November 30, 2014

Writing Tip: How Your First Page Stacks Up

Are you writing during this holiday season? Of course you are!
I recently attended the fabulous WriterUnboxed UnConference and had the fortune to attend a workshop led by Ray Rhamey, in which he asked us to submit the first page of our work in progress to see if you, the reader, would turn the page. It's an eye-opening exercise.
When you send your work to an agent or publisher you basically have one page to hook them. How does your first page stack up? 
If you want to see, run it through the ringer - or at least Ray's checklist:

A First-page Checklist
  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
Find the rest of the checklist here.

November 25, 2014

Movie Review: It's Movie Season

It's movie season, my favorite time of year. Filmmakers are rushing to get their movies out under the wire for Oscar consideration. So, of course, I've been very busy. So busy I haven't had time to write individual reviews of all the films I've seen. Just so you won't miss some of the year's best, here are shortened reviews.

The Theory of Everything ****1/2
Amazing performance from Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking. He will definitely get an Oscar nomination for this role where he transforms himself, not through makeup, but through his physicality. Beautifully acted by all. I don't know how much of it is accurate, but it's a fascinating story of love and determination and hope.

Rosewater ****1/2
Based on a true story of an Iranian journalist covering the elections in 2009. After doing a satiric segment on the Daily Show, Maziar Bahari is arrested, thrown in solitary confinement and tortured as a spy. Jon Stewart capably directs this film and Gael Garcia Bernal is superb as the journalist who finds humor in his arrest until it dawns on him they believe he is a threat.

Whiplash *****
The story of a passionate drummer with an obsession to get into his music conservatory's jazz orchestra, and the borderline abusive conductor who pushes his students to their limits, and beyond. Phenomenal performances from Miles Teller as Andrew, the student, and J.K. Simmons.
Perfect pacing, perfect character development, perfect film.

Birdman *****
Great to see Michael Keaton in a starring role as a former movie superhero trying to regain his fame through a Broadway debut. Edward Norton is riveting as the obnoxiously arrogant co-star. This film is great fun to watch, with all its tension, drama, humor and poignancy. Superb performances. Great storytelling.

November 23, 2014

Movie Review: Foxcatcher **

This film should be retitled Napcatcher because you can grab a nice long snooze during the first hour and a half and you won't miss anything. Everyone moves slowly, talks slowly and says nothing; long sequences of boring wrestling and coaching; long black screen shots between scenes, so long I was expecting (praying)  for credits to roll.
Sometimes there's good reason to slow the action down. I see no reason to tell this story so slowly that I looked at my watch five times. Moving more quickly, at least in certain scenes, would have built more tension. Or at least kept me awake. (I didn't really sleep, but not for lack of trying.)
If you snooze, have someone wake you about an hour and 45 minutes in or you'll miss the whole point of the movie. Then you can nod off again for the last 15 minutes.
The acting is terrific; Steve Carell is unrecognizable as John duPont - the makeup artist is a rockstar for that transformation. Carell will likely get an Oscar nod for this performance. I just wish he had a better script to work with.
Speaking of makeup, I wonder at the need for the mouth prosthesis Tatum Channing wore. It was distracting and seemed redundant - just too much of a good thing.
Mark Ruffalo is one of my favorites and he delivers here - he's so natural on screen and always inhabits the roles he's playing.
For the performances alone I'm giving Napcatcher...oops, I mean Foxcatcher two stars. Although the writing and directing (and possibly the editing) gets one star from me.

November 9, 2014

Writing Tip: Writers Conferences are Energizing and Exhausting

Sean Walsh, Therese Walsh
(Founder of UnCon) and me
Mare Swallow
Founder of CWC
If you want to energize your writing, if you need a new perspective on your work, if you want to connect with other writers, if you want to hear other writers' experiences...go to a writers conference. I make it a point to attend at least one writers conference a year, and when I'm really, really lucky I get to go to two. This year I did a marathon - two conferences in a row. I'm coming off of an almost overwhelming few weeks, first at the Chicago Writers Conference and then at the first (and I hope, annual) Writer Unboxed UnConference in Salem, MA. And while I was exhausted each night of those conferences, particularly at UnCon which was four days long, I came home from each with new energy and new ideas and new tips for my writing. And I came home with new friends.
Donald Maass
at UnCon
Interestingly, both conferences were started by amazing women who simply saw a need and filled it, a massive undertaking. They both have my admiration and gratitude for creating such amazing places for writers to gather and connect and learn.
So, maybe I sound like a broken record about the benefit of writers conferences, but if you're a writer at any level, find one and do it. You can thank me later.