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RIP Terrance Dicks

(Week 36: September 1 – 7)

Terrace Dicks died this week, and considering the indirect, and yet rather huge influence he had on me, it seemed appropriate to write a few words about him.

Back in the 1970s, Dicks along with fellow Doctor Who writer Malcolm Hulke, wrote a book called The Making Of Doctor Who. I discovered this in my primary school library and read it, developing an immediate fascination with this show that had already seen the lead character change four times, that had daleks and cybermen, that could go anywhere in space and time; basically I got hooked on the mythology right away.

With no cable channels, no internet, and Doctor Who repeats being virtually non-existent, my only way of further exploring the show was through the series of novelisations, many of which were written by Terrance Dicks.

Dicks was never a writer to challenge with his prose style, but he is rightfully credited for the role he played in British literacy. As a nine-year-old I used to read constantly, and much of that was Doctor Who books. Dicks had an easy writing style that brought stories to life without ever getting in the way or drawing attention to itself. He gets criticism for the simplicity and brevity of his writing (including from me at various points in the past), but in recent years there’s been a reappraisal of his talents, his contribution to Doctor Who, and the broader role he has played in keeping the show alive and aiding development of literacy. I’m glad he stayed around long enough to hear some of that.

Watching

This week, the Elderbeast and I finished watching The Godfather. It remains a classic, but a long and rambling one, with a narrative that often assumes the audience has preternatural knowledge of the proceedings. I’ve seen it many times over the years (albeit not for some decades) and this is the first viewing where I can confidently say I followed everything. I can’t, however, say with great confidence that I learned anything about storytelling from this viewing; I guess this movie is a classic example of how your audience will forgive you taking them on a long journey, so long as you have vision, and strong characters, and there’s a worthwhile story to be told along that journey.

Friday’s horror movie continued our exploration of the Friday The 13th films with Friday The 13th Part 2. This is a pretty worthy sequel, though the extended recap of the first movie combined with the otherwise unconnected opening scene to despatch the remaining survivor makes for an odd start. The Elderbeast found Jason, with his sack-head, dungarees and deep fear of chainsaws, particularly amusing in this film which also added to our enjoyment.

Reading

This week I listened to an awesome Audible show called It Burns. I’m not sure if it’s a podcast or a series, but it was basically a five-part documentary exploring the world of super hot chilies. I grabbed it because I’m mildly intrigued by super-hot chilies, but the show ended up being as much about the psychology of eating disorders as it was about the surprisingly competitive and vicious world of child-growing. In short, it was a story that started by focusing on one tiny (literally) thing, but ended up revealing a whole world of fascination.

Unfortunately, I think Audible is the only place that this show is available, but I highly recommended it if you’re able to give it a listen.

Podcast! … eventually …

(August 25 – 31)

It’s been another busy week of writing activity for me (although the writing itself slows down somewhat in these winter months). I finished my rewrite of When The Darkness Comes, submitted it to a magazine and, once again, had it promptly rejected. I also had another idea for a new short story and start writing that (the novel, and various other projects, are slipping further and further away at this point).

Meanwhile, the fact that I need to do something with my stories, other than use them as tools for attracting rejection letters, has promoted a little creative planning. For many years I’ve considered putting together a collection of my short stories, but I’ve held off since I know it’ll most likely sit there in the Amazon catalogue never being found by anyone. The other idea that’s popped up from time to time is doing audio versions of my stories, and this time the idea has really stuck—I could do a podcast series of my stories, approximately one per week/episode.

Obviously I wanted to get an idea of how many episode I could potentially sustain (I have this idea of doing ‘seasons’ of 13 episodes, but have no idea how many seasons I could deliver) so I did an audit of all my stories. Over the week I’d unearthed a handful of stories sitting on my Google Drive that I’d forgotten I even wrote, which made me realise it was time to be a it more organised. In the end, counting them all up revealed that I have written 45 (completed) stories over the years (with about 10 more in various ages of uncompletion). This means I’m well on the way to having four seasons, or a year’s worth of stories.

Now I just need to make it happen.

