Today is the day of spoilers, so, a fair warning for you all: If you haven't seen Skyfall, you may want to not read this until you have, because I'll be talking about that at length.
Right then, spoilers. Everybody's different on this topic - Moffat's managed to somehow make them sexy via River Song, for God's sake, but me personally? I hate them. Have done for years. For example; Harry Potter came out on my 18th birthday. You want to know what I did for that? (Aside from get up at five am and drive my entire household up the wall due to my impatience with the USELESS SOD POSTMAN who didn't show up til 2pm, the prat!) I pretty much inflicted deafness upon myself anytime I went out for the previous month, putting my ipod on at max volume just to avoid hearing anything even remotely spoileriffic. I've had tinnitus in my right ear ever since.
That's probably a bit overkill, and I don't recommend it - tinnitus drives me mad half the time, have to have something on just to distract myself from the bloody ringing, but I was 18, and I wanted to have a good birthday - if I had heard that Harry was a horcrux before hand, well, it wouldn't be pretty.
So, where do you draw the line? What's acceptable about spoilers? I've just given away one of the biggest moments in Harry Potter canon, for example, but, let's face it, the book came out five years ago, and the film's 2 years old this summer. Therefore, I think it's acceptable to discuss such spoilers; at this point in the series, anyone who hasn't seen the film(s) or read the books wouldn't have a clue what I'm talking about, so it's not like I'm spoiling it that much for them anyway.
Now then, Skyfall. Boy howdy did my screenwriting lecturer get my goat on that topic. It came up in a class, two days before I was going to see it with the missus. I specifically stated that fact clearly (I sit at the front of the class cause it's the only place I can plug my laptop in, and, let's face it, I've got a big gob and I know how to use it), and yet my lecturer STILL went on about the climax of the film (and not only that, but he made a wrong point about the film, citing that James acted out of character when in fact he acted perfectly within his character). Bloody git.
You will note that while I did mention Skyfall, it was worded in such a way as to be as vague as possible, and I put a warning at the front of the post. That, in my view, is pretty much as good as you can get with spoilers these days. Clear warnings and vague wording that lets you get the point across is fine by me. But the difference betwen Harry Potter and Skyfall is simply one of time. It's like "Rosebud" from Citizen Kane, or "I am your father" from Star Wars - they're key revelations that are clearly spoilers, but because of the amount of time that's passed between their release and today, coupled with the fact that both are considered greats of thier time (though Kane pretty much made me go mad when I was forced to watch it in class), they've lost thier spoiler effect. In a year or two, once Skyfall is out of cinemas and safely in my blu-ray collection, I'll happily talk about how Bond and Harry Potter cross over when it transpires that Ralph Fiennes' character is actually Voldemort, who hid one last horcrux in an exploding pen, and Harry Potter and Bond have to team up to take him down forever...
The above is, of course, complete rubbish I've just made up based around one cast member being in both Potter and Bond. Just to clarify.
But, in this day and age, spoilers are getting harder and harder to avoid. The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, Doctor Who, all spoiled for me, thanks to social media. Cheers lads. Next round's on you. You know who you are. Unfortunately, this comes with the territory - more and more news is breaking through Facebook and Twitter by the day; I first heard of both the TDKR shooting and the Colorado shooting this week through twitter, and Lizo Mzimba (probably spelt that wrong, sorry) went top of the naughty list for me when he tweeted about Amy and Rory's exit from Doctor Who this year, even if he was only doing his job. That, I don't mind as much.
Facebook, however. Dear God do I hate Facebook in the big movie seasons (so summer and Christmas). Went to see TDKR on my birthday with the missus, as you do. Got spoiled from a friend the week before.
Thank-you. You git.
Sorry for the lack of posting - 2 days after my last post, my last year of uni started, so I got a little caught up in that and this fell by the wayside as a result. I realise I'm not the best at updating this sort of thing at the best of times, but obviously my uni work has to take presidence over these sorts of things. Sorry about that.
However, now that I have a free slot on the calendar right up til Christmas, I'm hoping to get a few posts up before the big day - I highly doubt there'll be much on Tuesday next week because me and my girlfriend are off to see The Hobbit, but there's almost certainly going to be something up over the weekend (I'm hoping England finish off the Indians in the cricket quick though, can't take much more 3am starts!)
As to what exactly, well, that's still a bit up in the air at the minute - got a few ideas but I need to get a butterfly net to actually sort it out properly (need to get the money to get a butterfly net...)
Speaking of, I'm pretty sure I'll be working part-time next semester, and I'm in 3 days a week next semester too, plus an even bigger workload (I'm guessing about 5 assignments to go with the 3 I'm carrying over from this semester, but I'm not too sure), so this blog will probably be a bit erratic until that's sorted, but it's not in any way forgotten!
