Check It Out: The Animated Book Cover of The Field Created by @byMorganWright!

I was on Twitter the other day and came across a Tweet about having your book cover animated by a woman named Morgan Wright (@byMorganWright).  I inquired, paid, and a few days later, I received this amazing animation of the cover of The Field!

If you are an author and would like Morgan to animate your novel’s cover, you can contact her the following ways:

Email: morganwright.author@gmail.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/byMorganWright
Website: morganwrightbooks.com
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBguyLdtYw87MtBRopNxtdA
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17721128.Morgan_Wright

I highly recommend her work!

The Field Receives Book Award Finalist Honor from Readers’ Favorite!

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I’m excited to announce that The Field has received the Book Award Finalist honor from Readers’ Favorite in the category of Children – Coming of Age!  I am very excited and happy to have taken part in the contest, and look forward to seeing what happens next with the book!

Thanks to everyone who has read and enjoyed The Field!  I look forward to you reading the next adventure in the series coming early next year.

If you haven’t reead it yet, buy a copy of the paperback HERE.  Use the Promo Code BIKE25 and save 25%!

Also available as an ebook at BookBaby, Amazon, and Barnes&Noble.

You can also check out the Readers’ Favorite page for The Field HERE.

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Drafting The Wizard of Oz (1939) – Ten Writers, Hundreds of Ideas, and One Classic Film

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It’s crazy to think that MGM’s The Wizard of Oz is 80 years old this year.  For eight decades, audiences have enjoyed the story of a young girl from Kansas who is swept away via cyclone to the magical world of Oz where she meets three unique friends and must team with them to reach her goal of returning home. Adapted from the L. Frank Baum novel, this timeless and classic film went through quite a journey to become the film we know and love today.

The adaptation process that was used to write the screenplay for 1939’s The Wizard of Oz can be summed up in two words: disjointed collaboration.  Ten (yes, ten) writers had a hand in bringing the world of Oz to life.  Unlike today, these writers were assigned by MGM to work on the project, then removed at the whim of the studio and quickly replaced. These ten writers included: Herman Mankiewicz, Ogden Nash, Noel Langley, Herbert Fields, Samuel Hoffenstein, Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allan Woolf, Jack Mintz, Sid Silvers, and John Lee Mahin.

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I recently read, and highly recommend, a great book – aptly titled The Making of the Wizard of Oz by Aljean Harmetz –  that breaks down how the iconic film was made.  One of the chapters discusses the writing process and the many drafts, changes, and edits that were made over a tumultuous year in the life of Oz’s screenplay.  For this post, I wanted to focus on a few aspects of some of the drafts that would have made the film entirely different from the classic film we know today.

Screenwriter Noel Langley is credited with creating the “forty-three page treatment [that] included much of what would be the framework of the finished film,” but that doesn’t mean all that he wrote was used (33-34).  While he added the concept of the two farmhands – Hickory and Hunk –  becoming the Tin Man and Scarecrow in the Oz sequence, the third farmhand, Zeke, was not in the treatment.  According to Harmetz:

“In Langley’s treatment, the Cowardly Lion was strictly an Oz character – handsome Florizel, fiancé of Sylvia, a beautiful girl held prisoner by the Wicked Witch of the West. Florizel had been transformed into a lion by the Witch in order to force the girl to marry her son, Bulbo.  It was Florizel, released from his enchantment, who killed the Witch by cutting her broomstick to pieces with his sword in a mid-air duel” (35).

Whew!  There’s a lot to unpack in that passage, but the main question I have when reading it is: Where’s Dorothy?  This seems like a totally different film in the same Oz universe, but has nothing to do with Dorothy’s journey through Oz and her objective to return to Kansas.  And who names their son Bulbo?

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So, unlike Baum’s book where Oz is a real place, Langley’s treatment made it clear that Oz was a dream Dorothy had after being hit in the head during the cyclone.  Langley also follows Baum’s plot points – which are also in the completed film – up to a point in his treatment, then (like the paragraph above) he goes a completely different direction:

“The traveler’s [Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, the Wizard, and Lizzie Smithers] disguise themselves as a traveling circus.  They try to start a revolution against the Witch.  True love triumphs in the end” (36).  In case you’re wondering, Lizzie Smithers worked at the soda fountain in Kansas and told Hickory he was heartless.  Somehow, she pops up in Oz and falls in love with Hickory/Tin Man after he gets his heart.  At least Dorothy is a part of the story here, but still not the main driving force of the narrative.

Another interesting aspect of Langley’s script is the famous Ruby Slippers, which were initially silver as they are in Baum’s novel:

“They appeared in Langley’s March adaptation, but served no magical purpose.  They were not used – as they are in Baum’s book and the final movie – to enable Dorothy to return to Kansas.  He wrote them out of the script.  They were back in his second script as some vague magical object desired by the Wicked Witch” (40). 

