Monday, March 24, 2014

Want to be a more productive writer? Put down your crystal ball

     He didn't have it all figured out...
     The words are still echoing in my brain.
     That's basically what my favorite author, Armistead Maupin of  "Tales of the City" fame,  told a packed auditorium about many of the clever plot twists, characters and callbacks scattered throughout his nine book series.   He didn't "plan" them ahead of time.    He just wrote.
     I mean, I knew the early books started as newspaper columns, but come on...
     You really didn't "see' the whole story before you started?  Or at least half?  There are anagrams and intricacies that could only have been achieved by months and months of outlining, right?
     He didn't have it all figured out.
     He just wrote.
     He told the audience that in the
beginning,  his goal was to just stay one step ahead of the readers.  And he found that when he needed to "connect the dots."  They just seemed to be there.
      Really?   What is this?  Magic?
     I like to plan.  Well, I take that back.  I'm not a planner in my day-to-day life --  much to my boyfriend's chagrin.  But when it comes to a writing project,   I can outline like a mutha.   My brain wants every detail spelled out before I start.   Every twist.  Every turn.    I want to be clever.     I want to know that when the heroine wears the blue dress in Episode 3,  it will become a significant plot point in Episode 75 and later how it will appear -- to the audience's surprise --  in the closing shot of the series finale.
     I can easily get caught up, postponing the actual "writing" while I think and over think.
      He didn't have it all figured out. 
      He ... didn't.... have... it ... all ... figured ... out?
      He didn't have it all figured out! 
     ... Whew!  What a relief!
     The Universe knew I needed to hear that.   I needed to be reminded to trust myself enough to just WRITE.    Sometimes you gotta put away the charts and graphs,  the outlines and the formulas and just dive in.
      You can't connect dots that you never actually created.
      I get it.  Loud and clear.
      Will I change my ways completely?
      Well .... let's just say I'm planning on it.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Deadlines: How to turn this enemy into your best friend

Jen Kelley
Guest Post     

     Today's writing advice comes from Jen Kelley,  the co-founder, head writer and co-artistic director for Sketchworks, Atlanta's premier sketch comedy theater. Jen is also a casting director and co-founder of Big Picture Casting, after spending many years as a talent agent and co-authoring the book "The Actor’s Guide for Kids". 
      Despite all of her accomplishments,  I always think of Jen as "teacher."   It was Jen who taught the first sketch-writing class I ever took (... and the second ... and the third... and the...)   It was her example, guidance and encouragement that put me on a path that eventually changed my career and my life.  I still use many of the techniques she taught me then today.   As a writer, she's practical and fearless.  And is one of the few people I know who actually  embraces  the rewrite process, whether it be plays, sketches or films.  Today, she talks about her love/hate relationship with deadlines. 

Advice from writer/casting director Jen Kelley 
Who needs a stinkin' deadline?  I do  

   It’s 11 p.m, Sunday night and I’m just now sitting down to write a piece for Robin’s blog, which is appropriately titled, “Bitch, Procrastinate, Write” – due tomorrow of course.
    I love a deadline. I hate a deadline. I love to hate a deadline. But without deadlines, I might have little to show for myself. One thing I tend to do, without really intending to do it, is to declare a deadline out loud to a group of people, who will now hold me accountable.
    The first full-length play I wrote, I created such a deadline. A couple producers told me they were looking to produce a comedy. I quickly mentioned that I had written a play that might be up their alley. I told them a little about it, and we decided we would have a play reading in two weeks. I would line up the actors, and they would hear the play out loud and then decide if they wanted to produce it.
   Now, it wasn’t a lie. I really had written a play and in my mind, that play was comedy gold. BUT, and there is always a “but,” that play had been written many years ago when I was still writing on a word processor and I was just out of college. I mean, the damn thing was on a floppy disc. My current computer couldn’t even read it. But that was OK, I had a hard copy. I found that hard copy and re-read it.
   While the idea still had merit, I soon realized that I could only salvage about 15 percent of it. Most was sophomoric at best. The rest of it, well, it made the sophomoric crap look like golden sophomoric crap. Needless to say, I had to start re-writing and FAST.
    The table read was already scheduled. I was in deep. As you can imagine, the next two weeks were insane. I wrote every night into the wee hours. When I resurfaced, I had a multimedia, three-act play. I was still rewriting up until the read-through, but the point is this: the deadline got that play written. Without it, the play would never have been produced, let alone sold out every night like it did.
    Another thing I always wanted to try was standup comedy. I kept talking about it, but I never did anything more than talk. Then one day, on a whim I signed up for a standup comedy class. I had eight weeks to write my routine and then perform it at the Punchline.
   While I still have stress dreams about it, I did it. I met the deadline, and it actually went fine. I crossed another item off my bucket list. Never underestimate the power of a class deadline. All you have to do is commit.
    While deadlines can be tremendously stressful, they give you a finish line to race toward. When you declare realistic deadlines out loud to the world, you make yourself accountability. If saving face is your reason to write, so be it. So, here in front of everyone who bitches, procrastinates and eventually writes, I declare that I will complete my screenplay by 3/9/15.
  I’ll be writing right up to midnight the night before. Needless to say, 3/8/15 is going to be one stressful day.

