Wives & Girlfriends

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

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

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

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

Male Equivalent 

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

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

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

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

Male Case Study –  Niko, Killing Eve

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

IT’S HOW IT’S WRITTEN.

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

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

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

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

Niko is a brilliant, nuanced male character

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

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

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

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

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

Real Men Versus Real Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Luck!

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

Share this:

All About Your Central Idea

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

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

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

1) Work out your USP (unique selling point)

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

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

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

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

What’s different about your central idea?

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

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

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

2) Work out what’s out there already 

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

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

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

3) Give yourself permission to lie

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

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

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

4) Embrace the contradictions

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

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

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

5) Give up! (Until later)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Luck!

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

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

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

Share this:

All About Reviews

Movie reviews: you can’t move for them online. So why on earth would I write fifty of the damn things? That’s right! FIFTY!

It all started when I lost any motivation to write. I fell into a downward spiral of “I’m not a good writer… I wasn’t meant to write… it’s not for me… I’ll NEVER succeed in this industry”… I guess many of you have gone down that road, too.

But how do we get out of those non-supportive thoughts?? We take ACTION. For me, I decided it was time to see how others did what I want to do. To do this, I committed to writing 50 movie reviews in 50 days. Here’s what I learned … enjoy!

LESSON 1: Do Your Research and Ask the Right Questions

Anyone can write how they liked or disliked a movie online (and they do!) … But we’re writers, so to learn from movies, we need to be able to CRITIQUE them. But what does this mean?

As writers, we need to through some objective criteria to do with the craft of writing and filmmaking. This is the part where most of us struggle, falling back solely on opinions instead. Here are some questions you should ask yourself when reviewing the movie:

This list can go on, and on. There’s so much you can talk about when reviewing movies, and you can get as technical as you want. If you have a deep understanding of movie direction, you can comment on the shots and style the director chose. A good rule is to stick with elements you know you’d be able to explain in a debate.

LESSON 2: Never Compromise on Your Opinion

Each of us has his or her taste about the type of movies we like and dislike. That’s fine. But when it comes to writing reviews, you need to go beyond your personal taste. Nevertheless, what will make your review stand out will be your honesty about it.

In my 50 days of writing reviews, I discovered there were several movies I loved but other critics tore them to shreds. Yet when I looked for the reasons they dislike the movie I could see they fall into their own personal taste and had nothing to backup their opinion. I wasn’t willing to compromise my own truth for popularity and what “everyone else liked or disliked”. This was a great lesson in sticking to my own values and trusting myself.

Click the pic to read all of Vered’s reviews

LESSON 3: It’s the Small Stuff that Makes the Difference

I came to realise that a movie is such a mesmerising experience (even when it’s not a good one). We miss many elements when we first watch a movie.

In the course of my 50 days, I’ve learned to watch a movie twice and sometimes three times in order to catch all the elements and the hidden messages that might be showing only in the slightest shots. Catching these tiny details can make all the difference in understanding a story’s success (or not!) in getting its message across.

LESSON 4: Nothing Beats Commitment

The C word is one not many people like! But I’ve found out that committing to my 50 reviews and announcing it in the Bang2writers Facebook group really helped me knuckle down. The fear of losing face; of disappointing those people that were cheering for me; of disappointing myself was a great motivation to put my ass on that bloody chair and type that keyboard.

It didn’t matter if I had inspiration or didn’t … Or if I had a lot to say about that specific movie or not … I was typing and I was writing!

That started the ball rolling and got me excited about writing again. That “little” ego of mine was raising its head again! After all, if THAT movie was produced, I could surely make something just as good as that or even better?? I just need to sit and write!

LESSON 5: You Can’t Satisfy Everyone All the Time

You might think that by the ripe age of 60 I should get used to this one, but somehow it finally landed on me while doing this challenge.

Realising that no matter how hard I try in my reviews, some people will disagree and have contrasting opinions. It’s time for me to let go of being RIGHT and just be happy with what I’m doing.