THE WRITER'S ODYSSEY WILL RETURN...
(Small hint at what may possibly come up in forthcoming posts there...)
Writing a Story: Part 2 – Finding the Story
So, we have the inspiration – a film based around the idea of a snowball fight (because, as established last time, snowball fights are fun!)
Now comes the part where things start getting tricky, because, let’s face it, you can’t really make a film about snowball fighting. You just can’t. Snowball fights are fun, they are not inherently dramatic. They can be funny as hell (particularly if your bastard of an ex-housemate runs into a fence and quite literally flips 180 degrees when you’re in the middle of one) but, for writing a screenplay, they are not the best subject. There’s no real stakes that come to mind with them – you get very, very wet by home time and have a shedload of stories to tell at school the next day, but other than that, but there’s no real risk or reward with them.
So I created the Snowball World Championship.
Stakes? Hell yes! Win, you’re the Snowball World Champion! Lose, you’re not. Drama... bit trickier. I mean, no-one can die in a snowball fight. Snowballs can’t kill you, so that’s one of the biggest ways of getting drama into a script chucked straight out the airlock. So how do we get drama into a script like this? How do we make it difficult for our heroes? (‘Cause everyone likes making it difficult for heroes. Go watch any movie – Die Hard, Alien, any movie you like, and watch how hard they make it for the hero. Broken glass on the floor – no problem for John C McClaine – no, I don’t know if his middle name starts with a C, BUT WAIT! John C McClaine has no shoes or socks! Now broken glass is an utter, utter BITCH of a problem! Big bad alien killing your crewmates and making you piss yourself with fear? Problem! Blow up the ship – phew! You’ve escaped! OH BUGGER! THE EVIL BASTARD’S ESCAPED! Problem! Think, think, think – I know! Quick! Chuck him out the air lock!)
Well, to return to the original point, to make it difficult, we have reality. World Championships on the other side of the world (Montana, USA if I remember right) cost money. There’s the flights, the hotels, the uniforms (it’s a sports movie, you’ve gotta have uniforms!) So my heroes had to raise the cash for the trip. They were aided and abetted by a friendly newspaper owner, but it was still a nice little challenge for them to deal with.
As well as problems like finances, story comes from conflict. You want a good story? You have to have a great conflict. Avatar has a great conflict – the Earth army versus the peaceful Na’vi, and, even better, it has a secondary conflict related to that as well – Jake. Initially, Jake is a double agent, infiltrating the Na’vi to give General Quaritch intel on them, but then Jake finds himself conflicted between Quaritch and the Na’vi as he gets deeper in the cover, before he finally defects completely as Quaritch proves what an utter bastard he is by blowing the Hometree straight to Hell. This conflict is resolved on a big scale when the Na’vi win the battle against the army and boot humans off Pandora, and on a small scale when Jake abandons humanity and becomes Na’vi by transferring his essence from his human body to his Na’vi one.
Snowball, being a sports movie, already has a big-scale conflict inherent in its nature – the other teams that want to win the tournament. Specifically, in this case, it was the American team that took the antagonist role (now that would have been fun to pitch to Hollywood). But that only works for the tournament, what about for the scenes outside of the competition? Mighty Ducks (God, I’m showing my age, and, possibly, how sad I am) has a great personal conflict in the first movie – the Coach, Gordon Bombay, doesn’t want to coach the team! On top of that, he’s a failure! He failed at the level he’s coaching right now, playing for the team that takes the antagonist role in the film! Fantastic conflict, and that’s before you even bring in the team he’s coaching, a bunch of losers that are perennially rooted to the bottom of the league, playing in kit that’s not fit for the rink. Then, on top of that, Gordon’s training regime isn’t the most popular one on the block, and on top of that, Gordon exploits a rule change to bring in a player who is a, a lot better than everyone else on the team, and b, from the antagonists! And that’s only half of it! Great small-scale conflicts that add to the story, make things hard for the characters, and ultimately make it even better when they come through the penalty shootout and win the playoff final at the end of the film.
So, how to make conflict in Snowball? Tough question. As I mentioned earlier, snowballs don’t kill people, so I couldn’t kill a member of the team, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t kill another character, say the lead’s dad, who was fighting in Afghanistan. So I did. I made the lead as happy as I could by putting the team into the final, looking forward to it, having a fun time in Montana, and then I basically dropped a bomb the size of the Blitz on him. I killed his dad. From high point to low point, and vice versa, it’s a key point in writing, and one I’m going to elaborate on at some point (that list is getting longer...), and it’s brilliant. Now my hero is as low as he can get, driving himself mad with grief and it’s affecting the team. They got this far because they were friends, because they worked together, and now the hero, their leader, is letting that team fall apart from wanting to win the tournament. It’s hardly a disaster on a scale of the Titanic, but in terms of the story, it’s huge. Now my hero has to overcome his grief and pull himself and his team together, all in time for the big final against the home team in a day’s time (deadlines! Another topic for later!) Conflict! Drama! Fantastic!
