So, we have a new infographic on B2W today that will hopefully kickstart your new screenplay and/or keep it going, so you can get it written and revised and sent out. Let’s check it out …

What Should You Write About?

There’s some great tips here on adaptation. Though most screenwriters aren’t going to have the money for options on adapting bestselling books, they can still collaborate with authors (especially self published ones, though literary agents may pair scriptwriters with authors too – always worth asking! ).

Beyond adaptation, it’s always worth doing lots of work on your central concept (aka premise, controlling idea, seed of the story, etc) to avoid it being too samey. On the other end of the scale, if writers don’t do their foundation work, they may end up in what I call The Story Swamp, either because they grind to a halt or no reader knows what the hell the story is!!

To avoid both these things, make sure you write a logline FIRST to ‘focus in’ on your story, especially what I call ‘The 3 Cs’ – clarity, conflict, characters. Good luck!

How Long Should A Screenplay Be?

120 minutes is the ‘ideal’ length for a screenplay, but only in THEORY. Time is money, so the longer your screenplay is, the more expensive it is to make. This is especially important for us UK screenwriters to realise, where ultra low-budget indie movies are typically as low as 80-90 pages. I like the fact the infographic reminds writers about profit, too – after all, this is show BUSINESS. We may love story, but money IS  factor too, whether we like it or not. More about screenplay length, HERE.

The Rules of Screenplay Format

I always say that script format is the LEAST a writer can do. Obviously you don’t need to fret over it too much – just make sure it doesn’t interrupt the ‘flow’ of the read with daft, niggly things and reader pet peeves. But what are these?? Well, luckily it’s never been easier to find out! I’ve created a mammoth list of the various formatting issues I see on a regular basis – plus what to do about them! – called The B2W Format 1 Stop Shop. I keep it updated. Worth a bookmark!

Screenwriting Pitfalls

As I always say on this blog: there’s no RIGHT way to write a script, just multiple WRONG ways! I like what the infographic has flagged up here, especially the dreaded deus ex machina. Though these are rare are produced works, they turn up in spec screenplays ALL THE TIME.

Stories about writers are (usually) quite dull, not least because I read SO MANY of them. It’s worth thinking about yours will be differentiated from the rest if you’re going to try this one.

I like the term ‘micro-managing’ here – the notion writers tell characters how to stand, move etc in the screen I call FALSE MOVEMENT. These are not ‘true’ visuals and again, very dull.

I don’t like the idea voiceover is automatically bad. We see this advice given out A LOT, yet voiceover can be a brilliant tool. It is a considered risk, which is why you MUST do your research in depth if you’re going to use this device. Click HERE for more on this.

Lastly, I understand what they mean regarding ‘ban exposition’, but all stories NEED exposition (since ‘exposition’ refers to the background information needed to understand the story). I’d wager what they really mean is ‘ban BAD exposition’ – in other words, dialogue that feels ‘on the nose’, or various plotting contrivances. For more on how to use exposition well, CLICK HERE.

The Fundamentals Of Screenwriting

If this infographic has whet your appetite for finding out more about The Fundamentals of Screenwriting and how to apply them to your OWN writing, then CLICK HERE.

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So, you’ve received an angry one-star review for your novel? Maybe it’s something like this:

This is nothing like the brilliance that is Romeo and Juliet. I know everything about books and this one sucks balls. A Tale of Two Cities, it is not! More like a Tale of Too Shitty! AVOID! Do not waste your time and money!!!

Take a deep breath … Before you start digging a six feet deep hole in your back garden, read my solutions to the top five mistakes writers make with reviews:

1) Murdering the Reviewer

Your first instinct might be to find out where the RANTviewer lives and aim a grenade launcher at their home. But most people who RANTview have never written a novel and odds are they couldn’t write a good one. Well, not without years and years of practice and by then, they might think differently about giving out less than three stars.

STOP! Don’t do this. Killing someone because they wrote a nasty review is never a good idea. Yes, they should’ve thought about the hard work that goes into writing a novel and at least been polite, but they weren’t. Relax, my friend. MORE: Top 10 (Normal) Struggles Writing A Novel

2) Replying/Commenting

Your second thought might be to give the ranter a telling off or explain how much they hurt your feelings. That it took two years to build the world that they smashed down in two seconds.

WAIT! Step away from the keyboard. This ranter clearly doesn’t care about hurting people. Telling them off will fuel the fire, while telling them you’re hurt by their words will only bring them pleasure. Don’t feed the trolls. MORE: Top 10 Commandments For Successful Writers

3) Stooping to Their Level

You might think: I’m going to ruin this person’s online life. I’m going to spread gossip about them all over the net, see how they like it! I’ll tell people they read books about bestiality and if their goodreads shelves were accurate it would include novels about poop fetishes and goat shagging.

HOLD UP! Two wrongs don’t make a right. Don’t go there! They enjoy this sick sport and you don’t, so they’ll win every time. MORE: 5 Ways Writers Kill Their Credibility Online

4) Explaining Why You Should Be Cut Some Slack

Most people don’t slag off good indie films because they know there is often a tight budget involved and the film makers did the best with what they had to work with. However, if a big budget blockbuster movie falls flat people are understandably less tolerant.

The same rule does not apply to novels.

Novelists are all judged the same way, even though we’re not always on an equal footing. Some of us will have six figure advances; huge PR drives, multiple editors, beta readers and so on; some of us will have zilch. Most of us will be somewhere in-between on that scale.

Me? I had one editor; my friends were betas and proofreaders; there was no advance, no proofs, ARCs sent to a few awesome bloggers, a reasonable marketing drive. I’m B2W taught, and proud of it! My small (soon to be HUGE) publisher did a wonderful job but readers will measure my novel with the same yardstick as the person with unlimited resources.