    Jen Kelley is a casting director and co-founder of Big Picture Casting, Inc.  In addition to her casting director career, Jen co-authored  "The Actor’s Guide for Kids, a step-by-step guide for parents of child actors. In 2001, Jen co-founded Sketchworks Theatre, Atlanta’s premier sketch comedy troupe where she has written and produced hundreds of sketches. She currently serves as Co-Artistic Director, head writer, director and producer.  Jen has also written industrials, short films, and plays.

Monday, March 3, 2014

How to shut up your inner snob -- and start writing

Guest Post 

Madeline Hatter 
   Today's writing advice comes from author/comedienne Madeline Hatter, who I had heard about long before I actually met her.   One, because people genuinely love her and her comedy.  And two, because,  at first glance, folks were constantly getting us mixed up.  (We still are puzzled by that.  But at least from my end , considering her popularity, I guess it wasn't so bad! )   Madeline describes her novel,  "Lookin’ in the Mirror,"  as  "an unromantic comedy."   And I'm not surprised.   Madeline has a delightfully unique and quirky way of looking at the world.   Here, she talks about  killing your inner snob as a key to sparking creativity.  

Advice from Author/Comedienne Madeline Hatter
Keep Your Snob in Check
    I can be a snob. Some days, I wrong-headedly affirm that snobbery: I'm a hipster, hee-hee.  I say wrong-headed, because snobbery is dangerous to your process. When you're brainstorming stories, but throwing them all out because they're not “original” enough -- or whatever contrived reason -- it's destructive. And for me, all this was happening before I even touched a key.
   Several years ago, I wrote a novel, with a sequel built in.  Literally. The first one ends on a cliffhanger. And having not written the sequel dogged me for a long time. So why wasn't I
writing? Snobbery.
    My first novel  ("Lookin’ in the Mirror")  was a spoof of sorts.   I called it an “unromantic comedy” because it followed the same tropes of a typical rom-com, but nobody falls in love.  But the second would definitely be a rom-com, and that started to bother me.  “I'm so hack,” I would mull to myself.  I'd berate myself to come up with stories in other genres.  To no avail.  Along the way, the messaging became more destructive, with articles touting some established author's process of completing 25 books a year.  Finally, I decided that if I wasn't going to write, I needed to do something else.
    Years passed, and I had freelanced a little.  I covered basketball, politics, and then left writing entirely. (Mostly because politics will drive you nuts.) I got into cooking.  Organic living.  Locavorism.  Interesting stuff, but I wasn't producing anything.  And at my core, I am a creator.
     At the encouragement of a coworker, I did my first standup set.   I wasn't horrible, just really, really rough.  Looking back, I got some really good laughs for a first-timer. And it wasn't an audience stacked with family and friends.  Then, I took a class at The Laughing Skull.  Our graduation show was another feather in my cap. “I can do this,” I thought. But it wasn't long until that old snob came around again.   And I started looking for “deeper, more thoughtful” material, “getting bored” with the stuff I already had – stuff that was getting laughs!  Then, the articles: Louis C.K. writes a whole new show every six days!
    Admittedly, this process did bring me to sketch comedy, improv, and now acting – which have also been very good to me. (I'm featuring in  I Hate Hamlet at Lionheart Theatre  starting March 13!)   But the time came to put the kibosh on "Le Snob."
     “This is bullshit,” I said to myself.    “I'm not a middle-aged white man who's been in comedy for 20 years!  I can aspire to create material on that cycle, but if it doesn't happen, so be it.  I'm me.  I need to write what I know, in the cycle that I have.”  The message: Learn to appreciate yourself... Your talents, skills... What you bring to the table. If you need to, list them.   In fact, it's better if you see them written down.   In your own handwriting.  And if you're like me, doing so will bring you to finally admit some things you've been hiding, like...
     Datgummit, I like rom-coms!   So what if the last one or two, or fifty, have really driven it into the ground.  There have been some cherished greats in the genre -- or at least just cherished by me. “So screw you, Snob!   I like happy endings!   And shut up, comedy self.   You know I'm not talking about massage parlors fronting for prostitution.”
Now all I need to do is sit down long enough to write that sequel...

