Thursday, 18 October 2012

Creativity, Inspiration & The Right Mood

Calvin's approach to writing is a general beginner or non-writer view on writing:

Waiting for inspiration before doing any work.

It's not completely wrong. You do need inspiration in order to come up with a great idea to write and to fill it with fresh and exciting ideas, characters and scenes. But you don't need it to get started; and definitely not to continue.

It's said that "the professional doesn't wait for inspiration and writes no matter the weather." If they didn't not much work would get done - and what's the use in that.

Inspiration is a fantastic feeling to behold and it transforms your mood and writing session, not to mention, your writing project. It can even transform your life. However, it's not meant to occur everyday and hold your hand until your story is complete.

In other words, you don't need it to get your story done.

Writing is a trade - a craft that occasionally rises to the level of art. There are basic principles and guidelines. A rich (and poor) history of content. Generally, it follows a logical sequence of cause and effect through form. It can be a hobby for enjoyment, or a mega business.

To begin writing on a blank page is simply trial and error. It demands passion, taste and imagination. It's important to be yourself. You are the narrator. Your perspective is key. It's the spyglass in which your stories are seen through; and is an extension of your talent and voice.

However, it's also about knowing how to write by reading and learning, and who you are writing for by research and practise. It's about getting into the routine of generating ideas and content: thinking creatively. It's about putting words to the page and revising later.

Writing is re-writing.

It's easy to get into the routine of enjoying writing sessions while being inspired and getting insecure on the ones when you're not as they aren't as fun. However, fun doesn't always equate to progress. Sometimes fun and enjoyment can inhibit progress.

To succeed, they must be greeted as one and the same: with a singular outcome in mind.

Inspiration comes and goes but progress is the goal, if this is more than a hobby for enjoyment. Your skill, passion and discipline are the main stay in advancing a project forwards and reaching the finish line.

We don't necessarily write to have a good time but to create one.

Image: Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Bigger Picture

Naturally, I went into horror feature Project Nightingale with high hopes. Even though it didn't work out to how I had initially wanted, I was enlightened by what I found.

Going in I knew that this project would be the last one I would develop in my usual way, as a new standard had been calling in the way I deal with projects.

Justice in the story concept was all I was looking for. However, the more I developed things the more ways I could see this going, and the original idea looked less sweet. So I had to reinvent what I had invented. But the thing did improve and I could feel that I was getting closer.

It was maturing and had come a long way but something was fundamentally wrong. I kicked its behind and wouldn't let up until I could identify what was bothering me about it. Then one day, it all became clear.

I believe I have now found the story experience, what the project is, and how it fits into the marketplace. It could be made by a small crew and marketed online on a micro-budget. I do love what it can become and the potential it has, although sadly I'm not writing it.

This is due to two factors: concept and timing.

  • It's a unique genre blend and exciting story experience but not so unique that its concept is generally safe from being discovered and made by others. 
  • It's a project suited for down the line after further experience writing and making contacts; and ideally, for a specialist independent producer. 

Basically, I couldn't justify spending a year or so (re)writing it when my efforts could be reduced to mush at any time. Alternatively, it's not something I would want to pursue as a independent feature yet, as I have other writing avenues and genres I want to explore first.

"It's all about the bigger picture."

Something I am conscious to avoid with writing is to get ahead of myself and lose sight of the bigger picture. If a project doesn't work towards the next step in that or is a few steps ahead I feel it isn't worth putting the time and effort in to writing it now. I'm pro planning ahead but also like to be efficient with what I choose to spend my time on to aid where I am now.

At some point, I will write a short script set in the world of the story to display its potential, and ideally, for the short film to be made and used to sell the concept for a feature.

In the meantime, it's back to an old flame.


Thursday, 30 August 2012

Screenwriter's Digest #3

Vince Gilligan (via David D. Burstein) has three excellent storytelling tips for those not wanting to ruin their work by rigid long term planning.

Script Quack offers two words and great craft insight for those struggling to get to grips with structure.

Danny Stack touches on the realities involved in becoming a professional screenwriter for those looking to create a ten-year plan.

Jeffry Hirschberg shares his 11 Laws of Great Storytelling for those wanting increase the odds of their screenplay achieving greatness.

Screenwriter's Digest

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Terry Rossio On Writing

Most aspiring screenwriters simply don’t spend enough time choosing their concept. It’s by far the most common mistake I see in spec scripts. The writer has lost the race right from the gate. Months — sometimes years — are lost trying to elevate a film idea that by its nature probably had no hope of ever becoming a movie.” 

- Terry Rossio [Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Mask of Zorro]

Friday, 17 August 2012

What Your First Draft Needs

There is a danger with beginner writers who may feel that their first draft has to be perfect.

I know because it's how I used to think.

However, a first draft is not meant to be brilliant. There's no way to get a first draft right other than to get it wrong. Or some of it, at least.

It's why it's called an exploratory draft.

It's where you follow your curiosity and explore ways of doing things to see how it plays out. It needs time to be left alone. It's meant to be torn apart later on. The majority of it doesn't have to make the second draft.

This stage is less about quality and more on getting something down. It doesn't have to be great but it has to be something.

You need to go through what doesn't work in order to find what does.

The first draft is an essential part of that discovery.

Rewrite Later 

You only get one chance to make a good first impression but you get many to write a great screenplay. Writing is rewriting and the only healthy way to approach a first draft.

I have had a first draft dip into the two hundred page mark to then write the second draft from scratch. Those two hundred pages of exploration told me what I didn't want and directed me to what I did want.

Every project is different and will teach you new things but obsessing and perfecting at the first draft stage will only drive you mad and start to see writing as a chore.

Your first draft is meant to be off the mark that's why no one else sees it. It's meant for your eyes only, as a place to begin, and to reshape as you see fit.

Don't sweat it. By all means put effort into it, however, avoid rewriting as you go along. Give yourself a break and just head towards that finish line.

