Professional formatting = Professional layout = Professional grammar, spelling & punctuation = Professional writing. It’s not rocket science.

Yet as anyone who spends any time reading writers’ submissions knows, this too often so NOT the case! Look, the odd mistake or typo will always slip through. NO reader, agent, producer or assistant worth their salt will ever care about that. What we’re talking about are the CONSISTENT CLANGERS that can get you marked down, or worse, thrown in the dreaded OUT tray!

So here’s a list of those little, niggly things that can mean so much to your spec screenplay or unpublished novel when you’re sending it out:

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1) Fonts

i) Screenwriters

Believe it or not, screenwriters STILL submit spec scripts in fonts other than courier. Make no mistake: this is a non-negotiable. This includes short films, feature screenplays and YES, spec TV Pilots as well! No one cares if there’s a template for whatever *type* of show you’ve written, just write it in courier. By the way, Courier New is a horrible version, it’s much lighter than Courier Final Draft or Courier Prime and will give manual formatting via MS Word away in seconds. Download software!!!

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MORE: The B2W Format One Stop Shop – A complete rundown of all the format issues I see most often in spec screenplays, plus what to do about them.

ii) Novelists

If you’re making submissions to agents, or even if you’re not and publishing straight to the Kindle, the preferred font is Times New Roman.

2. TNR font

MORE: 29 Ways NOT To Submit To An Agent by Carole Blake from the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency.  Read these horror stories and weep! 

2) Layout

i) Screenwriters

Remember, scene description is scene ACTION. Make sure you revitalise your scene description, avoiding camera angles and other niggly things, like “widows” (aka “orphans”), which are single words that occupy a line all by themselves. Too many of these little blighters and you can end up with a false reading re: your script’s page count, plus it just looks scrappy.

7.WIDOW WORDS

ii) Novelists

As it says below, novels need to be double-spaced. That’s just the way it’s done. So do it.

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MORE: Struggling with your prose? Then check out 8 Ways To Jump Start Your Novel’s Description.

3) Apostrophe Confusion 

This error is probably Numero Uno in the spec pile, whether I’m reading screenplays, pitch material or novels. This is a real shame, because it’s actually easy to get a handle on this, if you’re disciplined (that’s the bad news). The good news is, there are plenty of strategies to deal with apostrophe confusion and even cure yourself altogether.

It’s NOT difficult to see why apostrophes cause so much confusion. There are three main ways these slippery little sods can cause headaches for writers: contractions, plurals and possessives.

i) Contractions

Contractions are basically two words squished together, as below.

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Contractions are easy to check, because all you need to do is think about what you’re REALLY writing, such as the below:

You are the one for me”:

10.you're vs. yourMORE: 5 Killer Grammar & Punctuation Errors That Will Sink Your Reputation … And Ways You Can Fix Them! By Michelle Goode AKA @SoFluid

ii) Apostrophes vs. Plurals and Contractions

Sometimes people will put an apostrophe in a word that’s actually a plural. It’s rare you need to do this.  Other times, people will think it’s a word is a contraction, when it isn’t. Check these out:

12. contractions and pluralsiii) Possessives

Other times, you need an apostrophe to indicate something belongs to someone / something else. This is admittedly quite weird and theories abound for how it happened, but my favourite is the one that stuck in my mind and helped me remember:9. possessiveThe notion behind the above is that the English Language is SEXIST as the apostrophe formation is always derived from the word “his”, whether the subject is male OR female. Who knows if it’s true and frankly who cares (How’d we even say, “Lucy‘r writing”, rather than “Lucy‘s writing”??), but it is a handy way of remembering the possessive!!

4) Tenses

There are obviously loads of ways of expressing yourself with language and if you’re a non-native  speaker or an EFL/ESL teacher, you’ll know there’s loads of tense formations in English. But for the sake of clarity, let’s go with these ones:

4. TENSESi) Screenwriters

Screenwriters should write in the PRESENT SIMPLE. Lots of scribes write in present continuous, which can be very “flabby” at worst and at best, take up extra space. Present simple, that all-important /s/ format is the tense of choice. That’s not to say you can’t EVER use the continuous (aka “progressive”), just use it in addition to, NOT instead of, present simple. It’s rare screenwriters ever need to use the perfective aspect. MORE: Improve Your Writing

ii) Novelists

Novelists and non fiction writers, bloggers etc can obviously use whatever they want, include the PAST versions of the above tenses. However, it’s really important to remember CONSISTENCY IS KEY. I see a lot of seemingly random mixing and it rarely works. MORE: Exercises on tense consistency

5) Mixed Tenses

i) Screenwriters

The ones below are probably variations of those I read most often. In screenplays, in scene description, it’s nearly always a massive error to include them (not so much in dialogue though, as it could be argued it’s the character, not the writer, using the mixed tenses!).

ii) Novelists

In terms of novels, I think it depends on HOW you’re writing your book. If writing in the first person or using a narrator, it could be argued mixed tenses are okay because it’s *how* “normal” people speak. I’d venture using mixed tenses in the third person however looks like a mistake, rather than a deliberate style choice.

8.mixed tensesSo you know: mixed tenses *can* be a massive pet peeve of script readers, though the tide of public opinion appears to be turning in their favour. That said, if you are going to use them, I think it’s wise to ensure readers KNOW it’s a considered choice and not just a mistake!

