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New Past Time: Reading Screenplays May 7, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, Study.
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I’ve developed a new hobby: reading screenplays.  I never realised how much fun and how educational it be.

I read a few when I did screenwriting last year, but I kind of considered it a necessary learning experience and didn’t read as many as I should have.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the university library looking for a book that was conveniently ‘misplaced’.  It was listed as available but was nowhere to be found.  Typical.

Anyway, I was huffing and puffing from all the running around looking for it and desperately needed a break.  So I rested against a shelf of books and randomly decided to pluck one out.  As it turned out, I was at the screenplay section, and the one I picked was ‘The Contest’ episode of Seinfeld, possibly one of the greatest half hours in sitcom history.

I found myself laughing out loud as I read it, gaining a new appreciation for Larry David’s (and Jerry Seinfeld’s) genius, and the genius of the actors to be able to pull off those lines.  It was quite astonishing, really, putting anything I have ever written to complete and utter shame.

I used to think screenplays were just for the lines, but reading a good screenplay is a very enjoyable exercise in itself.  And a lot quicker than reading a book too.

I’ve grabbed a few more screenplays to read at home, just for fun.  I just got through the screenplay of one of my favourite films, Fargo, which has a phenomenal screenplay, a well-deserved Oscar winner.  The way the Coens write dialogue is just ridiculous.

I’m looking forward to doing more, when I have the time.  I do also have plenty of books I still need to read as well, not to mention a whole heap of writing to do.

Which screenplay should I read next?

It really helps to read writings out loud April 18, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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The other day I finally got to workshop a chapter of my novel in my creative writing class.  I was a bit nervous (as I always am when getting other people to read my writing), but this was a little different.

This was a genuine first draft, and it wasn’t the type of writing the class was seeing.  The style was chatty, colloquial, and very light on description.  There was a lot of telling, not a whole lot of showing.  It was my attempt at something new in order to try and establish the voice, the most important part and what I’ve been struggling with.

If I learned one thing that night, it’s that reading your writings out loud really helps.  As I said, this was a first draft, but I did have a read over it to correct typos and spelling/grammatical errors.  But I read it over in my head, and to me, it all sounded fine.  I thought it was good enough.

When I read it out loud in class, however, it was a different story.  The story itself was not problematic but there was something about the rhythm to the narrative and the voice that were just a little…off.  There were moments when it sagged, when it didn’t sound right.  It was a flaw my lecturer picked up and said it was particularly important in comedic pieces (which this was) to have the right beats.  I hit some and missed some in this draft.

There were various other tips and recommendations from my classmates (including, of course, trying to ‘dramatise’ the ‘telling’ a bit more), but this was one thing that stood out the most.  Reading my writings out loud helped me to capitalise on the problem immediately.

From now on, that’s what I’m going to do with every draft and redraft.  Read it out loud and see how it sounds!

When mind and words don’t match April 2, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study.
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Freakingnews.com

I finished the first draft of chapter one of my novel project this morning but I feel surprisingly empty.

It’s a tad over 4000 words and I would prefer shorter, but that’s not the problem.  It’s just not as good as I wanted it to be.  Why is it that what’s in my mind never translates to the page as well as I want it to?  Why can’t my words ever do my imagination justice?

I can already spot a few problems.  Maybe it’s because my reading material as of late is nothing like the type of book I want to write.  I’ve been reading third person subjective character portraits in The Slap by Christos Tsialkos (review coming shortly) which I finally finished today (it’s a bloody long book).  It’s a great book but it’s too serious, too melodramatic, too reflective and too poignant.  Not exactly the influence I wanted for a blacker than black comedy.

Hopefully, that will change when I start reading stuff closer to what I want to write.  I’m reading Lolita again, and I’ll also be reading He Died with a Falafel in His Hand by John Birmingham and stuff by Frank Moorhouse and Shane Maloney.  Lots of reading doesn’t mean writing, but I’m becoming more and more convinced lately that what you read affects what you write.