PAUSE! No one is going to cut you some slack and they shouldn’t have to. Good storytelling is good storytelling and you can bet that lucky author with all the bells and whistles has got some RANTviews as well. Probably worse than yours or mine. MORE: 5 Things I Learned Writing My Debut Novel

5) Staying Silent

Never approach the person who gave you the one or two-star nasty but DO tell your writing community about it, they’ll be a huge source of comfort. You will find many of them have had similar experiences, even the most popular writers who sometimes seem untouchable. Your friends/family may love your writing regardless, but the proof in the pudding is when an unknown reader contacts you to say how much they loved your work. That is why we tell stories and that is what makes your blood, sweat and tears worthwhile.

THINK! Look at all the fab reviews you have, especially the ones from people you’ve never met. MORE: Revealed – 3 Surprising Ways To Sell More Books

Lastly:

I hope this article has been helpful, you can take the grenade launcher back to the store now, fingers crossed you’ll get a refund. Any reviewers reading this (I also write reviews) can now feel safe, you won’t be attacked by some crazed writer, or perhaps I’ve given authors some really bad ideas. Either way, it’s been fun!

BIO: Emma Pullar is a writer of dark fiction and children’s books. Her picture book, Curly from Shirley, was a national bestseller and named best opening lines by NZ Post. You can read her SJV Award shortlisted horror story, London’s Crawling, in the Dark Minds charity collection and her dystopian sci-fi story, Old Trees Don’t Bend, in The Anthropocene Chronicles. Emma has also written three shortlisted stories for Create50. Her debut novel SKELETAL published by Bloodhound Books is out NOW. Follow Emma on twitter HERE or visit her website www.emmapullar.com.

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The Patron Saint Of Writers

That’s right, Rocky Balboa is the patron saint of writers … and I’m gonna tell illustrate why. But first, here’s a little story for you.

Once there was a scrappy little girl, who was all knees and elbows, who wanted to be a writer. The first time she realised this, she was about 6 years old. Her mother had a big bookcase on the landing, filled with grown up books. The little girl’s Mum had weird reading taste, so some of the covers were mad-scary, but that didn’t stop the girl from dreaming about one day seeing HER name on the spine of a book.

But as well as books, the little girl liked movies. She first started watching Rocky movies around this time and believe it or not, thought Rocky Balboa was a real person. Though she realised by the time she was ten or eleven that Rocky was actually a fictional character, it didn’t make any difference: she was hooked.

Though the little girl hated sport generally – and hated boxing and violence most of all – she knew instinctively these were not ‘just’ sports movies. When he’s not being punched in the face and turned into salami by various bad-ass antagonists, Rocky is actually quite the philosopher! And this really resonated with the little girl, who has now carried a love for Rocky Balboa in her heart for thirty years.

Yup, you guessed it: that little girl was MOI! And here’s a top 10 of my fave Rocky quotes that keep me inspired as a writer. Hopefully, you will too. Ready … GO!

1) “Nobody owes nobody nothing. You owe yourself.”

So, you want to be a writer, just like Rocky wanted to be a champion boxer. We all have to find our own way; no one’s path is identical. Some of us will be lucky enough to have supportive partners like Adrian; others may have the added challenge of loved ones who don’t get it. Some will have more money to invest in their careers; others have less. Some will have existing contacts to mine; others will have nobody and come into the industry completely cold.

But one thing that should bring us together is our realisation that we owe OURSELVES to give our journey 100%, no matter what anyone else might say, or where we start from.

2) “I believe there’s an inner power that makes winners or losers. And the winners are the ones who really listen to the truth of their hearts.”

As someone who has worked with writers for nearly 15 years now, I truly believe Rocky is right on this one. I very quickly come to recognise which writers will stay the course and who will fall by the wayside. Which one are you??

3) “Life’s not about how hard of a hit you can give … it’s about how many you can take, and still keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”

Like Rocky says here, no winner ever got the top without a few hits along the way. Some will be small and only rattle your teeth; others will feel like they encompass your whole body and rock you to your core. But the key is bouncing back and keeping going, no matter what.

4) “Our greatest glory is not in falling, but rising every time we fall.”

You will fail. It is necessary, on the route to success. No one leads a charmed life and failure is a brilliant learning curve. It is never final. But it will happen, so get used to the idea now … And like Rocky says, be ready to get back up again.

5) “Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth.”

Don’t be a desperate writer, willing to be exploited just to see your name in the credits. Find allies, collaborators and mentors. Arm yourself with the knowledge to make informed decisions. Don’t be someone else’s stepping stone or whipping boy/gal.

6) “I don’t know if you’re special. Only you’re gonna know that.”

Whether you want to be a novelist or screenwriter – or both! – you need to believe in yourself. Don’t bother asking others to confirm it, they don’t know. Like Rocky says, you have to SHOW them by believing yourself and going out and doing it.

7) “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life.”

If we swap ‘life’ for ‘the industry’ here, then Rocky is on point. It can be savage out there – either from sharks and scam merchants, or because everything is moving so fast you can get left behind all too easily. Accept it will feel like you’ve been chewed up and spat out sometimes … and that it will make no difference whatsoever if you really want to be successful. So like Rocky says: keep going!

8) “Going in one more round, when you don’t think you can. That’s what makes the difference in your life.”

It’s easy to write when things are going well. But keeping go, against a tidal wave of rejections, bad reviews, crappy colleagues … Like Rocky posits here, that takes real guts.

9) “Until you start believing in yourself, you ain’t gonna have a life.”

If you want validation from others for your writing, you may get it, but you may not. Then what?? Rocky is dead right here – self belief is key to getting ahead. Every writer has to have a well of self belief they can draw from, otherwise you might as well give up now.

10) “Every champion was a contender that refused to give up.”

This one just says it all … Yes, writers face rejection, radio silence and sometimes, worse. But if writing is your dream, then AGAIN — just like Rocky, you have to get back up and keep throwing those punches. What is the alternative?

 Good luck!!

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This is the thing

When it comes to writing a story – any story! – there are two fundamentals that you have to nail, every time … Character and structure. Audiences and readers need to be able to RELATE to the characters in your screenplay or novel, in order to invest in the story.

