Another week in writing land … and another week closer to my next course! I’ll be teaching Breaking Into Script Reading for the FOURTH year at Ealing Studios soon (Feb 3-4th, 2018), in conjunction with LondonSWF.

I love teaching this course, which is not only for wannabe script readers but those screenwriters who want to see an ‘insider’s view’ of how their scripts may be judged from the other side of the table. If you fancy coming, check out the bottom of this post for a discount code as a Bang2writer.

To celebrate, I’ve composed a mammoth list of the issues a script reader may chuck a spec screenplay to one side … Or rather, in this new world of PDFs and virtual work, MOVE IT TO TRASH! I’ve also linked to lots of other stuff about what to do about these problems, too. See you in less than two weeks???

1) Your script looks like CRAP

First, the obvious stuff you can do something about really easily. Script readers always look at screenplays first to see if they’re in industry standard format. If they’re not, or filled full of niggly format pet peeves, then BOOM! It’s deleted, baby. Want to a full rundown of the format issues B2W sees most regularly, plus what to do about them? Then CLICK HERE. You can also download a 1 page screenplay format reference guide (PDF) from the B2W Resources page, HERE.

2) Your first page SUCKS

We’ve all heard that writers get ten pages to impress, but in reality? It’s actually ONE page. Yeah, you read that right. There’s more competition, year on year, so now script readers have taken to checking out the first page BEFORE reading on for ten pages. Harsh but true.

So, take another look at your first page – it better LOOK great in terms of format, for starters (as per #1 on this list). But have you started in the ‘right’ place in your story? Does it ‘hook’ the reader, or pique their interest? More on this, next.

3) You don’t have an OPENING IMAGE

It’s very simple: screenwriting is visual, so you need to start as you mean to go on. This means you need an opening IMAGE that feeds into the tone and genre of your story. We DON’T want ‘establishing shots’ or characters simply walking into frame and starting to talk. Bleurgh. We also don’t cheesy stuff right off the bat either. Here’s 5 Openers That Make Readers Groan, plus How To Write The Most Clichéd Opener, Ever.

4) You’re not writing VISUALLY

Very often writers approach scene description as what I call ‘set dressing’ or ‘false movement’. In other words they will describe every little thing in the frame, such as characters’ clothes, homes or even how they literally move (raised eyebrows, hands on hips, walking over to windows, etc). But this is boring and comes off as rather theatrical, like a play. Scene description should not be sp prescriptive; it needs to reveal character and push the story forward (or both!). BE VISUAL.

5) Your story does not HIT THE GROUND RUNNING

Stories need to start IMMEDIATELY; audiences simply won’t wait. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use ‘slow burn’ techniques, however. In fact, there are lots of movies right now – even thrillers – which are utilising the latter, but STILL hitting the ground running. For more on this, with reference to specific modern movies, CHECK OUT MY VIDEO on The B2W Youtube Channel about this.

6) Your story begins TOO LATE

Not to be confused with number 5 on this list (though there may be some crossover). When this happens, it’s often because the writer makes the mistake of extended character introductions; too much world-building (especially in sci fi or fantasy); sometimes both. But character and story need to be introduced hand-in-hand.

7) Your characters or plot are DERIVATIVE

It’s as simple as this: audiences are more demanding than ever. We do not want the ‘same-old, same-old’ when it comes to characterisation; plus we don’t want the same plots, rehashed over and over again. If you want to do something genre-busting or pre-sold, that’s great BUT you need to find that *thing* that has not been done before.

8) Your plot or characters are too ‘OUT THERE’

The opposite to #7 is also true. We want to be able to recognise characters and plots and they’re relatable and relevant.

9) Your script is DIALOGUE-LEAD

Dialogue is often the enemy of the spec screenwriter, because it’s the EASIEST part of the script to write. The is because we fall in love with our characters, so let them speak as often as we like. But characters have to EARN THE RIGHT to speak, because like #4 on this list, dialogue must reveal character AND push the story forward.

10) Your first ten pages SUCK

If your first 10 pages is full of clichés, takes ‘ages’ to get going, or looks like crap, is dialogue-lead (or anything else on this list!), then sorry but it sucks. More on this in 10 Tips For The Perfect Ten Pages, plus you can download a script reader’s checklist for the first ten pages HERE.

 11) Your characters are TOO SAMEY

Very often I’ll read a spec screenplay in which there are ‘too many’ characters, or I’m unable to tell which is which. This is usually because I can’t work out WHY they’re there, or WHAT they’re doing in the story, or both. This very often relates to secondaries and peripherals in particular.

12) Your antagonist is a COMIC BOOK VILLAIN

We all love a great villain, but they need to have UNDERSTANDABLE motivations (even if we don’t condone their terrible behaviour). Too many antagonists have plans that simply don’t make sense, or are two dimensional ‘evil’.

13) Your female characters are DATED

Female characters, especially leads, have made up some major ground in the last five years. But because there are fewer female leads than male, they are under greater scrutiny and thus date very quickly. You need to stay up-to-date and ensure you’re not recycling old tropes and things the audience are bored with, or even find offensive. Luckily this is easier than ever, thanks to the internet! Here’s a free B2W ebook, The Ultimate Blueprint On How NOT To Write Female Characters (it’s a big file, so wait up to a minute for it to download).

