Wanted: Great Stories & Fresh Voices

What we all want is a ‘good story, well told’. That’s a given. But what does this really mean? In part 2 of my expert panel this week, I asked the industry pros a second question …

What types of stories, tropes, characters, genres, story worlds (etc) would you like to see MORE of in 2019?

Here’s what they replied with, below. Again, as you will no doubt see, these are not the prescriptive demands many writers believe they need to ‘sell out’ to. As with the previous post, diversity, new takes on genre and fresh perspectives are all top of their wish lists.

It’s also worth remembering what we’re talking about is GOOD RESEARCH and a proper submissions strategy. There’s no point submitting your fantastic novel or script to someone who doesn’t ‘dig’ that kind of story! Don’t forget to check out the submissions checklist in the PDF gallery on the B2W Resource page, too. Here we go …

1) ‘Surprises and humour’ – Kate Leys

What I’d love to see more of are stories that surprise me with their awkward characters and awkward truths (even huge budget action movies).  Scripts with big, punchy stories (even if they’re set in one tiny location).  And stories that are genuinely funny.

BIO: Kate Leys is a story editor (this year Pin cushion, American Animals and Benjamin), and can be found at www.kateleys.co.uk

 2) ‘Surprising genre’ – Annabel Wigoder

More interesting, original horror – where’s the British Get Out? Smart ideas like The Guilty (a Danish thriller set entirely in a police emergency call centre) or I, Tonya, a female-led biopic executed in a really unexpected, blackly comic way.

BIO: Annabel Wigoder is Head of Development for Salon Pictures, working across film and TV. She has projects in development with Channel 4 and the BFI, and just produced her first feature documentary.

 3) ‘More proactive diversity, including class’ – Hattie Grunewald

I’d love more class and income-diversity in protagonists. Fiction is becoming so filled with affluent middle-class characters, across all genres, while readers are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. I’d like more love stories – I worry we’re losing in touch with the great epic romances readers always connect with. And I’d like to see more proactive diversity in the characters in stories – people of colour, disabled people, LGBT people… Fiction reflecting the wide variety of experiences in life.

BIO: Hattie is an agent at Blake Friedmann agency, representing women’s fiction, crime and thriller, YA and Middle grade, and non-fiction. Read more about what she’s looking for, HERE.

4) ‘Grounded and gritty’ – Justine Owens

At Shore Scripts, we work closely with our amazing roster of 100+ Industry professionals. For 2019 I think it’s time for the resurgence of grounded, gritty dramas, female-driven sci-fi, and somewhat surprisingly, true stories.

BIO: Justine Owens is the Director of Contests at Shore Scripts. For six years, Shore Scripts has been working to open industry doors for a greater number of screenwriters; developing their writing skills, providing professional consultation, and most importantly, connecting them with industry professionals. In that time, we’ve helped 50+ writers gain representation, sell, and have their screenplays produced. You can follow Shore Scripts on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

5) ‘New And Distinct Voices’ – Erick Kwashie

What would be good is to just hear new and distinct voices. At the moment there seems to be a lot of bandwagony ‘diverse’ and ‘female-led’ stories that aren’t necessarily providing the POVs of their ‘lead’ characters. It’s more of a ‘let’s tell the same old stories but sprinkle some ‘diversity’ on them.’ So it would be good just to see some characterisation/storytelling that feels authentic, unique and fearless. Teach us or at least show us something new!

BIO: Erick Kwashie is a script reader and recent NFTS graduate with a background in film and TV production. He is aiming for a future in script editing and development.

6) ‘Characters that surprise and challenge us’ – Michelle Goode-Smith

I’d like to see more stories that aren’t reliant upon outdated or non-challenging environments or defined by stereotyped characters/behaviours. I’d like to see characters and stories that surprise us and challenge us to see things differently. I love stories that completely draw us into the authenticity of the characters regardless of their type or environment. I’d like to see more crime stories from unusual perspectives and character studies that are fresh and compelling. Think Killing Eve.

BIO: Michelle Goode-Smith (@Sofluid) offers help with feedback, development, proofreading and editing via her Writesofluid website, which you can find HERE.

