How to Write Compelling Dialogue

Writing compelling dialogue seems to be one of the hardest nuts to crack in the writing world. Many writers struggle with how to make the conversations not only feel real, but also propel the story forward.

The good news is, you can learn how to write compelling dialogue in the following steps …

1) Determine the mood of your story

What would you like your readers to feel overall when they read your novel or watch your screenplay? This plays an important part in how you write your dialogue. Is it a funny, heartwarming story? Are you writing a suspenseful thriller where you want to scare your audience? Learn more about mood in this article.

2) Imitate real-life speech as much as you can, minus the small talk

If you pay attention to people speaking in real life, you will notice that they don’t always speak in grammatically perfect sentences—in fact, sometimes they don’t even speak in full sentences!

Inserting these “imperfect” lines into your dialogue will make for more realistic conversations in your stories. (TV writer Sally Abbott said the same in the last B2W blog!)

Take note of this catch, though: in real life, people tend to start with small talk. However, small talk in a novel or screenplay flattens the story. Be sure to cut to the chase and move right into the juicy stuff.

3) Only write conversations that move your story forward

That said, small talk isn’t the only thing you need to cut out of your dialogue. Make sure you only write conversations that propel your story forward.

Readers and moviegoers tend to read into the lines of everything the characters say. If you put in a conversation that does not have any connection to anything else in the story, they may derive meaning from it. If there is none, then this leaves them confused or even irritated.

For example, if a conversation about a favourite pet dying does not have any bearing on your story, leave it out! Otherwise your audience will keep wondering what that detail was about and end up disappointed when it doesn’t get explained in the end.

4) Learn to use colloquial dialogue

One of the best ways to distinguish characters from one another in a novel or screenplay is to give them individual cultures. For example, one of them may have Irish roots or a Scottish brogue, while another may speak with an obvious Southern drawl.

Their background will determine much of the kinds of words they will use. You can plan this out in detail by creating a character profile of your main characters.

5) Practice using indirect answers

In real life, people don’t always talk in a straightforward question-and-answer format. Sometimes we evade answering questions by changing the subject or a myriad of other tactics.

Don’t be afraid to use these kinds of answers in the conversations that your characters have. It will make them seem more life-like that way.

6) Use simple dialogue tags or descriptions

Amateur writers are often tempted to make their dialogue fancy by using a wide variety of dialogue tags. For example, take a look at this exchange …

“I can’t believe you did that,” she pouted.

“What’s the matter? It’s my life,” he retorted.

“Yes, but what will my mother say?” she whined.

“I don’t care what your mother says!” he yelled.

A better way might be to stick to the plain ‘he said, she said,’ like veteran author Elmore Leonard suggests. Alternatively, you could use descriptions to indicate who is speaking. This might be …

“I can’t believe you did that,” she said, shaking her head.

He crossed his arms defiantly. “What’s the matter? It’s my life.”

She put her arms on her hips and faced him squarely. “Yes, but what will my mother say?”

“I don’t care what your mother says!” he said, slamming his fist onto the table.

Be careful of this though … Make sure your dialogue tags do not slow down a scene or make them static. This is especially important in screenplays, where you obviously don’t use ‘said’ at all AND action is what grabs the viewers’ attention.

To learn more about using dialogue tags effectively, check out this article.

Writing Compelling Dialogue Takes Practice

With these six tips, you will improve your dialogue writing, but remember to practice, practice, practice! Don’t be afraid to edit and refine your dialogue. Finally, read your dialogue out loud … That’s the best way to tell if the conversations are compelling or not.

Good luck!

BIO: Yen Cabag is the Blog Writer at TCK Publishing. She is also a homeschooling mom, family coach, and speaker for the Charlotte Mason method, an educational philosophy that places great emphasis on classic literature and the masterpieces in art and music. She has also written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her passion is to see the next generation of children become lovers of reading and learning in the midst of short attention spans.

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All About Cutting Down Page Count

Cutting down scripts is an essential tool of the trade for writers. Last week I had to cut a script down from 138 pages to the required 104. Losing 34 pages is no mean feat, but most of us will have to do this at some point … Some writers will find themselves cutting down even more!

I’m a writer who continually overwrites (I’d rather have too much than too little). This means cutting down page count is a skill I’ve developed over the last few years. Here’s my top tips on how to do this.

By The Way …

I only write in Final Draft as it’s the most commonly used software in the industry. I don’t want to have to deal with formatting and it does it for me. Another plus it has lots of useful tools. so, for my first tip …

1) Use the ‘Reports’ function in Final Draft

I use the “statistics” tool constantly to see the division between dialogue/action/etc. I don’t like going above 60% of dialogue. Preferably less. It’s a visual medium. It also has character reports so you can easily see what a character has said when you want to pick up on something. One of the peculiarities about FD, is that by cutting a line you can cut a page. So …

2) Cut all ‘Black Widows’ (AKA ‘Orphans’)

These are lines with only one word on them. I try and get rid of these always. I’m allergic to them. They use up so much space. Especially when one line can cut a page.

3) Be direct and active

Action needs to be active. So, “Sally is running as fast as she can through the shopping centre” can be cut down to “Sally runs. Fast.” We know she’s in a shopping centre because it’s in the scene header. Less is more. “is” and verbs ending “ing” are to be avoided. The more active, the more engaged your reader will be. Also, less words!

4) Don’t repeat information

We know everything is relevant or it wouldn’t be in the script. Never have someone reporting on something we’ve already seen. Cut in later to the next scene or keep key information for the places where it has the biggest dramatic impact. I write a lot of crime drama which has frequent recap scenes, but each time has to be different.

5) Remember ‘less is more’

Less is more. Always. ALWAYS. We don’t need big chunks of description. We don’t need “we see”. Just start in on what we’re looking at. E.g. We see a bird circling above a field. Becomes “A bird circles above a field”. Also, you don’t need to write EVERY bit of action for your characters. We don’t need to know they open the car door, get out, shut the door, lock it. Only use what is essential.

6) Remember people don’t talk in proper sentences

We present the illusion of real talk. I “cut up” my sentences of dialogue a lot. People don’t finish what they’re saying. They say “I didn’t. I didn’t know. I…” Punctuation for me is about breath and emphasis.

