Category Archives: theme

The Film is never as good as the Book!

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About a month or so before Christmas I joined a Stephen King Group on Facebook as, funnily enough, I am a fan of his writing, and have been since I was a teenager. It is a decent and fun group but something I have noticed, in the short time I have been a member, is the regular repetition of many similar discussions. Of course, this is to be expected with so many members and constant posts; topics come and go rapidly – blink and you’ll miss them!

However, one that keeps bugging me is a discussion about the relative merits of the adaptations of his books to films. Most notably there is a regular outpouring of anger against The Shining (1980) whenever the subject of the book comes up. The general consensus among the participants is that the film is crap simply because it does not closely match the content of the book.

This is a fair criticism of the majority of book to film adaptations; there just isn’t the space to fit everything from a lengthy novel into a film. The adaptation of The Shining has a fairly generous running length of 2 hours and 26 minutes, but that still isn’t enough time to fit everything from a 512 page novel onto celluloid. Why else would they make a mini-series of The Shining (1997) years later? (Note to self: I must get around to watching the mini-series to compare and contrast all three.) I appreciate there were well-documented disagreements between Kubrick and King as to what the film should look like, and you were probably never going to get a word for word adaptation from Kubrick, but does that make the film rubbish?

No of course not, it just makes it different.

Part of my inspiration for this post was a recent guest post from Yvetta Dourin at Lucy V Hay’s author site exploring the differences between the Hunger Games (from 2012) films and books and why, despite those differences, both mediums work (go and read Yvetts’s post and check out Lucy’s site for other book vs film comparisons). There perhaps aren’t as many fundamental changes between the Hunger Games books and films as there are in The Shining but the principle is the same; it is hard to fit every word of a novel onto the cinema screen, especially when so much of a novel relates the inner workings of the characters’ minds, their thoughts and feelings, something that it is much harder to do in a screenplay when everything needs to be visual.

However, what you can do is use the strengths of either media to get the themes and messages across to the audience. The Shining film and book may be very different, but the themes of mental health, alcoholism, parenthood etc etc are present in both. I have not read the Hunger Games novels, but I suspect the same can be said for them. Have a think about some of your favourite adaptations, and I bet there is a fairly robust pattern?

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I recently finished reading the wonderful Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children which I picked up just after seeing the film. I knew there would be changes and, without going into too much detail and avoiding spoilers, there are some significant differences, especially around the end of the story – the book and film are vastly different.

But…

The themes of loneliness, isolation and being “different” are prevalent in both and, surprise surprise, I enjoyed them both. They can exist in the same world and both be great stories and, if you don’t like one of them, it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) affect your enjoyment of the other. The are just two ways of telling the same story. If you think about it, haven’t the classic folk stories that have been passed down from generation to generation changed over the years, but still retained their message? Fairy tales come in many different versions, but the messages are often the same. Stories are retold and interpreted over and over again, so why not expect the same when a book is adapted into a film? It is simply another telling or reinterpretation of the same story.

One of the definitions of “ADAPTATION” in the dictionary (admittedly in relation to biology) is:

the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.

Films and Books are simply different environments for the same story to be told. The two mediums are very different and have their advantages and disadvantages over each other, but this does not make them mutually exclusive to your enjoyment. Where a novel can be very much internal and describe the invisible emotions that lie within a character’s mind, a film is much more external and visual; by their very nature, they will have to have differences. I could imagine that a stage adaptation of our favourite books and films would be very different again.

Yvetta comes to a similar conclusion in her excellent article. You will no doubt like one over the other, but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy both. Don’t narrow your view, enjoy them all and don’t assume something will be crap just because it is an adaptation; things just aren’t that black and white. I think I preferred the book to the film in the case of Miss Peregrine, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy them both immensely.

Stories are stories, we love telling them and having them told to us.

  • Do you feel that film adaptations of books are always rubbish?
  • Is there a particularly adaptation that makes you angry about the way a favourite book was treated?
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Concept is King!

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
Written and Directed by: James DeMonaco


Quickly cycling through Netflix the other day, looking for something to watch while ironing (I need something to distract me from the banal) I found The Purge: Anarchy. The kids were safely upstairs and out of the way, so I clicked play and switched the steam setting up to high!

I quite enjoyed the original The Purge (2013) and found it to be a decent, and tense horror/thriller. Definitely a “pop corn movie” but it was still a good way to escape for a couple of hours. The sequel does the same. Maybe not as effective as the first (in my opinion) as I guess the stakes are now well-known for Purge Night, but they both generate a significant amount of empathy for the characters (whether or not you sympathise with them) as it is easy to put yourself in their position, and ask yourself the question, “what would I do.”

