Bang2Write - Writing Craft Tips for Screenwriters and Novelists
Networking and writing craft tips, screenplays and novels. Find writing links and advice here. Lucy V Hay is a script reader/editor and writer living in Exeter, UK. She is represented by Julian Friedmann at Blake Friedmann, London. Lucy was included and rated in The Creative Screenwriting "Best Analysts" survey 2010.
So with not one, but TWO of my novels to edit recently (not to mention various other deadlines, including my IFS students’ end projects), I have been feeling the BITE of burn out lately. So when Rachel Jackson got in touch with me to share some ideas on how to combat this feeling, I was all ears!! I particularly like her points 3 and 5. Enjoy!
Burn out is silent and sneaky. It creeps up on people when they least expect it. Stress levels slowly begin to rise … Before you know it, you’re in way over your head.
Burn out is an awful feeling to carry around. It weighs you down, kills your passion and it puts a complete stop to your productivity. If you want to break out of your burn out, it’s time to shift your attention away from your stressors and towards the things that will help you recover:
1) Go On Vacation
Going on vacation doesn’t necessarily need to mean adding the stress of travelling hundreds of miles away. It just means using some of the vacation time your employer affords you with, or arranging to carve it out of your own schedule as a writer. If you’d rather spend your vacation time taking long naps on the couch, the more power to you. As long as you’re changing your scenery and spending your time in an environment you don’t dread, you’re taking a vacation from your burnout. MORE:43 Famous Writers Share Their Happiness Secrets
2) Take Care Of Yourself
Improving the way you physically feel can help the way you mentally feel. Writers spend a lot of time sitting down, and that could be a significant contributor to the problem. Exercise and eating right can boost endorphins that battle stress hormones. This doesn’t mean you need to run for a few hours a day and stop eating between meals.
A light jog in the morning and some healthy snacks can make a noteworthy difference. Slowly graduate into a better routine – completely changing your lifestyle overnight isn’t practical and it might cause you to be a little too hard on yourself. Sleeping in until noon and tacos are always fine in moderation, especially if they make you feel happy.
3) Shift Your Priorities
What’s burning you out? Are you focusing on all the wrong things? Are you missing a ton of alternative routes? Are you forgetting to explore grey areas? Talk to a friend or a family member about it. Talk to other writers who have also experienced burn out. What did they need to change when they encountered the obstacles and high stress levels that you encountered? Be open to unorthodox ideas, especially if they’ve worked for people you trust. MORE:33 Industry Insiders On Success, Dreams & Failures
4) Rest and Relax
A lot of specific events can lead to burnout, like criticism, having a script rejected, or feeling stuck with an idea. Exploring your mind a little more might help you see things from a new perspective. Some people like to meditate. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a spiritual ordeal, with candles and incense. It just needs to be a quiet environment where you can breathe deeply, calm down, and be alone with your thoughts in a comfortable chair. Getting yourself into a meditative state of mind can help you organise your brain.
5) Find Something New
You know the thing that’s making you feel burned out? Stop doing it! Stop doing that exhausting, stressful, overwhelming thing. If it’s bringing more trouble into your life than its worth, work on something that won’t. Even if it means throwing away all of your progress on a writing project, it’s worth it to be able to breathe deeply again. It’s worth it to make the dread go away and the high blood pressure subside. You got yourself this far – you can get yourself to an even better place that you haven’t yet explored. MORE: 30 Experts On the True Power Of Ideas
No two cases of burn out are the same. You might find that yours is easy to fix, or that you need to use a combination of methods for an extended period of time in order to truly feel better. What matters most is that you prioritise your wellbeing … Writing can wait!
BIO: Rachel Jackson is a mother of 2 beautiful boys. She loves to hike and write about travelling, education and business. Rachel is also a great fan of sustainable living and a strong supporter of the sharing economy.
Apparently, ‘Super’ is short for ‘Super impose’. This is the traditional method I’m told and the one I see most often in spec screenplays. That said, some people may write TITLE, TEXT or even CAPTION and that’s okay, too. It shouldn’t get your script thrown out, but if you’re the nervous type, stick with SUPER is my advice.
Why use captions?
Captions are used to save time and signpost things audiences need to get an instant. Most spec screenwriters get WHAT they are, but not necessarily WHY they’re used for storytelling purposes (hence this blog post).
