Craft Secrets

‘Writing secrets’ brings writers to this blog every day. It would seem everyone thinks there’s secrets out there that everyone else knows, but they don’t. I’m not immune to this either, I would LOVE to know!

So I thought I’d round up a bunch of top TV writers and ask THEM what their personal writing secrets are … Here’s the answers I got asking, ‘What’s your top tip for writing craft?’ Enjoy!

1) ‘Emotional courage stands out’ – Ashley Pharoah

My tip is not to bury the emotion under the craft. Emotional courage is what is needed to stand out from the crowd.

BIO: Ashley Pharaoh is a British screenwriter and television producer. He is best known as the co-creator/writer of the successful drama series Life on Mars and creator/writer of the family drama Wild At Heart, as well as The Living And The Dead.

2) ‘Bring yourself to your work’ – Sally Abbott

Work harder and raise your bar higher than anyone else (a lot higher, I’m talking stupidly ridiculously high).  And whatever you’re working on, bring yourself to it.  

BIO: Sally Abbott created BBC’s The Coroner and has written for several of the BBC’s most popular shows including Death in Paradise, Casualty and EastEnders.  Find her as @sallyabbott3 on Twitter.

3) ‘Write and fail’ – John Yorke

Write.  Endlessly.  Fail again. Fail better. 

BIO: John Yorke is a producer and story expert, producer of countless British TV shows. He is also author of the acclaimed writing book, Into The Woods. Read B2w’s interview with him, HERE.

4) ‘Keep  going’ – Barbara Machin

We all have days of self doubt, inertia, fear or downright exhaustion. Keep going. Go for a walk, make soup, watch The West Wing … But get back in the chair and write. Write write write. It may not be good, it may not be the best. But it IS something and you can always go back and change it/improve it.

Once something is down there is something to edit to tweak to make better. Which is why it is always such relief to get the first draft written . After that you finally  have some idea of what the damn thing is truly about (despite the endless treatments). Writing the script is only true exposure of character and plot.

There is no such thing as writers’ block – there is only finding ways to keep going. Look under every stone. Flip ideas, characters. Dig deeper: dig until it hurts, but write it out, say it out. Keep going. Give your subconscious time to help you solve the problems. Give yourself time and space to think. Walk and talk to yourself. Drive and tell yourself the story .

At the end of the day, who cares about the washing the dog, the kids, the supper or watching the latest must-see show and posting thoughts on FB?? All that matters is how many words, how many pages.  What have you made today that wasn’t in existence when you woke up? That’s your daily miracle. So keep going … And then wake up and do it again! 

BIO: Barbara Machin is the producer and showrunner of Waking The Dead, as well as a writer on numerous other shows including the BBC’s Casualty since 1990.

5) ‘You need emotional impact in the reader’ – Debbie Moon

Tell the story on the page. Yes, a script is a blueprint, but if it doesn’t have an emotional impact on the reader, it won’t ever get to production stage. Write fluid, emotional prose, give powerful insights into the characters’ emotions, and you’ll create the movie in the minds of the reader. That’s what leads to a sale.

BIO: Debbie Moon is the creator of CBBC’s Wolfblood, and has also worked on The Sparticle Mystery and Hinterland. She has a number of TV and film projects in development in the U.S. and U.K. Find her on Twitter at @DebbieBMoon, or at her blog, HERE

6) ‘Write badly, then fix it’ – Stephen Gallagher

If you fear you can’t write well, write badly and then fix it. No one will ever know.

BIO: Stephen Gallagher is the producer and show runner of such shows as  Eleventh Hour, Crusoe and Bugs. He is also a novelist and is on Twitter as @brooligan.

7) ‘Find out what you’re weakest at’ – James Henry

Find whichever you’re weakest at out of a) dialogue, b) character or c) structure, and work really hard on getting better at that particular element. Be aware that whichever one you’re best at, you will probably rely on too much to paper over the cracks.

BIO: James Henry has written for Smack The Pony, Green Wing, The Delivery Man, Hey Duggee and the upcoming Shaun The Sheep movie sequel, Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon. He is on twitter as @james_blue_cat.

8) ‘Find something that helps you create’ – Dominic Minghella

Keith Jarrett.  Seriously.  His solo concerts, wild and lyrical by turns, take me to a place where ideas can flow.  But also I cannot work without him.  Don’t do that.  Don’t become dependent.  Find your own Keith Jarrett and all the other little things that help you to create… But do not, repeat DO NOT, become dependent.

BIO: Dominic Minghella is the producer and showrunner of such TV shows as Robin Hood, Doc Martin and Knightfall.

9) ‘Break the mental deadlock’ – Stephen Volk

If you’re stymied as to how to make a scene brilliant or different, and it’s holding you back, just write a BAD scene. Your skill will tell you what’s wrong with it, and it breaks the mental deadlock.

BIO: Stephen Volk is the BAFTA-winning screenwriter of Ghostwatch, Afterlife and Midwinter of the Spirit. His latest book is The Dark Masters Trilogy.

10) ‘Be personal’ – Lauren Sequeira

Put the personal in everything. If it’s not a world that is yours, or something you’ve actually experienced, then base your characters on yourself or real people who you know, or a real emotion that you felt. In my experience, when I’m open about this in pitches, a producer connects with it more.

BIO: Lauren Sequeira got her break writing an episode for C4/Netflix drama Kiss Me First. She’s also worked on other shows such as The Dumping Ground and currently Gangs of London.

BONUS!

11) ‘Just get it written (and edited)’ – Roland Moore

Don’t be scared of the blank page. Beat out your story and splurge out your first draft as fast as you can so you have a shape to improve and refine. Psychologically, it’s a great feeling to have a first draft in your hands. You’ll spend a lot longer editing it but each edit will make it better.