And that’s your story. Conflict is drama and drama is story. Once you have that, the world is your sandbox. Now, go out there and find your story.
It's pretty much one of the first questions a writer is asked in an interview, and it's also one of the most asked ones:
Where do the ideas come from?
The answer is, I find, incredibly simple:
As long as you pay attention, there is absolutely no reason that you can't find a viable idea. Jim Butcher built his Codex Alera series around the idea of a lost Roman legion and Pokemon, for example. Neil Gaiman was inspired to write his The Graveyard Book while he watched a boy playing among the graves in one. JK Rowling was sat on a train when she came up with Harry Potter.
Inspiration, it comes from everywhere, and it comes from everything. And nine times in ten, you won't be expecting it. It'll just come to you when you're doing something completely unrelated. I mentioned my Snowball script a while back, I came up with that idea while I was walking past a pub one winter's day, just before Christmas. I actually remember asking myself: "Has anyone ever tried building a film around a snowball fight? No? Well then, let's try that out." And yes, it was gimmicky and a little bit daft, but it worked. I've read so many scripts that just felt... off. They just didn't click, didn't make me want to spend the twenty quid it takes to go to the cinema these days, you know what I mean? I didn't feel that with Snowball. I knew it wasn't ever going to be a billion dollar mega hit like we seem to get a lot more these days, but I thought it'd be something that people would watch, something fun, a bit funny, you know, a nice family movie. Some nice, cool visuals for the kids, a heartwarming story executives love, easy.
So, that was the inspiration. I wanted to do a film about snowball fights. And next time, I'll tell you all about how I made a story out of that.
Sorry for the lack of posting lately, it's been a rough few weeks. And that's why I just wanted to post this video.
There's been times lately, and I'll freely admit that they do happen on occassion, but they've happened a lot more recently, that I've basically wanted to cut and run. Drop the whole writing thing and go do some other so-called "proper" job (thank-you Andy bloody Barnes... not...) because there was no way in Hell that this was gonna work.
And then I found this video. Wasn't looking for anything like it, I was just surfing the net at about midnight, as people that are a week away from turning 23 do, and I found this video.*
I'm not joking when I tell you that it's (probably) changed my whole writing.
I'm also not joking when I tell you it's definitely saved my entire writing career.
You don't have to be a writer of anything - novels, screenplays, songs (and I know a fair few of the last of those), to get this. It's not that sort of speech. It is, however, some of the best advice I'm probably ever going to put on here.
Now then, it's a week until my birthday... 168 hours until I'm 23. That's plenty of time to work with.
* In fact, I was just done watching some Minecraft vids on Youtube. There are some crazy loons on there, I can tell you...
Writing under Duress
Despite what the title implies, I’m not talking about a situation like King’s Misery (I’m told it’s good, must did that out of my room, actually) or Alan Wake (yeah, that went right over my head. Spent five minutes pissing ammo up the wall on the end before I worked out what to do!), but a more mundane form of writing when you just aren’t up for it.
You know the drill; deadline in five days and Mr Mountjoy upstairs decides to shit on your head from a very, very great height by tossing a cold your way. Every writer’s had it happen to them, and every writer’s had to deal with it (particularly if, like me, you’re on a writing-intensive course. Then you’re doubly screwed because you have a lot of deadlines all at once and you’re stressed out, working all hours of the night trying to just get the poxy stuff done. Not exactly the best condition to be incubating a cold).
So, you have a deadline looming over the horizon, which is coming at you faster than Sebastian Vettell charging down the main straight at Silverstone, and you have a cold. Now, in an ideal world, you’d go to bed with a nice hot cuppa of your favourite beverage (hot choccy, marshmallows, lots of whipped cream, ta. Sprinkles on top if you’ve got ‘em), wrapped up nice and warm under your duvet, and burn the bugger out.
In case it’s not come to your attention, this ain’t an ideal world, and the aforementioned Mr Mountjoy does rather like to make things a tad tricky. So, instead, you’ll be in your bed, laptop on, caffeine and sugar practically on a conveyor belt, trying to bash out enough words in a somewhere-near coherent manner to reach your word count and keep Bob the Editor and Fanny the Agent happy.
The reality of the situation is this: There are gonna be times when you want to pretty much shoot your laptop, your editor, your agent, and the numpty in the PR department who came up with this utter bollocks for a deadline anyway, along with yourself for coming up with the stupid poxy idea you’re currently flailing wildly at trying to knock for six when, realistically, you’re getting clean bowled.
Three little words of advice: Deal. With. It. By and large, you’re stuck with what you get – you may be able to get an extra week or two, if you’re very, very lucky and have an awesome track record, like George RR Martin or Jim Butcher, but until then, you’re pretty much boned, sorry.