 Madeline Hatter is a former journalist and graphic designer. Author of the unromantic comedy "Lookin’ in the Mirror".   Atlanta comic.  Now, actor.   Madeline is the sardonic girl next door, delivering killer quips with her disarming smile. You may know her from her YouTube video Thank You Black History. Soon she will feature in the Lionheart Theatre production I Hate Hamlet, running March 13-30, 2014 in Norcross, Ga.  Madeline enjoys outdoors activities with her dog, watching sci-fi/fantasy, practicing Spanish, and writing.   While working as a journalist, she published the unromantic comedy "Lookin' in the Mirror".  Now she's looking forward to starring in romantic comedies!

Monday, February 17, 2014

How a simple phrase can boost your writing -- and running

Guest Post

Susan Puckett
I was thrilled when writer/author Susan Puckett  agreed to do a guest post. I knew her advice would be incredibly inspiring and insightful. She did not disappoint.  Susan, a food expert, has authored several cookbooks including her culinary travelogue, "Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey Through the Soul of the South".    I worked with her at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she served as food editor.  She was one of the most passionate and creative editors I had ever worked with.   Here, Susan shares her tips on tackling the "uphill battle" of writing. 

Advice from author Susan Puckett 
My Mantra for Running and Writing...

    For every uphill there’s a downhill. 
    For. Every. Uphill. There’s. A. Down. Hill.
    My thighs are on fire and lungs feel on the verge of collapse.  I am tempted to walk the rest of the way to the top. But I chose this dauntingly hilly course for a reason. I’m on a writing deadline, but the words aren’t coming. Panic is setting in. I need more than a leisurely stroll today. I need to feel the burn.
     I take a deep breath:  For every uphill…
     And then slowly exhale: there’s a downhill.
    Repeat. Again and again, until at last I reach the top.
    That wasn’t so bad! With head up and shoulders back, I lengthen my stride as the road flattens, and then dips, allowing me to coast effortlessly, reveling in the breeze and the satisfaction of this minor achievement. 
     The next hill presents itself. This time, though, I face it with less trepidation. I begin my ascent to the beat of my mantra once again. And when I get to the top, I feel a little more empowered and in control than I did five minutes ago.
     When I return home, I am fully energized, with a rough sketch in my head of where my story needs to go.
A powerful writing weapon.      For most of my writing life, I have been a runner. I took it up more than three decades ago, while working as a rookie reporter at my first newspaper job. I hoped it would help me lose weight and quit smoking. I accomplished both, and discovered another benefit: the more I ran, the better I wrote. While running did not cure my procrastinating tendencies – which still dog me to this day – it became a powerful weapon to fight back the fears, doubts and insecurities that egg them on. It helped me build confidence and discipline, inspiring me to take risks and see possibilities I couldn’t within the confines of a newsroom. Running, in fact, sparked my interest in food and nutrition, and ultimately put me on the food-writing path that continues 35 years later.
     My running habit has not been totally consistent. For a couple of years, while struggling with personal issues that led to a period of depression, I hardly exercised at all. I fell out of shape and my work suffered, too.
    About a decade ago, I decided to give it another try. I started very slowly, counting laps on a rubberized track in a gym. I found a supportive group of slow runners who helped me rebuild my mileage on the streets. One of them inspired me to enroll in running guru Jeff Galloway’s marathon training program, which advocates interspersing walk breaks into long runs so even a slowpoke like me has a shot at finishing 26.2 miles.
The magic of mantras.  Get one.   Galloway, like many athletes and sports psychologists, also speaks often of the motivational powers of a personal mantra: a strong word or phrase that can be repeated over and over to replace negative, debilitating thoughts with empowering ones. 
    Mantras don’t have to be poetic or profound – only energizing and affirming.   Here is a litany of others:
    Writers have mantras, too, often posted on sticky notes on their computers for a pick-me-up. Blogger/author Rachel Held Evans posted about them, listing a bunch of good ones – short  (“Simplify, simplify” – Henry David Thoreau)  and not-so-short (“…Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”  – Sylvia Plath) 
     Where I first heard the mantra that would serve both purposes in my life, I cannot say. I know I didn’t make it up. 
   Somewhere in the midst of an especially grueling training run, those words entered my head and stuck:   With every uphill, there is a downhill.
    Running is hard. Writing is hard. But the harder I push through the challenge of either, the greater the exhilaration once I reach the finish line – be it a marathon or a book.
    Sometimes, if I am on deadline and can’t break away for a jog, I will compromise with a meditation break. I will step away from my computer, shut my eyes, and visualize myself at the base of a steep hill. Taking deep, controlled breaths, I repeat my little chant to myself until I get to the top, and then try to imagine the runner’s high  as I coast down the other side, perhaps with an audience at the end,  cheering me as I cross the marathon finish line.  
    Then I open my computer and get to work. 

