Peggy Bechko’s World of Stand-up (Sit Down?) Writing

by Peggy Bechko

Sitting or Standing – oh, what the *&^%!

We’re writers. We end up sitting a lot.

We’re no doubt aware of the fact that sitting a lot isn’t really good for us. There are studies that claim to show how very, very bad it is by informing us all that it increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and of course cardiovascular disease. It also leads to obesity and back pain. In fact it could be killing us (duh – look at what sitting all day causes).

But wait. Now there’s a new study by researchers in the UK that comes at it from another angle and says long days of sitting doesn’t seem to be killing us after all. At least no faster than standing.

What? Oh, for crying out loud.

So what’s the basis for this?

Well, here’s a quote: “Our study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself,” said researcher Melvyn Hillsdon from the University of Exeter. “Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing.”

Hmmm. Okay, writer, now what do we do?

I mean I got a standing desk and everything.

There’s a key here, right? Umm, yeah. It hinges on our daily activity according to these researchers (who, by the way, spent 16 years on their project). The extrapolation is apparently activity, every kind of activity.

Define activity I said to myself.

In general, it’s any sort of movement.

For example, the study took place in London which is a city that requires a lot of walking to and standing on public transportation to get places. So, the folks in this study had double the average daily walking time that most other folks there in the UK and I’m assuming in the US.

So, despite the fact that remaining seated for long periods is bad for your health, no matter how often you hit the gym, simple movement is big for health.

What is needed apparently is a bigger expenditure of energy in some form. Even fidgeting counts.

The take-away?

Well, I’m not getting rid of my standing desk. I like it and I actually think it causes me, personally, to focus better. If you want to see it you can check mine out at http://amzn.to/2mQU9NS – it’s a Varidesk.

I split my day between sitting and standing (standing with a lot of fidgeting). Now I’m adding to that a new focus on increasing physical activity. The fact is my standup desk does encourage more movement than sitting. I do fidget and I do move back and forth on my feet and I do tend to step away more often. So now when I step away, I walk up and down the stairs.

All that walking is good, and easy to arrange. My suggestion is that you make the commitment to walk more, to fidget at your desk more and to generally keep spending your energy.

After all, who needs the stress of worrying about the hours we spend at our computers, a situation that no matter how good our intentions we can’t change?

Now, get up, stretch, move around, then go on and write that award-winner. Your body may not be able to give an acceptance speech for your conscious contribution to a healthier life, but your life will speak for it, every moment of every day.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

The Fiction Writer’s Character Chart

image by The-Happy-Thought

Know how all the writing books (including LB’s own) tell you to create autobiographies for your characters so you know them inside and out before you start writing?

It’s a bitch, right? But here’s something that’ll help you. Writer Rebecca Sinclair has created a brilliant template that homes in on exactly what character aspects you need to know, and the good peeps at Eclectics have published it on their site.

We aren’t publishing it here out of consideration for Ms. Sinclair’s wishes, but we guarantee you that it’s worth a click. So, hey, you know what to do, CLICK HERE!

Why Adverbs Are The Tequila Of Writing Dialogue

TVWriter™ visitor Marcia Anonymous (not her real name, in case you wondered) recently sent us this article, found at South African writing site WritersWrite. According to Marcia:

When I first saw the title, “Why Adverbs are the Tequila of Writing Dialog,” I got all huffy and immediately barked out, “No! She’s wrong.” But now that I’ve read it I understand and recommend Mia Botha’s point. I’m also kind of embarrassed about what she says about tequila here. Seems like it’s way TMI. Not about writing, but about Ms.Botha. Oh well. It’s nothing a little Tequila Blu Reposado won’t fix. Maybe LB and Ms. Botha will both join me?

LB says to tell you he’s hoisting one…or two…or three right now. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, here’s the article:

by Mia Botha

I have been writing about dialogue these past few weeks.
Today, I want to talk about adverbs and why you should try to avoid them.

