The Comedy Awards

Earlier this week the best movie, TV and radio writers came together for The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain Awards 2019. You don’t often see writers at televised awards ceremonies. We’re an unloved category on most glitzy nights. Our natural inclination to introversion and perceived lack of dress sense define us as bad telly.

The awards aren’t televised but they do attract some of the biggest names in the business, while reminding producers, agents and commissioners how great stories and the people who tell them remain at the heart of our creative industries.

There are now three categories for best comedy. Who won? Who almost won? And what clues do these awards offer to new writers hoping to make 2019 the year of writing comedy? Let’s see …

1) Script Is (Almost) Everything

For the second year running, Sarah Kendall and her one-woman storytelling series Australian Trilogy won the award for best radio show. I was one of the judges when she won in 2018. She was the clear winner then and that was also the case this year at the awards. (That’s an astonishing achievement for a category that has in recent years rewarded some of our greatest comedy writers and performers including John Finnemore, Susan Calman, Marcus Brigstocke and Mark Steel).

Sarah’s stories are intensely personal, plus  she is the only performer in the show. As writers you may think there’s not a lot you can learn from her awards win. But I can’t recommend these stories highly enough. Listen closely! They are not just funny and moving, they’re beautifully constructed. Everything you need to know about how to write funny, gripping stories for an audience to laugh at can be heard.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Comedy can get you so far – even the funniest scripts need to make your audience desperate to find out what’s going to happen next.

2) Intentional Inclusion WORKS

The other nominations in this category were Deadlines by Jessica Hynes, and Ability by Lee Ridley and Katherine Jakeways. Lee is better known as ‘Lost Voice Guy’, the comedian with cerebral palsy who won Britain’s Got Talent.

You may notice that of the four writers nominated here, three are women and one is a male writer with disability. For many years, beginning with Jane Berthoud’s tenure as Head of Comedy around ten years ago, BBC Radio have been working hard to bring alternative voices to the station. This short list is a strong riposte to anyone who complains at the idea of positive discrimination towards unrepresented women and minorities. The judges chose these as the best three comedy shows for the awards on quality of script alone.

We still have a long way to go. BAME writers and working-class voices remain under-represented. but with a cross-party committee at Westminster looking into “how to break the class ceiling” that’s where the political energy is about to focus.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Commissioners are looking for untold stories. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from … Your best stories come from that part of the world that’s uniquely yours.

3) Don’t Hang Around – Do It Yourself

The winning entry for online comedy was the simple and effective Where Are You From? by Hannah George and Tasha Dhanraj, and the other nominees were Spokke, written and performed by Tim Grewcock and Sean Lothian, and Three Cool Days, from Arnab Chanda and Chris Hayward.

These are all short, snappy, easily accessible online videos that you should watch. Apart from being funny, they tell you what’s happening away from the incredibly shrinking universe of TV and radio commissions. They all articulate the story of comedy creators looking beyond the traditional ways of making a career in the profession and doing it for themselves.

KEY TAKEAWAY: There’s never been a better time to bring your own writing to the airwaves or the screen.

 4) Don’t Write An Audience Sitcom …

In a tight contest in the TV section Mackenzie Crook’s Detectorists beat the strong contenders Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls and Inside Number 9 by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton.

That short list offers a pretty good range of the kind of comedy we’re seeing commissioned across the main TV channels – Crook’s warm and gentle narrative character comedy, McGee’s hilarious coming-of-age sitcom set against the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and another series of darkly original one-off tales from the League of Gentlemen alumni.

As ever in recent years, sadly there’s not an audience sitcom in sight, although Upstart Crow was a strong contender.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Look at what’s being made. Don’t copy it, but get a sense of what is making commissioners excited. BUT…

5) … Write An Audience Sitcom!

That doesn’t mean you should give up entirely on writing an audience show. All the commissioning editors say they’re still looking for them, and pressed on this at last year’s BBC Writersroom Conference, they said that wasn’t just a platitude. Honest, they really mean it.

The trouble is, audience sitcom is expensive to make, and criticism from journalism and social media is harsher than for any other form of TV. You need a thick skin and, if you’re a successful comedy performer, you can live without the hassle. On the other hand, commissioners don’t tend to get sent that many audience scripts, so even if yours isn’t selected the odds are not stacked quite so heavily against it. Spoiler Alert – it won’t get selected, but it could get you involved in working on other people’s shows.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Sure, look at what’s being made. But also study the odds. A big funny audience show script will make your submission stand out.

6) Ignore Bloody Performers

i) First the bad news

Apologies, no way round it, there’s lots of it. Look at that list of names nominated for comedy awards, 14 in all and I’m sorry to point out that 13 of them are writer-performers. In fact a better description of most of them is performer-writer, which makes it all the more galling when you consider these awards are primarily for writers.

Ever since The Young Ones exploded onto our TV screens in 1982, the writer-performer has become the default first call for producers and commissioners, who spend far more time nowadays going to gigs than reading scripts. Yes, it’s annoying that for decades we were happy to celebrate the genius of Galton & Simpson, Carla Lane, John Sullivan, Eddie Braben, David Renwick, Clement & Le Frenais and Croft & Perry on the strength of their writing alone. But now you’re going to have to do more than create your perfect sitcom and send it off to a couple of producers in the hope of instant success.

ii) But now the good news

The good news is that the do-it-yourself alternative, which was always a high-risk, high-cost way of producing something that looked like an inferior version of the real thing, is now a viable option. And thanks to the Writers’ Guild online award you can raise your profile quite quickly.

You can write your own podcasts, online sitcoms or single sketches, and get them made. You will need to get out and meet people – being a writer, that could be the hardest part – but there is an army out there of performers, camera crew, editors and marketing gurus who need you. There are millions of them, but there are only a few really good writers. Your script still needs to be brilliant of course.

KEY TAKEAWAY: The internet is awash with well-made, well-performed, poorly written comedy. You can be the difference.

Finally …

 7) Don’t Be Afraid Of Drama

Finally, let’s look at that monstrous hybrid that commissioners and producers say they’re looking for: the great comedy-drama. Almost every session at that Writersroom conference talked about the search for this as their brave new quest. Writers, understandably, were keen to understand what was meant by the phrase. Commissioners, also understandably, were keen not to pin down narrow definitions. Honestly it’s an easier question to ask, “what kind of Brexit do you want?”

i) It’s not dramedy or comedy-drama, but ‘drama WITH comedy’

It’s hard enough to get comedy right, making an audience laugh and cry at the same time is an even harder skill, and when it works it makes your show soar. Frasier, Friends, The Simpsons, that great trio of American sitcoms from the 90s, didn’t just add drama to the comedy, it was built into those shows’ DNA. Who can forget the powerful pilot episode Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire?, which re-imagined the classic Christmas movie It’s A Wonderful Life.

Again this news is not a source of immediate comfort to comedy writers. No, not comedy-drama. The winning shows are ‘drama WITH comedy’.  That matters, because they were all made by drama departments. Drama is more glamorous, it has bigger stars and bigger budgets. And critics are always far more excited by dramas that manage to be funny than comedy that also tells a story.

ii) Know your genre – and where your favourites started

What’s especially relevant for comedy writers is that the winning writers in the drama section – Phoebe Waller-Bridge for Best Long Form Drama with Killing Eve; Russell T Daviesfor A Very British Scandal (Short Form); plus Jonathan Harvey for his work on Coronation Street (Long Running) – have all spent many hours at the comedy coal-face.

You probably know that Waller-Bridge enjoyed great accolades for Fleabag on BBC3 already. You may be less aware of the comedy backgrounds of Harvey … He wrote the hugely successful sitcom Gimme Gimme Gimme. Also Davies, best known for Doctor Who and Queer As Folk, began his career writing comedy scripts for Childrens’ TV.

iii) Think NARRATIVE

The solution I think is to take the comedy commissioners at their word. We need to find ways of incorporating stronger narratives into our comedy shows … We also need to explore in greater detail what else we need to do to grab their attention! So throughout this year, I’ll be blogging about ways to make your comedy more dramatic and your drama funnier. This will be useful to anyone planning to enter the BBC Writersroom comedy submission period.

KEY TAKEAWAY: If you can write jokes, great. Now it’s time to learn how to tell stories. 

BIO: Dave Cohen has been writing and performing comedy for 35 years. His credits include Not Going Out, Have I Got News For You, Spitting Image and My Family. He writes most of the songs for Horrible Histories, including for the movie which is out this summer. His book The Complete Comedy Writer is out now. He’s also running classes in March about creating sitcom and comedy drama, and bringing out the best of both. Details HERE.

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Comedy Heavyweights

If you want to learn, ask the masters … and wow, does Bang2write have some real comedy heavyweights on the site today! I’m delighted to welcome Paula Finn to B2W, who has interviewed the comedy greats and compiled their comedy mastery in her book, which you can find on Amazon. For a taste of what you can find there, check out these nuggets of wisdom from the masters below. Don’t forget to check out Paula’s book either. Enjoy!

Learning From The Masters

Over the last few years, I’ve enjoyed in-depth conversations with over 50 successful comedy TV writers. Here for me, are the most important takeaways:

1) Get real

Carl Reiner believes the truth of the material and the actors is critical to any show’s success. In his words, “Once in a while you get a fanciful idea for a show and sometimes that carries it for a time … but really, there’s nothing better than the truth.”

Phil Rosenthal makes the same point: “… As long as you stay in the real world, in the world that’s believable and relatable — then you really can’t go wrong.”

Janet Leahy suggests that writers do research to get to what’s real:

“If you’re stuck for a story or if you’re stuck in the middle of a story and you don’t know how to get yourself out of it— ask yourself what would really happen in this situation. A lot of times writers will make things up, and that’s why they feel a little awkward, because they haven’t done enough research. Even in comedy you can do research. And the more truth you find, the more creative your storytelling becomes…go out and do research, meet people, read books, whatever you need to do —but the truth always helps you.”

2) Know your characters

Hal Kanter illustrates the importance of knowing your characters with one of his favorite anecdotes. The story is from the Amos ‘n’ Andy radio show, but it applies equally to screenwriting:

“All of the writers were sitting in the room with the actors putting together the final script. And we were trying to get a line for the Kingfish; nobody was happy with the line that we had. Everybody was throwing lines back and forth, back and forth. It was a large group of writers, all of whom were excellent, and nobody came up with a line.

I finally turned to Freeman Gosden who was the headman and also played the part of the Kingfish. I said, “If the Kingfish himself were to come into this room right now, and you were to explain to him what the problem was, what do you think he would say?” And Freeman immediately shifted into the character and he said, “Well, boy” — whatever the line was — and we all fell down laughing. That was the perfect line! Even Freeman himself was startled by the fact that that character had come out of nowhere.