This is also a powerful reminder as a writer. I can put my heart and soul into a project, but there will always be haters. That’s okay. As long as I have worked on my craft, I know my writing will be a success, no matter how it’s received. MORE: 8 Steps To Analyse A Successful Story

Good Luck!

BIO: Vered Neta is a proof that you’re never too old to start something new. She says she already had three past lives in this lifetime. After 28 years of being a trainer and working with over 150,000 people all over the world, she started a new career as a screenwriter, author and script reader. She wrote 2 screenplays and a musical. These days she is working on a documentary and a novel based on one of her screenplays and have started a YouTube TV program called #GoodLifeRedefined. You can find more on website www.veredneta.com.

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

Share this:

Oi, You … Yes YOU

Look, I’m not saying an outline is an absolute MUST for writers … Except I am and you are utterly bonkers if you don’t outline! (What?? BRING IT!).

Anyway, while I head off angry non-outlining writers at the pass, here’s why you SHOULD BE … Ready? Let’s go!

1) The Industry Expects It

As screenwriters, we need to get used to outlining, because that’s the way of the industry. No one is going to pay us real money just to dive into a draft head first and ‘see how we go’. If nothing else, what happens if you end up in The Story Swamp????

Novelists have slightly more leeway, but even then it’s still a bad idea to not outline. There will always, always be opportunities missed at concept, character and plot level if we don’t outline.

Fact is, drafts that have been outlined first ARE better (whatever that means). But as a script editor, I can practically SMELL the ones that have been outlined. Yes, really! MORE: Why Planning Beats Seat-Of-Your-Pants Every time

2) Write Your Drafts Faster

New writers often write a draft (or ten!) and ‘carve out’ characters and plots. I remember starting this way myself as a child. As a learning experience, it is very valuable.

However, it takes waaaaaay too much time. Another reason the industry wants outlines is it needs everything *yesterday*. If you don’t outline, then you can’t prove you can get it done ASAP.

But okay, you’re not working to a deadline for someone … But it’s still worth outlining. If you outline, you can get your drafts written FASTER because you can spot issues upfront (more on this in point 3, after the jump).

3) Spot Issues Upfront

Lots of writers say they don’t outline because it ‘kills spontaneity’. Any writers who do outline know this is utter bobbins. I’ve been surprised my plotting and characters more times than I care to mention. This is because writing the actual draft will never go 100% the way we plan, because things will occur to us AS we write. We all know this from school when our nasty-ass English teachers made us do paragraph plans for our essays, c’mon.

This is the reality … A lot of writers don’t like outlining because it forces them to confront the realities of their draft at foundation level. Sometimes those undercooked elements are very obvious. This can feel daunting and demotivating.

But these writers have it all backwards. Realising what’s undercooked at foundation level can HELP YOU avoid the following …

Yes, yes we’ve all heard about amazing pro writers who don’t outline. Sure they have awesome skillz and can get away with it … But how much more awesome would they be if they DID outline??? Now there’s a thought. We can’t possibly know but I would wager real money they would send their awesome non-outlined drafts into hyper-space genius if they DID. MORE: Check out the Free B2W PDF Downloads

4) Cause And Effect

Another great thing about outlines is they force you to FOCUS. You can’t just gloss over bits of the story that aren’t working.

You have to look at the cause and effect of your characters’ actions and behaviour in the plot. Handy contrivances will become obvious. This means outlined stories feel more three dimensional as a matter of course.

Better still, when a reviewer of your finished work says ‘nothing happens’ in your book, film or TV show (and they will!), you’ll know it’s not true. You outlined this shit, you know what the cause and effect is in each chapter/scene and everything connects together for a reason.

So in other words, that person just doesn’t like your story (which is always fine). But you still have total peace of mind!

5) Avert DISASTER

None of us have unlimited time for this writing malarkey. Many of us are balancing it with day jobs, families and other commitments. Plus even pro writers have no time to waste.

