The Perfect Scene

The perfect spec screenplay or unpublished novel is a sum of ALL its parts. Yet the average spec screenwriter or author will drastically underestimate how important individual scenes are in their plot construction, whatever they’re writing.

This new B2W infographic puts the perfect scene under the spotlight. Check out these 6 questions to ask yourself to craft perfect scenes in your next rewrite. Note these tips apply to both screenwriters AND novelists. Ready? Let’s go …

1) How Does The Scene Open? (Visuals)

First off, you need to think about your opening image … What do we SEE first? Too many spec screenplays start with something readers have seen waaaay too many times before. Each and every scene, from beginning to end, needs to HOOK our interest. Screenwriting is a visual medium, after all.

Novelists, you’re not let off the hook either! As veteran writer Elmore Leonard stipulated, ‘never start a chapter with the weather’ (ie. ‘It was a dark and stormy night’. Ugh!). Also, check out popular books in your genre or niche and see how the good ones open. Just because you’re writing a novel does NOT mean great visuals are off the table.

2) Where Does The Scene Open? (Story)

This is about timing. Here we’re thinking, ‘Why NOW?’ Sometimes, it’s obvious … the catalyst for this scene or part of the story happens right this second. After all, if the serial killer, ghosts or kidnapper has just struck, then obviously your characters are in peril, so need to react in this scene.

Other times, it’s not so obvious. This is especially true of genres where a protagonist must make some kind of decision to do something, such as in drama or in other storyworlds where the ‘norm’ is already well-established.

An example: why does Furiosa take the war rig off-road from the citadel now in MAD MAX FURY ROAD? After all, she’s been enslaved for decades and has as good standard of living a woman can in this storyworld. Some would argue she’s mad to risk it.

But ultimately, not only is the Gas Run only once a month, her friend Angharad is about to give birth. This means Furiosa has a very small window of opportunity to enact the escape, taking as many women as she can with her.

In other words, perfect scenes hook us via a combination of characterisation and plotting. We are as confused as Furiosa’s accompanying War Boys when she goes off-road at first. As they say, ‘What’s going on Boss?’ Boom!

3) Where Does The Scene End? Why?

We all know the well-known screenwriting adage, ‘Start late, finish early’. We don’t want or need endless chunks of recapping to remind us what us been going on in previous scenes. Equally, we don’t want to be told what is going to happen next. That is a given, hence the ‘start late’.

By finishing ‘early’ then, think of it as a kind of cliffhanger that takes us into the next scene. As BLADE RUNNER’s Hampton Fancher said in a recent B2W article, ‘How do you get a person, a reader, a character to care about what happens next? For one thing, by something about to happen next.’

4) How Long Is It? (Pages)

In screenwriting, I find a good perimeter is this:

  1. ‘Ordinary’ scene? = up to 1 page
  2. ‘Extraordinary scene’? = up to 3 pages

Obviously it’s just a guideline, but check out my language choice there – ‘UP TO’. What’s more, scenes are by and by nearly always ‘too long’ … This is why they end up as chains of dialogue.  Think instead, ‘what you see is what you get’ and always substitute visuals for dialogue wherever possible.

When it comes to novels, it’s slightly different. You may think ‘1 scene = 1 chapter’, or you may mix timelines at will and have the equivalent of several scenes within one chapter. (For those wondering, I tend to favour very short chapters, accommodating lots of different timelines, which means I often end up with a ‘mixture’ of scenes in my chapters).

Whatever you choose, don’t leave it to accident over design. Make sure you focus your scenes, so we know exactly what we are supposed to get out of it. I use visual representations and plotting worksheets LIKE THIS ONE to do this.

5) Can It Be Shorter?

Exactly what it says on the tin. The fact is, when it comes to both screenwriting and novel writing, scribes tend to overwrite as the standard. I am frequently saying to Bang2writers ‘You can cut this by halves or even two thirds and it will do the same job.’


In terms of cutting back ‘story fat’ then, figure out what your perfect scene is supposed to DO. More on this, next.

6) How Does it: i) push story forward? ii) reveal character?

A perfect scene does 2 things, as listed above:

  1. It pushes the story forward. Heard writers, producers, filmmakers, agents, publishers talking about scenes ‘pulling their weight’? This means that each moment or beat in your story needs to add up to the whole. In other words, the scene must add to the characters’ respective missions and demonstrate their journey. For examples of great scenes, CLICK HERE.
  2. Reveal character. B2W often says ‘character and story need to go in hand in hand’. This means we need to see characters plunged into situations in the story and dealing with various issues or problems in order to understand who they are. So in your perfect scene, character behaviour must always trump dialogue.

Good Luck!

Want MORE Script Reading Secrets?

My annual 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?? Join us on June 23-22nd, 2019 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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Most-Hit On B2W

I ran a round-up of the most popular articles on Bang2write during 2018 at Christmas last year. It was a fascinating list. There were a few surprises, but it was revealed the average Bang2writer is most likely a screenwriter (though the numbers of authors and freelance writers on the site is growing, year on year).

Ultimately, the list showed Bang2writers are still most interested in script reading, submissions tips, screenplay format, good social media use, plot construction, characterisation and the first ten pages. Read that first list, HERE.

With all this in mind, I decided to look at the numbers for the most-hit and popular articles on B2W of all time. Though there’s some duplication, there are some interesting additions and omissions too.

B2W’s Popular Posts Of All Time

Without further do then, here’s the list – it’s worth a bookmark! Please pass it on to your writer friends and followers, B2W is counting on you …



21 – 30

31 – 40

41 – 50

Don’t forget to check out the B2W Resources page for all your writing needs. If you want to chat to other writers, be sure to join us in the B2W Facebook group.

Lastly of all, did you know there’s now a B2W instagram, new for 2019? Check it out, HERE.

Good Luck With Your Writing!

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What Is ‘Emotional Truth’?

Industry pro or audience member, it seems everyone wants emotional truth in writing. But what is this? We hear a lot about the fabled writer’s voice, or the more vague notion of writers having ‘something to say’. But frequently this just is not enough to guide writers. So I sat down and gave it some thought.

In my book, Writing And Selling Drama Screenplays, I defined ’emotional truth’ as:

The part of the story that values the honesty and integrity of emotion, via authenticity, passion and pain. 

