The Electronic Write Stuff

Writing News for the Sunshine State & the Solar System (June 2003)


Common mistakes in first scripts

[EDITOR'S NOTE: The North Florida Writers heard about mistakes to avoid in May from John Boles, an award-winning writer, producer, director, editor, and actor with more than twenty years in the entertainment industry. He was assistant director for Columbia Pictures TV's ABC network popular prime time series Hart to Hart, which starred Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers.

He also orchestrated the much-heralded re-sign-on of KTXH with the help of film director, Peter Bogdanovich and actors John Ritter and Colleen Camp.

He has appeared in a number of TV commercials, short films, TV series, and a TNT movie titled Orpheus Descending, which was based on a play by Tennessee Williams and starred Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave.

His "Common Mistakes in First Scripts" is part of a work-in-progress on screenwriting.]


1. The script is too long.

2. The script is too short.

3. The basic idea is not sufficiently interesting.

4. The story starts too slowly. It does not "hook" the reader in the first three to ten pages.

5. There is unnecessary dialogue and description.

6. The script is too explicit, leaving little for the reader�s imagination.

7. Some element of the story alienates the reader in the first 10 pages.

8. It is unclear. The reader isn't sure what the story is about.

9. The characters speak in a literary style, rather than in natural (colloquial) speech patterns.

10. The story doesn't really end; it just stops. The writer couldn't logically conclude the story.

11. The ending leaves too many unanswered questions.

12. The film goes on too long after the climax.

13. A secondary character becomes more interesting than a major character.

14. A scene repeats what we already know.

15. A flashback or dream sequence is confusing.

16. A scene is superficial, lacks meaning.

17. A scene is too long; it drags on and slows the pace of the story.

18. A crucial scene is left out

19. A scene does not move the plot along. (Every scene should move the plot forward!)

20. A scene does not contain conflict. (Conflict is drama, and every scene should contain conflict.)

21. The script goes off in different directions and the reader loses the thread of the story.

22. Characters describe a relationship rather than dramatize it. (Film is visual; show rather than tell.)

23. The plot is too predictable, without sufficient twists and turns.

24. The script is overloaded with information. It is DULL!

25. The script would be better as a novel, play, or short story.

26. The story is much too similar to something that has already been done. It's not original enough.

27. The writer has tried to write dialogue in dialects that he or she doesn�t understand.

28. The characters are one-dimensional; they are not fully developed human beings.

29. The screenwriter did not use the proper script format.

30. The script can�t decide what it wants to be when it grows up. The writer has tried to combine too many genre or story styles. (No one wants to see a musical, romantic comedy, science fiction, action-adventure, mystery western!)

Prize-winning workshop to start
new series of classes

A writing workshop on a shantyboat docked on the Trout River is beginning a new series of classes on Wednesday, June 11, according to Lynn Skapyak Harlin, leader of the workshop.

Members of a recent class won awards in the contests of the Florida First Coast Writers' Festival.

The workshop will meet every Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m., and the cost of the workshop (limited to 10 students) will be $85 for eight weeks. For more information or to reserve a space, call Ms. Harlin at 778-8000 or e-mail her at

What drives self-published writers?


Is it the allure of wanting to feel equal to the published writers that leads us to subsidize our own novels, stories, and poems, or is it just our naive belief that writing a book consists of stringing words together with only a verbal knowledge of the language?

During the past year I have read several books by self-published writers. They have in common the lack of expertise in English syntax. Worse, they ignore the sad truth that we humans cannot edit or proofread our own writing. We simply do not have a gene for self-correction.

Before planning to print our own books, why can�t we learn at least the difference between lie, lay, lain and lay, laid, laid; to, two, and too; that and who; further and farther; affect and effect; I, you, he/she/it, we, they and me, you, him/her/it, and so on, to name just a few dilemmas?

Verbs in general, past, present, and future, are a deep mystery. They are unnecessarily compound and mixed in the same paragraph, oblivious of the confusion this causes in the reader and the disfavor to the writing.

Same thing with punctuation. Yes, we writers may take liberties in this respect, in order to sort our thoughts creatively. However, if the reader has to read a sentence twice, placing commas in the right location to make sense, the writing loses in the final score.

