Beta readers are so important (also known as ‘peer reviewers’ in there screenwriting world)! Many thanks to screenwriter and novelist Keith Ndenga Kinambuga today. He’s written a great article about what we can learn from beta readers. Be sure to check out his books at the bottom of the post. Don’t forget too you’re welcome to look for beta readers and peer reviewers in The B2W Facebook group, that’s one of the primary purposes of the group. Enjoy!

All About Beta Readers

One of the toughest things for anyone to accept is criticism. It is especially tough for the createive because the judge is normally the public. Fortunately or unfortunately, this is what s/he needs to overcome in order to improve their work.

It took a while for me to embrace this, but I can now confidently say that I am in my moment of Zen. I welcome criticism whether it’s good or bad. The beauty of embracing it is that you learn how to sift the real from the fake, the genuine from the haters. Here is what I’ve learnt from my Beta Readers (the hardcore, no-holds-barred fans who read my manuscript just before release):

1) Don’t give excuses

When something wrong is pointed out, do not try to defend it. Take five, meditate on it then decide on the way forward. An immediate response only shuts down your reader and will most likely come off as childish. Your beta reader always has your draft in mind. MORE: 5 Ways To Use Feedback Effectively

2) Be visual

The best compliments I’ve had about my writing is that the visual description is ‘immersive’. However,  one beta reader told me, ‘It’s great for the big moments, but distracting for the casual.‘ In other words, I needed to tone it down just a wee bit.

In my first novel, I tried my best to keep the balance but in the second, it was a deliberate act. To create ‘word pictures’, use paragraphs that concentrate on the five senses. I personally break it down to what a character sees, smells, hears, touches, tastes. MORE: 5 Top Tips On Visuals For Your Novel From Hollywood Blockbusters

3) Tone down the ‘foolosophy’

As a self-publisher, sometimes I get requests from other writers who want to me to read their own drafts. In this case, I’m the beta reader!

The common weakness I see from newbies (and a few with experience) is explaining how the character views the world philosophically rather than visually. This is fine in some cases but when overdone, it can subject a reader to a boring rant on personal viewpoints. Compare these two paragraphs:

He hated her and her idiotic thoughts. Instead of making decisions about her life on her own she relied on others. He would have taken the six-figure salary job on offer in a heartbeat. Didn’t she know jobless youth are suffering?

Or

Her questioning eyes bore through him. “Well, what do you think? Should I take the job?” 

He studied the piece of paper, a typed job contract. The number of zeros on the salary offer seemed to snake on forever. A blank space sat eagerly next to her name. His jaw pumped, bile rising.

He sneered and grabbed a pen from his lapel. “If you won’t sign it, I will.”

The two snippets are communicating a similar message but which one is more appealing? I bet you’ll choose the second simply because it’s more visual. The visual aspect adds drama and characterisation. Explaining thought processes too much like the first slows the story down. MORE: 8 Ways To Jump Start Your Novel’s Description 

4) Give them credit

I always include my beta readers in the acknowledgement section. Without their honest opinion, I would be trapped in a bubble. MORE: 3 Important Beta Readers You Just Have To Impress

Good Luck!

BIO: Keith Ndenga Kinambuga’s screenplays have aired all over Africa. He’s blogged short stories and is now publishing novels. His home is Kenya and every word he writes echoes a strong local influence with universal thoughts. Check out his two novels I’m Not A Black Widow But I Spin Webs and The Black Algorithm (available on pre-order) on Amazon HERE.

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Jed Mercurio And LINE OF DUTY

Jed Mercurio’s work always seems to be a talking point with the Bang2writers. Whether it’s his use of tech in his storylines; those iconic interrogation scenes; his much-lauded LINE OF DUTY finales; or his female characterisation, we always seem to be putting his writing under the microscope!

The first four series of LINE OF DUTY recently hit Netflix. As any veteran of this site knows, I love structure and always thought it was a very tight show plot-wise. But since the show began in 2012, the TV landscape has changed considerably.

We’re ‘binging’ content now as standard, which means new pressures on writers like Jed. People are no longer watching TV drama week-on-week, but back-to-back. Now obviously each series is shot in one go. But if there’s only a few seconds between episodes instead of seven days, then audiences are surely more likely to notice inconsistencies and other issues. I was interested to see how one like LINE OF DUTY ‘stands up’ as it’s straddled the streaming revolution.