7) ‘More contained stories’ – Tom Chucas

I’d love to see more stories that aren’t based on a source material e.g. a book. While I understand the intent behind it, I miss shows like Breaking Badthat felt completely new. What I love most is when so much is done with so little, so I think I would like to see more contained stories which have to rely on the fundamentals of drama.

BIO:Tom Chucas is a graduate of Bournemouth University’s Scriptwriting for Film and Television course. Currently working in script reading and copywriting.

8) ‘Dark Horror’ – Betsy Reavley

‘I would like to see a return to darker stories. Although cosy crime is extremely popular currently, particularly among eBook readers, I would like to find work that has a little more horror injected into the narrative. In 2018 Hollywood stood up and gave horror films the attention they deserve, with movies such as A Quiet Place and Hereditary … I think and hope that the publishing industry can find a way to embrace that also. I believe there is a demand for psychological horror that is not yet being met.’

BIO: Betsy Reavley is an author of eight novels, two collections of poetry and is the publishing director and co-founder of Bloodhound Books. She lives in Cambridge where she works side by side with her husband doing what she loves best bringing stories to market, while trying to juggle being a mother.

9) ‘Stories that resonate’ – Annelie Widholm

Open-minded, character-driven and politically-aware story-telling always appeals, but there are a thousand ways to tell your story. You should find the reason you want to tell it – the resonating answer to your thematic question – and write what moves and inspires you. Genre doesn’t matter, as long as you believe in what you want your movie to say. Two hours of blast-away escapism? Go for it! But to stand out in the crowd find what makes the escapism resonate with an audience.

BIO:Annelie Widholm has earned her reader stripes working with well-established production companies in London, where she also lives and writes on her own screenplays, usually with a cup of coffee nearby. And woolly socks on her feet. And sometimes there’s chocolate. (there’s almost always chocolate).

10) ‘Texture and BITE!’ – Katie McCullough

We need more fully-rounded narratives FULL STOP! I’ve watched so many trite and flimsy characters & worlds that it’s tiresome. Give me texture any day and give it bite.

BIO:Katie McCullough is founder of Festival Formula, a consultancy company that helps filmmakers navigate the worldwide festival circuit. She’s a graduate of Bournemouth Media School and Royal Court London.

11) ‘Varied female characters and more original takes’ – Alizée Musson

  • More female protagonists that aren’t Damsels in Distress, Femme Fatales or Manic Pixie Dream Girls: Although I have read many scripts with females protagonists this year, most of these characters often fall within the above 3 categories. As a woman, I find it difficult to identify with these three character types. I’d like to meet a relatable female protagonist in 2019 that takes me on an unexpected journey through her story.
  • Rom Coms with an original take: I’ve read too many young adult boy meets young adult girl stories this year, it would be nice to see a story that explores the complexity of relationships with characters of different ages at different stages of a relationship.
  •  Stories not set in a Western Culture with characters that aren’t Westerners: This mainly applies to stories set in the real world as opposed to science fiction or fantasy ones. Off the top of my head, I can only recall reading two scripts set outside of Europe or North America this year. These two scripts really stood out to me as the stories they told explored local cultures or issues that I knew nothing about and rarely saw onscreen. I’d like to see more of these stories in films that make me travel and learn about a different part of the world.

BIO: Alizée Musson is a script reader/editor and translator working in French and English in the film, animation, and web content sectors. She also writes both screenplays and prose fiction and has previously been long-listed for the “Borders” Short Story Competition organised by Penguin Random House. Follow @beyondiimagine.

12) ‘More genre with something to say’ – Hayley McKenzie

I’d love to see more genre scripts (especially thriller, horror and action) with something to say, in the way that Get Out or the Amazon Studios recent adaptation of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan did.

BIO: Hayley McKenzie is the founder of Script Angeland an experienced film and television drama executive. You can find Script Angel on Twitter @scriptangel1 and on their blog.

13) ‘Morally ambiguous characters & strong writer voices’ – Tim Berry

The screenplays that stand out the most to me are those with characters that have a strong internal conflict and those who behave in morally ambiguous ways. Whatever the genre, I’d like to see more ‘good’ characters doing bad things, or even antagonists doing the wrong thing for the right reasons; morality is rarely black and white but some of the least engaging screenplays I’ve read often make a clear distinction between heroes and villains. People are complex and I would personally like to see more characters who reflect this – sometimes people we like do things that we don’t.

