Tips for Screenwriters from a Professional Story Analyst – Coverfly

Tips for Screenwriters from a Professional Story Analyst – Coverfly
— Read on

Great pointers from story analyst , Micah Goldman.

‘Your voice is the soul of the screenplay.’

So what is your voice and how can you show that on the screen or the page?

To Be A Great Writer, Be A Cook.

Photo by Michael Wave on Unsplash

Ingredients, Flavour, and Cooking – Words, Structure, and Writing.

In The Script Lab‘s interview with Scott Neustadter (500 Days of Summer), one of the pieces of advice he gives is that writers should learn to ‘be a cook’.

His point is that, particularly in screenwriting, there is always going to be collaboration. You need to learn to work with others to produce the best script you can.

In any professional kitchen there are any number of ‘cooks’ and together they produce the finished plate of food which you eat.

In combining your expertise with that of others you make your writing/script better – the best that you can make it.

You learn new techniques. You try different combinations of ingredients. You taste different flavourings.

You experiment and refine.

There is a tv show in the UK called Masterchef. There is an amateur, professional, and celebrity version, but they all follow the same format – everybody cooks and some go through and others don’t. Not all of the prettiest food goes through, but the food which has the best taste and shows the better technique is chosen.

As the rounds progress, the remaining cooks are given the opportunity to work in real restaurants. They learn from some of the greatest cooks in the world. They listen to feedback from the best food and restaurant writers.

Towards the final places, the cooks are expected to show their understanding of new techniques and new flavours. They are now being judged on what they have learnt as well as how great the food looks and tastes.

I get Scott Neustadter’s point.

I also get that my ability to produce the finest beans on toast wouldn’t get me very far in Masterchef.

I also get that in making that comparison my writing might not match up to my beans on toast!

So how do we be better cooks/writers?

To be a great cook you need to understand your ingredients, flavour combinations, presentation, recipes. You need to experiment and practice. One contestant in Masterchef was asked how confident they were feeling about their food and they replied that the seventeen times they had cooked it that week had all gone well!

As writers we have to understand words and how they combine with others. We need to understand the structure which binds the words together. We need to know the recipes – the greatest books in our genre or story type – and how we can tweak here and there to produce something as equal or better.

We need to practise over and over again.

That might even be at a sentence or paragraph level.

Experiment. Learn from other writers.

Try styles of writing you have never done before. Look at how they use their ingredients to produce the final dish.

What can you take and use in your own writing?

Write and experiment. Write and refine. Write and practise until you get it how you want it.

Create those amazing new plates of food.

Day 467 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.2.

So yesterday I suggested that relatives could take inspiration/lessons from sports and hopefully I will convince you today.

Bill Belichick is the most successful NFL coach ever because:

  • He stays focused on the overall goal and works hard to achieve it
  • He never goes through the motions and always trains with purpose
  • He makes sure that he puts the right players on the pitch at the right time
  • He doesn’t panic if things don’t seem to be working early on in the season and understands the importance of late on in the game and the season
  • He doesn’t waste time talking about the game

So how does this translate into being creative?

Be really clear about what you are trying to achieve.

Belichick knows the season is about winning the Super Bowl and so is the pre-season and the post-season. If you want to write a novel then that is the goal, nothing else. Prepare. Execute. Analyse to make next year’s performance better. It is hard work so put in the hours. Be focused and cut out distractions. Commit and achieve.

Practise with purpose and put what you learn into action.

A very underestimated part of what Belichick does is the practice field. The Patriots train with crowd noise. They train with old and scuffed up balls, removing as much of the grip as they can. They try to recreate conditions similar to the ones they will play in. All practice is purposeful.

It can be hard if you are time pressed for your creative pursuit but you need to practice. If you are a writer then try and find an extra couple of hundred words which are based on what you are writing, or will write in the next chapter. It might be character descriptions, or scene setting, or dialogue. If you are an artist you might need to experiment with colour, or sketch certain body parts, or try different techniques for applying the paint.

