How to Start Screenwriting

By Tracy Ruckman

I’ve been a professional writer since the 1980s when I received my first paycheck for a magazine article, but it wasn’t until about five years ago that I discovered a love of the screenwriting format. Once I learned the basics, I was hooked because screenwriting seems to come naturally to me. Making that statement sets me up for all sorts of comments, so I’ll clarify: just because screenwriting (or any other kind of writing) seems to come naturally doesn’t mean I can write them perfectly. I had to learn the craft, so I sought an MFA in screenwriting. (Not a path I necessarily recommend, but I loved all that I absorbed.)

Screenwriting comes naturally for me because I tend to think out scenes in the same format as a screenplay – letting the images carry the load, rather than bogging myself down with minute details.

But if you’re new to screenwriting, where should you start?

First, pick up the latest version of Dave Trottier’s The Screenwriter’s Bible. It’s now available in Kindle, but my print copy is so dog-eared, I’d recommend getting the paperback. It’s easy to use and as you write, you’ll need to grab something quick to find out how to format something from one scene to the next. The author not only provides instructions, but also the “why” behind the instructions, so you’ll understand the purpose. I’ve used this one book more than any other during all my screenwriting classes and all my script writing. (At this date, I’ve completed four scripts, and have five others in various stages of completion.) It is considered the industry-standard.

Second, you’ll need some screenwriting software. (Formatting becomes a breeze, so save yourself a few headaches and get the software instead of trying to format it yourself.) At one time, Celtx offered a free version but when I checked on it for this article, I learned they now charge. If you’re not sure if screenwriting is for you, but want to try it out, they offer a monthly subscription so you can try it for $20 a month.

But if you decide you like screenwriting and want to continue, I recommend purchasing one of two programs: Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter 6. I’ve had Movie Magic for years, and have loved it the entire time, but I loved it even more after I took a production class, because the software used in production works seamlessly with MMS6 – because it’s created by the same folks. (Final Draft gets a lot of mention, but as far as I can tell, MMS6 is the most user-friendly.)

[TIP: If you are a student or a teacher, or have a student or teacher in your household, you can usually get enormous discounts on software. You’ll just need to provide a student e-mail address, and sometimes (but not always, so ask rather than assume), also a student ID. I saved hundreds on all sorts of software while I was a student.]

Third, create an idea box. Thanks to a professor, my idea box is called the Baker’s Dozen after his assignment. This idea box should be big enough to hold index cards (you can use 3x5s or 4x6s). I use 3×5 color-coded cards, with each color representing a different genre, because I write different kinds of stories.

Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/bomei615-2623913/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1751883">Bo Mei</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1751883">Pixabay</a>The first time I was introduced to the Baker’s Dozen, the professor instructed us to come up with 12 feasible script ideas and one that was “way out there.” He told us the “way out there” could be an idea so crazy no one would listen to it, or a budget so big no one would consider it. The purpose of that 13th idea was to stretch our thinking, and it worked.

Once you have the Baker’s Dozen written on individual cards, let those ideas speak to you. Which character or story is calling you most? Pick the top three, and on the back of the cards, write a log line for that story.

A log line is short and sweet, but power packed – like those descriptions in TV Guide.

After you’ve written the log lines, one of those three should be screaming to write that story first.

Start writing.

By the time you’ve finished that story, others are calling your name.


Writing Prompt: Create your own Baker’s Dozen.

To help generate ideas:

  • What is your happiest/saddest memory? Put a character in that memory and create her own story from it.
  • Hunt down a short story in the public domain, and write your own story based on that short story.
  • What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but have never had the opportunity? Give a character that opportunity!
  • What’s your favorite Bible verse? Create a story using that Bible verse as the theme.

Tracy Ruckman owns TMP Books, a subsidy book publishing company. She is also a consultant and freelance writer and author. She and her husband are currently on a roadtrip of indefinite length, exploring this vast country. You can follow their #LeapFrogs adventures on her blog at www.TracyRuckman.com and look for her latest book Go West, His Momma Said releasing summer 2019.