And it manages this by having such a great concept.

Whether you like the films or not (they are a bit silly) they do have a great concept behind them. One that anyone can understand and immediately know what they are going to get.

WHAT IF, ONE NIGHT A YEAR, ALL CRIME, INCLUDING MURDER, WAS LEGAL FOR 12 HOURS?

Actually, I am sure you could boil the concept down to something even snappier than that, but it does give you the overview of the film in one sentence. It’s shorter than the logline even.

I’m not going to get into discussions about what is considered High-Concept or Low-Concept –  that is probably for another post. However, it did make me think about the importance of concept and I think many successful writers will tell you that, “Concept is King.” If you can’t explain your concept, or are not even aware of it, you may well struggle to write your story. Actually, it doesn’t matter whether we are talking High or Low Concept, being able to articulate your concept is an important skill in writing.

WHAT IF A GREAT WHITE SHARK TERRORISED A PEACEFUL ISLAND COMMUNITY

That pretty much sums things up.

A YOUNG WOMAN MUST PREVENT A BOMB EXPLODING ON A BUSY CITY BUS BY KEEPING IT ABOVE 50mph

Clear?

To be honest, these are probably all examples of High-Concept films, which may well be easier to articulate but, again, that is probably another post.

Regardless, it is obvious that a clear concept will make your story more impactful and saleable, instantly telling everyone what it is about and drawing them in. If it takes you 10 minutes to explain your concept, or you can’t quite pin it down, then you may struggle to get anyone interested in your next great script.

So when planning you next script, think about your concept and, perhaps, test it friends and family to see what their reaction is.

What importance do you place on your concept?

How do you test your concept?

5 Questions to Test your Concept – Go Into the Story

7 Steps to Road Testing your Concept – Bang 2 Write

 

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.

Character Change

Michael Corleone by cal.almonds, on Flickr
Michael Corleone” (CC BY 2.0) by  cal.almonds 


While at work a few days ago (don’t tell the Boss) I was daydreaming about a script re-write I am working on when I came across the following tweet by Lucy V Hay highlighting advice from writer Julian Fellowes:

(the full post is available HERE)

What caught my eye was Tip #7 which dismisses the expectation that all good characters must change over the course of their journey. Fellowes was more of the opinion that it is just as important to ensure the audience has empathy with your characters. This was timely as I am currently working on a script where the protagonist does not necessarily change that much during her story; she perhaps acts more as a catalyst for change among other characters. She changes a little, but not as drastically as many other movie characters who learn great lessons through the course of their arcs.

Now, change is a cornerstone of story-telling techniques as it informs the character arc, another common aspect of screenwriting teaching. Wikipedia describes it as:

“A character arc is the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a story. If a story has a character arc, the character begins as one sort of person, and during the story, things happen which gradually transforms him or her into a different sort of person.”
Character arc – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

and even more “respected” sources describe the importance of change:

“The finest writing not only reveals true character, but arcs or changes that inner nature, for better or worse, over the course of the telling.”
Robert MCkee, “Story” (1999, p104).

“In a sense, stories are about change. And the measuring stick that tells us who succeeds and who doesn’t is seen in the ability to change. Good guys are those who willingly accept change and see it as a positive force. Bad guys are those who refuse to change, who curl up and die in their own juices, unable to move out of the rut their lives represent. To succeed in life is to be able to transform. That’s why it’s the basis of not only good storytelling but also of the world’s best known religions. Change is good because it represents re-birth, the promise of a fresh start.”
Blake Snyder, “Save the Cat” (2005, p136).

Which is exactly right –  change makes for good-storytelling and fulfilling stories . The change in Michael Corleone in the Godfather (1972) is a perfect example of how a character can change. It might not be the most positive change, but he does change, and the audience is fascinated by this growth and how it affects the character and others around him. Want something more light-hearted? How about Lightning McQueen from Cars (2006)? He starts off pretty self-centred and selfish, but ends up changing through the course of the film, learning to slow down and be more considerate to those around him. Clearly more change. Indeed, grab a stone and throw it at the IMDB and you are very likely to hit a story that features interesting characters developed through change.

Despite this change, Michael and Lightning are two very different characters who also have something else in common; empathy. Regardless of what change they go through, audiences empathise with the characters. Even where that change is negative. We do so with Michael in the Godfather as he avenges his father and protects his family – a primal desire/urge within the vast majority of us.

