How To Level Up
You must always be ready to level up your game as a writer. No one can write an acceptable screenplay or novel without learning the craft. You must write and be as professional as you possibly can … but how?? Check out these five tips. Go!
1) Pay Attention To Formatting
Formatting must become second nature to you. So, go get some screenwriting software. If you are serious splash out and buy Final Draft, which is the industry standard. This will take out a lot of the pain of formatting, but not all.
Get some books on screenplay formatting. Go to a second‑hand bookseller like Abe Books and get some dog-eared cheap copy. Get it; learn it; and know it. Your writing will flow much more easily if you are not worrying about formatting.
By the way, novelists are not off the hook! Make sure your novel looks like a novel on the page, too. (Yes, you can buy software for that as well if you want to … Alternatively, use MS Word, Times New Roman, double-spaced. Boom!) MORE: The B2W Format One Stop Shop
2) Always Hone Your Craft
Plough through the accepted gurus’ books on writing. There are loads out there. Some are good, some not so good. If you can buy second-hand editions for a fiver, then it is worth it. Even the bad ones are good if you have enough understanding to make a judgement on them.
Get yourself on a course. In Post Covid times, zoom courses will remain popular like B2W’s free eCourse, The Foundations of Writing Craft. BUT nothing beats a proper live person in a classroom. Mingling with the other candidates at coffee breaks is cool. We can get knowledge from unexpected sources.
3) Pay Attention To Structure
By now you will have come across storytelling structure. Do it! Whether it is Joseph Campbell’s 17 stage Monomyth, or a Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat or anything in between. But adopt at least one of these structures. The basic three act structure is the bare minimum. Outlining in your software can help. MORE: Why Being An Expert At Structure Helps Your Writing
4) Remember Your ‘Customer’
Lots of authors’ first novels never see the light of day because they don’t get out of the spec pile. Similarly, your first screenplay is unlikely to be made into a film. Sorry to disillusion you, but both have value as calling cards for your writing abilities. There are lots of writers out there who get agents or other interest on writing that doesn’t sell in the traditional sense.
So remember your ‘customer’ instead and who you’re writing for … the lowly reader.
If an industry pro likes your idea and wants to look at your script, he will give it to a reader he trusts. That reader will decide your fate!! That reader must be delighted with your script. It must soar above the other three that she read that morning. MORE: How To ‘Reader Proof’ Your Writing
5) How To Create Writing That Delights!
If you’re a novelist, you should read books in your genre … and preferably out of it, too.
The popular advice for screenwriters is to read scripts but be careful! What you are looking at online is probably a shooting script. This is a script that has long evolved from what the writer originally wrote. It probably has camera directions, numbered scenes, references to credits, maybe even pages and scenes added or missing.
Your script or novel will not be like this. Remember the following …
i) If writing a screenplay, DON’T use camera directions
Do not number the scenes. The director will decide where the credits go. Focus on the craft that you have already learned. A reader wants to get at the pace and flow of your story.
ii) Remember: ‘Late in, early out’
Shrink scenes or chapters down in your screenplay or novel. Cut out the preamble that your instinct says is necessary. Each scene or chapter should have a mini three act structure. Jump out right at the resolution.
iii) No ‘on the nose’ dialogue
Whether you’re writing a script or novel, NEVER have your characters say what they should already know. “So, you’re a server here.” To a server in a restaurant!! No meaningless words like, ‘Um’, ‘so’, ‘anyway’. Remember subtext: what characters DON’T say can be more powerful.
iv) Get rid of the adverbs
There is nothing more boring than reading ‘he walks to the car slowly.’ Use saunters, shuffles, plods, shambles, toils, slouches, meanders, creeps or lopes. These verbs tell the reader so much more. Use your search function for anything ending in ‘ly’ and get rid of it if you can.
v) Remember your tenses
If you’re writing a screenplay, you should be writing in the past simple. ‘He is walking into the woods’ … Nope! It should be, ‘He walks to the woods’. Use your search function for ‘ing’. If you’re writing a novel, you have some decisions to make on tense – CLICK HERE.
vi) Remember your unique voice
Hearing your voice is where you have a style of writing that is particular to you. You have it already but exploit it. Readers like to hear your ‘voice’ in their reading.
vii) Sneak in the exposition subtly and in drifts and drabs
Does your reader need to know everything all at once? Do not make her feel as if she is being preached at.
viii) Avoid parentheticals
In screenplays, parentheses or ‘wrylies’ are to be used only if absolutely necessary and even then, turn them into description if you can.
Ready to submit?
NO! But you are now ready to get some good paid coverage. They will rip it to shreds, but at least you can be sure that you will not look too unprofessional.
Do not be proud. Do a rewrite after her notes.
Only then can you submit.
BIO: Marcus Howell worked in the IT industry for many years, developing large corporate databases. But, after an amicable parting of ways, he has turned to screenwriting. He likes to write YA/Kidult ‘popcorn’ movies and specialises in fantasy thrillers. He is currently working on 3 screenplays, and a YA television series. Open to collaboration and meeting for coffee/chats – in real life or on Zoom. Contact him via @Marcus_R_Howell on Twitter.