Film Review: Still Walking

Scott Myers of Go Into The Story, the Official Screenwriting Blog of the Black List, is not only very generous in sharing his vast knowledge about writing for film, this month he also opened his blog to guest posts, film reviews of hidden movie gems. I wrote about the wonderful Japanese film “Still Walking” – you can read it here.

Thanks, Scott!

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To Write Longhand, Or Not To Write Longhand

The debate among writers whether to write by hand or type has been going, I guess, since typewriters were invented and certainly has gained a new dimension with the introduction of the computer keyboard. I jot down ideas and draw mindmaps on paper, but once it comes to the actual writing I have always been the keyboard type. I realize that this promotes the risk that I will spend far too much time polishing words and grammar rather than develop the story and iron out mistakes and imperfections later.

But recently I attended an event that showed me yet another aspect of this issue. An aspect that I find quite interesting from the reader’s point of view: longhand can sometimes show us what the writer felt.

The event involved my favourite German author, Eva Demski, and the actress Leslie Malton reading and talking about letters written by a woman at the turn of the 19th century. Karoline von Günderrode was a contemporary of Goethe, Clemens Brentano and Bettine von Arnim; a head-strong, very creative and impulsive young woman, a true romantic who took her own life because of unrequited love.  (She wanted to make sure it would work and so waded into the river Rhine with stones tied in a scarf around her neck but succeeded in thrusting a dagger through her heart.)

Not only was it fascinating and entertaining to listen to the voice of this young woman from the 18th century brought to life by the actress and to hear the contemporary author’s dry remarks that, with all due respect, this was all a bit too much “teenage drama queen” for her liking. The audience had also been handed a facsimile copy of one of the letters, and at this point the argument pro writing longhand gained a new dimension for me.

401

This is a letter Karoline wrote to her lover after he had dumped her for the first time, telling him in an acidly witty manner to go stuff himself. Never mind that I cannot actually read this old “Sütterlin” writing very well. The second page contained various crossed-out sections and created an overall look of messiness, but that was strangely contradictory. Karoline was distraught, yet her words are very composed; and yet again the general scrawl and the fact that she crossed out two lines – very decidedly so – indicate the confusion within her. Or so one can read this. Eva Demski offered another interpretation: that she wanted to show her ex-lover that he wasn’t even worth a clean copy to her. All this information gets lost if you just type the letters up and reprint them.

And these feelings never show in the first place in writing that is typed , deleted and rewritten until it is perfect. To be sure, the end result of your novel or screenplay has to be as perfect as you can get it. But I see a new merit in writing the first draft by hand, or at least bits of it. Crossed-out bits will show me where I struggled and remind me how I felt at the time of writing. And that can help my rewriting and revising.

So perhaps I will put actual pen to actual paper more often in the future.

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To Enumerate, Or Not To Enumerate

Another post from the Hamlet series

Okay, so I am still trying to learn the tricks of this trade, and I am always happy to listen to more experienced bloggers with lots of followers.  But there is one piece of blogging canon that is beginning to get on my nerves:

Thou shalt sprinkle thy posts with numbers.

“5 Things Readers Don’t Want to See.” – “ 7 Common Mistakes in Script Submissions.” – “The 8 Rules of Success.” And, apologies to Copyblogger who post fabulous advice but this is just too much: “37 Tips For Writing Emails That Get Opened, Read and Clicked.”

37… Dog help me, that is one post I am not going to open, read and click.

I get it. Numbers, bullet points do help drive home the message, and they also help me retain the message – provided there aren’t too many. Once they threaten me with more than 10 points, I switch off. And that has nothing to do with the shortness of my digital-age attention span. In fact, my attention span is pretty good (especially when I find something to procrastinate over). But serve me a post with 37 bullet points, and I will not retain even the first five.

That’s one thing that bugs me about the enumeration craze. The other is that these days everybody and their uncle are doing it. Sometimes I have the impression that a blogger sat down and thought, I have to do numbers, so what can I possibly write around eleven numbers? Or  perhaps they have a good idea for content but feel obliged to squeeze it into the enumeration corset, and so lose the freedom to argue and engage.

I guess that’s it for me. Numbers don’t invite me to engage. They lecture. Often it is good advice that is offered this way. But IMHO there is too much of it out there.

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To Follow, Or Not To Follow

A post from the Hamlet series*

So many blogs, so little time. And everyone wants followers and likes. So do I.

When, in the course of a recent #wpad blog challenge,  I increased my blogging frequency, I was thrilled to see that the number of my readers went up significantly. (Okay, that was from five to forty-five, but hey.) But then I began to be suspicious.

Some likes and follows hit my inbox within two minutes of posting. Not only did this seem too short for anyone to have actually read the post. But some of the likes came from halfway around the globe, time-zones where it was 3 a.m. at the time of my posting. Now there are many night-owls out there, and I do apologize to my “serious readers”. But I began to wonder whether, just like in twitter, these were automatic follows. You know, some sort of set-up that trawls blogs for keywords and hits the “follow” button without reading the actual post. (I am fairly ignorant about the mechanics and tricks of social media – there probably is a proper term for this.)

