** SPOILER FREE **

I rather loved JOKER. The design. The universe. The cinematography. The story arc. The performance. My god, the performance. The soundscape and music score. Love the music by Hildur Guðnadóttir. LOVE.

Here’s what I think writers can learn from this provocative and compelling film … Ready? Then let’s go!

1) Joker is in almost EVERY scene

This is pretty unusual as most filmmakers and actors cannot pull off such intense optics and story pressure. It sounds easy. It’s not. I can’t think of many actors who can keep our attention for the duration.

It also means the writer has to work just as hard to draw us in deeper and deeper in both empathy and sympathy as well as, ultimately, horror. The story asks us, who does the Joker stand for?

So, who (or what) do your characters stand for? Do they change? Why/ why not? How??

As human beings, we all stand for something. At the very centre we stand for ourselves. If we stand for no one else, we are likely a sociopath or a psychopath and the foundations for an excellent villain or anti-hero.

TOP TIP: Choosing to follow one character is super-challenging … But if you can pull it off, it’s very powerful storytelling.

2) Joker’s Character Arc DESCENDS

As an audience, we LOVE watching characters moving up or down across these thresholds … The greater the leap, the greater the dramatic satisfaction. We love this growth and in some cases it leads to deep redemption for characters (and sometimes, for us at home).

Usually for a protagonist, this arc goes UPWARD. A character will perhaps think only of the self at start, but eventually caring for the community … In contrast, Joker is the opposite.

He starts off in the traditional way, a good guy … Joker cares about his mother. He cares about the kids he performs for as a clown. He cares about his co-workers (though his descent is illustrated in one key scene in this regard). Joker also cares for the city and the people in it. He cares for the woman and child down the hall.

But as the story continues, Joker DESCENDS into darkness. Until finally… he doesn’t care. He has crossed a threshold. It feels truthful and like watching a car crash in slow motion. It lingers as it shines a light into the darkness of our own immature sense of injustice and rage.

TOP TIP: Find visual ways to show how your characters either descend or ascend and cross thresholds in the story.

3) The villain is EVERYTHING in 2019

As Lucy has written on this blog before, modern audiences are fascinated with villains and ‘bad guys’. Gone are the days of the so-called ‘Monstrous Other’, or comic book villain with the nonsensical plan. Hell, the Joker IS a comic book villain, yet we want to know everything that makes him tick!

One topic I will be covering at the upcoming LSFAccelerate is the character arc of the nemesis. The journey of your villain. I think to think of it as The Hero’s Journey, in reverse … 

I call it … The Villain’s Journey!

With The Villain’s Journey, we can see how with every single step the protagonist takes, the antagonist can (and should) take similar steps too. They may not be on the page, but they should be in the story universe. It comes down to this:

One strives upward (protagonist) while the other descends ever deeper (antagonist).

It’s fascinating because we spend sooooo much time on our protagonists that we often allow our antagonists to occupy less story space. If if we are not careful, they can become caricatures. Then it’s game over.

The Joker is an antagonist in the Batman universe but is played as a protagonist in the Joker universe. This is one reason I suspect that we see such a backlash from the media. We just don’t like feeling empathy for evil.

But the genius was in allowing us to connect with a human being, then pushing them so hard that they snap. It puts us in an uncomfortable position, asking us how much we could take before WE snap?

It’s unsettling and complicated. People often lament online that Hollywood should do something new with superhero movies … Here it is!

TOP TIP: Put as much energy and time into plotting your story arc for the villain as you do for your protagonist.

Last Points

Play your antagonists as human beings as well as opposing forces in our stories. Give them depth and vulnerability, love, passion, pain, courage … Make them REAL.

And perhaps, just perhaps, the villain in your narrative has a more compelling story to tell than your hero … So maybe consider telling THAT story instead?

Written by Chris Jones from LondonSWF … Remember, if you want TWO days of amazing London Screenwriters’ Festival sessions, access to NINE years of video sessions from past festivals AND the opportunity to pitch your projects at the PitchFest, then grab your pass for £125 HERE.

Good Luck!

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All About Treatments

A treatment is a document that includes everything that will happen in the script, in the order it will appear on the script – usually without dialogue.

A treatment should not be confused with a one page pitch. For details of ‘scriptments’ (with dialogue), ‘extended pitches’, or ‘sizzlers’ (super-short treatments), CLICK HERE.

Why You Need A Treatment

A treatment is a tool to ensure you DO NOT FOOL YOURSELF.

A treatment is the essence of the drama. If the treatment is not good, I guarantee your script won’t be good either.

It is much harder to take out a scene you love from your script, after you have put so much work into it. After all, you probably love it (or at least parts of it!).

But keeping a scene you don’t need in the screenplay is a bad idea. If something is not working in the plot or with the character? It will be clear from the treatment and you can change it with minimum effort. This will save you time, and frustration. (It will also stop you falling into what Lucy calls ‘The Story Swamp’).

This is why treatments are SUCH valuable tools and why I urge you to start using them.

How To Write A Treatment

Wait! Before you start writing your treatment, you need to answer 5 crucial questions.

You need to write this down. Thinking about it is not enough. So, grab a notebook, or open a new document and get to work.

5 Questions To A Killer Treatment

  • What does the character NEED and what will happen if they don’t get it?
  • Write down what CHANGE or REALISATION the character will go through in the screenplay.(Repeat answering these questions to all of your main characters. And at least for your protagonist and antagonist)
  • What is the inciting incident? How does it affect the main characters?
  • What’s the worst and the best things that could happen to your characters?
  • How will the story end? Do the characters get what they wanted?

The answers to these 5 questions are the compass of your treatmentWhen in doubt – read them. They will lead you to a strong effective treatment that you can then use to write an outstanding script.

Now you are ready to start writing the treatment.

KEEP IN MIND – Everything that happens needs to have consequences in following scenes. Cause and Effect.

The 3 Steps Method Of Writing A Treatment

1) Write A Beat Sheet

Start with writing 1-2s sentences for every scene. (Also known as the ‘Beat sheet’). In these sentences write:

Who is in the scene, what happens dramatically and what changes from the beginning to the end of the scene.