Click to Tweet: Screenwriting comes naturally for me because I tend to think out scenes in the same format as a screenplay – letting the images carry the load, rather than bogging myself down with minute details.

Working in the Publishing Industry: Conduct Yourselves …

By Tracy Ruckman

We live in such difficult times, don’t we?

When I was invited to write this post over a month ago, I was both honored and terrified. Honored because the subjects of respect, character, integrity are such an important part of our lives, and terrified, honestly, because they ARE that important. I began praying fervently for the Lord to allow the right words to flow – and to give me wisdom as I outlined my thoughts.

Then, for almost an entire month, I procrastinated.

Normally, that would be funny, but instead, today I find myself rather sad because in the past month, I’ve watched the Christian publishing industry – and Christianity as a whole – grapple with allegations of sexual harassment by well-known agents, publishers, editors, authors, pastors, and priests. The news has been heartbreaking on many levels from many angles, and I’ve observed all sides trying to make sense of it all.

As Christians, we shouldn’t even be having this conversation today. As Christians, we should be living our lives above reproach so that this kind of behavior isn’t even in our repertoire.

In the second chapter of his letter to Titus, Paul provides instruction on how we should live. Two verses sum up the teaching: “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.” ~ Titus 2:7-8 ESV

Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world, where sin runs rampant. None of us are immune, and while that is not an excuse to “go sin some more,” it should serve as a wake-up call that we must – at all times – be on the alert, to guard our own behavior and to be aware of the behavior of those around us.

I can’t and won’t cast the first stone at any of the alleged perpetrators, or question any of the victims, as some observers have suggested. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us have times in our pasts when we’ve not lived as a good example of Christianity.

My own life is like that, and I thank God He changed me. He forgave me, mercifully, and has made me a new creature. Because I am a new creature in Christ, I make different choices for myself and I try to always think of others as I make those choices.

We cannot change the past, but we must change the future.

Today, I want to discuss some of my observations as a publisher, editor, and writer for the past thirteen years and offer some basic guidelines for writers as they navigate the publishing world of today.

Respect

While it should go without saying, I offer a gentle reminder to always be respectful in all your interactions with those in our industry.

Respect the time of professionals. Even though many/most writers, and some agents, are freelance, this doesn’t mean they work 24/7. Unless they instruct you otherwise, communicate with them during office hours, and please don’t expect them to respond to your e-mails in the wee hours of the morning. And for the sake of all our sanity, do not EVER include your publishing pros in a group text at 3 a.m. (Or any other time. Group texts are of the devil.)

Please, please, please do not follow pros into the restroom at writing conferences to pitch your project. Yes, it has happened to me, and to numerous friends. Even if your story is the next bestseller, pitching it in the bathroom won’t make a favorable impression.

Listen, with respect, to advice provided by the pros. They’re pros for a reason, and their experience can help you become a better writer. Listening, and actually hearing, what the pros are telling you about your writing could help more than you realize. Students willing to learn are rare, so soak up as much information as you can and apply it to your writing. Editors will love you.

Respect the confidentiality entrusted in you by publishers and agents. Yakking all the details of their business deals will put you in a bad light.

Respect YOURSELF. Don’t dismiss your own morals and values to acquire a publishing contract, or to “protect” your career. Leave your career in God’s hands and respect yourself enough to walk away from anyone who attempts to tarnish those morals in any way, whether it be sexually, contractually, or editorially.

Character, Ethics, and Integrity

I read an interesting article on character as I wrote this one. “People of good character are guided by ethical principles even when it’s physically dangerous or detrimental to their careers, social standing, or economic well-being. They do the right thing even when it costs more than they want to pay. … Character is ethics in action.”

Another article explains the difference between integrity and character as this: having integrity means recognizing a problem and refusing to do the wrong thing; character means recognizing that problem and doing something to correct it or stop it.

Your communications and interactions with industry professionals will reveal your character. Are you negative or positive? Are you harsh or kind? Are you demanding or understanding?

