling in Character Development

Part 13: Timing the Reveal

Part 14: Out-of-Character Behavior

Part 15: Unclear Character Goals

Part 16: Unclear or Insufficient Obstacles

Part 17: Dialect, Foreign Language...

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“The Elements of Grammar for Writers” Review

3-star rating
"The Elements of Grammar for Writers" book cover

This little book is outdated in some ways, yet it has certain charms and retains some value.

Written in 8 BG (“Before Google”)—that is, in 1990, when BG still referred to the Brothers Gibb, personal computers were a new thing, and the internet was mostly a gleam in technologists’ eyes—it’s amusing to see references to hand-written student papers and reminders to make sure you use a new typewriter ribbon when getting a paper ready to turn in.

It was also clearly written primarily for college student writers facing the near-future prospect of having to write papers for employers, not just professors...

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Critique Technique, Part 17: Dialect, Foreign Languages, and Jargon

This is the last post in the series on characterization. Next time we’ll move on to setting.

Confused person
Photo by Jeroen van Oostrom, via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’ve traveled around the country, or watched TV or the movies, or done just about anything other than live under a rock, you know that people speak differently in different places. They have different accents, different slang terms, and different styles of speaking. Compare the laconic Mainer or cowboy to the fast-talking New Yorker. And that’s just in the United States! Canadians, Britons, Scots, Irish, New Zealanders, Australians, and some Indians and Kenyans (to name just a few) speak English, too.

And they all do it differently.

England’s WWII Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill famously described America and ...

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Critique Technique, part 14: Out-of-Character Behavior

Comedy has been defined as “ordinary people in extraordinary situations, or extraordinary people in ordinary situations.” But what if the piece you’re critiquing isn’t comedy—or isn’t meant to be comedy? When a character you’ve come to know suddenly acts in a way that makes you stop, scratch your head, and say “huh?”, maybe there’s a problem.

Maybe. That’s an important word. What does the story’s context tell you about this new behavior? If Alice suddenly starts screaming, which she’s never done before, but it’s because the car she’s riding in just went off a cliff, that’s reasonable...

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Fatigue, A Stalled Book, and Art in the House

Oy veh. What a week the last few weeks have been. Stress levels haven’t been just through the roof, they’ve been somewhere out beyond the orbit of the Moon, so my body’s said, “OK, I’ve had enough of this fun.” Welcome to knock-you-flat-on-your-back fatigue. To quote the lyrics from the ’70’s rock band Spirit, “It’s nature’s way of telling you something’s wrong.” Boy, howdy.

That Stalled Book

I’d like to blame it all on the draft of book #3. Progress has come to a screeching, grinding halt. I shouldn’t be surprised: I knew, even as I was writing the second draft, that there were significant problems. Then my writers’ group found what they found, and my own read-through and analysis found even more.

OK, fine. I’ll interview my characters. That’s a technique that’s helped before...

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Book 3, Starting Draft 2

One of the things writer Anne Lamott is famous for is her advice, “Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft.” To me that’s a kind of liberation theology for writers, but that’s a subject for another time. Today I’m going to continue to pull back the curtain on my writing process, at least as it relates to getting all the scenes in order for the second draft of this book.

So: “Give yourself permission….” Done.

“Write a shitty first draft.” Done.

OK, maybe “shitty” is a relative term, but while my read-through of the first draft got a “not bad” rating, as I wrote last time there were problems with the timeline, that is, the sequence of events in the plot. Timeline is especially critical for this book for two reasons.

  • One, it needs to end at a certain time of year in order to t...
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Critique Technique, Part 8: Story Endings

To quote from Ogden Nash’s puckish poetry accompanying Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, “Now we reach the grand finale / Animale Carnivale….”

The story you’ve been reviewing has reached and passed its climax, its moment of greatest tension and conflict. The good guys have won… or not. The protagonist has survived, achieved whatever she set out to achieve (or maybe something different), or gained some new understanding… or not. Now it’s time for the author to tie everything up in a shiny bow, or leather straps, or bands of steel… or not, so you, the reader feel that satisfying sense of completion… or not.

Or not?

Or not. We’ll get to that shortly.

What Makes a ...

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Revision and Self-Editing for Publication Review

Small 3-star rating on dark blue background

Let’s get this on the table right now: Jim Bell does not write a bad craft-of-writing book. Does NOT.

In one case, however, the title of his book does not match the contents. That case is Revision and Self-Editing for Publication. As K. M. Weiland noted in her 3-star review of this book on Goodreads, there’s little here about revision or self-editing. That’s too bad because what little there is clearly shows that if Bell had focused on those tasks, rather than writing yet another book about writing a decent first draft, he could have done well.

Bell divides the book into two sections: “self-editing” and “revision...

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The Portable American Realism Reader Review

By Ross B. Lampert

Small 4-star rating on dark blue background

I was introduced to this collection of short stories about ten years ago, when it was one of the assigned books in one of my master’s degree classes. The 47 stories were published between 1865 and 1918 and were written by both famous authors—Mark Twain, Kate Chopin, Ambrose Bierce, Stephen Crane, and Jack London, to name a few—to writers not known outside of literary circles, like Sioux author Zitkala-Sä and Chinese immigrant Sui Sin Far.

The stories are divided into three general categories whose time-frames overlap: regionalism and local color (1865 and after), realism (1890 and after), and naturalism (also 1890 and after). As the names of the categories and their periods suggest, they illustrate the changing tenors and interests of the times...

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