Sometimes you’ll have functional scenes like “He parks the car and enters the building.” That’s fine.

2) Examine For ‘Cause & Effect’

Read the list of scenes you just wrote – is it interesting? Does one action  lead to another with the your 5-answers? (Cause & Effect, remember).

If not – Rewrite.

3) Elaborate!

Now it’s time to spark your personal magic. So, if in step 1 you wrote:

Paul tells John he won’t give him the loan.

 John stabs Paul and escapes.

Step 3 will look something like this:

Paul enters John’s office. John is happy, finally the money is here. Paul apologises and explains to John why he can’t loan him the money. John is devastated, crying. He confronts Paul and it escalates to a fight. John stabs Paul with a pen to the neck, then runs away from the office, leaving Paul bleeding on the floor.

Let’s Recap …

  1. You need a treatment to save you from yourself. We all do.
  2. Answer the 5 questions. Their answers will guide you.
  3. Do the 3 steps.

Good Luck!

BIO: Michal Aviram is an award-winning Israeli screenwriter, with shows on Netflix, Amazon and more. Michal teaches screenwriting in college and online. Check out her site for more about screenwriting, HERE.

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On ‘Woke Culture’

Hardly a week goes by without some (white) guy lamenting some version of the ‘death of storytelling’. Recently it was film director Todd Phillips’ turn, saying ‘Woke Culture’ is Killing Comedy Movies.

Another director, Adam Hertz also chimed in on this saying American Pie wouldn’t get made today. (His position was slightly more nuanced than Phillips’ however, ultimately conceding that’s ‘probably a good thing’.)

This is the cruncher though: TIMES CHANGE. This is how the industry works. It is not ‘woke’, it’s just good business sense. What is popular in one decade, is not in another. What’s more, audiences are becoming more media literate. This means they are breaking down their consumer preferences in more nuanced ways all the time.

Regardless of ‘woke culture’ as Phillips calls it then, he still would have had to change his approach to stay relevant. All creatives need to do this. Comedy that ‘punches down’ at marginalised people as standard is no longer considered funny, or skilful storytelling.

Besides, the likes of Phillips are forgetting one teeny-tiny thing, summed up brilliantly in this tweet by movie critic @DrewMcWeeny:

Compassionate Comedy

Nothing exists in a vacuum. Comedy – and storytelling in general – is no different. Audiences have made it clear what they want … Some call ie ‘compassionate comedy’ (not ‘woke culture’).

‘Compassionate comedy’ DOESN’T mean comedy can’t walk the line of propriety … Nor does it mean it can’t be gross-out, or risqué. It just has to remember not to punch marginalised people in the face for laughs as standard. (Frankly if comedy writers find this SO difficult to avoid, they probably shouldn’t be comedy writers).

Go Woke Yourself

Now let’s widen the conversation beyond comedy … The same people who make these mad proclamations about ‘the death of storytelling’ may also claim diversity is ‘political correctness gone mad’, or ‘box ticking’. This is no accident. These people like things done a certain way. When that way changes, they kick out.

It’s also no accident that a huge proportion of these people saying such things look the same. If it has not escaped your notice I started this article talking about (white) guys, that’s because a huge proportion of the complainants ARE white people and/or men. Unsurprisingly, white/men are dominant in the industry, too.

This is why the push for diversifying storytelling is so important. When we say ‘diversity’, what we really mean is VARIETY. We need more variety in …

  • Characters
  • Stories
  • Writers
  • Filmmakers & other roles

Not for politics, or brownie points, or for the ‘greater good’. Not because of ‘woke culture’. But because it’s WHAT THE AUDIENCE WANTS. Le duh!!

The Facts Speak For Themselves

So, ignore complaints about so-called ‘woke culture’ ruining your chances of writing what you want. This has never been the case.  Instead, concentrate on diversifying your stories, do your research properly and ensure you don’t ‘punch down’ in your writing. Here’s the facts …

  • Our target audiences actively want more diversity as standard. Audiences have voted with their wallets. We need to ensure they keep doing so, by giving them that variety they crave.
  • There’s opportunity here for more variety, authenticity and empathy in storytelling. People are bored with ‘the same-old, same-old.’ They want to see events, people, worlds and issues they recognise yet don’t often see in stories reflected back at them. They will pay money for this too. This means you can grab money moguls’ interest, too. It’s a win-win for everyone.
  • Whether we like it or not, the industry follows the money. Money moguls want to make money; it’s not rocket science. So if we don’t want diversity to become a ‘trend’, we need to ensure we throw our support behind a variety of characters, stories, writers and filmmakers.
  • Highjacking others’ stories is not the done thing. Never just ‘lift’ others’ stories, experiences, etc wholesale and write them as your own. This is stealing, aka cultural appropriation.
  • Dominant voices need to amplify the marginalised’s. If you are white, that doesn’t mean it’s been ‘easy’ for you … It just means being white did not stand in your way. So quit whinging you’re being ‘excluded’, or that stuff like ‘woke culture’ is ruining your chances … Instead, why not identify and help ANY marginalised writer you can? When relationships are everything in this biz, your philanthropy will help you long term too.
  • This is NOT the ‘death of storytelling’ – it’s actually the very opposite. Those that proclaim diversity is the problem are dinosaurs. Dinosaurs go extinct.

The infographic below is made by Venngage and brings forth the facts above. It also draws attention to various studies on the impact of diversity in storytelling. Look the studies up in detail, educate yourself on how VARIETY can make you a better storyteller.

Good Luck!

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All About Subplots

Subplots are key to making a killer script. But misusing them can also be its downfall. So, what is a subplot?

A subplot is a secondary storyline which runs parallel to the main story. They are the secret to making a truly compelling screenplay and can be the lifeblood of your act two.

Great subplots allow you to bring meat to your script, flush out your storyline, and reveal new aspects of your central and supporting character’s personality.

All too often subplots are under-utilised or go way off the rails. Let’s look at a few hazards to avoid when using a subplot.

