Author Archives: sherimcguinn

Novel to Film: Looking at Change

Last week, I explained the major differences between my first novel Running Away and the Lifetime movie made from it. The movie did a great job with the suspense line but the backstory for the characters changed, which changed the dynamics between characters and the focus of the story. It works as a TV movie, but part of me would still like to see the theater version with my themes and characters as I’d intended.

The contract was for one production, so a remake is a possibility, or utilizing parts of the script in a film version of the mother’s story – the novel Peg’s Story: In Search of Self is coming out later this year. With those possibilities in mind, I did two things:

  • I asked the screenwriters at Capital Film Arts Alliance in Sacramento to review my original script. As always, they gave thoughtful feedback.
  • Before the movie went to the director, I did revisions to make it more affordable to shoot. I watched the movie again with that script to analyze the later changes.

Pertinent observations and conclusions I took away from CFAA and my own analysis:

  • Some of the changes were great. I knew going in that there would be changes over which I would have no control. I really liked some of them. For example: 
    • The director’s version of the climax is more visual and dramatically satisfying than the version I’d written.
    • The film has a better, more logical basis for the friendship between Maggie and Chip (the boy who helps her get away).
  • It’s important to grab the audience quickly. Director changes immediately show Richard as an aggressive jerk and expand on his villainy. People who’ve seen the film talk primarily about his character, so yeah, that worked, but that emphasis lost one of my main themes, that sexual predators are not always obviously bad guys, that they are often masterful actors. However, CFAA feedback on my original script included that it started slowly, so I’d need to find another way to begin. 
  • It doesn’t take much to dramatically alter a character and how the audience perceives them. Most of the scenes are still from my revision, but there were a few brief additions that made major changes in Peg and her girls. For example:
    • The first time Peg appears, she’s on the phone pleading for more time to pay a bill. Shortly after that, she tells Maggie that going out with the contractor working on the house didn’t count as dating because she only did that so he wouldn’t overcharge… In just a minute or two, I saw her as weak and someone who used men, so when Richard turned out to be rich, the entire relationship was suspect. I didn’t like her until the climactic scene.
    • In contrast, my Peg was strong and financially secure – she had a good job and owned the house she’d grown up in without a mortgage. She went camping with her girls alone. Her vulnerability came up when she was hospitalized on a camping trip and Richard flew to her side to take care of her. That scene was deleted and Richard went camping with them, adding another creepy bit.
  • The collaborative effort made a better film.  Even with the added scenes and an added thread expanding on the villain, most of the lines spoken were in my script. However, those scenes were trimmed. This wasn’t just to make room for the additions – it also kept the action moving better. Honestly, a film made rigidly by my original script probably would not have held a TV audience as well as this one does.

The bottom line:

“The movie is different from the book” does not mean one is better than the other; it just means they’re different. What matters for each is: Does it work?

00A2011SheriCMYK

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Does it work?

My next novel, which will come out later this year, is Peg’s Story: In Search of Self. It’s the story of the mother in my first novel, Running Away. After that book came out, I wrote and sold the screenplay – the selling part took a few years. You may have seen the movie Running Away on Lifetime, and it’s been pirated to YouTube as well.

If you’ve read the book and watched the movie, you know that the movie did a great job with the suspense line but the backstory for the characters is different. That also means the dynamics between characters and the focus of the story changed.

This is how the changes look:

The novel is about the relationship between mother and daughter and how a subtle predator manipulates both of them to the point where Maggie (the daughter) ends up running away. The emphasis is on the mother-daughter bond – that’s why the hands are reaching for each other on the novel’s cover. My original script stuck with that emphasis, as did the re-writes I did to make it more affordable to shoot.

I’m still the only screenwriter on the credits, however the director added short scenes, including some up front to establish the stepfather as a bad guy quickly. The filmmakers explained that was essential to hold the audience. With several short scenes, the director also added a storyline making the stepfather evil beyond what he does to Maggie. As in the movie poster, he becomes the focal point.

Film is a collaborative medium and the final measure is always: Does it work?

  • Whenever someone tells me they’ve seen the movie, their comments center on the creepy stepfather – no one talks about the girl or her mother. My central theme didn’t survive, but the film does grab people and hold their attention.
  • I sold the script to a production company with a track record for producing and marketing films to television and computer movie markets. They sold the film successfully to French-speaking European television and then Lifetime. They knew their market.

So yeah, the film works. I got paid, got my credits at the beginning and end, and it’s added to my IMDb page. I’m happy.

Next week I’ll take a closer look at the film and how it compares to my screenplay.

00A2011SheriCMYK

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Me Too & Writing Romance: Heroes

While I plan the release of Peg’s Story: In Search of Self, I’m still writing. I have several short stories that I’m turning into romance novels. I want to make sure nothing I write undermines women. Therefore, I’m looking at myths and making myself some rules. The fifth rule is about the hero of the story.