So, there are two main reasons a writer would use a caption in his/her spec screenplay:
1) Passage of time. In the case of stuff like 24 HOURS EARLIER or DAY 32, these are time-based and the writer needs to give some indication of ‘where’ we are in the timeline of the plot. This ‘anchors’ the reader (and thus the potential audience). If you’re writing a non-linear story – especially one with flashbacks or flash forwards – you will probably need some captions (BUT there are always exceptions here, especially if you want to keep the audience off-balance, or we’re able to follow via some visual device, which can be preferable). This element relates primarily to plotting.
2) Places. In the case of stories that include jumps from one place to another geographically, like in disaster movies and spy thrillers, you probably want a caption to signify we’ve gone from NEW YORK to BAGHDAD, IRAQ, for example. Others may include science fiction elements, so including a caption for a moon colony would be a good idea, so we know what’s possible in this story world. Similarly, if there are fantasy elements (like the notion we’re watching tiny germs or people who can survive in Derek’s low intestine!), then you probably want to include caption in this case, too. These usually relate to world-building, again as part of your plotting.
So check out the keywords there:
This is screenwriting, so there can be some other ways of using captions creatively, but those above are the main two you need to be thinking about when you’re weighing it up.
NOTE: A caption in a spec screenplay should NEVER be solely expositional. Then it is not needed – find a way of expressing the information visually instead. Also, try and avoid using captions **a lot** in the same screenplay, it can get monotonous very quickly.
So, deciding when to use a caption is actually much easier than you think. Consider these 2 questions:
Are you using a caption for plot-based reasons?
Or just for exposition/background info reasons?
If number 1, you probably need a caption. If number 2, you probably don’t.
Heroes are the number 1 archetype for any writer … They’re the protagonist ‘everyone’ wants to write. The archetypal hero appears in all religions, mythologies and epics of the world. He is an expression of our personal and collective unconscious, as theorised by Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler. What’s more, all archetypal heroes share certain characteristics. See how many of these you can recognise from your own favourite heroes:
Traditionally male (and straight, plus able-bodied; in the world of movies, generally white too)
Born into danger, or royalty (or both)
Leaves family or land and lives with others
Hero has a special weapon only he can wield
Hero may have supernatural help (maybe an outsider, maybe from within himself, or both)
He will go on a journey of some kind (often literal, as well as metaphorical)
Hero experiences atonement with the father
When the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually
The Hero must prove himself many times while on adventure
Some kind of event (frequently traumatic) will act as a catalyst to set him on his quest
Of course, there are obvious exceptions to the rules above. In recent decades, female heroes have become more and more commonplace. Sometimes the hero must search for atonement with his mother; sometimes both his parents. Sometimes that ‘special weapon’ the hero wields is metaphorical, rather than literal, which may be signified as ‘what’s right’ or ‘what’s true’ (sometimes both).
Most crucially, heroes in modern narratives – particularly movies – die very infrequently (usually because they want to continue the franchise!). Sometimes heroes will die, only to be regenerated somehow too.
All About Quest Narratives
That quest archetypal heroes go on is typically some kind of retrieval mission, be it a rescue; a search for the truth; or to set others free from a tyrannical leader. Frequently, it’s all of these things, hence the typical hero ‘getting the girl and killing the baddie’.
If you grew up in the 80s like me, you may remember movies were big on fantasy / adventure back then. Like most kids, I was obsessed with thematic, epic stories of the time, which included LABYRINTH, THE NEVERENDING STORY and THE DARK CRYSTAL. In addition to having a high muppet quotient, these movies were highly symbolic and drew heavily on the notion of the hero having an undertake a quest:
LABYRINTH – a symbolic journey of acceptance. Sarah must “rescue” her half-brother from the goblins (her own childish desire to get rid of him/keep “her world” the same) in order to finally accept her mother’s death and her father’s remarriage.
THE NEVERENDING STORY – a symbolic journey to adulthood. Bastian follows Atrayu’s journey across a nightmarish landscape where childhood innocence gets eaten up by the despair of adulthood in the form of The Nothing and its servant, The Big Black Wolf. Only by holding on to childhood wonder can we survive adulthood.
THE DARK CRYSTAL – a symbolic journey of understanding human nature and its “yin/yang”, there is good AND evil in all of us. The crystal is ALL of us – we must be “whole”, if a single piece is missing, our “worlds” will be lost.
Failure is Not An Option
All the movies I have mentioned thus far all draw on Homer’s Odyssey to some degree. This was the ‘first’ epic quest narrative and one in which most modern versions are based (whether the writers realise it or not).
Just as Odysseus had to get back to his homeland before his wife Penelope was raffled off to some other suitor, they all have a DEADLINE:
Sarah must solve the labyrinth or her baby brother will be turned into a goblin (LABRYINTH)
Atreyu must solve the mystery of The Nothing or it will disappear (THE NEVERENDING STORY)
The Crystal must be healed or the Skeksis will reign forever (THE DARK CRYSTAL)
In other words: there are ALWAYS very bad consequences for the hero’s failure.
