Monday, June 29, 2009

The Write On!Write Environment Query Contest

The deadline for the Write On!Write Environment Query Contest is this Tuesday, June 30.

We are still accepting queries in the following categories:
Fiction (Novel)
Non-Fiction (Memoir/Book)

The winner in each category will have their query letter read by a literary agent and receive a free iScript. One Grand Prize Winner will receive a copy of Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat" Software!

Prizes will also be awarded for 2nd and 3rd place in each category. Sponsors include The Writers Store, Barnes & Noble, and more!

For complete list of prizes and submission guidelines, go to:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Secret of Writing Great Dialogue

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”

-William Faulkner

I’m a Facebook junkie, which is hard for me to admit because I don’t have an addictive bone in my body. I’m not a drug addict or an alcoholic. I don’t smoke cigarettes and I don’t like coffee. I don’t play video games and I rarely gamble. (Poker’s not gambling, right?) But when it comes to Facebook, I’m hooked. I’m embarrassed to admit it but I check it several times a day; almost as often as I check my e-mail. Not for long periods of time, but just long enough to empty my inbox, update my status and maybe play a quick game of Bejeweled.

Facebook has become this generation’s watering hole. It has lifted us out of the virtual darkness and allowed us to network with millions of people we would never have had the opportunity to connect with if it didn’t exist. Like Glenn Benest, for example. For the last several months I’ve been receiving messages from Glenn on a weekly basis. Mind you, we’ve never met in person and I probably wouldn’t know him if he walked up to me on the street and asked if I could change a dollar. But Glenn has become an asset to me as a writer since we were first introduced on Facebook. Each week I receive an update from his Secrets of Screenwriting Group, one of the best groups I belong to on Facebook. The most recent communication is part 21 in a series called, Writing Great Dialogue. It’s been a fantastic tool and since I’ve enjoyed it so much I figured I’d give Glenn an chance to share some of his tips with my readers. If you want to learn more, you can always find him on Facebook. I did, so how hard could it be?

Glenn is an award winning screenwriter/producer with three feature films and four television movies to his credit. He also teaches professional level screenwriting workshops in the Los Angeles area. Five feature films have been launched from his workshops - the latest is 'Niloofar," which just screened at the Berlin International Film Festival and Cannes. For more information about his classes, please go to his website at: or contact him directly at (323) 912-9195 or

Jeffrey Berman: How do you define good dialogue?

Glenn Benest: Each character has a different voice, the repartee is clever and sharp with good pacing - good dialogue has a music that is pleasing to the ear.

JB: Can writing good dialogue be taught or is it a talent a select few are born with?

GB: Good dialogue can definitely be taught. There are many dialogue techniques that I use in my workshops to make dialogue "sing." It's also important to point out "on-the-nose" dialogue - that is dialogue that is too obvious, where characters are saying exactly what they're feeling. Bad dialogue like this doesn't allow the reader or viewer to participate in the scene because the characters are simply spilling their guts. We want to figure out what someone is actually feeling. There are a number of techniques to overcome this kind of dialogue.

JB: Are there any secrets to making your characters sound real, natural and spontaneous?

GB: The real secret is to remember that people will do everything they can to protect themselves from hurt or betrayal or embarrassment. So no one wants to let anyone but their closest friends know what they're really feeling. Therefore we use humor, cynicism, and other defense mechanisms to protect our feelings. Truly put yourself into the beingness of your characters and write from their point-of-view, rather than have them spout things you want them to say. Characters will then surprise you - say things you didn't expect or do things you didn't expect them to do. This is when characters really come alive.

JB: Why is it so important to write dialogue that is not on-the-nose and are there ever any times when it’s okay to break that rule?

GB: We try to avoid on-the-nose dialogue at all times. But there are obligatory scenes in a movie, when characters break though their self imposed limitations and speak directly from the heart. These moments are rare but turning points in a character's development. At these times, it's quite alright for a character to say exactly how he or she is feeling. Almost all romantic comedies have scenes like this at their climactic moments.

JB: How important is subtext when writing dialogue and why?

GB: Subtext is what good dialogue is all about. Subtext is what's happening under the words the characters are saying. This is dialogue that is not on-the-nose. Characters are saying one thing but we sense something else is happening emotionally that isn't being said. A man and a woman are taking shots at each other but we sense they're actually very attracted to one another but for some reason cannot express these feelings. This is great stuff in a movie because we get to participate in the scene - it's up to us to figure out what are the real emotions being expressed.

