Thursday, August 11, 2016

10 Screenwriting Tips From Billy Wilder

So I know a lot of people have already seen this list from Cameron Crowe's Conversations With Wilder, but I'm posting it here mostly as a reminder to myself. No matter how advanced your writing or your writing career, it's always great practice to reinforce the basics. This is top shelf advice from a master storyteller, and it should be seared into every brain engaged in storycraft.

1: The audience is fickle.

2: Grab ’em by the throat and never let ’em go.

3: Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.

4: Know where you’re going.

5: The more subtle and elegant you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.

6: If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.

7: A tip from Lubitsch: Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.

8: In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees. Add to what they’re seeing.

9: The event that occurs at the second act curtain triggers the end of the movie.

10: The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then — that’s it. Don’t hang around.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

SFWA Cookbook

A reminder that the SFWA's 50th Anniversary Ad Astra Cookbook is still available. I'm not sure about the print version, but you can order the kindle version from Amazon. It's a great cookbook with recipes from some of your favorite authors, me included, and all proceeds go to the SFWA legal fund.

50th Anniversary SFWA Cookbook
  • 157 dishes & how-tos
  • 134 contributors
  • So. Much. Coffee
  • Multiple Grand Masters
  • Hugo, Nebula, & Locus award-winners
  • Agents, editors, artists
  • Several badgers

Friday, April 8, 2016

Fluff Piece

It's not that I avoid writing. I'm really only right in the head when I am writing. But there are times when things need to marinate in the mind, or ferment until they're ready to intoxicate. So other than making spoons, another thing I love doing is making marshmallows.

There's nothing quite like a pillowy cloud of marshmallow deflating in your mouth, its flavor spreading across your tongue like sunshine on a window sill. Overselling? Perhaps a bit. But they need hype.

When most people think of Marshmallows they think of the ubiquitous bags at the bottom of the baking aisle, good for charring at the bottom of a campfire, or maybe they of s'mores, or that whipped stuff that comes in a jar.

But if this is the only marshmallow you know, you've never tried homemade marshmallows. The great thing about making them yourself is you control what ingredients, so there's no need for chemicals you can't pronounce. The most exotic chemical I've included is citric acid. And booze of course. Bourbon, rhubarb bitters, limoncello, etc.

The best recipe I've tried is this one from Epicurious: Lemon Marshmallows. They're bright and tangy and delicious. A drop or two of Fee's rhubarb bitters adds something a little extra special, just don't give those to kids. My last batch of marshmallows was tangerine, basically using the Epicurious recipe, but substituting tangerine (Mandarine orange). They were good, but subtle. A little too subtle.

I have no doubt orange-cream would be delicious, and I'd love to try a blueberry-lemonade. I think I'll need freeze dried blueberry powder for that one. Fresh blueberry is too mild. By the way, if you haven't tried the combination, blueberry and lemon is magical, and not just because my favorite color combination is yellow and blue.

All right, I've made the case for marshmallows. Being the trendsetter I am, no doubt they'll be the new cupcake or macaron. It's back to editing for me. But maybe just one more tangerine marshmallow before I do.

Thursday, April 7, 2016


It's been ages since I posted anything here, so I thought I'd share random things I've been up to lately. El NiƱo recently toppled a diseased birch in the front yard, and after several days with a chainsaw, I thought it a shame that all that wood should go to waste. Sure, quite a bit of it had bin ravaged by the bronze borer beetle, but there were enough good logs to make me wish I had paid more attention in shop class back in middle school. But wishing is worthless, so I resolved to learn the art of carving.

But what would I carve? My drawing skills are rather sad, and so I had every reason to believe sculpting things meant to resemble other things would be a fruitless task. But a spoon I might be able to manage.

I ordered a lovely set of two Mora carving knives from Sweden and a cheap hatchet from the local hardware store, and over the course of a month I buried myself in wood shavings. I was quite surprised by how the first spoon turned out, and even more surprised by the second. By the end of March I'd created several pieces I'm quite proud of, and had only two failures. And they were complete failures—a tiny fork and a honey dipper. Lessons learned.

It's amazing how the hours can fly by when immersed in an activity like carving. The image of the old bearded man whittling away on the front porch makes so much sense to me now. It's a great stress reliever, and March was a stressful month. A tiny part of that stress was due to the editing process. I'd finished my novel, but the last two chapters didn't work. There was too much material, and it didn't feel cohesive with the rest. Bottom line I was good and stuck. But as I whittled, I realized how liberating it can be to remove, to carve away, to shave off all of the extra stuff covering what it is I wanted to see or reveal.

When you're carving a spoon, you start with a log, split it, then chop away everything but a flat, rectangular block of wood. On that blank canvas you draw a spoon, preferably using the grain as a guide to the most pleasing shape, and with a knife or two you simply cut away everything that isn't the spoon. Sometimes you cut too much, or you meet a knot you didn't expect, or even a poor bug that had made the wood its home, but you adapt and find the spoon that's there, even if it isn't exactly the spoon you thought was there.

a 10g coffee measuring cup in progress

My first two spoons carved from the same half of a split log

A birch santoku taking shape

following the curved grain in this small cypress spoon