Can You Judge A Book By Its Cover?
Blake Snyder is a successful screenwriter, who has written a book, called Save the Cat. The cover has an eye-catching image of a cat hanging off the end of the rope. No doubt that the image is provocative, but can the words inside the book live up to the picture on the outside. Even though the manuscript takes a back-to-basics attitude, the information inside should help anyone involved with the strange and bizarre art of screenwriting, improve their craft.
Since its publication in 2005, Save the Cat, is still considered to be a contemporary treatise on screenwriting. Interesting enough, the title comes from the scenario, where the hero of a movie does something nice……. like save a cat. According to Blake Snyder, the author, every movie should have a “save the cat” moment, though nowadays, most movies fail to employ such a scene.
Save the Cat presents a lot of good ideas like studying genre, reading screenplays and writing a good logline before you begin constructing your script. However the part that impressed me the most, was an explanation how a 120 page feature film script can be broken into three basic acts, just as outlined by Aristotle way back when. In Save the Cat, Snyder strongly suggest that you give extra weight to the second act, thus creating Act I (25 pages), Act II (60 pages) and Act III (25 pages). In turn, this will create a 110 page feature film, which according to the author is an ideal length for a screenplay. Most important are three points of interest, which Snyder has conveniently named the catalyst, the midpoint and the synthesis….and these should respectively at page 12, page 55 and page 85. And this folks….is your formula for writing a screenplay.
Coping With Reality
Screenplays really are strictly structured items though length can vary (slightly) and of course content is very important also. So how does one right a marketable script. That’s still a mystery to me, but Save the Cat does provide a fun read, if nothing more. Also it can make you the hit of a Hollywood party in case you find yourself in that location.
Encountering Written Advice
More often than not successful writers, tend to make mostly practical suggestions to newbie writers. Commonly these witticisms contain such mundane advice as don’t use too many adverbs or leave out such over-used words as very, far out or nowadays. Fortunately, every now and then, a lucky writer sneaks in a tidbit of literary comment that transcends these basic grammatical axioms. For example, Stephen King’s classic line, “kill your darlings” has been most likely encountered by just about every practitioner of the English language on at least several occasions.
Following are some of my favorite comments by writers. You have probably heard of most of these guys and gals , but you may not be aware of their cherished little snippets of words. Hopefully, at least a few of these timely lines of wisdom will sink into your brain and create a microburst of energy within your gray matter.
Start as close to the end as possible. by Kurt Vonnegut
Employ an unreliable narrator, preferably one who doesn’t know he is insane and has no recollection of such events as digging into a grave to rip out the teeth of his recently departed lover. by Edgar Allan Poe (note: this comment has been falsely attributed to Edgar Allan Poe, but still ranks as good advice)
Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever. by Ernst Lubitsch, screenwriter
Grab ‘em by the throat and never let ‘em go. by Billy Wilder, screenwriter
It is always prudent to remember that one is not Tolstoy or Dickens. by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd
Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. by George Orwell
Try never get drunk outside yr own house by Jack Kerouac
Remember there is no such thing as nonsense. By Andrew Motion
Every one’s probably heard of this Elmore Leornard quote, but I’ll include it anyway….Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
And last but not least! Ignore all proferred rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say. by Michael Moorcock
What’s Up With Kindle’s Direct Publishing Select Program?
Kindle’s Direct Publishing Select seems to be gaining popularity with a growing number of authors and more importantly…..also with readers. However, it should be noted that various publishing companies and some literary agents do not share the same opinions. Following is a quick glimpse at a few writers who have opted for participation in the Amazon e-book program and how they have done with their literary titles.
Submitting to Curtis Brown
As a literary agent for Curtis Brown LTD, Nathan Bransford developed one of the most widely read literary blogs around. Large numbers of prospective authors followed followed his timely remarks and comments, hoping to obtain the right piece of advice that would propel them into the fast lane of literary success. I was one of those people and I even went as far as to submit a query letter concerning a completed manuscript. All I got was a “Not For Me” rejection, but the general insight on the submission process that he provided was most helpful. This was information published on his blog that could be read by everybody.
From Literary Agent To Sub-published Author
While a literary agent, Nathan began publishing his Jacob Wonderbar series of sci-fi space travels aimed for younger readers. Not long after Mr. Bransford left the West Coast agency and took a job writing for CNET. He still writes the Wonderbar books and blogs as an author instead of an literary agent. As a result his posts are less frequent but still very informative. The development that has caught my eye was a recent announcement that he is writing a novel which will be self-published in the near future. This is a most interesting turn of events that illustrates how quickly digital self-publishing is making inroads into the mainstream publishing world. This is just one example, but I think it shows how important digital e-publishing is becoming to authors.
What Is KDP ?
KDP stands for Kindle Direct Publishing. In a nutshell any ebook that is formatted for electronic publication and then published on Kindle e-readers through Amazon is part of Kindle Direct Publishing. To be part of KDP your little e-book can be available on other venues (i.e. Nook, Smashwords, Apple, Sony etc.)…..but there has to be uniform pricing. Many authors have opted for this route in the brave new world of Indie publishing, especially those with a high online profile and a good marketing plan.
