28 October 2010

In which Our Hero writes a screenplay.

Because why the hell not?

OK, let's backtrack a smidge.  Last month I finished Draft 10 of HI and sent it fluttering off through the ether for review.  In the meantime, I decided to start a new project.

Then it stalled.  I tried another one.  That one stalled.

I played Europa Universalis III.  It's the year 1730 and the Byzantine Empire stretches from Provence to the Philippines, but nobody wins a Nebula for playing computer games.

Tried another one.  Stalled.

I started a new game in Franchise Mode in Madden NFL 2006.  In five years, I turned moved the Cardinals to Los Angeles, renamed them the Raptors and gave them spiffy new powder blue and white uniforms, and built a Super Bowl winning team based on hard-nosed running and vicious defense (protip: when you're rebuilding a team, start up front; you can win a lot of games with five Pro-Bowlers on your offensive line). 

Nobody wins a Nebula for playing Madden, either, though in 2005, the idea of the Cardinals winning the Super Bowl in any incarnation probably seemed like science fiction.

Tried another one.  Didn't even get past the outline before I realized the idea was stupid.

Watched a lot of baseball.  That was fun until Cody Fucking Ross came along. (PS: anybody who says they thought the Giants would light up Cliff Lee and chase him in the 5th last night is a stinking, filthy liar).

Funny thing about editing a novel for three years--you get used to having the story already written.  Faced with a blank page for the first time in years, I had nothing.  I went back to the Voyager project and actually produced some updates, but I have to admit, my heart's not in that one anymore.  I want to finish because people I like like it, but that's not going to be the project that gets me moving again.

I don't really know how other people react emotionally to writer's block, but for me, it's equal parts frustration and a vague, terrifying feeling that I'm wasting my talent/career/life, with a dash of suspicion that I only really had one good story in me.  Usually, I can break out of it by writing something else--a short scene, a side project, something like that.  HI actually started as a block-breaker project that kept going.  This time, though, even the block-breakers were blocked.  I needed to do something different.

So finally, one night I sat down with a pack of Camels, half a bottle of V.O., and a 5-year old Mac, and Googled "screenplay format".

The first thing I learned was that screenplay format is a pain in the fucking ass.  Fiction manuscripts have strict requirements--1 inch margins, .5 inch tabs, left-aligned, double-space 12-point Courier and deviate from that at your own risk.  But once you have the manuscript actually set up, you just type the fucking story, and assuming you understand basic mechanics, the only thing you have to worry about is plot, setting, characters, mood, description, theme, dialog, oh god is this any good oh god its terrible oh god oh god oh god.  You know, the usual. 

For screenplays, however, practically every single element has its own tab settings, capitalization rules, spacing, everything.  This would be an unimaginable headache for me on a regular word processor.

Back to the Google.  "manuscript software mac free".  Emphasis on "free".

And wouldn't you know it, I found one, and it was compatible with older PowerPC Macs (Apple switched to Intel processors years ago).  Suddenly I had a program that would handle the formatting bullshit for me and I had no excuse.

I'm not going to pretend to be any kind of expert on screenwriting here, but give me a moment to explain some of the differences between a novel manuscript and a screenplay.  Film is a visual medium, but more than that, it's a director's medium.  A novelist is responsible for everything in the story: the physical appearance of the characters, settings, and objects, and all the action, on top of the dialog and the character's inner thoughts and any background information you want to tell with the narrative.  But in a film, much of that is the director's responsibility, and much of what doesn't fall on the director falls on the actors or cinematographer or set designer (though ultimately the director has a veto over all of them).  So a screenplay is largely dialog interspersed with short, bare-bones description, like this.


CAPTAIN JOHN FITZTHOMAS, 40, sits in USS New Jersey's control room, a circular space crammed with lights, gauges, monitors, and control panels.  In the center is a large main viewscreen.  We see an oblong brown asteroid, 617 PATROCLUS,  with a miniature city on one pole.
     Ten minutes to docking, sir.