That was a lesson we all learned; you have to know your characters before you sit down and write. And he knew his so well that the Kingfish actually came alive.”

3) You gotta have heart: the power of drama in comedy.

When attempting to explain the success of The Simpsons, Mike Reiss feels “The key thing on The Simpsons is you’ve always got to have some heart in there. But not too much … If you throw in 25 seconds of emotion right at the end. If Homer can be a goof the whole show and then suddenly realise he’s been bad — that will be very powerful to people.”

Phil Rosenthal thinks the poignancy of something beautiful expressed by two people “grounds them as characters; it grounds them as believable. Because we’re not just ha-ha funny all the time.”

Currently teaching at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, Ken Estin says, “I tell my students that if the show has heart, if it has a soul, if it has those human elements that are so precious to us — it’ll be a better episode. I always thought about finding a really human moment, a really touching moment.”    

And how do writers integrate the drama or emotion with the humour?

In David Isaacs’ view, it depends on “whether or not the characters and story have a capacity to deal with real issues and real humanity.”

He uses Frasier as an example:

“The show Frasier was able to do that because the feelings between Martin and Frasier were so strong, and they were such opposites in who they were that their clashes and conflicts could come down to very real father-son attitudes. You could actually have a moment that was fairly dramatic — not for long — but you wouldn’t worry about getting a laugh.”

4) Even great writers get blocked

James L. Brooks described his struggles while writing Terms of Endearment:

“… I was stuck. I was stuck in my script, and I couldn’t go backwards and I couldn’t go forwards. And I spent every day blushing. I’d literally be blushing … It was just intolerable. I went out one night, and there was a concert pianist there who did pretty well all over the country, but he had never played New York. He had a fear of what that would be if he played New York. I described what was happening to me, the blushing and stuff. He said, “Oh, that’s a state of shame.”

It helped me enormously that there was a name for it, which meant I wasn’t the only one in the world who ever experienced it. I don’t know what happened from there; I know I went to Hawaii and had a small room at a friend’s house, and I had the illusion that I had cracked the whole thing. And I had one of the most euphoric moments in my life. It turned out I hadn’tcracked the whole thing. But the feeling that I had cracked the whole thing released me from all the tentacles of that writer’s block.”

I asked the writers for their strategies in overcoming a block:

Hal Kanter said he’d call a friend to see if they could help “prime the pump” for him. David Isaacs’s advice is “Just keep moving forward.”

Sol Saks believed writer’s block is usually a lack of conflict, which is the basis of drama:

“If you’re writing a scene and you don’t know what to write, the answer to it is, you have no conflict.” And Leonard Stern gives his prescription: “Actually, I don’t know a writer who hasn’t suffered from writer’s block, and the cure is always the same: patience, patience, and then, if necessary … more patience.”

5) The rules aren’t for them: these writers trust their instincts 

When I asked Carl Reiner if he uses any rules or formulas for joke construction, he responded, “No, I think the seat of your pants. If you’re a real writer, you don’t worry about the technique of it; you go by the seat of your pants.”

Leonard Stern spoke of ‘the undefinable’:

“There’s a formularization for many jokes, but it’s very hard to explain. Suddenly you have that humorous insight into something. I’ve discussed this very often with Larry Gelbart, who is probably the most gifted writer and satirist by nature. He’s extremely articulate, and he couldn’t stop the flow of humor. He often said, “I wish I could just write this straight, I’d like to see how I think” — because his writing always had that surprising twist. And he himself was surprised by the direction his thoughts took him.So it’s always been hard to define that. . . that odd perception or perspective of life . . . the capturing of a moment of absurdity. I never could define it; I just knew it existed.”

Ken Estin agrees:

“I’ve read rules but I never worked that way, and I’ve never known anyone who did. We all just go by what our gut tells us. I don’t think you can do it by mechanical means. You have to do it by instinct, and experience, and intuition — and all those kinds of vague feelings you have as a human being. When I write a scene, I have to put myself in the situation. And although I won’t laugh out loud, I can feel the difference between something that’s funny and something that doesn’t sound quite right. The formulas don’t really work because comedy is based so much on rhythms. Sometimes just the right word is funny, and you’re not sure why.”

But Arnie Kogen surprised with this comment:

“The set-up comes before the punchline. That’s the rule I use. And you can take that to the bank … whatever banks are left!”

BIO: Sitcom Writers Talk Shop: Behind the Scenes with Carl Reiner, Norman Lear, and Other Geniuses of TV Comedy is a collection of conversations with the writers responsible for some of the most memorable shows in television comedy.  Paula Finn —the daughter of Honeymooners writer Herbert Finn—has authored ten gift books including Believe in Yourself, When Love Isn’t Easy, and Make This Your Day.

The Masters Themselves

Cast of characters (in alphabetical order):

  1. James L. Brooks: Room 222 (Creator), Mary Tyler Moore (Co-Creator), Taxi (Co-Creator), The Tracey Ullman Show (Co-Creator), The Simpsons (Co-Developer)
  2. Tom Caltabiano: Everybody Loves Raymond
  3. Ken Estin: Taxi, Cheers, The Tortellis (Creator), The Tracey Ullman Show (Creator), Almost Perfect
  4. David Isaacs: M*A*S*H, Mary (Co-Creator), The Simpsons, Wings, Cheers, Almost Perfect (Co-Creator), Becker, Frasier
  5. Hal Kanter: (1918-2011)The Ed Wynn Show, The George Gobel Show, The Milton Berle Show, Valentine’s Day, Julia (Creator),All in the Family
  6. Arnie Kogen: The Dean Martin Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Bob Newhart Show, The Carol Burnett Show, Newhart, Empty Nest
  7. Janet Leahy: Newhart, Major Dad, The Cosby Show, Roseanne, Boston Legal, Mad Men
  8. Bill Masters: Seinfeld, Grace Under Fire, Caroline in the City, Murphy Brown
  9. Carl Reiner: Your Show of Shows, Caesar’s Hour, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show (Creator), The New Dick Van Dyke Show (Creator),Lotsa Luck(Co-Creator)
  10. Mike Reiss: Sledge Hammer!, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, ALF, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, The Simpsons, The Critic (Co-Creator)
  11. Phil Rosenthal: Coach, Everybody Loves Raymond (Creator)
  12. Sol Saks: (1910–2011): My Favorite Husband, Mr. Adams and Eve, Bewitched (Creator)
  13. Steve Skrovan: Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, ‘Til Death, Hot in Cleveland
  14. Leonard Stern: (1923–2011): The Jackie Gleason Show, The Honeymooners, The Phil Silvers Show, I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster (Creator), He & She (Creator), Get Smart, The Governor & J.J. (Co-Creator), McMillan & Wife (Creator)

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Rise of the Spec TV Pilot

Every screenwriter alive wants to write a great pilot episode of their own, if the spec pile is anything go by. When I started B2W back in the day, I hardly ever saw spec TV pilot episodes of any kind. Fast-forward fifteen years and I would venture I read more spec TV pilot episodes than anything else! It also means THE most popular article on this entire site is How To Write TV Series Bibles – over 130K+ unique hits now. Wow!

That said, spec TV pilot episodes are notoriously difficult to write. Whilst many in the spec pile are pretty good, they’re rarely a great example of a FIRST episode. With this in mind then, I am going to look at the Friends pilot as a case study, plus what it can teach us about writing episode 1 of our own series. Enjoy!

The Friends Phenomenon

We hear a lot online about how dated (or not!) Friends has become, but that’s the nature of comedy and time. The fact is, regardless of how you feel about the jokes, the show actually holds up very well on a craft level. As a result Friends remains a classic, especially considering so many screenwriters want to write a ‘flat share comedy’. This is one of the best examples of making it work, plus producers are always interested in good sitcoms. When so few in the spec pile are good, it’s a great idea to work why successful and iconic ones WORKED.

In addition, people all over the world still love this show, waaaaaay after the fact. Check out instagram and other social media for pics and accounts, there is an INSANE amount! What’s more, Friends still brings Warner Brothers a reported $1 BILLION YEAR. That’s also an INSANE amount of money, so it’s no wonder producers love the idea of finding more like it.

Do Your Research

So, love it or loathe Friends (or maybe you are a youngster and can take it or leave it!),itcan teach us A LOT as writers. The show has made it back to Netflix in its entirety, which means it’s easy to find and watch again. You may have been a Friends-holic back in the day, but TRUST ME … You won’t remember it exactly as it was, so DO be sure to check out and watch the pilot in conjunction to this post.

Also, one other thing: make sure you read the original, first draft pilot script as a PDF, HERE. You will see there are some significant differences, starting with the title (‘Friends like us’?? Seriously?). But whatever … Research people! Can I *be* any more clear?? (Couldn’t resist).

Anatomy Of An Awesome Pilot

The Basics

As described by Wikipedia, a pilot episode is a standalone episode of a television series that is used to sell the show to a television network. Put simply, the pilot is meant to be the testing ground to gauge whether a series will be successful. Some people believe the pilot is dead now streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are changing the television landscape. Whatever the case, if you are writing a spec TV drama, you need a first episode (whether we call it a pilot or not).

Literally everyone wants a ‘good story, well told’ from their entertainment. What that means can depend on who is reading/watching it, of course. But at craft level, there’s just two things EVERY spec script needs, pilot or not …

  • Great Characters
  • Great plotting/ structure

In the case of a sitcom pilot like Friends, the pilot also needs to be FUNNY. Note this doesn’t mean just funny dialogue (though it is a big part of it). Being funny is about …

  1. The tone the show sets, right from the offset
  2. Character-specific ‘funny’ – no one character is funny the SAME way
  3. Characters still need to be authentic and holistic
  4. Sitcom is HIGHLY STRUCTURED – got to pack a lot into just 20-30 minutes!
  5. There needs to be a lot going on plot-wise too. Characters can’t just sit around, ‘being funny’ endlessly.

This all means that even if you’re not writing a sitcom yourself, studying them can really help you get to grips with characterisation and structure. With the five pointers above in mind then, I am going to look at characters and structure in the Friends pilot, plus what we can learn. Note that I am going by the produced version we all know, NOT the first draft screenplay (beyond the character descriptions). Are you ready? Let’s go …

The Characters

Everyone has a favourite Friends character. Back in the day, mine was always Chandler. (I know, I know, BIG surprise given I definitely play snarky hands right out of The Bing-A-Ling’s handbook). Anyway, here are the original character descriptions of each character:

As you can see from the PDF, the pilot might have changed drastically from script to screen, but the characters haven’t really. Chandler’s snack-tastic habits ended up as Joey’s, plus I would add ‘self-pitying’ to Ross’ bio. Phoebe also has a stupendously sad back story. Otherwise, the bios are pretty much on point.

