Random Writing Resource

January 28, 2008 at 7:56 am | Posted in format, Jessica, movies, writing | Leave a comment

A while back I posted an entry on making every word count. The entry more or less referred to screenwriting and it offered more commentary than it did information on the many pieces that go into a screenplay. But since I posted that entry on screenwriting we’ve had a number of people stumble across our blog in search of the average screenplay word count. As I am only in the kindergarten stages of my screenwriting learning curve I don’t feel all that qualified to offer advice or guidance on the subject. What I can do is share some information passed on by an industry insider, Skip Press. In his book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Screenwriting, Skip has this to say:

    The general length of a Hollywood screenplay is 114 pages. 

    Properly formatted screenplays in Courier 12 (font) generally work out to a minute a page, in screen time.

    Properly formatted manuscript pages generally work out to a certain number of words per page, double-spaced (which is generally 250 words per page).

Screenplays, as opposed to novel submissions, are less to do about word count and more to do about length. As Skip mentions in his book, one page equals about one minute of screen time.

To help you organize your screenplay according to industry standards, there is invaluable software to guide you through the proper format. The two most talked about software packages are Movie Magic and Final Draft. Both are equally popular and both get the job done. (These links take you to most recent versions of the software. Should you choose to make the purchase, be sure to verify your operating system for the right compatibility.)

Your screenplay needs to have a wider left-hand margin — most use 1.5 inches. Screenplays are printed on three-hole-punch, 8.5 X 11 inch paper, and bound together by brads made of solid brass. Put the brads in only the top and bottom holes, and see that the prongs on the back side lie flat.

As Skip says, the idea is to conform to industry standards so that the reader(s) can focus on the content, and he goes into greater detail on margins (different for page 1 than for the following pages), and other formatting issues in the book.

As with writing novels, the best thing you can do for your screenwriting education is to read, read, read, and, in this case, watch, watch, watch. Best to have a movie’s screenplay in front of you while screening the film itself. There are a few online sources where you can find scripts – some free and some retail. A few of those sources are:

Drew’s Script-o-rama (free)

ScriptFLY (purchase)

Simply Scripts (free)

As I mentioned, I have just about everything to learn about writing a screenplay, but these are a few things I think a newbie might find helpful – and just the tip of the iceberg for where the form differs from a novel’s. If any of you more experienced screenwriters have some more resources or advice to add, please share!

And whether you’re writing a novel or a screenplay, keep up the good work! The writers’ strike proves how much we need writers and, better yet, good story-tellers. And as stated in this Funny or Die video, without writers there’s just reality . . .


Stopping your Inner Grinch

December 14, 2007 at 3:16 pm | Posted in Meg, movies, music | Leave a comment

Ah, the holiday season is in full swing. Caroling, baking candy cane cookies with the kids, decorating, attending holiday office parties. Fun stuff. Shopping, wrapping, finding parking spaces and fighting holiday traffic. Not fun. I seem to be using a tremendous amount of energy this month trying to reduce the stress that prevents my enjoying the festivities. And since I’m a wellness coach in my other life, I feel a responsibility to handle the stress and maintain the Christmas spirit or at least appear as I am. Usually I fail. So I have a ready list of my favorite holiday things to help me cope and I thought I’d share them with you in case you are struggling to keep that jolly feeling this year as well. The suggestions are broken down into moments of little stress (running out of wrapping paper a week before Christmas) and big stress (running out of paper at eleven o’clock on Christmas Eve):

–Turn on only the Christmas lights and listen to:
1. Dan Fogelberg‘s Old Lang Syne (there’s something about this song that gives me goosebumps) (Editor’s note: Two days after this post was written, Dan Fogelberg passed away. My thoughts go out to his family and friends.)

