Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger


Lynda Maschek has had a lifelong dedication to promoting healthy lifestyles which fueled her decision to become a Licensed/Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist. She earned her Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Food and Nutrition from Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio. Lynda is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as well the American College of Sports Medicine. She has been recognized as a professional wellness practitioner for over 12 years. Now Lynda has begun writing articles for nutrition, yoga, exercise and wellness publications.

Lynda is married and has two adult children living in Charleston, SC.

Lynda's first post on this page follows.

Trust Your Gut to Get Out of Writer’s Block

By Lynda Maschek

I could fill a book with everything I do NOT know about writing. Methodology, creative license, and how to create compelling characters are all concepts I have yet to learn. 

There is one thing I DO know about writing: The dreaded Writer’s Block. I get writer’s block just writing a note to my paper boy. I have theories, though, on how to bust out of this depressing trough. We can take positive action to break through instead of wallowing and waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for the next best idea, phrase or plot twist to magically appear.

The Ancients believed that our belly was our brain, where all thinking and guidance came from, hence the term “gut instinct.” In my experience, the solution to writer’s block does lie within our gut. Here are a few strategies that effectively mobilize this belly-brain connection:

1.      Physically activating abdominal muscles, will increase overall blood flow and circulation throughout the body, thereby sending additional oxygen to the brain. Oxygen to the brain increases mental acuity and alertness. If you are not ready to throw yourself on the floor and cop some crunches for your literary art, then stay in your chair and perform what is known as, isometric ab crunches. Do this by sitting up straight and focusing on the action of inwardly pulling the belly button to the spine, and then releasing. Pull the belly button in again, and release.  Do this about 20x. Or 200x.  Your brain will thank you.
 2.      Keep a strong core. In yoga philosophy, the belly region is regarded as the Driver, the Motivator, the “get-up-get-going-I-can-do-anything,” region of the body. The navel area is what drives us forward when we know we are on the right track and supplies the instinct we need to rethink or back off our set agenda. When our abdominal area is strong, we feel strong and in control with super confidence. If our core is under-active or under-used, we may become passive and indecisive about what should be the flow and direction of our writing.
 3.      Feed your gut with nutrients that will support your brain’s performance. Increasing foods that are rich in probiotics will enhance the quality and quantity of gut micro-biomes, (the good bacterium in our digestive tract,) which are essential for boosting brain power and mental endurance. An optimal diet, loaded with fruits and vegetables, has been shown to influence mental acuity as well as mental health. Improving the quality of our diet may reduce the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression that can be associated to the frustration of writer’s block.
So Buckle-Up Buckaroos, because the unbridled awesomeness of your literary talent lies just behind your belt. Writers, authors and novelists who make an effort to tighten their core muscles and spend some time in the produce section at the grocer, will be the first horses out of the gates of Writers Block Hell. Bet on it.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Writing a Memoir

By Sharon May

Is it egotistical to write a memoir when I’ve done nothing to be famous for or nothing of importance for the world? I suppose it is. But all writers are egotistical in a way. We believe we have something important to say and can say it in a unique fashion.

Let’s be clear. I am not writing an autobiography. To me, that means the record of someone’s life from birth to the point of writing the autobiography in order to reveal something about himself or herself that the world should know in order to understand that person’s life and accomplishments. Famous and infamous people write autobiographies. defines a memoir as “a record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation.” The memoir reveals the writer’s personal life but not all of his or her life, only those in the context of an event or series of events. These events reveal the universal struggles of humans through the personal struggles of the writer.

Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking focuses on the death of her husband but is about loss and one’s reaction to it. In Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, William Stryon brings to light the struggles of depression and the road to recovery. Appalachian writer Lee Smith’s Dimestore: A Writer’s Life focuses on loss with the death of her son, Josh, who suffered from mental illness but died because of the medication he took, and with her struggles as a writer. 

So what do I hope to achieve in my memoir? A better understanding of growing up Appalachian, the despair of mental illness and challenges of finding the medications that control the disease, the despair of an unwanted pregnancy and the process of having an abortion, the power of family relationships that forever bind me to Appalachia. That may be a lot to introduce, but these events are so closely related that one cannot be fully understood without the others.

Until my mother has passed on, the memoir will be unpublished though I may try to have shorter pieces published. My mother has requested I not reveal the details surrounding my birth until she has died. I respect or fear my mother enough to keep that promise. In the meantime, I will share my memoir in workshop and among friends so that I may improve my craft.

We have all heard people who do not write say “I should write a book about my life.” We writers usually scoff at their pronouncement. I usually don’t scoff, but I do encourage them to find a writer to help them capture their story because I believe most people have a memoir in them even though they may be thinking of an autobiography.

