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Image via Reddit

Aaron Sorkin is one of the best known and most influential screenwriters working today. He received four Primetime Emmy Awards for ‘The West Wing’ and won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2011 for ‘The Social Network’.

Earlier this week Sorkin participated in an Ask Me Asking session on Reddit to help promote his new online screenwriting class. When Sorkin was asked how much of a character’s backstory he knows before he writes, he provided the following insightful answer:

I don’t like to commit myself to anything in a character’s backstory until I have to. I didn’t know going into the West Wing that Bartlet had MS. Then, along came an episode where I needed to introduce the idea that the First Lady (Dr. Channing) was a medical doctor. And the way I did it was by giving Bartlet MS.

David Mamet have written some excellent essays on this subject. You can get lost in the weeds if you sit down and try to create an entire biography for your character. If this is what they were like when they were six years old, and this is what they did when they were seven years old, and they scraped their knee when they were eight years old. Your character, assuming your character is 50 years old, was never six years old, or seven years old or eight years old. Your character was born the moment the curtain goes up, the moment the movie begins, the moment the television show begins, and your character dies as soon as it’s over. Your character only becomes seven years old when they say, “Well when I was seven years old, I fell in a well, and ever since then I’ve had terrible claustrophobia. Okay?

Characters and people aren’t the same thing. They only look alike.

I write a lot of drafts of screenplays and plays. I keep writing and I keep writing; what I try to do at the beginning is just get to the end. Once I’ve gotten to the end, I know a lot more about the piece, and I’m able to go back to the beginning and touch stuff that never turned into anything, and highlight things that are going to become important later on. And I go back, and I keep doing that, and I keep doing that, and I’ll retype the whole script, over and over again, just to make things sharper and sharper. That’s for movies and plays. In television, there just isn’t that kind of time. In television, I have to write a 55-minute movie every nine days, so we shoot my first draft.

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Literary Magazines for New and Unpublished Writers 2016

Our previous lists of magazines that welcome submissions from new and previously unpublished writers (see here and here) have both received a huge amount of positive feedback. So, by popular demand, here are 15 more literary magazines that are happy to hear from writers who may not had their work published before.

Before you rush to start sending your latest story to every magazine on the list, Eva Langston from Carve Magazine has some excellent advice to help you avoid the mistakes writers most commonly make when submitting their work for publication. Also check out this step-by-step guide to submitting your work from the editorial team at Neon.

1. The City Quill
is a new literary magazine exclusively for previously unpublished writers (they won’t hold school newspapers or personal blogs against you but you shouldn’t submit your work to The City Quill if you ever had a journal, anthology or magazine). Fiction writers may submit up to two stories of 2500 words each, and non-fiction and poetry are also accepted. You don’t need to pay a submission fee but, for a small charge, you can have your work read and critiqued by a City Quill editor within two weeks.

2. Spry
is a literary journal that features undiscovered writers, as well as the work of more established voices. The editors, two recent graduates of the MFA program at Fairfield University, seek work that is concise, experimental, hybrid, or flashy and all submissions are read blind. Submissions for issue eight are currently open.
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Classic Mega Man . . . storytelling gets inventive when your main character can’t speak.
Image: Brian Talbot, CC BY-NC

A post by Brooke Maggs

Imagine writing a story where the first thing the “reader” asks when they begin is: what do I do?

The answer might be one or all of these things: explore, survive, observe, solve, form a strategy, make decisions.

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A post by Rebecca Makkai

You probably knew, when you started writing, that you’d signed on for murder. I was warned well in advance: One of my favorite childhood books was Lois Lowry’s The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline, in which the title character finds the notebook of the man her mother is dating. “Eliminate the kids,” one note says. She and her brother swing into crime-fighting mode, only to discover in the end that this man, a writer, was talking about editing characters out of his work-in-progress.

Later, as I studied writing, I’d hear authors lament the characters they’d had to erase from draft two, the ones who “felt like real people” to them. Or they’d talk about the ones they kept around because, despite the fact that they served no real purpose in the narrative, they’d become old friends.

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Why Your Rejection Letter Means Nothing

Dan Burgess, editor-in-chief of literary magazine Firewords, shares an editor’s perspective on the loathed but unavoidable reality of rejection letters.

At a recent book fair, we were talking to several writers about their experiences of submitting to literary journals. It was surprising to hear that they had all given up trying after receiving rejections.

We were aghast and quickly reassured them that they shouldn’t take rejections personally. We know (first hand!) that rejections are hard to take, which is why we try to give personal feedback to every single submission we receive, even though it makes our job infinitely harder (we’ll go into our reasons for giving feedback in a later blog).

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Taking Your Notebook for a Walk An A to K of Places to Write

What to do there and why it’s good for you

A guest post by Shaun Levin
The second half of the A to Z of Places to Write can be seen here.

I like taking notes. I believe in the importance of notebooks. If you don’t trust me, listen to Joan Didion. A notebook is like a dream diary but for when you’re out of bed. It doesn’t need a plan or a story or a novel that’s being worked on; just an openness to what’s out there, and a quiet faith that whatever gets written will find a place in the greater project that is your work. Below are a few more places to write, with suggestions of what to do there. Many of the suggested exercises would work in other places, too.

“The habit of note taking is obviously compulsive . . . Our culture’s need to pigeonhole everything is defeated in these notebooks. Spontaneity rules here. The writer incorporates chances and makes do with the unforeseen.”
Charles Simic

A is for Art Gallery

What to do there: Pick a painting to work with. Go for something figurative. Tell its story in detail as if you’re describing a scene. Stay within the frame. Focus on describing what you see before moving into “story”. When you’ve written for at least 20 minutes, allow yourself only one reference to what’s going on beyond the frame. Come back to describing what’s in the frame. For inspiration on ways to use your description in a story, read Don Delilo’s story ‘Baader-Meinhof’.

Why it’s good for you: Discipline. Playing with restrictions. Ekphrasis expands your repertoire.

A is also for: Aviary, Amusement Park, Airport,

B is for Beauty Salon

What to do there: Write about bodies and body language. Write about different parts of the body and how they are treated: nails, hair, body hair, the face. Notice how people touch each other and avoid touching. Write about what people do to their bodies and have done to them. Follow one person and record what they do. Later, rewrite this as a set of actions or instructions to an understudy. For an example of how it’s done, read Jamaica Kincaid’s story ‘Girl’.

Why it’s good for you: Observing body language. Experimenting with list stories. See also Joe Brainard’s book I Remember.

B is also for: Bus, Boat, Bookshop, Bakery, Barbers, Bank.

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A woman reads a tablet beside a fire pit on cold winter evening outside the Science Center at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts February 18, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT) - RTR4Q65X

Young adult literature is booming – and the secret is in the communities of young book lovers forming online. Photo: Brian Snyder

A post by Marcella Purnama and Mark Davis, University of Melbourne

Before JK Rowling, critics and experts predicted that young adult (YA) literature would finally die, as sales continued to decline. In 1997, a mere 3,000 YA books were published. A decade later that number was 30,000.

The success of Harry Potter changed everything. YA is now embraced by teenagers and adults alike – a 2012 Bowker Market Research study in the US found that 55 per cent of people buying YA books are over 18.

We’re currently living in the second golden age of YA literature. But why is there a sudden demand for these coming-of-age books?

Apart from the undeniable quality of the books themselves, a generation of online readers are creating new ways to discuss, dissect and celebrate their favourite stories. And it’s driving sales in a big way.

Take John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (2012). It reached #1 on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller lists six months before the book was published. It received thousands of five-star reviews, ranked by readers who hadn’t even held their copies.

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