Tag Archives: writing

Time To Write

We all lead busy lives and feel the pressure to cram every waking moment with useful activity. But sometimes, to really think deeply about our writing, what we most need is time without distractions.

We’ve all become adept at multi-tasking, but when we cram every hour with multiple tasks we can tick off our ‘to-do’ list, we’re not multi-tasking at all, we’re simply snatching tiny bits of time for each task.

nature - blue sky with cloud

Fitting your writing around a day-job is a challenge faced by almost all screenwriters in their early days. And while having a routine and writing a little bit every day is crucial if you want to get two spec scripts completed every year, sometimes you need more than that. You need time away.

You might be able to use your annual holiday to focus on your writing, although family and friends might have other ideas! Or you might decide to really get away from it all and go on a screenwriting retreat.

Escaping from work, chores, family and friends will help you to reconnect with your writing, whether you’re exploring new ideas, struggling with a knotty story problem or trying to find your characters. Sometimes you need to give yourself the time and space to nurture yourself and your writing.

 

What Writers Can Learn from 4Screenwriting by Xandria Horton

One of the things that I love about Script Angel is its focus on opportunities for new writers, so the blog seemed an obvious place to summarise my recent experience as a Shadow Script Editor on Channel 4’s talent initiative 4Screenwriting – with some thoughts other writers can take from it.

4sw logoWhat is 4Screenwriting and why is it brilliant?

4Screenwriting is a broadcaster-affiliated talent scheme run by highly experienced script editor Philip Shelley, currently in its 4th year. For each year’s twelve selected writers, they are given six months to take an idea through two drafts of a commercial hour (46’) script, creating the first episode of a series or serial (ideally with Channel 4 in mind). The course also has a script editor training element; allowing shadow script editors a chance to develop their skills by working to industry-proven script editors.

The writers get a “sandbox” version of a script commission, with a small amount of funding, set deadlines and opportunities for notes from their script editor team at each stage – as close as you can get to a real script commission, without the production element.

Once the course is completed, writers can use their spec script as a calling card in the industry, creating a buzz with literary agents and production companies who are keen to be across talent coming through and hopefully resulting in meetings that further their careers. Success stories are numerous, most recently with alumni Anna Symon and Cat Jones, who have both gone on to write for primetime TV series.

So, with insights from me and my excellent fellow shadow script editors Carissa Hope Lynch, Harriet Davis and Joe Williams, I’ve pooled some tips writers can take from our 4Screenwriting experience:

Working with the professionals

The scheme introduces writers to the process of working with a script editor, which can be strange for writers used to working alone. It also introduces to writers the concept of the dreaded deadline!

What can you learn from this?: whilst you may have in place trusted feedback-givers, there’s really nothing like the impartial and constructive notes you will get from a good script editor or industry-proven consultant. In terms of meeting deadlines, it’s important that you make all and any writing deadlines you agree to. However, if something happens that is beyond your control, the best way to handle it is:

1/ to flag this as soon as possible to the appropriate person;

2/ tell them realistically what you can deliver and when; if one element is more urgent than the others, can you prioritise this and deliver within the original time frame?;

3/ agree a new deadline and move heaven and Earth to make it!

Network a.k.a. ‘it’s good to talk’

The scheme provides opportunities for writers to talk to others at similar points in their career, which can be greatly useful, both personally and professionally.

What can you learn from this?: Meet with your writer peers! Find or start a writer’s group on Meetup (they are all around the country) or attend events such as The London Screenwriter’s Festival or BAFTA Rocliffe and seek out friendly faces in the opportunities to mingle.

What’s in a TV idea?

Unsurprisingly, some ideas will only really reveal whether they will work in a series or serial format – if at all – after some exploration, so some writers had to use backup ideas or go back to the drawing board to find the right idea to progress to script stage.

What can you learn from this?: If you want to work in the industry, it’s essential you’re across British output; it’s as simple as that. Whilst it won’t ensure that every idea you come up with is a bona fide TV idea, you’ll get industry knowledge as to who is making what, and watching TV widely (UK, US, internationally) will develop your instincts on which stories intrinsically work in a TV format and which may be more suited to film or theatre. Even if it’s just the opening episode of every new series, it’s really useful to watch TV as broadly as you can.

Also, if you’re ever in a pitching situation (e.g. pitching to a producer for an episode commission on an existing series or pitching to a production company your own series ideas), however married you are to your favourite idea, it’s always useful to have a couple you’ve worked up a little as well in your back pocket, just in case you need them!

Writing to act breaks – a punctuation metaphor

For 4Screenwriting the brief was a script that would fit within a Channel 4 schedule, rather than a BBC full hour slot, so it was a new experience for many writers to write to ‘act breaks’.

What can you learn from this?: how this works this will vary depending on your story (and your broadcaster). However, we came up with a useful way of thinking about the shape of the story with act breaks:

If your story is a paragraph and each scene is a sentence, how you utilise punctuation is a great metaphor of writing to act breaks; ending those sentences before a break to ensure that the viewers’ interest is piqued. What’s the screenwriting equivalent of scene ending with a ‘?’, an ‘!’ or a ‘…’?