Susan Puckett is a writer specializing in food-related topics living in Atlanta, Georgia. She has written a number of cookbooks, including her culinary travelogue, "Eat Drink Delta: A Hungry Traveler’s Journey Through the Soul of the South" (University of Georgia Press, 2013.) She most recently collaborated with Daron “Farmer D” Joffe on "Citizen Farmers: The Biodynamic Way to Grow Healthy Food, Build Thriving Communities, and Give Back To the Earth" to be released in March 2014 by Stewart, Tabori and Chang. She was previously the food editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitutiona position she held for almost 19 years before taking the freelance plunge in 2008.  For more about Susan, go to

Monday, February 10, 2014

Got no writing ideas? Here's 11 reasons why

Mike Stiles 

Guest Post  

Mike Stiles is Senior Content Manager for the Oracle Social Cloud and a writer/producer/performer/ filmmaker for the Atlanta sketch comedy troupe Sketchworks.  He's also worked as the executive producer of a national radio comedy network, been a top-rated radio host as well as on-camera and voiceover talent.  What I most admire about Mike is that he is one of the most prolific writers I have ever know.  He always has a wealth of ideas that he can quickly and efficiently turn into sketches, scripts,  jokes, columns or even monologues at a moment's notice.  Today, he dishes up some tough love on how YOU can do it, too.  

Advice from writer/author/content manager Mike Stiles 
Don’t Be One of Those “I Don’t Know What to Write” Writers...

   Newbies and pros do it. They want to be writers, they like to think of themselves as writers, they feel like they should be writing, and yet they’re uninspired to do so…by anything.
   It’s not a valid excuse. You’re just being lazy and ignorant.  
   The world and everyone in it are bombarding you around the clock with things to write. The problem is your senses aren’t on. Instead of asking what you can write about, you should be asking, “Why aren’t I aware and making something of everything that’s being given to me?”
   Here are 11 things for you to mull over while you’re busy being stuck:

 1.  If there’s nothing you want to say, why are you a writer? Writers have a need to point something out, make fun of something, explore an unexplored notion, inspire people, vent, educate people, etc. The world doesn’t need more words just for the sake of having more words. If there’s nothing you want to say, it’s okay to be silent.

2. You may know full well what you want to write; you’re just too chicken to do it. A lot of great writing personally confronts and challenges the author as it’s being written. You might be reluctant to go through that. Plus there’s the fear of what readers will think.

3. Much hinges on your ability to story-tell. No matter what you’re writing, you’re trying to take the reader on a trip from title to final word. How far they go depends on how good you are at making them always want what’s next. Is your not knowing what to write just lack of confidence you can get them to “the end”?

4.  I should exercise. There’s no reason in the world not to. But to me, it’s hard. So I make up and believe whatever excuse I can come up with to avoid it. “I don’t know what to write” is an excuse for those who find writing hard. Writing is a muscle. Don’t exercise it for long periods and it’s that much tougher when you do finally hit the keys.