Here Comes The Science Part

So, for science, I sat down and revisited all four series, one after another, non-stop! (You’re welcome). No spoilers, but this was a real eye-opener. The over-arching storyline of The Balaclava Men finds its way into every character’s arc somehow. This is whether they are series regulars like Arnott, Hastings and Fleming; or visiting characters like Corbett, Denton and Huntley.

There’s fantastic foreshadowing too, especially when it comes to Hastings’ ambiguity. Right from the offset he says to Arnott in series 1: ‘There’s no one blacker than me.’

Depending on how you view this line, I felt there’s a certain dramatic irony to it, too.

B2W’s official verdict then? LINE OF DUTY is tight AF.

Story Archaeologists Versus Story Architects

In the last article on B2W, I talked to Eric Heisserer (ARRIVAL, BIRDBOX). In an off-the-cuff remark (that didn’t make it into the interview!), Eric mentioned he was a ‘story archaeologist’. He qualified this by saying he dug layers of story out of characters and situations as he goes.

I thought this was a really interesting way of describing the plotting process. On further consideration however, I thought that I actually do the opposite to Eric Heisserer. I have an ‘endgame’ for the plot in mind, then plot backwards to find the *beginning* of that story.

I guess you could say I am a ‘story architect’! This would make sense, given my love of visual representations of structure and ‘drawing the story’.

What The H

As all LoD fans know though, this over-arching storyline and its ‘Who is H?’ pay-off is STILL on-going. Jed does not have a crystal ball and can’t know if series are going to get re-commissioned too. This is why he has to ensure each series has its own contained storyline too.

But on re-watching LoD in its entirety, I had two questions:

  • Did Jed Mercurio plot where The Balaclava Men storyline was going from the offset?
  • If he did, does this mean he’s a story archaeologist or a story architect???

Jed’s Answer

Well, there’s only one person who can really answer that! I dug out my address book and asked Jed himself. B2W was lucky enough to receive his answer right away.

‘I lean towards the archaeological approach. I’ve never thought of it that way, but it’s a very good analogy. Generally I’ve thought in terms of story having “critical mass” from which a “chain reaction” can develop.’

Jed’s idea of critical mass and chain reactions really resonates with me. Story *is* a kind of BIG BANG with sparks flying off in all directions to create new characters and situations. Love it. It makes me think of alchemy.

On Endings

But I did still want an answer for whether he knew the END of that storyline from the very beginning of conceiving LINE OF DUTY  …

  • … Did Jed know who’s pulling the strings at the top and work ‘back’ from that, like a ‘story architect’?
  • … Or did he plot LoD series 1 and the storyline sent out spores for new series like that ‘archaeologist’ Eric mentions?

Jed’s answer:

‘It was an on-off process over a number of years with a few rethinks.’

Note how he doesn’t quite confirm he already knows that ultimate ending, though. Seems Jed likes to keep people guessing on this … It’s a great strategy, because everyone wants to know!

Concluding

Great storytelling is great storytelling; we all know it when we see it. As writers, we need to ensure audiences connect with our concepts and characters by creating tight plots that deliver.

But there is NO right way to get there. You can do that however you want … Whether you’re a story archaeologist, architect or alchemist. Or something else.

What kind of storyteller are you?

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All About Eric

Eric Heisserer has a screenwriting resumé most Bang2writers would kill for. From franchises through to adaptations and indie dramas, Eric has been at every level of the movie coal-face it seems.

Eric’s also really approachable and offers great insights on the craft. I interviewed him for my non-fiction Drama Screenplays book because he wrote and directed one of my favourite dramas Hours, starring the late Paul Walker. He’s also shared some excellent pointers on female characters in the past for B2W, too.

So I thought I’d check back in with Eric in 2019 and see what other juicy tips and insights he could share with the Bang2writers. Ready? Let’s go …

1) You Have To Chase After Opportunities

Of course, we have to start with BIRD BOX. This was a huge win for Netflix, with eighty million subscribers’ households watching it in the first month alone. It’s an adaptation of the novel by Josh Malerman. Knowing that Eric developed his previous adaptation ARRIVAL (from the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang) on spec, I asked if he had done the same again.

‘No, it was a writer-for hire job,’ Eric explains, ‘Though I did have to chase after it. I did the first five pages for the producers. I wanted to show I could capture the fear and tension of Malorie and the children making their way to the boat.’

Writing pages as an audition is not unusual for new writers, but I was surprised to hear Eric had to do this, given his track record. After all, ARRIVAL was Oscar-nominated! But it wasn’t about any concerns over Eric’s writing, but something else.

‘There was some worry BIRD BOX might not be a cinematic experience if audiences couldn’t see the actors’ eyes.’ Eric says, ‘I wanted to show the visceral possibilities of the blindfold.’

And it worked!

TOP TIP: Always hustle. Concerns about the writing of a story may not always be about your writing … But equally, your writing might just be the solution.

2) There Will Always Be Compromises  

In the book version of BIRD BOX, there are actual monsters behind the madness that plagues humankind. In stark contrast, the movie adaptation never shows them. This is an interesting reversal for a visual medium like screenwriting.

As human beings, we are compelled to look. But the book’s theme is ‘not knowing is better sometimes’, signified in the madness when you do.’ Eric says.

It’s a wise choice. How can a movie deliver on the horror of something so bad it literally drives a human mind mad? Hollywood has already shown us such horrors as the Alien, Predator, Pinhead, Jigsaw and more. In real life, we have seen pictures of dead children on posters and watched real-life beheadings online. We are de-sensitised.

Leaving the BIRD BOX monsters unseen then makes them much more frightening. That said, I had seen some articles about how they did build a monster at one point. I asked Eric about this.

‘There was a dream sequence,’ Eric says, ‘Malorie comes down to the kitchen, comes face-to-face with the monster. It signified her fear of motherhood, so had some features of an infant. It also was symbolic of her survivor’s guilt, so had some features of her dead sister.’

This scene never made it in the finished movie. So, which did Eric prefer of the two approaches? He wisely won’t be drawn: ‘There will always be compromises.’

TOP TIP: Get used to making compromises! You might love one approach to a story, but you can find a way of loving another approach too.

3) Find The Way That Works For You

Bang2writers often worry about learning the craft the ‘right’ way. But there are no writing ‘rules’; at most, it’s a set of guidelines.

Eric echoes a feeling so many writers have: ‘I’m an experiential learner. I’ve had a ridiculously hard time with ‘How To’ screenwriting books. I prefer workbooks. Break it, fix it, recreate it.’

But how do we do this? Why not start with Eric’s 150 Screenwriting Challenges. Sometimes the only way to learn is to just dive in.

TOP TIP: There is no ‘right’ way. No one cares HOW you do it, just do it.

 4) Good Storytelling Is About Feelings

The poet Robert Frost said,No tears in the writerno tears in the reader. No surprise in the writerno surprise in the reader.’ This quote tells me it’s no good to have wonderful writing craft if it doesn’t provoke an emotion response in its target audience.

So, how can we ensure that emotional response passes from us, to our audience? I asked Eric what his thoughts were on this.

‘So much of this is research and development. They say ‘writing is rewriting’ and that’s true, but it’s also about the feeling in your heart,’ Eric explains, ‘You have to seek out a character who knows that feeling, then seek out a story to express that … Create an experience that others can tap into.’

TOP TIP: Audiences always remember how good stories made them feel. Knowing what they get out of it will help you.

 5) Prioritise Your Relationships

Lots of writers think there’s this magical place called ‘The Industry’ where you have to ‘break in’. The reality is rather different. ‘It’s easy to chase after a job to pay the rent, but it’s better to find relationships,’ Eric says.

But of course, it’s not just a case of simply finding someone who’s a good bet and attaching yourself to him/her. If only! All your ducks have to line up, not just in terms of getting the job, but in keeping it as well. Back to Eric: ‘There’s lots of different ideas of what stories are. You have to find people on the same page.’

There’s a last reason you MUST all be on the same page too: time. There’s a good chance your projects will be in development for years, sometimes even decades. ‘Everything takes forever!’ Eric warns.

TOP TIP: The industry is built on good relationships, plus choose wisely – you will be working with certain people a LONG time.

 6) Know What’s Standing In Your Way  

There’s lots online about how to defeat writer’s block, with probably just as many articles insisting it does not exist. Whether it does or doesn’t is kind of immaterial; if writers believe it does, then it does. It’s knowing what’s behind it that’s key.

