So I read screenplays for a living, plus I spend a huuuuuuge part of my life reading FOR FUN (wtaf!), so I’ve discovered there are certain words that crop up again and again and again which threaten to TORPEDO writers’ narrative efforts.

I call these ‘crutch words’ (quiet at the back). Crutch words are those we may rely on in EARLY DRAFTS, which we need to seek out with a torpedo of our own and DESTROY in the edit process. Whether you’re a screenwriter or novelist (trad or self published), look out for these suckers …

1) ‘Suddenly’

The actual word ‘sudden’ means ‘quick and without warning’, so it’s especially ironic that including the word LITERALLY SLOWS THE ACTION DOWN. WTAF is the point?? Compare:

Suddenly, the bomb blows up and she’s thrown to the ground.

The bomb blows up and she’s thrown to the ground.

See??? Don’t like to say ‘I told ya so’, but I TOLD YOU SO BIATCHES. MORE: Top 10 Killer Words That Make Readers Switch Off 

2) ‘And’

While we’re on the subject, you may want to seek and destroy any extraneous ‘ands’ that so frequently *go* with words like ‘suddenly’:

The bomb blows up and she’s thrown to the ground.

This one isn’t quite so obvious, but can really speed things up, especially in set pieces and moments where your characters are shocked by something, be it script or novel.

3) ‘Clearly’ (also ‘obviously’, ‘noticeably’, ‘evidently’ etc)

I REALLY hate this one and all its synonyms. I see it in novels every now and again, but ALL THE TIME in spec screenplays. Grrr. But feast your eyes on this:

The bomb blows up. She’s thrown to the ground. She’s clearly hurt.

The bomb blows up. She’s thrown to the ground. She’s motionless, blood pools around her head.

Always, always substitute VISUALS for boring filler words like ‘clearly’.

4) ‘That’

‘That’ is a useful word, but it is massively overused, especially by novelists. 9/10, you don’t even need it. Chew on this:

The bomb blows up. She’s thrown to the ground. She’s motionless, blood pools around her head. Another woman in the crowd screams, looking for her child that she’s lost.

The bomb blows up. She’s thrown to the ground. She’s motionless, blood pools around her head. Another woman in the crowd screams, looking for her lost child.

Screenwriting and novel writing is about economy of words, remember. This means ‘that’ needs to earn its place. Too often it doesn’t.

5) ‘Remember*’

(*aka ‘wonder’, ‘think’, ‘reminisce’ ‘decide’, ‘notice’, ‘realise’, etc)

Obviously, what you see is what you get in screenwriting. It’s very, very, very unlikely you would be using any of these words in your scene description … And if you are? You may well need a rethink (arf):

The bomb blows up. She’s thrown to the ground. She’s motionless, blood pools around her head. Another woman in the crowd screams, looking for her lost child. She remembers seeing him last, standing right next to her.

Yeah … Not going to work, is it? This could though:

The bomb blows up. She’s thrown to the ground. She’s motionless, blood pools around her head. Another woman in the crowd screams, looking for her lost child.

YOUNG MOTHER: He was standing right next to me!

Oh, look at that — you STILL don’t need ‘remember’, even in dialogue. Fancy.

But what of books?? Well, veteran novelist Chuck Palahniuk calls these ‘thought verbs’ and suggests they take us out of the story too EASILY. I reckon he’s dead right. Too often thinking about stuff becomes a crutch for taking the reader out of the ‘now’.

Don’t believe me? BAN thought verbs in your novel. Do not allow yourself to use them AT ALL. See if it forces you to come up with alternatives … Chances are, they will be muuuuuch better. Check this out:

The bomb blows up. She’s thrown to the ground. She’s motionless, blood pools around her head. Another woman in the crowd screams, looking for her lost child. There’s a space right next to her, her hand empty. He’d been holding it just seconds ago. 

Yup, keeping it in the ‘now’, keeping it gritty and real works much better than simple ‘remembering’. MORE: Top 10 Words Or Phrases Storytellers Gave Us

6) ‘Actually’, ‘Very’ or ‘Really’

‘Actually’ is a BIIIIIIIG problem for me. I already knew this thanks to various edits, plus my epic use of it online via social media, but I ran a check on an early draft of The Other Twin for the purposes of this blog post. It came back with a WHOPPING 86 out of 300 pages!! Whhhhhaaaat!!! Even worse than I thought. Praise be to the writing Gods I got rid of them before submission. Phew:

The bomb blows up. She’s thrown to the ground. She’s motionless, blood pools around her head. Another woman in the crowd screams, looking for her lost child. There’s a space right next to her, her hands empty. He’d been holding it just seconds ago. Had it actually just been moments earlier that life seemed normal, safe?

Yup, much better. In the same way, modifiers like ‘very’ and ‘really’ also slow down other novelists, but even other screenwriters too. Keep an eye on these pesky blighters … and ‘thats’ that might creep in, too.

7) ‘In order to’ or ‘However’

I put this to you. In novels you hardly EVER have to use either of these (and probably never in screenwriting). Chew on this:

The bomb blows up. She’s thrown to the ground. She’s motionless, blood pools around her head. Another woman in the crowd screams, looking for her lost child. There’s a space right next to her, her hand empty. He’d been holding it just seconds ago. Had it just been moments earlier life seemed normal, safe?

Rescue workers pick their way across the rubble, in order to tend to the fallen woman. However, the young mother accosts them, desperate to find her son.

You can include the ‘to’ if you want (depending on context), but you don’t even need it if you don’t want here. Furrealz.

8) ‘Starts/ Started’

No one in your screenplay OR novel should ‘start’ to do anything. If characters are what they do (and they are), then they should simply DO STUFF:

The bomb blows up. She’s thrown to the ground. She’s motionless, blood pools around her head. Another woman in the crowd screams, looking for her lost child. There’s a space right next to her, her hand empty. He’d been holding it just seconds ago. Had it just been moments earlier life seemed normal, safe?

Rescue workers pick their way across the rubble, tend to the fallen woman. The young mother accosts them, desperate to find her son. She starts to beg them to help her. 

Yes, you need to add an ‘s’ to ‘begs’ but again, this not only takes us into the ‘now’, it cuts down on words as an added bonus. What’s not to like??