Nobody said this lark was easy. If it were, then everyone’d be making 20pentabillion quid out of it like Rowling.
I speak of this subject now because I’m coming off a cold myself. It wasn’t fun, I can tell you that much. There are clothes I’m debating whether to stick on my next barbeque, they’re so covered in nose gunk, and I’ve still got a bit of a cough writing this, but fear not, I am on the mend and am ready to write once more! I’ve also had a remarkable situation to the one described above in the last year.
Christmas, 2011. I have nine assignments spread over four units, all due in for the last Friday of term or the Monday after that. It’s pretty much bottom of the ninth, and I’m on my second strike with a week to go. By this point, I’m thinking it’ll be a minor bloody miracle to get it all done.
And I get a cold.
Oh, joy, your blogger writes with as much sarcasm as he can possibly muster.
God knows how I did it, I certainly don’t, but it was done, and done well, if my grades are anything to go by. It wasn’t fun, it certainly wasn’t easy, and it’s not something I want to ever have to do again (but I probably will), but it got done, and that’s probably the best way to say it: Keep calm and keep at it. Don’t go and kill yourself over it, it’s not worth it, but do what you can. You’re not going to be physically capable of working more than maybe a few hours at a time a few hours a day, but that adds up. If you can get a thousand words a session and have two sessions a day for five days, that’s ten thousand words (and, incidentally, if I remember right, that’s about an eighth of a novel by most standard word counts). Eight times five is 40. That’s just over a month... Actually, that’s not a bad schedule to keep if you’re healthy... Anyway, keep that sort of schedule up and you’ll have yourself a novel in about a month. Not bad for someone who’s sick as a parrot, eh?
OK, it’s not as catchy as TARDIS, but time and space are key concepts to writing. If you’re in the wrong space, physically and mentally, you won’t be able to write to your full potential. You also have to consider time management for your writing – as I discussed in my last post, you can’t rush your writing, but at the same time, if nothing’s happening, if, for whatever reason, the juices just aren’t flowing, then there’s no point in trying to write something; you’re just wasting time you could probably spend on other pursuits.
So, space; what do I mean? I mean a place you can go to, any place will do, where you feel comfortable, and you feel that you can work; JK Rowling’s place in her early years writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was a cafe in my hometown, for example.
My space is in my house. In fact, I can work pretty much anywhere there; I’m writing this in my living room, but I can also work in my bedroom, and last Christmas I made good use of what is now the spare room but was the lounge (long story) to get my work done.
Having the place is good, but only you can make it perfect. You have to tailor your place to your taste and needs. You need to make sure you have the right tools for your job at hand. You need to ensure that as little as possible is going to distract you from the task of writing. Obviously, in this day and age that’s a lot harder, but here’s some basic, often common sense, tips:
Close your door. Seriously, you have no idea just how helpful a door is in helping you concentrate. You need to use your space to work, so as far as you’re concerned, once that door is shut, you have left any concerns or thoughts that don’t directly pertain to the work at the door. The door can be one of your greatest friends as a burgeoning writer.
Social Networking. Writing time is not the time to use going on Facebook, or Twitter, or Youtube. Writing time is time that can’t be wasted, so before you start writing go to your web browser and close down any and all tabs related to social networking, or anything like that – it all has to go, or before you know it your entire evening will have been wasted. I have nothing against having the internet open – heck, I recommend it, it’s a great tool for research, particularly for the writer who doesn’t have the money or contacts to do first-hand research, but when push comes to shove and it’s time to knuckle down and write, that’s all it is; a research tool. That’s all you need it to be, anything else is just a waste.
Televisions and games consoles. Now, here’s a funny anecdote; at the end of my last semester, I had yet another boat load of work to do. At the same time, I had deliveries arriving from Amazon; the Game of Thrones series one boxset and Mass Effect 3. As potential distractions go, they were pretty big ones. But I still managed to get my work done, even though I got a bug a week before deadline. See, here’s where most writers fail: Basic discipline. If you can’t discipline yourself, as I mentioned in my last post, you will fail. Yes, I really wanted to play Mass Effect and watch Game of Thrones, but I knew I had work to do, so I held off. It was hard, oh God was it hard, but I did it, and boy was I happy about it. So, instead of resenting your nice new DVD, blu-ray, or computer game or what have you, I suggest this:
Use the reward system. I picked this up from, oddly enough, my parents and how they train all of their dogs. They work on the theory of “dog does good thing, dog gets treat; dog do bad thing, dog is ignored until he does good thing” (I’m paraphrasing and that probably sounds a lot harsher than it is). I work a similar theory; I set myself a target, and if I reach that target, I get a treat. For example, most essays are around 1500-2000 words. So I set myself a target of 500 words for that essay a day; the essay is done in three days, and I get three treats. The treats can be anything; a session on your new game, a disk of your latest TV series, but usually mine are cans of Coke. As an example, at Christmas when I had those ridiculous deadlines and workloads, I got through some 16 cans of Coke in a ridiculously short amount of time. In fact, I remember one particularly trying day when I nipped up to the shops to get a four-pack of Coke, and within a few hours, I had to go up to the shops again to buy another three four-packs.
