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The Art Of Words: The "War" Of Words

Updated on July 9, 2014

The Art Of Words

FADE IN:

While the title War Of Words isn't about face to face confrontation (at least not directly) the reality is: if the words you choose to tell your tale don't stack up and elevate above every other piece of material being offered, you will lose ground in the "battlefield", and be left to face the marauding hoards of new material, as they thunder into the "breach" (publisher's or producer's office), determined to claim their glory, and leave all others in their wake.

It is every writer's responsibility to rise to the challenges of the marketplace. It's also our responsibility to realize what the marketplace is, and what it's looking for. While the marketplace can be a vast landscape, a writer's material has to narrow it's focus on which segment(s) of the marketplace to serve. Far too often writers start writing on "impulse", then spend days, weeks, months, etc. working on material that will have little to no chance of landing at it's desired destination - a producer or publisher's desk - because little to no thought was given to how the material will stand out and above the rest, or how the material can be pitched, or marketed. Sometimes it comes down to whom the material is geared towards, i.e. major or independent studios, niche magazines or web sites, and so on. Let's see if there's a few ways to improve our chances of survival.

The Essential Questions

If you consider yourself among the ranks of writers creating new content and material, then you possess the desire to manifest your creativity into a physical reality. Creating new material is no small feat, and I salute your effort.

However, as countless writers perpetrate their countless tasks, there are essential questions that we each should ask ourselves (and we should be able to answer positively and honestly):

1. How is your material so different as to stand out from the pack? This is the basic question, and you need to answer it honestly. What makes your story or material better than every other on a producer/editor's desk? How does your material rise above the din, and make a producer/editor want to do all the necessary work to get your work made/published? How solid is your pitch to make them want to consider your material? How well do you know the genre(s) you write in? Are you true to the basic foundations of that genre? Are you bringing in a new twist to the genre, or deconstructing it in a way a producer/publisher hasn't seen before? If so, how? If you can't answer these basic scenarios with an honest, positive response, then you face an uphill battle to get your work published/produced.

2. Is your "voice" truly unique, or an echo of the writers whom influence you? This is important. Your "voice" is your calling card, and is measured against every other piece of material that comes across a producer/editor/publisher's desk. If your work reminds the publisher/producer of another writer, they may go after that other writer, whom they may feel can handle the material better. Studios constantly juggle writers, trying to find the winning situation for the material. If your "voice" stands out, and your material is solid, you are more likely to be hired and keep the job (There are exceptions to this idea. Many, many writers have done wonderful work, and still been replaced on a project. It sucks, but it happens). But the bottom line is, your original "voice" is what you are selling. Stay focused on who you are as a writer.

3. How prepared are you to "change" your voice, if necessary? Writers fall into comfortable habits. It's part of our nature, and sometimes it works in our favor. But, sometimes not. If your writing has plateaued, or hasn't moved your career forward the way you would have hoped, are you willing to change your writing style, or "voice"? Are you willing to adopt a style that maybe isn't as comfortable as your current one, but may give you a greater chance at success? Our individual styles have to evolve, one way or another. The more we write, the clearer our "voice" should be. But this isn't always the case. There are plenty of stubborn writers who won't change. They just "haven't found the right story, yet". Well, you don't have time to wait. The longer you search for that "right story", the further back you'll be in the line trying to land on a producer/publisher's desk. Writer's need to adapt and move quickly. And (I believe) changing things up in your writing style can have residual benefits (no pun intended) to your overall approach, and make you a better writer.

4. What are you bringing to the table that's different from every other writer? Not only in terms of "voice", how prepared are you to not only create the material, but work with the producer or publisher to get the material to it's highest level? What new angle or turn can you give to the pitch or material that will make a producer/publisher say "Okay, let's do it"? How prepared are you to defend what you've pitched or written, when challenged by those whom you may want to produce or publish it? Are you so in love with your work that you won't let publishers or producers make suggestions or changes without a fight? These can be tricky areas. You want to show that you're a team player, but there are times when you need to make a solid (and sensible) stance on areas of you material that others may want to change. You have to be firm, but diplomatic. Good luck with that.

5. Is your material inherently marketable? Again, an important point. If your themes or material is too convoluted, too dark, or too esoteric, the harder it is to get produced/published/bought (though not impossible). If the material is a difficult sell, then every aspect of the story better be rock solid and worth the effort necessary to bring it out into the world. And it will all come down to "Why do you want to tell this story?" "Who is the audience?" "How will we make our money back?" Again, you need to know to whom you are pitching, and whom you hope will produce or publish your work. Do your research and find out whom produces material like yours, and find out if that similar material was a success.

The Best Offense

Screenwriters/playwrights (in no particular order): William Goldman, Robert Towne, Quentin Tarantino, Charlie Kaufman, Aaron Sorkin, Shane Black, the Coen brothers, Preston Sturges, Nora Ephron, Neil Simon, Arthur Miller, David Mamet, William Shakespeare, to name a few. Novelists (in no particular order): Ernest Hemingway, Elmore Leonard, Dashell Hammet, Raymond Chandler, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Jack Kerouac, Virginia Woolfe, James Ellroy, Jane Austen, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, to name a few. What do all these great writers/artists have in common? They each have a unique "voice". When you read their material, you can tell who wrote it by each writer's individual style.

As I've mentioned already, your "voice" as a writer is the key that turns the engine for your material. Finding your "voice" as a writer is the best weapon in your arsenal to get your book/manuscript/screenplay noticed, bought, published/produced. It's not always easy. Developing your "voice" takes time and effort. And for some (maybe most), it will be a lifelong pursuit. But, if we realize there are millions of people writing millions of pages, odds are a few of them (hopefully, including you) are going to stand above the others by not just talent, but their personal stamp (their "voice") which elevates their material. Your "voice" has to be marketable, or your options to get sold/published/produced will be limited. You say you can write like other writers? So what. It's easy to copy someone else. Producers/publishers want to know who YOU are as a writer, and they want YOU to show them why they should invest time, money, and effort into your material. Your "voice" gives them a reason to believe in you. Reward them not only with your talent, but your determination to make their efforts to produce/publish you worthwhile.

Epilogue

So what does the "War" Of Words really come down to? To me, it means not only being talented, but being prepared to do whatever is necessary to get the work to its highest level. Is it always possible? Who's to say? Deadlines, wholesale changes demanded by producers/editors, "helpful" notes by various concerned parties, and life in general can derail the best laid plans. It comes down to knowing who you are as a writer, knowing deep down that your work and effort have value and purpose, and knowing your "voice" will carry the work to the vaunted heights where it belongs.

These are just my opinions. Do with them what you will.

Thanks for reading. Best of luck.

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A Few Quotes:

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you - Ray Bradbury

I try to leave out the parts that people skip - Elmore Leonard

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I'd type a little faster - Isaac Asimov

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed - Ernest Hemingway

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug - Mark Twain

We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down - Kurt Vonnegut

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Links:

Writers Guild Of America - www.wga.org - Register your work!

The Writers Store - www.writersstore.com - Software, books, seminars, and more

Script Magazine - www.scriptmag.com - All things screenwriting

Simply Scripts - www.simplyscripts.com - Library of film and TV scripts

Film Independent - www.filmindependent.org - For independent filmmakers/writers

Wordplay - www.wordplayer.com - Website of writers Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio

Zoetrope - www.zoetrope.com - Francis Coppola's company website

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