Let’s break this definition down some more.

Passion, Pain, Authenticity

Passion and pain are obvious choices when thinking about emotional truth. When it comes to passion, literally no writer sets out to tell a boring story, for starters. That would be absurd. We need passion to keep us going whilst writing; we also need that passion to hook a reader or viewer’s interest. If we don’t love our own stories and characters, we are hacks.

I think of pain as a kind of umbrella term. Pain may be literal, or metaphorical, or both. Drama is conflict. So the ‘pain’ in the story mean trouble, injustice, frustration, struggle. Every character and story comes from this place, even (especially?) comedy.

In contrast, ‘authenticity’ is the buzzword of the moment. It’s for this reason ‘Own Voices’ narratives are so popular, because they are about first-hand experiences. It stands to reason that a writer with more personal knowledge would have more credibility writing about the struggles they have faced.

Though this might seem common-sense, this has not always been the case … What’s more, for all the whinging online about diversity by aggrieved writers like Lionel Shriver, it is still not the standard now. Men still write women’s stories as standard. White people tell the stories of people of colour. Straight people of the LGBT community’s. Non-disabled people tell disabled people’s stories … And so on.

This is why the notion of ‘cultural appropriation’ is part of the conversation. Effectively, we are talking about  highjacking others’ experiences and passing them off as our own. But by the same token, insisting diverse writers ONLY write ‘Own Voices’ narratives would also be an issue. We would be forcing them into a box, saying their experience is the only thing of value they offer. This, too, is absurd.

We can’t swing the pendulum from one end of the scale to the other. Like anything, there must be some balance. This is why Vinay Patel’s recent thoughts on what he calls ‘due diligence’ really rang home for me when I interviewed him recently for B2W. Whilst he said his heritage definitely helped the emotional truth of his storytelling in his episode of Doctor Who, he also said:

‘It would be naïve of me to assume I know what it’s like to be a rural farmer in India in 1947, because I don’t.’

So in other words, ‘Own Voices’ is a good step forward, but can’t be everything. As Vinay says, anyone can write whatever they want, provided they do their due diligence and achieve authenticity.


But HOW do we achieve authenticity? Lots of writers want to write diverse characters and stories, but worry a lot about recycling various stereotypes and stigma unthinkingly. It’s hard to know what we don’t know, after all. What if we accidentally end up perpetuating cheesy nonsense, BS messages and even harmful tropes?

But the key word there is ‘unthinkingly’. The fact is, the more we research, the more we realise what has been done too much. We start to notice the stigmas and stereotypes that adversely affect certain communities’ lives. We open our minds and stop centering ourselves 24/7. This means we start to see their lives through their eyes, instead of as outsiders.

It also means we are less likely to drop clangers like THESE mistakes, or THESE. In short, we start to empathise. This is good writing, which frankly all good writers should want.

Authenticity Vs. Accuracy

Of course, when we empathise, we may end up nitpicking our own stories and characters too much. We may worry that various story worlds, jobs, experiences etc are not ‘realistic enough’ or just plain ‘inaccurate’. The endless waves of people online whinging about so-called plotholes may make us even more anxious.

But notions of authenticity and emotional truth are  not about so-called accuracy. Narrative logic is about everything making sense within that story world and the characters within it. When it comes to storytelling, you sometimes need to sacrifice facts for drama. As writers, we must make our peace with this, plus the fact there will always be people who say our stories are ‘inaccurate’.

It comes down to this: NO story can please everyone. But as long as you have done your research properly,  truly listening and empathising with people from that community, you are fine.


To achieve emotional truth in your writing, you need to do the following:

  • Make sure you ‘break story’. Think about WHY you want to write this story. Why are you so passionate about it? What is the pain (aka struggle, problem, trouble, frustration, injustice etc)  you want to write about?
  • Reject cheesy overdone stuff, as well as stereotype, stigma, prejudice about your subject matter. (This may mean having to discover what these are first, in order to avoid them).
  • Do your due diligence. Empathise with the community behind your subject matter. Don’t just take one idea or one story and run with it; collect them. Do this sensitively, don’t randomly bombard people online and in real life with questions. Educate yourself.
  • Create your own story. Don’t hijack.

Good Luck!

Want MORE Script Reading Secrets?

My annual 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?? Join us on June 23-22nd, 2019 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!!!

For B2W offers and free stuff first, join my EMAIL LIST

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Let’s take a look at some influential science fiction female leads and see how we can use them in our writing.  Here’s some strong, complex creations … None of them scream, faint or need rescuing. They’re the ones getting the job done. These 9 are my personal trail-blazers of female science fiction. Let’s go!

1) Princess Leia

We had already seen earlier in Star Wars that Leia could handle herself. The way she dealt with Vader and Tarkin after she was captured showed us that. But it was when Han Solo and Luke came to rescue her that Leia became so much more than a conventional damsel in distress. By taking over what had been seen as the male role, rescuing herself and generally wise-cracking her way out of trouble, she created a whole new type of character.

Write Tip: Change the action around! Get your characters doing what nobody (even the other characters) expects. If you can get the reader wondering ‘Where did that come from?’, you’re halfway there.

2) Ellen Ripley

The ultimate case of the quiet one, a by-the-book member of the crew … Yet she turned out to be the baddest of the bunch. She could fight if she had to, but that wasn’t what she was all about. Ripley had heart, integrity. A woman who could rise to challenges and one-line with the best of them.

Ripley displayed a range of emotion beyond a science fiction action hero. Ripley wasn’t snappily dressed, or the Hollywood idea of a conventional female character when she first appeared but that didn’t matter … In fact, this added to her appeal. She was anyone who saw wrong and wanted to sort it.

Write Tip: A character’s journey can start with the triggering of an emotion. It creates empathy with the reader or viewer; everyone relates to them. Identify a strong one and probe it with a sharp stick.

3) Sarah Connor

Sarah had a journey too, from timid waitress to protector, to fugitive soldier. Events, as they had with Ripley, changed her. While learning you’re the mother to the leader of the resistance in the future would be enough to change anyone, Sarah handles it.