I’ve been sharing my office with my daughter who keeps asking if I’m okay – it’s because whilst I don’t say dialogue out loud, I always do characters’ breathing out loud. What characters can and can’t say is shown in dialogue with what’s missing as well as what’s there. A character unable to say something indicates for our detective they have a secret they’re holding on to. The breath shows their nerves and anxiety.

7) Use Parentheses

Each time action comes in to dialogue, that’s 3 sentences being used. Parentheses reduce this considerably. But only where it doesn’t confuse the story. E.g.

I don’t believe you.

He slams the table.

Start again. From the beginning.

Becomes …

I don’t believe you.
(Slams table)
Start again. From the beginning.

Use this sparingly and coherently.

By the way, this is the most contentious one. I know Americans hate it, but I use parentheses. I came from soap where actors appreciate being given a steer. Also only use if it makes it better and keeps the energy of the scene flowing.

8) Be brutal!

Be prepared to lose your best and funny lines if they don’t match tonally or add to the story. BUT keep another document open to paste in ANY cuts. That way you know what you’ve cut and reinstate if needed.

9) Count your parts/acts

Again, be brutal. Know how long each one is so you can direct your cutting. My current episode has two parts that are still too long. I’ve suggested story strands which could be lifted out, but for now, they’ve said to keep everything in and we can cut at next draft.

10) Have your own notes

I keep notes constantly about what I’m writing. I always go into notes sessions with my own headlines of what I think needs more work. My job is to get it to the best I can before sending it in. I will be very honest about my instincts, but I also know I’m not always right (we can be our own worst critics). TV is super collaborative; use the people you’re working with to make it better. Don’t think you have to do it alone. I also write draft headlines on my white board – e.g. Insert Bob commissioning CCTV to check Sally was telling the truth.

11) Don’t be flowery

I use very basic language in my scripts. A comment I often get from actors is they understood it all. There’s no point using long words people don’t know. They add to the word/page count and less is more. That doesn’t mean you can’t be poetic or beautiful in what you write. Less is more.

12) Get rid of ‘that’ and ‘just’

These words creep in all the time. Most of the time we don’t need either. “That” is a super culprit.

13) Say the same thing but with less words!

I know this is obvious but almost every sentence you write can be restructured so it’s shorter.

14) Read it again

Once you’ve cut your draft, read it again. You may find that for the sake of brevity, you’ve cut too much and may need to reinstate some of it (lucky you’ve got that document with everything you’ve cut!). Sometimes I’m too brutal and have to add stuff back in. But I always find more stuff to cut too in that last read.

15) Save and date scripts

Every day I save and email myself what I’ve done. I frequently go back to daily drafts to find something I’ve done which I’ve later cut or tweaked.

Last Thoughts

Sometimes (and I’m as guilty of this as the next person), we cut and prune so hard we remove both the ART and the HEART. Quite often something comes up which I’ve cut that needs to go back into the next draft.

Scripts need space to BREATHE … For there to be moments of silence … For emotional moments to feel real and not hurried. This is where that next draft comes in and where those previous drafts (that you saved and dated) are crucial.

Better to be a little over (unless it’s for a competition where page count is one of the rules) and edit later.  It’s a juggling act which is why most writing is rewriting … !

Good Luck!

BIO: Sally Abbott created the award-winning BBC series THE CORONER. She’s a playwright and TV writer; her most recent work was for ITV’s global hit VERA and her play I THINK WE ARE ALONE (with Frantic Assembly) is which was mid-way through a sell out tour when lockdown happened.

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Diversity Drive

Calm down Doris I have not lost the plot! The drive for more diversity (*cough* variety) in all stories is still very much part of this website. Obviously B2W would never advocate ‘ignoring’ the politics of characterisation. It’s literally this blog’s remit … I wrote an entire book about this subject, FFS! 

So, what am I banging on about? Well, there’s a common misconception writers have about diversity in storytelling … They think diverse characters can ONLY exist for **plot reasons**.

I’m here to say NOPE. Here’s why. 

A Quick History Lesson

Not so long ago, diverse characters DID only exist for *plot reasons*. This still applies, especially in so-called ‘diverse stories’ – ie. stories *specifically about* race, sexuality, gender, disability and so on.

First up, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with telling a story about ISSUES. Some important, groundbreaking stories have been told using this model.

However, it does mean historically, certain characters got ‘sidelined’ …

  • Female characters got shoved automatically into ‘female stories’
  • LGBT characters into coming out and transition stories
  • BAME characters into stories about race and slavery
  • Disabled characters into ‘inspiration porn’

… and so on. This also meant certain characters like this ended up in various tropes in *other stories*, especially genre. These range from the stale and cheesy and right through to stereotypical and offensive. It even means that well-meaning attempts STILL get it wrong, as these top mistakes with diverse characters illustrate.

At grass roots level, basically it came down to  the white, able-bodied cishet male driving the story most of the time. It also suggests he’s a ‘real person’, whereas everyone is symbolic of ISSUES. Yikes!

The Drive Forwards

Storytelling has evolved, in-keeping with audience preferences. They want to see and read far more nuanced, varied characters. This means characters can be ‘diverse’ WITHOUT the automatic need for their ‘difference’ to drive the main story directly.

In this new model of storytelling, diversity is instead just part of the natural order of things in that storyworld. That doesn’t mean that ‘difference’ is ‘ignored’, either. Instead that character’s worldview will be powered by their experiences (like all good characterisation!!).

‘There Can Be Only One!’ – Erm, No Thanks

Consider the TV sitcom Brooklyn 99, which I put under the microscope in my last B2W case study.

The series focuses on a group of very different NY police detectives. Each character is a personality FIRST, not symbolic of ‘issues’. Also, because it sidesteps what B2W calls ‘The Highlander Effect’ (“There can be only one!”) a character doesn’t end up accidentally representing an entire group of people, ie …

i) Captain Holt and Lieutenant Terry Jeffords

These guys are both African-American, blue collar cops from working class backgrounds, but they were raised very differently, with very different experiences as young men. Their ways of negotiating the world around them are poles apart … And all this is long before we get to the fact Captain Holt is married, out-and-proud gay man, whereas Terry is a heterosexual family man.

ii) Sergeant Amy Santiago and Detective Rosa Diaz

They are both Latin ladies from broadly similar backgrounds. Amy comes from a family of cops and her father is Cuban, though due to Rosa’s secrecy, it’s difficult to know exactly what her background is. We have seen her parents though, who seem quite straight-laced with high expectations. We have also been fed various tidbits over seven seasons, so we know she’s been a ballet student; went to medical AND business school and has been involved in crime in her youth. In short, still waters run deep!