9) ‘Momentarily’

Usually I find American writers use this, because in Standard American ‘momentarily’ means ‘very soon’. We don’t have this use in the UK, though it’s in movies and TV enough to sway British writers towards it unconsciously:

The bomb blows up. She’s thrown to the ground. She’s motionless, blood pools around her head. Another woman in the crowd screams, looking for her lost child. There’s a space right next to her, her hand empty. He’d been holding it just seconds ago. Had it just been moments earlier life seemed normal, safe?

Rescue workers pick their way across the rubble, tend to the fallen woman. The young mother accosts them, desperate to find her son. She begs them to help her.

Momentarily, she stops, as if hearing something behind her.

Again, it’s simply not needed. It’s keeping time for no reason, which takes us OUT of the story. While we’re at it, most ‘as ifs’ are probably not needed either. Fine toothcomb, baby!

10) ‘Then’

Like ‘momentarily’, ‘then’ exists as a clarifier with reference to time and very often writers simply don’t need it:

The bomb blows up. She’s thrown to the ground. She’s motionless, blood pools around her head. Another woman in the crowd screams, looking for her lost child. There’s a space right next to her, her hand empty. He’d been holding it just seconds ago. Had it just been moments earlier life seemed normal, safe?

Rescue workers pick their way across the rubble, tend to the fallen woman. The young mother accosts them, desperate to find her son. She begs them to help her.

Momentarily, she stops, as if hearing something behind her. Then the dust cloud parts and a child appears before her, unharmed and alive.

Sometimes writers shove ‘then’ in like ‘that’ randomly, too. Whatever the case, think very carefully about including it. MORE: Top Useful Infographics To Help You Pick The Right Words

BONUS!!

Stay away from what I call ‘laundry list intros’ – i.e. introducing a character by what s/he is WEARING (most people wear clothes, who cares!!!) – plus avoid commenting on characters’ appearances generally, but especially if it’s a female character. Words like ‘beautiful’ and its variants (‘gorgeous’, ‘sexy’, ‘hot’ etc) are especially hated in screenwriting where there is a plethora of female character intros like this.

Buck the trend! We’re writers, people! GET FRESH AND ORIGINAL OR DIE TRYING.

Breaking Into Script Reading – Back For 2018! 

How do IMy sell-out course, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING will be back for its FOURTH year in 2018! If you’re interested in becoming a script reader, or finding out more how script readers may assess YOUR own writing – or both! – then this is the course for you. The course will run 3-4th February and early bird tickets are on sale now. GET THEM HERE, or click the pic on the left. See you there!

For B2W offers and free stuff first, join my EMAIL LIST

I’ve written a fair amount about social media on this blog, especially Twitter and Facebook. This is because these are the platforms on which writers hang out the most. No-brainer! That said, in the last eighteen months or so, in comparison to many platforms that bring B2W a stable (or even decreasing) amount of traffic, one platform really stands out in terms of its growth: INSTAGRAM!

I launched on instagram as @LucyVHayAuthor just over a year ago. Like all my other platforms, I have a strategy for it: on this account, I share my visuals for both this site and my author blog; as well as pictures of books, cats, sweets and Devon. My fave things, basically!

My following on instagram is small, but it’s HIGHLY engaged and is brilliant for my brand. Whilst instagram only supports a single link on your profile page, I think it’s brilliant how I can share pics and cross-post them to Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr as well. What’s more, people report finding my books and Bang2write via the hashtag facility, more and more.

So that’s why I love this infographic about instagram, which busts all the major myths about instagram. It’s a great platform for writers and in my opinion, if you’re not on it, you should use it ASAP! And if you are? Follow me … See you there!

More on B2W

Here’s some useful links on setting yourself up online:

How To Build Your Own Online Platform

How To Write An Outstanding Bio Online 

How To Use Social Media To Market Your Novel

4 Indispensable Online Platforms For Writers

Why You Need To STOP Spamming Everyone Online Now

4 Easy Ways To Track Your Online Buzz

5 Ways Writers Kill Their Credibility Online

Top 5 Social Media Mistakes

6 Ways To Annoy The Crap Out Of People Online

Writers Online

Being a writer is a serious business, if you want to do it right. This is why social media platforms can be great at helping you launch your career and even helping you brand yourself as a screenwriter, author or freelancer.

But which platform is worth pursuing? While doing business on Instagram certainly sounds great, maybe you’re not sure if it’s worth it. Other networks such as Facebook have more users and also provide superb business opportunities, right? But is Instagram that ineffective at creating and converting leads? Or it is just a site for youngsters to post their selfies???

Try Instagram

Well luckily, it is not hard to answer these questions. If you have an account on Instagram, feel free to log in and browse your feed. What do you see there? Apart from the posts of your friends, you’re seeing a lot of business-related posts. This is a good sign, right?

Absolutely! People have been using Instagram for all kinds of business purposes for a long time. Why? Because the platform has a great power to generate deals and attract significant attention to a brand. For a professional writing service, for example, it can provide maximum interest of the online audience through targeting of specific groups and allowing to post short video testimonials from clients.

Instagram = effective

If Instagram didn’t have this power, why would the vast majority of American business decide to go through all the trouble creating a page there if they knew they were going to fail? Just to spend money?Of course not!

Instagram is a serious platform for doing business. Professional writers can design short videos explaining how their services can benefit different clients, including publishing agencies, students, sales persons, and anyone in need of a quality writing work … And that’s just for starters!

If you’re still not convinced, take a quick look at this infographic designed by Proessaywriting. It explains the most common myths about Instagram for business to prove once again that you shouldn’t hesitate to begin working with this incredible platform.

Created byProessaywriting.

BIO: Lucy Benton is a marketing specialist, business consultant and helps people to turn their dreams into the profitable business.  Now she is writing for marketing and business resources. Also Lucy has her own blog Pro Writing where you can check her last publications.

For B2W offers and free stuff first, join my EMAIL LIST

Over the Christmas break (which seems like a MILLION years ago now! Waaah!) you may have seen Paddington 2 – or like me, you may have ended up seeing it TWICE!