Watching

This week I asked the Elderbeast what he wanted to watch for our Sunday movie, and was pretty surprised and impressed when he said “The Godfather”. I asked why, and he said it was in the IMDB top 10 and he wanted to make sure he’d watched every movie in the top ten. Pretty awesome. I did a quick check and found that the movies weren’t available on my various streaming services, so we went off to JB Hifi and found the blurays for Godfather parts 1 and 2 in a ‘3 for 2’ deal … bit of a dilemma since they never made a third Godfather film. We ended up adding Pacific Rim: Uprising to the pile, since the Kinderbesten both wanted to see it.

Anyway, after all that I’m not going to talk about The Godfather because it’s so damn long we only got halfway through. More when we finish it.

(Ironically I later found out that all of The Godfather films are on Prime Video. Oh well, you can do much, much worse that have Godfather 1 and 2 in your collection).

I started watching season two of The Terror, which has been pretty well received. Only one episode in it I like the emphasis on historical verisimilitude and supernatural terrors, which gives it a strong link to the otherwise unconnected first season.

Friday’s horror was an HP Lovecraft adaptation called Dagon, which was a bit of a curiosity. It was made in 2001, but it felt overwhelmingly like one of those straight-to-video horror movies that kept the video industry going in the late eighties and nineties. It had some truly gorgeous cinematography, but was let down in parts by some distinctly hokey CGI. It was also tonally disjointed; aiming for brooding terror for the most part, but featuring a lead actor who had literally used Harold Lloyd as an influence. A mildly interesting oddity.

Reading

I’ve picked up Wool again, which I’m continuing to enjoy and can’t fathom why I’m being so intermittent with it. Anyway, let’s see how many more weeks it finally takes me to finish this.

Deja vu yet?

(Week 34: August 18 – 24)

Another week, another couple of rewrites. The first one is a story I wrote a couple of years ago, and which changed a fair bit during the writing process. Perhaps because of this, the final story never seemed quite right to me: a case of the journey working, but several of the steps feeling like they needed work. Once I’d finished the story, I parked it; and this week I finally came back to it.

Once again, the first half of the story was already pretty tight, but it was the ending that needed the most work. I’d already attempted two versions of the ending and was never quite satisfied with either. This reread, however, put a few images in my head which helped reshape the story’s conclusion. I also managed to trim down a few scenes (just a hundred words here or there, but every word counts) and generally tighten up a few scenes.

The other story was one that I already think is probably one of the best I’ve ever written (and may ever write). Reassuringly there were hardly any edits needed to this one; in fact, I can only think of a single noteworthy change that I made (to make the gender of the narrator a little more ambiguous). Hopefully this means that the story I as good as I hope it is, and not just that my judgement is blinded in this case.

Watching

It’s been another week of rewatches, some of which are worth a quick note.

On Friday we introduced the Elderbeast to the original Friday The 13th, and he seemed to enjoy the experience. I still find this a fascinating movie. It very much takes what Black Christmas and Halloween have already done and doesn’t particularly add anything original, but it does earn its place in movie history for the role it plays in cementing the slasher movie as a standard horror genre.

It’s also a deceptively well made film. It pushes the tropes of the slasher movie about as far as you can, while still remaining a slasher movie, and has some stunning cinematography at times. It’s only really let down (at times) by the low budget.

Over the weekend, the Kinderbeast was finally able to check out Avengers: Endgame. Having now watched it a third time, I think my opinion has flipped back a little. It is still a little on the long side, and it does still have a couple of missteps, but the plot does its best to get to where it needs to go without too much wastage. I can’t think of much that I would cut out, and the film genuinely makes you feel like you’ve been on a journey: I was somewhat exhausted and overwhelmed (in the emotional sense) following this third viewing. Either way, regardless of any criticisms I might have of Endgame, it’s still all worth it for that last hour.

A casual remark by the Elderbeast during the week prompted me to introduce him to The Big Lebowski. I’m very proud to say that he loved it, and completely connected with the Coens’ oddball sense of humour. One thing I realised during this rewatch (and I feel very late to this party) is that The Big Lebowski is essentially a classic pulp noir thriller—it’s only a few heartbeats away from being a Mickey Spillane tale—but put it through the Coens’ filter and it becomes something unique. Adding to that is the casting, which I think is absolutely perfect. It’s one of those films that I’m already looking for an excuse to watch again.

