Category Archives: Reading

Community Writing – CREATE 50 and TWISTED: Volume One

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Various Authors
BUY TWISTED 50
ISBN-10: 099565381X ISBN-13: 978-0995653818


I’ve just finished the last story in the TWISTED 50: Volume One collection (Bloated, by Penegrine Shaw) which was probably not the one to be reading as I was eating lunch but, then again, most of the stories within this book are probably better enjoyed sans food!

TWISTED 50 is the first publication to arise from the CREATE 50 community and is a collection of, in their own words, ‘…deliciously dark…’ short tales of horror. And it doesn’t disappoint! There are bugs, blood, the undead, spiders, vampires, ghosts, the apocalypse, arms and limbs flying everywhere… even Thomas the Tank Engine gets a make-over in one of my favourites, Sodor and Gomorrah by N W Twyford.

The “50” gives the game away that you will find 50 short stories within the volume and, as suggested above, there is a wide-variety of twisted material. They may not all be right up your street, but you can bet your life (figuratively, not literally) that there is something for everyone and it is a fantastic book for short bursts of reading. Highly recommended!

The CREATE 50 initiative aims to provide a platform for emerging screenwriters, short story-writers, filmmakers and allied artists to get their work out and seen. There are a variety of ways to get involved and I have submitted a few stories to TWISTED Volume Two, the follow-up (unsurprisingly) to Volume One. Through the website I have been enjoying sharing feedback with other writers on a variety of stories. And that is the beauty of the initiative; for every story you submit, they ask that you kindly provide feedback to three other writers. Considering the limit for short stories is 2,000 words, this is anything but onerous and, once you start, you will find it addictive, feeding back on many more than the expected three.

I have found it to be a fantastic experience to try out a new form of writing to me (I am very new to short stories or any form of prose to be honest) and get feedback on my efforts. It has also been an eye-opener reading such a range of stories from a variety of writers, all at different levels and stages of their careers. They have all been very helpful and welcoming and I would recommend getting involved to anyone, even if you only “dabble”.

Sadly, TWISTED Volume Two is only open for submissions for another six days (at time of writing) although that is still plenty of time to have a go. Entry is stupidly cheap at just £7 a story and great value for the effectively free feedback you will receive.

The good news is that there is another project The Singularity 50 which is still open for submissions until 31st March 2017. Like TWISTED it is looking for 50 short stories but on a theme the explores the ‘journey to the moment technology takes over.’ So, if you are a budding Sci-Fi writer, why not take a look?

Judging by the activity on the website and the great-looking Volume One publication, I suspect the CREATE 50 community will be around for a long time. Even if you don’t have anything for TWISTED or SINGULARITY this time, I am sure there will be more great projects in the future and I, for one, will be keeping an eye out for how I can continue to get involved.

If you have submitted to either of these projects, let me know, I would be more than happy to have a read!

And if you have – Good Luck!

Dark Minds Charity Anthology

Dark Minds
Bloodhound Books
ISBN-10: 0995621276 ISBN-13: 978-0995621275


I have been trying my hand at writing some short stories recently, concentrating on the CREATE50 initiative and, more specifically, the TWISTED 50 competition. Twisted 50 is a collection of 50 twisted tales collected in a short story anthology and Volume 2 is currently open to submissions. Still time to have a go (although it closes at the end of the month) if you fancy trying your hand. If you do, let me know and I will happily have a read of your submissions.

Like any writing, it is worth immersing yourself in other works in a similar format to get a feel for writing style, format and rhythm. I’ve never tried writing short stories before having a crack at TWISTED 50, so this was even more important. I have read plenty of short stories in the past but, looking for something new, I was introduced to the Dark Minds collection via a couple of the featured authors (Lucy V Hay and Emma Pullar) so thought I would give it a go.

It is anthology of crime stories and, at just £8.99 is a bargain for the amount of material included. It is also a charity volume, the profits benefiting The Sophie Barringer Trust and Hospice UK (So what’s not to like!)

I am not going to review all 40 stories, but there is great variety of ideas and numerous themes throughout the collection and you really won’t get bored reading them. With all sorts of characters from hitmen to gangsters, city workers to murderers, there is something for everyone to get their teeth into. Emma’s story, London’s Crawling, is one of those that stands out from the rest as it pushes the brief as far as it can, being closer to horror than crime, but still being a fantastic read (if you can stomach a few spiders). Lucy’s story, Love you to Death, flirts with the supernatural and, while it is not the only one to do so, plenty of others are rooted firmly in the real world; there really is something for everyone.

There are some classic takes on stories, like ‘Slow Roast Pork’ by S.E. Lynes that made me nostalgic for Tales of the Unexpected, or others like Ron Nicholson’s, ‘You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Strangler’ that had me just with the title! Gangster tales with a twist such as Peter Best’s, ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ rub shoulders with non-linear mysteries like Paul Gitsam’s ‘A Stranger’s Eyes’. The anthology even ends with a bonus story from promising young write Jenna-Leigh Golding who certainly shows an eye for the macabre with ‘#1-6’.

