Sunday, November 25, 2012

Exploiting Conflict in your Writing

By Chris Mathews

Conflict is the ticking time bomb in riveting writing.  We may not all be writers, but we are all amateur psychologists.  We understand and are entranced by people at odds with each other.  Moreover, it is when people are pitted against each other, each striving to get what he or she wants that character emerges and plot develops.  In the words of Uta Hagen, renowned actor/teacher, “If I know what I want and can achieve my objectives readily without any problem there is no drama.”  As writers, we must look for opportunities to exploit conflict in our writing.  I use the word “exploit” here to mean “take advantage of” or to “grasp the opportunity” not “to manipulate.”
In my play GARGOYLES, some high school students in a mountain community are acting in a dress rehearsal for a Halloween play, “Raising Spirits,” when the director receives a note from the principal of the school board’s decision to halt the production.   I chose not to have the cast all agree about fighting to present the play. By creating a different point of view for Bet who plays Sister Sabrina in “Raising Spirits,” I was able to develop her character and increase the tension of the scene.  Here is the scene:

CHRIS.    But it doesn’t make sense!  “Raising Spirits” is no ode
to Satan.  It’s a harmless, little Halloween comedy.  Haven’t they
ever seen reruns of Bewitched?
SHANNON.   Chris is right, Ms. Williams.  How do they even
know what it’s about?  They haven’t seen it yet.  Nobody dies.  The
warlock gets his just desserts.   He overdoses on candy corn, and
he’s banished to grade B horror flicks forever.
MS. WILLIAMS.   Shannon, remember where we live.     
MARC.     But they can’t control us, can they?  We’ve worked for
almost two months on this play.  Hey, it may not be Shakespeare,
but it’s got some good laughs.
            KARA.    Yeah, like when Chris sings.
CHRIS.   Hey, watch it.  I don’t sound that bad.
BET.   Well, I’m sick of this play.  It’s stupid and I’m glad we
don’t have to do it tomorrow in front of all the English classes.
JAMIE.    Oh, come on, Bet.  Just because you didn’t get to be
BET.   Yeah, well being an airhead in “Raising Spirits” is not my
idea of a juicy part.
SHANNON.    It’s a play, okay.  At least I’m an airhead and
not a pothead, like some people I know…in real life.
BET.  Aren’t we cute?  Little Miss Sunshine, spreading your warmth wherever you go.  Listen sister, just remember you don’t know me.  You didn’t grow up here, Miss Suburbia.  
JAMIE.    Just because she’s type cast.  The lady-in-black.  Ms.
Death Rock…  
            KARA.     …Leave her alone
MS. WILLIAMS.    Okay, that’s enough!   We’re all a little
uptight.  There’s no sense in going on now.  Sorry, guys.  Looks
like “Raising Spirits” has landed us in the pits(she starts to exit).

Come to a dead-end in your writing?  Look for opportunities to inject conflict in your work.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger

LEN LAWSON              

Len Lawson first began his writing career by winning 3rd place in a middle school poetry contest for Arbor Day and winning honorable mention for a high school essay contest on the American flag. Since then, he has been writing poetry and short stories and is currently writing a novel. He has earned a master’s degree in English from National University in San Diego, CA. He teaches grammar, composition, and literature courses at Morris College in Sumter, SC, where he was named the 2012-2013 Advisor of the Year. Len also teaches as an adjunct instructor for ECPI University and Limestone College both in Columbia, SC. His essay entitled  Back to the Future: Approaches to Best Practices in Reflective Teaching will be published by the Claflin University (Orangeburg, SC)  anthology in 2013. He is originally from Bamberg, SC, and currently lives in Columbia with his new bride Tiffany and her son Caleb. 

Why I Love the Classics

By Len Lawson

After high school and college, not many of us have the desire to read classic novels again or anything associated with classic literature because perhaps it takes us back to that educational setting where tests, homework, and studying—or the lack thereof—were the norm. In today’s society, we seem to want the hottest new book from the shelves; if the buzz is good enough about a new title or a new author, we as readers desire not to be left out. The thirst for the contemporary leads the masses to bookstores for the best titles and the best authors in the land. If our friends ask us—because we are writers—what the best book is to read right now, then we are expected to give them the book that everyone is talking about. We are compelled to offer an expert analysis if they ask, “Hey, writer, what do you think about that new Twilight/Hunger Games/Fifty Shades of Grey?”
Science fiction, young adult, and fantasy remain the gold mine for today’s writers because of the overnight success of books-turned-movies in those genres. Can I tell you that the classics were once contemporary? Classic authors became iconic because people connected with their work. Ernest Hemingway was regarded as a legend in literature and society during his time because of the early success of books like The Sun Also Rises and because of the late success in his career of The Old Man and the Sea. He was the James Patterson or the Tom Clancy of his generation. Even J. D. Salinger struck gold with his one-hit novel The Catcher in the Rye not because of high-tech, futuristic imagery or the ambiguity or pseudo-eroticism of vampires and werewolves. It became a cult classic because it brought controversial subject matter to the forefront of American culture.