‘Beware the paper tiger that prevents you from writing,’ Eric agrees, ‘The fear, the judge, the self-editor – whatever the manifestation of your writer’s block is. Find the hack to bypass it.’

TOP TIP: Dig deep and find the cause of your problems so you can keep writing. You can’t fix a blank page!

Thanks, Eric!

How To Write Female Leads Like A Professional Screenwriter

Book Versus Film: BIRD BOX

Book Versus Film: STORY OF YOUR LIFE aka ARRIVAL

Writing And Selling Drama Screenplays

150 Screenwriting Challenges

How NOT To Write Female Characters 

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Logline Mistakes

‘Logline help’ is one of the top searches that lead writers to this blog. It’s also something that leads people to the Bang2writers Facebook Group, where writers can post their loglines to the wall for feedback from their peers.

There’s loads of advice online about how to write a logline, but unfortunately writers still find it extremely difficult. It’s tough to know what the most important things are in a good logline. What should we include? What should we leave out? Yikes!

All this means writers end up making lots of logline classic mistakes. The biggest is probably describing ‘around’ the story, meaning the writer is being too vague and/or not focusing on the most compelling bits of the story. You can find out more classic mistakes HERE.

Baseline

By the way, loglines are not just for pitching scenarios. They can act as a great ‘baseline’ when we start a new project, plus they can help carry on through the drafting process, too.

Personally, I think it’s a great idea to start a project with a logline like this, in order to ‘break story’. I call it a ‘baseline’. I also use ‘baselines’ in my novels.

Since writers so frequently make the same mistakes, having a baseline can be really useful in creating the end logline for pitching purposes, too. I think all writers can benefit from them, because it means writers can make informed decisions as their projects evolve/change through the drafting process.

New B2W Resource

Since Bang2writers are always asking me for help on all this then, I thought it was time for a new B2W resource. So here is the all-new B2W Logline Cheat Sheet!

As you will see, there’s a formula for your logline to help ‘focus’ your story, as well as a number of questions to help you consider what you need in it. This should (hopefully) mean you don’t end up being too vague, or describe ‘around’ the story.

  •  The ‘very important’ questions are those non-negotiables that HAVE to be in your logline. These are the elements that pique our interest, or help us understand what is going on. The first three are fairly self-explanatory. I have included the question about failure because that relates to the stakes, something a lot of writers struggle with … Yet the nature of potential consequence makes a story COMPELLING (whether those consequences are literal, metaphorical, or both).
  • The first three answers to ‘important’ questions may find their way into your logine, or they may not (dependent on genre or style, especially). Even if they don’t, you still need to know the answers to help you write your draft and/or discuss your project in meetings. ‘Why this story?’ – or variants of it – shouldn’t be in the logline, but still helps you focus whilst you write. It’s also a question that is very likely to come up in meetings later.

The resource is available HERE on this post and on the B2W Resources page to download as a PDF. (It’s also in black/white too). Simply click the link above, the pic below to grab your copy on The B2W Resources page. Best of luck with your projects!

Breaking Into Script Reading – Back For 2019!

How do IMy sell-out course, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING is back for its FIFTH year in 2019! If you’re interested in becoming a script reader, or finding out more how script readers may assess YOUR own writing – or both! – then this is the course for you. The course will run 22-23 June, 2019 and tickets are on sale now. GET THEM HERE, or click the pic on the left. See you there!

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When are clichés not clichés? WHEN THEY WORK! Yes, that’s right, there are FIVE WAYS in which clichés are the comedy writer’s friend. Let’s go …

1) In Your Catchphrases

It’s worth remembering why clichés are clichés. They were, when first heard, fantastic sentences or statements that touched the core of a great truth in the shortest possible time. Shakespeare wrote loads and the Bible have given us plenty more. Real clichés become clichés when they are over-used and over-familiar – or as B2W would say, CHEESY!