However, what is also interesting about Cars is that Lightning’s change is catalysed by the characters around him. He gets to know the residents of Radiator Springs and their lifestyle and they affect him, helping him change. The characters around him don’t particularly change themselves (maybe Doc Hudson softens a little) but that doesn’t necessarily make them any less interesting. They all have a story and personality that creates empathy with the audience without the change that is considered vital.

So what’s going on here?

Well, perhaps characters DON’T have to go through change to lead an interesting story, as Julian Fellowes suggests. Perhaps interesting, empathetic characters are just as important, and they don’t have to change to generate an emotional connection with the audience. Put a character in a story that has conflict, that gives them a goal and a purpose that the audience can empathise with and you can still end up with an enjoyable and popular film.

Don’t believe me?

What about:

to name a few examples. The characters in these films don’t undergo any substantial change during their stories, but they are highly regarded and well-loved films. Why? Because of good characterisation, great conflict and drama, etc etc. Ripley doesn’t change during the film (apart from learning about xenomorphs VERY quickly) and starts and ends the story as a kick-ass, Nostromo crew member. When does James Bond EVER learn anything or change? Dumb and Dumber says it all – no learning here… move along please.

Interestingly, Forrest Gump is similar to the supporting cast in CARS in that the protagonist, Forrest, doesn’t change, but he does influence the people he touches throughout his life, helping them grow and change – think of Captain Dan!

This is a great revelation and another chance to “clarify” a screenwriting rule. While “change” is an important aspect of many films, it is just another Tool in our writing kit-bag, not the absolute Rule that many of us (myself included) learn about early in our careers and think we have to stick to. Characters can (and do) change, it’s a fact, we see it all the time. BUT, they don’t HAVE to change, there is just as much evidence for that. The common denominator, however, on both sides of the argument is strong, compelling and empathetic characters that an audience will get behind and root for.

So that gives us something to aim for.

How do you feel about character change as a Screenwriting Rule?

Have you ever written a story in which a character doesn’t change?

 

Further Reading:

 

 

Ex Machina (2015) and the Importance of Character

Ex Machina (2015)
Written and Directed by: Alex Garland


The Transit of Mercury didn’t pan out quite as I had hoped on Monday, with pretty much the entire World’s quota of fluffy grey clouds hovering over my house for most of the day. So, with some spare time, we chose to watch Ex Machina instead; another disc that has been sitting, waiting for a long time.

It was certainly worth the wait.

Ex Machina is a mesmerising exploration of the consequences of advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and, to my non-scientific mind, felt like a glimpse into a possible future where the smartest person in the room is also the artificial one. As Dr Malcolm might suggest, just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.

The story follows Caleb, the lucky employee of Nathan, a technological genius who has chosen Caleb to apply the Turing Test to his lifelike AI Android Ava. Rather, a slightly twisted take on the Turing Test where the tester knows they are sat opposite a computer but are testing their capacity to believe that what they know is a collection of nuts and bolts could actually be human.

And that’s all I will say about the plot as it is a fantastic film, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Sci-Fi. I am sure that those with more knowledge of this area would be able to find holes in it, much like they did with the Garland-penned Sunshine, but that is not why I choose to watch movies – I want to be transported to a world that is believeable, not necessarily realistic. Although I think Ex Machina does both extremely well.

However, what really struck me with Ex Machina was the characters. The three main characters are very different. Caleb comes across as a fairly strait-laced IT geek, very much in contrast to Nathan’s heavy-drinking, aggressive Alpha-Male. In between is Ava; inquisitive and almost child-like. Each character is different, but they are so well written, you find yourself empathising with them all. There is no clear “good or bad guy” in this movie, each of the characters have their own agendas and each could be considered a Protagonist and Antagonist in their own right.

You may dislike Nathan because of the way he treats Caleb and Ava, but that doesn’t mean you can’t identify or empathise with his situation, his genius or what he is trying to achieve. And, I suspect, we will all be able to identify with the relationship that develops between Caleb and Ava and the reasons for that relationship. It is this empathy that helps draw us into the story and the twists and turns that come our way by the end of the film, and it helps us understand and rationalise the choices each character makes on that journey. It also makes us question those choices after the credits roll.

In a recent post I talked about the importance of dialogue and how that is not the be all and end all of a good script. Ex Machina is almost the polar opposite of Mad Max in that it is much more dialogue heavy. And it is great dialogue, the exchanges between Caleb and Nathan are tech-heavy, philosophical discussions and work in superb contrast to the more innocent, awkward and sometimes flirty conversations between Caleb and Ava. There is no doubting that there is great dialogue.

But I don’t remember much of it.

What I do remember are the characters, their motivations, actions and emotions, and that is what drives this film and reinforces, to me, the importance of great characters and how they will elevate your story beyond mere words on a page.

