“To Tease or Not To Tease, That is the Question.” William Shakespeare [sort of]

Ahh, the ever-popular teaser. And no, I’m not talking about that chick in tenth grade English who turned out to have a boyfriend the entire time you were her pro-bono tutor. I’m talking about the first sequence in a TV episode, often the pilot, that grabs your attention and keeps you watching until the closing credits. Also known as the “cold open” (or the “prologue” if you write novels).

Prologues in fiction writing are generally frowned upon, but it seems they’re almost ubiquitous in the TV world. Especially if you, like me, are writing a TV drama that has a unique world with it’s own rules AND introduces a lot more questions than it answers in the first episode.

However, there are so many AWESOME ways to write a teaser, and so many potential options that would lead into my story, I’m feeling a little stuck.

That’s where you, Dear Reader, come in. Everyone has opinions, especially about shows you love, so I’m leaving this very important question to you. And since I’m only 1.5% tech savvy (and, alas, online surveys are not in that 1.5%), it’s going to be a manual survey.

All you have to do is comment with your preference (A, B, C, etc). Bonus points if you write something about WHY you prefer that type of cold open or give an EXAMPLE that I could watch/read. Bonus points are redeemable for a shout-out on my author Facebook page or being mentioned in a Tweet. Please let me know if you do not want either of those things. If you are interested, give me your twitter handle (and follow me) or like me on Facebook so I can do the honors.

What is your favorite type of teaser or one that stuck with you the most? Some examples are:

  1. The teaser about things to come later in the same episode. A famous example is the scene in the Breaking Bad pilot, which has Walter White riding down a desert highway in an RV wearing only tighty whities and a gas mask. The scene ends abruptly and the next scene picks up well BEFORE that scene. The rest of the pilot shows us how Walter White got to the point that he was driving down a desert highway in an RV wearing only tighty whities and a gas mask…and then FINISHES the scene (because we’ve been watching to find out what happens the whole hour). Awesome cold open, but maybe a little overused at this point?
  2. The teaser about things to come later in the season. Very similar to A. How To Get Away With Murder does this, but in an interesting way. The same opening scene gets called back several times throughout the first episode, along with other scenes, and I get the sense this will happen all throughout season 1. This is a FLASH FORWARD to things that we know will be explained by season’s end. It also introduces an OBJECT (the trophy) that starts to become its own character, because every time we see that trophy during the main story, it feels extremely important and our eyes/ears perk up.
  3. The cold open/voice-over that hints at drama to come in the season. This particular voice-over establishes that what we are watching (the main story) has taken place in the past. The episodes all have a sprinkling of this voice-over until finally all is known at the end and we discover what we thought we knew is not the whole story. This is a great way to utilize an unreliable narrator without making your audience feel lied to (e.g. Bloodline).
  4. The cold open with a scene of the bad guy/girl being bad, therefore establishing the tone of the show as well as the nature of the antagonist without necessarily diving right into the story. This is a great way to utilize that first screen time for your villain.
  5. A scene in real-time with the main story but with seemingly unrelated characters and/or location. We know there has to be a connection and therefore are really engaged in the story from the get-go, trying to put the pieces together.
  6. An emotional scene that immediately draws in the audience, creates lots of questions/curiosity, and carries the promise that all will be understood at a later time.
  7. A flashback that helps set up the backstory or promises that more will be explained as we go along.
  8. A genre-specific teaser where someone (possibly someone not important to the story) makes a discovery, is killed, etc. These are common in episodic crime shows (e.g. CSI and the like).
  9. Other (please explain)

One thing I alluded to above but want to reiterate is this:

TV audiences want to figure out the puzzle. We expect to have to work for it. We’ll pay closer attention if we are looking for a clue, or an Easter egg. However, we writers need to be sure to pay off any loaded guns we include in our scripts. There’s nothing more frustrating than watching something with a question in mind and never getting the answer.

I got some of the teaser info from Pilar Alessandra’s book, The Coffee Break Screenwriter. Good stuff. Other good info on teasers can be found on the No Film School website  and the Paper Team podcast.