All in all it is a great collection of stories, perfect for those short-sharp bursts of reading when you just don’t have time to sit for long, or when you want some quick inspiration for your own stories.

And it’s for charity, people, so why not grab yourself a copy and do some good at the same time?

Let me introduce you to…

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Alexandra Browne – Author!

Alexandra Books – Website


Anyone who has spent more than a few seconds on this blog will be aware that, as well as writing, I enjoy a bit of astronomy and the occasional effort at astrophotography (very occasional considering the current trend in cloudy weather in the UK). Through a forum dedicated to astronomy you meet lots of interesting people and, in one thread, I even discovered some who shared similar non-astro interests. The forum is the Stargazers Lounge by the way, in case you fancy having a look.

Alex was one such person who also turned out to be an author and was just in the process of getting her first book self-published. “I’m not Smelly the Pirate” was the first publication from Alex in a planned series of “I’m not….” books that includes spiders and snot monsters – sure to be a hit with the kids.

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Alex also illustrates her own books, which gives them a welcoming and fun, home-grown feel. You can find out more about Alex and her books on her website, Alexandra Books and on Facebook.

So I thought it might be fun to “interview” Alex about her writing, her approach to her work and her advice for up and coming writers. While I know a children’s book is a very different entity from a Screenplay, I am sure there are plenty of similarities when it comes to the tools and tricks of the trade.

I sent Alex a series of questions and below you can find the full interview with her. I hope you find it as interesting as I did. And please do check out her book and website to explore her world!


So, Alex, can you introduce yourself?

I’m 54 years of age but never grew up! I’m a civil servant and have one child, a beautiful 17-year-old daughter called Maia. I’m a mad amateur astronomer with a passion for imaging. I hate staying up late, have poor night vision and little technical ability, which are slight set-backs in this hobby! So why take it on? It’s the most fascinating, frustrating and rewarding hobby, and I guess I’m a sucker for punishment! I love exotic animals and invertebrates and have kept praying mantids, horsehead grasshoppers, stick insects, giant Madagascan hissing cockroaches and more. Oh, and fancy rats. My menagerie is now limited to two with a giant African millipede called Georgie and a baby corn snake called Sprite. I wish I had the time, money and space for more! I have also just got into imaging microscopic subjects (I used to be a path lab technician in light and electron microscopy) especially pond life and have been blown away by the variety of creatures we never see with the naked eye.

So what drove you to writing?

I think it’s in the blood. My family all love writing. I used to tell ghost stories when I was a kid, to the younger children of the village, making up the story as I went along. The stories were often about underground tunnels and glowing red eyes! I occasionally wrote short stories, usually sci-fi or horrors, when I was young. My brother hopes to publish his own children’s stories which I will be illustrating for him.

And what made you want to write for children?

It started with a book for my then toddler daughter, Maia, to teach her about astronomy. It’s called ‘Maia and the Shooting Star’ and even has a little foreword from the late and great Sir Patrick Moore, but I never published it. With the advent of self-publishing and the excellent CreateSpace from Amazon, I will revisit the book and publish it. I just loved it so much that I had to do more, and that’s when the ‘I’m Not . . .’ series of books came to mind. At first, it was a book to stop children being scared of spiders, which I love (anything with an exoskeleton!). But when I started writing it, it just didn’t work. Something was wrong. Then I realised it was too sweet and twee. That’s not me at all! And, with a now older child, I realised how much kids like poo, snot and farts and all sorts of niffy stuff! So the spider became very much a scary spider trying to convince various terrified people and animals that she isn’t, in fact, scary and all hell breaks loose. The writing then started to flow and I spent most of my time giggling. That will be my third book. The next is the very snotty ‘I’m Not Cute the Snot Monster’. ‘I’m Not Funny the Chick’ is still in its infancy and will be weird!

You’ve published the first book in your “I’m not…” series of children’s books, how does it feel to be published?

I feel so satisfied after all my hard work to see it finally in print and looking so colourful and professional! I’m also very aware of how difficult it is to be seen among the masses of self-published books, so I’m having to do some leg work to get it noticed. I got an article in my local newspaper, the Buckingham and Winslow Advertiser, on 22 June (see here). I have approached schools if they would accept my reading to the children and hopefully do book signings. Then there are book fairs etc. It’ll be initial financial outlay for hopefully some recognition.

Are there any particular authors or books that you feel have been a big influence on you?

My world view was changed by the also late and great Sir Terry Pratchett. I still hurt desperately at his loss. His Discworld series are a parody of our own world and are hilarious but also often very deep and meaningful. I read his books most nights as relaxation therapy. I read a lot of stories about dystopian worlds and magick and the paranormal. I got into these from urging by my now teenage daughter. I started with ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins and have moved on to others. I love the ‘Twilight’ sagas and ‘The Host’ by Stephanie Meyer which are very well-written. The ‘Maze Runner’ series by James Dashner and the ‘Divergent ‘ series by Veronica Roth are other favourites. I also read books by Susan Kaye Quinn, Anna Carey, Lauren Oliver, Marie Lu and Alyson Noel. I try to read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ once a year. Reading takes me deep into other worlds where anything is possible.