But we all know this … After all, NO writer says: “You know what? I’m going to come up with the DULLEST story imaginable, with the most boring or weird characters EVAH.” 

So how do we do it??

Character + Structure = Story

Lots of writers argue over ‘which’ is more important – character or structure? I argue they’re both as important as each other.

You cannot separate them. Character and story are inextricably linked by STRUCTURE. After all, we don’t watch or read stories ‘just’ about characters.

Someone once said to me that it’s not even 50/50 – it’s 100% character, 100% structure. Even though that person clearly doesn’t understand how maths works, I actually agree 250% (arf).

So summarising, we want great stories about characters who do stuff. That stuff may be good or it may be bad – or it may be both – but it’s that sense of a JOURNEY we want.

Where to start?

I’m a traditionalist, so I like to start with character motivation. That is, what my protagonist WANTS and WHY. From there, I like to think about WHY my antagonist wants to stop him/her – does my antagonist want that thing instead? Does s/he have a counter-goal?

But there’s lots of different questions you can ask your character. I’m not a huge fan of those epic questionnaires that ask characters everything from what they had for breakfast through to where they went to school. I find too much extraneous information can be a distraction.

Instead, I like to focus on role function after motivation. I break down more character questions in this vein in the video, below. It’s only short and gives a crash course on where we can start with our characters and build on top of that.

Proceed with caution

Because character and structure are linked, it makes sense to ensure you know how the structure works of your story BEFORE you put pen to paper (or fingertip to keyboard!).

Too many writers *think* they know how structure works and in all honesty they do, since the notion of ‘beginning, middle and end’ is universal. We’ve known this stuff since we were children. But the problem is, because they have not researched properly and immersed themselves in the subject, these writers LACK the understanding and the vocabulary to describe where there are potential pitfalls in the structuring of their work … as I describe in this second short video:

The good news is, BECAUSE ‘beginning, middle, end’ is universal, writers can catch up relatively quickly and avoid these pitfalls … IF they put the work in.

Will you?

Good Luck!

Subscribe to the B2W Youtube Channel HERE, or click on the pic below.

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Cringey Capers

You only have to dip into the erotica section of Amazon to see that it is distressingly easy to write poor erotica.  Yet just by following a few simple rules you can lift your sexy tales from tacky to tantalising … Just don’t make any of THESE clangers:

1) No story!

Where’s the story? If you are going to write your own sexual fantasies, then don’t forget to make it part of the story and not just a cold happening.

2) Being OTT

Keep it simple and relatable. Use something ordinary and familiar as your starting point- a spoon, key, daily routine etc- and think about how that item/experience could be used to enhance a specific sexual scenario. Once you have the basics – then you can expand to where you want your story to go.

3) Writing sex, sex, sex

Never write a sex scene for the sake of it. Every scene has to move the story on as it would in every other genre.

4) Chasing Trends

Avoid the ‘it’s popular’ trap. Don’t write what makes you uncomfortable because you think you ought to. If it’s awkward to write it’ll be awkward to read.

5) Being illegal/ in poor taste

Don’t forget the rules! Erotica publishers don’t say no to non-consensual sex, bestiality, incest, or necrophilia just because they are trying to be awkward.  They simply don’t need the legal hassle or their reputations damaging – and neither do you.

BIO: Kay Jaybee is an award winning erotica writer and creative writing tutor. Her bestsellers include the novels The Perfect Submissive Trilogy and Making Him Wait. LIKE Kay’s FB page, visit her website HERE and follow her on Twitter as @kay_jaybee.

Want more Sexy Tips?

8 Ways To Kill Your Erotic Fiction DEAD

How To Use Girl Power In Your Story

10 Quick Tips For Writing Female Characters 

Don’t Believe In The So-Called ‘Masculine Narrative’

1 Word That Will Kill Your Female Characters DEAD

THIS Is What Writers Can Do To Help Women

 

 

 

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At Bang2write today, we have award-winning screenwriter Roland Moore share his top tips about his creative-process, how to pitch and why writing a shit first draft is a GOOD thing!

With credits including Smack The Pony, Doctors, Peter Rabbit and the hit Chinese television show Noodle, Roland is also the creator and writer of the BBC1 period drama Land Girls. He has also written audio dramas for the Doctor Who and Survivors ranges. Roland is currently the head writer for Fremantle working on an international TV series, so if YOU plan on writing the next hit show then Roland’s the man you need to be listening to!

You know the drill: pen and paper ready? Let’s go!

1) It starts with an IDEA, but then WHAT?

Here are 3 things you can do to kick-start your new writing project:

·      Start with the WHAT-IF question –  this will frame your idea, and use it as your starting point to structure, plot and tie-together your world and characters.

·      Ask for feedback BUT – Work on several first drafts BEFORE asking for feedback! You want to give the reader the best first impression you can offer, so in return they can give you the most HELPFUL notes.

·      Planning takes TIME – Remember, with good planning you can build a STRONG foundation. Think of planning your project like you would build a house, you need the floor first before you can add any pretty wallpaper!

2) What’s the most important part of writing a great script?

Of course, everybody has their own opinion on this, but here are 3 elements Roland feels writers should consider:

·      Without CHARACTER, you have nothing – The audience will bond and associate themselves to the characters and their actions, this will be the DECIDING factor of your film/show.

·      THEME can strengthen everything – Plot strands may tie together, presenting themselves as one theme. Use this to help inform the audience of the reaction they may have.

·      Fulfil character NEEDS, fulfil the STORY –  Roland encourages writers to look at Steven Moffat, note how well he writes incidents motivated by characters that fulfil their needs.


3) Here’s how YOU can use REJECTION to serve you!

It’s VERY rare to receive destructive notes but if you do, you have every right to politely part ways with the collaborative partner or disregard the feedback. Otherwise…

·      Leave your ego at the door, or the door will remain SHUT!Notes can be positive whether you agree with them or not. The script is a skeleton, EVERYBODY from the costume designers to the actors will have something to add to help enhance your vision.