BIO: Roland Moore created the award-winning BBC1 series Land Girls and has recently adapted Humans (Channel 4/AMC) for China. His dystopian sci-fi series, The Last Cop, has been optioned by Black Box Media and Keshet International.

What Writers Can Learn Here:

I find it really interesting that although I asked all these writers separately (they had no idea who else I was asking!), their craft secrets were all so similar. Here’s the conclusions I can draw from what they say:

  • Splurge out that first draft. A bad page is better than a blank page.
  • Your writer’s voice counts for something. Use it.
  • Making an emotional connection via your story with the reader/producer is paramount.
  • Do whatever it takes, however you can – push yourself.
  • Keep on keeping on. No matter what!

As I’ve always said on this blog – there’s no get rich schemes, short cuts or even, it seems, SPECIAL SECRETS to this writing lark. There is only hard work. And these guys should know! It’s great to have it confirmed by the professionals.

NEXT:

10 Top TV Writers Share Their Writing Career Secrets – watch out for it!

More On Writing Craft:

Top 5 Craft Mistakes Writers Make

An Epic Rant On Why You NEED Writing Craft

2 Things ALL Writers Get Wrong In Early Drafts

No, Writing Craft Is Not A ‘Rule’. Here’s Why

How To Avoid Killer Errors In Your Screenplay’s Scenes 

Take Your Writing To The NEXT LEVEL!

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  https---cdn.evbuc.com-images-29888419-3773478736-1-originalWe all know format is the LEAST of our problems as screenwriters … but *how* do we improve our writing craft?? My course with LondonSWF, Advanced Fundamentals of Screenwriting at Ealing Studios, London (Oct 20th-21st, 2018). Over two days, we will put writing craft under the microscope & you will learn tricks to elevate your writing to the NEXT LEVEL. Don’t miss out!

CLICK HERE for full details of the course (or on the pic above). We expect it to sell out , so act now to avoid disappointment. See you there!!!

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B2W Guide To Structure

Why do we need a guide to this stuff? Well, writers get structure WRONG all the time! Yes, even when they are not newbies!

We all know that structure is what holds your story together. If you don’t nail it your work will fall apart and you’ll end up rewriting until your eyeballs fall out and your fingers bleed. True story.

So, without further ado, here’s the B2W ultimate guide on everything you need to know about structure. Let’s go …

1) 5 Problems with Structure ALL Writers Have

Yes, even you! You might not be aware of these problems. CLICK THE LINK and find out what you can improve upon. Good writers never stop learning and improving.

2) Spotlight on Sitcom Structure: 6 Tips for Writers

Writing sitcoms is obviously going to be different from writing novels or film scripts. Ensure your sitcom structure is spot on, by CLICKING HERE.

3) 5 Visual Representations of Storytelling Structure

No ultimate guide would be complete without some visual representations, c’mon. How do we make sure our stories aren’t soft in the middle like a rushed Great British Bake Off cake? CLICK HERE to find out.

4) Structure Spotlight – 3 Things to Remember for Act 3

We want audiences/readers coming back for more, right? Hell yeah we do! For some tips on how not to screw up Act 3, CLICK HERE.

 5) On Writing: Why Planning Beats Seat-Of-Your-Pants Every Time

It’s great to go with the flow and see where a story and characters take you … But NOT at the expense of structure. There’s a fine line between plotting and pantsing. Walk along this tightrope gracefully or risk falling. For more on this, CLICK HERE.

 6) How to Avoid Plotting Hell and Save Writing Hours 

Structure is important, but you don’t want to spend weeks/months plotting a story. Balance is key. CLICK HERE to find out how to avoid plotting hell and remain in structure heaven.

7) 3 Things You Need to Know About Plot Holes 

Even if the structure is solid you might still find a hole in it. What can you do about this? To find out how to fill the holes in your story, CLICK HERE.

8) 7 Ways to Write A Plot Outline

We want to avoid Plotting Hell, or Outlining Hell, or any other Writing Hell! (Writers have a lot of Hells). Reading articles written by those who have spent enough time in the fire to know how to help others avoid getting burnt is a smart move. Check out THESE TIPS to help with structure and plotting.

9) How To Plot TV Series

Just like sitcoms on this list, TV series pilots can be a whole different ballgame. For tips on your ‘Story of the Week’ and how it intersects with your ‘serial element’, CLICK HERE.

10) 2 Simple Tips to Spot Structural Problems in Your Writing

We know stories have three parts: Beginning, Middle and End. Then why is it so difficult to connect these three elements? Should be as easy and slotting Lego bricks together, right? It’s not, and often we sense there’s a problem but can’t always see it. That’s the bad news. The good news is, you can totally get a handle on this and fix the problem yourself!  CLICK HERE to strap on your SP spotting goggles.

So …

I hope you enjoyed this round-up guide on structure. Now get to that keyboard and SMASH IT! I mean your story, of course. Do not literally smash the keyboard. Unless you haven’t had your morning coffee/tea, then you are forgiven.

Good Luck!

BIO: Emma Pullar is a writer of dark fiction and children’s books. She dabbles in screenwriting and has won/been shortlisted for several short story/script competitions. You can find Emma on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook or lurking in the shadows, spying on people in the name of inspiration and creativity. Check out her website HERE and follow her as @emmapullar_storyteller on instagram.

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If Not Now, When?

Time. We’re all beholden to it. But when it comes to what we want, we don’t have to be. Here’s the thing: the time to grab what we want is NOW, not sometime in the future when you think all your ducks will magically line up in a row.

Look, I get it. Having a PLAN for the future is great, I am not against it. As I always say on this blog, working out our goals and having a strategy helps us achieve what we want. I’m not about to start saying DON’T do that.

But sometimes, we are so focused on that mythical future – that special time ‘everything will be perfect’ – that we actually end up procrastinating. We may even end up holding back and putting that future OFF, because it floats out of our reach! Eeek.