Heroes Need Stakes
If you’ve read my Thriller Screenplays book, you’ll know a deadline is conventional in this genre. Deadlines however play a great part in quest narratives, whether they’re thrillers or not. They help raise the STAKES – ie. ‘If the hero doesn’t do X, by Y time, then z happens.’
TOY STORY (they’ll be lost toys FOREVER/destroyed by Sid)
A BUG’S LIFE (the anthill will be destroyed by the grasshoppers)
INSIDE OUT (childhood hopes and dreams will be DESTROYED!)
In other words, if the hero does not stand up, then ‘all is lost’. As kids grow up, we see the same kind of thing happening still in Young Adult properties, especially in dystopian trilogies:
THE HUNGER GAMES (Katniss must stand up for what is right by overcoming the games, then the system, symbolised by President Snow)
THE MAZE RUNNER (Thomas must do the same, but find out the truth about The Wicked corp)
DIVERGENT (Triss must stand up for what is right AND fight out the truth, so a combo again)
But heroes are not just for kids and families. We can see the archetypal hero in many other stories meant for adults, too:
In horror movies, sometimes a hero will emerge to try and save as many people from the threat as they can (which is what Ripley attempts to do in ALIEN and ALIENS)
In some comedies, rom-coms and dramas, a hero may stand up for what is right, despite the ‘status quo’ or ‘norm’ being against them (we saw this most recently in THE SHAPE OF WATER)
In some Thrillers, a hero go up against a shadowy corporation who is trying to cover something up, or trick the world somehow (we saw this in THE MATRIX and RESIDENT EVIL franchises, but we also see it in novels, movies and TV dramas with a conspiracy element)
In many detective stories – police procedural or not – a hero may be the only one who can speak for the victim and ensure justice is served (with many crime fiction novels and TV Dramas doing this)
But there are plenty more. See how many more you can spot in your favourites.
So Study The Odyssey!
As mentioned, we can trace the archetypal hero and the quest narrative back to Homer’s epic. It’s so universal, many writers don’t even realise they know this story already. There’s lots of brilliant, accessible commentary on it, including picture books, graphic novels and even infographics. I’ve included one with this post, below.
So if you’re writing a hero, don’t recycle what you’ve already seen … Go back to the SOURCE and consider the history of the character, instead. Think about the various versions we’ve seen and how yours is ‘the same … but different’.
Quest Narratives: The Prequel!
PSSSST! Did you know? The Odyssey is actually a sequel. You probably know The Iliad already, especially if ‘Trojan Horses’ mean anything to you. It’s worth checking out, especially for where it takes Odysseus and how he ends up on his quest. Enjoy!
First up, let’s agree on the definition. Here’s one from the dictionary:
Well read, adjective. Having a lot of knowledge from reading widely; knowledgeable. Synonyms: knowledgeable (about), well informed (about), well versed in, widely read; erudite, scholarly, literate, educated, cultured, literary, bookish, studious.
Example: “She was very well read in this field”.
The key words that stand out for me there: knowledge, widely, well informed.
Should you read? HELL YES
I work with writers every single day who profess they ‘don’t’ read, often because they ‘don’t have time’. And you know what? Contrary to popular belief, some of them are even good writers despite this.
But guess what: the well-read writers are ALWAYS better. They have more understanding of the craft, not to mention a bigger pool of interests and influences to draw from. Not rocket science. As far as I’m concerned:
Screenwriters should read scripts (in their genre and not)
Novelists should read novels (in their genre and not)
It’s a great idea for all writers to look at ALL mediums
ALL writers should look for new ideas, new POVs, to challenge themselves (yes, even abhorrent ones, or positions that are called ‘problematic’ online by the likes of Twitter. The key question for a writer is always WHY?)
DO NOTE THOUGH – You don’t have to read ‘the classics’ or what you think you OUGHT to read. You can read whatever you like. Fiction. Non-Fiction. Screenplays. Articles. Whatever. Just read WIDELY, from many different sources, about many different things, about many different worldviews, POVs and VARIOUS STUFF.
On Stephen King
This is what veteran uber-writer Stephen King says about reading:
“You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Needless to say, I totally agree with him. Yes, you can obviously get away with doing the minimum amount of reading, especially if you’re talented. But reading only serves to make you a BETTER WRITER. What’s not to like??
Finding The Time To Read
“Reading is the creative centre of a writer’s life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in … Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered anyway.”
