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Folding Paper Airplanes with Jennifer Arzt

Atticus Books sat down recently (OK, we exchanged a series of fruitful e-mails) with Script Frenzy program director Jennifer Arzt to discuss the craft of writing.

This interview is the first in the “Breaking Banana Bread” series hosted by Atticus Books. The goal of the series is to offer insight to the personalities and movers and shakers behind the publishing industry.

What follows are Jennifer Arzt’s responses to questions and phrases posed by publisher Dan Cafaro. Authors, pay heed of Jennifer’s infectious enthusiasm for what Norman Mailer called “the ghostly art.”

Writing every day is a habit I first learned when taking part in Script Frenzy 2007. It was amazing how much my story benefited from daily attention. Even if I couldn’t give it more than 30 minutes, getting into it for just a bit each day helped tremendously. I hope that everyone who starts Script Frenzy sees that coming true for them after the first week. Writing every day does amazing things for the story and the storyteller.

The difference between scriptwriting and writing prose is huge and tiny all at once. A story is a story is a story. A script tells a story just like prose. The major difference is what is left out. There isn’t much room (or need) for elaborate descriptions of locations, costumes, etc. A script will be given to a crew, interpreted, and made into something. The scriptwriter’s job is to lead the production team down the story path, but not spell out every detail.

Thinking visually is how I tell stories. I see the story, then search for the words to explain the movie playing in my imagination.

A writer’s ambitions are only as good as what gets written.

The creative process comes in fits and starts. You just have to trust that. Some days it’ll come easily and be a lovely place to hang out in. Other days, you may have a great feeling about the scene you’re about to dive into only to find within minutes that it isn’t going to work they way you planned. The bad days can sneak up on you, but they can also fade fast. The creative process is something you have to stick with. It requires you to work, to be there, and to try. And if definitely doesn’t work without you.

Do forums such as Script Frenzy and NaNoWriMo help change the view of writing as a lonely art form?
I hope so! We provide a few things to help writers feel like they are in the company of other writers such as a common goal and deadline, online forums, and in-person events. Write-ins literally get people into one room to bash out their scripts at the same time. But more importantly, Script Frenzy and NaNoWriMo prove that there are thousands of people out there excited about writing and being part of a group.

Our primary goal at Script Frenzy is to inspire people to try something creative. Script Frenzy is a writing event, but at its heart it is much more than than. It is time to work on a creative project—something that has been on the back burner for ages or a brand new endeavor.

Effective writing is rewriting.

When does a writer know she has hit her stride?
I think it is different for everyone. After three years of scriptwriting I don’t feel like I’ve hit my stride, but I think I’ve gotten a better hold on it every time I write a page.

What is more important, plot or pithy dialogue?
They are equally important. I think that plot and character are so intertwined that you can’t have one without the other. Without a plot that the audience is interested in, the best written dialogue doesn’t have much impact. And the reverse is also true! A great plot must be moved forward by characters.

In a first draft, should a writer strive for quantity or quality?
Between quantity and quality, I’d have to say quantity. But I think the first draft really needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. It needs to be something that gets the story onto the page so the second draft can be started with a solid understanding of the story.

A blank page needs a couple of folds to become a paper airplane.

Watching movies is the best, most productive means of procrastination in April.

Attending live theater reminds me of the risks actors take to bring the written word to life.

Sharing your work with others can be the most helpful thing. Getting feedback from trusted friends is one of the most valuable tools a writer has when revising.

After the April event is complete, what are the future plans for Script Frenzy?
Script Frenzy runs every April. In between events we take a look at what worked previously, and what needs improvement. Each year we see new trends emerging from our participants and we try to craft our resources to match.

The ending of a script usually gets written halfway through April. I always try to save it until the last day of writing the first draft so I can hop off the ride at the same time my characters do, but that hasn’t happened yet. Somewhere around page 50 my story often seems to unravel, so I jump to the end to really define where I’m trying to go.

Should a writer seek resolutions to all of the conflicts created – or is it OK to leave some of the guesswork to the reader?
Readers and viewers are a smart crew. I think leaving things up to them to puzzle out is a great thing to do. Stories that stick with me the most have both hit a nerve and involved me.

A cliffhanger is why I watch all TV shows on DVD.

APRIL 2010 WRITING EVENT

Script Frenzy is an international writing event in which participants take on the challenge of writing 100 pages of scripted material in the month of April. As part of a donation-funded nonprofit, Script Frenzy charges no fee to participate; there are also no valuable prizes awarded or “best” scripts singled out. Every writer who completes the goal of 100 pages is victorious and awe-inspiring and will receive a handsome Script Frenzy Winner’s Certificate and web icon proclaiming this fact.

More than 15,000 participants are currently registered to compete against themselves and the empty page.

ABOUT OUR INTERVIEWEE

Jennifer Arzt is the program director of Script Frenzy.  She holds an MFA in Film, Television, and Recording Arts where she pursued writing, directing, and producing. Her films have appeared in festivals around the country. She made her parents proud when she won the Directors Guild of America Student Film Award.

Prior to film school, Jennifer considered careers in lion taming, SCUBA diving, toy store management, and time traveling.

Some of Jen’s writings can be found at http://www.hypercalm.com

About Atticus Books

Atticus Books is a fiery multimedia press based in Madison, N.J. We specialize in genre-busting literary fiction and compelling narratives that feature memorable main characters. Contrary to conventional wisdom, we receive no nourishment from Uncle Sam, nor do we eat small children for breakfast. We do nurture the creative minds and bruised egos of starving writers worldwide.

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