Rewriting is for later. Best to worry about it when it matters.

Good luck!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Your Idea Is Not A Television Series

It can be tough finding the right medium to tell a story in especially when you discover a versatile concept that could work or crossover into either television, film, web, literature, stage, radio, video-game or graphic novel.

How do you know what to write it as?

The short answer is: you don't.

Unless you're specifically: a playwright, scriptwriter, or novelist. However, if you've yet to figure that out or commit to a set course, or want to write in more than one discipline, then it's not as simple as knowing what you don't want to write. Everything is possible.

You can chat to people about it or consult writing books. You can do some research consuming a mass of product looking at how others have done things with the story concept they had. Ultimately, you just have to follow your instincts and see where it takes you.

The goal is to do the story concept justice - to attract a producer/company and an audience.

Naturally they want their money's worth, and often, it's nice to get more. The story concept is our pitch to them. If the work is poorly executed or doesn't suit the format then it may never find a buyer or reach an audience. Or it might - but may not be worth writing home about.

Concept may be KING but execution is EVERYTHING.

I have blogged about this before, although, find myself in the aftermath of such a dilemma on both Project Nightingale and Project Spacebound. More details to follow on the former. The latter is a different narrative beast altogether and no longer concerns the screen industries.

It always pays to be open minded on other mediums and routes a story and character might take. It's always about what's best for them and the story concept - not yourself.

Just dive into that story and don't be afraid of surprise!

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Dreaming in Moderation

It's not easy embarking on any ambition but screenwriting offers the newcomer a new level of difficult.

Today the aspiring markets are more flooded than ever and so competition is fierce.

Anyone can write by sitting down to write but not everyone can write well. Even less are willing to put the time in to improve and do their homework.

Then there's the art of selling it; and yourself. As well as facing numerous rejections and disappointments that are commonplace in the creative industries.

It's a long journey that requires more than discipline, passion and resilience to survive.

The Art of Dreaming

To constantly dream of an ambition and desirable state of being will get us nowhere.

In the beginning, this is all we had once the dream was discovered. And so, compelled and obsessed as we were we turned up to write and dream. We put in years of creative efforts in order excite, thrill, feel and escape. To role play in fictional worlds. Then we come of creative age and arrive at a crossroads:

To continue with our head in the clouds or to walk the pavement of reality. 

This pavement of reality has a strong gravitational pressure and has been known to crush dreams. But nothing moves forward without a decision. We must step into the gutter and learn to stomach the odour. The odour of inexperience, insecurity and overwhelming odds.

Stay Connected 

Dreaming in moderation is an essential part of the writer's life and mindset.

Striking a healthy balance between reality and dreaming is key to productivity; renewed energy, motivation and commitment; achievements; and envisioning new horizons.

"To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe."

- Anatole France

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Things From James Moran

I'm not going to talk about the present or future James Moran and his two feature films up for release this year. No - it's about that new writer on the scene and prolific blogger, and curse word user, who had just sold his first spec script we know as 'Severance' back in 2005.

James has been blogging in his writing journal for around 9 years now. This tempted me to travel back in time and see what he was like in the beginning. Although, it's not the actual beginning from when he first started writing, but from when he won the Sci-Fi Channel's Sci-Fi Shorts Competition, got his ten-minute script entry made, and got an agent.

I flicked through a few more early entries from 2003 - 2005 which are interesting and quite fascinating, as he talks about the umpteenth draft of Severance, then named P45, which was becoming quite a nuisance. But what interested me and thought I would pinch and share are some great and insightful words from 2005. So I will unless he sues, hacks me with a sharp fictional object or explodes my toaster with his mind. Or my mind with his toaster. 

  1. Things I Have Learned: 
  • Characters and background first, then plot - it's so much easier that way round 
  • It's a lot harder to sell an outline, than a script 
  • Shorter, shorter, shorter - you can always trim more stuff out of a script or outline, it's always too long 
  • Everyone else is pretty much making it up as they go along, too - not just me 
  • No matter how nice movie/TV people seem - Don't. Fucking. Trust. ANYONE. Most of them are decent people, but some of them are fucking evil, greedy sharks in human form, that will slice open your kidneys with a homemade shiv if you give them half a chance. Even the nice ones who you're friendly with are looking out for their careers, not yours. 
Being able to say that I'm a writer is a huge step. It's vital to recognise your strengths, without bragging. And, of course, your weaknesses - but they're easy to see: being nice to yourself is much harder. As for that final bulletpoint, I am *not* exaggerating. It's a harsh, harsh world out there ("it's a shit business!"), but particularly so in MediaLand. I've learned the hard way that you have to be extremely tough and thick-skinned. Never climb into a shark tank without cast-iron underpants. You don't have to be a bastard to people, just don't let them walk all over you. 

Things I Want To Do In 2006: 
  • Become a better writer 
  • Sell another movie 
  • Write two full spec scripts, and just write more in general 
  • Go to a film festival to plug Severance 
  • Write an episode of Doctor Who (fuck it, aim high) 
  • Do a DVD commentary 
  • Get fitter, and lose more weight 
  • Write shorter blog entries 
I'm on the hustle. I want to get out there, show my face, put my name into hats (or something). Things move way too slowly in MediaLand - you make your own luck, and you have to push for what you want. I've wasted a lot of time this year when I could have been writing or outlining. 2005 was great fun, and watching the creation of Severance, from casting, storyboards, location scouting, shooting, to editing, has been an incredible ride. Seeing something get organised, filmed and edited can only improve my writing - already my stuff is shorter, sharper, and more effective. Except for my blog entries. They just get fatter and more self-important. But hey, like I say, get your own blog, I'm in charge here. 

That first section, some brilliant advice. The last part speaks for itself.

I can say that he does now write shorter blog posts, most of the time. They are really a lot shorter. I'm not just saying that. 

Here's the full blog post with lots more advice and insight, and here's his free writing seminar in a blog post.

