Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Writing Dumb

From the Second Floor #10


What is writing dumb?

It’s an art. It’s knowing how to pull the audience into the work, yank their strings, entertain them even with the unexpected, and know how to twist a scene or chapter into the impossible and still explain them in a way that an audience accepts.

Take for example:

It’s stormy. Rain is pounding the house and the power cut off. Your heroine hears a noise. She believes it originated in the basement. She finds a flashlight, but the batteries are dying. What does she do?

If you write the story in a normal voice, she runs for the door to get help.

Why would you do that when you take the chance of losing your audience? No, she doesn’t run. When you write this scene, you need a moment of writing dumb. The flashlight dims and when she reaches mid-way with the bottom of the stairs only a few feet away, she continues. She goes for it, and that’s when the flashlight dies. Now she’s in the dark. Will your heroine scramble up the stairs? No, of course not. She enters the basement looking for a candle and walks over warped creaking floorboards in slow, methodical steps. Wind from a broken window causes the candle to flicker and go out. Will she retreat? No! She’ll look for a match.

Writing dumb is an art. Everything your brain conceives in character development – you turn around and write an opposing nonconventional simulation.

Let’s take a soap opera for a moment. People standing a few feet away don’t hear a “must hear” clue. Later, in that same restaurant or hallway, standing right where they were earlier, two characters offer a clue or blab critical storyline gossip – and guess what? Your characters hear the whole conversation. Now he or she can blackmail others with the overheard information.

A perfectly timed cell phone call interrupts conversations. People do careless sex until the time is right for a pregnancy. They use the ‘who’s baby is it’ and this forces the audience to guess – and suddenly they’re involved.

Will important people get caught even though they are doing the obvious? No, of course not. What fun would that be?

In a soap, you can have a characters carve out a kidney from a stranger to save a life. Does it have to be a perfect match? Not on your life. No time for testing.

What about surgery on a kitchen table without instruments? Works for the audience if the man is being saved is their hero. They don’t care about rusty knives. They want the guy to live.

Dumb writing gets better. People jump out of a plane, the parachute doesn’t open. They land in trees. Cut to the hospital. Both survived. How? Who cares?


Think about the opposite of every exchange and then create it in a doable way. Are details important? No, not if a life is in danger or their hero is about to die.

On a soap opera, do the characters think about safe sex? Takes too much time. The audience wants the characters to dive in and get on with the action. What about that afternoon drink? In the soap opera world the characters can drink all day every day. Does it hurt their health? Who cares? The audience doesn’t. They never think about their beloved characters getting sick. Actors don’t get sick. What fun is that?

Will dumb writing work in a novel? Sure, as long as you justify the creation in a way that makes sense. Romance novels do it all the time. Grant you, in real life people do stupid things, so enhancing them works if you’re good at the descriptions. Remember, you drive your characters. You can make them work, kill them off, or give them a disease.

In an action packed story, you have limited time to develop romance, personal feelings, children growing up, household issues or marriage problems. You want the audience to flip those pages and race to the end. Did their hero live? Did he get the crooks or killers? If you satisfy the reader or viewer, most of these issues can be part of the reading satisfaction. Drop a hint here and there, a phone call or text message. It saves dealing with unnecessary dialogue or descriptive locations not important to the story. The reader or viewer wants action and more of the same.

Writing dumb is an art. It’s not for every book or screenplay. It doesn’t work at all in most stories, but the market is huge for a great story full of pie ingredients when the crust is unnecessary and used for filler material.

Writing dumb can be lucrative when you master the art of doing the opposite of what the audience expects.

How do you learn writing dumb? Many can’t or will never get a handle on the words just like most can’t sing, dance or fly a plane. You can tell by the stories you share with others. Can you easily pull the wool over their eyes? Is it possible to fool the unexpected? Will you learn to tease and hold back the truth no matter what? Like I said, it’s a gift to gab. That translates into words that dazzle.

There must be a reason for everything you write about. Take a simple scenario and make it complicated. Have characters do things they’d never do in the real world.