Do you choose your friendships based on what that person can do for your career? Do you ignore the receptionist or the janitor while gushing over the agent or publisher? Do you berate editors for changing a comma? (Yes, it’s happened.)

Click to Tweet: Act professionally, even when you don’t think it matters – because it actually does.

As Christians, we must operate with the utmost respect and integrity, because our character – and our witness – as Christians demands just that.

“Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” ~ Philippians 1:27 NASB

Tracy Ruckman owns TMP Books where she coaches beginning writers with notepad scribblings all the way through to a finished book.

What’s in Your Media Kit?

by Tracy Ruckman

One of the first tasks authors should tackle when their first book is scheduled for release is build a media kit. This task applies to both traditionally published and self-published authors. Assembling the kit before the book is released will save hours and frustration later and having a media kit could provide you with more opportunities for outreach.

Purpose of a Media Kit

The main purpose of the media kit is convenience – you want to make it easy for anyone wanting to promote or interview you about your book to get information quickly. Before the internet, media kits were physical packets assembled and mailed out to publicists and editors of newspapers and magazines. Today, the media kit is usually a dedicated page on your website where publicists, editors, bloggers, media outlets, and others can grab your information instantly.

You can provide the information two ways (and providing it both ways is a huge plus): as individual elements that can be downloaded or copied/pasted by whoever needs it; and as a single downloadable pdf. The pdf would include all the elements listed below.

What to Include in Your Media Kit

  • Headshots – provide two to four different types of headshots, with various poses from casual to formal and in different color clothing. Use professional quality shots and provide them in high resolution formats, in jpeg format. The variety will allow each outlet to decide which image best fits for their readers and their format, and the high resolution will give them the best quality so they can make the photo any size they need. (If you provide a low resolution image, your picture will be grainy and pixelated, so it might not get used.)
  • Book cover image – provide the front cover image of your book, also with high resolution.
  • Back cover blurb
  • Your bios – Please provide two bios, one long and one short, and identify them as such. The short bio should be around 100 words, the long bio 200-250 words. Write them in 3rd person. Some markets may allow or want longer bios, while others can only use the short ones.
  • Press releases – Press releases are optional, but they’re handy to have on hand. If you don’t know how to write one, you’ll need to learn. Press releases follow a specific format and layout, so if you make them available in your media kit, you’ll need to do it correctly.
  • List of links to your website/blog, links to your book, links to your top social media pages
  • Media – If you are a speaker or teacher, or if you’ve already conducted some radio interviews or podcasts, include video and/or audio clips of some of those in your media kit. These samples will let media see and hear your personality to know how you’ll best fit their own programs.
  • List of Topics/Themes – Including a list of speaking topics and/or themes in your book serves different purposes. The list provides media with talking points, especially as they are relevant in today’s headlines, while also providing event organizers ideas for how to use you in their programs. The list also serves as keywords for SEO purposes, so your website/blog can be found under searches for those themes, which could bring you new readers or opportunities.
  • Events – If you already have experience as a speaker or workshop presenter, list those events with dates, locations, topics presented.

Safety

In today’s world, we must take safety precautions, and this includes within your media kit. Press releases must contain contact information but use caution in sharing your home address or phone number. I always recommend that my clients leave out both of those in their online kits, but be sure to provide other options, like a business e-mail address (or two) and social media contacts. If you have a dedicated phone line for your business that’s listed publicly, you may list it, but remember that the information in your media kit will now be accessible by anyone worldwide.

Media kits are great marketing tools. Review your media kit once or twice a year, adding updates and deleting older information. Remember to keep it professional and put your best self in the spotlight.


One of the best ways to learn is to look at what others are doing. Here are a few excellent media kits I found online:

Lori Roeleveld: https://loriroeleveld.com/press/
Elizabeth Noyes: http://elizabethnoyeswrites.com/media-kit/
Rachel Hauck: http://www.rachelhauck.com/media/
Edie Melson: http://ediemelson.com/media/
Matt Patterson: http://matt-patterson.com/mediakit

Writing Prompt: Choose one of the bulleted items above and create it as a promotional tool for your latest release.