5.  The world is feeding you material daily. There’s more information and more sources of information than at any time in human history. Some writers, nose in the air, actually boast of being largely unaware of current events. Don’t disconnect then cry about lack of inspiration.

6.  Your own emotions and experiences are feeding you material daily. A heightened awareness of what you feel and what made you feel that way is invaluable in informing your work. If you aren’t real, your characters can’t be.

7.  The people you interact with can feed you material daily. If you’re a recluse, please don’t complain about not knowing what to write. Every human being is a library of hugely relatable stories. BUT…to surface them you have to have real relationships and real conversations. Small talk with casual acquaintances will leave you dry.

8.  Seek out experiences. Unfortunately, many of us carefully craft our lives to only experience the familiar and comfortable, to only associate with people who think and believe exactly as we do. This makes your world a really small place, with really small writing to match.

9.  Comedy’s about angles. Make a habit of processing what you see by viewing it from angles “normal” people just don't.  Drama is about fostering relationships between the readers and characters so readers care. Informative writing is about making sure the reader walks away with actionable intelligence.

10.  Keeping an idea notebook is still enormously valid. But it doesn’t work if you don’t note the ideas NOW. You’ll forget. Things like Evernote supercharge the idea notebook by letting you compartmentalize, add to and flesh out ideas. Some won’t flesh out, but others will build up into worthwhile concepts.

11.  If you truly can’t think of anything to write, instead of spending time worrying about how you aren’t writing, shift to another medium. Draw, paint, write a song, any other method of expression. It at least keeps you creating.

  When the entire world is utopian perfection, and neither you nor anyone in it have a single personal challenge, and when everyone has all the knowledge there is to be learned, then perhaps you can complain you have nothing to write about.
   Until then, plug in, connect, turn on all your senses, experience, and say something about what you take in.

    Mike Stiles is Senior Content Manager for the Oracle Social Cloud, author of “Showtime: Brands as Content Producers,” and proprietor of The Stiles Files and the Brand Content Bugle.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Are you mentally fit to write?

Joseph Hampton 

Guest Blog

Today's advice comes from screenwriter/director Joseph Hampton, who has written for Tyler Perry's "House of Payne"  and "Meet the Browns."   His screenplays include "The Legend of John Henry,  "Felon Fund" and "Illegal Aliens."    Here, he gets real about the importance of getting mentally fit to write.  

Advice from writer/director Joseph Hampton 
Get your Sh-t together!
 Whether you’re a professional writer or someone trying to get into the business, my advice to you is ‘seek help now!’   Seriously.  I’ve been a professional writer since 2006 and it can be lots of fun or scary as hell. Often it’s both at the same time. The only way to weather the storm is to take your emotional and mental health as seriously as learning your craft. If going fishing or kicking the cat keeps all your gray matter in the right place, please keep doin’ what you’re doin’. But if you have even a small sense that you could use a mental tune up, I recommend you do it sooner rather than later.
    The main tool for a writer is his brain. If you aren’t getting healthy in your mind, you might as well smoke three packs a day, eat bacon sandwiches with a side of bacon sandwiches and play hopscotch in heavy traffic. ‘Ju gonna die, mane’ figuratively— maybe literally. Neither one is a pleasant thought, so, why risk it if you can fix it?
Drugs and lemon-meringue colonics.  Are you thinking what I used to think, ‘If I straighten out all the screwed up wiring in my head I won’t be unique anymore. I might sweep away a franchise along with the crap that’s making me hate myself!’ Chances are if you weren’t fighting off emotional demons and self-medicating with booze, drugs or lemon-meringue colonics, you’d become a better writer. You’d at least get more done and be a more tolerable lunch date. Why? Because you’d have a better sense of what interests other people and you’d be more open to the world around you. (Just please, for the love of Carl Jung, fight the urge to tell everyone about your therapy sessions.)
    What do I know? None of us are having the same life experience, right? In a nutshell I woke up one night last year staring into the darkness and blathering like an idiot to my wife. Everything that had been buried under comedy scripts and smart-assed comments was bubbling up to the surface. No, actually it was splashed all over the inside of my head like Quentin Tarantino had just filmed there. Luckily, we found a counselor within a day and he helped pull me off the ledge I was on. The first thing he told me was, ‘your childhood was defined by rejection and you’re in a business defined by rejection. Every time a script doesn’t sell you have exactly the same emotions you had as a kid.’ I never thought a rejected sitcom script could be that big a deal. I thought (as I’m guessing many of you think) finding success in my writing would solve all my problems. Maybe it can act as a buffer, but on a bigger stage with bigger budgets we just make bigger messes.
     Bullshit mountain.  It’s not easy airing this dirty laundry in public. I want to seem totally together, at least long enough to wow them in the next pitching session. The problem with seeking help for mental or emotional issues is that no one wants to be that guy. But I’m not necessarily talking about checking into a padded room—though I’ve worked for a few people who could use it. I’m suggesting a couple of hours with an experienced counselor who can help you find your triggers and who can sift through the mountains of bullshit creative people hide under.
    What have you got to lose? Just like you needed an experienced writer to teach you structure, you need someone qualified to help you deal with the content of your mind. Give it a shot before Vincent & Jules show up inside your head  & start reciting Isaiah.