But okay, I get it: some writers believe outlines are a waste of time. They will argue it’s just procrastination, especially as they may well end up writing the draft differently anyway.

Check out this cautionary tale … I outlined a new book recently. I knew what I was doing. The concept, characters and plotting worked out pretty well. My agent and betas agreed yes, it was a good outline.

But guess what … When I wrote the initial two or three exploratory chapters, something felt off. I wasn’t sure what it was. They were good chapters, I just wasn’t feeling it. Something was niggling in the back of my mind.

That’s when I realised – holy crap, I had STARTED TEN CHAPTERS TOO EARLY! Those chapters were very exciting, but they were essentially back story. The story would be hella more powerful if those events were alluded to, rather than seen in full technicolour.

I made this connection, BECAUSE I had outlined. It also meant I could fix this very easily. I returned to my plan and lifted out those ten chapters and ‘pulled back’ the story. I junked the exploratory chapters and wrote some new ones. This was all done in a matter of days.

Now imagine what would have happened had I not outlined … I could have been down the rewrite rabbit hole for MONTHS sorting this out. YIKES! No thanks.

Do You Outline?

If you do, pat on the head. If you don’t, boo!!! Fact is, outlining has so many uber-benefits for ALL writers, new to professional. I have had to help way too many writers untangle their drafts, when an outline could have prevented them going down that route in the first place.

Seriously, outlining is a no brainer. If you don’t outline, try it. You might just find it saves your writing life. If nothing else, it will definitely save you a LOT of time. MORE: Writing Outlines, Beat Sheets And Treatments 

Good luck!

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

Share this:

All About Brit Marling

I’ll confess I hadn’t heard of Brit Marling before last weekend. Like a good portion of blogging writers, the first I knew of her was her opinion piece in the NY Times, ‘I Don’t Want To Be the Strong Female Lead’. It’s fair to say this article really lit up social media. Since B2W is known for its own commentary on female characterisation, I thought I’d throw my own thoughts out on it.

But first, credit where it’s due. Brit Marling is an American actress and screenwriter. She’s starred in films such as Sound of My Voice (2011), Another Earth (2011), and The East (2013), which she also co-wrote. She also co-created, wrote, and starred in the Netflix series The OA (2016).

It’s clear Marling is an accomplished and talented individual. B2W would never attempt to tear down a fellow female creative.

Before anyone gets their knickers in a twist then, it should be noted that this article is not a ‘clapback’ or ‘call-out’ … Instead, it’s just a disagreement on her apparent reasoning of how she appears to have got to it. Ready? Then let’s go …

Where Marling Gets It BANG ON

First though, I should mention the article is a good read. Marling makes some persuasive points framed within her lived experiences as an actress that are very valuable. It’s true that there is endemic sexism in the industry, meaning female actresses are more vulnerable.

It’s also true that historically, female characters are underwritten as standard, especially when in secondary or peripheral role functions. This in turn leads to a plethora of female dead naked bodies and victim-type characters. (This in turn feeds into the vicious circle of making the female actresses who play them more vulnerable).

It would also be nonsensical for B2W to claim it doesn’t find the term ‘strong female character’ reductive and has done for years now. Here’s the most recent example: It’s Time To Call Bullshit On Strong Female Characters.

Ultimately then, B2W and Marling agree: it’s time for the ‘Strong Female Character’ to retire, once and for all. So what is my problem??

Heroism & Gender

Marling appears to have a major downer on The Hero’s Journey in her piece. She makes the point that it is an overused plotting archetype and again, B2W agrees with her. In fact, here’s a B2W recent article on Dan Harmon’s Story Circle where I say much the same.

Where we begin to move apart is WHY Marling thinks The Hero’s Journey is a ‘bad’  thing (or at least not ‘as relevant’ for female characters).

This is because Marling appears to have very strong opinions on so-called ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits. She associates The Hero’s Journey with the ‘masculine’. This has the knock-on effect of suggesting a female hero ‘needs’ to go through something quite different to qualify as a complex character.