1) Your subplot is under-developed 

This is a biggie. Unfortunately, subplots can be used as the “side adventure” for a supporting character. Hijinks abound during this subplot with big action scenes and the occasional comedy relief. This can be lots of fun but not if our supporting character doesn’t actually grow and change throughout this subplot.

If the sole reason is just to create a “spectacle,” then your subplot has failed. Remember, a supporting character is on their own little hero’s journey as well.

If your supporting characters do not meet a challenge and their mettle is not adequately tested, then this subplot has failed. The supporting character should emerge from this subplot changed, both internally and externally.

Top Tips:

  • A subplot plot must reveal new and interesting aspects of the character’s personality.
  • Subplots are the supporting characters own “mini hero’s journey.”
  • Avoid using subplots merely for big action moments, comedic beats, glory kills, or dazzling special effects.
  • The supporting character needs to have a complete arc in their subplot.
  • Make sure the subplot forces your supporting character to evolve past their internal and external conflicts.

MORE: 15 Reasons Your Story Sucks 

2) Your subplot doesn’t ‘fit’ the story 

The issue here is about theme. When writing a script, the theme is the meaning of your story. It’s what you are trying to say through the screenplay.

A proper subplot should either support this theme or be the antithesis of it. By supporting the theme, it shows what our central character is trying to achieve and what they are fighting for.

However, as the antithesis, your subplot can also show the dreaded results that lie in wait for our central character should they fail during their journey.

If you have a subplot that doesn’t do either of these, then throw it out. It will leave your script feeling muddied and confused.

Top Tips:

  • A subplot should reflect or support the theme of your script.
  • Alternatively, a subplot can be the antithesis of your theme as a cautionary tale.
  • If a subplot doesn’t have meaning to your script, then cut it.
  • An unfocused subplot will muddy your script.
  • Meandering subplots will slow the pace of your script to a crawl.

3) Too many subplots!

The main plot will only get you so many pages in a script. Usually, around 45-60 pages and then your story will run out of steam. That’s when you start whipping in subplots to fill out your script.

The only problem is if you work in too many subplots then none of them have time to be developed appropriately. This can often be seen in ensemble films where they try and develop an all-star cast of characters. It will be done through long bouts of exposition or even quick flashbacks but ultimately leave you feeling like you’ve stuffed yourself on cotton candy. Sweet but ultimately hollow.

Top Tips:

  • A main plot will only get you so far. Proper subplots can fill out your page count.
  • An abundance of subplots means none of them have time to be properly developed.
  • Too many subplots result in characters feeling shallow.
  • When in doubt stick with a heart plot, supporting character subplot, and antagonist subplot only.

4) Subplots that compete with the main plot

Sometimes you will fall in love with a supporting character or a really cool Antagonist. They may have fantastic personality traits that will make them unique and exciting. (This often happens if they are the snarky comedic-type, or a villain that is fun to write).

The problem is too much time with these characters will overshadow your central character’s journey. That can lead to an identity crisis in the script as the reader will not know who to focus on.

The defense I’ve heard for this is that there are “two main characters” or co-stars. It doesn’t work and just leaves the script/film feeling confused.

Pick one central character when developing your script. Either scale back the fun sidekick and villain or consider revamping the script to center around the character in which you really want to write instead.

Top Tips:

  • Antagonists can be lots of fun to write, but if we’re not careful it can lead to a subplot which overshadows the central character’s plot.
  • A supporting character’s subplot can be overdeveloped and compete with the central characters. This leaves the reader confused about whose story it is.
  • If you really love writing a particular character, chances are their subplot is competing with the central characters.
  • Don’t be afraid to scale back or combine subplots if needed.
  • If you are struggling with a bloated subplot of a supporting character, then perhaps they need to be the central character instead.

5) Your subplot plain sucks!!

Sometimes it’s just time to admit that a subplot sucks. Usually, when this happens, it’s because the supporting character is too similar to the central character. Instead, try infusing them with traits that are the exact opposite of your central character and make sure to give them a unique voice as well.

The last thing you want is for your characters to sound the same. Then rewrite the scenes accordingly with your characters new approach.

Top Tips:

  • Take the ego out of it. Sometimes subplots just don’t work.
  • Don’t be afraid of the rewrite.
  • If the supporting character is too similar to the central character, then the subplot will feel boring and redundant.
  • Make sure your characters all have a unique voice and don’t sound the same.
  • Give your supporting character traits which are opposite of your central characters. Then rework the subplot with this new approach.

BIO: Geoffrey D. Calhoun is the author of the bestselling book, The Guide For Every Screenwriter – From Synopsis To Subplots: The Secrets of Screenwriting Revealed and is the founder of WeFixYourScript.com.

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Why You Should Be A Structure Expert

NEWSFLASH: you need to become a structure expert. I often say this, but writers resist this, saying that it wrecks their spontaneity … Or all structure is just a formula … Or they’re pantsers … WHATEVER.

Fact is, these writers just don’t want to do the work. Yet the writers who DO the work will:

What’s not to like? So if you want to become a structure expert and HELP your writing, follow the steps below.

STEP 1: Compare The Different Structural Approaches

I remember when I started this writing lark, I had to make comparisons MYSELF like a chump. Being the interwebs, you’re bound to find someone else has done the heavy-lifting for you now.

Thanks John Yorke, from his fantastic book Into The Woods for this great comparison below … As you will see, all the usual suspects are here, plus a couple I hadn’t seen before. You will also note there’s lots of crossover between the approaches.

This one from Greg Miller does something similar. He also includes some of the more ‘newbie friendly’ approaches, such as Blake Snyder’s, as well as the more accessible like Dan Harmon’s.

So read books, articles, go on courses, talk to other writers etc. DON’T just make notes you never look at again, reflect and mull over.

EXPERT TIP: Find as many structural approaches as you can. Compare and contrast.

2) STEP 2: Realise it’s Structure/Character (or Character/Structure, whatever)

Lots of writers appear to think writing is about structure OR character. Nope. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

(So, it’s not a choice between structure or character … It’s like Venom! They are BOTH, just like that scary-ass skull-munching mofo).

Most writers ‘get’ the protagonist should DRIVE the action in most genres and types of stories, so a good place to start would be the below.