In dialogue, you said, he said, become boring, but adding a beat here and there allows the reader to follow the subject without having to turn back pages to remember who is speaking.

New writing demands pictures painted with words, images stimulated by the five senses, designed to bring the narrative to life. Self-published writers� characters often move, talk, eat, and think in odorless, tasteless, sound-proofed fictional bubbles.

The complexity of the point of view is my own private Nemesis; therefore,we won�t address it at this time. Self-published writers seem to have the same problem.

Could it be that we writers become so obsessed with the desire to see our names in print (our 15 minutes) that nothing else matters?

Language is our ambassador, and it is enormously opulent. Why are we so insensitive of it that we demote it and treat it like a slave?

Language is also the vehicle for self-expression, and the freedom to do so, even in horrid ways, is protected by the First Amendment. However, if we treated our vehicles of transportation the way we treat our vehicle of self-expression, we might all become home bound.

I guess my concern with the inadequate English of so many self-published books is sour grapes on my part. C�est la vie.©


Techie-talk about a computer program:

When entering the date of birth in RIMS 2000, if the "year" date is 01-29 you will need to enter 19??. If "year" date is 1930 or greater you can enter just the same digits 39, 49, 50, etc., and it will input 19??. Years 01-29 you will get back a date of 2001-2029. This is the way the program handles dates so can not be changed. Of course in OLD RIMS you had to input full year no matter what the year so nothing new in having to input all four digits.

However, as the old Mad magazine once said, that does assume that the RIMS 2000 isn't being used to interface with a left-handed veeblefletzer with a built-in flamazoid.

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From Roger E. Axtell's Gestures:

The fist slap in several countries (France, Italy, and Chile, to name just three) can signify a very strong, rude gesture saying "Up yours!" It can be done in two ways: (1) by holding the palm of one hand downward and smacking the fist of the other hand up and into that palm, (2) the fist can be held stationery and the palm of the other hand can slap down on top.

Here's a quick memory-device: It's STATIONARY if it STAYS (notice the A's). It's STATIONERY if it's a LETTER (notice the E's).

Moments that matter


My wife and I looked over the hills of Ithaca as the cab we were in climbed one. Reaching the top, the cabby turned and handed us a book, a dog-eared softback.

"I wrote it," he said, beaming. "Takes place right here in these hills. I set it in colonial times with my buddies and me as the chief characters, Minutes that Matter. Great title, eh?"

We looked it over, agreed the title a gem, and complimented him on his achievement. As a writer myself with modest credits, my lack of interest surprised me as did the dread I felt, hoping my wife wouldn't mention the hour I had just spent writing at the motel, awaiting the cab.

At the nature center, we hiked a trail, ascending high into the hills, but waterfalls amid mandarin gorges failed to divert my mind from the cabby/author encounter.

Heretofore anyone's mention of writing would have had me excited and talking. This about-face from gabfest to dread; from enthusiasm to apathy, I attributed to both my modest credits, and my years spent writing. I hadn't much to show for my efforts, and the two-minute warning hovered uncomfortably close.

I suspected burnout as I wasn't only unconcerned about the work of others, but unconcerned about my own work as well. But it wasn't burnout because I still enjoyed writing, especially as a mental exercise, an assist to clear thinking. No, I had reached a writer's plateau, causing me to gain a deeper insight into my own writing life.

I tended to write light fiction, but even light creative writing demands making art

for its success, and I had never really paid art its due.

The creative writing art forms are the novel, the short story, and the poem. Essays, journals, and memoirs may be artistic, but, like the report, they serve more practical purposes, may lack art, and still succeed. Creative writing, on the other hand, speaks through form. Words and syntax take second place.

In my own work, I wrote best around the inspirational kernel; that notion or thought which motivates me to write in the first place. I strive to embed it in my work at the expense of the writing leading up to, and away from it. Such writing isn't communication through form, and therefore it is not art.

Creating art takes effort, an effort different from the effort it takes to drive thirty nails. It's more like the three-week search a poet undergoes to find a single word, or phrase, that imbues his poem with awe. As I hadn't labored at this type of effort, my funk over my lack of artistic success wasn't justified. In fact, it was dishonest as it appeared to me that I was more upset at missing out on worldly success.

