LB: The 1 Book Every New TV Writer Needs

More Troy Book Capture

by Larry Brody

Yes, it’s true. I’ve finally found the one book every TV writer needs in order to fully understand what the hell is going on in the television production trenches, and it isn’t even one of my own.

The book in question is Troy DeVolld’s And Another Thing…A Beginner’s Guide to the Television Notes Process. 

Because when you get right down to it, as a famous but still working TV showrunner told me half a zillion years ago, “They aren’t really paying us for our writing. They’re paying us for having to listen to their fucking notes.” And Troy’s book tells us how to understand and deal with those notes…and the notes-givers.

The fact that the showrunner I just quoted is still a TV name to be reckoned with while others (some even better writers and producers) are long gone from the Industry, demonstrates how much more important understanding the business we’re in is than the talent that brought us to it.

I could go into great detail about how TV really works (and I have, in the book I refer to above but am still not telling you is absolutely the one book you need), but if you visit this site often you know how much I value brevity…and the contributions of others. So I’m going to let Troy do the talking. Here’s his basic take on the notes process:

Troy on Notes Capture

And here’s where you can read a sample and see what’s sold me on And Another Thing.

Oh, and you can also buy it at the same link.

Then, if you’re one of the five people in the known universe who hasn’t yet read it, you can hie thyself over to another exciting Amazon page and, you guessed it, sample and buy the next best book I know of about TV.

My book is terrific. But Troy’s is indispensible.

Format Each New Script Draft Like a Pro Even W/O Pro Software!

Gak! Not the kind of slugline we're talking about here...this time.

Gak! Not the kind of slugline we’re talking about here…this time.

by Diana Black

We’ve heard the mantra, “Don’t give them an excuse to pass on the script” Good advice period. That first pitch is the first-and-only opportunity to impress.

So, you’ve ‘tightened’ in terms of the narrative arc, characterization is multi-layered and reads true across the narrative and character arcs and, having invested in scriptwriting software, the formatting is ‘industry standard’. But what about the SLUG LINES?

Are you absolutely sure you’ve been consistent when going back to the same location? Unless you’ve kept a handy notebook and written down each slug line as you’ve worked, by the time you’ve got to page 60 or 120 – if it’s inconsistent, it may be contributing to confusion and that’s a ‘PASS’.

I don’t know about you, but I’m lazy. Perfectionism aside, which is another issue altogether, if I have to do something, I want it get ‘right’ first time so that I don’t have to do it twice. I also want to ensure that every task has multiple spin-offs. That said, we HAVE to do multiples drafts – it’s a given and a ‘different animal’ to polishing, so why not get smart and make the process as efficient as possible?

Most new writers go without professional screenwriting software like Final Draft and its brothers. Not necessarily out of choice but financial necessity. If we’re going to appear professional, we need to work through a way that ensures consistency and multiple benefits when at the polishing stage:

Step One: Number your scenes on the screenplay/teleplay.

Step Two: Create a new Outline Page in MS Word or equivalent – generate a numbered list down the page that matches the number of scenes in the script.

(You should already have had an Outline before sitting down to write FADE IN,  but that’s a given, yes?)

Step Three: Narrow the new Outline and the Script – so that you can see both at the same time.

Step Four: Go through the script and on the new Outline Page list only the SLUGLINES, as in:

5 INT. BEDROOM – DAY

Scene numbers on the script and Outline should match.

If you’ve listed the same location as INT. BEDROOM – DAY and INT. CHELSEA’S BEDROOM – DAY, it will be easier to spot AND because you’ve numbered the scenes, it’ll be easy to locate the slug line that needs rectifying on the script.

Step Five: For each scene on the script, list only the essential action on the new Outline – ensuring you’ve used decisive ‘action’ words, no adverbs and 99.9 % action only, while ‘delivering’ on nuance (Google it) and that the latter is consistent.

Trust the Actors and the Reader – they don’t need extraneous BS and it’ll make for a faster read. What are you trying to say/achieve in this scene? Does the scene ‘deliver’? Is it essential? Hence the rationale for doing another Outline after the screenplay has been written – we know the complete narrative arc and we can easily determine whether or not the scene is superfluous or necessary because it drives the narrative forward and/or it’s a set-up/pay-off.

Don’t think of this as extraneous work but an opportunity to polish – you’re going for a quick read that delivers salient detail with the nuance of the scene and overall narrative intact – hard to determine if you get bogged down with all the elements in the scene at the same time.

Find the balance between ‘lean’ and retaining the ‘gold’.