·      Notes from the UPSIDE/DOWN– Perhaps you need to reflect on why you’re getting this feedback? Have they missed the point of your script entirely? Maybe you haven’t been clear enough but at least now’s the time to rectify it!

·      Don’t be afraid to ASK questions – It’s a great lead when pitching (What would YOU do if your son went missing?), but it’s also a good move when dealing with rejection.  HOW would they make your idea better? Ask for specifics then take it on board!

·       Take interrogation as a POSITIVE – It shows they’ve been listening and are engaged! They want to know MORE about your idea, use this to your advantage.

4) The one piece of writing advice that can help YOU

As Ernest Hemingway once said, the first draft of anything is shit. And he’s not wrong, but that’s okay and here’s why!

·      The first draft is NEVER perfect – it takes all the pressure off! The first draft is about getting it onto the page. It will take AT LEAST several drafts to sculpt into what you want it to be.

·      You CAN and WILL make mistakes –  The first draft is a process of improvement, and it’s liberating to know you can make mistakes and have the time to explore and correct them.

·      Your first draft is NOT ready to be sent out – Remember writing is re-writing, and perfecting your first draft usually means several re-drafts and edits before it’s ready to be sent for feedback, pitching etc.

5) Here are the 3 things YOU can do to further your career!

·      Twitter is the new Linked-in – Use social media such as Twitter to your advantage, engage in conversation and be up to-date on current writers, films etc. Look to people in your contacts, who and how can you reach out to these people?

·      What to do if you DON’T have credits – Try and collaborate to make short films or get a play on somewhere. Actors, directors and writers tend to have parallel careers, so we can all help each other by building up credits and networking together.

·      Deal with WRITER’S BLOCK – Break the cycle, go for a walk or work through it. Imagine 10 ridiculous things that could happen at the end of that scene, you don’t have to use them but it helps kick-start your imagination and get you back to physically writing!

Conclusion:

·      Write EVERYDAY – Even if you have no projects, give yourself a deadline. Treat this as the job you already have!

·      The What-If question – Use this as your starting point!

·      Let GO of the EGO –  Notes are a good thing, take them on board.

·      The first draft is NEVER perfect – Get it done and then start editing!

·      Reach out to other actors, directors or other writers – Look to collaborate and create together.

Good Luck!

BIO: Hi there! My name is Olivia Brennan, a 27 year old Freelance Writer, Blogger & Assistant Script Editor. I’m launching my new blog shortly, but in the meantime you can either find more of my articles here at Bang2Write or you can follow me on twitter as @LivSFB  Please feel free to come and say hi!

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The Staunch Prize

So, you may have seen towards the end of last week that The Staunch book prize was launched. This prize will be awarded to “a novel in the thriller genre in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered”.  As the prize’s founder Bridget Lawless (an ironic name, if I ever heard one!), screenwriter and founder of the prize, asserts:

“I’m certainly not alone in getting increasingly fed up and disgusted with fictional depictions of violence happening to women in books, films and television. It echoes, exaggerates, fetishises and normalises what happens to women in the real world.”

Lawless’ fellow judge is actress Doon Mackichan, whom most of us will recognise from the Smack The Pony sketch show (presumably the ponies were not female). As it says on the prize’s website, “Like many women, [Doon’s] become increasingly put off by the endless depiction of violence towards women on screen”.

Reading about the prize, my first thought was that it seems odd the awards-givers here are not novelists themselves, but a screenwriter and actress. They do address this on the website: “We’re focusing on thriller novels because they’re a huge and important genre in their own right – and they’re frequently also source material for film and television.”

We’re still missing out the ACRES of original material in the spec pile, but okay. It seems bizarre to me the prize-givers would focus on novels and not the world they have the most experience of, especially when this seems to be their primary concern. Even with the recent gains in female representation and female-centric stories, screenwriting is FAR less progressive than crime novels generally, too which some might argue has skewed their perspective. But, moving on.

Crime Community

It’s pretty fair to say the news of this prize was greeted with bemusement and even dismay by the crime fiction community. This may seem odd to some: after all, crime fiction – whether novels, TV or movies – has a long, salacious history of using women’s bodies as props and plot devices.

It may sound even stranger to long-term followers of THIS blog that I don’t think The Staunch Prize will work. After all, I have long campaigned against trashy depictions of violence against women and girls, especially in rape scenes. But those with your eye on the B2W ball will also know I place storytelling way ahead of box-ticking of ANY kind, feminist or otherwise. I’ve written multiple times agendas have no place in storytelling, which The Staunch Prize appears to have in spades:

“As violence against women in fiction reaches a ridiculous high, the Staunch Book Prize invites thriller writers to keep us on the edge of our seats without resorting to the same old clichés – particularly female characters who are sexually assaulted (however ‘necessary to the plot’), or done away with (however ingeniously)”.

I’m wondering what ‘ridiculous high’ really means in terms of numbers and context, though it’s clear from their language use they feel there is TOO MUCH. Note the uses of quotation marks in the former suggesting to me they feel violence is NEVER ‘necessary to the plot’; with the latter use of ‘ingeniously’ connoting to me that it DOESN’T MATTER how writers write murder or violence. If it includes females? It’s OUT.

Road To Hell

So, whilst the reasoning behind the prize may seem laudable on the surface, it soon becomes clear the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Why:

  • Crime Fiction unsurprisingly needs to involve crime. Some of that crime will need to be visited on women, (dependant on the story being told). We already have crime fiction with no crime, it’s called OTHER GENRES.
  • Modern Crime Fiction actively seeks to place women in the driving seat, especially via police procedurals and domestic noir. In comparison to screenwriting, where poor representations of violence against women are still rife, I’ve read over 300 published novels in the last two years, the vast majority of them crime fiction. I’ve actively sought out books that go against the ‘same old cliches’ The Staunch Prize mention and had no issues whatsoever finding them. They are literally everywhere. It’s almost as if this prize is behind the times.
  • This award ironically penalises female writers who want to process and share their own stories of violence (whatever that means). When the genre is finally taking the female POV seriously, this seems like an own goal and old fashioned.

