Category Archives: Writing
Well, it’s been a while. I’d like to say that I have been too busy writing to post anything on this website, but that would be a lie. I have been too busy but, unfortunately, it has not been because of writing. I have managed a bit here and there and, now I have set myself some new targets for the WRAC#17 challenge, I am back on track with a rewrite of a script I got some great feedback on last year.
Writing time is at a premium still, but I have generated that “buzz” you feel when you finally get a chance to sit down and put some words down in Final Draft and a new story begins to take shape. It’s almost like starting again and I find myself thinking about some of the old “rules” and “tools” of writing that can help when you find yourself stuck on a particular writing issue, or pondering a structural conundrum. And, as I am working on a family script, what better advice to seek out than that of the legendary PIXAR.
I love PIXAR’S Rules of Storytelling and ran a series of blog posts when I first started this webpage looking at the rules developed by Emma Coates and expanded on by Stephan Vladimir Bugaj. I think the time is right for a rerun (there is always time for a rerun) and, while it might seem like a bit of a cheat, I always enjoy exploring the rules. If this means I can introduce them to a few new people, then all the better!
If you fancy exploring the PIXAR rules, pop over to the Introduction page to find out a little more about them. I’ll be tweeting the rules over the next few weeks, but you can always explore the links to the various rules if you fancy skipping ahead!
So, sit back, click some links and enjoy the wisdom of PIXAR!
Back at the start of the year I wrote post that looked at the year ahead and set myself goals and measurable targets – something that is important if you want to keep yourself on track and keep the writing working for you. Having clear goals makes it easier to manage and achieve them, rather than having vague goals to “write a screenplay,” or “finish a novel,” which don’t really provide the focus you need to manage a long-term task, especially spread out over a year.
In relation to this planning I also talked about taking part in Gary Graham’s Writer Accountability (WRAC) initiative, whereby a group of writers have signed up to a series of self-set goals for the year ahead. Regular tweets/Facebook posts by co-host Michael Hennessy keep us all on our toes and ensure we regularly review those goals/milestones and keeping ourselves on track.
Well, that’s the theory. My main goals this year revolved around a novel I started writing in 2015 for NANoWriMo, with plans to have an outline and the first quarter written by now.
I did start. I do have the outline and I do have some written… just not as much as I was supposed to have. I do have what was written for NaNoWriMo, but I am reworking it as that effort was fairly meandering. It was a good way to get lots of words down on the page quickly, but I am not sure how good it was for me to keep focus/direction when writing.
The main problem is passion. I am passionate for the concept, but I am not sure I have really figured out the right direction for the novel and I am struggling to work up the enthusiasm to write it so, for now, it is probably time to call it a day.
It probably doesn’t help that I had some great feedback on a screenplay last year and am excited about getting back to that and, in fact, have started a page-1 re-write, giving serious thought the notes I received.
Or maybe it does help. Rather than continuing to flog a dead horse that my heart really isn’t in, it is obviously better to be working on a project I have more interest in. And in all honesty, if you are not enjoying a project, don’t keep at it – you will just ruin your enjoyment of the whole process. Stick the project in a drawer (it isn’t going anywhere) and you can always come back to it next week, next month, or even next year.
Taking a break isn’t the same as giving up. Never give up, just pick your fights.
I’ve lost my focus on one project, but that doesn’t mean I have lost direction, I just need to chose the right direction for me at this time.
Now I just need to beg forgiveness from Gary and Michael for failing my goals and see if I can update them for this year to focus more on my screenplay. Surely it’s not too late… 🙂
When do you decide it is time to move on?
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!
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?
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!!
A couple of years ago I was happily watching The Walking Dead on SKY and enjoying it immensely. However, we changed our TV provider, losing access to the series, and I was in the wilderness for a couple of years until we got back onto Sky and the first 6 series were available to me again. So, this summer, I started binge-watching TWD to get caught up from Series 3 to 6 ready for the return of Series 7 in October this year.
I wasn’t disappointed, the show is wonderfully written, directed and acted with great characters that I cared for so, by the end of Series 6, as Negan waved his baseball bat around in front of “our group” I was fairly tense and worried for all their futures.
Then the series ended, without the revelation of who was at the receiving end of “Lucille.”
At this point I was caught up and Series 7 had yet to start, so I had a look online to read some opinions of the series. I know the internet is not always the best place to go looking for “opinions” but I was amazed at the amount of vitriol aimed at the writers/production team for leaving us with a cliffhanger.
Do we now really need to have everything on a plate? Can people no longer wait for gratification in a world were we can pretty much get what we want, when we want it? I am sure there was a time when people would be happy to wait for gratification between episodes? What about leaving your audience wanting more or generating suspense and tension?
Was there as much of an uproar at the end of The Empire Strikes Back when we were left in limbo? Perhaps there would have been if the internet had existed in it’s current form but, for me, it just made things more exciting. I don’t necessarily WANT to wait, but it works to keep me coming back for more.
I’m thinking about this on the day I read, apparently, that the entire plot lines for the next Series of Game of Thrones have been leaked online.
I haven’t read them and have no plans to. I am happy to wait for the actual show, why would I want to spoil it now? As with the “death” of Jon Snow, surely the fun of having to wait for the next series is speculation with other fans about what might be going to happen?
Leaking plots like that is clearly a result of our “want it now” society and it’s sad that people struggle to wait for plot lines to develop naturally, unable to tolerate a season finale that includes a cliffhanger. Obviously, it is great if some strands are tied up, but why come back for more if all plot threads are finished in any one season?
I like cliffhangers and the Season 6 cliffhanger for TWD was brilliant; it left me wanting more and looking forward to the next season. I wanted to know what happened next, but I wasn’t going to moan at the writers, or scream about how unfair it was. It generates interest and a desire to see more.
But do you like them? Do you use them in your writing, or do you think they are a cheat?
Would love to hear what other people think about this…
… don’t leave me hanging!
(Obviously there are exceptions to the rule such as American Horror Story, before anyone starts – although you do get cliffhangers at the end of episodes rather than the season.)
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!
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.
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.
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
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?