THE FRAY PROJECT: A New Gift Horse (Writing)

I’ve been talking about a Castle spec script that I’ve been working on/struggling with for a while now. My first-ever spec that I wrote completely wrong at first (structure? What’s that? You mean, the main character has to be, like, in it? Like, a lot? And has to, like, do stuff?), but the plot and theme of which I wanted to salvage, because they were important to me. Also, there’s the fact that I wanted to learn from this script. My hope was that if I could fix my mistakes here, I’d be better off.

However, I’ve hit a wall on it, mostly because I started it completely wrong, so the entire foundation of the story is unstable. I tried patching it up, but haven’t been able to successfully, and now I’ve just stared at the thing so long I can’t even see it anymore. I want to make a good spec out of it. I want this particular story written for these characters. But I need distance from it. Right now, I’m still too attached to certain scenes as written, even though they’re wrong, and I need to get to a place where I can start from scratch. I’m not there on this script right now.

So, Castle is in the metaphorical drawer. (Remember when people actually put scripts in drawers, because they actually typed them on paper? I know. Me either. 😉 )

BUT, I’ve been working on a new spec from scratch (outline, treatment, the works) where I’m putting everything I learned from all the mistakes I made on the Castle script to good use. It’s a spec for Grimm. What are these things I’ve learned? Well, they might seem like common sense, but I’m recording them here in all their ridiculousness in the hopes that my mentioning them might spare some of you some trouble. 🙂 This way, you can make your own, entirely different mistakes!

  • When I first wrote the Castle script, I thought that having watched the show and “knowing it really well” was enough to write a script. Um, no. You need to know your show on the page if you want to write it. What you see on the screen and what you see in a script are two totally different things. I started looking at old Castle scripts long after I’d already made my first set of “revisions” (I put that word in quotes, because even my revisions at the time were wrong) to the first version of my spec, but by then it was too late. I was trying to shrink and stretch my spec to fit into the Castle mold, but it was never really designed to do that, so the whole thing just fell apart. With Grimm, after I got a glimmer of an idea for a story I wanted to tell, I immediately got a hold of the scripts for three episodes to see how many acts each had, how many pages each act had, how characters were included, when certain procedural plot points tended to happen… When I started to outline and write a treatment for my episode, the story came much more easily than the Castle one did, because I knew where certain parts of the story were supposed to go before I started! Knowing your show really well on the script level helps you write it. I know! Crazy, huh? 🙂
  • In the first incarnation of my Castle script, Richard Castle hardly did anything. You see, I so desperately wanted to give Beckett and Alexis more to do, that I forgot that the show is called Castle, and if I’m going to tell an effective Castle story, that story should, you know, include Castle. 🙂 This is funny, since in my reviews of Grimm for Tor.com, the episodes I liked least were the ones where Monroe does all the heavy lifting, and Nick doesn’t get to save the day or have the major insights. Not only do my Castle mistakes help me write other specs better, but they also help me see and articulate what I do and don’t like on current television shows. Anyway, for my Grimm spec, I’m never letting myself forget that the show is called GRIMM. Nick is the hero. It’s his story, despite the wonderful ensemble, and in the end, he has to drive the action, make the big decisions, and have the most at stake. The simple act of remembering this has allowed my treatment to come much more easily. Whenever I was at a loss for what should happen to move the story forward, I would just ask “What does Nick want?” And then words would happen. It’s like magic! In fact…

  • Trusting the characters is something else I didn’t do much in my Castle script. There were Things That I Wanted To Say, and I was basically using the characters as mouthpieces for those things. Big mistake. I wasn’t treating them like people. For my Grimm script, as I’ve been writing the treatment, I’ve been talking to the characters in my head. Just as I’ve been asking myself what Nick wants, I’ve been asking what Hank and Juliette and Monroe want. What does Renard want? And yes, what does Wu want. 🙂 And they’ve been telling me what they want. And what they want very often conflicts with what Nick wants. OMG, CONFLICT YOUSE GUYS. 🙂 It seems so stupid to even have to type this as a thing. But no matter who you are, there’s always the point at which you didn’t know this. And then one day, you know it. And then your writing gets better. My story feels inevitable now, because as I progress act by act through my treatment, things are unfolding naturally in the plot, because they’re all driven by characters and not by me manipulating things. I mean, I knew the basic story I wanted to tell (the crime, where I wanted the characters to end up, etc), but I didn’t know how it was going to happen. By focusing on the characters, certain things popped up that not only surprised me, but forced me to change/add other things along the way that make the whole story better.
  • Last lesson? I’m not rushing my outline/treatment. The treatment for a TV spec is only about 4-5 pages where you write out, in prose, everything that happens in your script. It seems like an easy thing, but this is really where the bulk of the work happens. Doing this right means less work later. So, I’m taking my time at this stage, and not rushing to Final Draft until I’m sure I have a quality road map to follow. This doesn’t mean I won’t have to rewrite later. But it does mean that I’ll have a better script to work with when I’m revising, unlike my poor Castle script.

