facebook_pixel Press "Enter" to skip to content

Looking to start your TV writing journey?

Posts published in “Scribosphere Carnival”

Scribosphere Carnival #4 – Advice

The Scribosphere Carnival is a weekly discussion from a variety of screenwriting blogs around a rotating theme.

Emily over at Bamboo Killers chose today’s topic:

ADVICE — A recommendation regarding a decision or course of conduct.

Okay, I admit. There wasn’t any description given for the provided topic, so I just took Merriam Webster’s generic definition of the word advice.
The true topic is apparently about giving advice, and more specifically what is my best writing advice.

A lot of great tips about screenwriting have been given, specifically in the few other Scribosphere posts of my fellow bloggers.
Writing ad nauseam (AKA you should write because you’re a writer) has been covered.
What to do with screenplays has been covered.
Readjusting your expectations has been covered.
So what is left to say?

Well, here’s my personal bit of advice:

Done is better than perfect.

Thoughtful, eh?

Let’s dig a little deeper.
In my mind, there are two parts to this maxim:
1. Done is better…: Combating procrastination (working on the script)
2. …than perfect: Combating perfection (finishing the script)

1. Be done

The process of writing a script is kind of like a mini-feature production in of itself:
– Pre-production (research/development)
– Production (outline/treatment/draft)
– Post-production (editing/rewrites/corrections/notes)

While you’ll probably be spending 90% of your time on the last 10% of your work with most (other) creative projects, my personal experience has taught me that, when you’re working on a fresh script, the biggest evil is procrastination (which usually occurs way before the finishing touches).

We’ve already covered a bit on the subject, but one way to combat the negative effects of procrastination is to increase productivity.
Having a fixed writing schedule definitely helps. In fact, I’ve started working on one for myself.

There are also other alternative productivity techniques.
A fairly well-known example would be the Pomodoro technique. The idea is to entirely focus on the one task for a limited amount of time, and then move on or come back to it after a break.
Forget the fancy trademark gimmick of the original company, all you need to do it is a timer. It can be a free app, or a physical kitchen timer in the form of a tomato (pomodoro in Italian).
The basic concept is as follows:

  • – Decide on the task to be done.
  • – Set the pomodoro timer to n minutes (traditionally 25).
  • – Work on the task until the timer rings.
  • – Take a short break (3-5 minutes).
  • – Every four “pomodori” take a longer break (15–30 minutes).

Rinse and repeat.

Regardless of which technique you end up using for your own productivity, you should hopefully find something that works for you, and that leads to you actually working on your script.
Note that I said “working on” rather than “writing a draft of”, since brainstorming and outlining are extremely vital part of the process. Even an occasional mental evasiveness and/or reverie is more than welcomed during any creative process.

Ultimately, you want to push through into getting a first draft done.
Spoiler alert: your first draft will probably suck (that’s why they call it a vomit draft). Best case scenario, it is merely mediocre.
But being done with it is the first step to salvation.

2. Don’t be perfect

Battling perfection is the other half of the equation.
You’ve probably heard the aphorism “perfect is the enemy of good”, which is an adjusted translation of Voltaire’s “Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien” (In his writings, a wise Italian says that the best is the enemy of the good).

Whether you’re about to e-mail to everyone your first draft, or the one after getting your first notes, it’s time to realize that those endless tweaks you pull right before sending it “out there” are, well, mostly vanity tweaks. Or at the very least self-deceptive.
It’s like that moment when you’d rather organize your desk than write an e-mail. You are fooled into thinking a usually productive effort will be more rewarding/useful than what you should actually be doing. In this case just hitting send and moving on.
Your script will probably never be the greatest script ever written, especially to your eyes (We are our own worse critic, right?). So don’t waste a lot of time trying to “perfect it”.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work your hardest, but there’s a difference between fixing a broken (unfunny) line, and fretting over what kind of hat your protagonist should wear.