What would you say has been the most difficult challenge to you in your writing?

Writer’s block is a very real problem. I’ve been getting that with my latest book for young adults. It usually means the whole idea is wrong, as it was with the original Spider story, but it’s starting to move again. I have dyspraxia so have difficulty with seeing related subjects. I’ll be writing and then realise that something can’t occur due to the facts that preceded it, but I don’t always see it straight away and have to go through the whole book making corrections. It’s very hard work and can be a bit demoralising. I’ll get people to read the story when it’s done to check for inconsistencies. It’s a lot easier to write for little kids as the stories are so simple, usually. It’s the illustrations that are hard, but incredibly fun. I close my eyes and picture a scene and then start scribbling, and invariably giggling! The characters come alive and are part of my family now.

How do you balance the rest of your life around your writing?

With a full-time job I have little time to write and draw, but try to squeeze them in when I can, often during my lunch break.  I colour my illustrations in Photoshop which is very time-consuming so I tend do it at weekends.  Oh, for some more time!

Do you have any special routines for writing?

Close my eyes, transport myself there and start writing. Then worry about mistakes and cleaning up later. That’s it! I’m a bit of a put-my-head-down-and -charge kind of writer!

What do you do when you are stuck?

I ask my daughter! She has a brilliant and creative brain. She’s often helped me when I’ve got stuck or I’m not sure about something and she has very good ideas.

How did you find the process of self-publishing? Would you recommend it to fellow writers?

I was told about CreateSpace by a publisher friend, Peter Kavanagh, who writes the lovely ‘Art Myatt’ children’s stories. I was very relieved and excited as I would have had to have spent £500 for a publishing company. CreateSpace is brilliant and pretty easy to use. They have the whole service set up very well, with lots of advice to hand. I would most certainly recommend them. You have to do your own self-promotion, though, and that takes time. But it’s fun.

So what’s next? You have your “I’m not…”  series, but do you have any plans for other stories? Maybe for older children? Adults?

I am also writing a spooky novel for older children, ‘The Dreams of Lucy Lee’,  which is proving very difficult and is on hold for the time being, until something occurs to me!  I hope to get [The Dreams of Lucy Lee] finished as it’s preying on my mind! I hate leaving things unfinished. I hope the ‘I’m Not . . .’ series will continue until I run out of ideas. Suggestions welcome!

Is there anything you would do differently if you were starting out again now? What would you tell your younger self, just starting out with the advantage of hindsight?

Plan, plan, plan. It’s hard with a Specific Learning Difficulty but I would have told myself to keep trying. Get the main points of the start, main story and ending sorted out on paper, then fill in. It can be done with practice and I would have tried that when younger if I’d had a helping hand from a professional. Every school should have a writers’ club!

What advice would you give to any aspiring writers out there, especially those that might be wanting to write, but don’t think they can do it?

Write about a subject you love and know well. Don’t write about something because you feel you should or that others tell you should, and hate it. I produced a music book, ‘Diatonic Liaisons’, for the diatonic accordion, as I used to write special notation when teaching a friend and he suggested I write it. It’s been very successful but took about ten years to write and I hated every minute of it! But, to contradict myself, I’m glad it’s done. I would recommend writer’s groups. I’ve never been to one as would feel rather intimidated! But I should have done from the outset. I may well yet. Also, read lots of stories in the genre you’re working on and see how the successful ones are written, but don’t lose sight of your own style. See how long books are as in number of words/pages, although that’s just a guide as yours will be as long as it needs to be, just not too long or too short (except short stories which are a different kettle of fish and really fun!). Do get advice and send drafts to friends and family to ensure you’re on the right track and to correct spelling and grammar. Don’t be hurt by criticism. This is an essential part of your development as a writer. Test your limits and have fun. Be brave!  It’s a wonderful journey and opens whole worlds, real and imagined. Oh, did I say plan, plan, plan?! And good luck to you all!


So, I hope you enjoyed learning about Alex and her writing and maybe even found a little inspiration?

Big thanks to Alex and good luck to her with her writing – and astronomy – clear skies and all that!

Screenwriting Books (sort of) – Stephen King: On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft

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Amazon UK (as before, there are other sellers)

ISBN-10: 1444723251
ISBN-13: 978-144723250


It has been a while since I wrote anything about the screenwriting books that I have enjoyed. Partly because I went for a period without reading any and partly because I had other things to write about. However, I felt the need to return to this semi-regular series of posts having read Stephen King’s “On Writing” this weekend, a book I have been meaning to read for a long time, but only just got around to doing so.

