What Is Storyworld?

If you type the word ‘storyworld’ into Google, the results are not great. But it’s a word I like to use with writers, because the notion can prove very illuminating in discussing how stories hang together. So, let’s agree the definition of ‘storyworld’ as …

‘The space in which the story operates, which impacts directly on how it is told.’

With this in mind, let’s consider the top mistakes writers make with their storyworlds and how to approach it instead. Ready? Let’s go …

1) Thinking storyworld is only a sci fi / fantasy thing

Lots of writers believe paying attention to storyworld is only something sci fi and fantasy writers have to worry about. This is NOT true. Whilst there is an increased emphasis on storyworld in these two genres, ALL stories require a storyworld. More on this, next. MORE: 8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Sci Fi Screenplay Dead 

2) Not realising genre impacts on storyworld

Every Bang2writer should know that different genres have different conventions. This means audiences have different expectations of said genres, for example …

  • If it’s a comedy? The story should be funny
  • A horror? Then it should be scary
  • A romance? There should be a focus on love/relationships
  • Or a thriller? The story should be exciting 
  • A mystery? It should be intriguing 
  • If it’s a drama or literary fiction? It should be emotional
  • If it’s a cross-genre story, it should contain elements of the above

If all this sounds obvious, that’s because is it is. However, spec screenplays and unpublished novels rarely play out the way I mention above.

This is because writers too often underestimate the importance of storyworld in differentiating the genres and types of stories. But how to do this? Check out the next section.

3) Thinking setting = ONLY location

Setting is very important when it comes to storyworld. It refers most often to physical location, but can also include time periods, too. Here’s the lowdown …

  • Scripts and books set in the UK will be different to those set in America … which in turn will be different to those set in Australia, India, China or Germany. Culture and theme tends to play a big part here.
  • Writing set in urban areas will be very different to those set in the provinces. Again, this is frequently a cultural or thematic difference (see 5 on this list).
  • Some stories take place all over the world, eg. spy thrillers. Others take place ‘off world’, in space or in fictional universes. These will be very different in scope to ‘smaller’ stories that take place in just one location (ie. a single household or street, such as many dramas or literary pieces).
  • Some stories take place in very small time periods, eg. 1-4 days, or even just a matter of hours. A lot of horrors and thrillers take place in very small time periods. Others may take in many months, years or even decades. This is true of epic romances and sagas, as well as some dramas.
  • A story set in present day is very different to one that is set in 1986 … Which in turn is very different to one set in 1952, or 1825, or 1546.

So writers who think setting is ONLY about physical location are mistaken. Instead, storyworld is what I mention at the beginning of this article … that ‘space’ in which the story operates.

What this means will change according to the story being told, especially when it comes to genre (point 2) and thematics (point 5, below). Next up though: the ‘feel’ or ‘tone’ of the story.

4) Forgetting about tone

Every single story has its only ‘feel’ or ‘tone’, even when they are in the SAME genre. This is why various subgenres exist, for example in crime fiction …

  • Police procedurals place the investigation at the heart of the story, focusing on officers trying to solve the crime. Example: Peter James’ Roy Grace books.
  • Cosy crime books tend to focus on an amateur detective character. These tend to downplay violence and often treat the investigation with some humour. They frequently take place in rural communities. Example: Agatha Raisin And The Quiche of Death by M.C Beaton.
  • Serial Killer Thrillers are often dark and bloody, with some cross-over into horror. (They may include elements of police procedural, or they may not). Example: Jeffrey Deaver, The Bone Collector.
  • Domestic noir crime books are often set in the home, hence the name./ They often feature a female lead with some kind of problem that usually becomes life-or-death. It’s often related to a dark secret from the past, but is just as likely to be a family issue … A missing child, a dead sister or a lying lover are all favourites in this sub genre. Example: my novels! 😉

By the way: yes, the same happens in screenwriting

Consider the many, many police procedurals on television … It’s very apparent how their feel/ tone changes, especially once we factor in genre and the TYPES of story they are …

i) Brooklyn 99 is a sitcom, so it needs to be funny

The show also what B2W calls ‘hyper real’, meaning literally anything can happen. It’s also very whimsical, with an emphasis on lighthearted and progressive humour. Those ‘cases of the week’ are a staple of the show, but its real emphasis is on the B99 team and their relationships in life and love.

ii) The Crime Scene Investigation franchise was ALSO ‘hyper real’

We also invest heavily in the dynamics of the CSI team. That’s where its similarity to Brooklyn 99 ends, however! As a sixty minute (ish) show, CSI occupied a completely differently place in the TV schedule … and audience expectations shifted as a result.

Predominantly case-lead, CSI’s primary focus was not humour, nor were we especially interested in the characters outside their work (beyond some storylines). There was no whimsy to the show, with lots of its themes being rather dark and about the nature of culpability.

Within the franchise itself, there were tone changes too. CSI: Las Vegas was often the bloodiest, often focusing on flamboyant serial killers but also philosophical questions via its lead Gil Grissom about the nature of crime. In contrast, CSI: Miami was DELUXE HYPER REAL, with its lead Horatio Caine nothing more than an idealised action hero who will save us all from drug dealers and cartel enforcers. CSI: New York was different again, its lead Mack was an ex-Marine and very much the thinking man’s blue collar hero.

As you can see then, ‘feel of the piece’ is VERY important to storyworld!

5) Forgetting about Thematics

Theme relates to the underlying ‘point’ or ‘message’ of the story … the subtext, if you like. You build theme into a story via what B2W calls ‘thematics’, which may be …

  • Genre & subgenre
  • Feel / tone
  • Setting (time and place)

Oh would you look at that … STORYWORLD, in other words!

Let me illustrate by using my own writing as an example of thematics and how it works.

I mostly write crime fiction, specifically domestic noir (as already mentioned in section 3). Whilst I always set my stories ‘now’ time-wise, my feel/tone is always rather dark and angsty. I tend to write complex female leads that are not always ‘likeable‘. Basically, there’s nothing whimsical about my storyworlds!

I always invest very heavily in physical location. At the top of this post, you can see some pictures relating to my latest novel, Never Have I Ever. I tend to set my writing in seaside towns. Most of my stories are in places like Brighton and Devon. In this case, it’s Ilfracombe in North Devon.

I use these thematics to make a specific point throughout most of my work. My characters are outsiders, living on the fringes. They can’t ‘just’ call the police to solve their problems … Even if they did, a lot of the time, austerity in rural areas means police are overstretched and not available. I am calling forth themes of exclusion. I use storyworld to do this, overtly and on purpose.

Also, in the case of Never Have I Ever, I draw attention to themes of motherhood, justice and truth. I set the book in Ilfracombe because it’s home to Damien Hirst’s Verity statue, which is also symbolic of all these things.

BONUS! 

6) What is possible in this storyworld?

Finally, remember the dreaded ‘plot hole’. Lots of laypeople don’t understand what these truly are. They call events that wouldn’t happen in real life, or even just stuff they don’t like, ‘plot holes’ but this is BS.

A real plot hole is basically something that COULD NEVER HAPPEN within the storyworld a writer has established from the offset.

In other words, we’re talking about Set Up/ Pay off. You need to set up the *possibility* of something inside your storyworld from the beginning, otherwise you’re cheating. Other than that, you’re golden. MORE: 3 Things You Need To Know About Plot Holes 

Good Luck!

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Lawyer Up!

Lawyer characters have long been popular in novels, on TV drama and in movies.

As the author of Convictions, the first in a new legal suspense series featuring legal eagle Natalie Bach, I’m all for sexing up the legal profession.

But if I’m brutally honest, too many lawyer characters out there are samey or even stereotypical. Here’s my take on a few mistakes writers make about lawyer characters. Ready? Let’s go …

1) The lawyer is dodgy

In real life, lawyers have to be of the highest integrity and will be disciplined or struck off if they step out of line. Nor do they stop at nothing in service of their client. Sorry, no bribery, blackmail or abduction, even on a good day. Stealing or laundering client money isn’t allowed either.

But okay, okay … we’re sacrificing facts for drama. I get it. But do lawyers ALWAYS have to be ‘brilliant but flawed’ alcoholics with broken hearts?? Bored now! MORE: 5 Times It’s Okay To Sacrifice Facts For Drama

2) They bully their clients and witnesses

Unlike films and TV shows, criminal lawyer characters do not (or at least should not) bully, scream or rudely defend their case in court. In reality, they assert themselves with restraint in the best interests of their client. Again, we’re dealing with stereotypes here. Can you mix it up and subvert our expectations?

3) The lawyer is impossibly glam/sexy

Unlike Suits, The Split or The Good Wife, being a lawyer isn’t generally glamorous, exciting and sexy. It might have its moments but in reality only a small percent of lawyers practice crime or divorce. Even those areas involve hours of paperwork, research and reading in drab offices rather than strutting around a state-of-the art glass building or putting on a mind-blowing showdown in court.

So, what if your lawyer character WASN’T this well-worn character? What if s/he was up against the system, working from a shabby boxroom somewhere? Or maybe no one takes your lawyer character seriously, Erin Brockovitch style. MORE: How NOT to Write Female Characters

4) They commit perjury

In fiction lawyers sometimes lie to win a case. Nope, it’s not worth it, even for your favourite Aunt Mildred. They adhere to strict rules of law and ethics and cannot knowingly mislead the court.

If a client says he or she has committed the offence in question, then a lawyer cannot allow them to give evidence of their innocence under oath, otherwise they would be complicit in their perjury and get struck off. But what if they didn’t know the client was lying? Suddenly we’re back in the game.

5) The lawyer is an uncaring shark  

Fiction – and real life! – often suggests lawyers are rich, unethical and money-grabbing. Remember the old joke …

Q: Why won’t sharks attack lawyers?

A: Professional courtesy.

Sure, maybe some are in the law for money and prestige (and the occasional rock star lifestyle). In my experience though, most lawyers are genuine, decent and caring folk who want to do their best for their clients.

This is why I wrote Natalie Bach, the solicitor star of Convictions as such a person. Using her self-styled feminism, doggedness and charm, she tries to unearth the truth, but she soon discovers there are two sides to every crime.

Why not try similar by subverting those profession-based stereotypes in your own writing.

Good Luck!

BIO: Convictions is the first book in a gripping new legal, crime suspense series written by bestselling author Caroline England, writing as Caro Land. It will appeal to fans of authors like Diane Jeffrey, Samantha Hayes and K.L. Slater as well as readers of women’s fiction. Available in ebook and paperback, BUY IT HERE.

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Legal Eagles

I’ve had loads of legal questions lately from the Bang2writers, so I thought it would be a good idea to round them all up here for everyone. So if you have a burning legal question, check out the below!

Before I begin though, a quick disclaimer … DO remember B2W is not a lawyer or legal expert!!

The below is based only my own experiences and the various deals and situations I’ve seen going round the writing block. If you require legal advice, then speak to a real expert ASAP. Let’s go …

1) What is an option agreement and how does it work?

An option is a type of contract a producer might want a writer to sign to give him/her exclusive rights to their screenplay or book. In return, the producer will pay money for the rights. (Free options do exist, but B2W does not officially recommend writers sign free options).

An option will give that producer those rights for a certain length of time, usually somewhere between two and five years. During this time, the producer will try and raise money to get the script or book developed/adapted and made.

After this period, if the movie or TV show is not made, the rights revert back to the writer. This generally means the writer is then free to sell the script or book again. Lots of writers, especially authors, have done this multiple times.