(By the way, my own novel, The Other Twin features a murder, stalking and a beating of a female character, so therefore would presumably not qualify for this award).

So, despite trying to ensure I ‘practice what I preach’ on this blog when it comes to diversity, challenging tropes, etc it would appear I am now framed as ‘part of the problem’ just by virtue of writing crime fiction. This is more than a little ironic, when I’ve literally made it my life’s work to challenge sensational, ill-advising and downright shitty writing.

And that’s just me. What about other crime writers? I’m assuming most of them aren’t rubbing their hands with glee at the keyboards, salivating at the thought of inflicting violence on their female characters for sport. As someone who has worked with writers for fifteen years now, I would imagine their motivation for writing – crime fiction or any other genre, in any medium, including screenwriting – is the same as any other writer’s: they feel compelled to write because they have something to say, explore, examine.

Militant Femcrit

I’ve long warned about the dangers of militant femcrmt on storytelling via this blog. As far back as 2013 I said The Bechdel Test, whilst useful as a starting point for writers (and readers or viewers) was just that – a starting point. I’ve received multiple messages and emails about that post, telling me what a bad feminist I am at best and at worst, an enemy of women.

Perhaps naively, I thought it was a one-off. So I continued in my message, feeling sure pressing for REAL diversity (rather than applying agendas like merely counting women) would ensure better stories and better characterisation. I’ve written free ebooks, my latest non-fiction book, Writing Diverse Characters For Fiction, TV & Film and countless blogs about it over the last four years.

But still I see social media getting hotter and hotter on calling out writers of all kinds over what readers and viewers perceive to be ‘problematic messages’, even if catharsis or a learning arc for the characters is achieved. It’s even got to the point that feminists who say they want feminist stories are now no longer able to even recognise them, even when such a message is delivered with the subtlety of a brick to the face.

With all this in mind then, it would appear the ‘responsibility of the artist’ includes NEVER writing anything that could is considered ‘bad’, with the list of what shouldn’t be written about growing by the day.

Now, we have The Staunch Prize. Yay.

Victorian Values

Fuelled by social media and blogs, the old adage ‘everyone’s a critic’ has never seemed more apt. News sites and online magazine run so-called ‘think pieces’ constantly on everything from Fifty Shades to Friends and now, it appears, the whole of crime fiction as a genre.

But this isn’t the first time our society has experienced this. The Twitterati tick box culture of  “if it is X it’s racist/ableist/misogynist/transphobic and so are the readers who like it'” might feel new, but it’s only the language and delivery via new tech that is.

Anyone with an A Level in Media Studies can tell you about how the Victorians worried just what salacious and sinister stories would do to the next generation. The current moral panic via social media is quite literally old-hat, recycled from the past. This is in itself is ironic, since WE ALL ARE the ‘next generation/s’, descended from those original people worried about it. Presumably, most of us have not become criminals, murderers or rapists by virtue of reading (or writing!) crime fiction. David Ahern, author of the Madam Tulip mysteries, says:

“Great writing is about empathy and shared humanity (even the bad bits). Gross, trashy and sensationalist writing can’t be legislated against in my opinion. The Victorians campaigned for ‘uplifting’ storytelling and what they got was moralising dross. And it didn’t stop the Penny Dreadfuls either.”

Sarah Hilary, writer of the DI Marnie Rome series and winner of the 2015 Theakston Crime award for her debut, Someone Else’s Skin agrees:

‘Wouldn’t it be better to draw attention to the excellent, compassionate, thought-provoking novels that deal with the reality of violence?”

And there’s the heart of the matter – whether crime fiction really DOES ‘echo,, exaggerate, fetishise and normalise what happens to women in the real world’ as Lawless asserts. Well, let’s put this under the microscope.

Violence, Catharsis and Reality

As far as keywords go, the notion crime fiction ‘echoes, exaggerates, fetishises and normalises’ violence against women in REAL LIFE seem pretty straightforward and common sense. After all, violence against women happens in real life, plus it happens in crime fiction. The two are inextricably linked.

But by HOW MUCH? Well, there’s been about a trillion studies (real number) and we’re still no closer to finding out in real, testable terms. Whilst we may read about how rapists consume violent pornography in planning their crimes, there’s a wealth of people who do so as well, who would never do commit such a terrible crime. Now what? Plus, let’s remember crime fiction – however salacious or sensational – only requires an imagination. It is not on a par with the literal creation of porn.

So, if crime fiction ‘exaggerates’ and ‘fetishises’ violence against women, then NO amount of awards will stop certain writers writing the salacious, sensational and exploitative if that’s their bag. What’s more, people will read/watch it if that’s what they like. Supply and demand.

Similarly, if crime fiction ‘normalises’real life violence against women, are we to suppose ‘bad’ people write and/or consume exploitative novels, TV and movies? If we are, then by the same logic, we must also suppose the people writing and consuming ‘woke’ stuff are by their very nature ‘good’. This is absurd.

However, Lawless IS right when she says crime fiction ‘echoes‘ what happens in real life.  There can be an incredible catharsis to crime fiction for both writers ANBD readers, where everyone gets what they deserve (whatever that means). This rarely happens in real life. These stories can also help people – including victims of real-life violence! – to process and come to terms with what has happened to them.

Erin Kelly, author of the 2017 bestseller He Said/She Said, which deals with the realities of a rape, a court case and its far-reaching after-effects, tweeted in response to news of The Staunch Prize:

“Or instead of turning a blind eye to the endemic violence against women and girls (which is really just another way of silencing our stories), we highlight writers who tackle this important subject sensitively and intelligently?”

Winnie Li is the author of Dark Chapter, a crime novel inspired by her own survival of a violent stranger rape. She explains:

“One thing I specifically wanted to do was challenge these genre tropes of sexual murder (i.e. a book opens on the body of a beautiful dead rape victim) and of victims/survivors themselves not having the voice or capacity to tell their own story on their own terms. So, while I understand the impetus of this prize, I also think it fails to recognise that crime fiction authors are capable of using genre to address very real societal problems in ways that are informed & sensitive.”