Myth #5 – Women Want the Rough and Tough Guy

Rough around the edges, tough enough no one will mess with his woman? Hopefully not rough with his woman, though? Secretly sweet inside and kind to kittens? Terrified of babies because they’re so helpless?

Is that image why the rough and tough guys so often have more confidence than the nice, polite, considerate guys?

Me Too Connection

As I write, this scene is still playing in my mind: A high school study hall. A dozen kids at most, mostly boys, a few girls. The girls and half the boys trying to focus on their schoolwork. The other boys carrying on rowdy conversation as they enter the room, being corrected once, twice. One girl annoyed with them. Maybe because of things the teacher can’t hear. Then a clear comment about the girl’s sexual activities broadcast to the entire room clearly. The girl landing a few punches as she cries out at the injustice of his talking about her after they’d broken up, then running out of the room in tears.

Shock when the teacher sends the boy to the office with a referral for sexual harassment. Just words? There doesn’t have to be touching? Half the boys, the other girls, still quiet. None telling the boy or his friends that they are jerks, none asking to go after the girl to make sure she’s okay. Staying out of it.

There doesn’t even have to be truth in the words. A lie does just as much damage. Rumors never die. Even with everything in the news, times have not changed for the better, not for that teenage girl this cold day in 2018.

Rule #5 – Heroes Wear White Hats

Not literally, unless I do a western romance. But my heroes will be good guys who stand up for what’s right, follow a code of honor, and treat women as equals worthy of respect.

00A2011SheriCMYK

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

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Me Too & Writing Romance: Happy Single

While I plan the release of Peg’s Story: In Search of Self, I’m still writing. I have several short stories that I’m turning into romance novels. I want to make sure nothing I write undermines women. Therefore, I’m looking at myths and making myself some rules. The fourth one is that single women can’t have meaningful lives and be happy.

Myth #4 – Women are incomplete without a partner.

Funny thing…married women will invite single men or single fathers for dinner, but they don’t invite single women unless there’s a suitable single match coming.

When my kids were little, I thought it might be just us – they were pretty rambunctious. Then we got invited for a barbeque by the mother of my youngest son’s friend – not a big party, just the two families, not a single man in sight. And she told me why she’d offered the invitation: She and her husband had grown up in that small town, had had the same group of friends for decades, and when her husband recovered from a life-threatening heart attack, one of those women told her “I’m so glad he got better. I’d have missed having you as a friend.” If her husband had died, they would not have continued including her in their gatherings! Unfortunately, this was not a unique situation.

We’re encouraging young girls to take STEM classes, we keep fighting for equal wages for equal pay, we’ve gotten more men involved in caring for their children, but socially married women still exclude single women. Based on conversations with married friends, I don’t think this is a planned action. It makes some sense that couples would gravitate towards couples for socializing.

But why are single men included more often than single women?

I suspect it’s because a single man is traditionally more likely to be career-centered, while a single woman must be looking for a partner, which makes her a potential threat. And a married woman is traditionally less likely to risk that relationship than a man (because she needs it), and she’s more likely to be the one doing the inviting. Note I used the word “traditionally”. We often continue behaviors that no longer apply to current circumstances, because they’ve been ingrained over generations.

Of course the expectation in a romance novel is that there’s a happily-ever-after or at least a happy beginning for a couple. However, it’s okay for men to be happy single. There’s no reason single women can’t be happy and have fulfilling lives. They’re actually in a better position to have a good partnership than if they go into one needy.

Me Too Connection

The idea that a woman needs to be attached harkens back to the bad old days when women were the property of their fathers, until they became the property of their husbands. That links to the attitude that men can do whatever they want with women and that once a woman’s been used, she’s inferior.

Rule #4 – My heroines will have meaningful lives.

My heroines will include suddenly and perpetually single women who are developing or already have meaningful activities in their lives beyond the traditional nurturing roles. They will talk with other women about things other than sex, relationships, fashion, and appearances. They will have non-romantic relationships with both men and women.

00A2011SheriCMYK

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Me Too & Writing Romance: Age

While I plan the release of Peg’s Story: In Search of Self, I’m still writing. I have several short stories that I’m turning into romance novels. I want to make sure nothing I write undermines women. Therefore, I’m looking at myths and making myself some rules. The third one is about age.

Myth #3 Women are less interested in sex as they age and men can’t get it up.

Have you noticed how the women in the Viagra ads always look twenty or more years younger than the men who need the pill? Even if they aren’t that much younger, the women have dyed their hair and taken care to look young, while men with a little gray at the temple are still considered sexy.

This age myth also feeds into the concept that the only reason that “nice ladies” have sex is for procreation (to make babies). It also supports the idea of women being “used up” if they’ve had too much sex. Really, get over this nonsense! The parts aren’t that fragile and menopause can be sexually liberating.