JB: What advice would you offer writers to help them become better at writing engaging dialogue?

GB: Buy great film scripts - Study the dialogue. Try to pinpoint exactly what makes the dialogue work. Where do you see examples of dialogue that is not on-the-nose. Study the pacing of the dialogue. What do we mean by the music of the repartee? Notice how most dialogue is spare. No matter how serious a subject is, pay attention to the use of humor in all good dialogue.

I would also suggest joining a writing workshop; get your dialogue to be spoken out loud by the other members of the workshop so you can actually hear it out loud. There is no better way to actually experience if you're dialogue is working or not. Listening to it in your head is not nearly as effective as hearing it out loud.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Write Environment; Featuring an Interview with Marv Wofman

Here's a sneak peak look at some snapshots from my interview with Marv Wolfman, one of my favorite comic book writers from my youth.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Comedically Speaking: An Interview With David H. Steinberg

“Talking about comedy is not funny”
- Johnny Carson

I play cards once a week with a regular group of guys. At times it’s like a scene straight out of a Neil Simon play with lots of witty repartee, snappy comebacks and of course, the cliché verbal barbs and sarcastic ragging on one another. What else are we going to do during five and a half hours of poker? One of the guys at the table is David H. Steinberg, writer of a lot of funny films, including American Pie 2 and Slackers. In response to my sense of humor, David coined the phrase “that’s a Berman.” It’s a reference he uses whenever I rephrase the punchline to a joke or a bit that someone in the room has just told. It never fails to get a rise out of him. I once tried to explain to David why I think the act of repetition is funny, but he wasn’t buying it. He’s laughing at my expense. Its okay, I’m laughing back.

All this proves is that comedy is subjective.

There’s an old rule of thumb that tells us that to analyze a joke is to kill it. So how do you know when something you’ve written is funny? I asked David what he thinks.

After graduating Yale, David sold his first spec script called Slackers. Following on the heels of Slackers, David was hired by Universal to write American Pie 2. Since then he's written Puss In Boots (a spin-off from Shrek), Howard Stern’s Porkys and Love at Second Bite, to name just a few of his upcoming projects. David also wrote and directed a short film called The Babysitter, which can be viewed exclusively at Atom Films at Watch it, it’s funny. Something David and I agree on.

Jeffrey Berman: Are there any essential steps or rules when writing a comedy script?

David Steinberg:
I think the only essential step is to pick something—a character, a premise, even just a thematic idea—that makes the project a MOVIE. Because there will be times when it’s not funny or makes no sense and you need to be able to come back to that core thing you love that makes you say, “But I know this is a movie.” That’s what gets you through the rewrites and keeps you focused on the goal. If you doubt the core idea/character/theme so will everyone else.

JB: How do you know when something you’ve written is funny?

DS: Sometimes I actually make myself laugh out loud. It’s rare but when I get one of those lines or moments, I know I’m on the right track. The rest—that’s up to the reader or audience. I’m just as unsure as anyone else so you need to run it by people you trust. Plus, it’s often a numbers game. Maybe you can’t score laughs with 100% of your jokes, but a script is 120 pages and 95% funny is still pretty funny. The one thing you can’t do is let yourself get paralyzed with insecurity questioning whether it’s funny. I just move on and come back to the problem spots later. If I can’t punch it up after a dozen tries, maybe I’ll just delete the line altogether.

JB: When writing a sequel to a successful film like American Pie, is it incumbent upon you to recreate the original characters and conflicts exactly as they were written previously or can you bring your own brand of humor and sensibility to the script?

DS: American Pie 2 was largely about writing in the style of the first one. It’s not that hard to imitate—TV writers do it all day long. On American Pie 7 (“Book of Love,” coming out this October), it was more of a reboot, so the characters and style were far more original while keeping with the tone of the original. Obviously, it’s a balancing act. On Puss in Boots, I had to learn to write in Antonio Banderas’s voice, but I was also expanding on that character and bringing new information to the table so at the end of the day, I felt like I knew that cat better than the guys who created him. It just becomes your own.

JB: How did you approach the job of writing an updated version of Porky’s?