Use the creativity you need for that particular moment.

Don’t get distracted or show off. Use the skills to produce the elements you need to make that particular chapter, or picture, or composition, exactly as you need it. Be prepared and execute. If the scene is your chapter is heavy on dialogue, then make sure you have been practicing that element. Listen to good movies or tv, listen to or read good scenes from books and plays.

Don’t Panic!

Sometimes, particularly in the early stages, things might not go quite the way you had planned. It happens. Work out why and fix the issue. Sometimes there might not be a specific problem, you just didn’t execute well enough, so make sure you do the next time. Keep pressing on and know everything will come together late on in the season when it really matters. You may have zigged when you wanted to zag but keep the process going and remain focused on the end result.

Don’t waste time and energy.

Monosyllabic answers and repetitive phrases at press conferences are communicating that this isn’t where we win championships and Super Bowls.

As creatives we have platforms which can really boost the audience for our creativity in ways which no other writers/artists have had before, but it can also be a massive distraction. Social Media is the press conference. Learn from Bill. Don’t waste your energy and know it is taking time away from your main job. It is necessary, which why even he does them, but his conduct tells you that he knows what is important. The end result.

So Create Like Bill! And I hope to see you all in the Hall of Fame! (But don’t be surprised if Bill doesn’t speak with us!)

Day 426 – Distracted.

A study, led by Harvard, claims that an average ‘knowledge’ worker works in a state of distraction for 47% of their time.

Flip this around. By being more focused they could accomplish the same amount of work in half the time. Or potentially double their output.

How effectively can you focus?

Any habits or disciplines which impact that 47% will result in a significant improvement.

Log/record what you do in the time you devote to your creative endeavours.

Review it and do what you can to delete the clear distractions.

(The distraction of keeping the log doesn’t count!).

Day 410 – Schedule.

There is a difference between an amateur and a professional in any endeavour.

Money isn’t the differentiating factor anymore. Both get paid; although you would expect the latter to receive more.

The professional is clear in what their job is. They have to meet specific expectations and everything else in their life works around those expectations and commitments.

The amateur has to fit those expectations and commitments around their actual day job. These are their add-ons.

With creatives, those add-ons can end up sacrificed to the circumstances of life and work.

So how do you solve this tension between probably being an amateur but wishing you were a professional.

The secret sauce is scheduling.

Any successful leader or entrepreneur will tell you that they live by what’s on their calendar. If it isn’t on the calendar then it doesn’t exist. Meetings, golf, family time, it is all in the diary.

If you are serious about your art and you want to make it into the professional leagues, then act like a professional.

You might only be brave enough to write up on the family planner for a twenty minute slot – but that’s fine.

7pm-7:20pm – In the Writing Cave – I can write with this pencil or use it as a prod/Painter armed and ready to paint the canvas or you!/Musician with Noise Cancelling Headphones – I can’t hear you even if you scream.

Scheduling also tells everyone else you are being serious about your art.

It also holds you accountable.

You’ve got twenty minutes – GO! – you don’t have time to waste.

You are a professional now, so act like it.

A Season With Wigan Warriors – Pre-Season Thoughts.

For me, pre-season began viewing some of the videos put up on Wigan TV showing the team building trips with the Red Bull team and up to Newcastle. Every team looks to shake up what they do before the start of the season and I am certainly not knocking what they did. I’m just not sure the ‘sense of team’ was particularly a problem during the previous season.

Wigan have always seemed to embody their ‘Ancient and Loyal’ motto more than most other clubs. They bring through plenty of their home-grown players and there is no doubt that the club, and the fans, expect that the team will be challenging for all of the top honours in the game every year. There is continuity from the younger age grades through into the senior team and this does allow players to step up into the Super League team when necessary with positive outcomes.