     Thank you, crewman.

No physical description of Fitzthomas--that will be determined by whoever plays him.  No description of his uniform--that's the costume designer's job.  Just a bare sketch of the control room--set designer--and Patroclus--FX guys.  The dialog is just the raw lines; it will be up to the actors and director to decide how they're delivered.  If you were wondering if a scriptwriter has to deal with things a novelist never does like camera angles, background music, or lighting, you'll notice there's none of that.  Directors hate writers who tell them how to do their jobs.

So what you wind up with is something almost like a plot outline with all the dialog fully written.  One other thing you can't do in a screenplay is resort to inner monologue or narration to deliver backstory, the character's inner thoughts, et cetera.  The story has to be there in the dialog and the bare description.  And the story does have to be there.  The acting and music and FX will fill it out, but you need a story. 

So what am I going to do with a screenplay?  Well, the idea right now is to treat it as a plot outline with the dialog fully written.  Why?  Because I hate writing description and I love writing dialog; screenplay format lets me do a...not exactly a first draft, but maybe a draft 0.5.  An alpha build, if you will.  If the story comes together, I can fill it out into an actual novel with description and narration and the characters' inner voices.  Or hell, maybe it won't work and this is a waste of time, but at least I'm writing, which is more than I was doing last week.

Incidentally, the story?  It's set in New Jersey in the late 1990s, and involves cars, teenagers, sex, and chess.  No science fiction at all.  Maybe I needed a break from the fantastic, too.

Post Script: I know I promised the History of HI; that's still coming.  In fact, HI and this story are actually related, in a way.

Post Post Script: The software I'm using is called Celtx.  It can be found at this website: http://celtx.com/.

23 September 2010

HI Update Time

Finally finished Draft 10 and sent it away for evaluation.  Now it's in limbo for at least a couple weeks, but at least it out of my hair.

In the meantime, I'm now in the very earliest phases of a new novel.  Right now, I don't even have a draft started.  It's just setting and character notes and, soon, I hope, a plot outline (the idea requires too much political double-crossing for me to just wing it through the first draft, and anyway, I'd like to avoid the structural problems that made HI such a headache).  Unfortunately, I can't give any details at the moment, but hopefully once I have a draft, I can open up a little bit more.  The most I can say is that it's not set in the HI universe and the setting will not surprise people who know me well.

21 September 2010

How to be a Braves troll in these difficult times

So you're a diehard fan of the Atlanta Braves, and you're looking for a way to express it.  You're obviously not doing it by attending the games, so you decide that the best way to do it is to troll sites populated by Phillies fans.  Things are going great for a while, but then, oh no!  It looks like your beloved Bravos blew a 7-game division lead and now trail the Phillies by 5 in late September.  Not only is the division almost certainly out of reach, but there's a significant chance your team won't even make the playoffs as a wild card.  What do you do now?  Do you slink off into the shadows to lurk until the Braves are good again, whenever that happens to be?  Do you sheepishly admit you underestimated the Phillies?  Do you angrily rant about Bobby Cox's managing decisions, or a GM who traded away all your good young talent for a bunch of broken-down castoffs?

No, of course not.  You keep right on trolling.  Who cares if your team shit itself and died?  But wait?  Don't know how?  X-Ray Blues is here to help.

How to make a Braves troll post:

First, select your excuse.

A. Citizen's Bank Park is a bandbox that turns pop flies into home runs
B. The umps were blatantly favoring Halliday
C. Of course they won.  They're buying a championship, just like the Yankees.
D. The Braves are taking it easy because they have the wild card locked up.
E. The Braves were still shaken by the fan running on the field last night.

Second, select your rationalization.