Before removing the Scene numbering, retain it for detailed discussion between colleagues, the table read and for the writing group – it will help people refer to/navigate to a specific scene with ease. Then remove the scene numbering before formally submitting. Production managers will thank you because they love to do the numbering themselves!

Follow these steps and if you get in your ‘Inbox’, “Yeah, sure send me (Producer) over the script – let’s take a look at what you got…” you’ll also have a polished Outline for ‘the suits’ if called in for a confab.

Qapla!

Peggy Bechko’s World: The Gut Knows – Trust It

gut_feeling_sign

by Peggy Bechko

I’m talking about writing, but the big plus in today’s discussion is that it applies to life in general as well.

The simple fact, boys and girls, is pretty much all of us have a ‘gut reaction’, a ‘gut feeling’ a ‘trust your gut moment’ at any time and in most any circumstance. Dating? Have an uneasy feeling with that person? Trust your gut.

You’ve written a novel. You’ve found an agent, but you’re not comfortable with that agent? Trust your gut.

It can be hard and it can be scary. You don’t want to give up that agent you worked so hard to have notice you. You don’t want to pass up that handsome or beautiful person you’re on your first date with.

In life we learn pretty quickly that if a person or circumstance seems too good to be true, he/she/it probably is. If a business proposition appears to be a gift from heaven, odds are it isn’t. The thing of it is, you can’t set something right if you don’t accept it’s wrong.

In terms of writing, I think it works like this:

We’re told a lot of things when we embark on writing as more than an amusing pass-time. It comes down to trusting yourself. We’re told no first draft will ever sell and the first is meant as little more than to get ideas down on paper or up on the computer screen.

Mostly, I agree. I routinely go through a number of drafts, but there was this one time, I needed to submit a novel fast, get it out there, take a chance. It had flowed like honey on a warm day and I sold it on the first draft (though I admit I’d been editing as I’d proceeded which I usually don’t do either) to Doubleday.

But here’s the real endgame. When you create, script or novel, and all the dust is cleared away, it is, after all, your story. You came up with the idea. You did the heavy lifting to write it. You know your story inside out. Others don’t.

I’m not saying the writers shouldn’t take editorial or script notes and use them to improve a story, but that’s the time to trust yourself and use what makes sense; reject the rest. There’s no secret trick – there’s you.

The story idea you begin with has the same rule when you pick it. Did it jump up and bite you? Are you enthusiastic as all get out to get that idea down on paper? To drag it out of your brain and give it life?

Yes? Then that’s the go flag at the races. That’s your gut talking.

Got offered a writing job, a project that sounds great in most ways except it just doesn’t thrill you? Pay is off the charts good? Thinking you should jump on it, but your warning flags are waving in a storm squall mode?

Pay attention. This might be a time when you, as writer, need to give it a pass (shudder). You might be able to do a fantastic job on the gig rewriting, ghostwriting, partnering up, whatever, but it might well not be worth it if you’re left tied up in knots.

Look, anybody can give you writing tips. I have on this blog. But what it comes down to as you look ahead and evaluate what to do and whom to do it with (I’m talking business associations here, so keep your mind out of the gutter-though that’s another good place to trust your gut) is trusting yourself.

Listen up. Heed the warning gut cramps that your internal voice sends to guide you. That way you can write with the confidence it takes to go forth and conquer!


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her HERE. You can find more great articles on her sensationally helpful blog. 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

John Ostrander:

One of contemporary comics grandmasters of writing speaks about his relationship with his characters. It’s always a good idea to pay attention to what a pro’s pro like John has to say:

YouTube Preview Image


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

If UP Got A Round Of Reality TV Network Notes

Gleeps! Where has Jeez John been all the life of this TVWriter™ minion? This dude’s been around. Not only does he know about the shit we all have to go through when writing US broadcast network TV, he’s able to be funny as hell while he out-bitches the bitches!

UP picby Jeez Jon

“UP” ROUGH CUT 3 NETWORK NOTES

Hello! Thank you so much for turning around our previous round of notes so quickly.  While we appreciate all the time and effort your team made, we unfortunately are a long way off from being ready with this cut.  The show currently lacks focus.  Where was the bite pass we asked for?  We desperately need to guide the audience through the show and the only way we can do that is with bites, especially with Act One. With a thorough bite pass, we can then guide our audience through the dense rainforest that is our story.  Right now, I feel as lost as that old man!  (BTW he looks genuinely old instead of TV old; any way we can young him up in Color Correction?) Once we get this bite pass done, then we’ll give you time coded notes.

Also, we are going to South America and we aren’t really getting a lot of information about it.  Let’s get creative about adding some take-away information about this continent to our audience so that (1) they can feel smart and (2) we can then count this show as part of our “educational programming”.