In other words, the genre didn’t make them great. The works themselves were great! In today’s writing, authors seem to have to be in the right genre to even dream of any success—success not just as in million-dollar book deals; success simply as in publication. The classics are still timeless because they explored themes that are timeless. At the heart of Ellison’s Invisible Man is not only the struggle with race in a civil rights culture but also the fundamental struggle with identity. Everyone can relate to the questions: "Who am I?" and "What was I created to do?" The classics go beyond writing for profit, plot, and prestige; they attack the heart of the human condition.

In the tough world of publishers, editors, agents, and writers, integrity in our works sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of looking for the next big thing. I appreciate the classics for their simplicity and their complexity against the backdrop of their historical contexts. What will history say about our generation’s writing? Our best writing seems only to titillate the senses. The business of writing has become more commercial than controversial. I respect any writer who can capture a generation with his or her work consistently or even momentarily, but in my heart as a purist, I long for works that challenge our beliefs, question our culture, and upset the protocol. Show me a book that uses storytelling to do those things, and I will show you a classic!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Writing with the Birds

By Laura P. Valtorta

The backyard birds help me to write – especially the cardinals and house wrens (those brown birds that look as though they’ve been dipped in raspberry sauce). Birds calm the brain.

My family – the stentorian Marco, and the loquacious Dante – do not.

When I moved my writing space from the room upstairs (hot FROG) to the formal living room, I had to accept that people would be dancing around and shouting at me whenever they were at home.

Watching the bird feeder helps.  So do the big windows. I can see what’s going on outside – the birds, the leaves, and the neighborhood cats. There’s a squirrel that tries to get inside the sliding glass door. I get up to chase him away, which gives me more energy to write.

Exercise always helps. The running and the weight lifting must occur before sitting down in front of the MAC, because exercise gets the blood moving. Writing is impossible without some juice flowing to the brain.

Then there’s just the right music. My favorite writing music comes from the album i“Dimanche à Bamako” sung by Amadou and Mariam, because the songs are plaintive. (I wonder what’s going on in Mali). Art begets art.

Before I write, I must have ideas. Those come from work – the most obnoxious and irritating part of the day. I love my clients, but they’re going through hell. And some of that hell rubs off on me.

Then there’s Cliff – the “director” of my film about boxing. He quit working on my film to make political ads. How annoying is that? I spend a lot of energy holding myself back from driving to the movie studio and attacking him.

Thank goodness for the birds, the rose bushes, and my backyard, I’m grateful I belong to Gold’s Gym where they have Cardio Cinema. Without them I would not be able to seize my ideas, calm down, and write.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Wanted: Agent

By Kimberly Johnson

Dear Classified Ads Manager at the Daily Bugle:

My television script is going to be the next big thing, you know.  I’ll move to Hollywood and live in the Hills.  I‘ll write for the hit dramas like Mad Men, Law & Order, CSI

I have one problem.  I don’t know the first thing about an agent or how to secure one.  I’m going to need some space for Friday’s newspaper.  Here’s what my ad will look like.  Look it over and tell me what you think:

Wanted:  Someone who represents my interests and to sell my novice TV script to the networks 
and cable. 

Young, aspiring author wants an intelligent and dynamic hipster who will sell my script to reputable outlets.   You need to represent yourself in a straightforward manner.  Police dramas like CSI and Castle are my specialty.  I want someone who knows the market and can put my script in the hands of the right people. I want someone who is a shrewd negotiator and is up-to-date with the film, TV and foreign contract rights.  I want you to return my calls and emails once we’ve signed on.  I want someone who is excited about my work.  After receiving feedback from the SC Writers Workshop, I am ready to work with a professional who sees the big picture and can offer positive feedback.

Here’s what I don’t want from you:
  • ·        Promising me a rose garden about selling my script to production companies like ABC Entertainment and HBO Films. (Apologies to Lynn Anderson)
  • ·         Giving me dirty laundry such as double-dealing about what you can do for me, discussing important ideas without telling me. (Sorry about that Don Henley)
  • ·         Telling me lies, sweet little lies to keep me on your roster, such as “I have a contact at NBC.”  “Let me schedule lunch with some heavyweights so they can take a look, too.”  (Forgive me Fleetwood Mac).

So, Mr. Classified Ads Manager, do you think an agent will respond to my ad?