The other day, on Facebook, after gleefully getting through the teaser and 3 1/2 acts in my Grimm treatment, my status was: That awesome moment when a story clicks and suddenly a script actually seems possible. 🙂 If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it IS broke, try. But if you CAN’T fix it, get a new gift horse all together. But don’t look in its mouth. Or something.

This is what I was referring to. My Grimm spec is my new gift horse. A friend of mine joked, “Just hope it isn’t a Trojan horse!” 🙂 I’ll let you know how that turns out.

The Fray Project: Take a Hike! (Health & Fitness)

My first hike in L.A. Valentine’s Day 2012. Escondido Canyon. Me, Dave, Heather, and Carissa. (Photo by Alexis)

Yay June! May was a shit month. Maybe I’ll even talk about why on this blog sometime…but not now! Because now it’s time for me to get back to The Fray Project, which I’ve been sorely neglecting for far too long! I wanted to talk about the main thing I’ve been doing to get fit lately. Hiking!

It’s become one of my favorite things to do! I haven’t gotten out into nature nearly enough in my life, and living in a city where the weather is nice most of the time makes me want to get out there and breathe some fresh air and look at some trees! It’s such a nice activity that I almost forget that it’s exercise.

Almost. 🙂

I’ve realized that I actually have pretty decent endurance! I’ve hiked with people thinner than I am, and if there’s a moderate incline and a long trail I can go forever, just plowing ahead as my fellow hikers have gotten winded and tired sooner. (Remember, weight is not the only factor in being “in shape.” Thin people can be plenty out of shape, and fat people can have plenty of energy and endurance). My trouble comes when there’s a steep incline, or anything that involves climbing, or hoisting my fat ass over rocks or tree roots. 🙂 But those inclines and that hoisting is what’s going to get me into that Fray costume next year!

It’s a great cardiovascular workout that can eventually turn into a muscle-building workout, depending on what trail you take. I’m still firmly in the cardio camp. J But I’m looking forward to a day when I’ll be able to scramble over rocks and up steep inclines easily (or at least with a little less huffing and puffing).

I’ve only been to a couple of trails in town, and I know there are plenty more to explore. Here’s what I think of what I’ve seen so far:

Runyon Canyon.

1) Runyon Canyon Park – this is probably one of the more well-known hiking locations. I know that when I first got here, “going to Runyon” was all I heard about. It’s got three different trails that vary in difficulty, though even the “easy” trail here is kind of difficult for a total n00b. I’ve done that one, and definitely felt the burn while also feeling so bad for the small dogs whose owners subjected them and their little legs to that massive hike! Still, the visual reward is worth it, as you get some gorgeous views of the city once you get to the top. Highly recommended!

2) Griffith Park – home to the Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park is also a great destination for hiking, horseback riding, and general outdoorsy fun. I actually really liked the trail here. The workout is all in the varying inclines. The terrain itself is pretty straightforward, and the trail winds around the hill leading up to the observatory, so you get a great view (and some really great breezes) all the way up.

Escondido Canyon.

3) Escondido Canyon – the site of my first hike in L.A! This trail is a bit more wooded, and reminded me more of the trails in New York, in foliage if not in terrain. It still amazes me that I can hike in sneakers here. 🙂 My friends and I went on a super easy trail that didn’t feel like a workout at all, really. Just like a really long walk. But there was a waterfall that was really purdy. I’ll need to go back and try the more difficult trails sometime!