How About KDP Select?
In addition to the basic Kindle publishing platform, Amazon now has a special option for self-pubbed writers that offers 90 days of exclusivity on the Kindle. To participate in this relatively recent program, the author has to remove the e-book from all competing markets and only have the electronic item available on Kindles. After the 90 days is up, the author has the option of renewing the Select program for another 90 days. In exchange Amazon makes the title available to its Amazon Prime members. Membership in Amazon Prime must fork out 80 bucks a year, but in exchange, they receive access in the form of free downloads at any time to any title published on the KDP Select program. In return the author receives a fee directly from Amazon that comes out of a separate fund. I know this may seem hokey, but so far in 2013, each Amazon Prime download (or borrow as Amazon calls them) is worth about 2 dollars US. In other words, a popular writer with a 1,000 borrows would receive approximately $2,000 for those downloads.
Is It Working?
Though there seems to be some skepticism about the long term future of this arrangement, many authors seem to be content with the KDP Select program so far. Some of the advantages of this program appear to be its ease of entry,Amazon’ts prompt tracking of online sales and the possibility of high volume sales for popular authors. As a result Kindle millionaires is a new buzzword for those who have been following the rise of e-book Indie authors.
It should also be noted that Amazon has some pricing guidelines for those who participate in KDP Select. Also they allow the author to choose 5 days of free promotion during each 90 day period. These free promos are available to anyone with a Kindle E-reader or compatible computer program, and not just those who signed up for Amazon Prime. On these chosen days prospective readers can download the ebook for free. This results in a large number of downloads on the free days. These free downloads may or may not result in sales after the free period has ended. The main drawback for the free promotion days is that the situation creates a large body of e-readers who expect every electronic title to be free……. More about this later.
Roger Ebert, the noted Chicago film critic, passed away last week on April 4, 2013 after a long battle with cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands. This struggle with the all-too-common disease dated all the way back to 2002. Since his 2006 surgery, Roger had been unable to speak or eat. Rest in peace …… Roger Ebert, who was 70 years old at the time of his passing.
Life As A Film Critic
Roger Ebert began his movie criticism in 1967 by writing reviews for the Chicago Sun Times. He continued writing for the SunTimes right up until his recent death. In 1975, the same year he won a Pulitzer Prize for film criticism, Roger Ebert began co-hosting a local movie review program, called Sneak Previews. Mr. Ebert’s big break came when he teamed up with the nationally-known film critic Gene Siskel and introduced Sneak Previews to a national audience. This partnership continued until Gene Siskel passed away in 1999. Since Siskel’s passing Roger Ebert continued with his televised movie reviews until cancer curtailed his activities.
A Strange Corraboration
In 1970 Roger Ebert branched out from film criticism into screenwriting. This unusual venture not only included work on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Beneath the Valley of the Vixens, Up! and an unproduced screenplay starring the Sex Pistols, called Who Killed Bambi. Even though Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is now regarded as a cult classic, his screenwriting activities have never received anywhere near the attention that his film criticism did.
Popular Films That Roger Ebert Didn’t Like
Now that Roger Ebert’s writing career is one for the history books, all kinds of lists are popping up about the Illinois native’s likes and dislikes. The following is a list of popular films that Roger Ebert did not like. They include Clockwork Orange, Donnie Darko, Dead Poets Society, Fight Club, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, Reservoir Dogs, Full Metal Jacket, Straw Dogs, Blue Velvet, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Harold and Maude, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Leon: The Professional. I’m sure there are many more, but maybe this short selection will shine a light on some of Mr. Ebert’s likes and dislikes.
Eberts #1 Films For the 21st Century
On a positive note here are Ebert’s #1s going back to 2000. Argo (2012), A Separation (2011), The Social Network (2010), The Hurt Locker (2009), Synecdoche, New York (2008), Juno (2007), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Crash (2005), Million Dollar Baby (2004), Monster (2003), Minority Report (2002), Monster (2001) and Almost Famous (2000).
And to accent the passing of a well-noted American literary figure, today’s news stories (April 8, 2013) include a mention that the infamous Westboro Baptist Church will stage a protest at the Chicago funeral of Mr. Ebert. The reason……not too long ago in March…. roger Ebert wrote; “Just another day at Westboro Baptist”, in reference to a gay man who went undercover and wrote about the notorious religious institution. Maybe Mr. Ebert will get the last laugh – after all.
Winter Sunset Reveals A Colorful History
Back at the end of January I was standing outside my place-to-stay in Arroyo Seco, NM. Immediately the vivid violent panorama of the snow-covered mountains caught my eye, so I rushed indoors, grabbed my point-and-shoot digital camera and snapped off several photos of the towering peaks, just as the sun was setting in the west. The above picture features a mountain range called the Sangre de Christo mountains. For those of you, who do not understand Spanish, Sangre de Christo literally means “Blood of Christ”. The colorful handle was first applied by the Spanish explorers, who visited this part of New Mexico during the 16th century and took special notice of the intense color of the mountains, displayed as the sun set in the west and cast its rays eastward, illuminating the towering summits in the process. This natural phenomena is very similar to the “alpenglow” found in Switzerland.