But unusually, I had no issues watching it a second time because it was so damn good — a script editor’s dream, in fact! I actually think it improves on the first Paddington in pretty much every way, here’s why, plus what writers can learn from it as ‘Top Tips’ to take away. Ready? Let’s go …

1) The plot has a MacGuffin

A MacGuffin is ‘a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues.’ In Paddington 2, the pop up book of London serves as the catalyst for the story: first in terms of Paddington wanting it for his Aunt Lucy’s birthday (and needing to earn money to buy it), then by drawing antagonist Phoenix Buchanan into the action at the steam fair when he hears about it and decides to burgle Mr. Gruber’s shop to get it.

As soon as the dastardly Phoenix gets involved of course, the doo-doo REALLY hits the fan and thanks to a case of mistaken identity, poor Paddington ends up IN PRISON! OMG! I see MacGuffins so infrequently in both spec screenplays and unpublished novels, but Paddington 2 demonstrates what a superb – not to mention dramatically satisfying – device this can be.

TOP TIP: Find out as much as you can about plotting and the devices you could use in your story. Unusual devices done well can really make your work stand out. MORE: What is the MacGuffin?  (Plus how to use it)

2) Paddington is a change agent

A lot is made of transformative arcs in screenwriting generally … The notion of a protagonist having to undergo some sort of change is so accepted by newbie screenwriters as an absolute that they can get very lairy when it’s suggested characters DON’T have to change! What’s more, family movies often place some sort of realisation at their heart for the protagonist, so probably 9/10 characters in this genre DO change.

Paddington Brown is an exception. Instead, like Forrest Gump before him, Paddington is a ‘change agent’. In other words, he stays exactly the same, but inspires others AROUND HIM to change: whether that’s the Browns, Knuckles and other the men in prison, or the neighbours on his street, Paddington is a character that brings  new realisations WITH him, just by being himself. Refreshing.

TOP TIP: Protagonists DON’T have to change. Realising this – and what you can do instead – can really open up story and character. For more on Change Agents, CLICK HERE.

3) The antagonist’s arc is understandable (even if we don’t condone it)

Very often in kids’ and family movies, antagonists are ‘comic book villains’ – evil for the sake of it. The first Paddington was no different in this regard: Millicent, Nicole Kidman’s character, had a real touch of Cruella De Vil about her. She was fabulous fun for sure – her Mission Impossible antics in five inch stilettos was a highlight – but there was little ‘real’ about her.

In comparison, Phoenix Buchanan is a much more fleshed-out character. Whilst he is as flamboyant and larger-than-life as Millicent, he also feels much more human. We understand his history with the Koslova circus, plus why he doesn’t want to have to do dog food commercials. We’re invited into his worldview so much, we even feel as puzzled as him when he discovers the Browns in their pyjamas, hiding in his living room.

Most of all, however we feel sorry for Phoenix: his scenes with the dummies in the attic are easily some of the strongest in the movie, plus they really show Hugh Grant’s range, under-used until now. That’s why his epilogue scenes, as the credits roll, are so joyous: Phoenix has found his place at last! It truly is a happy ever after for everyone.

TOP TIP: The best, most memorable antagonists feel like real people, with their own motivations and counter-goals. MORE: 7 Reasons We Love To Hate Villain Characters

4) There are fun ‘Easter Eggs’ & Magical Realism

For the uninitiated, an ‘Easter Egg’ when it comes to movies (and similar) is ‘an intentional inside joke, a hidden message or image, or a secret feature of a work.‘ My favourites were the newspaper headlines Knuckles is reading in the kitchen, which include some brilliantly groan-worthy puns (if you missed them, watch out for them next time!).

What’s more, Paddington 2 makes brilliant use of Magical Realism, which is a whimsical version of reality that includes fantastical elements. Whether it’s transporting us INTO the pop-up book mentioning in point 1, or the Browns’ home turning into into a dollhouse, or the prison inmates’ escape plans underneath the prison, the story world reminds us this might be the real world … but *not quite*. And what do you expect, when there are talking bears as well!

TOP TIP: The story world your characters find themselves in can underscore the tone of your story, as well as many other functions. Don’t under-utilise story world in your narrative – it can add so much. MORE: 7 Tips On World-Building 

5) It gives every secondary character a motivation …

Unusually, it’s the Browns – NOT Paddington – who essentially solve the crime (even though the poster might say ‘It Takes A Bear To Catch A Thief!’). The Family – plus housekeeper Mrs. Bird – do all the legwork in tracking down what they think first is a gang of thieves, only for Mary Brown to put all the pieces together and realise it was just one man: Phoenix Buchanan, master of disguise!

But even though the family have an obvious motivation pertaining to the plot (prove Paddington is innocent and get him out of prison), each character has his/or her own problems as well, making for fantastically layered characterisation, which also becomes plot points in their own right:

  • Judy, a wannabe journalist, runs her own newspaper … Which helps create a number of leads for the family in their quest, plus drums up sympathy from the neighbours to help too
  • Jonathan aka ‘J Dog’ wants to be cool, so tamps down his enthusiasm for trains throughout the movie. However, only he is able to drive the steam train that pursues the circus train carrying Paddington and Phoenix a they fight over the pop-up book
  • Mr Brown is having a midlife crisis and has been doing yoga, which comes in handy when he finds himself caught between two trains in his attempt to rescue Paddington
  • Mrs Brown wants to swim the channel, so her training comes in handy when she has to rescue Paddington from the circus train when it hits the water. (What’s more, Knuckles and the other men in prison, changed by Paddington, come to his rescue – not once but twice – first by helping break him out of jail, then by helping Mrs Brown in the water).

I’ve not seen many films that have done such a great job of tying everything up in a bow (that doesn’t feel saccharine and overdone), but that’s because Paddington 2 knows the importance of balancing both character and plotting in a truly great ending.

TOP TIP: A great ending balances both great characterisation and plotting by seeding interesting set ups and kickass pay offs. MORE: 3 Things To Remember For Act 3

6) … And peripheral characters are not just decoration

Peripheral characters, animal or human, all have their place in the narrative. Wolfie the dog provides some of the best scenes with Paddington, plus it’s Feathers the parrot who produces the key element of exposition regarding the real perpetrator behind the burglary, without it being obvious or forced.