Reading

This week I finished listening to the very excellent Conception Of Fear, and commenced the very long wait for an announcement of Volume Two. I was also very excited to discover that there’s a bonus episode of the Chernobyl podcast, for which they brought on Jared Harris to discuss his role and reflect on the success of the series. Sadly, there will not a be a second season of Chernobyl (at least, you kinda hope there wouldn’t be) but it was nice to have this little epilogue to enjoy.

Rewrite-a-gogo

(Week 33: August 11- 17)

Following my rejection the other week, I decided to submit a second story to the same magazine while their submission window was still open. It’s a story called “When The Stars Go Out” which I wrote a couple of years ago; I’m very invested in it, but never quite thought I’d gotten the story right. Consequently, a rewrite/re-edit was required before I could confidently send it out.

The good news is that the first half or so of the original edit remained pretty tight, but then things started to unravel a little in the second half. Among the problems I could see were unnecessary padding, scenes that repeated previous scenes, and characters’ actions not quite lining up with their motivations. As you can see, having some distance from the story helped give me a more objective viewpoint; I knew there were problems with the story before, but the specific issues were buried by the freshness of the writing.

Short conclusion is that I spent about a week going through the text (mostly in the evenings) and came away feeling I had a much tighter, much stronger version of the story. Ideally I’d be able to spot these issues right away, and a lot of the time I can, but at least one of the benefits of being largely unpublished is that I get to have as many shots at getting a story right as I need. Silver linings, right?

Watching

The Elderbeast has developed a mild obsession with Jason Vorhees (after all, all children need role models in their young life) and has been asking to watch the Friday The 13th films. Being me, I decided to start him off with the most fun entry in the series, Jason X. I have a lot of love for this movie: it knows exactly what it is and doesn’t try to pretend otherwise. It has some properly gory sequences, tension when the scene requires it, and gags that have a pretty high landing rate.

We also had a couple of noteworthy rewatches this week. The Elderbeast asked to watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off again, which makes me very happy as it’s an awesome film and I love the idea of my son growing up with the same sort of films that I grew up with. The horror movie this week was a repeat viewing of It, which remains absolutely excellent (and a good lesson that you can remain faithful to a novel without having to recreate every scene in precise detail).

On the weekend I did something I haven’t done for ages: I binged a whole show. My Awesome Partner was sick, so there was nothing for it but to curl up on the sofa for most of the weekend. This gave us the chance to plough through all six episodes of Good Omens, which was pretty damn splendid. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of that particularly british ‘Douglas Adams’ type of humour and Good Omens is chock full of that. I have read the book, but so long ago that I’ve forgotten almost everything about it (other than Dog) but I would hope that if Terry Pritchett is watching from wherever he is now, he’d be very happy.

Reading

I had a real listening treat this week. Each month Audible (the US flavour) gives away two of its ‘Originals’. This month one of them was a title called The Conception of Terror, which I initially thought was just a set of fresh readings of MR James stories. When I began listening, however, it turned out that these were not only dramatisations, but contemporary retellings of the stories. Awesome!

I can’t say that each story was 100% successful: some of the actors were … underwhelming, and the contemporary settings didn’t entirely mesh with the gothic, classic nature of MR James’s stories. However, overall this was a glorious listening experience. The only story that I was fully familiar with was Casting The Runes, and the writer did an excellent job of finding a fresh angle on the story, even introducing some surprising twists, while managing not to lose anything that makes the story such a classic.

The other three stories were Lost Hearts, The Treasure of Abbott Thomas, and View From A Hill. This collection was produced by Bafflegab, who also produced the adaptation of Blood On Satan’s Claw that I listened to recently, and I’ve already got a bunch of their other productions lined up on my wishlist.

My philosophy on rejection

(August 4 – 10)

This week I submitted a story to a magazine—my first submission in ages—and received a rejection two days later. I thought this provided a reasonable excuse to share my philosophy on rejection.

First of all [side note] getting a rejection within two days is actually a really awesome thing. Most of these markets have limited staff available and will, unavoidably, take much longer than that to provide a response. All this time you’ll be clinging by your fingernails to the edge of the cliff, wondering if this is finally the story that gets picked up. Getting that repose quickly means you can pick yourself and move on that much sooner.