I love the idea of reading being a writer’s ‘creative centre’. Reading this, I realised I felt the same way too. Like King, I take a book everywhere I go. (In fact, I take two, plus my Kindle, since batteries might run down or I might not be able to access the Cloud. Eeek!!)
But in real terms, it’s never been easier to read stuff. There’s a gadget in your pocket that can beam ANY type of reading material to you in a matter of seconds, via apps and social media. A lot of it is 100% free, the rest for pennies. That’s right – YOUR PHONE!
Instead of watching that re-run of The Simpsons for the umpteenth time
Instead of ‘debating’ stuff online (aka calling someone an arse)
You could even set a timer. I do. I ensure I have one hour per day to devote to a novel. I have radically increased my reading in the last three years because of this. I can usually read a 300 page novel in about four-six hours (depending how engaged I am), so that means I can usually read at least one book per week. Boom.
I also research and read about subjects that interest me. At the moment, I am interested in Search Engine Optimisation, Blogging techniques and The American Wild West, particularly the different tribes and languages of Native Americans. I’m also slightly obsessed with Hugh Glass (that’s the dude that got mauled by a bear and, it turns out, was also a pirate AND a prisoner of the Pawnee tribe! Wow!).
So, work and play. Combine what you can, read other stuff as and when you want. This doesn’t have to be difficult – it shouldn’t be! Research can be fun, plus you can save it up for later:
Maps and old artefacts
Threads and tweets (without responding)
AGAIN: READ ANYTHING YOU LIKE.
So DO IT! DO IT NOW!
I find it useful to take part in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. I managed to read and review a whopping 90 books last year, plus I made a reading pledge to ensure I read more books by marginalised voices. But why not come up with a pledge of your own? Friend me over there if you like.
Right now, diversity is the name of the game in storytelling, so it’s no accident a movie like THE SHAPE OF WATER won ‘Best Picture’ at The Oscars last week. (Whilst Jordan Peele’s GET OUT was technically more ‘deserving’ of the so-called diverse tag, it is still a genre movie … Whereas historically, The Oscars have always been more appreciative of drama movies, even ones with sci fi elements like TSOW).
I won’t pretend THE SHAPE OF WATER was my favourite movie of the year because it wasn’t, but there’s still plenty for writers to learn here. Let’s go:
1) Outsiders have the most interesting stories right now
Writers are often outsiders, hence their fascination with characters who are outsiders as well (and probably characters who are writers, too). That said, up until now, outsider characters in movies have been frequently side-lined to secondary role functions. This has been for the mythical ‘broader appeal’ to the ‘most’ people in the audience. That’s a BIG change in the last year or so.
So, regardless of how you feel about THE SHAPE OF WATER (and it’s certainly a ‘Marmite’ movie in that people to seem to love OR hate it), as a writer it’s quite the thrill to see to see such a an unusual female lead in Elisa. She’s a reminder that a successful story does NOT have to have a ‘typical’ female protagonist at the heart of the story: she is no hardcore hottie, nor is she comedic. She is a holistic character, with thoughts, feelings and problems all her own.
2) The status quo, ‘norm’ or ‘ideal’ can act as great antagonists
The antagonist is Richard Strickland, who is charge the shadowy government facility Elisa cleans at. Whilst it’s clear he’s evil from the start, we’re invited into his worldview too: he NEEDS to be in charge, he needs to be admired. But he also wants to be feared, just like he fears humiliation.
He also craves perfection. He has the so-called ‘perfect’ life: the lovely house, the wife, the kids. But crucially, it’s never enough. He doesn’t want a wife, he wants a doll (hence his fascination with the supposedly ‘silent’ Elisa, whom he wrongly believes would be even more obedient). He’s not interested in his kids, nor does he care about his house. He loves his car, because it’s something people see first. It’s all just about status to him.
In other words then, toxic masculinity is the key antagonist of this film. The juxtaposition of his rotting fingers then hints at how damaging this worldview is. His car gets smashed up. At the end of the film, his last words are even, ‘I always deliver!!’ But he is reduced, defeated, a loser.
KEY QUESTION/S: What does your antagonist’s POV symbolise in your story? What does s/he do? How does this relate to your protagonist’s journey? Why? MORE:How To Create A Memorable Antagonist
3) Disability does not have to define a character
Elisa is mute, but she can hear. There is some confusion at first about this on Strickland’s part (a stand-in for anyone in the audience who may feel they ‘deserve’ an explanation for someone else’s disability, illness or chronic condition).