6) Mistaken words

Put simply, you HAVE to know the tools of your trade – words. So know which ones you need to use, plus the differences between them and why they have them, as below:
13.mistaken wordsRemember, you need to know the differences between contractions, plurals, possessives and don’t forget homophones either! (see point 9) MORE: 7 Big Mistakes In Unpublished Novels

7) Common Misspellings

Interestingly, whether reading a spec screenplay or unpublished novel, I can often identify the words the writer has trouble with quite easily. What’s more, from my wealth of reading experience, I have identified four words that seemingly get misspelled ALL THE TIME and weirdly, none of them are actually difficult. Check them out:

14. common mispellingsBut this is the thing. YOU can do the same and identify your own weaknesses. Go through your work and ACTIVELY FIND OUT which words you spell incorrectly a lot. Record the instances in a notebook, with the correct spelling at the top and the wrong versions underneath. Through doing this work, you WILL get on top of your issue, because in the very least you will create a library of your own common misspellings, which you can cross reference. So what are you waiting for?? MORE: Writing Rules: The Least You Can Do 

8) Silent letters 

Yeah, yeah I know: who thought silent letters was a good idea?? English is a bitch. But check out the words below – without their silent letter, they mean something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!

15. silent lettersYes, even “reck” which means “to pay heed to something“. So get vocabularly building, it’s the only way forward. CLICK HERE for 7 easy ways to learn lots of new words and their definitions, fast and sign up for sites like Vocabularly.com

9) Homophones

Funny story. I once told a Bang2writer, an American producer, that he had a “homophone problem” in the screenplay he’d sent me. He said, “Say what??? My cell is gay now?” 

But no, a homophone is basically a word that SOUNDS the same as another one, but has a DIFFERENT meaning. These are the most commonly confused I see in spec screenplays and unpublished novels:

16. homophonesAgain, it’s all about vocabularly building to get on top of this. That’s no great hardship: we’re writers, we LOVE words, right?? MORE: 3 Killer Typos That Blow Writers Out The Water by @StartYourNovel 

10) Compound words

A compound word is basically a word made up of two other words. Here are four common compound words which writers frequently carve in two incorrectly in their work:

6. COMPOUND WORDS

Do note compound words DON’T need hyphens. Which words need hyphens and which don’t can be rather hit-or-miss (arf), but generally speaking I think it’s useful to remember that it is a piece of punctuation that is gradually DYING OUT. Lots of writers use the hyphen seemingly every other paragraph and it’s rare you’ll need it that much. Here’s more info and you can take some tests on hyphenated words HERE.

5. HYPHENATED WORDS

One thing a compound word definitely IS NOT, is a “blend” or “portmanteau word”. These are words that literally blend two words together. Here’s a list of 25 great portmanteaus if you’re interested.

Concluding:

– It’s not “rules”, just best practices

– You need to present your work professionally, the expected way

– The odd typo or mistake will always get through, everyone agrees that’s fine

– YOU need to identify your own weaknesses, grammar, spelling and punctuation-wise

– Vocabularly building is a GREAT way for writers to keep learning

– Taking online tests, ten minutes a day, can improve our progress

– Knowing the specifics of language can only help us, we’re writers! 

Good luck! 

Like this post? Then please check out my books, HERE and share on your social media profiles. Happy writing!

[N.B: No real spoilers]

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I will often complain that too much femcrit automatically laments the dearth of female characters. I feel often it’s reductive whining, saying there are “none” or that Ripley (1979) and Sarah Connor (1992) were the last great ones.

ERM, NO! Whilst I’m not exactly putting up the bunting –  MORE Female characters please! – I actually don’t think it’s all doom and gloom, either. I think there have been some fabulous female characters of late, even in action movies. So, check out these lovely ladies and why I think they rock:

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1) Lucy from LUCY (2014)

Now barring the obvious contribution of James Cameron and Sarah Connor, Luc Besson practically invented the kickass hottie with Lee-Lou in THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997), so I won’t lie and say I was expecting a (literal) evolution in LUCY.

Yet I was pleasantly surprised, because it turned out to be one of my fave action movies of 2014. I’m not normally a Scarlett Johansen fan, but she is electrifying as our heroine: her transition from easily-led, naive girl through to Higher Being is staggering. Favourite bit? Gotta be calling her mother to say goodbye at the hospital. SOB. MORE: 5 Things I Learned In A 10 Min Q + A With Luc Besson

2) Dr. Ryan Stone from GRAVITY (2013)

So, Sandra Bullock is well-known as the poster girl for great female characters, even in genre films. Arguably Ryan Stone is the pinnacle of her career and rightly so, because as far as I’m concerned, GRAVITY is a kickass movie with great effects, a fantastic heroine and a simple, but effective storyline: survive at all costs.

The survival story is one we have seen men enact time and time again, even alone (I AM LEGEND, anyone??) yet it’s not often we see a female protagonist dominate the story and indeed the actual FRAME as effectively as Stone.

But what I particularly love about Dr. Ryan Stone is that, if you swap her fate with her male colleague Matt Kowalski’s and have him survive instead, guess what?? NOTHING CHANGES, beyond the desire to survive (even if it may be for different reasons). There are no gender politics here, just a character’s individual journey, both literally and metaphorically. Progress in action. Awesome! MORE: The similarities between GRAVITY and LUCY

3) Mallory in HAYWIRE (2011)

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“Don’t think of her as a woman. That would be a mistake.”