If the movie had been made in earlier days, Sarah would be screaming and fainting and waiting for rescue. Instead, she proved she could do whatever was needed to keep the people she loved safe. And while she was about it, she showed us that just about anyone could do it too, if they ever had to.

Write Tip: What doesn’t kill a character makes them adapt. Give them a logical reason to change, a vision of what could be if they do.

Science Fiction Was Never The Same Again

Thanks to these three, the world of science fiction would never be the same. It was as if the genre had cottoned on to what a lot of people knew to be true. Real women could be the focus of a story! Not just one-dimensional eye candy or a motivator for men.

These women were strong and capable. They were in control, and they did it all with a witty reposte, just to remind you that they had the answer and they weren’t afraid to lead the way. They weren’t just female versions of the male action hero with martial arts and big guns (although they could do that as well). No, they had backstory, baggage. It made them human, believable, even aspirational.

Let’s take a quick look at a few more …

 4) Sarah Jane Smith

Doctor Who companion, nosy journalist and one of the first to use her wits and intuition over muscle and firepower. As well as being totally fearless, she was one of the team, redefining the role from that of helpless decoration to one of strong equal. And doing it with an opinion.

Write Tip: Every partnership has a hero and a trusty sidekick, two parts of a whole character. Why not give the sidekick the real power (the hero need never know)?

5) Dana Scully

She was the rational sceptic to Mulder’s excitable believer, the woman of science, sent to debunk and explain. Probably the greatest reason for the show’s success, her dogged determination to find an explanation left you wondering just where the truth ended. Although not averse to action, she proved that you could be just as effective with a computer or a test tube.

Writers tip: Every story needs a basis infact, once you convince the reader that you know what you’re talking about, they’ll follow your fiction.

6) Olivia Dunham

Another intelligent one, with the baggage that made her the ideal choice to investigate the fringes. Like Scully, the quiet voice of calm when it’s all going crazy.  Reserved but with purpose and empathy, unmoved by the revelations unfolding before her. And she had a double in an alternative universe, which is pretty cool.

Write Tip: Once you’ve got your fact out of the way, always remember; nothing has to be true, but everything has to sound true.

7) Andorra Pett

Andorra who? I hear you ask. Well, she’s my creation, my contribution to the genre. Andorra’s an amateur detective for the space age. She’s a person more on the thinking side of things, independent and initially unaware of how clever she is. Out of her depth at the start, as Andorra’s story progresses, she learns so much about herself. What’s more, in the process, as have so many before her, she changes. She finds the strength to survive and the courage to grow.

Write Tip: Never be afraid to take your character (and your reader) out of their comfort zone. Their reactions might surprise both of you.

8) Kaylee Frye

An engineer, and why not? Women can do anything. Resourceful and yet naïve; dependable and vulnerable, all at once. As well as keeping Serenity running; she was the glue that held the crew together, loved by everyone. To top it all, she knew what a Crazy Ivan was!

Write Tip: Having engineers or other specialists in your cast gives you the ability to impart backstory in conversation, even in the middle of the action. A few short sentences between characters is so much better than pages of boring facts.

9) Kathryn Janeway

Starship commander and breaker of rules. In the same way that a man had to do what a man had to do, it was her job to keep everyone together and get them home. If the means justified the end, she was willing to try it. Sometimes emotional, sometimes calm, always adaptable, like any good commander.

Write Tip: You need a focal point, a constant. It can be part of your setting, a place or an object. Or it could be a dependable character, a rock in an ocean of uncertainty.

Which are your faves? Let me know!

BIO: I’m Richard Dee, as well as the Andorra Pett series, I write Sci-fi and Steampunk adventures. My website is Head over there to see what I get up to, you’ll find free short stories, regular features on writing, book reviews and guest appearances from other great authors. There’s even a bit of cookery! I’m on Facebook at RichardDeeAuthor  and Twitter at Richard Dee Sci-Fi

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What Is Character Motivation?

Characters need a motivation for their behaviour in screenplays and novels. But what is character motivation? I like this definition from Reedsy:

‘Character motivation is the reason behind a character’s behaviours and actions in a given scene or throughout a story. Motivations are intrinsic needs: they might be external needs and relate to survival, but they might also be psychological or existential needs, such as love or professional achievement.’

Breaking it down then, good characterisation refers to WHO (the character); WHAT (their behaviour); and WHY (character motivation).

Character Motivation In Movies And Novels

With the above in mind then, in many genres and types of stories, character motivations are obvious:

  • In ALIEN and DIE HARD, both Ripley and John McClane need to survive. In addition, both feel a sense of responsibility and/or love to both their crewmates and family respectively. This leads to Ripley saving the ship’s cat Jones (she can save nothing else). McClane puts his life in further danger to save his wife Holly, even though he has effectively freed all the other hostages.

Other motivations are not so obvious, because they are existential needs:

  • In LEGALLY BLONDE, Elle goes to college to study law simply because her boyfriend goes and she wants to get him back. Over the course of the narrative, she realises she doesn’t need her boyfriend after all. In addition, she will discover she is not only exceptionally talented at law, everyone else will realise it too and that they have judged her unfairly.

Sometimes, external needs and existential needs will collide:

  • In my novel, The Other Twin, my protagonist Poppy refuses to accept her younger sister India killed herself. So Poppy embarks on a quest for the truth (existential need), which starts online with India’s blog … Which in turn then takes Poppy into a lion’s den of potential danger that puts her own life on the line (external need – survival).

23 Character Motivations

In the infographic above, I have listed 23 potential examples of character motivation. Some are existential; some are external. (There are obviously lots more than 23, but these cover some of the most common).

You will also see I have included role function, archetype and trope here, all integral parts of characterisation. This is why they are at the bottom of the graphic, as its ‘foundations’. Remember, role function covers stuff like protagonist, antagonist, secondaries, peripherals. For more in-depth info on all this, check out the links in this post and my book, Writing Diverse Characters For Fiction, TV Or Film.

I have also grouped character motivations into specific categories. Some are good motivations; others are bad; some are neutral. ALL are powerful enough to have acted as catalysts for some of the best characters of all time in produced and published content.

Now ask yourself …

• What is your protagonist’s motivation? Is it external? Existential? Both?

• What is your antagonist’s motivation for trying to stop him/her?

• What are your secondary characters’ motivations for helping or hindering your protagonist?