But the two women’s race is not what’s important, nor their gender. Amy is incredibly uptight and uber-organised; she’s a nerd and proud of it. She is never happier than when shopping for stationery and binders.

Rosa is the exact opposite, cool and badass who does not give A.F! But she’s wise with it, mentoring not only Amy, but a good chunk of the squad such as Jake, Terry, Boyle and occasionally Captain Holt himself.

Read more about female leads in How NOT To Write Female Characters.

iii) Detective Jake Peralta and his best friend Detective Charles Boyle

These fellas are both white men of comparable ages, again from broadly similar backgrounds. Jake wants to be a hero, but is a man child with daddy issues, due to abandonment and benign neglect in childhood. This doesn’t make him incompetent or an asshole though; he’s always there for his friends.

Whilst it’s clear from the offset Jake is the protagonist of the show as he operates the ‘main’ jester role function, he is nothing without Charles. Charles is not just a straight man, however. He is a clumsy foodie who enjoys being number 2, despite Jake telling him ‘It sounds like a turd‘.

Like Terry, Charles is a family man, but unlike Terry he is highly sexualised (a characteristic we never normally associate with straight men/best friend characters). Despite Charles’ almost constant inappropriateness, he is naive and harmless with it, so this means we don’t see him as a perv. As a result, women cannot resist him! More on the characters in the B99 Wiki, HERE.

Infographic: How To Write A Diverse Character

Whether you like Brooklyn 99 or not is immaterial. What it does brilliantly is illustrate you DON’T have to make your diverse characters drive the plot. It’s a subtle but crucial change to how diversity is approached in storytelling … The more modern way, if you like. (Yes obviously we have a long way to go still, we are not in some kind of diverse storytelling utopia yet, more’s the pity).

This new approach also leaves options open, because writers can also make reference to these ‘differences’ in later storylines and make them drive the plot if they want to. They’ve done this in various episodes of B99, such as

Any writer can do similar, in any genre or medium if they want to.

Summing up though, the days of ‘just’ shoving in a single diverse character to drive the story *as standard* are vanishing … and rightly so. Brooklyn 99 shows us without a doubt that TRUE inclusion comes from VARIETY on every level, starting with the characters’ experiences and worldview. It’s not only more interesting, it’s literally better writing.

B2W calls this ‘diversity as backstory’, which you can see on the infographic below. What’s more, you can use this approach in WHATEVER mediums you’re writing in … TV, film, novel, short story, you name it!

Have fun crafting those brilliant characters … who just so happen to be ‘diverse’ (whatever that means).

Good luck!



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Reality Check

Lots of writers believe they’ve ‘made it’ when their screenplay gets optioned, but the reality is that’s when their struggles REALLY begin! I’m delighted to welcome movie producer and novelist Burt Weissbourd to B2W today. If you have faced any of the struggles Burt lists below, then know you are in good company! Over to you Burt …

Top 10 (Normal) Struggles When Writing A Screenplay From My Experiences Developing Hollywood Scripts

I came to Hollywood in 1975 to produce feature films. Aged only 26 years old, I didn’t know anyone in the movie business, but I’d stumbled onto a timely idea … I was going to work with, and most importantly, back screenwriters.

I wanted to protect them from being rewritten, including writers in the process of choosing a director and casting the picture … All of the decisions that go into making a feature film.

I left Hollywood in 1987

The golden age was over and I wanted to write. To me, the best screenplays I’d worked on never got made. Nevertheless, it was a great experience. As a producer developing a screenplay, you learn to look for stories with strong, complex characters and a “rich stew” … A situation with conflict, emotional intensity, and the potential to evolve in unexpected ways.

There are two different trajectories for writing a screenplay:

  1. Writing on spec (that is to say not being hired by a studio and not being paid), or
  2. Writing for a fee from a studio, a producer or an independent company.

In this write up, I’ll be addressing the latter. Here are some of the tips I can share with you about these struggles, from my experience of working in the industry.

1) Only so many asses can sit on one stool

Often, there are studio executives, producers, actors and even a director giving notes to the writer. These notes can be conflicting. MORE: Top 5 Screenplay Notes And What They Mean 

2) The direction of the screenplay can change dramatically

Especially when new people are hired … ie. when an actor, a director or a new studio executive are assigned to the project.

3) People change agendas

A studio executive makes a new deal with an actor or director and he or she is assigned to your project with his or her own new agenda.

4) Different people have different reactions

A draft is turned in and there are a variety of quite diverse reactions from different people. An actor doesn’t like their role, a director wants a different emphasis, etc.

5) New writers!

The studio is unhappy with the draft and wants to bring in a new writer. MORE: How To Be Successful As A Writer

6) People up top get replaced

The studio executive who hired you is replaced. The new executive in charge has a new agenda for the project.

7) Collaborators leave

The director who was developing the project with you takes a directing job at another studio and he’s replaced with another director … who has a different vision of the film.

8) People get fired

The actor and/or director with whom you’ve been working release a disastrous movie (together or separately) and the studio puts the screenplay into turn around.

9) You get fired …. and rehired … and fired again

You’ve been replaced by a writer who turns in another draft. The director hates the new draft and insists that you are brought back to fix the new draft. However, the actor is not satisfied with your previous draft.

10) People like your draft, but reject it anyway

The draft that the actor and the studio have said that they like goes out to directors, but more than seven say they don’t want to do it. The most perplexing rejection is from a well-known director. He says the screenplay is very good, but ‘there’s really nothing left for him to add to it, so it will never be ‘really his.’ MORE: 1 Important Thing To Remember About Rejection

YIKES! Those are scary struggles.

Thanks, Burt and good luck out there, Bang2writers!

BIO: Burt Weissbourd is a novelist and former screenwriter and producer of feature films. Burt’s best known for producing films, including Ghost Story starring Fred AstaireMelvyn DouglasJohn HousemanDouglas Fairbanks Jr., and Patricia Neal. He also produced Raggedy Man starring Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard, which The New York Times called “a movie of sweet, low-keyed charm.” In 1987, he founded an investment business, which he still runs. His forthcoming book, Danger in Plain Sight, will be published on May 5th 2020 and is the first book in his new Callie James thriller series. His earlier books include Inside PassageTeaser, Minos, and In Velvet, all of which will be reissued in Fall 2020.

