Friday, March 12, 2010


Friday Speak Out!: "From Almost Famous . . . To the Cutting-room Floor," Guest Post by Dallas Nicole Woodburn


by Dallas Nicole Woodburn

Soon, my face will be on that big screen, I thought, as the plush theater seats steadily filled around me for the red-carpet premiere. I’ll be famous!

Okay, almost famous. Or, maybe, recognizable. Possibly. Around campus.

“Why are you here, dear?” asked the Versace-dressed woman beside me in the center-aisle VIP second-row seats.

I tried, but failed, to hide my smile. “I’m in The Movie,” I said, excitement overwhelming any small dose of humility I possessed.

Okay, so maybe movie isn’t the right word. It was more of a short film; a documentary to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the University of Southern California, where I was a freshman majoring in Creative Writing. As a student with two published books to my name (first editions still available!) they interviewed me twice, for more than an hour each time, asking all sorts of questions: Why did you choose USC? Do you like the writing program? If you see Pete Carroll, will you get his autograph for me?

I spoke about the energy and school spirit on campus, how President Sample (who had come across my second book) wrote me a personal letter welcoming me to the university, and I mentioned I was looking forward to having T.C. Boyle, one of my favorite authors, as a professor in upcoming years. I was thoughtful, I was eloquent, I was charming. “You’re a natural,” the cameraman told me.

Now. The lights went down. I patiently fidgeted through each big-screen interview, until suddenly my face appeared, as huge as Dan Brown’s advance check.

“I’m sooooo excited about having T.C. Boyle as a professor!” On-Screen Me gushed.

The camera cut to Professor Boyle, looking as Hollywood as ever in his trademark red Converse high-tops, a suit-jacket over a black T-shirt, and sunglasses hanging from a bead Zen-like necklace. “I think I provide an inspiration for them,” he said. He paused, then added the punchline – and punch to my stomach: “Because they think, if he can do it, anybody can!”

He laughed.

I cringed.

I waited for the film to return to me – this time Calm Me, regaining face with a more poised comment – but soon the closing music swelled, the credits rolled, the lights came up, and it was Over. Finished. My starring role was reduced to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it line that made me seem like a teeny-bopper with a crush. Meanwhile, my two hours – minus eight seconds – of brilliant interview lay on the digital-age equivalent of the cutting room floor. I might be “a natural,” but I decided, then and there, to stick with screenwriting.

* * *

“If you're writing screenplays, STOP IT!” Ray Bradbury exclaimed, his voice filling the packed auditorium. “Hollywood’s full of $#*&!”

The audience roared, but his words made me shrink. If the great Ray Bradbury has trouble selling scripts, surely I’m full of $#*& for thinking I can.

And yet, here I was nine months later at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, teaching a workshop for young writers – and also slipping into the highly acclaimed Walter Dallenbach’s screenwriting workshop whenever I got a chance. Here, I joined a group of two-dozen other Hollywood hopefuls to read our screenplays aloud for “flow,” all of us dreaming that our script will become the next Sundance surprise.

“I was walking in downtown L.A. last week,” Walter told us, “and I randomly asked ten people what problem they were having with their screenplay. Of those ten people, only two gave me strange looks and said they weren’t working on a screenplay – the remaining eight of them launched into detailed descriptions of their plot holes and character troubles.” A few people laughed. “I’m not joking,” Walter insisted. “Hollywood’s full of $#*&&% screenwriters!”

* * *

The final night of the Santa Barbara conference, T.C. Boyle – wearing his trademark ensemble of red high-top Converse sneakers and T-shirt/suit jacket – read a sneak snippet from his latest book. Incredibly, the guy still doesn’t know who I am, even aft er I sent him a copy of my book, introduced myself at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, and cornered him in the English department elevator, where I lamely stammered “Y-y-yes” when he asked what floor I wanted.

Even though a number of his novels have been made into feature films, Boyle echoed Bradbury’s comments, saying: “I don’t fool around with screenplays. I sell the rights and let Hollywood deal with it.”

Later, T.C. – who had been introduced by his full name, Thomas Coraghessan Boyle – signed books. I joined the long line of eager fans, hoping he hadn’t yet gotten a restraining order against me for stalking. Fifteen minutes later, I was staring at my nervous reflection in Boyle’s mirrored sunglasses, while he read my name from the sticky-note placed on the book’s title page to speed up the process. “Dallas . . .” he said, the syllables rolling slowly off his tongue, as if perhaps I was indeed vaguely familiar, then noticed my “Young Writers Program Faculty” name-tag. “How were the kids?” he asked, gesturing to it with his pen.