No one ever sits down to write a straight cliché, but we always hope that a line or joke from our script will become a catchphrase. As soon as you try too hard, the magic disappears. But the more work you put into the characters, the greater chance you have of finding a catchphrase that fits. It’s rarely a joke, but as soon as you hear “lovely jubbly”, “they don’t like it up ‘em” and “I’m the only gay in the village” you know exactly who we’re talking about. MORE: 5 Important Tips For Writing Kickass Comedy

2) In Your Storyworld

Before you write a word of script, you want to place your characters in a believable world. There are a number of clichés that come up repeatedly to describe the essence of every sitcom. Harper Lee’s “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family” covers or touches on dozens of sitcoms … Not just the obvious ones like Frasier, Modern Family and Steptoe. It is a strong element in Miranda, Friends, Not Going Out and loads more.

Other familiar phrases that describe popular sitcoms include “fish out of water”; “the little man against the world”; “square peg in a round hole”; “physician heal thyself”; “methinks the lady doth protest.” Don’t say these phrases out loud in public, but keep them in your head when you’re starting to create your show.

3) By Using Characters Who Are Opposites

It took me a while to get Seinfeld. First I was a non-believer, unable to see beyond the superficially smug collection of selfish New York misanthropes. Then slowly I warmed to the relationship at the heart of this show between Jerry and George, the oldest comedy cliché: the odd couple.

The Odd Couple was, of course, one of Neil Simon’s greatest creations. It began as a stage play in 1965 and became a movie, and then a hugely successful long-running sitcom. In its original form it paired Jack Lemmon’s neurotic control freak Felix with Walter Matthau’s slobby, laid-back Oscar: two guys, forced together, who couldn’t be more different. It’s a relationship defined by cliché: chalk and cheese, opposites attract, the thin line between love and hate. Simon was not the first exponent.

One of Britain’s finest comedy creations, The Likely Lads, first aired in 1964. It featured the near identical-pairing of serious, stuffy Bob (Rodney Bewes) and womanising, street-wise Terry (James Bolam). Going back to the start of the 20thcentury, you’d have to look hard to find an odder odd couple than Laurel and Hardy.

You can keep going back, too. James Boswell’s Life of Doctor Johnson brings together two of Britain’s greatest ever literary figures, friends and colleagues who could not have been more different… Back to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night which pairs of Sir Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek … Back, back, back, to the first ever recorded story, Gilgamesh. MORE: Top 5 Mistakes Comedy Writers Make

4) When You ‘Write What You (Really) Know’

This gets a whole chapter in my latest book, The Complete Comedy WriterI would refine that phrase. What fires you up? What makes you angry? What moves you emotionally? And then you can start to think about how those feelings translate into universal truths … Clichés, in fact.

Two of my favourite “fish out of water” sitcoms appeared in the 1970s, both of which captured brilliantly the alienation of working for a large corporation. The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and the less well-known It Takes a Worried Man were both about outsiders, characters too self-aware and quirky to fit into the system.

You don’t need to know much about the writers, David Nobbs and Peter Tilbury, to guess they must have experienced something similar earlier in their working careers. Tilbury’s more famous creation Shelley is another example of the type.

5) When You’re Using Thematics

As if there isn’t enough to love about Frasier, every single episode can be summed up in a small but pertinent phrase about human nature. (Or what we might call clichés, for the purposes of this article).

What’s your favourite episode of Frasier? I guarantee you will be able to define it with a single phrase such as, “You always hurt the one you love”; “Better to have lived and loved than never to have loved at all”; “A friend in need”, and you will have seen that phrase illustrated in the first scene.

My favourite is the pilot, “The Good Son”. It isn’t just the characters who arrive fully-formed from the opening scene: the show is packed with brilliant gags and, more daringly for a first episode, intensely moving pathos.

Without giving away the story, there’s a cliché that is alluded to in the opening scene, which informs the whole of the episode and is finally stated towards the end: “Things don’t always turn out the way you planned.” MORE: 14 Masters of Comedy Share Their Secrets

Concluding On Clichés …

Make sure you read the best comedy scripts: Seinfeld, Frasier, Yes Minister, Friends. Think about the characters, the premise, the stories. That’s where you’ll find clichés, by the lorry-load. But that’s not the half of it … they make them WORK. Once you discover how they do that, you will be able to as well.

Good luck!

BIO: Dave Cohen has been writing and performing comedy for 35 years. His credits include Not Going Out, Have I Got News For You, Spitting Image and My Family. He writes most of the songs for Horrible Histories, including for the movie which is out this summer. His book The Complete Comedy Writer is out now. Get a free book,  How To Be Averagely Successful At Comedy when you sign up for Dave’s newsletter, HERE. Check out Dave’s ‘Kickstart Your Comedy Writing Career’ at Raindance on Monday, 13 May 7pm, HERE.

