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Self-Editing versus Pro Editing: What You Can (and Can’t) Do Yourself
by John Robert Marlow

It’s no secret that the publishing and film industries are getting tougher, with more submissions competing for fewer spots. The bar has been raised, and first-time writers whose work would have been accepted a few short years ago might now be turned away at the door. To understand why editing can keep that door open, it helps to view things from the editor’s / agent’s / publisher’s / producer’s perspective.

WRITING AS COMBAT

Publishing and film are among the most competitive industries in the world. When you approach an agent or publisher or production company, you’re no longer competing on a local or even regional level; you’re stepping into a global arena and going head-to-head with writers from all over the world.

Most of these writers are bad to average. Some are terrible. But some are very, very good. And if you step into the ring with one (or several) of them—unprepared—chances are, you’re going to get clobbered. Read more…

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Post image for Screenwriter / Producer Interview: Leslie Dixon (“Limitless”) Part 1

Leslie Dixon is screenwriter and producer of Limitless, based on the novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn. (Click here for Alan Glynn interview.) Her other credits include: The Heartbreak Kid (STO)*; Hairspray (MUS / MOV); Freaky Friday (NOV / MOV); The Thomas Crown Affair (MOV); Mrs. Doubtfire (NOV); Outrageous Fortune and other films. Limitless earned over $150M at the box office. (Watch the Limitless trailer here.)

JRM: How did you come to be a screenwriter?

Leslie Dixon: I was just a narcissistic little fantasizing nobody that actually had the temerity to think that I could move to Los Angeles, totally on my own, and break into the entertainment business.

It was very difficult for me to leave San Francisco, because I was living with this really great guitar player. Not a rocker. This guy could finger pick ragtime. And any song off the top of his head with a moving bass line, and get it rolling.

But I did want to make a living and I did want to be involved with the movie business, which I loved. But I loved film probably more than I loved bluegrass, so I worked up the guts to leave. It was hard for any San Franciscan to leave and go to L.A. period, much less try to break into a notoriously tough business.

JRM: Did you know how tough it would be at the time?

Leslie Dixon: No. And if I had, I wouldn’t have tried. I had been on my own since I was 18, and couldn’t afford to go to college. Read more at Make Your Story A Movie .com…

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The Wandering Hero

by John Robert Marlow on August 19, 2011

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The Wandering Hero: No Goal, No Plot, No Chance
by John Robert Marlow

Imagine, if you will, a lead character who wanders aimlessly through 300 pages, with no particular destination in sight. As an editor, I don’t have to imagine it; I see it again and again—and yet again. The aspiring author sits down to write, and does—with no purpose in mind save following the exploits of their lead character. Trouble is, not every lead is worth following.

And therein lies the problem.

PSSST, HEY BUDDY…

Let’s say someone comes up to you in a bookstore, or outside a theater—perhaps even someone you find quite charming. And they say, “Hey dude, come with me, let’s hang out.” The first things you’ll want to know, of course, are where he wants to go and what he wants to do. So you ask. “I dunno,” he answers. Would you be inclined to go with him? Read more…

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Author Interview: Rex Pickett (“Sideways”)

by John Robert Marlow on May 26, 2011

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Rex Pickett is author of the novel Sideways. The modestly-budgeted film adaptation (written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor) earned over $100M at the box office, and was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Adapted Screenplay (which it won) and Best Picture.

Rex has also directed, and has written several screenplays himself, including My Mother Dreams the Satan’s Disciples in New York—a film that won an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. His most recent novel is a Sideways sequel called Vertical.

JRM: How did the Sideways adaptation come about?

RP: We went out to both film and publishing simultaneously. The publishing industry loathed the book in no uncertain terms, and we pulled it after 16 rejections because my book agent didn’t want to stink up the rest of the publishers in the event we did a film deal.

But the film world turned it down universally as well. You hear about rejections in publishing, because your agent gets rejection letters and sends them on to you. In film, you generally don’t hear anything. And I didn’t. Read more at Make Your Story A Movie .com…

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Using 7 Kinds of Readers to Bullet-Proof Your Book (Guest Post)

by John Robert Marlow on January 24, 2011

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Using 7 Kinds of Readers to Bullet-Proof Your Book
Guest Post by Book Agent Michael Larsen

The following is a guest post by literary agent Michael Larsen, who will take it from here….

Using 7 Kinds of Readers to Bullet-Proof Your Book

You won’t get your book right by yourself. So before approaching agents or editors, you must ensure that every word is right and your proposal or manuscript is as enjoyable to read as you can make it. One essential step: create a community of seven kinds of readers to advise you on how to improve your work:

1. Friends and family; 2. Potential buyers of your book; 3. Literate, objective readers; 4. An on or off-line critique group whose members will give you feedback as you write your proposal or manuscript and when you finish it; 5. Experts and authors who are knowledgeable about your kind of book; Read more…

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Agent Andy Ross (Interview)

by John Robert Marlow
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Agent Andy Ross (Interview)
Interviewed by John Robert Marlow

ANDY ROSS is a literary agent and founder of the Andy Ross Agency, which specializes in narrative nonfiction, history, politics and current events, science, journalism, and cultural subjects. Before becoming an agent, Andy was owner and general manager of Berkeley landmark Cody’s Books from 1977- 2006. He was a board member and officer of the American Booksellers Association, past president of the Northern California Booksellers Association, and is author of the Ask the Agent blog.

