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Twisted 50 Vol. 2 – I’m a Winner!


I’ve only gone and done it! I’ve finally won something. Not since the heady days of winning a mug in the shape of a KP Monk (remember them?) have I been this chuffed (including a $1000 win on a video poker machine in Vegas) after winning a place Volume 2 of the Twisted 50 series.

I previously wrote about my experiences of reading the first volume and writing as part of a community back in February of this year and it feels like ages waiting to hear the results. As that older post explains, Twisted 50 is part of the CREATE50 family, an initiative for creatives to develop work among a community, providing support and feedback via the CREATE50 collaborative. Since joining the initiative at the end of 2016, I have submitted three tales, reviewed 49 stories for Twisted50 Vol. 2 and made a number of friends through the website. It has been a fantastic learning experience and an invaluable way to develop my skills as a writer as well as support other writers to develop their stories; one of the best ways to learn!

The short-list was announced back in the summer and I was lucky enough to have all 3 of my submitted stories on that list. Obviously, only one story could make it in and I was delighted on Monday 20th November that, not only was I one of the lucky 50 winners, my personal favourite story, Tunnel, had made it in. This is the first time any of my writing has “made it through” a competition and it has given me a much needed boost of confidence. I have not been writing as much as I could have of late, a sense of apathy setting in, but the win has given me the kick up the backside I need to get back into the swing of things. However, even if I hadn’t won a place, the learning and support I have received from the CREATE50 community has been worth it and I would highly recommend the experience to anyone. I will certainly be keeping my eye open for future projects that I can get involved in.


So congratulations to all 50 winners who have secured a place in Vol. 2.

And keep your eyes open for the release of Vol. 2 which should, hopefully, be later this year. In the meantime, you can always get a taster with Vol.1 and its Twisted Little Sister!



Community Writing – CREATE 50 and TWISTED: Volume One


Various Authors
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!

The Film is never as good as the Book!


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?


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.


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?

The Joy of LRGB (M81)



Bode’s Nebula is a spiral galaxy around 12m light years from us in the constellation of Ursa Major. It is a target I have tried previously using a DSLR, but at a wider image scale than I can achieve with my newer ATIK camera, and had mixed results.

My first effort can be seen below in the same frame as M82, The Cigar Galaxy. It’s a fairly wide view, as expected with a large-frame DSLR. It was processed using basic GIMP tools after stacking with DSS.

A nice pair of subjects, but I ran out of time with the imaging and didn't do enough of the calibration frames. But not a bad first effort.

It’s not the greatest image in the world, but I was very happy with it at the time especially considering my lack of experience, the relatively basic equipment and what were relatively short subs; most likely around 3 minutes.

As I have since upgraded some of that kit, I have wanted to have another go, getting “closer” to the target. The much smaller sensor in my ATIK camera reduces the field of view which is available to my equipment. This comes with mixed blessings as although it does give a good narrow view for some Deep Sky Objects (DSO) it also struggles with the larger ones; M31 – Andromeda will never be “doable” with this camera/scope combination – at least outside of mosaic imaging, and I am not quite at that stage yet!

So, with my mono camera and ED80 set up on the NEQ6, polar alignment complete and not a cloud to be seen, I ran off 33 x 10 minute subs of  M81. Over later nights I added about 2 hours each of RED BLUE and GREEN subs binned 2×2 so I could get away with less time for each filter. Binning effectively combines groups of pixels into “superpixels” to speed up data collection. When binned 2×2, each group of four pixels becomes one, and total integration time is quartered. Although the resolution of the image is reduced by doing this, it is not overly detrimental to the final image quality as the detail in the image is provided by the Luminance frames which are not binned. Binning helps speed up data collection, under these cloudy and unpredictable skies. It is much faster to collect binned data for the RGB frames. For the image above, with just under 6 hours of Luminance frames, I would need 6 hours each of R, G and B. By binning the RGB frames I need just 1.25 hours of each.

After taking the Light Frames, I took to a darkened room and sorted out the relevant DARKS, BIAS and FLAT frames for each filter. I ended up with hundreds of individual frames that needed calibrating, aligning, integrating and processing before I could end up with any sort of image.