HAYWIRE is a criminally underrated and kickass action movie and in my somewhat biased opinion, Soderbergh’s best film (written by Lem Dobbs). Gina Carano is not an actress I’d noticed before her star-making turn here, but it’s not difficult to see why she got picked! In addition to her very real fighting skillz, Carano is attractive but more importantly, a great actress to boot.

It would have been so easy to make Mallory the typical ass-kicking ice maiden, but HAYWIRE avoids this well-mined territory with ease. My favourite part has to be – besides Mallory squeezing the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender to death between her thighs (obvs!) –  when she kidnaps the young buck from the diner.

Even though he’s in mortal terror and fearing for his life, not just from her but the guys chasing them, Mallory seems so nurturing, telling him he’ll be “fine”, almost like a parent, whilst single-handedly taking on the bad guys, driving AND tending to her wounds. The epitome of multi-tasking. Nice one. MORE5 Reasons JJ Abrams’ STAR WARS Doesn’t “Owe” Anyone Gender Diversity

4) Mako Mori from PACIFIC RIM (2013)

The only WoC on this list and she’s not even the protagonist, which as I’m sure we’ll all agree is poor show in terms of the status quo *generally* in Hollywood. That said, Mako Mori is *not* your typical female secondary character by a long shot and this is in no small part down to screenwriter Travis Beacham’s writing.

Mako is neither solely sexualised or kickass; nor is she the sciencey type who exists solely in an expositional function to fill in white characters on useful stuff at the end of the world. Instead she is capable, with a quiet strength and if she “has anything to overcome, it’s no worse than her male counterparts”, as Wolfblood’s Debbie Moon points out in this round up of industry experts’ favourite recent female characters. A refreshing change to be sure and I look forward to seeing more female characters who are also WoCs, not only in secondary role functions but in the protagonist’s – and antagonist’s! – roles too. MOREThe Powerful Feminist Theme Of THE WOLVERINE

5) Furiosa from MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

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Charlize Theron is one of my favourite actors and like Bullock, she has made a great living playing really interesting, flawed women, both in drama and genre films. But again, I think it’s this one that’s the pinnacle of that brilliant career and it will take some doing for Theron to surpass it.

Furiosa is a ferocious woman out of necessity: she can take care of herself and she fears no man. Writer/Director George Miller could have written her as the typical “man, with boobs”, but he doesn’t. Furiosa is not only capable – she has seen to it that only she can drive the war rig – she is also shrewd and clever, planning her escape from the citadel and Immortan Joe’s clutches literally for years.

Had Furiosa been a male character, she possibly would have slipped away, a lone wolf like Max. This is what we expect heroic characters to do, only to have a change of heart and turn back, which Max literally does!

In comparison then, Furiosa will take as many as she can with her, including Immortan Joe’s wives. This is not just because she hates Joe and wants to liberate the women (which she does on both counts), but because those wives are also conversely her best protection … In the ensuing chase, Joe consistently calls his War Boys off, lest they harm the wives by accident. Booyah!!

Intriguingly too, Furiosa is an amputee and has a specialist robotic arm. She never talks of what happened to her arm (though naturally we assume it was a War Boy, or maybe Immortan Joe himself). Nor is Furiosa’s arm part of any clanger revenge plot dialogue, ie. to Immortan Joe, “You took my arm … now I take your life!” YIKES.

It’s important to remember The Mad Max storyverse has included disabled characters from the very beginning of the franchise (remember the old woman with the gun in the first movie, or her son, who is SEN? Or the cop with the mechanical voicebox?), so MAD MAX: FURY ROAD is no different in this regard.

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What IS different, is that Furiosa’s arm is a plot point. She does *something* [NO SPOILERS!] with it she could never do with a flesh arm. In this regard, Furiosa’s arm is rather like Detective Spooner’s from I, ROBOT (2005) – oh, another Will Smith movie! Fancy that.

Anyway, Spooner’s own robotic arm is also a plot point. In fact, his involvement with Langham and subsequent investigation into the scientist’s death is BECAUSE of that arm. In addition, there are a number of times in the narrative Spooner is able to do things with that arm that simply would not work with one made of flesh. Just like Furiosa. In essence, their arms are not so much disabilities, but UPGRADES.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited to see action movies suggesting differences are not necessarily disadvantages. HOWZAT for diversity?? MOREDiversity Vs. Reality? 6 Questions For X MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

For more on female characters & Thrillers:

thrillerCLICK HERE to read an excerpt from Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays about the iconic character of Driver in the movie DRIVE, courtesy of B2W friends Film Doctor. Click on the pic or HERE, to look inside in the front of the book.

Like this post? Then please check out my books, HERE and share on your social media profiles. Happy writing!

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I get a LOT of Science Fiction at B2W … It’s a genre that’s been cool for a good while now, especially in spec TV pilots. In addition, it’s a fab genre for writers to really show off how BIG they can think in their feature scripts, especially as samples but also for those writers wanting to crack the US studio system. Also, just because  Science Fiction is high concept doesn’t mean it *can’t* be low budget either, so it can work for short film too.

