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The Last Tycoon’s great advice for fiction writers and screenwriters

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel “The Last Tycoon” could have been his greatest had he not died after 60,000 words, but it does have one scene between Hollywood mogul, Monroe Stahr (based on Irving Thalberg, the boy genius of MGM) and a novelist and would be screenwriter named Boxley. Here is the scene from the novel that worked so beautifully in the movie directed by Elia Kazan with Robert DeNiro as Stahr.

Stahr is talking.

“Suppose you’re in your office. You’ve been fighting duels or writing all day and you’re too tired to fight or write any more. You’re sitting there staring— dull, like we all get sometimes. A pretty stenographer that you’ve seen before comes into the room and you watch her— idly. She doesn’t see you though you’re very close to her. She takes off her gloves, opens her purse and dumps it out on a table -” Stahr stood up, tossing his key-ring on his desk. “She has two dimes and a nickel— and a cardboard match box. She leaves the nickel on the desk, puts the two dimes back into her purse and takes her black gloves to the stove, opens it and puts them inside. There is one match in the match box and she starts to light it kneeling by the stove.

You notice that there’s a stiff wind blowing in the window— but just then your telephone rings. The girl picks it up, says hello— listens— and says deliberately into the phone ’I’ve never owned a pair of black gloves in my life.’ She hangs up, kneels by the stove again, and just as she lights the match you glance around very suddenly and see that there’s another man in the office, watching every move the girl makes -” Stahr paused. He picked up his keys and put them in his pocket.

“Go on,” said Boxley smiling. “What happens?”

“I don’t know,” said Stahr. “I was just making pictures.”

Boxley felt he was being put in the wrong. “It’s just melodrama,” he said.

“Not necessarily,” said Stahr. “In any case nobody has moved violently or talked cheap dialogue or had any facial expression at all. There was only one bad line, and a writer like you could improve it. But you were interested.”

“What was the nickle for?” asked Boxley evasively.

“I don’t know,” said Stahr. Suddenly he laughed, “Oh yes— the nickle was for the movies.”

The two invisible attendants seemed to release Boxley. He relaxed, leaned back in his chair and laughed. “What in hell do you pay me for?” he demanded. “I don’t understand the damn stuff.”

“You will,” said Stahr grinning. “Or you wouldn’t have asked about the nickel.” F. Scott Fitzgerald (2015-05-14). The Last Tycoon (p. 39).  . Kindle Edition.

What Stahr is saying works for both the screenwriter and the novelist. That being, show, don’t tell; action speaks louder than words. Why did she lie about the gloves? Why did she burn them” Who is the other guy in the room?

Whether you are watching a movie or reading a book, you will continue to watch or read to see what happens next. Don’t explain everything, that is boring. Reveals should be slow and tantalizing.

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Why a writers life is about lunch

I don’t have writers block, but I do have writers procrastination. What I do is palm it off on my fictional character Chet Koski a screenwriter for Paramount in the 1920’s. He solved the murder of William Desmond Taylor in my e-mystery “Loonies in Hollywood.” Now he is about to solve another big Hollywood murder.

So I take my terrible character traits and give them to Chet, hoping they will disappear from my psyche.

Here is an example from his upcoming adventure of writers procrastination. I love this guy.

“Back in my closet-office the next day I sat down to work on a new story. I had not heard from Matt Hobby, my supposed writing partner; his supposition, not mine, so was glad to delve into a story in the privacy of my own imagination. The problem is that the first hour my fingers never touched my typewriter. The blank piece of bright white paper glared at me, challenging me, no it was taunting me, saying, you think you’re so smart, here I am, fill me with words, with ideas, with action, with, oh my God, dialogue. You can’t do it can you Bud? Go ahead; soil my whiteness with dark ink splattering my purity.

There is a fine line between writing, or any artistic endeavor, and madness. It is a side effect of the creative mind. Not wanting to go mad, I decided to rip out the insidious white sheet, crumble it into a ball and toss it in the waste basket. At least if anyone comes in they will think I had been working. Then I stared at the wall trying to regain my sanity, to stay clear of the madness of listening to an imaginary conversation with a piece of paper. Then I realized I am a screenwriter, therefore I am not artistic, and so my madness must come from another source. I crumbled up more paper and filled the basket halfway. I found it stimulating. Just look at the trash. I have been busy writing, rewriting, not satisfied with what I had been doing, but striving for perfection, the best scene, the best dialogue.

I went to lunch.”

The life of a writer is a wondrous thing. It is all about the lunch. Chet and I will get back to you.