What would your memoir reveal about you?  What universal truths would we find in your story?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Five Questions to Ask Before Writing a Funeral

By Kasie Whitener

The cemetery sloped. They dug the grave into the side of a hill and the apparatus that would lower Aunt Carolyn into the earth leaned left-to-right. The crooked casket held our straight-laced and tightly buttoned spinster aunt. She had a concert musician’s posture and a strict moral compass. Her faith had been true and unwavering for decades. But the site of her final ceremony had a slant like a crooked wig. The kind of hill you only notice if you’re pushing something up it or balancing a casket on it.

She had been sick for a while. Death was a relief. When we staggered toward the mortuary’s tent, we were not exactly grief stricken as much as gravity challenged.

Funerals are trite. The death ritual is a cultural standard, one that in its familiarity provides comfort and closure.

But fiction writers cannot afford to be trite. Each page in a novel or short story must have economy. It must move the plot forward, reveal characters’ intent, or complicate the hero’s journey.

Writers must build action into every scene. How are things different after the scene occurs? In that respect, funerals are easy. The action is inherent. Before the scene, someone was dead. After the scene, that person is buried.

The rituals of death make the scenery, props, costumes, and sounds predictable: outdoors or in a church, flowers and caskets, black suits and dresses, and sniffling mourners or contemplative hymns. Writing about funerals requires the writer to be even more creative because we already know what the scene will entail.

If there’s a funeral in your story, try answering five key questions:

First, does the funeral scene need to be told? If the story can survive on the before and after, then skip it. Many writers do just that.

Second, what details can be used to make the scene unique? High heeled shoes sink in cemetery soil, for example. Better to go with sensible flats or wedges graveside.

Third, how does the main character behave? People tend to behave the way they think they should at a funeral, not in their genuine character habits. Use the main character’s habits to add fresh action to the scene.

Fourth, what would disrupt the balance of the ritual? A drone flies overhead, its buzzing pulling people’s eyes, its camera curious and invasive like flying paparazzi.

Fifth, how have the relationships shifted because of the shared, or not shared, experience of the funeral? Did someone laugh? Who disrupted the dignity of the proceedings and how did the others respond?

Making trite scenes fresh takes intention. Write the boring, typical scene first and then, during revision, disrupt the scene with unexpected details and action. Let people be free in your fictional funeral; their unexpected absurdity will make the scene better.

A writer that finds contrasting details at a funeral makes it familiar and unique at the same time like the last slanted above-ground moments of our very straight Aunt Carolyn.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Writing Process

By Sharon May

Textbooks describe writing as both a linear yet recursive process. They give activities for researching, prewriting, planning, drafting, revising, editing, publishing, and proofreading. Of course, don’t forget to pay attention to audience, purpose, and style along the way. This looks like such a clean process, like a paint-by-numbers kit, but beginning writers learn quickly that the process often brings more chaos than direction. Writers do all of this even though textbooks don’t describe anyone’s actual process.

The classroom setting further makes the writing process unreal for beginners. Writers don’t sit in uncomfortable, undersized desks arranged in rows filled with other struggling writers. Teachers usually demand silence, although it is broken by pencil sharpeners, shuffling through book bags, crumpling of pieces of paper deemed useless, and the occasional sigh or groan.

Beginning writers want the process to be easy like the textbook describes. They envision “real” writers following these steps and producing the finished product in one sitting and in one draft. These beginning believe in their frustration that they aren’t real writers because they have to keep revising.

If they only believed me when I explain how many pages and versions the authors probably wrote to produce the textbook. If they only believed me when explain that they have to find a process that works for them using the toolkit provided. And many times that process will have steps no one else does.
Let’s admit it. All writers have quirks that drive their process. Some have favorite places to write – a coffee shop or library. One of my groups in a reading class produced their papers in a McDonalds. I knew a writer who sat in his car in a parking lot far from home because he had to be alone without the chance of interruption.

Some prefer the predawn dark, either because they’ve stayed up all night or just gotten up. This is the only productive time for many female writers with children. Some need background noise, which is why I let my beginning writers use their IPhones.  

Quirks get quirkier when trying to solve writing problems. I have a colleague who writes a sentence or two and then paces around the room until the next sentence comes. A poet friend shuts down his Mac, and rolls a sheet of paper into one of his many collected manual typewriters because he loves the clanking of the keys capturing his poem. Another colleague wrote her Masters’ thesis on sticky notes that decorated her walls for months. If I’m stuck, I leave the computer, lie down on the couch, stare at the ceiling, and concentrate on the characters and what they would say or do.

