Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Screenwriting Week 14

I had this wonderful blog post almost all written about my progress on the screenwriting project; how we had worked together, talked almost daily on the phone, researched, reworked, added new characters and deleted other characters, and then I got a phone call from my client … Let’s change it! he said. 

So close. 
The old post is now crumpled up in a ball in the virtual laptop trashcan. I can still see it in there, and I wonder if there’s anything I can salvage from it, along with what I might be able to salvage from the screenplay I had almost completed. 

To change direction I spent a good portion of the day researching and watching old movies. Not a bad way to spend the day, especially not since I really enjoy those old movies. The ones with Cary Grant & Rosalind Russell, or Spencer Tracy & Kathryn Hepburn. 

Surprisingly, I’m not bothered by the change or the fact that I will basically have to start from scratch again. This is part of the collaborative process and will - hopefully - yield a better product. It also means we keep the story fresh and sharp, instead of slipping into an already set pattern, which is very easy. You start writing something and it seems ok, so you keep going only to realize you’re not stellar. Sometimes - often - a total rewrite is what’s required to produce a truly outstanding story. 

While I’m working on this I’m also continuing translation work which remains interesting. And then there are those robotics competitions to attend. Lots of travel, lots of excitement, but at least at the bigger competitions they set up mentor lounges so I can work there between matches. It’s a nice, quiet place with lots of tired looking adults with laptops. I’m in good company. 

Back to work, I’ve watched my movies, downloaded the scripts to read through, and fired up the laptop. I have a few days before we fly off again for the world championships in St. Louis, and I intend to get a lot of writing done. Oh, and I need to pack boxes since we’ll be moving soon too. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014


I’ll start off by apologizing for not blogging more regularly this month. I still feel like it’s only the first week of March, everything is a blur of driving, robots and work … lots of work. 

But enough about that. You came here to read about my proofreading methods - and yes, I’ll admit mistakes still slip through. It’s not a foolproof process, especially not when reading my own work. I hear that from many writers. But there is one trick a very sharp, and very good proofreader taught me. 

Actually it’s two tricks. The first one is to read the text more than once; at least three times. The second trick is to use a different color piece of paper, folded over and use it as a reading guide.

Let me explain further with an example of a translation job: 

After I finish a job I’ll often let it sit for a day - don’t tell my client or they’ll shorten my deadlines! - so the text will have a chance to fade a little from my mind. Then the next day I’ll read through a printout with a colored pen or pencil and start marking the glaring errors and punctuation I may have missed. 

Next, after another cup of tea, I’ll enter the changes in the computer. Then I take a folded letter-size piece of paper and go through the piece, line by line. By holding the paper over the other text, I read it no longer as a whole story, but I’m reading it line by line. And when reading it line by line it’s easier to see mistakes our brain would normally correct for. Yes, it is time consuming, but it leads to a better finished product.    

After that I let it sit for a few hours, or maybe just an hour depending on my deadline, and then read it through one more time. You might think that’s redundant, but there have been many times when I’ve caught mistakes or just found clumsy sentences that could be better. Only then will I sent it off to my client. 

Now to apply that rigorous methodology to my novels! 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Open Road

Ah, the open road, have laptop, will travel. The romance of driving where ever you want, plugging in the laptop and writing about all you see and experience...

Okay, it sounds good, but the reality is you’re trying to see the road in the driving rain. And where is that exit anyway? 

Who has the laptop charger and where is the mobile hotspot? What do you mean you don’t know? Does the hotel have wifi? Will it be any good? I’ve got clients waiting for stuff. 

Is that the street we need? Why don’t they put up legible street signs in this town? Turn left! Are you sure? Oh, you meant the second street, not the first. I’m glad your phone knows the way, because the map got wet at the Starbucks drive-thru. 

What? No cell service? Wait, we’re coming up on an other town... they’re bound to have at least one cell tower. 

We can’t park in the lot? Well, how about if I just park way at the back of the lot, where they can’t see me or even get close enough to try and tow me. Thanks, glad we agree on that. Now, where’s the rest of the team? And, more importantly, where is the bathroom in this place? 

Phew, we made it. Part of our team is in the stands, the rest are building the pit and setting up the robot. I’ve got coffee, not that I need any more, and a print out to work on for now. Nothing like having a stack of papers, poorly stapled together, and only your lap as a desk. But I’m working while the competition field is being set up and the PA systems is doing, ever louder!! , sound checks. 

Other bleary eyed, coffee toting, excited mentors are joining me and we’re start to talk strategy. This is going to be an exciting weekend. 

So did I get much work done? Not really, but it was worth every minute of sitting on those hard bleachers, watching the competitions and watching the crowds. It will only enrich my writing. I’m home and once again able to plug in my laptop, connect to reliable wifi, and work twice as hard and twice as fast to get caught up. Hey, a freelancer can work any 24 hours of the day she chooses. It will mean a few late nights working, but it’s all worth it. 

By the way, our robotics team won the district championship! 

Friday, February 28, 2014

February 2014 Book Review

As you know I’ve been busy reading film scripts and books on crafting a good screenplay, but that doesn’t mean I don’t try to squeeze in some fun reading where I can. 

I’m slowly working my way through an excellent English translation of the novel “The Time Regulation Institute”  by Turkish author Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar. However that’s not ready for review yet. In recent months I’ve also discovered some new comic books. Well, new to me as they are only just now coming out in English translations.

These are the “Blake and Mortimer” comic books and the reason I was drawn to trying them out is because the author was a close relation - and collaborator - to famed Tintin author Hergé. Tintin has been read and reread many times in my house. There is something about those stories that makes them very compelling. 

So, I thought I’d give Mr. Edgar P. Jacobs and his books a try. I wasn’t disappointed. Though he’s a little more serious than Hergé, and a bit more wordy, his stories do appeal in a way similar to Tintin. 

Our main characters are Captain Blake, dashing British agent of MI5, and his best friend, nuclear physicist, Professor Mortimer. They are intelligent, open minded and up for any adventure. Where Hergé just stays within the realm of reality, Jacobs takes us in a different direction. Some of his stories accept magical realism more readily, such as in “The Mystery of the Great Pyramid” or “The Atlantis Mystery”, where others show us a world with an alternate history where the conflict of World War II is different. In the trilogy “The Secret of the Swordfish” we’re shown what the world might look like if China had been the main aggressor in WWII, seeking and claiming world domination. 

It’s an interesting premise and alternative exploration of war and peace. In particular too the designs for the swordfish weapon show that Jacobs learned much from his mentor. 

The drawings are very reminiscent of Tintin and show Jacobs to be an accomplished artist. The story lines are imaginative and suspenseful, though some of the relationships show the time they were written in. There is a truly villainous bad guy, in the form of adventurer and soldier of fortune, Olrik, which adds imaginative complications to each story. The only negatives I find is that the stories are a bit wordy, with extraneous explanations, but I’m not sure if that’s true for the originals as well or if it’s caused by the translator needing more words. In general the translations could do with a bit of polishing and some of the words chosen seem archaic, and could have been updated without loss of context. Maybe some day I’ll look for a few in the original French to see how Jacobs actually wrote them.

All in all, I recommend these books for a lazy Sunday afternoon when you’re in the mood for some adventure, but don’t want to leave your comfy couch. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Almost tripped, but hanging on

Here I was happily working away on yet another tight deadline translation - why they always have to be done so quickly I don’t know - and then I started to stumble on some words. 

They looked oddly familiar, but weren’t. Even my trusty translation app or online dictionaries didn’t know them. And they weren’t exactly tough scientific words, they were much more simple than that. 

Finally I realized why they looked familiar. They were English words but masquerading as Dutch; a few new letters stuck to the word and now it was normal Dutch. I found it a bit disorienting. 

Although it was a good lesson in realizing that language is a living thing; it changes almost with each generation. A language that gets used and mingles with words from other languages, more so in our hyper-connected world, is bound to change and evolve. 

For example, when I first arrived in the US the word “impact” was rarely used as a verb, but now its use as a verb is very common. When I proof read an essay for some high school students on the robotics team I happened to mention this. The kids reacted shocked. To them “impact” was both a verb and an adjective and they were very comfortable using it as a verb. 

But I could still clearly remember the delicate rant a coworker, with a passion for language in its purer forms, went on some twenty years ago. Consequently I’ve been very careful in my use of the word ‘impact’. 

To the teenagers I interact with a sentence like: “His has impacted the situation...” is very normal.
They’re less likely to say the sentence in this way: “His actions have had an impact on the situation ....” 

I feel I’m on somewhat shaky ground as I'll always consider myself a student of language, but I do pick up a thing or two, and listen when those who know grammar tell me their tale of woe when they see changes happening to their language (on either side of the Atlantic). But truly, language is a living thing and change is inevitable in life. The unique character is bound to remain in any language, despite change.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Screenwriting Week 4

Back to the drawing board, and again, and again.

The challenge of writing-for-hire is figuring out exactly what your client wants to say. What’s really necessary for the story, what is just wishful thinking on the client’s part and what just will not work? 

And then, there are the late night phone calls with new ideas or wholesale changes. I’ve learned to keep my phone and my notebook and pen handy at all times.

What strikes me in this collaborative process is that we discard ideas and change our minds just as much as if I were the only one working on a project. It just feels different because I’m working on a for-hire basis, which means my creativity must link to another’s and I can’t get personally attached to what I’ve written, because it’s not my story. 

When I’m writing one of my stories or books my delete key gets used just as much as with this one, but it feels different. When I write, for me, ideas get discarded or resurrected at random as the story progresses and changes. But when someone else is controlling the story, I realize I need to keep my ego out of the process. 

So where are we in the process? Have I started the actual screenplay yet? Not quite. We’re on version 3 of the outline. But we’ve hashed out a fair amount of information and I’ve done research on our subject matter. Again, I can’t tell you what it’s about, much as I would like to because I think this is a story that could benefit from a greater collaboration. I anticipate that at some point in the future I will be able to open it up to discussion and input so that we end up with a stellar product, but not just yet. 

In the meantime, I’ll keep working and learning. And reading screenplays to see how others have done it. As I mentioned I’ve been reading the script for “Inception” and it was a relief to learn that the director and writer, Christopher Nolan, took ten years to get it just right. I don’t think my client wants us to take that long though!   

Sunday, January 19, 2014

January 2014 Book Review

                                                          The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear Cover

The 13 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebear
Walter Moers

This book, excellently translated from the German by John Brownjohn, is a rollicking joyride through the absurd. A story filled with twists and turns and zany pen and ink illustrations reminiscent of the artwork of Shel Silverstein.

A blue bear in the land of Zamonia has 27 lives, but the book only tells us of 13 1/2 of those lives. Starting with Blue Bear’s birth in a nutshell and his first life with the mini pirates, which he quickly outgrows, to a period of domestic bliss and teaching at the Chromobears Academy.

This may sounds like a children’s book, and kids as young as middle school can read it and enjoy it, but there is a greater depth to the story than the title and back cover hints at.

Interspersed with the life story of Blue Bear are quotations from the Encyclopedia of Marvels, Life Forms and other phenomena of Zamonia and its Environs by Professor Abdullah Nightingale. Short philosophical or scientific treatise on uniquely Zamonian items.

My copy of this book is already falling apart as it’s been thoroughly enjoyed by more than one and if my offspring weren’t so busy with robotics, I’d have him write a review of the book too.

There are more books set in Zamonia by Walter Moers and each one is unique and well worth reading. The illustrations add an extra dimension to the story and show the imagination of a gifted artist at work.

I’m eager to read one that’s been on my shelf for a year now, The City of Dreaming Books, but my time is packed these days and reading is something I do less of than I’d like. Perhaps when I travel this summer I can cram a few books into my luggage to read during long flights or train rides.

And for those of you who might wonder ... yes, I have very eclectic tastes in reading. It just depends on what I’m in the mood for, or what I might be curious about. Mixed in with the classic novels, popular fiction, science fiction, superhero comics and books that defy categorizing, you’ll also find biographies, art books, history books, and an occasional book on physics on my overflowing shelves.