As an extraordinary screenwriter, Alexandra Sokoloff has sold original suspense and horror scripts and written novel adaptations for numerous Hollywood studios (Sony, Fox, Disney, Miramax), and for producers such as Michael Bay, David Heyman, Laura Ziskin and Neal Moritz. The New York Times has called her “a daughter of Mary Shelley” and her books “Some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre.” She is a bestselling author, Thriller Award-winning and Bram Stoker and Anthony Award-nominated author of nine supernatural, paranormal and crime thrillers.
As an internationally acclaimed story structure teacher and workshop leader, Alexandra Sokoloff has presented her Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop for conferences such as Left Coast Crime, Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers of Australia, PASIC, YARWA, West Texas A&M Writers Academy, and numerous small conferences and weekend retreats throughout the country.
SIM: Numerous cinema’s industry insiders are talking about your Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop.
Why is it so important?
Alexandra Sokoloff (AS): Anyone who wants to make movies or work in television needs to understand the particular story structure of film and TV.
It’s a very rigid format because you’re working with an incredibly compressed time frame.
I do teach film students in Los Angeles, but the Screenwriting Tricks workshops that I teach all over the country focus on how authors can steal – I mean, borrow – filmic structure to write better novels, and have more fun doing it, too.
SIM: It was said about you “Film structure is easily adaptable to novel writing and her emphasis on taking inspiration from favorite movies to unlock the secrets of story structure resonates with writers of all levels of experience.” Can you elaborate on that resonance?
AS: The first thing I tell people who take my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshops is that they already know everything I’m going to say to them, simply because we watch so many movies and TV shows that film story structure is embedded in us. The Three-Act, Eight Sequence story structure that Hollywood uses is so simple and logical that I can explain it in ten minutes. I’ve never seen it fail – ten minutes and the whole room just gets it. All I’m really doing is giving names to things these aspiring writers already know.
The other part of my teaching is showing writers how to solve virtually any story problem by looking to their favorite movies and books to see how their own favorite writers have dealt with similar problems. Of course, it makes sense to use your personal favorite writers as inspiration!
SIM: Are you a prima donna of elite of writers, or a down-to-earth leader/teacher who would walk an extra mile with talented but obscure writers and aspiring artists who need a helping hand? Do you really sit down and listen to them and find a way to help them in their careers?
AS: I'm not a prima donna but I'm not really a career coach, either. It was a surprise to me how well-received my workshop was, but I’m a full-time novelist myself and I don’t have a lot of time to teach. I figured that the best help I could ever give would be to write the Screenwriting Tricks workbooks, so that the widest number of people would be able to read those and understand some pretty simple practical story structure techniques. I give one-on-one advice, too - the whole community of authors really is very supportive and giving that way.
But nothing I say to anyone individually is as well-thought out as my workbooks. It's all the advice I have distilled into what people find a very readable form. I’m rarely as eloquent as that off-the-cuff!
SIM: Just for the record, who did you help so far?
AS: I don't think I could possibly list that. I'm always floored by how often people write or tell me how much the Screenwriting Tricks blog and workbooks have helped them.
SIM: Besides your extraordinary seminars, how do you or would you pragmatically launch the career of truly talented novelists, screenwriters and authors, who despite their creativity and gifts received nothing but rejection?
AS: For authors, the path I’ve seen work for people over and over is: First, write a really good book.
That’s not optional. Once you have a really good book – that other people think is really good (meaning, you need to get honest feedback), then START THE NEXT BOOK, and at the same time, get on line and research the writing conventions that have agent and editor pitch sessions. If you write mysteries or thrillers, the International Thriller Writers have the excellent Agentfest every July, at Thrillerfest.
If you write romance, both the Romance Writers of America national conference and Romantic Times Booklovers Convention have excellent pitch sessions with a wide variety of agents. The genre communities make it very easy for aspiring authors to connect with lots of agents. It has worked for more people than I can count. But you have to have a book you believe in, first.
For screenwriters, it’s a lot harder. You have to understand that screenwriting is a job. You work for other people. And those people almost exclusively live in Los Angeles, so if you’re not living in Los Angeles, you’re probably not going to get a screenwriting job.
That eliminates most people from the running, right there.
SIM: At the dawn of your illustrious career, I suppose you have faced some sort of rejection, like almost 95% of all successful authors and screenwriters. How did you cope with rejection?
Perhaps you were extremely lucky and ascended the ladder of fame without difficulties, possible?
AS: I did a lot of acting as a kid and the rejection you get from auditioning toughens you up really fast.
It's just something you get used to with that much practice. Being rejected for a book you've written isn't anywhere near as personal.
Success is a numbers game - the more you put yourself out there, whether it's auditions or books, the more success you'll accumulate, and that makes the rejections you do get less painful. You really do just learn to get over it.