Of course, characters don’t HAVE to change, though a huge portion of stories demand it. (Knowing this upfront will help you decide if your protagonist needs to change).

Lots of writers like a circular approach, since it helps them get rid of the ‘which comes first?’ element of structure and character. As we can see from the below, they go TOGETHER, hand in hand. Noice.

Circular approaches to structure lend themselves particularly well to story archetypes like The Quest, AKA  The Hero’s Journey, which we can see here.

EXPERT TIP: If you want to be a real expert, realise structure/character is a symbiotic relationship.

STEP 3: Decide How YOU See Structure

Are you a 3 Acts Girl? Or maybe you like The Five Acts, The 22 Steps, Save The Cat … Something else?

Do you like structure broken down into steps or other bite-sized chunks? Or do you prefer a more holistic approach?

Maybe you like visual representations? I think this one is a great reminder.

Or maybe you prefer circular representations like those in step 2? Or maybe you like linear versions?

Myself, I prefer linear like these two (above and below, for better or worse). It makes sense to me … Stories start and end, plus there’s a big fat middle in the centre of it. As far as I’m concerned, ‘3 Acts = beginning, middle, end’. Boom

But that’s just how I think, there’s no reason you should think the same. Of the two linear representations here, I prefer the one directly below. It seems ‘cleaner’ and more straight-forward, whilst retaining a sense of escalation which I like.

This ‘story diamond’ made Twitter blow up a few weeks back. I’d seen it before, but never included on previous B2W posts about structure because honestly, I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING ON HERE.

That said, I did check out alternatives to the story diamond and a Bang2writer found this version lurking around on Tumblr. This seems much clearer to me … Yet all it had to do was be a ‘fatter’ diamond and include those vertical lines. Interesting.

EXPERT TIP: Think about which approaches appeal to you and why. See if any visual representations online can help.

Step 4: Make Up Your Own Approach

No, I’m not saying you ‘should’ make up your own visual interpretation of structure. (Though if you want to, go ahead!).

Here’s the B2W version of the 3 Acts. As you’ll see, it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel. But it does consolidate my knowledge of both character and structure, working together. It also includes the importance of escalation leading towards that all important ending.

Audiences and readers LOVE a great ending, after all! But how to ensure that ending really POPS??

Easy … START AT THE ENDING, for both screenplays and novels. I alwaysalwaysalways begin with the ending and plot backwards. This stops me from starting ‘too early’ in the story too, so it’s a win-win.

All screenwriters should only start writing once they know the ending, so this is no-brainer.

Many novelists would not agree however, saying they want to ‘find out’ their own ending, especially when they are writing twists.

But what if I said novelists could have their cake AND eat it on this issue? You don’t have to know the exact details of the ending, just the rough idea of where it ends and why.

I believe I have changed the ending of ALL my novels quite considerably from their initial outlines, in fact.

 

EXPERT TIP: Find all the bits you like best about various structural approaches and create your own.

Congrats!

You’re now a structure expert who knows what you’re doing. This means your writing is FAR more likely to hit its target by design, instead of by accident. That’s worth its weight in gold, because you’re far less like to …

Good Luck!

Take Your Writing To The NEXT LEVEL!

  https---cdn.evbuc.com-images-29888419-3773478736-1-originalSpend two whole days with me and the B2Wers to get your structure LICKED once an for all! My course with LondonSWF, Advanced Fundamentals of Screenwriting at Ealing Studios, London (Oct 19th-20th, 2019). Over two days, we will put writing craft under the microscope & you will learn tricks to elevate your writing to the NEXT LEVEL. Don’t miss out!

CLICK HERE for full details of the course (or on the pic above). We expect it to sell out , so act now to avoid disappointment. See you there!!!

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F***ing Learn From This

Ten years ago, screenwriter Josh Olson wrote ‘I Will Not Read Your F***ing Script’. ​In it, he outlines being asked to read an acquaintance’s boyfriend’s synopsis and ‘be honest’ with him.

To say the article lit up the blogosphere back then is an understatement. Seemingly EVERYONE had an opinion on whether Olson was right, wrong or just an asshole.

B2W empathised with both sides of the debate at the time. After all, I work with writers and can see why they’d value an opinion like Olson’s. If you can include a pro writer in your beta reader pool, that’s obviously great.

That said, my time is also money. Writing, script editing and script reading is my job. I am not doing this just for the fun of it; I have bills  to pay like everyone else. I am sick of being asked for freebies.

With all this in mind then, I thought I would revisit Olson’s article. Here’s how to take on Olson’s warning AND still get your script f***ing read. Here we go …

1) Don’t Make Demands Out Of the Blue

In his infamous viral rant, Olson talks about ‘being cornered by a young man of my barest acquaintance’ wanting his professional opinion on his synopsis.

The idea was, the synopsis was only short and needed some feedback for a contest or programme he was submitting the script to. Olson felt his only option was ‘to acquiesce to [this man’s] demands or be the bad guy. That is the very definition of a dick move.’

I can relate to this. As mentioned already, I am a pro writer and editor. I get asked for freebies constantly. I don’t think a single week has gone by in my entire career where this has not occurred. Guess what, when I say no, people tend to react very badly. Yet as Olson says …

‘When you ask a professional for their take on your material, you’re not just asking them to take an hour or two out of their life, you’re asking them to give you–gratis–the acquired knowledge, insight, and skill of years of work. It is no different than asking your friend the house painter to paint your living room during his off hours.’ 

F***ing Wait A Minute Though …

… There are obviously exceptions to this rule. There ARE writers out there I am very happy to ‘give freebies’ to … because they’re not actually freebies. They are COLLABORATIONS and SWAPS, built out of relationships.

So really, the problem is NOT the asking … It’s the asking out of the blue. (Hence the sub heading).

TOP TIP: If you help them, they will help you. Yes, that includes pro writers. MORE: 5 Ways To Use Feedback Effectively

2) Create Relationships

Most serious writers, newbie to pro, know relationships are the lifeblood of the industry. If we want to get read and get feedback from pro writers, it’s the same.

Every pro writer has an epic pile of scripts, treatments, outlines and books to read. As Olson says …

‘I have two piles next to my bed. One is scripts from good friends, and the other is manuscripts and books and scripts my agents have sent to me that I have to read for work. Every time I pick up a friend’s script, I feel guilty that I’m ignoring work. Every time I pick something up from the other pile, I feel guilty that I’m ignoring my friends. If I read yours before any of that, I’d be an awful person.’

This means, if you want to get read by pro writers? You need to be FRIENDS with a pro writer. I don’t mean Facebook friends, either. I mean actual friends who help one another out (see section 1).

Even then, that pro writer may not be able to help you if they have too much on. That doesn’t make them an asshole; it means they have too much on. Way it goes.

TOP TIP: Understand pro writers have obligations just like you.

3) Feedback is F***ing HARD

Olson says in his memo something that really resonates with me:

‘It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you’re in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you’re dealing with someone who can’t.’

When you read all day, a bad piece of writing IS obvious. It’s an instinct that can be honed. So bad writing (or writing that’s not ready, whatever you want to call it) can be a real chore.

Worse than the reading however can be composing feedback about said bad writing. It can take HOURS, especially when you want to be nice; or if you don’t want to discourage someone from their life’s dream.

Now Olson seems to think he should tell writers not to waste their time (I don’t agree), but he DOES say …

‘You want to make absolutely certain that it comes across honestly and without cruelty. I did more rewrites on that fucking e-mail than I did on my last three studio projects.’

Yet writers don’t always understand what work this can be. More, next.

TOP TIP: Understand what you are asking! Giving feedback is difficult and time-consuming.

4) Learn how to cope with feedback

During my years as a script reader & editor, I’ve noticed some writers have a sense of entitlement when it comes to feedback. They may ask for ‘brutal  honesty’, but when it’s not what they want, they react badly.

Olson makes this same point: ‘What they want is a few tough notes to give the illusion of honesty, and then some pats on the head.’

Note I am not saying feedback SHOULD be cruel; nor is Olson (see section 3). But writers do need to take the rough with the smooth.

TOP TIP: Don’t ask for feedback if you cannot take constructive criticism.

5) Never re-send your submission

Olson also mentions one of my absolute pet hates as a script reader, calling it the ‘ultimate amateur move’. What is it?

Resending F***ing submissions!! 

I can’t tell you HOW MANY TIMES writers have re-sent me drafts too, saying ‘ignore previous draft, read this one instead’. It drives me absolutely batty.

As Olson points out, this sends a particular message. This is: ‘The draft I told you was ready for professional input, wasn’t actually’.

TOP TIP: Never, ever, ever, ever re-submit. Stand by the draft you sent first.

6) Say thank you (and mean it)

This one is very simple. No one wants to hear how they’re a horrible person, when all they’ve tried to do is a favour. Back to Olson …

‘For all the hair I pulled out, for all the weight and seriousness I gave his request for a real, professional critique, his response was a terse “Thanks for your opinion.” And, the inevitable fallout–a week later a mutual friend asked me, “What’s this dick move I hear you pulled on Whatsisname?’

TOP TIP: Never slag people off when they have tried to deliver you some constructive criticism.

7) Realise no one f***ing owes you!

Again, we are back to entitlement. Asking out of the blue, without creating a relationship first, is as Olson says, a dick move.

‘You are not owed a read from a professional, even if you think you have an in, and even if you think it’s not a huge imposition. It’s not your choice to make.’

TOP TIP: Someone has to give up their time and brain-space to read your work. If they say no, understand it is not personal. MORE: 6 Things To Remember Dealing With Feedback 

Good Luck!

Take Your Writing To The NEXT LEVEL!

  https---cdn.evbuc.com-images-29888419-3773478736-1-originalWe all know format is the LEAST of our problems as screenwriters … but *how* do we improve our writing craft?? My course with LondonSWF, Advanced Fundamentals of Screenwriting at Ealing Studios, London (Oct 19th-20th, 2019). Over two days, we will put writing craft under the microscope & you will learn tricks to elevate your writing to the NEXT LEVEL. Don’t miss out!

CLICK HERE for full details of the course (or on the pic above). We expect it to sell out , so act now to avoid disappointment. See you there!!!

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Please note: bad words aka slurs, swears & other nasties appear in this article. 

Bad Words

As writers and as people, we all have ideas on what constitutes ‘bad words’. Hardly week goes without someone contacting me and saying that whilst they enjoy B2W’s writing advice, they’d like to ask me to stop swearing.

Yes, you heard that right. A platform literally built on sweary writing advice should apparently be less sweary. Erm, okay.

BACDEFUCUP!

This blog and its accompanying social media accounts uses swears; it always has and it always will. If a small minority of would-be Bang2writers don’t like that, they can unfollow and go elsewhere for their writing advice. It really is that simple.

Toxic Words & Writers

That said, it’s definitely true that language has power. There are certain bad words and language use that can actively denigrate the people they are used against. (Some of these will involve swear words; though they don’t have to).

I call these bad words ‘toxic words’. Some become forbidden, not just in so-called ‘polite company’, but EVERYWHERE. Others can be considered indicators of a ‘lack’ of something … Education, empathy, manners or so on. (Whether this is true, or a judgement, or form of social control is of course another matter).

Language is governed not only by rules like grammar, but also by  agreements between the people using them. This means writers may use BAD WORDS not because they personally like them or believe in them, but because they may reflect the attitudes of their characters and the storyworlds they inhabit. (This is especially true of antagonists, but may include any character).

But how does a word become ‘toxic’? More, next.

It’s All About Context

If language is also about agreements between the people using it, then it’s clear context is very important. This means the number of people offended by said bad words also has its part to play.

But I would also argue a number of other factors come into play, which I have broken down … Ready? Let’s go!

1) Historic 

First up, the obvious. If bad words are used by dominant voices in actively oppressing others, its use should be discontinued. This ends up being agreed as ‘common sense’. This is why white people who are not explicit racists refer to ‘the N word’ and don’t even write it if they can avoid it.