Before we go any further, you may well have noticed the “sort of” that I added to the title. This isn’t a screenwriting book per se, but it is a book aimed at writers; which we all are or hope to be. So, while King’s references and examples are largely taken from novels, a lot of the advice rings true, reflects and reiterates that which is offered by screenwriters.

I “grew up” (not literally) with Stephen King, first reading Christine and Carrie and was instantly drawn to his style of writing. It may not be “the most artful” style in the world but, most importantly, it drew this (soon to be Constant) reader into his world, filling my imagination in ways other books just didn’t. This style is repeated here. We may be in the world of memoir/text-book (?) as opposed to novel, but the words on the page feel familiar and inviting to anyone who has ever read King; it is certainly nowhere near as “stuffy” as some other writing texts I have read.

The first third of the book is reserved for a whirlwind tour through King’s childhood and development as a writer, while the rest of the book is dedicated to his views on what writing is and how it all works. He also explores the tools at your disposal as a writer and how they can help you do the best you possibly can. It is not presented as the be-all-and-end-all for writing or as a one-stop solution to writing a bestseller (as you may find in other works) but it is a review of King’s techniques and experiences, what works for him. His output from this system obviously speaks for itself!

Again, I don’t want this to become a review or detailed critique of the book, but I just wanted to highlight some of the gems I found inside that resonated with me. This is a fairly random selection – I didn’t to spoil everything!

So here goes…

Stephen King on writing:

On lessons learned from early writing:
…the realisation that stopping a piece of work just because it is hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.

As Scott Myers can often be heard saying, “The only way out is through.”

On dedication:
…it’s writing damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to close the book and do something else.

On vocabulary:
…use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colourful; and

…omit needless words, in action.

The second of these is vital advice… and advice I need to take as I can tend to be a little verbose at times.

On description:
Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Overdescription buries him or her in details and images. the trick is to find a happy medium. It’s also important to know what to describe and what can be left alone while you get on with your main job, which is telling a story.

For me, good description usually consists of a few well-chosen details that will stand for everything else.

and I particularly liked:

Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.

On ideas:
A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot, which is fine with me. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a what-if question…

King talks about how he develops ideas and stories, not necessarily focusing on PLOT, but exploring situations and how whole stories can explode from a simple situational set-up.

On character:
I think the best stories always end up being about people rather than the event, which is to say character-driven.

On the Protagonist:
…no one is the ‘bad guy’ or the ‘best friend’ or the ‘whore with a heart of gold’ in real life; in real life we each of us regard ourselves as the main character, the protagonist, the big cheese; the camera is on us, baby.

This is a great way to look at characters and to help you understand their motivations. The Antagonist Perspective

On what to write:
Try any goddam thing you like , no matter how boringly normal or outrageous. If it works, fine. If it doesn’t, toss it. Toss it even if you love it.

Really, just get it down!

On finishing the first draft:
My advice is that you take a couple of days off – go fishing, go kayaking, do a jigsaw puzzle – and then go off an work on something else. How long you let your book rest …. is entirely up to you, but I think it should be a minimum of 6 weeks.

So, yeah, let it ferment for a while…

And that’s just a few, there are plenty more and the book is, for want of a better word, riddled with great insight on the process of writing – and we haven’t even touched on grammar or dialogue!

What struck me as particularly interesting was the similarities to many other sources of inspiration, especially the Pixar Rules I have talked about in the past. I’m not going to list all the similarities, but if you have a look through those rules, you will spot them yourselves. The fact that so many of these “rules” (yeah, I know, ‘tools not rules’) apply equally to King’s works of Horror novels and Pixar’s family-oriented cinema output speaks volumes to the importance of story regardless of what medium you use to convey it. King reiterates this throughout the book – the story is king (no pun intended) – so utilising the tools that he offers up means you are, at least, going to be heading in the right direction when you start writing your masterpiece, whether a short-story, novel, play, TV Series or screenplay.

Finally, I also found the book to be a massive inspiration to get writing again myself and try out some new ideas. It can be difficult to maintain the momentum sometimes, with everything that life can throw at you but, as King says, if you don’t get on and write you will never be a writer.

It has even reminded me how much I used to enjoy being a Constant Reader, so I am going back to fill the gaps in King’s works and, perhaps, re-read a few old favourites. With a Dark Tower film on the way, I feel the need to revisit Roland and his Ka-Tet.

I guess this has (sort of) turned into a review, but I do feel that “On Writing” is one of the best books on writing I have read. For its friendly, welcoming style, to the no nonsense advice from King, it is a book I would recommend to any fellow writer without hesitation.

Do you need to explain everything?

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Well do we? Should we?

As I continue to work through my current rewrite, looking carefully at the importance of each scene, I am also searching for sections of scene description that could be reduced. One of the things that Lucy Hay mentions in this post about Revitalising your Scene Description is the “rule of halves” and cutting down unnecessary description. Why use 20 words when you can use 10? Why use 5 lines, when you can convey the same information in 2?