Excuses, Excuses

All humans have a habit of presenting life with a set of conditions. You will no doubt recognise these:

  • ‘IF I make it as a writer …’
  • ‘WHEN I sell a script or novel …’
  • ‘IF I ever finish this draft …’
  • ‘WHEN I get an agent …’
  • ‘IF I place in this contest …’

There’s no question that saying ‘when’ is better than ‘if’. It’s true saying ‘when’ is a small change but can be a considerable one, especially for writers just starting out, or those writers who struggle with self confidence.

But sometimes, even saying ‘when’ can become yet another excuse. You’re putting off what you can do RIGHT NOW. It becomes a form of procrastination, pushing your potential achievements back into that mythical future ‘beyond’, where all your ducks line up in a row.

No Guarantees

It’s true that there are no guarantees in this life. Life is not a meritocracy and neither is writing. You can work hard and still fail. But as Jim Carrey famously said, you can fail at something you hate, so you might as well take a chance on something you love.

I know all of this is bewildering and scary, especially as it may feel we are giving up on our dreams by not waiting for them. But the opposite is actually true.

Conditions will never be perfect. There is no mythical future. There is only now and we are the only ones who can do this.

It’s Time

So, it’s time to stop holding back. Now is the time to say yes, to be brave and commit fully to our writing. The only way we can get what we want is by doing it ourselves. Yes, it’s scary. Do it anyway. Be vulnerable and make that leap.

It’s time to get rid of excuses and it’s time to grab what you want.

Right this moment! It’s not about ‘if’ or ‘when’. NOW!

You are NOT an ‘aspiring’ writer. You write? You’re a writer.

Do It!

Take Your Writing To The NEXT LEVEL!

Get £40 Off with discount code ‘B2W’ at the checkout

  https---cdn.evbuc.com-images-29888419-3773478736-1-originalWe all know format is the LEAST of our problems as screenwriters … but *how* do we improve our writing craft?? My course with LondonSWF, Advanced Fundamentals of Screenwriting at Ealing Studios, London (Oct 20th-21st, 2018). Over two days, we will put writing craft under the microscope & you will learn tricks to elevate your writing to the NEXT LEVEL. Don’t miss out!

CLICK HERE for full details of the course (or on the pic above). We expect it to sell out , so act now to avoid disappointment. See you there!!!

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Dialogue Problems

Dialogue for movie and TV screenplays. Writers obsess over it, laypeople quote it on their social media profiles. It’s important. But it’s also one of things holding spec screenplays back! Supersadface.

But you’re here to learn how to deal with dialogue problems in your script. Are you dropping any of these clangers?? Better check and see:

1)  Expositional Dialogue

Lots of writers get confused about expositional dialogue. After all, exposition is just the background information needed to understand the story … So it is a good thing, right? Nope. If you get the note, ‘too much expositional dialogue’, this is a BIG problem. Sometimes these lines are referred to as being ‘on the nose’.

So, here’s the thing: exposition is good, it’s expositional dialogue that’s bad. At foundation level, expositional dialogue means you are having characters *say too much* about stuff to do with the story. This may be about how the story world works; themselves and their place in the story; or what is happening in the story. Whatever the case, you don’t want to write expositional dialogue. Think of it instead as ‘obvious dialogue’. MORE: How Does Exposition Really Work?

2) Chains of Dialogue

This is a classic B2W note. I’ve written copious times on this blog the average screenplay has ‘too much dialogue’. If you have come to any of my talks or courses, you will hear me say similar.

Thing is, dialogue is the EASIEST craft element of your script to write. Not in the sense of the literal craft – being great at dialogue is difficult! – but in terms of getting carried away. Every writer (yes, even me!) will find they can cut chunks of dialogue in the drafting process. This will happen even when we are not looking at dialogue (especially when re-structuring).

This note is something I come under fire for all the time … But it’s also the one craft element the most Bang2writers change their mind on. So take a look at your script: do you REALLY need all your dialogue? Are you sure??? MORE: Don’t Let Dialogue Kill Your Screenplay

3) Characters name their pain, constantly

Some genres, styles of writing and types of characters are more emotionally literate than others, it’s true. But overall great characterisation is about BEHAVIOUR, not talk.  Don’t cheat with a priest or therapist character to ‘break open’ your characters, please! 9/10 this is just cheesy as hell. What do your characters DO that tell us they are in spiritual pain? Or a guilty secret? Or a terrible past? MORE: What Does ‘Characters Are What They Do’ Really Mean?

4) Static Scenes

Theatre has a limited space in which to work – the stage. In comparison, movies and TV have the camera, which can move more freely. When scenes are static, it usually means there’s there’s far too much dialogue going on. This impacts on the movement and visuals of your scene, which is the last thing you want. The reader wants a SCREENplay, not a screenPLAY after all. MORE: What Is A Static Scene? (Plus What To Do About Them)

5) Endless Arguing or Swearing

Writers might get the note ‘more conflict in scenes’. So they will return to their dialogue and insert lots of arguing and/or swearing. But this is not what is meant by ‘more conflict’. Conflict is about the situation and the ways characters react to it … with, you guessed it, their BEHAVIOUR. So, you can have a scene full to the brim with conflict that has absolutely NO arguing or swearing. We can see this most obviously in kids’ movies. One of my favourite moments is in Horton Hears A Who (2008), when the evil Kangaroo threatens to throw the clover in the pot of oil. Omg!  I really thought that clover – with the entire Whoniverse – was going to get fried!!!! Same with the Toys in the furnace in Toy Story 3 (2010) – waaaaah! MORE: The Secret Of Writing Great Conflict In Scenes – 3 Examples 

Good Luck!

Take Your Writing To The NEXT LEVEL!