14) Your script’s tone seem CONFUSED

Again, you need to start as you mean to go on … and remain consistent. So your Comedy needs to be whimsical or even funny from p1; your Horror needs to be ominous from page 1; your Thriller needs to be a page turner from p1; your worthy drama, stoic or compelling — and so on. It’s not rocket science!

15) Your story is full of CHEESY TROPES AND CLICHES

Another easy one. Don’t fill your story – first ten pages and beyond – with cheesy tropes and cliches audiences have become bored with! Again, it’s SO easy not to fall into this trap, thanks to social media and blogs. Here’s 15 Cheesy Writing Fails To Avoid In The First Ten Pages, plus 7 More Epic Fails To Avoid In Your Writing.

 16) Your scenes are STATIC

Taking in #4 and #9 on this list, a static scene feels lifeless and pedestrian. This is because the script is not visual and probably dialogue-led. Avoid at all costs.

17) Your structure is LUMPY

A good story – no matter the genre – has a sense of forward-looking momentum (even non-linear ones!). This means events in  your story need to have *some* sense of ESCALATION, so we can invest in the characters’ journeys. We do not want ‘a bunch of stuff happening’.

18) Your Writer’s Voice is too OTT, or too ‘Vanilla’

It’s GREAT to see a writer who owns the page … but be careful about going overboard, especially regarding asides and ‘notes to reader’ (we’re script readers! We know how to read!). Similarly, we have enough vanilla, boring screenplays. Here’s 7 Ways To Showcase Your Writer’s Voice In Your Screenplay.

19) Your message is as SUBTLE AS A BRICK

Writers often have messages, statements, morals or warnings to share with the world. This is great and can be really powerful storytelling … IF they don’t get up on their soapboxes too much. Avoid banging your drum too hard and you’re MUCH more likely to get people on board via your story!

20) Your dialogue TAKES OVER

As mentioned in points #9 and #16 on this list, dialogue may ‘take over’ your story. An easy way to diagnose this is by looking for what I call ‘dialogue chains’ in your script. Do characters have conversations that last for 2+ pages? You probably have too much dialogue. Similarly, do your characters speak for more than 2+ lines every time they open their mouths? Then again, you probably have too much dialogue. Be ruthless!

 21) Your characters have NO DISCERNIBLE ROLE FUNCTION

If the reader does not know WHO a character is, WHAT they want and WHY they are in the story, then that character has no discernible role function. This most often relates to secondary characters, but sometimes can even include the protagonist and antagonist, so watch out for this.

22) You have confused STEREOTYPE for ARCHETYPE

It’s surprising how many writers mix these two up. Stereotypes related to the idea of ‘simplification’, whereas Archetypes are the ‘original’ version of something. Whilst stereotypes may *sometimes* have their place in stories (ie. in some types of comedy), it’s ARCHETYPES you need to pay particular attention to. If you can’t name the archetypes easily? Then you need to work on this, STAT.

23) You character/s’ back story has TAKEN OVER

This most often happens with the protagonist, but *can* happen with ANY character. Sometimes the writer will add an extraneous prologue, or maybe they will pepper the story with flashbacks to ‘explain’ why a character is the way they are. This obviously can work, but needs uber-careful plotting, from the offset. Simply shoving back story in to ‘break open’ the character is an expositional cheat.

24) Your scenes don’t have ENOUGH CONFLICT

Every scene needs to PUSH THE STORY FORWARD; they do this by adding to the drama via conflict (since drama IS conflict!). However, many writers believe ‘conflict’ = arguing. This is not the case. Conflict can literally be anything relating to the STORY. This means the conflict will frequently relate to life/death decisions, fighting, accidents, or other stuff in the PHYSICAL realm. But conflict also covers the NON-PHYSICAL too such as revelations, agonising, fears, misunderstandings and so on. Check out these three VERY different examples of conflict and how they work in pushing the story forward.

25) Your ending is wrapped up too quickly, or a DEUS EX MACHINA

Endings that wrap up too quickly are everywhere in the spec pile. This is usually because the writer has planted their Set Up too late, so its Pay Off feels ‘too soon‘. Sometimes it will be because the structure or plotting is lumpy, as in #17 on this list. Other times, the writer has forgotten to Set Up at all, so the way out of the situation is the dreaded Deus Ex Machina. Either way, if the ending doesn’t work (for whatever reason), then it’s usually a structural issue you have. These writers would be wise to START by looking at their ending and plotting backwards, so see where where their Set Up *should* go.

Want EVEN MORE Script Reading Secrets?

Breaking Into Script Reading – Back For 2018! 

How do IMy sell-out course, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING will be back for its FOURTH year in 2018! If you’re interested in becoming a script reader, or finding out more how script readers may assess YOUR own writing – or both! – then this is the course for you.  The course will run 3-4th February at Ealing Studios. GET YOUR TICKETS HERE, or click the pic on the left. Bang2writers get £40 off with discount code LSF17 at the checkout. See you there!

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Great dialogue is about one-fifth of a powerful screenplay, but it will probably be one of the most influential parts in catching the attention of the reader (and thus your potential audience!). So whilst you don’t want your dialogue to take over, it’s still VERY important to your script’s success … So check out these tips for ensuring you make the most of yours!