I’m horrendous with Coke. I can easily down a two-litre bottle in no time at all, and I use it both as a reward and as an anti-stress agent, so most of those Coke cans I bought at Christmas were most definitely anti-stress cans more than rewards, but the theory works. You just need to find the right reward/incentive combination for you.
Now, here’s a bit of a stickler; music or other background noise. Personally, I have Tinitus, usually in my left ear but sometimes in both, and it drives me crackers, so I need music or other BGN to be able to do most things (brought about, I suspect, from several years of going everywhere with my iPod with the volume turned up to as close to maximum as I could stand), but I know that some writers don’t like it. As with most things in the world of a writer, it’s a personal choice. You can use it, or you can not use it, but let’s be fair here, just about the only people that are going to know if you use music or not are you, your housemates or family, and your neighbours, so it’s not exactly a world-breaking decision.
And now for time. The time to write depends from person to person – I’ve pulled all-nighters working on assignments and other projects, but I would hardly say that I’m a night owl; on those occasions I either had to do it then because there was no further opportunity to do it, or I had such a good idea that I really latched on to it and ended up working all night on it without realising. As a general rule, I never plan to pull an all-nighter; I’m not good at them, at least, not as good as I was. It may work for you, it may not, but, realistically speaking, you’re going to be writing while also working, so I’d caution against the all-nighter approach if you have to work the next day.
So how do you find time to write? Well, I believe that doers are rewarded more than do-nots, so I’d say write whenever you can. On your breaks at work, while you’re watching TV, or while you’re in bed waiting to go to sleep. Doesn’t have to be much, a few hundred words, and it doesn’t have to make much sense – I got through 300 pages of a novel once before I realised that precisely none of it made any sense what so ever while I was doing my GCSEs, as long as you’re writing. You can write for an hour, five minutes, or even just a little scrawled note in a notepad (which is a vital investment for any writer, unless you have an eidetic memory and can remember every idea you’ve ever come up with), just make sure you write. Any writing will do, it’s all experience, it all builds up, and it won’t be long before you begin to recognise the bad ideas from the good ones, or when you need to take a step back and rethink or retool an idea (trust me, you don’t want to do what I did with that 300 page thing, that was weeks and months of work wasted).
I find that a routine works – when you can keep to it (which I can’t. I started writing this article 3 bloody days ago, for God’s sake!) If you can get a routine going and find some time to write within that routine – like I said, it doesn’t have to be a lot, just an hour a day, like revision; little and often is better than lots of words written over three sessions in three months, then the work builds up and it won’t be long before you have your first draft. An hour a day equates to somewhere between 28 and 31 hours a month. Four months, and that’s something like 100 hours. Four months of an hour’s writing a day, and you will probably have something decent to show for it.
So there you are, readers; if you can find the right place for you, and the proper amount of time to dedicate to your work, you could be a writer too.
Right, now you’ve decided what program you’re going to use to write your screenplay, you might want to think about what your screenplay will be about. There are loads of methods out there – a friend of mine uses post-it notes on a cork board, for example, but I prefer to sit on the laptop for a while and knock up the wonderful document known as a TREATMENT.
“What’s this?” you ask, “I’ve never heard of a treatment before”. Well, in the simplest terms, it’s the entire story of a film (book versions of treatments are generally called “synopses”). It gives the characters, and the situations they find themselves in within the story.
Technically speaking, there are two types of treatment, the draft, which is typically longer (a lot longer at that), goes into great detail about the characters, most of which won’t be immediately seen on-screen, and generally isn’t seen by anyone except the writer, while the presentation treatment is traditionally shorter, describing the story in broad strokes and only telling that which is necessary to tell the story. “Why is that?” say you, well, simply put, producers HATE sitting at their desks reading page after page of treatments for hours on end – for one thing, they really don’t have the time. So writers give them the short version, the one that they can scan in five minutes and decide whether to pursue it or not in another minute on top (assuming the producer hasn’t chucked your idea into his shredder after reading your opening page, of course).
I said that this is my journey, so I’m going to tell you about my experience with treatments. It’s a simple, one-sentence story, and that story is that I didn’t until very recently do them.