2. Jon Bon Jovi’s Please Be Home for Christmas
3. Any version of I’ll Be Home for Christmas
4. Joni Mitchell’s River <>

However in moments of big stress, these songs are a necessity:
5. Adam Sandler’s The Chanukah song (every version)
6. The 12 Pains of Christmas– there’s something about the poor guy hanging up the lights or the little kid yelling about Transformers that reminds me we’re all in this crazy hectic time together
7. The drunk lady singing about the 12 days of Christmas– if you’ve ever heard this song, you don’t need me to explain it’s value in holiday stress management
8. Dominic the Donkey

–Remind yourself of the beauty of the Christmas Special. Here are my must-sees:
1. Year Without a Santa Claus- the Snowmiser and Heatmiser ARE Christmas
2. Twas the Night Before Christmas- there’s just something about the ‘Christmas bells are calling Santa, Santa’ that brings tears to my eyes
3. Santa Claus is Coming to Town- love the penguin in the “Put One Foot in Front of the Other’ song
4. Nestor the Long Eared Donkey- probably the most obscure special, but one that always makes me cry

In moments of big stress, sing these songs at the top of your lungs or quote them in everyday conversation.

–Surround yourself with pleasant smells that remind you of the good things of the holidays: mulberry, evergreen, gingerbread coffee, cloves, etc.

During big stress, try not to eat any of these (except for the coffee). Instead, climb under your Christmas tree for the aromatherapy and take a nap.

–Eat something that will remind you of special traditions like Dunkin Donut sprinkled munchkins, eggnog, my mom’s Italian cookies, etc.

<>Bad stress-eat whatever you can get your hands on. Okay, bad idea. Bake something good. Okay, even worse idea. Hmm, in moments of bad stress, the only good suggestion in terms of eating is to eat something healthy. Yeah, I know. Boring. Sorry.–Stay warm. Curl up on the couch with a good cup of tea or coffee and cuddle under a flannel blanket. I have one of those warming things that you heat in the microwave- love it!

Big stress- Spike that tea or coffee with something extra and cuddle under that blanket with someone hot!

–While you’re shopping, try to imagine the looks on your children’s faces when they open their gifts.

In big stress, try to forget that Santa will get all the credit. So make sure you keep all the GOOD presents to give to them yourself!

–If you have to deal with stressful office parties or family get-togethers, remember it’s only once a year and you are lucky- you could either work with your family forty hours a week or be related to your co-workers.

During big stressful parties, try to keep an eye on whomever is drinking the most. Chances are they will be a laugh riot in an hour or two- get them to photocopy their bottom or start up a conga line. Or have a drink yourself. After a few adult beverages, everyone else will seem like a laugh riot and you can be the conga line leader. (okay, this is not a good recommendation in practice, but it’s funny in theory)

Okay, as you can see, the stress in creeping in and I can’t even write up a serious piece on stress management. My fall back to humor and sarcasm is showing so I’m going to stop here and put some of the techniques above to use (hmm guess which ones!). I’d love to hear how you deal with the holiday stress!


The pathetic pass-off postponed thanks to you! (in other words, how our readers saved my blog)

December 7, 2007 at 8:15 pm | Posted in inspiration, Meg, movies | Leave a comment

I initially planned to write a pathetic entry today: due to unforeseen circumstances, my blog entry would not appear but would return at its regularly scheduled day next week. I even sent an apology email to Jessica and Bria in advance for my lackluster performance. Then I logged onto the blogsite and became inspired…BY ALL OF YOU!!

Yes, devoted blog readers, Honorary Heartlettes and comment posters, thank you! Without all of you tuning in each day and adding your feedback and love, this blog would just be three women venting about writing and life. With you, it’s a chance for us to share, interact, learn and grow. Knowing there are people out there in the cyberworld that feel as we do, think as we do and love writing as we do, makes us feel less alone, less isolated and less productive. So thank you!