He has made his own luck and that is how it's done.

*All words and copyright belong to James Moran except the bits that I wrote, although, he can have them too, if he wants* 

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Overdoing It

For the last two weeks I've had a welcomed break from writing. Specifically, script and development work. At first, I wasn't sure how it would go but soon realised it was what I needed.

It's said that you should write everyday in some capacity and we should. However, I have learnt that every once in a while it's nice to step back and have a short time out.

For me, the greatest pressure in my life are the expectations I place on myself. This isn't ideal. It pays to know when you're being unreasonable but it's also healthy to push yourself at times. Like anything, it's about balance. Only now am I realising the importance on easing up and taking breaks.

A valid reason to take a short break is to catch up on the things that have been piling up while you've been focused on writing. Like a cluttered space things soon stack up and can pollute your mind. It's a great way to refresh, de-clutter and recharge the batteries.

During the short break you may find some new inspiration and motivation. It may deepen your faith in writing, and yourself. It may make you adapt to a more healthier way of working.

If you can't remember the last time you took a break from writing - it might be time.

It's all too easy to lose yourself in writing but discipline also lies in knowing when to step back and do other things.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Online Writer vs. Offline Writer

What is the best way forward for a new writer, aspiring or otherwise:

Go online? Stay offline? Do both?

This is something that has interested me for quite some time and has seen my allegiance wander back and forth.

Let's start by defining new writer : as someone with none to a few years experience writing.

Is it ever too early for a new writer to go online? Should they make the rush and reap the benefits of networking and sharing their early work, passion and opinions a.s.a.p.?


Is it ever too late to go online as a new writer? Should they stay offline and focus on writing for enjoyment, to find their voice and develop writing skill and a portfolio first?

While the Internet has benefits and opportunities for new writers, I feel it makes sense to take time to hone your craft and writing skill before developing into a online presence as a writer.

The Internet can be a tough place for new writers as they are bombarded with a mass of information, some contradictory; heavy competition; and essentially lose confidence before gaining it.

Is the Internet the best place for new writers to develop?

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Screenwriter's Digest #2

The Script Lab has a helpful piece on the first ten pages of a screenplay for those wanting to hit those five crucial elements.

Andrew Stanton offers an insightful talk for Ted on what he knows about storytelling for those interested in story and the man himself.

Gideon's Screenwriting Tips has a useful piece on the common mistakes of novice screenwriters for newcomers looking to develop.

Michael Ferris at Script Mag passionately outlines his four secrets to screenwriting success for those wanting to break through the noise and maximise opportunities.

Go Into The Story has an excellent piece and list on clichéd dialogue for those wanting to avoid it and know when it's necessary.

Screenwriter's Digest

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Let Me Be Misunderstood

So you choose to stay in for the weekend instead of being social. Those who go out or invite you out don't understand why you chose to stay in, or when you do venture out, may avoid alcohol.

It's difficult for some non-writers to understand (and respect) what goes into living a creative life and ambition. They think taking a random day or weekend off is no big deal, drinking a beer or two; doing this or that. But if we're serious about writing and our commitment - and enjoy it - then these are big deals to us.

The Long Road 

A writing ambition is a long road and requires a daily effort. There are times to relax and have fun, but productivity and momentum are the main stay. If the wrong fuel is going into the train then it's not going to work properly, or at all. Things must always be moving. If they're not - then we fall behind.

To achieve that ideal, sacrifices have to be made.

We can try to explain and help others to understand our actions and passion for writing, but there's no guarantee they'll understand or even respect it. The sooner we accept this the quicker we can get past the frustration and find ways to power through.

If someone doesn't/can't respect our passion and commitment to writing:

The fault doesn't lie with ourselves - nor should the worry. 

We must press on.

Burning Passion 

Not everyone has a burning passion, desire and ambition for creative work that they want to engage with and work towards on a daily basis. Such work that make people feel alive, content and challenged to no end.

We must embrace this burning passion no matter how alone, frustrated and misunderstood we may feel in our creative efforts. Nothing should be able to stop us from doing what we love and putting fingers to keys - regularly.

However, it's important to seek out like minded individuals and other writers to gain some understanding and support (and vice versa), because chances are we may not find it from immediate friends and family. They may think they understand, and of course, think it's easy, but we know the reality because we live it.

Naturally, it will be an ongoing occurrence within our creative lives and the various people we meet. But is a challenge and opportunity to greet with open arms. Once we learn how to deal with it, it will cease to become a problem.

"Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and wisdom."

- M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled 

Monday, 7 May 2012

Lad's back, Arthur, Pink & Green too

Saturday May 5th saw my story contribution to 3 Hundred and 65.

Some people may compose and send their story tweet from work, while juggling the kids, or put a few casual hours in beforehand.

Or like me - the days leading up to it are ripe with inspiration, creativity and practice tweets - some major indulgence.

Although, the final story tweet and overall story development almost went a different way. As I thought about bringing in a new storyline at the time and ambitiously, to push for a multi-narrative story.

In fact, it almost went all wrong, and was heading for this:

Hunched over, his fingers clasped to a jar: frozen tears imprisoned by glass. The Orphan glared at the Stranger by the mast. 

Thankfully, I voiced my intentions on the 3 Hundred and 65 Widows unofficial Facebook fan page, and soon realised new characters and narratives wasn't what the story needed. Therefore, my Orphan character, Stranger by the mast, and the frozen tears imprisoned by glass - bit the dust.

The Countdown 

The days leading up to the due date were nerve-racking to say the least. I knew I wanted to help bring Lad's gang back - specifically Lad and Arthur - as they were the first characters I saw upon discovering the 3 Hundred and 65 project and became fond of.

At the time, there were four or five other story tweets to go before mine. The concern was that someone would step on my toes or write a blinding story tweet for Cope that would demand a follow up. (In fact, that did happen, on the Thursday, but a scene and narrative change on the Friday proved a nice cliff-hanger/resolution for Cope's current story.)