More broadly, I see rejection is a good thing. It means you’ve written something. It means you’ve finished something. And it means you feel good enough about that something to send it out into the world. Rejection doesn’t happen without any of those things happening first: rejection is a sign that you’ve achieved something, and you can wear that proudly.

Furthermore, rejection doesn’t mean that your story is bad, or a failure. It can mean one particular person (the one reading your submission) didn’t connect with your story. It can mean the magazine already has (or recently published) a story with a similar idea. It can mean the publisher already has enough stories for that month. It can mean your story wasn’t quite the right fit for that market. It can mean one of a dozen relatively minor things, none of which reflect on the quality of your work. The chances of you having the right story at the right time are considerably smaller than the chances of your story genuinely not being any good.

Finally, and this is the most important thing: rejection is not something to get frustrated about. I’ve had a small number of very nice rejections, ones which offered me some insight into what the reader thought, but most of my rejections are along the lines of “it just didn’t work for us”. As a writer I do find that a little frustrating: not only did you not want my story, but you’ve barely even told me why. However, a minute later I remind myself that this isn’t actually about me—this is about someone else’s publication. At the other end of that email is someone who has probably spend hours, maybe even days, trawling through stories knowing they can only pick a few. They need to clear their head so they can read the next story objectively, and the one after that. If they stop to analyse my story then it’s going to require a whole lot more time than writing “it just didn’t work for us”.

At the end of the day someone else is giving up their time, possibly devoting their livelihood, to give you the opportunity to send them a story. Whether or not your story makes the cut, that opportunity alone is pretty awesome.

Watching

On Sunday I watched Zombieland for the first time (at the Elderbeast’s suggestion)—only about ten years after people first started raving about it. Luckily it lived up to the hype, largely due to the strong characterisation (and matching performances). The overarching storyline was arguably a bit formulaic, but having unconventional characters (in a slightly unconventional scenario) delivering that plot went a long towards making it feel fresh. And, sure, I remember all the funny bits, but more importantly, I came away from the film feeling that I’d been on a journey with these characters. I can now go off and watch the sequel and spend the whole time wondering how none of the cast has aged over the last ten years.

I also, finally, checked out The Disaster Artist. Like many fans of bad films, I count The Room among my favourite movies of all time, so the news that someone of James Franco’s caliber was making a movie all about the making of The Room was hugely exciting news. Naturally, I then proceeded to completely fail at watching the movie for several years.

What I really liked about The Disaster Artist is that it isn’t just about The Room. It’s about the relationship between Tommy Wiseau and Greg Sestero (who wrote the book that the film is based on). It also make an attempt to life a tiny part of the veil from the enigma that is Tommy Wiseau. In short you get a great drama about two friends, but then you also get the lovingly recreated moment from The Room too—and, if you ever watched The Room, you can be assured that for every single scene you had questions, the cast and crew had the same questions.

Now I just need to get on and watch The Room again.

Reading

No big reading news this week, but I have enjoyed continuing to listen to the Scriptnotes podcast. So, if you like listening to people chatting generally about the movie business and script-writing (and knowing that those people are speaking from experience) then give it a listen.

The long-awaited, much anticipated, eagerly celebrated end of Chapter Three!!

(July 28 – August 3)

Well, I finally finished Chapter 3 which felt good, even if it took longer than expected. I have the feeling that it’ll need some serious hacking in due course, in order to get it into readable shape, but at least I’m fairly confident now that I’ve got some pieces worth hacking into shape.

Watching

This week we finished off Stranger Things 3, and it was definitely worth the ride. The early episodes, as I mentioned, were a little on the slow side but this series was a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Or something like that. I wrote about the emotional core of this particular season being a little lacking, and the writers falling a little too hard on using conflict (i.e. characters arguing with each other constantly) as the basis of drama, but I’d mostly say that these issues were symptoms of the much stronger structure that was applied to this season. 