This also provides the opportunity for some backstory about why she is this way, but ultimately the HOW is not that important*. Whilst Elisa’s mutism is a part of her and the way she relates to the other characters and the storyworld, crucially it does not define her. When so many characters’ stories are about their disability, this is refreshing.
Backstory is important for all protagonists, but just because you have picked a ‘diverse’ character as your lead DOES NOT mean you should define them by that diversity.
(*Or maybe the HOW is important … It depends how you see it. THIS ARTICLE in Forbes makes a compelling case for Elisa’s backstory and how it relates to the rest of the plot, which is really interesting. I can’t say I saw it this way whilst watching, but that doesn’t matter. The writing is good enough to support this interpretation, which is great. Plus either way, Elisa is still not defined by her disability, which in real terms may not be a disability at all! Check it out).
Much has been made on social media about how TSOW is ‘really’ just SPLASH, plus imho it’s also a version of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (only with a fish-man). For some, this means TSOW is derivative and thus supposedly ‘unworthy’ of Best Picture.
I call shenanigans. ALL concepts in storytelling are ‘versions’ of something that has gone before. Some are obvious – like TSOW – others are less obvious. Fact is, there had not been a version of this particular story played out LIKE this one, before … Unless you count Abe Sapien’s romance with Princess Nuala in HELLBOY 2: THE GOLDEN ARMY (which guess what, was also by Guillermo Del Toro!).
5) Secondary and peripheral characters HELP or HINDER the leads
Giles is the stand-out secondary in TSOW in my opinion. In movies, when a protagonist is silent, like Elisa, we need a character who is the ‘voice’ (much like Timothy Q. Mouse is in DUMBO). Giles then is not just a translator for Elisa, but a sounding board.
In a lesser writer’s hands, Giles would have come off flat and boring, but Giles is three-dimensional: he’s an older gay man, who like Elisa, is an outsider. He’s a little vain, a little cowardly, but he’s also a talented artist with dreams. Ultimately Giles has integrity and compassion. He is understanding when the creature kills his beloved cat and he will ultimately stand up for what is right.
Zelda, Elisa’s best friend and colleague at the cleaner’s, is another great secondary. She has built a persona for herself as someone who is loud and effervescent, to deal with the crap in her life. This centres not just around racism in 1960s America, but also her husband, Brewster. Zelda wants a quiet life, hence her reluctance to help Elisa, but ultimately she will come through for her. We know this, because she always keeps Elisa’s place for her in line at the clocking-in machine, from the very beginning of the movie.
Moving on from ‘helping’ to ‘hindering’ then, we have Dr Robert Hoffstetler, who is an intriguing mixture of both. The Doctor has his own problems, which spill into Elisa’s world. He’s told by BOTH his bosses – American and Russian – to kill the creature, so he helps Elisa for the sake of science, or what’s ‘right’. This of course means he is the weakest link in this story, which can be exploited by Strickland.
From there, we have General Hoyt. In charge, he doesn’t care HOW things get done, as long as it gets done. Refreshingly, he doesn’t have to resort to threats (at least at first): instead, he appeals to Strickland’s desire to get things done, both flattering him and hinting at what *could* happen if he doesn’t. Hoyt is Strickland’s own antagonist in effect, which then places the second man at loggerheads with Elisa and the creature.
Elisa’s journey in THE SHAPE OF WATER connected with many people. Her desire to do what’s right made her a hero in many people’s eyes. Standing up for the underdog – even if it’s a weird fish-man – is something many audiences can relate to.
More importantly, Elisa’s devotion to the creature never wavers during the movie. No matter how weird the plot got, her love for it was never in question, nor did she betray it, or even attempt to walk away. She is pure of heart and in a world of flawed heroes, this feels new.
As a Del Toro fan, I can see certain parallels with his career as well. Every filmmaker must want an Oscar, not to mention the adulation of his/her peers. It’s taken Del Toro a long time to get to this point, with much blood, sweat and tears along the way. But he made it. He got Best Picture. Good for him!
One of the most important things I learned about giving notes is to make it about the script and not the writer. This is not personal. This is about a piece of writing. This is about improving that writing and it’s not saying you’re a bad person or a bad parent or a cheating husband or any of that. I once had a client whose pilot was about a husband and wife divorcing and the notes wrote stated that the wife was unlikable and hard to connect to. He was furious and told me so, slamming me on social media. Later we found out the character was based on his wife with whom he was going through a difficult divorce.