From there, whether it’s Miss Kitts’ newsstand (and her romance with The Major); Dr Jafri losing his keys; or Mr Barnes the refuse collector, every single one of these peripheral characters pull their weight in pushing the story forward. Paddington’s loss is felt by every single one of them – which in turn means they will do all they can to help get him back.

Plus, The Judge – and Paddington’s haircut calamity, not to mention his being on the train with them all as well – was absolutely hilarious. Arf!

TOP TIP: Peripheral characters are frequently thought of as ‘throwaways’, but Paddington 2 shows us they can not only perform their own function, they can help push the plot forward meaningfully AND add to the storyworld. MORE: 7 Characters That Nearly Always A Big Mistake

Want more script reading secrets?

How do IMy sell-out course, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING is back for its FOURTH year in 2018! If you’re interested in becoming a script reader, or finding out more how script readers may assess YOUR own writing – or both! – then this is the course for you. The course will run 3-4th February and early bird tickets are on sale now. GET THEM HERE, or click the pic on the left. See you there!

For B2W offers and free stuff first, join my EMAIL LIST

Another week in writing land … and another week closer to my next course! I’ll be teaching Breaking Into Script Reading for the FOURTH year at Ealing Studios soon (Feb 3-4th, 2018), in conjunction with LondonSWF.

I love teaching this course, which is not only for wannabe script readers but those screenwriters who want to see an ‘insider’s view’ of how their scripts may be judged from the other side of the table. If you fancy coming, check out the bottom of this post for a discount code as a Bang2writer.

To celebrate, I’ve composed a mammoth list of the issues a script reader may chuck a spec screenplay to one side … Or rather, in this new world of PDFs and virtual work, MOVE IT TO TRASH! I’ve also linked to lots of other stuff about what to do about these problems, too. See you in less than two weeks???

1) Your script looks like CRAP

First, the obvious stuff you can do something about really easily. Script readers always look at screenplays first to see if they’re in industry standard format. If they’re not, or filled full of niggly format pet peeves, then BOOM! It’s deleted, baby. Want to a full rundown of the format issues B2W sees most regularly, plus what to do about them? Then CLICK HERE. You can also download a 1 page screenplay format reference guide (PDF) from the B2W Resources page, HERE.

2) Your first page SUCKS

We’ve all heard that writers get ten pages to impress, but in reality? It’s actually ONE page. Yeah, you read that right. There’s more competition, year on year, so now script readers have taken to checking out the first page BEFORE reading on for ten pages. Harsh but true.

So, take another look at your first page – it better LOOK great in terms of format, for starters (as per #1 on this list). But have you started in the ‘right’ place in your story? Does it ‘hook’ the reader, or pique their interest? More on this, next.

3) You don’t have an OPENING IMAGE

It’s very simple: screenwriting is visual, so you need to start as you mean to go on. This means you need an opening IMAGE that feeds into the tone and genre of your story. We DON’T want ‘establishing shots’ or characters simply walking into frame and starting to talk. Bleurgh. We also don’t cheesy stuff right off the bat either. Here’s 5 Openers That Make Readers Groan, plus How To Write The Most Clichéd Opener, Ever.

4) You’re not writing VISUALLY

Very often writers approach scene description as what I call ‘set dressing’ or ‘false movement’. In other words they will describe every little thing in the frame, such as characters’ clothes, homes or even how they literally move (raised eyebrows, hands on hips, walking over to windows, etc). But this is boring and comes off as rather theatrical, like a play. Scene description should not be sp prescriptive; it needs to reveal character and push the story forward (or both!). BE VISUAL.

5) Your story does not HIT THE GROUND RUNNING

Stories need to start IMMEDIATELY; audiences simply won’t wait. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use ‘slow burn’ techniques, however. In fact, there are lots of movies right now – even thrillers – which are utilising the latter, but STILL hitting the ground running. For more on this, with reference to specific modern movies, CHECK OUT MY VIDEO on The B2W Youtube Channel about this.

6) Your story begins TOO LATE

Not to be confused with number 5 on this list (though there may be some crossover). When this happens, it’s often because the writer makes the mistake of extended character introductions; too much world-building (especially in sci fi or fantasy); sometimes both. But character and story need to be introduced hand-in-hand.

7) Your characters or plot are DERIVATIVE

It’s as simple as this: audiences are more demanding than ever. We do not want the ‘same-old, same-old’ when it comes to characterisation; plus we don’t want the same plots, rehashed over and over again. If you want to do something genre-busting or pre-sold, that’s great BUT you need to find that *thing* that has not been done before.

8) Your plot or characters are too ‘OUT THERE’

The opposite to #7 is also true. We want to be able to recognise characters and plots and they’re relatable and relevant.

9) Your script is DIALOGUE-LEAD

Dialogue is often the enemy of the spec screenwriter, because it’s the EASIEST part of the script to write. The is because we fall in love with our characters, so let them speak as often as we like. But characters have to EARN THE RIGHT to speak, because like #4 on this list, dialogue must reveal character AND push the story forward.

10) Your first ten pages SUCK

If your first 10 pages is full of clichés, takes ‘ages’ to get going, or looks like crap, is dialogue-lead (or anything else on this list!), then sorry but it sucks. More on this in 10 Tips For The Perfect Ten Pages, plus you can download a script reader’s checklist for the first ten pages HERE.

 11) Your characters are TOO SAMEY

Very often I’ll read a spec screenplay in which there are ‘too many’ characters, or I’m unable to tell which is which. This is usually because I can’t work out WHY they’re there, or WHAT they’re doing in the story, or both. This very often relates to secondaries and peripherals in particular.

12) Your antagonist is a COMIC BOOK VILLAIN

We all love a great villain, but they need to have UNDERSTANDABLE motivations (even if we don’t condone their terrible behaviour). Too many antagonists have plans that simply don’t make sense, or are two dimensional ‘evil’.

13) Your female characters are DATED

Female characters, especially leads, have made up some major ground in the last five years. But because there are fewer female leads than male, they are under greater scrutiny and thus date very quickly. You need to stay up-to-date and ensure you’re not recycling old tropes and things the audience are bored with, or even find offensive. Luckily this is easier than ever, thanks to the internet! Here’s a free B2W ebook, The Ultimate Blueprint On How NOT To Write Female Characters (it’s a big file, so wait up to a minute for it to download).

