Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Step Right Up... to the Writing Contests' Game

Pick a writing contest... any writing contest... and try your chance... maybe you'll be a finalist... maybe not.  And around the screenwriting competition wheel it goes... when and where it stops... nobody knows.  Are you a winner?

Entering writing contests remind me of the carnival games I played as a child on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.  You throw that hoop with all your might around the six-pack of Coca Colas.  You aim the plastic water gun toward the clown's mouth, hoping that red ball will get to the rim first.   And you enter the Scriptapalooza Screenwriting Competition hoping your movie script has the right aim and hits the target.

The prize... a huge stuffed bear in the form of a $10,000 prize, agent representation and your script making the rounds of top production companies and studios.   This stuffed bear will change your life.

I'm setting my screenwriting contest sights on Scriptapalooza's Feature and Television writing Contests.  The Blue Cat Screenwriting Competition also tickles my competition bug, offering all entrants helpful notes to improve their scripts. 

Like Scriptapalooza, the Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Competition and The Austin Film Festival Heart of Film Screenplay Competition are the most sought-after.  They also remind me of the slot machines gamblers have been feeding all morning without any winnings.  But at any moment it's about to pay out big.  Neophyte scriptwriters send out scripts in the course of weeks, hoping that theirs will stand out among the thousands of other hopefuls.   

Undeterred by not making the semi-finals in Nicholl, Scriptapalooza and Blue Cat, this Average Joan is giving all three another whirl.  I've refined my previously submitted script and will tweak the new ones before the contest doors fly open at the end of December.  For the 2010 competitions, I'll enter two or thee features and for the first time, a pilot for the Scriptapalooza Television Writing Contest.

My budget will determine how many more I can enter, but adding Austin to the list is a definite possibility.

This time I'm more armed.  Reading Tom Lazarus 's Rewriting Secrets for Screenwriters: Seven Strategies to Improve and Sell Your Work, helped me see rewriting with new eyes and polish my scripts, so I can come out the gate strong. 

But, before you start rewiting, step away from the script a few days. Clean your refrigerator.. organize your closet... watch an old movie... make a marathon out of it.  Do anything that will take your script out of your head for a few days.  Only then are you ready to rewrite.

Here are seven rewriting strategies from Rewriting Secrets for Screenwriters that may help you get on that semi-finalist list and beyond. 

1.   CREATE A SCENE LIST - Create a simple list of scenes you've actually written.   This will separate what you planned to write, what you think you wrote, and what you actually wrote and give you a fresh angle on the basics of your screenplay. You can move scenes around, delete irrelevant scenes and then, make the changes to your screenplay.

 2.  PRIORITIZE YOUR BIG SCENES - Usually they're key dialogue scenes that turn the story or explain the characters.    See how they relate toeach other. What you're looking for is an arc, where scenes start small and get bigger and bigger. There should be a build called rising action.  This keepst he reader/viewer glued to the story.

3.  TRACK YOUR TRANSITIONS - Transitions are one of the keys to writing smooth-reading screnplays.  Rewriting transitions will evolve your sceenplay.  Good transitions are a major factor hearing these comments about your screenpay:  "It was a page-turner" --"I couldn't put down."

4.  PLOT CORRECTIONS - List all proposed rewrites for our script.  Categorize them by the type and kind of rewrite.  You'll begin to see a pattern.  Once you become aware of your most comon mistakes and address them off the top, you'll have a shortcut to the rewriting process. 

5.  NEW INFORMATION - Analyze each scene independently and figure out what new information is carried in the scene.  Make a list. This way, you're forced to examine if a scene moves the story forward.

A ny scene that gives the reader/viewer new information, a new story beat, an evolution of a relationship, a playing of a story thread -- moves the story forward.  If a scene doesn't move a story forward, cut it or rewrite it so it moves it forward. 

6.  THE DIALOGUE PASS - Read your dialogue out loud.  Your ear will tell you which dialogue needs rewriting.

7.  ON-THE-NOSE REWRITE - Every time you read your script, rewrite it and make it better.   For the On-the-Nose-Draft, don't read for flow or grammar or action, but for how much your characters are saying what they mean.

Find out about upcoming screenwriting competitions at: 

These books will help you polish your prized work:  (also, come in Kindle editions at:  iCafe Woman Moderne Store.


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