1) Eavesdrop!

Do this subtly, of course. But listen in on conversations that people are having in a variety of environments and on a variety of topics. You’ll get a much better “feel” for what natural communication really is in all of these environments. How do people really argue? How do people really tell stories to each other? How do lovers, parents and children, colleagues, and friends naturally talk to one another? The more you do this, the better your own dialogue writing will become.

2) Watch a Favourite Movie Differently

Pull up a movie you know well – one you have watched a dozen or so times, because you love it. As you watch the movie, type out just the dialogue. You can even just type the dialogue of your favourite scenes.

It’s best to use movies that are of the same genre as what you are currently writing. Do this often over a 30-day period, and you will be amazed how much better your own dialogue becomes.


3) Read Complete Transcriptions of Conversations

If you read transcriptions of conversations, you will probably realise that they are rather dull. This is because there are a lot of irrelevant, filler words, as people think through what they want to say. They will add “fluff” words too. Take that transcription and remove all of the filler and non-essential words. It will get better. Dialogue for a screenplay should be like this – it should all support the plot, and any words/phrases that do not should be eliminated.

4) Minimise Extraneous Information in Dialogue

The plot is not in the dialogue – it is in the actions of the characters more than anything else. Dialogue should support but does not have to provide lots of information all the time. Use dialogue to provide information in small chunks.

Dialogue should also be used to reveal someone’s character – are they “down to earth,” sophisticated, intelligent? The words they use will reveal this over time.

5) Action, Please!

Short spurts of dialogue should be broken up with action – remember a screenplay is 80% visual. A very short outburst will be followed by a character stomping out of a room. The verbiage should be minimal – the audience “gets” the anger from the action, not long diatribes.

6) Slang and Profanity – A Warning

You do want to establish tone and characterisation through dialogue, but don’t overdo it. A small amount of profanity and slang go a long way. If, however, you have a character that must curse and use slang, then read how that characterisation is achieved by other successful playwrights.

7) Read Like a Writer

Read plays and novels that have a lot of dialogue. What dialogue is making the characters authentic? Where is dialogue really not working and where is it allowing a character to really jump out at you? Let the writer in you evaluate the dialogue in terms of its contribution to the plot. You’ll quickly learn what to avoid and what to utilise.

8) Punctuate!

When readers are reviewing your screenplay, a big distractor is dialogue that is not punctuated correctly. Use commas and end marks correctly; otherwise you can irritate/annoy a reader. Don’t take that chance.

Concluding:

You will no doubt find other tricks that will help you improve dialogue writing. As stated before, practice is the key. And once you have written your dialogue for a scene, go back over it and “test” it according to some of the suggestions here.

TL;DR – Too Long, Didn’t Read?

Make your characters lively with the speech figures; keep the speeches clear and expressive; and always write unique and active dialogue that will ignite the attention of the reader. Take lessons from life and the works of other professionals, and concentrate on the dialogue itself. Finally, be precise to the details, as they do the majority of work when forming a connection with the reader!

Good Luck!

BIO: Amanda Sparks, pro writer and editor at Essay Supply, lifestyle writer at Huffington Post. I am fancy doing perfect things for this perfect world, and help people make their life easier with my lifestyle tips. Connect me via LinkedIn!

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Just a quick one today to remind you there’s no RIGHT way to write your spec screenplay or novel, but there *are* plenty of WRONG ways. In fact, there’s so many mini-pitfalls, pet peeves and writing mistakes out there, they soon add up to form a big fat REJECTION for your work if you’re not careful.

But as I always bang on on B2W (arf) you can avoid this avalanche of writing kryptonite by paying attention to the little things. Since writers LOVE dialogue, I thought I’d draw attention to two KILLER phrases that are so stinky they immediately make script readers SWOON (and not in a good way):

1) “This isn’t the movies, you know!”

Holy crapballs! Seriously?? But seriously … this one just won’t go away. Sometimes in unpublished novels ‘movies’ is substituted for ‘books’ (though not often). Other variants may include ‘You’ve been watching too many [movies that are like this story]‘; also, ‘You think you’re James Bond’ (occasionally a superhero’s name or Arnold Schwarzenegger and once I saw ‘Harry Potter’, though it was a fantasy novel).

The issue with this is, it reminds me THIS IS A STORY. That’s not a good idea. You want the reader to suspend his or her disbelief. That’s the point of storytelling. Drawing attention to the fact it’s essentially fake is simply bonkers.

But look, I get it – it seems like it could be ironic. And maybe it was, once upon a time in a galaxy far away. But in this one? I read this ‘joke’ probably 5-6 times a month, MINIMUM. And as we all know, good writing is also about standing out. Le duh.

Needless to say, this is especially bad in a spec feature screenplay (it literally is a movie, FFS!), but even in shorts or TV pilots or an unpublished novel it is stinkier than 4000 year old Gorgonzola. STOP. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP!!

2) “This doesn’t make sense!”

This may also pop up as dialogue from characters such as ‘No one would ever believe that!’ or ‘This is really boring’, etc. In other words, the characters are mouthpieces for the writer’s subconscious alarm at the way the story is going, also known as a ‘signal from Fred’.