Adverbs tell us how something was done. You should rather try to show
us how it was done. When I talk about adverbs I want you to be pay close
attention to the words that end in –ly, namely adverbs of manner. Instead of using these, I want you to try to use
verbs, but not any old verb will do. I want you to use strong verbs, for example, stride instead of walk, sprint or race instead of run.
Knowing which verbs to use will be easier if you know your
character well. Think of the difference between a woman who strides and a woman
who shuffles. Each verb creates a different person or a different scene.
You don’t have to obliterate adverbs, but often they are
redundant or could be replaced by a strong verb. Adverbs are the tequila of writing. There is no such thing
as one tequila and there is no such thing as one adverb. Once you have used
one, more will sneak in. Be careful.
When all is said
That said I want to talk about the word said. Said is
awesome. Use it. Don’t replace it with words like admonished or exclaimed.
Stephen King recommends using them only 10% of the time. It’s good advice. Said
is invisible to a reader.
Below is an example of dialogue with adverbs and verbs other
than said. I used the prompt: ‘Keep your morals away from me’.
“Don’t do it.” Alice demanded angrily.
“Keep your morals away from me.” Janet said snidely as she
stood over John, tightly tied up in the corner.
“You’ve never minded my morals before.” Alice retorted
sarcastically.

So You Want to Make a Web Series – Step 2

Pre Pre-Production
by Bri Castellini

Plenty of screenwriters might go their whole careers without ever filming something themselves. But you, my friends, have chosen that web series way of life — indie film at its most indie. In general, making a film is broken up into three parts: pre-production (planning), production (filming), and post-production (editing). In reality, though, each of those parts is a process unto itself. So today, we’re going to talk about the pre production you do BEFORE pre-production truly begins.

Pre-pre-production is essentially where you answer the question, “can we actually pull this off?” Spoiler alert: probably.

Since you’re fresh off your script writing, a good next step is doing breakdowns. Make a document or spreadsheet of every element of your script. This will then become your shopping list as you move forward in the production process. Elements include characters, locations, props, wardrobe, etc. For my breakdowns, I like to have the basic list, plus a version that’s organized by characters and locations. This will be super useful during *real* preproduction when you’re preparing your schedules, because you’re almost certainly not going to film in order of your script. In reality, film schedules are driven by when you can get the correct group of people in the designated location. Knowing who needs to be where for the whole story will be invaluable for those decisions.

Filmmaking is a collaborative process and at this point you’re going to want to start bringing more people on board. If you haven’t done much film production before, find a trusted person who has, and make them a producer. The producer’s job is to know what’s going on at every level of production and make sure each task gets completed. The most valuable quality in a producer is experience in film, even if they’ve never actually held the role of “producer” before. They’ll provide a vital perspective and knowledge-base for turning your awesome script into an awesome show. They’ll fill in blanks you might not even realize were there, and suggest shortcuts to make your life easier.

Most projects have multiple producers, all with different strengths. A dream team would consist of someone with film experience, someone who’s really organized, and someone who has a big network. Sometimes you’ll get an all-in-one, and sometimes you’ll mix-and-match. It really depends on who you know and how interested in the project they are. Your producer team is your lifeboat in a sea of uncertainty and stress, and you’re going to want to sign them on as early as possible.

You’re also going to want to find a director, because without them, there’s no one to actually film the thing. Maybe you’re considering directing the series yourself, and if that’s the case, good for you! Just know that directing consists of more than calling “action” and “cut”— it’s about visualizing every angle you need for each scene, paying attention to pacing and transitions, and coordinating and communicating every person on set. It’s also about having all the answers to everything happening at any given time. I don’t say this to deter you, just to clarify that being a director is a massive undertaking, and having someone confident in their film experience in this position is going to be invaluable.

Got your people? Great. Schedule a meeting, share your script, and collectively go through your breakdowns. The goal here,, remember, is to answer the question, “can we actually pull this off?”

This is when your more production-knowledgeable friends and partners will really help you out. They’ll be able to point out places where you’ve made the script too complicated, or why certain props and locations might be difficult to attain, and offer educated alternatives. A lot of the time, you can accomplish what you want with your story in simpler ways. You just need to understand what your options are, and having partners with more experience allow you to uncover those possibilities.

Now it’s time for what I’ll call “realistic rewrites” of your show, accounting for the resources you have available and the realities of what you can accomplish on a microbudget. This can be as simple as changing a location from a busy club to an apartment, or as drastic as cutting a character. Compromise is part of the process, so get used to killing your darlings and making sacrifices where you can in service of actually getting this project to the finish line. Once you make it big, you can plan to revisit those more ambitious ideas, and you’ll have the experience to know how to make them count.

Before you bring any more people on board, we have to talk about money, which we’ll do next week. To be clear, we don’t have any to give you. But we’ll help you understand your different options for funding or simply affording your production. See you then!


Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker and the Community Liaison at Stareable, LB’s favorite hub for web series. Check out www.stareable.com to find and read reviews of thousands of web series, all in one place. For more great articles about the craft of web series, visit the Stareable blog.

John Ostrander: Talking The Talk

by John Ostrander

So you had a story idea and you’ve worked it up into a plot. The characters are defined, you know who is doing what, the twists and turns and even the theme.

Now you have to put words into everyone’s mouths or, more precisely, into their word balloons. For some would-be writers, that’s where the wheels come off. How do you write dialogue? More importantly, how do you write good dialogue?

Let’s start with a basic: all dialogue is action. No one just speaks: they cajole, they explain, they confirm, they deny, they confront, they exalt, they exult, they attack, they defend, they lie and so on.  It is an active transitive verb. When a character speaks, they are doing something or attempting to do something. What’s important is not what the character is saying but what the character is doing or trying to do when they speak.  What does the character want, what goals are they trying to achieve? In short, what drives them? What is their motivation? What do they need? Not just want – need.

Dialogue has two main purposes: to move the plot along and/or to reveal character. Even exposition falls under the “move the plot along” rule.

Keep in mind that in comics, you have very little room for dialogue. Each panel has room for maybe two word balloons – three, if they’re small. Each word balloon has room for two to three lines tops. And you can’t do that in every panel; the reader will just see too many words and skip the page.

I’ve heard it said that comic book scripting is revealing character via newspaper headlines. So you have to be succinct with your verbiage.

Major Ostrander rule: when in doubt, cut it out. If they can (and do) cut Shakespeare, they can (and should) cut some of your lines. You should do it first. I’ve heard a story that legendary writer and editor Robert Kanigher, when he was writing Sgt. Rock, would stand on his desk and shout out the dialogue; if it sounded okay doing it that way, he figured it was right.

Once I delivered a GrimJack script to First Comics and, while editor Rick Oliver was going through it, I was schmoozing the rest of the office as I usually did. Rick came out to me with a page of script in his hand and the matching page of art. He looked at them, looked at me, and asked how much I was paid per page. I told him and then Rick noted “So on this page we’re paying you one hundred dollars for six words.”

“No,” I replied easily; “You’re paying me for knowing which words to leave off.” I offered to add more if Rick really felt it was necessary but he smiled, said he was just curious, and went back into his office.

When writing dialogue, you need to differentiate between characters. They are not all the same characters (even though all of them are you) and so should speak differently. Some people speak brusquely, some like the sound of their own voices. Some people try to over explain their reasons why they are doing what they’re doing; they feel that if you understood, really understood, you’d do things their way. I was told once by one such person that I wasn’t listening, to which I replied, “Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean I’m not listening.”

There is a cadence to how people speak and that’s especially useful if you’re trying to indicate a person has a foreign accent; there is a way of speaking, a certain order. Some movies can give you a wealth of accents to hear; Casablanca is a very good one. Listen and learn.

There’s a simple short-cut that can help you; cast your characters as if they were in an animated feature. Who would you cast as their voice? The nice part of this is that it doesn’t have to be an actor; it can be anyone whose voice you can hear in your mind – a friend, a relative, a co-worker, a politician and so on. They don’t have to be currently living, either; past or present will do.

Listen to your characters as well once you have their voices in your mind; they will not only tell you what to write but may take the plot off in a direction you hadn’t considered. Listen to them and go with them if they do that. There was a GrimJack story once where I refused to do that; I stubbornly stuck to the lines and the plot that I had already decided on. That s.o.b. Gaunt stopped talking to me for the rest of the issue; it was the hardest GrimJack script I ever attempted. I learned my lesson and haven’t done it since.

Listen to people all around you; what do they say and how do they say it? What do they not say? What is left unsaid? In art, negative space can help define the figure. In writing, the silences can define the character. When do they happen, why, and what happens as a result?

Don’t be “clever.” Dialogue should be entertaining, yes; that’s part of storytelling. However, when I encounter “clever” dialogue, it means the author is really trying to draw attention to him/herself. “See how clever I am? Isn’t that a great turn of phrase?” It draws the reader right out of the story and that’s a failure to communicate. There are many writers whose dialogue is clever but that’s not their purpose. Brian Michael Bendis is an example of someone who writes very clever dialogue but he is also a very very good writer because his first focus is story and characterization. He just happens to be clever as well.

Your dialogue can be contemporaneous; it can be elevated. Poetic or streetwise. What it has to do is serve the story and reveal the character.

That’s the job.


John Ostrander quite simply is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared.

BEYOND WORDS – Celebrating Writers Guild Award-Nominated Writers

Photo Credit: Michael Jones/WGAW

by Kelly Jo Brick

The Writers Guild of America, West, the Writers Guild Foundation and Variety gathered together several of this year’s award-nominated writers to speak about their films. From craft to the business side of entertainment, nominees shared inspiring stories of the persistence and drive it took to get their movies made, the worst notes they ever received and that sometimes you need to break the rules.

TVWriter.com’s Contributing Editor, Kelly Jo Brick, talked with several of the writers to discover what’s the best advice they received early on in their writing careers.

ALLISON SCHROEDER – HIDDEN FIGURES

Some of the best advice I got was that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Which I think was really key, because there were definitely moments where I was like nothing is happening and I’m stalled. You have to remember that is part of the business and you have to keep going. There will be highs and lows.

ERIC HEISSERER – ARRIVAL

Build a community. Find a group of peers. Your way in is almost never going to be someone who is already established. It’s going to be someone who breaks in and takes you with them. That’s how I’ve seen it happen a lot. I think there are more opportunities for those kind of groups now than there were before. The internet is a big part of that. Also there’s a greater awareness about how movies get made.

TAYLOR SHERIDAN – HELL OR HIGH WATER

I got no advice when I started out, but I’ll give some advice that I told myself, which was write the movie you want to see and that’s what I did.

BARRY JENKINS – MOONLIGHT

When you’re starting out you want to write what you know. That is what was told to me and I think it was the best advice as far as trying to get images and characters on the page. I think the characters I knew were the best training for that. You have to read screenplays too. Most up and coming screenwriters watch a lot of movies, but they don’t read a lot of scripts. We all know what the great scripts are from the last thirty years and we should all be reading those when starting out.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE PANEL

WHAT THE WRITERS LEARNED FROM MAKING THEIR MOVIES:

THEODORE MELFI – HIDDEN FIGURES

The process of making HIDDEN FIGURES and working with a very diverse cast and a very diverse crew has shown me that I never want to make a movie with four white guys with wigs. I want to stay on that path and represent the world as we see it.

DAMIEN CHAZELLE – LA LA LAND

One thing I learned is to not get too disheartened when things in your career and the life of a project seem like a death knell. Disasters, I had a lot of those on this project specifically and I look back now and say, “Oh, I’m glad the movie didn’t get made at that moment because I wasn’t ready to make it. I’m glad it didn’t go down this path.” I hope to have that sort of Zen about things going forward.

KENNETH LONERGAN – MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

I think I learned along the way both internally, creatively with the film itself and also the experience of making the film and showing people the film, that often wherever there is this terrible adversity and people are getting pushed into painful situations, there seems to be somewhere in the equation an equal amount of love and effort to help each other through it.

RHETT REESE – DEADPOOL

I didn’t learn anything from DEADPOOL, but I do think that unfortunately Hollywood is trying to, like should they be making more R-rated movies or action movies or breaking the 4th wall and all these things. DEADPOOL existed because it wasn’t learning any lessons from any previous film. It was just on its own weird course. I feel like it’s really incumbent upon us on artists to not do what the studios do and analyze failures and successes and different elements inside them and start to either move away from those elements or use more of those elements because you’re chasing success or trying to avoid failure and just to chart your own path.

PAUL WERNICK – DEADPOOL

You need the passion to push that ball up the hill. Oftentimes it falls back on you and you have to have the fortitude and the passion and the love to keep pushing, because you will hear no a lot and it can crush you. But if you have that passion to not take no for an answer and to keep pushing, then somehow, someway you will get it done.

ERIC HEISSERER

Probably the biggest lesson I learned is that writing on spec can be really good therapy. It also encouraged me that I actually realized four of the last five specs I have written have female protagonists. It really is my sincere hope that at some time in the future the only way for me to get those kind of movies made is to write them on spec because I hope if they’re assignments, they go to women.

GETTING YOUR PROJECTS OUT THERE AND BREAKING IN:

KENNETH LONERGAN

I think just knowing what you want most out of a particular project and what you’re willing to give up for it, will equip you far better to field all the things that come at you while you try to get the movie made and when you’re tempted by someone saying, “Hey, we’ll make it for you and we love it,” and then after you sign the contract they say, “By the way, we want to change the ending,” which is what means most to you. If you know in advance that you’re not going to do that, that you’d rather not make the movie than change the ending, you’re in a much stronger position. You have negative power as a screenwriter. You have no positive power, but you can always say no, I don’t want to do it under these circumstances and knowing that can be really helpful.

BARRY JENKINS

I think the transition from student to professional has to be self-generated, especially in 2017. You just gotta write that amazing film. It’s better if you can go out and direct that amazing script as well, but it’s about self-generating. Take out a $100 or $1,000 and go make a film.

ALLISON SCHROEDER

I went to film school. When a lot of students got out, they just wanted to be a director. They wanted to be successful instantly. I don’t think that’s a reality. I was happy to learn and I was happy to write on that board in the writers’ room as a production assistant. I am proud I wrote MEAN GIRLS 2, because MEAN GIRLS 2 meant I could pay my rent. It was a wonderful experience. It’s okay to take some jobs to learn. They don’t have to all be prestigious. I just urge you to take the jobs. If you’re being hired to be a writer, that is one of the luckiest things in the world.

TODD BLACK, PRODUCER – FENCES

You gotta write. You have a computer, you have a yellow pad, go write and use your iPhone. Get some friends who are actors and go make a short film. You don’t need millions of dollars to do it. You just have to write something. Don’t wait for anybody. No one is going to offer it to you. I never understand when people say I’m waiting for the phone to ring. You’re going to be waiting a long time if you don’t generate it.


Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

Peggy Bechko’s World of Character Names

by Peggy Bechko

Writing a script? A novel? A short story?

Then you have characters who need names, and not just any name, but a name that sticks, a name that echoes, a name that sounds good coming from an actor’s lips or on the pages of a script or manuscript. So, as with most everything, there’s a good side and a bad side.

The good side – you’re god when it comes to your story. You’re the one who creates the characters and tags them with the names that will stay with them…and with you throughout the process of writing said script or novel. Yay!?

The bad side – well, this can be a tough process. I mean what if you name a character Sally and she’s really an Imogene? Or a Charlie turns out to be a Theodore? The simple reality is that what may ‘sound’ good to you when you write it on the page might come across entirely differently to a reader or when an actor speaks the name.

As a writer, it’s important for you to choose a name appropriate to character and provides the best read…and listen for readers and audiences.

Here are a few simple tips to consider when determining a character’s name. First consider the alphabet. Yep, A through Z. If you name your main character Zelda then naming her side-kick Zed isn’t a good idea. Let’s not have Fred and Fredda either. Here’s why. In the beginning, the reader reading your script or manuscript is doing it fast, skimming, reading for content. You don’t want names tripping them out as that reader tries to keep your characters sorted out.

You might also plant the idea in your brain that it’s a good idea to avoid names that are androgynous. Why? For a script you want the reader to identify your characters clearly from the outset. For a manuscript you don’t want the editor going back and forth through the paragraphs to sort out who is who. So unless that particular name is an absolute must because of the story line, avoid names like ‘Pat’, “Jean’, “Robin’, Casey, Bobbie and others that could confuse the reader.

Think about your setting and the context of the story. Character names can tell us something about the character’s personality and ideally add some depth to the story. Think about stories you’ve read and movies you’ve seen. Have the names fit and perhaps even subconsciously touched a note for you? For example. The recent film, Passengers. The main character was Jim Preston. A straight-forward, down to earth name. The woman he awakens is Aurora Lane. That name hints at more. It brings lots of things to mind. It’s the Roman goddess of sunrise who’s tears turned into morning dew. It was also the name of Sleeping Beauty and it’s the scientific term for the Northern Light. This hints at a more complicated character.
And the bartending Android is simply Arthur. One name. One location. A friendly and simple name.

What I’m getting at is the meaning behind the character’s name can add a lot of personality. And, because of the ebb and flow of time and corresponding names it can even give an idea of the time in which the story is set and the location. That’s helpful for period pieces, space operas and the like. You can even consider calling characters by their last name alone if that tells the reader/watcher something about that character.

Finally, the more memorable the name of the main characters, the more memorable the movie or book and the more likely people are going to talk to their friends about it. Think about the last couple of books you read and movies you’ve seen – do you remember the name of the main character?

Character names are not just ‘labels’ hung on those moving elements of your script or story. Hook your readers and movie goers in all ways … and names are just one of them.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.