Many thanks again to the input from my fellow shadow script editors on this article; to the very brilliant and experienced script editor I worked to, Jamie Hewitt; to the three brilliant writers I was lucky to work with; and of course to Philip, for tirelessly working to make the course go as smoothly as it does each year. If you ever see him at a 4Screenwriting networking event, he won’t miss a moment to connect a writer to agents and production companies that might be useful to them. 4Screenwriting is a brilliant experience for writers and script editors coming through – long may it continue!

 

 

Investing In Your Screenwriting Career

We’ve all heard that it takes 10,000 of practice to become a virtuoso piano player or tennis champ. While the hours might be debatable there is little doubt about the principle behind it; to get better at something you have to actually do it, a LOT! Are you really investing enough of your time in your screenwriting to make the progress you want?

notepad and paperHere are some of the best ways to invest in yourself as a screenwriter:

1) Join A Writing Group (locally or online)

Pros: It’s probably free, you can use it to make commitments about how much writing you’ll do in between get-togethers and get your group to hold you to it, great for peer review of each other’s scripts.

Cons: You might be in a group of writers with less experience than you so might feel you’re not learning very much.

Tips: Be open to meeting new people.

2) Take A Class or Course

Pros: You can find courses running a few weekends or a year or more, it encourages you to make a time and financial commitment so you’re more likely to put the work in, good courses set homework which further encourages you to get the writing done.

Cons: Although many courses offer some feedback on what you’ve written, the time pressures on course leaders means the feedback can be very limited, teaching can be a bit generalised.

Tips: Figure out what you want to get out of the course and then find one that best suits your needs.

3) Go On A Writing Retreat

Pros: It forces you to invest a chunk of uninterrupted time you might struggle to achieve any other way, being in a different environment encourages new ways of thinking so you don’t keep repeating thought patterns, improving your chances of producing something new and different, chance to meet other writers.

Cons: It is essentially a holiday so it’s a relatively pricey way of getting quite a short chunk of writing time.

Tips: Decide what’s most important to you (location, retreat leader, feedback opportunities) and then research what’s out there.

4) Attend A Screenwriting ConferenceLondon Screenwriters’ Festival, Screenwriters World Conference (L.A or New York), Great American Pitch Fest

Pros: Most have great pitching opportunities, committing to it gives you a deadline to polish work you can pitch there, intensive, immersive, chance to meet lots of other writers and hear from industry experts.

Cons: Might feel a bit pricey for a few days, though LSF has a payment plan to spread the cost.

Tips: Commit early then plan a schedule to get work ready, building in time to get feedback on your scripts / pitches and rewrite accordingly before you go.

5) Get Professional Feedback On Your Script

Pros: Notes should inspire a constructive rewrite, screenwriting advice is tailored to you and your writing strengths and weaknesses.

Cons: Can be pricey and quality of feedback ranges enormously.

Tips: Get recommendations from fellow writers and check out the credentials of those offering feedback.

6) Find A Mentor / Coach

Pros: A good mentor will give you personalised script feedback on a portfolio of work, set goals and deadlines with you, offer support and advice, they are interested in helping you develop as a screenwriter.

Cons: Pricey, you need to put the writing in to make it worth your time and money.

Tips: Make sure you give yourself enough time every week to do the writing so your mentor regularly has work to respond to.

 

 

 

9 Tips On Creating A Following Online For Your Project

Lizzies_Story_Kindle_JPEGGuest Post By Lucy V aka @Bang2write

The savvy writer knows it’s not **just** about the project, but its following online that helps drive interest, thus sales. Publishers, producers, networks and film companies now talk of “transmedia distribution strategies” or “multi platform writing”. This creates ways of ensuring the story can go “beyond” its source material, especially online via social media, which has essentially become the modern “word of mouth”, drawing in projects’ potential target audiences.

It was with this in mind I created the transmedia series, LIZZIE’S DIARY, going live on Twitter and Facebook on March 1st 2014, to support my novel, THE DECISION: LIZZIE’S STORY , also published in March.

Already, my transmedia efforts have a following of about a thousand people, so how can you create similar, WITHOUT having to resort to buying them?

1) Start Early.

I cannot stress this enough. Most authors and filmmakers create a project, then launch it into cyberspace to the sound of **crickets**. You need to create a sense of anticipation BEFORE a project comes out and yes, this can include before it’s published or produced! Why not? It might even make your novel or screenplay more attractive in the marketplace. More on how to do this, next.

2) Go Multi Platform.

If you have minimal or zero platform online, know this: you need to be EVERYWHERE you possible can. You should have a website, Twitter and Facebook as an absolute minimum – and make sure you and your project are easy to find.

If you have an existing platform, like I do with B2W, feed your new project INTO that one: I chose Twitter and Ask.Fm, plus Facebook as The Decision Book Series and Pinterest as The Decision: YOUR Story.

Link up all your various social media profiles, so if you update Ask.Fm, Pinterest, or whatever it will also update on Facebook and Twitter automatically. Don’t worry about this being “too much”. It isn’t (and anyone who says it is will unfollow you anyway, don’t sweat it).

3) Find allies.