Get £40 Off with discount code ‘B2W’ at the checkout

  https---cdn.evbuc.com-images-29888419-3773478736-1-originalWe all know format is the LEAST of our problems as screenwriters … but *how* do we improve our writing craft?? My course with LondonSWF, Advanced Fundamentals of Screenwriting at Ealing Studios, London (Oct 20th-21st, 2018). Over two days, we will put writing craft under the microscope & you will learn tricks to elevate your writing to the NEXT LEVEL. Don’t miss out!

CLICK HERE for full details of the course (or on the pic above). We expect it to sell out , so act now to avoid disappointment. See you there!!!

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All About Openers

Openers are a very, very important part of the spec screenplay. Screenwriting is a visual medium, so this makes sense. But as noted in this previous post on openers, too often writers end up using repetitive opening images … Worse still, they may not even use them at all. Eeek!

But it can be difficult to source screenplays with good examples of visuals in. If they are produced, the filmmaker might have put their own stamp on it. Or we may be reading a much earlier draft or transcript. It can be really hard to tell.

But here’s the good news … As screenwriters, we can learn about openers FROM THE ACTUAL VISUALS   we see on the TV or in movies! How?? By paying attention.

In this post, I be sharing the openers of three TV series I’ve watched recently. From there, I will share 2 images that follow and what we can learn from them. Ready? Then let’s go!

1) Bosch (2014 – ongoing)

Here’s what Amazon Prime lists the series as:

Based on Michael Connelly’s best-selling book series, Bosch, an LAPD homicide detective works to solve the murder of a 13-year-old boy while standing trial in federal court for the murder of a serial killer.

Bosch has been an epic success for Amazon Prime and it’s currently on its fourth season. The opener below is from its very first episode in series 1, which is titled ‘Tis The Season’:

i) Car In A Dark City

We start with a car. It’s dark. We’re clearly in Hollywood. A gravelly voice says ‘It’s going to rain like a bastard tonight’. It could be a voiceover. He has the type of voice straight out of a glitzy, film noir or Chandler detective novel. Hell, maybe we are even in the 1940s …

ii) Partners

… Nope, it is modern day. It is not a voiceover. Two guys, dressed in modern gear. But we were right about one thing, it IS a stakeout. Bosch is your ‘classic’ detective. His partner, Jerry, is not – but only because film noir never had black detectives. They argue a bit, showing they have been there a long time, they’ve started nitpicking at each other. BUT WAIT …

iii) The Suspect Is On The Move

… There’s movement at the house they have been staking out! AT LAST. The guy walks off into the darkness … the detectives in the car follow.

What We Can Learn:

There’s a rich history of detective stories, which means standing out at spec level can be hard. That said, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel, either. Bosch shows how openers can introduce a storyworld and the characters in an economical way, whilst playing homage to what has gone before.

2) Hand of God (2015-17)

Again, the logline for the series first:

A psychological drama about a morally-corrupt judge who suffers a breakdown and believes God is compelling him onto a path of vigilante justice.

So let’s take a look at how this series opens for viewers. Again, the below is the first episode, series 1, which was simply called ‘Pilot’. This one is a little more flamboyant in comparison to Bosch:

i) Water

So, we begin with water. This is not an unusual opener in produced content, though weirdly I don’t see it that much in the spec pile. But  we can also hear a man’s voice. To a non-religious person like me, it sounds like a sermon mixed with gobbledy-gook, aka ‘speaking in tongues’.

Since it’s just a screenshot, you can’t see or hear tmore water is falling down, but it is. Could it be a waterfall, maybe? Whatever the case, this looks like it could be The Sea of Galilee or something, in keeping with the religious motif … This series is called Hand of God after all!

ii) Man In … Waterfall?

But wait! Here’s our protagonist, Pernell Harris (played by Ron Perlman). He seems to be in a trance. Water is pouring all over him as he speaks in tongues. This brings to mind baptisms, Christianity, etc. He is having some kind of spiritual experience. Again: unsurprising, this series is called Hand of God. It is obviously going to set up the religious element of this series from the very first minute.

iii) Naked Man In Fountain, Having A Breakdown

Except, NOPE. This guy Pernell might be having some kind of religious experience, but he’s also having a breakdown. And he’s naked. In a public fountain.  People are taking video of him. Police are on hand, like  in this screenshot, to take him to the psychiatric hospital.

What We Can Learn

As openers go, Hand of God is a doozy. It is intriguing and memorable, but it also encapsulates and introduces the story really well. After all, Hand of God is a series that deals with heavy-duty themes of religion, mental health and an ‘out there’ premise. (Of course, they couldn’t really keep it up, which is maybe the series got cancelled. Got 2 series though!).

Regardless, if YOU’RE writing a spec TV series with an ‘out there’ premise (and a lot of you are)?  Then you REALLY need to find a way to introduce your protagonist with a bang via your opener.

3) The Purge (2018)

Here’s the logline for the first season of The Purge TV series, episode 1, ‘What Is America?’:

Once a year, any and all crime – including murder – is legal in America for a period of 12 hours. As Purge Commencement looms, several people find themselves venturing into the chaos of the night.

i) Shower

The Purge is not a thriller, but horror. Showers have a long history of being associated with horror, thanks to Hitchcock’s infamous Psycho scene. Consciously or subconsciously, we might assume someone is about to die, but then we see a bunch of young women AND men showering together. It’s quite arty, but not particularly sexy (I couldn’t get a decent screenshot of any naked bods, more’s the pity. What??).

In contrast to Bosch and Hand of God,  The Purge is a traditional ensemble piece. The characters are all connected by Purge Night, but their story strands are different. Only two – Penelope and Miguel – are not together, but connected as brother and sister.

ii) Young people in strange uniforms

So guess who we start with? Oh that’s right, here’s Penelope (she’s the one plaiting the girl’s hair). She seems very happy, as do the other young people.  They’re smiling. They’re clearly preparing for something, with gladness in their hearts. Which makes it all the more strange that there is a dad voiceover … Despite Penelope’s smiling face, she is reciting a letter in the VO to Miguel. It sounds suspiciously like a suicide note. Hmmmmm.