I really do feel lucky that I now live in a city where this kind of interaction with nature is so easily accessible. Don’t get me wrong, I love Central Park in NYC, and the hiking trails upstate. But in Central Park, you can only get so lost before you start seeing buildings again, and the trails upstate take lots of time and cost lots of money (for me, anyway) to get to. Here, a quick bus/car ride gets you out of the urban sprawl and into some hills where you can breathe some fresh air and enjoy some gorgeous scenery. And PS – in the month where I did the most hiking, I lost 6 pounds. Just sayin’. 😉

Clean-Up, Catch-Up, and Intros

Hey there, loyal readers! (all ten of you) You might have noticed that I’ve been a little ayzy-lay in the ogging-blay epartment-day. The past month’s been a little insane. Lots that I’ve tried to accomplish (but haven’t), financial insecurities, and by the way, I’m moving again! 🙂 My third time in nine months. Nothing horrible, mind you. Just time for me to move on. At this rate, I’ll have had quite the grand tour of Los Angeles before my L.A. Year One comes to a close!

However, even though I haven’t been posting much of substance this past month (save my response to Moviefone and this post about Girls), I’ve been sprucing the place up little by little. You might have noticed some new tabs up top – like **MERCHANDISE** and **PRESS** and **SPEAKING.** Check them out!

Also, I’m hoping to get back to some regular features here. Some new, some that I’ve done before and miss doing. I’m hoping to do more with the following old features:

Pop Goes Teresa – wherein I talk about pop music intelligently, because I don’t automatically equate “pop” with “bad” or “unimportant.” (check out one of my posts on Lady Gaga)

Teresa’s Bookshelf – wherein I review books I’ve read and make recommendations! (check out my most recent reviews HERE)

The Fray Project – wherein I challenge myself to be better. Yes, I’m still doing this, and starting next week, I’m getting back into the swing of daily posting on that. (Read all about the project HERE)

There will also be a new feature I’m calling MINORITY REPORT, wherein I will highlight awesome work/projects/progress made by women, racial/ethnic minorities, and LGBT folks in the media. There will be some critical stuff, too, but it’s important to me not only to complain about what’s wrong, but celebrate what’s right. This will be my space for that. And when I say “media,” I mean TV, Film, and Comics. 🙂

I also plan on doing more at my other blogs, The Gender Blender and Geek Girl Traveler, and I will be linking all that content here as it posts.

So, thank you for popping in and giving my words a gander. I hope you’ll come back to hang out and have a chat! I’ve got lots more chatter in store! 🙂

The Fray Project: Research and Fellowships (Writing)

Hello, everyone!

And I was doing SO well. 🙂 But I missed Tuesday’s post, which was supposed to be a Writing post. So, I’m doing it today. Sorry about that.

On Sunday, I was fortunate enough to be able to meet up with a writer on one of my favorite TV shows, NBC’s Grimm. I reached out to her via Twitter and asked if she’d be amenable to sitting down with me over coffee so that I could pick her brain about writing – totally not expecting an answer at all. She surprised me by saying yes! I wanted to speak with her specifically, because 1) she’s a writer on a show of the type that I would like to write one day, and 2) she’s a newer writer who also happens to be a woman of color, and I wanted to get that perspective. She confirmed some stuff I already knew, but she also taught me a lot that I didn’t know. Here are some kernels of wisdom I gathered:

  • Of the list of shows that I want to spec, she said Castle is my strongest choice, because it’s a popular, long-running procedural. My choice of Fringe is less strong, because it’s not clear that Fringe is gonna get another season. (Sad, but true! Please, FOX. Season 5?) She didn’t say anything about my desire to do a Doctor Who episode, but she did say that my wanting to spec Grimm was a good choice now that they have a second season, since they are also a procedural, but it’ll also allow me to get my genre-show groove on. Ultimately, since the specs are mostly for submission to writing fellowships and not necessarily to get me jobs on their own, I should choose shows that I’m passionate about, or at least choose shows in the genre I’m passionate about. Because it’s easy to tell if one is writing something he/she isn’t really into.
  • I should just have lots of stuff. Specs, original pilots, even short fiction or plays, etc. She got her job on Grimm off of a short story she wrote that her agent submitted for her. It was a modern re-telling of a fairy tale, so it was more perfect than any of the scripts she had at the ready. The point is to keep producing stories you love and always have a ready stable of current writing samples, because specs and even original pilots can become irrelevant really quickly, depending on what showrunners and producers are looking to read. Also, the short stories are helpful, because sometimes folks just don’t wanna read anything as long as 50 pages, since they get so many submissions.
  • She reminded me that there are  network writing fellowships other than the Disney/ABC Writing Program and the NHMC Writing Program, both of which I’ve applied to before, and NBC Writers on the Verge, which I was already planning on applying to this year. She received the first CBS Writing Fellowship through the USC Screenwriting program, and reminded me that CBS also has a Writing Mentorship Program through their Diversity Institute to which I can apply. Warner Bros. also has a Writer’s Workshop, as does FOX (FOX Writer’s Residency) and Nickelodeon (Nickelodeon Writing Program). So, you know, I’ve got my work cut out for me. Most of them have upcoming deadlines. 🙂
  • She recommended that, in addition to the ever-elusive writing assistant job (getting hired as the writing room assistant on the show, which means that you take notes as the writing team throws ideas around, sometimes getting to contribute, sometimes not), I should work on getting hired as a PA on stuff. Basically, any job that would allow me to be on-set is an advantage. Now, I’ve already been doing volunteer PA-ing on stuff, because I just wanted to learn how a set works and build contacts, but I didn’t really think about it in terms of it eventually getting me into a writing room. Huh. Anyway, she suggested just looking up PA jobs online – that that stuff is always posted. Usually around now. Um, OK!
  • She also did warn me that, while networks are definitely making an effort to be more diverse, 1) obviously that’s not enough. You have to be good. (Duh) and 2) that the “Diversity hire” can face hostility, depending on the show/showrunner/other writers/writing room environment. Not that it’s all horrible, but if you come up through a diversity initiative, you might be a little suspect. Meh. I can deal with it. Once I have the job, it doesn’t really matter to me what people think of my having that job. I’ll work my ass off and prove how much I deserve to be there. Which I will, of course.

There was some other chatter, but that was pretty much it. It was a really great conversation, and it basically gave me a lot of homework! I’m hoping to enter most of the fellowships this year, and in order to do that, I have to finish this Castle spec and work on a new one, which will likely be Grimm. Apparently, I’m working toward being an expert in nerdy procedurals. 🙂 My first priority is to finish my Castle in time for the CBS deadline, then start my Grimm and finish it by June in time for ABC (I already entered the crappy version of my Castle script to ABC last year). Depending on which script has turned out best, I’ll send either one to the rest of them. So, my timeline looks like this:

  • Finish Castle script and submit to peeps for notes by – April 26th
  • Get and incorporate notes, get other CBS application materials together by – April 30th
  • Mail full application packet to CBS – May 1st (must be postmarked by this date!)
  • Finish 1st draft of Grimm script by – May 17th
  • Get and incorporate notes, get other ABC and WB application materials together by – May 30th
  • Send complete application packets to ABC and WB – May 31st (needs to be postmarked on or before June 1st!)
  • Send complete application packet to NBC by June 29th (postmark date)
  • Send complete application packet to NHMC Writing Program by Aug 13th
  • *bite nails as I wait to hear whether or not I’ve been accepted to any programs until Fall*

This is gonna be an interesting and busy couple of months, huh?

The Fray Project: Wiggle Your Big Toe (Health & Fitness)

For my April 2012 Health and Fitness goals, CLICK HERE.

I’ve been shitty about exercise. I mean, I’ve done it, like, in my life. And sometimes, I’ve even done it enthusiastically. But I’ve never done it regularly. I’ve never done it so that it becomes a part of me.

And that’s what I want. I don’t only want to exercise until I lose weight, then stop. I want to get to a place where being active is a part of who I am.

Now, here’s the thing. I hate gyms. Classes are cool, but gym equipment? Treadmills, ellipticals, weights? Just…being in a room using those things?

But I love stuff like ballroom dancing, nature, games, and kicking people in the face. So, I’m going to be making more of an effort to engage in a variety of activities that will appeal to those interests in the hopes of whittling my body down by actually doing things I find fun. When my body’s whittled down, it’ll be even easier for me to be active. So, I’ll do even more things. And on and on!