The Duffer brothers aim to craft each season as a ‘novel’, with each episode being a chapter, but this was far more prevalent in this season. In previous seasons you could easily pick out a handful of episodes that could stand on their own, but with season three it was very much about the parts leading up to a satisfying whole. That said, there were definite elements that stood out: the character that myself and the Elderbeast were fond of calling Russian Terminator, for one; Robin Buckley (who, like Steve Harrington, spent the whole season in a ridiculous sailor outfit, but was still awesome); and the arc they took Billy on was pretty damn good too, Also: The Neverending Story.

Friday’s horror movie was Annabelle: Creation, which was pretty good, if fairly routine. I was pretty impressed by Antony Lapaglia’s very understated performance; playing a character with a whole bunch of stuff going on under the surface. 

I also had the chance to sit down at watch Alien with my Awesome Partner. If you don’t already know, Alien is pretty much my favourite film and the one that;’s most likely had the greatest influence on my over the years, so this was a pretty awesome time. I’d recently bought the 4K release and it looked amazing. I’ve probably watched this film a hundred times, but I noticed all sorts of details I’d never spotted before—in particular how damp and grimy everything looks on the Nostromo (in fact, I was reflecting that my first copy of the film was a VHS off-air recording, complete with ad breaks and bad words cut out—a world away from a 4K edition—but it was still good enough for me back then).

It was quite remarkable watching this film, which I know down to the frame but hadn’t seen for a few years, and being able to get a fresh perspective on it. What really struck me this time around is how enormously different the movie feels to modern blockbusters. It’s precisely crafted, but almost primal (helped by the actor’s various improvisations). It’s no revelation to say it’s almost like an art film, but something I really felt was how much it conveys the mood of what’s going on. You really share the terror and discomfort of the characters, and that’s probably why it’s had such a last impression on people.

Reading

Watching Stranger Things this week reminded me that I had yet to finish the Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down book that my friend got me for Christmas. Firstly though, this book is absolutely gorgeous. It’s been very deliberately designed to look like a book that’s been doing the rounds in your local library for a few years, complete with torn paper cover and plastic wrap. The inside is just as gorgeous and even includes an upside down section. I highly recommend it if you need a little Stranger Things fix.

Unfinished …

(July 21 – 27)

After the holiday break I didn’t quite feel ready to go back to the novel, so I made a start on the short story idea that I had while away. I have an ending, but no idea how to tell it in a compelling way, which means this story is highly likely to remain unfinished for some time yet. Despite this, it’s a good way of flexing my writing muscles, and the prose style I’ve opted for is different than anything else I’ve written lately. 

I also spent some time wrapping up the final edit on another story I’ve been working on. Hopefully this light introduction back into my writing routine will have me raring to go back to the novel by next week.

Watching

A little behind the rest of the world, I began watching Stranger Things 3 with the Elderbeast this week. We’re only three episodes in, so no thoughts to share yet—expect that I totally get why people have found this season slow. I’m enjoying spending time with these characters, but the story is taking its sweet time to get going. However, I’d argue that this is one of the advantages of shows that are delivered in a single, bingeworthy package: the writers don’t need to deliver a capsule story each week anymore, they can focus on the entirety of the story and go for that slow build up if it works. As viewers we need the pace to vary—we’ll get tired if a story is going at full speed right from the outset, or if each episode starts to feel the same as the one before.

Friday’s horror choice wasn’t a horror film this week. I noticed that Hotel Artemis had turned up on Stan and we were both intrigued enough to watch it. Gotta say, I loved it. The fact that it was a sci-fi movie, but had a classic noir story just added to its quirkiness. I’m also now of the opinion that Dave Bautista is surely one of the greatest movie actors to have ever lived. I have loved him in everything I’ve seen him in.

Over the weekend I introduced the Kinderbeast to Pacific Rim (which was fun because Pacific Rim was the first movie I took the Elderbeast to see at the cinema). It is now, of course, his favourite movie ever because what sort of deranged child would not love giant robots fighting giant lizards?

I will admit I love the film, but the script is painfully inept in parts and the movie overall is somewhat totally inconsistent. Until Shape Of Water came along I was fairly convinced that Guillermo del Toro was another Tim Burton—great at visuals, but lousy at story. This movie doesn’t do anything to change that opinion, but it does ride fairly successfully along the outrageousness of its premise.