So guess who we see next?

iii) Miguel’s Car

If you guessed Miguel, you are right! He’s travelling back home, specifically to try and find Penelope (I wish he’d got himself discharged from the army to do this the day before, but hey ho). It’s clear he has got the letter and is hot-tailing it back to save his sister from … something. What it is, we are not exactly sure. But it’s connected to Purge Night and it is VERY BAD.

What We Can Learn

Like Bosch before it, The Purge riffs off what has gone before in its genre … but introduces a new set of questions with it. Sometimes, showing happy visuals with a sad voiceover (or vice versa) can really grab the reader (and thus the audience). Penelope and Miguel’s solo journeys in Purge night will help anchor us. It will also introduce tension: will they find each other?? EEEK!

Now Try It Your Own Openers!

Never just start a scene with a random image. Screenwriting is a visual medium. We all know this, so make sure you pay attention to what you see on TV and in movies. How do these stories begin? Brainstorm as many different openers for your own story as you can. Make sure your visuals tell the story from the get-go, introducing us to the characters and the story from the very first second.

Good luck!

Take Your Writing To The NEXT LEVEL!

Get £40 Off with discount code ‘B2W’ at the checkout

  https---cdn.evbuc.com-images-29888419-3773478736-1-originalWe all know format is the LEAST of our problems as screenwriters … but *how* do we improve our writing craft?? My course with LondonSWF, Advanced Fundamentals of Screenwriting at Ealing Studios, London (Oct 20th-21st, 2018). Over two days, we will put writing craft under the microscope & you will learn tricks to elevate your writing to the NEXT LEVEL. Don’t miss out!

CLICK HERE for full details of the course (or on the pic above). We expect it to sell out , so act now to avoid disappointment. See you there!!!

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

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Scene Description Problems

Scene description can be the key difference between your spec screenplay sinking or soaring. This is because there’s SO LITTLE good scene description in the pile … But if a writer is great at this craft element, it often follows they’re  pretty awesome at the rest.

So, investing in your scene description is a no-brainer! But there’s no ‘right’ way to write scene description, just multiple wrong ways … Are you doing any of these top 5 mistakes? Check it out:

1) Too much ‘black on the page’

First, the classic issue. When writers have ‘too much black on the page’, this usually means the scene description is far too dense. There may be many lines of description before a blank space … Or the writer may have gone overboard, describing every little thing in the scene. Very often it’s both.

That said, it’s easy to see why this happens. B2W has got a real beef with the phrase ‘scene description’. It presents the idea screenwriters are supposed to be DESCRIBING stuff, after all! But scene description is SCENE ACTION. We need to change our mindsets on this, to achieve visual writing. MORE: 1 Wrong Belief That’s Destroying Your Scene Description

2) Too much white stuff

Of course, we’re human beings … Say ‘too much black’ is an issue and writers will swing right to the other side of the pendulum! When there’s too much ‘white stuff’ (ewww), this refers to the fact there’s too much dialogue and scene description is MISSING altogether. Eeek! Like anything, writing great scene description is about balance. This IS a visual medium, after all!

3) Taking the reader out of the story

Scene description’s primary functions are to 1) reveal character and 2) push the story forward. In other words, it’s part of storytelling every bit as much as character, structure, dialogue, etc.

However, when there are multiple ‘asides’ or notes to the reader in the scene description, this can interrupt the flow of the story for the reader. Not rocket science!

Other times, readers are taken out of the story another way. This happens when writers are obsessed with the LOOK of their scenes. This means the writers are thinking about the mechanics of filmmaking TOO MUCH. This is sometimes known as ‘directing from the page’. There will be multiple references to shots, camera angles, even the camera itself.

Now, sometimes ‘directing from the page’ is not a problem … If the screenwriter in question is a writer/director making the script themselves, with their own money. If they’re not, then it’s a good idea to avoid this. MORE: Top 5 Craft Mistakes Writers Make 

4) False Movement

What I call ‘false movement’ usually happens to writers who realise screenwriting is VISUAL, but take it waaaay too far. ‘False movement’ is when there’s an over-reliance in scene description on ‘physical happenings’.

Usually these constant ‘physical happens’ become a series of moving body parts … Characters cross their arms and legs … Sit on chairs … Walk down streets or across rooms … Move towards windows .. Close and open doors … AND THEY DO IT CONSTANTLY. It’s boring as hell!

Like anything, make sure you balance these kind of ‘physical happenings’ with other visuals (see below).

5) Not Writing VISUALLY!

Lots of writers say to me, ‘If I can’t describe everything, or how the scene looks, what CAN I write??’ Erm — VISUALS!

Think about the old phrase, ‘A picture tells a thousand words’. This is what we do, as screenwriters … We tell stories, with pictures.

A good place to start is by googling for PDFs of screenplays *known* to be really visual and checking out how they do it. Now, make a comparison: between theirs and yours … What’s different? What does your picture tell us about the characters and the situation they find themselves in? MORE10 Ways To Conquer Your Scene Description

Take Your Writing To The NEXT LEVEL!

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  https---cdn.evbuc.com-images-29888419-3773478736-1-originalWe all know format is the LEAST of our problems as screenwriters … but *how* do we improve our writing craft?? My course with LondonSWF, Advanced Fundamentals of Screenwriting at Ealing Studios, London (Oct 20th-21st, 2018). Over two days, we will put writing craft under the microscope & you will learn tricks to elevate your writing to the NEXT LEVEL. Don’t miss out!

CLICK HERE for full details of the course (or on the pic above). We expect it to sell out , so act now to avoid disappointment. See you there!!!

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All About Your Idea

Controlling Idea, Premise, Concept, ‘Seed of the story’ … What is this? Why do we need it? How to we make sure our idea kicks ass?