A. I don't care because my real passion is the Bulldogs/Falcons/Thrashers/Hawks (ok, I've never seen those last two)
B. I don't care because Atlanta is warm in the winter
C. I don't care because Philadelphia is dirty and has crime
D. I don't care because girls in Atlanta are hot/girls in Philadelphia are ugly/both
E. I don't care because everyone in Philadelphia is a jerk.
F. I don't care because the Braves won a bunch of division titles during the Clinton administration.

Third, select your boast:

A. The Braves will win tomorrow
B. The Braves will win the next series
C. The Braves will beat you in the playoffs
D. The Braves will beat you next year
E. The Braves won a bunch of division titles during the Clinton administration.

Add some convoluted apologetics for the most racist nickname this side of "Redskins":

A. It's actually a gesture of respect
B. It's 100 years old, so it deserves a grandfather clause*
C. I'm 1/128th Native American and I'm fine with it
D. Why are you playing the race card?  That's racist against whites.
E. Obama's the real racist

Finally, the grab bag:

A. Chose any one of the above, even if it contradicts one of your other choices, and add it to your post.

Congratulations!  Now you're ready to troll Philly.com.

*Get it?  Grandfather clause?  I slay me.

10 September 2010


One of my student loan accounts fell below $10,000 left on the balance today.


01 September 2010

Why I Write

I was looking for a better title for this post; maybe one will come to me.  The present one is just a little too literal for my tastes.

I have some personal shit bothering me, but since I have a strict policy against telling the Internet about anything non-trivial that's bothering me, I'm going to open up personally about something entirely unrelated.

It's just how I roll.

02 August 2010

Stooge Reviews #3: Men in Black

Men in White was a 1934 melodrama starring Clark Gable as a devoted doctor with a society wife who can't understand his commitment to his patients.  The movie caused a stir because Gable has an affair with a nurse, and later there's a scene implying abortion.  Later in 1934, the Hays Code would come into effect, and Hollywood would self-censor films like Men in White for the next thirty years.

Meanwhile, though, the Stooges made a parody of it.  And it's weird.  Details below the jump.

31 July 2010


Finally bit the bullet and put together a test draft with the new revisions and did a word count.  The rough tally came to 122,000, up nearly 10,000 from the previous draft.  Blarg.

Stooge Reviews #2: Punch Drunks

Even though "Woman Haters" was the first short featuring the Three Stooges, you could say its follow-up, 1936's "Punch Drunks" is the first Three Stooges short.  After the experiment with "Musical Novelties", "Punch Drunks" gets back to--creates, in fact--the Stooge formula that would serve the troupe so well for so long.

More after the jump.

30 July 2010

Stooge Reviews #1: Woman Haters

So today we're debuting a new feature here on X-Ray Blues--reviews of the 190 Columbia Three Stooges shorts, in order, starting in 1934.  This has absolutely fuck-all to do with science fiction, writing, or publishing, but it's my blog, so poop on you if you don't like it.  Review begins below the jump.

29 July 2010

Writer Beware

I have added a new link on my front page: SFWA's Writer Beware blog, a comprehensive compendium of shady deals, borderline scams, and outright fraudulent agents and publishers looking to fleece new writers.  There's also good information on how to spot a scam on your own.  I'll add my own bit of advice here:

1. If the money is flowing from you at any point in the process, it's a scam (legitimate publishers assume all the financial risk publishing a book; legitimate agents are paid only when a client is paid).  The only thing you should have to pay for during the publishing process is postage.

2. If an agent or publisher is soliciting submissions through advertisements, it's a scam (agents and publishers are always inundated with more submissions than they could ever accept).  The only "advertisement" for publishers and agents that's reliably legitimate is the Writer's Market.

Blog is active again, HI update

y helo thar

I have a confession.  I'm a terrible blogger, I know I'm a terrible blogger, and I always feel a little bit bad every time I restart a blog because I know I'm going to abandon it in, like, a month, and leave my readers hanging.  Nevertheless, here I am, restarting a blog.  If you don't want to follow it, I wouldn't blame you.