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Watch & Learn

Lots of my Bang2writers say they’re going to watch TV shows ‘for work’ … but then don’t do any work! They just enjoy them. Tsk. Naughty writers!

But seriously, you CAN watch whatever you like *and* learn from these produced TV shows at the same time. I’m going to show you how to do this, using the free B2W plotting worksheet, which you can download HERE.

By the way, you can watch stuff if you’re a novelist too! Everything I know about novel writing, I learned from watching movies and TV shows. Similarly, you can watch different genres and styles to the stuff you write too. I don’t write comedy and would even bet real money I will never write a sitcom in my life … But I watch and learn from them all the time.

About Sitcoms

Sitcoms are highly structured. Also, at just 22-30 minutes, sitcoms prove just how important pace and plotting truly is. They also demonstrate how character and plotting are inextricably interlinked.

After all, who a character is in a sitcom has a very obvious ‘knock on’ effect to what they do … which in turn fuels the events in the plot.

What’s more, if you can see how it’s done in such a short timeframe, then it helps you appreciate how longer stories work too. This helps you ‘scale up’ from shorter stories to longer ones, whatever you’re writing. What’s not to like!

Consider Friends … Every single episode of this iconic show is literally called The One Where [X Happens]”. Inside that framework, we see characters react according to their key characteristics, which in turn feeds into the various thematics of the show. Here’s a case study on all this, done for you …

Why Friends Has An Awesome Pilot (And What It Can Teach Writers)

How Friends Makes Character Archetypes Look Easy 

Why Theme In Friends Is Better Than You Think

Now, let’s watch and break another sitcom episode down, this time together.

Brooklyn 99 Structure

Brooklyn 99 is a sitcom currently in its seventh season. You can watch the latest episodes on All4 and Amazon Prime in the UK, plus the first six series are available on Netflix.

Created by Dan Goor and Michael Schur, Brooklyn 99 is a work-based, police procedural comedy about an immature but brilliant detective Jake Peralta and his diverse band of police colleagues in New York.

Traditional models of sitcom like The Simpsons typically have two ‘story strands’ per episodes, which I call an A and B Story.(CLICK HERE for  a case study breaking down 2 classic Simpsons episodes).

But just like Friends before it, Brooklyn 99 has established itself as usually having 3 story strands per episode instead – A, B & C.

The A/B/C story strand model enables B99 to concentrate on the relationships between the characters who may ‘break off’ from the main group into pairs or threes, just like the writers of Friends did.

That said, B99 does mix it up from time to time. The show sometimes has very plot-led special episodes involving the squad as a whole, such as its ‘Halloween Heists’. When this happens, there tend to be only 2 story strands per episode.

A Quick Primer on B99 Characters

Jake might be yet another white male lead, but he is an unusual character as THIS RECENT B2W CASE STUDY outlines. He wants to be a hero and is very immature, but is also emotionally literate and supporter of the underdog. The others in the team also go against type, plus they are all brilliant at what they do …

  • Captain Raymond Holt – a black, openly gay  police officer who has had to literally fight his way up the ladder and to remain there (this character takes the well-worn trope of ‘black police captain’ and turns it on its head)
  • Lieutenant Terry Jeffords – a muscle-bound, neurotic but devoted family man (unusual to show contrasting sides, plus positive representation of black fatherhood. Also, two black leads contradicts the usual ‘Highlander Effect’ of so-called diverse ensembles … There can be only one!)
  • Sergeant Amy Santiago –  super-organised, ambitious control freak who is very smart (unusual for Latina female leads). Also Jake’s wife.
  • Detective Rosa Diaz – mysterious and dark loner who is very violent and also bisexual (again, very unusual for Latina leads, plus there are two in the same show which hardly ever happens)
  • Detective Charles Boyle – a hard-working foodie and ‘beta male’ who leans into this, rather than is ashamed by it (usually this would make him villain, or pathetic. Instead he is Jake’s best friend)

The show is known for a particular brand of ‘compassionate comedy’ that ‘punches up’. This means marginalised people don’t tend to be the butt of the jokes. Instead jokes are usually at the expense of those in positions of power. This means there are a lot of jokes about men and white supremacy, especially within institutions like the police and education.

Lots of media commentators like to claim so-called ‘woke culture’ has ‘killed’ comedy. B99 is a ‘woke’ show that demonstrates this is not the case … Its writers CAN be funny and even fly close to the edge without throwing marginalised people under the bus as standard. Far from being ‘political correctness gone mad’ then, storylines in B99 are hugely irreverent and hella sexual. As an example, one of its long-running gags is the very naughty fan favourite, ‘Title of your sex tape’.

Archetype Versus Stereotype

B99 characters also tend to be archetypal rather than stereotypical. Archetypes such as the ‘hero’, ‘outlaw’ and care-giver are employed to give the characters depth and help fuel what’s happening in the episode.

For example, the character Terry draws from the care-giver archetype. This characteristic is not only towards his own family, but also the 99 Squad. He’s referred to as a ‘mother hen’ and even just as ‘Mom’ by the other characters.  Male characters very rarely spring from this archetype at all. Huge hench men even less so!

When B99 characters are stereotypical, this tends to be solely for comic relief, such as the more peripheral characters of Hitchcock and Scully … They are two white, middle-aged, incompetent detectives who are frequently gross and inappropriate. They were lauded ‘in their day’ back in the 1980s, so ride on the coattails of their colleagues … A very obvious comment on times changing there!

Games Night, s5, ep 10

What’s also interesting about Brooklyn 99 as a police procedural is it focuses primarily on its characters’ relationships. This includes their view of themselves and the world. Cases usually play second fiddle to this. This means that whilst solving crime plays a big part of the episodes, the crime never takes over from the characters.

This also means sometimes there is no crime to solve at all, as in ‘Games Night’. This is episode 10 of the the fifth series and you can find a full breakdown HERE.

What To Do Now

1) Grab your B2W plotting worksheet, HERE.

2) Fire up Netflix and watch Games Night 

3) As you watch, write what happens in each scene. Keep it brief.

4) Identify each story strand – which story is the ‘biggest’? What takes up the most ‘story space’? That’s your A Story. The second one  = B story. Third = C.

5) Plot each strand on the B2W worksheet. Colour coding helps illuminate this. Here’s what I came up with ….