So many writers start a project thinking they have a killer concept only to find out it’s a fun idea at best. What’s even more distressing is that they usually find this out halfway through a project. Ouch. Bon Appétit, recycling bin! Here’s a round-up of everything you need to know about concept:

1) How Your Concept Can Kill Your Writing DEAD

 A bad concept is like one of those creatures from Harry Potter … You have a great idea, start writing and then BAM! A literary dementor sucks all the joy out of your work. CLICK HERE and learn the ‘Patronus Charm’ before a demented concept happens to you.

2) The 1 Thing That Makes Stories Crash and Burn

To prevent your story from crashing and burning, (and possibly ending up in story hell being kicked around like a football by the Damned Draft Devil), CLICK HERE and find out how to prevent a crash and burn.

3) 7 Steps to Road Test Your Concept

Road testing is a huuuuuge time-saver. You wouldn’t get in the driver’s seat without knowing how to drive a car. Don’t jump into a story without road testing your concept. CLICK HERE instead.

4) Reasons Your Concept Counts Above All Else

All writers have done this at least once. It’s truly painful when the other elements are spot on, but the concept isn’t clear. Like when a kid draws a creature made up of three animals and you don’t really know what it is, only they do. Eeek! Don’t allow you work to become some strange creature nobody can recognise. CLICK HERE.

5) Help! My Story Is Unclear – What Do I Do???

You didn’t road test your concept. Your story isn’t coming together the way you’d envisioned. Don’t panic! For what you can do about this, CLICK HERE.

6) Top 5 Logline Mistakes Writers Make

What’s a quick way to find out if your concept sucks or not? You guessed it! The logline. Not to be confused with a tagline. The logline is a sentence describing your concept. What is the core story about? CLICK HERE to avoid common logline mistakes.

7) 15 Reasons Your Story Sucks

What’s the first reason on the list? CONCEPT. The other 14 reasons revolve around concept. Think about your story. Do any of these thigs ring true? Find out and CLICK HERE.

8) 4 Lessons on Writing A Killer Logline

So you’ve got a killer concept in the bag … But when you come to write the logline, your thoughts just don’t transfer clearly onto the page. CLICK HERE for some help.

9) Loglines Are Not Taglines …

For those who don’t know, this article shows the difference between a logline and a tagline. Don’t mix them up. When people mix them up and experienced writers see this, I think of Gandalf slipping over the edge … RUN, YOU FOOLS! Don’t be that fool. Also, don’t be the person to quibble about lines in movies. Did he say fly or run? No one cares! CLICK HERE.

10) Top 5 Concept Mistakes Writers Make

Script readers see A LOT of ideas every year … Some of them are good, some of them are half-baked, others just STINK like cheesy socks left under the bed for forty seven years. Make sure you do the first one, not the second or third! CLICK HERE.

So …

I hope you enjoyed this round-up. Now pick up that pen and write that killer logline. KNOCK ‘EM DEAD! Not literally though, unless you haven’t had your morning coffee/tea … no, the B2W headquarters says not even then.

Good luck!

BIO: Emma Pullar is a writer of dark fiction and children’s books. She dabbles in screenwriting and has won/been shortlisted for several short story/script competitions. You can find Emma on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook or lurking in the shadows, spying on people in the name of inspiration and creativity. Check out her website HERE and follow her as @emmapullar_storyteller on instagram.

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Elmore Leonard’s book, 10 Rules For Writers was published in 2010. But it’s a summary of that book, Top 10 Writing Rules has become one of the most popular shares and memes amongst online writing groups. No doubt you will have seen this list and been tagged in it many times! (As any veteran Bang2writer knows, I prefer to call them ‘best practices’ rather than rules, but whatevs).

Regardless of what you call them though, it’s not difficult to see why the summary of Elmore Leonard’s tips does the rounds so often. It is a short and to-the-point list, plus any writer at any stage of their career can follow them.

So here are Elmore Leonard’s rules, with B2W’s thoughts attached. Unless I say otherwise, my thoughts apply to both novels AND scripts. Ready? Let’s go …

1) Never open a book (or script!) with weather

Gotta agree with Elmore here. We might (mostly) be British here (everyone knows we LOVE to go on and on and on about the weather!), but starting off a story with it is DULL. Starting with stuff like ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ is also a massive cliché, so avoid like the plague (haha!).

VERDICT: Agree.

2) Avoid prologues

There was a while when prologues seemed fairly popular in both novels AND movies, but these days readers and audiences want to dive straight into the nitty-gritty (that said, prologues seem to be coming back, especially in the horror genre). But if you have written a prologue in your novel, don’t panic – as long as it’s good, you can always re-label it ‘chapter one’!

VERDICT: Agree mostly, but you can cheat if necessary.

3) Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue

Obviously, you never ever, ever use ‘said’ in a screenplay (though you would be surprised by how many screenwriters try!).

But as far as novels go, this is an interesting one, because I started off thinking Elmore was wrong on this one … Is ‘said’ that less ‘intrusive’ than ‘grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied’ (or similar)? Seriously??

Then I started actively looking for words that weren’t said and discovered, actually, they DO stick out far more. In fact, ‘said’ sticks out too – and very often, you don’t need it, either. Readers CAN follow dialogue without speech tags, so I would venture it’s a good idea to use ALL of them sparingly! This way you can use other words in speech tags for impact when you need to, without any problems.

VERDICT: Yes AND No – avoid ‘said’ as much as possible, too. Then when you do use a speech tag, you can use whatever you want!

4) Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”

Ugh, I’m with Elmore Leonard – and Stephen King – all the way on the dreaded ‘ly’ words in ALL mediums, including screenplays. Hunt them down, pronto!

VERDICT: Yes to the max. Kill adverbs with FIRE.

