Empowering Storytelling with Mollie Reeder
Meet Mollie! She's an incredibly passionate and talented author and filmmaker. If you've seen the #StoryWarriors hashtag floating around Twitter, that's her creation. Today she's going to tell us all about investing the time into learning your craft and empowering your storytelling.
I'm Mollie E. Reeder, author, and filmmaker. I was a writer/producer for the feature film Aria Appleton Shines like the Sun (currently seeking distribution), which features kids, dogs, singing, pyrotechnics, and everything else they told us not to do in a microbudget movie. I'm also a novelist soon to self-publish a new steampunk series. I like to write character-driven genre fiction where flawed, disempowered protagonists become heroes by the end. Also, dinosaurs. And maybe time travel.
What inspires you and/or why do you write?
I believe everybody was created by God to do something important, and for me it’s tell stories! I write fiction for both Christian and mainstream audiences, but every single word is part of my relationship with Jesus Christ and my identity as a person.
I had a writing coach who said that stories are the way humans figure out what to think and how to feel about the world around us. I love that and I think it’s true. Writing for me is a way of making sense of (and expanding) my world, and sharing my stories is my way of hopefully doing the same for those around me. If stories shape our understanding, then stories really do change the world.
Describe your process as best you can:
My process usually starts with a character that I want to write about. I have to think for a while what kind of adventure this character needs to go on. Then I start outlining. I used to always do this on paper. For shorter projects now I discovery write, but it isn’t exactly discovery writing because story paradigm is so burned into my brain, I’m usually outlining in my mind. For longer projects, I have to write my outline down so that I can reference it later. I’m a big believer in story structure so whenever I get stuck I’m going back to that. Where in the character arc am I? Are my act breaks where they should be? What comes next, rhythmically?
What is your favorite tool or resource? (Like Scrivener, Grammarly, a blog, etc?)
The Writing Excuses podcast. You will learn more in 15 minutes with those guys than you will in entire books. They have a way of taking a topic I think I’ve heard before and busting it open in a brand-new way.
How do you think screenwriting might be different than prose?
Screenwriting is very different from prose in a couple of ways. The foremost being that all you have is imagery and dialogue. That’s it. Your actual prose on the page doesn’t exist for an audience watching the movie. So anything they need to know, you have to learn how to either convey it visually or through dialogue. You have to become an absolute master of “show, don’t tell”. The art of the screenplay is telling a story with no narrator.
Another big difference, closely related, is that screenplays are very terse and economical. It isn’t about the words themselves. It’s about creating an experience for the reader that mimics the experience they would have if they were watching the story onscreen. Good screenplays tend to be lean, with a lot of white space on the page. Script readers actually want to see white space – it’s considered a good thing. The white space is used strategically to simulate “cuts” in the mind’s eye.
The third biggest difference, and perhaps the one aspiring screenwriters struggle with the most, is that screenplays are inherently collaborative. You aren’t creating a final product. You’re creating a blueprint for someone else to make a movie. So it’s about getting out of your own way and facilitating all the other collaborators that are going to join the process after you. The final product belongs to everyone that works on the picture.
Biggest challenge for you, and how have you overcome it? (Or how are you working to overcome it!)
In 2016 I branched into writing novels, and my biggest (but most rewarding) challenge has been acquiring a new toolset. For example: this year I read Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King. When I got to the passage on summary, I had my mind blown. Summary as a technique basically doesn’t exist in a screenplay. The closest thing would be a montage. I had some long passages of time in the book that needed summary but I literally did not know how to “tell”, I only knew how to “show”! How is that for ironic, considering most authors have the opposite problem?
What do you consider your biggest strength? (Don’t be shy!)
This won’t be a plot twist but… dialogue and imagery! I love writing dialogue with natural voices that come right off the page, and I’ve had my prose described as “cinematic”. I want to write books for people who love the feeling that binge-watching their favorite show or hearing an orchestra swell gives them.
Any other advice for authors, based on your unique experience?
If you are a writer who can’t seem to finish anything – you run out of juice midway, you get confused and overwhelmed, your story goes off the rails and you can’t figure out how to salvage it – invest some time in learning story structure. That was me as a novice writer. I had my characters and no idea what to do next. You can get so far just throwing your character into dramatic situations, but at a certain point that initial creative enthusiasm always runs out, and with no idea what happens next (or what should happen next) a lot of times you will just give up. I like to think of structure as the aerodynamics of story. An aerospace engineer learns principles of lift, thrust, and drag – then he goes out, armed with those principles, and innovates something. Storytelling principles don’t constrain you, they empower you.
Where can other authors or readers connect with you?
You can join my email club at bit.ly/freeforwriters and when you sign up you get a free, 16-page PDF resource I wrote called the Fiction First Aid Kit. It’s all about diagnosing and treating writer’s block and it has character resources, idea generation tables, a logline formula and more. You can also follow me on Twitter @Writeratops.
My first book, The Sixth Christmas, on Amazon. It's a $.99 short read about a guy who travels back in time on Christmas Eve and intersects with past versions of himself, finding a new perspective on his present self along the way. It's for people who like fiction that asks "what if?". I'm also getting ready to launch a new steampunk series called The Celestial Isles. The first book in that series, The Electrical Menagerie, is planned for a May/June release. It's The Greatest Showman meets The Lunar Chronicles - for anybody who likes circuses, robots, and plots to overthrow the monarchy. Lots of Celestial Isles goodies forthcoming to my email subscribers, so if that sounds like your cup of (regicidal) tea, be sure to sign up!