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High Tech World

We live in a high tech world, which means tech inevitably impacts on storytelling. Writers often have to find ways to ‘get rid’ of tech, but this can lead to a plethora of cheesy tropes and writing fails.

But what if I told you tech was like anything else in storytelling? You CAN use it whenever you want, however want … You just have to make it authentic and twist it, so it works. Let’s go.

1) Facebook & Twitter

In my other life as an author, I write crime fiction in the domestic noir subgenre. For the uninitiated, this type of story usually revolves around a (female) lead who has to turn ‘detective’ for some reason. Markedly different from the police procedural type of crime, our ordinary heroine usually has little to no special training, plus no access to DNA or special tech. Instead, she must unravel the mystery by identifying and finding various people to do with the case.

One thing she DOES have to do this however – like everyone else! – is the internet. This means sites like Facebook may feature in domestic noir novels, especially as this is also the social media platform of choice for domestic noir’s main audience (women, 30-55). You may also see Twitter in domestic noir too, especially tweets that reveal the theme of the book.

Lots of screenwriters in particular want to follow suit, but of course neither Facebook and Twitter are particularly visual. Luckily for screenwriters, they have plenty of alternatives nowadays: Snapchat, Instagram and Youtube are all visual social media platforms. Consider BATMAN VERSUS SUPERMAN here, which employed real-life commentators from Youtube to discuss the movie’s thematic element, ‘Why must there be a Superman?’ 

HOW TO TWIST IT: Don’t hide from social media, it can present some GREAT storytelling opportunities in your story. Using social media is actually a great idea in your novel or screenplay, but make sure it’s the RIGHT one for your medium. Also, make sure you know how different generations use different social media platforms and why, especially if those people are in your target audience.

2) Landline Answering Machines

If I never had to read a scene in which someone is saying a variation of, ‘… Hello? Are you there?? Pick up!’ it would be too soon. Seriously, who the hell has an answering machine in 2019?? It *feels* like the epitome of old-style tech. Do they even still exist?? (Turns out they do, though I had to Google it. Plus they look very different to the big boxy ones we all remember from the eighties and nineties … Yet they STILL turn up in spec screenplays and unpublished novels as standard. Argh!!!).

Voicemail via mobile, not landline answering machines, are the way to go in the present. Even movies, TV shows and novels set in the past probably don’t need answering machines. Why? Simple! They are OVERUSED. Avoid using stuff we see constantly.

But whatever you’re writing, never forget your story point.  An example: in an episode of BROOKLYN 99, Jake and Amy need to check with Gina if they can pick up some stuff from her place. Her voicemail message goes along the lines of:

‘Leave me a message … I won’t check it, because it’s NOT 1993!’ 

This dialogue a) reveals character (Gina’s role function in the show is primarily comedic via snark) and it b) pushes the story forward. The fact Gina doesn’t answer means Jake goes to her place anyway and catches Gina and Charles having sex, the focus of the episode.

HOW TO TWIST IT: Update this trope, stat! Why are script readers like B2W not seeing more scenes that make use of voice-recog software like ‘Okay Google’, or devices like Alexa or the Echo?? The horror and comedic possibilities of these are endless and that’s just for starters! If you really must use voicemail, make sure it reveals character and pushes the story forward, like it does here in BROOKLYN 99.

3) USB Sticks and Hardware

Once upon a time, not so long ago, the only way to move information from one machine to another was via disk. This meant these disks turned up first as floppy disks (remember them??), then external hard drives, then a flash drive aka USB stick.

Then something else got invented … THE CLOUD. This means stuff like Google Drives and automatic uploads to Dropbox (and also automatic deletion!) etc became the norm.

But apparently no one told writers, who still keep having characters give each sensitive information on physical USB sticks … Or conversely, having other characters smash up hardware like laptops and then declaring the problem ‘gone’.

NOOOOOOOOOOO! Here’s why:

i) It leaves the character wide open. Look, I get it. As any tech nerd knows, if you have really sensitive info, you are not going to want to put it somewhere like The Cloud because it can get hacked too easily. But you’re not going to want to use a USB drive EITHER. It’s far too easy to fall into the wrong hands (especially if you’re a spy and have to leave it somewhere, like a bin, for pick-up!). Even if you physically give it to someone, that leaves you wide open, especially to being killed. Why would anyone risk this, when other available means can avoid this?? More, next.

ii) There are more visual ways for people to communicate. As movie logic goes, the flash drive was popular for a good while because it’s physical, visual and easy to understand. But tech moves forward quickly, plus movie tropes do too. As a result, the USB stick now feels cheesy. Instead:

  • Consider real-life stuff like Terrorists May Have Used Playstation 4 To Communicate. That’s right, video games, which are visual as hell.
  • Or a TV show like LINE OF DUTY, which shows detectives using visual tech like Google Earth to track locations and perspectives without slowing the action down. Showrunner Jed Mercurio also uses mobiles to good effect in his shows too … Consider BODYGUARD, when David Budd and the home secretary are under fire. Using his mobile, Budd manages to take a photo of the sniper to determine his location in the buildings above. Budd also uses the internet in a very short sequence to show us important information about the cover-up in a very sparing way.
  • Not to mention movies where a PERSON is the ‘sensitive information’, or an important witness, like Agatha in MINORITY REPORT, or Spyglass in ATOMIC BLONDE. A walking, talking live person is always going to be five hundred times better than a USB stick. Besides anything, wouldn’t people on the run be paranoid about tech??? I know I would. So, what could they use instead? Perhaps they have to fall back on ‘old school methods’. In THE HANDMAID’S TALE, a lo-fi story world, Offred must follow symbols and signs out of the hospital to try and make her break for it. The fact people can’t communicate easily in this world makes it even more tense.

HOW TO TWIST IT: Avoid USB sticks or smashing up laptops as standard. These have become over-used and cheesy shortcuts that don’t tend to stand up to scrutiny. Think instead about the character’s viewpoint, as well as the story world and what is possible in it to crack a visual solution. MORE: 11 Story Clichés That Will Kill Your Story 

Concluding

Tech can be a godsend in a story, or it can lampoon it. None of the ones listed here are terrible by themselves, plus they did work in storytelling once upon a time. But times move on, not only in technological advancements but in terms of overused stuff.

So, try to avoid the cheesy and overused wherever possible. Instead, think about NEW ways to use NEW tech to your story’s advantage in a) revealing character and b) pushing the story forward.

Good Luck!

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The Perfect Scene

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

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

1) How Does The Scene Open? (Visuals)

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

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

2) Where Does The Scene Open? (Story)

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

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

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

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

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

3) Where Does The Scene End? Why?

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

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

4) How Long Is It? (Pages)

In screenwriting, I find a good perimeter is this:

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

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

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

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

5) Can It Be Shorter?

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

YES, REALLY.

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

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

A perfect scene does 2 things, as listed above:

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

Good Luck!

Want MORE Script Reading Secrets?

My annual course with LondonSWF, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING is perfect not only for wannabe script readers, but savvy writers who want to know how script readers work. Can you afford to miss out?? Join us on June 23-22nd, 2019 at historic Ealing Studios!

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

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

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Most-Hit On B2W

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

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

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

B2W’s Popular Posts Of All Time

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

1-10

11-20

21 – 30

31 – 40

41 – 50

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

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

Good Luck With Your Writing!

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What Is ‘Emotional Truth’?

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

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

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

Let’s break this definition down some more.

Passion, Pain, Authenticity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empathy

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

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

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

Authenticity Vs. Accuracy

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

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

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

Concluding

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

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

Good Luck!

Want MORE Script Reading Secrets?

My annual course with LondonSWF, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING is perfect not only for wannabe script readers, but savvy writers who want to know how script readers work. Can you afford to miss out?? Join us on June 23-22nd, 2019 at historic Ealing Studios!

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

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

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

1) Princess Leia

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

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

2) Ellen Ripley

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

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

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

3) Sarah Connor

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

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

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

Science Fiction Was Never The Same Again

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

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

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

 4) Sarah Jane Smith

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

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

5) Dana Scully

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

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

6) Olivia Dunham

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

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

7) Andorra Pett

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

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

8) Kaylee Frye

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

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

9) Kathryn Janeway

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

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

Which are your faves? Let me know!

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

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

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