The working artist is paid and validated during the moments his work transcends the ordinary and becomes art. These moments are the only moments that matter. Art cannot be made on demand. There aren't any guarantees either that an artist's lifespan will accommodate well his occasions of receptivity to creating art. The marketplace grants worldly success, but only rarely artistic success.

I concluded that I shouldn't feel down because artistic success appears to have passed me by. They say art is long, and life short. More time's needed on my part before the final judgment is passed.

I concluded too that I must admit to feeling down that worldly success also appears to have passed me by. That success and the yearning for it is just an extension of our childhood wish to be loved and accepted by all. It tends to be awarded to purveyors of banal entertainments, go-getters, and other unworthies. Here, however, my feeling down may be justified for at times I believe myself to be just as unworthy as anyone else.©


"From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it." - Groucho Marx

Writers born in June

1--William Wilfred Campbell (1858?) and John Masefield (1878); 2--Marquis de Sade (1740), Grace Aguilar (1816), Thomas Hardy (1840), Barbara Pym (1913); 3--Konstantin Dmitrievich Balmont (1867), Allen Ginsberg (1926) and Larry McMurty (1926); 4--Robert Fulgrum (1937);

5--Federico García Lorca (1898), Cornelius Ryan (1920), Margaret Drabble (1939), Spalding Gray (1941), and Ken Follett (1949); 6--Thomas Mann (1875), Maxine Kumin (1925), and Harry Crews (1935); 7--Elizabeth Bowen (1899) and Gwendolyn Brooks (1917); 8--Sara Paretsky (1947);

10--Sir Edwin Arnold (1832), Louis Couperus (1863), Saul Bellow (1915), and Maurice Sendak (1928); 11--Josephine Miles (1911) and William Styron (1925); 12--Djuna Barnes (1892) and Anne Frank (1929); 13--Giuseppe Cerutti (1738), Fanny Burney (Frances d'Arblay) (1752), William Butler Yeats (1865); 14--Jerzy Kosinski (1933) and John Edgar Wideman (1941);

15--Edward Channing (1856) and Amy Clampitt (1920); 16--Joyce Carol Oates (1938) and Erich Segal (1927); 17--Carl Van Vechten (1880), John Hersey (1914), and Ron Padgett (1942); 18--Gabriello Chiabrera (1552), Leonid Nikolaevich Andreev (1871), Philip Barry (1896), and Geoffrey Hill (1932); 19--Annibale Caro (1507), Laura Z. Hobson (1900), Tobias Wolff (1945), and Salman Rushdie (1947);

20--George Hickes (1642), Hans Adolph Brorson (1694), Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743), Lilian Hellman (1905), and Vikram Seth (1952); 21--W. E. Aytoun (1813), Jean Paul Sartre (1905), Mary McCarthy (1912), and Ian McEwan (1948); 22--Erich Maria Remarque (1898), Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906), and Octavia Butler (1947); 23--Irvin S. Cobb (1876) and Jean Anouilh (1910); 24--Henry Ward Beecher (1813), Ambrose Bierce (1842), and Brooks Adams (1848);

25--Robert Erskine Childers (1870), George Orwell (1903) and Nicholas Mosley (1923); 26--Bernard Berenson (1865), Pearl Buck (1892), and Frank O'Hara (1926); 27--Vernon Watkins (1906); 28--Giovanni Della Casa (1503), Luigi Pirandello (1867), Floyd Dell (1887), and Eric Ambler (1909); 29--Willibald Alexis (Georg Wilhelm Heinrich Häring) (1798) and Antoine de St.-Exupéry (1900);

30--Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803).


The Write Staff:

JoAnn Harter Murray, President


Carrol Wolverton, Vice President


Nate Tolar, Secretary

Howard Denson, Treasurer and newsletter editor (

Jean Mayo, Membership chair.(

Joyce Davidson, Public Relations (

Doris Cass, Hospitality

Presidents Emeritus:

Frank Green, Dan Murphy (, Howard Denson, Nate Tolar, Joyce Davidson, Margaret Gloag (, Richard Levine (, Bob Alexander

NEWSLETTER ADDRESS: THE WRITE STUFF, FCCJ Kent, Box 109, 3939 Roosevelt Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32205.