Click to Tweet: A #media kit makes it easy for anyone wanting to #promote or interview you about your book to get information quickly. What’s in Your Media Kit @TracyRuckman @InspiredPrompt


Tracy Ruckman is an entrepreneur, writer, and photographer. As a book publisher, she’s published over 100 books, and is current publisher at TMP Books. She logs her journey as artist, writer, and screenwriter at The Thriving Artist on Patreon, and interviews artists and entrepreneurs on her Tracy Ruckman blog. Her artwork is available in her Zazzle store.

For Such a Time as This: Write to Inspire

by Tracy Ruckman

When Betty invited me to write a post for this month, I was going through yet another challenging time in our lives, and I originally wrote a post that was pure pity party. I even had the gall to send it to Betty, and she graciously scheduled it.

But that night, the Lord convicted me. My own challenges pale in comparison (more like they’re invisible in comparison) to the world’s current challenges. Most of the people I know can only bear to watch or listen to the news in short spells – every moment seems to be fraught with horrific details of disasters, evil acts, hate-filled opinions. The images burn into our brains, and the fear and doubt mounts.

So I decided to rewrite this post, and Betty has allowed me to get rid of the pity party and offer these words of encouragement instead.

The last 20 years have been filled with so many changes, so much horror and destruction. What do we do with all this news? What do we do as we watch friends suffer through floods and fires or become victims to the latest maniac bombing or shooting spree? What do we do as we watch politicians play war games with our countries like we’re all pawns in a child’s board game? What do we do when loved ones go through one health crisis after another? Or when our child suffers from mental illness?

Many of us pray and give, and somehow manage to get through each day, yet we long to do something more.

I’m going to assume that most of you reading this blog are writers, so my following comments are directed specifically to the writers, but even if you’re not one, I hope my comments will encourage and inspire you just the same.

Writers – we have a task in the midst of all this turmoil and tragedy! We are WRITERS. We must record these events, write about them.

No, we’re not all reporters, and we’re not all on the front lines. But we can still write from our own perspective.

I’m not saying we all need to start shouting our opinions to the world. There’s too much of that going on now, and I honestly feel like that aspect leads to our overwhelmed feelings at times.

The kind of writing I’m talking about now is this: our words, our stories, our experiences MATTER, because we can be a light in the darkness. We can offer hope and encouragement, we can offer sympathy and comfort, right when the world needs it most. Our words, our attitudes, our actions, our beliefs can point people to Jesus when they’re desperately seeking a lifeline.

Even if you don’t have a blog or Facebook page, you can still use your writing. Keep a journal. It will not only help you process everything, it could serve as an encouragement or inspiration to the next generation of your family (or as a good reminder for you later in life.)

Send letters, or even short notes, to friends, loved ones, even the local news editor or a politician. Offer words of encouragement, or special insights the Lord has given you about these times.

If you do have a blog, website, or Facebook page, could you use them in some way to offer hope or encouragement specifically for these trying times? What have you experienced that has strengthened your faith? Was there some event in your life that brought you to Jesus? Think on those things and figure out a way to convey your story to the world.

Don’t worry about the audience for your writing. Let God handle that. Just pray, then write the story God lays on your heart. He’ll put your words in front of the person who needs them most, and you may never know it.

If you have a blog, website, and Facebook page, and are already using them for this purpose, is it time for you to write a book? Or the next book? Your story matters. Your words matter.

We’re right here, right now, for a reason. For such a time as this. Ask the Lord to use you for His purposes, and you’ll be amazed at how He will change your perspective. You’ll still be burdened for the world, but from His viewpoint, not your own.

Here’s a great song to remind us:

Click to Tweet: Writers have a task in the midst of turmoil and tragedy. #Write to #Inspire.


Tracy Ruckman owns TMP Books, a subsidy press, and is currently accepting new clients. TMP publishes fiction and nonfiction, and children’s books.