However, as I’ve said many times on this blog, there is nothing remotely gendered about heroism … Or indeed The Hero’s Journey. (In contrast Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth DID use sexist language and ideas to underpin it, compare the two HERE). So, B2W believes heroism is not actually gendered and it’s just society that has put men as automatic heroes. We have all read accounts of heroic women and their actions in real life, so why not storytelling? Seems like splitting hairs to me.

I also don’t think it’s necessarily patriarchy that is the issue here, at least when it comes to Hollywood blockbusters. Hollywood follows the money, so it’s society’s reliance on capitalism (especially box office return via ‘bums on seats’) that has placed The Hero’s Journey at the forefront for forty years.

But this, too, is changing! There are countless other plotting archetypes available which have been gaining in popularity, especially in the past 5 years. Here’s a comparison of just 3, all with female leads, all scoring well in excess of $500m at the Box Office.

Masculine Vs Feminine

This notion of supposedly ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits is the real sticking point for me in Marling’s argument. This is because B2W has always posited that it’s ‘personality first, gender second’ when it comes to great characterisation.

I simply don’t believe in the concept of gender as the ultimate driving force for the things men and women do. I think it CAN be very important … But I also think it’s not important at all, plus every available shade in-between. I also think how important gender is will change according to context, too.

With all this in mind then, to me The Hero’s Journey is simply a plotting archetype. Nothing more, nothing less. Any assumption this is automatically ‘masculine’ is down to the person interpreting it, not the actual archetype.

I posted this Phoebe Waller-Bridge quote only last week on B2W …

‘It will always be relevant and always be inspiring to see somebody turning themselves into a warrior.’

Unlike Marling, I identify very, very strongly with The Hero’s Journey. I feel like my own lived experiences have been a massive journey, sometimes an ordeal … I have had allies help me and villains attempt to bring me down. (It should be said I don’t think I have reached the elixir yet!).

Like Waller-Bridge, I am ALWAYS inspired in seeing someone going from ‘zero to hero’ and becoming a warrior.

So when writers like Marling say women do heroism ‘differently’ somehow, it makes me feel like I am doing something wrong. Even worse, some people really have told me I am ‘too male’. But this is bullshit. I am me.

On the flip side, there are many men who present as ‘macho’, yet also have the traits Marling says are ‘feminine’ – listening, vulnerability, empathy. Not because these men are ‘really women’, or because they are ‘feminised’, but because human beings are complex.

Kickass Hotties

We have seen more and more female heroes in the past decade. According to Marling, here’s why we like them …

What we really mean when we say we want strong female leads is: ‘Give me a man but in the body of a woman I still want to see naked.’

Erm, we probably want to see ‘strong male characters’ naked too, especially if we consider the likes of Thor and Wolverine letting it all hang out (Whaaaat??).

But more importantly, just because female characters are kickass hotties does NOT mean they are automatically bad characterisation. Many movie-goers love this trope, including female audiences. Here’s 5 Modern Kickass Hotties Who Are Also Great Characters.

If Marling and others don’t like Kickass Hotties, that’s obviously fine. But to reject them outright as simple male fantasy, ignoring the fact many girls and women enjoy and relate to them too, is not progressive in B2W’s opinion.

Can We All Please Move On?

Marling is absolutely on the button when she says ‘strong female character’ is a reductive label … But trying to fix this issue within the frame of ‘female-ness’ is an own goal. As B2W has always said, trying to fit various traits into various ‘gender boxes’ is not going to help us achieve great characterisation.

It’s true that female characters need more complexity, as standard. But it’s also important to remember that how we define ‘complex’ needs to be under constant review too. This will depend on what’s gone before in the genre, medium and tropes. It will also depend on how audiences respond to them.

What complexity means needs be under review in us as writers, too. How we view complexity will be according to such things as our worldviews, past experiences, fears for the future, relationships, personal vs global politics, the period in history we find ourselves in and many, many other things.

