Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Screenwriting: Would You Hesitate?

None of my extensive experience collaborating with writers was as fun and rewarding as when I teamed up with my sister of the quill, Janet.  Folio and I worked on a few screenplays, winning awards and generally having a great creative time.

I never thought of myself as a screenwriter; I happened into it.  I've written over a dozen collaborative and solo scripts.  I've had one short script produced by director Erich Toll and another I worked on behind the scenes produced.   I wrote a series of screenwriting posts for PPW's Writing From the Peak Blog beginning in November 2010.  Over the course of the next several days I'd like to reshare them with our readers. 

I was a novelist and food writer. I never intended to write screenplays. The format and story formula seemed like foreign languages. The industry insiders were untouchable. The prospect of marketing (rent The Player) intimidated me. Why would I, a mere land-locked Coloradan, consider taking a peek into big screen craft and that clicky California world?


I may never have explored screenwriting if it hadn’t been for a pitch practice session at a writer’s conference and a Hollywood producer intrigued by my log line for a novel in progress.
Enter KEN BERK who offered to get my story into the right hands if I would write it as a feature-length script. There’s not enough room in this blog entry for the number of exclamation marks I felt at the offer. Did I hesitate?

Not for one BEAT. I saw dollar signs and my character MATCH CUT with JULIA ROBERTS. I drove home—floated home—and crash-learned the industry expectations. I cut the story down to two hours, one page per minute. I made it more visual with pithier dialogue, vivid action, and grand reversals.

About the time I was doing my fourth polish of ACT I my screenwriting career was punctuated by its first dramatic reversal. I received word that ACT III had ended too soon for the young producer. Not exactly the climax I’d hoped for and not the one expected by any of us who know him. Ken Berk, my “inciting incident,” my connection to the industry, and, at the time, my muse, had died.

I could have let the pursuit take a quiet FADE OUT. But I didn’t. Thanks to the inspiration of Ken, and another screenwriter I met through PPW, Jan Jones, I continued writing in this new and dynamic form. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of writing (and co-writing) eight completed feature-length screenplays in six genres (several more in progress) and five short scripts. I’ve been represented by a Hollywood agent, an entertainment attorney, and NY agents who sell books to Hollywood. I’ve worked on short scripts with an indie producer and an indie director—one script was produced. I’ve been honored with a dozen screenwriting awards and am now using many of the screenwriting skills to power-up my fourth novel.

Have you ever seen one of my stories in a movie theater? No, but I hope you will in the future.
The side-trip took quite a bit of time away from my novels and literary cookbooks. If I had the chance to go back in time, would I hesitate to make the same decision? Not for one BEAT.
There’s power and excitement in learning a new skill.

Would you hesitate?

If not, check in on my future blog entries in which I’ll discuss the basics of screenwriting format, the business, story expectations, representation, and adapting your novel, short story, or memoir into a screenplay. Most importantly, I will encourage you to take a valuable detour, write a screenplay and see how it will improve your storytelling and prose. Until next time, keep your dialogue snappy and your directions brief. Don’t step on the director. Avoid dusk and dawn.

Inky will tell you why you should avoid dusk and dawn in a future post. 


  1. Ah, yes, I remember Mr. Ken Berk! He expressed interest in what has since become my only self-published novel, Sleepwalkers. We'd actually talked on the phone after our initial meet at the PPWC. I LIKED this guy! I don't remember much of what happened on the phone, but he continued to express interest in the novel, and am not sure if he wanted me to pen a screenplay from it (btw, in answer to your query--sure, I'd do a screenplay if asked; it's not my favorite mode of work--too structured for my tastes, and I've done an adaptation--but if asked, I'd attempt it again). Whatever his interest was, I was interested, and we were "still talking" when I'd found out about his death. That was so sudden and unexpected, given his vibrant health and demeanor! I don't remember what the cause of death was, but he'd been such an outgoing, easygoing, and easy to talk with guy. I'd just walked up to him, stuck out my hand, and introduced myself (I think he had a significant other there with him?), and he was all over me with questions--in a GOOD way! I still remember the genuine interestin in his demeanor, how he was so focused on me, at the time. It was so cool, so easygoing, and so much fun, because it felt like he had a genuine interest in all of the people he talked with. He didn't have any kind of a "snooty" attitude, either. Anyway, he was a great loss in my view--and not just because he expressed interest in our work, Karen, but because every time I think of him (and I do think of him off and on), he really seemed like a "ray of sunshine" in such a bleakly portrayed industry. He was optimistic, FRIENDLY, and open. Talkative. I wish there were more like him today, in that I wish many in the industry would lose the attitude and jadedness and "quit bugging me" tone they take when meeting folks at conferences.

    Hope you're faring well in the afterlife, Ken, and thanks for having shared some of your life with us! :-]

  2. Screenwriting, like writing poetry, has never interested me. But I'm thinking that learning the principles and practicing them might improve my novel writing. I'm looking forward to the series, Inkpot. Thanks.

  3. Talk about divine providence! I need to write a screenplay and I feel completely out of my element. Fortunately for me, my critique partner has experience and will co-write it with me, but I want to learn as much as I can. Thank you!