 

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3 Questions Wednesday with Tracy Ruckman

Today’s 3 Questions Wednesday guest is Tracy Ruckman of Write Integrity Press, Pix-N-Pens Publishing, and Imaginate Magazine.

Tracy Ruckman HeadshotWe’re so glad you could join us, Tracy. First question:

Which author would you never get tired of, and why?

Tracy:  Would it be cheating to say all our authors? 🙂 However, if you mean authors other than our own – I’m not sure I have an answer. I love series, so I read from series to series as I can. Right now, while I’m in graduate school, all my “fun” reading consists of screenplays and textbooks.

I appreciate your love of your own authors’ books, since I am one of those authors! Now…

Who is your favorite fictional villain?

Tracy: My head seems to be in TV shows as I think about the answer to this question. A few years ago, after some recommendations, we binged on a couple of series we’d not previously seen. Both series consisted of ensemble casts, with numerous villains, and some of them became my favorites.

When we were watching Prison Break, I felt guilty the entire time I watched because I kept rooting for them to break out. At the time, I remember thinking what great writers they had – to make people like me (normally not lawbreakers at all) – cheer on the “bad guys.” Of course, Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows weren’t villains, but the heroes of the story, even though they were in prison. But the villain that still boils my blood is the character of Theodore ‘T-Bag’ Bagwell. Robert Knepper did such an incredible job with the character that to this day, if I hear his voice, I get the creepies up my spine.

Lost is the other show we binged on. Sawyer will always be my favorite – and Josh Holloway is from the county where I live! – but Linus is the unforgettable villain. Anytime I see Michael Emerson on screen, I want to yell at him! LOL!

You’ve chosen some great villains. I’m in complete agreement with Linus. One last question:

What project are you currently working on?

Tracy: So many projects, so little time. 🙂 Our Valentine book goes to press the week I’m answering these questions, so look for The Love Boat Bachelor on Kindle. Then, in the next few months, we’re launching new releases by Joan Deneve, Tammy Blackburn, Fay Lamb, Betty Thomason Owens, Marie Wells Coutu, and … I know I’m forgetting some. Bookmark the blog to get the latest updates: www.WriteIntegrity.com.

We’re also in the process of launching a new digital magazine for readers and writers. IMAGINATE will include articles for writers, as well as creative pieces like short stories, flash fiction, poetry, and special features for readers. We’re currently accepting submissions and advertising, with a deadline of April 1. The quarterly magazine will debut on June 1, 2015. For more information, visit our website: www.ImaginateZone.com

This is exciting! You have some wonderful projects in the works. The Writing Prompts Crew wishes you great success on all of these. And thanks so much for taking the time to complete our 3 Questions.

Readers, please read Tracy’s bio then leave a comment to win (drum roll) a three – book bundle (Kindle E-books)! Reader’s choice of three books in a series, or three separate books from Write Integrity Press or Pix-N-Pens Publishing (see the list below–some links are supplied so you can see them). Again, please leave a comment to be entered to win this valuable prize. The winner will be contacted via email and you can let us know at that time, which three (3) books you’d like.

More about Tracy Ruckman:

Tracy Ruckman is publisher, student, screenwriter, wife, and mom. She’s seeking her MFA in Screenwriting, and stays busy with her three publishing companies. In her spare time (in her dreams), she loves to cook, travel, explore.

Books from Write Integrity Press and Pix-N-Pens Publishing

Amazing Grace Series by Fay Lamb:

Stalking Willow

Better Than Revenge

Ties That Bind Series by Fay Lamb:

Charisse

Libby

Nonfiction for writers: The Art of Characterization, Fay Lamb

The Sisters Redeemed Series, Jerusha Agen:

This Dance

This Shadow

This Redeemer

For Such a Moment, Marie Wells Coutu

Cracks in the Ice, Deanna Klingel

Towdah, Sheryl Holmes

Imperfect Wings, Elizabeth Noyes

Entrusted (Adirondack Surrender Series), Julie Arduini

Amelia’s Legacy (Legacy Series), Betty Owens

Multiple Authors:

A Dozen Apologies

A Ruby Christmas

The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt