is two guys collaborating to write on writing and collaboration.

Fastball! for March 2009

Mar 31, 2009

Screenplay Beat Calculator — kza Ball

No, that’s not a Stereolab song, just a little something cooked up by screenwriter Ross Mahler. I’m not an advocate of the make-it-up-as-you-go-along school of screenwriting, but if I was going to do Script Frenzy (the very nature of which requires some seat-of-the-pants plotting), I’d definitely use it as my guide. (Via Mystery Man on Film; some explanation of the jargon-heavy calculator here.)

Mar 31, 2009

"To call our film a gay film is misleading, but to call it a straight horror film is misleading as well." — kza Ball


And let’s not forget my interview with Gildark and Cogswell, conducted a few days before its premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival. This did not net me an IMDB entry, however.

Mar 31, 2009

Cthulhu Available on DVD — Martin Ball


I worked on Cthulhu in post-production. I designed the original poster (rejected by the MPAA), and also did the first website for the film (it gave me my lone, prized IMDB listing).

Congratulations to director Dan Gildark, and writer Grant Cogswell (who, if you like inside baseball, wrote a naked production wrap-up in The Stranger). I’m eager to see what they do next.

Mar 31, 2009

Directional Deer — Martin Ball

For those who have trouble generating plot ideas.

I could see a novel that starts with this observation of deer under power lines and goes on to explore the nefarious forces at work.

Mar 31, 2009

Cerebus: A Diablog — kza Ball

Laura Hudson and Leigh Walton go to town, an issue a week, all the way to #300. (Current topic: issue #8.)

I’ve only read the first phonebook, so I’m hoping to follow along once they reach High Society.

Mar 30, 2009

The Phantom of Heilbronn Unmasked — Martin Ball

For those who have trouble generating plot ideas.

Mar 29, 2009

The 360 Degree Character Review — kza Ball

John Rogers, on using an unusually-expansive job review technique to develop characters for screenplays (and presumably, other fictions):

I started doing this as a way to develop characters, and I have to admit I kind of dig it. How does Indiana Jones’s boss at the university feel about him? Other archeologists? His students? How about the bad guys? “Major Arnold Toht is the best commandant I’ve ever had. He never sends us into dangerous situations without also taking the same risk. He is very organized and makes sure we have the tools and resources necessary to serve the Fuhrer. We always go to interesting places, and he really encourages individual initiative. His determination is an inspiration to us all …”

Mar 29, 2009

Jack London: On Writing — Martin Ball

Just a few gems on this page, this among them:

Don’t loaf and invite inspiration: light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.

Mar 27, 2009

Columbine — Martin Ball

Great bit by Henry Sene Yee about his design process for producing the cover of Columbine, by Dave Cullen.

A few amazing things: first, the author’s name isn’t on the book front. Quite a brave choice for author and publisher. Second, the choice of the light type on the cover, which Yee covers in his post, is also brave, given my experience with design clients is that they tend towards nervousness when contrast isn’t cranked up.

I think the final image is quite moving and compelling. Much more so than the revision rounds he shows in his process work.

I’m writing a piece that touches on design, and this great blog post shoehorns perfectly with it.

(via Khoi Vinh)

Mar 26, 2009

Obsession Times Voice — Martin Ball

John Gruber and Merlin Mann are huge inspirations for me and why I want to do Spitball!. And Gruber especially is influential in the form of this website.

His post, which goes over the SXSW talk they tag-teamed (and, includes a link to the audio, which I recommend spinning), reiterates the biggest points of the talk.

I love this bit:

There is an easy formula for doing it wrong: publish attention-getting bullshit and pull stunts to generate mindless traffic. The entire quote-unquote “pro blogging” industry — which exists as the sort of pimply teenage brother to the shirt-and-tie SEO industry — is predicated on the notion that blogging is a meaningful verb. It is not. The verb is writing. The format and medium is new, but the craft is ancient.

Mar 26, 2009

Peeled — Martin Ball

Who says you need words to tell a story?


Mar 26, 2009

Strange Loves, Magic Christians, and So Much More: An Appreciation of Terry Southern — Martin Ball

When I watched the atrocious War, Inc. last year, I couldn’t help but miss Terry Southern and his magical touch with satire.

Christy Rodgers says he was much more:

Southern was and is primarily known as a satirist, I suppose, but that’s like saying the guys who designed the atom bomb were “just” mechanics.

She claims that Southern was at his best in print. I recommend this article, despite this sentence:

Southern’s fecund sexual fantasies are always so over the top as to be self-satirizing—which this feminist critic at least would say is quite an apt way of looking at bourgeois male heterosexuality.

Mar 24, 2009

Christine Marie Larsen's Sketchook — Martin Ball

Friend of Spitball! Christine Larsen has an awesome series of writers portraits going, including Don DeLillo, Flannery O’Connor, H.P. Lovecraft, Octavia Butler, and our personal writing mentor, Walter Mosley.

delillo.jpg flannery.jpg lovecraft.jpg octavia.jpg mosely.jpg

Her previous Film Noir series is also well worth digging through the archives to find if you’re a fan of the genre.