“I had a lit agent talk to them yesterday,” I said, trying to coolly, and finally, make a memorable impression. “He told the class he’s interested in anything – fiction, nonfiction, thrillers, romance. Anything except science fiction or fantasy. Then, he went around the room and asked each kid, one by one, what kind of book they’re working on, and, one by one, they told him, ‘Fantasy. Science fiction. Fantasy. . .’ Nothing but science fiction and fantasy, all twenty-four of them!”

The moment stretched seemingly as long as a Peter Jackson movie, and then . . . he laughed. Thomas Coraghessan Boyle laughed.

“You’re a natural,” T.C. said. I beamed, even though I knew the compliment was pure Hollywood: full of $#*&.

* * *

Dallas Woodburn, 22, is the author of two collections of short stories and a forthcoming novel. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in the literary magazines Monkeybicycle, Arcadia Journal, Cicada, The Newport Review, and flashquake, among others. She has also written articles for Family Circle, Writer's Digest, Motherwords, and The Los Angeles Times. Find out more about her nonprofit literacy foundation and youth publishing company at and


Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


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Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Guest Post: No One Ever Just “Says” Something, by Christina Hamlett

No One Ever Just “Says” Something

by Christina Hamlett

When I was a teen, I had an aversion to using “said” in a story. It was blah. It was ordinary. It was pedestrian. Why use “said”, I thought, when there were so many words that were way more expressive? Throughout high school English classes, my characters squealed, pontificated, reflected, mused and accused. As if that weren’t enough to liven up their dialogue, I was also generous in my deployment of adverbs. After all, who’s going to be a scarier villain: the one who “growled menacingly” or the one who said, “If you don’t give me the money, I’ll kill you”?

By the time I started publishing my work, I was fortunate to have editors who pointed out that the habit of euphemizing the word “said” was to the detriment of the actual dialogue. Its quiet obscurity, they pointed out, was what allowed readers to skip over it and pay attention to what the characters were communicating. Throw a word like “elucidated” into the mix and it either sends a reader running to the nearest dictionary or colors her view that the author is a snob.

As a screenplay consultant, I read a lot of scenes where writers have tried to explain exactly how a line should be delivered. This is problematic on two counts. The first is that actors don’t like being told what to do by anyone other than directors. Secondly, many of these instructions defy comprehension. How, for instance, does one “blanch uncontrollably”, “smile successfully” or “swear gracefully”?

Listed below are the most common – as well as some of the most bizarre – parentheticals I’ve encountered. At the end of the day, sometimes “said” isn’t such a bad thing after all.

1. laughing maniacally
2. cackling hysterically
3. grimacing furtively
4. laughing satirically
5. smiling aggressively
6. whistling angrily
7. blushing fiercely
8. glaring impassively
9. staring aimlessly
10. blanching uncontrollably
11. swallowing lazily
12. chuckling wistfully
13. shouting hesitantly
14. seething wholeheartedly
15. coughing defiantly
16. chuckling contagiously
17. leering mightily
18. shouting orgasmically
19. blinking rhythmically
20. shrugging moronically
21. smiling soberly
22. staring wildly
23. sighing incessantly
24. yawning cavernously
25. gloating boldly
26. sneering leerily
27. sighing soulfully
28. smirking ruefully
29. groaning disparagingly
30. nodding emphatically
31. stretching indifferently
32. smiling rhetorically
33. fainting forcefully
34. sneezing emphatically
35. smiling successfully
36. smiling diagonally
37. whispering haughtily
38. yawning seductively
39. grinning gnashingly
40. breathing darkly
41. thinking sporadically
42. whimpering mincingly
43. scowling convincingly
44. chirping amicably
45. fidgeting wildly
46. guessing blindly
47. grinning indifferently
48. listening suggestively
49. barking congestedly
50. swearing gracefully

Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, ghostwriter and professional script consultant whose credits include 26 books, 128 plays, 5 optioned feature films, and hundreds of articles and interviews. Her latest release, Movie Girl, is the launch book of a new humorous fiction series targeted to teen and tween girls. To learn more, visit her website at

*** Christina is also a WOW! Women on Writing Classroom instructor. Sign up now for her six week online course, SEE YOU AT THE MOVIES: An Introduction to the Craft of Screenwriting.

*** For information on all of our current classes, please visit the WOW! Women On Writing Workshops & Classes page.

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