Fans of the show all have a favourite Friends character. Though it’s by no means a diverse cast by modern standards, each of them is highly differentiated from one another. There’s a strong contrast between each of them, not just in terms of jobs but personal outlook and experience. Even Monica and Ross as siblings have different outlooks on life.

What’s more, the bonds of the group are strengthened by a shared personal history. Ross and Chandler were room-mates in college; Monica and Rachel were best friends in school, who then lost touch. . Even Joey and Phoebe, the ‘outsiders’ in the group, are bonded to the rest of them by living with the others. Ross being Monica’s brother brings a new dynamic to the group, too.

What Can Writers Learn?

We need to write highly differentiated characters that will bring viewers in, investing in their favourite. We also need to write great roles for actors, who will give their all to that character. Characterisation is the foundation of great TV writing, especially sitcoms. One of the conventions of sitcoms is that they ‘reset to zero’ (more or less) each episode. So it’s those characters bring viewers back, week in, week out (or make them binge-watch series on Netflix and Amazon!).

All About Structure And Plotting

The Friends Pilot is called ‘The One Where Monica Gets A Room-mate’. The Netflix listing for it says:

Rachel runs from her wedding and meets the friends in the coffee place. Ross is depressed about his divorce but he still has a crush on Rachel (22 mins). 

Remember, I am looking to the produced version of the pilot. At twenty two minutes, I’d argue there’s roughly 4 ‘blocks’ of story (or Acts!), of approximately 5 minutes each. (This makes sense, based on the notion of ad breaks on 1990s networks, so 2 Acts per half with an ad break in the middle. Whether this type of will remain in the age of streaming remains to be seen).  So here we go …

Introducing The Friends

We start at Central Perk, the coffee place – Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe are there (no Ross or Rachel). Monica is talking about her date that is NOT a date. We get the feeling she is a dating disaster (character-specific from her bio!). Joey makes a comedic remark about her going out with losers (NOT character-specific, but setting the tone – ‘this is a comedy’). Chandler then makes another comedic remark about losers, that is also character-specific. Phoebe then makes it clear what a space cadet she is.

From there, we get more character-specific stuff. As a comedy, the pilot can get away with a significant amount more dialogue than average. (Plus Chandler leads this scene, whose comedy is primarily dialogue-based). Then Ross turns up, depressed. There are more jokes, plus Joey’s characterisation comes more into focus here. Monica is introduced as Ross’ sister, though crucially no one mentions this. Instead it’s made obvious by the way she is maternal towards him, plus she seems to know a lot more than the others about his life (‘Carol moved her stuff out today’).

Ross declares, ‘I just want to be married again’ … Rachel appears, dressed in a wedding dress! More jokes, primarily from Chandler and Joey. It becomes clear Rachel was specifically looking for Monica. Her characterisation as a spoiled princess comes into play straight away, with Ross having to put sugar in her coffee FOR her.

What’s more, Rachel’s appearance utilises the age-old plotting technique of what I call ‘the intro scene’. This means bringing a new character into an established group and literally introducing them to everyone. Lots of Bang2writers resist using this in their spec TV pilots (whether sitcom or drama series) because they think it is ‘lazy writing’ or ‘too blatant’. It is not. It is necessary exposition.

What Can Writers Learn?

Even though the friends don’t physically DO anything particularly dynamic in the first five minutes of the show, there’s still a lot HAPPENING. They are not just sitting around, telling jokes. Very quickly, Act 1 establishes what the story is in terms of tone and genre. It also establishes who the characters are, what they are like, plus what their problems are … Monica is nervous about her date. Ross is depressed about his divorce. Rachel has jilted Barry at the altar. Crucially, this all happens HAND IN HAND. The Friends pilot also uses the ‘intro scene’ technique – because this is NOT ‘lazy writing’, it’s needed!

Story Strands In Friends

So, as established by Act 1, there are essentially 3 ‘story strands’ to Friends, which it continued through the series in most, if not all, its episodes. Before this, more often the traditional sitcom structural method was two strands like in The Simpsons. The popularity of Friends changed this. We’re now far more likely to see three, especially in US sitcoms (and drama series, too).

  • Monica’s date with Paul The Wine Guy (which obviously ends in disaster, after he ‘plays’ her)
  • Rachel on the run from her wedding and what she’s going to do about it (she ends up cutting up her credit cards and getting a job downstairs at Central Perk)
  • Ross is depressed about his divorce, but rekindles his high school crush for Rachel

Story Strands in the Acts

These strands are ‘woven’ together in the course of the episode. As mentioned, each of the four Acts (five with a ‘tag scene’ at the end) are approximately 5 minutes and worked out something like this:

  • Act 2 – Takes place entirely in Monica’s apartment. The Friends watch television as Rachel argues with her father on the phone. Monica’s date arrives. They go out, the boys and Phoebe prepare to leave. Rachel insists to Monica that she will be fine alone.
  • Act 3 – Ross’ apartment. He is still depressed about Carol. He makes furniture with Joey and Chandler, who try and give him advice to ‘get back on the horse’. at a Japanese restaurant, Monica eats out with Paul the wine guy who tells her about *his* divorce. Back at Monica’s, Rachel is on the phone again, this time to Barry’s answer machine.
  • Act 4 – At Monica’s, Rachel makes coffee for Joey and Chandler, does a terrible job. We hear about their jobs. We see Monica at work; turns out Paul the wine Guy is a rat. At Central Perk, Rachel has to realise she can’t live on her Dad’s credit cards. They all cut them up at Monica’s apartment and this is where we hear about Phoebe’s tragic backstory. Ends with Ross and Rachel sharing a cookie.
  • Tag Scene – that last credits scene that Friends was so famous for … In this first one, Rachel appears serving coffee at Central Perk. She has a job!  From episode 2, there will be a pre-credits sequence too. Sometimes these will be teasers, setting up the episode. Other times there will be ‘cold opens’, which are disconnected, comedic and character-specific sequences to get a laugh.

BTW – you’ll note Phoebe doesn’t *do* a lot in this pilot episode! This is a clever move, because she is a free spirit. When the guys ask her to assemble furniture with them, she says ‘Oh I can’t … because I don’t wanna.‘ That, combined with cleansing auras, singing randomly and announcing her tragic back story, does enough to establish her in the group. Anything else might have been overkill.

What Can Writers Learn?

The Friends pilot makes all this look easy, but it’s damn hard writing. Good structure and plotting is about starting as you mean to go on … Introduce your characters and story TOGETHER. Identify the ‘story strands’ and weave them together across your pilot episode. If it helps, write each strand out individually into separate beats, colour coding them as Story Strand 1, 2, or 3. Then cut them up or write on index cards. Physically move each colour-coded card around until they are in the ‘right’ place in your plot. (There’s software that help you can do this too, if you prefer – Final Draft has this feature).

Good Luck!

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

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

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

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Wanted: Great Stories & Fresh Voices

What we all want is a ‘good story, well told’. That’s a given. But what does this really mean? In part 2 of my expert panel this week, I asked the industry pros a second question …

What types of stories, tropes, characters, genres, story worlds (etc) would you like to see MORE of in 2019?

Here’s what they replied with, below. Again, as you will no doubt see, these are not the prescriptive demands many writers believe they need to ‘sell out’ to. As with the previous post, diversity, new takes on genre and fresh perspectives are all top of their wish lists.

It’s also worth remembering what we’re talking about is GOOD RESEARCH and a proper submissions strategy. There’s no point submitting your fantastic novel or script to someone who doesn’t ‘dig’ that kind of story! Don’t forget to check out the submissions checklist in the PDF gallery on the B2W Resource page, too. Here we go …

1) ‘Surprises and humour’ – Kate Leys

What I’d love to see more of are stories that surprise me with their awkward characters and awkward truths (even huge budget action movies).  Scripts with big, punchy stories (even if they’re set in one tiny location).  And stories that are genuinely funny.

BIO: Kate Leys is a story editor (this year Pin cushion, American Animals and Benjamin), and can be found at www.kateleys.co.uk

 2) ‘Surprising genre’ – Annabel Wigoder

More interesting, original horror – where’s the British Get Out? Smart ideas like The Guilty (a Danish thriller set entirely in a police emergency call centre) or I, Tonya, a female-led biopic executed in a really unexpected, blackly comic way.

BIO: Annabel Wigoder is Head of Development for Salon Pictures, working across film and TV. She has projects in development with Channel 4 and the BFI, and just produced her first feature documentary.

 3) ‘More proactive diversity, including class’ – Hattie Grunewald

I’d love more class and income-diversity in protagonists. Fiction is becoming so filled with affluent middle-class characters, across all genres, while readers are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. I’d like more love stories – I worry we’re losing in touch with the great epic romances readers always connect with. And I’d like to see more proactive diversity in the characters in stories – people of colour, disabled people, LGBT people… Fiction reflecting the wide variety of experiences in life.

BIO: Hattie is an agent at Blake Friedmann agency, representing women’s fiction, crime and thriller, YA and Middle grade, and non-fiction. Read more about what she’s looking for, HERE.

4) ‘Grounded and gritty’ – Justine Owens

At Shore Scripts, we work closely with our amazing roster of 100+ Industry professionals. For 2019 I think it’s time for the resurgence of grounded, gritty dramas, female-driven sci-fi, and somewhat surprisingly, true stories.

BIO: Justine Owens is the Director of Contests at Shore Scripts. For six years, Shore Scripts has been working to open industry doors for a greater number of screenwriters; developing their writing skills, providing professional consultation, and most importantly, connecting them with industry professionals. In that time, we’ve helped 50+ writers gain representation, sell, and have their screenplays produced. You can follow Shore Scripts on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

5) ‘New And Distinct Voices’ – Erick Kwashie

What would be good is to just hear new and distinct voices. At the moment there seems to be a lot of bandwagony ‘diverse’ and ‘female-led’ stories that aren’t necessarily providing the POVs of their ‘lead’ characters. It’s more of a ‘let’s tell the same old stories but sprinkle some ‘diversity’ on them.’ So it would be good just to see some characterisation/storytelling that feels authentic, unique and fearless. Teach us or at least show us something new!

BIO: Erick Kwashie is a script reader and recent NFTS graduate with a background in film and TV production. He is aiming for a future in script editing and development.

6) ‘Characters that surprise and challenge us’ – Michelle Goode-Smith

I’d like to see more stories that aren’t reliant upon outdated or non-challenging environments or defined by stereotyped characters/behaviours. I’d like to see characters and stories that surprise us and challenge us to see things differently. I love stories that completely draw us into the authenticity of the characters regardless of their type or environment. I’d like to see more crime stories from unusual perspectives and character studies that are fresh and compelling. Think Killing Eve.