What excites you can only be expanded into the outrageous and then take it one or two more steps over the edge.

When you set goals to write fast, your time is limited for detail. That means you need problems not easily solved, but your characters are witty, stupid-dumb and managed the impossible. Going over insane levels to get the point across works if dumb writing makes it justifiable.

As long as your audience accepts the insanity of each development and doesn’t stop to question your decisions you’re home free. Only when the audience stops and wonders about the canvas you painted will you find yourself in trouble.

You can’t fool your audience, but you can entertain them. There is a huge spread in-between the two. Don’t assume your audience is dumb because they’re not. They bought your book, watched your TV show or paid to see a good movie. They demand entertainment and when you try to fool them the whole things falls apart.

I’ve written screenplays, directed films and created novels that all have snippets it writing dumb added. A few readers will never get it. Critics may bash you, but when the audience loves the work the critics become irrelevant. I’ve said before, every review helps a writer or filmmaker and I meant every word. Anyone taking the time to read or view my work is appreciated. I welcome reviews, good and bad. They all help. Not everyone will like your work. There are those who may even hate what you do or how you did it, but if your core audience likes it and accepts the path chosen – you’ve done your job well.

There’s a lot more on this topic and we’ll talk more about it another time. Writing dumb can be very rewarding. As I’ve said before, I know writer’s making six and seven figures yearly writing very silly stuff that sells and entertains.

Keep the faith and continue writing no matter what you do. Find time and get to the last page with a smile.

William Byron Hillman © 2015

NEW RELEASES – WITHIN AN INCH OF THE MOON – a romantic/suspense/contemporary fiction novel. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UT0V24E

LET’S SUE ‘EM -  a romantic/suspense/ contemporary fiction novel http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009M9E790

QUIGLEY’S CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE – a family tale with romance/emotion/classic message/wonderful characters/a book children will love to read over and over: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ANVNQ6G



Book Links:

Rollie Kemp Novels
Ghosts and Phantoms Part I: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0056WR6I6
Ghosts and Phantoms Part II http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0056WR7YE
Hoax – Prematurely Terminated
In editor’s hands – Looting

Doug Hamilton Mysteries
(Over a Cup of Caramelized Chocolate – Completing Final Draft)

Romance/Suspense – Contemporary Fiction
Within an Inch of the Moon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UT0V24E
In development Veronique and Murray's Honeymoon
In development Noah’s Journey

Autobiography

Motion Picture Stories

Family/Youth Adventure
Quigley's Christmas Adventure http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ANVNQ6G
(Available in audio book soon)

My next feature film to direct is:
Quigley's Christmas Adventure
 (Sequel to the hit film Quigley)

Monday, June 15, 2015

MOVIES 101

FROM THE SECOND FLOOR #9

Most actors need to have a backup plan and a way to make a living just in case the career takes a bounce or two. In my case, I started as a writer. I dabbled, scribbled short stories, wrote three novels and then turned to screenwriting in-between acting gigs.

I wrote and stockpiled stories my agent couldn’t sell. My agent said I should turn a few of my screenplays into books. I thought the idea was funny and ignored his advice.

Movies were not married to TV when I started; that came later. TV didn’t pay well, so actors tried to make it in the movies. TV was strange in the beginning. You had AFTRA and SAG mixed. The crews were NABET or IATSE. Jobs were hard to find. I became a member of all four unions and guilds, believing when one career stalled; another would fill in the blank spots. I quickly learned building sets and doing the toughest jobs I’ve ever held wasn’t for me. If I couldn’t be in front of the camera making a living, I’d explore surviving behind the camera.

First you had to learn movie 101. It sounds like a joke, but in reality it’s the truth. Actor’s from all walks of life would meet on Sunset Boulevard or pick local coffee shops and trade stories. Friendships came and went, and sadly most drifted out of the business and went to work elsewhere. I’d learn where a low-budget film was about to shoot and volunteered to work free so I could learn how to do what I didn’t learn in film school.

I realized the list of actors doing small parts changed daily and large groups vanished. The chosen few chipped out a career and could make a living while the majority had to have outside jobs to survive. I came out of the tunnel with a bang. Joined the cast of the new TV soap opera called Days of our Lives. My first job was for two days but turned into a week. I got called back the following week and over the next two years had steady income.

I went from the soap opera to TV shows and then landed a 19-week job on Ice Station Zebra. While working on Zebra, I got the bug and learned Movies 101. Working on a big budget film gives you lots and lots of free time. The cast would play games, shoot basketball or visit other stages. I snooped around, followed the producer and director until I drove them nuts. Got introduced to the editor and fell in love working behind the camera. I loved the working actor gig, but employment was spotty. As my role in Zebra ended I assumed I’d learned enough to produce and direct my film. I should mention I attended film school, learned all the basics and remained unemployed. It took an acting gig to change that.

The week after the role on Zebra wrapped my agent sold my first screenplay. I was lucky. It wasn’t an option it was an outright sale. I got called back to the soap for more work and then was hired to direct the first of many films, TV episodes and commercials. That dreadful phrase, "jack-of-all-trades" paid off for me.

We started on film and graduated into video. Each step had a new learning curve. Special effects were crude and in many productions we did the unusual instantly by improvising. The independent filmmaker couldn’t afford fancy stuff, so we made our own. My producer friends and I built a ground up education, or as I call it Movies 101.

What followed was a mixed bag of making movies as a director, producer and sometimes lucky enough to include a screenplay. My work as an actor became fun, and each job was a blast, but I no longer depended on finding enough acting jobs to pay the bills.

Instead, I sold or optioned screenplays and was grateful for writing that pile I had been collecting. My agent kept me busy and landed me a TV series development deal at Universal Studios. It lasted two years. I wrote 13 scripts for the new show and then the plug got pulled. We never made the pilot show. It seemed as though it was all for nothing. A fortune was spent and “just like that” it ended. When I made rounds, I discovered because of my absence many thought I had left the business or worse. It was as though I was starting all over.

Movies 101 taught me many things. One of the most important issues to learn is to keep every script you write, even a bad one. Today I live in my filing cabinets. Now my old ideas are being developed, renewed and/or optioned.

Most produced screenwriters have optioned scripts to various production company’s or studios. Unfortunately, a large number of these properties never go into production. Sometimes, the options are picked up or renewed for years. The ones that didn’t get a green light go into the turn-around. The rights come back to the writer, and the producers end their interest in the project.

So, going back to Movies 101, what do you do with a script that had options to a studio but didn’t get the green light? It must’ve been good, right? Someone liked the work enough to spend money developing the script. In fact, the script might’ve gone through several re-writes before they dumped it and walked away.

That’s what is in my filing cabinet, hundreds of screenplays and developed treatments. I have copies of work I sold, copies of the produced projects and other great ideas that enjoy collecting dust. I remember my agent kept telling me to write books from my screenplays. He said I had enough material to last several lifetimes.

The Rollie Kemp Mystery series began life as a screenplay. I optioned this property six separate times to different producers and studios. There was hope of making several films around the main characters. When the films didn’t happen, the producers turned to TV and made several attempted to turn my script into a TV series. It had to be good, right? That’s what I kept thinking, but for whatever reason it never got the green light. Now that one screenplay has turned into five novels, and the sixth installment is in editing. The first two books are an introduction to Rollie and became Part I (Ghosts and Phantoms I – http:www.amazon.com/dp/B0056WR6I6) and Part II – (Ghosts and Phantoms II – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0056WR7YE) of the on-going series. It’s complicated, fun, and non-stop action.

Let’s Sue ‘Em began life as a script and optioned twice. The producers said it would make a great film or an even better TV series. It finally went into turnaround, so I wrote the novel. The sequel is being edited. I tired of seeing a project everyone laughed out loud reading gathering dust in my cabinet. I just released the third version and included a sneak peek at the sequel – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009M9E790

My agent’s favorite script is Within an Inch of the Moon. He sold the option seven times, three to major studios and four to independent production companies. The rights would come back to me, and my agent would find another buyer. It remained in various options for ten years and suffered through 9 title changes. Now the new book release is one of my pride and joys: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UT0V24E

Veronique and Murray, one of my favorite scripts is enjoying life as a novel. Veronique got optioned six times, 4 to major studios and twice to major independent production companies. Cast offers were written, locations picked, and even crew got hired, and yet it never received the much sought after green light. The book is making friends around the globe with a story that is ageless and a romantic fun mystery: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0071F05MU

The movie business is tough and hard to understand. I don’t know why we missed going into production on many of the scripts I’ve written, but these are an example of what didn’t happen.
Thankfully, Movies 101 taught me never to throw out a great idea. There is an audience waiting, and it’s up to you to find them.

Timing is everything. I’m looking back in my filing cabinet, digging up another old script that will fit into a sequel for one book now completed. I’ll let you know what I find.

William Byron Hillman © 2015

NEW RELEASES – WITHIN AN INCH OF THE MOON – a romantic/suspense/contemporary fiction novel. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UT0V24Ehttp://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UT0V24E

LET’S SUE ‘EM -  a romantic/suspense/ contemporary fiction novel http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009M9E790

My new IAN page is: http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/william-byron-hillman.html


Book Links:

Rollie Kemp Novels
Ghosts and Phantoms Part I: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0056WR6I6
Ghosts and Phantoms Part II http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0056WR7YE
Hoax – Prematurely Terminated
In editor’s hands – Looting

Doug Hamilton Mysteries
(Over a Cup of Caramelized Chocolate – Completing Final Draft)

Romance/Suspense – Contemporary Fiction
Within an Inch of the Moon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UT0V24E
In development Veronique and Murray's Honeymoon
In development Noah’s Journey

Autobiography

Motion Picture Stories

Family/Youth Adventure
Quigley's Christmas Adventure http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ANVNQ6G
(Available in audio book soon)

My next feature film to direct is:
Quigley's Christmas Adventure
 (Sequel to the hit film Quigley)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

FROM THE SECOND-FLOOR #8

WRITER’S BLOCK Vs. SOURCE MATERIAL

Writer’s block can be deadly and even end a potential career.

Source material could also be toxic if the stories sought get fed improper information

What do the two have anything to do with one another? Everything.

Many writers set out and focus their material on one story. The source information highway can stop you cold when you learn it wasn’t true. Albeit driven to write about actual and current news or stories based on facts heard recently or years ago – source and effects are married together. If you learn your information is full of holes it can set you back on your heels. The block enters and you become baffled. Who can you trust? Where are the real facts?

You are not alone when a mental block stops you. The brain swims through a current of useless information, and none makes sense. You can’t put the pieces together. Your storyline becomes a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

At times, no story or outline you begin to write can find a path. Each journey takes off in directions you didn’t give a thought or even understand. You jumble up and stop writing. While you seek a different approach, a new story, the words fail you.

To provide the mental block with accurate food for the brain, you must search for new ideas. You get frustrated when none of them stick. You look down at your idle fingers resting on the keyboard and wonder if they will ever move again?

Source material is one answer that always works when given a chance. What exactly is the source material? It’s not just facts, but the thread you weave into a story that makes it readable. Where do you find the sources? You don’t have to look far. In most cases, they are right in front of you or just down the block. The corner store, local gas station or big box retailer has all the material you’ll need to move from a blank space into the world of storytelling.

An enormous part of the source is characters? Where on earth do you find new characters? That too has an easy answer. You live, work and are surrounded by characters. Most of us pay little attention to a co-worker or clerk at a store. Next time you go out, forget shopping and become a watcher. I love to go to the mall and watch. Roam through the shops and listen. Ask about a product and seek help from a salesperson. Amazing what a little conversation brings out.

Most of us have relatives, friends, neighbors and co-works so learn to draw information each one has to offer. We forget we’re one of a kind, as are the people we know or meet along the way. Each person you know is a character. Everybody has a unique one-of-a-kind personality with unusual traits, quirks, mannerisms, unique speech patterns, and background history. Draw from here to create your next character. Learn to take the basics and then add twists and habits. Bring in or take out the good and bad and then adopt a second look. Not bad if you do this seriously.

So how does source material help get you out of writer block mud? 

Remember what got you there in the first place? You got stuck. Either the plot bogged down and went nowhere or your story had huge flaws. A story needs a life of its own, just like your characters. Did your story have a life? By that I mean did it have a before story? Did it just start or come from history of something terrible? Does it have an ending, not the one you end your story with – the ongoing ending that give your readers hope for more to come?

To help eliminate a blocked mind that many writers suffer, it helps while designing the creation to expand and outline the whole story. Start with a paragraph. It’s hard to do but very rewarding. Expand the paragraph on one or two pages. Stop here. You have story content, but now you need a list of characters. You have leads and sub leads, but what about the little character roles? You need a character list. Make one, even if you don’t use them all.

Now you have the idea of the story and a list of characters to generously place in and around the plot. What about the locations? Make a list. Where does the story begin? Where does it end? If your characters move around, where do they go? Stop.  Do you know each location well? Have you been there? It’s easier to write about what you know. If you haven’t been there, you need research and source material with descriptions.

These are all essential writer tools. It sounds easy. It isn’t as it sounds. What it does do is activate your mind. It takes you away from the blockage. You go on a journey. Make the trip busy and fun and when you get all the pieces together – start writing again. This time you have focus, direction and desire.

When and if you write real stories, check your sources, and then double-check them. When you think you’ve got it all covered, do another check with an entirely new source. Don’t trust the news for any truth whatsoever. Sadly, all our news media sources are owned by four or five companies, and each has a goal or mission that may be selfish and not in your best interest. They establish the truth to fit their objectives and needs, and when you write a true story you may find huge holes in stories found from the news media. I’m amazed at how many people rely on the news media for news, and I try never to use truthful events the news media tells to stand on its own. Double or triple check everything you hear or read. Research is fun, entertaining and quite educational.

Here's what you have at the end of the day. You gathered source material, outlined your story, know your characters, where the story takes place, where it ends and what happens in the middle. If you get bogged down, go to your lists. Focus on material you worked very hard to gather and then turn back to the computer.

I was taught early on, listen, focus, and be aware of the story at all times. Every great novel or film has one thread in common, a sensational story. One of my best professors said it well – your work should be the story, story, and more story. If you tell it well, have a great beginning, a middle that can’t be put down, and an ending you drive your audience with urgency your work will be read and be successful.

How we reach, our audience is a mystery. We do the best we can, but this is a learning process. It’s ongoing and never ends. Each work is different and finds its gathering. We can hope to find a few who tell a few and soon your voice is read and heard by many. Even best-selling author’s struggle to find an audience for new work they write.

I wish all writers luck with their passion. A working writer deserves recognition. Promote your brothers and sisters of dare to share the word. Read unknown writers work. Learn from it and help promote them. They will return the favor.

I hope this helped – even if only one writer gets back on track and stays there I’ve done a job well done. Good luck all.

William Byron Hillman © 2015

NEW RELEASE – WITHIN AN INCH OF THE MOON – a romantic/suspense/contemporary fiction novel. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UT0V24E



Book Links:

Rollie Kemp Novels
Ghosts and Phantoms Part I: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0056WR6I6
Ghosts and Phantoms Part II http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0056WR7YE
Hoax – Prematurely Terminated
In editor’s hands – Looting

Romance/Suspense – Contemporary Fiction
Within an Inch of the Moon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UT0V24E
In development Veronique and Murray's Honeymoon

Doug Hamilton Mysteries
(Over a Cup of Caramelized Chocolate – Completing Final Draft)

Autobiography

Motion Picture Stories

Family/Youth Adventure
Quigley's Christmas Adventure http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ANVNQ6G
(Available in audio book soon)

My next feature film to direct is:
Quigley's Christmas Adventure
 (Sequel to the hit film Quigley)