On the other side, pharmaceutical TV ads directed at consumers (in the U.S. – most countries don’t allow them) make it sound like most men over a certain age need help to perform. Of course, thanks to side effects of other medications that are pushed at older men, it’s often true. However, this focus on the man’s erection as the key to all sexual satisfaction is another misconception.

Bottom line: Sex is not only fun when it’s mutually satisfying, it’s healthy. Orgasm does good things to the body and skin to skin contact and all that touching is good for emotional and psychological health. We don’t age out of the desire for sex.

Me Too – Is ageism linked to the Me Too movement?

Well, one reason for older women to be less interested in sex, or more selective, is the accumulation of negative experiences with sexual aggressors and predators. So really, this is not entirely a myth. However, it should be.  

Rule #3 – My heroines will include mature women

My heroines will include mature women who are willing to risk a relationship and enjoy sex, despite previous negative experiences.Sheri2012RGB2inch

www.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Me Too & Writing Romance: The Boss

While I plan the release of Peg’s Story: In Search of Self, I’m still writing. I have several short stories that I’m turning into romance novels. I want to make sure nothing I write undermines women. Therefore, I’m looking at myths and making myself some rules. Heroines in romance novels interact with more than one person, so these rules aren’t just about the central romance.

Myth #2 – When it’s the boss, you have to put up with it or be rescued.

“It” means anything from rude sexual comments made in our presence all the way to rape on the desk. While a good hero will be supportive, I don’t want my heroines to be downtrodden until they are saved! It’s trickier when the job market is tight and the income is essential, but still, no one should be allowed to get their jollies by using or abusing another person, whether or not it’s sexual. Even if making a formal complaint seems too risky, there may be ways to deal with it directly.

Me too.

I was a young clerk working in a room with my manager and the assistant, both men. Neither of them ever made me uncomfortable. However, a guy on my manager’s level from a different department frequently came in and always tried to embarrass me with nasty stories and jokes. My manager felt anything he said would only make it worse, so with forethought, the next time that guy came into our department, I told a story nastier than any of his. He kept his conversation clean after that.

In another job, my boss suddenly reached out and grabbed my boob. I was bundled up, definitely not the least bit provocative. In shock, I yelled at him and told him if he ever did anything like that again, I’d tell his wife. He was proper with me thereafter.

Why did these tactics work? Sexual aggression is not about sex, it’s about power. In the first case, his power was in making me uncomfortable and I took that away when I turned the tables. In the second case, I went on the offensive, taking the power right away from him. Today, I’d have the option of filing a formal complaint or lawsuit, and if a situation persisted despite any other actions I took to correct it, I would.

Rule #2 – My heroines will stand up for themselves.

In any situation involving sexual or other harassment or aggression by a boss or other person in a position of power over them, my heroines will seize the power one way or another. Furthermore, my heroines and their love interests will treat each other with respect. Any power differential inherent in their positions (rich/poor, boss/employee, etc.) will not be abused. Any sexual interactions will be mutually desired.

Sheri2012RGB2inchwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Me Too & Writing Romance: Alcohol

While I plan the release of Peg’s Story: In Search of Self, I’m still writing. I have several short stories that are actually thumbnail sketches of longer romances, so I’m turning some into novels. I want to make sure nothing I write undermines women. Therefore, I’m looking at common myths about sex and making myself some rules. The first one is about alcohol.

Myth #1Sex is better after a few drinks

Alcohol lowers inhibitions. If it’s a situation that will lead to remorse (like bedding a friend’s mate), alcohol is obviously being used as an excuse. Where women are concerned, the idea that sex is better after a few drinks reinforces the underlying myths that nice ladies are reluctant to debase themselves that way or that good girls don’t get horny. It supports the dichotomy between “good women” or “nice girls” and the ones who are “easy” or “sluts”.

Physiologically, alcohol makes women less ready for sex. (This Cosmo article goes into that in more detail.) Just like men, women who have too much to drink are less likely to become fully aroused and achieve orgasm.

Alcohol also impairs judgment, which can lead to morning-after regrets. Whenever someone takes this on to denial and falsely cries rape, they impair the credibility of the person who said “no” or “stop” or struggled to get away or were too drunk to know what was happening. In fact, the common practice of having a few drinks to prepare for sex makes any sexual assault involving alcohol or drugs more difficult to prove.

 

Me too

When I was a teenager, two guys got me alone at a party and with clear intentions to take advantage of my impaired condition to have sex with me. Had they succeeded, that would have been rape. However, I was sober enough to deal with it by pretending to “come on” to the smaller one, which got rid of the other guy. By the time I could have walked away, I was feeling the effects of the alcohol I had willingly consumed earlier and was enjoying necking with him, so if we’d had sex at that point, I’d call it my stupidity, not rape – because I got myself drunk and I could have walked away once I had him alone. Fortunately, he’d had too much to drink anyway.