5) Keep your exclamation points under control

‘Nuff said. LISTEN!!!!

VERDICT: Again, yup.

6) Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”

Points 1 and 5 on the list means this advice is self-explanatory. If we’re avoiding ‘ly’ words and cliches, you should never need to use them (unless there’s a specific point for them! Ooops!!! Overkill on the exclamation marks again).

VERDICT: Yes. Again.

7) Use regional dialect, patois,  sparingly

Well, someone ought to tell Irvine Welsh and Roddy Doyle. Innit. But to be fair to Elmore Leonard he was well-old, so maybe he didn’t have the skillz to write in such a way AND engage readers. Maybe you don’t either, in which case you should do as Elmore says.

VERDICTNopesville. And YASSSSSSSS. Depends!

8) Avoid detailed descriptions of characters

In the screenwriting world, screenwriters are advised against ‘laundry list’ character description. In other words, they are told they should concentrate on personality, worldview, flaws, etc instead of what they’re wearing. This might seem odd considering it’s a visual medium, but it’s the ONLY way to write a great character. Lots of novelists could learn from this advice, too.

VERDICT: Yup! Elmore nails it.

9) Don’t go into great detail describing places and things

Same on the above for this, too. You don’t want to concentrate too much on the little things, as this will bring the flow of your chapters or scenes to a standstill. I call it ‘overwriting’. Literally every writer does this in early drafts though, so don’t panic – just watch out for it in the edit.

VERDICT: Yes.

10) Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip

Elmore Leonard also said, ‘If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.’  This is a GREAT rule for every type of writer to take on board. We want great writing that FEELS authentic and real, not like writers indulging themselves.

VERDICT: Elmore gets it right again.

So, what are you waiting for? GET GOING!

Thanks Elmore … Good luck , everyone!!!!!!!!!!!

(Can’t resist those exclamation marks!!! SorryNotSorry).

More On Writing ‘Rules’

All those pesky writing ‘rules’ like ‘Show Don’t Tell’ explained 

The Ultimate Grammar Cheat Sheet For Writers

5 Reasons Why ‘The Rules’ Will Kill Your Writing DEAD

On Writing ‘Rules’ – 8 Things I Remember 

Top 10 Rules Writers Love To Hate 

Take Your Screenplay To The Next Level

***Use discount code ‘B2W’ at the checkout to get £40 off***

https---cdn.evbuc.com-images-29888419-3773478736-1-originalWe all know format is the LEAST of our problems as screenwriters … but *how* do we improve our writing craft?? My course with LondonSWF, Advanced Fundamentals of Screenwriting at Ealing Studios, London (Oct 20th-21st 2018). Over two days, we will put writing craft under the microscope & you will learn tricks to elevate your writing to the NEXT LEVEL. Don’t miss out!

CLICK HERE for full details of the course (or on the pic on the left). We expect it to sell out , so act now to avoid disappointment. See you there!!!

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

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All About Ideas

Ideas. Every writer has them, but how do you know which ideas are GOOD and WORTH pursuing?

In my career as a writer/producer on projects like HBO’s Band of Brothers, I’ve learned the lesson over and over again that “the idea” is what really matters meaning the core idea for a story.

Writers tend to not spend enough time on their ideas. All the months and years of great polishing can be wasted if the central concept lacks the elements that producers, agents and managers look for.

Killer Ideas

So, what are the elements of killer ideas? Well, every successful story has a problem at its heart, which someone is trying to solve. But only some problems feel like they could sustain a movie, or series. What makes these sustainable ideas different? They have the following characteristics, which form the acronym PROBLEM:

  • Punishing –  the main character of a story actively seeks to resolve it but mostly fails and is beaten up in the process.
  • Relatable – the audience has strong reasons to emotionally bond with the main character and identify with what they’re going through.
  • Original – there’s something new and intriguing about the idea (and the mind of the writer behind it), but it’s a fresh twist on a familiar genre.
  • Believable – everything is understandable and feels real, even if there is some big conceptual leap the audience has to take at the beginning.
  • Life-Altering – the stakes are huge for all involved. It really matters. Failure is not an option. Lives or something close to that seem to hang in the balance.
  • Entertaining – it’s really fun to watch it all play out, in ways that fit the kind of genre elements the audience has come to this movie or series expecting.
  • Meaningful – it “sticks to the audience’s ribs” in some way, and is about something that matters, to their life and/or human life at large.

A tall order, I know! But these are the characteristics of projects that succeed.

It’s About Entertainment

Let’s back up to that second-to-last one in the list, shall we?

‘Entertaining’!

So many writers forget to entertain audiences with their ideas. They forget that it’s the entertainment business!  But the main reason people want to consume our work is that they want to be entertained.

But what does entertaining mean??Well, audiences want to feel something. Movies and TV (and novels and theater) are emotional experiences, first and foremost. The audience is not only emotionally invested in the story and characters, but they are stimulated to feel certain emotions in the watching of them.

Killer Ideas = Entertaining Ideas

I can think of ten main elements that make for entertaining ideas. Let’s use Netflix’s Stranger Thingsas an example that touches on all of them:

1) Amusement

Obviously people like to laugh. Adding some comedy to straight drama can help to elevate its commercial potential. “Drama” on its own might not be “fun to watch.” Though Stranger Thingsis not primarily a comedy, there are definitely some laughs along the way.

2) Fear

Suspense, horror and other “life or death stakes” genres often use the fear of what might happen as the primary way they connect with audiences emotionally.

3) Fascination

Sometimes the audience is just dying to figure out what’s really going on, and the details of how it’s all unfolding captures their attention and imagination in an intense way. They’re not just interested; they’re fascinated.

4) Shock/outrage

When things happen that we didn’t expect, or that hugely up the stakes, or create massive amounts of fresh conflict, all of a sudden, out of the blue – well, that can be enjoyable to experience, too.