That being said, here is a short list of movies to add to those already mentioned in Jessica and Bria’s posts and our readers comments:

  1. If Lucy Fell- Sarah Jessica Parker at her pre-Carrie Bradshaw best
  2. Staying Together-Sean Astin and Dermot Mulroney as teenagers- the last five minutes are worth it alone for the ultimate male perspective on social niceties
  3. Elizabeth-a great example of a strong female heroine
  4.  Aurora Borealis-if you’ve missed Pacey Witter
  5. Premonition-if you feel like trying to piece together a movie
  6. The Pursuit of Happyness-for inspiration to keep plugging away at the computer and submissions
  7. Lucky Seven-McDreamy in a Starbucks-type uniform
  8. John Tucker Must Die-teen flick at its best
  9. The Lake House-another movie to watch for clues and to fall in love with- who can resist Keanu?
  10. Eight Below-great movie about persistence and survival
  11. Elizabeth-unless you are a HUGE Orlando Bloom fan, skip everything but the last 20 minutes for the best road trip ever
  12. Win a Date with Tad Hamilton-That 70s show cutie
  13. Children of Men-okay maybe not a good choice unless you want to be depressed
  14. Bend it Like Beckham-another great persistence and follow your dream movie
  15. Sweet Home Alabama-if only we all had this difficult choice in men
  16. My Big Fat Greek Wedding-hilarious
  17. Serendipity-even without his boombox, John Cusack still rocks
  18. 10 Things I Hate About You-it’s been mentioned already, but still my favorite teen movie
  19. Carolina-Julia Stiles is one of the best ingenues out there

Okay, so after quickly going through my Netflix rental history and pulling out ones that caught my attention, I guess I didn’t have such a ‘short’ list. Hope you find something on our blog to add to your own queue!



And the Movie Fav goes to. . .

December 5, 2007 at 5:12 pm | Posted in Bria, movies, writing | 6 Comments

Rain Drops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens. . . Jessica kicked us off on “December, A Month of Favorites” and this is from a movie that USED to be a favorite, but got destroyed in college by a boy who kept sneak-attacking dates on me. We had the Just Friends talk 14 times. By 12 I’d gotten it down to “Listen buddy. . . .”

So, continuing on “December, A Month of Favorites,” here are some of my favorites movies by Highly Creative Category, at least this morning. I’m always looking for great recomenations. Let me know what some of yours are:

Favorite Ugly Duckling Movie:
Strictly Ballroom – Suffer through the first 20 mins, it’s worth it. I honestly think they wanted to make a mock-umentary, realized it wasn’t working, didn’t have the money to start over and just changed into a fabulous movie. 

Favorite Mindless Teenie-Bopper Movie:
Ah, the teen flick. Boy meets girl, ridiculousness ensues. Guaranteed to dull the ache in your brain for 90 mins. While I loved all the 80’s movies, there was just too much angst in them to veg out to, so I’m giving this category to, well, a couple:
Bring It on (cute and clever), Chasing Liberty (remember, I said mindless – AND Matthew Goode finally comes to America), 10 Things I Hate About You (tried to pick only one Shakespeare reference)

Let’s all take a moment to mourn Freddie Prince Jr. becoming too old to play a high school student. 

Favorite Movie Since I was 7:
Moonspinners. When I was seven, I wanted to go to Greece and have a fabulous adventure like Haley Mills. It’s also the movie that turned me on to one of my favorite authors of all time, Mary Stewart (see, how bright I am sneaking two categories into one?) 

Favorite Chauvinistic Line in a Movie:
Ok, weird category, but I was talking about it earlier. I love the line at the end of The Man From Snowy River, when Jim Craig looks at Jessica’s father and says: “There are a dozen good brood mares in that mob. I’ll be back for them… and for whatever else is mine.”  