Many writers – both screenwriter and novelist – believe ‘signals from Fred’ do not exist. To back up their assertions, they will point to produced and published works where characters will literally say these things and be justified for it.

But those writers are forgetting CONTEXT. Of course, justified use of these phrases are fine. If characters are supposed to be confused, but the plotting works, then great.

But in spec work, I’ve found over the years it’s really intriguing just how few instances of ‘This doesn’t make sense’ (or similar) are NOT justified … because the plotting LITERALLY doesn’t make sense. Now THAT’S irony for ya. This can even lead to the dreaded plot hole.

What Writers Can Do

In the case of number 1, in case you didn’t understand in the section?? KILL IT WITH FIRE. You don’t need it. Seriously.

In the case of number 2, think about whether your use of it is ‘real’ or a SIGNAL FROM FRED. I bet you a million squid, plus tentacles, it’s the latter  – especially if it’s an early draft.

BTW – it’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s actually a handy marker … I discovered I had three myself in an early version of The Other Twin. Being aware of this ‘Signals From Fred’ helped me identify where I was getting tied up in knots in my mystery. How? Well, I discovered where my protagonist Poppy had the most confusion with her investigation, were the chapters that needed the most work. Furrealz.

Breaking Into Script Reading – Back For 2018! 

How do IMy sell-out course, BREAKING INTO SCRIPT READING will be back for its FOURTH year in 2018! If you’re interested in becoming a script reader, or finding out more how script readers may assess YOUR own writing – or both! – then this is the course for you. The course will run 3-4th February and early bird tickets are on sale now. GET THEM HERE, or click the pic on the left. See you there!

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B2W Launches on Youtube!

So, hopefully by now you’ve heard that B2W now has its own Youtube Channel! I’ll be talking writing v, submissions, genre, visuals, novel writing, characters, structure/plotting, scene description, dialogue and much much more — with new videos every Thursday! (You’ll also find the round ups here too every Friday after today).

So make sure you CLICK HERE to subscribe so you never meet an instalment – alternatively click on the pics or on the embedded video to watch. Enjoy!

1) What To Do When It’s ‘No Unsolicited Material’

Well, I asked the Bang2writers what they’d like to see FIRST on the B2W Youtube Channel … The answer? Overwhelmingly in favour of something about submissions! So I put my thinking cap on and checked out the Google searches of this blog and discovered the phrase “what to do when it’s ‘No Unsolicited Material'” came out on top!

Writers often feel frustrated when they see ‘No unsolicited material’ on agents’, publishers’ and production company websites. But this needn’t be the barrier you think – HONEST!!! In this first video, I break down WHAT querying is in this short tutorial video, plus HOW to do it and WHEN to follow up.

2) What Does ‘Hitting The Ground Running’ Really Mean For Writers?

B2W often gives the script note, ‘You need to hit the ground running’, but this alone may not be illuminating for writers. In this video, I break down for writers what this note means using relevant, illustrative examples from the movies SINISTER (2012) and BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017). I also talk about how audience preferences impact on how movies are made and how things may change over time because of this.

3) Writers Ask: Horror Vs. Thriller – What Is The Difference?

Screenwriters frequently don’t really know the difference between Horror & Thriller, so end up writing ‘Horror/Thriller’ one their pitch documents, or saying it in their face-to-face pitches … But this is REALLY BAD IDEA. I explain why, plus what the key differences – and similarities – are between these two popular genres, plus the conventions that will help you decide what you’ve written.

Remember, if you want more info on the above, you can find the most popular articles on this site as well as all the free PDF downloads in one place on the B2W Resources Page. Enjoy!

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One of the most searched-for terms that lead writers to this blog is ‘get more creative’. When writers discuss creativity, we nearly always focus on stuff like writing exercises and prompts – but creativity is a STATE OF MIND. We need to change our thinking to get our writing going and create good work.

This is why I love this infographic from the good folks at CustomWriting.org. It ranges from the obvious to the not-so-obvious, but crucially also offers tips, quotes and snippets on the subjects too – the attention to detail is brilliant! I particularly like numbers 9 and 13. What about you?

Further reading:

6 Great Writing Prompts To Get You Started

Top 10 Tips For Finding Writing Inspiration

6 Ways To Get Ideas From Social Media

30 Doses of Inspiration From Fictional Teachers & Mentors

5 Simple Ways You Can Source Great Character Ideas

30 Experts On The True Power of Ideas

7 Ways of Developing Ideas

Good Luck!

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So, it’s a new year … and no doubt you’re limbering up for some serious writing and smashing of your goals. Why not chew on some of these for size? HAPPY NEW YEAR!

1) Read Screenplays

I’ve been working with screenwriters fifteen years now, yet STILL there are wannabes out there who’ve never read a script in their lives! WTAF. Put yourselves on the naughty step AT ONCE.

Also, 5-10 in your entire writing lifetime won’t cut it. Commit to reading a script a week. That’s right – 52 in a year! A great script only takes 1-2 hours to read, after all. If you can binge-watch an entire Netflix series in one weekend, then you HAVE TIME. (But okay, maybe you don’t. You can still read 1 a month. 12 new scripts a year is better than NONE).

