Tag Archives: How To

Mistakes I made as a first-time director

I thought about putting together a blooper reel of our rehearsals but they turned out too insane and esoteric to post in any kind of cohesive way.

Here we have the scene where Marron and Kara finally go head-to-head, where I discuss with Sarah and Charlie where their characters are and how to approach the scene.

Before we took this on, I did a lot of reading on how to be a good director and applied the following:

  • Build a schedule – this helps you map your rehearsals, schedule meetings with your producer, and so forth. It also helps to leave some blank spaces between rehearsals for one-on-one work. If you’re super-pro, you’ll include the post-production schedule also.
  • Take attendance.
  • Don’t let anyone stand around. If they’re present, they have to work. When they’re done, let them leave.
  • Give general motivations, not line-by-line instructions (I was really bad at this.)
  • Encourage the actors to work together when they’re not scheduled for a rehearsal with you.
  • Let people know when they’re doing well.
  • When someone consistently fucks up, remember that this is a collaboration. There is always something you can do to facilitate a solution.
  • A kind word goes a long way, but bullshit will destroy you all  – by bullshit, I mean false encouragement, allowing disruptive behavior to go unchecked, and settling for less than your best.
  • You’ll get a lot of advice and pushback. Some of the input will be useful, some of it won’t. Be open to new ideas, as long as they will benefit your project.
  • The more you do it, the better you get.

Note: 2/3rds of this recording were accomplished while both sick and drunk.

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How to Prepare for a Convention

Hi everyone!

I’m still drafting my report on BayCon, but realized that post was getting rather lengthy. Here I’m going to a breakdown of how I prepared for that convention, and what I would have done differently.

First, let me make a distinction between a convention and a conference. To my mind, a convention is a fan event, where you’re going to interact with people in and out of the industry for the purpose of fun, enjoyment and sharing. A conference is primarily a business and networking event, designed to help you move to the next stage of your career through information sessions, networking, and formal pitching events (or similar.)

That may not be a textbook definition, and there is certainly some overlap. I’ve made most of my professional connections at conventions. But that’s not our quibble today!

Here’s how to prepare for a convention — a fun, fan event — as a pro.

1. If you’re speaking on panels or giving a presentation
Make friends with the organizers. See what they’re expecting of you. Reach out to others who are speaking on the same panel as you, and get to know them. Read their work. It helps to know how the discussion will go, so that you can prepare relevant information.

2. Prepare relevant information
If you’re going to an instructional workshop, have your notes with you. Simplify and break them down into small chunks the audience can follow without getting lost — but don’t go overboard. Generally, you’re not lecturing. Find a balance between being informative and entertaining.

3. If you’re moderating a panel for others
Read their work. Check out their web sites. You should be able to give a brief introduction of each person — or better yet — be able to use their accomplishments as a starting point to introduce the topics of discussion. Prepare more questions than you need. One method of question-prep is to list out every question that comes to mind on the topic, and then erasing all the boring ones. Remember, you’re there to facilitate them; not hog the spotlight yourself.

4. Clothing and Costuming
This is something I’m still figuring out**, so I invite your comments and suggestions.
Generally speaking, if you’re going to be at a convention as a pro, you should dress the part. I’m a little put off by the idea of setting a glass wall between me and other people — fans, pros, or otherwise — but Kevin Andrew Murphy once said, “it’s not so much a glass wall as costuming as your authorial persona. Don’t wear anything on a panel that you wouldn’t want for your dust jacket photo. Dressy casual is good.”
Of course, dressy casual is relative.

I’ve had mixed responses as far as, say, a fairy costume. Some fans thought it was great, and made me more approachable — whereas other pros were less impressed, and saw it as a reason not to take me seriously. Consider who you’re dressing for. That said, the convention you go to might have costumed events such as a masquerade ball, or regency dance party. Dressing up at night for parties is generally acceptable.