So I have been trying to cut out the superfluous ramblings and flowery language that is taking up white real-estate on my pages. One of the aims of this rewrite is to try and get my page count down below 100 (from 109) and, by being ruthless in this way, I have managed to get down to 103 pages by about a third of the way through. So it seems to be working.

But what am I talking about?

Simple stuff really.

For example, a passage can easily be reduced in terms of word count, but upped in terms of impact and flow. Take this example from the script I am rewriting. It conveys the scene perfectly well, so we know what is going on, but it is four lines long (my personal, absolute limit) and is a thick slab of words – in short, it is clunky:

Daniel attempts to throw a punch, but Keiron grabs
Daniel’s wrist with one hand and pulls a flick knife out
with the other. The blade is closed but held against
Daniel’s neck. He pushes Daniel back against the lockers.

But this easily becomes:

Daniel throws a punch.

Keiron dodges.

He pins Daniel against the lockers, one hand on his throat, the other pulls a knife.

Punchier? More dramatic? Definitely conveys the same information.

I know which I prefer…

In the same way description can be superfluous, whole scenes can also present unnecessary words. I found two sequential scenes this morning that involved the protagonist and his father in the living room of their house. The father is asleep while his son phones his mother (who recently left) and then sneaks out of the room to phone his girlfriend on an extension upstairs.

This took a full page to describe. Not much space in the overall scheme of things, but every page counts. Besides, and to be honest, far too much of it is simply me, the writer, “telling” the audience what is happening; it doesn’t leave anything to their imagination.

As the son has already been given his mum’s number in an earlier scene and, a few scenes later, meets her, we can be safe to assume that he called her. Or she may have called him, we don’t know… but it really doesn’t matter who called who – the meeting is the important thing. The audience will make the leap, provided the “gap” in the telling isn’t too wide, leaving too much to the imagination.

This way, the scene in the living room becomes superfluous and gets cut, leaving just the second scene to play out. The second scene was just a convenient way to link to the next scene in his girlfriend’s bedroom where she (well, you’ll have to read the script to find that out….)… and they start a conversation. I am fairly certain I can probably cut out both scenes and jump straight to the girlfriend’s bedroom without losing the audience.

So more action has been cut because, if I am perfectly honest, it isn’t really action. It’s just dull description of events leading up to the action. I guess you can see it as “action” and “reaction” – if we can suggest the “action” and show the “reaction” our scripts can be cut down to much leaner lengths and the real action of the screenplay will flow more cleanly.

So, when you are in rewrite mode, think carefully about your description and scenes, do you need them? Do you need that level of description and “telling” the audience, or will it be more fun to “show” them what is happening.

Actions and Reactions….

Other reading

 

 

More “Critique” less “Critical”


 

Last week, the new Ghostbusters trailer appeared and, as would be expected, the internet was soon ablaze with comments about what was seen in those 2 minutes and 37 seconds; comments that, pretty much, sum up a lot of what is wrong with social media giving everyone a voice – and something that has become a bit of a bugbear of mine.

And not just me, as this comment from Lucy Hay suggests.

Now, I am not suggesting that people aren’t entitled to their own views, far from it but, sometimes, I just wish people would keep them to themselves if they aren’t particularly constructive.

Just because you have something to say, doesn’t mean you should.

(And, yes, I realise that accusation could be leveled at me with this blog.)

Actually I am not suggesting that people say nothing, I just like comments to be validated with reasoned and intelligent argument.

Unlike a lot of what was said about the Ghostbusters trailer.

I watched the trailer and it may not be the most exciting trailer I have ever seen but I have no idea whether it is going to be a good film or not. I long ago learned to not judge a book by it’s cover, or a film by it’s trailer – and definitely not if I haven’t seen it. But the release of a trailer these days, or the announcement of a film, seems to be met by an online competition to see who can make the most crass, baseless and profanity-laden comment about what they have just seen.

The number of people who announced it was going to be a crap film was astounding. Not just that it “looked” like it would be, but that it was actually going to be – as if they had seen it. This was before we got to the downright misguided moaning about the female leads. (I’m not going to get into a discussion about the casting though, as that is a different matter.) It was also surprising to see a large number of people complaining that the very existence of this film has destroyed their memories and love of the original Ghostbusters from 1984.

How does it? How does the existence of this film, negate any enjoyment you have had, and will have, watching and rewatching the classic 80’s comedy?

Guess what…?

It doesn’t.

I remember when “teaser” posters for the updated Paddington were released. One of the commenters suggested that the existence of the film had “raped their childhood.” I’ll let that sink in while you think about how absurd that is. The original still exists, it isn’t changed by the existence of a new film which you don’t have to go and see if you don’t want to.

If you want to express your dislike with something, or if you disagree with something, why can’t you do it with a qualifying statement to justify your thoughts? If you have to criticise something (and we certainly should be) at least try and make it constructive.