Favorite Book to Movie Jump:
13th Warrior. Great action. Great visuals. And they didn’t tick me off with the loose Beowulf interpretation – thank you Mr.
Crichton. (side note: I’m a sucker for a great action movie with a good plot -although I hate blood and gore – the teen boys I worked with years back called me Action Flick Chick b/c they couldn’t remember my name and I’d seen every one they came up with – they knew they’d lose when I started pulling out the foreign film titles, like Brotherhood of the Wolf)

Favorite Christmas Movie:
OK, I’ll admit it, I force my friends to watch It’s A Wonderful Life and White Christmas every year. I mean really, that scene with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye singing “Sisters” – classic!

Favorite Broadway to Screen:
Into the Woods with Bernadette Peters. Please, just say Bernadette Peters and the category gets closed right then. Add all your favorite fairy tales colliding in one forest, and the best AND funniest scene of men being egotistical idiots ever – and you have a hit. It’s Prince Charming and his brother, ah, Prince Charming. 

So let’s hear what makes some of your Fav’s.
Then, Go Write

My Favorite Things

December 3, 2007 at 10:01 am | Posted in Jessica, movies, writing | 6 Comments

film_reelThe month of December is one of my favorite times of year for the festive feel that the holiday build-up gives me.  It’s also a difficult one for me when it comes to time management, so after discussing the idea with Meg and Bria, we’ve decided to go a bit low maintenance with our December blog posts and use our weekly entries as a chance to share a variety of our ‘Favorite Things’.

As I’m looking forward to the holiday break to start working on my first screenplay, I thought I’d mention a few of my favorite movies.  I once had the chance to hear script consultant Michael Hauge speak, and he advised us audience members to study the kinds of films we wanted to write. To choose about six films in the genre you’re writing, study them, watch them, know them inside and out, learn their rhythms, cadence, structure, etc. That all sounds very intuitive to me now, but when I first heard him say those words it was a pretty “A-Ha!” and “Well, duh!” moment for me.

So in the spirit of Favorite Things month, here are the six movies I’ll be studying over the next few weeks as I start work on my first screenplay:

The Rom-Com I’m shooting for mixes chick flick ideas with the crass humor most [men] find funny in a movie like Wedding Crashers.

Should make for some fun research at least! If you have any similar titles you think I should check out, please post them here so I can get them on my Netflix queue. I’d love to hear your ‘Favorite Things’ recommendations!

And speaking of favorite things, Elaine Spencer of The Knight Agency is spending this week with us as our December Honorary Heartlette. Tune in on Tuesday and Thursday and post a comment to one of Elaine’s posts – anyone who’s posted is eligible for our book giveaway. Names will be pulled at random at the end of the week.

Have a great week and keep writing!


Girl Power!

November 12, 2007 at 8:36 am | Posted in heroines, Jessica, life, movies, writing | 1 Comment

My HALO friend once asked me what it was that I wanted out of life and on that same day Publishers Marketplace announced the latest deal news for Susan Elizabeth Phillips. (The news was a whopper!) And I said to myself, Ah! What better way could I explain my lofty hopes and goals than to use SEP as my ideal example?!

But the more time I’ve had to think about it, the more I have kind of morphed my perfect ideal to where it’s a mash-up of two fan-worthy women — my ideal would be to become equal parts SEP and equal parts Nancy Meyers.

Nancy Meyers directed the movie, What Women Want, and is the screenwriter and director for movies such as Something’s Gotta’ Give, and The Holiday (among others).

I just love the stories that both of these women tell. And there’s a line in the movie The Holiday that prompted me to write this post on this week’s topic, heroines.

In the movie, Kate Winslet plays this unlucky-in-love woman named Iris and so as not to spoil the story for those of you who haven’t seen it (I won’t mention any names – ahem- Bria) I won’t divulge too much information other than to say that Iris doesn’t know just how much of a gift she is and it’s not until a mentor character accuses her of being a supporting character in her own life that she starts to work to come into her own.

I loved that analogy.

That phrase has become kind of a timely mantra for me, whether I use it to think about the heroines in my WIPs or, more recently, in relation to the entry I posted last week on motivation.