BIO: Michelle Goode-Smith (@Sofluid) offers help with feedback, development, proofreading and editing via her Writesofluid website, which you can find HERE.

7) ‘More contained stories’ – Tom Chucas

I’d love to see more stories that aren’t based on a source material e.g. a book. While I understand the intent behind it, I miss shows like Breaking Badthat felt completely new. What I love most is when so much is done with so little, so I think I would like to see more contained stories which have to rely on the fundamentals of drama.

BIO:Tom Chucas is a graduate of Bournemouth University’s Scriptwriting for Film and Television course. Currently working in script reading and copywriting.

8) ‘Dark Horror’ – Betsy Reavley

‘I would like to see a return to darker stories. Although cosy crime is extremely popular currently, particularly among eBook readers, I would like to find work that has a little more horror injected into the narrative. In 2018 Hollywood stood up and gave horror films the attention they deserve, with movies such as A Quiet Place and Hereditary … I think and hope that the publishing industry can find a way to embrace that also. I believe there is a demand for psychological horror that is not yet being met.’

BIO: Betsy Reavley is an author of eight novels, two collections of poetry and is the publishing director and co-founder of Bloodhound Books. She lives in Cambridge where she works side by side with her husband doing what she loves best bringing stories to market, while trying to juggle being a mother.

9) ‘Stories that resonate’ – Annelie Widholm

Open-minded, character-driven and politically-aware story-telling always appeals, but there are a thousand ways to tell your story. You should find the reason you want to tell it – the resonating answer to your thematic question – and write what moves and inspires you. Genre doesn’t matter, as long as you believe in what you want your movie to say. Two hours of blast-away escapism? Go for it! But to stand out in the crowd find what makes the escapism resonate with an audience.

BIO:Annelie Widholm has earned her reader stripes working with well-established production companies in London, where she also lives and writes on her own screenplays, usually with a cup of coffee nearby. And woolly socks on her feet. And sometimes there’s chocolate. (there’s almost always chocolate).

10) ‘Texture and BITE!’ – Katie McCullough

We need more fully-rounded narratives FULL STOP! I’ve watched so many trite and flimsy characters & worlds that it’s tiresome. Give me texture any day and give it bite.

BIO:Katie McCullough is founder of Festival Formula, a consultancy company that helps filmmakers navigate the worldwide festival circuit. She’s a graduate of Bournemouth Media School and Royal Court London.

11) ‘Varied female characters and more original takes’ – Alizée Musson

  • More female protagonists that aren’t Damsels in Distress, Femme Fatales or Manic Pixie Dream Girls: Although I have read many scripts with females protagonists this year, most of these characters often fall within the above 3 categories. As a woman, I find it difficult to identify with these three character types. I’d like to meet a relatable female protagonist in 2019 that takes me on an unexpected journey through her story.
  • Rom Coms with an original take: I’ve read too many young adult boy meets young adult girl stories this year, it would be nice to see a story that explores the complexity of relationships with characters of different ages at different stages of a relationship.
  •  Stories not set in a Western Culture with characters that aren’t Westerners: This mainly applies to stories set in the real world as opposed to science fiction or fantasy ones. Off the top of my head, I can only recall reading two scripts set outside of Europe or North America this year. These two scripts really stood out to me as the stories they told explored local cultures or issues that I knew nothing about and rarely saw onscreen. I’d like to see more of these stories in films that make me travel and learn about a different part of the world.

BIO: Alizée Musson is a script reader/editor and translator working in French and English in the film, animation, and web content sectors. She also writes both screenplays and prose fiction and has previously been long-listed for the “Borders” Short Story Competition organised by Penguin Random House. Follow @beyondiimagine.

12) ‘More genre with something to say’ – Hayley McKenzie

I’d love to see more genre scripts (especially thriller, horror and action) with something to say, in the way that Get Out or the Amazon Studios recent adaptation of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan did.

BIO: Hayley McKenzie is the founder of Script Angeland an experienced film and television drama executive. You can find Script Angel on Twitter @scriptangel1 and on their blog.

13) ‘Morally ambiguous characters & strong writer voices’ – Tim Berry

The screenplays that stand out the most to me are those with characters that have a strong internal conflict and those who behave in morally ambiguous ways. Whatever the genre, I’d like to see more ‘good’ characters doing bad things, or even antagonists doing the wrong thing for the right reasons; morality is rarely black and white but some of the least engaging screenplays I’ve read often make a clear distinction between heroes and villains. People are complex and I would personally like to see more characters who reflect this – sometimes people we like do things that we don’t.

As writers it’s important to develop a voice but that’s not to be confused with giving each character ‘your’ voice. Writers must allow themselves to disagree with their protagonists, to try to see a situation through their perspective and, when not writing, to listen to other people. Eavesdrop on conversations in public, in cafes, on the bus, learn to recognise the ways in which individuals use language in unique ways and try to understand the ways they think and try to capture this. A story which follows a familiar narrative feels new when told through fresh and complex characters.

BIO:Tim Berry is a writer and director, who has developed projects for both stage and screen. After spending seven years working in independent film distribution, he trained as a script editor with NFTS and has most recently worked with Shore Scripts, for their short film fund and their TV/feature contests.

14) ‘Diverse youth in the past’ – Abel Diaz

More youth-based historical drama. As we into move a more diverse, as well as younger, landscape of media, can we get more content about the challenges and experiences of youth in the past? How did they deal with issues that still face teens today (sexuality, work, faith, maturity and independence, politics) and how did that society view these issues? What was, say, being gay like in Roman or Medieval times? How did young girls find self-worth and value in Victorian society?

BIO:Abel Diaz worked as a reader for Lime Pictures (Hollyoaks) and Big Light (Medici) after securing an MA in Screenwriting from Met Film School. I have also written for the award-winning CBeebies series PABLO. Follow my Facebook for more updates and news, as well as well as my blog Abel’s Magic Lantern, for all sorts of writing tips and tricks, including my ‘Screenwriting Advice for BA Students… From a Masters Grad’ series. 

15) ‘A new direction for your genre’ – Karen Sullivan

What we look for are books that push a genre in a new direction and present an entirely new take on it; in fact, I’d go so far as to say that books that weave through numerous genres are increasingly popular (i.e., in the case of Susi Holliday’s The Lingering or Matt Wesolowski’s Changeling, which encompasses bits of horror, domestic noir, even supernatural and some gothic); rather than alienate readers, I think they open the doors to new reading habits.

I love books that have strong social messages, that unpick the fabric of society, poke its underbelly. These are the books that people will remember, that will provoke thought, perhaps open minds. While everyone enjoys a comfort read, literature plays a key role in educating and enlightening, while providing first-class entertainment, and I’d like to see more of that. A good example of this is Will Carver’s Good Samaritans, which manages to turn the mirror back on the reader and provide some genuine moments of discomfort. I love a first-class action thriller, like Steph Broadribb’s Lori Anderson series, an often discounted, under-represented and poorly executed genre; in the right hands, it can be fabulous! I will always, always want to see great-quality books in translation, too.

BIO: Karen Sullivan is founder and publisher of Orenda Books, a small independent publishing company focussing on literary fiction, with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and about half in translation. She was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016, and Orenda Books has been shortlisted twice for the IPG Best Newcomer Award.

16) ‘Romances that actually stay the course’ – Jenny Kane

It would be great to see films/series where a couple are happy together- and remain that way despite the rigours of the storyline. Shocking I know – but some people stay in love.

BIO: Jenny Kane is the co-manager of Imagine Creative Writing. An experienced writing tutor, Jenny mentors future novelists, short story authors and audio scriptwriters in the South West of England. Follow @imagine_writingand @JennyKaneAuthor.

17) ‘Write what YOU love’ – Andrew Oldbury

Be honest. Write about the characters & worlds that you love, not the ones you think people want to hear about. If you try to chase trends they’ll be gone before your script is ever made.

BIO: Andrew is a Script Editor and BIFA & RTS nominated Producer, whose credits include: Agatha Raisin, Endeavour, Holby City & Coronation Street. He trained at the National Film & Television School. Twitter: @AndrewOldbury.

18) ‘Engaging drama about political divisions’ – Rosalie Faithfull

I’d like to read something that tackles the current divisive political situation in the UK in an engaging and interesting way. It’s so important and yet so dry at the same time, a good drama might help us engage healthily.

BIO: Rosalie Faithfull is a former short film producer, now a freelance script reader and script editor working in both television and film.

19) ‘Smart genre that twists expectations & has something to say’ – Jim Cirile

It’s all about understanding the expectations/tropes and going in the opposite direction. Just need to throw “WTF?” moments at viewers constantly. Just check out the brilliant Breaking Bad pilot for example. Readers and executives had ADHD. You need to anticipate they have the attention span of gnats and write in a way that grabs them and does not let go. If you do that, you can re-invert any of the “DOA” genres I mentioned in the last post and attract attention.

Apart from that, there is definitely a clamouring for smart thrillers; acerbic, character-driven comedy; crime; fresh action (in other words, it cannot feel like something from 1996); certain kinds of sci-fi; and things that speak to the human condition. WHY are you telling this story? Does the theme have something to say? Does it give us food for thought? As well, horror is an evergreen, especially supernatural horror.

Lastly, be smart about budget — whatever you write, remember, you do not have a blank check. Those huge budget Marvel movies — yeah, not you. You can have some big set pieces, sure, but showing that you can rein in costs will show producers you are a savvy writer.

BIO: Jim Cirile is the founder and CEO of Coverage Ink, LLC, the screenplay analysis and development experts since 2002. He writes regularly about the biz for The Wrap and is also a writer/producer/musician. His animated horror film TO YOUR LAST DEATH, starring Morena Baccarin, Ray Wise and William Shatner, premieres in 2019.

20) ‘The REAL and the revolutionary’ – Barry Ryan

Revolutions of the mind, soul or body. Revolutionary change. Factual biographies – spectacular people or situations. Ordinary people propelled to excel.
Where is the real? Whats the reaction to the right? Whats the reaction to the growth in homophobia.
Trans. Whats the next level? BAME – what’s your story? Fuck this silencing assimilation into mainstream ‘other people’s stories’.

BIO: Barry Ryan, Leader of team at Free@Last TV. Showrunner of the Agatha Raisin TV show.

21) ‘Moral complications and hopefulness’ – Juliet Mushens

More hopeful narratives, more ghost stories, more historical fiction. I also love speculative fiction and am super-in trigued by narratives which deal with the moral complications of futuristic tech.