14) Your script’s tone seem CONFUSED

Again, you need to start as you mean to go on … and remain consistent. So your Comedy needs to be whimsical or even funny from p1; your Horror needs to be ominous from page 1; your Thriller needs to be a page turner from p1; your worthy drama, stoic or compelling — and so on. It’s not rocket science!

15) Your story is full of CHEESY TROPES AND CLICHES

Another easy one. Don’t fill your story – first ten pages and beyond – with cheesy tropes and cliches audiences have become bored with! Again, it’s SO easy not to fall into this trap, thanks to social media and blogs. Here’s 15 Cheesy Writing Fails To Avoid In The First Ten Pages, plus 7 More Epic Fails To Avoid In Your Writing.

 16) Your scenes are STATIC

Taking in #4 and #9 on this list, a static scene feels lifeless and pedestrian. This is because the script is not visual and probably dialogue-led. Avoid at all costs.

17) Your structure is LUMPY

A good story – no matter the genre – has a sense of forward-looking momentum (even non-linear ones!). This means events in  your story need to have *some* sense of ESCALATION, so we can invest in the characters’ journeys. We do not want ‘a bunch of stuff happening’.

18) Your Writer’s Voice is too OTT, or too ‘Vanilla’

It’s GREAT to see a writer who owns the page … but be careful about going overboard, especially regarding asides and ‘notes to reader’ (we’re script readers! We know how to read!). Similarly, we have enough vanilla, boring screenplays. Here’s 7 Ways To Showcase Your Writer’s Voice In Your Screenplay.

19) Your message is as SUBTLE AS A BRICK

Writers often have messages, statements, morals or warnings to share with the world. This is great and can be really powerful storytelling … IF they don’t get up on their soapboxes too much. Avoid banging your drum too hard and you’re MUCH more likely to get people on board via your story!

20) Your dialogue TAKES OVER

As mentioned in points #9 and #16 on this list, dialogue may ‘take over’ your story. An easy way to diagnose this is by looking for what I call ‘dialogue chains’ in your script. Do characters have conversations that last for 2+ pages? You probably have too much dialogue. Similarly, do your characters speak for more than 2+ lines every time they open their mouths? Then again, you probably have too much dialogue. Be ruthless!

 21) Your characters have NO DISCERNIBLE ROLE FUNCTION

If the reader does not know WHO a character is, WHAT they want and WHY they are in the story, then that character has no discernible role function. This most often relates to secondary characters, but sometimes can even include the protagonist and antagonist, so watch out for this.

22) You have confused STEREOTYPE for ARCHETYPE

It’s surprising how many writers mix these two up. Stereotypes related to the idea of ‘simplification’, whereas Archetypes are the ‘original’ version of something. Whilst stereotypes may *sometimes* have their place in stories (ie. in some types of comedy), it’s ARCHETYPES you need to pay particular attention to. If you can’t name the archetypes easily? Then you need to work on this, STAT.

23) You character/s’ back story has TAKEN OVER

This most often happens with the protagonist, but *can* happen with ANY character. Sometimes the writer will add an extraneous prologue, or maybe they will pepper the story with flashbacks to ‘explain’ why a character is the way they are. This obviously can work, but needs uber-careful plotting, from the offset. Simply shoving back story in to ‘break open’ the character is an expositional cheat.

24) Your scenes don’t have ENOUGH CONFLICT

Every scene needs to PUSH THE STORY FORWARD; they do this by adding to the drama via conflict (since drama IS conflict!). However, many writers believe ‘conflict’ = arguing. This is not the case. Conflict can literally be anything relating to the STORY. This means the conflict will frequently relate to life/death decisions, fighting, accidents, or other stuff in the PHYSICAL realm. But conflict also covers the NON-PHYSICAL too such as revelations, agonising, fears, misunderstandings and so on. Check out these three VERY different examples of conflict and how they work in pushing the story forward.

25) Your ending is wrapped up too quickly, or a DEUS EX MACHINA

Endings that wrap up too quickly are everywhere in the spec pile. This is usually because the writer has planted their Set Up too late, so its Pay Off feels ‘too soon‘. Sometimes it will be because the structure or plotting is lumpy, as in #17 on this list. Other times, the writer has forgotten to Set Up at all, so the way out of the situation is the dreaded Deus Ex Machina. Either way, if the ending doesn’t work (for whatever reason), then it’s usually a structural issue you have. These writers would be wise to START by looking at their ending and plotting backwards, so see where where their Set Up *should* go.

Want EVEN MORE Script Reading Secrets?

Breaking Into Script Reading – Back For 2018! 

How do IMy sell-out course, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING will be back for its FOURTH year in 2018! If you’re interested in becoming a script reader, or finding out more how script readers may assess YOUR own writing – or both! – then this is the course for you.  The course will run 3-4th February at Ealing Studios. GET YOUR TICKETS HERE, or click the pic on the left. Bang2writers get £40 off with discount code LSF17 at the checkout. See you there!

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Great dialogue is about one-fifth of a powerful screenplay, but it will probably be one of the most influential parts in catching the attention of the reader (and thus your potential audience!). So whilst you don’t want your dialogue to take over, it’s still VERY important to your script’s success … So check out these tips for ensuring you make the most of yours!

1) Eavesdrop!

Do this subtly, of course. But listen in on conversations that people are having in a variety of environments and on a variety of topics. You’ll get a much better “feel” for what natural communication really is in all of these environments. How do people really argue? How do people really tell stories to each other? How do lovers, parents and children, colleagues, and friends naturally talk to one another? The more you do this, the better your own dialogue writing will become.

2) Watch a Favourite Movie Differently

Pull up a movie you know well – one you have watched a dozen or so times, because you love it. As you watch the movie, type out just the dialogue. You can even just type the dialogue of your favourite scenes.

It’s best to use movies that are of the same genre as what you are currently writing. Do this often over a 30-day period, and you will be amazed how much better your own dialogue becomes.