A no-brainer. This may include friends of yours (both real life and online), or it may include organisations that campaign on the issue you write about. I have teamed up with teen pregnancy/pro choice allies like @prymface @TracyEngelb and @NatashaVianna on Twitter, but also Paul Irwin’s amazing YA “Try Life” web series on Facebook. Blog-wise, amongst others, I’ve asked Hayley to host this guest post for me. Thanks Hayley!

4) Net any audience you can …

Another no-brainer. The average Facebook user apparently has 200 friends, so invite all of them to your page for starters. Link your Facebook page and Twitter account. Share interesting content from anywhere (ie. links) that form part of your project’s remit. In my case, I predominantly started off sharing articles about teenagers and social issues.

5) … NOW Identify your target audience.

After launching my social media profiles for my project, I took a look at the page’s “insights”: this is on the admin bar at the top of your page and tells you who your audience actually are. Unsurprisingly, at first the majority was not teenagers, but my age group … But THE DECISION: Lizzie’s Story is a YA book, so where to find young people? Answer: research. I discovered the majority are on Twitter, using hashtags like #teens #teenagers and #teenageproblems or on Ask.Fm. I read everything they were posting for ideas. Quite an education!

6) NOW start tailoring your approach.

So, I discovered the following about teens … On social media they are generally surprisingly conservative and/or switched on (no youth-based stereotypes, thank you), talking about the following with frequency:

  1. Music
  2. School
  3. Friends
  4. Parents
  5. Celebrities (especially Jennifer Lawrence & Harry Styles)
  6. Exams
  7. Bullying
  8. Depression and/or self harm
  9. Race
  10. Gender

I started to up the frequency of the links I shared on these subjects, but after seeing a number of retweets and shares for photographs with quotes on, I started to do those, too – and discovered my “online reach” went up by about 300%!! In other words, knowing your target audience pays dividends.

7) Give followers an opportunity to engage – and engage with them.

Ask questions, or for people’s thoughts on various subjects and situations. Use hashtags to open the door further and bring people to your project. Don’t ignore your @s and comments; even if it’s just to say “thanks”, DO IT. If someone is angry or disagrees, don’t accuse them of being a troll or block them; talk to them, but know where to draw the line.

8) Do whatever it takes …

Did you know that most RTs contain links? Or that if you write the words “please retweet”, you’re more likely to get one? Or that the majority of Facebook shares are infographics, photos and cartoons? Or that Pinterest has people pinning every imaginable niche interest going? Or that adults like the questions on Quora, but teens prefer Ask.Fm? Or that there’s a hashtag on Twitter called #TeamFollowBack, the etiquette being that if you follow a person with that #, they HAVE to follow you back? Or that some people will “hate read” your content, just so they can complain/counter everything you post (who cares, it’s a follow)! It’s all about research, again! Don’t skimp.

9) … But don’t ever SPAM.

Cross posting is fine and even desirable in various groups, as long as you follow the rules (if applicable … Though do know sometimes admins will be jobsworths because they can). Don’t ever copy and paste @s on Twitter: people will BLOCK you. It’s also counterproductive to post to people’s individual Facebook walls on a regular basis without an agreement in place first. Also, try not to post the same pictures or text over and over again if you can; try and mix it up. MORE: 6 Ways Not To Annoy The Crap Out Of People Online.

But most of all, be INTERESTING. And people will follow your project!

———————————————————————————-

BIO: Lucy V Hay is a novelist, script editor and blogger who helps writers via Bang2write. She’s one of the organisers of London Screenwriters’ Festival and associate producer of the Brit Thrillers DEVIATION (2012) and ASSASSIN (2014), both starring Danny Dyer. To keep up with LIZZIE’S DIARY, “Like” the Facebook page.

Screenwriting Podcasts

Want to immerse yourself in the world of screenwriting? Listen to screenwriting chat and words of wisdom in these fab podcasts:

UK Scriptwriters Podcast – http://dannystack.blogspot.co.uk/p/uk-scriptwriters-podcast.html

Nerdist Writers’ Panel – http://www.nerdist.com/podcast/nerdist-writers-panel

What Are You Laughing At – http://www.comedy.co.uk/podcasts/british_comedy_podcast/

Script Magazine TV Writer Podcast – http://www.scriptmag.com/multimedia/podcasts/

John August Script Notes Podcast – http://johnaugust.com/podcast

Jeff Goldsmith Q&A – http://www.theqandapodcast.com/

BAFTA Podcast – http://www.bafta.org/

The Empire Film Podcast – http://www.empireonline.com/podcast/

On The Page Screenwriting Podcast – http://onthepagepodcast.com/

If you know of any others worth a listen share in the comments below.

Essential Reading for Screenwriters – and then some more…

Also well worth a read:

Writing Television Drama by Nicholas Gibbs

Writing Movies for Fun and Profit by Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant

The Complete Book of Scriptwriting by J Michael Straczynski

Essential Reading for Screenwriters:

Poetics by Aristotle

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field

Story by Robert McKee

Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

The 21st Century Screenplay by Linda Aronson

Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapeter by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook

The Insider’s Guide to Writing for Television by Julian Friedmann and Christopher Walker

 

Essential Reading for Screenwriters

Here’s my recommendations:

Poetics by Aristotle

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field

Story by Robert McKee

Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

The 21st Century Screenplay by Linda Aronson

Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapeter by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook

The Insider’s Guide to Writing for Television by Julian Friedmann and Christopher Walker

If you know of others that have really helped you, let us know by adding a comment.

Creating Great Characters

Great characters are essential in any good drama or comedy and it’s not enough to know what happens to your characters in your story, you need to know your characters inside and out.  Characters need to be deeply developed and there are lots of ways of doing it.  One useful tool is to work through a list of character questions.

Below is a substantial list of character questions.  Feel free to attach a “why” question after any item in the questionnaire to generate more details. Although some questions may seem trivial or irrelevant to your character or story, thinking about them may spark other ideas.

When you’re going through the character questions, bear in mind that there may be a difference between what your character would say in answer to these questions and what you know to be the truth about them.  Ask yourself if there is any mileage in that, either dramatically or comically?

After all this work try to boil it down to a 200 word summary.  Think about the dominant character traits and flaws.  Try thinking about how those traits and flaws get them into dramatic conflict and/or and comic situations.

When you’ve developed your character you should be able to answer the following questions about them:

Who am I?

Where have I come from?

How do I feel about where I have come from?

How do I feel about where I am now?

What do I want?

What’s in the way of what I want?

What do I have to do to get what I want?

Give a two or three word description of yourself.

What is your most obvious blessing or strength?

What do you perceive as your greatest strength?

What is your most obvious flaw or weakness?

What do you perceive as your greatest weakness?

Was there any event or cause of these weaknesses?

Physical Traits

How old are you?

What is your gender?

What is your species/race?

How tall are you?

How much do you weigh?

What is your general body type, frame, bone structure, and poise?

What is your skin colour?

What is your hair colour?

What is your hair style?

Do you have any facial hair?

What is your eye colour?

Does it change?

How attractive are you? How attractive would others say you are?

What is your most distinguishing feature?

Do you have any scars, tattoos, or birthmarks? If so, how did you acquire them?

What do these distinguishing marks look like? Do they have any special significance? Where are they located?

What is your handedness (left/right)?

Do you resemble some currently known person?

Do you wear a uniform?

What kind of clothing do you wear?

What is your clothing’s style or level of sophistication?

What size are you for various pieces of clothing?

Do you wear makeup?

Do you wear glasses/contacts?

What sort of vocal tone do you have?

Do you get sick?

Do you have any unusual or nervous mannerisms, such as when talking, thinking, afraid, under stress, or when embarrassed? If so, are there any reasons behind them from your past?

Do you have an unusual gait or accent? If so, where did you acquire them? Are there any circumstances where they become more (or less) evident? How do you feel and react if made fun of for any of these things?

If your features were to be destroyed beyond recognition, is there any other way of identifying your body?

History

Homeland / Community

Where is your homeland?

What are its people like?

Are you aware of its history?

Are you patriotic or a social outcast?

What are your opinions of home?

Where is your home town?

What was the area like and how did it affect you?

What was the social class of the area?

Did you witness any historical events? If so, how did that event impact you?

What about your race, growing up were you in the majority or a minority?

How were you treated by other nearby races? Were you persecuted for your race?

Did this impact your outlook in any way? Did it affect your personality?

How do you feel about other races?

Do you have any justification from your past experience for holding such views?

How do you view the heroes/legends of your country?

Childhood

Briefly describe a defining moment in your childhood and how it influenced your life.

What was childhood like for you?

Was it calm and peaceful or turbulent and traumatic?

Were there any traumatic experiences in your early years (death of a family member, abandonment, orphaned at an early age, etc.)?

What is your earliest memory?

What are your best and worst childhood memories?

Did you have any childhood friends?

If so, who and where are they now?

Are you still close to them or have you grown apart?

What stupid things did you do when you were younger?

Which toys from your childhood have you kept?

Why? What do they mean to you?

If you didn’t keep any, why not? What did you do to them all?

Do you have any deep, dark secrets in the past that may come back to haunt you?

What conflicts might arise from your past?

Are you who you claim to be?

Family

Parents

Who were your parents?

Were you raised by them?

If not, then why didn’t they and who did raise you?

What is your father’s full name?

What is your mother’s full name?

What did your parents and/or foster parents do for a living?

What was their standing in the community?

Did your family stay in one area or move around a lot?

How did you get along with your parents?

How would your parents describe you?

What was your parents’ marriage/relationship like?

Siblings

Do you have any siblings?

If so how many and what were their names?

What was your birth position in the family (i.e. first born, middle, last born)?

How did you get along with each of your siblings?

What was the worst thing they did to you, what was the best?

What were the worst and best things you did to/for them?

Family

What was your family life like?

Are any or all of your family still alive?

If so, where are they now?

Do you stay in touch with them or have you become estranged?

Draw out your family tree, including living and dead relatives.

Do you love or hate one member of the family in particular?

Is any member of the family special to you in any way (perhaps, as a confidant, mentor, or arch-rival)?

Are there any black (or white) sheep in the family (including you)?

If so, who are they and how did they “gain” the position?

If this person is not you, then how do you feel about them?

Do you have a notorious or celebrated ancestor?

If so, what did this person do to become famous or infamous?

What do people assume about you once your ancestry is revealed? Do you try to live up to the reputation of your ancestor, try to live it down, or ignore it?

Relationships

Friends

Do you have any close friends?

If so, who and what are they like?

What is the history of their relationship(s) with you?

Do you currently have a best friend whom you would protect with your reputation or your life?

If so, who are they and what caused you to feel so close to them? What would have to happen for you to end this relationship?

When you get together with friends what do you talk about?

How close are you to your friends?

What do they know about you?

What do they not know about you?

What do you know and not know about them?

Enemies

Do you have any bitter enemies?

If so, who are they, what are they like, and what is the history of their feud with you?

Have you defeated them before?

How might these enemies seek to discomfit you in the future?

Romance

Do you live with anyone (housemates, roommates, relatives, friends, near-strangers, family friend, spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, lover)?

Are you married or in a relationship? If so, where did you meet? What attracted you to one another?

Have you begun your own family?

If not, do you ever want to have a family of your own someday?

If so, with who or what type of person?

What type of person would be your ideal mate?

What would you be willing to do to protect such a person?

Is there anything you wouldn’t do to protect such a person and if so what?

Would anything change your mind on this issue and if so, what?

List any past serious relationships that you have had, and give a brief overview of the relationship(s).

Have you lost any loves?

How did you handle the situation (short & long term)?

Who is/was the greatest love in your life?

What are your general reactions to an attractive member of the opposite sex who lets you know they are available?

What is your sex life like now and in the past?

Wider Relationships

What valuable or important contacts do you have?

How did you come to know them?

Which person(s) or group(s) are you most loyal to?

How do you think others generally perceive you?

If someone crossed your path, what would you do?

Who is your most trusted ally?

Who do you trust, in general?

Who do you despise and why?

Is your image consistent?

Do people see you in similar ways?

Do you deliberately present yourself differently in different situations, and how?

For what would you die for?

Who do you turn to when you’re in trouble?

What is the worst thing someone has done to you?

How do you get along with others in the same field and/or work environment?

How can you be blackmailed, beaten, and tricked?

Who would miss you, should you go missing?

Who might protect you?

Who might be convinced to sell you out?

Are you a member of any special interest groups?

What is your level of involvement?

What is your current status with local law-enforcement?

Do you have a record of cooperation or non-cooperation with authorities?

Do you have a file with local, national or international law enforcement?

Personality / Beliefs

Dreams / Goals

Do you have any dreams or ambitions?  If not, why?

What are your short term goals (what would you like to be doing within a year)?

What are your long term goals (what would you like to be doing twenty years from now)?

If these goals seem at odds with each other or with your dreams, how do you reconcile the differences?

How do you seek to fulfill these dreams, goals and ambitions?

Do you, or did you, have any role models? Do you have any heroes or idols, either contemporary or from legend?

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Fears

Do you have any great rational or irrational fears or phobias? If so, what are the origins of or reasons behind them?

What, if anything, would it take for you to be able to overcome this?

How do you react when this fear manifests itself?

Are you willing to discuss, or even admit to, the situation?

Money

What are your current financial circumstances?

How does this compare with past financial circumstances?

How does it compare with your expectations?

What are your attitudes regarding material wealth?

Are you miserly with your share of the wealth, or do you spend it freely?

Are you greedy or generous?

Do you see wealth as a mark of success, or just as a means to an end?

If you won the lottery, what would you do?

Interactions

How do you generally treat others?

Do you trust easily (perhaps too easily) or not?

Are you introverted (shy and withdrawn) or extroverted (outgoing)?

Are you a humble soul or blusteringly proud?

Do you act differently than you feel (concealing your true thoughts)?

How do you feel about being alone, in small groups, in large groups?

What are your most annoying habits?

What habits would you find most annoying in friends?

How do others typically react to you?

Why, in your opinion, do they act that way?

Do you get angry easily? Who or what makes you angry?

Do you laugh easily? Who are what makes you laugh?

What about you is heroic? What about you is dastardly?

How do you deal with conflict?

How do you deal with change?

Are you a leader or a follower?

Are you deliberate or spontaneous?

What is your most embarrassing moment?

What trait do you most deplore in yourself?

What trait do you most deplore in others?

What trait do you most admire in yourself?

What trait do you most admire in others?

Spirituality and Faith

Do you believe in god(s)?

Do you believe in life after death?

Do you believe in fate?

Are you devout or impious?

Do you actively worship and proselytize or do you simply pay lip service?

What lengths would you go to defend your faith?

Was your faith influenced or molded by anyone special?

Do you belong to the orthodox church, or a fringe element thereof (and is the group accepted, frowned upon, or considered heretics)?

How has this impacted your faith and life?

Is your church an accepted religion where you grew up or did it have to conduct its services in secret?

How did this affect your faith and life?

Have you ever been persecuted for your faith?

If so, when and how did you handle it?

How do you feel about magic, myth, and the supernatural?

Do you remember your dreams? Describe a typical dream you might have. Describe your worst nightmares.

Morality

Can you kill?

When did you decide (or learn) that you could?

What happened and how did you handle it?

When do you consider it okay to kill (under what circumstances)?

When do you consider it wrong to kill (under what circumstances)?

What would you do if someone else attempted to (or successfully did) kill under your “wrong” circumstances, what would be your reaction?

What if it were your enemy? What if it were your friend? What if it were an innocent?

What would you do if someone shot at (attacked) you?

What would you do if something were stolen from you?

What would you do if you were badly insulted publicly?

What would you do if a good friend or relative were killed by means other than natural death?

What is the one task you would absolutely refuse to do?

What do you consider to be the worst crime someone could commit and why?

Politics

Do you think or feel you know what is going on in the world?

Do you think or feel you know what is going on in your community?

How do you feel about government (rulers) in general?

Do you support the current government of your homeland?

If so, how far are you willing to go to defend the government?

If not, do you actively oppose it? Do you belong to an anti-government organization?

If so, describe the group and its aims.

What form of government do you believe is the best (democracy, monarchy, anarchy, aristocratic rule, oligarchy, matriarchy) and why?

Have you ever been persecuted for your political stance? If so, describe the occurrence and how it affected you.

Are you a member of any non-religious group, cause, order, or organization? If so describe it, its goals, and membership.

How loyal are you to this group and why? How did you become a member? If you are a former member, did you leave voluntarily or involuntarily and why? Was it under good (amicable) conditions or bad? Are you being sought or hunted by the organization? If so, by whom and with what intent (to murder you, to force your return through blackmail or coercion, to spy on you and make sure they do not reveal any of the groups secrets)?

Is there any race, creed, alignment, religion, class, profession, political viewpoint, or the like against which you are strongly prejudiced, and why?

Lifestyle / Hobbies

Home Environment

Where do you live now and where would you like to live?

What kind of home do you live in (flat, house)?

Do you own or rent?

How close are the neighbours?

Is it a good neighborhood?

Do you have a lawn? What about a flower garden? Does your house have an attic or basement?

What does your furniture look like?

Do you buy antiques? What are your walls covered with? Wallpaper, art, photos? What sorts of curtains do you have? Frilly lacy ones, venetian blinds, pull-down shades?

Do you keep your house clean? Is it dusty? Is the bathtub moldy or coated in rust? Do you clean it yourself?

What does your desk or workspace look like – small and cramped, huge and expansive, covered in drifts of books and papers or neatly ordered and clean? Can you find what you’re looking for when you need it?

What colour are your sheets? Satin or cotton? Patterned with flowers, or covered with pictures of toy robots?

Do you have any pets?

Do you keep a calendar or address book? Where do you keep it?

Routines

What is your normal daily routine?

How do you feel and react when this routine is interrupted for some reason?

What would you do if you had insomnia and had to find something to do to amuse yourself?

Relaxation / Hobbies

What do you do for relaxation?

What things do you do for enjoyment?

What are your hobbies?

What pastime (that you participate in regularly) gives you the most enjoyment?

What pastime (that you participate in regularly) gives you the least enjoyment?

What do you do on Friday and Saturday nights?

What do you do on a Sunday afternoon?

Where do you go when you want to have fun?

What books do you read?  Scientific textbooks, historical novels, myths and legends, maps, cookbooks, romances, news magazines, science fiction, fantasy, horror, the newspaper, short stories?

Do you read the newspaper? If so, which sections and how often?

What (if any) are your favourite forms of art?

What is your idea of a good evening’s entertainment?

What are your hangout places?

Do you go to a bar after work?

What music do you like? Do you have a favourite artist, band or bard?

How do you exercise? Work out at the gym, walks in the morning, run marathons, play sports, couch potato?

Food

What is your favourite food?

What is your favourite drink?

What is your favourite treat (desert)?

Do you favour a particular cuisine?

Do you savor the tastes when eating or “wolf down” your food?

Do you like food mild or heavily spiced?

Are there any specific foodstuffs that you find disgusting or refuse to eat?

Are you allergic to any food?

Do you cook your own dinners? Are you a good cook, a gourmet, or a terrible cook? Do you eat out? Are you on a diet?

Favourites

What are your favourite colour(s)?

Is there any colour that you dislike?

Do you have a favourite (or hated) song, type of music, or instrument?

If you have a favourite scent, what is it?

What is your favourite type of animal?

Is there a certain type of animal that you hate or fear?

Are you allergic to any kinds of animals?

Do you have any allergies?

Travel / Environment

How do you get around locally?

Any fears in traveling?

Do you get seasick, airsick, motion sick?

What sorts of general belongings or equipment do you take when traveling?

Where do you go on holiday?

Where would you go if partner/children/obligations/finance permitted?

What place would you most like to visit?

Do you enjoy “roughing it”, or do you prefer your creature comforts?

Do you prefer the town or the country?

Career /Training

Education

Where and how were you educated?

Who trained you in your class or job?

What was your relationship with your teacher(s)/mentor(s)? How did you happen across this teacher or mentor?

Was your mentor kind, stern, cruel, indifferent?

Is this person or institution still in existence?

What is your level of intelligence and is it reflected in your education or job?

Were you a prize student or did you just barely pass?

Look at your skills. How did you acquire them (especially the unusual ones)?

Job

What job do you do?  How do you feel about it?

Do you plan to do this job for the rest of your life?

Were you forced into your profession by parents or peers?

Did circumstances dictate your choice of profession?

Have you ever done anything else for a living?

Have you ever received any awards or honours?

What have you done that was considered “outstanding” in your occupation by others in your field?

What are your long-term goals in work?

Describe any traumatic experiences in your present occupation that have affected you deeply in some way.

How do your relatives and friends view your present occupation?

Is there anything that you don’t currently know how to do that you wish you could?

Are you envious of others who can do such things in a good-natured way or are you sullen and morose about it?

What are your relationships with your colleagues, juniors and bosses?

Miscellaneous

Do you feel you are in the mainstream of things?

What do you worry about most?

What has been the high point of your life?

What is the biggest mistake you have made in your life?

What is your biggest regret?

What is your highest priority in life?

What is the “newest thing” in your life?

What is the “newest idea” in your life?

What advice would you give the younger generation? The older generation?

Do you feel the world is changing too fast or not fast enough? Explain.

What is your attitude to technology?

What keeps you awake at night?

What would you rescue from your burning house?

Have you written a Will? What does it say?

If your life were to end in 24 hours, what 5 things would you do in those remaining hours?

What would you like to be remembered for after your death?

Name

What is your name?

Have you changed it?

Do you have a nickname? If so, how do you feel about it?

What does your name say about your parents?

If you have changed your name, what does this say about you?

N.B Think about what were popular names in the year your character was born.  Try to avoid giving your characters similar sounding names and ideally make every character’s name start with a different letter – eg not Susie and Sarah but perhaps Susie and Beth.

Research Links

Research can play a big part in writing fiction so here are a few links to websites you might find useful.  If you need more in-depth research it’s always a good idea to speak to someone who is an expert in the field you’re writing about.
Wikipedia – the one-stop information shop, although it’s always best to verify from additional sources.

Ref Desk – various research resources 

Burryman – various research resources

MEDICAL
NHS Direct – medical information from UK National Health Service, including health encyclopedia (A-Z) and faqs.
NHS Careers – great A-Z of medical careers and professions.
Medical Jargon – from Medical Library Association.
First Aid – guide to first aid for a huge range of injuries.
Pregnancy Guide – by trimester and week.
Pregnancy Week-by-Week Guide – maternal and fetal development.
Suicide and Trauma Injuries – includes graphic pictures.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Infections – factsheets for each.
CRIME
UK Police Ranks – complete with pictures of uniform epaulettes.
UK Police Forces – overview of geographical boundaries of each constabularly.
UK Police Acronyms – as in ABH=Actual Bodily Harm, etc.
UK Police Overview – from the Home Office, including police powers .
US Criminal Justice Reference Service – includes overview of crime catergories, criminal justice system and faqs.
True Crimes Library – US notorious crimes and criminals.
True Crime Library – UK-skewed database of notorious crimes and criminals.
Jack the Ripper Casebook – large resource on all information related to the 1880s London murderer.
The Old Bailey – searchable database of nearly 200,00 court cases at the Old Bailey 1674 – 1913.
SOCIAL WELFARE
Overview of Social Services – UK
LANGUAGE
NATO Phonetic Alphabet – as is a=alpha, b=bravo, etc.
History of the English Language – covering all periods, including middle English dictionary
Online Dictionary and Thesaurus – UK English
Dictionary of UK Slang and Colloquialisms – UK English
Dictionary of US Slang and Colloquialisms – US English
Elizabethan Dictionary – language used by Shakespeare
Regency Lexicon – common word usage in Regency England.
Cockney Rhyming Slang – translations English to Cockney Rhyming Slang and vice versa.
Irish Gaelic Pronunciation – Beginners guide to Irish Gaelic pronunciation.
Text Message Abbreviations – translations for over 1200 text message abbreviations.
Urban Dictionary – pretty comprehensive dictionary of common UK and US street terms
Lexicon of Teen Speak – beware that this will quickly become outdated!
Lexicon of US Marines – through the ages.
Babelfish – language translation – useful but not as reliable as asking someone who speaks the language!
First Names – Etymology and history of first names.
Surnames – History of UK surnames.
Shakespeare – quotes, history, etc – great resource but generates a lot of pop-ups!
RELIGION
The 1662 Common Book of Prayer – still the official prayer book of the Church of England.
Guide to Gods – listing nearly 3000 deities.
Celtic Mythology – guide to Celtic and Gaelic gods.
Encyclopedia Mythica – mix of summaries and links to articles on a huge range of world myths, folklore and religions.
TIMES AND MONEY
British Currency – pre-1971.
World Bank Notes – a gallery of bank notes from around the world – past and present.
Currency Converter – all contemporary currencies converted.
Measuring Worth – convert the value of money between time periods.
Money, Tax & Benefits – A guide to British money, tax and benefits produced by HM Government.
Calendar – find out what day any date in the past fell on.  Includes world clock, astronomical information (eg lunar phases) and time zones.
GEOGRAPHY
The World Factbook – from US intelligence agency the C.I.A. Includes information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 266 world entities.
World Atlas – great atlas, maps, geographical facts (rivers, ocean depths, mountain ranges etc).
Earthquakes – faqs answered by British Geological Survey.
Natural History – searchable database of UK plants and animals and overview of all things earth and space.
Climate History – UK climate from 4000BC to present, searchable by year.
PSYCHOLOGY
Overview of Psychology – from BBC Science team.
Myers Briggs Personality Types – overview and questionnaire.
Personality Types – overview of personality types including questionnaire.
Criminal Pyschology – summary of criminal pyschology.
POLITICS
UK Electoral System – summary of the UK Parliament including information on visiting
UK Intelligence Community –  summary of the UK Intelligence organisations provided by The Cabinet Office.
U.S Elections – overview of the electoral system in the USA
How to Take Over The World – in seven easy steps!
British Public Services – great resource from HM Government including information on policing, criminal justice systems, health, education, social welfare, travel, environment, community.
VARIOUS
Architecture in Britain – Timeline of styles and key architects.
English History and Heritage – culture, history.
Castles of Britain – great collection of information on castles, including glossary of castle terms.
Types of Psychic Ability – list of psychic abilities.
How Stuff Works – idiot’s guide to how things work – electronics, communications, nature, etc.
This Day in Music History – music history.
Crazy Fads – 20th century crazes and fashions.
HISTORY
History Learning Site – a huge resource with summary articles on a wide range of historical periods, countries and conflicts
Military History Encyclopedia – covers major conflicts around the world from 1200BC to present day.  Includes information on history, timelines, weapons, battles, campaigns, treaties and biographies of key players.
The National Archives – the UK Government’s National Archive for England, Wales and the United Kingdrom.  Includes a summary of historical periods and events and their related documentary evidence.
British History Online – collection of primary and secondary sources of medieval and modern British history. Searchable by subject, period and place.
British Monarchs – summary of Monarchs from 800AD to present.
The Aztecs – aimed at children so quick, easy to read basic summaries.
The Ancient Egyptians – overview from BBC History team.
Ancient Rome – overview from BBC History team.
The Vikings – accessible overview from PBS.
The Tudors – pretty comprehensive guide to this period of British history with bibliography for more in-depth research.
Medieval English Towns – an in-depth but accessible resource on the subject.
Medieval Timeline – significant people and places, including maps and pictures.
Regency Resources – a list of links to detailed resources by subject for everything Regency.
The Regency Collection – great collection of information by subject for the Regency period.
American Civil War – guide to the American Civil War.
American Wars – summary of all major conflicts involving the USA
Victorian Britain – comprehensive overview covering politics, social history, science, literature, economy, etc.
World War One – summary and in-depth analysis by BBC History team
World War Two – summary and in-depth analysis by BBC History team
Battle of Britain – the RAF’s resource on the Battle of Britain including Daily Reports and a Roll of Honour.
Concentration Camps
Northern Ireland – politics and conflict.
Vietnam War – detailed but accessible look at the conflict.
The Cuban Missile Crisis – summary of the near-conflict of 1962.
The Gulf War 1990-1991 – from PBS Frontline.
London Bombings 7/7 2005 – the BBC’s Special Report.
Madrid Train Attacks 2004 – BBC’s summary report.
Hurricane Katrina 2005 – report from US Department of Health and Human Services.
The Iraq War  – from CNN News Team.
On This Day – historical events, literature and music.
On This Day – BBC reports on a host of significant UK and world events 1950-2005.
20th Century History – includes crimes, scandals, disasters, fads, timelines, wars & conflicts, scientific & medical advances, important people and photographs.
The People History – 20th century summary by decade and searchable by subject. Also includes homes, prices, costs of living, etc.
Also well worth checking out Lucy V Hay’s blog on researching for drama ‘Research Or Die’

Why Nice Characters Are Boring

We’ve all done it – fallen in love with the characters we’ve created. Then comes the temptation to make them ‘nice’, to make sure that the audience will love them as much as we do. After all, what’s the point in creating a character that no one wants to watch?

It’s one of the worst things we can do to our characters. They need some redeeming qualities, sure, but if you sand down the rough edges too far they become unbelievable and uninteresting.

The best characters have just the right balance of qualities we admire and those we don’t. They need strengths, yes, lots of them, redeeming qualities, things about them that make us want to see them overcome their struggles. But they also need flaws. No one is perfect and if your character has no flaws I don’t believe in them.  It also means you can’t create any conflict or drama from them.

Make your characters intersting. Don’t let them always do the ‘right’ thing. I shouted at the telly when I watched Don Draper flatly deny Betty’s accusation that he was having an affair (Mad Men). I desperately wanted him to confess, to do the right thing, but Don is fascinating because he’s a car crash, not in spite of it.

We need to glimpse inside your character’s head, to feel we’re starting to understand them. Nice is fine, just as long as there’s a hint that underneath they might not be quite as nice as we first thought.