I wondered if I had ever used it in a writing context on this blog, so did a search … Nope. I also did a search of my files for the purposes of this blog post, discovering one use, in my Writing Thriller Screenplays book. It referred to the movie CON AIR and its use of *the actual word*. (I am not looking for pats on the back by the way. Instead I am attempting to illustrate the concept of ‘forbidden words’ we agree on, that appear unconscious ‘common sense’. I hadn’t even thought about NOT writing it; I just didn’t).

Obviously there are many other racial slurs pertaining to Asian people too, both South and East Asian. The UK insult ‘Paki’ is not JUST short for ‘Pakistani’ as some racists insist, but carries with it dismissal and contempt. The now archaic ‘WOG’ aka ‘Western Oriental Gentleman’ may sound fairly innocuous on the surface to a white person, especially a younger one who’s never heard it used … But it is not, especially in Britain.

Put simply, dominant voices do NOT get say what should be deemed offensive (or acceptable) to those who have faced oppression. More, next.

2) Cultural

Another obvious one. Bad words may change in some countries, places or languages. There may also be some things ‘lost in translation’, especially when someone is speaking in a language that is not their own.

However, even in the case of countries where the language is the same,  translation issues can still occur. For example, the UK abbreviation BAME (‘Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic’) means nothing to many people beyond Britain. This is why the phrase ‘divided by a common language’ exists about the difference between UK English, AUS and US English.

3) Niche

In contrast to the above, there are certain bad words that may require specialised knowledge of oppressed people, a different perspective, or a certain phenomenon to appreciate.

Those who are active on LGBT Twitter will have seen reference to the ‘T word’ or ‘t***y’, for example. For the uninitiated, this stands for ‘tranny’, which is a hurtful slur to transgender people.

Another issue-laden word is ‘wheelchair bound’. This is a word skewed towards the perspective of many able-bodied people who don’t use wheelchairs. This word connotes the idea of being ‘trapped’ in the chair … Yet wheelchair users themselves may tell you their chairs represent the freedom to move around. A crucial difference.

Similarly, many people who have mental health issues consider the phrase ‘commit suicide’ to be offensive, as suicide is not a crime. (The phrase dates back to when it was). They prefer the term ‘die by suicide’.

4) Intentions

It’s very fashionable to at the moment to say intentions are not ‘get out of jail free’ cards (especially online). But we all know throwing insults at someone is very different from calling someone the same insult as a term of endearment. Context and agreement again.

But is worth remembering there are also insults that exist almost always to denigrate. In contrast, others may exist in descriptive and even neutral contexts too.

You won’t find the word ‘bitch’ used in its ‘correct’ way outside of people who keep and/or breed dogs, for example. That said, many women delight in using the word ‘bitch’ as a noun about other women and even themselves, both complimentarily and in a derogatory fashion. People generally may also use it as a verb about anyone who is complaining in a more neutral manner.

Words like ‘cunt’, ‘cock’, ‘dick’ and ‘asshole’ all exist as neutral descriptors of body parts too, which may also influence an individual user unconsciously when choosing certain insults … ie. The more likely you are to use the word ‘cunt’ to describe an actual vagina, the less taboo it seems, so the more likely you are to use it as an insult too.

In contrast to the above, the more ‘colourful’ an insult, the more likely it will be almost always used in a derogatory manner. Insults against homosexual men such as ‘shirt-lifter’, ‘uphill gardener’ and ‘poofter’ have been created with malice and are typically used as such.

Even the American word ‘faggot’, sometimes spelled ‘faget’, is also derogatory. Americans don’t even call meatballs by that British word over there, after all.

5) Community

There are certain words that are forbidden to some communities and not to others. Reclamation of words previously used against certain communities is also a thing. Whether that reclamation is a good idea or not will be up to the individual within that community.

As a white person, I don’t know whether reclamation of the N word is a good thing or not. I have heard BAME friends make good cases for both sides of the debate. But end of the day, it not up to me. It will never be up to me. The word’s reclamation is not about my community and what I think is not important.

More recently, the word ‘queer’ has been reclaimed by some younger LGBT people, especially those who are trans. This has lead to the acronym becoming LGBTQ in some places, for example. Older LGBT people are most likely to object to this, usually because they recall this word being used against them growing up. So, it depends on the person within that community and where they are coming from.

But …

Some of my fellow women have tried to reclaim the word ‘cunt’ in a similar manner. I recall this as starting around the time I was a teenager in the 90s. It’s no accident we are far more likely in 2019 to see or hear the word used in general conversation, online or in writing. In books and screenplays, use of ‘cunt’ may be neutral (as in sex scenes) or it may be derogatory about a character, both male AND female. Occasionally it is even a term of endearment.

Some (usually older generation) feminists may disagree with the use of the euphemistic ‘C word’, sometimes likening its use to the ‘N word’. They will say calling a man a ‘cunt’ (or an equivalent like ‘pussy’ or even the milder Scottish colloquial ‘fanny’) is actively adding to the oppression of women because its intention is to suggest men are ‘lesser than, like women’.

Whilst I have a certain sympathy for this viewpoint, it doesn’t take into account the far larger number of insults based around male genitalia (or indeed words like ‘bastard’, ‘tool’ and ‘wanker’ nearly always levvied against men). These can all connote stupidity and nastiness.

More important however is the aforementioned reclamation of said word by younger generations of women. There’s a growing number of younger Gen X and Millennial women who also call one another ‘cunts’ now. This is most likely to be derogatory, but may also include terms of endearment too (just like ‘bitch’ in section 4).

6) Time

Lastly, if language use is about context and the agreement of various numbers of people, then time also has to have an impact as well on how bad words are used and why.

I’ve seen and heard white people express confusion about the phrase ‘people of colour’. They will say ‘coloured’ is considered bad now, so how come ‘people of colour’ is okay?

Here’s why … people of colour originated that phrase; it’s what they want to be called. ‘Coloured’ originated with white people and was part of Jim Crow laws.

Time has made an obvious impact here. As times have progressed, laws have changed. BAME voices have also become more visible (especially via social media), so their preferences have been heard.