As writers it’s important to develop a voice but that’s not to be confused with giving each character ‘your’ voice. Writers must allow themselves to disagree with their protagonists, to try to see a situation through their perspective and, when not writing, to listen to other people. Eavesdrop on conversations in public, in cafes, on the bus, learn to recognise the ways in which individuals use language in unique ways and try to understand the ways they think and try to capture this. A story which follows a familiar narrative feels new when told through fresh and complex characters.

BIO:Tim Berry is a writer and director, who has developed projects for both stage and screen. After spending seven years working in independent film distribution, he trained as a script editor with NFTS and has most recently worked with Shore Scripts, for their short film fund and their TV/feature contests.

14) ‘Diverse youth in the past’ – Abel Diaz

More youth-based historical drama. As we into move a more diverse, as well as younger, landscape of media, can we get more content about the challenges and experiences of youth in the past? How did they deal with issues that still face teens today (sexuality, work, faith, maturity and independence, politics) and how did that society view these issues? What was, say, being gay like in Roman or Medieval times? How did young girls find self-worth and value in Victorian society?

BIO:Abel Diaz worked as a reader for Lime Pictures (Hollyoaks) and Big Light (Medici) after securing an MA in Screenwriting from Met Film School. I have also written for the award-winning CBeebies series PABLO. Follow my Facebook for more updates and news, as well as well as my blog Abel’s Magic Lantern, for all sorts of writing tips and tricks, including my ‘Screenwriting Advice for BA Students… From a Masters Grad’ series. 

15) ‘A new direction for your genre’ – Karen Sullivan

What we look for are books that push a genre in a new direction and present an entirely new take on it; in fact, I’d go so far as to say that books that weave through numerous genres are increasingly popular (i.e., in the case of Susi Holliday’s The Lingering or Matt Wesolowski’s Changeling, which encompasses bits of horror, domestic noir, even supernatural and some gothic); rather than alienate readers, I think they open the doors to new reading habits.

I love books that have strong social messages, that unpick the fabric of society, poke its underbelly. These are the books that people will remember, that will provoke thought, perhaps open minds. While everyone enjoys a comfort read, literature plays a key role in educating and enlightening, while providing first-class entertainment, and I’d like to see more of that. A good example of this is Will Carver’s Good Samaritans, which manages to turn the mirror back on the reader and provide some genuine moments of discomfort. I love a first-class action thriller, like Steph Broadribb’s Lori Anderson series, an often discounted, under-represented and poorly executed genre; in the right hands, it can be fabulous! I will always, always want to see great-quality books in translation, too.

BIO: Karen Sullivan is founder and publisher of Orenda Books, a small independent publishing company focussing on literary fiction, with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and about half in translation. She was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016, and Orenda Books has been shortlisted twice for the IPG Best Newcomer Award.

16) ‘Romances that actually stay the course’ – Jenny Kane

It would be great to see films/series where a couple are happy together- and remain that way despite the rigours of the storyline. Shocking I know – but some people stay in love.

BIO: Jenny Kane is the co-manager of Imagine Creative Writing. An experienced writing tutor, Jenny mentors future novelists, short story authors and audio scriptwriters in the South West of England. Follow @imagine_writingand @JennyKaneAuthor.

17) ‘Write what YOU love’ – Andrew Oldbury

Be honest. Write about the characters & worlds that you love, not the ones you think people want to hear about. If you try to chase trends they’ll be gone before your script is ever made.

BIO: Andrew is a Script Editor and BIFA & RTS nominated Producer, whose credits include: Agatha Raisin, Endeavour, Holby City & Coronation Street. He trained at the National Film & Television School. Twitter: @AndrewOldbury.

18) ‘Engaging drama about political divisions’ – Rosalie Faithfull

I’d like to read something that tackles the current divisive political situation in the UK in an engaging and interesting way. It’s so important and yet so dry at the same time, a good drama might help us engage healthily.