TAKEAWAY: Don’t project yourself onto the notes. You may have work to do. We ALL can improve in everything we do. Even Martin Scorsese gets a bad review now and again. MORE:Top 5 Feedback Mistakes Writers Make
2) Not finding the RIGHT consultant or feedback-giver
This might take time and word of mouth probably helps a lot but find the right consultant or script competition – however you’re getting notes – for you. Look for one that writes in a way that works for you (like whether you need oral or written directions to the store). Some consultants focus on commercial viability, some hammer the writer on the don’ts and not enough on the do’s. Some offer suggestions and teach, some break notes up into CHARACTER/THEME/STORY and so on and others simply go from back to front and take you page by page. Ideally the consultant isn’t just telling you what’s wrong but telling you what’s right and where things can be improved. As well, they ought to teach or give suggestions as to how to make changes. FYI, Finish Line goes front to back and offers suggestions on how to fix things as well as gives overall ideas in a page of general comments. We don’t use ‘you need to’, ‘you should’ nor do we address commercial viability. We are about the writing.
TAKEAWAY: Getting notes isn’t supposed to be a sado-masochistic process. Find a company or person that is honest and communicates truths the way you hear them best. MORE:How To Use Feedback Effectively
3) Treating notes like they’re written in stone
Everything written is a suggestion. No one ought to tell you how to change your script so it’s not your script anymore. That’s not their job. Your script is your ownership and your voice and some blood, sweat and tears has likely gone into it. Don’t take a note if it doesn’t feel right. If you’re questioning something, and you can afford to or have access to helpful friends/writing colleagues, send your script to a few places and see if you get the same note from all. If it changes what you want to say, don’t take it unless you agree what you want to say needs changing.
4) Not following up or asking for clarification on notes
When choosing a place to get notes from, inquire whether you can have follow-up questions with your consultant (via email at least). Notes are coming from someone skilled in the craft of writing, using terms like ‘inciting incident’ and referring to different acts and scene structure. If you are not a seasoned writer, some of the terminology in notes may be foreign to you. We always offer writers the opportunity to follow up in order to make sure the entirety of the notes is absorbed. if you get notes and simply think, “I have no idea what this means” you’re probably not going to do any revisions.
TAKEWAY: Get the most you can for the money you pay. Make sure you can get clarification if you need it. The customer is the boss. MORE:5 Ways To Evaluate Your Feedback
5) Judging the consultant or feedback-giver
I once gave notes to someone who ripped me apart because I didn’t know certain hipster speak and my note was that I felt that it was distancing my ability to relate to the story. If I am feeling that way, others might too. We may not all be as cool as you. Make sure you keep scripts readable, even if you want to make them unique. There are lots of ways to create an environment without making it exclusive.
BIO: The Finish Line Script Competition www.finishlinescriptcomp.com offers 6+ pages of development notes and allows you to resubmit new and improved drafts for free. We are currently open for Early Bird Submissions. When you purchase 6+ pages of notes you’re automatically entered in the competition. We’re all on a learning curve in life – find someone who is there to help you along the way!
B2W likes to offer perspectives from writers on the ‘X Things I Learned’ series, not just about writing or careers, but also some of the weirder things our lives may include from time to time … Cue children’s author Maz Evans, who went SUPER viral on Twitter recently!
If you’re on there, you may have seen this play out in real-time, like me. Here’s what Maz learnt during a crazy 72 hours and I’m sure it’ll pop up in her writing at some point. It’s all material! Over to you Maz …
It was no big deal. I was awaiting a flight to Glasgow, banging away on my laptop as usual. A man tossed a business card on my table. ‘Get in touch if you’re ever looking for secretarial work,’ he said in passing. ‘I’m always looking for fast typists.’
I stopped him, returned his business card with a smile and said that as I was working on a Sunday, I was the one who could use secretarial support. But given that anachronistic gender assumptions weren’t part of the job description, he had just failed the interview.
He roared with laughter, apologised for being ‘a bit of a dinosaur’ and offered to buy my lunch. I quipped that as I’d been inundated with job offers sitting there, I was flush, so no thanks. He laughed, we wished each other a safe journey and I went back to my laptop. I recorded this little fraction of life on Twitter, as I regularly do, and boarded my flight. That really was it.
But when I reached Glasgow and switched my phone back on again, I had over 10,000 notifications on Twitter. And over the next two days, they just kept on coming. My tweet had gone viral – and I was about to get a crash course in what happens when social media goes nuts.