Also, regardless of whether white people understand exactly why ‘coloured’ is considered one of the bad words, they will still know they are not supposed to use it. The agreement has filtered through the communities and cultures.

Concluding

If you want to use bad words in your writing, you need to know …
  • What the word’s history is
  • Why it is deemed bad or toxic
  • Whether its meaning changes according to who uses it
  • If the context of your use is clear
  • If you are using the word ‘correctly’ (whatever that means)
  • Your intentions are clear (again, whatever that means)
  • Whether your use is justified
In other words, don’t just write shitty stuff without thinking. If you’re writing bad words, make very, very sure it’s for ‘good’ reasons.

Good Luck!

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All About David Mamet

David Mamet is one of the most prolific and renowned writers working today. He has a resumé all Bang2writers would surely kill for, spanning the mediums from theatre, TV, film, books and radio.

Mamet is also shouty and sweary as hell, which means B2W obviously loves his writing advice! This post could be also titled ‘How Not To Write A Crock Of Shit, According To David Mamet’.

This is because he wrote a (very sweary) famous memo to writers of his TV show The Unit, way back in 2005. The TV landscape may be VERY different fourteen years on, but the pointers he employs are still BANG ON. Here’s why, plus what you can learn from him.

1) We Mustn’t Be Boring

In Mamet’s famous memo, he asks his writers to differentiate between *drama* and ‘non-drama’. He admits that timing is a problem … TV shows (and all writing, to be honest) has only a small amount of time/space to ‘cram in a shitload of information’.

Mamet says that whilst the story needs to be ‘clear’ in communicating its necessary information, it also can’t be BORING. He says audiences will ‘NOT tune in to watch information‘. They will only tune in to watch DRAMA.

The worst thing any piece of writing can be is boring. Audiences get bored when writers focus too much on information than the story. Novelists talk about ‘info dumps’ in books and I think this is a great thing to think about when screenwriting too.

TOP TIP: Avoid ‘info dumps’ in your screenplay, they are boring. MORE: Writing & Selling Drama Screenplays

2) We Need To Know What Drama Truly IS

But what IS drama? Mamet breaks drama down as being the quest of the hero to overcome those things which prevent him or her from achieving ‘a specific, acute goal’.

Mamet also talks about the ‘job’ of the writers here. He is very clear it is not the actors’ job to be ‘dramatic’, but OURS, as storytellers. Mamet also asserts the job of the dramatist is to make the audience wonder and be interested in what happens next. (He also says we must not to explain to them what just happened, or to even suggest to them what happens next).

So, when it comes to what drama truly *is* … Our protagonists must want something and obstacles must get in their way as they try and achieve this. We must keep this in mind at all times.

TOP TIP: Great drama pits a character against obstacles.

3) Every Single Scene MUST Advance The Plot — Or ELSE!

We all know our protagonists must want something, the ‘why’ … Stories become boring then when the HOW is poorly executed. This includes every individual scene as well as the narrative as a whole.

Mamet insists writers must ask themselves these three questions of every scene …

  • a) Who wants what?
  • b) What happens if he or she doesn’t get it?
  • c) Why now?

A scene must be dramatic, must be essential and must advance the plot. It’s not all three? Rewrite it.

TOP TIP: Individual scenes must advance the plot by adding to the narrative as a whole. MORE: Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make Writing Scenes

4) Remember We Are Writing A Visual Medium

Mamet suggests that all screenwriters ‘should think like a filmmaker … what you write, they will shoot.’

I love this, because screenwriters frequently forget they are writing for a visual medium.  As a script reader, I read so many spec screenplays that concentrate waaaaaaaay too much on acres of dialogue.

Yet as Mamet says, we need to tell the story in PICTURES. This is a difficult nut to crack; as Mamet says, ‘This is a new skill. No one does it naturally.’

But as he also says, we CAN train ourselves to do it … But we need to START. (This is one of the reasons I designed my Screenwriting Fundamentals course and included visual writing as one of the parts. More details at the bottom of this post if you want to join us and work on your visuals).

TOP TIP: Write in pictures, not speech.

5) Pretend Your Characters Can’t Speak

Like Mamet, I have said for years on this site there’s too much dialogue in the average spec script. This is why I love this simple tip from his memo so much:

‘If you pretend the characters can’t speak, and write a silent movie, you will be writing great drama.’

Depriving ourselves of what Mamet calls ‘the crutch of narration’ will force us to work in a new medium … PICTURES!

TOP TIP: Make your characters earn the right to speak. MORE: DANGER – Why Dialogue Is Killing Your Screenplay

BONUS!

6) Do Not Write A Crock Of Shit!

Finally, probably my favourite sweary tip of all! But what qualifies as a ‘crock of shit’?

  • Any time two characters are just talking about a third, the scene is a crock of shit.
  • Also when a character is saying ‘As you know’ … This signifies you, the writer, are trying to tell the audience information in a clumsy way
  • When scenes are not dramatic, ie. we don’t know what the hero wants or why
  • Or we explain what just happened, or tell audiences what’s about to happen
  • When you are not writing visually, ie. with pictures

Good Luck!

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All About Rejection

The thing about rejection is, IT STINGS. When we put all our hopes and dreams into a piece of writing and it gets rejected, it can feel devastating.

What’s more, rejection happens to ALL writers. It’s not something that ever magically goes away. Even if a successful pro writer gets most of his or her projects greenlit, there’s still some that will fall through the net.

Also, there’s no guarantee of success with target audiences! Pro writers’ work may fail at the box office, bookshops or streaming. That’s just the way it is.

Basically, rejection is part of a writer’s life, whether they are new or professional.

But This Is The Thing

I re-posted the above graphic on the Bang2write instagram recently. It is a tweet from screenwriter Dave Holstein and reads …

A judge from @austinfilmfest rejected a pilot I submitted to their TV contest, calling it muddled, tonally inconsistent and unfunny. It premieres Sept 9 on Showtime starring Jim Carrey #shareyourrejections

In case you didn’t know, Dave is talking about his show KIDDING. On reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, at the time of writing the show receives a 76% Critics’ Consensus; plus an 83% Audience score. Now regardless of how we feel about comedy, Jim Carrey, or anything else, that’s pretty remarkable. Short version: KIDDING is a bona fide hit.