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” -Jaws, 1975

Well, hello there, reader. It’s been awhile, I know. I’ve been getting a little distracted with life and letting things interfere with my writing, but I wanted to hop on here and do something I’ve not done before.

I’m going to put myself out there. And by that, I mean I’m going to share my goals for the year with the internet. I’m doing this because

1) I need people to hold me accountable and

2) it might just encourage someone to put themselves out there, too.

It’s too easy to hold your wishes, dreams, and desires close to your chest and think “If I’m lucky enough, they’ll happen. If not, no one has to know.” It’s a lot harder to go for them publicly and risk failure.

I quit my job to write. There, I said it. And with saying it, it becomes so much more heavy. More real. This is not a “sabbatical” or a “vacation.” I am trying to succeed at something that’s extremely hard to break into. I may fail. And all of you will be witnesses to that failure. But I sure can’t justify half-arsing it now, can I?

My birthday is today. And next year is kind of a big birthday for me. I have some goals that I want to accomplish between now and then. Some of them I know I can achieve and some are admittedly long shots. I’m putting all my dreams and wishes out there for your rubber-necking pleasure and my potential humiliation.

Here goes nothing (aka everything):

 

I know I can:

[ ] Complete a 1-hour TV pilot and Show Bible

[ ] Polish my feature screenplay

[ ] Work on marketing my existing book (What They Don’t Know) for sales and potential movie opportunities

[ ] Find a public domain story to tell in my own unique way (public domain = you don’t have to pay for rights because there is no copyright; examples are fairy tales, Bible stories, etc)

[ ] Find some good, original IP (intellectual property, e.g. someone that has a good life story and wants help writing it)

[ ] Enter competitions for my TV pilot when ready, and possibly screenplay as well

[ ] Make at least one contact in the film or TV business

[ ] Write 6 days a week

[ ] Post about my progress once a week

 

I think I can:

[ ] Place in a writing competition

[ ] Attend a writing conference

[ ] Take a trip to LA

 

I hope I can:

[ ] Be askedto LA for meetings

[ ] Get an agent and/or manager

[ ] Sell something!

[ ] Earn an assignment that pays!

 

So this is me, grabbing the bull by the horns and dragging you along for the ride because…you know, accountability. Throughout the year, I will periodically add to this list and hopefully cross some things off as well.

And if even half the stuff on this list happens, I’m gonna need a bigger [metaphorical] boat.

Book Review: The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth by Leonard Goldberg

Joanna Blalock returns in the third and final installment of the Daughter of Sherlock Holmes trilogy to solve her most challenging – and arguably most important – mystery yet. A physician colleague of her father-in-law, the one-and-only Watson, has just made a most disturbing house call. After being taken to an undisclosed location to evaluate a man with abdominal pain, he has become convinced that his patient is actually a prisoner.

In The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth, Joanna must not only figure out who was kidnapped, but why, how, and where. It is only when armed with all this knowledge that she can put together the pieces of a puzzle that, if unsolved, threatens to compromise Britain’s position in The Great War.

Alistair Ainsworth is a top cryptographer in the British government. He has been kidnapped by the Germans because of his important role in the war effort. If they are able to break him before he is recovered by the Scotland Yard, Germany will be privy to all of England’s war secrets. The stakes could not be higher as the daughter of Sherlock Holmes is brought onto the case. As the clock ticks, she must combine all the pieces and discover the traitor in their midst.

True to her relaxed and unpressured style, Joanna sets about to save the day once again. Never one to succumb to her emotions, she takes each new piece of information and mulls it over, often with a Turkish cigarette in hand. She sees every nuance of a person’s behavior and processes it. No one is presumed innocent or guilty until the facts demand it – but the facts are subtle and often appreciated by Joanna alone until made clear to all by her straightforward and indisputable explanations. As always, once Joanna has explained her thought process, the facts of the case can be seen no other way.

Alistair’s counterparts in the Admiralty Club, a government-run code-breaking unit, work tirelessly to interpret a message intercepted from the German spies. They are sure it’s a hidden clue from their friend. But before the message can be decoded, one of the top suspects from within the cryptographer unit is found murdered – only seconds away from solving the mystery of the code. It is more important than ever that they discover the identity of the traitor in their midst and find Alistair before it is too late and he is forced to reveal more government secrets.