Joseph Hampton, owner and operator of EasyFeat Entertainment Inc.,  has written for Tyler Perry's "House of Payne," "Meet the Browns."   His screenplays include:  "Illegal Aliens," "Felon Fund," "Standing Pat," "Man of Steel," "The Legend of John Henry" and "The Wolf of Aachen."   You can follow Joe on Twitter at

Monday, January 20, 2014

How to give your story a skeleton

Brian Egeston
Today's advice comes from Brian Egeston, a TV writer, novelist and  Vice President of Development for Bobbcat Films in Atlanta, Ga.   His most recent project is the  dramatic mini-pilot titled "Birth Right," which is available at He tells us the importance of giving a story structure. 

 Advice from novelist/TV writer Brian Egeston
Stories Need Skeletons and Heart ...
    In my early days as a novelist, my writing process went like this: 1. Turn Computer on.  2. Write book.  3. Finish book.   4. Pray it’s good.  I was na├»ve enough to think I had the entire story in my head. I did, but it had no structure. In its finest state, a story-- whether it’s a feature script, stage play, novel, short film or haiku—will present itself to an audience as a beautiful body of work. Bodies cannot move without a skeleton. 
  Every story must have some type of structure. Whether you’re following an eight-sequence formula for your feature, Blake Snyder’s save the cat, a classic three-act structure or simple plotting along with a basic begin, middle and end, don’t write a single word of your story until you have its bones built. Spending time on the skeleton of your story allows you to create twists, turns, foreshadow big events toward the climax and catch unforeseen problems. 
    Here’s an example: I sit down to write a story about a man who buys a dog for his kid. Simple, right? Rather than outline my story, I peck away at the keyboard with some narrative about searching craigslist for free puppies and wind up at a strange man’s house filled with cigarettes and Chihuahuas. The dogs chase him out and he doesn’t buy the dog. The end. Hilarious—and unfulfilling. 
  Questions loom.  The questions loom for the audience, when did the character decide to find a dog online. Why is he searching for a free dog? Was there a moment when he decided against buying the dog? What started his search? What happens when he rings the doorbell at the strange man’s house? What if he bought a cat instead of a dog? What happens when he gets home and his son doesn’t see the dog? How is the story resolved that relates to the man’s initial quest for a canine.
  These questions are all over the place, but when we spend more time answering questions that comprise a story skeleton or outline or beat sheet, questions and holes become plot points and solutions. 
 Another significant part of a good story is the heart of matter. This is not to say you need a melodramatic, sappy, ‘King of the World’ Titanic scene. Rather good stories are based on a real emotional moment. Action blockbusters, broad comedic movies, silly sketches and even tight one-line jokes are based on a true emotional gem. 
What's it really about?   "Men In Black III" wasn’t about fighting aliens. It was about a man traveling through time to learn why his father wasn’t a part of his life. When that moment is revealed, it makes the journey of special effects, jokes and action all the more rewarding for the audience. In an episode of The Office, Michael Scott releases his short film, 'Threat Level Midnight'. The episode isn’t about a silly homemade movie, it’s about revealing a character’s passion and desire to accomplish a goal. Ultimately it gives the audience added insight into who he is and makes us love him even more.
   Comedian Henry Youngman’s joke, Take my wife—please is perhaps one of the most concise and insightful jokes ever written and it speaks volumes about a man who is frustrated in his marriage. This joke is tight, it’s hilarious and it’s sad. In four words the writer tells a story that explores each side of the drama masks. Both Greek muses, Thalia and Melpomene have been satisfied. 
   Youngman, was actually very fond of his wife, Sadie. She traveled with him on the road and when she fell ill, he built an ICU room in their home because she was terrified of hospitals. Makes the story even better. 
   As humans, our bodies go through a lot—as do stories. But without a good skeleton and heart, neither of the two can survive. 
    Eight Major Plot Points:
   Save the Cat Beat Sheet: Bridesmaids