BTW, if you’re a novelist, it’s still a good idea to read screenplays because it will help you with plot, plus it can be very enlightening seeing what’s on the page versus what we ‘see’ on screen (thus helping you with your own visuals). Check out sites like the BBC Writersroom and Simply Scripts to get started.

2) Read novels

Lots of writers – both novelist and screenwriter – tell me they ‘haven’t time’ to read books – but 6-10 books per year are not out of the realms of most people. Some screenwriters will even say books are somehow different to screenplays. WRONG! Yes, they are different mediums, but storytelling is storytelling … Plus it’s ALWAYS well worth knowing which are the ‘hot’ novels and why, considering what starts in books usually makes its way to movies and TV, via adaptation or issues (or both). Convergence, baby! Friend me on Goodreads for recommendations.

3) Read threads (don’t comment)

Think of an issue you don’t know much about. Go in search of people who live with that issue, problem or reality. Then read their threads. DO NOT COMMENT. Go away and think about why they’re angry, upset, or think this way. Yes, even if you think they’re hopelessly wrong (especially if you think they’re wrong). I’ve read some enlightening perspectives on Brexit, Trump, Men’s Rights and Radical Feminism this year for example. That doesn’t mean I suddenly agree with those perspectives (or even condone them), but it’s given me plenty of fodder for antagonists if nothing else!

4) Ask questions

Following on from 3, ask questions about said issues to improve your understanding further – but crucially, don’t hassle people. There’s a difference between crowdsourcing (good) and sea-lioning (bad). So instead of popping up on marginalised people’s TLs demanding explanations (or what may *seem* like demands), use question-based platforms like Quora to help you get more context and information.

5) Identify/describe the craft elements you need to work on

I’m always surprised by the number of writers who will tell me they ‘know’ about plotting, characterisation, structure or whatever — yet are totally unable to DESCRIBE these elements and how they work (or not!) in their writing (or even other people’s). But get this straight: you need the vocabulary to really understand what’s going wrong. So read up on craft and then you will be able to apply to it your own writing.

6) Work out WHY your writing idols are so good

Following on from 5, enjoying your writing idols’ work is just the surface level. If we’re going to be able to emulate our heroes’ successes, we need to know WHY, at craft level, they are so good. So what is it you love about your favourites’ movies, TV or novels?

7) Figure out your submissions strategy

Make 2018 the year you stop throwing spaghetti at the wall. Without a submissions strategy, any success you have will be accidental, rather than by design. Figure whom you want to submit your work to, plus when and why – IN ADVANCE.

8) Evaluate how far you’ve come already

It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come when we’re set on the road ahead. Don’t forget to reward yourself for jobs well done, or the fact you’re no longer wet behind the ears. Also, knowing where you are on the4 road keeps your feet on the ground and helps you make decisions on what you want to do next. So stop obsessing about ‘making it as a writer’ – if you’re writing? You’re a writer. Done.

9) Set some goals for the year ahead

Every New Year’s Day, I open my diary and write out my list of goals for the year ahead. It’s usually a mix of the outlandish and the achievable. I then evaluate what is possible by what date by breaking it down into things like wordcount (ie. X words per week), or what I need to ensure gets done so I can commit to my goal (ie. money, childcare, hours, etc) and who I need to get to help me do this (Mr C and other family; fellow collaborators, etc). So write down what you WANT to do, HOW you’re going to do it (plus WHO you need to help) and BY WHEN. I double-dare you.

10) Create a writing ritual

My writing ritual is very simple: I try and ensure I dedicate 4K words to my novel per week. That’s gone by the wayside lately (it always does in the autumn term), but I’ll be back onto with a vengeance in the new year. So, what’s yours? Remember, it all adds up.

11) Discover if you’re on the right path

It’s common for writers to go through periods of non-enthusiasm for their work or place in the industry, especially if they’ve had a run of rejection. However, if your lack of enthusiasm lasts for months at a time (3+ months is the danger zone, imho), then you might be on the wrong path. It could be a writer’s life is not for you (maybe you want to be creative some other way?); or you could be in the wrong medium. The only way you can work this out is by dedicating some mind space to it. If you come to the conclusion that no, you DO want to be a writer, then you need to find a way of getting enthused again … And in my experience, that’s usually some kind of new project.

12) Work on your grammar, punctuation and spelling

A simple one, but hard to enact. As writers, we are judged by the words on the page – it’s what we do. So you need to work out WHERE you have issues and blind spots on the basics. Whilst it’s true many of us have been taught badly, or have a learning difficulty like dyslexia, the good news is, improving is easier than ever. Just commit to doing a ten minute online test like these every day of 2018: before you know it. you will be proficient, or at least better than you were before. What’s not to like?!

14) Keep a writing diary or journal

Lots of writers say their partner, family or other commitments mean they have no time to write. But B2W has always said your best writing is done by THINKING. So mull your ideas, loglines and plots over WHILE you do the other stuff. But okay, life is busy, so make sure you take a diary, journal or notebook with you to note these things down as they occur. B2W is entirely powered by notebooks – and is one of the reasons I am so prolific. True fact!!!

15) Watch movies (not just TV)

There’s always a lot of talk online about how we’re currently living in a ‘Golden Age’ of TV. Whether you think this or not, these are the facts: writing television differs significantly to movies in terms of plotting to movies. It’s not hard to see why: one is episodic and one is ‘stand alone’ (even in a franchise, a single movie must speak for itself).