In short, Sci Fi has got plenty going for it for spec writers. Yet I’ll see the same-old problems rearing their ugly heads in this genre … Set your phasers to STUN and shoot these outta your spec SF screenplays, boyz & gals:

1) Forgetting your worldbuilding

This is the thing. Your Sci Fi storyworld doesn’t exist, so you need to anchor the reader in it … but at the SAME TIME you gotta hit the ground running, too! You don’t want to do an extended introduction so much that you end up making us wait for the story to start, either! Yes, it’s difficult. But who said screenwriting was easy?? MORE: 7 Tips On Sci Fi Arenas / World Building In Your Screenplay Or Novel

2) Not making exposition clear

Exposition is background information a reader needs to be able to understand what is going on in your story. Now, that may include your storyworld (as in point 1), but also stuff like character motivation and backstory. The clarity of exposition is important in ALL stories, but especially science fiction, because we’re often dealing with – you guessed it – stuff that doesn’t actually exist. Which is why it’s so difficult! MORE: How Does Exposition Work? AKA 9 Common Exposition Qs Answered

3) Character clichés

Some of the most iconic characters have come from science fiction – Ripley, Sarah Connor, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, The Doctor, Captain Kirk, Spock, you name it. However, because of this, it can be really hard to break new ground. So make sure you’re not just copying what’s gone before! MORE: A Tale Of 2 (Mad) Scientists: How Contrast In Characterisation Works

4) Clichéd concept

Science Fiction turns up in my pile ALL THE TIME … yet too often, those spec screenplays are simply rehashing stories that have already been told. We want some new and groundbreaking, it’s NOT the execution that counts! Harsh but true. MORE: 4 Ways Samey Stories Happen … And 1 Thing You Can Do To Beat Them

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5) On The Nose Dialogue

Very often writers worry we won’t understand their Sci Fi world, so they will explain every little thing with dialogue or remind us of things we’ve alreayd seen by recapping in full a scene or two later. No, just no!!! MORE5 Reasons Dialogue Is Overrated

6) Not balancing visuals & dialogue

Sometimes scribes are so afraid of point 5, they forget one of the primary purposes of dialogue is also to ILLUMINATE what’s going on in the action, too. This is why sometimes filmmakers might say, “Can I have a line for that?” as it can help anchor the audience in either what’s actually happening, or what they’re supposed to take from the scene (or both). MORE: How dialogue & action work together in GRAVITY when debris hits Explorer

7) Not combining the Sci Fi with another genre

This is the thing: Sci Fi is rarely on its own. It might be combined with Horror, Action, Adventure, Thriller, Mystery, Crime, even Comedy. But it’s usually a combo of something, with Science Fiction more the arena than a genre in its own right. MORE: Genre Films: Don’t Overthink It

8) Novelistic Scene Description

This is probably the most problematic area of Sci Fi spec screenplays – especially in the first instance. Scribes will fall in love with the “look” of the scenes … They’ll be so intent on painting every single detail with words, so they’ll write SWATHES of the black stuff to “set up” that all-important storyworld. Yet as the old adage goes, less really is more! MOREA Little Less Description, A Little More Action Please

Also in this series:

8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Thriller Screenplay DEAD

8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Drama Screenplay DEAD

8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Horror Screenplay DEAD

Like this post? Then please check out my books, HERE and share on your social media profiles. Happy writing!

It’s The Cannes Film Festival at the moment, so in honour of the occasion, not to mention HeelGate, I thought I’d round up some women writers’ thoughts on the process, writing female characters, strength and MORE … Enjoy!

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1) Nora Ephron

I try to write parts for women that are as complicated and interesting as women actually are.

2) Shonda Rhimes

You can’t tell stories and really walk in someone’s shoes and not have a love for them, even if they’re doing horrible things.

3) Tina Fey

I like to write about women, not so much about the way they relate to men, but about the way they relate to each other. And I don’t think anyone’s really doing it.

4) Margaret Atwood

A word after a word after a word is power.

5) Diablo Cody

I always say when you write a book, you’re a ‘one-man band.’ Whereas, when you finish a screenplay, it’s just a sketch.

6) Toni Morrison

Writing is really a way of thinking — not just feeling but thinking about things that are disparate, unresolved, mysterious, problematic or just sweet.

7) Callie Khouri

I like writing flawed women, and being one, it’s something I feel I can write with some veracity and authority.

8) Laurie Halse Anderson

Write about the emotions you fear the most.

9) Meg Cabot

Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.

10) Isabel Allende

Write what should not be forgotten.

11) Sylvia Plath

The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.

12) Octavia E. Butler

You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.

13) Maya Angelou

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

14) Zadie Smith

You are never stronger than when you land on the other side of despair.

15) Gertrude Stein

You are extraordinary within your limits, but your limits are extraordinary! 

More links

9 Female Screenwriters Worth Watching 

The 1 Gender Swap That Could Make ALL THE DIFFERENCE In Your Story

33 Experts share Their Notable Female Characters Of Recent Years 

33 Experts Share What They Want Next From Female Characters

5 Ways To Write A Complex Female Character

9 Ways To Celebrate The Progress Of Female Characters, Writers & Makers

Like this post?

10440804_391869597644630_3752256585066692850_nCheck out my courses and talks page HERE (or click my pic) for info on when B2W is next out on the road and at a venue near you, as well as round ups and live tweets of past talks.

Like this post? Then please check out my books, HERE and share on your social media profiles. Happy writing!

