On the Verge
A Writing Addict's Quest to See Where
Curiosity Insanity Takes
By Cardinal Robbins
By Cardinal Robbins
Last time, I shared what my obsession with writing feels like, as well as what it's like when your favorite author seems sent from Above to convey one clear message: Do. Not. Quit. EVER.
You just cannot argue with that when it happens. If you haven't received your 'cosmic intervention' yet, you will. A song on the radio playing every time you make tangible progress, a friend who tells you something they've never said to you before, a kind soul who takes you aside – while knowing little about you – explaining you're golden, you dare not stop now. Yes...you're on the verge.
The first thing you'll feel is overwhelmed. I remember the first time, thinking, If I'm genuinely supposed to do this, why am I feeling pulled in ten thousand different directions? Because it'stime to sit down, take a deep breath, then ask yourself, What is my heart's desire? A novel? A play? The urge to storm Hollywood with the latest, greatest script about something no one has seen before? Think about what grabs and holds on to your passion. (Not some “Fifty Shades of Gray” throbbing of the er...'heart'...either. That's not the passion we're talking about here.) If you have a near compulsion to share something with others via the written word, that is where you begin – with hard decisions.
Here's how it shook out with yours truly: I'm an avid fan of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” because of an extremely talented fellow by the name of Richard Belzer. I can quote chapter and verse when it comes to his character, Det. Sgt. John Munch, whose fame began on “Homicide” and carried into at least ten shows. (More like twelve or so, but who's counting?)
Richard's character was under-utilized in most seasons of the show. Sure, he was definitely a strong presence thanks to his natural charisma, but rarely did the writers dig deep and give him a script featuring his character as it should have been written.
Here's where it gets weird. (There will be a lot of this, expect it.) I hung pretty tight with fellow Belzer fans online. As I got to know increasingly greater numbers of people, they learned that writing was something I loved, that I wanted to write again after a two-year hiatus from having written live content for Apple. When I mentioned my determination to write a spec script for SVU, an ensemble story revolving around Munch, they practically carried me to a mecca of...don't cringe and roll your eyes!...fanfic. Yes, fan fiction.
Fanfic has always had a bad reputation for being nothing more than Mary Sue/Marty Stu tales featuring unbelievably perfect gals or guys who could do anything and everything to the extreme. She sings well enough the Metropolitan Opera didn't even need her to audition? Check. He's lost 542 pounds and now has a perfect 30-inch waist with no stretch marks or sagging skin? Check. Sparkly vampire who doesn't incinerate on the beach and wears silver chains? Check. Every one of us has seen at least one Mary Sue or Marty Stu and have the crow's feet at the corners of our eyes from all the cringing.
My friends in fandom asked me to write some John Munch fanfic for them. I complied because, who better than hardcore SVU fans to bluntly tell me whether or not I'm writing those characters accurately?
You might be surprised, but writing good fanfic such an educational process I found articles recommending all would-be spec script writers need to spend some serious time writing fanfic for fans of the show in question. Why? Dedicated fans will tell you if you're on target or need to hang it up. And tell you they will, in no uncertain terms. These people (myself included) will give you invaluable feedback faster than any script doctor you've paid a small fortune to – and the feedback is free.
NO sparkly vampires in my fanfic! You could practically smell the gunshot residue on John's hands. I kept him in danger of losing his badge, his pension and – more than a few times – his life. My fiction passed the test, thanks to kind souls who generously took the time to give honest critiques. I was getting close to taking the next step.
During this time, keeping in mind all of this took place over 2001 through right now, lit agents had begun to drill it into every prospective author that we need a platform and a brand. Brand, BRAND, BRAND. (“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”) Fanfic was not only the greatest practice, it also gave me plenty of time to consider how I wanted to present myself to the world. Admittedly, it took me a while to figure out this “brand” stuff. I can market the daylights out of everyone else, but was flummoxed at the prospects of doing the same for myself.
Eventually, it fell into place. I had been using my pseudonym for years, mostly to remain safe on the internet. Almost suddenly it evolved into my brand – Cardinal Robbins, the tigress who wrote gritty cop fiction; shot a Glock 35 well enough to be considered LAPD & FBI competent; did the time and effort required for research; worked hard to create interesting, well-developed, age-appropriate characters; a sense of humor, sure, but no-nonsense, quietly determined to succeed.
Fanfic quickly provided the fan base I needed because “metrics” were another vital part of a writer's platform. How many fans do you have? agents wondered. Have your readers followed you on all possible social media? How do you plan to get new followers? It was all about the numbers, which then and now equate to potential sales volume or Neilsen ratings. If you don't have a way of proving you can get the numbers to provide a revenue stream for an agent, either literary or entertainment, they want nothing to do with you. Cold hard fact, Catch-22, but there it is.
As I transitioned from fanfic to writing my first SVU spec script, social media was taking off
like a rocket to Pluto. My education is in marketing communications – I took to social media like a Frenchman to foie gras, er...a duck to water, let's say. Fiction and social media was, for me, a marriage made in heaven. Which was a bonus, because while I had no idea at the time, it was my way in.
Take the time to narrow down and understand your passion, what you truly want to write. Then, find like-minded people to write for who definitely 'get' what you're writing and are willing to give you nothing but constructive feedback as they critique your efforts. (All my friends were not fans of gritty cop fiction. I discovered that the hard way.)
Next time, the rubber hits the road as we progress from fanfic to my first SVU spec script.