BIO: Juliet Mushens is co-founder of Caskie Mushens Ltd. Her client list includes NYT and Sunday Times bestsellers of fiction and non-fiction. You can find more info at caskiemushens.com.

22) ‘More stories for niche markets’ – Ashley Scott Meyers

I feel the divisive nature of the World in general could present opportunities to serve an under-served market. I’ve seen this over the years with the Christian family film. Since most people who go into the arts aren’t conservative Christians, there always seems to be producers struggling to find good material for this large audience. And as the liberal / conservative divide deepens, my guess is there will be opportunities to serve both sides of the aisle. These won’t be big Disney / Marvel films which must struggle to serve both sides of the divide. Instead, there will be smaller films that clearly target a specific political-leaning group. And again, most people who go into the arts usually lean liberal. This means there will probably be more opportunities on the conservative side.

BIO: Ashley Scott Meyers is a screenwriter and blogger/podcaster at SellingYourScreenplay.com(He has optioned and sold dozens of spec screenplays and had numerous writing assignments from a large array of producers and can be found on IMDb HERE.

Good Luck! Want to know what these guys DON’T want? Click HERE.

Want MORE Script Reading Secrets?

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

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

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

Share this:

What’s In the Spec Pile

Don’t know what to write? It can be difficult to understand what the industry wants, so sometimes it’s easier to work out what they DON’T want!

When human beings prize novelty, standing out from the rest can be half the battle for writers … Equally, so can utilising a tried-and-tested trope or character in a unique way. But what IS unique? I rounded up 20 Industry Pros I know and asked them:

What types of stories, tropes, characters, genres, story worlds (etc) feel stale, cliched or overused to you at the moment?

The Industry Pros below include agents, publishers, producers, script readers and script editors, proof readers, copy editors, writing contests, coverage and other writing service providers. They read our spec screenplays and unpublished novels every day. This means they’re in a good place to see what the spec pile looks like, plus they know what feels samey, cheesy, tired and old.

What Writers Can Learn

Whenever I post anything like this, some writers get irate and say, ‘Don’t tell us what to do!!’ But this is the thing: no one is doing that. You can literally write whatever you want. If you want it published or produced however … That’s a wholly different thing. Then it’s not just for you!

The Industry Pros below have some great pointers on what makes ‘good’ writing in 2019 … Note how many of them say similar things, especially when it comes to diversity and genre. Several also make the point you shouldn’t write stuff that emulates popular works, too.

Remember, it’s NOT about writing *to the market*, or ‘selling out’, but SELLING. It’s what professional writers do … ie. write stuff people actually WANT, in a way that showcases your talent and writer’s voice. Like anything, it doesn’t have to be ‘either/or’ … So, here we go:

 1) ‘Strong women who don’t do much’ – Kate Leys  

Hmm.  Apart from all the obvious clichés and stereotypes, the characters I’m almost done with are ‘strong women’ who are so busy being strong women, and bonding, and marching bravely forwards, that they forget to have a sense of humour or enough to actually do in the plot.  I don’t think I’m fed up with any genre now that the romcom has remembered to shut up and keep quiet for a few years.  Tropes: I’ve definitely had enough caravans, and I have long since banned the overhead shot of a woman lying underwater in the bath.

BIO: Kate Leys is a story editor (this year Pin cushion, American Animals and Benjamin), and can be found at www.kateleys.co.uk

 2) ‘Old-fashioned genre’ – Annabel Wigoder

 Old-fashioned horror scripts are ten a penny – it isn’t enough just to write a story set in a haunted house. I also read a lot of sci-fi scripts where the main child either turns out to be a cyborg or holds the key to saving the world.

BIO: Annabel Wigoder is Head of Development for Salon Pictures, working across film and TV. She has projects in development with Channel 4 and the BFI, and just produced her first feature documentary.

3) ‘Thinly-sketched female characters’ – Hattie Grunewald

I see so many submissions that are coming of age stories from young white men, in the Catcher In The Ryemould, with little discernible plot and thinly sketched female characters – those will never be for me. In women’s fiction, I’m tired of young women inheriting fortunes or property in the countryside from unknown relatives. In crime, I’m really over the women only featuring as corpses or victims of assault while intelligent men solve the mystery.

BIO: Hattie is an agent at Blake Friedmann agency, representing women’s fiction, crime and thriller, YA and Middle grade, and non-fiction. Read more about what she’s looking for, HERE.

 4) ‘Political thriller screenplays feel passé’ – Justine Owens

The POTUS/Washington political action thriller has got to be on this list. Whether it is the moral crusader (Designated Survivor) or dysfunctional insider (Homeland), this world seems saturated and repetitive now.

BIO: Justine Owens is the Director of Contests at Shore Scripts. For six years, Shore Scripts has been working to open industry doors for a greater number of screenwriters; developing their writing skills, providing professional consultation, and most importantly, connecting them with industry professionals. In that time, we’ve helped 50+ writers gain representation, sell, and have their screenplays produced. You can follow Shore Scripts on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

5) ‘Zombies & dystopian without relatable characters’ – Erick Kwashie

I would say the zombie and dystopian future stories/worlds/genres are definitely starting to feel stale and overused. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still entertaining when done well with relatable characters. At the moment it feels like if you’ve seen one then you’ve seen them all. Recently the appeal of horror has broadened because the lead characters and their circumstances have been diversified (with proper attention to detail and relevant storylines).

BIO:Erick Kwashie is a script reader and recent NFTS graduate with a background in film and TV production. He is aiming for a future in script editing and development.

6) ‘Stereotypical characters and language’ – Michelle Goode

My personal bugbear is age representation. Time and time again I see ‘old’ characters that are weak, decrepit or stuck in assisted living homes. Furthermore, ‘old’ and ‘grey’ start as young as 50. WTF?! Then there’s therapist scenes used as easy exposition for psychological issues. Corrupt cops and politicians (yawn). In general, I see a lot of outdated-seeming content that does not challenge viewpoints. Old-school cop mentality, funeral parlours (whatever happened to simply being cremated?) and good old ‘mental asylums’.

BIO: Michelle (@Sofluid) offers help with feedback, development, proofreading and editing via her Writesofluid website, which you can find HERE.

7) ‘Non-differentiated storyworlds’ – Tom Chucas

I would say I’m tired of medieval settings, or at least ones that don’t do much to differentiate themselves. With speculative fiction I also notice a lot of characters, mainly main characters, who are more defined by *what* they are as opposed to WHO they are. You understand their purpose and place within the story world but don’t have much characterisation.

BIO:Tom Chucas is a graduate of Bournemouth University’s Scriptwriting for Film and Television course. Currently working in script reading and copywriting.

8) ‘Supposedly ‘Gripping’ twists’ – Betsy Reavley

The word ‘gripping’ is bandied about far too often, but it still manages to grab the attention of readers … Crime and Thriller fiction, which is what I write and publish, often uses ‘clichés’ within the body of stories but, in my opinion, that is part of the charm of the genre: the overworked policeman; the fragile young woman; the dog walker who discovers a body. These are all things we have come to expect. The question is are such clichés always a bad thing? In my opinion the answer is no, NOT when the writer puts their own unique twist on those expectations.

BIO: Betsy Reavley is an author of eight novels, two collections of poetry and is the publishing director and co-founder of Bloodhound Books. She lives in Cambridge where she works side by side with her husband doing what she loves best bringing stories to market, while trying to juggle being a mother.

9) ‘Outdated angles’ – Annelie Widholm

I think there’s a slight danger that you’ll stifle your own creativity if you think too much about what not to write. I think most of everything has been done already, but narratives can have a premise that feels familiar and still have sincere freshness and originality within it – usually through the character journeys chosen, because though they may be put in a familiar setting, if the characters feel convincingly human, they’ll pull the audience in. Beware of using completely outdated angles, however. We live in a world that’s broadening its views in many ways and representation of every kind needs to be done thoughtfully. Write what you love, but if it’s something you don’t already know: do your research!

BIO:Annelie Widholm has earned her reader stripes working with well-established production companies in London, where she also lives and writes on her own screenplays, usually with a cup of coffee nearby. And woolly socks on her feet. And sometimes there’s chocolate. (there’s almost always chocolate)

10) ‘LGBTQ stories = downbeat? No thanks!’ – Katie McCullough

So tired of negative LGBTQ narratives – they add nothing to the world and are lazy. Complex 3-dimensional characters come in all shapes, sizes, colours & genders; sexuality doesn’t have to mean downbeat or leading definition.

BIO: Katie McCullough is founder of Festival Formula, a consultancy company that helps filmmakers navigate the worldwide festival circuit. She’s a graduate of Bournemouth Media School and Royal Court London.

 11) ‘Samey stories’ – Alizée Musson

  • Post-apocalyptic story worlds: I’ve found that most of these worlds come with very similar types of storylines and I’ve read so many of the same throughout this year that they feel unoriginal. I’ve also read many with steampunk settings.
  • Street gang stories, especially when the main character is a kid: Most of the stories that I’ve read in this category end up in two distinct ways. The kid either becomes a boss ruling over the crime world or makes it out of the environment that he (it’s rarely a she) grew up in. There is usually a best friend or close relative that dies along the way.
  • Family dramas, especially when the main goal of the story is living “The American Dream”: I’ve come across a lot of household family dramas this year where the goal towards happiness is always the same: having a nice house, a well-off family with a mum, a dad, healthy children, and, if they’re lucky, a dog. We now live in a world where the traditional family structure is no longer the norm, it would be nice to see more stories where different family structures are showcased. For example, split and recomposed families, families with LGBT parents or children characters, and families of multicultural backgrounds.

BIO: Alizée Musson is a script reader/editor and translator working in French and English in the film, animation, and web content sectors. She also writes both screenplays and prose fiction and has previously been long-listed for the “Borders” Short Story Competition organised by Penguin Random House. Follow @beyondiimagine.

12) ‘Stories without a unique take’ – Hayley McKenzie

No story, character, genre or world is cliched if you can find your own unique take on it.

BIO: Hayley McKenzie is the founder of Script Angel and an experienced film and television drama executive. You can find Script Angel on Twitter @scriptangel1 and on their blog.

13) ‘Samey internal character conflicts’ – Tim Berry

I don’t have a personal aversion to any particular type of story but I’ve read a lot of screenplays, of all genres, that are very much plot-led; screenplays which wear their genre influences on their sleeves and which faithfully replicate the same, familiar conflicts and story beats.