Good Luck!

Want MORE Script Reading Secrets?

My annual 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?? Join us on June 23-22nd, 2019 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!!!

For B2W offers and free stuff first, join my EMAIL LIST

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The Wall Will Tell You 

I had the pleasure of chatting with Hampton Fancher recently. He’s the screenwriter of the iconic sci fi movie Blade Runner (1982) and its sequel, Blade Runner 2049, which was one of my fave movies of 2017. I am one lucky blogger! Hampton is quite the raconteur, so our conversation was everything I hoped it would be. I had so much fun; I think he started interviewing ME at one point!

Hampton’s book,  The Wall Will Tell You came out last week. It is not your classic screenwriting book, but something quite special. I like to think of it as a ‘Zen of Screenwriting’. Hampton shares his insights and top tips in short paragraphs that connect with your creative soul to encourage you to come up with your OWN viewpoint on the craft. I love it! Plus at only 80 pages you can read it very quickly. I am already referring back to it and adding my own annotations in the margins.

To celebrate the book’s publishing then, I thought I would pick out my favourite snippets from the book to discuss with Hampton. Since 7 is the magic number, here’s seven of Hampton’s top tips, plus some further extra thoughts, just for B2W. BUY THE BOOK HERE (USA) or HERE (UK), or follow the links at the bottom of the article. Enjoy!

 1) Art doesn’t explain, it demonstrates.

As a script reader and script editor, the truth of this from Hampton’s book really hit me square in the eyes. He explains more:

‘Ninety-nine per cent of scripts are intolerable,’ Hampton says. ‘I’ve read lots of scripts, even by smart people, where this is the case. So it’s a defensive move to say, ‘You didn’t get it’. We don’t want to correct our mistakes.’

I can relate to this. As a writer, I so often feel like this. I don’t want to edit, but crucially, I know I have to. ‘Writing is rewriting’, after all.

As a script reader and editor, I can see the same in the eyes of my writers. So often I will tell writers, ‘I wasn’t sure what was happening with your characters, why they were doing what they were doing’ and they will reply, ‘Oh you didn’t read it properly.’

My thoughts when I hear this:‘Really? I read all day, every day. Maybe you didn’t write it properly.’ But what is writing ‘properly’? Back to Hampton:

‘A good story is self-evident. Most bad screenplays, it’s because of there’s too much exposition … Not enough DOING. It’s about action. We are attracted to the subtle of character in film, the physical presence.’

TOP TIP: Craft is everything. A ‘good story, well told’ may mean different things to different people, but the basic building blocks are the same – concept, character, structure.

 2) More of one thing, instead of ten different things.

Sturges said scripts are a diagram, not literature. That doesn’t mean screenplays can’t be a fun read, or use metaphors.’

It sounds like Hampton is talking about ‘writer’s voice’ here. Hampton confirms it, citing The Coen Brothers, William Goldman and Tarantino as all having strong voices … and doing something new with them:

‘They’re standing on the greats of film history, almost falling off the shoulders of their predecessors and building on that.’

TOP TIP: Know where you are and what has gone before … AND bring something new to the table.

3) Draw a tree of your story. Climb the tree.

Hampton’s vision relates to the metaphysical AND practical: ‘You have to look where you’re going, when you climb a tree. It’s playful, but you will fall if you don’t grab the next branch. We’ve all done the cards on the wall, the forty scenes, you have to visualise and assimilate … But you don’t want to go too far either as that is the antithesis of creativity.’

I can relate to this. As a script reader, I HATE the scripts that treat structure as a page-counting exercise. Hampton agrees: ‘It becomes a straitjacket, too corporate.’

TOP TIP: Structure is everything in screenwriting, but don’t treat it as a formula, but a framework – like a tree! There are lots of different types of trees after all, plus no individual tree is the same as another one.

 4) How do you get a person, a reader, a character to care about what happens next? For one thing, by something about to happen next.  

‘I think here I am talking here about anticipation,’ Hampton says. ‘There’s going to be trouble in the story. If a story is a journey from A to B, there’s going to be trouble on the way to B. If you’ve not got that? Then people are not turning the pages with enthusiasm.’

This reminds me of the writing adage, ‘characters are what they DO’. So often writers get caught up in back story, trying to find a ‘reason’ to make audiences care about the character … They will offer up traumatic pasts, try and make us pity or admire them that way.

But we need to invest in the character’s journey. This means we need to see the character’s responses to the events of the plot, what’s happening *now* in the story. ‘Writers need an objective AND an impediment in a good story,’ Hampton says.

TOP TIP: Drama is conflict, so what trouble can your characters run into and why? What is getting in their way of obtaining their goal?

5) The rats of banality. Make sure not even one is hiding in your work.

‘This one is kind of a note to self,’ Hampton says. ‘‘The ‘rats of banality’ refer to those supposed profundities. Those times I thought I was being innovative, hip, but I was an idiot of my times. It’s a way of saying, ‘kill your darlings, or your babies’.’

I like this, because ‘rats’ seem easier to kill than ‘darlings’ or ‘babies’! Very often spec screenplays have quite ‘novelistic’ scene description, something Hampton also has an opinion on: ‘It’s a good idea to be simple, rather than writing rich, baroque prose.’

Does Hampton have any specific writers who do this well? ‘Elmore Leonard was very instructive, like taking a tommy gun to my writing. I also read the screenplay of ALIEN, that really opened my eyes.’  

TOP TIP: Hunt down those rats – as Elmore said, ‘If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.’

6) Imagination is a greedy little pig that needs to be hand-fed. Fatten the pig.

‘All of us love research, ripping off the world for our stories, that’s a given.’ Hampton says, ‘But it’s also about having a little humility, thinking ‘Wait a minute, maybe I am not as good as I think.’

‘There are so many rules,’ Hampton says, ‘If you don’t follow them, you’re fucked. If you DO follow them … You’re also fucked.’

But how can writers do all this? Hampton has some suggestions:

‘They need to step outside themselves, take some chances … Have more fun in their mind’s eye, get down in the trenches with it. Thinking ‘What if …’, acting out, fucking around. Unlock the prison of yourself.’