Remember, Langley’s initial treatment became the blueprint for what would eventually become the film, so it’s crazy to think that the Ruby Slippers were at one point an afterthought. The fact that they were even written out of a draft is even more bizarre given their importance to Dorothy in the final film.

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Again, based on what was mentioned above, Dorothy “was peripheral to much of the action” in Langley’s treatment and scripts, and “[t]he Witch seem[ed] much more interested in conquering the Emerald City than in doing anything to Dorothy” (43).  Here’s where the story takes a turn from just a fantasy to full-on epic:

“[The Witch] send ‘ten thousand men, four thousand wolves, and two hundred winged monkeys.’ The men are ‘dressed in Japanese ceremonial armour, the ugly wasp-like death’s-head type, which half suggests skeletons.’ The Witch is attacking the Wizard because she wishes to place her half-witted son, Bulbo, on the throne” (43-44).

So, now this simple story of a young girl who goes on a quest to return home had become a Lord of the Rings, Avengers: Endgame-level epic film with a monstrously huge final battle. But again, what’s missing is Dorothy being part of the any of it.  She’s merely a participant in the action, not the driving force of the action. Throughout the treatment and drafts she is passive and has no real significance to the story other than her being there and witnessing the drama and the battles taking place between the Witch and the Emerald City.

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Plus, I can’t even imagine what the budget would have been to pull off this final battle in a film made in 1939!

As writers we can learn a lot from Langley’s treatment and script drafts.  He went there with his ideas.  He thought above and beyond what could technically be achieved by the filmmaking tech of the late 1930s, and yet we have proof that it was part of the drafting process for The Wizard of Oz.  Despite the huge ideas, the grandiose set pieces, and the giant battle sequence, the heart and soul of what became the classic film was buried in Langley’s initial treatment.

And that’s an important thing to take away from this: the heart of your story, the life force that gives it meaning and substance is in there somewhere.  Even if you have action sequences or fantastical battles, dig deeper into your material and find the heart of the story.

Langley also shows the importance of not sidelining your protagonist.  There seems to be no need for Dorothy throughout most of what is shown, and the deletion of the Ruby Slippers lessens her importance even more. As you write, whether it’s a screenplay or novel, keep track of your main character. 

It can be easy to go off on a tangent with another character, but ask yourself if that character’s story has significance to the overall plot and has any effect on the main character.  If not, you may want to create a new story for that character.  Or, if this character is far more interesting than your protagonist, switch out who the main character is.

Langley was one of ten writers who crafted The Wizard of Oz into the film audiences have loved for eight decades.  Through a disjointed collaborative process and the creative talents of everyone involved, the film has become a timeless classic. 

As you write, remember that even if your draft seems crazy, illogical, or isn’t working, you have the power and ability to rewrite, edit, and fix it until it’s at its best level of quality and entertainment value.

You can order a copy of The Making of the Wizard of Oz by Aljean Harmetz here, or grab a copy of the newest Oz book, The Road to Oz: The Evolution, Creation, and Legacy of a Motion Picture Masterpiece by Jay Scarfone and William Stillman (can’t wait to read this one!) here.

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What’s your favorite scene, song, or line from The Wizard of Oz?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Citation:  Harmetz, Aljean. The Making of the Wizard of Oz. Chicago Review Press, 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy 50th Anniversary, Scooby-Doo!

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In 1969, a team of meddling kids and their dog first appeared on TV screens.  Since then, the mystery-solving antics of Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne, and Fred have continuously appeared either in reruns or in new incarnations around the globe.

With Scooby-Doo celebrating its 50th year on TV this year, I thought I would take the time to discuss a little about how a storytelling formula established with the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? series has led to over five decades of shows about Scooby and the gang.

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As writers we are often encouraged to avoid formulaic writing.  It can be predicable, cliched, and oftentimes create a sense of boredom for the reader or viewer.  The consumer wants to be entertained, they want to have a sense of unpredictability in the stories being presented, and they definitely don’t want to be able to guess the end at the very beginning.

For some magical reason, Scooby-Doo and its multitude of series have used the same tried-and-true formula every single episode.  And it works. Every time.  We all know what the main story beats will be in an episode; how each character will react when things go awry; that there will be a chase sequence; that a trap will be set, the monster captured, and the old man/woman who was playing the monster will be revealed when their mask is removed.  And, of course, some derivation of the line “And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those kids…and that dog!”

Now, I know some will quibble that The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo doesn’t entirely fit the established formula, but the basic tenants of the storytelling are still present.

As a fan of Scooby-Doo, I think that it’s a great compliment to the series creators (Joe Ruby & Ken Spears, and of course, William Hanna & Joseph Barbera) that this formula has endured for fifty years.  I really can’t think of any other TV series that could use the same formula over and over again, make it work, then carry it over into new versions of the same series and find success.