Brian Egeston is Vice President of Development for Bobbcat Films in Atlanta, Ga. After publishing six novels and three anthologies, he began a career in TV writing as a staff writer for Tyler Perry’s "House of Payne".  The following season he was promoted to Head Writer for the show and served as a creative consultant for Tyler Perry’s "For Better Or Worse". He was also Head Writer for The Rickey Smiley TV show and Head Writer for "Uptown Comedy Live". Egeston’s most recent project is the release of his dramatic mini-pilot titled "Birth Right," which is available at

Monday, January 13, 2014

Finding a writing partner: Is it really worth it?

Don Woodard 
Guest Post

Today's advice comes from Don Woodard, a veteran TV writer and  producer best known for his work on "Just Shoot Me," "Dream On" and "Rodney".   Oh, and then there is that little credit I am most jealous of:  "Family Guy".    As an actor, he's appeared on Newhart,  Perfect Strangers and The Golden Girls.  So aside from being versatile,  he's got great stories for a cocktail party.   Here, he discusses the joys -- and pains --  of having a writing partner. 

Tips from TV writer Don Woodard

No man is an island ... and I’m guessing no woman is an island, either...

   Writing alone is a blessing. The idea of tuning out the world and creating something unfettered and so wonderfully right-brained that the words flow free and that voice comes alive and… Crap. I should start over. No. Push on. No, I hate how this is starting. Unfettered? Really? Unfettered? Shut. Up. YOU shut up. Wonder who’s winning the hockey game. Great question. Back in a sec.
     So writing alone is also a curse.
    Working with a partner has its rewards and difficulties. For most of my twenty-plus years writing TV, I had a partner. I wouldn’t be the first to describe it as a second marriage, with a lot of ups and a few downs. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that. Jesus, if he sucks one more pad thai noodle through those thin, pursed bastard lips of his, I swear… You get the idea.
    On the other hand, what a joy, when that critic in your head starts to weigh in, and there’s someone else in the room to help calibrate the dreaded scales of judgment. “Is this funny?” “It’s very funny.” “It doesn’t feel funny.” “That’s because we’ve read it thirty times. I laughed out loud when you pitched it. Nothing’s changed. It’s still funny.” “Okay. But please stop slurping your pad thai.”
    So what’s right for you? I’ve loved collaborating daily with someone. Television shows certainly like hiring partners. They get twice the talent (let’s hope) and twice the sweat equity for the price of one. In these discount days, studios have been known to hire writers on the condition that they pair up with someone else they’ve hired, which, returning to our marriage analogy, well… These arrangements are still legal in certain parts of world, no?
    I think partnering is especially good for comedy writers for the “is this funny” factor alone. It’s also a lot easier to come up with story ideas that have beginnings, middles and ends when you have someone to bounce your genius off of. And if, at worst, both of you are terrible at deadlines and discipline, there’s a guilt factor involved that pushes even two of the worst procrastinators across the finish line. (“I am not going to be the one to screw this up.”)
     So there’s one piece of advice: Get a partner.
     Here’s another: Don’t.
     If writing with someone else is not for you, then set those hours, close that door, ignore that phone, and write. But step out into the daylight more often than you think you need to.
     Here are a few quick thoughts if you’re going to slog it alone:
     1) Find a few critics. Ask friends to read your work. If at all possible, try not to pre-load your request with humility (“I know this sucks, but…”) or the TV Guide logline (“It’s ‘Game of Thrones’ meets ‘The Sopranos’ meets ‘Hoop Dreams’…”) or what you’re aiming for (“With these 500 words, I topple the United Nations…”). In most cases, it’s better if people come to it cold. Let the material speak for itself. If you tell someone, going into it, that you don’t think the dialogue in the confessional scene sounds realistic? Guess what?
    2) Use The Rule of Three, or at least the Rule of Two. If one person says your main character is playing beneath his intelligence in your brilliantly funny and revealing “new, mean boss” scene, that should elicit a “hmm” from you. If no one else has a problem with it, it’s probably working. But if Person Two and Three ask why your hero is acting like a douche in front of his superior when he’s never acted that way before and it doesn’t seem motivated and, yeah, it’s kinda funny but it doesn’t seem real? This is not the time to get defensive. Breathe. Your scene needs work.
   3) Don’t be insular in the first place. Find a writers’ group. Or take a class. Networking is important in this business, and you will most likely meet some folks who will travel the same roads at not-the-very-same pace. Feedback from these same people is even more important. Hearing how you’re doing is a good thing; you’ll know, instinctively, whose notes to respect, and whose to ignore. (Just remember the Rule of Two or Three.)
   So that’s it for now. Trust your voice. But trust others, too. Television is about as collaborative as it gets.
   And if you can’t handle the feedback? No worries, as the kids say.
   That’s what playwriting is for.