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One thing Bang2writers ask me all the time is, “HOW do I write a great character?” and many of them get frustrated when I say, “it depends”. But it does! On any number of things, not least of all:

1) WHAT you’re trying to achieve 

Look. It’s very fashionable to say “character is everything”, but we know it’s not really:  a character-led drama is NOT the same as a high octane genre piece; literary fiction is NOT the same as genre fiction. That’s not to say characterisation doesn’t matter in the latter because that’s clearly not the case. But what you’re trying to ACHIEVE with that characterisation will differ. Le duh. MORE: 8 Questions For Kickass Characterisation

2) WHY you’re trying to achieve it 

Good writers – no matter what they write – know WHY they’re writing it. Because if they don’t, no one else can get on board with the story. Simple as that. MORE: Q: Aren’t *All* Movies “Character-Driven”?

3) How the character enters the story

So many writers become so invested in their characters, they forget to make the reader (or audience) do the same. So they’ll launch their character into the story with very little thought on where we’re seeing them for the first time. Sometimes, a character will simply walk into a room and start talking, just like that. Yet your character’s entrance is of UTMOST importance. Where is the character? What is s/he doing? What does this say about him/her? Why? MORE: Q: How Best To Introduce A Character? 

4) What level of complexity you need

Sometimes writers will overcomplicate things, often because they’re getting on their soapbox — and this is never more obvious in my experience than with female protagonists. Writers know modern audiences are boring of so-called “strong women”, so will try and write something “new” … but will end up perpetuating tired stereotypes. Sometimes it’s better to think of “complex”, rather than “strong”. MORE: 5 Ways To Write A Complex Female Character

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5) What level of “unusual” you’re experimenting with

Some characters are so entrenched in a particular type of story or tale, that the moment you change it even SLIGHTLY, that character will seem wildly different. In others, audiences may not get it right away if you don’t clock them over the head with it. Whatever you end up doing however, it’s wise to remember you’re nearly always thinking “left of the middle” rather than completely “out there”. MORE: 4 Tips To Write An Unusual Character 

6) What journey the character takes

Storytelling is usually a journey of some kind (though that journey doesn’t HAVE to be about change). Whatever journey your characters undertake then, we have to get some idea of progression, from A to B to C, otherwise why are we watching or reading? MORE: 12 Character Journeys We Can Learn From (No Real Spoilers)

7) Knowing that *someone* will always hate your character!

Whenever a writer expresses worry *someone* will hate their character for WHATEVER reason, my answer is always the same:

i) You’ve gotta get your story produced or published first

ii) Some people out there are actively looking for trouble

iii) You cannot possibly please everyone, so just do the best you can.

What else is there?? MORE: 3 Issues With Casting That Great Character In The Produced Version Of Your Screenplay

Like this post? Then please check out my books, HERE and share on your social media profiles. Happy writing!

Horror is a high concept genre that can lend itself easily to low budget filmmaking (both feature and short film), so it’s no wonder I get so many of them across my desk via B2W and my industry clients. What’s more, audiences’ gore tolerance is on the UP, so television can be considerably more scary and violent than it used to be as well.

Yet just there ARE some classic clangers scribes can fall into when attempting the horror genre, so check this out for size because they will kill your Horror screenplay DEAD:

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1) Just write a string of gruesome scenes

Look, we get it. It’s a horror, which is why you’re hacking everyone to pieces. But if you’ve not got a discernible narrative to go with the grisly stuff, believe it or not it just gets dull after a while! TRUE STORY. MORE: Why Horror And Comedy Aren’t That Different 

2) Copy too much

Yes, yes we all love a good homage … But there’s a reason certain Horror movies make it in cultural consciousness and that’s because they BREAK NEW GROUND. They will take something “pre-sold” like murder or aliens and then TWIST it. Crucially, they’ll do this “left of the middle” though, rather than total “left field” though! MORE: Buffalo Bill from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, A Case Study

3) Not make it visceral

The best horror stories grab something and make it – you guessed it – truly horrifying. That’s why so many horror stories involve PENETRATION and PREGNANCY. Both these things are okay, even pleasurable and desirable in the “proper” context, but out of that can be VILE. That’s why the facehugger and chestburster in ALIEN is so effective, even 35 years later: it’s VISCERAL because it’s a deadly violation. EWWWWW. MORE: My favourite bit in ALIEN (it’s not what you expect)

4) Not knowing the difference between Horror & Thriller

Just as Thrillers can suffer tone-wise in the spec pile because writers don’t know the difference, the reverse is true. As a result, the story misfires because the reader doesn’t know what she’s dealing with. MORE: Horror/Thriller Mash Up Case Study: Wind Chill (2007) 

5) Cliché Clanger Dialogue

Horrifying and implausible things will happen in Horror screenplays – so writers spend all their time drawing attention to how UNLIKELY events are in the story. Yes really! Usually via these lines: “This can’t be happening!” and “I don’t believe it!” and my personal favourite, “This doesn’t even make any sense!” No, just NO! MORE: Cliché Clanger Lines To Avoid

6) Write 2D characters

Look, we get it. You want to kill your characters, so you don’t want to spend *too* much time with them, else you’ll be all sad when you chop them up into tiny little bits. But guess what: if YOU’RE sad when a character dies, so will the audience be! And effective characterisation is what we want. DUH! MORE9 Ways To Write Great Characters

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7) Overdose on exposition

Because Horror often takes place in sci fi, fantasy or hyper real worlds, involve monsters, aliens or the supernatural, very often writers will try and explain EVERY. LITTLE. THING. But you don’t have to. We just need to know, upfront, what IS possible in this storyworld – and what’s not. Relax! Have fun. Kill some people. MORE: Know Your Enemy (But Don’t Know Too Much)

8) Forget DREAD

One of the most effective tools of the horror genre – and one of the most often ignored by spec writers, I find. A sense of dread (as opposed to “rising action”, as in Thriller) is one of the key differences between the two genres. Whatever you think of them, Oren Peli Supernatural Horror movies like INSIDIOUS, SINISTER and THE CONJURING are masterclasses in the art of inspiring dread in their target audience. Watch the movies, read the scripts and find out how. MORE: The Shining (1980), A Case Study

Also in this series:

8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Thriller Screenplay DEAD

8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Drama Screenplay DEAD

Like this post? Then please check out my books, HERE and share on your social media profiles. Happy writing!