Coronado On the Upper Rio Grande
Francisco Vásquez De Coronado was a Spanish explorer, who ventured into the southwestern portions of the United States in 1540, 1541 and 1542. His adventures took him to the Colorado River, many Native settlements in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Reportedly, he and his party of explorers traveled as far east and north as Kansas. The above mural can be found in the mountain town of Taos, NM and documents Coronado’s journey north along the Rio Grande, where he encountered many of the Pueblo villages. In 1542 Coronado returned to Mexico, but his footsteps were followed several decades later by other Spanish explorers.
The Sangre de Christo Range
The Sangre de Christo Range in the southern Rockies is quite extensive, for it extends from Glorietta Pass near Las Vegas, NM in the south all the way north to the Colorado Springs area, where the mighty Pikes Peak can be found. The above photo was also taken in the Taos area, but features a different group of peaks located slightly to the north.
Wearing of the Green
As a youngster growing up on the East Coast, my mother always insisted that all us kids wear something green to school on March 17th. As far as I can remember we always complied without any resistance. Of course we would not be alone, for maybe a quarter of the public school students would display some green in their clothing.
Primarily A Religious Holiday
For many years I lived in the Irish Channel of New Orleans, where I was befriended by an Irish priest, who had left the Emerald Isle, and settled in the Crescent Church. He was a friendly man, who always expressed displeasure on how much drinking occurred here in America on the noted holiday. Evidently, St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is much more of a religious holiday.
Everybody Loves A Parade
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New Orleans ran down a short section of Magazine Street before looping through the Garden District and finishing up at St. Mary’s Assumption Church. By New Orleans standards it was a simple parade where lucky recipients would be tossed a head of cabbage. On rare occasion someone of ill repute in the Irish community might get bumped on the head with one of the green vegetables. After the parade the Parasol bar and restaurant was a popular place to go and enjoy a brew and the traditional St. Patty’s Day fare of corned beef, boiled cabbage and potatoes.
And a Little Debauchery
Explanation of the Herschel
I hope you like the above infrared image of the Andromeda Galaxy. The picture was made from the Herschel, the European Space Agency’s equivalent of our own Hubble satellite. The Herschel was put into orbit in 2009 and features very sophisticated infrared technology.
The Rediscovery of an Extraordinary Century Old Astronomical Event
Recently, a great astronomical event that occurred almost a hundred years ago to the day that the Russian meteors struck, has been making the rounds of the scientific press. Spurred on by a painting made by an amateur astronomer and art teacher in Toronto, named Gustav Hahn, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada has recently published an article about the spectacular meteor shower that lit up the skies from western Canada to Bermuda and even Brazil.
This spectacular display of fireballs took place over a 24 hour period with the most numerous sightings occurring in eastern Canada. On February 9th 2013, NASA prophetically described the 100-year old event in this way: “Although nothing quite like the Great Meteor Procession of 1913 has been reported since, numerous bright fireballs — themselves pretty spectacular – have since been recorded, some even on video”.
The Reconstructed Image
The above image is a digital scan of the original picture, which was a halftone, hand-painted image that is now part of the University of Toronto archives.
Strangely enough, the NASA story appeared on its Astronomy Picture of the Day site just six days before the meteor exploded above the Ural Mountains of Russia, causing a spectacular view that was widely recorded on video and rapidly disseminated around the world. All of this just goes to prove that sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction.
Who Was Copernicus?
Copernicus was a Polish astronomer, who revolutionized the study of astronomy, when he theorized that the sun, and not the earth, was the center of our solar system. If Nicolaus were alive today he would be 540 years old. Copernicus’ observations were quite astounding for his day and age, even though they were not published until just a few months before he died in 1543.
The Copernicus Revolution
Copernicus first devised his revolutionary ideas in the 30 to 40 years before he died. Today, it is widely believed that the Polish scientist delayed publishing his heliocentric theory for so long to avoid undergoing the harsh criticism and ridicule that his ideas might precipitate. Strangely enough, his belief in a sun-centered solar system met with little opposition in the first few years following his death.
Galileo Defends Copernicus
This situation soon changed and so for at least a hundred years, Copernicus was made the scapegoat of scientific theory, especially by the church in Rome. However, it was Galileo that took the brunt of the criticism some 90 years later, when he supported Copernicus’ theory. For this, Galileo had to face charges of heresy and eventually recanted on the idea that the earth orbited around the sun.
Finally, in 1835, some 300 years after Copernicus first considered the possibility that the earth revolved around the sun, did the Roman church finally drop their censoring of Copernicus and his revolutionary ideas.