Here’s how it breaks down …Captain 

Note how the colours work out on the picture of the story map I drew. There’s LOTS of differentiation here! Here’s what I saw happening in the episode …

A Story (green), approx. 11 scenes (13 including flashbacks) 

Rosa is the protagonist of this strand. She comes out as bisexual to her parents but does not get the reaction she hoped for. This episode revolves primarily around her, with her parents (primarily her mother) acting as the antagonists for this story strand. Jake acts as secondary character to Rosa here, as her facilitator and general foil.

In this section, flashbacks are used in the Set Up, plus Rosa’s big announcement forms the midpoint of the story, with the second half dealing with the fall out of this. There is no ‘happy ever after’ here either, but no is there a big feud either … This makes a refreshing change as this is much more realistic and authentic. Instead, Rosa must find comfort with her friends and the knowledge she is being true to herself.

B Story (pink), approx. 5 scenes  

Captain Holt, Terry, Amy and Boyle dominate this story strand. The squad has a big problem with their WiFi and blame Cyber Crimes, who have just moved in downstairs. Captain Holt, Terry, Amy and Boyle go down there, with Holt pulling rank immediately. Cyber Crimes, the antagonists of this strand laugh in their faces, knowing the squad have no expertise. This is when Charles suggests asking Gina to help them. With her refusal, they try and bribe Cyber Crimes with meat, but this does not work either. They are about to laugh them out a second time when Gina magically turns up when they need her and vanquishes the antagonists of Cyber Crime with no problems whatsoever.

C Story (blue), approx. 6 scenes (some crossover to A and B)

Gina is the protagonist of this strand. She has just had a baby, so is on leave. She’s happy to hear from her friends at the 99, but in true Gina fashion is not interested in their problems. She then drops the bombshell she won’t be returning to work before disappearing. The rest of the squad is shocked, but Amy and Boyle take it upon themselves to persuade her to return but fail. At the end of the episode, Gina magically turns up a second time and announces she will be coming back after all, thanks to the raise Holt has (not) offered her.

Aren’t The B & C Strands Just One Story Strand?

Maybe. It depends on your viewpoint. What’s particularly interesting then about ‘Games Night’ is the B story essentially resolves very early, just before the mid-point but then branches off into another story – Gina’s return to the 99.

This episode is unusual in doing this … Viewing it in isolation, it could be argued this is actually an extended MacGuffin. A MacGuffin is a trigger or catalyst for what happens in the plot, a device frequently used in comedy. If we say the start in cybercrime is an extended MacGuffin, then arguably B & C are one story.

That said, I do not believe it is an extended MacGuffin. I am going with Gina’s bombshell being a ‘C’ strand… This is because viewed beyond isolation, B99 has established itself as a three-strand sitcom for character-led episodes, which this is. What’s more, story strands in B99 relate not only to differentiated stories, but timing/place.

That said, if you believe the B & C strands are one story, that’s okay too. The point of this exercise is not to be ‘right’, but to be able to develop a vocabulary for how plotting and character work together, as part of our structural toolbox.

Last Thoughts

Practice makes perfect! So download your free worksheet from the B2W Resources Page and fire your favourite show up Netflix or Amazon Prime. You can work on your writing craft AND enjoy TV … who knew?

Have Fun!

By the way … Don’t forget all three Bang2write non fiction books on thriller, drama and diverse characters are part of the current Creative Essentials Big 50 Sale – get a whopping 50% off each paperback AND its ebook version free, using discount code ‘BIG50’ at the checkout. Grab this brilliant deal and CLICK HERE or on the pic below.


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The Plot Thickens

It’s difficult to know when you’re making mistakes during the writing process, especially when you’re plotting. Whether it’s a plot hole, a lack of diverse characters, one-dimensional characters, or anything else that holds your book back, plotting errors are an important fix.

Plotting Mistake #1: One-Dimensional Characters

During my research, this was a complaint I saw a lot, in different variations …

“The characters were one-dimensional and boring.” 

A character needs to have an internal conflict in order to change over the course of a novel. This is like a cut or a wound they have because of something that happened in their past.

They might have lost a loved one and then be afraid of commiting to another person–in that case, the purpose of their conflict would probably be overcoming that fear. And if an author writes that into a book and makes it so that the events in the story force the character to overcome their fear–then the character is changing and they can’t be one-dimensional anymore.

Another good way to do this is by fleshing out a character’s back story or ‘interviewing’ your character to better understand them and their motivations. I found this cool character questionnaire you can check out.

Top Tip: Create backstories and conflicts for your characters so that they’re not one-dimensional when you write them.

Plotting Mistake #2: Lack of Complex Female Characters

Another plotting mistake, and one readers seem to get sick of is when the author fails to create complex female characters in a story. This hearkens back to the one-dimensional characters discussed before–but it’s worse.

“I just couldn’t connect with the female main character. She had no depth and no backbone. Annoyed me into putting the book down.” 

Sometimes, female characters are shoe-horned into archetypes of what male authors view a woman should be (though there are probably female authors who make similar mistakes). This might look like the ‘damsel in distress’ female, the woman who needs saving, or the leading lady who isn’t so much a leading lady as she is a plot device for the male main character to resolve their conflict.

Top Tip: Treat your female main characters as the complex human beings they should be. Create diverse backstories, goals and conflicts for them. MORE: How NOT To Write Female Characters (free ebook)

Plotting Mistake #3: Obvious Plot Holes

The third mistake I ran across during my research, and just when watching movies and reading books, is plot holes. Obvious and annoying plot holes that pull a reader out of enjoying the book. I know it’s happened to me before, so that’s probably happened to you too.

“Plot holes. So. Many. Plot holes.” 

A plot hole is, basically, an unbelievable event in a story that just doesn’t agree with what you’ve read or learned about the story’s universe. Plot holes happen when the author of a book can’t come up with a challenging way to solve a problem in their outline or story.  When you want to keep moving forward in your novel, it can be tempting to brush past plot holes and assume the reader won’t notice. They will. So take the time to find a solution — at least before you publish the book.

Top Tip: Check out this great resource for getting rid of plot holes and plotting a page-turning novel.

Plotting Mistake #4: Pulling the Solution out of a Hat

This type of thing might be considered a plot hole in itself!  I thought it deserved its own section because it’s one of the things that I find most frustrating in a book. Here’s an example I found from a review for a mystery book …

“I felt that the author could have left more clues so I could figure out who the murderer was instead of just telling me at the end.” 