Steve Mosby, author of You Can Run, agrees:

“I understand the reasoning behind [the prize], but I think it’s misguided. There may be many exploitative crime novels that use violence against women as a plot device, but even without considering whether that in itself is actually a problem, surely there are many crime novels that deal with this important issue sensitively and intelligently and with insight? It seems utterly bizarre to me, frankly, for an award motivated by feminist principles to deliberately ignore and exclude works that deal with serious issues facing women.”

I’m honestly surprised Lawless would cite crime fiction ‘echoing’ REAL violence against women as a bad thing. I don’t tell my stories because I want fame, or money. I tell them because I have secrets no one else knows. I CHOOSE crime fiction as a genre because it can deliver them. Nothing more, nothing less.

What About Female Villains?

Let’s not forget that women can be the ones DOING the bad things, too. The Staunch Prize seems to hint that women are *always* the ones in the victim’s seat, but as mentioned this very often is not the case, especially in the last decade of modern crime fiction. As Paula Daly, author of the DI Joanne Aspinall series points out:

“This prize seems to suggest that women in crime fiction are automatically victims, but this is simply not the case. We have seen many nuanced, multiple-layered female villains in crime fiction, some of whom have been victims themselves or made victims of other women as well as men. Annie Wilkes in Misery visited terrible violence on Paul Sheldon, but what if Paul had been my namesake, Paula … Would it automatically have been a worse book?”

What happens to books where the antagonist is female … do they qualify for The Staunch Prize? It’s unclear.  Maybe only if their victim is a man! Oh no, wait — apparently not, according to their website: “That doesn’t mean we’re just looking for thrillers that feature men in jeopardy.” Blimey.

What, Instead?

If this award makes some writers think, ‘Oh maybe I should be more careful,‘ then maybe it has a value (not that it’s actually ‘testable’). It’s like I always say on this blog: these tests are great for making you think ABOUT various things for the very first time. Sadly (or not, dependant on your viewpoint) that’s all they can do.

But let’s be clear. Just as counting women, characters of colour, LGBT characters or disabled characters does not guarantee good characterisation, this award will not deliver a sudden backslide in violence against women in crime fiction, nor the sudden sea change in real life they’re hoping for. In real terms, that sea change arguably already happened with readers AND viewers with the runaway success of Gone Girl and the ‘birth’ of domestic noir. The Staunch Prize is late to the party!

But regardless, better stories and better characters are delivered by WRITERS, not agendas. Stories cannot be written by committee. That is a fact, since not everyone sees storytelling the same way. It’s actually because of this that storytelling is so wonderful.

So, rather than drawing lines in the sand and telling writers what NOT to do, in my opinion The Staunch Prize would be better employed working WITH writers to highlight those stories that deal with the realities of violence in meaningful and sensitive ways.

What Writers Can Do

I’ve had a wealth of messages from my crime writing Bang2writers worried about this prize. Not because they won’t win it, but because they’re worried there’s something fundamentally ‘wrong’ with what they like reading/watching, what they want to write about and the audiences they want to attract:

Are they freaks and weirdoes? Are they bad feminists? Maybe they shouldn’t write at all!

I spent much of the weekend answering these messages and it’s made me angry and sad. This could have been a brilliant opportunity to stimulate discussion about over-used tropes and cliches, not to mention the cathartic reality of crime fiction and what ‘exploitative’ storytelling really means. Instead, we have angry and jaded veteran crime writers, plus the next generation of wannabes are freaking out, maybe even deciding to jump ship altogether to another genre. Talk about an own goal.

So, my advice? Ignore all this and keep writing! Ignore agendas. The responsibility of the artist is ONLY to deliver an entertaining (not boring) story. How you get there is up to you, ‘cos the goal posts will only change if you listen to everybody else. Just make sure you do your research and work on your craft. The best advice I ever got was from a screenwriter who’d adapted a VERY controversial novel (amongst other things) for the screen. That writer said:

‘Never listen to armchair critics  …  You can jump through every single hoop and they will NEVER be happy. Forget them.’

It’s the only way forwards. Keep at it.

Good Luck!

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1) Set a DEADLINE

‘I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by,’ said uber-author Douglas Adams, but seriously? If you want to get stuff done – and done FAST – set yourself one. I always advocate looking ahead at the calendar, breaking down what’s possible in what time and having THREE deadlines: one ‘likely finish’; one ‘hopeful finish’ and one ‘unlikely finish’. Try it!

2) Work out your BEST TIME

I work best mid-morning till lunchtime on my own writing. This is because first thing in the morning I’m doing admin and social media stuff. After 1pm, my concentration tends to wane, so I write blog posts, respond to more emails, script read etc. There’s also the school run at 3pm, followed by juggling whiney kids and yet more admin. When’s YOUR best time to get your writing done? Do you know? Find out!

3) Research / prepare FIRST

I always say ‘your best writing is done by thinking’ – if you do you researching and preparation first (whatever that means), then you’re much less likely to end up in The Story Swamp.

4) Find your Magic NUMBER #1

I settled on 500 words a day of my novel. I don’t write every day, so 500 words is a conservative estimate – what is most likely to happen is I write 2-3K in one go, then don’t write for a few days, then write another 2K. So most weeks I’m happy if I’ve hit 4K total (if I’ve written more, even better). Maybe for you it’s 5 pages, or 2K or whatever. Whatever your magic number is, try and stick to it and stay on schedule.

5) Write an OUTLINE

I outline EVERYTHING. And by ‘outline’ I don’t necessarily mean a whole document, but bullet points, plans, lists, notes to self, whatever. It fits in with point 3 on this list and means I can be preparing even when I’m away from the computer and dealing with whiney kids.