Is Hampton advocating NOT ‘writing what you know’? No, Hampton explains:

‘It’s not even write what you don’t know, there may be things you don’t even know you know, waiting in the dark of you. You have to find it.’

TOP TIP: Don’t take the first ideas for stories and characters that come to you. Think, ‘Why this story?’.

 7) If you’re not in love with words, why are you writing?

Hampton’s route to screenwriting is unusual and (in his words), unlikely: ‘I’m dyslexic, not educated. I didn’t go to school. I moved around a lot and was a lonely American child in Europe.’

So many writers start like this, feeling like an outsider. I know I did. But there are a number of happy accidents that bring so many of us to the craft.

‘A woman told me, ‘You gotta start reading,’”Hampton says, ‘So I did … I started writing poetry. I became an actor. Another actor I was working with was writing a screenplay for a studio. I thought, ‘I wish I could do that’.”

But if there’s one important tip Hampton could impart to the Bang2writers?

‘I thought I was a writer,’ he says.

TOP TIP: Mindset is everything. You ARE a writer.

Thanks, Hampton!

Don’t forget you can buy Hampton’s book, The Wall Will Tell You HERE (USA) or HERE (UK). 

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Previously On B2W …

Comedy is super-popular amongst us Bang2writers. So Dave Cohen aka @davecohencomedy is back, this time with 5 MORE Mistakes Comedy Writers Make. Dave really knows his stuff, so is well worth a follow on Twitter and

Miss the last one on this topic? Then CLICK HERE. Enjoy, comedy writers – and good luck if you enter the BBC Comedy Window. Over to you, Dave …

It’s That Time Of Year Again!

The BBC Comedy Window opens on April Fool’s Day, and you’ve got until 29 April to hone your budding scripts into comedy gold. Last year James Cary and I interviewed Simon Nelson and Amanda Farley of BBC Writersroom who provided stacks of information and helpful advice for how best to go about entering the competition.  Check it out, HERE.

Meanwhile, let’s concentrate on avoiding the unnecessary mistakes that writers at every level in the profession make, all the time.

1) You Forget The Basics

Every now and then a show comes along, smashes up the building and questions everything we thought we knew. The Goon Show, Hancock, Young Ones, Ab Fab changed comedy for ever.

I understand the urge to want to break everything and start again. Comedy involves surprising your audience, and every time you see someone telling you “the rules” your instinct is to say “sod the rules.” But Aristotle wrote Poetics more than 2,000 years ago and they’ve worked for 99% of all the stories ever written so far. You should at least accept that if it was good enough for Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Tolstoy and Nora Ephron (among others!) then it’s at least worth your consideration.

Also, it’s not difficult. To paraphrase the great philosopher-writer-student of Plato-zoologist, and inventor of the phrase “multi-task” himself:

Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. A big thing happens at the end of the beginning, which takes us to the middle, complications build until another big thing happens, the biggest so far, which takes us to the end, and out of the story as fast as we can make it.

MORE: 14 Masters of Comedy Share Their Secrets

2) You Forget What Makes Comedy Different From Drama

In drama, our hero or heroine comes out the other end, they’ve learned their lesson. Catharsis, as Aristotle calls it. Comedy characters never learn. They make the same mistake every week. Or like Basil Fawlty, instead of saying “next week I won’t lie”, he says “next week I’ll lie better so I don’t get found out.”

This information isn’t helpful when we’re being told to put more drama into our comedy. It’s a direct contradiction. If a character can’t grow how can we do that? That’s the challenge, and writers are beginning to rise to it.

Phil Dunphy, the wannabe all-American superdad in Modern Family, learns in every episode that he’ll never be happy trying to be something he isn’t. But he unlearns that lesson every week, because that’s what we’re like when we’re in the thick of family life.

Cold Feet remains principally the story of five people who never learn from their mistakes. Instead, each series there are issues much bigger than the individual characters that stretch them and their relationships to breaking point … Debt, mental health, breast cancer and more.

3) You Forget To Care

I read dozens of scripts every year. No matter how much I bang on about this the first note is invariably: NOT ENOUGH JEOPARDY. I was at the London Book Fair this week and in a light bulb moment saw for the first time what novel editors take for granted – a graph that plots tension against time.

It’s a simple visual representation of a rising line signifying a story moving forward, important plot moments increasing the tension at regular intervals until around three quarters of the way through, when we reach the point of maximum tension. Simply looking at the graph was enough to produce a knot in my stomach.

4) You Second Guess The Commissioners

Recently there’s been a call from Comedy Commissioners for “more comedy drama”, and a lively debate around the question “what the hell do you mean by comedy drama?” This was followed by a series of responses from Comedy Commissioners along the lines of “Er… dunno.”

We can look at the glut of shows that have arrived this month and get a sense of what was making them excited when they made that call. They’ll have known about returning series of much-praised debuts Fleabag, Soft Border Patrol (BBC), Time Wasters (ITV) and Derry Girls (Channel 4). There’s a new BBC1 Alan Partridge; Warren (BBC1); Home (C4), After Life by Ricky Gervais on Netflix, and Almost Never on CBBC.

Most are writer-performer led, and not a single one is made in front of an audience. Also, you can sense that part of what they mean by comedy-drama is comedy dealing with contemporary issues: Brexit and Syrian refugees both feature, while Fleabag and Almost Never are ‘of the moment’.

There are loads of new or new-ish shows covering a range of subjects. And the only reason there are no studio sitcoms is because nobody has sent in a script in the last couple of years considered strong enough to turn into a series.

BBC Writersroom insist they’re looking for audience shows. They don’t get enough of them, so go ahead, write one. Make it as funny as you can, which brings me to the final mistake …

5) Not Enough Jokes

If you’ve been watching After Life and I say “fish fingers” you’ll know what I mean. Even in a show this bleak there are some brilliant laugh-out-loud moments.

Often, in the excitement of getting your new characters onto the page, you forget what it was that drew you into wanting to write comedy. Something unexpected happened in a show that made you laugh, and you wanted more than anything to be the person who could think up those moments.

There are few thorough analyses of what jokes are, I have some chapters in my forthcoming book The Complete Comedy Writer. Denis Norden called them “the momentary removal of sympathy.” George Orwell called each joke “a tiny revolution”.