By Thursday evening there was one story tweet standing between me and my ideal goal of bringing Lad and Arthur back. I then decided to contact Friday's story contributor, to see if he shared the same interests and to share a proposed Saturday story tweet with him.

Fortunately - he wanted Lad and his gang back too.

The sending of the final story tweet was surreal. All that excitement, the challenge, and creative buzz - then poof! 


What now? 

Get on with things and hope that people like it.

The Tweet Itself 

The thinking behind what became the final story tweet was to show a human side to Lad and Arthur, and a glimpse into their relationship. Ultimately, wanting to move their story forward and give them a firm way back in. But one that was visually appealing and had an awe to it.

The return of the shadows Pink & Green was inspired by a comment made on the 3 Hundred and 65 blog by Michelle Hodgson, which in one interpretation, saw them as guardians and/or persons who recorded and documented events.

It felt natural to include them in the story tweet and bring another previously forgotten element back into the storyline.

In Hindsight 

Part of me wished I had booked a story tweet much later in the year. With the characters, narratives, story world and genre firmly set up and played out somewhat. Where the stakes are much higher, and more exciting; any additional story tweet would potentially be monumental.

Although, this current section of the story is just as important as any other. What happens now is crucial to how the future will play out. It's nice to say that I played a part in that. I'm proud to have been part of the project.

I'm thrilled that Lad is back, and that the story has a nice balance returning to it now, and a multi-narrative is forming.

We all have our parts to play in the 3 Hundred and 65 saga, and mine, I discovered, was to get Lad back into the story, and with Arthur. I even managed to get Pink & Green in there too!

Overall, I'm glad I did my story tweet when I did, and how I did. It was a fantastic experience!

*Thanks @Artminx for the read/support*

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Behind The Scenes | Project Nightingale

Three months ago I began work on my second project for the year: an urban horror series. 

The first: Project Spacebound began over four months ago and is being written at the same time. 

From Half-Idea to Series 

The big bang moment for this came when a half-idea met its title-to-be and fused together to become something with potential. The combination of those two intriguing elements told me that this was something to pursue.

Its title was a word I thought I had initially made up, as it just appeared in my head and got me hooked. It conjured up emotion, atmosphere, genre and images. Later on, I discovered it was a real word, however, its slang meaning better suited the show and helped define a major element.

The 'half-idea' was a notion and genre twist on a recent news story at the time. A 'what if...' scenario resulted and one that would lead into a high-concept horror sub-genre story. From then, I knew I had to construct a new and compelling narrative away from what already existed. 

Now I have the elements for an atmospheric and engaging urban horror series for television. I am finding that writing in a new genre offers a class in humility and a great opportunity to develop. 

Facing Genre 

Some genres are so well established, classic and done to death it can be off putting to attempt them.

However, as in life, it's important to face your fears and take the challenge and opportunity to develop your writing, experience and confidence.

Even now the popular sub-genre I'm working with is a little unnerving, especially when I think about it and everything that has been released.

Thankfully, the passion and faith I have in the story process gives me the confidence to relax and discover the elements - and just tell the story.

Crazy is Good 

Just because an idea isn't the norm and is lots crazy it doesn't mean we shouldn't pursue it. In fact, we should.

The most crazy ideas are the ones that should be explored as they challenge conventions and the audience experience, and you never know - may just work.

Early on, I knew this project was crazy. However, it is refreshing, exciting and daring. It certainly beats writing something easy.

Overall, it's a challenge to attempt a different spin on such a familiar and loved story world and sub-genre.

Meet New Characters 

Sometimes it's daunting knowing you are going to write certain characters that you haven't written before, have little or no experience with, or maybe don't particularly like.

Again, as in life, the trick is to embrace the challenge as it's the only way to develop writing skill, confidence and push forward.

There are characters in this I have never written before and feel a little removed from.

Although, at the core we are all the same. It's just a matter of research and stepping into their shoes via back story and setting.

Be Ambitious 

We were ambitious and took chances on a daily basis when we were younger. As we age it doesn't mean we have to slip into the conservative frame of mind and not test ourselves or risk anything.

If we don't take the risk we won't ever feel that the impossible is attainable, and won't even try.

Stay young at heart. No fear.

I will take the risk and bolt in for the ride because while I'm writing and learning, I'm having a blast.

Think: Plan B 

Not the band. Although inspiration can be drawn from their unique sound and risk taking.

But some projects inherently have a Plan B (or masked Plan A), as they are versatile and can be experienced in different forms and ways. It doesn't hurt to keep this in mind.

It pays to be honest with yourself on the function of a spec script and chances of one making it to screen.

Down the line when the script is twiddling its thumbs in my portfolio, it would be nice to be able to do something else with it and get the story experience out there.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Script Competitions, Balls & Flow

It's never wise to write a script solely for a competition.

The only thing on your mind being:
The Reward & Winning
Write a script because you enjoy the process; are interested in the exploration of story, character and form; saying something about the human condition; forming an emotional and entertaining journey; and developing as a writer and person. Not because you want to pimp it out to a competition and get something back.

Script competitions are great for a previously completed script that may be ready or just needs a rewrite/polish. They are ideal for an experienced writer who has a body of spec work and is looking for some recognition and a way forward.

They are also good for beginner writers entering once or twice to test the waters, or for fun as a screenwriting hobby.

If you get a kick out of the process and thrill of writing a script for a competition: enjoy the challenge and creating to a deadline. Keep on doing what you're doing. But keep in mind that Your Script Is Not A Lottery Ticket.

Balls Rolling 

I have come to realise it's unwise to try and get the ball rolling with script competitions before spending a solid amount of time writing, researching and figuring things out.

The world will always be in a rush and operating at top speed, but that doesn't mean we have to sacrifice learning, experience and preparation (and our sanity) to be in a mad rush with it.

We are only making things more difficult for ourselves in trying to acquire our dreams in the same vein as we would acquire a takeaway. Some things require a lot more effort, patience, time and understanding, and are all the more sweeter for it.

Script Flow 

Writing only for script competitions will eventually burn out the most passionate of writers, either from overworking, worrying, or being disappointed and disheartened when nothing comes of it.

But things don't have to be this way.

It makes sense to spend some good years writing, reading and learning while honing your own writing process, craft and voice; amassing ideas, concepts and projects; and creating a foundation for your writing.

With a little effort and the above you'll be surprised at how you adapt and develop. Each day is an opportunity to move forward: to learn something, and write a bit more.

It's good to keep in mind that a writing ambition is a marathon, not a hundred metre sprint.

Write for passion, enjoyment and craft - not for reward. 

Good luck* on whatever path you choose.

May the flow be with you!

*Good Luck: Where Preparation Meets Opportunity 

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

What We Can Learn From Facebook

The story of Facebook and its rise and rise and rise fascinates. Most success stories and personal achievements inspire, but this one is different.

That has only deepened over the last week as I received The Social Network on rental and have watched it four times. That includes 2 x film watch, 1 x with David Fincher commentary and 1 x with Aaron Sorkin & cast commentary.

Even after four watches, I am more drawn to and compelled by the film than ever - as well as the origin of Facebook's success story, filmmaking, the industry, business and people in general.

Ultimately it's about people: their personalities and desires; their talents and flaws; their failures and achievements. Everyone is the same under the surface but different and fascinating in their construct and actions.

As writers, the more we experience, observe and learn about people the more informed, realistic and powerful our writing becomes.

Facebook's Success 

Ultimately what I feel the success of Facebook boils down to is that it successfully tapped into a fundamental human need. One that is ever present and that people consciously or unconsciously strive for daily:

To feel important - be important to others and to matter. 

We all have the need to feel important in our everyday lives whether online or offline. If we don't get that sense of importance within relationships, friends, family, community, society, peers, school, college, work, profession, and within the world, then elements break down and life can get pretty miserable and leave us unfulfilled.

However, with Facebook you get the opportunity to feel important infinitely each day with every private message, comment, like, friend add, request, tag, share and so on. You get your own webpage to express yourself and status updates to inform people what you're up to, share your personality, interests and opinions. As well as being kept in the loop on what is going on everywhere else.

What Can We Learn As Writers? 

At the core of human beings there is a need to feel important and be important to others in daily life. This may come in the form of love, affection, money, respect, status, acceptance, friendship, and so on.

A gaping void, weakness, over-abundance or loss in one area is usually what brings a story into life, as a person is striving for something they don't have and/or is affected by another's pursuit in doing so. Often the outcome will make them feel important within the scheme of things and/or to someone, or will fail miserably.

This matter of how a person goes about getting their perceived worth and importance in life is determined by their upbringing and past, which is also informed by their current environment and personality. This inherently - directly or indirectly - causes a lot of drama and conflict.

That is what we like.

Keeping this in mind will help us to understand our characters and make them human in our writing.

How do your characters get or fail to get their importance in life, how has that affected them and what are they willing to do to get what they want/need - that is the question(s). 

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

John Lasseter - A Day In a Life + Animation Writing Tips

"Every single Pixar film, at one time or another, has been the worst movie ever put on film. But we know. We trust our process. We don't get scared and say, 'Oh, no, this film isn't working.'" 

- John Lasseter   

A Day in a Life 

Bringing Inanimate Objects to Life 

Monday, 19 March 2012

What Do You Do Less: Read, Write or Watch?

I look at my read/write/watch routine on a weekly basis and often identify a common thread:

I write more than I watch and watch more than I read. 

Writing overshadows them both by some way which I think it should. But have felt that reading less than watching could be a weakness and imbalance in my routine.

Should we be reading more than we watch? 

Balanced Reading 

I often read a script on my day off which is two days a week, but note, I do say 'often' because other things can get in the way and sometimes I miss the chance to get one script in a week.

My desk and writing environment with two whiteboards chock-full with notes screams "Writing! Writing! Writing!" whenever I am there or nearby.

But not so much "Reading! Reading! Reading!"

Of course, if we are to write well - we must read.

However, not to the extent that if you wanted to impress a producer - instead of doing so with your excellent script you reveal that you've read 250 screenplays this year.

The Art of Consistency 

I have come to the conclusion that reading the least out of writing and watching isn't a weakness or imbalance -

If it's consistent reading over time and has its own designated slot.

This comes from Danny Stack's advice that two scripts a week is an ideal standard regarding script writing for television; and Scott Myers, one script read a week for feature screenplay writing.

As a result, I now have a designated script reading slot whereas before I would often read a script on my day off from writing and with no fixed time or session.

Only forwards. 

How is your routine? What do you do less? Is there an element you value or neglect the most? 

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Writing Update - 17/03/12

Two and a half months in and things are progressing nicely. Project Spacebound has a first draft and soon-to-be-announced Project Nightingale has an outline for its pilot episode.

I found myself working on the first draft of Project Spacebound for three days during the week. Then at weekends developing and doing the prep work for Project Nightingale.

I prefer prep work at the weekends because it's more relaxed and there's more time to give. Plus the prep work should be developing quicker than the script draft. So it worked out nicely.

Adapting to Change 

As previously mentioned, I have three projects set aside for the year and two of those have already begun. But I've decided not to bring the third one into the mix just yet. Again, like discovering the stacking projects method at the last moment, this decision was much the same.

I'm comfortable with two projects going at once and really enjoy it. But feel I need to gain experience with two projects and seeing how that goes first. Naturally, I need time to break in to this way of working and then can adapt to working with three projects later.


What I have found with working on more than one project at a time is that there is now double the abundance of ideas, notes and thoughts when I am away from the keyboard.