3) Read Complete Transcriptions of Conversations

If you read transcriptions of conversations, you will probably realise that they are rather dull. This is because there are a lot of irrelevant, filler words, as people think through what they want to say. They will add “fluff” words too. Take that transcription and remove all of the filler and non-essential words. It will get better. Dialogue for a screenplay should be like this – it should all support the plot, and any words/phrases that do not should be eliminated.

4) Minimise Extraneous Information in Dialogue

The plot is not in the dialogue – it is in the actions of the characters more than anything else. Dialogue should support but does not have to provide lots of information all the time. Use dialogue to provide information in small chunks.

Dialogue should also be used to reveal someone’s character – are they “down to earth,” sophisticated, intelligent? The words they use will reveal this over time.

5) Action, Please!

Short spurts of dialogue should be broken up with action – remember a screenplay is 80% visual. A very short outburst will be followed by a character stomping out of a room. The verbiage should be minimal – the audience “gets” the anger from the action, not long diatribes.

6) Slang and Profanity – A Warning

You do want to establish tone and characterisation through dialogue, but don’t overdo it. A small amount of profanity and slang go a long way. If, however, you have a character that must curse and use slang, then read how that characterisation is achieved by other successful playwrights.

7) Read Like a Writer

Read plays and novels that have a lot of dialogue. What dialogue is making the characters authentic? Where is dialogue really not working and where is it allowing a character to really jump out at you? Let the writer in you evaluate the dialogue in terms of its contribution to the plot. You’ll quickly learn what to avoid and what to utilise.

8) Punctuate!

When readers are reviewing your screenplay, a big distractor is dialogue that is not punctuated correctly. Use commas and end marks correctly; otherwise you can irritate/annoy a reader. Don’t take that chance.

Concluding:

You will no doubt find other tricks that will help you improve dialogue writing. As stated before, practice is the key. And once you have written your dialogue for a scene, go back over it and “test” it according to some of the suggestions here.

TL;DR – Too Long, Didn’t Read?

Make your characters lively with the speech figures; keep the speeches clear and expressive; and always write unique and active dialogue that will ignite the attention of the reader. Take lessons from life and the works of other professionals, and concentrate on the dialogue itself. Finally, be precise to the details, as they do the majority of work when forming a connection with the reader!

Good Luck!

BIO: Amanda Sparks, pro writer and editor at Essay Supply, lifestyle writer at Huffington Post. I am fancy doing perfect things for this perfect world, and help people make their life easier with my lifestyle tips. Connect me via LinkedIn!

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Just a quick one today to remind you there’s no RIGHT way to write your spec screenplay or novel, but there *are* plenty of WRONG ways. In fact, there’s so many mini-pitfalls, pet peeves and writing mistakes out there, they soon add up to form a big fat REJECTION for your work if you’re not careful.

But as I always bang on on B2W (arf) you can avoid this avalanche of writing kryptonite by paying attention to the little things. Since writers LOVE dialogue, I thought I’d draw attention to two KILLER phrases that are so stinky they immediately make script readers SWOON (and not in a good way):

1) “This isn’t the movies, you know!”

Holy crapballs! Seriously?? But seriously … this one just won’t go away. Sometimes in unpublished novels ‘movies’ is substituted for ‘books’ (though not often). Other variants may include ‘You’ve been watching too many [movies that are like this story]‘; also, ‘You think you’re James Bond’ (occasionally a superhero’s name or Arnold Schwarzenegger and once I saw ‘Harry Potter’, though it was a fantasy novel).

The issue with this is, it reminds me THIS IS A STORY. That’s not a good idea. You want the reader to suspend his or her disbelief. That’s the point of storytelling. Drawing attention to the fact it’s essentially fake is simply bonkers.

But look, I get it – it seems like it could be ironic. And maybe it was, once upon a time in a galaxy far away. But in this one? I read this ‘joke’ probably 5-6 times a month, MINIMUM. And as we all know, good writing is also about standing out. Le duh.

Needless to say, this is especially bad in a spec feature screenplay (it literally is a movie, FFS!), but even in shorts or TV pilots or an unpublished novel it is stinkier than 4000 year old Gorgonzola. STOP. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP!!

2) “This doesn’t make sense!”

This may also pop up as dialogue from characters such as ‘No one would ever believe that!’ or ‘This is really boring’, etc. In other words, the characters are mouthpieces for the writer’s subconscious alarm at the way the story is going, also known as a ‘signal from Fred’.

Many writers – both screenwriter and novelist – believe ‘signals from Fred’ do not exist. To back up their assertions, they will point to produced and published works where characters will literally say these things and be justified for it.

But those writers are forgetting CONTEXT. Of course, justified use of these phrases are fine. If characters are supposed to be confused, but the plotting works, then great.

But in spec work, I’ve found over the years it’s really intriguing just how few instances of ‘This doesn’t make sense’ (or similar) are NOT justified … because the plotting LITERALLY doesn’t make sense. Now THAT’S irony for ya. This can even lead to the dreaded plot hole.

What Writers Can Do

In the case of number 1, in case you didn’t understand in the section?? KILL IT WITH FIRE. You don’t need it. Seriously.

In the case of number 2, think about whether your use of it is ‘real’ or a SIGNAL FROM FRED. I bet you a million squid, plus tentacles, it’s the latter  – especially if it’s an early draft.

BTW – it’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s actually a handy marker … I discovered I had three myself in an early version of The Other Twin. Being aware of this ‘Signals From Fred’ helped me identify where I was getting tied up in knots in my mystery. How? Well, I discovered where my protagonist Poppy had the most confusion with her investigation, were the chapters that needed the most work. Furrealz.

Breaking Into Script Reading – Back For 2018! 

How do IMy sell-out course, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING will be back for its FOURTH year in 2018! If you’re interested in becoming a script reader, or finding out more how script readers may assess YOUR own writing – or both! – then this is the course for you. The course will run 3-4th February and early bird tickets are on sale now. GET THEM HERE, or click the pic on the left. See you there!

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B2W Launches on Youtube!

So, hopefully by now you’ve heard that B2W now has its own Youtube Channel! I’ll be talking writing v, submissions, genre, visuals, novel writing, characters, structure/plotting, scene description, dialogue and much much more — with new videos every Thursday! (You’ll also find the round ups here too every Friday after today).