Finally, ‘The Strong Female Characters’ debate seems very old fashioned to me in 2020. The conversation seems to have stalled.

We’ve had a good decade of great female characterisation …Though most of the actual leads have been – surprise! – white, straight, cis, able-bodied just like their male counterparts before them.

It would be nice if we saw more pro writers picking up the mantle on diversity and inclusion and helping push the conversation on representation, instead of endlessly pontificating on what makes a female character ‘strong’. As it is, we’re in serious danger of repeating ourselves now.

So Let’s GO!

Want MORE on Female Characters?

You can also grab a free B2W eBook, How Not To Write Female Characters HERE (by signing up to my email list). Or if you don’t like that idea, grab it (still free) direct from Amazon, HERE.

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

Share this:

About Phoebe Waller-Bridge

If you’ve never heard of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, my first question is where have you been???  She is, of course, the English actress and writer who created, wrote, and starred in the BBC tragicomedy series Fleabag.

Phoebe was also the showrunner and executive producer for the first series of the BBC America thriller series Killing Eve. More recently, she signed on to ‘spice up’ the new James Bond movie, No Time To Die. So it’s fair to say this is a creative who knows her stuff!

With all this in mind, Bang2write took a look at her thoughts on writing female characters. Ready? Let’s go …

1) The Hero’s Journey is not just for male characters …

Waller-Bridge: ‘It will always be relevant and always be inspiring to see somebody turning themselves into a warrior.’

Phoebe is BANG ON here. The reasons The Hero’s Journey has been such a popular plotting archetype for so long is because literally everyone can relate to it. Nearly everyone will have to be a warrior and deal with adversity at some point of their lives.

With this in mind then, writers need to realise two things … Female characters CAN be just as relevant and inspiriting as their male counterparts. They also don’t necessarily have to follow the standard Hero’s Journey template. What about ‘Rebirth’, or ‘Voyage and Return’? (Don’t know what these are? CLICK HERE).

2) … But female characters need to be COMPLEX!

Waller-Bridge: ‘I suppose the cult of the strong woman character on TV has probably been misinterpreted in so many different ways, meaning that a woman can’t be emotionally complicated or want things or can’t be weak in moments.’

Yup. As I’ve said many, many times on this blog, It’s Time To Call Bullshit On Strong Female Characters. It’s a reductive phrase that leads to two-dimensional characterisation. Audiences want complex characters who just so happen to be female.

3) Female characters shouldn’t only be defined by the men in their lives

Waller-Bridge: ‘I really, really wanted to write about just female relationships with other females and things.’

Female characters are too often side-lined in men’s stories in fiction, movies and TV. Audiences are tired of it. Women are more than labels and should not be defined by who their husband, boyfriend or father is. This is basic. You got this!

4) Put women in the driver’s seat

Waller-Bridge: ‘You don’t often see a cross section of female characters interacting with each other at the top of a chain.’

Following on from number 3, female characters often operate in male-dominated storyworlds, just like real life. This means there’s very often WAAAY more male characters than female characters, especially in positions of authority.

But what if female characters operated in female-dominated story worlds instead? What could that bring to your story? Perhaps  it’s a story of a single group of friends or co-workers. Or maybe your female characters live in matriarchies where women are in all in the positions of power. Why not?

5) Women get told who they are

Waller-Bridge: ‘If you go into the mainstream with a female perspective that seems to resonate with a lot of people, you have a political agenda imposed on you.’

Phoebe nails it here. A male writer like Stephen King might write a piece of work that connects with a lot of people, but it’s rare his entire personality gets dissected along with it. Women have a lot more assumptions and pressure put on them and it tends to stick long-term, as well.

This is worth thinking about when it comes to female characters, too. How does your character get told who she is? MORE: 23 Famous Writers On Feminism

6) … Because female POVs are disruptive!

Waller-Bridge: ‘I see the portrayal of any believable female character as feminist.’