Perhaps herein lies one of Wigan’s biggest problems, however. There is a consistency of style and play, but this means a consistency of tactics which allows the opposition to prepare more easily for the games. They are unlikely to encounter anything out of the ordinary. They just need to be able to front up to it. Injury crisis aside, the opposition teams certainly seemed more able to front up to the Wigan systems in the 2017 season.

A longtime criticism of mine towards the coaching staff has been the consistency of attacking tactics. Michael Maguire introduced, successfully, the attack an edge and then sweep left-right (or right-left) block-plays across the pitch towards the opposite corner and Shaun Wane has continued with it. There seems to be a belief that the system is infallible if the players execute it correctly and that clearly isn’t true.

What makes this system of attack more likely to succeed is the ability of the attacking players to read the defensive shifts and alter the pass to the lead runner rather than the trailing, or blocked, runner. The problem with the block play system is that it becomes over trained and the players stop reading what is in front of them. I’ve seen it for years in Rugby Union sides which ‘drill’ set moves far too frequently.

This is also the reason why I was hoping that Wigan would sign a new half-back who  might bring a little more individuality to proceedings on the pitch and cause defences to have to adjust much more frequently on the fly. Instead, we now have the combination of Williams/Powell/Tomkins who are all indoctrinated in the same attacking system.

(Jumping ahead to the South Sydney game – you could see how easy it was to stop the sweeping block-play system more times than not.)

According to Skipper O’Loughlin, there has been a thorough review of last season focusing on what went wrong and why, but no clues as to the solutions. For me, injuries clearly impacted upon the season, as it did for some other teams. There’s not much you can do about that. Even when the team was stronger, and when it wasn’t, the main problem seemed to be the overall tactics. Each team seemed subjected to the same Wigan tactics, it was very difficult to see that there were different tactics being applied to work on the weaknesses of whoever we were playing.

I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record now – I will try to get off the whole ‘we employ such appalling attacking tactics’ hobby-horse, but I have a strong feeling that Wigan’s attacking performance each week might be my undoing.

There certainly doesn’t seem to be specific tactics being played to pick apart weaknesses of other teams. Hopefully the contribution of Charlie Hodgson with the kicking indicates a stronger kicking game which will help.

The Wigan TV interview with Shaun Wane, previewing the Salford game, was pretty much what you expect – we’re disappointed we didn’t win the lot last year, the boys have worked really hard, we want the two points.

Watching first ten minutes of the friendly against Leigh, however, seemed to signal that not a great deal seems to have changed. The same system, the same results – hit and miss. The biggest worry is after a couple of penalties and being down on the Leigh 10m line, there was a discussion about what to do! Surely, the game plan preparation should have sorted this?

Perhaps my lack of professional experience means I am missing the reasons why scenarios for which side to attack, and how to do it, in the 20m/10m zones, working out which defenders are slow, early or late in the match, line speed, etc., didn’t seem to be there?

There are snippets of interviews which seem to indicate that match analysis is done, but there isn’t much point in doing it if it doesn’t cause a shift in tactics! Or perhaps it does and I can’t tell?

Either way, I think this could be a long season again, but not for the right reasons.

Work On Your Weaknesses.

When people go to a gym they generally use the weights or equipment that they are most competent with.

They use the running machine because that’s comfortable for them.

They lift the weights which they can do the most reps with, or move the heaviest weight.

Writers are no different.

We turn up and immediately head for the areas we are most familiar with, the most comfortable, those areas we find the easiest to produce in.

A gym is a training place. It isn’t the actual place where you do the physical activity.

The gym is where you train your body to be the strongest it can be to do the activity you want to do.

Writers need to produce. That is the activity.

The training is where you sweat and heave and gasp. Where you condition yourself to meet the challenge of the activity.

When you train, when you practice writing, you shouldn’t be heading for the areas you can do easily or look the best doing.

When you practice, you should train the weak areas first.

Maybe you need to work on dialogue, or location description, or plotting.

Whatever it is, work on your weaknesses first.