In this compelling stand-alone sequel, no conclusion is obvious and no information can be taken for granted. The reader is along for the ride, never ahead of Joanna in her predictions but also rarely far behind. From specific brands of cigarettes to the sound made by a carriage over a cobblestone road, nothing is too small a detail to be ignored. Without each individual piece of evidence, the story cannot be solved and Alistair will remain a German prisoner.

Goldberg once more transports his readers back in time. We ride with Joanna in a horse-drawn carriage and enjoy a meal of chicken cordon bleu at a fancy French restaurant. We commune with the people of London circa 1915 and become part of the war effort. We begin to think of Joanna as a friend and confidant, and only as the last pages are turned and the book closed for the final time are we spit back into reality, where there exists no one like Joanna Blalock and where most questions can be answered with a quick Google search.

Book Review: A Study in Treason by Leonard Goldberg

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A top-secret treaty has been stolen from the Halifax estate in the English countryside and, if leaked into the wrong hands, could see England brought into a war with Germany as a significant underdog. Joanna Blalock, brilliant daughter of Sherlock Holmes (and knowledgeable of all things trivial by her own right) takes readers on another eventful investigation in A Study in Treason, the stand-alone sequel to The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes, the RT Book Reviewers Choice for Best Historic Mystery Novel in 2017.

When Joanna Blalock is brought onto the case, her relaxed, non-pressured style of solving the mystery is immediately at odds with the professionals of Scotland Yard. Like the true clinician she is, she approaches each conundrum with true curiosity and discernment. At each step of the way, she utilizes Ockham’s Razor: “Plurality ought never be posed without necessity,” or more simply stated, “The most unifying explanation is most likely to be correct.” While Scotland Yard’s inspectors grab hold of their first suspect for dear life, explaining away contradictions and impossibilities right and left, Joanna has the humility and good grace to accept that if an answer doesn’t make sense, it is likely because she doesn’t yet have all the facts. In this way, she stalwartly seeks out the facts and thereby appears to let the mystery solve itself.

Set in the early 1900s, with much of the action taking place in an inn and estate far from the bustling city of London, the novel transports its reader to a simpler time. The dialogue, the dress, the way of doing things (for example, the treaty was stolen while being hand-copied for the purpose of creating duplicate records) all are in stark contrast to today’s digital world. But the point is made throughout the novel that no matter how simple a setting seems, there is villainy is every place and every time, and it is often much more easily disguised in a place like Hampshire and a time like 1914.

As potential witnesses are murdered and the prime suspect goes into hiding, seeming to prove his guilt, Joanna and her companions must put the pieces together in a way that makes sense start to finish. Only once they have done this can the culprit can be flushed out.

Goldberg is true to his characters throughout the novel. Joanna is a strong and bold woman. She is well-bred, but makes no apologies for speaking out of turn or contradicting her male counterparts at Scotland Yard. Her husband, Dr. John Watson, along with her father-in-law, the original Watson, are also along for the ride. The two men have their own individual skills and knowledge to add to the investigation. The cast of domestic workers, inn employees, and members of the Halifax family each have their roles, and their own information to offer to the investigation, often without even realizing it. And Goldberg stays true to each story to the very end. With each i dotted and each tcrossed, the reader is not left with a single inkling of dissatisfaction, but with that glorious “it was there all along” feeling that is a necessity with every good surprise ending.

Purchase A Study in Treason here.

I’m Going to Live Vicariously Through My Kids (and I’m going to love every second of it)

Before I had kids I had this charming notion they would be little half-people. You know, half me and half my husband. My two favorite people in the whole world! What’s not to love?

What I’ve realized since having kids – and especially since seeing them start developing their personalities – is that while, yes, they get their genes from their parents, they are 100% their own little dudes.

