How to write the perfect crime story

This article is from a series of writing tips for kids. But, hey, we’re all kids, aren’t we? Otherwise how could we be writers?

Niall-Leonardby Niall Leonard

The crime novel, as a visit to any good bookshop will tell you, is a huge category, and I would never claim to know the definitive method of constructing and writing one; I can only go from my own experience of writing for TV shows like Silent Witness and Wire in the Blood, and the crime novel trilogy that started with Crusher.

The best place to start is with a story that fascinates you as a writer. If you feel excited writing it there’s a far better chance your readers will feel excited too. Real life is always the best source of stories, but never rely on newspapers or TV for the whole truth: journalists often omit inconvenient facts, or simply get stuff wrong, and TV writers constantly cheat and fudge reality to make their story work better, or to fit a timeslot or a budget. Recycling other writers’ work is not good writing any more than reheating a supermarket meal in a plastic tray is good cooking – research is essential if you want your tale to ring true.

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Peggy Bechko: Six Tips to Creativity for Writers, Artists and Readers

xx Creativity Tips

by Peggy Bechko

A writer writes – right?

And what could be more important to writing than creativity.

So, here are just six tips to being more creative.

1. Keep a journal. Don’t think this is ‘written in stone’. Some people love them, some people hate them, even writers. If it’s something that works for you, jot things down. Doesn’t have to be all the time, every day, every hour. Any time is good. Not at all works as well if you’re the ‘hate it’ kind who’d rather simply be writing a story, an article, a screenplay and not bothering with a journal.

2.  Write everything down. Don’t trust your memory when you have a good idea, especially at night. I don’t care who you are, you’re gonna forget. Yes, you are. This kind of follows the journal keeping but it’s different. This is making note of your ideas. You don’t have to get all touchy-feely, just for God’s sakes write it down.

3. Go hang out in nature and allow it to wash simile ideas over you like a wave on a sun-kissed shore. Okay, okay, you get it. Nature is a great resource when you’re looking for ideas to get your idea across. Open your eyes and ears, smell the air and think about the feel of the breeze on your skin. We’ve all heard “slow as a snail”; stale, yes. However there are millions of possibilities out there. Come up with something new and fresh and you’ll suck those readers in. Yes, you need it for your scriptwriting as well. By virtue of it’s very tautness a script must be engaging in order to attract what’s needed to actually produce it.

4. Look, if you’re writing or creating anything, if you’re in the flow, if everything is clicking along for you, then keep at it. Keep writing. Keep painting. Keep clicking the camera. Keep creating. I will add one thing for writers. Many times it’s best to pause at a peak when break time comes along so you can dive right in when you begin again instead of finding yourself in a valley from which you must crawl upward.

5. Ever try to convey an emotion in a story or for that matter to paint it on a canvas or draw it and you just can’t seem to get a hold of what you need? Can’t quite make it happen. Try listening to music that stirs that emotion within you. Let it flow through you and absorb. If you actually feel the emotion you’re trying to put across odds are it will come through in your creative work. New words and idas will sprout. Trust me on this.

6. Doodle. Haven’t you heard this before? Amazing what doodling can do. The brain seems to take a little vacation, but not a non-productive one. Doodling can accomplish a lot. Don’t believe me? Check out doodling and learn how amazing it can really be.   Oh, and you can try writing with your non-dominant hand. The sheer awkwardness of trying this, the difficulty you’ll experience in writing words, then sentences with that hand give you more room to think and spurs those thoughts to flow. It slows you down too which can be a good thing!

That’s it. Six suggestions. Try them out and let me know how they work for you when skipping down the creative path.

Calling All Writers—Games Are the New Frontier

We keep tellin’ ya: TV writers don’t have to just write TV. Take this teeny little opportunity, for example:

ocarina-of-time-640x360by Mary Lee Sauder

I live a strange double life, stuck between the diametrically opposed worlds of writing and gaming. When I go to an English class and mention that I’m a gamer, people treat it as a non-sequitur and the chatter moves on to the latest in an ever-growing list of efforts to get John Green to come to campus. But when I go to a game studies class, the conversation (not to mention the gender distribution) completely flips, and I get blank stares or condescending remarks if I try to defend story as an important part of games.

For all the talk of games being a burgeoning art form, these two camps just don’t seem to understand or appreciate one another. And who can blame them? Right now, there is simply no good outreach to writers from games like there is for film or television. A creative writing major graduating this year would have to work very hard and have a lot of other supplemental skills to get hired in the gaming industry, so why would it even be on the average student’s radar?

See, games and stories don’t work well together when they stick only to what they know. Pretty much any writer will tell you that a story has words and is meant to be experienced from beginning to end. But that’s not the strength of video games, so a writer needs to approach developing a game in a much different way. Today I Die has been called an “interactive poem” because it uses the player’s natural curious exploration to evolve the words onscreen in different ways, and the player’s actions reflect the subject of the story—that is, the struggle to tear oneself out of the pit of depression.

When a writer approaches a game as if it’s a film or a book—that is, a more or less linear narrative with established characters and motivations—the game won’t be stronger for it. The gameplay will probably have very little to do with the story, and the whole thing will come across as a lame knockoff of some imaginary movie or book that could’ve handled the material much better.

This isn’t to say that linear narratives and characters with actual identities have to go out the window. But the story and the gameplay should be developed together so that they complement each other, not separately so that one of the elements feels stapled onto the part that the developers actually cared about. I shouldn’t want to skip through endless cutscenes just to get to the exciting gameplay, or watch all the cinematics on YouTube because the actual game is irrelevant.

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Peggy Bechko: The Day Job and The Writer

first-day-on-job

by Peggy Bechko

I think we all know the image of the ‘starving writer’ is long gone. The large majority of writers and I mean published and even often published writers are pressed to supplement their writing passion with a day job.  Heads up writers, those are the facts of life. 

The question then becomes, what kind of day job? There are well known writers such as Dan Brown (Da Vinci Code) who taught school. That can be a great writers’ day job with long breaks in the summer and usually winter and spring as well. There are drawbacks too. Teachers are often overwhelmed with work during the regular school year with class planning, teaching, grading papers and possibly even drawing duty supervising playgrounds and parking lots. It could mean the writer finds time to write only during breaks in teaching. And if you want to teach lower grades and write, say erotic romance novels, that could be a bit tricky. You might need a pen name to say nothing of how you handle book related appearances.  Just a thought.

Some other writers choose jobs that call for them to write during the day such as technical writing, resume writing, public relations, catalog description writing. These all give the writer the opportunity to exercise his or her writing muscle. The down side to that job is it could be very hard to work on your great American novel at day’s end after having written all day.  Some aren’t the least bit deterred and pound out those thousands of additional words even after a day at such a job and the benefit of that kind of work is the potential for a great information flow that might be used in a novel.

There are journalist novelists such as Ernest Hemingway. He used his talent and experiences as a war correspondent to write about war in some of his novels. And the added benefit of working in journalism is you get a by-line when published. That’s not a bad thing when putting your creative writing out there. If you go the traditional route agents and publishers will know your name. If the digital world calls no doubt getting your identity out there will attract readers who follow your work in the journalistic field.

If you’re into screenwriting you might want to try to find a job associated with the movie industry. Maybe take some ‘extra’ jobs in films or become a ‘reader’ for scripts.

Other writers think a whole different direction is good for their writing and take jobs like William Faulkner who shoveled coal and took advantage of quiet times at the power plant where he worked to write while Stephen King started as a high school janitor (and you wondered where Carrie came from).  Could be that as a writer what you’re looking for is a day job that pays the bills but is not very demanding and there might be quiet times when you can slip in some writing.  Maybe a desk job that involves reception with times when the people flow is slow. If you think that less demanding job is for you just bear in mind the co-worker who want to go to lunch or wants to hang out at your desk and chat. Don’t know what to tell you about them, you’ll have to find your own solution.

Think about it. Work with it early on so you don’t just ‘fall’ into a job you hate to keep things moving. If you need some training, get it. Then dove-tail that job with your writing until you can break free into full-time writing you love.

Want a few suggestions for job hunts and ideas?  Try:

http://www.Higheredjobs.com

http://www.job-hunt.org/findingjobs.shtml

http://www.Jobs.stc.org

http://www.Flexjobs.com/jobs/technical-writing

Your local www.Craigslist.org

http://www.Journalism.columbia.edu/page/60-job-hunting-resources/60

Keep an open mind and find a good match.

John Ostrander: Who Are You? And Who Are Your Characters?

Peter-Capaldi1

by John Ostrander

Let’s have our own little adventure in time and space. At the time I’m writing this, the new season of Doctor Who, starring the new guy, Peter Capaldi, has not yet played. By the time you read this, it will have already been on. A bit of the old timey-wimey thing.

If you’re not a viewer of the time traveling import from the BBC (and we Whovians pity your poor benighted souls), Doctor Who is a fifty-year old TV show featuring a madman in a blue box. The madman is also known as The Doctor and the blue box is his TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey and while he looks human, some bits of him aren’t. Such as the ability to regenerate when his physical body is in close danger of dying. It’s not just a reboot; his entire body changes… and so does his personality. It is this ability to change actors every so often that has helped keep the show on the air for fifty years (give or take a hiatus or two).

That’s one of the exciting mysteries about the new season. We’ve only seen bits and pieces of Peter Capaldi as the Doctor but we already know he’ll be very different from his predecessor. Matt Smith was sort of the Robin Williams of Doctors; anything that came into his head came out his mouth. Capaldi is also older than the three prior Doctors, harking back to the first versions of the Doctor. He also appears to be more serious to the point of being grim. I’m very much looking forward to finding out who and what the new Doctor is.

The challenge for each actor playing the Doctor is to find a way to put their own stamp on the character while, at the same time, finding the core of the character, the part that doesn’t change. It’s a challenge not only for the actor but also the writers of the show and it illustrates an important aspect of writing characters in general.

We are, all of us, like a diamond. Turn the stone and the different facets can reveal different aspects. We have many different sides to us and they come out according to the situation or who we are with. You may be different with your friends than with your parents. Guys are one way with their guy friends but if you introduce a female to the mix, they change. The body posture, the voice, the way a guy expresses himself may be way different with a female (especially a new attractive unknown one) than his buddies. I don’t know but I suspect the same is true for women.

What we find to be true in life should be true in our writing. If you are creating a complex character, you have to find their contradictions. A person can be very brave in some aspects and yet very scared in others. They can go from one thing to the other in a heartbeat. Maybe you’ve noticed that some people are really nice until they get behind the wheel of a car where they can turn into flaming assholes. Maybe you’ve been that person. We have heroes within us; we also have villains. That’s why writing a villain can be a lot of fun; you get to let loose that side of you without any real ill effects.

One of the purposes of a supporting character in a story is to bring out this aspect or that aspect of the protagonist. Have you ever noticed how some people bring out the best of you and others bring out the worst? Back in my college days, there was one person I really didn’t like being around. I finally figured out why; he demonstrated aspects of myself that I didn’t like and seeing those traits made me uncomfortable. As a writer, however, that’s all useful.

The thing to remember is that all those aspects are you just as all the past incarnations of the Doctor are the Doctor. As in life, so in our writing. All our characters are an aspect of us. That’s part of the fun of it.

As for me, I can’t wait to see what the newest incarnation of the Doctor is like. Maybe by figuring out Who the Doctor is this time, I may also learn a bit more about Who I am.

Tips for Writing a Web Series Script

Question: When is the 3 act structure not the 3 act structure?

Answer: When you decide to call it something else.

But whatever you call the technique in the following article, we think it’s an interesting angle to work. Especially if you’re feeling stuck on a story and need to break on through to the other side:

organisation-structure_95892469by Nick Lawrence

When you start learning about screenwriting, one of the first things you’re likely to hear about is the Three Act Structure. With roots tracing back to Aristotle, the Three Act Structure has been championed by everyone from Syd Field to Robert McKee as the standard way to write a feature-length (90-120 page) screenplay. But for those of us writing shorter scripts for web series, applying the three act structure can prove confusing. It may be counterintuitive to try and pack two act breaks into a 5-10 page script, for example. What if your script only has one scene — how are you supposed to pack three acts into a single scene? Faced with these issues, it’s tempting to ignore structure and just try to write something entertaining. But is that really a good idea?

I want to introduce an alternative approach to screenplay structure called the PCR Method. PCR stands for Problem, Complication, and Resolution. I learned this method from Professor Jay Moriarty at USC, who cut his teeth writing for popular 1970s comedies like All In the Family and The Jeffersons. These shows were maybe 25 minutes without the commercials — closer in length to a web series episode than a feature film — so the writers had to develop their stories quickly and hold the attention of finicky viewers clutching remote controls. The structure they perfected is still widely used in half-hour comedies, and can be applied equally well to comedy and drama web series, including episodes that are only a few minutes long.

WRITING USING THE PCR METHOD

1. Start your story with a PROBLEM — some situation that your characters are facing. Problems can be big or small. Maybe an annoying character is coming to visit (Introverts). Maybe your character wants to throw a birthday party for her friend who hates parties (Introverts). Problems don’t have to be negative — maybe your character is going on a date and wants to make a good impression (The Mindy Project) or has the opportunity to stay in a beach house for the weekend (Girls). The important thing is that the problem engages us by creating dramatic tension — hope and fear about what’s going to happen. It doesn’t have to be big or high-stakes (though it certainly can), but it does have to be involving enough to make us care about what happens next.

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