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(Misty Watson/The Daily Citizen)

Want to write a novel, play or television script?

Jeffery Stepakoff, who has worked on Emmy-winning programs “The Wonder Years,” “Sisters” and “Dawson’s Creek,” says it’s all about craft, passion and fortuity.

“If you have the goods and you stay at the table long enough, you will work,” Stepakoff said.

The television series writer and producer turned traditional novelist told an audience gathered at Dalton State College for the college’s annual book festival on Tuesday that there is a formula for success writers must follow to hook their audiences, editors and potential employers on a script.

Professional writers, he said, don’t sit down to write an entire script before they’ve developed an outline. Stepakoff said he writes stories on note cards, then rearranges and edits them as needed, then develops a scene-by-scene outline of the narrative. Only then does he flesh it out.

So how do you get from a great but undeveloped idea to a full-fledged, stellar script that someone will actually use?

Stepakoff’s advice to new writers is to not even begin developing the characters and “what your story is about” “until you have a killer inciting incident.”

The inciting incident — “the moment which forever alters the character’s life in the context of the script” — is one of five components the Atlanta native said make up the structure of classical dramatic writing. The others are complications in the life of the characters, one or more crises they must face, climax and resolution.

Yet the “inciting incident” drives everything else and is “arguably the most critical part,” Stepakoff said.

“If you don’t sell them in the first 10 pages, you’re done. They’re not going to read any more,” he said.

Rayah Henderson, a Dalton State College English major from Calhoun, said she’s searching for her niche in writing. She enjoys poetry and song writing but isn’t sure about journalism or marketing. The publishing industry is another field she’s considering.

“I do want to write a book one day, so to know that most successful (stories) are broken into three acts (is helpful),” she said.

Stepakoff has written for 14 television series and worked on seven prime-time staffs. He was co-executive producer of “Dawson’s Creek,” which ran from 1998 to 2003.

He is the author of “The Orchard,” released last July. It is about a “stiletto-wearing, workaholic Atlanta ingenue who works in the world of perfumes and flavors — stopping at nothing to get what she wants — until she tastes an apple that changes her life,” according to a biography the college provided.

Festival events

Dalton State College’s book festival continues through Thursday. Roy Exum, a Southern storyteller and columnist for thechattanoogan.com, will speak at 1 p.m. today on “The Love of Reading.” Joyce Green, editor of “The Foxfire 45th Anniversary Book,” will speak on Thursday at 1 p.m. on “Foxfire: 45 Years.” Finally, Kent Whitaker will speak at 6 p.m. on Thursday on “The Barbecue that Healed a Nation,” with a sampling of Southern food followed by the presentation.

All events are in the Goodroe Auditorium of Gignilliat Memorial Hall and are open to the public free of charge.

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