Seriously. The first treatment I ever wrote was one called “The World Snowball Fight Championships”. I had my characters, I had my story, I had my three acts (more on that in another post), I even had my front ten (I will write a post on that at some point) in mind when I was writing it. It was written about the same time as I started this blog, actually, and it covered everything. I ended up using it in a screenwriting assignment in my first year – I had to analyse it and describe how I imagined it being filmed, or something like that, I don’t remember precisely. It got me a first in that assignment, and saved me having to re-sit the whole unit.
Of course, then I lost the thing when I got hit with technical difficulties, like my HDD dying on its backside at Christmas and then my laptop following the HDD a few months later. I haven’t even tried to rewrite that project, and I’m not even sure I want to. I’m not entirely sure why – the premise was a bit wacky, yes, but that’s what made it unique; no-one (as far as I know) has written a film revolving around a series of snowball fights, and it was grounded by the characters and the situation. Speaking purely from a writing perspective, there was nothing wrong with the thing, and I can still remember nearly everything that happened in it, but I’m reluctant to resurrect the project. For now, I’m perfectly willing to let it lie in peace, but I might nip by that grave with a shovel at some point in the future.
I didn’t write treatments for a while after that – I got caught up in other things like college and the ilk, didn’t really have time to write (and that’s another subject I’m going to discuss in a separate piece), but then I got my screenwriting assignment for my second year screenwriting unit, and found myself being forced to write a pair of treatments for potential projects.
Now, I realise that this is a long piece, so at this time I’m going to give you the single biggest piece of advice regarding writing now:
DO NOT RUSH YOUR WRITING.
I got complacent with this assignment and spent a lot of time writing one treatment, neglecting the other one to the point where I had to change my idea several times just to try and get something down for the second one. My second idea was OK, but because I rushed it just to make the deadline, it was by no stretch of the imagination as good as it could, and deserved, to be. When it comes to writing, any kind of writing, from essays to short fiction to novels and screenplays and poems, any kind of writing, you need to be willing to put the effort in to make them as good as they can be if you want anything out of it.
It’s a common thought that academic essays rushed out by students strung up on Red Bull five hours before the deadline are worse than one that was properly researched and developed over a period of weeks and months. As a student, there is little else that annoys me more than someone saying that they deserved a better grade on an essay because they stayed up all night and missed their favourite show to knock out that essay in one night.
A hint, to those that do this: You deserve what you’re given. If you’re given a fail grade, you deserve a fail, and you know why? Because you didn’t put the effort in. You thought that you could slap some heap of steaming monkey turd together and pass that off as an essay. You rushed it, and you got your due reward for it. If you want a better grade, put more time into the work – we live in an age never seen before, filled to the brim with technology. You have every opportunity to watch Desperate Housewives or X Factor or whatever, at a later date. It is non-essential to your way of life that you sit and watch another Muppet cry his or her eyes out on national TV for the umpteenth time.
Your future depends on your work at university, not on the latest allegedly fit fad fresh off the box. If you can’t put in the effort to get a good grade at university, you might as well stop writing now, because you won’t make it as a writer. I can categorically say that right now. You will fail. You can’t do things like that in the real world – you write half-hearted cack dreamt up at stupid o’clock in the morning while you’re in no fit state to think about writing, then you won’t get an agent, because the agents know that they can’t sell that rubbish, and if you can’t get an agent, then you won’t get a publisher. You just won’t.
The amount of publishers that take un-agented material can be counted on the fingers of one hand. And even if you do somehow get an agent, and a publisher, you won’t make money out of it. The inner workings of the writing industry (how many topics that I will post about later is that now?) mean that the writer makes very little money unless he or she is a JK Rowling or a Stephen King. They’re the ones getting the million pound advances. You, a little, let’s say early-twenties writer with no previous credits and no previous history, will be lucky to get five grand, and you’re probably looking at something like one or two thousand realistically.
Even after you get your agent, your publisher, and your advance, you can’t do another thing I see a lot at university: make excuses. You can’t go to your publisher and say “sorry I missed the deadline, I had a cold” or what have you, because then you’re right up the famous creek with no canoe, and by the time the publisher’s done with you (and they will be, because they’ll refuse to do any business with you in the future), you will be sans canoe as well, because they’ll demand the return of their advance, which, in all likelihood, will have been spent by the time the publishers want it back.
Now, to return to the original topic, I have no idea how well I’ve done with those treatments. I don’t have the grades back for my last semester yet, they’re not due for another week or three I think, but I do have my grades back for my first semester.
I have to say, I was surprised. Why? Well, again, I didn’t give each assignment (I had nine separate assignments due either on the Friday of the penultimate week of term, or the Monday after, which is a complete pain in the rear at the best of times, but at Christmas? Yeah), the attention they all deserved, or at least I personally feel that way.