Mar 23, 2009

How I Write a Novel — Martin Ball

Tobias Buckell on his writing process.

First off, the man has some statistical chops, as shown in some of his other posts. At Spitball! we respect people with stat magic. Second, he’s a published author and Clarion graduate, so his word counts. Third, he uses Scrivener, which is the official Spitball! writing package of choice (he used to use OmniOutliner, which we also endorse and love).

Mar 21, 2009

The Devil's Own — Martin Ball

Congrats to friend-of-Spitball! Pete Mesling who just released issue 0 of The Devil's Own, a comic written by him and drawn by Brian Beardsley.

Mar 21, 2009

Speculative Fiction Older Writer's Grant — Martin Ball

This is cool — the Speculative Literature Foundation is giving an annual grant of $750 to any writer age fifty or over who is just beginning to work professionally.

Let’s hear it for writers who get rolling at a later age.

(via BoingBoing)

Mar 20, 2009

Speaking of William Gibson... — Martin Ball

He’s been doing something interesting on his blog. He’ll occasionally post short passages of the book he’s writing. All of them seem related to the world created in Pattern Recognition and Spook Country. They’re out-of-context, strange little floating snippets. He likens them to visiting the set of a film:

The scene you see shot, and remember, may not be in the film when it’s released. Or, owing to the editing process, or even reshooting, it may be there but not remotely resemble what you saw shot.

Mar 20, 2009

Field Notes Notebooks — Martin Ball

Their motto: “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.”

I carry one of these with me everywhere, and one of their branded Bic pens as well. They’re less fussy then Moleskin, and durable with a good sense of humor. Plus, William Gibson likes them. How could you go wrong?

Mar 20, 2009

Top Ten Topics for Writers — Martin Ball

Poets & Writers magazine’s list of resources for writers.

Since our founding in 1970, Poets & Writers has served as an information clearinghouse of all matters related to writing. While the range of inquiries has been broad, common themes have emerged over time. Our Top Ten Topics for Writers addresses the most popular and pressing issues.

Mar 19, 2009

Writer's Rooms — Martin Ball

In line with my post yesterday, here is an ongoing series from the Guardian that shows and talks about the spaces where writers do their work.

I’m personally fond of Edna O’Brien and J.G. Ballard’s spaces, the latter dominated by this painting that…

…is a copy of The Violation by the Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux. The original was destroyed during the Blitz in 1940, and I commissioned an artist I know, Brigid Marlin, to make a copy from a photograph. I never stop looking at this painting and its mysterious and beautiful women. Sometimes I think I have gone to live inside it and each morning I emerge refreshed. It’s a male dream.

Mar 19, 2009

This Things I Believe #4: POTPITMOM — kza Ball

Hate to make this sound like All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Todd Alcott, but, hey, I have learned quite a bit.

What studying the act break does is reveal the journey of the protagonist — at one moment, the protagonist is one person, and in the next moment he is another, and that change is irreversible. The path of the protagonist is the meaning of the movie — that’s the important thing, everything else is in the service of the delineation of that concept.

POTPITMOM - the silver cord that binds the hero through the astral realm of the story.

(Next up: can I come up with an even nerdier metaphor for something? Stay tuned!)

Mar 17, 2009

Are Writing Groups a Good Idea? — Martin Ball

John August:

Reading other people’s writing — even bad writing — makes you think more about the words you put on the page, so it can be a worthwhile exercise even if the notes you get back on your script are less than ideal.

Kent and I have our writing group tonight. I’ve been in this one about a year, and find it valuable not only for the reason quoted, but also that having a deadline is a good outside pressure point on keeping myself writing.

Mar 16, 2009

Growing Sentences with David Foster Wallace — Martin Ball

Kottke posts instructions on how to turn any sentence into a David Foster Wallace sentence.

He fastidiously posted the details and intricate semi-ironic zero-indexed instructions — since he’s the defacto little hyper-multi-link aggregator for the bleacher sitting lit fans on this tessellating yarn-ball of Turing worship — but Kottke didn’t write, not that he couldn’t have, these devilishly phrase-making instructions on flipping any tumble-weededed clause or lilly-livered sentence into a full-stop three-ring David Foster Wallace sentence, the little blue attending details long, the delivery gregarious with asides such as “Stop here if you are a minimalist,” (did not), or “Stop here if not writing parody” (did not. Or did? You judge).

Mar 14, 2009

Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable — Martin Ball

Clay Shirky on newspapers:

To describe the world before or after the spread of print was child’s play; those dates were safely distanced from upheaval. But what was happening in 1500? The hard question Eisenstein’s book asks is “How did we get from the world before the printing press to the world after it? What was the revolution itself like?”

Chaotic, as it turns out. The Bible was translated into local languages; was this an educational boon or the work of the devil? Erotic novels appeared, prompting the same set of questions. Copies of Aristotle and Galen circulated widely, but direct encounter with the relevant texts revealed that the two sources clashed, tarnishing faith in the Ancients. As novelty spread, old institutions seemed exhausted while new ones seemed untrustworthy; as a result, people almost literally didn’t know what to think. If you can’t trust Aristotle, who can you trust?