It has been a challenge and rush on days to note everything down, collate it and then give it the time it needs before writing commences and/or during. Sometimes I was certain I would forget stuff, as it's difficult stopping in the middle of your paid job to go write some stuff up - unless you can find a blind spot to hide in!

As for the actual writing and developing of two projects at once: I love it. There's nothing so satisfying and challenging than moving two projects forward each week and not just by a little bit but by substantial development and five-a-day script pages.

It's brilliant!

Rolling In The Deep 

Even whilst holding down a full time job it's still possible to develop and write a first draft of at least one project relatively quickly. If you plan, and your focus is strong, then you can breeze through.

Without focus, time management, understanding your own writing beats and the process - it will always be a struggle.

Getting to the first draft(s) is the important part.

I'm halfway there!

How are your projects going? Have any bragging rights with a recent completed draft? Almost there?

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Teach Yourself Screenwriting

5th Edition (2011) 
This book has taught me a lot.

In fact, I taught myself screenwriting with the third edition before going to university to study it, as a result: wasn't taught anything new on the craft for the first two years.

Luckily, I wasn't going there to be taught the craft.

This is a great book for beginners and is there to prevent you from rushing into things and suffering the potential side effects:

  • Start writing a feature screenplay of Roman epic proportions: get stuck four pages in and give up. 
  • Jump straight into theory/methods from intermediate + material from Syd Field, Blake Snyder, Robert McKee, John Truby, etc: get a headache, overwhelmed, and possibly get writer's block before you even start. 
  • Religiously follow professional screenwriter blogs and websites for advice, how to info, craft insight, competitions, success stories, agents, spec sales, box office, and so on: feel worse off, more insecure, develop a severe migraine and/or inferiority complex. 
  • Sign up for a UK scriptwriting degree (likely - with no business sense in the programme): do some serious damage to your writing nerves, confidence, prospects and financial accounts. 

You must lay the foundations: that entails discovering whether this is something you want to do - by engaging with the basics and reality of it all. 

The less distractions - the better. 


"Keep it simple.

- Ray Frensham 

PS: You are either in it for the enjoyment or for the reward.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Help

By Tate Taylor.

Based on the novel by Kathryn Stockett.

This screenplay has been on my to read list for a few months and caught my eye after seeing its trailer. It looked like an interesting and moving story of a black maid who spent her life serving others. To this: I wondered what hardships she must have faced and how did she get through it. So with interest and hopeful expectations. Did it deliver? The verdict is: Yes and no. Well, it depends...

The story takes place in South America in Jackson, Mississippi during the civil rights movement of the sixties and centres on black maid, Aibileen, in her fifties, as her dutiful and oppressed routine is disturbed when an aspiring author wants to enlist her to expose the hardships local maids face at the hands of their white employers. Aibileen is coy on stirring up trouble and doesn't want to rock the boat, although, raw feelings within her find the offer tempting.

The screenplay was enjoyable, often dramatic, good-humoured and touching. We warm to Aibileen and her story, being a sympathetic and tragic character: good natured, loving and emotionally troubled. The white families and employers exhibited an interesting dynamic at times and go some way to paint the picture of the oppressors, who are, ordinary people with troubles but of a privileged and luxurious kind in comparison. When introduced, the other black maids were heartfelt, compelling and a pleasure to journey with. The plot moves fairly quickly and dialogue does its job: evoking emotion, character, back story and the period.

Overall, it is a typical feel good story and one that you can enjoy, however, suffers from the Hollywood touch and disappoints somewhat in terms of realism and truth.

The story is about finding strength in bleak times and taking action against adversity. It's about the pursuit of equality and standing up in a minority. Weapon of choice: the written word. 

Did you enjoy the screenplay? Have any praise or disappointments to share? Technical observations? 

| Read The Help and other blog featured screenplays |

| Read other Script Reviews |

Monday, 5 March 2012

3 Hundred And 65: What Story Tweet Date Do You Have?

Love to be creative? Love to support a cause? Have a twitter account?

Then you can be one of the three hundred and sixty five authors contributing to this amazing project and campaign to raise money and awareness for The Teenage Cancer Trust.

The 3 hundred and 65 project is a public authored graphic novel where twitter users reserve a story tweet date and subsequently tweet a continuation of the story in 140 characters which artist Dave Kirkwood then turns into an illustration.

All story tweets and accompanying illustrations are published on the websitefacebook page and newly released app through iTunes for all to experience and enjoy.

The story project will run all year round, although, currently there are only a few months worth of unclaimed story tweet dates left. One of which could be yours. Hurry as they are going fast!

Even Stephen Fry knows this that's why he's picked Wednesday 23rd May as his story tweet date!

Lad - My Favourite Character 
The Story So Far 

You can read the story from the beginning online with The Story So Far... or get the free app for your iPhone/iPad. As well as the official story synopsis for the project.

Help do something important today and become part of this amazing project:
Twitter: @3hundredand65 #3hand65 @TeenageCancer 

The 3 hundred and 65 project blog is on the way for story contributors-to-be to discuss storylines and ideas and for other related news and content.

If you are on the fence and curious or would like to test run a few ideas and discuss the project, then head over to the unofficial 'fan' site and support group for readers and writers of the project.

Ain't nuthin' left to do but get involved!

PS: Saturday 5th May @yatesrobert

Images belong to Dominic Conlon & Dave Kirkwood.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Ira Glass on Creative Beginnings

"Nobody tells people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me.... is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it and we get into it because we have good taste. But there's a gap. That for the first couple years that you're making stuff, what you're making isn't so good. It's not that great. It's trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it's not quite that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, your taste is still killer and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you're making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get passed that phase and a lot of people at that point they quit. 

And the thing I would just like to say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, and they could tell what they were making wasn't as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. It didn't have the special thing that we wanted it to have and the thing I say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, going through it, right now, if you're just getting out of that phase you've got to know it's totally normal and the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you're going to finish one story. Because it's only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And your work you're making will be as good as your ambitions. 