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How a rubber band can help creativity for writers

Many moons ago, before the Internet and social media, when our culture was a primordial miasma of goo, I spent a Saturday on the USC campus taking a test. Not just any test, and not one having anything to do with college. There were hundreds of people from all over the country, some from foreign countries for all I knew and all of us vying for a handful of spots in Hollywood’s entrance program for second assistant directors. 

Being young and dumb I thought the test would have many questions related to filmmaking. I was wrong, for the most part at least. Most of the test was standard IQ garbage; math, English, and those stupid questions regarding how to fold something that only engineering students could figure out.

But there was something that was challenging. It had to do with everyday objects and finding another use for them. It challenged your creativity. Name five uses for a rubber band for instance other than its intended use. I will give you one. Dental floss.

This is a good exercise for writers. Not only does it spur one’s imagination, but is useful for character development. Imagine a character in a story who periodically takes out a rubber band and uses it to floss. Why? Maybe he is eccentric. Maybe he doesn’t like that minty flavor. Maybe he has a rubber fetish. The point is that it becomes a character signature. I imagine this character with the rubber band floss to be a villain. Ian Fleming’s Blofeld had his cat, my villain has his rubber band.

Of course the character does not have to be a villain. The character could be psychologically compulsive, neurotic, or the rubber band could be used as a security blanket for a damaged character.

So for all of you writers or artists, or those who just want to test themselves. look at everyday objects and find a different use for them. A tire, a mug, a pencil, your underwear. It does not matter what it is. Whatever you see, come up with some creative use.

As for my test results, I did not make the final cut. Not even close. I did so poorly they told me to never come back. In fact I was barred from Hollywood and greater Los Angeles. Had I been thinking smartly I would have found creative uses for this one page notice I received in the mail. Pin it to the wall  to use as inspiration and motivation, the ‘I will show you’ signature. Or use it to create a paper boat and then take a bath and have my rubber ducky attack the boat and destroy it like Godzilla destroys a cruise ship.

Now you know why I failed. But don’t let my failure stop you from this exercise. It does work. The dental floss proves it.

Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/Terry-Nelson/e/B00EEVHN38

Website: http://terrynelson.net/

 

 

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The heartbreak of blogging

It is not so much heartbreak as frustration, confusion, and all that jazz.

If you’re a writer first, a blogger second, you understand you want your voice to be heard, you want a response, to be understood, to make a point, to entertain. You want to communicate and writing, for writers, is easier than blabbing because you’re always interrupted in conversation and when interrupted you lose your focus. Writers are better at writing. If they were better at talking they would be public speakers. Writers are not interrupted when they write, except from mewing cats or barking dogs. And they can wait. So you write. 

So here is the part that never ceases to amaze me. I am sure if you are a writer you have experienced the following. You have a great idea for a blog, you write what you think is a great one. Writing is crisp and sharp; the wit hitting the right brain cells in the reader, your point clear and precise, the entertainment value solid. You think you have a catchy headline to draw people in.

The result is that you have few click, few likes, no comments.

Then you write some piece of dog do and you get lots of hits, lots of likes, lots of comments. What?

Could it be that you as a writer have no idea what good writing is? Could it be your readers are . . . well I won’t go there.

The point is you never know what will catch readers, Internet surfers, and sign holding freeloaders at exit ramps.

There is in all us bloggers and writers the desire for approval and acceptance. We have to be honest about that. We want respect for our intelligence, our insight, our powers of persuasion, our sense of humor, our good looks, our sexual prowess, our Q scores, and other dreams that can’t come true. So we continue to blog.

I continue to write e-books. I continue to blog. Why? I have no Q score.

And I will continue on occasion write a good blog that few will read. And I will continue to ask What?

E-books anyone? http://www.amazon.com/Terry-Nelson/e/B00EEVHN38

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What is a writers platform especially mine and yours

Every writer knows, based on what he/she reads in writing blogs and advice from the pros, that a writer needs a platform.  Do you know yours? Or do really know what ‘platform’ is?

When I wrote my first e-novel “Loonies in the Dugouts” I did not intend to have a platform. I did not know what one was. I know there is platform diving into swimming pools. I know there is a platform for my computer. I know a platform is proposed by political parties, the platforms of each being to enhance the rich and distance the poor. I once stood on a platform at a train depot. But what is a writers platform?

When I decided to Google ‘what is a writers platform’, an article from Writers Digest written by Courtney Carpenter from 2012 Googled up on my screen. She said it is an authors visibility. It is comprised she wrote of who you are (I am Terry Nelson, nice to meet you); any media you use to sell books (I have two blogs, Twitter, Google Plus, an Amazon page, a website); and finally personal and professional contacts you have. (I have no idea why personal contacts are helpful. I know a cat, but she is of no help. As far as profession, they are few and far between. As usual, it is who you know and I know a cat.

But there is more.

