Valerie’s Blog

WGF Panel – 01/13/2017

WGF Panel - 01/12/2017
Panelists (l-r): Monica Macer (Quenn Sugar, OWN), Shernold Edwards (Hand of God, Amazon), Dawn Kamoche (Sharp Objects, HBO), Dee Harris-Lawrence (Star, FOX), Valerie Woods (Soul Food, Showtime)

The Writers Guild Foundation event, co-sponsored by Stephens College MFA in Television and Screenwriting on January 13, 2017, was a great success. The panel, moderated by writer and BooksEndependent publisher, Valerie C. Woods, engaged the participants with their wisdom, humor and real-world advice on the evening’s topic – “Writing Outside the Color Lines: Women Writers of Color or Storytelling and Perspective”. A lively Q&A following the discussion extended the evening past its scheduled ending time.

Thanks to Chris Kartje and Enid Portuguez at the WGF, and Ken LaZebnik and Khanisha Foster of Stephens College for a wonderful evening!

Writers Guild Foundation Panel

Writers Guild Foundation

Writing Outside the Color Lines: Women Writers of Color on Storytelling and Perspective

Fri, January 13, 2017
7:30 PM – 9:00 PM

WGF / WGA Headquarters – Del Reisman Multi-Purpose Room
7000 W 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Valerie C. WoodsThe Writers Guild Foundation, in partnership with Stephens College MFA in Television & Screenwriting, hosts a dynamic panel discussion moderated by BooksEndependent founder, screenwriter and author, Valerie C. Woods. Join television writers from such shows as “Shameless,” “Hand of God,” “Star,” “Sleepy Hollow,” and “Queen Sugar”, as they answer questions on writing authentic stories and characters outside one’s own cultural identity.

 

Buy Tickets Now!

The RoughWriter

There it is. The blank page. Or screen. It’s perfect, pristine, shimmering with possibilities. You want the words you impart on this perfect canvas to be worthy. To flow with lyrical, righteous, and passionate… stuff. No, scratch that, not ‘stuff’ – it must be classic Oscar, Emmy, Tony award winning scriptness. Wait. What? ‘Scriptness?’ Ok, perfect prose, poignantly profound… stop! Scratch that, too. And now it’s ruined. The blank page, which was once so full of hope, is now ruined. Crumple paper, or delete, delete, delete. Time for coffee.

Such pressure, the blank page. Why is it so hard to allow for imperfection? It’s not called a rough draft because it’s perfect. So go ahead and be a RoughWriter!

In his book,”Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” Syd Field put it very bluntly, “Let yourself write sh*tty pages, with stilted, direct, dumb, and obvious dialogue. Don’t worry about it. Just keep writing. Dialogue can always be cleaned up during the rewrite. ‘Writing is rewriting’ is the ancient adage.”

This advice applies to ALL writers, not just screenwriters. It is the only way to get through a novel, a play, short story, or novella. I know, because I’ve written at least one of each in that prior list, and Syd Field’s advice got me through each project.

Currently, I am a Mentor for a group of very talented MFA screenwriters. In the first semester, each student selected the topic of their screenplays, wrote beat sheets, and narrative outlines. At this point, two writers decided they no longer wanted to write the stories they’d chosen, and switched – went through the earlier process again and then began writing script pages. Then a third writer decided her pages were awful, her story was stupid and it was boring. One of the first two writers, worried that well, maybe the new idea wasn’t good either.

To clarify, none of the stories were boring. What I was hearing from these students was doubt, resistance… you know, fear of failure. They had each done great work. But the Inner Critic had moved to the foreground and was doing its best to get them to give up.

What to do? It was time for the talk, as follows:

Where Does It All End?

In a previous post, I wrote about what indie authors could learn from indie filmmakers. As my writing often alternates between writing novels and screenplays, there are also screenwriting tools that can assist novelists.