Perhaps because screenwriters typically consume SO MUCH television, they tend to do better with TV spec pilots than 90-120 page spec feature screenplays … Yet new writers are waaaay more likely to break through with  brilliant spec feature than TV pilot. I’m convinced it’s because they don’t watch ENOUGH movies. This seems like an own goal.

What’s more, novelists would do well to watch more movies, too. I see A LOT of samey, tropey characters in genre novels, plus plotting can be dodgy too (especially endings, with everything ‘backended to the resolution’). Yet investment in character role functions, plus a 3 Act Structure, could solve both these problems – and movies can illustrate both of these things for writers, quickly and efficiently.

16) Do peer review

You know the drill, people: join Bang2writers, find people you can swap work with. Helping your colleagues and being helped in return cannot be anything but good. Plus it creates relationships and connects you. Even if you find yourself paired with an asshole, you know who to avoid in future! Boom! There’s literally no downside, unless you’re the asshole.

17) Stop knee-jerking on feedback

It’s great writers are so thirsty for feedback – but that doesn’t mean the feedback is always right. In fact, some of it is downright crap; others will be good stuff, but just not relevant for whatever reason. There will be lots of other types too. This is the thing: you don’t HAVE to use other people’s notes, especially on specs. You can use it as a springboard for your own ideas … But to do that, you need to let feedback marinade in your brain. And that takes TIME. Learn how to use feedback efficiently.

18) Review movies, TV & novels from a craft POV

Harking back to point 6 on this list, this is where you break down WHAT WORKS and what needs MORE DEVELOPMENT about works you enjoy. I use Goodreads to do this on novels I like. Note, you won’t find reviews of stuff I hated. I don’t see the point. But even the novels I was lukewarm on get a review with a positive slant, because it’s far too easy to simply criticise stuff. A lot of work goes into writing books and there’s ALWAYS something that can be praised (even if you have to dig deep).

And NO, I’m not advocating LYING … If you don’t enjoy something, then that’s fine. But why not try and offer what you think WORKS from a craft POV first, then do similar on what needs FURTHER DEVELOPMENT. Try not to use emotional language like ‘this was crap’ or ‘I hated this’ etc – or if you do, back up WHY from a characterisation, plotting or structural reason. Re-train your brain to go beyond ‘hate-watching’ and ‘hate-reviewing’ into looking at the LAYERS of there work.

19) Follow useful and interesting people online

Social media makes it easier than ever to identify the people who can help us in our writing or careers – whether that’s for research or connecting with influential people, publishers and producers alike. So go out and connect with them! Just don’t shoot yourself in the foot, for God’s sake.

20) Work out what you’re missing

However successful you are in smashing your goals and getting ahead in your career, don’t get complacent. There are ALWAYS opportunities staring you in the face and pitfalls to fall into. But if you know what you’re missing, you can plan effectively and consider what’s possible for you and what’s not … That way you needn’t leave anything on the table needlessly. Sometimes you will have to say ‘No’ and that’s okay, as long as it’s an informed decision.

Good Luck!

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Bang2write will be back in the new year

In the meantime, feel free to get your scriptchat on over on the Bang2writers FB group! JOIN HERE.

If you’re looking for writing help and free PDF resources to download, CLICK HERE.

If you’d like to give ME a Christmas gift, then I’d love a review! You can review the Bang2write main site, HERE or any of my books you’ve read on their Amazon listings HERE, or Goodreads HERE. Even just one sentence is a big help. Thank you!

Also, if you’re at a loose end this holiday, then you may be interested to know some of my books are on special offer. The Other Twin is just 99p on Kobo and Amazon.co.uk are price-matching HERE; plus my new non fiction writing book, Writing Diverse Characters For Fiction, TV & Film is 50% off on ebook HERE at the moment.

Have a brilliant holiday season!

 

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Being a writer might be challenging, as creative people very often worry their work is not good enough. Lacking confidence can be immobilising and may influence the quality of your writing, too. Eek! But calm down and check out these simple ideas and exercises that can boost your confidence and make your creative genius shine.

1) Use writing prompts

Many creative people know that writing prompts is one of the basic exercises to develop your writing skills. Prompts are extremely useful  if you have writer’s block or simply want to develop yourself as a writer. The prompt can be anything:a word, a phrase, a picture, a person or just a thought. It can help you write focusing on one thing at a time and make your creative juices flow. MORE: 6 Writing Prompt Tips To Get You Started

2) Experiment with different styles

It is most likely that you have already chosen the genre you prefer to write. However, at some point, you might get a feeling that you are starting degrading. Looking at things from a different perspective can be a powerful exercise to shake you up and boost your creativity.

Writing about something you are not familiar with might seem to be quite scary  but the moment you get out of your comfort zone will give a boost to your creative side. For example, you constantly write texts on a judicial theme where formal language prevails. Try writing an essay in an informal style to give your mind a workout.

If you are a narrative writer, trying poetry may be one of the ways to make you think differently and bring back a spark to your texts.

3) Try the “Dear me” exercise

This exercise is unique and effective not only in terms of waking up your inner creative genius, but it may even help you improve your life in general!