However you define jokes, make sure you have plenty of them. If that BBC Writersroom reader is laughing, they’ll want to read more. MORE8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Comedy Screenplay DEAD

Good luck!

If you’d like to receive notes on your comedy submission contact Dave for details, HERE.

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Writing Challenges

We all have challenges to our writing. In today’s world we all live busy, hectic lives and sometimes it can feel impossible to finish writing what we started. But what about those of us who face extra obstacles or challenges that can make writing a page feel like writing War and Peace?

Exploring diversity and the need for equal opportunities in today’s world, I have interviewed 10 writers with mental health issues, disabilities or special learning needs. Each sharing their own unique stories, they have offered up some advice for other writers. Here’s what they all had to say.

1) ‘Be honest about what you can and can’t do’

– Rachael Howard, writer with ME

‘I am pretty well housebound, so the internet is my lifeline. My main problem is lack of mobility and my condition is unpredictable, I can book a trip then have to cancel the morning of travelling because of the pain. This makes me appear unreliable.”

‘I have to be honest about what I can and can’t do. I have had meetings and been mentored via skype and deadlines have been shifted for me. It is a good judge of how the person is if they are prepared to be flexible.’

‘I have worked with two production companies successfully. In each case there are members of the company who are also disabled. They get my issues and work around them with me. I have learned to ask for help. Not easy to do.’

TOP TIP: Don’t be afraid to be honest. Let people know what you can and can’t do. If they run a mile they are not someone you would want to work with. Use the internet. Most people will happily Facetime or Skype.

 2) ‘Use software and ask others for help’

– Rachael’s daughter, writer with Autism, Dyslexia and Dyscalculia (Rachael’s daughter was happy to be included anonymously)

‘It is even more tricky for my daughter, she cannot interact with people at all unless she knows them well. She uses software to help with grammar and spelling or passes it to me regularly to read it. She uses online a lot for research. She can’t ask questions of people, but she can read what they write.’

TOP TIP: Don’t be afraid to ask for help with your various challenges. It will surprise you how much help is out there. Don’t apologise for what you can’t do. The industry needs to adapt to you.

3) ‘Use the speech function on your computer and audiobooks’

 – Nigel Auchterlonie, writer with Dyslexia

In his own words, Nigel describes accepting that he wasn’t the brightest kid at school, despite thinking he should be achieving better grades. However, Nigel enjoyed a successful career working on Dandy comics and works to this day as a professional writer. Finally, in his thirties Nigel was diagnosed with Dyslexia.

Nigel says he finds writing much easier than reading. If you struggle reading your work back, Nigel advises using the speech function on your computer. Hearing the computer read the text aloud makes it clearer and guarantees an accurate reading. Similarly, rather than giving up on reading books, listen to audiobooks instead.

TOP TIP: Don’t let yourself be labelled as ‘bad’ at something. If you enjoy it, keep doing it. As Nigel proves, you just might make a very successful career out of it!

4) ‘Keep your mind busy and don’t delete anything’

Bay VanMeter, writer with Depression and Anxiety

‘I write to keep my mind and body busy, and when I get in those dark days I get a darker more emotional style of writing that paints a picture for the reader.”

‘Don’t delete anything, keep writing and keep trying because one day you will look back and be grateful that you didn’t give up. It also helps to have something that is yours, something you can escape into.’

TOP TIP: Dealing with challenges can be dispiriting, which means you may make decisions you regret in the heat of the moment. So don’t delete anything! You will always be glad you didn’t give up.

5) ‘Do whatever it takes to get feeling positive again’

 – Josh Merritt, scriptwriter with Asperger’s, Dyspraxia and Sleep Apnoea

‘I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and Dyspraxia when I was around 5. I also have Sleep Apnoea and lack of good sleep can severely affect my mood, stamina and memory. I get very stressed when I forget an idea.’

‘The autism helps with hyper-focus and obsessive attention-to-detail. But it can hold me back in terms of making me feel like I am not achieving emotions on the page. I can be extremely overwhelmed by self-analysis and judgement. Nit-picking every little thing.’

‘Listening to music and dancing gets me feeling positive, full of enthusiastic energy and inspiration. The brain starts to flow because of the flush of endorphins, I presume.’

TOP TIP: Forget about your challenges by finding  what gets your endorphins flowing again. Then do it!

 6) ‘Seek Help When You Need It’

Anonymous, writer with Depression, Social Anxiety and Panic Attacks

‘I have Depression, social anxiety and have had panic attacks all my adult life. I am struggling to overcome it. It affects my writing because slowly over time my anxiety kills the creativity and confidence and I end up with nothing left.’

TOP TIP: ‘My advice for other writers if you struggle, seek help.’

7) ‘Just Keep Trucking’

Shaquwanna Long, writer with Schizophrenia

‘I have Schizophrenia and it sucks. The medicine slowed my memory and creativity. Ideas used to just come to me but now I have to put forth effort and seek out ideas’.

‘Just keep trucking, don’t stop taking your meds but find what works for you and outsmart your meds. Music helps me greatly. Just know that you’re not alone that there are others out here who know your struggle and we are more than willing to give you a helping hand.’

TOP TIP: Remember you are not alone.

8) ‘Your disability can actually help you’

– Jemma Callander, writer with Dyslexia

Discovering her dyslexia as an English undergraduate, Jemma initially questioned her career aspirations. Then something interesting happened.

‘Over time, and with education, I realised that labelling my disability actually helped me to understand the way I think and, in turn, the way I write.’

‘As a journalist, I now take a Dictaphone with me wherever I go (or iPhone notes). Old school, but it helps me remember interviews I’ve conducted and acts as an oral notepad.’

TOP TIP: Use technology to help – even old school tech! Whatever works.

9) ‘Just keep going’

Dal Cecil Runo, partially blind writer with Depression and Anxiety

‘I’m a partially blind writer (I can still see something, but use a magnifier glass or Roboreader.) I have a whole different process of how I go about drafting my novels. I outline in detail, and I try my best to write as clean as I can possibly produce at the time. I’m blind, I can’t afford to edit it later, so I edit as I go.’

‘How do I overcome this? I don’t. I simply try my best to keep going. I have terrible sleep patterns so I turned that into ‘Let’s write til I drop’ mechanism. It works.’