JRM: Why did you become—and why do you remain—an agent? What got you started, and what keeps you going?

Andy Ross: Most agents come out of publishing. Usually editorial. This makes a lot of sense. They have experience in the decision to acquire books for publishers. They know the calculations that go into making the decision, and they usually know what general sorts of books publishers are looking for.

I came into this job from an entirely different background. I was a retailer for 35 years. For 30 years I owned and managed Cody’s Books in Berkeley. It was an extremely well known and highly regarded store that had a reputation for its unusual selection of titles and its commitment to books of literary and intellectual value. This gave me an unusual perspective. Read more…

Screenwriter Terry Rossio (Extreme Interview)

by John Robert Marlow
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Screenwriter Terry Rossio (Extreme Interview)
Interviewed by John Robert Marlow

TERRY ROSSIO is the second-highest grossing screenwriter in the history of the medium. He prefers to write with a partner, which is almost invariably Ted Elliott. Together, they’ve written the screenplay and/or story for films such as: Aladdin; Godzilla; Shrek; the Pirates of the Caribbean, Zorro, and National Treasure movies; and far too many others to mention here. Terry also co-wrote (with Bill Marsilii) the record-breaking Deja Vu spec script—which sold for $5.6 million.

Q & A by John Robert Marlow

JRM: How did you break in, and how did you come to be where you are now?

Terry Rossio: I’m going to try to not give the usual boilerplate answers in this interview, and that means not going along with false presumptions, no matter how seemingly benign. The question about breaking in seems perfectly legit, but really it’s not. A writer must create compelling work, and then try to sell it. Once sold, the writer has to do the same thing again. It’s really not true that the writer ‘breaks in’—that’s an artifact of the belief that the person is being judged, not the work, and also of the belief that there is an inside and an outside, which I don’t think exists. There are too many screenwriters out there with only a single credit for there to be an inside, and too many writers on the outside making sales, to too many markets which are either new, changing, or undefined.

In truth buyers are just not that organized, your buyer is not my buyer, or in some cases, you can become your own buyer. Read more…

The Digital Outline: Creating a Beatline for Your Story (SDFW Part 6)

by John Robert Marlow
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The Digital Outline: Creating a Beatline for Your Story
(Story Development For Writers, Part 6)
by John Robert Marlow

PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT MAN (OR WOMAN) BEHIND THE CURTAIN

You’ve no doubt heard that art is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration. Actually, it’s not that simple. If coming up with the concept is inspiration, and the actual writing is perspiration—that still leaves everything we’re doing now: logline, structure, pitch sheet and (finally) beatline. This is the man-behind-the-curtain-work that makes the final product—the art—seem effortless. To the audience, that is; the artist knows better.

HAMMERING OUT THE DETAILS

Now that we have the logline, structure, and pitch sheet in place, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty details of just how, exactly, we get our characters from first page, through all seven story points, past the obstacle (which is usually, but not always, overcome) to the goal—and beyond.

This is the land of story development proper, an area many writers—and most beginners—ignore at their peril. Which sounds dramatic, but it’s true. Every good story is a new destination, never visited before. And unless you have a fondness for blundering through the forest in random directions (a fondness which your readers will not share), you’re going to need a map. Read more…

The One-Minute Story: Crafting a Pitch Sheet for Your Book, Screenplay, or Other Tale (SDFW Part 5)

by John Robert Marlow
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The One-Minute Story: Crafting a Pitch Sheet for Your Book, Screenplay, or Other Tale
(Story Development For Writers, Part 5)
by John Robert Marlow

PITCHING AS COURTSHIP

We already know (from Part 2 of this series) that most commercial concepts can be conveyed in 10 seconds or less, via something called a logline. Now we’re going to look at expanding that micropitch into something positively extravagant: a one-minute pitch. (Okay, sometimes it’s a minute and a half.)

Story Structure: Laying Down the Bones (SDFW Part 4)

by John Robert Marlow
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Story Structure: Laying Down the Bones
(Story Development For Writers, Part 4)
by John Robert Marlow

SEVEN ELEMENTS OF STRUCTURE

Classically-structured (three-act) stories have seven basic structural elements: inciting incident, first act turn, midpoint, low point, second act turn, climax, and denouement or wrap-up. Though you’ll occasionally hear about “mythically structured” tales (like Star Wars) having more than three acts, all of those acts fall within three major acts, so the structure laid out below still holds true.

It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Really. And the structure is exactly the same for books, movies, and other story venues—because story is story, regardless of medium.