The same can be said about addressing notes. Fact: the more people you get them from, the more contradictory they will be.
It’s your job to sift through the mess, and once you’ve fixed the relevant problems, you shouldn’t waste your time trying to perfect the script to everyone’s taste.
Because that’s impossible.
At some point, you’ll have to send your baby into the world, or pull out the band-aid. Whichever metaphor helps you cope with the reality that your imperfect script will be viewed by someone other than you.

Done is better than perfect, because perfect is an unattainable goal.

Write on.

Scribosphere blogs also on the topic:

Red Right Hand | Jonathan Hardesty | Bamboo Killers

Scribosphere Carnival #3 – Criticism

The Scribosphere Carnival is a weekly discussion from a variety of screenwriting blogs around a rotating theme.

And I’m continuing to catch up on those I missed.

Michael over at Red Right Hand chose today’s topic:

CRITICISM — This week’s Scribosphere topic is how we each take criticism, or how we don’t, who do we seek out to provide it, and what do we do with it once we have it, how we give it, or, you know…whatever.

Giving it

In my long-standing experience as a professional critic (*takes a puff of cigarette*), there are a few things I always try to do when giving criticism (and more specifically, giving notes).

The Frame
How you say something is just as important as what you say.
This is especially true when giving notes, since, as you already know, writers are very sensitive creatures. An obvious tip is to never lead with the bad.
I’ll go a step further and mention the shit criticism sandwich. Heard of it? You’ve probably been on the other end of one, as it’s a psychological trick often used by HR and in performance reviews.
Basically, you start your criticism with a compliment, then move to a real issue, and conclude with another positive comment. Repeat ad nauseam.
Here’s a pretty comic strip to illustrate the idea:
You’ll still be saying what you want to say, but in a nicer way.

The Content
What is the one thing you should always be doing when giving notes? Be doing honesty. That’s right.
If you’re trying to help someone with their script (or anything else for that matter), there’s nothing worse than downplaying and/or outright censoring a negative comment you may have. You need to put it all on the table and actually talk about the issues with the project, even if it’s going to mess up with, say, act two.
That doesn’t mean you should just point at the page and say it’s the worst thing ever. Or be like this:

(He’s talking about the Photoshop job.)

Giving notes is about trust. Yes, I’m already tearing up.
If you’re willing to give notes, then you should be willing to put aside any personal feelings (good or bad), be objective, and be honest about it all.

In terms of what your notes should generally be about, a common rule of thumb is to start off with the macro first, and then move on to the micro.
In other words, start with the big picture. Structure, plot and characters are probably going to be the three biggest triggers.
As we’ve seen, don’t just pile on the negative. Unless it was literally the worst script of the decade, you probably (for example) engaged with some things, but not others. What about that turn in the fourth act? How amazing was it when the clown ended up being the serial joker?
Then, move on to the smaller things. It can be anything like syntax, phrasing, character names, formatting, etc.

Finally, if you’re sending out negative criticism, try to offer some sort of solution (or suggestion) to the problem(s) you’re highlighting.
Nobody likes a complainer.
It’s likely that they won’t actually be putting the ideas to use, but, like the shit criticism sandwich, it’s a way to soften the blow. (Plus it shows that you cared enough to think about the problem.)

Getting it

To go on a slight tangent, if you’ll recall, I did a “script experiment” a few months back by publicly putting up my Star Trek: Terran spec pilot.
I was surprised at the amount of feedback and criticism I ended up getting (e-mail/Facebook/smoke signals). And I don’t mean one-line bashing; I’m talking full-on notes. From complete strangers.

It was an interesting experience (that is still ongoing), not only for the kind of criticism I received, but also from whom. Even more surprising to me was the 50/50 split between writers and non-industry people who were just Trek fans in their own rights. And all these people read my weird 1-hour pilot draft out of their own volition (no pets were kidnapped)! Still can’t believe it.
As I’ve previously said, a writer never wants to write in a vacuum. I’m always grateful when someone reads my work, let alone gives me notes in return.
Sometimes it is hard to get good feedback, or find people who can give honest feedback.

A good place to start is–wait for it–your friends.
Like many people (I assume), I tend to divide the people I get my notes from between writers/industry folks, and non-writers/non-industry people.
As you can probably guess, the idea is to end up with notes that will help both the craft and the story.
A layman doesn’t care about structure, but he’ll probably tell you that he fell into a deep coma around page 4 of your boring church description.
This is especially useful for genre/convoluted scripts, which I sometimes (often) tend to write. The stories can be intricate, so it’s nice to know where/when a reader gets confused or what s/he missed entirely.

Besides BFFs, another great way to get constructive (and continuous) feedback is through a writers group.
There’s a few ways of going about those. It can be a “build as you go” group, in which case people trade/reads X pages every week, and everyone comments about each other’s scripts. It can also be a writer’s room-type format, where each session revolves around a participant’s project.
Whichever way you go, it’s again about valuing the people’s opinions. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your material and/or getting notes from the other members, you’ll be wasting more than just your time.

Taking it

There could be an entire book written about the “proper” way to “take a note”. But this isn’t anger management.
The good news about criticism is that it isn’t always about bad news. Real criticism is supposed to measure and analyze both the positive and the negative behind a piece.
That is, in theory. The reality is that, as writers, we often only hear that bad news stuff.
We’re too sensitive.

The initial outpouring of energy when receiving negative criticism tends to go in two directions:

“The third act could use a little trimming.” Gimme a razor, and I’ll trim something alright.
“That character didn’t pop.” I’m gonna pop one right in your face!
“I wasn’t engaged with the story.” *sounds of head bashing*

“You don’t understand! There needs to be a floating pig in act three to symbolize the protagonist’s purgative withdrawal from the feeble-minded society surrounding him! Also, I love Pink Floyd.”

Neither reactions are worth your time (or your reader’s).
Criticism can be harsh, but regardless of our personal feelings, we need to realize that every comment, every criticism, and every note has its value. Even when it sounds lame.

Simply put, listen to the note behind the note.

Listen to the problem behind the criticism.
The person giving you feedback doesn’t always (read: never) know your script better than you. S/he therefore won’t always be giving the best solution or most relevant comment. But maybe it’s only a question of phrasing the problem properly.
If you’re getting notes from a non-writer, chances are that real structure issues will be disguised as issues regarding the reader’s comprehension/engagement (among other things).
If someone forgets to comment on an entire plotline (e.g. C story), maybe you don’t need it. Or if you do, then it’s definitely not as compelling as you think it is.
The same can be said about potential fixes/suggestion given to you. Listen to the problem behind the solution.
Even if you don’t agree with the fix (or find it appalling to even consider! My God, what the hell is this guy thinking?! That’ll bust my entire third act! I can’t even–), that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.
Abre los ojos.

Once all the notes have been received and tabulated, I try to organize them according to their importance, both on an “urgency” scale, and a “meta” scale (i.e. the aforementioned macro vs. micro problems). Note that the “importance scale” is in reference to the script, not the person giving the note. (Assuming of course I already know who’s giving it to me. Nomsayin’)
And then it’s time for draft number two. Or three. Or back to the outline. Or the ledge.

Well. That’s a lot about criticism.
Any notes?

Scribosphere blogs also on the topic:

Shouting in the Wind | Red Right Hand | Jonathan Hardesty | Bamboo Killers

Scribosphere Carnival #2 – Workflow

The Scribosphere Carnival is a weekly discussion from a variety of screenwriting blogs around a rotating theme.

And I’m catching up on all those I missed.

Instigated by Jonathan Hardesty, today’s topic is:

WORKFLOW — Everybody has one, and none are the same. Inspired by a post from John August (referencing this site), you should explain where and when you write, what hardware you use, what software you use, and what you would change about how you write. Have at it!

Where and when do you write?

Unlike some writers, I actually prefer to write in the comfort of my own home instead of going out to a coffee shop (and spend $5 on a latte).
With that said, I like to create an appropriate “space” for the magic to happen. Even if my desktop is in the bedroom, I will try to physically separate the “writing workspace” from where I sleep by moving stuff over to the living room.
This doesn’t happen all the time, but when I do, the complete set-up looks something like this:

As you can guess by what’s happening on the TV, this is during my “research phase” for my Good Wife spec last year. Yes, I like to reverse-engineer the show.

When I’m actually writing, the TV will usually be off, while I display my outline on the external screen (i.e. the one in the middle). My preferred screenwriting software will be pulled on the laptop itself.
And then I type away. On reddit.

My writing schedule is, at best, inconsistent. I rarely have “real” deadlines, so it’s often hard to shoot for consistency.
With that said, I enjoy (in a manner of speaking) going into what I call “lockdown modes”.
As the name implies, it’s a pre-determined amount of time (usually an entire week-end) where I force myself to sit in front of the computer and write/achieve something with very little breaks, and, crucially, no going out. No escape!
This extended, dedicated period of time allows me to completely focus on the one story/task, and think deeper about the problems than, say, a 2-hour writing block every other day. I also try to divide the task evenly across the days (e.g. 2 acts per day for a 3-day lockdown).
Lockdowns are especially great for outlines, first drafts or imminent deadlines.
Binge-writing FTW.

What hardware do you use?

I enjoy the good ol’ pen and paper when I’m brainstorming dialogue/scenes, however when it comes to the nitty-gritty, 90% of the work is done on my computer(s).

As for the tech nerds out there:

I love to build my own computers. This is my latest beast (minus a graphics card).
Processor: Intel Core i7 2600K clocked at 3.40 GHz
Mobo: MSI Z68A-GD80 (MS-7672) 3.0
RAM: 16 GB DDR3 Corsair (800 MHz / PC3-12800J)

Purchased almost four years ago, so bear with me on the specs (although who needs a gaming laptop for writing?!).
Sadly it has a battery problem that makes it less portable: the battery isn’t recognized, which means it only works when plugged in.

HP Pavilion dm4-1065dx
Processor: Intel Core i5 430M / 2.26 GHz
RAM: 4.0 GB
Graphics Adapter: Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) HD Graphics
Display: 14-inch LED / 1366×768
Weight: 2kg

External displays
Main display: ASUS VE278Q / 27.2-inch / 1920×1080
Secondary display: BenQ FP241WZ / 24-inch / 1920×1200
I also have an amazing TV (primarily used for shows/movies), which is a Samsung UN60D8000.

What software do you use?

When it comes to breaking my stories, I start off using Scrivener. Pretty much the best outline-building option out there (save for actual index cards and corkboards). It’s a great tool when it comes to visually seeing your outline/acts/breaks/stories. Gotta love the color-coded labels.

For the actual scriptwriting process, I exclusively use Final Draft (currently version 8). I may or may not try Fade In for my next script. It looks fairly interesting. Plus, I love black.

What would you change about how you write?

It’s less about how, and more about when.
In a word: consistency.
Trying to find a “sweet spot” is very hard, and I know I should really discipline myself to sit down and dedicate X hour(s) to writing, every single day. And yet, I don’t.
Like getting in shape physically, it’s one thing to say you wanna do it, and another thing to actually do it.
Time will tell if I succeed in that regard.

There’s also the thing about “less procrastination, more content”, though I believe this is less of an issue. You need these short bursts of mental distraction in between your mental back-and-forths when breaking a story.
When it comes to the actual writing portion of things, I’m happy the way I do things (when I do them). Sometimes I talk to myself, or rather talk the scenes out. I’m crazy that way, but it’s not something I’m keen on changing. It’s part of the process.
And then when you’re in the zone, well, you don’t even think about getting distracted.

Write on.

Scribosphere blogs also on the topic:

Shouting in the Wind | Red Right Hand | Jonathan Hardesty | Bamboo Killers