Basically, this task is about writing a letter to yourself. You may speak to your younger self, either a child, teenager or just to a person you have been a few years ago. You can tell about your mistakes, achievements, offer advice, praise and even maybe ask for forgiveness.

This exercise is not a daily one, but it will definitely be beneficial for stimulating your creativity. MORE: 6 Ways To Great Writing Ideas From Social Media

4) Pretend to be someone else

This is another effective exercise for improving your writing skills. Because you’ve got used to writing about everything from your own perspective, it might be quite helpful to try expressing what you see through the vision of another person – especially someone you know in ‘real life’.

You can choose any individual, such as your lovely mom, strange neighbour or a even just passerby that caught your eye. It is better if a person is with a different background, nationality, gender or age, to really challenge you. Try explaining what you see through the imagined character’s eyes and try to be as descriptive as possible. This will help you get a deeper insight into human behaviour and emotions.

5) Try a stream of consciousness (AKA ‘Free Writing’)

This is one of the most effective exercises to be made if you end up staring at a blank page. The secret is in making a throwaway copy of your piece of writing with a promise to yourself that this will not be viewed by anyone else. This will make you get relaxed and get creative without the fear of judgment.

Try writing whatever comes up in your mind without any filtering. Do not try to be logical and just be spontaneous. Let your creative side express itself and do not worry if thoughts that you write are random and lacking sense. This exercise is a lot of fun as well, as you might be surprised what you can come up with. MORE: How Free Writing Can Help You Get Started 

Concluding:

Some exercises can be done every day for 10 minutes or so. Some can be done weekly. Also, there are practices which are better to be done once a year. The key is to find those activities that are the best for you and do them regularly.

If you love writing but do not feel confident enough, start doing exercises that we listed. You will be surprised how great you can be and how much joy you can bring to your readers.

BIO: Ester Brierley is a graduate student (Computer Science), junior QA Engineer in software outsourcing company, an enthusiastic freelance writer for Darwin blog and different digital blogs. She adores researching cutting-edge trends and sharing them in her writing pieces. You can follow her on Twitter.

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A new year must be round the corner, because Bang2writers KEEP asking me about goal setting, productivity and ensuring writing gets done! 😉 One of the biggest problems B2Wers seem to have is procrastinating online – they tell me they spend waaaay too long chatting or watching cat videos or funny memes and gifs. So when Bernadine suggested this post, I was only too happy to hear her ideas — and I hope you are, too! Don’t forget to add your tips to the comments section, too. Enjoy …

It’s easy to procrastinate online. Dilly-dallying is never difficult, especially when you are working with just your computer in front of you. Maybe you have no boss or supervisor to physically check on you, or to make their intimidating presence felt, either! So, check these tips out for advice on how to stop procrastinating online and get your writing done:

1) Set immediate goals and plans

Procrastination often happens simply because you are unsure of what to do. That’s why it’s very important to have goals and plans. Make sure you have laid out the things you are supposed to do during your designated writing time. MORE: How To Set Meaningful Goals & Stick To Them

2) Break jobs into segments

One of the things that enable procrastination is the subconscious thinking that a task is too difficult. When you perceive something as overwhelmingly complicated or tedious, you end up not being able to start or proceed with it. To address this, divide the job into small parts or simpler steps and start with the easier ones.

3) Be realistic with what you can do

Don’t make unrealistic plans or schedules  for your writing to avoid disappointing and frustrating yourself. This does not mean, though, that you can set excessive times for the completion of tasks. Don’t overestimate yourself and don’t overestimate a task.

4) Tweak your online work setting

Working online exposes you to a lot of distractions. It’s easy to load your social media page or YouTube and spend a lot of your time getting entertained with funny or interesting videos and posts. Temporarily block these websites through your modem/router or install a browser add-on. Don’t turn your messenger app on unless it is necessary. If you have games on your computer, consider uninstalling them for a while.

5) Remember, small distractions soon add up!

Often, people tend to think that watching short funny video clips on YouTube or social media won’t take up a lot of their time. Little do they know how they end up watching more and more “short” clips … and suddenly,  they have already wasted more than an hour of their time! MORE: 10 Tips On Being A Productive Writer

6) Take a break

You could be procrastinating because you lack rest. Continuous work can lead to the buildup of stress and frustration that you end up subconsciously revolting against yourself. Take short breaks when embarking on long hours of writing.

7) Hang out with productive people

When working online (such as doing writing research), avoid communicating with people who are online because they just want to chat, watching some streaming videos, or scroll through social media. You may find it difficult to tell them that you are working, but there are such things as ‘mute’ buttons and ‘busy’ icons – use them!

8) Use the two-minute rule

The two-minute rule is a common tip you will likely find on many blogs online. It’s an anti-procrastination technique anchored on the following ideas:

  • If it takes less than two minutes, do it now.
  • When you start something, it should not take more than two minutes to do.

This is not something you have to take so literally, though. The idea here is simply for you to start working on something that is easy to do so you can get started.

9) Avoid biases against certain tasks 

You could be subconsciously not starting with a task yet because you simply don’t it. It could be your preconceptions that are making you procrastinate. Identifying if this is the case can help, especially if you combine it with numbers 8 or 4 on this list!