This is what happens when a set of characters are faced with a challenge near the climax of a story … All of a sudden, it’s revealed that some unknown item or thing will help them save the day. Lots of the time, it’s something that’s never been mentioned before. That’s definitely a plot hole and personally, I find that kind of frustrating.

Top Tip: If you plot a solution to a tricky problem, mentioning that solution earlier on is a good idea–it primes the reader to expect it later on. This is what’s called foreshadowing and I found a great resource on how to do it here.

Plotting Mistake #5: Leaving Too Many Loose Ends

This is another common complaint I found in reviews …

“I would have liked to see Neville get what he deserved.” 

Interestingly, I found a lot of these types of complaints in 3-star reviews for contemporary romance novels. It seems like a lot of romance readers really want to see characters get their “happily ever after,” and not having that makes people want to throw their eReaders across the room. That’s probably why a lot of romance authors write long epilogues to their stories, so that readers can glimpse the future of the protagonist.

Another surefire way of annoying or upsetting readers is by letting a ‘bad guy’ go unpunished at the end of a novel. People like having a resolution to a story they’ve invested a lot of time into. While there are cases where you’d want to leave things open-ended (like if you’re writing a series), I’m on board with tying off loose ends to leave your reader satisfied.

Top Tip: Tie off those loose ends in the novel you’ve already worked so hard on plotting. Make sure that all the arcs you have created are tied off neatly and that you’re satisfied with what happens to the characters.

Final Thoughts

Solving your plotting mistakes might be the difference between a book that flops and a book that sells. After all, a well-written book that readers enjoy is much easier to market. Happy plotting!

BIO: Dave Chesson is the creator of, a website devoted to teaching advanced book Marketing which even Amazon KDP acknowledge as one of the best by telling users to “Gain insight from Kindlepreneur on how you can optimize marketing for your books.” Having worked with such authors as Orson Scott Card, Ted Dekker and more, his tactics help both Fiction and Nonfiction authors of all levels get their books discovered by the right readers.

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Plotters Versus Pantsers

The ‘plotters versus pantsers’ debate often rages between writers. Should we …

  • … plot everything in advance, writing outlines and even populating spreadsheets with everything that will happen?
  • Or should we fly ‘by the seats of our pants’ and surprise even ourselves AS we write?

The  mighty Margaret Atwood and Stephen King count themselves as  pantsers. King even goes so far to say, Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers who wish to God they were writing masters’ theses.’

EXCEPT not so fast hombre! With famous plotters including the likes of JK Rowling and John Grisham, I think that might be a teensy exaggeration!

Screenplays Versus Novels

As every Bang2writer knows, I am both a novelist and as a script editor. For the latter, I mostly work with screenwriters, especially for feature film and shorts. I also dabble in screenwriting myself and am currently adapting one of my previous crime novels for TV. So I guess I am a hybrid in that I work in both mediums.

In screenwriting, writing outlines and treatments is a MUST. When ‘screenwriting is structure’ (and it is), then the notion of starting writing without knowing the ending is madness. We end up in a whole world of pain!

Also, producers DEMAND we write outlines and treatments. We have no choice. Much of the time, screenwriters are not even ALLOWED to go to draft before their outline has been signed off. It’s standard practice.

In contrast, novel writing is much ‘freer’. As a novelist, I’ve discovered as long as you turn in pages by certain agreed deadlines, you can do what you like. I remember the first time I offered an outline to a publisher, they were surprised. They told me they’d never been given one voluntarily before. I’d just assumed I had to,  like screenwriting! Oops.

On Being A Plotter

That said, even though I am ‘off the hook’ re: outlines as an novelist, I still do them. My latest crime novel Never Have I Ever is crime fiction  so very plot-heavy, just like screenwriting. I’m honestly not too sure how someone can write mysteries or even just a twist in the tale WITHOUT writing an outline. Of course, anything in writing is possible. But I can’t shake the feeling there will be opportunities missed in the very least.

So in this sense, I am a total plotter. Being overt when it comes to plotting means being able to put everything under the microscope. I often START with the ending and plot backwards. This way I can decide if it all ‘matches up’. I learned this from a comedian, who calls this ‘The Punchline Method’, though it arguably works for ALL genres.

The above will include characterisation, especially when it comes character role function and motivation. I also may look at archetype, if appropriate. This is because I feel ultimately, characterisation and structure are inextricably linked. You cannot have one without the other. I may even ‘draw the story’, using a worksheet I designed myself. This way I can literally see where there are ‘gaps’ in the plot.

On Being A Pantser

But once I have done all the plotting stuff, I am much more relaxed. I think of my outline as being a ‘foundation’ – nothing more, nothing less. It is both a springboard AND a safety net.

Next is where ‘pantsing’ comes in, for me. I will think about my protagonist and what s/he wants and why. I will also think about what the antagonist wants and why. I will then surround them with a cast of supporting characters, who will either help or hinder them in the main character in their respective missions. They too will have their own reasons for doing this.

However, despite all my plotting in advance, my characters will not always do what I tell them. 

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Anti-plotters like King might insist that outlining kills creativity and spontaneity, but this has never been the case in my experience. Writing my own scripts and novels, I have had surprise after surprise from my characters over the years, including …

  • Goodies turning bad (and vice versa)
  • Characters have refused to do certain things, or go to certain places
  • Others have started relationships (cheeky!)
  • Some have even DIED when they weren’t supposed to!

Once, I started off writing one novel, complete with outline, only to end up with a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT one!

Last Points

So, looks like you can ‘pants’ your characters even within a plotted framework … I know I do. Every time. This is why I don’t think writers have to be plotters OR pantsers … I think we can be both.

What Do You Think? Share in the comments!

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About Book Launch Teams

If it’s time for you to launch your next book on Amazon, the best thing you can do for yourself is to get a great launch team. This is a group of people that will get an early copy of your book, read it, and give a review that will be posted when the book is published. In reality, you can get much more out of a good launch team and give your book long-term success.

What Is A Book Launch Team?

The book launch team is a group of people, either fans of your previous work, blog readers, friends, or colleagues. They should be passionate about your book and want to help you succeed. As the author, you’re responsible for guiding them to act during the launch of the book. It’s necessary to have a book launch team so they can give you honest reviews during the launch, share news of it, and get you sales and downloads.