In my case, I took longer to figure out how to do this than anybody I've ever met. It takes a while. It's going to take you a while and it's normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that." 

~ From Ira Glass on Storytelling Part 3 ~

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Screenwriter's Digest #1

John The Animator Guy has an interesting and helpful piece on visual storytelling for newcomers.

Lucy V at Write Here, Write Now offers great advice on how to put together a Writer's CV for those looking to do so.

Scott at Go Into The Story has an excellent ten-part series on his scriptwriting process for the curious.

Michelle Goode of So Fluid: Confessions of a Screenwriter has some great info and resources on social networking and peer feedback for writers wanting to network and share work.

Brian at Screenplay Readers shares some golden advice on how to get a 'Recommend' on your script coverage for those wanting to improve their game.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Behind The Scenes | Project Spacebound

For the last month or so I have been working diligently on a new TV project: an animated adventure series for children.

Although this is the grand reveal, I'm afraid it'll be a no show as to specific details. You know the score. If it was Comic-Con then I would be happy to share all!

Instead I will offer a little insight on the origin of the idea, its rebirth and end with some notes on the early development for this.

Project Spacebound is not the actual title. Although, a rather cool one come to think of it. It's the codename for the show and a way to talk about it other than referring to it as the vague New Project 2012, New Project1, 011011100010011 or Animated Children's TV Series, or God forbid, to reveal its actual title before its time!

From Short Animation to Series 

The revival for this stems back to a chat with Danny Stack a few months back. The act of being able to share the story concept with him and have it received well was revitalising and encouraging. From then on I knew this was going to be my next project.

The truth was that I hadn't begun work on it as a television series. It was something I wanted to explore in the future and would see the expansion of an old short animation story I had, accompanied by ideas and development notes on a feature length narrative.

The idea itself was a conventional genre premise with a twist and remains unwritten. Although it's the components of this twist that has robust legs for further development on the short narrative and expansion of the story universe.

With the desire to explore a television series and the inspiration from the chat with Danny propelled me into adopting it as my next project. Otherwise I would be writing treatments for more contemporary dramas and would have lost the opportunity to seize the moment on this for another few years.

Now here I am in the midst of real beginnings on a story universe for television that has come a long way since the short animation story. To my excitement, I am finding more and more that there are no creative boundaries. Such is children's television and fiction.

Project Notes: 

Here is a brief but by no means complete list of early encounters and ideals reinforced on the project. We're talking very early into the process here, around the first two weeks or so.

Be Responsible 

Whether we write to entertain and/or to reach people we inherently have the power to influence. Therefore have a responsibility to do so in a positive and tasteful way.

With this adventure series for children, I knew I had a responsibility to be more considerate than when writing for adults. I knew that I had to work harder to deliver a show that offers its young audience a healthy way to express themselves, learn and be entertained.

Fortunately, the story premise and twist indicated to above, flips - in particular, animated violence on its head (and side, on occasions) and offers a fun alternative, which makes my duty a lot easier.

Flip That Cliché 

They exist. They're everywhere. But that doesn't mean our project has to be riddled with them.

I found myself writing in cliché mode on occasions in elements of story world and plot, which I soon realised was due to writing in a challenging new arena and genre combo. These by default I knew were temporary but were used to fill gaps until something better came along and/or after some research. However, as to be expected some did sneak through under the radar.

After realising this, I set out on a reconnaissance mission and swept through cliché components and flipped/inverted them until they became original elements and reflected the new storytelling world and fresh show that I wanted to create.

These breathed a new unified life into the story and taught me to never settle for what I think will work or see working but to keep pushing the elements to stay true to the story world and to offer a surprise and something original on every page. At least. 

Visual Engagement

We know screenplays are visual but nowhere more visually important than in children's animation.

So with this I was reminded and told myself that it's important to keep the visuals interesting, meaningful and suggestive, and related to plot, character and story world.

And if there is talking in scenes, have it on the go and tied to physical action and movement, to keep things visually moving forward. Something must always be going on within the elements: background, foreground, narrative, character.

Each scene should serve to reveal character or push plot forward and as quickly and visually engaging as possible.

Pace & Transitions

Naturally these must feature well and serve to bring to life and enhance a story experience.

Upon reviewing a totally linear and cinematic Rough Outline for this, casually going from scene to scene playing everything out, I had a eureka moment, well: realised it was time to critique and review what I had, reinforced by the following thought:

This is not a contemporary drama for television or a cinematic feature film. It's not for adults (although, I'm sure they would enjoy it) and has to run so much quicker and smarter than it does between scenes and sequences at the moment. 

Shortly after, through re-working and by knowing what I didn't want I made a breakthrough and found the ideal story pace, that then effectively wrote the rule book for scene transitions in this.

From then the outline practically re-arranged and wrote itself. All from the momentum set by the new quick cuts of the first two opening scenes and their relation to story and character.

Know Your Conflict/Opposing Force

A critical element to any story and protagonist's journey.

Early on the pilot story went through a few changes in regards to the force behind the conflict, as I explored different ways of kicking things off for the series. I knew I wanted to rev up the opposing force but hadn't found exactly what I was looking for. After all, like some of the characters, I was still relatively new to this particular story universe.

In the meantime, a cliché element was the stand in and as a means to a temporary end. However, once I had the opposing element it made everything much easier to reconsider and re-plot, as finally the main character was going against something real and challenging, as well as the opposing force doing the same.

Now the story was going somewhere.

Back to Earth

It has been a controlled and focused blast these last six weeks and the project has taught me a lot. Too much to document really. Everything just goes by so quickly but as I wake each morning I know I am a better, more aware and resourceful writer than I was the day before. That's a great feeling to behold.

Feel free to share any experiences, writing tips or criteria you may have on writing for children in this context.


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

"You Do What You Love, And **** The Rest"

Being miserable or happy is a choice and the latter starts by doing what you love and forgetting the rest.