It’s great that female characters are becoming more complex and appearing more often in stories.But it’s important to note that female POVs are still not on an equal footing with men’s.

This means any female POV will disrupt will the current status quo … But is especially true when we think about female POVs that are not white, straight, middle-class or able-bodied. So keep going, ladies!!!

7) Society has double standards

Waller-Bridge: ‘As women, we get the message about how to be a good girl – how to be a good, pretty girl – from such an early age. Then, at the same time, we’re told that well-behaved girls won’t change the world or ever make a splash.’

Growing up a girl can be frustrating, confusing and intimidating. There are lots of restrictions on what we are supposed to do and not supposed to do. The double standards are exhausting. This can even be imposed via other women, even those calling themselves feminists.

This kind of knowledge can be gold dust for any writer … Yet I see these type of contradictory layers in female characters very infrequently in the spec pile. Thinking about society’s double standards when it comes to real women can help identify female characters’ motivations, problems and dilemmas.

8) It’s not about gender, ultimately

Waller-Bridge: ‘I don’t think the challenge is asking an audience to like a character; it’s inviting them to try and understand them… then making that journey entertaining and worth their while. It’s a classic trick, but it’s human, and it allows characters to have more depth.’

Damn straight … B2W has posited many times that ‘likeability’ is a red herring when it comes to characterisation. It’s possible to detest a character, yet also relate to their actions in the story without condoning them.

Note how Phoebe doesn’t specify gender of character here, too. That’s because we want great characters who just so happen to be female. As B2W always says, ‘personality first, gender second’!

9) Be fearless

Waller-Bridge: Whenever I get stuck on something, I’m like, ‘What would I do if I wasn’t afraid? What would I write if I wasn’t afraid? What would I say in this situation if I wasn’t afraid?’

Lots of male writers worry about getting female characters ‘wrong’. Other times, female writers confess they worry about writing female characters that are not the ‘norm’.

But these are normal fears. Do your research and it should be fine. Who knows, perhaps it won’t go the way you want. Failure is a learning curve.  Keep on keeping on! MORE: Top 5 Beliefs Of Fearless Writers

10) Don’t forget: audiences love complex female characters!

Waller-Bridge: ‘I’ll never get bored of seeing flawed women on the screen.’

Yup, me too … Sure, the Dudeflakes make a lot of noise on social media, but their petty grievances have made zero difference. Audiences have voted with their wallets and the verdict is in … Heavily idealised, side-lined or two-dimensional female characters are very definitely OUT. Complex, flawed female characters are IN. So what are you waiting for?? MORE: How NOT To Write Female Characters

Good Luck!

Come to my next course …

Slide2

Just some of the orgs B2W has read for

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

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

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

Share this:

All About Linkedin

LinkedIn has proved to be the go-to place for professionals and an active platform for job seekers.

If you’re a writer with the dream to connect with like-minded professionals, land a writing job, or to simply extend your network,  LinkedIn is a good place to start.

So here goes the top 5 Tips to help you make the most of LinkedIn. Let’s begin …

1) Networking

One of the best advantages of a platform like LinkedIn is the freedom it gives you in terms of creative expression and networking with the right people.

People that you wouldn’t have otherwise met in real life become accessible on LinkedIn. You will get the opportunity to network with fellow screenwriters, producers, and people in the film and TV industry. It never hurts in the media to find out what everyone else is doing! Thanks to social media sites like Linkedin, this is easier than ever.

How this works is simple … Send a targeted connection request to people in your industry. If they accept your connection request, this is the start of your online relationship.

So if you haven’t already, make the most of LinkedIn for networking! Just don’t spam people, pitch people randomly, or make a nuisance of yourself. MORE: 4 Indispensable Social Media Platforms For Writers

2)  Using Linkedin Analytics

If you are a screenwriter or a creative writer, LinkedIn can be extremely helpful for you.

For example, it provides you with a great analytics tool which gives you a word count of the  people reading your published posts on LinkedIn.