DS: Porky’s was an interesting rewrite because there had been so many drafts before me that completely missed the spirit and tone of the original movie. A lot of comedy writers just go for maximum laughs per page without any consideration of story, character, or logic. And what happens is the jokes aren’t funny because they’re so over-the-top, so removed from reality, that you don’t care. Maybe that kind of slipshod jokey writing works on “Disaster Movie,” but on teen comedies, it’s all about the emotion, fear, and insecurity of sex and out-of-control hormones. What I did was really weave together five or six character-based storylines and infuse it with emotion. You have to remember that in the original, there was anti-Semitism and an abusive alcoholic dad. We obviously updated those elements, but it had to be dramatic in moments. After my draft really tackled the character issues, brought the tone in keeping with the original, and fixed the logic problems, some jokes that didn’t work in previous drafts all the sudden were funny now.

JB: Where do you start from when writing comedy, characters or premise? And which plays a bigger role in comedy?

DS: It’s a little of both. I think comedy is all about character and if you create a hero we love, we’ll want to follow him anywhere. I’ve written comedies that have virtually no concept and they are some of my best scripts. But I think it’s a mistake to ignore concept altogether in choosing an idea to write. Not everyone can pull off “Clerks.” So sometimes a really clever idea is going to motivate you, but then you have to figure out how to populate it with a great character. I mean, if you want it to be good. If you’re writing “The Transformers”…

JB: What advice do you have for writers working on that first spec comedy?

Make shit happen. Too many comedy specs are all about dialogue. Character is revealed through action not sitting around talking about why hot girls don’t appreciate you and your bong-smoking friends. The irony of “Slackers” was that the heroes were out there pulling incredible scams that took a lot more effort than just doing the original work they were trying to avoid. The producers kept trying to change the title because the characters weren’t slackers at all, but I couldn’t write a script about guys literally just sitting around doing nothing. It would bore me to death.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Write On! Online/The Write Environment Query Contest

The first step in getting your project noticed is to have a dazzling and informative query.

Enter the The Write Environment
/Write On! Online Query Contest by June 22. The winner in each category – Screenplay, Teleplay, Fiction, and Non-Fiction - will have their query read by a literary agent, among other prizes.

A query is the letter sent to an editor, literary agent, or publisher a writer uses to promote a project - and him or herself.

"What elements must all query letters have?"
• Great opening hook
• Supplemental information about your book or article (word count, people you interviewed for the article, genre your book [or screenplay] falls into, etc.)
• Information about you - aka your "platform"
• A request to send your manuscript or proposal - or for representation in the case of an agent.
• How to contact you

First Prize
- David Boxerbaum, a senior literary agent working at APA, where he represents writers and directors in the feature and TV world, will read the winners in the screenplay and teleplay categories
- Laura Strachan, who has a boutique literary agency, specializing in literary fiction and narrative non-fiction, will read the fiction and non-fiction queries
- The winning queries will also win an iScript recording of their project. Screenplay or Teleplay up to 110 pages ($275 value); prose or non-fiction up to 20,000 words ($300 value)
- One Grand Prize winner will take home a copy of Save the Cat Software

Second Prize
- Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire, by Simon Beaufoy, courtesy of The Writers Store
- Teleplay: Sliders script, autographed by writer Jon Povill

- Fiction: From Crime to Crime, autographed by author Dennis Palumbo, courtesy of The Writers Store
- Non Fiction: Heliloggoging in a Sucker Hole, autographed by Bart Colantuono, a chopper pilot who can currently be seen on this season of Ax Men on The History Channel

Third Prize, courtesy of Barnes & Noble
- Screenplay: Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
- Teleplay: Screenwriting: The Art, Craft, and Business of Film and Television by Richard Walter
- Fiction: Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass

- Non-Fiction: Thinking like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction and Get It Published by Alfred Fortunato and Susan Rabiner

Submission Guidelines
- Email your query to by June 22
- Queries should be 1 page
- No attachments, paste text in the body of the email
- Include name, email address, address, phone number, and category at the top of your submission
- There is no charge to enter this contest
- By submitting, you are agreeing to join the Write On! and The Write Environment email lists

Winners will be announced on July 7 in the Write On! July Newsletter and on and

The Write Environment and Write On! Online are pleased to join forces for this contest, designed to help writers jump-start their careers. Sponsors include The Writers Store, iScript, Blake Snyder and Save the Cat, and more. For tips on writing a good query letter, read the Write On! Online Author Q&A with The Query Queen Wendy Burt-Thomas.Submit your query today!

To your success,

Jeffrey Berman, The Write Environment

Debra Eckerling, Write On! Online