5) Lust/ carnal desires

On some level, audiences just like watching pretty people and somewhat sexy situations. It’s part of the vicarious escape of watching so many movies or TV shows. Throwing a little bit of this into the mix (like with Nancy and Jonathan on Stranger Things) sometimes can’t hurt.

6) Excitement

Hearts pounding, not necessarily in abject terror but just in the thrill of the moment during an action sequence or anything with high tension and stakes, where a lot is happening, and things are moving fast…

7) Awe

Sometimes we just have to go “Woah.” We’re experiencing something that is so big, so amazing, has so much spectacle, that we might not be excited or fascinated, but we’re kind of watching, mouth agape, overwhelmed by it all.

8) Romantic love

Some stories and series focus mainly on romantic stories. For some, like Stranger Things, they’re a side dish. But they still give the audience that taste of being connected to someone on that deep level that seems to overtake you and make you feel seen, heard, known and accepted. (To make this lastingly compelling for an audience, usually something has to be in the way of the relationship.)

9) Empathy/compassion

We always want to emotionally connect with characters. But sometimes, this happens so intensely that there is pleasure in how much we care, how much we feel, how much we “are them.”

10) Eager anticipation

It all comes down to the audience wanting to keep watching and readers wanting to keep turning the page. Ideally they care so much about how this all works out, and see so much entertainment potential in coming confrontations and scenes, that they’re on the edge of their seats, totally caught up in what you’ve written.

Concluding

The best ideas tend to suggest some of these entertainment elements even in their loglines, which lay out the central problem of the story. Some problems, on the other hand, don’t seem like they will be fun to watch characters grapple with.

Let’s never forget that on one level, what we are really creating is “candy” for the audience – a gift that will help them to feel great feelings. And they will pay well for the privilege.

For more on ideas, check out my book, THE IDEA: The Seven Elements of a Viable Story for Screen, Stage or Fictionby Erik Bork is available on Amazon.

Thanks Eric!

BIO: Erik Bork won two Emmy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards for his work as a writer-producer on the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and From the Earth to the Moon, for executive producer Tom Hanks (and Steven Spielberg, on Band of Brothers). Erik has sold original series pitches to the broadcast networks, worked on the writing staff of primetime series, and written feature screenplays for Universal, HBO, TNT, and Playtone. He teaches for UCLA Extension’s Writers’ Program, and National University’s MFA Program in Professional Screenwriting. He has also been called one of the “Top Ten Most Influential Screenwriting Bloggers.” Also check out his free “Ten Key Principals Successful Writers Understand.”

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Characterisation is key in storytelling, whether we are writing screenplays or novels. But what specifically makes great characterisation? More importantly, how do we create authentic characters? Characters who feel so real we hate them with a passion, or develop a crush on them. It should be a surprise to no one that creating amazing characters takes skill!

To help you with yours, here’s a round up of  what you need to know:

1) 5 Simple Tips for Powerful Character Development

Characters are the soul of your story. Take care in naming them. Think about their backstory. Do they have flaws? Of course, they do. What are they? Click HERE to find out how to create them.

2) 5 Simple Ways You Can Source Great Character Ideas

Where do great characters come from? Memorable characters like Annie Wilkes, LeStat or Ellen Ripley. Click HERE to find out where great character ideas come from.

3) How to Avoid Stereotypes When Writing Diverse Characters

If you’re writing diverse characters (and you should be) you definitely don’t want to fall into the trap of relying on stereotypes. B2W got you covered. Click HERE.

4) Top 7 Writing Tips For Great Characterisation 

No one starts off thinking ‘I’m going to write the dullest character ever’. But the sad fact is, some just do not grab the reader when we send them out on submission. To ensure yours does, click HERE 

5) How NOT to Write Female Characters – Grab your free copy! 

She boobed down the stairs, titted into the hallway and bosomed into the kitchen, where she tripped over (probably because she couldn’t see part her humongous breasts) and began to cry. Yep, men write women badly BUT newsflash! Women do too. Click here to grab your FREE EBOOK FROM B2W about this, which has some brilliant tips on what *not* to do.

6) How to write better LGBT characters

Ever written an LGBT character? If not, why not? Okay, so if you’re not part of the LGBT community then writing with them in mind is going to feel tricky. It’s not. Click HERE.

7) Everything You Need to Know About Character Archetypes

What’s the difference between a stereotype and an archetype? All you need to know, RIGHT HERE!

8) 7 Characters That Are Nearly Always A Big Mistake

Make everyone in your story count. There are many seemingly insignificant characters who make a HUGE impact. Take Foxface from The Hunger Games … don’t know who that is? You probably know Katniss but the teens went nuts for Foxface who played a tiny part in the book. CLICK HERE and make sure yours aren’t plot devices or space fillers.

9) 5 Quick Questions to Help You Write Awesome Characters

Knowingthe people you’re writing about is a given, right? Wrong! A lot of the time we think we know them and make them do things without really knowing what makes them tick. HERE are 5 questions to ask your characters.

10) Writing Adages Explained: ‘Characters Are What They Do’

You know that old saying: ‘Actions speak louder than words‘? Well, they do! Find out why dialogue is secondary to action, HERE.

What are you waiting for??

I hope you enjoyed this round-up on characterisation. Now, go PEOPLE WATCHING! Not in a creepy way, of course. Don’t follow people and freak them out. Unless you haven’t had your morning coffee/tea and you’re following them into the coffeeshop. In that case, you’re allowed to spy on them from your table in the name of inspiration. ALL writers do it. Ahem.

Good luck!

BIO: Emma Pullar is a writer of dark fiction and children’s books. She dabbles in screenwriting and has won/been shortlisted for several short story/script competitions. You can find Emma on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook or lurking in the shadows, spying on people in the name of inspiration and creativity. Check out her website HERE and follow her as @emmapullar_storyteller on instagram.

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