What I like about Dave’s tweet is he doesn’t argue with Austin here, or tell them they were wrong. That was the feedback they gave at that time. It could be those judges watch KIDDING and reflect they missed something on the page …  Or they may still not like the produced show. That’s fine and their prerogative as script readers. (FYI, there have been times I have been pleasantly surprised by produced stuff I have previously rejected. Other times, I have still thought they were absolute binfires. Again: way it goes).

But the thing is, Dave offers writers a crucial reminder and symbol of hope with this tweet. It tells us that rejections don’t necessarily mean our writing is automatically BAD if it gets rejected. It’s just ‘not right’ for that particular place. Crucial difference!

Next Time You Get Rejected

Remind yourself of Dave Holstein. Think of all the other professional writers or writers-in-training who will bring their visions to the world. None of them will have got a ‘free pass’. All of them will have had to negotiate the rocky road of rejection, just like you.

GOOD LUCK!

More About Rejection

Been Ghosted? 7 Ways To Stop Spooking Your Writing Goals

When Is A Rejection A Rejection, If I Don’t Hear Anything?

Rejected? 3 Industry Pros Tell You – Don’t Give Up!

Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make Dealing With Rejection 

What Creative Icons Can Teach You About Rejection 

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Ranking On Amazon

Every author wants to rank on Amazon. When Brian Joyce got in contact offering his insights, I knew you Bang2writers would be all ears. Over to you, Brian!

You’ve spent months or years writing your book … Got it beta-tested … Had it edited by a professional … Paid your graphic designer friend to create the perfect cover.

But what if no one buys it?

This was my question in 2013 after I had spent 5 years creating my first novel. It was scary to send it out fearing it would be lost in a sea of ebooks. Luckily, I found a way to save it from being lost in a digital dumpster. You can too!

1)  Focus on creating a pre-launch buzz!

The goal of creating a pre-launch buzz is to do two things: establish yourself as a legitimate author in your genre through acquiring reviews from book bloggers and creating credibility with their reviews on your amazon page. Just doing this can set you apart from the sea of people who just publish their book on Amazon and pray for visibility.

I accomplished this by creating a landing page for book bloggers. I provided a password in my email to download their free copy. This gave me more credibility with established book bloggers even though I had never published anything else before.

I knew it was important to stand out with the gatekeepers that would market my book for free with a review. This helped my credibility with Amazon shoppers when they saw reviews from reputable book bloggers in my genre.

This strategy got me interviews and solid reviews from important book bloggers in my genre. I was able to use these reviews in my editorial reviews, which boosted my credibility.

This was the landing page I created for book bloggers to download my book for review. The page itself tied into the book cover theme which demonstrated some branding techniques to bloggers.

This strategy got me interviews and solid reviews from important book bloggers in my genre. I was able to use these reviews in my editorial reviews, which boosted my credibility. 

2) Using the power of sub-genres to rank!

Amazon uses genres and subgenres to help organize their ever-expanding list of ebooks. I knew if I could rank in one subgenre, this would help me rank higher in larger genre categories, so that’s what I focused on.

To rank in subgenres, I thought about what made my book unique. It was a faux-memoir and related to punk rock. I used both to my advantage to choose my subgenres. This helped my book rank. Here is what my sales from launch in October of 2013 through July of 2015 looked like using this strategy.

When picking subgenres, you want them to be relative to your book, and relative to your genre. Be targeted in your genre selection. Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What makes my book unique?
  • How is my book different from other books in my genre?
  • Does my book reference other things outside my genre that could be used as a subgenre?

By using questions, you can target the right genres to move up with the BIG boys.

3) Choosing the right keywords for your book!

Keyword optimization cannot be overlooked when trying to set your book apart from the millions of books on Amazon. So many people think SEO is a tough concept, but that’s not the case. Here’s how you can use Amazon to find your 7 keywords.

  1. Set your browser to an incognito window.This allows you to look at Amazon’s search algorithm without your previous searches getting in the way.
  2. Go to Amazon.
  3. Set your search to “Kindle Store”

4. Search something related to your book. Since my book is written for teens with elements about punk and indie rock, I started like this:

The search term “teen books” brought up a list of other items from Amazon’s algorithm.

5. Use each letter of the alphabet and see what comes up.When I typed in “Indie Rock b” I got this:

 

This brought up a list of books that rank for this term.

All of the books ranked well. That means this keyword gets good volume, meaning a lot of people search for it.

6. Use kindle calculator to see how many books sell per day from the list using their bestseller’s rank.

The books on this list sell between 1 and 15 books per day. With strong sales, this is a good keyword for me.

7. Repeat this process 6 more times.

Ranking in the top 5 for one of your 7 keywords can drive organic traffic to your book! Do that for two or more keywords and you’re book stands out against millions of other titles on Amazon.

4) Making The Most of Promotions

Sign your book up for KDP select. This allows you to promote with kindle free days, offered for 5 days every three months! Used correctly, along with pricing adjustments, can draw a TON of new fans.

What most people get wrong about kindle daily deals is that they set it and forget it. That is the wrong strategy. To make kindle free days work, you have to put in some work, but it’s minimal for the reward. Here’s how:

  1. Set your promotion a month out.
  1. Contact websites and get them to promote your book during the promotion. 
  1. Use Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook groups to promote your free day.

The point isn’t to make money, but to make fans, and readers … I mean, real readers, LOVE to talk about books! Get this right, and you can be on your way to finding a true list of fans that will promote your books for years!

By using these tips, your book stands a great chance of increasing visibility, enjoying time on the bestsellers list, and prolonged book sales. It worked for me, and it can work for you. So dive in and get started!

Good Luck!

BIO: Brian Joyce is the debut author of THE B-SIDE DIARIES and a freelance writer. When not writing he can be found playing with his two boys, going for a run, or whistling the melody of a punk tune he is currently obsessed with. He lives in Providence with his wife, their two boys, and a cat who loves to eat paper, and has no depth perception.

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