While the WIPs can be tough cases to crack, there are at least tools at our disposal to help identify the starring roles that our heroines can play.

Tami Cowden has a number of great resources, as found in the Heroine Archetypes section of her web site and in her book, The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines. If you get stuck in this aspect of your writing, consider this craft book a must-have.

Don’t forget the Classical Heroines from Mythology, and while reading over the content on this web site, the following phrase caught my eye:

Being skilled with the weapon is not the only requirement to being a brave heroine. Some of these are women who show great courage, through ability to survive great hardship, make great sacrifice or face death unflinching as any male hero.
Timeless Myths

When I read this phrase, I can’t help but think that these words apply to all of us women – the words themselves are timeless. While we may not be out there fighting the physical clash one would normally associate with battle (as our brave women in uniform do), we do endure other untold battles of our own. And when put in the context of writing, these words take on a new level of meaning . . . at least for me.

I can see where our weapons are our words and voices. To write a book takes courage, but to share something so personal with the hopes of shoe-horning it into the publishig machine takes a set of brass body parts. To complete such a project often takes great sacrifice and the ups and downs of the business can create as much hardship as they do joy.

And that’s one of the reasons why I so admire Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Nancy Meyers. These women have figured it out and have made it work for them. In relation to my entry I posted last week on motivation, I think the base of my frustration is that I haven’t yet figured out what it is for myself.

But it’s been funny – the odd kind – how over this past week I have started feeling better about the prospect of things. Maybe it’s because I’ve been working like a fool on my NaNo pages each day. Maybe it’s because I got some brutal and unexpected closure on a painful issue I hadn’t realized I’d left open. Maybe I have started coming into my own and am now looking for my starring role. Maybe I am taking steps in the right direction and am closer than ever to realizing what it is.

All I know is that I think of Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Nancy Meyers as heroines because they have worked so hard and been so successful in creating their own starring roles. And I want to be just like them.

It only takes, on average, ten years to be an overnight success and every step in the right direction counts. (Getting Unstuck)

So whether it be in your writing or in your real life, get your girl power on this week!


Make Every Word Count

August 6, 2007 at 9:29 am | Posted in Jessica, movies, storytelling, writing | 2 Comments

In Friday’s blog post, Meg mentioned how much she loves this week’s blog topic – dialogue. My book-length fiction has had plenty of dialogue in it but it hasn’t been until now, when I have broached the idea of writing my first screenplay, that I have considered the weight and measure that each word of dialogue has to carry.

With an average of 120 pages per script, screenwriters must employ an economy of words to execute their ideas . . . and do so in a way that is memorable for their audience. What we say matters.

Absolutely every word must count. And the best phrases stay with their audience, in some cases so much so that the string of words becomes part of our everyday speech.

    “If you build it, he will come.”(1)

To help me frame my thoughts, I consulted Bob Mayer’s The Novel Writer’s Toolkit and its section on dialogue.

    Dialogue can reveal a great amount of information about your characters.
    “Well, I believe in the soul, the c—, the p—-, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.”(2)

    Dialogue can reveal motivations…
    “Show me the money!”(3)

    You have to consider whether what a person says is the truth.
    “That guy is tense. Tension is a killer. I used to be in a barbershop quartet in Skokie, Illinois. The baritone was this guy named Kip Diskin, big fat guy, I mean, like, orca fat. He was so stressed in the morning…”(4)

    Make sure the voice of each character is consistent.
    “My Momma always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna’ get.'”(5)

    Dialogue also advances the plot.
    “I’m gonna’ make him an offer he can’t refuse.”(6)

    It can sharpen the conflict between characters.
    “You can’t handle the truth!”(7)

    Dialogue can give expository information.
    “The Master of the Revels despises us all for vagrants and peddlers of bombast. But my father, James Burbage, had the first license to make a company of players from Her Majesty, and he drew from poets the literature of the age. We must show them that we are men of parts. Will Shakespeare has a play. I have a theatre. The Curtain is yours.”(8)

Each of these movie quotations used just the right words to convey intended meaning, and in a way that resonated with audiences. To have that kind of effect on consumers just goes to show the power of word choice.