These stories often have passive protagonists; their external conflict is clear but their journey towards overcoming them is dramatically limited. Often, while the focus of the conflict itself might be unique, the supporting conflicts are well-worn; for example, a grizzled lawyer working on a ground-breaking court case will inevitably be seen drinking whiskey at the bar while he contemplates his deteriorating family life, or a hard-nosed female detective getting the bottom of a complex crime case will also be juggling the demands of being a caring mother to a rebellious teenager and wife to an emotionally abandoned husband.

As a script editor, the screenplays that stand out the most to me are not those with multiple external conflicts which do little to extensively explore character but those stories with characters who have a strong internal conflict, a seemingly unresolvable gulf between what they want and what they actually need. It’s often the protagonist’s reluctance to overcome their inner conflict that is the most engaging and I would personally like to see more of this.

BIO:Tim Berry is a writer and director, who has developed projects for both stage and screen. After spending seven years working in independent film distribution, he trained as a script editor with NFTS and has most recently worked with Shore Scripts, for their short film fund and their TV/feature contests.

14) ‘Don’t keep writing The X Men’ – Abel Diaz

Dear writers of any medium (but with emphasis on YA authors): please stop using psychic teenagers and/or super schools. You are nakedly writing around the X-Men copyright and basically telling the exact same story about misfits with the exact same ‘everyone is different but special’ message I can already get either by walking into Forbidden Planet, or just popping on Gifted, Legion or Runaways. Also, try to make your ‘hunks’ actually interesting and not either just ‘so broody and dark, emo baby’ or ‘ultra-geeky but totes so random’.

BIO: Abel Diaz worked as a reader for Lime Pictures (Hollyoaks) and Big Light (Medici) after securing an MA in Screenwriting from Met Film School. He has also written for the award-winning CBeebies series, Pablo.Follow his Facebook for more updates and news, as well as well as my blog Abel’s Magic Lantern, for all sorts of writing tips and tricks, including my ‘Screenwriting Advice for BA Students… From a Masters Grad’ series.

15) ‘Don’t emulate’ – Karen Sullivan

I would hesitate to say that a genre is over-used, because in capable hands, any genre can become fresh and exciting. It’s frustrating when ‘industry experts’ pronounce a genre or a sub-genre as being ‘dead’ (for example, domestic noir). There is always scope for bringing something new and pushing boundaries.

On the same note, however, there are far too many books that employ the same methods/plotlines/‘twists’ … emulating hugely successful authors who have done it with much more style. The ‘man is a woman’ or the reverse, has been done to death, and the absence of pronouns in even the first chapters is a dead giveaway. What bothers me more than any of this, however, are the samey, generic titles and jackets. I think sometimes publishers underestimate readers.

BIO: Karen Sullivan is founder and publisher of Orenda Books, a small independent publishing company focussing on literary fiction, with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, and about half in translation. She was a Bookseller Rising Star in 2016, and Orenda Books has been shortlisted twice for the IPG Best Newcomer Award.

16) ‘More Flaws, please!’ – Jenny Kane

Action/adventures where the lead protagonist just happens to be good at every method of fighting required to get out of peril are feeling so tired.  Flaws and a need to build new skills to survive are interesting!

BIO: Jenny Kane is the co-manager of Imagine Creative Writing. An experienced writing tutor, Jenny mentors future novelists, short story authors and audio scriptwriters in the South West of England. Follow @imagine_writingand @JennyKaneAuthor.

17) ‘Antiheroes we can’t empathise with’ – Andrew Oldbury

They don’t have to be sympathetic characters, but if we don’t empathise with them then there’s nothing to draw the audience in. If we didn’t first learn to love Walter White as a man, his descent into becoming Heisenberg would never have been so compelling.

BIO: Andrew Oldbury is a Script Editor and BIFA & RTS nominated Producer, whose credits include: Agatha Raisin, Endeavour, Holby City & Coronation Street. He trained at the National Film & Television School. Twitter: @AndrewOldbury.

18) ‘London-centric stories’ – Rosalie Faithfull

Any story which deliberately tries to depict a “Typical middle class” character or family immediately seems clichéd because I don’t think there is such a thing. Pretty much anything in London feels stale as well; we need more regional stories.

BIO: Rosalie Faithfull is a former short film producer, now a freelance script reader and script editor working in both television and film.

19) Genre that hasn’t subverted our expectations’ – Jim Cirile

  • SERIAL KILLER/COP MOVIES/CIA THRILLERS – All meh. They’ve just been done to death. Unless the cop movie is an adaptation of a hit book, or the CIA thriller is brilliant. Anything terrorism-related is a very tough sell as well, since that stuff is now the purview of the 24-hour news cycle, as the corrupt corporate media crams war propaganda down our throats to justify the permanent war.
  • ZOMBIE/WEREWOLF/VAMPIRE. Just don’t. All tired and there are thousands of them out there. Unless, again, the writer has found some brilliant way to subvert the tropes of the genre. “What We Do in the Shadows” is a great example — playing with all the cliches and expectations and turning it into a “The Real World”-style mockumentary.
  • DRAMAS – Always a tough sell, except on the small, DIY or indie-level. Shoot for under $2 mil, limited cast and locations.

BIO: Jim Cirile is the founder and CEO of Coverage Ink, LLC, the screenplay analysis and development experts since 2002. He writes regularly about the biz for The Wrap and is also a writer/producer/musician. His animated horror film To Your Last Death, starring Morena Baccarin, Ray Wise and William Shatner, premieres in 2019.

20) ‘Enough with samey stories and characters’ – Barry Ryan

Zombies. Enough with the zombies. It’s not fiction anymore it’s real life. Women murdering women. Female serial killers. Women being men. We don’t need the reversals of men.
IT-led stories. Computers. Viruses. Software. No more people becoming USBs. Gangsters. Terrible foreigners … evil Chinese people, Russian infiltration and corruption – seriously – get a grip.
People clinging to collective pasts … schoolyard bullies, school murders, sixth form … grow up people.
BIO: Barry Ryan, Leader of team at Free@Last TV. Showrunner of the Agatha Raisin TV show.

21) ‘No more ‘grim dark’’ – Juliet Mushens

I see a lot of ‘grim dark’ narratives, in crime and fantasy. I think novels where every character is amoral are just as unrealistic as those where everyone is a hero!

BIO: Juliet Mushens is co-founder of Caskie Mushens Ltd. Her client list includes NYT and Sunday Times bestsellers of fiction and non-fiction. You can find more info at caskiemushens.com.

22) ‘Stuff that doesn’t stand out, doesn’t sell’ – Ashley Scott Meyers

Since I deal mainly in lower budget genre movies, my answer is meant in that context. I hear a lot of the same things from producers year after year. Comedies are hard overseas because comedy often doesn’t translate. Drama is always a tough sell because it relies so heavily on star casting. Horror can work, but it’s always over saturated, so you need something that stands out. There are trends that I hear, too, like found footage is no longer “in” and a lot of producers won’t even look at a found footage screenplay. But of course this can change quickly if a found footage breaks out and makes a lot of money.

BIO: Ashley Scott Meyers is a screenwriter and blogger/podcaster at SellingYourScreenplay.com(He has optioned and sold dozens of spec screenplays and had numerous writing assignments from a large array of producers and can be found on IMDb HERE.

Good luck! Want to know what these guys DO want? CLICK HERE.

Want MORE Script Reading Secrets?

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

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

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Don’t Miss Out

Bang2writers this year have swarmed all over this website … With 35K+ hits per month this year,  they’ve absorbed its delicious writing-tip-goodness like the 1950s version of The Blob. Wow!

But this means NON-regular Bang2writers might be at a disadvantage. You see, this blog has been going for a looooong time now. So if you’ve not read the most popular articles on this site? You are literally missing out on the knowledge your competition already knows!!

But you know B2W will always have you covered. So I’ve rounded up the top 55 articles Bang2writers hit consistently this year, along with some thoughts on why. Just click any of the headlines to read the original article.

Give it a bookmark, have a good read and come back refreshed and ready to kick some writing ass in the new year.

Top Articles On B2W This Year

1) How To Write TV Series Bibles

With over 130K+ unique hits, this post has been number one on B2W for A DECADE! Bang2writers just can’t seem to get enough of this blog post. This year, I gave it a makeover. If you’ve not seen this one before, or recently, make sure you take a look.

2) What’s The Difference Between Thriller And Horror?

With my reputation on genre preceding me thanks to my Thriller Screenplays book, it shouldn’t be a surprise this is also a consistent favourite on the site. Using the 2007 Emily Blunt movie Wind Chill as a case study, it also provides linkage to the script and the multiple reasons why ‘Thriller/Horror’ in pitches simply doesn’t work from a script reader’s POV.

3) 6 Tips On Writing A One Page Pitch For Your Script Or Novel

Novelists have always sent synopses with their submissions, but there can be some issues in selling their stories ‘off the page’. In contrast, screenwriters would send scripts out ‘cold’, with no introduction. In recent years, thanks to events like London Screenwriters Festival, they now realise that sending out a one pager is a good idea too. Here’s how to write yours to pique the script reader’s interest in your screenplay or novel.

4) How To Write Outlines, Beat Sheets And Treatments

Once upon a time, writers would resist any kind of prep material. Thankfully, those days seem to be over. If you’re looking for tips on how to write yours, make sure you check this article out.

5) How To Put Together Your Writer’s Resumé For Submissions

Sending a writing resumé – or CV for British Bang2writers – can be a key part of submissions to agents, funding initiatives, competitions and so on. Don’t know what to put on yours? Then check out this article.

 6) 10 Quick Tips About Writing Thriller Screenplays

Thrillers need to thrill … but how? Find out here, in this short and to-the-point primer.

7) 6 Ways To Annoy The Crap Out Of People Online

NEWSFLASH: too many writers are screwing up their chances in the real world via their behaviour online. Check out the red flags to avoid, here.

8) How To Avoid Killer Errors In Your Screenplay’s Scenes

Structure is one of the main draws of B2W, but it’s not just the overview of your story you need to worry about. How are your scenes ADDING UP to that whole?

9) 5 Visual Representations of Storytelling Structure

Find structure difficult? Then why not ‘draw the story’. Check out how, here.

10) Top 5 Ways Writers Screw Up Their Characters

Characterisation can be hard … but is a whole lot harder when you do these 5 classic things!

11) 13 Questions On Cultural Appropriation You Need To Ask Right Now 

The first genuine surprise of the list … This is not a 2018 article, but came BACK TO LIFE zombie-style this year. If you are concerned about doing your due diligence when it comes to diverse characters, this article is a must-read.

12) 8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Horror Screenplay DEAD

Horror has been a real draw this year for Bang2writers. I predict lots of new Horror scripts and films to come. Can’t wait!

