Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Opening Scene

By Olga Agafonova

At the beginning of September, I finished the first draft of my screenplay. My goal now is to revise and polish it until I am comfortable enough with the result to consider submitting it to various competitions. To that end, I have enrolled in a screenwriting class through the Academy of Film Writing.

The class focuses on the first thirty pages of a script, roughly the first act of the play. Our first assignment is to analyze the opening scene in several movies. What I saw in five movies I like is as follows:

Michael Clayton (2007)

We hear Arthur's manic monologue as the opening titles flash on the black screen, which forces us to pay close attention to what Arthur is saying. The first image is downtown wherever, the skyscraper offices of the law firm that Arthur and Michael work for. The tone is ominous, tense.

Up in the Air (2009)

Images of clouds and bird eye's view of various locations in the United States. Our protagonist is clearly going to be doing some traveling by plane. The mood is upbeat, so we expect this movie to have at least a few light-hearted moments.

Solaris (1972)

Underwater vegetation with a camera pan to a man standing by the pond. No soundtrack. Nothing so far suggests space travel or any science fiction theme.

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

Peaks of mountains covered by clouds. A voice talks about the rumors of a doomsday device being developed by the USSR.

Trading Places (1983)

Sequence of New Jersey images with classical music playing in the background. Most images are regular people going about their day. I'm guessing the music and the sequence is there to setup the contrast between Eddie Murphy's and Dan Aykroyd's characters.

Of all these, I find the opening for Michael Clayton the most effective because Arthur's monologue is so powerful and tells me everything I need to know about the law firm. The entire screenplay, written by Tony Gilroy, is taut, compact -- the dialogue is right where it needs to be in terms of content and length. This is definitely something I'll be shooting for in my second draft.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Latest Addition

Meet a New Columbia II Blogger


Sharon May was born in Appalachia, specifically Eastern Kentucky, the granddaughter of a coal miner. She attended the University of Kentucky for undergraduate degrees in English and English Education and later earned a Masters in English Literature from Marshall University and attended the University of South Carolina for Ph.D coursework.

In 1993, after two years as an adjunct for Midlands Technical College, May was hired full-time in the English Department, later transferring to the Developmental Studies Department to help under-prepared students qualify for college-level courses. She co-authored, along with four colleagues at MTC, a textbook Reading, Analyzing, and Writing for College Students published by Pearson for a developmental English class.

Her hobbies include owning four cats, following UK basketball, and  reading.

Sharon's first entry on this page follows.

My Summer Vacation

By Sharon May

I have set a retirement date for my job as an instructor of English at a local technical college, and my spouse demands I have a hobby or volunteer work before I retire. Apparently, a recliner and TV remote do not a retirement make. 
My life-long dream has been to write full-time, so I have chosen to devote my time in retirement to writing. I have also decided not to teach summer semesters again, and I have spent this summer writing. It has been exhilarating to have time to write. 
I have dipped in and out of writing since I was twelve, sitting down every ten years or so, serious each time, producing a few pages, maybe a short story, only to get bogged down in life’s demands, fear of failure, or lack of dedication. Life seemed to push aside any time to write. Relationships, education, jobs, and, of course, procrastination gave me many excuses. But this summer I had no excuses and a lot of time. 
One of my writing tasks was to organize the writings I have produced over the years. Examining this material led to many pleasant surprises. I found several attempts to start a novel I’ve been wanting to write since I was twenty-two and numerous short stories I had forgotten that I wrote as well as fragments of stories left unfinished. In all those pages of my life, I found some well-crafted sentences, paragraphs, and even pages, something to revive now.  
I also convinced myself join a writer’s workshop to force my writing from the eyes of a private circle of family and friends to those of the unattached and unrestrained public. This step has been beneficial as I have been given constructive and much needed advice and have learned to look at my writing from new perspectives. Among many lessons, I have learned how to focus my paragraphs, how to anticipate a reader’s needs and wishes, and most importantly how to truly revise. Joining the Columbia II writer’s workshop is one of the best decisions of the summer.     
The freedom of summer has ended, and I still feel the urge to write after being very productive over the past three months, writing and revising two short stories and finally figuring out how to write that novel. I wonder if I can maintain an acceptable level of productivity now that I’m teaching again. I believe the writer’s workshop will provide accountability and deadlines to keep me on track, maybe the most valuable aspects of joining the workshop.    
It’s easy to say that a writer should write every day; it’s quite difficult at times to make that a reality.  This summer I have learned that writing inspires more writing, and when not writing, thinking about writing will lead to putting words on paper.  