6) Hunt down ‘FOR SOME REASON’

Plotting can be a bitch and every often we can let ourselves off the hook when we have a few precious hours in front of the computer. We may have characters doing various contrived actions for the sake of convenience, rather than for a good reason for example, ie. S/he does [whatever] FOR SOME REASON. When you find yourself doing this, STOP.

That’s right. Get off the computer. Do not pass GO. Get a notepad and pen and note down what your character WANTS and WHY. From there, brainstorm all the possible things s/he could do to with that. Don’t let yourself – or your character – off the hook! Then you will be pounding out the words quick as lightning again.


7) Minimise DISTRACTIONS

If you know you get distracted, do whatever it takes to ensure you stay on track. Me, I wear earphones and have loud music. I leave my phone downstairs, so I don’t go on Facebook, except at designated breaks. The first time I did it I thought I would DIE, but it’s surprisingly easy the more you do it. Go for it!

8) Stop in the MIDDLE OF SOMETHING

I always remember this brilliant advice:

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.” – Ernest Hemingway 

I have followed this to the letter since I began writing and can tell you it works a charm, because it means you’re champing at the bit to get back to it. Try it!

9) Find your Magic NUMBER #2

I try to write my own stuff 2 hours a day. This often doesn’t work out because I am a ‘binge writer’; I’m also lucky enough to be freelance, so can take a day out to write non-stop if I want to. If you can’t binge-write either due to necessity and/or day jobs, work out how long you need, per day, and protect those writing hours at all costs.

10) Set a TIMER

I’ve never done this, but plenty of Bang2writers swear by setting timers and ‘writing sprints’. Sometimes they do them together over Twitter and Facebook: Scott Myers’ ZeroDraft30 group have ‘scampers’ where they all write as many words as they can in a designated time. If this appeals, go for it!

11) Get a writing PARTNER

Double the writers, double the amount of writing! Working in a duo can have serious advantages. If that doesn’t appeal, why not have an ‘accountability buddy’ – you tell people what you want to get done and by when, so they can keep you on track (and you return the favour). Feel free to put shout-outs for this in the Bang2writers Facebook group.

12) Use a SIGN

During particularly important times, I have been known to put notices on my door reading stuff like ‘ENTER AND DIE!!!’ You may be more nurturing than me, in which case DO NOT DISTURB may suffice.

13) Compete with YOURSELF

If you did 500 words yesterday, can you do 1K today? If you did 5K last week, can you manage 7.5K this week? Maybe you could combine this one with number 10 on this list. Knock yourself out.

14) Use FILLERS & BLANKS

Sometimes, you come up against minor sticking points as you write, especially when it comes to specific words or phrases, bits of dialogue or something else random. Instead of agonising over them (which slows you down), simply put XXXXX or @@@@ or BLANKETY BLANK. That way you can return to them later with fresh eyes and simply plough on now.

15) Realise you don’t have to write CHRONOLOGICALLY

I’ve written before on this blog that I plan BACKWARDS to save writing hours and ensure my plotting doesn’t start ‘too early’. I think this tip rocks and it’s sped my writing up 435.66666% (actual scientific fact). But even if you don’t fancy that, no one says you HAVE to write in the ‘right’ order. Why not write the middle first? Or miss out a scene or chapter that’s not working and write the next one? Do it whatever way it works. Just make you remember you’ve done this!!

16) Write like CRAP

Give yourself permission to write like crap. It’s a first draft! Fix it later. Get it DONE.

Good Luck!

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The new year might seem like old news now, but there’s still a whole load of brand new writing opportunities for us to check out … Whether you’re planning on submitting your spec to an agent, or entering a few competitions –buckle up, read on and make some notes!

Today, we’re lucky enough to have screenwriter and showrrunner Debbie Moon share her top 4 tips on how YOU can create a spec script that will stand out in any submission pile.

Debbie is a television writer AND author, but she is also known as the creator and show-runner of the hit CBBC series Wolfblood. Wolfblood started life as the spec script that Debbie submitted to the BBC Writers Room and from there, was optioned as a series – proof that those long hours spent perfecting one solid spec script can be well worth it!

Let’s start at the beginning…

Start STRONG and finish with a HOOK!

Don’t forget, the ending is just as important as the first 10 pages.

  • Start STRONG & HOOK the audience at the end – Create a hook strong enough to keep them engaged until the bitter end, and if you’re writing for TV- to the next episode!
  • IT’S ALL ABOUT THE ACTION – Keep the audience ENGAGED – DO rather than show. Is there an action the character needs to do or anticipate? A situation to happen or resolve? Think of your episode as a ticking clock counting down. Your job is to get the character and the story moving!
  • A RELATABLE CONCEPT –  Take time on your concept, a great concept is usually very simple and gives direction to build the rest of your story.

Set a Plan In ACTION

Research your idea as much as you can before you start so you won’t be tempted to give up at the first bump in the road!

  • THE IDEA –An inspiration file can help, so start collecting things such as newspaper articles, postcards etc, then use it to assemble the pieces and frame your idea. You don’t have to use it all but it’s a starting off point. More writing prompts for you.

 Make ‘Same-old’ count as PRE-SOLD

Debbie adapted werewolf lore and made it a marketable concept for children and issues they face.

  • CLICHÉ IDEAS? NO PROBLEM –Take an idea, theme or character trope and adapt it to become a marketable concept.
  • BE AWARE OF THEME – A theme can be a helpful tool to connect the characters? With Wolfblood, Debbie made children’s experiences and reality reflected in a fantastical world.

Know you have to BE IN IT to WIN IT

A marketable script AND a writer who’s willing to compromise when needed WILL set you ahead in the long run! 

  • BE PREPARED – Find a way to tell the story YOU want to tell but listen to what’s being asked of you by a company/competition. Compromise can often mean a better script!
  • BE REALISTIC – The idea is to write a script that sells, so do your research! Think about  how your script would sell in the current market. Compare it to recent releases and note the strong and weak points of these films against your script.
  • KNOW YOUR GENREWatch your genre, know it inside out and most of all LOVE what you’re writing. If you don’t love it, it shows in your writing and if you don’t know the genre that will show in any future meetings.