But first things first…

Wiggle your big toe.

I’m starting my exercise endeavors by regularly doing things that are easily at my disposal. my roommates have Zumba Fitness for their PS3, and I want to hike, something I actually really enjoy that is much more pleasant to do out here than it is in New York (less rocky terrain, lots of trees and lots of open sky, whereas NY hiking trails are more wooded).

As you may have seen, my goal for April was to do Zumba 7 times and schedule 2 hikes. I set those goals at the beginning of the month when “7 times” meant twice a week. But life got in the way, and I haven’t done any. Haven’t hiked, either. This means that if I’m gonna meet my April fitness goals, I’ll need to cram a lot into the next 2 weeks. This is still possible. I just need to do it. And once I start, I need to keep doing it.

Then the hard part will be over, and I can get those other piggies wiggling.

The Fray Project: Volunteering How-To (Activism)

Me at the National Equality March in 2009, Washington D.C. I was marching with the contingent from SWISH. (swishpride.org)

To check out my April 2012 Activism goals, CLICK HERE.

Non-profits and charities need money, there’s no question. They need to pay for their rent, utilities, supplies, and small permanent staffs somehow, and since they’re in it for others and not for themselves, they are not money-making ventures by design. This means they need to seek funds from the general public, or major philanthropists, to make ends meet and get their important work done. So, if you’ve got money to spare, and have a cause you’re passionate about, by all means, cut them a check. Nine times out of ten, you can deduct that donation on your taxes, and you will have given the organization of your choice a very important resource.

However, many of us (especially in this economy) don’t have a lot of money to give to all of the causes that matter to us. What we do have, what we can always find, no matter how busy we are, is time, and extra, volunteer hands on deck are as important as extra funds to an organization. Too often, non-profits and charities can’t afford to hire huge staffs to do everything that needs doing. The donations they receive are just enough to keep the lights on, but not enough to hire employees, or to pay people for their time for special events. So, one of the most important things you can do if you care about something, is to figure out if and how you can donate some of your time.

Part-Time Volunteering

If you don’t have a lot of time, most organizations have a mailing list. Sign up, and be alerted to specific opportunities when they might need you. For example, the photo up above is from the National Equality March in D.C. I marched with an organization called SWISH, a gay-straight alliance that works toward achieving equality for LGBT people. When I was living in New York, I was working a day job, and didn’t have very many free hours to do extensive volunteering, but when I got the call for volunteers to march one weekend in DC, I signed up! Sometimes, especially if the cause you’re interested in is political in nature, numbers are all-important, and having extra bodies present at an event or rally goes a long way toward getting the organization press and showing whoever’s watching just how many people support whatever cause it is. The Westboro Baptist Church was also at that rally, and they had about 50 people there. There were over a million people there in favor of equality. Just goes to show how important volunteers can be! I guess not many people want to volunteer for the WBC. I wonder why? 🙂

Organizations like GivLA exist for the sole purpose of matching kind-hearted people up with one-time volunteering opportunities, helping organizations meet their volunteer needs while encouraging caring citizens to help out, and helping them be social at the same time!

Me and Mariah the day we met!

Full-time, Committed Volunteering

If you really want to roll up your sleeves and help, there are plenty of organizations who could use you on a more long-term basis. For example, back in NYC, I was a mentor through iMentor, and was paired up with a high school junior in the Bronx named Mariah. I mentored her for two years – being generally encouraging, answering her questions, helping her with homework, setting a good example – meeting with her once or twice a month, corresponding weekly via email, and it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Mariah and I are now Facebook friends as she navigates the choppy waters of college. 🙂

Here in L.A, since helping girls excel and making sure children have decent writing training under their belts are equally important to me, I’m applying to be a mentor with WriteGirl, an organization that pairs professional writers with high school girls who are aspiring writers to help them find their voices and give them professional guidance. WriteGirl has a sister organization in NYC, which is how I found out about them in the first place, called Girls Write Now.

Stuff like mentoring requires a firm time commitment. However, it’s usually something pretty much anyone can work around, with commitments being weekly, or once a month, or on weekends.