Reading

Yep, I’m still not reading. Yep, I’m still immersed in podcasts. However, this week’s listening had a pretty good theme going on: endings.

For Our Opinions Are Correct the narrators, mindful that several major franchises are coming to an end this year, provide a few examples of endings that worked, or didn’t work for them. It’s a great little discussion about why certain endings feel better than others. 

One point that really jumped out at me was regarding Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (which, you may recall, I recently stopped reading after struggling though volume 2). The highlighted issue was that we start the trilogy with Lyra, a strong female protagonist, who ends up mostly shunted aside in favour of a new male protagonist in the second novel. When a character that you’re invested in becomes secondary to the story, the conclusion of that story suddenly has much less significance. Alongside the clunky plotting of The Subtle Knife, I suspect this the major reason why I have almost no interest in rereading the third novel in the series.

The Imaginary Worlds episode took a slightly different stance, and instead review the validity of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey in light of our current cultural landscape. It’s an interesting listen and, as often happens with IW, the discussion goes off in some surprising directions.

Holida-ay

(Week 29: July 14 – 20)

This week I was on holiday (as in literally away, not as in sitting in my home and not going to work) which enforced a bit of writing break. Sitting out in the fresh air, surrounded by nature, and listening to the distant crashing of the surf did, however, inspire an idea for a new horror story … which I may get onto next week.

Watching

Returning home on Friday meant that Horror Friday could continue as usual. This week we watched The Conjuring 2 which, to my mind, was actually better than the first one. With its 1960s working class British setting it was a little bit like Ken Loach’s The Conjuring for a while; and, to the director’s credit, things managed not to get too Hollywoodised from there. Eschewing the jump scares of the first movie, this one maintained a steady creepiness throughout and, thankfully, didn’t descend into all-out horror cliche territory, which kinda pulled the first one off the rails towards the end.

For those keeping track, the Marvel rewatch caught us up to Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War (which I’d been particularly excited about) this. Not much new to say about these two except that they both remain superb movies and I continue to wonder what sort of satanic deal Marvel Studios has signed that allows them to continue producing excellent movies and breaking box office records after a decade.

Reading

I did take some books on holiday, but somehow didn’t find the time for reading. True story.

Imitations of life

(Week 28: July 7 – 13)

A good writing week, in terms of word counts, but I’m still enmeshed in chapter 3. I don’t have the ending worked out for this one yet, and it’s a bit hard to write without knowing where I’m heading. More on this when I get there …

Watching

A real grab-bag of viewing delights this week, so let’s get into it.

Rather happily, the Marvel rewatch brought us up to Spider-Man: Homecoming over the weekend. I was, perhaps, a little worried this one would seem like old news in the wake of the very excellent follow-up, but it still stands up. I’ve seen this several times now, and I still get a kick out of the big twist in the second act.

On Sunday (and Monday) I had some time to spare and fancied watching some classic Doctor Who, so I picked The War Games, which I had never seen before. For the uninitiated, this is a ten-episode story, so it’s a bit of a meaty epic and not something to be plunged into lightly. I was surprised how easy it was to watch. There’s not a huge amount of plot going on, but the writing keeps things moving at a snappy pace and there are some great performances from all the key players.

For Fridate horror I picked the found footage anthology film V/H/S/2 after reading about it in an article earlier in the week. Each of the stories was completely different from the other, and found different ways of building in the found footage conceit (e.g. an eye implant, a GoPro, a documentary crew, etc). I think my favourite has to be the cyclist out for his morning ride (wearing his GoPro) who gets attacked by zombies. It was a completely original way to tell a zombie tale, and brought both laughs and tears. And excellently gross zombie effects too.

I also managed to catch up with a film I’ve been meaning to watch for ages: The Imitation Game. Gotta say, I was a bit disappointed in this one. It was pretty engrossing, but it came off as a by-the-numbers Oscar contender. The thing that puzzled me most was that it clearly strove for a sense of authenticity, while also embellishing or outright changing the true story in numerous ways. I get that movies have a different agenda, and different limitations, than history text books but this was a case of creating a new story with the bleached out bones of the facts. It really undermined my appreciation of the film, knowing that I was seeing something that bore so little relation to true events.