Enjoy the moment and learn to seize the day. Work towards a better more knowledgeable self, a body of work and a positive network. Only that way will your ambitions and goals be attainable.

Who knows you may even find they may shift a little but as long as you love what you are doing it doesn't matter.

Enjoy the experience. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity.

It's your life.

Have the courage to live it.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Story & Form (Or When An Idea Has More Than One Set of Legs)

Have you ever had an idea for a story or character journey and could not only picture its existence as a film but could also see it expanded as a television series?

Maybe an idea began as a comedy series for television but would work well as a radio series with less budget and more chance of being commissioned?

Alternatively, it may have began as a short film but has the potential to work as a feature with expanded development and more characters?

But ultimately were put off by the amount of work and wrote it in one format - while dreaming of the other. Or could not decide and left them both.

It can sometimes be troubling and a killjoy to visualise an exciting story concept in another form to then reach a deadlock. However, the important thing is to keep moving forward regardless.

Passion Vs. Logic 

From experience the more insight and knowledge I've gained into what would work and fit into a particular form the more my instincts are attuned to what will work best. Naturally it becomes easier. But on the other hand, it also tunes your skills of transference and adapting a story to another medium and format because you are aware of the pieces involved and how they must work.

It becomes a process of weighing up the pros and cons as to which medium and form to tell a story in. It's a task and conflict that consists of passion versus logic. Passion wants you to tell a story in the format you initially experienced it in (when it burst into life) because it's what got you fired up about it in the first place. But logic tells you that it may work best in a different format, may be more commercial, entertaining and appealing, or even as a stepping stone to its ideal and preferred format.

All Roads Lead to Rome 

It's a tough situation and one I don't think should be a question of one or the other unless you reach an informed decision. It should be a matter of them both. Follow your heart on the one format then follow your logic with another. Increase its chances. Once you have drafts (or outlines/treatments) written down then you (and others) can compare and contrast and see which works best for a particular medium.

Even if you don't use or pursue one format's work, at least you would have gained further insight into the characters and the story, what works and doesn't work, as well as experience with the formats themselves, which would have informed whichever final form it takes on in the future.

In the least, it would count as development work. It may even be called upon someday after a brief mention and interest from a fellow writer, producer or exec and re-surface once again, and with the bulk of the work already done.

Nothing that's developed and worked on then discarded is ever wasted material or a waste of time. It all has its place and helps you and your story to develop. It should never be discarded without appreciation and understanding.

"Well done is better than well said."

- Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, 5 February 2012

How To Write Scripts For Children

I have recently found this great eHow video on script writing for children in both an animated and live-action context.

It's an essential video and sound advice, if like me you're starting out writing your first major children's animated project or even if your live-action script has a child character or two in there, or a whole main cast of them.

It's a useful insight on what's important when writing for children that can be easily forgotten when writing, as we tend to write and appeal to the child within us first.

But the longer we ignore our audience the more we run the risk of damaging our script, characters' voices, credibility and will bore. The last thing we want to do is disrespect them and convey a lack of professionalism and talent to a script reader and/or producer.

Step out of the story for a moment and watch the video to be reminded of the fundamentals on writing for children.

Children are smart, imaginative and can be extremely witty. The world to them is a playground of fantastical opportunity and imaginative exploration in an infinite number of connections and combinations that adds up to a whole load of fun. And while learning in the process. Naturally when they watch television or a film they hand that responsibility over to the programme channel and filmmakers to play the role of Creator and are expected to be taken on a fun journey. However, not to sit back in passive mode but to be mentally active and engaged in the narrative as it develops. They've certainly set the bar but by knowing our audience and market early on we have a chance to at least meet it. At the same time it's essential that they watch only the best material that engages them on a healthy and positive level for their own continual learning and development needs. This means it's up to screenwriters, directors, producers and programme controllers to deliver that. As we know it generally all starts with us: let's make sure we get our bit right first. As the children are the future, it's wise to entertain and teach them well. Good luck with your projects and don't forget the most fundamental thing of all: HAVE FUN! "You must write for children in the same way as you do for adults, only better."

- Maxim Gorky

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Script Project Management: Stack Not Rotate

I read this morning on my beloved iPhone, an excellent piece of project management advice from Go Into The Story that will change my writing life forever.

This promptly made its way to ScriptSense.

It arrived in the last minute of the eleventh hour to prevent me going any further with my proposed Rotating Triangle Approach to Screenwriting and Project Management.

After four weeks on the preliminary work on the Primary Project (Codename: Spacebound). I was set to rotate and start the prelim-work on Secondary Project today. As well as share the initial idea on the approach.

If you wish, you can read the unpublished post on the abandoned approach here.

What it shows is that I was on the right lines searching for a solution to managing and progressing with three projects at once. Although, last night did spot weaknesses in the approach which were going to led to modifications and to include the overlapping of projects. But I needn't do any more on it now.

The First Hour 

I have no doubt that project stacking as outlined by Scott Myers (K9, Trojan War) from Go Into The Story is the way to go. As mentioned, it may not work for everyone, as we are all wired differently. But I am excited to have a solution to get on with and a roadmap to managing and progressing with my three projects for the year.

I know there may come a time when I'll prefer to focus on one project, for instance, when rewriting WWII Drama Screenplay and/or Angels & Ashes. But for now, while I have three exciting story concepts to be written and others waiting, it makes sense to find the most efficient way to work.

As I've mentioned before, it's all about going through the motions and figuring out things for ourselves. Even if it means going down the wrong path and making a mistake or two. Mistakes are there to redirect us.

However, along the way there is a wealth of advice: some of it to ignore, as it may not apply yet, but other advice that may be just right for you at your stage of development. It's these gems at unexpected times to pay attention to because they send up a beacon and help light the way.

As of today, Project A aka Codename: Spacebound is still in prep mode.

How do you approach your own script projects? Are you working at your best on one project at a time? Do you stack projects? Maybe thinking of trying it? 

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