Don Woodard is a veteran TV writer and  producer best known for his work on "Just Shoot Me," "Dream On" and "Rodney".    He was part of the legendary LA improv company The Groundlings ("pre-Ferrell, post-Shakespeare," as he describes it) and had guest roles on several classic TV shows including: Newhart,  Perfect Strangers and The Golden Girls.  Today,  Don lives in North Carolina and raises money for a non-profit law firm that provides free civil and legal aid to low income people.  Follow him on Twitter @WoodardWrites

Monday, January 6, 2014

Successful screenwriter reveals surprising secret weapon

Guest Post 

Michael Lucker 
(Today's advice comes from writer, director, producer Michael Lucker who served as screenwriter on the animated sequels to MulanLilo & StitchEmperor’s New Groove and 101 Dalmatians and has helped pen more than 20 other feature-length screenplays including  "Vampire In Brooklyn,"  "Home On The Range" and "Spirit," which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002 for best animated feature.   Oh, and did  I mention he once worked as an assistant for Steven Spielberg?  You can sign up for screenwriting classes taught by Lucker at Screenwriter School.)  

 Advice from Screenwriter Michael Lucker 

 How I get in the mood... 

      Not many people know this about me, but I can dust like a sonuvabitch.  Vacuum.  Scrub.  Window clean even.  When there’s writing to be done, there’s really no telling how much house cleaning I can squeeze in.
    I used to say once I had my ducks in a row, I’d write.  Since there is obviously an infinite amount of ducks one can conjure, I went out and bought three just so I’d have a limit.  Those squeaky little yellow toys you play with in the tub.  Then I lined them up on my desk… in a row.  And poof!  No more excuses.  Then I wrote.  And you know what?  That was the easy part.  Sitting in the chair was the hard part.
     Once I got there, the angels and guides descended from the heavens and filled my fingertips with enough quirk and mirth to fill countless pages.  So what’s the lesson?  Stop with the excuses already.  We’re creative for God sakes.  No one is going to be better at coming up with excuses than us.  So throw caution to the wind… and sponges and brushes and rags.  And just write.  You can always dust after.


Michael Lucker is a writer, director and producer with twenty years experience creating film, television, animation and digital media.  He also teaches screenwriting through the Screenwriter School.   He began his career writing and directing TV commercials in college at Boston University.  Later he landed in LA  working in production before taking a job as assistant to Steven Spielberg at Amblin Entertainment on feature films IndianaJones & the Last Crusade, Arachnophobia, Joe Vs. The Volcano, Always, Back To The Future II & III and Jurassic Park.  As a screenwriter, Michael helped pen more than twenty feature screenplays for Paramount, Disney, DreamWorks, Fox, and Universal.  He also served as screenwriter on the animated sequels to MulanLilo & StitchEmperor’s New Groove and 101 Dalmatians.   He consulted on content for Turner Entertainment and worked for several non‐fiction production houses before launching his own production company, Lucky Dog Filmworks, which has served as his home for developing and producing television, commercial and branded content.