Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Creating AYour Own Source Material

Creating Your Own Source Material –

Producers these days are looking for source material – books, articles, stories, plays or anything with other backing.  They like knowing that there is a fan base already established for the story they are buying.   So why not double your chances of a successful sale?
Each story has its own home; Its own best way of being told.  Some stories, however, can be told in more than one form.  To do this, however, takes knowledge and understanding of what the other forms need and how they are prepared.  Each form requires a different way of thinking and a slightly altered writing style.  You can do it, but it takes thought and time to learn.
As an established writer of both books and scripts, I do many book/film deals.  One may think it is only a matter of learning a different format, but it is truly more than that.  There are many similarities since a good story is, after all, a good story, but there are also differences.   
 Many hold the myth that writing scripts are easier.  I believe that is false.  It takes just as much work to write a compelling script as it does a fascinating book, but the techniques vary a bit.
Some of the things that are the same in books and scripts are this –
No matter what you are writing, the work requires good structure- including inciting incidents, plot twists and dynamic scenes; well-drawn characters – both protagonists and antagonists - with their own goals, flaws and desires; and, of course, dynamic endings. 
For all my stories – be they books or scripts – I do a complete character biography of ALL of my characters.  These people must be well-rounded and believable.   You must understand their journey and their arc.  This includes the secondary participants, as well, since they can often effect the plot, the theme or have their own subplot, which can promote the theme.   
Many new writers think that physical description is crucial to the character. It’s not.  It’s their attitude and what action that they are involved in that tells us about who they are.   Be sure to balance the good and bad aspects of the person. No one is all good and very few people are all evil.
Outlining, may not be for everyone, but I find, is essential to make sure that I cover all the plot points and plant the twists and clues in the right places.  It helps me to keep the stakes high and focus on the genre I am writing.  It also helps me to do more than one project at a time as I can see what needs to be done on that story for that day.  It doesn't mean I stick like glue to the outline.  It does mean I use it as a guide.
Beginnings, the first few pages, are crucial for both books and scripts.  Today, unlike in the past when the author could meander about history and setting, stories must start with action and jump into your characters.  We must be hooked immediately with the problem, situation, identify the setting, and get to know the main character, at the same time.   Not an easy task, but it can and, often, is done.
In neither case do you get the luxury of wandering around your setting. Back stories , if referred to here, must be only hinted at to give the reader a reason to want to continue reading.  Prologues can sometimes be used in books, and occasionally in scripts, to set the tone, but should be used sparingly. 
Titles are another bugaboo for many writers.  Your title must give a hint about the genre and the story.  While titles are not copyrightable,  it is a good idea to research your title and see other stories with your same title as you do not want to be identified with a story that did not do well.  One of my stories, now being done as a script, The Unborn, has been used as a title for many films and books and in order to make mine more unique, I changed it to Unborn Witness
The writer must understand their audience. Who are they writing for?  Don’t say that your story is for everyone because very few stories are.  It’s na├»ve to think that all will like your work.  Are you doing a chick-flick?  A mystery? An action or thriller?  Is it something that young men will like more than women?  It is something for the older viewer?  Understand who the reader is and write for them. 
Grammar and spelling must be checked no matter what you are writing.   We are writers and there is no excuse for doing this poorly.  I often write my first draft quickly and miss things but it's important to go over what you have done.  I find that even after re-reading my material several times, mistakes can be found and I have an outside reader to go over my material before I hand it in. 

There are, however, many differences between writing scripts and writing books.   
Script writing, even more so than book writing, is a team effort.  As a novelist, it is easier to write alone in Iowa.  You might get notes from your agent and/or the editor, but you are more autonomous as writer.  Whereas being a scriptwriter, you will find notes come not only from the producer, studio, director, actor, and others.  You must understand that the script is a blueprint for a movie.  You must understand that not everything you write is gold and if you cannot accept notes and be willing to change, you will not get very far.   There is an art to listening and accepting notes. 
While it looks like format is the main difference between scripts and books, this is just the tip of the iceberg.   As for formatting, I like Movie Magic the best because they do not charge for tech support as Final Draft does.  No matter which program you use, understand things like the use of parentheticals, slug lines, etc.   Read produced scripts to see what the format is and don’t have numbering or camera angles on your spec script as that marks you as a novice. 
Length is one big thing.  While a book can be as long as your publisher will allow it and most books are a minimum of 300 typed pages or much longer, a script can be only 90 to 100 pages. (120 used to be accepted, but lately, a shorter page account has come to be expected.) Should you turn in a script longer than 120, you will, especially if you are an unknown writer, have difficulty getting read no matter how protest at the merit of your story. 
White space is crucial.  The overwhelmed reader will often flip through the pages.  If the pages are too dense with narrative, they might just put your script down. 
Point of view in the script is far more focused than a book.  While in books you can alternate POV and tell parts of the story from other characters and even go off onto subplot tangents, the script should be mainly from the main character and that protagonist should be active in solving their own problem.   It is said that the main character should appear in, or be part of 80% of the scenes. 
Writing short sentences creates suspense in books, but even more so in scripts.  Less is more here.  Be succinct in your writing.  While in books you do not want huge unbroken descriptive passages, narrative in scripts should be, if you can help it, no more than five lines.   The white space actually pushes the reader forward where as the longer paragraphs slow them down.   
When writing your book, you must consider and explore all your senses. What is the character feeling, seeing, smelling, hearing, sensing, etc?  In scripts, you are limited to the visual.  In both, specifics are important, but even more so in scripts.  Leave the script’s stage dressing to the designers. 
While books can have more on-the-nose dialogue, subtext is crucial in the script.  No more than five lines of dialogue.  Think of the poor actor trying to memorize all you have written when you have a huge monologue.   Try reading it out loud, yourself.  If you must have a dialogue longer than five lines, try breaking it up with an action line. 
Books will allow you to get into your character’s head and talk about their feelings and hear their thoughts.  Not so in scripts.  Everything, and I mean everything, must be visual.  If you say that the character is angry, how do we know, what do we see? 
Especially if you are a fairly new writer, if you want your script to be produced, you have to keep the budget in mind.  The fewer the characters, the less it will cost.  When doing an adaptation of a book, I often find that I have to combine excess characters.   Think about the locations you have, cast of thousands, car chases, uses of animals and use of children.  It’s okay to write them if you only want to have this as a reading sample, or if it really is crucial to the story, but keep it to a minimum. 
Another myth is that the book writer is paid handsomely for their rights.  This, alas, is often false.  Since the production company, often before they sell the story, must pay to have the script written, will hire another writer to expand and focus the story into what is needed for a script. 
The book writer - who in today's publishing world might be lucky to get a small advance from the publisher, sometimes must kiss their stories goodbye and let the A-list script writers to do what they will do.  That doesn’t mean you, the book writer, can’t do a first draft of the script.  It does mean that you will be, if you are lucky, partnered with an established scriptwriter that the studio or production company feels more confidence in. 
Books turned into film are often vastly different from the printed word for a variety of reasons.
As I said, it is possible to do both, but you need to be aware of the limitations of each and what is required of each format.   It might take you longer to write the book because you have to write more words, but the script requires just as much prep time in characterization, plotting and research as the book does. 
Good luck.
Serita Stevens is an established writer of books, scripts, articles and she teaches, as well. Based on her lectures at various universities and conferences, as well as mentoring individual students.  Her recent book - The Ultimate Writers Workbook For Books And Scripts - Motivational Press- is based on her teaching at USC/ UCLA and other major schools and conferences. 
Trained as a forensic nurse, she also assists writers with their medical and investigative questions for their works. 

For more information about Serita, see her site and her blog at Google blogspot.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Against Her Will

On Thursday April 9th, 2 pm CDT please join me on Slingwords for an interview with the ever popular Joan Reeves as I talk about my newest teen drama AGAINST HER WILL.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Seminar speaking

Serita Stevens, award winning writer of books, scripts and teacher of writing, will be speaking at the Universe Multi-Cultural Film Festival 2015 on April 18, 12 pm at 550 Deep Valley Drive -Rm 163 , Rolling Hills Estate Ca 90275 on the top of developing your characters and your story.  Her newest books at the The Ultimate Writers Workbook For Books And Scripts (based on her teaching at major universities)  and Against Her Will - a teenage drama.  for info go to

I will also be speaking on here -


  • Sunday, April 19, 2015

    2:00 PM to 

  • Paid

    Price: $15.00/per person - this pre paid price for members -

    EACH MONTH, 1 of 3 EXPERIENCED INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS, WHO ARE MEMBERS OF THE LAFTV Meetupwill generously give their time to share their knowledge with our members and lead a low-cost, monthly LAFTV "WRITERS INTENSIVE" SEMINAR SERIES.  Our expert members will share their knowledge, ideas, insights, and suggestions regarding some amazing topics pertinent to the advancement of writers to get them to another level in their craft and career pursuits! Each session covers a wide variety of helpful topics, PLUS Q&A
    The APRIL 2015 WRITERS INTENSIVE session will be hosted byLAFTV Meetup member, writer and teacher, SERITA STEVENS(SEE BIO BELOW). 
    "Be Your Own Publicist – Finding and Working With Agents & Managers"
    You've completed your script/manuscript, NOW WHAT?
    Among the things a writer/director/producer or actor needs to master is being proactive in finding and working with agents or managers as well as maximizing opportunities to publicize their work -- knowing what works and what doesn't. 
    •  Why do you need them and when
    •  5 places to find agents/managers who will accept unproduced writers and how to approach them
    •  Key elements to writing the query letter to get agents and managers to read your work
    •  How to get agents/managers/publishers excited about you and avoid turning them off 
    •  What you should expect from a literary agent or manager
    •  3 ways to get your material seen WITHOUT agents  
    •  How to be proactive in your career and relationship with your manager, agent or publisher
    •  How to know when it’s time to move on.  When is loyalty too much?  
    •  What do they get commissions on? What do they own and not own?  (if anything at all)
    •  Why is it necessary for writers?  When should you hire a publicist AND how much should you spend? 
    •  15 ways you can promote yourself 
    •  Rules to abide by in the promotion of yourself and/or your product 
    •  How to utilize your network to get to word out about your and your product.
    •  Identifying your publicity angle and target audience. 
    •  Facebook and Social Media: what to post and what not to post. How often should you tweet or make Facebook notes? When is too much too much?  How not to become a nudge.
    •  Different ways that you can get the word out besides social media.
    •  What does it really mean to network and how to do it appropriately. 
    • How to promote yourself and your product to AGENTS, MANAGERS and MEDIA OUTLETS to MAXIMIZE your results 
    • How to keep momentum going through your entire writing career. 
    Serita Stevens, LAFTV Meetup member, is an accomplished, award-winning writer of over 39 books, stories, and scripts, as well as a teacher of various genres of writing. Several of her scripts have been produced and many more optioned. Serita has been published with Pocket Books, Simon And Schuster, Random House, Fawcett, Bantam Books, Dell, Intrigue Press, Writer's Digest, St Martin's Press, Palm University Press, True North, Motivational Press,  Quill Press, Leisure, Zebra, Kensington Books,  Deutschland Press, Inland Press, Silhouette First Love, Harlequin, Oak Tree Press,  Hard Shell Press,  Scene of the Crime Press, Law Technology, Avenue M, L A Splash, Springhouse Publishers, Adoption Today,  and many other publishing houses. 
    Serita teaches at numerous universities and conferences. Her latest book, "The Ultimate Writers Workbook for Books And Scripts" is published by Motivational Press and is a hit on the lecture circuit.  Serita enjoys helping new writers reach their goals and mentors many students.   
    LAFTV Members:  $15
    (Note: Your statement will show this transaction as a payment to: Women Helping Women Network) 
    NON-Members: $25  
    ALL WALK-INS: $30