What Screenwriters Can Learn from Romance Writers
Through snow, and hail, and wind, and rain, I travel the globe.
It’s all part of my mission: the bringing of da Cat!
And I love it!
Last week my peregrinations took me to Austin, Texas and Charleston, South Carolina and apart from an unexpected layover in Atlanta (thanks a pantload, Delta!), my trip was like so many of my adventures: an opportunity for me to learn as much as teach.
I was in Austin on behalf of Final Draft (that I will have more to say about shortly). In addition to attending a fascinating educational conference, I got to speak to Stuart Kelban’s screenwriting class at University of Texas. A fantastic group of writers! A great get-together.
By Friday, I was in Charleston, which I’d never visited before. Though I was unable to take more than a cursory look around, what a gorgeous city!
And by Saturday morning it was just me and 10 women locked in a country-club banquet room.
Am I a lucky guy or what?
These 10 ladies represented the very successful members of the Lowcountry Romance Writers of America (LRWA), the local chapter, and one of hundreds of the national organization, the Romance Writers of America (RWA). As we went around the room Saturday morning, as I do every workshop, introducing ourselves and listing our accomplishments, these were writers with multiple books in print, and all in demand by agents and publishers.
As the weekend proceeded, it was clear why they are so successful and what screenwriters can learn from their method.
For one, these are writers who embrace story structure as part of their writing routine. To sell to the many categories that fall under the heading “Romance Novel” (and be impressed because 50% of all paperbacks sold in the U.S. fall into this category) — from suspense thrillers to erotica to series writing with a pre-established format — writers wanting to succeed embrace the challenge of structure. And though each genre is a little different, RWA writers know the ins and outs of every one. Most of the writers I met discovered Save the Cat! as part of their discipline, and like screenwriters, find the BS2 to be a great help.
Nina Bruhns, who organized the event, is pure delight! An award-winning writer in both series and single title novels, she told me another secret of success for romance writers is networking. The national RWA approves and oversees all of its local chapters and their activities.
And what a positive, proactive organization they are.
Under the RWA aegis, writers meet on a regular basis to pitch and share their stories, but also share resources. My agent may not handle a particular novel I’m working on, but she may be able to help you is their attitude. And I saw examples like this throughout the weekend.
In my experience coming up the ranks as a screenwriter, this kind of networking was unheard of. I was the anomaly in my crowd, forever the guy who would call you up on the day your movie premiered to offer real, heartfelt congratulations — often a gesture met with more suspicion than gratitude. But I really think it’s the kind of reaching out that is vital — and these writers prove how effective networking can be.
The other thing I realized as we worked through our stories was how good these writers were at problem solving. It is due in large part to their study of structure — studios take note! By Sunday afternoon, we had 10 great pitches, complete, well told and target-marketed stories that were each vastly different in style and tone, but hit their marks perfectly!
The proactive spirit that pervaded our weekend was eye-opening to me; it is something I hope we can emulate in our Cat! screenwriting groups — and one of many lessons screenwriters can learn from this very well-organized and results-oriented organization.
I will be speaking to the RWA convention in San Francisco this summer and look forward to meeting up with these writers again. I had a ball in Charleston!
And I learned a lot too!
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