I hope, as writers, that this is something we can do, to separate us from the faceless trolls who litter social media and the magical interweb. It is a skill that is vital to us as part of a creative community and for when we work with other creatives to act as peers and support others’ development. How can we give useful notes to other writers if we can only be critical but not provide a critique? When we give notes, we need to back up those notes with supportive critique that explains the rationale behind our comments so that those on the receiving end can understand the context and reasoning behind them.

It isn’t rocket science.

It’s a simple thing to do, but something that seems so hard for so many when sat behind their identity-hiding screens.

When The Force Awakens was released, it was always going to generate some heated discussion. I followed some threads on Twitter with people who clearly didn’t like the film. However, they had reasoned arguments for why they didn’t and I could appreciate the reasoning behind their arguments. So the discussion was interesting and informative. I may not have agreed with them, but I was able to have a mature discussion because they were able to discuss it beyond the simple, reductive, “that was ****”.

I haven’t yet dared go online to read into what the world thinks of the (great) casting for The Dark Tower adaptation.

Anyway, I think I’ve veered into rambling and/or ranting but I just had to get this off my chest.

It is incredibly draining to read about other people’s work in this way, so imagine what it must be like for those who actually produced the work? I guess my take away from this is that it is easy to just criticise in this day and age. However, as writers, we are all in this together and, regardless of who writes what, who succeeds and who fails, we can be incredibly supportive of each other. I have had some fantastic notes from writers who don’t shy away from offering criticism, but they do so in a constructive, supportive way, so I was always only ever going to learn. I hope any notes I have given in the past are a fraction as good as those I have received.

So don’t get sucked into that world of negativity and cheap-shottery. Give each other a pat on the back and remember to be less critical for the sake of it and invest more time in providing a critique of work we have the opportunity to comment on.

What goes around, comes around.

I’ll step down now….

Screenwriting Books – 500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader & How Not to Write a Screenplay

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Amazon UK (yet again, other booksellers are available)

ISBN-10: 0684856409     ISBN-13: 978-0684856407

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Amazon UK (yeah, you know the rest)

ISBN-10: 1580650155     ISBN-13: 978-1580650151


Back to books…

I decided to look at these two together as they are kind of cut from the same cloth. Neither book is a conventional account of screenwriting from start to finish in the way that, perhaps McKee or Field are, and they are certainly lighter in tone and easier to read.

The books are both a collection of snippets of information, like a screenwriter’s FAQ list of hints and tips on how to write a screenplay and market your stories.

Jennifer Lerch’s 500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader is exactly that, a run through of 500 nuggets of advice for writers who want to make sure their screenplay gets read, and gets past the Hollywood gatekeepers. Hollywood is the key word here and the book is largely written to reflect on screenplays with Hollywood as a target audience; commercial, high-concept, 3-ACT stories. To this end, the main section of the book (Book 2) runs from “Way” number 200 to “Way” number 477 and is split into 3 Acts that mirrors the issues you need to consider in each of those 3 Acts. Book 1 deals with developing characters, concepts and themes and is the second largest section from 1 to 200.

This is by no means a bad thing, just important to highlight that it might not be the right book for you if you are more interested in low-budget, independent film-making, or markets that are very different from Hollywood. As a general primer, though, it works well and I enjoyed the read. It is accessible and does not get bogged down with in-depth discussions of screenwriting paradigms or rules, but just fires out nugget after nugget of writing advice. You just take what you want from it.

In the introduction to “How Not to Write a Screenplay,” Denny Martin Flinn states that this book will not make you a great screenwriter, but he hopes that it will help you to NOT be a bad screenwriter. The book explores 101 common mistakes that screenwriters make and, while it is not numbered in the same way as “500 Ways…” it is split into many sections offering advice on dozens of aspects of screenwriting such as sluglines, settings, characters and dialogue.

Actually, the book could work as a companion to The Screenwriter’s Bible in that the biggest section, PART 1, deals with Form and Formatting; the real nuts and bolts of screenwriting that you need to know about. It takes a lot of similar rules discussed by Trottier in his bible and gives examples of mistakes that are commonly made and how to avoid making them. If you want a concise book that explores the use of parentheticals, montages or the much discussed “we-see,” then you are in the right place. You won’t get an in-depth discussion about any of this, but you will get helpful insight into the bare bones of screenwriting form.

Personally, I think I preferred Trottier’s book but that may be because I know it better than this book and it is my go to reference when I have a query about form. There isn’t much new in Flinn’s book if you are familiar with the Bible or have been writing for a while, but it is still a potentially useful addition to your screenwriting reference library!

They are both books that you can dip in and out of and don’t need to sit down and spend hours pouring over technicalities. I bit of light relief after some of the loftier tomes that are available to screenwriters.

If you have read them, or decide to, let me know what you think below.