One of the most valuable “oh, I get it!” moments studying with screenwriting mentor, Syd Field (1935-2013), was the first time Syd spoke about his groundbreaking Paradigm. More specifically – Syd stated that the first thing needed to begin was to know the end. As a young writer, this was a bit of a surprise.

At the time, my writing process was something like “wow, this is a good idea! The character would be this, they would do this and there would be a love interest, and they work at something amazing, etc. etc.” Dialogue and scenes would sprout and I’d write them down and generally let the story tell me what it was. Which is not such a terrible thing… at first. Getting the first flush of inspiration out and onto the page as quickly as possible is important, because I am so easily distracted.

However, there always came the time when I’d have to stop and ask, “so where does it all end?” Where am I going with this story? What is the resolution? And that’s when I go back to the Syd Field Paradigm and the four things the writer needs to know to begin writing:

  • The End
  • The Beginning
  • Plot Point I
  • Plot Point II

All I Really Need to Know…

In 1988, author Robert Fulghum’s collection of essays, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten was a New York Times bestseller. It remained a bestseller for nearly two years. The now-famous list of things learned is continually re-printed, updated and posted throughout the internet. Clearly, this was a book that resonated with readers in a way that supported them in maneuvering through the day-to-day experience of living.

More recently, in the New York Times Review of Books President Barack Obama was quoted as saying: “[T]he most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels…”.

This is something that definitely resonates for me. I was fortunate to have great parents from whom I learned about life. In fact, it was my mother who instilled me and my siblings a great love of reading novels. And it is always a wonder to me how much wisdom I’ve found in them. In his NYT interview, Pres. Obama went on to say about novels: “It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that.”

It is easy for me to quote from novels that help me be comfortable in a complicated world full of grays and truth.

For instance, from Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave: “The gods only go with you, when you put yourself in their path.” This, from a novel about young Merlin in 5th century Britain, was encouragement for me, a kid from the South Side of 20th century Chicago, to seek out new adventure and have the courage to go out into the world and explore.

Pursuing a “Singular Art”

“Adaptation is both a skill and a challenge.” These are the words of legendary author and screenwriter, Syd Field (1935-2013), acclaimed as “the guru of all screenwriters” (CNN). Syd goes on to say, in his seminal book, Screenplay – The Foundations of Screenwriting: “The verb to adapt means ‘to transpose from one medium to another.’ Adaptation is defined as the ability ‘to make fit or suitable by changing, or adjusting’ – modifying something to create a change in structure, function, and form… It is a singular art.”

The pursuit of this “singular art” is the mission of Staged/Lit – to celebrate and examine the creative synthesis of adapting literary works from prose to script to performance in a series of staged readings. Developed through my indie press, BooksEndependent, Staged/Lit was designed to present and promote script adaptations, primarily from our book list.

Once I pitched the idea to Aviva Field, Executive Director of Syd Field – The Art of Visual Storytelling, things rapidly fell into place. I had worked with Syd for many years, both studying with him, and coaching writers using the Syd Field screenwriting method. The first time I attended one of Syd’s weekend seminars, (back in the last century!) I was in the process of adapting a stage play to a screenplay. Syd’s book, Screenplay, was the backbone of my process. The resulting script won me a Disney Screenwriting Fellowship. So, trust me, it works!

World Storytelling Day 2016 – Strong Women

A strong woman, Mrs. Mary E. Jones Parrish, wrote the book on the following event. This is my summary of those events.

Once upon a time, a group of black protesters who were against mob rule, set out to support their local sheriff in protecting a young prisoner from being lynched. It was a time when open carry of firearms was legal. Many of the black protesters were veterans of The Great War. They were proud citizens who felt it was their right to step forward and maintain the peace and the rule of law.

They were rightfully concerned, because just nine months earlier, a white mob had taken a white prisoner from custody and lynched him. The crowd of white citizens was so large the police directed traffic to allow the extra-legal execution to take place without interference. However, once mob “justice” had been served, the crowd surged forward to rip souvenirs from the corpse.