Take a few minutes to examine your process and quirks. Learn to appreciate them and be thankful you found what works as you weave your way through the chaos of trying to say what you think, feel, and imagine in ways never been written before. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

On Seeing People

By Olga Agafonova

Over the last couple of weeks, I spent some time reading about nuclear warfare – the escalation of tensions with North Korea first gave me anxiety and then an idea about a short story. I needed to know what happens in the first few minutes after the detonation of an A bomb.

Michie Hattori’s first-person account of the bombing of Nagasaki is as harrowing as one would expect but it’s not the descriptions of death and suffering that struck me the most.  After the war ended, Michie studies English and ends up marrying an American attorney. Here is what she says about her relationship:

“ […] His work took him all over Texas and to surrounding states. I found myself more and more left at home when he traveled. His circle of American friends seldom included me.
One day, after seven years of matrimony, he presented me with divorce papers, saying our marriage had been a mistake. […] ”

Our marriage had been a mistake. After plucking out the girl from Japan and bringing her over to the U.S., half a world away from everything she knows, this guy decides it isn’t going to work out after all.  To me, this passage means that Michie’s husband never took the time to understand who Michie was. It’s deeply disturbing how commonplace this is – it is as if we collectively don’t care to get to know each other well enough to see the complexity of each other’s lives.

As writers, we don’t get to say that men are ultimately unknowable and leave it at that.  We try to get better at reading people so that we can create engaging, persuasive literature, fiction or non-fiction.

In 2012 Andrew Solomon released Far From The Tree, a book remarkable for its candor. He wrote about children who are different from their parents: some were gay, others disabled, yet others prodigies and so on.  I was surprised that Solomon managed to get to the essence of these relationships – the gifted children who resented their parents for their explicitly conditional love; the parents of severely disabled children who resented the kids for changing their lives forever.

Solomon took the time to listen to the stories that these people told. All of the narratives included in the book are multi-dimensional – not one descends into sentimentality and platitudes about overcoming challenges in the face of adversity. There is no “putting on a happy face” here: people tell Solomon what they think and feel and it is often not pretty.

I can’t think of another way to learn to see people for who they are except to talk to them. To talk to them about the stuff that matters: the fear of death or poverty, the loneliness of parenting, the unhappy marriages, the disappointing adult children. The effort we make in reaching out and understanding someone is bound to pay off not just in better writing but in being better humans.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Writing Film Reviews

By Laura P. Valtorta

Attending film festivals means watching films – a lot of films – some good, some terrible. Reviewing these films would be like riding a roller coaster, even if we were not subjected to “talk-backs” with the directors afterwards. Better not to meet them. These people can be jerks. Or the director of a stinky film can come across as pleasant. The personality of the artist is an inaccurate measure of the quality of art he or she produces.

Woody Allen is an excellent example. He’s made some major mistakes in his life.
Yet, Deconstructing Harry, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Annie Hall are some of the most influential and well-loved films ever.

This weekend, I watched several independent films at the Long Beach Indie Film & Music Festival ( and tried to jot down reviews.

Nowhere Michigan was a feature drama about cooking meth in a small town. Granted, the subject matter was old and overheated, but good acting and clever casting saved the day. I enjoyed the gross, funny caricatures among the meth dealers and the townspeople. Unfortunately, the director was a prick: very self-satisfied and congratulatory during the talk-back. If they keep that guy away from the public eye, his films might go somewhere.

“Naranja, the mini series” employed some rabid stereotypes to put across a couple of glaring messages: crime is oftentimes a set-up. Criminal suspects are unfairly profiled by police. Duh. The director, Martin Barshai, could have employed more subtlety, but his actors were talented.  Also, Martin came across as a nice guy, willing to listen – to a degree. He receives a semi-positive review.

Sometimes I got side-swiped by famous actors in the credits. “Ingenue-ish” was a short narrative comedy about an L.A. actor sleeping around in order to advance her career. It was light and cute. The running joke was that the main character was an “ethnic mystery” because she was Asian with freckles. Apparently, no female actor in Hollywood gets cast based on her talent. (But what about Brenda Blethyn and Meryl Streep?) When I realized that the director was John Stamos, I became more interested. This means I’m just as much of a sell-out as anybody in the film.

Films about sports included Touch Gloves about a boxing gym in Massachusetts. It was so much like my own film, White Rock Boxing, that I’m guessing the director must have seen my work, which came out in 2013 and appeared on public television. The director wasn’t present. Otherwise, I might have punched him.

The best film (besides my own, “Water Women,”) I saw was a complete surprise: Robert Shaw, Man of Many Talents, directed by Peter Miller. This was the biography of an unschooled orchestra conductor and choral leader who became very popular in the 1940s through the end of the century. He headed the Atlanta Orchestra and was instrumental in integrating orchestras and choruses. Loved the film. No director in sight to spoil the effect.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Thin Plot

By Bonnie Stanard

As I’ve been reading the novel Empire Falls, I wonder how author Richard Russo keeps me hooked on a story in which only ordinary characters go about their ordinary lives. Isn’t that a formula for a ho-hum book? The plot revolves around the manager of a diner in Empire Falls, an economically depressed town in Maine. You can read pages in which hardly anything happens but that’s not to say it’s boring. To the contrary, it’s engrossing. It reminds me of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, another novel that showplaces the ordinary. In that case, I surprised myself by continuing to read it to the end.

If you Google “plot” you’ll get lists of the many types (as many as 36 listed by Jerry Flattum), but you won’t find a type such as “ordinary-day” or “slice-of-life.” However, this plot was proved viable in 1922 when James Joyce wrote the classic Ulysses (which lives up to Mark Twain’s definition of a classic). Essentially, Joyce wrote about an average day in the life of Leonard Bloom. How did Joyce recount mundane events in a way that created a significant novel?

Most of us live ordinary lives, but at times, a person or situation may affect us in such a way that we need to put our thoughts in writing. It’s not unusual for workshop writers to bring fictionalized accounts of events that impress them. I’ve written such stories myself, in an effort to recapture something meaningful to me. Or to pass along to others something I think is valuable. Even as I’ve read these stories in workshop, I’ve felt my own excitement, only to hear “ho-hum” from others.

Once I responded to an agent’s criticism with “But that’s the way it was.” My story was pure reality, delivered with my tears and laughter. And I thought it was worth telling. However the agent answered with, “Just because it’s true doesn’t make it interesting.” After reading manuscripts for years in our workshop, I understand. In fact, I’ve appropriated her comment in critiquing other writings.

A strong component of ordinary is predictable. That is to say, our everyday life, by its very nature, is predictable for the most part. And when we are formulating a slice-of-life story, predictability is already there, a toxic part of the plot. Even though Empire Falls is ordinary, it’s not predictable. Russo has an eye for the elusive, a way of seeing what the rest of us don’t.

I think another aspect of success with a slice-of-life plot is the author’s ability to convince us that we care about what happens. The writing of Jonathan Franzen is a good example. He is fascinated by his subjects. There is a tone, an author’s voice, that is nagging us on. Between the words, he’s telling us this is something we can’t miss. This is important.

Though Russo’s novel is short on plot, it is strong on characters. However, the central figure, Miles Roby, doesn’t provoke excitement in the usual sense, nor is he controversial. In fact, he’s a really nice guy, adores his daughter, tolerates an abusive father, and hopes for the best for his soon to be ex-wife. Now how does Russo make this milquetoast an engaging protagonist?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

First-Book Jitters

By Rex Hurst

As I’m sitting writing this blog entry, my first novel is being uploaded onto Amazon. Now this isn’t the first book I’ve sold, that one being a particularly foul epistle on a serial killer from the murderer’s point of view, but as the publisher has been reluctant to return my emails, I’m counting this as my first. And of course I’m thinking what next?

All of my energy and focus and drive went into creating a modern masterpiece of aliens shooting each other, I gave no thought (or very, very little thought to be accurate) as to what the hell I do next. As the late, great John Mortimer once wrote to me, (I’m paraphrasing here) “writing the book is the easy part, then you have to get people to want it.”

How do you do that?

Well, writing a great description for the back of the book is a good start. I have now written and rewritten it half a dozen times. How to make it interesting, but not generic. Unique, yet also fit into the category the reader is searching for.

“Time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions,” as T.S. Elliot put it.

“A forced-grown Gen-Human, only three months from his decanting bottle, is shanghaied by a sadistic pirate clan.”

How’s that for an opening line? Does it grab you?

And does the blurb matter? I’ve got a kick ass cover, put together by some very hungry Venezuelans. The cover, despite what anyone says, sells the book more than the blurb.  Am I wasting my time?

Then the practical bits. How do I advertise? Or, more importantly, where do I advertise? I’ve got cash for it, but I need to make sure that it doesn’t go down the tubes. Then there’s the process of buying the ISBN number, the bar code, registering the copyright claim, having a print run of the books, getting an author’s website up, going to conventions, having a banner made for myself, getting magnets and t-shirts and miscellaneous crapola all put together.

(I met an indie comic books artist recently who makes more on the fridge magnets and stickers of his comic than he does off of the book itself).

Still that’s neither here nor there.

All of these tensions, all of these potential problems, aren’t going to stop me from hitting that fateful button “publish.”

And here we go.  

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Pondering Idiolect and the Word Choices of a Madman

By Jodie Cain Smith

My writer-nerd-out moments occasionally come from unexpected sources.

Recently, while watching my new summer obsession Manhunt: Unabomber, I became gripped by the field of forensic linguistics and the concept of an individual’s idiolect. I watched episode three of the limited series so engrossed that I even stopped scrolling social media and crushing candy, an occurrence that only happens if what’s on the telly is riveting.

As FBI profiler Jim Fitzgerald analyzed every word of Ted Kaczynski’s manifesto, the concept of an individual’s idiolect unfolded, and I began pondering how idiolect, the speech habits peculiar to a particular person, could be applied to creative writing.

In Manhunt: Unabomber, Fitzgerald zeroed in on words in Kaczynski’s writing including broad, chick, and negro as words rarely used in 1995. From these words, he was able to estimate what decade the Unabomber was born in, thus identifying an age range. Fitzgerald was also able to determine an education level and geographic region for the Unabomber due to rare alternative spellings (analyse instead of analyze, wilfully versus willfully, etc.) and phrase choices such as including a “Corrections” page rather than an “Errata” page with his madman dissertation. With each unique word choice Kaczynski made, he might as well have been leaving his DNA all over the pages.

My first thought was to apply this concept in creating accurate characters in fiction and nonfiction work. Just as Fitzgerald flushed out Kaczynski’s profile of the Unabomber by deciphering specific words used in the notorious letters, I should flush out my own characters by choosing words indicative of the time period, region, and education level, especially when writing dialogue. Then, I realized I already did. Every time we as writers select words for our characters such as yonder, Frigidaire, or say, coolio, we are placing a time stamp on that character.

Upon further thought, I discovered that idiolects would help color the characters in my current work-in-progress, which is set in a fictionalized version of my hometown. Toward the end of episode three of Manhunt, my Paw Paw’s voice came to my mind. I could hear him saying “Purnt” instead of point and “Urnion” instead of onion. I’ve never heard these pronunciations outside of the small fishing villages that line the western coast of Mobile Bay.

Why haven’t I added this flavor into my WIP? Because I had forgotten how much idiolect, the unique words and pronunciations a person uses, matters in creative writing. If what I want to do is create authentic, relatable characters for my readers then I must make sure that every word each character utters is authentically that character.

My nerding-out over forensic linguistics and idiolects is likely to continue for a while longer, at least through five more episodes. If you’d like to join me, Manhunt: Unabomber airs on the Discovery Channel. Don’t ask me when because I DVR it, which will surely become indicative of my age when future generations decide to study the awesomeness of my idiolect through the use of forensic linguistics.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Telling a True Story

By Kasie Whitener

My stories are always true and always fiction:
·         My friend’s high school sweetheart died in Afghanistan.
·         Thick sexual tension hung between me and the tattoo artist when I went for my cover up.
·         A derecho racked the resort at Wintergreen, ripping branches out of trees, one of which landed on a car.
I take that real thing that happened and fictionalize it for the story. Real life is messy and funny and sad and frustrating and it rarely fits inside 3000 words. In stories, real life is confined to a bounded space.

When fictionalizing real stories, ask yourself these five questions:

What is the most important moment?
Is it when someone discovers he’s been cuckolded or when his wife confesses? Isolate the most important moment of the series of events and then magnify it for the story. In the best stories, the author has magnified a moment that is unexpectedly poignant.

Richard Ford’s “Grand Central” focuses on two men, the husband and the lover, becoming aware of one another’s presence in a crowded place. The lover’s choice of whether to approach the husband is the drama of the story.

What are the stakes?
Find a pivot point. After that moment, the character’s life will go off into one of several possible trajectories. Even if the moment is small, like deciding to ignore a painful truth, that choice will impact the character’s life.

Why does this story need to be told?
I’m always encouraging my friend, Jodie Cain Smith, to write down the stories she tells. They are funny, unbelievable, and so beautifully told; it’s her gift. There are plenty of decent stories and then there are those that MUST be told.

When you fictionalize a real event, ask yourself why this story needs to be told? The answer to that question creates the sense of urgency that pulls readers in at the title and through the final punctuation.

Which character should tell the story?
Even if the story is in third person, it must have a central storyteller. That person can be witnessing the main conflict, experiencing the main conflict, or causing that main conflict.

Think of selecting a perspective like a film technique: putting the camera on each character’s shoulder to see what he or she sees. Which viewpoint is the most compelling?

In “Choose Life,” I deliberately chose the character who only witnessed the tragic loss of an ex-boyfriend, not the woman who actually lost him. I wanted the distance that creates perspective and grief would cloud that.

Where can you use creative license to make the story more compelling?
Anne Lamott said: tell your stories; if people wanted you to say nice things about them, they should have behaved better. The life you have led should be the trunk from which you pull your stories. Fictionalize them to make them compelling, more interesting, even more useful.

Real life is boring but the stories we write about it remind us of what it means to be human.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Writing a Documentary

By Laura P. Valtorta

Whenever I watch a documentary film, the credit for writing takes me by surprise. How can anyone write a documentary, since it’s a recording of real life, and unscripted experiences?

While making my sixth documentary, “Mehndi & Me” (completed today, July 27, 2017 – Yahoo!) I finally figured it out. I was the writer, because I was piecing together the “script”: a list of film clips typed up in the order they should appear in the final product. With “Mehndi & Me,” a portion of the draft script, with inexact times, looks like this:

                                                Mehndi & Me (short film)
                                                Summer 2017

Version 1 – 07.08.2017 Laura P. Valtorta
Clip #
Beginning and end of clip (dialogue)
Music & special effects
Beginning and end (seconds)
GoPro 168
Six bare hands in circle

Laboni’s music, instrumental
0:00 to 0:07

(7 seconds)
GoPro 172
Hands in circle, painted

Laboni’s music, instrumental
0:12 to 0:25

(13 seconds)
Laura’s shot, outside of law office
Shaky shot proceeds from side of building to sign

9 seconds

MVI 134
Lynn’s shot
Laura introduces theme
“I’m just glad to be here in Columbia, SC; and I can get mehndi from a real artist from Bangladesh.”
First time this is said, NOT repeat
0:16 to 0:27

(11 seconds)
MVI 130
Lynn’s shot
Silent shot of Laboni

Laboni’s music with singing
0:11 to 0:21

(10 seconds)
MVI 122
Lynn’s shot
Dianne, Laboni, Laura, & Kimberly at table
“I would love it if you got 2 designs…more balanced”
No music
0:10 to 0:17

(7 seconds)

This is my personal version of a documentary script. Others might use a storyboard with pictures or drawings. Sometimes I begin with a storyboard after shooting and proceed to the written script. In any case, writing a script is the step taken before editing, when the film is actually cut.

Before putting together a script, the director must first shoot the film (the most joyous part of the process) and then review hours of clips, making a complete list of what’s going on in each clip. Reviewing the raw footage is tedious. The Editing Decision List (EDL) that results is a giant list of clips with times and descriptions. These are the ingredients used to assemble the script.

For a documentary, the middle process is something like this:

·         Plan the shoots
·         Shoot the film
·         Review the film clips and prepare Editing Decision Lists (EDLs) ugh!;
·         Choose elements from the EDLs to write a script;
·         Edit the film and promos; add music

Before all this, after conceiving an idea for a documentary, I secure the music and music rights. Music must be available during the editing process.

For me, making a film is teamwork. I could not make any of my films without the help of either Genesis Studio (owned by Cliff Springs), or the indomitable Lynn Cornfoot, who works at South Carolina ETV.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

What’s Worth Seeing

By Olga Agafonova
Recently, I’ve been asked to contribute to an adaptation of a TV show script to a feature. I’ve never done anything like that before, so I began to think long and hard about what makes a good film.

What I’d like to write about is how life slips away and we don’t do the things we hoped to accomplish, about the big, good, beautiful dreams that end up being illusions. 

In the 2016 film The Founder, about the origins of the McDonald’s chain, the transformation of Ray Kroc, played by Michael Keaton, is engrossing, exactly the kind of writing and directing that transcends mere entertainment.

This is more than another story of a man corrupted by ambition. For Kroc, success is just out of reach, just another sale or two or twenty away. He craves something more than his nice home and nice – but not good enough – wife. Keaton’s facial expressions, his shifts in mood are central to the film. When Kroc tells his wife about the McDonald’s brothers’ fast-food assembly-line innovations and she dismisses this, you can tell just by the look on Keaton’s face that he will remember this slight and won’t let it go easily. Indeed, toward the end of the film, Kroc coolly tells his wife over dinner that he wants a divorce.  

Seeing these subtle shifts on the screen is not the same as writing them but I hope that being able to pay attention to these things will soon start translating into more compelling characters. I struggle with my characters. I know what I want them to be, I sometimes see a fuzzy image of them in my mind but I do not yet hear them and I certainly don’t hear them telling me how they’d like me to describe them.

The McDonald’s brothers dream of a restaurant that serves surprisingly high-quality burgers and fries turned into something grotesque. The franchise is now associated with poor nutrition, low pay, obesity and poverty. Happy healthy people don’t eat at McDonalds anymore– they’re being sold feel-good stories by Whole Foods, where business somehow shouldn’t feel like business.

Kroc did accomplish a lot, at the cost of defrauding the brothers of their invention and their royalties. Keaton, by the end of the film, looks confident and ruthless. Gone is the sugary-ness of a salesman who wants just one minute of someone’s time. Keaton is a less handsome Dorian Gray who rather enjoys what he’s become.

This complexity of character, the elevation of a story about the food industry into first-class drama – that’s a film worth writing and watching.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Don’t I Know You?

By Kasie Whitener

In 2015, I presented a workshop for SCWA on plot arcs. My co-presenter had the subject of character development. She detailed a process she’d created that employed the Myers-Briggs personality tests to diagnose characters. I was stunned by the science of her methodology. It had never occurred to me to be so specific, so intentional about a character.

A year later when I started using Scrivner, a word processing software program for writers, I dallied with its Character templates that ask for the character’s physical description, personality, habits and mannerisms, background, internal conflicts, and external conflicts.

I write literary fiction which is: 1) a character-driven story, and 2) creative storytelling. Put another way: in literary fiction, who you tell a story about and how you tell the story are way more important that what the story is.

Suffice it to say, I should have intimate knowledge of my characters. They are 50% of the novel’s equation. So why don’t I put in the work of my Myers-Briggs-savvy co-presenter?

Anxiety over whether I have fully developed these characters used to haunt me. In every revision I would ask myself, “What does this character want?” In every scene, I would think, “Is this consistent with his personality?”

It drove me crazy.

Here’s the truth of it: my characters live with me. I see them, hear them, talk to them, commiserate with them, and love them. They start talking and I start writing. That’s why I write literary fiction.

My stories don’t begin with “there was a boat at sea and a storm came up…”

They begin, “Lord Byron tastes like opium.”

My characters are rich and textured because they’re imperfect and messy and undecided. They don’t fit templates; they change their minds and become better people and become worse people and apologize and then screw up again. My characters are real people.

And therein, writer friends, is my problem.

Aaron Sorkin tells us characters are not people. They must be finite, they exist only in the story.

So, my biggest chore in revision is exaggerating the relevant parts of a character’s personality and minimizing the irrelevant parts. This streamlining is especially needed in short stories where irrelevance can derail an entire story.

My entry in this year’s Carrie McCray Award contest is about a woman running into an old lover on her daughter’s first day of kindergarten. My workshop readers asked: Is she married? What kind of work does he do? Why didn’t they ever reconnect after that one hookup?

The story doesn’t need those answers. It doesn’t even use her name. She’s every GenX mom on the first day of kindergarten looking into the eyes of the hottest guy she’s ever had sex with. That’s the story.

Paring down real people into characters is hard. I’ve only recently discovered one of my main character’s primary internal conflicts and I’m on draft eight. Templates and methods and programs and suggestions are great. But they can’t compete with the voices in my head.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Literary Serials: Marketing Gold with a Binge-worthy Twist

By Jodie Cain Smith

I first met Jolene Harris, a woman who “grew up knowing the real hair color of every woman in town,” in Michele Feltman Strider’s Home series. With witty, troubled characters, Strider dances the line between graceful, women’s fiction and comedic shenanigans. It was Jolene’s shenanigans that drew me to Strider’s new serial Homestyle (digital download available on Amazon). Now, I’m obsessed.

I mean, come on! If you don’t want to read about a woman who steals her boyfriend’s car then grinds the gears for four hours from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home to her mama in Bayou La Batre at 2am because the jerk visited a strip club, well, I have to wonder how much we really have in common. But, I digress as to not give too much away.

But, however much I am loving this serial (now on issue three), my obsession goes beyond my love of a character “raised on a hearty diet of gossip, hearsay, and hairspray,” and the author who created her. I am obsessed with the potential the resurgence of literary serials holds for small press and independent authors.

As authors and writers, why reinvent the wheel of book marketing when we could take a look from the way back seat? Way, way back.

Literary serials were born out of economic need. Dickens and others of his time understood the economic strain of their readers. Rarely, if ever, could the Dickensian Everyman afford to buy a whole novel. However, many could scrounge up a penny to devour the next installment of their favorite saga of the local paper.

The same could be said today of time. The busy reader, the commuter reader, or the read-while-in-the-carpool-line reader will find a work designed to be read in short snippets very appealing.

Marketing a serial builds a public.

Thou shall not fill thy friends’ walls with the same product over and again. Rather than risking the “unfollow,” a writer can promote new material as issues are released. Then, anticipation for the next issue builds, readers begin sharing ideas of the not-yet-released issues, and new readers find you because of the online chatter. More posting, especially of quality products, increases an online platform.

Who doesn’t love a box set?

For the author looking to boost Amazon sales, the best way to do this is to have multiple products to sell. Once all the issues of a literary serial are released, an author can “box” them together, thus creating a new product. From there, discounts for buying the entire set can be given, a paperback version of the collection can be offered (think special edition), and new promotions designed for each product, sale, or combo can be posted.

As we all know from waiting for the next episode of whatever TV serial we are obsessed with, the anticipation of the next, juicy installment is both torture and delight. Literary serials and the accompanying anticipation can create the same excitement. But, this time the excitement could be for your work!

In your future literary serial, who will your main character be? Share your spiciest idea in the comment section below!

If you would like to know more of Michele Feltman Strider and her writing, visit her at

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Grab a Notebook

By Ginny Padgett

 I started a nonfiction book project in 2014 based on experiences and interviews with 15 people once a month for a year. I’m still not finished writing it. When I take excerpts of it to workshop for feedback, sometimes they are met with astonishment by some of the respondents (also from workshop). “How can you remember our conversations and the details of our meetings so accurately? You have a great memory!”

I was flattered by their accolades, but there is a simple, mundane explanation. As soon as I returned home from each encounter, I made strategic notes to jog my memory when I was ready to write. If something in our discussions struck me as important enough to me to use as a direct quote, I jotted down key words. Not only could I remember the quote I wanted, but that often provided enough spark to reconstruct the whole exchange, bolstering interest with dialogue while fleshing out the action. I don’t think I have a better than average memory. Notes, and perhaps practice from journalism school, were the trick.

As time elapsed, I came to see diarizing an event has personal benefits as well. While writing my manuscript, it occurred than more once that these notes and recorded dates jump-started memories I needed to calculate and navigate everyday life.

Mindfully now I record outings and appointments in my calendar with details…and don’t delete them as tasks accomplished. “What was the name of that movie we went to last month?” “Where did you find that tray?” “Where was that cute restaurant we stopped at on the way to Baltimore?” “When’s the last time I saw the dermatologist?” I can find the answer to these kinds of questions in a jiffy. It doesn’t make for world peace, but sometimes it does make my life easier, tidier or evokes a smile when I look back and find a happy time spent with friends and family.

Fortunately, notetaking is easier than ever since the smart phone in your pocket is packed with more technology that the 1960s space-race effort. Snap a photo. Use the voice recorder to make notes for yourself. Ask your companion or interviewee if you may record a chat about an interesting subject. Immediacy is primary to getting it down right for nonfiction.

I realized another plus. Keeping notes on events, behaviors and deportment, environment, conversations can be prompts for plots, characters, settings, and dialogue for fictional writing. Take notes and see where they lead.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Put Social Media to Work for You

By Kat Dodd 

Social Media: It isn’t just for volunteering your own privacy anymore. In many ways, social media has become synonymous with the internet itself. Without social media, you might as well be utilizing only a fraction of the internet. I think that you can agree that not using the internet to promote your work is all but impossible for anyone but the most established writers. After all, many writers are even skipping formal publishing and simply self-publishing online. More and more books are digital and many people would rather meet you online in the comfort of their homes rather than venture to events to meet you in person.

As writers, we can have a tendency to be a little introverted at times or “lost in our heads” so to speak. That isn’t to say that we are anti-social beings, but we can tend to over-analyze things in general and be a lot better at focusing on our craft than having the ability to promote our work to others. However, Social Media provides the perfect outlet to network without the pressure of trying to find people to share your work with out of thin air.

In a previous post in May, Rex Hurst described the importance of networking in general when it comes to being published and promoting your work, but I would emphasize the importance of social media in particular. Utilizing social media to promote yourself and your work is the most cost effective way to network.

Before I began writing fiction again, I simply wrote reviews and articles and promoted myself with Facebook, Twitter, and other sites such as Tumblr. I followed other people that wrote similar articles and got attention from them and their readers by commenting on and sharing their work, as well as gaining inspiration from their writing styles. Inevitably, I got noticed and had a following before I had really begun my own website. Once I had my website, I was able to use cost effective advertising on social media that was targeted towards those with similar interests and my notoriety flourished for a while.

Similarly, I would recommend that you begin using social media for your fiction in a similar way. Find similar writers on social media with Facebook groups and pages, pay sincere attention to them as well as their readers and watch yourself grow as a result. Promote yourself with your words and actions to them, more than by directly mentioning your work. Advertise your page separately and only volunteer knowledge of your page after you make those initial connections. Share some of your ideas freely, like samples of food at the Supermarket. People want to be freely interested in you before they make a true investment in your work.