So make sure you CLICK HERE to subscribe so you never meet an instalment – alternatively click on the pics or on the embedded video to watch. Enjoy!

1) What To Do When It’s ‘No Unsolicited Material’

Well, I asked the Bang2writers what they’d like to see FIRST on the B2W Youtube Channel … The answer? Overwhelmingly in favour of something about submissions! So I put my thinking cap on and checked out the Google searches of this blog and discovered the phrase “what to do when it’s ‘No Unsolicited Material'” came out on top!

Writers often feel frustrated when they see ‘No unsolicited material’ on agents’, publishers’ and production company websites. But this needn’t be the barrier you think – HONEST!!! In this first video, I break down WHAT querying is in this short tutorial video, plus HOW to do it and WHEN to follow up.

2) What Does ‘Hitting The Ground Running’ Really Mean For Writers?

B2W often gives the script note, ‘You need to hit the ground running’, but this alone may not be illuminating for writers. In this video, I break down for writers what this note means using relevant, illustrative examples from the movies SINISTER (2012) and BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017). I also talk about how audience preferences impact on how movies are made and how things may change over time because of this.

3) Writers Ask: Horror Vs. Thriller – What Is The Difference?

Screenwriters frequently don’t really know the difference between Horror & Thriller, so end up writing ‘Horror/Thriller’ one their pitch documents, or saying it in their face-to-face pitches … But this is REALLY BAD IDEA. I explain why, plus what the key differences – and similarities – are between these two popular genres, plus the conventions that will help you decide what you’ve written.

Remember, if you want more info on the above, you can find the most popular articles on this site as well as all the free PDF downloads in one place on the B2W Resources Page. Enjoy!

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One of the most searched-for terms that lead writers to this blog is ‘get more creative’. When writers discuss creativity, we nearly always focus on stuff like writing exercises and prompts – but creativity is a STATE OF MIND. We need to change our thinking to get our writing going and create good work.

This is why I love this infographic from the good folks at CustomWriting.org. It ranges from the obvious to the not-so-obvious, but crucially also offers tips, quotes and snippets on the subjects too – the attention to detail is brilliant! I particularly like numbers 9 and 13. What about you?

Further reading:

6 Great Writing Prompts To Get You Started

Top 10 Tips For Finding Writing Inspiration

6 Ways To Get Ideas From Social Media

30 Doses of Inspiration From Fictional Teachers & Mentors

5 Simple Ways You Can Source Great Character Ideas

30 Experts On The True Power of Ideas

7 Ways of Developing Ideas

Good Luck!

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So, it’s a new year … and no doubt you’re limbering up for some serious writing and smashing of your goals. Why not chew on some of these for size? HAPPY NEW YEAR!

1) Read Screenplays

I’ve been working with screenwriters fifteen years now, yet STILL there are wannabes out there who’ve never read a script in their lives! WTAF. Put yourselves on the naughty step AT ONCE.

Also, 5-10 in your entire writing lifetime won’t cut it. Commit to reading a script a week. That’s right – 52 in a year! A great script only takes 1-2 hours to read, after all. If you can binge-watch an entire Netflix series in one weekend, then you HAVE TIME. (But okay, maybe you don’t. You can still read 1 a month. 12 new scripts a year is better than NONE).

BTW, if you’re a novelist, it’s still a good idea to read screenplays because it will help you with plot, plus it can be very enlightening seeing what’s on the page versus what we ‘see’ on screen (thus helping you with your own visuals). Check out sites like the BBC Writersroom and Simply Scripts to get started.

2) Read novels

Lots of writers – both novelist and screenwriter – tell me they ‘haven’t time’ to read books – but 6-10 books per year are not out of the realms of most people. Some screenwriters will even say books are somehow different to screenplays. WRONG! Yes, they are different mediums, but storytelling is storytelling … Plus it’s ALWAYS well worth knowing which are the ‘hot’ novels and why, considering what starts in books usually makes its way to movies and TV, via adaptation or issues (or both). Convergence, baby! Friend me on Goodreads for recommendations.

3) Read threads (don’t comment)

Think of an issue you don’t know much about. Go in search of people who live with that issue, problem or reality. Then read their threads. DO NOT COMMENT. Go away and think about why they’re angry, upset, or think this way. Yes, even if you think they’re hopelessly wrong (especially if you think they’re wrong). I’ve read some enlightening perspectives on Brexit, Trump, Men’s Rights and Radical Feminism this year for example. That doesn’t mean I suddenly agree with those perspectives (or even condone them), but it’s given me plenty of fodder for antagonists if nothing else!

4) Ask questions

Following on from 3, ask questions about said issues to improve your understanding further – but crucially, don’t hassle people. There’s a difference between crowdsourcing (good) and sea-lioning (bad). So instead of popping up on marginalised people’s TLs demanding explanations (or what may *seem* like demands), use question-based platforms like Quora to help you get more context and information.

5) Identify/describe the craft elements you need to work on

I’m always surprised by the number of writers who will tell me they ‘know’ about plotting, characterisation, structure or whatever — yet are totally unable to DESCRIBE these elements and how they work (or not!) in their writing (or even other people’s). But get this straight: you need the vocabulary to really understand what’s going wrong. So read up on craft and then you will be able to apply to it your own writing.

6) Work out WHY your writing idols are so good

Following on from 5, enjoying your writing idols’ work is just the surface level. If we’re going to be able to emulate our heroes’ successes, we need to know WHY, at craft level, they are so good. So what is it you love about your favourites’ movies, TV or novels?

7) Figure out your submissions strategy

Make 2018 the year you stop throwing spaghetti at the wall. Without a submissions strategy, any success you have will be accidental, rather than by design. Figure whom you want to submit your work to, plus when and why – IN ADVANCE.

8) Evaluate how far you’ve come already

It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come when we’re set on the road ahead. Don’t forget to reward yourself for jobs well done, or the fact you’re no longer wet behind the ears. Also, knowing where you are on the4 road keeps your feet on the ground and helps you make decisions on what you want to do next. So stop obsessing about ‘making it as a writer’ – if you’re writing? You’re a writer. Done.