Here are the 5 things I learned from 72 crazy hours:
1) Timing is everything and nothing
Maybe this tweet surfed on the wave of discussion about the professional treatment of women, maybe the Twittersphere was bored of a Sunday. But my feminism is neither new nor especially remarkable – I had posted many such wry observations before – why this one flew, I’ll never know. MORE:6 Ways To Great Ideas From Social Media
2) The world is good
The overwhelming majority of tweets were supportive and congratulatory – or found it funny, as did I. It’s so easy to get hung up on negativity – as a writer, I am painfully aware of this – but actually, most people are good and kind. Oh, unless a certain right-wing daily newspaper decides to print your (unauthorised) story. Many who commented on that are akin to the non-descript fungal fodder I scrape off the back of my fridge. MORE: 5 Debates On Female Writers That Really Need To Die
3) Wow, we’ve got a long way to go
That said, what staggered me was how many respondents couldn’t see that this man’s behaviour was at best, presumptuous, at worst, sexist. The main criticism I received was that I had been arrogant and the man was just being nice – how would I have responded if he’d offered a similar job to a man? Or a more senior job to me? But that was rather my point. He didn’t. MORE:Top 5 Social Media Mistakes
4) Sisters aren’t doing it for themselves
Sadly, I have made this observation in life, but some of the most vicious attacks I received were from other women. Some felt I was demeaning secretarial work, which couldn’t be further from the truth – I worked as a PA for years, no-one respects that profession more than I. But if we are divided, we’ll continue to be conquered. Girls, we need to stick together. MORE:5 Problems With Female Leads
5) And this too shall pass
For three days, I dreaded looking at my phone. I received everything from celebrity endorsements, to rape and death threats. I took neither more seriously than the other. But it made managing my Twitter a total nightmare as I use it to communicate with my readers and those tweets were getting buried. But then it petered out. The world kept on turning. It was another bizarre moment in my crazy life and it passed. Just like everything always does. MORE:How To Use Social Media To Market Your Novel
Am I wiser, more cautious, chastened for the experience?
And if this writing malarkey doesn’t work out, I have a nailed-on job offer. No harm, no foul.
BIO: Maz’s debut children’s novel Who Let the Gods Out was published by Chicken House in February 2017 and was selected as the Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Month. It entered the bestseller charts on its first week on sale, has sold to 17 countries worldwide and has received over 20 award nominations, including the Carnegie Medal, Branford Boase, Books Are My Bag and Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Year. The sequel, Simply the Quest was published in August 2017, Beyond the Odyssey in April 2018 and Book 4 will publish in 2019. Maz also narrates the audiobooks for the series. Follow her on Twitter as @MaryAliceEvans.
Concept, premise, controlling idea, seed of the story … Whatever you want to call it, you need that THING at foundation level in your story to be clear and compelling, otherwise your story is SUNK.
Put simply, if you don’t have a great concept at the foundation of your screenplay or novel? YOU GOT NUTHIN’! Supersadface.
It can’t be true … can it??
How Concepts Kill Spec Scripts & Unpublished Novels
YES! It is true. The short version: if your concept STINKS? Your pitch won’t work. You will never get off the starter blocks – no one will like your logline or short pitch, so won’t even read your work. Ack.
But even if by some miracle someone DOES agree to read your stinky concept screenplay or novel? Guess what happens – the draft won’t work, either. Yes, even if your writing is otherwise well-crafted. Yikes!
By the way, even if your concept is GREAT, if the execution of your craft is not? You STILL won’t advance, because agents, producers and publishers are afraid you can’t follow through. Noooooo!
In other words, we want BOTH:
Great concept & great writing = SALE.
What Is A Logline?
A logline is a short, pithy description, usually between 25 and 60 words, of your story. A logline basically encapsulates your story – your concept (they’re sometimes called ‘short pitches’ too, especially in novels).
Loglines should not be confused with taglines, which are the little PR/marketing lines on movie posters. Loglines/short pitches are what the screenwriter or novelist must interest an agent, producer or publisher with to get their work SOLD.
From there, said agents, producers and/or publishers must ensure they put the concept across to readers and audiences in a compelling enough way to ensure people buy watch or read those stories.
Why Loglines Matter
Here’s the thing: experienced script editors and readers CAN TELL if you have concept problems at foundation level FROM YOUR LOGLINE. True story!
Buuuuuuuut this is what you should do:
Writers should START projects with a logline. This means you can iron out any difficulties from the foundations of your story UP. It also means you don’t start writing one thing … and end up writing another, or overcrowd the story with too many threads or conflicting ideas. This is why B2W always recommends you road test your concepts.
If writers have difficulty with a concept at foundation level, this WILL translate to the writing. There are many classic problems and pitfalls with loglines. This is because many writers describe ‘around’ the story and don’t really interrogate the concept and how it works. Other writers may gloss over the logline, or don’t even bother with one until MUCH later. These are always the projects that run into terrible difficulties in the drafting process. The writers who really work on their logline and ensure their concept is working and firing on all cylinders spend less time in what I call The Story Swamp, because planning WORKS.