1. The building blocks are a website and a blog-I have both. 2. Newsletter and mailing list-I need to do this. 3. Column writing for the media-Huh? 4. A guest on successful websites, blogs, and periodicals- I was a guest twice-but again see answer to #3. 5.A strong track record of past book sales. (If I had a strong sales record I would not need a platform). 6 -10 is about public speaking, social media, being interviewed and so on. In other words when she says building blocks, while it is true, it is also hard to build a platform if you are an indie e-novelist.

It is hard to be visible when you are an invisible writer. I have done much that has been recommended. I can do more. But what comes first is the Word. The best thing to do is write, keep writing, and enhance visibility. It does not guarantee success. Luck plays a big part. I would say good writing will prevail, but as anyone who has read “Fifty Shades of Grey” knows, bad writing can succeed beyond the realm of logic.

After my first book, I decided I liked my two lead characters so much a wrote another book for them, “Loonies in Hollywood” where they solve the murder of William Desmond Taylor. I enjoyed writing a mystery so know I am working on another murder mystery with Chet and Eveleen. And a fourth is warming in my tea kettle.  Perhaps having a platform is having a niche, though my debut novel doesn’t fit.

But I will continue to build, not a platform, but visibility. To break into column writing, be someone who is sought for interviews, being a public speaker, have a strong track record of sales, are things the article does not tell you how to achieve. That is because what she lists are the characteristics already attained. Now if she could tell how to get there we would have something, wouldn’t we.

My Amazon page is: Terry Nelson. For some reason the link may not work despite my following what WordPress tells me to do. But my website works better. http://terrynelson.net/

 

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Hog Lane Murders and Stephen King

Opposites attract, then they flock together. I have no idea what that means but I know writers can gain much from reading a “The Hog Lane Murders,” a new eBook on Amazon and from an older book from Stephen King, each providing an insight into writing, though by opposite approaches.

Amazon has “The Hog Lane Murders for the low price of 99 cents and is worth it for two reasons. The story takes place in London of 1598 and involves the murders of four young girls. It is well written with strong characters with about four suspects. It works as a quick read, but also offers something else. The author, John Yeoman of England, is a writing teacher and in the book he has 15 footnotes. So you can either read the story and then check the footnotes to see the writing tip for that passage. Or, like me, read  until you see the footnote, click it on, read it, then  click back to the story. Either way you will discover what works in a story and why.

Stephen King in his book “On Writing” is a must for every writer. If you are unfamiliar with the book, King talks about his beginnings as a writer, talks about writing (he does not like plots) and at the end of the book he shows a first draft of a page or two, then shows the editing in the second draft. He also explains why the cuts were made. Writers can always explain the why, but seeing it in print is a visual aid that writers can easily understand. It is show and tell time and expertly shows and tells.

You can’t go wrong with either book, even if you are not a writer. A reader’s appreciation can be enhanced by learning more about writing-and seeing the mistakes other writers make, one of which I am sure is this writer.

If you are a reader I hope you will read the blog of one of my characters from two eNovels I have written. Just because he is fictional does not mean he can’t write for himself. So stop by and encourage the lad. https://myrealfictionallife.wordpress.com/

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Writers need goals, but what does a goal need

I recently heard former NFL coach Herman Edwards say, “A goal without a plan is a wish.” Eight simple words, three of which are ‘a’ which is hardly a word. But how true those simple words are. Not every person has goals, and some that do have little idea how to create a plan for that goal. It is like having a goal to lose weight, but if you keep eating pizza, ice cream, potato chips, and candy bars, you have not created a plan. You have a wish, but not the plan.

I am currently finishing my third book in my loony series. So what is my plan. One I have created a blog by my fictional narrator from the two previous blogs. The Blog is My Real Fictional Life. https://myrealfictionallife.wordpress.com/. Chet has talked about what his plans for the blog are and in his second blog talks about how he met Eveleen Sullivan, a story not told in either of the books. The reason is to create a place to market the character and the book, hoping to entice readers. Also to promote the new book when it comes out.

The second part of my plan is to create a free short story about Chet and Eveleen for Kindle readers on Amazon, one that will have links to the other e-novels. Nothing wrong with giving something away to attract more readers.

Another part of the plan is to raise money through Kickstarter for a more professional cover design.

Finding reviewers is difficult, especially those who do not accept fees. I, nor anyone, should pay somebody to review your book. I also plan on using any free or cheap marketing tools to make readers aware of the book. One can Tweet of course, but as a successful writer said, “when was the last time you sold a book because of Twitter?”

I have yet to fully investigate mailing lists or Facebook, but some plan possibilities are ongoing.

I am sure I will add to my plan before publication in early spring. If you are a writer with a plan feel free to share with your comments.

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