Seeing the Wood, despite the Trees

The way through the woods revisited by *Psyche Delia*, on Flickr
The way through the woods revisited” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by  *Psyche Delia*


About a month ago I talked about a New Start and New Year’s Resolutions in relation to writing. In that post, I mentioned my plans to rewrite some screenplays from the past with an eye on getting them ready for feedback/competition/submissions etc.

Well, this week I embarked on the first of these rewrites. I was finishing another draft until the week before, by the way, so I haven’t been sitting on my hands since Christmas! Just in case you are checking.

I picked one of my first ideas. Not the first I have written, but an idea that I came up with in 1996/7 while invigilating an exam back in college. This was around the time of my first, yet stalled, attempt to dedicate time to writing which resulted in the short screenplay that is the subject of this post and a Sci-Fi Spec that is so awful and derivative, it will never see the light of day. To be honest, I am not even sure I have the file anymore… but that is another story.

The short script was an idea that had been knocking around in my head for years and, after cutting my teeth on another spec, I decided to go back to it. After so long, and with more experience, the short script was pretty horrible… lot’s of “we see” and camera directions all over the place – it wasn’t good.

It was still a story I wanted to tell though, and the time away had given me the opportunity to think the story over, think about what worked and about what didn’t and to think about the things I could do to it to improve it. Perhaps 15 years was a bit long to wait, but I rewrote the short screenplay into a 100 page draft in 2012. A couple of quick rewrites followed and, since then, it has sat on my laptop gathering virtual dust.

Until now.

I sat down with a nice, crisp print-out on Monday morning and started to read.

It didn’t stay crisp, or white, for very long.

There was still a lot wrong with it. But, and I am obviously bias, there was also a lot that worked and I enjoyed reading it and exploring the script anew. And that is key. It had been so long, it was like reading something for (almost) the first time. I have picked up issues with it that I had never thought of previously – that I probably couldn’t have picked up previously because I was so invested in the project when I was writing it for the first time.

I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

I have also had time to think about other elements of the script and have started to work those into it, as well as taking sections out, moving them around and, hopefully, making it all work a lot better than it did before.

I even culled the second scene which involved someone waking up and going about their daily routine!

(Hey, I was young and foolish!)

So what is the point of all this?

Take. Time. Out.

I heard a lot of this when I was reading up on writing and speaking to peers on forums and social media. At first I didn’t see the point. If I had written something, I wanted to edit and fiddle as soon as it was finished to make it better. In actuality, all that happened was a bit of editing for space and proof-reading for grammar and spelling – the story, as a whole, didn’t really change. That approach, for me, did not result in proper re-writing.

So now I do try to take time away from a project so I can come back to it freshly. And the advantage of doing so has never been more evident than when sitting down to read my old script on Monday.

In doing this, the rewrite I am working on has taken on a fresh appeal. There were bits of the story I had forgotten about, or sections that made me wince they were so bad. But I can take this on board and deal with it more effectively as I have taken that step back from being so invested in the project when I finished the last draft.

The draft I just finished? I will spend a couple of months on rewrites at least before I go back to that one, to give myself time to get it “out of my system” and come back again with fresh eyes.

It’s a much more efficient way of working for me.

How about you? Do you wait, or do you like to get stuck in asap?

Feel free to share your experience below.

Other Reading:

Screenwriting Books – The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler

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Amazon UK (as always, other booksellers are available)

ISBN-10: 193290736X ISBN-13: 978-1932907360

In this semi-regular exploration of some of the texts I have read over the last few years, I thought it was about time to give Vogler a mention. The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers takes a slightly different look at structure by moving away from the more rigid rules spelled out by Field and McKee, for example, to explore the very essence of stories, what they are and where they have come from.  Vogler builds on Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces to describe the Hero’s Journey template that can be found in so many favourite stories and, of course, favourite films. While it still adheres to a structure of sorts, it is a fascinating introduction to the concepts behind the components of effective story-telling.

The volume is largely split into two main books that explore the characters you might find on the hero’s journey and the stages of that voyage.

In Book One: Mapping the Journey, Vogler explores character archetypes that we have all probably come across in one form or another:

  • The Hero
  • The Mentor: Wise Old Woman or Man
  • Threshold Guardian
  • Herald
  • Shapeshifter
  • Shadow
  • Ally
  • Trickster

The shadow, for example, closely mirrors the character we may already know as the Antagonist, or Nemesis. They don’t necessarily have to be villains, but Vogler discusses how they are are odds with the Hero and will act as one of the main barriers to our Hero reaching her goal. The book discusses the purpose of each character and provides examples of how they may change in relation to the story being told.

In Book Two: Stages of the Journey, Vogler sets out each stage of the journey that the Hero may take, meeting many of the archetypes described in Book One. The 12 stage journey is as follows:

  • Ordinary World
  • Call to Adventure
  • Refusal of the Call
  • Meeting with the Mentor
  • Crossing the First Threshold
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave
  • The Ordeal
  • Reward
  • The Road Back
  • The Resurrection
  • Return with the Elixir

The journey is cyclical, involving an outward quest, looking for the answers/elixir/MacGuffin, the challenges and transformations associated with this quest and the journey home with the spoils. As Bilbo might describe it, “There and back again….”

