Nathan Bransford Wants to Answer All Your Writing Questions

…And you don’t even have to email and ask them. Mr. Bransford has done what all of us with writerly websites should be doing: He’s made a complete index of the info you can get from his terrific site,’s a sample of the index of goodies:

howtowriteanovel (1)

Before You Start

The Writing Process


Genres and Classification

Staying sane during the writing/publishing process

The complete index with much, much more is HERE.

Go forth and enjoy!

P.S. Yeah, we know that Nathan’s book is about writing a novel – but between us, the problems inherent in writing, and being a writer, are the same no matter what kind of fiction you write.


Yo, Canucks! There’s now room for you at the top of the U.S. TV writing tree!

Yeah, that’s a bullshit, condescending headline. We apologize for the ‘tude, but our parent company is heavily into that sort of thing and made us do it.

Oh, wait, we don’t have a parent company. How about this: The headline’s a placeholder. We’re coming back to change it before this article is published. Absolutely. We swear–


BITTEN is an interesting series idea, no?

TV shows like Orphan Black signal rise of the Canadian showrunner
by Tony Wong

One summer morning, Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern woke up abruptly to their clock radio blaring news about a hostage taking at Toronto’s Union Station.

They went downstairs to watch the drama unfold on television. After a tense standoff, and much to the horror of bystanders, the assailant was shot by an emergency task force officer.

“It was really a shock seeing this in real time. And one question that went through our minds was, what was it like for the police officer who took that shot? What’s the rest of his day going to be like?” Ellis says in an interview.

That moment translated into one of Canada’s most successful TV exports, Flashpoint. The show ran for five seasons on CTV and was licensed in more than 100 territories globally.

It also kick-started a new-found confidence from Canadian TV producers that their stories could not only have broad appeal but also make a pile of money. Finally, Canada could offer the kind of slick, pyrotechnic police procedural that was on par or better than its Hollywood counterparts. Perhaps more importantly, Ellis and Morgenstern helped to birth a new generation of screenwriters who wanted to produce their own stories, also known as “showrunners.”

The new “golden age” of television is due in large part to the increasing prominence of the writer as the creative executive on television shows; the person ultimately responsible for that singular, passionate vision.

Already 2014 has been shaping up to be something of a breakout year for Canadian TV.

The lineup includes Vancouverite Daegan Fryklind’s Bitten, the Toronto-shot werewolf thriller starring Laura Vandervoort (Smallville’s Supergirl) on Space channel. It is joined by Greg Spottiswood’s well-received hospital drama Remedy on Global. And Season 2 of Graeme Manson’s Toronto-produced science fiction thriller Orphan Blackpremiered Saturday after winning 10 Canadian Screen Awards for the first season.

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Julie Livingston: 3 Rules for Writing Workshop…And Life


by Julie Livingston

So here I am. Finally settled in L.A.. Well, settled-ish anyway. I’m actually moving again in a couple weeks, but that decision was motivated more by my personal desire to live in a neighborhood where no one pees in the produce section of the super market than anything professional. Workwise, after the initial flurry of activity of having a manger and then not having one, things have been fairly quiet. Hollywood hasn’t exactly been beating a path to my door. The phone isn’t ringing off the hook with job offers and pilot deals. Fortunately, I’m not sitting around waiting for that to happen. I am doing what I always do when I’m not sure what else to do, I’m going to school.

A few weeks ago I started the UCLA Professional Program For Television Writing. It’s a year-long intensive in which students essentially get all the writing classes they’d get in the MFA program without all the theory. And so far, I have to say, it’s awesome. There is something truly exquisite about geeking out over the thing you love with other people who love it as geekishly as you do for six hours a week. I am impressed with how smart and experienced my fellow students are and inspired by the sacrifices everybody has made to be here, but the thing really solidified the belief that I am in the right place is the set of rules set out by my teacher, Rick Williams. No one is more surprised than I am that my favorite part of the program so far is the rules, but these rules are not about page counts or act breaks. They are instructions on how to be a person who creates and guidelines to becoming someone people want to work with, which makes me feel they are worth sharing outside the ivory tower.

Rule Number One:
Attendance Is Mandatory. You must be present, not just physically, but mentally too. Like everyone, I sometimes struggle to put away my cell phone and let go of the distractions of the day, but I know I owe it to my classmates to try. Television writing is, after all, essentially a team sport. I get that. But to be honest, my real motivation to follow rule number one is selfish. I generate more ideas, make better jokes and generally have more fun when I am fully engaged. So while I hope my classmates feel like it’s a benefit to get my full attention, truth is, I do it as much for myself as for them.

Rule Number Two:
Invest In Your Classmate’s Success. This one is HUGE. In the someday land of real TV, shows are usually written by a room full of writers. They work together to create character arcs, break stories, write jokes, but to earn a spot in the sandbox, you first have to demonstrate you understand the game by playing alone — or as LB one once told me, “Before you get to do it the easy way, you have to do it the hard way,” which means as you work to establish yourself in the business, you must do alone what might otherwise by the work of a half a dozen people or more. One of the great benefits of a program like mine, or a class, or a writers’ group, is that it is an opportunity to draw on other people’s insight, experience and sense of humor to make your work better. No one can (or will) do the work for you, but ohmigod, what a difference it makes to have other people lend you some brainpower. Working on each other’s projects is really gratifying, and in my experience, it is usually a whole lot easier than working on your own. More importantly, working on other people’s projects makes you care about those projects and those people. Assuming everybody does their part – comes prepared, participates actively, gives feedback constructively — you become a de-facto writer’s room, which is, by definition, an organism that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Then, theoretically, at some point down the road, when one of you makes it into an actual writer’s room, that person looks to the people who sweated alongside her in the trenches of anonymity to become her comrades in the ranks of the gainfully employed, once again proving that helping other people is also a way to help yourself. Which brings me to Rule Number Three.

Invest In Your Own Success.
There’s way around it (at least none I’ve ever found, and, believe me, I’ve looked), if you want to do this thing, you’re going to have to put your money where your mouth is. And by money, I mean time – and money. Writing is a greedy time-eating beast. There, I said it. And Rick says it too, although he phrases it somewhat more delicately asking each student to make a commitment to, “prioritize our work.” Ass, meet Seat. And while he stopped just short of suggesting we withdraw from society completely, Rick didn’t mince words in explaining that a fairly unavoidable part of saying, ”yes” to your own success is saying, “no,” to pretty much everything else. Maybe not forever, but definitely during the large swaths of time when you are what he calls, “on script.” “No one will ever care about your work more than you do,” Rick assures us, and even in this early phase of the journey, we all know it’s true.

In the months and years ahead, I imagine there will be any number of concepts and constructs I will struggle to understand, so it’s nice to start out with a few basic principals that instinctively make sense. Knowing there is unfamiliar territory ahead, it is comforting to know I have already have a basic roadmap and three simple rules to guide the way: Show up. Be nice. Work hard. 

Peggy Bechko: Character Motivation – The Wounds That Don’t Heal

motivationby Peggy Bechko

Have you considered what motivates your characters? What their background is? Whether it is your hero or a villain or some other character in the piece he or she has been affected by life. We’re all bombarded by tiny wounds, hurts and influences (sometimes large ones) throughout our lives. Your characters should be no different.

Think about it. Everything that happens, or we cause to happen defines us. Painful things even more so. They influence character. Whether focused on one ‘big one’ or a culmination of multiple lacerations (death by a thousand paper cuts) those things can chip away or blast away at a character’s self-worth, or can elevate it to the point of ego-mania.

So think about this; what kinds of events can come together to form this mudball of experience?

Well, there are literally thousands, and of course much depends on the grounding the character already comes equipped with, but understanding what or who has contributed to that ‘mudball’ can certainly help you as the writer move the story forward and without doubt does the same for your reader (of script or novel).

The obvious is something physical. Like a deformity or a scar or some disability that’s in your face. Such a thing can cause a character to feel alienated, alone, like he or she will never fit in anywhere. It can be very demoralizing and have great ramifications on the character’s self-esteem and undermining confidence. It can also cause a character to reach heroic heights while overcoming that physical ‘wound’ that’s carried. Which way would the character go?3399402-877974-dog-needs-a-meal-a-hungry-puppy

Another is mistakes. We’re human, we all make them but some are huge and some are every day. If it’s big enough or the character self-centered enough on a tiny mistake, it can be devastating. Guilt because of a bungled surgery can set a doctor character on a new path. A mistake that crashed the computers at work can make a worker fear for a job. A mistake or failure that affects someone else directly can make a character a target for revenge. Mistakes are a huge issue.

So is trust – when it’s misplaced and results in betrayal by another character. If it’s a real betrayal of trust it can send the character off on a trail of vengeance. Even if it’s not for that matter, if it’s perceived it’s dangerous. Is it a friend? A loved one? An acquaintance at work? Does it result in anger and the desire to strike back or more like a crushed feeling of disappointment that makes the character who was betrayed feel worthless?

How about injustice? It’s everywhere. Someone serves a long prison sentence for a crime he or she didn’t commit. A worker is blamed and fired for something someone else in the office did. A character’s dog is accused of biting someone it didn’t and is put down . How has the character reacted? How WILL he react?

Have a character who was rejected? Left at an orphanage and abandoned? Perhaps she is just an outsider in her own family with siblings that abuse her and ignore her, making her ‘odd man out’. A husband left in the lurch with a couple of kids by a wife who runs off with another man. A stalker who gets the brush off from the object of his desire.

All of these and many more feed into a character, created the person just as they do in life. Think back over yours. What were the influences good and bad? How do you think you might have changed had things been different?

Use it, use it all and your characters will burst into full life and give your reader whether script reader or editor a ride of a lifetime.

Speaking of Motivation

Elsewhere on today’s page, the wonderful Peggy Bechko has a very helpful article on one of the essential ingredients of good storytelling: Creating believable motivations for your characters. We couldn’t resist being funny when it came time to finding illustrations for it, but now, here’s a more serious breakdown of what could be pushing your characters forward. (Or backward, or making them stand still, come to think about it.) Anyway:

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needsMore about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs HERE

Deadlines & Other Hardships…

Ken Levine knows all about ‘em – having learned the hard way, you betcha:

rookie-570x250Rookie mistakes
by Ken Levine

Everyone has to start somewhere. For me and my writing partner, David Isaacs our first paid writing assignment was for an episode of THE JEFFERSONS. Prior to that we had been writing spec scripts, schlepping down to the Writers Guild to register them for protection, and then we peddled them to anyone who would read them.

Our spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (which had already been rejected by THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and RHODA) found its way into the hands of Gordon Mitchell, one of the story editors of THE JEFFERSONS. He liked it well enough to invite us to come in and pitch story ideas for the show. One hit the mark and we got the assignment.

Now came the hard part. Not the writing – but covering the fact that we were both utterly clueless of the process.

Step one was breaking the story. We met with Gordon and his partner, Lloyd Turner and worked out the beats of the story. Gordon then asked how long we needed to write the outline?

The outline? You have to write an outline?

I didn’t say that, but that’s what I was thinking. David and I wrote outlines for ourselves but they were usually handwritten scribbles on a couple pieces of notebook paper. I didn’t think that’s what he meant.

So we were on the spot. We didn’t want to say a week and have them say, “A week? It should take you two days.” Or we say two days and they say, “What? You’re just going to dash it off? It should take a month.”

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