13) The 2 Sentences Your Characters Should NEVER Say

The first article from 2018 to crash into the list. Published in January, this article goes viral every time I share it. Do you know what a ‘Signal From Fred’ is? YOU SHOULD. Click this link now.

14) The Truth About Success: 30 Top Creatives Who Broke In Late

Another zombie post, this one went absolutely bananas in October-November 2018. If you need a dose of inspiration to get you going for 2019, make sure you bookmark this one.

15) How To Plot TV Series: “Story Of The Week” Vs. Serial Element

My first ever viral post back in 2008, this one is still going strong a decade later. It’s had a makeover, so make sure you check it out. More to come on this subject in 2019.

16) 1 Word That Will Kill Your Female Characters DEAD

Female characters have always been a draw on B2W … So has the term ‘kill your X dead’. Combining the two was no-brainer! But what is that word?? Find out, quick cos I STILL see it all the time.

17) No, Your Female Characters Don’t Just Need More Dialogue

My second major viral post of 2018, this one gets BOTH the femcritters and the dudebros gnashing their teeth in tandem. Howzat for irony??

 18) How To Use Plot Devices – Voiceover, Flashback, Montage, Intercut and Dream Sequence

I used this post for a series of videos on the all-new B2W Youtube Channel, using new examples like Bladerunner 2049 and The Handmaid’s Tale.

19) 10 Ways To Conquer Your Scene Description

Despite hating script consultants and quibbling on camera angles in UK spec scripts with me (!), Craig Mazin called this a ‘pretty good list’ on Twitter once. I am honoured. Find out why.

20)  How To Write TV Series Bibles – The Infographic!

Given the runaway success of number 1 on this list, an infographic version had to be done … And yup, it has been consistently popular.

21) How To Get Past ‘No Unsolicited Material’

Bang2writers find this blog all the time by Googling this term. I was only too happy to provide my thoughts on this.

22) 15 Cheesy Writing Fails To Avoid In The First 10 Pages

B2W points out all the time that sameness in stories is cheesy and boring … So it made sense to round up the top fails I see regularly as a script reader. Are you writing any of these?

23) Loglines Are Not Taglines … Here’s Why

Confusing loglines and taglines is probably one of the most common mistakes writers make. I break down the difference and why you shouldn’t, here.

24) 9 Steps To Get Your Spec TV Pilot Written, Edited & Sent Out

So many Bang2writers are writing TV pilots that I kept getting asked for an overview of the process, from writing to submission. So here it is!

25) 12 Amazing Authors Share Their First Draft Top Tips

The most recent 2018 article on B2W to go viral. Expert panels are always popular, but given B2W’s screenwriting bias and the fact ‘author’ was in the headline, I was surprised by this one.  That said, more and more Bang2writers are interested in novel writing, plus a lot of the advice is universal.

 26) How Do I Format An Interruption In My Screenplay Dialogue?

Format can be a real challenge in screenwriting, so often it’s the ‘little things’ that confuse. This article has been massively popular this year.

27) 10 Awesome Writing Tips From Robert McKee

After number 13 on this list, this was the second genuine surprise. Robert McKee’s Story is probably the Bang2writers’ least favourite screenwriting book. But maybe they’re reading this article to avoid it!

28) How Do I Format A Quote At The Beginning Of A Script?

Another Format article, nuff sed!

29) 1 Simple Tip To Help You Get More Writing Done

Productivity tips on B2W are always popular, so are articles on time management.

30) 5 Openers That Make Readers GROAN

Another article from a script reading POV to help writers avoid sameness. Remember, human beings love novelty! Why would you begin your story like everyone else?

31) How To Become A Script Reader

An unintended consequence of this blog was that people became VERY interested in becoming script readers themselves! This is why I ended up created my Breaking Into Script Reading class. More details on script reading in the article.

32) 29 Ways NOT To Submit To An Agent

The late, great Carole Blake of The Blake Friedmann Literary Agency was a legend who took no nonsense on submissions. Avoid all 29 of these, for God’s sake!

33) How To Avoid Plotting Hell And Save Writing Hours

Structural advice is always popular on B2W, as is productivity. So combine these two to get more done – here’s how.

 34) 38 Good Reasons Your Script Might Get Rejected

I revisited an old infographic about script reading … And discovered we might not have progressed as writers as much as we should have. Eeek!

35) Which Screenwriting Software Is The Best? (Paid For & Free)

Every screenwriter needs software. Here’s some of the most popular, according to the Bang2writers.

36) Screenplay Format – The B2W One Stop Shop

So you have screenwriting software, but did you know there’s still lots of format niggles to avoid? Bookmark my epic rundown of all the reader pet peeves I see. You can also download a PDF Reference Guide from the B2W Resources.

37) Infographic: 6 Tips For Writing A Great One Pager

You guys love infographics! Here’s the infographic version of number 3 on this list.

38) 2 Things ALL Writers Get Wrong In Early Drafts

Just because you’re a pro doesn’t mean you’re immune to getting these things wrong … Check this out.

39) How to write better LGBT characters

There’s been a huge increase in searches for LGBT characters on 2018 this year. Some great pointers in this to get you started.

40) How To Write Killer Ideas Like Netflix’s Stranger Things

Erik Bork’s 2018 article set reddit on fire while they all tried to ‘prove’ Stranger Things was no good. Sure it was, guys! Arf.

41) Top 10 Words That Will Kill Your Writing DEAD

Need a checklist of those niggly, pet peeve words that can spoil your description in your spec screenplay or unpublished novel? No problem, here you go.

42) How Do I Get Work As A Script Reader?

If you’re interested in number 31 on this list, you’ll need to check this one out too. See you at my next script reading class at Ealing studios, too?

43) 2 Simple Tips To Spot Structural Problems In Your Writing

Mentoring writers, I find the one writing craft element they ALWAYS find toughest is structure. Over time, I found myself recommending these 2 tips, over and over again. They make a HUGE difference!

44) How To Assign A Character’s Race In A Screenplay

The pendulum has swung a LONG way since I started out … Where once it was assumed screenwriters SHOULDN’T assign a character’s race, now it is generally accepted they SHOULD. Here’s why, plus how to do it.

45) 3 Tips To Get Your Work Solicited Via Email – And Not Blow It In The Very Next Email

Lots of Bang2writers see ‘no unsolicited material’ and think there’s nothing they can do. NEWSFLASH: there totally is! You get your work solicited … Just don’t blow it by doing the things listed in this article.

46) 25 Mistakes That Send Your Screenplay To The Trash

As it says on the tin … More tips from the inside of the spec pile, via B2W’s script reading eagle eye!

47) THIS Is How You Create Your Writing Career

Writers spend a lot of time thinking about ‘breaking in’ … But what if I told you it’s more about CREATING or BUILDING your career? Find out where you are in the process.

48) 5 Important Elements of Writing a Romantic Comedy

Another zombie post that came back to life with a vengeance this year … Proving that amongst all the horror and thriller, the Bang2writers are big softies really! If you’re writing a romantic comedy, you must check this one out.

49) Structure Spotlight: 3 Things To Remember For Act 3

Set Up/ Pay off can present a huge challenge for writers, whether they’re screenwriters or novelists. Here’s B2W’s thoughts on endings and how they hold the key.

50) 10 Top TV Writers Share Their Writing Craft Secrets

As we’ve already seen in this list, TV writing is a goal for many of you, so this post is a no-brainer. But even if you have your sights set on another medium, these pro writers still have some great insights to share.

51) 10 Tips For The Perfect Ten (Pages)

We all know we get 10 pages to impress … So here’s the official B2W rundown on what I look for, from a script reading POV.

52) How To Avoid Stereotypes When Writing Diverse Characters

‘Stereotype’ means ‘simplification’ … 9/10 we don’t want this in our writing, but ESPECIALLY not when we’re writing characters who aren’t like ‘ourselves’.

 53) 7 Ways Of Showcasing Your Writer’s Voice In Your Screenplay

Writers are always told how important ‘voice’ is … But WHAT is it, plus how can we showcase it in our screenplays?? I wrote this article over five years ago, but it’s always popular, so I gave it a makeover. Check it out and bookmark today!

54) The Secret of Writing Great Conflict In Scenes: 3 Examples

Very often Bang2writers believe ‘conflict = arguments’, but this is because they think dialogue stands in for ACTION. Here I break down three VERY different sequences involving extreme conflict, without an argument or even a ‘heated discussion’ in sight. Pass it on!

55) When To Follow Up On Your Submission

Every single day writers ask on social media or Google (and thus B2W), ‘I haven’t heard about my sub mission … what do I do?’ Answer: FOLLOW UP! Just don’t be too hasty … Here’s when is a good time.

Join Us, Bang2writers

So, that’s it for 2018 … B2W will be back and raring to go in 2019.  Don’t forget to check out the B2W Resources page for all your writing needs. If you want to chat to other writers, be sure to join us in the B2W Facebook group. Lastly, did you know there’s now a B2W instagram, new for 2019? Check it out, HERE.

See you there!

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New Year, New Plan

I’m not really into New Year’s resolutions (‘must eat less chocolate’, yawn), but planning your writing for the year is a brilliant thing.

No, wait, come back! I don’t mean the kind of plan that makes you feel bad every time you look at it. I mean the kind that inspires and supports you, that helps you to write a little more and feel better about it. Still not convinced? Here are some reasons to love planning:

1) Planning makes everything feel more manageable

Writing projects can feel overwhelming, leaving you feeling MEH and avoiding writing. A good yearly plan takes all that away by breaking those huge jobs into small, realistic bite-sized pieces. And as a bonus, you then get the satisfaction of being able to see yourself cross those little steps off and feel like you’re making progress.

2) It gives you permission to ignore housework!

Making time for writing is hard for most of us. Life is busy, so it always feels like there’s other stuff you should be doing instead. Sometimes tasks need doing (technically, you do need to feed the kids), but there are lots that push in front of writing just because they feel more urgent.

Urgent and important are not the same though. Writing needs dedicated time and concentration. That doesn’t happen by itself! Planning your writing and breaking it into steps does two things. You are declaring writing is important to you, which in turn helps you to keep focus. This, hopefully, leads to a situation where you are spending more of your precious time writing and less hoovering. Honestly, nobody cares if you hoover a little less.

3) It shows you what needs to change

It’s frustrating when things aren’t happening and you feel stuck. But it’s the things that you do and the action that you take that determines what you create. Basically, you can’t write that screenplay or novel if you’re not… you know… writing…!

Making a good plan can help you work out what steps you’re missing at the moment. It can also show you what routines would work better for you than your current ones. Even small improvements to your writing life can make a huge difference in the long-term. So get planning!