During the wrenching transition to print, experiments were only revealed in retrospect to be turning points. Aldus Manutius, the Venetian printer and publisher, invented the smaller octavo volume along with italic type. What seemed like a minor change — take a book and shrink it — was in retrospect a key innovation in the democratization of the printed word. As books became cheaper, more portable, and therefore more desirable, they expanded the market for all publishers, heightening the value of literacy still further.

Mar 14, 2009

This Things I Believe #3: The Definition of Suspense — kza Ball

David Bordwell:

For [Noël] Carroll, the reader or viewer feels suspense as a result of estimating, more or less intuitively, that the situation presents a morally undesirable outcome that is strongly probable. When the plot indicates that an evil character will probably fail to achieve his or her end, there isn’t much suspense. Likewise, when a good character is likely to succeed, there isn’t much suspense. But we do feel suspense when it seems that an evil character is likely to succeed, or that a good character is likely to fail.

(via Mystery Man on Film.)

Mar 13, 2009

Kurt Vonnegut Motivational Posters — Martin Ball

This one seems germane, but many, many more on the site.


Mar 12, 2009

This Things I Believe #2: Witchwahd — kza Ball

A slightly different but just as effective take on protagonistiary needs, courtesy of John August: Why is the Character Doing What He’s Doing? (WITCDWHD):

That said, you need to be careful not to stop at the first easy answer: Why is he racing in the Iditarod? “To win the prize money.” The better answer will likely lead to a better story. Why is he racing in the Iditarod? “To beat his ex-wife, the five-time champion.” “To catch the man who killed his brother.” “Because the ghost of his childhood dog is haunting him.”

(Note: lame “Witchwahd” moniker mine.)

Mar 10, 2009

This Things I Believe #1: Wadpaw — kza Ball

Wadpaw — What Does the Protagonist Want? The cornerstone of everything. Take it away, Mr. Alcott:

And I’m talking about this animated movie about ants and “what it means” and and what kind of world it takes place in and what its central metaphors are and where it fits in with movie history and how it reflects different levels of social truth, and after about fifteen seconds of this bullshit Jeffrey Katzenberg closes his eyes tight and puts his fingers to his temple as though he has a piercing headache and says “Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop! WHAT DOES THE GUY WANT?”

The “guy” Mr. Katzenberg refers to is, of course, The Protagonist. The reason for Mr. Katzenberg’s mounting anxiety and anger toward my presentation is that I am wasting his time. I am describing the movie we’re making in every way but the way that matters. Because structurally, the only thing that matters in a screenplay is What The Protagonist Wants. There is nothing else.

Mar 08, 2009

Some Thoughts on "Annie Hall" and Romantic Comedies in General — kza Ball

Todd Alcott, droppin’ science:

…which illustrates another good screenwriting lesson: the more specific you make your characters the more universal they will, paradoxically, become. I don’t know why this works, but it’s been proven to again and again. In fact, specificity is the key to just about any successful art. Alvy Singer is about as atypical a protagonist as one can imagine for an American mainstream movie: neurotic, homely, balding, short, hostile, touchy, unhip, paranoid, self-destructive, obsessive, narcissistic. But because Allen brings him to life in such detail and with such passion, we all watch Alvy and say “You know, he’s just like me.”

Fastball! Archives

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What is Spitball!?

Spitball! is two guys collaborating to write about writing and collaboration. We're writing partners who have worked together since 2000, and placed in the top 100 in the last Project Greenlight for our script YELLOW.

Currently, we are both working on multiple screenplay, short story, and novel ideas independently and together, and collaborate on this blog.

What Spitball! used to be

Spitball! started as an attempt to collaborate on a screenplay online in real time. From January 2006 to July 2007 we worked on an interactive process to decide the story we were going to make. A full postmortem is coming, but you can find the find all the posts by looking in the category Original Version.

During this period, we affected the personalities of two of the most famous spitball pitchers from the early 20th Century. Look at our brief bios for more info about this, and so as not to be confused as to who is talking when.

We rebooted the franchise in early 2009 in its current form.

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Our Twitter account, where we note when longer articles are posted. While we're at it, here's Kent and Martin's Twitter accounts.

Kent M. Beeson

Urban Shockah pic

Kent M. Beeson (aka Urban Shockah) is a stay-at-home dad and stay-at-home writer, living in Seattle, WA with his wife, 2 year old daughter and an insane cat. In 2007, he was a contributor to the film blog ScreenGrab, where he presciently suggested Jackie Earle Haley to play Rorschach in the Watchmen movie, and in 2008, he wrote a film column for the comic-book site ComiXology called The Watchman. (He's a big fan of the book, if you couldn't tell.) In 2009, he gave up the thrill of freelance writing to focus on screenplays and novels, although he sometimes posts to his blog This Can't End Well, which a continuation of his first blog, he loved him some movies. He's a Pisces, and his favorite movie of all time is Jaws. Coincidence? I think not.

Martin McClellan

Burleigh Grimes pic

Martin (aka Burley Grymz) is a designer and writer. He occasionally blogs at his beloved Hellbox, and keeps a longer ostensibly more interesting bio over here at his eponymous website. You can also find him on Twitter.