How My Scriptwriting Course Ruined Me

I’ve always been bad to watch movies with. I’ve always been bad to watch television shows with as well, if the truth be told. I get far to involved. I get emotional and when there are loud noises, I get jumpy. In fact, be it books, movies, television shows, stage shows or poems, taking part in someone else creativity has never been a passive experience for me. I’m in, boots and all. I fall in love with characters. I weep for them.

I’m sorry, but I’m just not sorry about that. You can live an entire lifetime in a particularly good book. So I have no regrets.

Last year, I took a scriptwriting course as part of my Masters Degree. I thought it was a nothing course, just something I’d need to fill up my course credits. Wrong! It changed me! Now I notice things.

Here are the top five ways my scriptwriting course ruined me:

1. No matter how unrealistic a situation is, the writer must commit to it and make it as believable as possible. How did this ruin me? It is now not uncommon for me (or my poor husband) to yell at the TV: “PLOT HOLE!! If that happened, this would have had to have happened before. You can’t just change the rules (of physics/culture/time/etc). You’ve got to stick with it.” What do I mean? If you’ve abandoned gravity, there can’t be gravity anywhere – unless you’ve built a gravity imitating machine for example. The details matter. Make sure they are consistent.

2. What works well on paper might not work well coming out of an actors mouth. Repetition is hardly EVER normal. I’m gonna name and shame here. Bobby Donnell from The Practice is the worst offender here. He repeats everything for ‘impact.’ However, the ‘impact’ is just clunky screen dialogue. Say it once, say it well, trust your viewer to remember the big statement. Writers of any sort, and especially scriptwriters, should be students of the way people speak. These fine details and nuances are important. We don’t often address each-other by name, for example. Repetition hardly ever happens in real-people conversations unless one speaker is being really annoying.

3. Trust your viewer to remember the story. I was watching (Okay I’ll name and shame again) CSI Cyber the other day. Now I’ll give them a bit of grace because they are starting out, but they felt the need to keep on reminding us that “We need to find Zoe’s cyberbully before she does or she’ll do something dangerous.” I got that the first time. I got that when they played Zoe’s transmissions. I certainly didn’t need to get told again, via a different character, every time we returned from the ad break. Thanks, but we viewers aren’t dills.

4. Stereotypes are baaaad. I won’t name and shame here, but this is a big pet peeve of mine. Not all smart women are Asbergers sufferers, or emotionally defunct. Not all powerful women are tough, emotionless and cruel. Not all men are jerks. Not all women are complicated. Men can be extremely complicated. Don’t get me started on race, religion and gender.

5. Don’t polish it too much! The most interesting thing about humanity is its imperfection. This imperfection motivates and fascinates. If you perfect your characters too much and plunge from one perfect scenario to another, even in the action sequences when all is lost until *Shazaam* some perfect ‘save the day’ device appears, its boring. So boring.

Thats my top five. Its ranty I know. Look, I’d be happy to try and do a better job of these things myself (even if The Practice hasn’t been on television since I was a tweenager! I know that can’t be helped!)

I just felt the world should know! The world being the few hundred people who read this blog. Ha!

Have a fab day people. Over and out.

Here, at the end of draft 1

This week, something magical happened. I put a full stop (or as the Americans call it, a period) at the end of a sentence. It was full of suspense, and meaning, but it was only one little full stop. Why then was it magical?

Because it was a full stop that I’d put at the end of 114,916 words. It marked the end of draft one of the book I’ve been working on for too long. It was meant to take me one  year, but I signed on to help write another manuscript (which was the most amazing experience for a number of other reasons). I very quickly discovered that I’m not the kind of person who can write two manuscripts at once.

Hence, it took me a year and a half. AKA forever! The sequel will hopefully only take me 6 months. Hopefully. Hopefully. Hopefully.

In the meantime, I’ve discovered what its like at the end of draft one. In a word – its weird.

I told myself I’d take a week off, read other young adult fiction and revel in the fact that I don’t have to be creating for 3 hours every day. I was going to not think about my manuscript at all. I was going to give myself space to breathe, to dream about the sequel, and to generally live it up while being a girl without a project.