Wishing you all a great writing week – go out and make every word count!

    “Hasta la vista, baby.”(9) “May the force be with you.”(10)


(1) Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams (2) Kevin Costner as Crash Davis in Bull Durham (3) Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire (4) Kevin Spacey as Verbal Kent in Usual Suspects (5) Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump (6) Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in The Godfather (7) Jack Nicholson as Colonel Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men (8) Martin Clunes as Richard Burbage in Shakespeare in Love (9) Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator in Termintaor 2 (10) Harrison Ford as Han Solo in Star Wars.

A Lid For Every Pot

July 13, 2007 at 11:19 am | Posted in Jessica, movies, relationships, romance, writing | Leave a comment

Meg is offline this week so Bria and I are taking on the task of filling in for the Friday blog spot.

Thinking of Meg has me thinking about summer vacations.  Remembering some of my own vacation opportunities over the past few years, one of the best vacations I have had in recent memory was a trip I took a few years ago to visit friends in California.  It was the first trip I had ever taken where I traveled alone on my own itinerary.  And I loved it.  It helped that I had loved ones that I could call upon while in town, but I absolutely loved having the freedom to do what I wanted to do and see what or whom I wanted to see, and all on my own timetable.  I also did the tourist thing and ended up watching a lot of people on that trip, and for the first time I really took notice of the variety of couples that occupy our world . . . and I remember thinking to myself that, by outward appearances, so many of them seemed mis-matched.

And that was the most fun and optimistic revelation that I took from the trip.  For the first time I witnessed it all around me: the relationship ultimate that there was a lid for every pot.

Now, if I could only have interviewed each and every one of them to ask how they met.  Because I hear from so many people just how hard it is to meet anyone new with the way society is today – whether it be relationship potentials, other new friends with somewhat similar interests, different professional contacts, etc.  And with so many people claiming the same hardship and wanting that new social contact, you’d think that it would be easier to meet lots of different people, not harder.

One of the blogs I regularly visit is Billy Mernit’s, Living the Romantic Comedy.  (Love it!)  A recent post has me thinking more and more about this alleged rift in in-person, meaningful social networking, and how that translates – even if it should – into the kinds of romance novels that we write.  If you’ll allow me the hypothetical question – Does a ‘modern audience’ still want to read about boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back, and they live happily-ever-after?

In Mernit’s post, Till Year Four Do Us Part, he references, “The Shelf Life of Bliss,” a NY Times article by Sam Roberts (July 1, 2007) that looks at modern marriage and attitudes. In it, Roberts states the average span for a marriage made in 2000 is 3-7 years, unlike the lifelong unions of the past.  So to play devil’s advocate here, I wonder how that notion plays into our audience? 

With romance novels, I would argue that consumers read them for that love ideal and that satisfying ending.  But the most buzzed-about and successful ‘romance’ movies of the past two years (with a much different and more varied audience, admittedly) look at the concept of the love story in a way that seems more . . . authentically contemporary.  The movies referenced in the Mernit post are The 40-Year Old Virgin ($109.2M) and Knocked Up ($132.0M, so far), and I want to throw in Wedding Crashers ($209.2M), too, simply because it hit such box office gold.

Personally, I’m not saying that I do not want a tried-and-true love story and a happy ending because, quite frankly, I live enough real life that I would rather not read about it for my entertainment or escape.  But I also admit to being somewhat of a dinosaur in other areas, so, with the wild success of the stories as told in the movies mentioned above, I wonder – am I a bit too much of an Old Soul for modern social networking or storytelling?

Time will tell! 

As an aside, I still hold onto the hope that there are enough well-fitting lids out there. Some where.


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