I wanted chapter one to be mindblowing.  It’s okay at the moment, but it’s not mindblowing.  Yes, it’s only a first draft, but will I ever be able to mould it into what I have in my mind?  Do I have what it takes?

Anything to avoid writing February 16, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, NBA, Novel, On Writing.
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Only recently have I come to appreciate just how hard it is to be a ‘writer’.

Sure, it’s fun to ramble on and write on this blog with no regard for what is ‘good writing’, but when it comes to the serious stuff (such as my dorment novels or proper articles), I have a real talent for avoiding it.  Make no mistake — I want to write.  That’s why I quit my old profession and began this path.  I have absolutely no doubt about that.  But somehow, I just keep finding new ways to stop myself from getting down to business (as I like to call it).

Perhaps it’s the fear of failure.  Or maybe it’s the fear of getting started (after all, it is extremely daunting).  Or maybe I’m just a lazy bum.

Lately I’ve been coming up with all sorts of excuses for not working on my ‘serious’ writing.  It’s the holidays.  My folks are in town.  I have video games I haven’t played yet.  I need to finish reading books X, Y and Z.  There are movies I need to see, preferably before the Oscars.  I should watch more live basketball on NBA League Pass.  I should learn about the stock market.  The foreign exchange market.  Enter competitions.  The house needs new furniture (which is true).  I should write a blog post about not writing.

One of my many New Year’s resolutions was to read (books) and write (books) an hour a day.  Two-plus months in, and still nothing.  I have been reading more than an hour a day the last few days, but only because it’s Anne Frank’s diary and it’s bloody brilliant.  But writing?  No. Not as such.  Almost makes me wish I could be locked away somewhere like Anne where it’s so boring that there’s nothing to do but write.

Over this break, I’ve sunk to a new low — exercise (the only thing worse is cleaning up the house).  I tell myself it’s to keep fit, but it’s really just another excuse.  And as a result, I’ve been exercising a lot.  More than I ever did than when I had (or could afford) a gym membership.  Maybe it will get me physically prepared for all the gruelling writing sessions ahead…

Update: Buying more books than I can read! July 28, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Book Reviews, On Writing.
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Recently I’ve been enjoying the idea of reading books more than actually reading the books themselves.  I don’t know why that is.  I love the feeling of browsing a bookstore for hours, randomly picking up books with interesting covers, those recommended by staff, or those classics that I’ve never had the chance to read.  It makes me feel motivated and makes me want to write (though I rarely ever do anything worthwhile as a result).

Today I bought another couple more at this cheap bookstore (selling “specials” only), bringing my total book purchases for the year to more than 20.

But the problem is, I’m not reading nearly as much as I want to or should be. Including books I’ve borrowed off others and the free ones I’ve received for review, I’ve only read a dismal 12 books for the year (according to the reviews I’ve got on this blog).  I’ve still got 3 or 4 books borrowed from others that I am yet to read.

It’s not like I don’t have the time.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I used to read more when I was working full time.  Every day I’d get at least half an hour on the train, sometimes a whole hour if I didn’t work late (rare, but it happened).

Another problem is that I’ve been having trouble getting into books lately.  I’d be stuck on the first chapter for days and only read sporadic chunks every second or third day.  I’m not sure if it’s because I had been reading too many short stories and extracts of novels for my writing course over the last few months and it’s put me off long stories.  Or perhaps I’m starting to realise what good writing is like and I’ve become too picky with the stuff I’ve been reading.  Either way, it’s frustrating.  Perhaps I need a really good book to help me get back into the swing of things.

Nevertheless, class recommences next week.  This semester is all serious, non-fiction stuff.  Lots and lots of non-fiction reading.  Maybe that’ll help me redevelop my interest in fiction.

I was reading Anne Rice’s autobiography at the same bookstore today and she said that she was a horrible reader until later in life, even though she acquired a masters in English literature.  So maybe there’s hope for me.

PS: I’m finally starting to submit stuff for external publication.  Nothing substantial, just short reviews, etc, but at least it’s a start.

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