Submissions to the newsletter should generally be about writing or publishing. If possible, please submit mss. on IBM diskette in either WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, or RFT format. We pay in copies to the contributors, with modest compensation for postage and copying. We pay $5 for pieces of 500 to 599 words; $6, 600+; $7, 700+ words. For cartoons or art (in our print version), we pay $5 each. Writers and graphic artists retain all property rights in their work(s).

ISSN No. 1084 6875

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Meetings of NFW are held on the second Saturday of the month at 2 p.m. on the Kent Campus of Florida Community College of Jacksonville. We generally meet in F128B (auditorium conference room).

You may receive feedback from specific individuals by mailing the manuscript and return postage to the above address. Be sure to allow time for the manuscript to reach Kent.

Some dates to remember:

Sat., June 14, 2 p.m., F128B: NFW Speaker: Robert Kline of St. Augustine on "Mermaids and Tales of the Sea"

Sat., July 12, 2 p.m., F128B: NFW Speaker: Bill Kerr of Jacksonville, novelist, Pathof the Golden Dragon

Sat., Aug. 9, 2 p.m., F128B: NFW Speaker: Dan Murr, author of Milk Wagon, a military adventure

Sat., Sept. 13, 2 p.m., F128B: NFW Speaker: Charles Feldstein, poet

Sat., Oct. 11, F128B: NFW Speaker: Patti Levine-Brown

Past speakers have included novelists Jack Hunter, David Poyer, Page Edwards, Ruth Coe Chambers, William Kerr, Tom Lashley; poets, William Slaughter, Mary Baron, Mary Sue Koeppel, Dorothy Fletcher, George Gilpatrick; columnists Vic Smith, Tom Ivines, and Robert Blade; editors Buford Brinlee and Nan Ramey; agent Debbie Fine; plus many others.

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If you are writing a story or poem, you will need some expert feedback--the sort that you will receive at a meeting of the North Florida Writers.

You won't profit from automatic praise that a close friend or relative might give or jealous criticism from others who may feel threatened by your writing.

The NFW specializes in CONSTRUCTIVE feedback that will enable your manuscript to stand on its own two feet and demand that it be accepted by an editor or agent. Hence, you need the NFW.

The North Florida Writers is a writer's best friend because we help members to rid manuscripts of defects and to identify when a work is exciting and captivating.

Membership is $15 for students, $25 for individuals, and $40 for a family. (Make out checks to WRITERS.)

Won t you join today?

The following is an application. Mail your check to WRITERS, Box 109, FCCJ Kent, 3939 Roosevelt Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32205.


St. address_______________________________________

Apt. No. ________________________________________

City ________________State _____ Zip ______________

E-mail address: __________________________________

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When you attend a meeting of the North Florida Writers, you eventually discover that NO ONE has ever died while his or her manuscript was being read and critiqued. You may be ready to face the ordeal yourself. . .or, reading this, you may wonder what exactly takes place during a critiquing.

First, you pitch your manuscript into a stack with others' works-in-progress. Then one of the NFW members hands out each piece to volunteer readers, taking care NOT to give you back your own manuscript to read.

Second, as the reading begins, each author is instructed NOT to identify himself or herself and especially NOT to explain or defend the work. The writer may never have heard the piece read aloud by another's voice, so the writer needs to focus on the sound of his or her sentences.

Third, at the finish of each selection, the NFW members try to offer constructive advice about how to make the story better. If a section was confusing or boring, that information may be helpful to the author.

The NFW will listen to 10 pages (double-spaced) of prose (usually a short story or a chapter).

UNHELPFUL FEEDBACK: As you listen to a manuscript, you may be tempted to say, "That's the stupidest piece I've ever heard." Alas, you aren't being CONSTRUCTIVE. If you simply do NOT like any, say, science-fiction, then you may not have anything helpful to say. That is all right. On the other hand, if you think that a piece was going along okay and then fell apart, you can help the author by saying, "I accepted the opening page, but, when the singing buffalo was introduced somewhere on page 2, the piece lost it for me."

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