Reading

I’m not going to list out every podcast I listened to this week (or all the things that I failed to read). I did, however, want to single out an episode of Scriptnotes called How To Write A Movie

I started listening to Scriptnotes mainly because it’s co-hosted by Craig Mazin, who wrote Chernobyl and who I enjoyed listening to on the accompanying podcast. He normally partners with John August (whose website I’ve enjoyed in the past) for Scriptnotes, but for this particular episode he’s flying solo. 

As the title of the episode implies, he provides his own framework for writing a solid movie script—and it’s refreshingly different from most of the structures you’ll have followed before. Now, as the core of a good movie script is having a strong story and compelling characters, there’s also a lot of advice here for writers in general. 

The podcast is about 45 minutes long, and completely free to listen to, so go out give it a spin.

Slow pants

(Week 27: June 30 – July 6)

Chapter three of the novel is proving, if anything, even slower than chapter three. It’s not surprising, really. I’m far enough into things by now that my writer brain is busy trying to add depth to the characters, work out what their journey is, and build more of a structure around the novel. This works completely against the way I’ve started the novel, which is essentially to write it and see what happens: my brain is busy focusing on the bigger picture, and not really helping me to get those words down on the page.

I still plan to carry on ‘pantsing’ the novel for the most part—there are too many fun moments of random inspiration finding their way into the work for that to stop—but I’ll clearly need to carve out some time to work on the structure.

For this, I plan to use the age-old method of creating an Excel spreadsheet to break down each character journey across the chapters of the novel. At this point, I’m thinking there’ll be a column for each character, outlining what they learn, or how they change in each chapter. There’ll also be a further column to help work out how the relationship between the two characters evolves across the course of the novel.

I’ve got this all in my head right now, but it tends to get in the way of everything else, so I’m keen to get it all out of my head instead. Damn writer brain, getting all crowded with stuff.

Watching

This week’s viewing was almost entirely repeat viewings, so to save time here’s a one-line review of each thing I watched (and, if I’m suitably inspired, whether I got anything new from it this time):

  • Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes – I think I appreciate this film the more I watch it; even the obligatory action-packed third act doesn’t get in the way of the story. One thing I noticed this time was how well the script navigates the tricky terrain between Caesar being both the protagonist (in the sense that our sympathies lie with him) and the antagonist (in the general sense that he spearheads the attack against the humans and would traditionally be seen as the villain).
  • Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall – rewatching Sherlock is always a treat. There’s so much going on in this episode, but I really enjoyed the constant shifting of Moriarty’s character: just when we think we’ve got a read on him, it turns out there’s something completely different going on. I swear these Sherlock episodes have about three different plots happening in each one.
  • The Babysitter – this film is so much fun. This was my second viewing, so I was able to watch the set up for the various twists and turns that happen. I came away really admiring Judah Lewis’s performance as the victimised main character. It’s a tough ask to play someone who’s the victim almost all the way through, but still comes out as the hero while delivering a portrayal that’s totally consistent.
  • Thor: Ragnarok – I love this film and really can’t watch it enough. On this viewing I was watching out for the tonal inconsistency (the laugh out loud comedy vs the merciless destruction of Asgard) and decided that Cate Blanchett’s portrayal Hela does a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of making her villain sufficiently humourous to work within the film. I do still wish, however, they’d left the Warriors Three completely out of the story; seeing them despatched so easily is still a bit of a kick in the guts.

I did see one new film this week, and that was Spider-Man: Far From Home. This movie wraps up phase three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and does an excellent job in that capacity. It also does an excellent job in almost every other capacity, building confidently on the foundations of Spider-Man: Homecoming, and even including some smart (If mostly throwaway) nods to the events of Infinity War and Endgame. It was also good to see some post-credits scenes that truly expand the story and set things up for the future (the ‘gag’ credits scenes are always fun, but these particular scenes not only throw a new spin on the movie you’ve just watched, but also get you chomping at the bit for the next one).

Reading

I’ve somewhat lost momentum with Wool, and haven’t settled on a new audiobook to listen to, so this week’s ‘reading’ has been primarily listening to podcasts including, but not limited to, Scriptnotes and Imaginary Worlds.

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