The more Amazon reviews you can get, the more you can get your book ranked and promoted by Amazon. Reviews also help your book sell, so if you can reach 20-30 in the first week, you can get great momentum for your book and set it up for long-term success.

How to Build a Launch Team

If you don’t have a team yet, it can be confusing knowing where to start, especially if you don’t have a big following yet and this is your first book launch. The first step is to build a list of 20-30 people that you can reach out to directly, a mix of business contacts, online relationships, and email subscribers if you have a blog. This will be your core team and those that are the most committed. Then, you can post on your social media platforms and get a lot of other, fringe team members, if you want a large launch team.

You’ll need to be clear with your launch team about what actions you want them to take, when, and how to implement the action plan you’ll develop. Although some people on the team may not follow through, it’s important to encourage them and keep the momentum going.

The quality of the launch team is more important than the quantity. You want people that are committed and will take action. To do that, you want to reach out to people directly and create a personal relationship, which will make them more interested in committing. You can also invite people that you’ve previously worked with and trust.

Managing Your Launch Team

You’ll need to be direct with your launch team and let them know what you expect from the beginning. Ask them to read the book before the launch day and to give you feedback on things like format or mistakes.

Request that they write an honest review of the book to post during the launch week, and share details about the launch on their social platforms and bringing it up on relevant chat forums. Start a brainstorm about other promotional ideas, especially on a Facebook group where they can exchange strategies.

During the Launch

You’ll need to be clear about how to communicate with your team, especially during the launch. If they don’t feel connected to you, they may lose interest and trust. It’s important to keep everyone involved. You can start an email campaign with your team, and send a few emails during the launch. Another good idea is setting up a Facebook group and communicate via updates there regularly.

You also need to make sure every member of the launch team receives the book in advance. It’s important not to overwhelm the team with too many requests, or not being clear enough about what you expect. That’s a sure way to lose engagement or confuse and frustrate your team. It’s also important to set up your team for future book launches as well so you don’t need to restart this process from scratch each time you’re ready to publish.

Good Luck!

BIO: Bea Potter, a content marketer and editor for Assignment Writing Service and Top UK writing services, helps individuals who want to self-publish their non-fiction books. She has researched a lot of marketing strategies and self-promotion tactics for authors and enjoys sharing her insights. Her work is also available at Top essay writing services UK.

More About Book Marketing On B2W

How To Rank on the Amazon Bestsellers List in 21 Days 

Writers, Everyone Hates Us On Social Media. Here’s Why

Top 5 Mistakes Indie Authors Make 

How To Use Social Media To Market Your Novel

4 Things I’ve Learned From Beta Readers 

10 Awesome Tips To Get Your Social Media Posts Noticed 

Why You Need To Stop Spamming Everyone Right Now 

Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make With Email Marketing

How To Be Successful As A Writer

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Vague, A Definition

Newsflash: a vague logline kills your pitch … But then we know this. Every Bang2writer paying attention knows a logline (aka short pitch) should have CLARITY. It’s one of what B2W calls ‘The 3 Cs’ (clarity, conflict, clarity). Without clarity, we got nothin’.

So why then, are there SO MANY vague loglines flying about? 

First, it’s helpful to consider what we mean by ‘vague’. Here’s the dictionary definition of vague, below. Check out those keywords and synonyms …

  • uncertain
  • indefinite
  • unclear
  • hazy
  • cloudy

For the purposes of this post then, when we say a logline is ‘too vague’, the story’s meaning is NOT CLEAR ENOUGH. Okay? Then let’s go …

Brave Bang2writer

First up, let’s be upstanding for brave Bang2writer Alexia, who posted this logline online recently, which I discussed with her. Alexia very kindly gave me permission to post this logline for this case study on the main site. Here’s her original pitch …

After he unexpectedly befriended his favourite actor, a nine-year-old kid must protect the Hollywood star’s secret, even if that means losing both his mother and his innocence. 

Perhaps this looks pretty good to you and straight off the bat I will say yes, it is pretty good. Alexia understands she must introduce the characters, such as the protagonist (the nine-year old) and the antagonist (the Hollywood star). She also gives us an idea of the threat here (the secrets) as well as the stakes (losing his mum/innocence).

However, whilst it is definitely not ‘dead’ like the blog headline, Alexia’s logline could do with some tweakage. This is because when it comes to B2W’s fabled 3 Cs, it lacks one thing … CLARITY. More on why, next.

No Secret? No Story

This is the thing. When it comes to most stories in most genres and mediums, there will be a REVEAL of some kind. This is especially true when it comes to thrillers, which Alexia’s appears to be.

In other words then, the notion of secrets is a GIVEN here. This means the logline currently feels rather vague to me. I’m struggling to engage.

What’s more, this also means Alexia’s notion of the star ‘having’ to keep the star’s secrets is pretty redundant at pitch level. If the kid can ‘just’ tell someone, the threat literally goes away. After all, his mother and innocence are at stake here, so why would he NOT ‘just’ tell???

Aaah, but then surely that would depend on what the secrets were … and you would be right.

So I decided to get to the heart of the matter and asked Alexia what was *really* going on here …

As you can see, the boy is being MANIPULATED by the star. Okay, good. So that means the ‘secrets’ mentioned in the logline  aren’t the real issue then, but the star??

But Alexia says no … the secrets *are* the danger. Okay, so WHAT IS THE SECRET?

BOOM!!! There It Is

The secret is … the Hollywood star is a paedophile predator. 

Suddenly I am a LOT more engaged with this idea, because it now has CLARITY … I’m thinking about

  • Characters … How the antagonist may seem like ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ and the protagonist may be cast as a ‘trouble-maker’
  • Authenticity … how children do NOT always tell on their abusers.
  • Relatability … in the era of #MeToo, audiences will be interested in this subject

In other words, I can see how this story might WORK. That did not happen when Alexia gave me vague notions of ‘secrets’. So here’s my potential rewrite for her …


Do note my use of the word of the word ‘potential rewrite’ in the last section, by the way. Alexia is the authority on her own work. I am not saying she ‘should’ write her logline ‘my’ way. Instead, the purpose of this case study is to illustrate that when pitching, we NEED TO OFFER UP ALL THE PERTINENT INFORMATION UPFRONT.