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I’ve written a lot about “Writer Luck” on this blog but ultimately, you keep going, something’s gotta stick eventually … Right??? Except:

1) You need a strategy

Whether author, screenwriter, filmmaker or ALL of these, a strategy is non-negotiable. Yes, it’s possible to get somewhere by sheer luck but you’re far more likely to make headway by DESIGN. MORE: 5 Career Strategies For Writers 

2) You need a bombproof concept

Too many works in the spec pile – whether novel OR screenplay – simply don’t know what they are. And if writers can’t communicate that central concept, no one else will know either. Bad luck. MORE: The Best Way To F*** Up Your Screenplay

3) You need to know, “WHY this story?”

Get this: there are more submissions than anyone can ever read, ever. So if you want someone to pick YOURS, you have to know WHY they would when they can pick someone else’s. MORE: WHY This Story? … Or 8 Questions They’re **Really** Asking

4) You need your own USP

From WHY to WHAT: originality might be overrated, but retelling stories that have already been told won’t cut it. If you’re going to write crime fiction, YA, a cop show, a contained Horror or Thriller feature, a supernatural TV pilot, a devastating drama, then it HAS to have something that sets it apart from all the others, or you might as well not bother. MORE: 4 Ways Samey Stories Happen … And 1 Thing You Can Do To Beat Them

5) You need a personal remit

From WHY to WHAT to WHO … Who. Are. YOU? as the caterpillar from ALICE IN WONDERLAND would say!! You need to know who you are as a writer and why you do what you do, because people WILL ask you, especially if you get that elusive meeting. MORE: 12 Tips For Taking A Meeting

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6) You need to get out there IRL

This is the thing. Sitting in your bedroom typing furiously just isn’t going to cut it. You need to get out there, into the real world and meet some people. You can do this at big events like LondonSWF; smaller ones like BBC Writersroom’s, WGGB’s or Tweet ups; or even arrange your own. It doesn’t matter how you do it. Just get out there, don’t hide away. MOREThe Dos & Don’ts of Networking At LondonSWF

7) You need to get connected

Social media is not just procrastination; it can be a brilliant TOOL for  writers and filmmakers, because it’s now easier than ever before to get connected. Do this however you want, just do it. So find your platform of choice and get started! Here’s some linkage to kick off >> MOREConnecting With Writers, Filmmakers & Agents Online 

8) You need credibility

Inevitably, because it’s so easy to connect with people via social media, there are inevitable pitfalls too, with writers and filmmakers shooting themselves in the foot. But the good news is, you can still recover your credibility too, so don’t panic! MORE5 Ways Writers Kill Their Credibility Online

9) You need allies

Help out and be helped … Create those relationships! Be generous and the good karma will come back tenfold. Also, make sure people know you, what you do and how you do it, because you’re far more likely to get opportunities and referrals this way. MORE: All About Relationships & Teamwork

10) You need to know what you’re doing!

Whatever it is you do, you gotta be a professional about it. It really is as simple as that. Good luck! MORE: 7 Things You Must Stop Doing If You Want To Be A Professional Writer

Like this post? Then please check out my books, HERE and share on your social media profiles. Happy writing!

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Drama can be ANYTHING. Literally, anything. So why am I reading the same stuff??? Whether short film, TV pilot or feature, here’s how to KILL your drama screenplay’s chances in the spec pile:

1) Write about the same-old, same-old

These are the facts. Everyone writes dramas about:

  • i) depression/suicide
  • ii) addiction
  • iii) domestic violence
  • iv) terminal cancer
  • v) poverty

Sometimes ALL of these in one piece! True story. Now, you CAN write about these things, but you gotta have some authenticity and emotional truth, otherwise DON’T BOTHER (see number 2). Also, make sure it’s not written the same way as countless other specs. Humans prize novelty, you know? So get ORIGINAL with your approach, or go home. MORE: Want to get noticed? DON’T write depressing dramas

2) Fill it full of clichés

Look, writers. Stop copying movies and TV you’ve already seen. If I never read a screenplay about a teenage mum who works as a stripper and goes out with a drug dealer, whilst living in a towerblock on a shitty sinkhole estate, it will be too soon! Be original. MORE: Misery Loves Company? Drama Clichés

3) Make theme stand in for plot

Dramas are by their very nature highly thematic, but that doesn’t mean these worthy themes can replace plot. You need a STORY, the most basic being: your character wants something, something gets in the way of that, so they have to do X. Build whatever you like on top of that. MORE: All About Theme

4) Suddenly turn it into a genre piece

So we’re introduced to the characters and their struggle … This seems like this is going to be a character study about human relationships? Okay. I can get down with that. Then BAM! Tarantino-style action, or aliens appear. Or something else high concept. ERM, NO. MORE: Genre Vs Drama: The Difference Between Them