Read more about options and see an option template, HERE.

2) What is an ‘Expression of Interest’?

An ‘E.O.I’ (sometimes known as a ‘shopping agreement’) is a kind of option-like contract between a producer and writer for a very short amount of time, ie. three months.

With E.O.Is, no money usually changes hands. Instead, the producer and writer come to an agreement that the producer will take the writer’s script to a specific production company or event (ie. Cannes) with a view to raising money and/or interest in the project.

Lots of writers and producers think of E.O.Is as ‘win-win’ arrangements for both parties … Producers might like them because it means they don’t have to pay lots of money upfront, but can still test the waters on a project. It also means they can junk a project quickly if it fails to get traction.

Writers might like them because it means the producer is serious about their work, but they also don’t have sign rights away for a long time. Of course, others dislike them and think producers are hedging their bets. Like anything, individuals’ mileage may vary.

3) How does copyright work?

Depends where you are! On a legal level, it’s always wise to check the laws of the country where you permanently reside. In the UK, copyright exists as soon as a writer has created a piece of work. It also lasts for the creative’s entire lifetime, plus seventy years.

Generally speaking though, it’s worth remembering that it’s NOT possible to copyright an idea, only its execution.

4)  What is a release form?

A release form is basically a ‘permission to read’ document. The USA tends to use them a lot. You don’t see them as much in the UK or Europe.

Producers send these out to protect themselves from potential legal headaches. This may include writers who might say something along the lines of …

‘You read my screenplay, then made a film or TV show with a similar idea, so now I will sue you.’ 

Lots of writers believe release forms are proof the industry is out to rip them off. But remember, ideas cannot copyrighted anyway, plus you have copyright on the execution of your story.

But if release forms scare you, simply check out multiple release form templates online. You will see they are all much of a muchness. Alternatively, don’t send your scripts to US producers.

5) What is a non-disclosure agreement?

An N.D.A is a type of legal contract that says you can’t talk about a project that is in development. Bang2write has signed lots of NDAs over the years … but crucially ONLY for specific companies, initiatives and producers that have budgets and talent attached. In other words, projects that might get sabotaged or spied on by rivals.

NDAs are NOT for writers to send out with their work as standard. For one thing, it makes no sense. If you won’t permit producers to talk about your project, they cannot raise money to make it! It is an epic own goal. MORE HERE.

6) Should I have a contract when I am collaborating?

Hella, yeah. For every filmmaking form you could ever need from No Film School, CLICK HERE. Reason why, next.

7) I collaborated on a project, but it all fell apart. Who owns it now?

Based on my own experience and other Bang2writers’, I’ve found this usually depends on 2 things, whether …

  • They paid you money. If they paid you £££ / $$$, then they probably own it, even if it was your idea. If you don’t have a contract, then getting the rights back will be a right ballache and may be impossible.
  • Whose idea it was. If they didn’t pay you money, then it depends whose idea it was and who can prove it. Contracts, email chains, early drafts can all help do this. So make sure you have that proof!

8) How does adaptation work?

Projects are most often adapted from novels, plays and short stories, but also video games and even toys. As with number 1 on this list, the first step is probably officially optioning the source material.

There are books and plays that are ‘public domain’, or FREE automatically. This is because their copyright has run out, as their creators are dead and have been for longer than seventy years. This is why certain books and writers are so popular. The usual suspects are Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare. For more, check out the 25 Most Adapted Authors of All Time.

9) Should I ask for life rights or permission on a true story?

It depends. Sometimes you HAVE to, especially if that person is still alive. In the UK, it’s not possible to libel the dead, but it is in other countries, so it can be a good idea to ask next of kin for permission. Just recently we saw Heather Morris, author of Cilka’s Journey, sued for libel on this basis by the stepson of the woman she writes a version of in her book.

Other times, it won’t matter because that person’s life has passed into history. Judging the latter can be difficult, but you’re generally pretty safe it’s one hundred years ago or more. MORE HERE.

10) They say they can’t pay me any money. Now what?

There’s a number of different ways of approaching this. Here’s Bang2write’s most recommended …

  • Is it collaboration, or exploitation? Collaboration is good’; exploitation is bad. To get the former and not the latter, work out what you personally get from working with these people (if not money) and weigh it up carefully.
  • Who is getting paid? If NO ONE gets paid, generally it’s fairly safe to assume you’re on the same level. But if you’re the only one NOT getting paid, run away.
  • When would you get paid? It’s common to get a payment on signature of a contract, when you deliver the main draft, plus when a book is published / or a script is filmed. However, lots of writers are offered money only at the ‘back end’ when it ‘goes into profit’. Too often, this is a load of BS as there are lots of ways to ensure there is ‘no money’ at the back end. So watch out for these deals and who is trying to make them.
  • More money long term. There are lots of deals people can sign to to get extras, like a certain percentage of ticket sales or profits on ancillary markets. Novelists are sometimes offered no money (advance) on their books upfront, but offered different renumeration instead, ie. 50% on all ebook sales. This is MUCH more than the average ebook royalty (which is typically 20-25%), so can be very lucrative if the book does well. Again, weigh it up and consider if it’s worth it. If you have an agent, they should help with this. If you don’t, talk it over with writer friends higher up the chain if you have any.

BONUS!

11) Someone did me over, can I tell everyone?

Yes … and no. On the one hand, the industry is based on relationships, so yes, people SHOULD know if someone  treated you badly. However, you also don’t want to throw mud, which can impact your own career if others pull rank. Balancing the two can be very difficult.

With this in mind then, I would say it depends how you do this. Ensure first it’s a grievance that potentially affects many people, not just you personally. There are people in the industry I dislike who in turn dislike me. Bar the odd spat online, I’m not going to go to war with them over them being rude to me or slagging me off, it’s simply not worth my time.

So, make discreet enquiries. Establish it’s not just a difference of opinion or way of doing things by doing your due diligence. As a general rule, avoid crusades. Just be ready to offer this negative opinion only when it’s specifically asked for. Try and keep it offline (unless of course it’s very serious then all bets are off). MORE: Better Safe That Sued: 5 Law Tips For Writers

Good Luck!

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All About Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell has a unique perspective on pretty much everything. His views on the world bring him fans and foes.

Gladwell is a British-born Canadian journalist and academic. He is also a podcaster, public speaker and New York Times Bestselling author.

But like most successful people, it didn’t just land in his lap, he worked hard for it, as anyone who has read his work would know.

Gladwell spent his early career gaining recognition for his work via networking, shameless self-promotion and testing out his ideas on friends and family.

But what can Malcolm Gladwell teach writers about success, perseverance and aspiration?

Below, I’ve collated five quotes of Malcolm Gladwell and the lessons we can learn from him.  I hope they will assist you in your own writing journey.

Lesson One

Malcolm says:

“Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade. It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head.”

What can we learn from this quote?

We are currently living in an era of outrage and group-think where people hate anything they disagree with.

This affects writers negatively as they begin to tone down their voice and sell an ‘approved’ message.

If a reader stays engaged (whether they agree with you or not), you have won the battle.

Lesson Two

Malcolm says:

“My writing model is my mother, who is a writer as well. She always valued clarity and simplicity above all else. If someone doesn’t understand what you’re writing, then everything else you do is superfluous. Irrelevant. If any thoughtful, curious reader finds what I do impenetrable, I’ve failed.”

What can we learn from this quote?

Malcolm’s quote reminds me of Einstein’s quote “Genius is making complex ideas simple”. Writing should be easy to read, not exhausting! Edit, edit, edit and don’t be pretentious – it’s unappealing to most.

Lesson Three

Malcolm says:

“I was a basket case at the beginning, and I felt like an expert at the end. It took 10 years—exactly that long.

In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”

What can we learn from this quote?

To become a pro at any pursuit, you have to be willing to put in the time and effort, this is particularly true with writing.

There is no such thing as an overnight success — all the public ever sees are results.  There is usually a massive battle going on behind the scenes.

If you haven’t served your ten thousand hours yet, then stop whining and get to work.

  • Journal morning and night.
  • Start daily morning pages.
  • Pitch to magazine and newspaper editors.
  • Try Haiku or blackout poetry.
  • Write handwritten letters.
  • Self-publish a book on Amazon
  • Start a personal blog
  • Volunteer at an online magazine

There are no rules on how you get to your ten thousand hours, just get it done and dusted! You will be relieved afterwards and the universe will repay you in dividends.

Malcolm Gladwell teaches a popular class on MasterClass, where he dives deeper into this 10,000-hour theory.

Lesson Four

Malcolm says:

“Clear writing is universal … If you write in a way that is clear, transparent, and elegant, it will reach everyone.”

What can we learn from this quote?

The goal for any writer is delivering a clear message, narrative or metaphor. Successful writers achieve this seamlessly and failed writers don’t.

Don’t get caught up in using academic or flowery language when it isn’t necessary.  Stop using big words in an attempt to appear smarter.

Lay your cards on the table, be clear and truthful. That will win you more fans than deceptive writing will.

Lesson Five

Malcolm says:

“Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

What can we learn from this quote?

This quote of Malcolm’s is so applicable to writers and the writing life.

There are absolutely no short-cuts to being a great writer and there is a multitudinous amount of rejection.

The only sure way to the other side is to WRITE your way through it and learn valuable lessons via practice along the way.

Good Luck!

BIO: Brendan Brown is a writer and founder of Global English Editing, a book editing service for authors.

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All About Ego Depletion

Lots of writers are familiar with the idea of burn out, but perhaps not the term ‘ego depletion’. But if you are struggling to muster the willpower to edit your script or write another 1,000 words? Then you may be experiencing ego depletion.

No matter what you’re working towards, achieving your goals takes time and discipline. Though there will be setbacks and hurdles to overcome, with time and effort, you can accomplish your aims.

It is not unusual for hardworking writers and creatives to get stressed and burnt out. Ego depletion is the lack of willpower or motivation we feel after spending too much effort on self control.

The ego is Sigmund Freud’s term for the part of ourselves that mediates between our impulses and what we know we should do. So when your ego becomes depleted from …

  • working too long on a difficult task you’d rather skip
  • you make too many decisions
  • or are simply stressed out

your ego can become depleted. As a result of ego depletion, you lose motivation and struggle to hit the goals you set for yourself.

So if after a long day, you just can’t seem to summon the willpower to stay away from snacks you know you shouldn’t eat, it may just be because your ego is depleted. When you find your motivation is limited, don’t force it. Instead, use your focus strategically to work on the things that are the highest impact.

For more tips on overcoming ego depletion, check out this great infographic by Turbo. Check it out after the jump and good luck!

More on this on B2W

Top 5 Tips To Deal With Writer Burn Out

Why Writing Can Be Therapeutic

5 Ways To Stop Being A Tortured Artist

Top 9 Time Management Secrets To Help You Write More

5 Habits of Highly Productive Writers

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Become A Better Writer

Want to become a better writer? Join the club! ‘How to become a better writer’ brings people to this blog every month, every single week and day of the year.

Lots of people think becoming a better writer is down to some kind of special magic. This is not true. Whilst getting better is a lot of work, it’s actually just like anything … You have to PRACTICE!

But how do we do this? Well, I sat down and put some thought into a short 10 day programme that will help you become a better writer. You can do each day consecutively, or you could do each step as and when you can. Ready? Then let’s go …

Day 1) Commit!

First things first … Work out WHAT you want to do, committing to concrete goals. Lots of writers start a project, but run out of steam and never finish. Other times, writers may finish but then have no clue what to do next. Or they may try to send their work out, get nowhere, then give up. Eek!

The above happens because those writers don’t know what they’re doing. If we want to become better writers, we have to be able to see projects through, from development to completion to submission.

So today you need to figure out WHY you want to write a particular project, as well as WHAT you will get out of it. This needs to also include practical things like HOW you will get it done and WHEN BY. Yes, spend a whole day on this!

MORE: How To Set Meaningful Goals And Stick To Them

Day 2) Get Motivated

Do whatever it takes to get motivated to meet those goals you set up on  Day 1. This will likely be personal, but may include …

  • Creating your book cover, movie poster or Netflix listing
  • Reading motivational quotes
  • Imagining telling your friends and family about your book or script deal
  • Making Pinterest boards of concept art or actors who would play your characters
  • Visualising your characters as real people
  • Creating a playlist of music as the OST of your story

I do ALL of the above. Whatever floats your boat! You can revisit all of these for further inspiration when  your project gets really difficult further down the line (because it will!). MORE: 12 Motivational Quotes To Bring Out The Writer In You

Day 3) Analyse

Becoming a better writer is about appreciating what goes into a successful story … But note that ‘successful’ does NOT necessarily mean whether we personally like it!

Good writers realise their opinions are not facts. It’s still possible a book, movie or TV show we dislike is well-crafted. In order to appreciate this, we should take a look at something outside our usual wheelhouse today. It can be a spec script or book, or produced or published content.

MORE: 8 Steps To Analyse A Successful Story

Day 4) Develop your structural toolbox

Good writers do the work of developing their structural toolbox. They read around the subject and work out they see structure working. They develop a vocabulary for describing the issues with their own work.

Lots of writers believe structure is somehow ‘accidental’ or that they need script editors to tell them where they’re going wrong. This is BS. So today, it’s your job to research and decide how YOU see structure working!

MORE: Why Being An Expert At Structure Helps Your Writing

Day 5) Study characterisation

Most writers understand a protagonist needs to want something and that the antagonist gets in the way of that somehow. Beyond that, they may be much more hazy on supporting characters … As for stuff like peripherals?? Forget it!

Today your job is to check out how character motivation works in relation to role function. You may also want to think about stereotype versus archetype, plus how tropes work.

MORE: Writing Diverse Characters For Fiction, TV or Film

Day 6) Identify concept errors

Concept, premise, central idea, seed of the story … Whatever you want to call it, there’s a kajillion (actual number) concepts online.

Today, your job is to find some … They can be produced ones (like on Rotten Tomatoes or IMDb) or spec (such as on Bang2writers, Shooting People, #Pitmad on Twitter etc).

Now ask yourself … do you understand how this concept works? If not, why not? Is it a problem with the logline, or does the actual idea feel muddled? Spend the whole day really immersing yourself here and get a feel for how pitches go wrong.

MORE: Top 5 Concept Mistakes Writers Make

Day 7) Learn about audience

NEWSFLASH – absolutely no story on earth is ‘for everyone’. But it’s rare that writers truly understand how audience works. This can include pro writers and is the #1 reason why so many burgeoning writing careers fade away.

The writers who have longevity really nail …

  • WHO their scripts and novels are for (target audience)
  • WHY this target audience likes certain things & dislikes others
  • WHAT the writers need to do to get/keep this target audience

So today on our quest to become better writers, you need to research how audience works. Start by finding stories *like* the ones you write and working out the above.

MORE: Screenwriting Legend Billy Wilder’s Top 10 Writing Tips

Day 8) Get fast

Working out what you need to do to get faster at writing is a must in becoming a better writer.

For me, I discovered that breaking my projects down into daily word counts really helped. I also use the Freedom app on my phone, plus I switch off Facebook, Twitter, etc on my MacBook.

Pro writers say NEVER read through your previous day’s pages at the beginning of the session. This works well for me, too. I am only allowed to do this at the end of the day, once I have done my words.

I also found that forbidding myself from going down the ‘research rabbit-hole’ also made me a lot quicker, ie. …

Need a little research detail, or maybe a different word from the thesaurus? I AM NOT ALLOWED ONLINE TO DO IT.

I am also not allowed more than one minute to think about this. This means, if I get brain-freeze I simply highlight the passage in my writing and come back to it later.

MORE: How To Write Fast Like A Pro

Day 9) Do peer review

Today, it’s time to put ourselves out there and give something to the writerverse. Doing peer review reminds us others have the same struggles we do. It also gives us the chance to put everything we have learned about analysis and the craft into practice. What’s not to like?

MORE: Join Bang2writers to do peer review

Day 10) Create an ideas pool

Today, it’s time to create what I call an ‘ideas pool’. This means I never worry about coming up with ideas, or fixing existing ones … Because there’s always plenty more where those came from!!!

To do this, I use writing prompts and free writing. I literally shake stuff up and see what falls out of my brain. They may be whole stories, single moments, characters, snippets of dialogue, ANYTHING.

Then I interrogate those ideas, to make sure I am not simply rehashing anything accidentally. I also combine various ideas, tropes and themes to create new ones.

In other words, NEVER go with just your first idea! Why not give it a try yourself? Warning, it’s addictive and may take more than one day.

MORE: 6 Writing Prompt Tips, plus How Free Writing Can Help You Get Started

Good Luck!

Come to my next course …

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Just some of the orgs B2W has read for

My course with LondonSWF, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING is perfect not only for wannabe script readers, but savvy writers who want to know how script readers work. Can you afford to miss out?? The next one is May 2-3, 2020 at historic Ealing Studios.

CLICK HERE for full details of the course (or on the pic on the right), including feedback from past delegates. We expect it to sell out again, so act now to avoid disappointment. See you there!!!

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Diverse Male Characters

When Lucy asked me to compile my top 10 diverse male characters, I said, ‘Only 10??’  There are so many great diverse characters, so getting it down to ten was incredibly difficult. In no particular order then, here are my Top Ten Diverse Male Characters from stories I have enjoyed over the years. Which are your favourites? Make sure you share in the comments …

1) Pray Tell, Pose 

Pray Tell from the TV series Pose, is a ball emcee and fashion designer. The love of his life is taken by aids, his close friend tests positive for HIV, and soon he too has to has to face that test! Pray owns his grief, makes his peace, comes back strong and carries on. Such a complex and interesting character. MORE: Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make With Diverse Characters

2) Egg Shen, Big Trouble In Little China

Egg Shen from the cult classic Big Trouble in Little China, is a tour bus operator and expert on sorcery. The guy has got some mad skills in the magic department and doesn’t think twice about joining the fight against the evil David Lo Pan. Shen is an amazing older character, and proof that age is but a number!

3) Oberyn Martell, Game of Thrones

Prince Oberyn Martell AKA The Red Viper of Dorne is a bisexual character from the popular book/TV series, Game of Thrones. The Prince of Dorne is skilled in combat and wears his sexuality like a badge of honour. Oberyn cares a great deal about his loved ones. His biggest virtue is that he’s a believer in justice, sadly this is also his biggest weakness.

4) Geordi La Forge, Star Trek: The Next Generation 

Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge from the space soap opera Star Trek, was born blind. Geordi frequently comes up with technical solutions and his ‘disability’ has often been a help rather than a hindrance with him turning down gaining his sight back on two occasions. His iconic visor affords him abilities that are often more valuable than sight.

5) Willo Ufgood, Willow

Willow Ufgood from the movie Willow, wants to be an apprentice magician but instead is forced to go on a dangerous quest as the protector of a special baby. There are many great characters who are also little people like the witty Tyrion Lannister from GoT and the mischievous employees of God from Time Bandits, but ultimately, I chose Willow because he’s a dad protecting a child and his ‘mothering’ is refreshing. MORE: 4 Easy Tips On Writing A Disabled Character

6) Mr Glass, Unbreakable and Glass

Elijah Price AKA Mr Glass from the movies Unbreakable and Glass, is a complex super villain. He was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a rare genetic disorder which means his bones are so brittle he can hardly move around without breaking one. A comic book enthusiast and criminal mastermind, he’s also a deranged killer. Yikes.

7) Max, The L Word

Max Sweeney is a computer programmer from the TV series The L Word. This character is trans, but sadly, for many viewers Max was problematic and not a good representation of trans men. However, this character has opened the door by way of The L Word putting out a call for trans actors to audition for future roles. A step in the right direction.

 8) Captain Jack Harkness, Torchwood

Captain Jack Harkness is a bisexual character from the show Doctor. Who and spin-off series Torchwood. Jack has been referred to as ‘omnisexual’, which means he’ll also happily have sex with aliens who take human form. Jack is a flirtatious anti-hero and the first openly non-heterosexual character in the history of Doctor Who.

 9) Eric, Sex Education 

Eric Effiong from the series Sex Education has spawned a movement among school students with the line, “Wash your hands, you detty pig!” I even found Eric’s meme in the toilets of my daughters’ high school. Eric is loud, funny, flamboyant and sometimes shameless.

10) Walter Jr, Breaking Bad  

Walter “Flynn” Junior from the series Breaking Bad has cerebral palsy, as does the actor who plays him. (The character’s condition was considerably more challenging, so the actor had to change his voice and walk with crutches). Walter Jr has a moral compass unlike his teacher turned drug dealer father. He’s a typical teenager who idolises his father until he finds out the terrible truth. MORE: 5 Reasons To Hate Breaking Bad 

Bonus!

11) Chris, Get Out 

Chris Washington from the movie Get Out goes to meet the parents of his partner. He is perfect boyfriend material: smart, polite, an all-round nice guy. That is until he has to fight for his life. Chris’s instincts are on the money and this is what ultimately saves him. Phew!

Share your favourite diverse male characters in the comments …

BIO: Emma Pullar is a writer of dark fiction and children’s books. She also dabbles in screenwriting and has won/been shortlisted for several short story/script competitions. Follow Emma as @Emma_Storyteller as she lurks in the shadows, spying on people in the name of inspiration and creativity. Buy her latest book, Paper Dolls, HERE or click on the pic on the left.

 

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Raleigh Beckett from PACIFIC RIM

Pacific Rim is a film full of surprises. A big silly monsters-vs-robots movie that’s actually about failure, grief, cooperation, and how much we need one another. An action movie with no real villains.

And most of all, a movie with two co-leads who are emotional, vulnerable, and equal.

Raleigh Beckett, one of those two leads, is perhaps the most unconventional male lead in a big studio action movie to date. Why? Check these reasons out for size …

1) He’s vulnerable …  and that’s a GOOD thing

Piloting a monster-killing robot requires its two pilots to mindmeld, sharing their darkest memories with each other. And like all movie heroes, Raleigh’s good at it.

But Raleigh’s also devastated by the loss of his brother, his first co-pilot … Unlike the stoic hero clichés, he talks about his feelings.

He listens to Mako, his new co-pilot, and cares about her struggles.

He sees through his superior officer’s excuses to the personal reasons for his decisions.

Raleigh is emotionally open in many ways, and the movie rewards him for it. Unusual! MORE: 5 Reasons Screenwriters Should Watch PACIFIC RIM

 2) He evolves out of traits action characters usually evolve into

When we first see Raleigh, co-piloting with his brother Yancy, he’s exactly the guy we expect. He’s highly skilled but arrogant, reckless, thinks himself invulnerable.

But he’s not. Yancy’s killed, and Raleigh goes into an emotional spiral. Most action movies use a setback to show their hero returning to the person they used to be (think John Wick, for example). But Raleigh learns caution, patience, and teamwork, and instead evolves into a better version of himself.

3)  Raleigh is a mentor

Raleigh offers the benefit of his advice to Mako while respecting her differing skills and experience. When they screw up, he tries to take responsibility. He recognises that what they do is difficult. And he has absolute faith in her, even when others don’t. MORE: 30 Doses of Inspiration From Fictional Teachers & Mentors

4) He has a surprising lack of ego 

Taunted by another pilot, Raleigh ignores him until he criticises Mako. He follows orders instead of breaking them, and that’s presented as a good thing. Though it clearly chafes, he trusts the judgement of his superior officers. He also respects other pilots rather than competing with them.

A lot of movie heroes act like they know they’re the hero, but Raleigh knows it’s not all about him. So it’s hardly surprising that…

5) He’s a team player

Most action movies are about one person saving the world (usually a heterosexual white man!). But the central metaphor of Pacific Rim is that we’re stronger together, so it’s thematically important that the third act is a team effort. In the end, Raleigh takes the final action to save the world, but he couldn’t do it without the others, and he knows it. MORE: 3 Questions For Your Male Action Hero Characters

Last Points

All in all, Raleigh Beckett is a fantastic example of how inverting clichés can revitalise your story and your plot, and how rethinking masculinity enables us to tell more interesting stories.

Good Luck!

BIO: Debbie Moon is a BAFTA-winning screenwriter and the creator of Wolfblood. She has also written for Hinterland, The Sparticle Mystery, and the upcoming Dog Years. Follow her on Twitter as @DebbieBMoon.

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Wives & Girlfriends

The standard in storytelling is the male character gets to be the protagonist AND the antagonist … Very often, a good portion of the group will be male too. As I’ve mentioned multiple times on this blog and in my writing books, female secondary characters are frequently sidelined to ‘The Girl Character’ or even worse, the dreaded ‘WAG’ – wives and girlfriends.

However, it should be noted the role function of being the Wife or Girlfriend is not AUTOMATICALLY a problem. There have been some fantastic, nuanced female characters that have also been WAGs over the years. Consider Amy Dunne in Gone Girl; or Bianca in Creed. Both are VERY different and very cool!

What’s more, when so many women at home are wives or girlfriends themselves, there’s nothing inauthentic or ‘bad’ about writing such characters in stories, either. People want to see their realities reflected back at them and there’s zero reason this should exclude domestic story worlds.

The problem then is not the role function itself, but – surprise! – how it’s written.

Male Equivalent 

As female protagonists are becoming more and more usual, we are beginning to see more about their home lives too. This means we’re beginning to see a male equivalent of the ‘WAG’ trope in secondary characters (or as I call it in Writing Diverse Characters For Fiction, TV or Film, the ‘HOB’ – husband or boyfriend!).

It should surprise literally no B2Wer that the Dudeflakes who dislike female protagonists so much also hate HOB characters. They deride them as ‘weak’, believing ‘real men’ are the heroes of their own stories.

What may surprise you however is how many female members of the audience feel the same way. It’s almost like the patriarchal norms of what a ‘real man’ is have spread their evil tentacles into how people view stories generally. Huh.

This is doubly troubling, since it reveals many people out there automatically view ANY love interest archetype – female OR male! – as being automatically ‘weak’. Ack.

Male Case Study –  Niko, Killing Eve

But Love Interest is just an archetype. Again, it’s not the role function that is the problem. Once more, for those at the back …

IT’S HOW IT’S WRITTEN.

So, let’s look at well-written male secondary male character.

Niko is Eve’s husband in BBC drama Killing Eve and a great example of the HOB trope. He is brought into the story *as* her husband. His sole existence in the story is, unsurprisingly, because of her.

In short, Niko is a very typical secondary character in terms of role function. In terms of character motivation however, he is the gold standard.

Going after Niko in Killing Eve and calling him ‘weak’ just because he is Eve’s husband shows a woeful understanding of both masculinity and what great characterisation is.

Niko is a brilliant, nuanced male character

We need more like him. He does not appear in *that* many scenes, but whenever he does, he is memorable. As a gender-flipped character, he is what wives and girlfriend characters are SUPPOSED to be (but so often have not been).

Let’s break down why he is so good … As a role function, Niko exists in the story *because* of Eve, but he is not defined BY his relationship to her. Niko has his own life (teaching); his own interests (bridge); his own family, community and language (nephew, Polish). Eve even asks HIM for help translating stuff.

So, it’s clear Eve loves Niko and would do anything for him … except give up going after Villanelle! Plot-wise, Niko challenges Eve throughout on this – both literally and metaphorically.

He creates obstacles for her, but crucially, ALL OF THEM ARE REASONABLE. Eve has turned their lives upside down with her obsession to catch Villanelle. No spouse would ENJOY that! He says, ‘It’s my job to care’. Of course it is! He loves her. He doesn’t want her to die.

Niko is no 2D HOB, nor is he weak. He is a well-drawn, authentic male secondary character. He is a portrait of a stressed-out man in crisis as his spouse gets pulled in by her obsession further and further. Amazing!

Real Men Versus Real Women

So, let’s be clear. There’s nothing remotely ‘weak’ or ‘unmanly’ about a well-written secondary character who happens to be a husband or boyfriend (aka ‘HOB’, aka Love Interest) in a story. They are ‘real men’.

By the same token then, female characters who are wives and girlfriends (WAGs) are ‘real women’ and not automatically bad characters either. Stories set in domestic storyworlds are not ‘lesser than’; nor are they inauthentic.

It’s super revealing and very ironic this needs spelling out in 2020, even to self-professed feminists!

But okay, if you want to posit that female characters are too often WAGs or secondary characters, then absolutely … You have my agreement.

If you want to make the case for the fact female secondary characters are underwritten and get side-lined too easily as standard … yup. That too.

But sticking the boot in as standard to domestic relationships and storyworlds, or well-written characters who happen to be Love Interests? That’s just BS.

Seriously, all you have to worry about is writing your WAG or HOB well. Should be easy, right? (And by the way, absolutely no reason your WAGs or HOBs should be heteronormative!!!).

Good Luck!

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All About Your Central Idea

How good is your central idea? (AKA concept, seed of the story, premise, core). How do you know?

Everyone has ideas. Occasionally you might have a brilliant one. But even the best central idea still needs to be thought through, prodded and stretched to breaking point before you write a single word of script.

Here are five ways to thoroughly interrogate your central idea, and to make the script you’re writing stand out from the crowd.

1) Work out your USP (unique selling point)

Recently for our Sitcom Geeks podcast James Cary and I read a lorry-load of scripts. Some were great, others good, some okay … But almost every one of them had a central idea that had not been tested to its limit.

Whether you set your script in outer space (as many of our competition entrants did); in a 20something flat share (many others) or during the plague (okay, just one of them) your central idea must at some point have people in relationships. Either they’re family, friends or at work, or a combination of one or more of these.

It’s not enough though to say “my sitcom is about siblings” or “a couple with snotty kids”. When I read your script I want to see where you’re going to take me that I haven’t been before. (If you’re writing a family script you have to do a lot of work to come up with something new and more original than Modern Family).

Sibling rivalry, step-families, gay marriage, mid-life ennui, trophy brides, it’s all there with a hot 21st century take.

What’s different about your central idea?

As a producer said to me recently “the workplace sitcom is dead.” If you have a lot of people in one workplace in 2020 there needs to be a very good reason why. And if your workplace is a modern hub in Shoreditch how is it different from 2012 or even Nathan Barley? And how are your ill-matched flatmates different from Mark and Jez? Five years after it ended, I’ve still to see an odd couple show with a stronger take than Peep Show.

I was lucky that my first job was working for top American producer and sitcom writer Fred Barron.  I only met him a couple of times, but the one piece of advice he gave me stuck, and I still think it’s the most important set of questions you ask when creating a new show – “What’s it about?” And “What’s it really about?”

TOP TIP: As you explore your idea, write down all the reasons why you are the only person who could write this show. MORE: Top 10 Links To Make Sure Your Idea Kicks Ass

2) Work out what’s out there already 

There’s nothing more annoying than to turn up at a producer’s office with your great idea than to be told Martin Clunes began filming that exact idea last week. How could you have known that? You couldn’t, of course, but there are ways of finding out.

Look at what’s being made everywhere … Shows that debut in the US are now instantly available around the world. Read books. Check trade papers online like Broadcast and Screen Daily. See? Everyone has ideas, but they have to work incredibly hard to make theirs stand out enough to go into production.

TOP TIP: Go to the British Comedy Guide website and see what’s in development. If someone is working on an idea similar to yours, don’t give up straight away. Instead, play the odds and work out how or if your show might be different enough to be in with a chance.

3) Give yourself permission to lie

This is a relatively new one for me. In my stand-up days I was always at my best talking about real stuff that came from my own life. It took me years to understand that simply retelling my own truths was not as interesting as making stuff up.

It’s okay to lie, people like watching stories and stories are mostly made up. That funny story about the crazy phone call you had with the woman from PPI isn’t enough on its own. It’s simply the starting point that allows you to go wherever you want.

TOP TIP: Odd things that happen to us rarely play out like fictional stories. Write down the start of a funny story from your life. Don’t finish it, make up a twist and give it a new ending. MORE: 15 Reasons Your Story Sucks 

4) Embrace the contradictions

Commissioners say they’re looking for comedy drama. In drama, the main thing is that characters go on a journey, learn and grow and become better people. In comedy the main thing is that they don’t.

What the hell are we supposed to do with that information? And we’re back at Modern Family. Every relationship in that show is tested to its limits, every week, people learn just enough in that episode but not enough to change.

TOP TIP: Push your creations as far as they can go. Put them into all sorts of trouble and get them out of it. If they start acting ridiculously out of character, it’s probably not the story that’s at fault but the character.

5) Give up! (Until later)

You spent a couple of weeks swirling that brilliant idea around in your head and, for whatever reason, nothing happened. This is the point at which many of you will say “that’s okay, I’ve had enough thoughts to start writing this anyway,” … BUT you probably haven’t.

Admit it, to yourself, that explosion of enthusiasm for your idea that filled you with excitement never quite fulfilled its promise.

But that’s okay, you’re not throwing it away.

I started writing a sitcom in 2014 about a couple of characters I was very excited about. I knew they hadn’t been done before. But the idea didn’t work as a sitcom, so I scrapped it.

Two years later I wrote a new Edinburgh show. That odd couple I’d loved made it through to the second draft, but had gone again by the first performance.

NOW they have found a home in my first ever novel, which is based on an idea I first had in 1980. As Steve Martin says, “you use everything.”

TOP TIP: With various script competitions coming up you may think the urgency of the deadline means you must start writing now. Well, if you’ve got a great idea, the more you test it at this stage the easier it will be to write that script. So come on, answer Fred’s questions: what’s it about? And what’s it really about? MORE: 7 Steps To Road Test Your Concept 

Good Luck!

BIO: Dave Cohen has written for Not Going Out, My Family and writes most of the song for Horrible Histories.

Make your comedy script stand out – come to Dave’s one-day course on 13 March 2020. Details HERE.

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