My boss, Bob Harris, in Kigali, following his Kiva loan money into the field for a book he's writing on microfinance for Bloomsbury. I can't traipse around the world, but I CAN speak Spanish!

Volunteering From Home

Don’t wanna leave the comfort of your own home? Look into opportunities to volunteer remotely! For example, Kiva is an organization that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve loaned money through them, but I can’t personally make a million loans. However, something else I can contribute is my knowledge of Spanish! I’m signing up to be a volunteer translator, so that when they receive blurbs from clients in Spanish-speaking countries for their website, I can translate them for English speakers. (PS – I’ve been putting off taking my qualifying test for this because it takes an hour. However, I’m scheduling an hour for tomorrow so that I can just do it already!) Once accepted, I will be able to access the blurbs that need translating from home and work at my own pace. They have a six month commitment period, but over the course of that six month period, you can “work” whenever you want. So flexible! And it’s something they need, as their entire operation is based on their website. If blurbs aren’t translated, people don’t give to clients.

So, there’s no such thing as “not having the time!” and “not having the money” matters less than you think. If you care about something, there’s always a way to get involved. Start by making a list of the Top Five things that are most important to you. Look up organizations in your area that cater to those causes. Contact them and ask them about opportunities to volunteer that fit your schedule and lifestyle. Chances are, they will more than appreciate the outreach, and will be able to find something for you to do.

Or, if the task of doing this research seems too daunting to you, leave your Top 5 in the comments below, as well as the city you’re in, and I’ll do the research for you! Let me know what you care about, and I’ll help you show how much you care in a way that won’t break your bank or drive you crazy in a special Activism video here at the blog! Looking forward to creating a volunteering army! 🙂

The Fray Project: Keeping In Touch (Lifestyle)

To check out my April 2012 Lifestyle goals, CLICK HERE.

It’s interesting that on the day I scheduled to talk about my Lifestyle goals for this month, I came across this article from The Atlantic about Facebook and loneliness.

I never know how to feel about articles like this; articles that talk about how the internet is ruining society, because even though we’re more interconnected than ever, the lack of in-person human interaction will ultimately be the downfall of humanity. I never know how to feel about reports like this, because many of the wonderful, in-person friendships I now have I owe to the internet. I joined a theater company in New York, because I’d gotten to know its producer on a Liev Schreiber message board. I met three other good friends of mine on that same board, when one of them (hey, Cathy!) came to NYC to see Schreiber in a production of Othello, and I went with her and two other friends she introduced me to, and with whom I’m still friendly. They introduced me to still two other friends, and we not only hang out whenever one visits the other’s city, but we’ve traveled together, meeting up elsewhere. Every single writing gig I’ve gotten, editor I’ve met, several non-writing jobs I’ve gotten – hell, half of the dates I’ve ever been on – have all been thanks to first connecting on the internet.

And that’s just the strangers.

I hate the phone, generally. I’m bad at phone calls, and usually only use the phone to make plans, or if a friend calls with an emergency. The internet has allowed me to maintain a closer relationship with my friends and family than I ever would’ve been able to maintain on my own. When my sister joined Facebook, it was a revelation, and now we chat on there, or leave each other posts, pictures, etc. We keep up with each other online, which makes the times when we see each other in person more rewarding, because we don’t have to waste time “catching up.” We can get right into the thick of things without preliminary small talk! When I moved to L.A, I had an already built-in network of about 15-20 people before I even got here, all because I’d gotten to know them through my writing on the internet. They are now becoming in-person friends.

My goal in April (and for the next few months) is to keep in touch with a select list of 10 people in New York over Google Hangout or Skype, and a select list of L.A. people I know in-person. Google Hangout and Skype are MIRACULOUS. I hate the phone, but I love these things, because it allows me to feel like I’m in the room with people I care about, which is wonderful. PS – Facebook also has video chat. 🙂

This article has one thing right – online contact isn’t a replacement for in-person human interaction. But when used properly, the internet can enhance and improve in-person human interaction, both improving your relationship with your loved ones, and bringing new people into your real-life sphere. The internet means you’ll always have a couch on which to crash wherever you go, you’ll always have people who wonder what you’re doing, and that even if you leave home to follow your dreams, you’ll always be able to be close to the people you love most. Screw the haters. The internet is wonderful.