And that’s exactly what Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? did in 1969: established a formula for success.

Even now, in 2019, a new Scooby-Doo series, Scooby-Doo, and Guess Who? is on the air.  Same formula.  Same story beats.  And it still works. 

As writers we can learn a lot from Scooby-Doo.  How to establish characters.  How to create effective character traits.  How to create an ensemble.  How to get creative when things may seem formulaic in your story.  Even with the formula in place, Scooby-Doo’s writers still manage to come up with creative ways to tell the same story.

So, the next time you have a moment, check out a few different Scooby-Doo episodes of the multitude of series and witness the genius use of a successful story formula.  And the next time you feel like you’ve placed your characters in a no-win scenario, maybe the gang from Mysteries Incorporated can give you the inspiration you need to find success.

Heck, they’ve been doing it for 50 years.  They have to be doing something right!

Check out the intros from 50 years of Scooby-Doo series below!

What’s your favorite version of Scooby-Doo?  Are there other series that also follow a similar formula with each episode?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Remember, Everything Begins as a Draft

As consumers of entertainment, we have become accustomed to seeing the best version of what is being presented to us.  Whether it’s a novel, a movie, a TV series, or a play, we are witnessing this project at its highest level of completeness and – for lack of a better word – perfection.

You may read a novel and think to yourself, I could never write something that good.  Maybe you’ve come out of a movie thinking, I don’t think I could create a screenplay that great.  This is the big mental block that can invade the minds of creative people in any medium.  We see what has been produced, printed, or staged and our minds begin to doubt our own creativity.  

We wonder if we can ever be that good at what we do.

Consider this: Every film we see, every novel we read, every play we watch started as a draft at some point. Whoever wrote it had to start just like you: with an idea.  They had to cultivate it in their mind, then begin jotting down ideas that bloomed into a rough outline that was then filled with things crossed-out and put in that were better.

We often forget that prolific authors like Stephen King or Judy Blume deal with creative highs and lows while they are crafting a story.  And everyone has to tackle a rough draft at some point in order to get to the next step of revision and editing.  Yes, even the greats have to go through the same process every time they write.

It’s easy to get hung up on what has been published or produced and be intimidated.  But you have to remember that even people who are well-versed in their craft often struggle the same way all creative people do.  It’s just how the creativity game is played.

Creating is hard work for anyone.  We look at artists we admire and think that it comes easy to them.  It really doesn’t.  They, too, put in hundreds of hours to create what we are watching, reading, or listening to. With that perspective in mind, it’s easier to realize that we also have the ability to do great works; as long as we are willing to invest the time, effort, and creative energy to do so.

So, the next time you finish reading a novel or watching a movie and begin to wonder how you could ever write something as good, remember that at one point that brilliant work began as a rough draft that evolved into what you just read or saw.  

You, too, can begin at the draft phase and watch it evolve into something greater.  You just have to take the first step and begin writing and creating.

You can do it!

The video below is a snippet of an interview with Wings and Frasier co-creator David Lee discussing the evolution of the Wings pilot into what it eventually became.  A perfect example of how even those we revere as talented creative types often have to work hard to create something that works.  Enjoy!

Enhancing Your Creativity

As creative people, we sometimes allow ourselves to get trapped in a particular box.  I’m a writer.  I’m an actor.  I’m a painter.  And while it’s always good to have a clear idea of what your primary creative skill and talent is, I also think it’s important to tackle other creative pursuits that can help enhance and influence what you already love to do.

If you are a screenwriter or playwright, consider taking an acting class to see how actors interpret and interact with the words on the page.  This can help you as a writer see how to make your writing clearer and subject to the interpretation you intended.  It also will help you gain a new perspective on the collaborative process that goes into filmmaking or producing a play.

I would also recommend taking a class about directing to see how a director reads and interprets a script. This can also help you as you refine your script to make sure what is being communicated is what you intend.

If you’re a novelist, you could take an improv class and develop skills that help you connect ideas and concepts quickly that can help you when writing a rough or first draft.  This can definitely help when your characters take the wheel when your writing.  One of the basic concepts of improv is the never saying no to concept that’s introduced; it’s always “Yes, and then what” instead of negating any ideas presented.  

I highly recommend the series Whose Line is it, Anyway?to see pro improv performers in action.  With practice, you can get to that level, too and enhance your writing along the way.

These are just a few examples, but it never hurts to explore an alternate skill-set that is related, or even unrelated to what you love to do creatively.  Maybe a class on cooking, or wine making, or music could give you the inspiration you need to give your primary creative pursuit an injection of excitement and energy.

I have taken acting classes, improv, and directing classes and they have definitely helped me gain greater insight into the writing process when it comes to the collaborative process.  And they’re also a lot of fun!

What types of classes or activities have you done to help enhance your primary creative interests?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Story Exercise: My Story

Below is the draft of the story I wrote for this exercise. It’s a little longer than 500 words – I got carried away – but it was fun to write. Please feel free to include yours in ther comments and share them with others!

I put the items, location, and animal I chose in BOLD.

            This was it.  Leila stood looking out at the night sky, a blanket of stars before her, emptiness below her in the darkness.  She didn’t want to do it; but she knew she had no other choice.  An icy wind whipped through her body and she felt her fingers and toes grow numb.  There was only one way out of this situation.  For too long she had waited.  Agonized. Suffered.  

            And now it came down to this.

            Her phone buzzed to life in her pocket, which startled her.  She fumbled with her numbed fingers to grasp the phone in her jacket pocket.  She saw the name on the screen, closed her eyes, then answered.

            “Hello,” she said as her teeth chattered.

            “Are you coming down the slope soon?” the voice on the other end began.  “We’d like to go get food sometime tonight.”

            “Okay, okay,” Leila said with frustration.  She looked down the snowy hillside of the ski slope.  She was alone and the ski lift had come to a halt.  It was just her.  

            At the edge of a double-black diamond ski slope!

            Why did I think I could do this? she thought to herself.  To impress your sister, duh!

            Her sister who was not impatiently waiting for her with the rest of the group at the bottom of the run.  Her sister who was now calling her to get her to come down.  

            “On my way,” Leila said as she disconnected and put the phone back in her pocket.  “Hope they have good food in the hospital cafeteria,” she said to herself.  “Because this isn’t gonna end well!” 

            She heard a growl.  Was it her stomach?  No, she would have felt that, too.  She looked to her right.  Nothing there.  She heard the growl again.  To her left. She swallowed and looked to her left. A coyotecrept toward her.  It’s mouth in a snarl.

            Leila did her best to stay calm, and reached into a pocket on her ski pants and pulled out a half-eaten candy bar.  “I know chocolate is bad for dogs,” she said, “but I think you can handle this.”  She tossed the candy bar in the coyote’s direction. It looked at the sugary bribe, then back at her.

            “Darn!” she said, then looked down the slope.  “And down we go,” she said in a low voice, hoping the animal eyeing her would stay put.

Leila leaned forward quickly, her skissliding inch-by-inch toward the edge.  She gripped the poles tight, took a deep breath, and felt her body descend.  

The powder churning up around her skis was a comforting sight; she had been terrified it was ice all the way down.  

            Leila felt herself picking up speed.  She wavered a bit, but maintained her balance…at least for the moment.

            Then the ice came.  Her once seemingly sensible speed went from manageable to uncontrollable. The wind whipped through her hair and around her goggles.  Her blue beanie was ripped from her head as she careened faster and faster down the slope.

            With all her might she attempted to form a wedge with the front of her skis to slow herself down, but she hit a bump in the icy terrain that sent her sprawling off balance.  She felt herself launch into the air, her body like a wayward missile with no clear target.

            And she landed on her side, but continued to slide downward.  Pain radiated from her side and the arm she landed on, but she was grateful her phone was in the opposite pocket.  However, she had her sister’s “lucky charm” in her other pocket…of the side she landed on. She shifted as she slid and pulled the lucky charm out to look at it: a small Funko Pop! of Wonder Woman.  

            She chucked it up the slope only to see the coyote making its own slip-sliding way down toward her.  

            Leila’s legs were heavy from her ski boots; her skis were on two separate solo runs down the hill, and from her viewpoint it looked like they would arrive at the bottom before she did!

            Not wanting to wait around for her new friend, Leila shifted head-first down the slope and “swam” the rest of the way down the mountain.

            As she arrived at the bottom of the hill – still on her side – her sister stood over her.  “You couldn’t have done thattwo hours ago?”  her sister said.

            “If I knew it would be that easy,” Leila replied, “I would have!”

            “Where’s my lucky charm?” her sister asked.

            “On the mountain,” Leila said as she awkwardly stood. “But I think the coyote up there will try and get it first.”

            Her sister considered the news.  “I’m good,” Leila’s sister said.  “Dinner?”

            “Yes!” Leila said.

I look forward to reading yours! Have a great weekend!

Short Story Exercise…

I did the following writing exercise in one of my creative writing classes and I thought I would share it with all of you:

  • Write down three random objects
  • Write down an animal
  • Write down a location

Using those items, animal, and location, create a short story (~500 words) that incorporates all the things you have listed.  It can be in any genre you want, any POV you want, and time period you want, the key is to utilize the items you have written down in a creative and fun way.

I will post mine by Friday. 

Feel free to post yours in the comments on this post or on my story when it’s up later this week!

Happy Writing!