4) It helps you achieve your dream

Everybody has dreams. Creatives are full of them. But while dreaming of going on a journey is great, if you never do anything about it? You’ll still be sitting in the same chair in twenty years wishing you’d gone. A plan connects the dots between your current situation and that far-off dream. It’s the map you need to start on the journey and stay on the right track.

Sure, things might change as you go along, but that plan is the thing you can always come back to. Use it to reassess your situation and work out how to get back to where you want to be.

5) Planning feels goooooooood!

The best plans are the ones that that give you clarity and get you inspired so that you can’t wait to get started. Use that creative energy as a catapult to give your writing a boost, and remember why you love writing.

BIO: Charlie Haynes runs Urban Writers’ Retreat, and is a not-so-secret planning nerd. The 2019 Writer’s Diary and Planner is designed with writers in mind. It helps you figure out what you really want to write next year and break it down into manageable bites. It also helps you work out what works for you, and helps you make writing a priority all year. Check it out!

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Writing And Diversity

LGBT people are part of our diverse world. So, as writers, we must try really hard to avoid stereotypes while writing diverse characters. Happily, it’s the need of the hour in the industry – so if we write better diverse characters, then we have more chance of getting published or produced! Here are the top 3 tips for writing LGBT characters, enjoy!

1) Decide AND Understand Your Characters’ Sexuality

Consider aspects like, have they come out of the closet and how and to whom? This will help you understand how they accept their sexuality and how well adjusted they are to their present. You will gradually be able to set realistic boundaries for your character and be able to stick to them.

Also, not everyone falls into a certain category that’s defined. Some characters can fall into gray areas. It’s best to understand the basics by reading and talking to people who understand it. You can then work on the sexuality and the romantic status of your character. Understand what gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual and asexual (and so on) actually means.

TOP TIP: You don’t have to worry about making your LGBT character ‘normal’, but you do have to do your research! MORE: How To Write Better LGBT Characters

2) Don’t Write Them As An ‘LGBT token’

You don’t necessarily have to have a bitchy gay character … In fact, please don’t! No stereotypes or overly familiar characters, please.

Also, don’t make the stories just about the LGBT character’s identity. Remember, like any straight character, one’s orientation or identity is a part of their life and NOT the entirety. Don’t make your character’s sole purpose to LGBT … Make it just a facet that flows subtly.

For example, a real-life lesbian wouldn’t necessarily be masculine in nature. She doesn’t necessarily have to goth-looking either! Focus on something that brings out their personality and does not just talk about their sexuality. Talk about how good a friend or a daughter she is. Or how she performs at work etc.

You don’t necessarily have to have coming out stories or transition stories, either. Those stories are overly represented. Imagine the real thing, in the real world. Not every LGBT individual needs to come out! He/she can still rock at their life.

TOP TIP: Make your LGBT character a person FIRST. Their sexuality is not anyone’s concern but theirs … Unless they want it to be. MORE: How To Avoid Writing Stereotypes

3) Be Diverse!

This might seem like the most obvious advice for writing an LGBT character but is extremely important. Writers like to create curiosity among readers. For example, a character who is devoted stay at mom is also a spy, like in Long Kiss Goodnight. Why not? But we need to do the same with our LGBT characters too!

So your character doesn’t necessarily have to be white, or flamboyant. A gay dude could very easily be a nerd with a 9-5 job. A trans individual doesn’t necessarily have to be flamboyant; he could be a senator. Remember, the audience is already too used to stereotypes. In reality, not every gay man lives in a big mansion and appreciates being a girl’s bitchy BFF. They can have an equally boring job as yours or mine.

TOP TIP: Diversity just means ‘variety’ – so write more of a VARIETY of LGBT characters! MORE: How I Wrote The Other Twin, Set In Diverse Brighton 

Last Words

Be real and give your audience something they connect to, yet do not expect from you. This is as real as it can get, for all our characters.

BIO: Bronte Price is a wedding celebrant at Gay Celebrant Melbourne.. He stands strongly for marriage equality and takes immense pleasure in marrying any couples in love. He has also co-founded The Equality Network to help wedding suppliers create a better wedding experience for LGBTI couples. He is a regular volunteer newsreader at Joy 94.9, and a member of GLOBE (Gay and Lesbian Organization for Business and Enterprise). Beyond this, you will find him either in his organic backyard vegetable garden or taking walks with his fiancée Clint and their four-legged fur baby, Bingo.

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All About Agents

Agents are always in every writer’s sights. With a new year beckoning, NOW is a great time to think about your submissions strategy. But whether you’re a novelist or a screenwriter, do make sure you avoid these epic clangers!

1) Not Following The Submissions Guidelines

First up, the obvious one. I know I always bang on (!) about following submission guidelines, but this is because writers STILL don’t do this!

NEWSFLASH: all legitimate agents will have their submission guidelines listed on their websites. Before you submit ANYTHING, look at their websites and find out what they are. (You should be doing your due diligence, as per point 2 on this list anyway).

By the way, because 2019 is around the corner, it should be noted most submissions are done ONLINE now. Many agents have fancy submissions portals. Familiarise yourself with these portals ahead of the game. This way you don’t make epic mistakes and end up having to phone the agency in a panic!

Oh and while you’re doing all this, don’t forget to name your files properly.

2) Not Sending The RIGHT Stuff …

You want to send a script, a one page pitch/synopsis, a good cover email. THAT IS GENERALLY IT.

Like point 1 on this list, only ever include other stuff if it is expressly asked for in the submission guidelines. I cannot stress this enough. Do not send Spotify playlists or CDs. DO NOT send tea bags, sweets, or a plastic trash can.

3) … To The RIGHT People

Also, agents don’t just want any old client or script. They want a client they can invest their time in to help develop their career. See the difference?

So, agents will want clients who write the kinds of stories, themes, genres, subject matter, styles etc, they feel passionate about, too. That’s why it’s pointless sending your great comedic writing to agents who specialise in Horror. Or your brilliant crime fiction novel to agents who prefer non-fiction and memoir.

Sound obvious? That’s because it IS. But writers send their brilliant writing to the WRONG agents all the time … Then wonder why they fail to get any kind of traction. The good news is, it’s easier than EVER to find who the ‘right people’ are for your style of writing and/or career ambitions.

So, get on social media and search out those agents who tweet about the books, TV shows and movies they like. Make sure you go to agent panels at events like London Screenwriters Festival or London Book Fair. Grab a copy of the Writers & Artistes Yearbook and check out sites like Lit Rejections. Do your research!

4) Being Obnoxious

‘Being obnoxious’ can be up to interpretation, it’s true. However Agents all have horror stories about obnoxious potential clients. One of the most oft-hit articles on this site is the late, great Carole Blake’s from Blake Friedmann, where she details 29 Ways Not To Submit To An Agent. Don’t do any of those things and you should be fine.

Don’t mistake ‘being obnoxious’ with following up. Following up on your submission is absolutely allowed. But you probably do want to wait to between 6-8 weeks MINIMUM. Don’t follow up too fast, because that is obnoxious!

5) Believing Rejection = No More Contact, EVER!

Often writers get rejected by agents, then think they can NEVER darken those doors again. This is absolutely, 100% incorrect. In a business that is all about relationships, getting a read counts. If an agent responds to you with some feedback, however brief, chalk that up as a WIN. The agent was interested in your project *more* than the average one in the pile.

So respond, thank them and ask if you may send another script. They may say no, but in which case you have not lost anything. But if they say yes? You still have everything to play for. MORE: Top 5 Mistakes Writers Make With Rejection

Good Luck!

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Successful Writers

Sometimes, we meet/discover a writer who is super successful.  We think they must have been super lucky, too. Right place, right time and all that. If only we were so lucky!

But what if I told you they’re super successful BECAUSE they failed … A LOT. Seems like an oxymoron, right? Except it isn’t. Many amazing writers are ‘successful failures’.

The above quote is from J K Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Speech, The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination. Being as successful as she is, it’s hard to think of her as a writer who failed. But she did and so have countless other success stories.

Failure Is Not Fatal

Maya Angelou is another amazing writer. She came up against huge obstacles in her life, yet she saw the value of failure. Every time life smacked her down, this courageous woman got right back up. Does failing the most equate with learning the most? Maybe.

I think the key to getting past failure is this … None of us know how long the thorny path is. It could take two years, five years or ten years to become successful. Even then, the thorns are still there … Except now they’re entwined with ‘success flowers’ and the path is a nicer walk!

The Value Of Mentors, Allies & Moral Support

You don’t HAVE to have a mentor, but there’s a reason they play such a big part in The Hero’s Journey. Mentors can be helpers and facilitators in writers’ journeys. Speaking from experience, I can say it definitely helps when dealing with the thorny path. A mentor can guide you and reassure you as you go through your journey:

Creative: The path of thorns leads up a mountain. The prickles are bad enough. I don’t want to fall and hurt myself.

Mentor: You’re not going to see the beautiful view from the ground.

Creative: Okay, I’ll climb a little way … A stone hit me on the head!

Mentor: It’s just a stone.

Creative: Okay, I’ll climb a little more. Hey, a flower! Pretty. I’ll climb some more … ten stones hit me on the head! That’s it! I’m done. Everyone else is lucky. Look how far they’ve climbed. They’re not getting pelted with stones.

Mentor: You can’t see their injuries from down here. I guarantee most of the people up there have not only had stones hit them on the head but have also been smacked in the face with rocks, boulders have almost flattened them, while a flock of angry seagulls pecked at their faces! You have to take what’s thrown at you, all of it, in order to walk the path of success.

So much of the creative life is about being brave and confident. The value of mentors is they can  help you achieve this and facilitate your career. They can also console you when you have failed. Most importantly, they can remnind you to get back off your arse and try again!

But you don’t have a mentor? That’s okay. Surround yourself with allies … Writer friends who really ‘get it’. Moral support is so important. Why not join the B2W Facebook group today!

So … how do we succeed?

Yep! By failing. This means you must not fear failure. Embrace it. Small fails. Big fails. Fail at as much as you can because each opportunity needs to be taken. If you don’t take it, there is neither failure or success.

So, keep failing Bang2writers. Before long, like a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Failure has no choice but to become success. Here’s some more links on what it takes:

33 Industry Insiders on Success, Dreams & Failure

Failure Is not Fatal. How To Succeed, No Matter What

The Truth About Success: 30 Creatives Who Broke In Late

24 Experts On The Foundation Of Success

6 Ways YOU’RE Stopping Your Own Writing Success

Good Luck!

BIO: Emma Pullar is a writer of dark fiction and children’s books. She also dabbles in screenwriting and has won/been shortlisted for several short story/script competitions. Follow Emma as @Emma_Storyteller as she lurks in the shadows, spying on people in the name of inspiration and creativity.

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