Yeah, that didn’t really happen. Here are these stats:

– 1 day: the time it took for me to start trying to actively plot the sequel.

– 15 minutes: the time it took for my editor to tell me “You are writing book 2 here. You aren’t writing book one again. Its time to think differently.”

– 2 days: the time it took me to start feeling serious withdrawals from writing

– 3 days: the time it took me to decide to write some short fiction to tide me over

I’m hopeless. So much for a week off! Here’s the thing though, as important as the pallet-cleansing break between drafts is, developing skills as a writer is never time wasted.

Hence, I’m enforcing my week off the book. Its weird, here at the end of draft 1. I know its important to let the manuscript sit and decant while I give myself space so I can come back and see it clearly, but the truth is I really miss my characters.

How sad is that.


Honest Post: The Paradox of Faith

Good afternoon!

I’m sitting here on a chilly winter afternoon, taking a blog break between jobs and listening to Kari Jobe playlists on YouTube. (Side note: The way that woman floats her top notes is sublime!)

This is kind-of a pallet cleanser between writing a medical-type blog and writing a supernatural fiction novel. Talk about diverse writing styles! Gee! But this isn’t a post about writing styles. It’s a post about life. (Christian life at that! Feel free to stop reading if that isn’t for you! I’ll write about books and stuff next time!)

My life has been busy lately. Last week was a book launch. The week before that involved putting our house on the market – its a good thing! Onwards and upwards and all that. This week should see me finish the first draft of the Remnant – finally! Next week is a work trip to the sunshine state (Queensland for the non-Australians) for work. Through all of this, life’s been busy for hubby too. We’ve sort-of been these two super-focused bubble dwellers who look up from our work every now and then and go “Oh hey you! I like you! Let’s pay attention to each-other.”

We knew these times in life would happen. We knew it in the first weeks of our courtship. But still its a juggle. We are two individuals who fully immerse ourselves in what we know we are meant to be doing, to what our purpose is, and we get a bit obsessive about it.

Our faith/relationship with God forms the centrality of our lives. This is a non-negotiable. It was at the centre of our individual lives before we married and its stayed at the heart of ‘us’. But gosh – sometimes its not the easiest thing in the world.

I find the ‘faith’ bit especially difficult. There’s an honest statement for you! “It will happen in God’s timing.” “Leave it in God’s hands.” Quotes of Hebrews 11:1 and such – these are things that leave me grinding my teeth behind the sparkly smile and nodded agreement.

Christians will have heard Hebrews 11:1 a few hundred times – that faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. We’ve all heard that its impossible to please God without faith.

That doesn’t mean faith is the easiest thing in the world. Well! I just wanted to give a shout-out to my people who, like me, find the ‘inspired, faith-filled Christian’ role a bit hard to fill sometimes. I’ve realised lately that faith isn’t always laced with obfuscation and OTT positivity. Sometimes its putting one foot in front of the other and just doing the next thing. Sometimes its just refusing to give up. Sometimes its throwing your hands up and going “I’m at the end of my rope. Your turn God. You’re going to have to come through.”

I don’t know how faith and irrepressible positivity became interchangeable terms. They are different things. If you can’t to irrepressible positivity, tirelessness and ‘bounce out of bed happy,’ don’t get to thinking you fail at faith.

Life’s good. It really is. But anyone who has ever thrown themselves into something only to realise its a bit bigger than they are will know what I’m talking about. It can get tiring. That’s okay.

In these times, take a break and listen to Kari Jobe – or whoever your flavour is! You don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.

So that’s todays thoughts – partially for me, partially because I’m sure someone needed to read that today.




Opinion: Who’s got the power in publishing?

I’m prefacing this post by saying this is my experience only. I’m only educated by a business degree, a communications degree and experience in self-publishing, hiring a hybrid publisher and sorta kinda being a hybrid publisher.

My first book sold around 1000 copies and I didn’t really hit it hard with marketing. My second book will be different as I’ve got a following, and a brand behind me so its not going to be me calling stores and drumming up sales. Book by book, its getting easier. I’m learning more about promotional tools, social media, advertising, distribution and quality.

So I thought I’d note down some thoughts on the whole issue of publishing. Once upon a time, big publishing houses were the ones with all the power. They decided who was good, who wasn’t, who deserved the risk, who deserved the investment and who deserved the shelf space. With the rise of electronic media, online shopping, social platforms and such, they don’t hold as much power anymore. Self-publishing and hybrid publishing are viable options for thousands upon thousands of authors.

So for some, traditional publishers are brilliant and are the way forward. For others, there are a number of different options that suit better.

But for writers who are starting out, the big question is “What is the road forward for me?”

The first question writers need to ask themselves is “Why am I writing?”

If its for fame, then maybe you need to do the hard yards knocking on doors and getting the inevitable knock backs. And they are inevitable. JK Rowling was knocked back several times with Harry Potter and yet she became the first literary billionaire! (Wow. How awkward it must be to realise you were one of the people who rejected that manuscript! Ouch!) If you’re in it for fame, then perhaps traditional publishing is for you. That way, you’ve got someone else’s brand to carry you while you develop your own. Brand awareness is key.

So in that scenario – they’ve got the power. 

There are trade-offs for this. You’ll get a lower cut of the profits as there are a higher number of overheads. You’ll get a certain amount of marketing, but you’ll still have to do your own. Distribution will be easier. You won’t be packing your own envelopes. You’ll have to give a degree of creative control over and you’ll certainly have editing standards to live up to.

This isn’t a bad thing. Quality matters oh so very much. More on that later. 

If you’re writing for fortune – um, are you sure this is the scene for you? There are millions of writers out there, but only a handful of them have made it mega rich. If so, traditional publishing houses may not be able to attract you with the royalty fees you’ll get, but perhaps you can get yourself to a point where you command a decent advance. You’ll have to be good? Are you good? I mean really good?

In this scenario, who’s got the power? Not really sure!

If you’re doing it to get a message out there (you’ve got a product, a big-idea, a breakthrough or something like that), then how big are your networks? Can you leverage these networks to sell copies? How good is your reputation? Do people trust you? Will they want to buy and read your book?

Let’s say you’ve got a big network to leverage, a strong idea and a good reputation, then you’ve got the power. 

You’re still going to have to bring in experts to coach you on stage-craft (how to present your idea/product/breakthrough in a way that makes people want to buy your book), and you’ll need to master online advertising, but self or hybrid publishing could really work for you.

If you’re doing it for the love of the craft, and because you’ve got a story to tell, then you’ve got the power.

You can decide whether to go traditional, self or hybrid publishing. But know this, if you do go the way of self-publishing, you can’t afford to skimp on things like editing, proofreading, and graphic design. Know that if you go the way of hybrid publishing, you’ll be able to buy these services. It will cost you up front and then you’ll get a varying percentage for every copy sold.

In a market absolutely flooded with product, the good stuff stands out. Quality matters. Self-publishing will make you a bigger percentage on each sale, but your sales will be lower especially if your product looks homemade.

Quality matters, above all. Nail quality, learn how to build and leverage networks and you’ll do okay. Who’s got the power in publishing? You decide.




Word counts and Structural Editing

I’m five chapters short of the finish line. I’m ten thousand words short of the finish line.  Small problem. Each chapter is supposed to be roughly three thousand words. So by the time I’m done, I’ll be five thousand words over.

Big deal huh. Whats the difference between one hundred thousand words and one hundred and five thousand words in the grand scheme of things?

Well! Word counts matter. Of course, if you check three different websites, you’ll get three different lots of advice on how long your manuscript should be. I’ve found the best one is this one. Tameri puts a novel at between eighty and one hundred and fifty thousand words, and a novella between twenty thousand and forty thousand words.

My first novel was 69,996 words. Yes. I know the exact number. Because I edited that within an inch of its life. This one is a bit more involved, hence the larger word count. Its not War and Peace, but its not short either.  One hundred thousand words was what I thought was reasonable for this one.

Which brings me back to the big question: What’s so bad about an extra five thousand words?

The answer: nothing major, but there is something seriously wrong with a manuscript that hasn’t been scrutinised within an inch of its life and edited down to the wire. Hence the goal. I need to trim five thousand words at least. To do that, I need an editor! Now, there are a few stages of editing. All of them have different and specific roles. I’ll talk about the structural edit in this post! Copy editing and proofreading will be separate – and you better bet they are separate! Biggest pet peeve of mine is when people offer to proofread to correct spelling and grammar. That’s not actually what a proofread is!! That’s what a copy edit is, and there is MUCH more to it than that.

Anyway! Rant over. Here are the big rules of the structural edit.

Don’t do it all yourself. Have someone with a critical-analytical eye look over it. Terrifying? Yes! But so is presenting your book to the world, so you are best to do so when you are confident that its the best it can be. This first stage is called the structural edit. You want this editor to look for a few things in particular.

– Pace: Does the book rush in patches? Does it drag in patches? Are their patches where it is super dialogue-heavy and boring? Are the action sequences too slashy-slashy punchy-punchy, therefore at risk of boring the reader or making them switch off? These are the pace questions you need to have asked.

  – Consistency: Are the chapters all similar lengths? You can check this by page counts, but basically you don’t want one chapter to be three pages long, and the next one thirty. Another little consistency issue is numbering. Do you write them long form (one hundred thousand) or short form (100,000). What do you capitalise? What don’t you capitalise? That sort of thing. The copy editor will pick this up, but keep an eye out in the early stages too.

– Repetition: This is a big one! Have you repeated an introduction of a character? Or the introduction of a theme? Do it once, do it well, don’t go over it. You have to trust your reader. Another repetition issue is descriptive words repeated in the same paragraph. Change it up! If something is ‘poignant’ in one sentence, it needs to be ‘thought-provoking’ in the next sentence, not ‘poignant’ again (for example).

– Expressive Repetition: Another big repetition issue is analogy! I read a book where the main character had one way of expression emotion: her stomach. “My stomach winged/pinched/lurched/twisted/etc.” At the end of the book, I was so frustrated! I was like “You don’t have a hero here! You have an Irritable Bowel Syndrome sufferer!!! Ugh!” But this had an effect on my writing. My editor came back to me and said “You’ve been so concerned about not giving your character IBS, that you’ve given him dental issues. He’s always clenching his jaw, gritting his teeth, etc.”

Ooops! Best change that one before I drive my readers nuts.

– Order: This was an issue I hadn’t even thought of until I had my first structural edit done. The order in which you introduce characters is important. I had introduced “Seth” by name only and mentioned him three times before he became “Seth Truman” with a back story. It needed to happen in the right order. He needed to be introduced first. The back story can come out over time, but its weird when there is suddenly a surname when he’d been just Seth for many chapters!

 – Voice: Does your narrator sound like a wizened ancient being in the beginning only to sound like a teenibopper in the middle? This needs to get sorted. Does your point of view jump all over the place, losing the reader? Do your characters have distinct and vivid voices, or are they all blurring in together? Are their characters unique and vibrant?

The structural editor needs to have the power to say to you “Delete this substoryline. It doesn’t work.” Or “You don’t need chapter nineteen. It drags.”  Their job is to make sure this thing works. If there is a section that doesn’t, it needs to go. Yes, I know it hurts. But take courage. Hear the feedback. Its better in the edit than on Amazon reviews!

At the end of the day, everything an editor gives you is a suggestion. Its up to you as the author to decide what you take on board and what you don’t, but its important to listen with an open mind. In an age where the power doesn’t belong to big publishing houses anymore, and the market is flooded with self and hybrid published books, quality is what makes a book stand out. This is how you do it.

Happy editing.

And by that I mean, stay sane while you edit! Remember, its easier to critique than to do. No matter how much red pen is on your manuscript when you get it back, remember you where still awesome enough to actually write the thing! Thats something to be proud of!