By using LinkedIn Analytics, writers can easily identify their total viewership, demographics, and how much followers a posted video or article has gained, total number of impressions, and lastly, the total number of interactions made on your profile.

Writers can also identify the type of viewership their posts attract which helps them decide which content they want to promote. This makes it easier  to take a judgement call on what kind of content works (or doesn’t work!).

Getting to know your target audience has far-reaching advantages. It also has the power to transform you into a good marketer, something that you should not underestimate. Building a good online platform can pay dividends to a writer.

3) Building professional Connections

LinkedIn has a vibrant community of screenwriters and producers.

As a screenwriter, making connections within these communities can help you connect with the right people, which can transform into a potential screenwriting deal or an employment opportunity overtime.

But who is to say that you need to only make new connections to find a new opportunity?

You can always revisit your current connections and inquire if they are looking for a screenwriter. This is called querying.

Additionally, if you have a paid account, you can make use of Inmail – a LinkedIn feature available to paid users that helps you connect with people who aren’t your first-level-connections.

Inmail gives you the option of shooting emails to people who are not in your network. This means that you get the opportunity to send your message across to a potential employer without having to wait for them to accept your connection request!

BUT AGAIN … Don’t spam people, pitch people randomly, or make a nuisance of yourself! MORE: Why You NEED To Stop Spamming People Online Right Now 

4) Linkedin Endorsements & Recommendations

As a writer, you can make the most of your LinkedIn profile through endorsements and recommendations.

What you can do here is ask for recommendations from people who directly managed you and are aware and appreciative of your talent and potential.

Here’s a 3 step process to help you get endorsements and recommendations:

  1. Select the skills in your LinkedIn profile.
  2.  Get people you work with to endorse your skills.
  3.  Ask for recommendations.

But while we say this, DON’T just get endorsed by anyone and everyone! Being endorsed by friends can be counterproductive as it is obvious that you have no professional working relationship with them. So steer clear from this as much as you can.

5) Switch on job notification alerts

A career in writing is full of ups and downs. You must always be on your toes and ready for every opportunity that comes your way.

At LinkedIn, there is no dearth of opportunities. Companies regularly post job vacancies for writers, both full time and part time.  Additionally, you can also look up freelancing opportunities for writers and create a job alert for these job types. Doing this will ensure that you are notified whenever an opportunity comes up.

This also has the added benefit of saving time as you won’t have to constantly search for opportunities. MORE: How To Build Your Own Online Platform 

Concluding

  • Networking is key.
  • Make the most of analytics to identify the strategy that works for you.
  • Connect with esteemed people in your field to build relationships and query where appropriate
  • Join groups to get in touch with like-minded professionals.
  • Get recommendations and endorsements from people you work with.
  • Make the most of job alerts by switching on the notification alert.

Good Luck!

BIO: On a quest to help professionals across the world land their dream jobs, Aditya Sharma lives and breathes Hiration — an AI-powered online resume builder and platform to help job-seekers find their way in the treacherous job market — where he’s a Co-Founder and the unofficial CPO (Chief Problem-solving Officer). He likes to code away his days and nights when he’s not busy disrupting the career space.

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

Share this:

Likeable Characters

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

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

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

The Gone Girl Effect

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

I am of course talking about the iconic Gone Girl.

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

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

Female Burden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is ‘Good’ Characterisation, Anyway?

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

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

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

Do This Instead

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

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

Good Luck!

Get Your Free Book 

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

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

Share this:

Screenplay Notes

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

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

1) Please clarify

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

2) This is contrived

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

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

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

3) Your characters need more depth

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

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

4) Your structure is lumpy

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

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

5) The story doesn’t make sense

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

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

Good Luck!

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

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

Share this:

Fear Is Natural

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

1) Prepare Yourself

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

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

2) Acknowledge The Pain

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

3) Find The Good Stuff

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

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

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

4) Transform Your Perception

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

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

5) Feed Your Growth Mindset

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

NOPE.

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

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

Good Luck!

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

Share this: