Peggy Bechko’s World: “Writers, save your readers from ‘boring'”

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by Peggy Bechko

Throw your hero off a cliff.

Yep, that’s the ticket. Think about it. Are you boring your reading audience with wonderful Mr. Nice Guy who may be a bit shy, but so darn good looking he’s irresistible?

Okay, he can be all that, but does he spend his days at the lake faithfully with his one true love and have nothing more exciting than crossing against a light to spice up his day?

Uh…. Boring.

Readers don’t want to follow a perfect hero or heroine as he or she goes about her day and everyone is subjected to every boring detail from tooth brushing to hailing a cab.

Really, if that’s your character you might sit down and have a talk with yourself about why that is.

So how about this. Your hero remains your hero but you toss in the woman he meets and falls in love with, a kick-ass martial arts champ, crack shot markswoman with a questionable past and a sarcastic wit. Now we’re talkin’! How would they work out their differences? How would he react to her, aside from loving her? What about her past, is that about to come back and bite them both?  I don’t know, do you have a clue?

A few elements like this and the reader doesn’t know from one page/moment to the next if the hero is going to have to jump off a cliff to save himself/her/ or out of total frustration.

Now that I’d like to read. Done well it would be a great page-turner or possibly the plot of a hit movie.

So, are you thinking like that, writing like that? No? Why not? We all have pasts and wounds we can draw on that we can present to our characters and really identify with.

If not, why not?

It’s scary out there for writers. They really need to plumb the depths and dig deep.

Unless…wait, there is no unless. It’s what a writer needs to do in order to hook readers. Sure, the fictional people are, well, fiction, but we put a little of ourselves into every character we create. Heroes, villains, it doesn’t matter.

Sinister? Painful? Dark? Yep, and we can throw in some sunshine and lollipops, but it originates within us. And we can’t make readers or movie goers feel if we can’t feel. Open up to yourself, admit your flaws and dark corners.

Dig deep, raise the bar for yourself and don’t stop exploring every emotion we all possess. Your readers will thank you and admire you for it.


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

Writers! It ain’t what your characters want. It’s what they NEED!

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by Diana Black

In compelling narratives, there’s always the ‘good guy’ (protagonist) – usually a person, versus the ‘bad guy’ (antagonist) – person, corporation, object or whatever, sometimes even themselves, and it’s a given that a battle of wills is raging with ‘guns’ real or metaphorical, accompanied by a roller-coaster ride of triumph and tragedy. Don’t we just love putting our character/s through hell?

We do put them through hell, don’t we? In every scene the ongoing battle shows up blatantly in the scene or more subtly, informing the scene and driving the narrative forward. Let’s take a moment to think this through, wtf are they fighting over?

Wanting and needing are rarely if ever, the same thing…

The character/s (protagonist and antagonist) knows what he/she wants goddammit – hence the battle – it’s high stakes and both are determined to achieve their objective (want) – if they, along with the TV show don’t wish to be dismissed by the viewers in TV Land.

However, rarely does the character know or admit to a psychological need – why? Either it’s because they don’t realize that this ‘piece of the jigsaw puzzle’ is required to ‘complete them’ and/or, because needing whatever ‘it’ is, is a ghastly, repulsive thing to admit and they’re in denial.

It’s not only fictional characters that are dragged – kicking and screaming to fulfilling their personal psychological need/s. None of us want to go there! Why? Well, for one thing, fulfilling that need requires radical change and, for both character and real people alike, we’re lazy and we resist change… change is hard – but it does make for compelling drama.

Secondly, needing something is a ‘red flag’ signifying vulnerability. If we’re vulnerable we can be ‘got at’ by the puppeteer, whoever they are – and the protagonist can be bought, bullied, seduced, subjugated and worse – driven to making some really dumb choices. Puppeteers are manipulative sociopaths, and just like salespeople, they’re masters at detecting the ‘red flag’ of vulnerability.

So much for the ‘rationale’ – let’s move on to the ‘How to…’ – a simple two-step process BUT, it does require work
guys.
Firstly In-depth Character Profile. Think of all the aspects of a person’s personality, likes and dislikes, their choices, ‘world view’, their back-story, secrets and wound/s and then for each aspect, explain why – justify why this character is that way AND different from the others in the narrative.

For maximum drama and pain, the Protagonist’s ‘need’ must be in conflict with their ‘want’ – and with the other lead characters’ needs and wants – or, amp up the stakes even higher with opposing characters wanting and needing the same thing, but they revile the thought that they could be ‘on the same song sheet’.

Spare a thought for those characters that say little, next to fleeting screen-time; yet somehow they’re crucial to the plot and/or in some way, they exemplify the theme. The characters must clash like hell – via opposing moral opinions and psychological tendencies and weaknesses. Doing this before you start the outline of the Pilot will enable you to ditch superfluous or combine too-similar, characters.

Next – a Comprehensive Character Web. None of us are ‘islands’ – we’re affected by others – even a perfect stranger caught doing a random act of kindness, gives us pause. Ask the characters what they think about the other characters – promise to keep it secret and they’ll really open up.

Why?

Because you’re subconsciously starting to treat them as ‘real’ people (I’m seriously not mad… just a biologist who observes the weird beast a.k.a. human animal).

While every protagonist in TV Land has a need and a want, this dichotomy is best explored via a ‘character study’ and one of the best and current examples is the crime drama, Shades of Blue (NBC, 2016 –). As an added bonus, it’s a character study of not only the protagonist/antagonist but also of the ensemble of regulars.…

Harlee Santos (Jennifer Lopez) is a single mother who’s made some extremely ‘poor choices’ in the past and as we all know, no deed – good or bad, goes unpunished. Mothers – especially loving, selfless mothers, usually serve the ‘wants’ of their children before their own.

Harlee’s ‘want’ is to protect her daughter from an abusive father and support her emerging musical career; she wants Christina (Sarah Jeffrey) to be successful and empowered – aspects that will forever elude Harlee.

Empowerment (need) would mean extricating herself from the men currently pulling her strings – Lt. Wozniak – to whom she’s seriously indebted and the FBI who’ll see her behind bars if she doesn’t comply with their demands – and she can’t if she and Christina are to survive – thus she’s forced to walk a tightrope of deceit and disloyalty. The consequences of her choices – good or bad, will be dire for her.

And fascinating for her audience – just as the consequences to your characters should you choose this route will be for your viewers.


Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer currently taking Larry Brody’s Master Class.

POWER Creator-Writer-Producer Tells How It Came to Be

Courtney Kemp has caught the brass ring with her Starz series, and here’s her insightful take on her carousel ride:

Sensational pic by Meron Menghistab

Sensational pic by Meron Menghistab

by Rawiya Kameir

When the second season of Power aired last August, more than 4.4 million people tuned in to find out what twisted direction the crime drama would take. That number — double the viewership recorded for its debut the previous year — was a record for Starz, a cable network whose flagship original series is a historical time travel show set in the Scottish Highlands. Power, by impressive contrast, is a glamorous guns-and-gangs procedural set across New York City clubs, penthouses, and outer boroughs, played out through the web of its characters’ messy relationships and ambitions.

It was created by first-time showrunner Courtney Kemp, a former GQ writer who left journalism and transitioned into TV, eventually spending several years writing for the beloved CBS drama The Good Wife. Notably, the show is co-executive produced by 50 Cent, who stars across Omari Hardwick as a grimy antagonist. Season three of Power returns to Starz on July 17; ahead of its premiere, we talked to Kemp about empathy, race, and the American dream.
This is your third year with the characters of Power. How do you continue to treat them with empathy? How do you bring that consideration into the writers’ room?

It’s interesting that you say the word “empathy.” I think what you’re talking about is that you understand them. And you feel empathy towards them. But my experience as a writer is that the audience will follow a character anywhere if they understand their motivation. Even if they don’t like what the character did, they understand why they’re doing it.

A perfect example of this is the moment in the first season where Tommy lies to Tasha [to protect] Holly. Now, he’s been in a close brother-sister relationship with Tasha for years. Between the two of them, Tasha’s the person he should be loyal to — yet you understood why he did that. You completely understood why he lied for Holly in that moment. I think as long as I can tell you a story about people that you understand, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like what they do, you understand why they did it.

It’s definitely a show that makes you question your own assumptions about people.

Yeah, we try to challenge the audience. I think women judge other women more harshly, always, which is a shame. But we build a lot more “give” into things for men. Part of that is because we recognize their frailty. As women, we expect more out of each other because we expect each other to bare more pain.

In the past, you’ve talked a lot about centering the show on the relationships in it. The characters on Power have very specific jobs and come from specific places but, really, you can imagine their relationships in any industry or in any part of the world.

Yes, absolutely. I’ve really committed to telling some banal stories — like, really banal stuff and basic stuff. At one point, Ghost has a fight with Tommy about Holly in the first season, and it’s like any two men having a conversation where they go, “I don’t like your bitch. I don’t like her. She’s messed up!” The idea that they have this fight that is normal between two men, but it’s much more heightened because they’re talking about what the fact that she could be a threat to them….

Read it all at The Fader

Great Writing Created THIS!

Funny stars, skilled direction, but it’s the writing that makes this very welcome re-teaming of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert work. Watch and listen and learn!

John Ostrander: Fame

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by John Ostrander

I’m famous. Kinda. Sorta.

I’m comic book famous. I get invited to conventions and the convention organizers pay my expenses. While I’m at a con, I sit at a table and autograph comic books, maybe speak on a panel or two (where my opinion seems to matter) and chat with various fans who come up.

While I’m at the convention, I’m sorta famous. I leave the convention hall, take off my badge, and nobody outside really knows who I am or cares, which is cool. I can go to the store or a restaurant or, really, do most anything short of dancing naked in the street. No one cares. I’m not famous. I’m just another person and that’s great.

I won’t pretend that it’s not an ego-boost to be sorta famous. The attention is flattering and I’ve seen parts of the world as a result of being invited to a con that I might not otherwise ever visit. Mind you, unless I make arrangements to stay a day or so after the Con I don’t actually see much of the city I’m visiting. Cons are working weekends for me; I’m there to meet with the fans.

One thing that comes with the semi-famous territory are requests for interviews. They’re usually connected to some work I’ve done. Nobody is asking for my political opinion about the current presidential race. (Two words describe it: Trump. Yech.) Right now, with the Suicide Squad movie about to debut, there’s been a spate of interview requests regarding my work on the Squad.

Interviews can be funny critters. I want to answer honestly but I also want the answers to be entertaining. Certain questions, such as how it began, are part of every interview and if you’ve read my answer once, you’ve probably read it several times. I feel like the old codger who is telling his tales over and over again to an audiences whose eyes are increasingly glazed. Still, I’ve had nice experience doing interviews and I give good blather. Point me in a direction and I can talk for a long time.

The interviews I’ve been doing about the Squad have generally been fun. One or two are with people who have interviewed me before so there’s an easy rapport.

Two interviews in the batch stand out for me. On one, I video taped some answers that may be included as bonus supplemental material when the Squad movie eventually goes on blu-ray. The other was an audio tape interview for NPR and it focused mostly on the work that my late wife, Kimberly Yale, did with me on the Squad.

I will admit, the video tape interview was very cool and I’m excited about being part of the Squad blu-ray (if I am; you never know what they’ll decide when it comes to picking material). It was done in Detroit at an industrial setting. The electricity had gone out for the whole neighborhood (hey, it’s Detroit) so it was shot mostly in natural light. The guys were friendly and knew their stuff and it was a lot of fun.

The NPR interview focusing on Kim was very different and I was very gratified that it happened. It gave Kim her due and I can hear her delighted giggle in my mind’s ear. As I told the interviewer, if Kim had been there, I wouldn’t have gotten more than three words in. She would have been ecstatic about the Squad movie and would have wanted to be in it and to direct it. Mostly, I was just happy to remind people what a good writer she was and how important to the Squad. Kim wasn’t part of the book from the beginning but she was a big part of it as we went on.

All this attention will probably dissipate very soon. The movie will come out and do enormously well (I have really good feelings about this) and my semi-fame will go back into hibernation, as it should, at least for now.

And we will all be much relieved.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix.

Herbie J Pilato’s New Book Will Be In The Stores TOMORROW

13716055_1040046389406384_6051592490385733318_nThat’s right, gang. TVWriter™’s own hunk of a Contributing Editor, Herbie J Pilato, Golden Age TV Expert Extraordinaire, has a new book for us to glom onto.

It’s called Dashing, Daring, and Debonair: TV’s Top Male Icons from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, but between us you can call it DD&D, and it’s chock full of all that full-bodied, full-blooded, full steam ahead Herbie flavor. 

The book drops tomorrow, but you can, of course, get a headstart on learning all about your favorite TV doods and order it from Amazon today!

Congrats, Herbie J, on another gem.

And, speaking of cabbages and kings, what are you going to find time in your busy schedule to write a little something for your frantic TVWriter™ fans?