Ex Machina is a stunning piece of film-making and I would recommend anyone who hasn’t seen it, who likes good sci-fi, to give it a go. Actually, even if you don’t like sci-fi, give it a go anyway, you might just be surprised.

If you have see Ex Machina, why not let me know what you thought of it below… in a non-spoilery kind of way!

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.

Focus on Rewriting


 

Having taken a bit of a step back from my work and embarking on a “new” rewrite, my mind is now full of how I can rewrite the script I am currently focusing on and what, exactly, is rewriting?

I touched on the importance of taking a step back last week and how, if I don’t, my rewrites tend to be nothing more than a tidy up of dialogue and descriptive text; perhaps saving me a few lines here and there but not, effectively, altering or improving the story. If I am not careful, I just end up editing my work – or at least doing to it what I would consider editing. The work will read better, and flow more pleasantly, but the story, the characters, the plot, themes and emotions will be identical. It can be easy to do this a few times and think you have improved your story, but any reader worth their salt will be able to see through this in an instant. A patchy narrative or a weak plot, is still just that, regardless of how good your editing skills are.

To rewrite effectively, I think you need to have a plan. Stories live or die on their plots, themes and, often most importantly, characters. You need to focus on what you are aiming for with your story, its strengths, weakness and its characters. You need to be able to delve more deeply into the story, to explore the underlying structure, themes and motivations so you don’t just scratch the surface or, more accurately, polish the surface!

But how to focus and plan?

If I have taken enough time away from a project, I can come back to it with fresh eyes. My current project did surprise me in a couple of ways as there were aspects of it that I did not remember writing. By coming back to it fresh, I can come back at it in a more objective way. After reading it through once, I then go through it again and think about the characters, the scenes, sequences, themes, twists and turns. Does it all work, are the characters believeable, is there enough conflict, what are the components that need work?

As I start to make notes, I will come up with a plan for the various components. For example, for each character, noting how they should develop, how I can make their voices clearer in the narrative and how I can make them more believeable. I will take notes from my peers (if I have them) and see how certain plot elements could be changed and adapted and how that could effect the whole work. I start to make myself a rewriting “to-do” list that focused my attention on these various components.

And this is where, for me, things differ from simple editing.

For editing, my to-do list might just be:

  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Spelling
  • Grammar;

a combination of editing and proof-reading, a broad and unfocused overview. My rewrite checklist, on the other hand, will be a lot more detailed:

  • BOB needs to be more aggressive in his scenes with PAM
  • The dog needs to be foreshadowed much earlier in the script
  • Incident with the artichokes needs to come much earlier in the script and before PAM finds out about the butler’s misdemeanour
  • How will the aftermath of PAM’s discovery affect the revelation in ACT II?

Obviously, these are just made up but you get the picture. They are more specific and measurable changes to the work, to make it more interesting to read and more dramatic, or faster-paced and action-packed. All of it is designed to make it a better story, not just make it look nice on paper. It is certainly more focused.

And these changes don’t all have to be done in one go or in one pass of the script from start to finish. In fact, it is possibly better not to do that. A single scene might not require much work, but if I wanted to up the ante on PAM and BOB’s relationship, then perhaps I would need to go through the script and pull out all of Pam and Bob’s scenes to focus on them away from the work as a whole. Just working from FADE IN to FADE OUT might not be enough to elevate your process from simple editing to effective rewriting. You need to focus on the areas that require work and fight to make them better. (Have a look at the link below on The Surgical Drape Technique for another perspective on this.)

If that sounds like a lot of work well… it is. And it has to be. You need to be prepared to break your script down in order to build it up. Rewriting is hard and it is probably one aspect of writing that many of us are most afraid of. That might be the reason why rewrites in my early life as a writer involved a simple editorial polish, rather than a full rewrite; I was too scared to get really stuck in and mess with what I thought was a perfect draft.

Now, I understand the importance of rewriting and how invaluable it is to the creative process. We have all heard someone say that “Writing is Rewriting” and we often spend longer doing the rewriting than putting the original draft together. This can put us off rewriting as it appears to take us away from what we really want to be doing – writing and creating. But Rewriting is also Writing (whether you like it or not), so it doesn’t remove you from your creative process, it actually puts you in the thick of it and can only make you a better writer in the long run.

So, get stuck in, focus on your rewriting and enjoy the creative process!

 

How do you approach re-writing?

Are you guilty of polishing, rather than rewriting?

Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts on the process of rewriting.

(And bonus points for anyone who came here via Twitter and can name the device in the picture and what it is for – the theme of this post is a clue.)

 

Additional 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!

Know Your Story

Monsters: Dark Continent (2014)

Directed By: Tom Green

Written by: Tom Green and Jay Basu

*****SPOILERS*****

A few years ago I watched MONSTERS (2010) and was pleasantly surprised by a fairly low-profile (and low budget) Sci-Fi road trip. So I was excited when a follow-up was announced and was looking forward to seeing where it took the story. The information that followed suggested a detour from the original to a more “action” oriented sequel, a sort of ALIEN to ALIENS type leap, so my interest was even more piqued.

Well, I finally got myself together after finding Dark Continent on Netflix and thought I would give it ago.

In a nutshell, the story follows a squad of soldiers tasked with keeping an eye on local insurgents in the Middle East, while fighting the expanding menace of the aliens from the original film. Eventually, the squad  are given a mission to find a lost patrol and return them home from behind enemy lines and from within the infected zone, where the aliens roam freely.

Unfortunately I ended up watching it in two sittings over the course of a week, which wasn’t ideal, but it did give me the opportunity to see a Tweet by Debbie Moon (who was watching it at the same time) which expressed one of my concerns about the film:

…for a film with the word “MONSTERS” in the title, there were very few Monsters throughout the film.

The difficulty with the film, for me, was that it seemed to be trying to be more than the sum of its parts. It starts off with a Deer-Hunter-lite sequence introducing us to the soldiers we are supposed to be rooting for on the night before they ship out. Bonding, men-stuff, strippers and drugs are the order of the day and a new-born child for one of the crew – yep, we now know who is buying the farm first!

It then moves to the war zone and interactions with the indigenous population who are at odds with both the soldiers and the monsters. Some support their actions, others don’t because of the collateral damage that comes with bombing massive monsters in populated areas. We see some monsters from afar, but don’t engage. We follow the squad as they recce a small settlement looking for evidence of IEDs. We do get to see a monster here, but only briefly as it is chased off by some screaming and shotguns.

When the mission proper shows up, we are well into the film and still only looking for a lost patrol, not hunting down monsters. An IED scuppers their plans early on and there is a firefight as the soldiers scramble for cover and a few of them die. Actually, this sequence is well done and tense as the action ramps up. Kidnap, torture and escape follow. Some monsters in the dark, but none threaten the survivors.

There is the discovery of a burnt out school bus and dilemma over what to do with the survivor (a small child) when lost in the desert and dehydrated. This is followed by a meeting with friendlies and a “spiritual” section as the “good” soldier watches a monster dispersing spores to create a new generation of beasties.

The film draws to a close as they find the lost patrol (dead) and the commanding solider goes a bit crazy, Apocalypse Now-style, as he questions his actions and the reasons for him being there.

The film ends with the “birth” of a giant Monster… but we still don’t get to do anything with it. Maybe they are setting us up for Part III?

And there we go. A film with “Monsters” in the title, but few monsters in the film.

My personal view is that the film is not sure what it wants to be or exactly who it’s target audience is. Is it a war film? Is it Sci-Fi? Is it an exploration of the psychology of warfare? I think it tried to explore themes around just WHO the Monsters really are in warfare, pitting the US Military against the local “insurgents” and population. The Monsters are a third, literal, option, but were not involved in the story in any meaningful way. In fact, they could be taken out completely and the story would still have worked as a war film.

Whether this is a good or bad film is up to you; remember this is just my opinion and what I took away from it. Despite all that the film was still okay for what it was; but that just wasn’t what I was expecting. However, I think it could have been so much better if it had known what story it was trying to tell. The soldiers’? The Monsters’? The Locals’? The Insurgents’?

If you use “Monsters” in your title, the audience will want to see Monsters –  but the hopes for “ALIENS in the desert” were not fulfilled.

So, my take away from all this rambling?

KNOW YOUR STORY.

When you set out to tell a story, make sure you know what story you want to tell and the audience you are going to tell it to. You may not know exactly how you are going to tell it on the first draft, but you need to know “what”. If you don’t you may lose focus, diluting the story you wanted to tell with diversions and plot tangents you don’t need.

If YOU don’t know what story you are trying to tell, you can be damn sure your AUDIENCE won’t.

But that’s me. How about you? Do you think this is important? Do you KNOW your stories before you start writing? Do you think it is better to know before you write, so you know what direction you are going in?

Feel free to comment below!

 

Further discussion:

 

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?

 

Other reading:

Fiona Faith Ross

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Sabina Giado

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Elan Mudrow

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1001 Scribbles

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Above the clouds

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Grady P Brown - Author

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are like screenplays. The first one is usually a mess.