Evidently my lecturers disagree, because I got straight 2:1s for that semester. Four units, all 2:1 quality. I don’t know how. Which, handily, leads me into my next thing you need to be a good writer:
You have no idea what a good bit of luck can do for a writer. Look at JK Rowling. She spent nearly all her time writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in cafes, absolutely penniless and looking after a young daughter. She finished the book, sent it out, and was on the verge of giving up a dream she’d had since the age of six when she found an agent. Then she nearly gave up again when a publisher was hard to come by, until Bloomsbury came in and took it. Cut to some four or five years later, the first of 8 films that together became a multi-billion dollar franchise was released, and before long, Rowling was one of the richest people on the planet.
That’s the sort of luck that comes round to one in a billion people, so don’t expect it to happen to you because it probably won’t, but never underestimate Lady Luck. Also, do you know what impresses the Lady most? The one thing that makes her want to help out a writer most of all? Those people that show that they deserve her help. The JK Rowlings, that never stopped believing that they could make it, the Stephen Kings, who took every rejection letter (which you will get a lot of) and stuck them on a spike to spur him on. The ones that are determined, the ones that show they care about their work.
Another tip about luck? Don’t question it. One of my journalism pieces should have failed thanks to me not meeting the criteria - I didn’t question it, I just accepted it, and I got a 2:1 for it. Take everything you can get, because you won’t get much given in this job.
But the one thing you cannot forget in anything you want in life, from writing to beyond? NEVER GIVE UP.
This post finished in a rather different place to where it began, but I hope you all take something from it anyway. Thanks for reading.
TWO YEARS?! Three years, I don't call, I don't write, I can't even drop a Facebook Message by.
I know, I know, I really kinda forgot about this - sorry! Really sorry! Sorry with cherries and chocolate chips and hundreds and thousands and ice cream and whipped cream on top!
Here's what happened: This blog was created on a whim on New Years' Eve in my final year at college. I then forgot about it, aided and abetted by a LOT of college work and sorting things out for university, and, long story short, it's now the summer between my second and third year, and now I should have time over the summer at least to get this going properly.
My sincire apologies.
So, to the big question - where the Hell have I been for TWO YEARS? Well, university, mostly. I'm doing a creative writing course at a uni in London. It's been... interesting. Fun, yes, definitely that, as well as insightful into the world of writing. I've done units in everything from short stories to genre fiction, screenwriting, business purposes (never again) and even poetry! (It wasn't pretty).
But the good news is, I'm back, and I'm ready to write, so stay with me as we embark upon the Writer's Odyssey!
But what do you use to write it with? Word - Word of advice: DON'T. Seriously. Just don't even think about it.
But what then, it's not like screenwriting software's easily availible on the market, right?
Well, maybe not.
A quick search of the ever reliable site Wikipedia (well, as long as it's referenced. If it's not referenced my advice is to steer well clear) gives us the following:
Movie Magic Screenwriter
Page 2 Stage
and last but not least, Adobe Story
So it's not like you're dredging the barrel looking for something to write with. But what makes each of these applications unique? Why should you use That software to write your screenplay over This piece of software? Let's find out.
FINAL DRAFT In all the universities I scoured looking for courses to do next year, which software came up as the one they use to teach how to write screenplays? Yep, you guessed it, Final Draft.
Now in it's eighth iteration, the software holds the honour of being the only software that allows you to register your script with the Writer's Guild of America, West online (we won't talk about the Guild just yet though, I'll end up boring your face off). Another handy feature it has is script templates for over fifty (yes, 5-0) different movie and television templates, which can be pretty handy I'm sure.
Final Draft can be used by both Macs and PCs, so no worries about incompatibility there, unless you're on Linux, and only takes up 35-50megabytes on the system, so it won't slow you down much or at all.
Final Draft also uses timecutting techniques like keystrokes to easily format scripts and uses autorecognition to save you having to write out scene locations and character names over and over again.
However, Final Draft does cost money - £165.99 to be precise. Yeah. If you just cringed, join the club.
But what do the pros say about Final Draft? Well, J.J. Abrams (I'm sure I don't nead to put a few of his works up but I will anyway; Star Trek, Lost, Alias, Mission: Impossible III...) says:
"Even if you don't have a computer, I recommend buying final Draft."
James Cameron? (Terminator, Avatar, Aliens, et cetera)
"You can't win a race without a champion car. Final Draft is my Ferrarri."
Guillermo del Toro? (Hellyboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Pan's Labyrinth)
"If one could marry a program-or even elope with one- I would choose Final Draft. After all it has been a wise, patient and loyal writing partner that has been by my side for almost fifteen years.”
The list is long and prosperous - all those quotes are on the Final Draft Website.
My conclusion? Great bit of kit (I've downloaded the demo of an older edition before - blew my mind away). Bit expensive for a rookie though (particularly one who hasn't done an honest day's work in pretty much ever).