5. Supplies
FOOD: Hotel food is expensive. I usually pack my own, as though I were going camping.
RECORDING EQUIPMENT: I also pack extra notebooks to take notes on panels (even the ones I speak on, you never know what you’ll learn from the folks you’re sitting next to.) It’s also a good idea to take a camera or minirecorder if you want to recap your performance to see how you can improve. Always ask for permission to record, of course.
MISC: Band-aids, painkillers, allergy medicine, needle & thread, bathing suit, extra socks — prepare for it all.
CASH: Again, sort of a no-brainer. Between the dealer’s room, the parties, and meals, having cash in your pocket, rather than your whole bank account on a card, is a quick way to budget your weekend.

It’s always better to over-prepare and not need it, than to under-prepare and get caught with your pants down. Remember, whether you’re there to make friends or to sell your books, conventions should be FUN. All the prep you do should be to self-facilitate, and make the live experience as smooth as possible.

 

How do you do it? Did I miss anything important?

dance

Carrie Sessarego of Geek Girl in Love. http://geekgirlinlove.com/

** With regard to costuming… this probably merits a post all its own. Wearing costumes is easily one of my favorite things about conventions, and the prospect of them being off-limits deeply saddens me. I dressed up as a yellow fairy for two reasons: I have a story coming out from Fey Publishing this June, and wanted to promote that. Also, I have a friend named Fritz, and I had to make a joke referencing Bakshi’s animated film, “Wizards.”

fritz

“They’ve killed Fritz! Those lousy stinking yellow fairies! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! Those despicable animal warmongers! They’ve killed Fritz!” – Wizards (1977)

Here’s a quote to contradict Murphy’s, regarding my costumes specifically:

I thought you did an excellent job with the two panels I attended. Your personal excitement and passion for the subjects made them much more accessible than they otherwise might have been. The entire panel on building your writing community was easily the best at the con. The chemistry of the panelists and the sensitivity that each of you all brought to the subject was model perfect. Frankly the “glass wall” can (in some cases) hinder the process. Of course we attend panels primarily to listen and learn, but we also go to engage and respond. The audience’s “yes” and “Ah’s” as well as the questions are what bring such panels to life.”  – Andrew Roberts

wings

I wasn’t the only one with wings.

Pitch to a literary agent in one sentence! #sfwc

I feel like she just handed me the answers to a test. Knowing the expected format is half the battle.

Big shout out and buckets of gratitude to novelist Stephanie Carroll for posting this video about her experience at the 2012 San Francisco Writers Conference.

How to Write Realistic Brawls/Scraps/Fights

Come at me, meow!

Realism* is your best friend when dealing with a fight. We already know realism makes romance and erotica come alive, and it’s the same with a fight. Without realism, the erotica will be limp, the romance will be un-relatable, and the fight will be boring.

*As much realism as you can have when magic and super-speed are involved, but more on that later.

Combat is a physical, visceral thing. Showing, not telling, is key. Spending words on your characters’ thoughts will slow down the action. If you’re getting mugged, do you think your mugger would pause while you reflected on your unfortunate circumstances?

No! He’d take your damn wallet and run!

That level of urgency is important in a fight. Do warriors analyze the situation? Of course, but that analysis is instant. Their experience and ingenuity will be better reflected in your writing by describing what they DO, not what they THINK.

Just as a physicist will be unimpressed if you write bad science, fighters will be unimpressed if you write bad fights. Always ask if you’re not sure!

Here are some quick principles and a practice exercise to help you tighten up flabby fight scenes.

BLOW-BY-BLOW! The best written combat sequences obey the following rules:

  1. Short, direct sentences. Make them clear and to the point.
  2. Vivid description. By vivid I mean specific, not florid.  “She was hit hard in the face by his elbow,” is awful. “He broke her nose,” is alright. “His elbow slammed into her nose with a  sickening crunch,” is better.
  3. A blow-by-blow account. This is the difference between a good scene and a great  scene, and sportscasters have known this for years. Chat with your local dojo’s demo-team instructor, or watch movies choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping. They’ll give you good examples of sequence. (Ideally you could sign up for martial arts classes yourself!)

These principles apply equally to gun fights and magical onslaughts. I don’t know much about tank/ship/spaceship combat, so let’s omit vehicles for now. All the same, seeing the essential steps of the dance will give it beauty.