That wouldn’t matter so much – other than deflate my recently puffed-up blogger’s ego – but herein lies the rub: it is netiquette to like or follow back, right? Well, I always go to the pages of my new followers and I read some of their stuff, and I am happy to write “thanks for posting / liking / following”. But I will only follow back if I intend to read their blogs on a more or less regular basis. No offense, but I simply do not have the time to read all, and I find it dishonest to hit “follow” just for the sake of netiquette. I do not want to receive dozens of notifications about new posts every day, because I will feel obliged to follow up, and there aren’t enough hours in the week to do my “professional” reading and my own writing to start with.

So I will not always follow back if you follow me.

Have I just lost half of my readership? I hope not. (And if my theory is correct, they don’t read this anyway, he he.) Rather, I hope that people will engage with me. Comment if and when they have actually read my post, which will always prompt me to go to their blog and check it out – and perhaps to follow. Or not. Honestly.

*This post is the first of a series where I plan to use bits and pieces from Hamlet – and perhaps other Shakespeare plays – as prompts.

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Why Are Writers So Generous?

When I timidly ventured forth into the world of writing a few years ago, I was immediately and very pleasantly surprised by how welcoming and generous other writers, including established ones, were to share their wisdom and advice.

I am usually too shy to approach people I don’t know. When I attended my first screenwriters festival, the concept of “networking” was completely unknown to me. Within ten minutes of the opening meet’n’drinks I found myself happily chatting away, drifting from one group to the next. I was networking like a pro. What had happened?

The other writers were friendly and welcoming, that’s what had happened. Those who had been around for a while introduced me to others. Those who hadn’t, like me, were happy to have found another newbie. And everybody was happy to talk about their craft.

Duh, you say, obviously a writer loves talking about his or her writing. But my point is about the craft and business of writing, not about the stories. As at the festival, so many people in various online communities and blogs I started following are incredibly generous with advice, tips and links, information, their own experiences. Bang2Write, Go Into The Story, Scriptangel, to name just a few: here’s a competition,  there’s a workshop, fifty scripts to download and study, the five to-do’s and don’ts of submitting to an agent, watch out for this kind of clause before signing on the dotted line, that production company is accepting unsolicited queries… Aren’t these people just increasing the chances of their own competition when they tell you about all these things?! So why do they do it?

Sure, one of the cardinal rules of networking is “do to others what you want them to do unto you, and best before they do it”. Be generous, it’ll pay back. But I’m sure that no investment banker will share his business secrets for the sake of good networking. Lots of money involved, you don’t want the competitor to get the deal. But again… film certainly is a big money business, and yet screenwriters (at least all the ones I know) still share. Is it because most of “us” are at the bottom rung of the financial ladder in this industry? Notoriously mistreated and deprived of credits? Underdogs must stick together? Undervaluation of self creeping in as we think, “In this weird and wonderful film biz, we get paid least, so what we do apparently isn’t worth much and then there is no need to guard our trade secrets”? (Bollocks, that one, by the way. We provide the element without which no film would exist.)

Perhaps the shared underdog-ness is one reason. But I like to think that writers are mostly motivated to be generous by their love for storytelling and the desire to enable great stories to be heard and read and seen. The appreciation of the creative process, the knowledge of what it feels like when there’s a story inside you clamouring to be let out.

Can’t wait for the upcoming London Screenwriters Festival and lots of writerly love and generosity.

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Binge-Watching and Happiness

A lot has been said and written recently about binge-watching, what it is and means, who does it, and whether it will contribute to TV muscling movies out of business. I’ll leave analyses and predictions to those more business-savvy and would like to propose a more philosophical angle: is there a correlation between binge-viewing and happiness?

I used to be an occasional binge-watcher. Sometimes I get hooked by the story, such as Broadchurch. Sometimes I binge-watch because of the characters, as in Case Histories. But I would describe my bingeing as moderate, usually two episodes in one go, rarely more than three, and rarely more than two evenings a week and then a break (until I discover a new series).

At the moment, however, I spend almost every evening consuming three episodes of Once Upon a Time. And last night I realized that my motivation is different this time. Sure, I like the story and the characters, but not nearly as much as in the examples I cited above. Also, I find it is going on for too long – 22 episodes in the first season? That’s at least 12 too many. So why do I keep watching it?

Bingeing has a strong addictive element, and I think that often people develop addictions in order to fill a void. It’s comfort eating gone out of control. It’s numbing the brain with alcohol because you feel empty.

Emotional void, for me, translates into unhappiness.

I’m unhappy in my current family and job situations, for various health-related reasons. I feel useless and empty. Twenty-two episodes of fairy tales fill this void nicely, or otherwise put: if I were happier, I would not feel the urge to watch this every night. If I had a job, I’d be busy doing the stuff I couldn’t do during the day. Hey, I might even go out to the movies with friends!

I’m not saying I would not succumb anyway. But I’m pretty sure my unhappiness prepared the ground for my current binge-watching.

How about you? Do you binge – how and why?

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Next month I will…

Final day of the #wpad blog challenge!

This one is easy. Next month I will:

1.            Enjoy sunny Italy for two weeks. Actually, I am already there!

2.            When I get back, start posting at least once a week in this blog about all things writer. I also intend to revive  my sneezeblog – do check it out if you have a mind. I haven’t posted there for a while but am determined to change that.

3.            Endeavour to translate my blog challenge-induced writing discipline to some “real” writing – finish the re-write of one script and start investigating some of the ideas triggered by the Writesofluid logline challenge.

4.            Get VERY serious about preparing for the London Screenwriters Festival in October.

Hope to see you around!

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