If we want an agent, publisher, producer or filmmaker to invest their time and/or money in your story, they have to know what’s going on.

This is what ‘clarity’ truly means. DON’T hide your story behind vagaries like ‘secrets’, or you will kill your pitch stone dead.

Kill Vague Loglines With FIRE!

So don’t allow your logline or short pitch to become vague, uncertain, indefinite, unclear, hazy or cloudy. Never imagine holding stuff back makes it more appealing, because it doesn’t. A great pitch tells us exactly what we’re dealing with, UPFRONT.

For more on all this, download the B2W Cheat Sheet On How To Write A Logline.

Good Luck!

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How Can A Character’s Masculinity Make Them Memorable?

We are hopefully moving to a world where the main characters are not male by default. But rather than limiting roles for men, this can make masculinity an important character trait.

Here are some Alpha Male-style protagonists and antagonists whose masculinity makes them both memorable and engaging. Let’s go …

1) Negan from The Walking Dead

Negan is a sports teacher turned post-apocalyptic gang leader who sells himself as the great protector, even calling his group ‘The Saviours.’ He also  sets himself up as a playboy, with a harem of wives, and claiming whatever boys’ toys remain in a world of zombies. His dialogue constantly references his masculinity, harking back to his penis and testicles in much of his foul language.

However, this is not the whole truth of his character. Negan commits horrific acts, but swears his followers to a ban on sexual violence, is kind to an upset child, and cannot get over his deceased spouse. When a more humble Negan appears in the later series, it is his exaggerated male traits that have vanished.

At the same time, we have to accept his usefulness in an apocalyptic world. A key theme of The Walking Dead is that humans turn into monsters, and this extreme level of masculinity is Negan’s play to survive.

TOP TIP: Negan demonstrates you can make a character memorable by giving them stereotypical Alpha male traits which they refuse to apologise for. To see our favourite characters pushed around by someone so  brash is horrific, which is perfect for a horror programme. MORE: What Marvel Can Teach US About Writing Powerful Villains

2) Jake Peralta from Brooklyn Nine Nine

On paper, Jake sounds like he will be the villain of a modern show. He is a Die Hard worshipping New York police officer, inspired by the hard nosed detectives of the 1970s. Despite his professional genius, he goofs off at every possible moment, belittles his colleagues, and acts inappropriately in serious situations. Jake should get his comeuppance once per episode.

However, his decent side always wins through. He is a supportive team member who stands up for his work colleagues, never descends into slurs about race or gender, and always picks the side of good when it comes to the law.  He can adore a conservative old school cop, and still defend his gay captain, despite these being contradictory traits. Jake  is from a broken home, and his attempts at being a tough action hero are a defence mechanism rather than a reflection of his values.

TOP TIP: Jake demonstrates that you can have a character whose words do not sync with his actions. Peralta’s ever-changing outlook makes him deep, not poorly-written. This turns a seemingly goofy sitcom into something noble and dramatic.

3) Jax Teller from Sons Of Anarchy 

Hell’s Angel-type gang show Sons of Anarchy is a Petri dish of masculinity, told mostly through the eyes of Jax Teller. A key member of this group, he struggles between the desire to please and protect both the bikers and his family. On the one hand, he is born into a gang that demands loyalty, even if this means breaking the law. At the same time, he has an addict for an ex-wife, a poorly son to protect, and the knowledge his father never wanted him to be a part of a gang in the first place.

His masculinity demands that he must be both a protecting father figure and a loyal violent hoodlum. But he revels in being part of both. Teller is happy to be a tough guy for his crew, and a loving Dad to his family. Though it would be easier for him to pick one of them, he clings to both.

TOP TIP: Jax is fascinating because of his desire to support the separate parts of his life, despite the clashes between them. Jax has certain expectations of him as a man even if overall this makes his life more difficult. We as an audience relate to the tension of his story. MORE: Check out Jax’s badass mother, Gemma Teller 

4) Henry Hill from Goodfellas

What is so interesting about Goodfellas is that the narration does not necessarily reflect what happens on screen. This is because Henry Hill, a sharp dressed psychotic gangster, is bewitched from childhood by the world of the ‘wise guys’ around him. He doesn’t care that they commit violent acts, wear tacky clothes, and break the law. All he has ever wanted to do is join this exclusive club of men. From a small boy to middle age, we see him achieve this fantasy, until he has to choose whether or not to betray them.

This makes Hill engaging because we cannot trust what he is telling us. His voiceover makes light of death threats, justifies his existence as a lawbreaker, and paints gangsters as like a family rather than criminals. Hill’s dichotomy between what he thinks being a ‘wise guy’ is, and the truth of his life that sets the movie apart.

TOP TIP:   An unreliable narrator is a well-used trope, but here reliability is sacrificed at the altar of masculinity. If you can subvert their interaction with the viewer, this can lead to a whole new depth to your writing.

5) Frank N Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show 

Although there are clear archetypes and stereotypes when creating characters, masculinity is not a tickbox. A man can be whatever he wants to be. Dr Frank N Furter is a perfect example of this. Mad scientist, transvestite, bisexual, cannibal, theatre producer, castle owner and serial romanticist, he refuses to define his personality. One of the film’s musical numbers is a song focused around the words ‘don’t dream here, be here.’ Frank shows us that if we have any inner desires, these go far beyond any concept of gender.

Frank is not a pariah for choosing his own lifestyle. Everyone from stuffy glasses-wearers to hard-living teddy boys fall for his charms. You can be your own man, even if it is like no man the universe has ever seen.

TOP TIP: Frank demonstrates that everything I have explored about masculinity can be thrown in the bin, if you write a memorable enough character. Instead, it becomes much more about the reasons for making your characters how they are. MORE: Top 10 Diverse Male Characters In Movies & TV


Many of these characters hide behind or embrace certain traditional masculine traits. They all have a side they want to show to society, whether this is a rejection or acceptance of the norm. But this may be very different to what they feel on the inside. All emphasise the importance of considering why your character is male. When done thoughtfully, this can bring a whole new thrust to your narrative.

Good Luck!

BIO: Dylan Spicer is a graduate of Brighton Film School and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Amongst various projects he has created an online audio drama about a hidden tale in Homer’s Odyssey, and is currently working on The Butter Mouse, a flash fiction blog that mixes writing, video, photos, cocktail recipes and more to tell an ongoing story. You can find him on Twitter @DylanSpicer.

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