EXERCISE ~ LINKING ACTION AND REACTION

reaction

Kill Bill, 2003

Take a short fight scene, slow it down, and practice describing  the sequence of strikes. Capture the sequence first, and add details later. I chose THIS RANDOM VIDEO as an example. I’ve named the woman in pink “Kelly,” and her opponent’s new name is “Mary.”

STEP I: Break the moves down to their simplest choreography 

Kelly punches Mary.

Kelly looks at her knuckles.

Mary kicks Kelly in the groin.

Mary drops.

Mary grabs Kelly‘s hair.

Mary drags Kelly across the floor.

Kelly tries to get up.

Mary throws Kelly into a table.

Check the video again to make sure you didn’t miss anything. They do the same sequence twice.

Now that you have the skeleton of the action, you have a clear view of how each fighter acts and reacts to the other.

STEP II: Relate A’s actions directly to B’s actions.

“You knew this would happen,” Mary said. Kelly smiled, and punched Mary in the eye. Mary’s head snapped back while Kelly looked at her bruised knuckle. Mary took a step forward and kicked Kelly in the groin, which made Kelly drop to her knees. Mary then grabbed Kelly by the ponytail and dragged her across the floor. Kelly kicked and screamed. She tried to get up, but Mary threw her into the table. Mary put a hand to her eye, growled and stomped away. 

STEP III: Edit to give it life. Omit unnecessary action, shorten sentences, break up paragraphs and add tiny embellishments for color.

“You knew this would happen,” Mary laughed.


Kelly smirked for half a second, then socked Mary in the eye. Mary’s head snapped back.


The shock didn’t last. Mary lunged, kicking Kelly in the groin. Kelly dropped to her knees. Mary grabbed a chunk of Kelly’s hair and dragged her kicking and screaming across the floor.

Kelly tried to scramble to her feet, but Mary was stronger. Mary slammed Kelly into the table, and Kelly dropped like a sack of rocks.

Clutching her stinging eye, Mary stormed off.

To Recap:

Principles:

  • Short, direct sentences.
  • Vivid, specific description.
  • A blow-by-blow account.

Steps:

STEP I: Break the moves down to their simplest choreography.

STEP II: Relate A’s actions directly to B’s actions.

STEP III: Edit to give it life. Omit unnecessary action, shorten sentences, break up paragraphs and add tiny embellishments for style.

Final Notes:

  • I omitted some of the details I felt slowed down the narrative, including grunting and screaming. The body language was enough.
  • I spent more time describing actions that took longer to execute. Your words are like a film reel, dedicate the time only where it agrees with pacing.
  • Only use active verbs. “Kelly was punched by Mary” sounds like a crime report. “Mary punched Kelly” sounds like it hurt.

Based on the text, you should be able to re-create the fight. Ask yourself, was the pacing the same? Did you feel the same way reading the text as watching the video? Most importantly, are you creating an authentic fight, or mimicking what’s been done before?

Red Sonja (1985). I love this movie, but standards have gone way up since then. Don’t recycle the same tricks.

This example is very basic. The point is to practice flow and sequence. As your instincts get stronger, steps I and II will merge, and you can get right down to the fun stuff like spurting blood and what it feels like to have bone fragments grinding against each other.

I couldn’t find any good quotes by Joe Abercrombie about writing combat, but R. A. Salvatore nailed it right on the head. In my opinion, those two are the absolute best combat writers in fiction. As someone with over twenty years of martial arts study, working with demonstration teams, stage-fighting and practical application, I’ve learned the value of writing sequences that are both pretty and realistic.

Writing a fight scene is about mechanics (it’s got to make sense to  people who know something about fighting–kind of like the science in a  science fiction book has to pass the physicist test!)… Mostly, a good fight  scene is about the pacing. I notice that my sentences get shorter,  paragraphs become single sentences or even sentence fragments, and  characters are too involved in staying alive to muse about the meaning  of life.” –R.A. Salvatore

Questions? Critiques? Leave a note.