Concluding:

  1. Your ENDING is as important as your BEGINNING.
  2. Keep your concept concise and SIMPLE!
  3. Create an Inspiration file – use this to FRAME your idea/project and build upon.
  4. Is your concept MARKETABLE? Do your research!
  5. COMPROMISE when necessary – this industry is collaborative and working towards the same end goal – to make your script the best it can be!
  6. Know what you’re writing – Watch other films in the genre/similar theme and take note.

BIO: Hi there! My name is Olivia Brennan, a 27 year old Freelance Writer, Blogger & Assistant Script Editor. I’m launching my new blog shortly, but in the meantime you can either find more of my articles here at Bang2Write or you can follow me on twitter as @LivSFB  Please feel free to come and say hi!

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You may have seen some of the TV episodes. What you may not know is, originally, Sex and the City was a book. Rather, it was an anthology from a column that author Candace Bushnell wrote for The New York Observer between 1994-96. Whether you have read the anthology or viewed it on TV, there are some 10 writing tips that you can take from Carrie (and Candace!):

1) Stay Close to Home

Unless you are a James Michener with a large research staff, stick “close to home.” Bushnell’s character Carrie writes a column for the fictional newspaper and lives in Manhattan, Bushnell’s home territory. If you try to “go” somewhere with which you are not familiar, your descriptions will lack realism and will seem stilted. Pretty tough to describe the Atlantic shore of Florida if you’ve only been on the Gulf side of the state. MORE: 5 Reasons To Write WHERE You Know

2) All Fiction is Grounded in the Author’s Reality

Even if you write science fiction or fantasy, the plot, the characters, the setting, the conflicts are all embedded somewhere in your experiential history, even if that history is partially a result of your imagination or of those you know. Use these in your writing, and you will have credibility.

3) You Can start “Small” and Expand

Bushnell probably did not envisage a book and a TV series as she wrote her column. Start with short stories. These can provide the fodder for a lengthier tale as you reflect on them.

4) Epiphanies are Overrated

Epiphanies are rare in real life. Carrie never had an epiphany. Her behaviors, her thoughts, and her pursuits never changed significantly because of any major “awakening.” Actually, epiphanies can be rather boring unless they are a part of extreme plot events. If you want your character to have an epiphany, then it had better be along the lines of Charles Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities.

5) Make your Female Characters Complex

It’s okay for your readers to love certain things about your female characters and to hate other aspects. Modern fiction tends to depict major female characters as independent, strong-willed, self-sufficient, and in pursuit of their own goals. And yet, they should also have weaknesses. We can admire Carrie’s success and her drive/ambition. On the other hand, her love life is in shambles; she is narcissistic, led by her emotions, addicted to shopping, and can be quite shallow, even willing to betray a friend for a sexual tryst. These traits certainly do not endear us to her, and yet we are fascinated and keep “coming back for more.”

It is okay to give your female characters qualities to admire AND also traits that are major shortcomings or flaws. “Goody two-shoes” females have never really engaged readers, so keep this in mind as you develop any major female character. MORE: How NOT To Write Female Characters 

6) Autobiographical vs. Memoir

All novels are somewhat autobiographical. As you develop plot and characters, you draw upon your own experiences and of people you know. However, no novel should be a thinly-disguised memoir. Too many authors use their pens for catharsis. Your horrible home life growing up does not necessarily make a great plot. Bushnell’s Carrie Bradshaw was certainly autobiographical, but it worked because Bushnell had no “axe to grind” and no need for emotional release. Fiction must entertain, not drag a reader into an abyss. MORE: Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make With True Stories

7) There’s a Reason Why Publishers Don’t Like Long Books

James Michener wrote sagas. And they worked. Ernest Hemingway wrote short pieces. And they worked. You are probably somewhere in between. If your novel is getting long, it’s time to review and edit. Newbie authors tend to take 1,000 words to say what seasoned authors can say in less than 100. Each scenario of Sex and the City is fast-paced and contains critical dialogue, thoughts, and events – nothing more.

Consider this too: If you have a novel that reaches a modicum of success and readership, it is likely that it will be translated into other languages. Many foreigners love to read American and British fiction. The more verbose you are, the more difficult it is to get good and accurate translations, and your book could “flop” with foreign audiences. MORE: All About Novel Word Counts 

8) Opening Scene and Strong Emotion

Carrie faces an emotionally-charged issue at the beginning of each segment. Usually, these relate to her latest relationship, her lack of financial responsibility, or her career events. While you are not writing an anthology, you do need to introduce your protagonist immediately and present emotions with which your reader can relate.

9) Being Well-Read Does Not Mean You Copy the Classics

Every author has grown up with the classics – Moby Dick, A Tale of Two Cities, Jane Eyre, War and Peace, ad nauseum. While you may have admired these authors and their timelessness, you are not writing for their audiences. Readers today want a rapid pace and writing style that relates. Bushnell is a master of pace and style that connects with today’s readers.

10) Plot and Characters are Inseparable

Sex and the City plot lines would be nothing without Carrie Bradshaw, plus Carrie Bradshaw would be nothing without the events and circumstances surrounding her. It’s really all about conflicts and a character being forced to make choices based upon the circumstances.

You can start the idea for a piece of fiction based upon an intriguing outline of a character, but unless you can surround that character with conflicts, you have nothing. And you can begin a piece of fiction on a storyline, but unless you can immerse an amazing character into it, you have nothing. This inseparability of Carrie and the plotline is what makes Sex and the City work.

There you have it – 10 writing tips straight from a hugely popular book (or TV series). Take from them what you will, but remember this: success is hard to argue with. MORE: How To Avoid Plotting Hell And Save Writing Hours

Good Luck!

BIO: Dina Indelicato is a blogger enthusiast and freelance writer. She is always open to research about new topics and gain new experiences to share with her readers. You can find her on Twitter as @DinaIndelicato and Facebook.

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