It’s a great idea to REVISIT your logline in the writing of your project. Even when we’ve worked on our concepts, we may have a flash of inspiration that means we end up going a different way in the actual writing. This is obviously fine, but it does pay to go back to our original logline so we can see WHERE we’ve parted ways. This means we can assess if it works and not waste our time (which no one ever has enough of!).
If you start with a logline, you have a ‘baseline’. This can be comforting to many writers, but more importantly, when someone says ‘What are you working on?’ (and they will!), you can answer!
You will never be in that hideous No Man’s Land with a draft and no concept. Again, this saves time. I’ve known writers to have to ‘carve out’ a story from draft after draft for YEARS … whereas writers who start with a road-tested logline can finish in a matter of months or even weeks. What’s not to like!
Watch The Video
So, what should go into YOUR short pitch or logline? I break down exactly what writers should be including, plus common mistakes in pitches and loglines and how to avoid them. SUBSCRIBE TO THE B2W YOUTUBE CHANNEL – pass it on!
DON’T FORGET – You can do peer review on your loglines and short pitches in the B2W Facebook group. See you there!
As an author of over 150 non-fiction books, it is safe to say I have made my fair share of mistakes over the years. However, in my opinion, making mistakes as an indie author will only serve to make you a better writer and publisher. In this article, I will share with you the top 5 mistakes indie authors make. Read and digest each tip carefully to maximise your writing and publishing efforts. Ready? Let’s go …
1) A poor book cover design
I have seen many authors spend months (sometimes years) writing their masterpiece, only to fall at the final hurdle with their book cover design. It does not matter how good your content is, if your book cover design fails to promote and show off your book adequately, you will not sell many copies. You do not have to invest heavily to get a great book cover design created. Simply use outsourcing websites, such as Upwork.com, to find an outstanding book cover designer.
2) A substandard or non-existent Amazon author page
Amazon makes it incredibly easy for authors to create a compelling author page. Your author page is vitally important for showing your readers who you are, what you’re about and how passionate you are about your work. Make sure you set up a great looking Amazon author page by visiting Amazon Author Central.
TOP TIP: Amazon allows you to create a promotional video for inclusion on your author page. Use this opportunity to show off your book and tell your readers what the book is about, what inspired you to write and how it will benefit them. Keep the video under a minute in length, for maximum impact.
3) No BISAC Codes
When you upload your book to both Amazon CreateSpace and Amazon KDP, be sure to select the correct BISAC codes for your book. BISAC codes are a set of industry standard codes that determine which category your book should appear in on Amazon. These categories help readers on Amazon to find your book faster. As an indie author, it is your job to determine the major heading which best describes the content of your book. Once you have decided on the major heading for your book, you can then drill down further and select a sub category for your book to feature in.
Amazon makes it incredibly easy for indie authors to publish their book in both Kindle and print format. The simple fact is, some books sell better in print than Kindle, and vice versa. On that basis, make sure you publish your book in both print and Kindle format to ensure you gain maximum exposure for your written work.
TOP TIP: Get your book converted to .EPUB for the Amazon Kindle KDP platform and you should be able to use the same file to upload your book to the Apple iBookStore, Nook and Kobo platforms.
5) A lack of marketing activity
Once a book is published and on sale through Amazon, it is tempting as an indie author to sit back and hope the book starts selling. In fact, it’s at this stage of the process that you should really start to ramp up your marketing activities. The key to long-term, sustainable book sales is to market and promote your book consistently, over a long period of time. As part of your marketing strategy, be sure to focus on the following areas:
Guest posts on relevant blogs and website
YouTube videos based on the chapters of your book
Facebook competitions and book giveaways
Interviews with local media and niche websites
Book review requests
Book tour promotions
There are so many ways you can promote your book once it is published. Yes, book promotion can be hard work, but the rewards can be fantastic if you put the effort it.
TOP TIP: If you are publishing a non-fiction book, create YouTube videos based on the educational elements of your book. YouTube is free to use and in my experience is a great way to drive free traffic to your book. Make sure you place a link below the YouTube video to either your Amazon sales-page or your website, where people can buy a copy of your book. MORE:How to Use Social Media To Market Your Novel
BIO: Richard McMunn is a number 1 bestselling author and award-winning publisher. To learn more about how Richard can help you write and publish a book in any genre, visit his website at the following link: http://www.bookpublishingcourses.com/.
For B2W offers and free stuff first, join my
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