ROBERTA: Today's guest, Alexandra Sokoloff is a woman of many talents.
Coming from a background in theater, she's acted, directed, sung, danced,
written screenplays, and written four well-acclaimed horror and thriller
novels, most recently BOOK OF SHADOWS. We welcome her to JRW today to talk about her expertise in screenwriting tips for novelists. (She has published a
workbook on this subject, published as an ebook on Kindle.) Take it away Alex!
ALEX: Always great to be here on Jungle Red.
These lovely vixens, I mean ladies, have invited me today to talk about screenwriting, a very unladylike subject. And Roberta says I only have 800 words, so this is going to be all about the discussion, people! Jump in and ask those questions.
So I worked in Hollywood as a screenwriter for twelve years. For a while it was great. My screenwriting partner and I wrote original scripts, thrillers, which mostly sold, and we got hired to do assignments, sometimes off original pitches, some novel adaptations. I was getting paid well to do what I love, working with wildly talented people-and some assholes-but mostly, truly, incredibly talented and passionate and fascinating people. I was having too good a time to realize I was miserable.
And then, in the middle of what seemed like a run of the best luck possible, I crashed. We had gotten our dream director on an original script, a ghost story set on a college campus, and were also working on an adaptation of a novel based on a famous parapsychology experiment that had always compelled us. Two dream projects. I was on top of the world.
But then we lost our director to another movie that got its financing together first. And the production companies attached to the book we were adapting reversed power roles and suddenly we were faced with starting over, a page one rewrite, with no extra money offered for the extra work (an increasingly dire reality for screenwriters, the "one-step deal" that becomes a never-ending nightmare).
Now, this kind of thing happens in Hollywood all the time-- it's turned into the norm, actually. But this time, I snapped.
And so while we pounded out that adaptation that wouldn't die, I took my original script, and started writing it as the novel that became THE HARROWING. Even if I could only write a paragraph at the end of the day, I would force myself to do it. People always ask me if it was hard to make the transition from screenwriting to novel writing, but it was no harder than any writing ever is. We screenwriters know all that internal stuff about our characters anyway--now I didn't have to hold back.
I gave the book to my film agents, they hooked me up with my fabulous literary agent within a week, and he sold the book to St. Martin's Press in a two-book deal two weeks later.
While every book sale and subsequent career has a lot to do with luck and timing, I also know that my quick representation and sale had a lot to do with my screenwriting background - because my agent and editor said so.
The truth is, book agents and editors and the whole publishing business in general has been corrupted--I mean, influenced--by Hollywood. The blockbuster mentality is rampant. Even though the bottom line is always a great book, publishing houses increasingly want big ideas; fast, visceral, visual plots; and a big, high concept hook for marketing.
So that means authors can give themselves an edge by using film techniques to make their stories more immediately appealing and easily marketable--and by the way, to create better, more engaging books. I believe any novelist, from aspiring to multiply-published, can benefit from these screenwriting tricks of the trade.
But when I started teaching writing workshops (a happy and unexpected perk of being an author), I realized very quickly that the storytelling techniques that we Hollywood types take for granted (such as the Three-Act, Eight-Sequence Structure) are a huge revelation to people outside the glass dome of the film business.
The thing is, film is such a compressed and concise medium that it's like seeing an X ray of a story. In film you have two hours, really a little less, to tell the story. It's a very stripped-down form that even so, often has enormous emotional power. Plus we've usually seen more of these movies than we've read specific books, so they're a more universal form of reference for discussion.
It's often easier to see the mechanics of structure in a film than in a novel.
So the workshops I teach, now all over the country, my Screenwriting Tricks For Authors blog: and the workbook http://www.amazon.com/
My word count is up (already!!!!) but here are some links to get you started on the basics of screen story structure.
What Is The Three-Act Structure And Why Should You Care?
The Three Act, Eight-Sequence Structure
The Master List
The Index Card Method
And I'll be in and out all day and very glad to answer any questions people have on the business or craft of screenwriting.
ROBERTA: Thanks so much for stopping by Alex. Now let's have all your questions--Alex is full of great information!