Well, if price is the issue, I can solve that one right here - Celtx (pronounced Kelt-ex, by the way) is a freeware programme. But what's that? You ask. A lot of gobbledegook you really don't have to worry about, but what maters is - IT'S FREE! Yep, you got it, no catches, no payments six months down the line, nothing like that, just go to the website, download the programme, install it, and away you go!
I use this programme myself and I can tell you now - It. Kicks. Some. SERIOUS. Backside. Really. I've been using it, maybe 2-3 years now, never had a thing go wrong with it. Granted, you need to be online to save PDF versions of your scripts, but that's only a biggie if your internet connection's on the blink, so I'll let it off.
The programme can be used on both Macs and PCs.
Unfortunately, I've been unable to find any quotes on the programme from people in the industry, I suspect that's because they've actually got the money to go out and buy stuff like Final Draft.
My conclusion? The perfect software for the budding writer.
I know I listed loads up topside of this article, but I'm not gonna talk about them all (I'm gonna let you have a look for yourselves), so we'll be going over to
MOVIE MAGIC SCREENWRITER
This is the Other piece of professionally used kit, and has been used to write things like the Pirates of the Carribean series, 24, CSI, House, Shrek, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Heroes and Stargate Atlantis, so one assumes it must be able to both walk and talk.
The programme is in it's sixth iteration, and is another one that costs, I'm afraid, £162.74, to be precise - another cringe there.
Here's what the pros have to say on the subject:
" I’ve tried most of the competing programs, and found Movie Magic Screenwriter to be far and away the best and most intuitive of the bunch. It’s straightforward enough that a new user can start writing perfectly formatted screenplays within moments of installing it. And it has powerful outlining and production features for those who need them. A perfect program, I will not write without it. "
-- Evan Katz Exec Producer, " 24 " and " JAG "
"Writing for "24" is hard enough. Thank God we've got Movie Magic Screenwriter 6 that let's us get our ideas down with maximum ease. "
-- Manny Coto Executive Producer, " 24 ", " Enterprise " and " The Outer Limits "
"I've used Movie Magic Screenwriter for many years. Nothing is as simple, powerful, intuitive and versatile. And the support is outstanding."
-- Paul Haggis, Writer, Director, Casino Royale, Letters from Iwo Jima, Flags of Our Fathers, Crash (Best Picture & Best Original Screenplay 2005), Million Dollar Baby (Best Picture 2004)
"Movie Magic Screenwriter is the gold standard throughout the Hollywood studio system.... Superior program for addressing the challenges of production rewrites. There is no better screenwriting software on the market."
-- Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio, Writers, Pirates of the Caribbean 1, 2, & 3, Shrek, Aladdin, Mask of Zorro
"I was the typewriter machine kind of guy and for several years I refused to switch to a computer. I thought it was going to be difficult and messy. But lot of friends finally convinced me. I bought my computer and: it was impossible to write a decent screenplay. I was always fighting the keyboard, with bad results, until someone recommended Movie Magic Screenwriter to me. Bingo! Suddenly everything became easy and professional and clean and...perfect. Movie Magic Screenwriter allowed me to concentrate on my writing, not on the keyboard. Now, all of my friends have switched to Movie Magic Screenwriter and we are very, very happy with it."
Guillermo Arriaga, Writer, Babel, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, 21 Grams, Amores Perros
"Movie Magic Screenwriter is the most intuitive and flexible screenwriting software on the market today."
Michael Goldenberg, Writer/ Director, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Contact, Bed Of Roses
"If you're a filmmaker or a screenwriter and you're not infusing Movie Magic Screenwriter 6 into your work; you are spending an abundance of energy without any creative payoff. This software is hands down one of the most powerful production tools we've evaluated. And the good news? It's incredibly user-friendly and far easier to use and navigate than a number of programs on the market. Screenwriter 6.0 includes a new outlining feature that it is fully customizable. So no matter what story Paradigm you use; Dramatica, Three Act Paradigm, Hero’s Journey, etc., you can outline that way in Screenwriter. Movie Magic Screenwriter 6 is more than just a sound investment; it's an extraordinary tool for writers and those of us who merely "dabble" in our own personal projects". John Mundazio, UPBEAT Entertainment News Syndicate (NOTE: MMS also won the Editor's Choice Award from this publication).
Finally, I'm going to comment on a screenwriting programme that's not even out yet -
It's currently in beta stages at the moment, so details aren't all that clear, but if their past record's anything to go on, you can bet horses to courses that this'll be a major player in time. One to keep an eye out for I think.
So there you go - if you do have cash, go for Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter. If you don't, Celtx all the way. Don't worry, no-one's gonna mark you down for writing the thing on something that's not as well known as the others, there's nothing that says "ALL SCREENPLAYS MUST BE WRITTEN WITH THIS PROGRAMME!!!" so don't fret.
I'd say go out, get the programme of your choice and start writing, but before I do, I highly recommend you wait for the