9) Set some goals for the year ahead

Every New Year’s Day, I open my diary and write out my list of goals for the year ahead. It’s usually a mix of the outlandish and the achievable. I then evaluate what is possible by what date by breaking it down into things like wordcount (ie. X words per week), or what I need to ensure gets done so I can commit to my goal (ie. money, childcare, hours, etc) and who I need to get to help me do this (Mr C and other family; fellow collaborators, etc). So write down what you WANT to do, HOW you’re going to do it (plus WHO you need to help) and BY WHEN. I double-dare you.

10) Create a writing ritual

My writing ritual is very simple: I try and ensure I dedicate 4K words to my novel per week. That’s gone by the wayside lately (it always does in the autumn term), but I’ll be back onto with a vengeance in the new year. So, what’s yours? Remember, it all adds up.

11) Discover if you’re on the right path

It’s common for writers to go through periods of non-enthusiasm for their work or place in the industry, especially if they’ve had a run of rejection. However, if your lack of enthusiasm lasts for months at a time (3+ months is the danger zone, imho), then you might be on the wrong path. It could be a writer’s life is not for you (maybe you want to be creative some other way?); or you could be in the wrong medium. The only way you can work this out is by dedicating some mind space to it. If you come to the conclusion that no, you DO want to be a writer, then you need to find a way of getting enthused again … And in my experience, that’s usually some kind of new project.

12) Work on your grammar, punctuation and spelling

A simple one, but hard to enact. As writers, we are judged by the words on the page – it’s what we do. So you need to work out WHERE you have issues and blind spots on the basics. Whilst it’s true many of us have been taught badly, or have a learning difficulty like dyslexia, the good news is, improving is easier than ever. Just commit to doing a ten minute online test like these every day of 2018: before you know it. you will be proficient, or at least better than you were before. What’s not to like?!

14) Keep a writing diary or journal

Lots of writers say their partner, family or other commitments mean they have no time to write. But B2W has always said your best writing is done by THINKING. So mull your ideas, loglines and plots over WHILE you do the other stuff. But okay, life is busy, so make sure you take a diary, journal or notebook with you to note these things down as they occur. B2W is entirely powered by notebooks – and is one of the reasons I am so prolific. True fact!!!

15) Watch movies (not just TV)

There’s always a lot of talk online about how we’re currently living in a ‘Golden Age’ of TV. Whether you think this or not, these are the facts: writing television differs significantly to movies in terms of plotting to movies. It’s not hard to see why: one is episodic and one is ‘stand alone’ (even in a franchise, a single movie must speak for itself).

Perhaps because screenwriters typically consume SO MUCH television, they tend to do better with TV spec pilots than 90-120 page spec feature screenplays … Yet new writers are waaaay more likely to break through with  brilliant spec feature than TV pilot. I’m convinced it’s because they don’t watch ENOUGH movies. This seems like an own goal.

What’s more, novelists would do well to watch more movies, too. I see A LOT of samey, tropey characters in genre novels, plus plotting can be dodgy too (especially endings, with everything ‘backended to the resolution’). Yet investment in character role functions, plus a 3 Act Structure, could solve both these problems – and movies can illustrate both of these things for writers, quickly and efficiently.

16) Do peer review

You know the drill, people: join Bang2writers, find people you can swap work with. Helping your colleagues and being helped in return cannot be anything but good. Plus it creates relationships and connects you. Even if you find yourself paired with an asshole, you know who to avoid in future! Boom! There’s literally no downside, unless you’re the asshole.

17) Stop knee-jerking on feedback

It’s great writers are so thirsty for feedback – but that doesn’t mean the feedback is always right. In fact, some of it is downright crap; others will be good stuff, but just not relevant for whatever reason. There will be lots of other types too. This is the thing: you don’t HAVE to use other people’s notes, especially on specs. You can use it as a springboard for your own ideas … But to do that, you need to let feedback marinade in your brain. And that takes TIME. Learn how to use feedback efficiently.

18) Review movies, TV & novels from a craft POV

Harking back to point 6 on this list, this is where you break down WHAT WORKS and what needs MORE DEVELOPMENT about works you enjoy. I use Goodreads to do this on novels I like. Note, you won’t find reviews of stuff I hated. I don’t see the point. But even the novels I was lukewarm on get a review with a positive slant, because it’s far too easy to simply criticise stuff. A lot of work goes into writing books and there’s ALWAYS something that can be praised (even if you have to dig deep).

And NO, I’m not advocating LYING … If you don’t enjoy something, then that’s fine. But why not try and offer what you think WORKS from a craft POV first, then do similar on what needs FURTHER DEVELOPMENT. Try not to use emotional language like ‘this was crap’ or ‘I hated this’ etc – or if you do, back up WHY from a characterisation, plotting or structural reason. Re-train your brain to go beyond ‘hate-watching’ and ‘hate-reviewing’ into looking at the LAYERS of there work.

19) Follow useful and interesting people online

Social media makes it easier than ever to identify the people who can help us in our writing or careers – whether that’s for research or connecting with influential people, publishers and producers alike. So go out and connect with them! Just don’t shoot yourself in the foot, for God’s sake.

20) Work out what you’re missing

However successful you are in smashing your goals and getting ahead in your career, don’t get complacent. There are ALWAYS opportunities staring you in the face and pitfalls to fall into. But if you know what you’re missing, you can plan effectively and consider what’s possible for you and what’s not … That way you needn’t leave anything on the table needlessly. Sometimes you will have to say ‘No’ and that’s okay, as long as it’s an informed decision.

Good Luck!

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Bang2write will be back in the new year

In the meantime, feel free to get your scriptchat on over on the Bang2writers FB group! JOIN HERE.

If you’re looking for writing help and free PDF resources to download, CLICK HERE.

If you’d like to give ME a Christmas gift, then I’d love a review! You can review the Bang2write main site, HERE or any of my books you’ve read on their Amazon listings HERE, or Goodreads HERE. Even just one sentence is a big help. Thank you!

Also, if you’re at a loose end this holiday, then you may be interested to know some of my books are on special offer. The Other Twin is just 99p on Kobo and Amazon.co.uk are price-matching HERE; plus my new non fiction writing book, Writing Diverse Characters For Fiction, TV & Film is 50% off on ebook HERE at the moment.

Have a brilliant holiday season!

 

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