This was the mentality facing the protesters of this time and place – 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma. If the authorities chose not to protect one of its white citizens from a lynch mob, what hope was there for a black citizen without support from his community?

However, the white mob surrounding the courthouse was incensed that these black citizens would question their actions. Who were they to stand and voice an opinion? By noon the following day, this white mob organized and executed the largest riot against a black community in the history of our nation. With guns, fire and bombs..

World Storytelling Day 2016

The spring equinox (March 20, 2016) in the northern hemisphere (autumn equinox in the southern hemisphere) marks World Storytelling Day!

The history of this global celebration of storytelling began in Sweden in circa 1991-2 as a national event and has evolved through the years to encompass the globe. Since 2004, each World Storytelling Day has carried a theme, the first being Birds, and for 2016: Strong Women.

Though this day is designed for the art of oral storytelling, I offer the written word story of a favorite, fictional, strong (little) woman named, Frauke.

POOR LITTLE FRAUKE

The day was sunny, the sky was blue,
But poor little Frauke had nothing to do.
Her tasks were complete. Her room was very neat.
Her cat lay contently asleep at her feet.

A poor little sigh escaped from her mouth,
Her poor little lips were pursed up in a pout.
And poor little Frauke, her chin in her hand
Stared through the window, surveying the land.

The snow had blossomed to life overnight.
Every bush, every road was now hidden from sight.
So poor little Frauke sat in her room
And tried to withstand the oncoming gloom.

She blinked at the shimmering sunlit snow.
She felt a strong need to get up and go.
If only the snow had not climbed so high
Poor little Frauke would…
But WAIT! Perhaps she could…
The snowdrift…the window…
Yes, she would FLY!

She ran to the closet and took out her boots
Put on her jacket and laughed with a whoop!
This little woman stepped onto the ledge
And spread out her arms and then…

War On Christmas?

Have you heard? Apparently there’s a “War On Christmas” – who knew? Don’t say Happy Holidays! This is Christmas time, we celebrate Christ, see his name is right there in the name of the holiday, so stop trying to take Christ out of Christmas. Stop being oppressive about our Christian holy day!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been a big fan of Christmas. Of course, especially when I was a child. No school, pretty lights, presents under the tree, midnight candlelight services… I can even sing ‘O come all ye faithful’ in Latin (thanks to Nat King Cole’s essential Christmas album and 2 years of Latin in high school).

The story of Mary and Joseph, the Three Kings, the star visible by day and by night – all of it sparked a delicious wonder, mystery and beauty into urban life on the south side of Chicago. And don’t get me started on the movies! The list is long.

But even as a child back in the 20th century there was talk of the commercialization of the holiday, just watch Miracle on 34th Street, released in 1947. And then when retailers started abbreviating Christmas with ‘Xmas’, the rumbling began.

Days of Summer and The Open Road

This story was first published in the July 2010 issue of Ebony Magazine.

There was only one day during summer vacations in the mid-1960’s, that I was happy to wake up early. That was the day in August when Mom got us out of bed in the pre-dawn light for The Family Road Trip. My father loved the open road and exploring sights unseen. We all got to share in his adventures.

In the weeks before the journey Mom would sew summer outfits for us girls. The night before, we laid out our clothes and went to bed early, excitement making it hard to get to sleep. But we were up before the sun because Daddy wanted to hit the road before morning traffic. A quick breakfast, leave the dishes – we didn’t even have to make our beds. And then the car or camper or whatever we had that year, was loaded up, the windows open to the August dawn and we were off, leaving the south side of Chicago behind.

Mom was the navigator. Dad the driver. I was the youngest with two older sisters and our brother, the eldest. The Dan Ryan Expressway would be nearly empty, as if the road belonged only to us.

During my childhood we traveled east to Niagara Falls and the New York Expo and north to Montreal, Canada. But it is the trips out west that I remember most.