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I don’t have space to discuss each of these stages here but, if you have been studying screenwriting and have read even just one or two books, you will start to see similarities with other structures and paradigms such as Save the Cat, where the Call to Adventure in Vogler’s work relates to Snyder’s Inciting Incident. Others may call it the Catalyst or perhaps the Trigger, but you will start to recognise the stages as Vogler decribes them.

So there is, perhaps, nothing new in Vogler’s work if you have read other books on screenwriting and are familiar with Campbell. For me, though, what I enjoyed was a slightly more in-depth look at the characters we might see on a Hero’s Journey, as well as the stages of that journey, rather than a simple rundown of what a three-act story should look like on paper. As an introduction to the mythology of story-telling, I think it works really well.

This insight is strengthened by The Epilogue of Vogler’s book which explores the Hero’s Journey paradigm in relation to a number of classic films such as:

He also uses The Wizard of Oz as an example throughout the book when introducing the various concepts of The Writer’s Journey. This way, Vogler can help you understand how the various stages of the Journey work in practice and how the Character Archetypes found along the way interact with each other at each stage of the journey. It won’t tell you how to write a screenplay from a technical point of view, but it will give you a great understanding of story structure and potential components that will help you tell a good tale.

It helps you understand how stories work.

Like any other texts, The Writer’s Journey is not the “only book you will ever need” but, if you have an interest in crafting stories and exploring characters and their journeys, then I can heartily recommend this book.

Have you read Vogler’s work?

Did you find it useful?

Feel free to comment below and have fun if you chose to purchase this book!

Screenwriting Books – The Screenwriter’s Bible

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Amazon UK (Other book shops are available)

ISBN-10: 1935247107   ISBN-13: 978-1935247104

Following on from Save the Cat, in the first episode of this series looking at some of the screenwriting books I have read, David Trottier’s Screenwriter’s Bible is another well-known and well-renowned guide to screenwriting. Unlike Save the Cat though, I am not sure I have ever heard anyone criticise the book. While I am sure it does have its critics, but that is not what this post is about.

The Screenwriter’s Bible is again aimed at those starting out. Not that it might not be useful to the more seasoned writer, but it takes the reader from the very first steps of having an idea through to planning, writing and, ultimately, marketing your work. It makes this all the more easy for us to understand by splitting itself into five distinct “books”, each looking at a different part of this process. Indeed, this is one of its main selling points, 5 books in 1!

The books include:

  1. BOOKI –  How to Write a Screenplay: A Primer – this takes us through some of the considerations of what makes a story work, plot, character, dialogue and scenes; the building blocks of any story.
  2. BOOKII – 7 Steps to a Stunning Script: A Workbook – the workbook offers templates and outlines for coming up with ideas, planning your story, developing characters and producing treatments.
  3. BOOKIII – Proper Formatting Technique: A Style Guide – this book runs through pretty much every formatting “rule” that a new writer may need to know to finish their first script.
  4. BOOKIV – Writing and Revising your Breakthrough Script: A Script Consultant’s View – this book explores how to rewrite your script and make it stand out from the crowd.
  5. BOOKV – How to Sell your Script: A Marketing Plan – Five steps to help you develop a plan for marketing yourself and your script.

Personally I have not yet used the information in Book V and I think Books I, II and IV are dealt with in many other texts; everyone has a different take on developing concepts and rewriting a script. However, for me, the Bible was incredibly important as a writer starting out because of Book III and because it deals with the main stumbling block for all us newbies; format. How the hell do I correctly format a script?

While there are many software packages out there that will help you with the main formatting issues like borders, tabs and spacing etc, what they can’t necessarily help you with is how to format a montage or a scene that happens over the telephone.What David does in Book III is provide some pages of a sample script that includes lots of examples of classic screenwriting format. I think David would be the first to admit that his way is not necessarily the ONLY way you can format a script, but if you start with these basics, you can’t go too far wrong. Once you develop your skills as a writer, you can learn other ways to format the same things and experiment with your own format but, for now, it will make life a lot easier if you start by following the “rules”. Learn how to walk before you can run.

A lot of writers may balk at this and proclaim that “so-and-so” writer does this in “such-and-such” a script. They often do, but they are also often well-established and respected writers who can get away with it. I am sure that many writers, more experienced than I, would agree that getting your format right for your breakthrough script is vitally important.

In short, I really like the Screenwriter’s Bible and have bought reissues and updates in the past. It doesn’t come off the shelf as often as it used to as I am getting to grips with a lot of the basics. However, if there is something I am not sure about, or haven’t used for a while, I know I will more than likely be able to find an answer within it’s pages.

And if you can’t, then you might be able to through David’s website – Keep Writing and sell what you write

Do you use The Screenwriter’s Bible?

How has it helped you?

 

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