I used PIXINSIGHT and Warren A. Keller’s Inside Pixinsight book (highly recommended) to work through the process of calibrating all these frames and combining them to form a MASTER LUMINANCE and MASTER R, G and B Frames. I won’t go into the details of the workflow here as I am refining it as I go and will perhaps post a more detailed account of LRGB processing when I have a better handle on it myself!

When prepared the LUMINANCE and R, G and B MASTERS are combined to produce the colour image before some final processing is applied. From PIXINSIGHT I moved onto PHOTOSHOP for a few final tweaks and ended up with the image below.


Which I was quite happy with as a first “proper” LRGB image, but it did feel a bit garish and a little too saturated colour-wise; it didn’t look natural and I felt I may have “overdone” it with the processing, getting a bit carried away with trying to push PIXINISIGHT to get as much out of the image as possible. I wanted to try and get the fainter nebulosity in the background to stand out but, in doing so, pushed the rest of the image too far. Still, that might be something I CAN achieve when I develop more skills in processing. One step at a time and all that!

Because of this, I went back to the MASTERS and combined them a second time, working through the processing tutorials in the book, but holding back a little bit and not pushing it so much. Being a bit more restrained led to the following second effort.


Some of the fainter nebulosity is still visible, but only just, next time I may need to try some longer subs to get more signal into the image. While still not perfect (there is some ringing around some of the brighter stars) it felt a lot more natural and I was a lot happier with the image.


I started this image back in November last year and got to this point halfway through January. Processing astronomical images is not for the impatient, but it is very rewarding. Perhaps one of the most important skills to learn is patience, especially with the processing side of things. Although it does take hours and hours to collect the data required for these images, it can take just as long to process them carefully. If you don’t take your time and process with care and a light touch, you can very quickly ruin the data you have spent so long collecting. I’m getting better…but have a long way to go!

Happy New Year! A (nother) new start?


Well, there goes 2016 and good riddance for a number of reasons, including my failed attempt at reaching the goals I set myself at the start of the year. You can see what I “planned” HERE and just need to know that I didn’t make it! Not that it was all bad, I did get some rewriting done and got some great notes on a couple of screenplays, but I didn’t rewrite four.

Why? Well probably because I am easily distracted. Although I didn’t get the screenplay work done, I did get reading more as I had hoped and also, towards the end of the year, got involved with Twisted 50, Volume 2, a social approach to writing, that provides peer review on short-stories (up to 2,000 words) all with the aim of publishing the best in a final volume. Check out CREATE50 and have a go, it is open until the end of February.

And therein lies the rub… distraction. Distraction is bad enough at the best of times and I am very easily distracted; exacerbated by poor planning. Actually, CREATE50 was a ‘good’ distraction, but it still stopped me reaching the goals I had set myself.  It is great saying at the start of the year that I am going to do A,B and C but, without any sort of plan as to how I am going to get there, it is all going to go wrong very quickly.

So, this year, feeling fresh and ready, I am going to plan more carefully. As Lucy Hay says in this New Year post (among other useful tips) you need to keep track of what you are doing or you will lose your way very quickly. As a lone writer without much “physical” peer support, accountability can be a problem; who is going to keep shouting at me from behind the chair to keep me writing?

So this year, I am going to set a task to write a novel. I had a go at writing a novel with NaNoWriMo in 2015 and while, at the time, I didn’t feel it was for me, the experience of CREATE50 has made me rethink that and I fancy having another go and I am going to use the Writer Accountability group set up by Gary Graham via his webpage and Twitter. Through that system you can set yourself goals for outlining and writing a project and get support through the other members of the group and via the twitter hashtag #WRAC17. I am hopeful that, being in the same boat as a load of other writers, and having specific, measurable goals in place, there will be a lot more incentive and motivation to stick with the plan and, shock horror, achieve the objectives I am setting myself for 2017.

I’m not stopping the screenplays though and I have a couple that I will continue to focus on and rewrite. Another problem in 2016 was constantly wanting to write new ideas and I started yet another screenplay without finishing the others. While I guess it is important to have a “portfolio” it is probably no good if none of them are finished. So I will try and limit the distractions by working on just two screenplays this year and banning myself from starting any new ones.

Well, you know… unless they are REALLY good ideas! 🙂

Whatever 2017 has in store for you or whatever plans you have for your writing, keep at it, don’t get disheartened and make sure your goals are measurable and achievable. Not meeting goals can be frustrating and demoralising, so start as you mean to go on and don’t set yourself up to fail!

Happy New Year and Good Luck!!

Resolution Check In – October 2016


So, after half-term holidays, and a trip to Edinburgh, followed by the Lake District it is clearly time to check up on myself and see how well I am doing on my plan for 2016. (I am pretty sure it is not a complete disaster, but I am also fairly certain it hasn’t quite gone according to plan.)

In that original plan I set myself the task of rewriting four screenplays this year. The first part, to check-in in April, doesn’t seem to have gone to plan as I didn’t even get as far as posting it, so my first check-in was, effectively, my second in July this year.

In July I noted that I had been working on two screenplays and, in a slight change of direction, on some short screenplays as well, finishing the first draft of one that I started back in the summer. However, I probably (well, definitely) won’t get to rewrite four screenplays this year as I have been distracted with an idea for a horror screenplay – something I have not attempted in the past, but something I have always wanted to have a go at. I have been a fan of horror all my life, so why the hell not?!

Of course, being taken off plan by a new screenplay is a good distraction. As I said in July, “Adapt or Die” – nothing wrong with a change in focus, as long as the direction remains largely the same.


Unfortunately I do have other distractions and I have, recently, begun to wonder if I need to be a bit more ruthless with my time and the drains upon it. (And, in case my family are reading, I’m not thinking about adoptions…)

Video games are a big distraction for me. I have been a “gamer” since the heady days of the Atari consoles and our first Amstrad CPC464 which took about as long to load a game as it does to finish the first draft of a screenplay! But it is just too easy, on a Saturday night, to slip a game on and waste a couple of hours. I know it is important to relax and have some “downtime” but, before the PS4 (and before it the PS3) joined the family, when I had free-time at the weekend, I would most likely watch a film or two which, although not exactly writing, can still be productive training/education for your craft; it is part of Scott Myer’s 1/2/7/14 approach, after all.

I can’t imagine stopping gaming altogether, but maybe it is time to reduce the options/temptation; stick to the joys of Nintendo family gaming, and retire the Playstation that steers me away from writing – at least that way I can make sure I get my fix of both writing and thrashing the kids at Mario Kart. Hell, I could even sell the PS4 and put the proceeds towards a new filter, or scope – for the other hobby that I am not about to give up just yet.

When you speak to other writers, one of the things that comes up time and time again is the sacrifices that need to be made to concentrate on your writing. While I am conscious that I have a job and a family and my writing time is limited, do I really need to limit it further with unnecessary distractions? No, of course not. I realise this is nothing compared to sacrifices made by many other people – it’s embarrassing calling it a sacrifice to be honest – but it is a small thing I can do to put focus back on my writing and, in the New Year, when I am setting myself goals for 2017, I may have a better chance of not only meeting those goals and exceeding them.

I’m not disappointed with 2016 (I’ve had some great notes on a couple of scripts and have some great ideas for moving forward) just aware I could have done so much more. So, we will see at the end of 2017, whether I manage to put my money where my mouth is.

In the meantime, I didn’t do any writing over half-term as I was out and about with the family, but it was productive in other ways seeing Pandas, Red Squirrels and Baby Rhinos (you may have noticed the pictures) for starters but maybe, even, a new idea for a story after my wife managed to superglue her feet into her badly in need of repair boots – but that, I am afraid, is another story!




Show, don’t tell!

A common “rule” in screenwriting that most of us have heard, usually when starting out is, “Show, Don’t Tell.” It’s an attempt to steer us away from lengthy exposition scenes or having characters tell us, moment by moment what is going on. We are writing “moving pictures” so let’s stick to that and leave lengthy dialogue to the politicians.

However, as a “tool” it can be very useful and remind us to think carefully about the scenes, sequences and how our stories are structured. There are times when it is absolutely right that we show something visually, rather than have a character describe it. But, of course, like any other screenwriting rule, it is not always going to be the most appropriate way to write your scene. For every good example, there will be a bad example and for each of those good examples, I am sure you will be able to find another great example of a character “telling” the audience.

One of the examples explored in the Shorescripts link below is Quint’s monologue about the USS Indianapolis in Jaws (1975). The speech is a long one, but a powerful one. The intensity and emotion of the experience is all there on screen as Robert Shaw recounts the events of the sinking and being hunted by sharks. It is a clear example of someone “telling” the audience and it works superbly. Would it have been better to “show” the audience? How would you do that? I’m not sure… a flashback? Possibly, but a flashback can be damaging to a film; a jarring interruption that takes you out of the flow of the scene. “Telling” worked in this case.

But “showing” can also work. You just have to get it right, just as with any screenwriting tool. Know when and how best to use it for the story you are telling at the time.

The reason I got to thinking about this was seeing the end of episode 1 of the new Westworld series.

Some spoilers coming up if you haven’t seen Episode 1 yet!

Towards the end of the episode there is a mass recall of “hosts” (the androids that populate the games in Westworld) because of a glitch relating to a recent update. Evan Rachel Wood’s Delores is one of those hosts and she is questioned by park staff to check her programming. During this process, Delores is asked whether she would “ever hurt a living thing.” In true Azimovian style, the hosts in Westworld are programmed not to hurt any of the guests and Delores answers unequivocally in the affirmative that, no, she would never hurt a living thing.

As the show ends, she walks out onto the veranda of her home, as she has every morning for however long she has been in her current role, past the host playing her father (newly changed from her previous glitching father), to look out over the prairie and absentmindedly swats a fly on her neck.


Mind… blown.

How good was that?

Simple, subtle but brimming with power and coolly setting up the coming storm that we all know is coming.

Don’t get led blindly down the “Show, Don’t Tell” alley just because you think that is what you have to do. As with all our screenwriting tools, be aware of it, learn how to use it and chose your moments – and blow your audience’s mind.


Further Reading

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.


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.


That pretty much sums things up.



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


Resolution Check In – July 2016


At the start of the year I set myself some goals with a promise to check-in and give an update on my progress towards them from time to time. Well, here we are, just over half way through the year… so how am I doing? (Apart from being a little late with the check-in.)

Surprisingly, not too bad.

My original goal was to rewrite 4 screenplays this year and get them ready for competitions and submissions. I’ve completed a rewrite on one screenplay and received some professional feedback which has been very helpful in focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of both my writing and that particular work; lessons that can be applied to my other works in progress.

I have also managed to rewrite my second screenplay, although this one I am still working on, thinking about the advice I received from the first one. I hope to have that finished in the next few weeks.

At this rate, I suspect I will definitely be able to rewrite 3 scripts this year, not quite the 4 I originally planned, but a 75% hit rate is still pretty good… isn’t it?

Part of the reason for this slight “lag” is that I have tried my hand at some short screenplay writing, something that I have avoided previously because I just didn’t think it was for me. However, one of the suggestions from the professional feedback was to think about writing shorts as a way to develop my skills in honing story. With a much more restrictive page and word count, the brevity and succinctness of screenplay writing is heightened. My description in screenplays can still be a tad verbose so any practice that will help me manage that habit has got to be good news.

So, in amongst the re-writing I have been working on a couple of short-scripts as well. I have 3 in various stages now and an idea for another that I am keen to get writing.

I guess 4 shorts equal 1 screenplay, don’t they?

So I am not that far off target after all?

Adapt or Die.

We can set ourselves goals and targets to drive us on to deliver the goods but it may not always be best for us to blindly follow those targets set months or years before. Ideas come and go and stories fall in and out of our favour. To be successful, we need to follow-through and complete stories, we don’t want to be drifting from one protect to another without completing them. However, sometimes, we have to move on or change course once in a while to try something new and shake things up a bit. Set goals and targets and work towards them, but don’t be afraid to step outside of those self-imposed boundaries… as long as you keep writing!

I was planning another check-in around October time, so let’s get back to writing and come back in a few months and see how I’m getting on.

Did you set yourself any goals for 2016?

If you did, how are you getting on with them?

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


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.

MK McFadden

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