Likeable Characters

‘I didn’t find [the characters] likeable’ is a common lament on Goodreads and Amazon reviews of novels. In fact, it’s so common that I’d be willing to wager real money at least fifty per cent of 1, 2 & 3 star reviews contain the word ‘likeable’!

It should also be noted a perceived lack of  ‘likeable’ characters is nearly always a complaint. Many modern book reviewers seem to feel characters ought to be ‘sympathetic’ … When they’re not, the reviews appear to feel short-changed.

Intriguingly, in the screenwriting world, it’s rather different. Whilst ‘likeable’ characters were demanded for a very long time too, in recent years anti heroes are much more common.  In fact, villains might even be celebrated, or sympathised with, even when their actions are monstrous.

The Gone Girl Effect

The fact book lovers don’t tend to like UNlikeable characters so much makes it all more ironic that a book created the current screenwriting trend.

I am of course talking about the iconic Gone Girl.

Described as a ‘Marmite book’ (for the non-British, that means ‘you either love it or hate it’ like the titular black spread), Amy Dunne has kicked open the doors for more complicated lead characters. Some industry pros even go so far as to call it ‘The Gone Girl Effect’.

Of course, Amy Dunne was not the first female lead to laugh in the face of the label ‘likeable’. There were lots of classic, iconic UNlikeable female leads. Film Noir is the most obvious, especially with its ‘femme fatales’. If you’re a fan of hardboiled crime fiction from the 1950s (and I am), then you’ll find them in novels, too. It’s all cyclical.

Female Burden

Of course, it’s female characters that too often get the boot for not being ‘likeable’ enough. Yes, really.

Whilst male characters can behave in literally monstrous ways even when they are protagonists, female characters will be scrutinised and condemned for the smallest of slights.

Here are some complaints about the ‘likability’ of some of my own protagonists over the years …

  • She’s a mother, but very selfish. This seems unrealistic. 
  • I hated her! She loves herself! She is so self-involved and vain!
  • She’s a teacher, so she shouldn’t be drinking and having sex so much. She’s supposed to be a role model. 

Some very revealing comments there on how society perceives women and what they ‘should’ do. I spend a lot of time reading random reviews because I am nosy and I don’t recall EVER seeing a male character derided for any of the things listed above.

I’ve noted that after female protagonists, class rears its head next. The characters condemned as not being ‘likeable’ enough are usually ensembles of so-called ‘posh’ people.

This is especially obvious in crime fiction. If there’s a mystery to solve and your characters met in Oxbridge, reviewers will confess they want every single person one in your ensemble to die, simply because they’re not ‘likeable’ enough. Yikes!

What is ‘Good’ Characterisation, Anyway?

The notion of ‘likeable characters’ has so many writers in a sweat. But ‘likability’ is a red herring. Beyond the actual craft of writing, everyone’s idea of what makes a character ‘good’ is fuelled by opinion. Pet peeves and experience will dictate who we feel we can empathise with.

There is no ‘right’ way to write a character. As long as a character has a clear role function and motivation, that’s it. The craft is the only bit you can control … You CAN’T control someone’s reaction to your character.

So that’s the bad news, BUT it also doubles as the good news. This is why some people LOVE your character, whereas others will HATE it. Both reactions are, in essence, good. (I always think the worst reaction ever is ‘meh’).

Do This Instead

So rather than worry about ‘likeability’ and end up going in circles, ask yourself …

So as long as writers have done their homework like this, you don’t need to worry about ‘likeability’ of characters. Readers and viewers will like them or loathe them … and there’s nothing you can do about that. So get over it.

Good Luck!

Get Your Free Book 

If there’s multiple ways to write a character, it’s probably easier to list how NOT to … And ‘likeability’ has nothing to do with it!! Get your copy of How Not To Write Female Characters, completely free. You’ll also get a free email mini course, delivered straight to your inbox, on B2W’s ‘holy trinity’ of writing craft – concept, character, structure. CLICK HERE to get your book and mini course, or on the pic on the left.

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Screenplay Notes

Screenplay notes … Love them or hate ’em, we need ‘em! It’s a fact that rewriting your screenplay or television pilot is an absolutely essential part of the successful process of perfecting story, character, structure, tone and theme.

Since every script’s problems will be different, some of these standard notes may not apply and writers will need more specific observations to help fix its problems. The following are the most common notes given and how to tackle them …

1) Please clarify

Simply put, something doesn’t make sense. Whatever it is, it’s taken us out of the flow of the read and we’re confused. Confusion might make us put the script down. Asking for clarification just means, ‘help!’

2) This is contrived

AKA ‘We have seen this in many scripts and movies before and you need to get creative and find a new way for this to be relayed on the page.’

An example might be the protagonist needing money to save a dying son/daughter/wife/husband and doing something out of their wheelhouse to obtain that money. Sure, it works, but we’ve seen it before.

Turn ideas on their heads. Make the bad guy a good guy or instead of the happy ending, make it end badly. That’s life. Don’t be afraid to surprise us … It’s what everyone wants.

3) Your characters need more depth

Characters are the meat of any script. When they’re written too one-dimensionally, the action around them (though perhaps intriguing), doesn’t give energy to the page. We have to care about all the characters; whatever the emotion may be.

  • Write character bios. When characters need layering, we ask that writers create character biographies. These ought to include everything about a character from their relationship with their mother to the sport they played in high school. It just allows the writer to draw on information that shapes a more formed person.
  • GET CREATIVE! Even though your protagonist is the active character who moves the story forward, find new ways for them to do it. Often basing characters on people you know or an amalgam of people can breed reality into their actions.
  • Heroes are flawed, villains are appealing. Try not to make villains moustache-twirlers and heroes saving the girl tied to the train tracks. This is contrived! The story will work out the moral and theme. Let your characters be big and real, so we engage with them on their journey.
  • Use supporting characters to add the humor or moral center (or any other active scene stealing attribute) that the protagonist might not have. Stories at their core are about relationships (with people, the world, ourselves), so allowing characters to bounce off one another and learn from it will add depth to the page.
  • Life is complex. Characters ought to have mixed feelings, make mistakes, thrive and then turn around and fail. Think about how you feel about a situation and all the different ways you might look at it. Those layers make you interesting and they’ll make your characters interesting too. MORE: Top 5 Ways Writers Screw Up Their Characters

4) Your structure is lumpy

There can be many problems that create issues with structure. Structure holds the story up and helps the reader follow as the narrative unfolds.

  • A Three Act Structure is the norm for a script and follows a basic path. Act One starts the action and creates backstory for the narratives and characters. Act Two is the meat of the story and the development of emotional, conflict and narrative beats and Act Three allows the resolve of the conflicts and reveals what we need to know about what was mentioned in Act One.
  • Acts One and Three are always connected. If Act One does not have enough information about the conflict, various narratives and character backstory, then, as the script progresses, the reader will ask questions that don’t get answered. Almost always, that’s going to result in a confusing story and a plot that doesn’t hold water.
  • Most scripts ought to hit two structural beats: the midpoint (approximately halfway through when there is a change of tone and the protagonist moves in a new direction) and the low point (approximately 25 pages or so from the end of the script when a mentor character leaves, making the protagonist’s goal hard to achieve.) Though these beats are not 100% necessary to a successful script, often these moments help us track the important movement of the narrative and conflict and allow story to flow. MORE: 9 Top Tips On Acts 

5) The story doesn’t make sense

This is the advanced version of ‘Please clarify’. Almost all the time, the solution is outlining the script. Outlining is a big topic, but at its base we suggest it start like so:

  • Write a one liner of what the script is about.
  • Write a paragraph about what the script is about.
  • Create character biographies
  • Make lists of emotional, action, conflict, and narrative beats. What moments in the script provide us with the most information? Which move the script towards the protagonist’s goals?
  • Make sure all main characters have a connection with one another. Make sure the beats are clear, then your script will be able to stand on its own.

Good Luck!

BIO: Jenny Frankfurt is the founder of http://www.finishlinescriptcomp.com/, which provides extensive script development notes to improve your script while it’s in contention to win. Writers can resubmit new drafts at no extra cost.

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Fear Is Natural

Working with writers, many confess to feeling fear about the prospect of getting rejected. This is natural. No one wants to be told their work is not good enough. But if you want to get your writing published or produced, this fear is something you will have to get over. But how do we do it?? Check this out …

1) Prepare Yourself

First up, you need to be prepared. ALL writers get rejected. Literally, all of them. It doesn’t matter how famous or renowned they become, there will always be failure in their lives. Whether those writers get rejected by other industry pros or their target audiences, NO ONE leads a charmed life 100%. They just don’t.

What’s more, the lower down the ladder you are, the more likely you are to be rejected. But this is okay. Feel the fear … Do it anyway. MORE: Top 5 Beliefs of Fearless Writers 

2) Acknowledge The Pain

Some writers pretend to themselves it doesn’t matter they get rejected. This is an okay strategy and got me through some tough times early in my career. But when I started acknowledging the pain of rejection, a remarkable thing happened … It hurt, but only for a short while. But crucially, I only allow myself one evening of wallowing. The next day I get back on the horse, feeling much better and able to move on.

3) Find The Good Stuff

Sometimes, you don’t get officially rejected – only radio silence. That sucks, because you’re not entirely sure whether you’ve been rejected or not. That’s why I always recommend following up on your submissions 8-12 weeks later. If no one gets back to you 2-3 times, there you go.

If you DO get good feedback with your rejection, don’t just tell yourself they gave it ‘to be nice’. Time is at a premium in the industry, NO ONE gives feedback if they don’t have to. So grasp what you can, when you can. Use it to bolster your ego if nothing else, why the hell not? Celebrate the wins where you can.

If you get critical feedback with your rejection, consider whether you think it has a point or not. If you don’t, consider the source … Is this some anonymous A-Hole trying to ride roughshod over your vision of the story? Or does this person know what they’re talking about? Even if the latter and they offer great notes, are they USEFUL? Or do they go against what you’re trying to do? MORE: 5 Ways To Use Feedback Effectively

4) Transform Your Perception

Most writers are afraid of rejection because they fear it will feel like the end of everything and put them off. But if you grasp the first three elements on this list, it will help change your perception. Instead of feeling like THE END OF EVERYTHING, you will start to realise nothing can stop you. You have not been rejected, you just have not advanced this time.

You will also notice that even rejections can lead you to new opportunities. Each rejection then makes you strong, because ‘Each NO feels like a slow YES.’

5) Feed Your Growth Mindset

I am a big fan of what entrepreneurs call a ‘growth mindset‘. The opposite of the growth mindset is the FIXED mindset. Now we’re all very British around here (apart from all the B2Wers who aren’t, hi) so isn’t this a load of mumbo jumbo??

NOPE.

If you have the former, then that means you believe you can develop your natural talents and abilities with hard work, good strategies and input from others. If that sounds like what B2W has been saying on this site for aeons, then you would be right! Do whatever you can to BELIEVE IN YOURSELF … But don’t fall for toxic BS positivity that says it will all come to you somehow by magic. It won’t. You need that hard work … And to implement those all-important strategies … Plus you need to surround yourself with allies.

SO DO IT! Decide what you want, find out how to do it and set a WHEN BY deadline. GOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGO! MORE: How To Set Meaningful Goals & Stick To Them

Good Luck!

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All About Maurice Gran

Maurice Gran is one half of scriptwriting duo Marks & Gran. The majority of Brit Bang2writers will no doubt know of him from such popular UK comedies as Shine On Harvey Moon, their breakthrough hit back in 1982. As they say, the rest was history … With such comedy classics as Birds of A Feather, The New Statesman, Love Hurts, Goodnight Sweetheart coming next.

But that’s not even the half of it! Maurice has also written a stack of other stuff for TV going back forty years, plus theatre as well. Check out more of his work, HERE on imdb and also via their website, www.marksandgran.com.

B2W always advocates asking veteran writers their thoughts on how writing works … With this in mind, I had a great chat with Maurice recently, where he shared his thoughts. Enjoy!

1) There Is No Special Secret To Writing

First up, I ask whether he thinks there is any particular secret to writing … The answer is a resounding NO …

‘People ask, ‘How do you write? ’I say, how do you breathe?’ Maurice says.

Simple, but true. I can relate to this … I have even ‘given up’ writing more than once but ended up back at it. I guess there really is no stopping some of us.

2) Concept Is Everything

But Maurice has created so many hit shows, he must have some kind of knack or preferred starting point at least?

‘My method of creating a show is to think about it like it’s true.’  Maurice says. ‘I remember being out near Whitechapel with Laurence. He said, “Did you know, two minutes from here there are some streets where it could still be 1940?” I said, ‘That’s a show’.’

The show described is, of course, Goodnight Sweetheart. I remember watching this show as a kid. I loved the idea of a TV repair man, Gary, taking a wrong turn and ending up back to 1940s London.

But Maurice goes on to point out another issue: ‘Why would [Gary] go back to war torn 1940s London twice? What’s the appeal? It’s a fool’s errand. But the answer: there’s not enough to keep him in the present.’

Most of us will do whatever we can for the ones we love; why wouldn’t we travel through time too?

3) Comedy Must Be Funny

An obvious one … but this genre is harder than it looks. ‘Comedy is a kind of genetic weirdness,’ Maurice says, ‘lots of very fine writers can’t do it.’

There is a certain ‘je ne se quoi’ to comedy writing, so how can writers work on their craft? Back to Maurice: ‘Get your mates round, read it aloud. Test your work. The only way to know is to hear it.’

 4) Comedy Must Be True

But how do we come up with great concepts? Authenticity is key in comedy … ‘It’s funny ‘cos it’s true’ is a good reminder.

The best comedies are rooted in truth. All the shows we love feel like they are populated by real people, in real predicaments. They make us wonder what WE would do those in those situations too.

‘If you’re not drawing from all around you, then what are you doing?’ Maurice asserts, ‘You can’t be funny at the expense of truth.’

5) Practice, Practice, Practice!

Marks and Gran started in theatre in the 1970s. They each joined a writers’ group, where they had to write to various briefs and vote on one another’s work.

‘There would be these competitions in the group … Write something that’s 6-8 minutes, using a stepladder, a stuffed jackdaw and the line ‘I didn’t know you had one,’ Maurice says, ‘It was like an Oxbridge education for 5p a week, including coffee and a biscuit.’

When he and Laurence kept winning independently, they decided to form a duo. Now imagine both of them had stayed home … Instead, they got out there and honed their craft.

6) There Will Be False Starts

Maurice told me all about an exciting moment where he and Laurence got a meeting with the BBC … Then nothing else happened for THREE YEARS. It wasn’t until they got a referral from comedy legend Barry Took that things started happening for them.

So many Bang2writers contact me, delighted they have meetings … then again, crushed, when they hear nothing. Even though I remind them we are all playing the long game, they will still be despondent. Some will even give up altogether.

Yet no one has ever been catapulted to stardom from obscurity. Not even Marks & Gran.

7) Working Hard Is A Must

Maurice outlined his week for me when he was running ALOMO, his production company, in the 90s. ‘Sunday, we were usually recording … Monday, it would be read-throughs. Tuesday, we’d be writing episodes, with more on Wednesdays. Thursdays would be for meetings. More writing on Fridays.’

I can so relate to this. Writing is a full-time job … and doesn’t just include writing!  There’s a feeling amongst many writers that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. But Maurice proves you do have to work a punishing schedule, nothing comes together easily.

You can LOVE writing, you can earn from it, but you will have to work for every penny and to see your vision on screen. That’s just the way it is! Writing is NOT a ’get rich quick’ scheme, no matter how much we wish it was.

8) You Have To Believe!

There’s never a ‘right time’ to ditch the secure job and dive into professional writing. But sometimes, keeping writing as a side hustle means you can’t advance in your career as far as you could have if you’d gone all-in.

‘We decided we were destined to make it, so we gave up our day jobs.’ Maurice says, ‘Years later, we realised how barmy this was … but also, we needed to do justice to the opportunity.’

Too right! Sometimes, you just have to quit stalling and make that jump.

Thanks, Maurice!

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What Is Writer’s Voice?

Wikipedia defines ‘Writer’s Voice’ as the following …

‘The writer’s voice is the individual writing style of an author, a combination of idiotypical usage of syntaxdictionpunctuationcharacter developmentdialogue, etc., within a given body of text (or across several works). Voice can be thought of in terms of the uniqueness of a vocal voice machine. As a trumpet has a different voice than a tuba or a violin has a different voice than a cello, so the words of one author have a different sound than the words of another. One author may have a voice that is light and fast-paced, while another may have a dark voice.’

It should be noted that ALL writers have their own ‘voice’. Whether you are a novelist or screenwriter, HOW you splash words on the page reveals YOU in terms of the types of language choices, stories, characters, genres, tropes, archetypes and so on you like to use. I rather like this quote by writer Meg Rosoff:

‘Your writing voice is the deepest possible reflection of who you are. The job of your voice is not to seduce or flatter or make well-shaped sentences. In your voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul.’

That said, I do think Rossof’s is a bit of a romantic definition. Why, next.

Writer’s Voice = Who You Are?

Yes … and no. There may be some crossover, or none at all. Writers do not ‘automatically’ put themselves IN their own writing (though some might). Though it’s very fashionable to say writers ‘are’ their writing on Twitter, some uncomfortable facts remain …

  • Some assholes write progressive stories
  • Some great people write asshole stories
  • Sometimes writers write for hire anyway (so it’s some other asshole’s story!)
  • Most stories and writers (and whether they’re assholes or not) end up a matter of opinion anyway

Instead, when we talk writer’s voice, it’s more productive to say we are talking STYLE. No judgements, because this muddies the waters.

As an example, B2W is renowned for its ‘smack talk’ and adversarial approach online … But this doesn’t mean I personally am like this. In fact, lots of people who meet me in real life confess later they were surprised how ‘chill’ and ‘friendly’ and even ‘quiet’ I am. This is because they are confusing my writer’s voice as B2W with who I literally am. Surprise, muthafuckas!

Why Is Writer’s Voice So Important?

Writers don’t have to go far to see agents, publishers, producers and filmmakers talking about wanting to find ‘fresh, exciting new voices’. In short, EVERYONE wants to find the writer who is ‘The Next Big Thing’.

The above starts with the writer’s voice. Readers and their bosses actively get EXCITED when they see a great new voice on the page. As B2W as said time and time again, the industry does NOT want vanilla writing. Fact.

So if that’s WHAT they want, then frustratingly, no one can usually answer exactly HOW they want it (oo er). Most say something along the lines of, ‘I’ll know it when I see it‘. This leads many writers to believe that writer’s voice is accidental, unquantifiable, MAGIC.

It is not.

Writers CAN identify and develop their voices to showcase the best of their abilities. What’s more, every writer who does this is far, far more likely to get the results they want. What’s not to like??

How To Develop Your Writer’s Voice

I’ve written before about ‘breaking story’ by using the WHO-WHAT-WHERE-WHEN-WHY? questions. When it comes to identifying and developing your writer’s voice, I’d wager you can use the 5 Ws again, albeit in a different way …

  • WHO am I?
  • WHAT am I interested in?
  • WHY am I interested in it?
  • WHEN have I used these elements [themes, ideas, tropes, characters, genres etc]
  • WHERE can I take these things next?

Lots of writers say you ‘can’t’ identify your voice until you’ve written a LOT of stuff. I don’t agree. I’ll use myself as an example.

i) WHO am I?

We all know who we are, even if we have to dig deep to find our answers. The good news is, for writers this has never been easier (and in most cases, cheaper and more accessible). I lead an extremely emotionally isolated/ cut off life as a young person, but was able to find out who I am via shedding this as a young adult and reaching out via social media. Talking to other people can help us understand who we are (and who we are not). We can do this via literal speech, online or a combination of both.

We can also challenge our understanding of the world by actively finding people unlike ourselves … which in turn can make us realise our own places in the world. Similarly, reading psychology books and articles, doing therapy and courses, taking personality tests and so on can help us identify ourselves and our place in the world. I have done all of these things. I will continue to do them.  What about you?

ii) WHAT am I interested in?

I have always been interested in notions of fairness, justice and consequence. I’ve loved to watch thrillers and dramas with these themes; I have enjoyed books about them. This meant being a script reader, writing non fiction on thrillers and dramas and then writing crime novels was a natural progression for me. It makes sense.

So what could your existing interests lead to in terms of storytelling? Why?

iii) WHY am I interested in it?

This is where the first two really intersect, for me. It’s no accident I write about themes of fairness, justice and consequence  … Not gonna lie, my personal life has been pretty difficult. Some might say, it’s ‘unfair’ or ‘unjust’ I have had to deal with certain adversities. I have had to take the consequences of others’ actions (or inaction), plus I’ve had to deal with random and unlucky things like illness. In other words, there is a certain catharsis for me.

Ultimately, I know I am an optimistic person though. I don’t see myself as being towards the top of any adversity sliding scale. I have had to deal with some shit; most people do. I write about dark things because my life has been the triumph of hope over experience.

So guess what … This is what usually happens to my characters, too! They deal with dark shit and then they recover, just like me. It’s how I process and make sense of the world. What about you?

iv) WHEN have I used these [elements]?

I have written literally millions of words now, so this part is pretty easy. If we consider both my fiction AND non-fiction, the recurring elements are obvious …

  • Female characters
  • BAME, disability, LGBT themes and characters
  • crime and thriller
  • romantic suspense / love stories
  • mystery
  • dysfunctional families
  • feminism
  • classic literature (especially Greek tragedy)
  • dystopian
  • irreverence

But even if I hadn’t written all those words, it wouldn’t be difficult to identify … thanks to the answers in i, ii and iii on this list.  Of course I am going to write them into my own work, in my own style. How could you use your elements?

v) WHERE can I take them next?

Of the above list, I’ve done dystopian the least. That’s one of the reasons I wrote The Coven, which will be released under my pseudonym Lizzie Fry. But even though it’s not an LVH book, readers familiar with my previous storytelling  will see some similarities! I’ll let you find out what.

So, what about you? Start with these 5 questions … I guarantee you will find some interesting stuff. Nothing better for a writer.

Good Luck!

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Get Motivational

Trying to get motivational? Join the club! We’ve all been there struggling to find the right words, constantly tweaking sentences to get the best flow, and tossing ideas into the garbage bin. As much as we want to think writing is easy, the obstacles too often feel overwhelming and insurmountable.

Writer’s block and lack of will to write hold us aback. But it’s amazing how powerful motivational quotes can help you get writing.

So I’ve listed 12 of my favourite motivational quotes that helped me get the motivation I need to write, and I’m positively sure these quotes can get you electrified to write, too! Enjoy …

1. “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” – Thomas Mann

If you’re struggling to start your work, then hear this: you’re far from alone. Many writers out there… yeah, even successful ones… have had moments when they just don’t know how to start or finish their work.

Just because you’ve been writing for several years doesn’t mean it will always be easy. It’s not. So don’t be too hard on yourself.

2. “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King

Writing sure is your bread and butter. But every so often, you’re lost for words. It could be because there isn’t that much of inspiration, to begin with.

When you don’t know how to fill a blank page, the best way out is to take the time to read. Read, read, read!

Grab books, newspapers, or magazines and start reading. And no, don’t just flick through the pages. Grab whatever motivational techniques you can!

3. “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” – Jack Kerouac

Many think that using complex words is what makes a writer outstanding *and badass*. But sometimes, it’s best to stick to simpler words.

So when writing, be it a novel, a short story, or a personal statement, use simple words. And if you think these words don’t resonate your style, you can always change them later.

4. “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” – W. Somerset Maugham

I’m with Somerset.

But be warned, this is far different from the quote Write Drunk, Edit Sober, which, by the way, is terrible advice. There’s no way we can get motivational that way!

Technically, there are rules to follow when it comes to actual publishing, but what Somerset wants to imply is that you can express anything through writing. Anything.

5. “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” – E.L Doctorow

There’s no story too crazy to be told. Say it louder for the people in the back!

6. “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

Self-doubt can lead to nowhere but a blank page. I think it’s in every Bang2Writer’s desire to kill self-doubt for good and get motivational instead.

Adam Persky from the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education explains that “people with self-doubt often feel like they are not as capable or adequate as others perceive or evaluate them to be.”

Persky said, “imposter syndrome provides motivation to persevere… you overprepare and overwork.”

Basically, you don’t have to fight self-doubt but instead use it as leverage.

7. “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” – Robert Frost

This is a great quote from Robert Frost about how important for a writer to pour out all his emotions into writing. Don’t hold back your tears, anger, happiness, and melancholy. Expressing your stories the way you want it is what makes you an effective writer.

8. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov

The assertion ‘show, don’t tell’ may be cliche, but that doesn’t make it anything less effective. When you lack motivation, the quick fix is to remind yourself what you want to show your readers.

9. “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” – Louis L’Amour

Just. Do. It. Your desire to write may not kick in as fast as you want, but as you start writing *anything*, expect the motivation to flow.

10. “A word after a word after a word is power.” – Margaret Atwood

I firmly believe that what you say to yourself impacts how you see yourself. Not being careful with the words you say in the mirror surely has an impact, just as how it impacts on others.

This is to say that if you want to be successful in writing or at least, bring out the writer in you, then think of words that you can anchor your goal.

11. “Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.” – Meg Cabot

Writing a good piece can be tough, let alone composing something you’re not passionate about. It’s not like you have a choice when you’re given an assignment, but it helps if you teach yourself to love what you’re writing.

12. “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” – Stephen King

If you think there’s a formula to successful writing, then you’re *absolutely* wrong. Amateurs sit and wait for a motivational lightning bolt to strike them. But as professional writers, we make lighting happen by making ourselves the rainmaker.

Good Luck!

BIO: Tiffany Harper is an experienced writer and editor, sometimes she writes for term paper writing service and best essay writing blogs related to the social projects. From time to time she to give help with assignment, as a proofreader specialist, and sometimes she analyses blogs for academized reviews.

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All About Dan Harmon

Dan Harmon is an American writer, producer, and actor. Harmon created and produced the NBC sitcom Community; he also co-created the animated series Rick and Morty. He’s also an industry mover and shaker, having co-founded the alternative television network and website Channel 101. In other words, he’s not only a creative, but a guy who knows the whole caboodle!

Harmon is also the creator of a structural visual representation he calls ‘The Story Circle’. One of the primary remits of B2W is writing craft, especially structure, so I thought I’d put it under the microscope like I have with previous visuals. You can see those in the links below.

5 Visual Representations Of Storytelling Structure

2 Simple Tips To Spot Structural Problems In Your Writing

How To Write A Perfect Scene

Why Lack Of Structure Is Killing Your Characters

Why Being An Expert At Structure Helps your Writing

So, let’s check out what Harmon has to say about structure with his Story Circle.

The Story Circle

Listed below is Harmon’s 8 Steps to his circle. As he says on the Channel 101 website, it obviously won’t fit every single story known to humankind. There are exceptions to everything, but that’s called style, not structure. But here we go:

  1. You (a character is in a zone of comfort)
  2. Need (but they want something)
  3. Go (they enter an unfamiliar situation)
  4. Search (adapt to it)
  5. Find (find what they wanted)
  6. Take (pay its price)
  7. Return (and go back to where they started)
  8. Change (now capable of change)

The visual below is from filmword.

The Story Circle & The Monomyth

The parallel’s between Harmon’s Story Circle and Campbell’s Monomyth are obvious. Harmon says this himself:

‘Joseph Campbell was a comparative mythologist, not a corny screenwriting guru. Nevertheless, here is where I, Dan Harmon, feel that the chapters of Campbell’s famous “monomyth” or “hero’s journey” would fall if you forced them into my circle.’

He then lays them out as following, with this in mind …

1. A character is in a zone of comfort,
2. But they want something.
3. They enter an unfamiliar situation,
4. Adapt to it,
5. Get what they wanted,
6. Pay a heavy price for it,
7. Then return to their familiar situation,
8. Having changed.

Just an FYI, Campbell wrote the Monomyth and it was Chris Vogler who updated it as The Hero’s Journey. For a comparison of the two  — CLICK HERE.

B2W’s Take

I like The Story Circle a great deal. It’s simple and clear, so it’s been useful in talking with B2Wers about structure over the years. But as Harmon himself recognises, The Story Circle is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Here’s where it falls down …

i) The Hero’s Journey is not the only plotting archetype

It’s true the Monomyth and Hero’s Journey are the most popular templates for stories, especially in the past 35-40 years. That said, these templates are not the ONLY plotting archetypes. Plotting archetypes like ‘Voyage & Return’ and ‘Rebirth’ are just two plotting archetypes that have cropped up in HUGE movies in the past two or three years. No idea what these plotting templates are or how they work? CLICK HERE.

ii) Audiences are demanding less idealised heroes

No, I don’t mean the BS online crit term ‘Mary Sue’. This is simply a sexist and juvenile denigration of female leads … Which in turn is a sexist and juvenile denigration of (primarily female) fanfic writers. Now that crap’s out of the way, let’s get down to business.

In the past 2 or 3 years, heroes are not as idealised as they once were because where they start – their storyworld, thus their motivation – is in doubt. In 2019’s Captain Marvel, Carol Danver’s arc is not as idealised as her ‘just’ being heroic and defeating the baddies like The Hero’s Journey demands. In fact, it’s not even clear WHO the baddies even are until very late in the story. Instead, Danvers must confront she herself is on the wrong side.

iii) Characters don’t ‘HAVE’ to change

The vast majority of characters, whatever the plotting archetype, despite various audience prefs, will change in some way. B2W calls this ‘the transformative arc’.  That said, not every character changes … Some characters are change agents, who make other characters change. Plus what constitutes ‘change’ anyway? Is a realisation in the story a fundamental change to the character, or just a realisation? Where do we draw the line?

When I wrote THIS POST about this six years ago, there was epic pushback. Most writers I talked to were very, very resistant to the idea that some iconic heroes like John McClane and Ellen Ripley might not *really* change. Intriguingly, over the past few years in particular I’ve noticed a sea change not only amongst the B2Wers, but the writing community online generally. Perhaps this is because writers are investing more in alternative plotting archetypes to the Monomyth. Whatever the case, based on Google searches I believe The Story Circle was created/came into prominence around 2012 … Thus it is a product of the time when more writers believed characters HAD to change. That doesn’t make it incorrect by the way, but it is worth remembering.

iv) Character study movies are becoming popular

As we’ve seen this year with Joker, audiences have responded wildly. The movie has made it into $1Bn territory, which surpasses execs’ wildest dreams for it. But Joker is not a ‘classic’ hero’s journey, only with a bad guy at the top … Hell, it’s not even a genre movie, but a drama (don’t know the difference? CLICK HERE).

Instead, Joker is a character study. As structure goes, its plot is a series of vignettes … It is a snapshot of man falling rapidly into decline, whether that is mentally, or his behavioural reactions or both (despending how you see it). Cinephiles know these type of character studies were once very popular, especially in the 1970s. As we know already, the industry is cyclical and audiences are becoming more and more interested in shades of grey when it comes to characterisation. B2W has already predicted character studies will come back with a vengeance. Given the amounts of potential £££$$$ on the table now, this seems even more likely.

v) ‘Villains’ are getting ever more complex

If we consider a ‘typical’ hero like T’Challa in 2018’s Black Panther, we are asked to invest in his journey versus antagonist Erik Killmonger’s. On surface level, this is obvious: T’Challa is a good, wholesome Prince. Killmonger is literally called Killmonger; he is a mass murderer. Le Duh. It is the Monomyth in action.

But as anyone who’s actually seen Black Panther, it is not as simple as this. In the course of the story, T’Challa must confront the possibility that his father – and this Wakanda – was in the wrong. This means Killmonger, however repugnant his actions are, is actually in the right. Eeek.

Also, it’s ALWAYS worth remembering that antagonists don’t have to be ‘bad’. They just have to be aberrant, whatever that means to the protagonist. More on complex villains, HERE.

Summing Up

Harmon has done a good job here … The Story Circle is a great visual representation of structure. It is popular amongst the Bang2writers because it is simple and easy to understand. After all, in most stories, most protagonists want or need something specific. They will have to move from their old lives and go through a number of obstacles (including the antagonist) to get it. This is why the vast majority of stories (especially movies) are ‘Hero’s Journey’ type tales.

That said, Harmon’s Story Circle relies too heavily on the Monomyth/Hero’s Journey for modern storytelling. I believe we are in a period of transition right now. B2W predicts we will see more and more complexity to both characterisation and plotting in the next ten years, in both TV and movies. This means the ‘exceptions’ Harmon recognises here will only grow. With that in mind, writers should see The Story Circle as just ONE tool for looking at structure … not their only one.

Good Luck!

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Keep Your Vocabulary Up To Date

A great writer needs a great vocabulary.

But a great vocabulary isn’t about using high fallutin’ words your readers won’t understand. The best vocabulary includes words popular with younger people and used in internet-speak around the world.

So, what’s the best way to update your vocabulary?

You could invite your friends over to play Scrabble on a Friday night (they will probably decline) … Or you can do something a lot easier!

Check out Global English Editing’s new infographic which lists 19 must-know words for 2020. With words like “shook” and “biohacking,” it doesn’t matter what subject  or medium you write in, you’ll find new words to add to your writing.

Newsflash: Yer Old!

According to my social media insights, the average Bang2writer is somewhere between 35 and 45. We are OLD NOW, PEEPS! Supersadface.

Not really. Getting older is great, but it does mean it’s harder to stay ‘on trend’ with language. This in turn makes it more difficult to write young people that are actually realistic.

This is where infographics like the one below come in. I am a particular fan of ‘Stan’. Every time I see it used, I spot older people querying it as a typo … BUT IT’S NOT! It’s actually named for that Eminem song which is about a die hard super-fan. So, if you’re a ‘Stan’, then you’re an obsessed stalker type. It all comes clear.

These words are commonly used, both on the internet and in real-life conversations, especially among younger people. Sprinkling them into your writing can help spice it up and make it seem more realistic. It can also help you stand out from the pack of other writers.

More About Language Use On B2W

Check out the infographic after the jump. Happy writing!

Top 10 Killer Words That Make Readers Switch Off

How To Use ‘Bad Words’ In Your Writing

5 Reasons Grammar Purists Can Go Fuck Themselves

Top 10 Words That Will Kill Your Writing DEAD

Top 6 Tips For Editing Your Own Writing

10 Useful Infographics To Help You Pick The Right Words

Top 10 Words Or Phrases Storytellers Gave Us

Good Luck!

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Ask The Experts

If you want an answer to a question, consult with the experts … So, my question: what is writing? It’s a question that’s been posed to B2W more than once. I raided BrainyQuote and hand-picked 10 quotes from experts I found online that I think sums up the process pretty well. What do you think? Which quote is your favourite? Let’s go …

1) Paulo Coehlo

‘Writing means sharing. It’s part of the human condition to want to share things – thoughts, ideas, opinions.’

2) Amy Tan

‘Writing is an extreme privilege but it’s also a gift. It’s a gift to yourself and it’s a gift of giving a story to someone.’

3) Mini Grey

‘Writing is a journey of discovery because until you start, you never know what will happen, and you can be surprised by what you do – expect the unexpected!’

4) E. L. Doctorow

‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’

5) C. S. Lewis

‘Writing is like a ‘lust,’ or like ‘scratching when you itch.’ Writing comes as a result of a very strong impulse, and when it does come, I, for one, must get it out.’

6) Robert J. Sawyer

‘The heart and soul of good writing is research; you should write not what you know but what you can find out about.’

7) Isaac Asimov

‘Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.’ 

8) Nicholas Winding Refn

‘Writing is fantasising about what your film will be like. Shooting is reality. And the post-production is recovering the idea you had.’

9) Toni Morrison

‘I think some aspects of writing can be taught. Obviously, you can’t teach vision or talent.’

10) Aaron Sorkin

‘Writing never comes easy. The difference between Page 2 and Page Nothing is the difference between life and death.’

Last Thoughts

Lots of Bang2writers tell me they feel they are writing for ‘no reason’. The ones that tell me this are usually those who have been writing a good while, but feel stuck in a rut. They may feel they have not advanced up the writing careers ladder as much as they would have liked.

I get it … It’s frustrating to put the effort and not get your reward. It can be soul destroying to see others leap frog over you, especially when you feel your writing is better. But if those B2Wers are not advancing as quickly as they would like, then they need to look at their strategy. Then they will be able to see they ARE writing for a ‘reason’ … They need to set a goal and deadline. They must find out HOW to do it and WHEN by.

If your crisis is not about careers, but the writing then, think about what writing means to YOU. This will help you decide whether you want to continue. The quotes above are a good place to start.

Like Paulo Coehlo, I think writing is ultimately about sharing; like  Amy Tan, I also think writing is a gift to myself and others. I also feel like I process my thoughts and feelings about the world and my life through writing, like Isaac Asimov. Realising others who have come before me thought these things, helps me with my own crises of confidence.

Which quotes chime with your thoughts on writing? Let us know in the comments.

More Quotes

10 Rocky Quotes To Inspire You As A Writer 

30 Creatives On The True Power of Ideas 

7 Motivational Quotes From Shonda Rhimes 

20 Inspirational Quotes Writers Can Learn From

More Quotes From The B2W Archives 

Good Luck!

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All About Antiheroes

Lots of writers believe antiheroes ‘have’ to be protagonists, but this is not the case. Antiheroes are defined in the dictionary as the following …

A central character in a story, film, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes, eg. “with the age of the antihero, baddies and goodies became less distinguishable from one another”.
Myself, I love an enigmatic female lead!! With all this in mind then, I am going to look at some badass female antiheroes, plus what writers can learn from them. Ready? Let’s go!

1) Aunt Lydia, The Handmaid’s Tale

Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale has to be one of the most vile and relevant female antiheroes in the modern era. Her fervent belief in Gilead in the early series of the TV show is now in doubt, thanks to seeing more of her back story in s3 … Plus Margaret Atwood releasing the long-awaited follow-up book, The Testaments. Is Lydia as ‘bad’ as we think? It’s hard to tell. Now that’s interesting storytelling that spans thirty years and two different mediums. MORE: 6 Things Writers Can Learn From The Handmaid’s Tale 

2) Cypher, Fast & Furious 8

Cypher is calm, collected and very, very, very bad. She has a reason and a justification for everything she does. What’s more, she has the resources and the power to use everyone and everything; she believes the world is her own personal chessboard. Ruthless and unbearably logical, Cypher can get anyone to do whatever she wants … Including our intrepid hero Dominic Toretto.

3) Gemma Teller, Sons of Anarchy

The Sons say a biker is ‘nothing without his old lady’ and Gemma Teller sums this adage right up. She is the architect of SAMCRO’s fate, leaving a fearsome body count behind her … the vast majority of them, she doesn’t even have to lift a finger. She is the puppeteer instead, sewing confusion and destruction, leading to John’s, Clay’s and even Jax’s downfall. Drawing heavily on the Shakespearean ‘Lady Macbeth’ trope, Gemma is the antihero of antiheroes.

4) Cookie Lyon, Empire 

Cookie spent seventeen years in jail for husband Lucious, now she wants what she’s owed. She  loves her boys Andre, Jamal and Hakeem, but the reality is she will screw them over to get what she wants. Switching sides at a whim, getting back Lucious (whatever that means) is her number one priority.

5) Amy Dunne, Gone Girl 

Is Amy Dunne a hero for spurned women, or the biggest bitch EVAH? Well that depends if you think her husband Nick deserves all he gets. Me, I can’t decide, even though I have read the book twice and seen the movie multiple times. What I think depends on the day! Dunne is iconic because her character taps expertly into the frustrations so many women feel about marriage, gender, society and how the world sees us. MORE: How NOT to Write Female Characters 

6) Jac, Top Boy 

Though she’s  a supporting character, Jac in Top Boy really caught my eye (nearly all the characters in Top Boy s3 are antiheroes, so nyah).  Jac is pragmatic and organised. She’s had to fight to get taken seriously in a man’s world. As a young, out lesbian, she refuses to be seen as ‘different’ to the other guys. She sees The Road as work, nothing more, nothing less … This means she feels little guilt about sending the young kids across county lines. That said, she is fiercely protective of her girlfriend and wants to keep her away from the world of drugs.

7) Morticia Addams, The Addams Family & Addams Family Values 

Morticia was one of my idols growing up. Nothing fazes her, plus she is fiercely capable, able to do whatever she wants. She’s supportive of her children no matter what, even when they want to do stuff that grosses her out (like go to summer camp). Unlike so many mother characters, she is not frumpy or sexless. She and Gomez have a hot marriage, where he clearly adores her. What’s not to like? Plus that amazing dress … OMG!

8) Lexa, The 100

A fearsome leader and warrior, Lexa’s beliefs are rock solid.  What’s more, she is always fair. Even though she and Clarke have stuff going on, when Lexa is faced with a terrible choice against The Mountain Men in series 2, she does what’s best for her people The Grounders, not the Sky people. It’s Lexa’s only choice as leader, even if it hurts her personally.

9) Catwoman, Batman Returns 

Selina Kyle is mild-mannered and timid, but finds her inner strength when cats bring her back from the brink of death. Whilst this incarnation of Catwoman is somewhat dated twenty seven years on, her legacy is obvious, especially in the action genre.

10) Villanelle, Killing Eve 

Villanelle is capable, ruthless and flamboyant. There’s nothing she can’t handle. Child-like and petulant as well, Villanelle made a splash because she is the epitome of modern antiheroes … A bad gal so bad, we kinda want her to literally kill Eve!

What Writers Can Learn

  • Key qualities. Notice how many of the female characters here use manipulation and logic to get what they want. Even when they use violence as well, their intellect and ability to adapt are key. Many of them are ruthless and have unshakable motivations and/or beliefs too. I think these are all key qualities in antiheroes, regardless of gender.
  • The ‘Gone Girl Effect’. Amy Dunne might not have been the first female antihero/antagonist, but she made a huuuuuuuuge cultural impact. Thanks to her, the industry is taking complex female leads in a variety of role functions seriously at last.
  • Whiter than white. Female characters – of any kind – are still white approx 95% of the time. Where are the women of colour, generally? When there are BAME female leads, they nearly always black. More Asian (East and South) representation is needed. More on race in screenplays.
  • Negative characters? Some writers worry about representing female characters (especially women of colour) ‘negatively’. These writers will point to Twitter as ‘evidence’ that such characters are ‘bad’. But there’s nothing inherently malicious about writing antagonists. All stories need them, plus the fact audiences actually LOVE and relate to complex characters like antiheroes back this up. Male characters can become icons, regardless of role function or motivation in the story. True equality in representation is not solely about ‘positive role models’, plus it’s worth remembering that even archetypal heroes can get things wrong in stories.
  • LGBT. We’re seeing more gay representation in female characterisation as standard. However, it’s still rare to see trans women (especially in genre) and bisexual women generally. When we do see lesbians, they usually present as femme, rather than butch. Some writers worry about stereotypes here, but butch presentation exists in reality. Also, given there is a total LACK of butch representation in media, this does not apply.
  • Disability. As with pretty much all diversity representation in stories, there’s a complete lack of female disabled characters. Furiosa is not enough on her own!
  • Motivations. Complex and relatable motivations for both female antagonists and antiheroes are a MUST for modern audiences. The notion of the bad guy or gal with a nonsensical plan is OVER. MORE: 23 Powerful Examples of Character Motivation

Love Enigmatic Female Leads Too?

Then check out my latest novel, Never Have I EverMy protagonist, Samantha, is hiding something from her past. But what is it?

20 Years Ago

Four teenagers discover a new game.They add their own rules, going from sharing secrets to sharing firsts. Then it all goes spiralling out of control …

Now

… A woman gets a note through her door which chills her blood: Never have I ever been punished for what I have done.’ She thought this was over. But it looks like it’s her turn to play. Because no matter how far it goes, you have to obey the rules of the game … And the game is never really over. BUY THE BOOK HERE

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