Watching my older son walk into his classroom and be greeted by his friends of all different colors and backgrounds makes my heart swell with pride. They love him simply because he’s so fun to be around. He approaches every game, every song, every dance with a joie de vivre that is so natural you can’t help but want in on it. Even if his clothes don’t match (sometimes) or his hair is matted and sticking up crazily on the back of his head (usually), these kids greet him with excitement and open arms. That’s all him. But the corollary of this passionate approach to life is that he wears his heart on his sleeve. Now that – that’s all me.

The other day, my son got his feelings hurt. No, let’s not downplay it. He got his heart broken. A friend didn’t want to play with him anymore, and he cried bitter, bitter tears. I held him and tried to say what a parent should in that moment, without knowing the whole story: “he’ll want to play with you tomorrow” (it’s amazing how often these deferred promises work for my kid), “next time let’s make sure we share” (just in case it was his fault), and “do you want to watch something on TV?” (don’t judge, I was desperate). As I sat on the couch with him and the sobs slowed down, his friend showed up at the front door. He’d had a change of heart. They happily picked up where they’d left off, and the drama was forgotten. At one point, my son broke away to grab another toy and detoured to the kitchen on his way back to his friend. He whispered loudly, happily: “I’m having so much fun!”

That experience instantly transported me back to my own childhood. I felt the ache in my chest, the hopelessness of a friend’s rejection, like it was my own heart breaking. And it was. To watch this happen to my son, knowing exactly how he felt, was to experience it myself. The most well-written book or brilliantly acted drama could not elicit the feelings that consumed me while sitting on that couch with my first-born. Because there it was, there was the part of me in him. More than his eyes or his white-blond hair, he inherited this vulnerability from me.

I remember when I realized my husband was the last person I would ever kiss. Part of me felt just a little sad that I would never again experience that glorious, free-falling sensation of new love. The delirious, heady tingling right before a first kiss. Even the all-consuming break-up when you know for a fact you will never love again… Of course, it’s a good trade-off. It’s the point all those first kisses and heartbreaks are designed to get you to. But it’s still a little bittersweet.

Now I know I was wrong about all that. I will experience the ecstasy of a first kiss again. I will ride the roller coaster of new love. I will be crippled by a broken heart. It just won’t be my own.

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” –Elizabeth Stone

How to Throw an Out-of-this-World Book Launch

1. Pick a phenomenal venue. We’re talking the kind of place where the owners and staff know you by name and have your favorite drink waiting for you when you arrive. Where the food is delicious and the service is just right. A place that fits you like an old shoe.

2. Be sure to have an amazing cadre of friends and family. You know, people who are happy for you and genuinely wish you well. Their smiling faces will really make your night – and make the photos look amazing. And on that note…

 

3. Find someone who can work magic with a camera. Like a wedding, a book launch only happens once…at least until the next, uh, book comes along. So be sure you document every delicious moment.

 

4. Oh yeah, be sure to bring your book. After all, it is sort of the guest of honor.

5. …And a pen. You, who have spent your life signing credit card receipts, will suddenly be asked to write your name in a book. A book that you wrote. To make it special. Enjoy basking in that feeling.

6. Show your appreciation. While it would be nice to shower your guests with Dom Perignon and caviar, it may not be practical. But they are spending their night with you to support you, which is invaluable. Do what you can to make sure their time is well spent. And be sure to say thank you.

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What They Don’t Know

A great review of What They Don’t Know! (click “view original post” to see the review)

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What They Don’t Know by K.V. Scruggs

What they don’t know can’t hurt them…or can it?

In the year 2030, the government has seized control of healthcare. Routine treatment is administered to patients and monitored via in-home telemedicine. Hospitals have been replaced by Centers for Standardized Medicine (CSM). No one is a bigger proponent of the changes than reporter Cheyenne Rose, who lost her mother shortly after the Healthcare Crash of 2018 and her fiancé ten years later after a freak accident.

Despite her incredible success and popularity, her life feels empty. Then she meets the Reid family and feels drawn to their simple and honest love for each other. When eight-year-old Ridge Reid’s younger brother develops kidney failure, he agrees to donate one of his kidneys to save his brother’s life. But Ridge unexpectedly dies on the table, and the doctor who performed the surgery vanishes.

Faced with a…

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