However, I was drugged and “taken advantage of” in college. I was at my desk working on my term paper, hoping the jerk who’d dropped in uninvited would take the hint and leave, then it was dark, we were naked, and he was on top of me and in me. My stomach burned for two days from whatever he put into my Coke. When I saw him on campus after break, I jumped into a relationship with a townie, spent most of the semester off campus or hiding in my room, then dropped out to get married. It took a couple decades to label that correctly as rape.

Rule #1My heroines will never drink to have sex.

They’ll have sex because they want to and being sober won’t stop them from being hot or wild. Whoever they’re with will turn them on, loosen them up, and give them satisfaction—no alcohol or drugs required.

Sheri2012RGB2inchwww.sherimcguinn.com

www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

 

 

 

 

 

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Quick note of support

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/who-will-remember-a-short-film-survival#/

Barbara Erysian, the screenwriter for the above project is the grandchild of a survivor of the Armenian Genocide. As a teenager, her grandmother survived, taking care of her little brother, with the help of Armenians, Turks, Greeks… It’s the story of survival from a child’s point of view, a worthy project to support human rights.

She’s a bit stiff, asking for money in front of a camera, but she’s an excellent writer  and, if you scroll on down below her video, she’s got some real pros working with her.

The current project is a short film that she hopes will generate support for a feature comparable to Schindler’s List. Even more important than raising funds for this short film, gathering numbers of supporters will demonstrate there is an audience, so even a few dollars can help.

$25 will get you into the credits.

Note: I had trouble getting the site to take my donation while using Edge, but it worked fine with Firefox.

BEpic

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Me Too + My Fiction

People always ask if the stories I write are about me. No, their stories are not mine.

But, yeah, #Me Too.

My fictional characters have more dramatic experiences than me, but Me Too. I was drugged and “taken advantage of” in my dorm room, as we mistakenly called it back then. I’ve worked in what they now call a hostile work environment more than once. Actually, if you include annoying garbage like the boy behind me in Spanish continually trying to undo my bra, there are too many incidents to list.

As a writer, I use all of it to make my fiction come alive.

In Running Away, Peg marries the wrong guy. He molests her daughter Maggie, who runs away because she’s sure no one will believe her. She’s right. Her mother’s first reaction is denial. Why? Because the predator skillfully manipulated each of them to damage their formerly strong bond. Fortunately for Maggie, her mom’s denial doesn’t last long.

When Peg’s telling a co-worker how she wants to drop everything and go look for Maggie herself, she tells him she ran away at the same age and “My parents thought I was dead for ten years.” The novel is as much about the mother as the daughter. Peg’s been running away from her past all her life.

I didn’t convey that clearly to agents or editors, so I ended up self-publishing. When I sold the screenplay, I never got to talk with the director and with the addition of a few short scenes, he changed the mom’s backstory and made the villain obviously evil. While most of the script is still mine and Running Away is a good Lifetime movie, someday I hope to see it redone with my characters and the theme as intended.

Meanwhile, readers asked for Peg’s story and I’ve finally finished it. While it starts while she’s an innocent teen, it’s her “Me Too” story and the long way back to liking herself enough to be comfortable with all of her past. It will be released later this year.

Keep an eye out for it: Peg’s Story: In Search of Self.

Sheri2012RGB2inchwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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Looking Forward

Happy New Year!

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions—of course I want to lose weight, exercise regularly, and waste less time on mahjong. In defense of mahjong, it leads to a meditative-type state where I often come up with good ideas. However, so does walking and that’s much healthier for me.

Setting goals is different. I do that every December for the coming year.

Three is a good number: Two personal and one for my writing. The writing goal comes first and involves the most detail. I set a modest dollar amount—a measurable goal that I can reasonably achieve by selling some short stories, by increasing book sales through better promotion and distribution, and by doing self-publishing workshops.

However, having a goal with no plan probably wouldn’t lead to success—and I want to succeed. As I considered what needed to be done, the plan fell naturally into outline form.

I have three objectives for my writing goal. Each requires certain steps be taken and each step requires actions. I’ll probably add actions along the way, but the direction is established.

This is what the outline for the first objective looks like:20171228Goalsfor2018
My modest writing goal does not depend on luck. It depends on planning and sustained effort. Selling scripts or hitting best seller lists with my new novel will involve luck—getting to the right people at the right time. However, the actions I’ll be taking to achieve my modest goal may increase the odds of that luck coming my way, in which case I’ll happily exceed my goal.

Sheri2012RGB2inchwww.sherimcguinn.com
www.amazon.com/author/sherimcguinn

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