Tips For Writers

People aren’t interested in stories in which the characters begin and end at the same place.

Tips For Writers

KNOW YOUR MARKET: what we're looking for, right now, and what we're not looking for.

Tips For Writers

The Query Letter: Don't try to sell us. Try to give us what we're looking for.

TIPS FOR SCREENWRITERS

The audience does not want the Hero to be lucky, unless the luck is caused by the hero's cunning or provident preparation.

TIPS FOR WRITERS

Take charge of your own thinking; visualize your success so that you can experience it in your outer life.

TIPS FOR WRITERS

Take responsibility. Most successful people have struggled long and hard, and endured through multiple failures before achieving their success.

TIPS FOR SCREENWRITERS

The audience wants the Hero to escape death (literal or figurative) by means of strength of character, persistence, cleverness and courage, not raw strength.

TIPS FOR WRITERS

Make whatever adjustments are necessary to reduce or eliminate your contact with the naysayers.

TIPS FOR WRITERS

Never sit down to write until you know what you're going to write before you sit down.

Tips For Writers

Associate with positive people, and stop associating with negative people.

TIPS FOR THE SCREENWRITER

The two important reasons for writing a treatment are to sell and to diagnose your story.

TIPS FOR SCREENWRITERS

The audience wants to believe that the Hero can win. They don't want to be sure that the Hero will win.

Fourteen Reasons for Rejections by GENE FEHLER

"The suggestions made for revisions will often make the difference between acceptance and rejection..."

  • You really don't want to write; you just want to be published.
  • You haven't read widely the kind of material you are trying to write.
  • You haven't mastered writing techniques.
  • You've been too easily discouraged.
  • You haven't studied the market.
  • You failed to follow up leads.
  • You can't take criticism.
  • Your writing is commonplace or lacks imaginative spark.
  • Your query letters don't "sell" your idea.
  • You don't revise before submitting your manuscript.
  • You are too concerned with writing for a specific market.
  • You haven't learned the editorial requirements of a specific market.
  • You make excuses for not writing.

TIPS FOR SCREENWRITERS

Moviegoers want the Hero to be forced to undertake frightening and difficult tasks which they would not willingly undertake themselves.

TIPS FOR WRITERS

You should collaborate only with someone who's better than you, never someone who's worse than you or who's at the same level as you.

TIP FOR SCREENWRITERS

Moviegoers want the Hero to play for high stakes, some outcome, or ideal, or benefit that they believe is supremely important.

TIPS FOR WRITERS

Self-confidence increases when you continue to act (in this case, write) with no regard for your insecurities.

TIPS FOR NOVELISTS

Dramatic fiction, by suspending our disbelief, gives the impression of reality--what Aristotle, in his Poetics, described as an "imitation" of action that may not be "strictly true" but is "more philosophical than history" because it is true in a poetic, or universal, sense.

Seven tips for marketing your romantic comedy script

1. Professional presentation is essential.

2. Use proper format for a submission script, (not a shooting script).

3. Keep the length under 120 pages.

4. Stick with the feature film arena.

6. Recent romantic comedies are sharp and intelligent, reflecting a contemporary lifestyle with contemporary obstacles while expanding the "rules" and limitations of the genre.

7. A "spec" script is still the strongest way to approach producers.

TIPS FOR NOVELISTS

Follow The Chicago Manual of Style, fourteenth edition and Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition.

TIPS FOR WRITERS

Feel challenged because you'll always feel challenged by this endlessly challenging craft.

TIPS FOR SCREENWRITERS

The audience wants the Hero to take on an opponent who is more powerful and successful than the hero.

TIP FOR WRITERS

Feel challenged because you'll always feel challenged by this endlessly challenging craft.

Excerpt from Michael Maxen's article, "How to Manufacture a Best Seller"

The hero is an expert. The villain is an expert. You must watch all of the villainy over the shoulder of the villain.

The hero has a team of experts in various fields behind him.

Two or more on the team must fall in love.

Two or more on the team must die.

The villain must turn his attentions from his initial goal to the team.

The villain and the hero must live to do battle again in the sequel.

All deaths must proceed from the individual to the group: i.e., never say that the bomb exploded and 15,000 people were killed. Start with "Jamie and Suzy were walking in the park with their grandmother when the earth opened up."

If you get bogged down, just kill somebody.


Published in the New York Times Magazine on March 1, 1998.

TIP FOR THE SCREENWRITER

The audience wants the Hero to struggle to overcome increasingly more difficult obstacles.

TIP FOR THE NOVELIST

Dramatic fiction, by suspending our disbelief, gives the impression of reality--what Aristotle, in his Poetics, described as an "imitation" of action that may not be "strictly true" but is "more philosophical than history" because it is true in a poetic, or universal, sense.

TIP FOR THE SCREENWRITER

Moviegoers want the Hero to believe in (and act according to) the basic set of values that they believe in.

TIP FOR WRITERS

When things get tough, take a vacation. (Never decide to abandon your project when you're tired.)

NOVEL REVISION

It’s finding the emotional door you have to go through. You have to find a way, an angle in on the characters, so that your emotional dope, your limits, concerns, needs and hopes at that moment can be expressed through the vehicle of the made-up story. And then you have to shape the story as entertainment so other people can feel that same emotion.—Stephen King

TIP FOR SCREENWRITERS: SCREENPLAYS

The audience wants the Hero to be forced to struggle, change, and become a better, happier, and more successful person. The audience wants the Hero to exhibit a sense of humor. The audience wants the Hero to have bigger-than-life dreams and desires.

MOVIES

Best five movies I saw in October:

Secretariat
The Social Network
Lust/Caution
An Education
It's Complicated

THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN

During the interminable bus, taxi, and tube rides--and much of the 11-hour flight back to LA, finished reading one of the best books I've read in ages: Simon Winchester's THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN, "A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary." Highly recommend it for its elegant writing, intriguing subject matter, and literary arcane.

TIP FOR NOVELISTS

Never sit down to write without knowing what you’re going to write before you sit down.

More Tales From The Script

For all who are considering the screenwriting career, I highly recommend “Tales from the Script,” featuring interviews with favorite screenwriters Dennis Palumbo, Paul Schrader, Ron Shelton, Shane Black, Ron Shusett, Frank Darabont, William Goldman, Larry Cohen, Stephen Susco, John Carpenter, Guinevere Turner…. “Amadeus” took 46 drafts! There’s no end to better. Respect for the process. John Carpenter: “Stop bitching—stop whining—and move on.” “A career is broken only if the artist allows it to be broken.” All agree that, “Right now it’s the strangest it’s ever been”—and it’s even stranger now in the “Post-content era.” I would call this well done doc a “reality pill” for sure.

Definition of a Producer

I was watching “Tales from the Script” (highly recommended for anyone who even dares to think of being a screenwriter) and heard from a writer whose name escapes me: “A producer is someone who lies long enough and well enough that the lie becomes the truth.”

I’ve always said the difference between a con man and a visionary in Hollywood is success. Using the word “lie,” of course, puts it in a negative framework. Belief and vision and faith are the positive terms for practical visualization, where you not only see the picture but you do and say everything you can to make others see the picture until, one day, the picture is.

The producer is the one who dares to walk the tightrope between dream and reality, like the rope between the Two Towers. What makes a great producer is that he never gives up, even when the writer does, even when the studio does, even when everyone else does.

5 Things Every Writer Needs to Do in Today’s Changing Story Market:

1) Don’t ask how it’s done. Figure out how to do it.

2) Figure out exactly who your market is.

3) Figure out how to approach that market.

4) Consider becoming your own publisher now rather than after five years of rejection.

5) Never give up.

Reading an excellent interview with producer Graham King in Produced by:

“For me, producing is about controlling your own destiny. And it’s starting small. It’s starting as a salesman, going from country to country, with literally a 35 millimeter frame, trying to sell a movie that no one has ever heard of. And it takes awhile. People come in to me for jobs and I ask, ‘What do you want to do? ‘I want to be a producer.’ I say, ‘Well, that’s 12 to 15 years of learning, if you’re lucky enough to learn from the right people. And all my staff here, I completely drill it into their head. ‘If you want to be a producer, great. Do this. Do that. Learn this. Learn that.’ Because that’s how it was for me. And if people hadn’t given me certain breaks and opened certain doors, I wouldn’t be here now. So it’s great to pass that on.”


That’s what we try to offer to our clients. Experience in the school of hard knocks!

Where Your Book Is Purchased Counts!

A client asked whether he should ask his friends, who are hellbent on pre-ordering his books on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, to wait and purchase the books from the bookstore when the publication is released. The answer is that if they buy the book from a bookstore that counts toward the bestseller lists, whereas purchasing online only counts for that website’s bestseller list. If they do purchase online, at least ask them to write a review! That counts in the grand scheme of things too.

E Mails

A client complained this morning that he gets five little emails from me instead of a “more efficient” one long email. There’s a reason. If I get one long email I can’t answer it until I can answer all the parts. That may take awhile. I’d much prefer a short email on a single subject so I can deal with that subject and get back to the sender without waiting. But that’s just me.

Determination

Yes, writers need determination. But determination isn’t enough. You need to DO things to make your career kick into gear. Even one thing a day becomes massive when enough months have gone by. Hesiod put it this way: “If you put a little upon a little soon it will become a lot.” EVEN BETTER, though, is doing the RIGHT things. Having a strategy. That lets you set priorities. Tactical energy is great, but stand on the hill first and ask yourself, “Where do I want to go?”

Just talked another client out of a job (mine!)

By telling her that she shouldn’t, given the details of her particular case, continue to fight the traditional publishing fight. That the publishers are in such a morass of confusion these days that all she’d be doing is losing control of her book (nonfiction, already successful in her lecture circuit) and dropping her income from the current $18 per copy she makes to about $1.50 per copy if she got it published. I believe she’ll be on kindle’s doorstep before I finish writing this sentence! Note, this isn’t true for everybody but it’s certainly true for her. She has her own avid following, is a businesswoman, and knows how to market herself (so that people will find the book on the internet). That’s the best of all possible worlds for e-publishing!

Every writer wants to send out a 10-page press release.

Forget it!

I know you can say 10 times as much about your book and 50 times as much about yourself. BUT, the rule is ONE PAGE about your book, ONE PAGE about yourself. Make them beg for more. They’re too busy to be hit with the more in your first press release.





Most Common Weaknesses of Screenplays Submitted for Representation

1) The format is NOT professional (which is a sign of rank amateurism, since professional format is easily ascertainable from any available script—and the Internet is full of sites that offer them free).

2) The writer hasn’t bothered to proofread his work. It’s filled with spelling errors, typos, and repetitions.

3) The protagonist isn’t clear after the first five pages. You still don’t know whose story you’re reading.

4) Even if you know the protagonist, by page 10 you still don’t know what his dramatic problem is—or you aren’t “involved” with him. You don’t know why you’re reading his or her story.

5) By the end of the script you neither know what the dramatic problem was nor how it’s solved by the story.

6) The obstacles to the hero’s mission aren’t strong enough, clear enough, or interesting enough.

7) The Point of View is unclear throughout the screenplay, or is “all over the place.”

8) The protagonist and antagonist aren’t written with stars in mind. Once we love the story, Hollywood wants to know: What great actor or actress will desperately want to play this role?

9) The story lacks credibility—characters don’t behave the way people like they’re supposed to be would behave in the situation you’ve created.

10) The script is filled with clich├ęs, or with on the nose expository dialogue and narrative.

11) The script isn’t 100% visual, filled with stage directions that aren’t “visual.”

12) The protagonist doesn’t grow from the beginning of the story to the end.

13) His or her antagonist isn’t clearly defined or singular enough to make a castable and saleable drama.

14) The climax and conclusion of the script aren’t strong enough, positive enough, and/or satisfying enough to warrant the investment of the reader/audience’s time.

Publicity

Sitting through a publicity meeting the other day, I reminded my clients of my standard rules for dealing with the press:

1. The host is giving you millions of dollars worth of publicity, but

2. Remember, “these people are not your friends.”

3. Every question is a trick question.

4. Pause before you answer.

5. Make sure you get across YOUR AGENDA.

6. Set the hook to make the audience want to read more of what you’re saying.

7. Make them want to interview you again.

8. Talk in “sound bites,” memorable short sentences.

9. Show your gratitude.

10. Don’t do the interview AT ALL if your books are not available yet for purchase.

11. Don’t assume your interviewer knows all about you—OR your book.

Tips on Breaking into Show Business, gleaned from here and there:

1. Remember, it’s a business. Figure out the business interest of the person at the other side of the desk before you get to the meeting.

2. Don’t assume anything is the way it was a year ago.

3. Network--with anyone and everyone you know, and find out “what’s going on.”

4. Get contacts from contacts: always ask for three more contacts from every contact you meet.

5. Value the “insider’s” time more than your own.

6. Set "informational meetings"--more often accepted by the other side.

7. Meaning: Ask for their advice. Don’t worry, if they’re interested themselves, they won’t be shy about it.

8. Try to enter the Industry through your area of expertise--if you’re a lawyer then

9. through legal or business affairs department. If you’re a publicist, through the p.r. department.

10. Have a compelling story about your passion about film rather than your general belief that show business could be lucrative for you.

11. Be informed about the Industry, even if new to it.

12. Be informed about the person you’re meeting with. Do your homework.

13. Be willing to do anything that’s required to make your work better.

14. Be humble and willing to invest in your career.

15. Be inventive about getting your work in front of decision-makers.

16. Be patient and persistent, and you’ll find a way in—and look for sudden opportunities in this land of “right place and right time.”

17. Be flexible about jobs offered, and take opportunities. Access is all.

18. Always be positive, no matter how bad the situation.

19. Always be passionate about what you do.

20. Read up on the fields that interest you and the people that populate them.

21. Master the fine, undefined line between being persistent and being a pest.

Do Conferences Help?

You betcha! One of the most difficult challenges writers face today is ACCESS, and meeting an agent, attorney, publicist, publisher, or other facilitator at a conference separates you from the faceless masses. It’s a PRIME STRATEGY for taking your writing career into your own hands. From time to time, I recommend the conferences I’ve attended or found effective on my mainblog and in the daily inspire@storymerchant.com Stay tuned!

Change

Every day I run into writers who are clueless about the shifts in the industry, both publishing and entertainment. They have expectations and demands that fit a culture that no longer exists. I can only spend so much time educating them. That’s your responsibility, as a writer who wants to cross over into the promised land of the published or produced. The internet lies before you like a vast land of dreams, yours for the understanding. Explore it thoroughly before you submit your work. Things have changed, things are changing, things will continue to change. The only thing the remains constant is the need for stories, for content, for intellectual property.

Tips For Screenwriters

If a scene shows no conflict that moves the story forward, cut the scene, or conflict it!