10) Use productivity tools

There are tons of tools available online and you can even find freeware or those you can use without the fees. These are usually time management and scheduling tools. Bang2write uses Hootsuite, for example – which means setting up tweets, blogs etc can be done in advance, making B2W more efficient and more productive. MORE: 5 Habits Of Highly Productive Writers

Concluding:

To address procrastination, make sure that you REALISE you are procrastinating, plus identify those things that can tempt you away from your writing. Only then can you pinpoint the reasons why you tend to procrastinate and do something about it. Good luck!

BIO: Bernadine Racoma is a senior content writer at Day Translations, a human translation services company. After her long stint as an international civil servant, she has aggressively pursued her interest in writing and research. She has notable fondness for things related to technology, travel, lifestyle, social media, and current affairs. She is also an advocate and mother to 7 successful children.

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We haven’t had an ‘X Things I Learned …’ post for a while, so in response to requests for more on publishing insider info, I reached out to Phoebe Morgan, a commissioning editor at Avon, an imprint of HarperCollins. Phoebe is also the author of The Doll House, which became a #1 iBooks bestseller and spent a whopping 8 weeks in the Kindle top 100. So I think it’s fair to say she knows her stuff, being on both sides of the table!

I had a chat with Phoebe over Skype recently, who imparted some really great nuggets of wisdom for writers – which, as it turned out, could also be useful to screenwriters too. As I’m always saying on B2W, convergence is a key element across the mediums. Over to you, Phoebe …

1) Get the first draft FINISHED!

It might sound obvious – and it is – but as Phoebe says, you can’t fix a blank page. You need to get to the end of your draft to truly be able to fix your draft and develop it. Whilst editing as you go along may work for some writers, very often it can be a form of procrastination or even self-sabotage.

2) You don’t have to write in CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER

Following up on her previous point, Phoebe shares a great tip to ensure you get your draft finished: why not work on the bits that are flowing, coming back to the bits that aren’t LATER? I love this tip, because I frequently advocate that novelists and screenwriters not only can do the same, they may even find it EASIER working backwards from the ending.

3) Building suspense is primarily about OPENERS and ENDINGS

This is a brilliant tip of Phoebe’s for all novelists and screenwriters, but especially those working in the thriller genre. Having a strong set up and pay off overall for the whole narrative is key, but breaking down each chapter or scene, ensuring they do the same in pushing the story forward is just as relevant.

4) It’s hard to be OBJECTIVE

There nearly always comes a point when a writer can’t see the woods for the trees and needs help with their draft: either in getting it ready for the submission or the marketplace. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it’s peer review or professional consultancy. Also, learn how to use feedback effectively so you needn’t fall foul of what I call ‘feedback fatigue’.

5) Imagine yourself as the PROTAGONIST

As an editor on the HarperCollins Avon imprint, Phoebe has another great tip pertaining to the thriller genre: imagine yourself in the protagonist’s place. Readers and audiences have different expectations of the Thriller genre (in comparison to say, Horror) and these principally relate to the notion, ‘What would YOU do, if YOU we’re in this situation?’

Readers and audiences want ‘reliability’, in effect. I covered this in my own book, Writing And Selling Thriller Screenplays. Now I think of it, I can see how it would apply to thriller novels too, especially the ‘domestic noir’ subgenre, which usually places an ‘ordinary’ female lead in a perilous situation regarding her marriage, family and/or other relationships, which I automatically replicated in my own crime debut, The Other Twin.

6) You must be BRUTAL

When we chatted, Phoebe used the phrase, ‘kill your darlings’ and she’s absolutely bang on. We must challenge ourselves as writers and part of this is remembering who our audience is. On this basis, it doesn’t matter if *we* love a particular scene, chapter, character or piece of dialogue in our script or novel … If it doesn’t push the story forward efficiently, it has to go. This echoes what veteran author of The Roy Grace series Peter James shared recently on Bang2write too.

7) Don’t take rejection PERSONALLY

This is another great reminder. I often see Bang2writers lamenting their rejections on social media, positing they or their work ‘must’ be crap. Yet a rejection does not automatically mean you’re a bad writer, honest! As Phoebe says, even if she rejected you, she may have really enjoyed your work. She may just doesn’t feel she is the right EDITOR for your work!

8) Look at what is SELLING

Phoebe’s last point is possibly the most salient for Bang2writers, who frequently want answers on HOW to get their work noticed. By checking out the charts for books and movies, writers can see – in real time – what is currently in demand and make informed hunches on what readers and audiences would love to read or watch.

Note this DOESN’T mean writing solely ‘for the market’ or ‘chasing trends’. Writers should never fake an interest in a genre or type of writing. But it is perfectly possible to research the marketplace, discover who your potential audience is AND write with passion on a story you love, to create a concept that will connect with people. This has never been easier, thanks to the internet!

By the way, even though Phoebe is an author herself with her epically successful debut The Doll House, this doesn’t mean she just commissioned herself! In fact, her book is published by HQ Digital, rather than Avon – that’s a completely different imprint of HarperCollins. But forming relationships with people in the industry your want to go into yourself never hurts, providing you do it well … and again, the internet has made this easier than ever.

Thanks Phoebe!

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