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5) Only write about straight, able-bodied white men 

OF COURSE white men can be inspiring. They’ve done some great stuff. But here’s a thought, so can a stack of otherwise marginalised people, including (but not limited to) women of various races, religions, sexuality and ability. Women’s stories need telling too … And not just as the WAGs of famous men!!! We’re in a period of transition where audiences are demanding more diversity, so let’s go looking for the women inventors, scientists, soldiers, sportspeople, pioneers, writers and activists and tell their stories as well. MORE: 8 Female-Centric Biopics That Need Writing NOW

6)  Write chains & chains of dialogue

Yes, dramas tend to be more “talky” than genre pieces. But that doesn’t mean you can write pages and pages of the stuff. It’s gotta earn its keep, revealing character and pushing the story forward, every bit as much in a drama screenplay. Quite possibly, your dialogue has to be BETTER than in genre even! MORE6 Reasons Dialogue Is Your Enemy 

7) Make it “symbolic”

Every year I get sent dramas in which everything is explained as SYMBOLIC. Don’t know what X is supposed to be? It’s symbolic. Don’t know why character Y does this? It’s symbolic. Not sure of the storyworld? It’s symbolic. Look, I’m sympathetic: I LIKE arty stuff. But guess what: audiences don’t want symbolism, they want storytelling. Ipso, fatso. MORE: Simple Symbolism

8) Make it really, really, really DEPRESSING

Look, I can’t stress this enough: drama is not supposed to be depressing, it’s supposed to be DEVASTATING. Or uplifting. Or intriguing. Or whatever. Something ACTIVE, because “good” drama is about STRUGGLE. MORE: Writing The Drama Screenplay

Your story not being told?


PsulitHy
Then it’s up to YOU to tell it!! Download Writing & Selling Drama Screenplays on Kindle now, just £6.99. Also available in paperback. Click the pic or to look inside the book, CLICK HERE.

Also in this series:

8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Thriller Screenplay DEAD

Like this post? Then please check out my books, HERE and share on your social media profiles. Happy writing!

If like me you’re feeling a little weary this week (with no destination in sight for the forseeable), I thought you’d appreciate some of my fave quotes on what constitutes SUCCESS … I bet you’re at least halfway there already! Also, don’t forget you can now check out my latest podcast appearance on @thecreativepenn. I talk adapting novels, genre, film rights, treatments and much more with the lovely Joanna. Listen to it free, HERE.

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1) Pablo Picasso

Action is the foundational key to all success.

2) Emily Dickinson

Success is counted sweetest by those who never succeed.

3) Somerset W. Maugham

The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistic and self-complacent is erroneous; on the contrary it makes them, for the most part, humble, tolerant and kind.

4) Ellen DeGeneres

It’s failure that gives you the proper perspective on success.

5) Arnold H. Glasgow 

Success isn’t a result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire.

6) Bruce Lee

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.

7) Coco Chanel

Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.

8) Franklin D. Roosevelt

Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.

9) Malcolm X

If you have no critics you’ll likely have no success.

10) Jean Giraudoux

The secret of success is sincerity.

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11) Sophocles

There is no success without hardship.

12) Michael Jordan

I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.

13) Napoleon Hill

The starting point of all achievement is desire.

14) David Frost

Don’t aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally.

15) Oprah Winfrey

The best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you. 

16) Henry Ford

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.

17) David Brinkley

A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.

18) Criss Jami

Persistence. Perfection. Patience. Power. Prioritize your passion. It keeps you sane.

19) George S. Patton 

Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.

20) Beverley Sills

You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.

Need more inspiration? Check out:

It’s NEVER too late to start writing your masterpiece … here’s why

20 Inspirational Quotes Writers Can Learn From (And Why) 

5 Ways To Stay Focused On Your Writing Dream 

Connecting With Writers, Filmmakers & Agents Online 

12 Authors On Rewriting 

8 Ways For Screenwriters To Get Collaborating & Making 

Making It As A Writer: 25 Reasons You Haven’t Yet

Free B2W Writing Resources

Like this post? Then please check out my books, HERE and share on your social media profiles. Happy writing!

Writing historical fiction, I have come to learn, is like navigating a slippery slope along a precarious cliff. God forbid you get a fact wrong. Anyone who knows anything about the time period you are writing about will let you know that you did: in the reviews, on the internet, for all to see.

Let’s face it. Getting the clothing down, the setting, the politics and social graces of the times is the easy part. Keeping people entertained in another time period is what makes the story a story. So I have had to take liberties as well in my saga about the Dr. Thomas C. Durant family and their quest to open up the Adirondack wilderness to the New York City elite.

Here is my list of reasons why a writer may look beyond known facts to add more drama to a story as a way to lure in the reader/viewer.

 1) When you want to entertain, not educate

This is a fine line. Many readers of historical fiction, and tv audiences want to see the characters in the appropriate dress, eating customary food, and displaying the correct mannerisms of the time period. Indeed, I read a review of the Downton Abbey fox hunting episode and equestrians from all over the world had written in complaining that one of the female characters was not holding her riding crop correctly. Jeesh. Were people really paying attention to that? I guess so. That kind of scrutiny puts a lot of pressure on the writers of these scenes. I am convinced however that what really keeps the majority of the tv audience watching Downton Abbey is the soap opera happening upstairs in the dining hall, and down stairs in the scullery. MORE: How True Can A True Story Be?