TOP TIP: What works for most people may not work for you, so find what will.

10) ‘Trust Yourself and your process’

 – Nathan Hamilton, writer with PTSD and a perfectionist nature

‘I struggle with PTSD and a perfectionist spirit when it comes to my writing. Sometimes, I’m so determined to have everything mapped out logically and correctly that it takes the fun and creativity straight out.’

‘I overcome this by scheduling my time better and try to write as the scene hits my head. I carry a writer’s journal with me so I can keep the pure inspiration before I turn my analytical brain onto it. I jot down sound-bites and snippets, then edit after I’ve added it. Trust yourself, your heart and your creative process!’

TOP TIP: Keep a writer’s notebook handy, or use your phone. You don’t have to sit in front of your laptop all the time.

Last Thoughts

A huge thank you to all of the writers interviewed! There’s lots to learn here for ALL Bang2writers. Here’s some takeaways.

  • Technology makes life easier, especially if you have extra challenges. Seems like writers are using much more than just a pen and paper these days. Tools like ‘on the go’ notes, audiobooks and the speech function on computers can also help assist the writing process.
  • Honesty is key. By being honest with ourselves and others, we can also be more supportive of each other. After all, every single one of us has limitations, not just those with disabilities and mental health challenges.
  • We should ALL embrace our differences.I hope the writers’ stories will encourage and inspire a more diverse range of creatives and help build a more understanding industry.
  • We are not alone. Sometimes life can seem too much, so writing can too. By finding our community like Bang2writers and talking through our challenges, we can gain a renewed perspective or help.
  • We just have to keep on keeping on. Enough said, really!

So please  comment below with your own top tips and advice for others, I look forward to reading them!

BIO: Alice Hayden is a scriptwriting student at Bournemouth University, focusing on writing for Film and Television. Having just discovered that two of her scripts will be made in to animated promotional adverts for charities, she is also in the process of finishing her first novel. Follow her on insta as @alice_hayden.

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Structure Is A Journey

NEWSFLASH: we don’t watch movies or TV or read books ‘about characters’. We watch movies and TV and read books about characters who do something for SOME REASON.

Lots of new writers will say structure is a ‘formula’. Nope. It’s a FRAMEWORK. The most obvious is ‘beginning – middle – end’. Even children know how this works. It’s built into our DNA. If we think of characters as having to go on a journey from A to B to C, then we can see how plotting and characterisation are interlinked.

This is never more obvious than with frameworks like Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, updated as The Hero’s Journey. There are certain expectations we have of heroes, after all. Heroes need to be:

  • Brave
  • Wise
  • Good

These 3 elements are paramount in the making of a hero. Both Campbell and Vogler have attempted to shine a light on the stages a character goes through to become a hero. They are broad enough to mean you can do write these steps however you want …

  • Whether you write novels or screenplays
  • Male or female leads
  • For different audiences
  • In every genre

CLICK HERE to check out 6 popular movies that follow the Monomyth, broken down. CLICK HERE for a great list of books ( and some more movies).

Why You Should Study Structure

First though, a little shot in the arm. B2W is always banging on about structure and plotting, it’s true. This is because a good 90% of new writers, both screenwriters and novelists, simply don’t know enough about this subject! They may believe  they ‘can’t’ fix structure on their own … Or they may simply not want to do the work.

Whatever the case, you need to get real. Every year B2W works with writers who ask me to tell them where their scripts and novels are going wrong and how to fix them. But here’s the kicker: I can usually tell them these things. But even if I do, without understanding the foundations of structure, those writers literally can’t follow my instructions. Supersadface.

So, studying how structure and plotting works gives you a toolbox to work with. It makes you a better writer!  To get you started on the foundations, let’s look at a classic structure format – The Monomyth and The Hero’s Journey. I will be comparing and contrasting both of these in the course of this post, using visual representations to help. Remember, there are lots more ways to look at plotting and structure, so make sure you check them out. Now, onto Campbell’s and Vogler’s works.

Joseph Campbell’s ‘Monomyth’ (17 stages)

Joseph Campbell (1904–1987) was an American Professor of Literature who worked in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His most well-known work is his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), in which he discusses his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero shared by world mythologies, termed The Monomyth. The character’s journey breaks down as follows, according to Campbell:


  • The Call To Adventure
  • Refusal of the Call
  • Meeting the mentor
  • Crossing The First Threshold
  • Belly of the whale


  • The Road of Trials
  • The Meeting With The Goddess
  • The Woman As Temptress
  • Atonement With The Father / The Abyss
  • Apotheosis
  • The ultimate boon


  • Refusal of the return
  • The magic flight
  • Rescue from without
  • The crossing of the return threshold
  • Master of two worlds
  • Freedom to live

Here’s a cool visual representation of The Monomyth

Check out the pics inside the bubbles to see examples of each stage from, various movies. CLICK HERE to find out more from the source.

If you are not keen on the idea of the Monomyth being a circle, you may like this more linear one, below. I like it because it also hints at the notion of ESCALATION in the story, which is very important.

Christopher Vogler’s ‘The Hero’s Journey’ (12 Stages)

Now, on to The Hero’s Journey. You may have seen Christopher Vogler at London Screenwriters’ Festival a few years back. He has worked for Disney, Fox and Warner Bros. Inspired by the writings of mythologist Joseph Campbell, particularly The Hero with a Thousand Faces,  Vogler used Campbell’s work to create a 7-page company memo for Hollywood screenwriters, A Practical Guide to The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This became The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters, which is frequently referred to as just The Hero’s Journey. It breaks down as follows: 


  • Ordinary world
  • Call to adventure
  • Refusal of the call
  • Meeting with the mentor
  • Crossing the first threshold


  • Tests, allies and enemies
  • Approach to the inmost cave
  • The ordeal
  • Reward


  • The road back
  • The resurrection
  • Return with the elixir

Here’s a couple of visual representations of this version

This one from Movie Outline presents a nice, clear linear approach:

I particularly like the one below, which I found on tumblr.  It also contrasts the plotting of The Hero’s Journey with the Hero’s personal character arc. More about this below.

A Visual Representation of The Hero’s Emotional Arc

I also like the visual representation below because too often, heroes are emotional for samey story reasons, like a dead wife or family. What’s more, sticking to such plot devices and tropes can do a disservice to characterisation.

