Sometimes Everything Goes Wrong

Although everything went wrong, Saturday, July 23, I gave a presentation to a great writing group, the Inland Empire CWC, at the Barnes & Noble in Montclair Plaza.

First off, I chose the wrong blouse and discovered that my buttons kept popping open on the front of my blouse. Fortunately, it was an informal presentation, and we were all sitting, giving me a chance to hunch my shoulders forward and frequently check my buttons.

I knew in advance that my PowerPoint presentation wouldn’t work out, so I brought flip charts to draw out the diagrams as we talked. However, I learned the night before I left that the flip chart stand I borrowed from the office was missing a screw, and so I couldn’t use it to hold up the flip chart for me to draw on.

Fortunately, I took along some flip chart pages on which I’d already created diagrams and visual aids, and because they have post-it note stickiness at the top, I was able to press them onto the flip chart and lean them against my knees on the floor, remember we were all sitting. A kind gentleman offered to serve as a tripod and held up the flip chart so everyone could see it better.

Because I only had an hour, with about two hours of material, I tried to whip through the information to allow time for a couple of writing exercises and questions. I also brought along handouts. There were wonderful responses to the two exercises we did and some great questions.

By the way, their members range from one twelve-year-old, who recently self-published a book of her short stories, to a 79-year-old woman with screenplays under consideration, and several award-winning writers.

It was great fun and as always, I loved the opportunity to share what I’ve learned about writing.


Table Reading of Your Script or Play

Tuesday, July 19 we are doing a table reading of my screenplay Seventy Times Seven with a group of highly experienced actors and some potential investors.

Synopsis: As a young man, Ian Campbell killed his opponent in a prize fighting ring. For the past 40 years Ian has sought absolution as a preacher. Now Ian’s son Robert is murdered on his way home to raise funds for the children’s hospital he runs in Honduras–Is this God’s retribution?  Ian has focussed on love and forgiveness, but how does he forgive his son’s murderer?  And what was wrong with Ian’s relationship with Robert that his only child didn’t tell him of his marriage in Honduras or explain the unusual circumstances? Ian faces losing not only his son, but his wife, his son’s family, and everything he told himself he believed in. What is the worst thing that could happen to a man? For his son to be murdered–and then to realize he never trusted you?

Setting up a Table Reading

A table read is a great opportunity for a writer to hear others read aloud a play or screenplay. (It is also sometimes done with novels, which do not always make effective table reads unless they contain a lot of dialogue.) Although you don’t have to have actors, it is more effective to have actors read the parts as they would if they were acting out the roles. With a table read, generally everyone is sitting and there isn’t any physical activity taking place. In a staged reading, the actors walk through their roles as though acting them out, sometimes with props, sometimes without them. (Sometimes a novel can have a staged reading even without dialogue if the actions of the characters make sense.)

For our table read my friend, actor and producer Kevin Sizemore, is pulling the reading together to show the project to potential investors and to give the actors he is interested in casting in various roles a chance to interpret the character.

When arranging a table read, you want to make sure you have a narrator who reads the action lines and stage directions as well as enough participants to read the major character roles. It is better not to ask actors or readers to take on a role that only has a few lines, as that could be a waste of time for them, unless you have a large group and some participants don’t mind only attending to read a couple of lines. Go through your script or play and double up roles that have limited lines, making sure that you don’t assign two roles in the same scene to the same person. Also be sure that you do assign every character with lines so that the reading goes smoothly and there aren’t delays where everyone is stalled waiting for someone to read unassigned lines. (Some characters are seen and do not have lines, you can ignore those.)

You want the reading to go smoothly and continue without stopping. Interruptions distract from the effectiveness of the reading. Make sure that phones are off and post a sign on the door advising people to come back later if doing the reading from home. This won’t be as big a problem if the reading takes place on a soundstage or at a theatre or in an office after hours.

It is better if the writer doesn’t read the narration or any of the characters, unless planning to play that role in the film or play. The writer should be listening, paying attention to lines that don’t come across as the writer wrote them, and for the actor’s interpretation of the line. When the tension or emotional level is meant to go up, is the story written in a way that the actor can build to that dramatic moment? Do the words used or the way they are put together cause the actor difficulty in reading the line? Where does the story fall flat? What doesn’t make sense when you hear it read aloud?

Make sure that every reader has their own copy of the script or play. Sometimes it is helpful to go through and highlight the character’s dialogue in each script for that reader. It is also a good idea to give the characters the script in advance so that they have time to read through it and understand the story and the character. When a reader doesn’t get the script in advance it is called a “cold” read, which means the actor is interpreting the character as they go along, much like your audience will be doing. This can also be informative to the writer to hear whether there is surprise or misinterpretations.

Make sure everyone arrives early and then start as soon as possible, especially if you have potential investors, producers, agents, etc. attending. Provide snacks and water for everyone, making sure that each actor has a bottle or two of water beside them during the reading.

It is also a good idea to do a debriefing after the reading. Ask the readers to tell you what they liked? What didn’t make sense? What confused them? Did they get the premise of your story? Was it hard to emotionally reach the highs and lows in the story? Were there areas they felt they stumbled through the wording? Were there areas that seemed repetitive or unnecessary? Were there scenes they would have like to see included?

Table and Staged Readings can be great fun and very enlightening about your manuscript. Make sure you do enough preparation so that you get true reactions to the script and not confusion due to stalled lines or interruptions or confusion over who is reading what.

10 Tips for Home Schooling

Since two of my daughters home school, one with a child old enough to use The Writer’s Compassas a tool for teaching creative writing, I though it appropriate to create “10 Tips for Home Schooling.”

Although I teach creative writing at the undergraduate and graduate level, I believe that this book is useful to students at the high school and junior high level and some of my methods may be useful for you to use with your student or students. My grading system is based on points earned for doing assignments thoughtfully, rather than the quality of the creative writing. My goal is to encourage my students to discover their story as they write and to not self-edit until they get to that stage of the writing process.

Assignments are meant to give students tools that will help them to form ideas and develop those ideas so that they can write the story they want to tell. The Writer’s Compass offers many tools to help meet creative writing goals and to develop and expand the student’s writing skills. The book can be used as a comprehensive text or material pulled out for lessons in certain areas of writing..

The “10 Tips for Home Schooling” is available for download at along with a basic structure diagram that can be filled out.

The Writer’s Compass on eBooks

Kindle, Nook, iPadLook for The Writer’s Compass to be on your favorite eBooks by July 12 at your favorite book seller.