BIO: Rosalie Faithfull is a former short film producer, now a freelance script reader and script editor working in both television and film.

19) ‘Smart genre that twists expectations & has something to say’ – Jim Cirile

It’s all about understanding the expectations/tropes and going in the opposite direction. Just need to throw “WTF?” moments at viewers constantly. Just check out the brilliant Breaking Bad pilot for example. Readers and executives had ADHD. You need to anticipate they have the attention span of gnats and write in a way that grabs them and does not let go. If you do that, you can re-invert any of the “DOA” genres I mentioned in the last post and attract attention.

Apart from that, there is definitely a clamouring for smart thrillers; acerbic, character-driven comedy; crime; fresh action (in other words, it cannot feel like something from 1996); certain kinds of sci-fi; and things that speak to the human condition. WHY are you telling this story? Does the theme have something to say? Does it give us food for thought? As well, horror is an evergreen, especially supernatural horror.

Lastly, be smart about budget — whatever you write, remember, you do not have a blank check. Those huge budget Marvel movies — yeah, not you. You can have some big set pieces, sure, but showing that you can rein in costs will show producers you are a savvy writer.

BIO: Jim Cirile is the founder and CEO of Coverage Ink, LLC, the screenplay analysis and development experts since 2002. He writes regularly about the biz for The Wrap and is also a writer/producer/musician. His animated horror film TO YOUR LAST DEATH, starring Morena Baccarin, Ray Wise and William Shatner, premieres in 2019.

20) ‘The REAL and the revolutionary’ – Barry Ryan

Revolutions of the mind, soul or body. Revolutionary change. Factual biographies – spectacular people or situations. Ordinary people propelled to excel.
Where is the real? Whats the reaction to the right? Whats the reaction to the growth in homophobia.
Trans. Whats the next level? BAME – what’s your story? Fuck this silencing assimilation into mainstream ‘other people’s stories’.

BIO: Barry Ryan, Leader of team at Free@Last TV. Showrunner of the Agatha Raisin TV show.

21) ‘Moral complications and hopefulness’ – Juliet Mushens

More hopeful narratives, more ghost stories, more historical fiction. I also love speculative fiction and am super-in trigued by narratives which deal with the moral complications of futuristic tech.

BIO: Juliet Mushens is co-founder of Caskie Mushens Ltd. Her client list includes NYT and Sunday Times bestsellers of fiction and non-fiction. You can find more info at caskiemushens.com.

22) ‘More stories for niche markets’ – Ashley Scott Meyers

I feel the divisive nature of the World in general could present opportunities to serve an under-served market. I’ve seen this over the years with the Christian family film. Since most people who go into the arts aren’t conservative Christians, there always seems to be producers struggling to find good material for this large audience. And as the liberal / conservative divide deepens, my guess is there will be opportunities to serve both sides of the aisle. These won’t be big Disney / Marvel films which must struggle to serve both sides of the divide. Instead, there will be smaller films that clearly target a specific political-leaning group. And again, most people who go into the arts usually lean liberal. This means there will probably be more opportunities on the conservative side.

BIO: Ashley Scott Meyers is a screenwriter and blogger/podcaster at SellingYourScreenplay.com(He has optioned and sold dozens of spec screenplays and had numerous writing assignments from a large array of producers and can be found on IMDb HERE.

Good Luck! Want to know what these guys DON’T want? Click HERE.

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4 Responses to What 22 Industry Pros DO Want From Your Writing

  1. Mike McCarthy says:

    Hi Lucy and Happy New Year to you. A really interesting piece which highlights that the industry is looking for more original, well plotted stories with diverse and complex characters. This can only come from having learnt the craft of writing as well as one is able. I am 35000 words into a supernatural thriller while trying to study the Dramatica theory of storytelling which at times is somewhat daunting and one has to really apply oneself to understand the concepts being explored. However I am committed and perserving and hope that it is all going to be worthwhile in the end. Keep up the good work.

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Investment in the craft means studying as much as possible – have heard good things about Dramatica. Good luck with your writing!

  2. Michael Olson says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve been writing diversely for years but it’s so challenging to pitch because so many want the same but different. I like brave decisions to take chances on brave things. Period.

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