This infographic reminds us that great characters and plotting are interlinked. The journey itself then should be fraught with emotion for our heroes. Equally, the stakes should be high … What could happen if our hero fails? Too often in quest narratives possible failure is never really on the horizon. As a result, this stops us investing in the journey of the character as the audience.

Example of Classic Hero’s Journey Narratives

Cinderella may not be everyone’s go-to example when considering the Hero’s Journey, but that’s why I love this visual representation. B2W has long rejected the notion male and female heroes have to go through different trials. After all, heroism is not gendered; nor is heroism necessarily only related to being an actual warrior. In short, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.


It’s obvious from the offset that Vogler’s version is a ‘pared down’ version of The Monomyth. With 5 stages ‘missing’ or merged, The Hero’s Journey is broader, more economical. It also uses more accessible language and removes allusions to such Biblical stories as Jonah’s, ie. ‘Belly of the whale’.

It also has some key differences, more in keeping with modern tastes. The latent sexism of ‘male = hero’ is no longer present; nor is the notion of the Jezebel in ‘woman as temptress’. Though Campbell always stressed it’s a ‘greater power’ (rather than an actual father the hero needs to ‘atone’ with), the proliferation of ‘Daddy issues’ in hero stories suggests many creatives took this literally.

As mentioned, The Monomyth and The Hero’s Journey relates to The 3 Acts, named ‘Departure, Initiation and Return’ in both.  Whilst Campbell’s 17 stages seem more ‘balanced’ going 5-7-5), Vogler’s seems more ‘top heavy’ to me (5-4-3).

Lastly, both make the point that the character arc of the archetypal hero is about CHANGE. S/he usually undergoes a metamorphosis during the course of the journey. Life will never be the same again.

There’s plenty for writers to learn here, when it comes to quest narratives. I always recommend Bang2writers study both The Monomyth and The Hero’s Journey as a starting point for learning structure. Both offer an accessible way of understanding how plot and character are intrexicably linked.

Last Points

With the above in mind then, I urge you as a writer to start thinking of plotting as a journey for your characters. You don’t have to follow The Monomyth or The Hero’s Journey to do this, either. I break it down to literally just:

‘Your characters start in one place / state of being … then end up in another, having done X along the way’.

This might seem obvious, because it IS! We’re talking about Set Up/ Pay Off, basically. Yet too many spec screenplays and unpublished novels meander all over the place, or make their characters ‘run on the spot’. The above is the basis of the latest B2W Plotting worksheet, which remember you can download HERE or on the B2W Resources page.

Good luck!

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A Sober Thought

If you are a writer, you have inevitably heard the ‘Write drunk, edit sober’ advice (allegedly) given by Ernest Hemingway. Even though this advice is always attributed to him, it’s not sure if he actually ever said it … Or even if he did, whether he even practiced what he preached!

But obviously excess drinking is a very bad idea … For anyone, but especially when writing! Here’s 3 reasons ‘Write Drunk, Edit Sober’ is terrible advice for writers.

1) It spreads the myth of the ‘Tortured Artiste’

So, all it takes to create a creative masterpiece is to get wasted?? Erm, no! Creativity is not a simple thing. Creative thinking is about making new connections between different regions of the brain. It is associated with different factors such as conducive environments, personality traits,  even spiritual muses.

But creativity and innovation are not just the above. Working hard on nurturing divergent thinking skills, and being in touch with new experiences constantly can further develop one’s creative skills. Creativity may be more developed in some people than others, but it is not some magical gift. It’s a skill that can be learned through hard work and a constant effort in learning new information.

So, don’t write off the craft by spreading the myth of ‘the tortured artiste’ who needs to be under the influence to create. Good writing is the result of HARD WORK and we need to respect that. It’s the proper way to praise writers’ efforts, past and present.

LESSON 1: Work hard and get out of your comfort zone to spark creativity.

2) It belittles addiction

If you have had someone close to you battle some kind of addiction, you know how hard this can be to witness … The struggles, the rehabs, the drug tests, etc is no laughing matter. ‘Write drunk, edit sober’ belittles addiction and the problems people face.

It’s also worth remembering many writers and artists really are struggling with alcoholism and drug abuse. They will be the first to tell others ‘write drunk, edit sober’ did not help them! They have been through hell. There have been thousands of cases where writers went downhill and ruined their lives and careers because of addiction.

Charles Bukowski was a heavy drinker.  He had a very big break in his writing career as a direct result of this. Ernest Hemingway’s struggles with alcoholism are also well-documented. His granddaughter Mariel Hemingway spoke about it in an interview back in 2013:

‘That’s not how he wrote. He never wrote drunk; whenever wrote beyond early, early morning’ she stated. ‘So many writers glorify my grandfather’s way of living as much as they glorify his work. And so they try and mirror that.’

She further adds about the author of The Old Man and the Sea, ‘I think it’s the misperception of addiction and living life on the edge as if it’s cool.’

LESSON 2: Drinking excessively is not good for anybody’s work, so the same applies to artists.

3) It’s bad for brain health

Obviously if you drink in moderation (even when you’re writing!), it’s okay.  Drinking can be good for relaxation and even good for you in small amounts. There are some studies out there that connect moderate drinking with sparking the creativity of certain people. So maybe it might be helpful for you to drink a couple of glasses of wine while you’re writing now and again.

But using large quantities of alcohol for extensive periods can do permanent damage. There are many short-term and long-term damaging effect of alcohol use that can be very serious. These may include  loss of productivity, loss of focus, permanent damage to the brain, even vitamin B deficiency which can lead to amnesia, apathy, disorientation, and more!

LESSON 3: The short and long term effects of alcohol on the person’s body and mind are a very serious thing. Excessive drinking is connected to many diseases and mental disorders.


Don’t force yourself to drink so you can write great screenplays and novels. Working hard and constantly evolving as a human being will be MUCH more helpful to your work. Also, knuckling down and working hard means you will be able to appreciate all the effort that you put into your work and re-use it when you need it the next time.

BIO: Mary Walton is a professional editor, content strategist. Apart from writing, Mary is passionate about hiking and gaming. Feel free to contact her via Facebook.

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