2) When you HAVE to invent stuff

… AKA When the known facts don’t explain WHY something happened, or to clarify the characters and motives of the protagonists, even if you have to invent them.

I am dealing with this one. One of my main characters: William West Durant, spent a huge portion of the family fortune building Great Camps in the Adirondack wilderness that never turned a profit. Indeed, when he sold these camps off to the Vanderbilts and Morgans, he LOST money. As he was bleeding out the family fortune with these artistic ventures, he also had the audacity to commission a $200,000 yacht (that’s close to $4 mil. in today’s US dollars) and used it to sail to Cowes and hang out with his old aristo buds at the annual royal yachting events. In the meantime, his sister was suing him for her share of the inheritance. Why then, did he flaunt his obvious wealth to all of their family friends while she was on an allowance of $200/month in London? Was he just stupid? Did he think she wouldn’t notice? Because William W. Durant didn’t keep a diary explaining all of his motives, he only admitted years later to his oral biographer that as a youth he had never learned how to make money, just how to spend it. But is that an excuse for his scandalous behavior toward his sister? I have to get into William’s head somehow, and use fiction to help the reader believe his motives as I predict them. MORE: The Best Way To F*** Up Your Screenplay

3) When you NEED to bend the truth

AKA When a historical fact does not have great historical significance but it helps the writer’s story to bend the truth.

I was reading a review of the Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin and one of the critics complained that she took what was a seven year affair between the characters and condensed it into one year. She had to. I would have been bored stiff if the affair had dragged out that long. Besides, what would she have used to spread the story over the span of seven years? Intersperse fictional events? Maybe nothing very exciting happened during the seven years, so condensing it made the most sense.

I have also bent the truth in my story on the Durant family. It happened by accident. I assumed Ella Durant’s cousin Estelle was her age and I wrote a few scenes where they are palling around together, shopping, sledding, off to balls etc. It wasn’t until months later that I ran across the Durant genealogy and found out that Estelle was actually a decade younger than Ella. What did I do? I didn’t change anything. I needed to have the cousins together as pals in the story for numerous reasons and since Estelle was not a significant historical figure I decided it would be OK to bend the truth. MORE: Telling Lies To Tell The Truth: All About True Stories 

4) When history is (probably) a lie 

AKA When the ‘known facts’ are as likely to be as fictional as the fiction itself. Otherwise known as ‘winner writes the history books’.

Before my main character, William W. Durant died, he gave his oral history to two different men: Alfred Donaldson and Harold Hochschild in the early 1920s-30s. He was in his eighties. And he was always very positive in his outlook in life, even though by then he was bankrupt, and so was his ex-wife who had divorced him years earlier. Yet he managed to charm his biographers enough that they took his word, including his tale that he attended Bonn University. Years later in another biography written in 1980, and even still today on Wikipedia, this fact is repeated.

Well enter the Internet and me, looking to find out more about this man, and low and behold the registrars’ archivist at Bonn University has no record of a William West Durant from the years 1850-1873. He never attended. Maybe he sat in on a class, a common practice back then? Was he delusional at that point in time and maybe believed that sitting in on one class was the same as attending? Or did he just think that no one would ever check his claims? I couldn’t even find a record of him even visiting Bonn, although he did spend some time in Dresden. That led me to wonder, what other facts about this man have been over-stated? He claims to have entertained the Prince of Wales and Prince of Prussia on his yacht. Yet I can’t seem to track down the guest registry. Do I assume it actually happened? It would be a great scene to write. These issues vex me as a writer. MORE: 5 Inspirational Ways To Research

5) When the truth has been tampered with

AKA When material has been deliberately removed to prevent others from seeing it. This creates the freedom to speculate on what it might be, and what the motives might have been in removing it.

It’s hard to believe in the Kardashian-crazed world we live in that people don’t want the family skeletons out of the closet. But it’s true, many don’t. Just take the case of Ben Affleck. When he found out that one of his ancestors were slave owners he asked the producers of the PBS show ‘Finding Your Roots’, to hide this fact from the viewers. When the news was leaked, Affleck responded by posting to one of his social media sites: “We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors…”

So it went with divorce back in the 1800s. It was looked down upon by society and I have found whole sections of papers from the time-period that were devoted to publically shaming people going through divorce by broadcasting the court testimony. Only people with wealth could hide the truth from the public by getting their divorce papers sealed. The Astors, Vanderbilts, and my character: William West Durant, did it. Once sealed, the public could never find out the truth. Indeed, there is scant information about his divorce. According to what news I could find out about it, he at first he claimed his wife Janet committed adultery. Within a few months of losing that case Janet sued him for a divorce for reasons unknown. My choice as a writer is to a) uncover the documents from the basement of a county court house and ask for them to be unsealed; or b) speculate the reasons for the divorce. Which one did I choose? You will have to wait for book three to find out 😉 MORE: More about Sacrificing Facts For Drama

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Imaginary Brightness 3D Book SMLBIO: Sheila Myers is a professor at a regional community college in Upstate New York where she lives with her husband and three children. Imaginary Brightness: A Durant Family Saga is the first in a series about the family of Dr. Thomas C. Durant, who built the transcontinental railroad across the U.S. She has kept a blog about her research journey as well as fastidious notes on her sources for historic characters portrayed in her novel. Check out her website HERE or click the pic on the left.

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Like this post? Then please check out my books, HERE and share on your social media profiles. Happy writing!

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