Now, I know a writer focuses intentionally on the task of writing, regardless of distractions. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Get Your Elevator Pitch Ready

By Ginny Padgett

When I went to my first writers’ conference in 2010, I learned about an Elevator Pitch, which is a one- to two-minute description of your manuscript that can be delivered during the span of an elevator ride and will capture the interest of an agent or publisher, if you were to find yourself in such a situation. I thought that scenario was not likely for me.

Nevertheless, by 2015, I had a project, manuscript, and Elevator Pitch in hopes of somehow becoming published. That spring I helped arrange a writers’ conference, and after it was over, I practiced my pitch on two regional agents who represented my genre. One was politely interested and gave me her card and said I could contact her; the other was mildly interested and said to take my time, polish my manuscript, make it the best it could be, and send it to her. I felt encouraged.

That fall, I organized a series of instructional webinars with industry professionals on varied subjects for the membership of South Carolina Writers’ Workshop. In October, our speaker was an agent of a friend of mine whose topic was “How to Get Published.” We logged on early to do a technical check, making sure all our equipment was working. After we were set to broadcast, we had 15 minutes before the webinar was to begin, and the agent asked, “What are you working on?”

I was astonished when my Elevator Pitch rolled off my tongue with no hesitation and with enthusiasm. When I was done she said, “When you’re finished writing, go to my website, follow the instructions carefully for submission, and send me your manuscript. I think I could sell it.”

Then I was dumbfounded. Who would have thought I could arrest the attention of a nationally recognized agent in Texas from my bedroom in Columbia, South Carolina? (Another writer-friend sold her work to a New York agent at a baby shower in Camden, South Carolina.) So get your Elevator Pitch ready. It’s true. You never know when you’ll need it.


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Internalizing Conflict

By Laura P. Valtorta

A few weeks ago my granddaughter, Gioia (pronounced JOY-ah) was reluctant to give up her comfort can of Play Doh. Her mother, Clara, insisted, and Gioia ate a large glob of Play Doh (yum!) then made a face of disgust.

Gioia was illustrating one of the basic tenets of fiction writing. To write something real, you have to feel it inside. Gioia was angry. She did not want to relinquish the Fun Factory, but she needed to have a bath. She ate the emotion, and it tasted funny. She swallowed the Doh, and the emotion became part of her psyche.

Excellent writers like Donna Tartt may be writing fiction, but their novels illustrate the real, raw emotions they feel inside. When Donna writes in The Goldfinch “he’d never been able to stand kids or babies either, much less the whole doting-parent scene, dumbly-smiling women feeling up their own bellies and guys with infants bound to their chest,” she’s not kidding. I laughed my head off when I read that, and all of her other scathing comments about children. This woman apparently hates kids, and because she’s writing from the gut, writing what she feels, it comes across as true and hilarious.

There’s a lot about Donna Tartt’s philosophy I disagree with. In The Little Friend she makes it clear that she thinks a lot of Mississippians are inferior, not only because of economic disadvantage, but because they skewer their own opportunities. She comes across as classist and racist. She belittles Newton Knight – a Mississippian I happen to admire.

In The Secret History, one of the great classics of modern fiction, Tartt writes (as if in translation because characters often speak to each other in Classical Greek), “’The mother grieves. Not for her son’, he added hastily when he saw I was about to speak, ‘for she is a wicked woman, Rather she grieves for the shame which has fallen on her house.”” This passage says so much and is hilarious, because it comes across as an emotion of real hatred that Tartt has felt for a person in her own life. I love this writer, even though I rarely agree with her.

If I could have one wish as a writer, it would be to eat the emotion of my prose, taste it, and feel it every time, so that it always leaps from the page as truth.