YOUNG CARL MEETS YOUNG ELLIE

Ugh, do we have to start with the black-and-white newsreel of the explorer Muntz? I can just hear all of the young men 18-35 changing the channel. Yes, I know it sets up all the information for later about Paradise Falls, Carl’s love of adventure and how it eventually leads to the love of his life. But this is BORING. Let’s do this all with a bite of Carl along the lines of “Hi, I’m Carl. I’m 8 years old. I get to see movies on my own because this is the 1940’s and I don’t have a helicopter mom.  I’m really into adventure and one day I hope to go to Paradise Falls, just like my canine-loving hero, explorer Carl Muntz!” (Please get this verbatim) Without this bite, I have exactly zero context and I have no idea what I’m watching.

Carl meeting Ellie in the abandoned house is all great and all but without any bites in this scene, I have no background on Ellie at all. Who is she? Why does she love adventuring? Why is she missing a front tooth? Lost baby tooth? Street fight? Crystal Meth? I don’t know because SHE DOESN’T HAVE AN INTRO BITE. Man, this is just so sloppy, you guys.  In scene, one can tell that she’s a tomboy risk taker who has a zest for life, but how am I supposed to know that? Just by observing her behavior and listening to her dialogue?! What is this, PBS?!? (Add a damn intro bite from here. Now.)

Ellie shows Carl her Adventure Book and how she wants to fill it with her adventures and she’s wants to live on Paradise Falls — this is a good moment.  What would make a GREAT moment would be a bite from Carl saying how impressed he is by this and he too has a similar goal.  Please comb through your interviews and add some insight from Carl here.

When Ellie tells Carl that South America is “like America… but South!”, let’s throw in a graphic to get this point home.  Our research indicates that our audience won’t know this information.

CARL & ELLIE’S MARRIED LIFE

This is basically just a montage of Carl’s and Ellie’s entire marriage; I wouldn’t really call it a scene.  Since there aren’t any bites in here at all, I have no idea how I’m supposed to feel. Unless we tell the audience how to think and feel at all times, we as storytellers are not doing our jobs!  Is Carl sad that Ellie didn’t get a chance to go to Paradise Falls? How did Carl feel about being a balloon salesman for 40+ years? Let’s dive into our materials and get the best bites in here possible.  We need to set ourselves up for success!

Read it all at Jeez Jon

 

Peggy Bechko’s World: The Truth about Writing Tips

by Peggy Bechko

COVER - ERUPTIONWriters seem inclined to want to learn. That’s why writers, both newbies and old hands, are always on the lookout for tips to help improve the writing, speed the writing, promote the writing, create compelling characters – pretty much any aspect of writing.

But here’s the problem. There are tons of tips and instruction out there. Some of it is really good, other, not so much. In any event it’s tough to tell which can be chucked and quickly deleted from the brain bank and which is worth keeping. It’s so overwhelming the studious writer can end up simply wasting time…lots and lots of time. And time is where the true value lies for the writer for the amount of time to write for most is limited. Sometimes tucked into neat segments at designated times.

But some things learned are so valuable they’re not to be missed. You’ve learned to fine tune your adjectives. You’ve reduced your adverbs. You’ve brought more emotion to your writing.

Right – all that’s good and writers generally have a mental inventory of writing tools and techniques they regularly employ. Problem is a writer can reach maximum saturation with so many tips and teachings flowing through the brain cells that it throws everything off. It can even cause writer’s block (I’ve never experienced this, thank goodness, but I can see where it could happen).

So what’s to be done? Probably less than one would think. The trick is to codify all that learning into sturdy, straight-forward techniques that work for you (and you is certainly a broad audience – each writer sees things differently).

Think about the many hats of creativity. Walt Disney was said to have claimed to wear many different ‘hats’ when he attended creative meetings. There was the dreamer, the critic and the realist. The dreamer creates, the critic picks things apart and the realist pulls it all back together in a powerful way.

When I break my thinking down that way I can see my ‘dreamer’ comes up with the ideas, extrapolates them and creates, infusing characters with life and the story with energy. I give my dreamer full rein in the beginning. Anything goes.

My critic then does a dandy job of picking at all the lose threads, finding things that don’t work and criticizing sentence structure, story ending and everything else. All the while those tips and teachings I’ve picked up over the years are on alert, watching out for floods of adjectives, verbs that just lay there, repetitive words and a whole host of other details.

Until the end when the critic is told to shut up and the realist within takes over to slap on the last polish, pulling it all back together into the comprehensive story it was meant, from the beginning, to be.

So, the moral is, don’t toss out the tips you come across as a writer, but don’t allow them to swamp you in a sea of bits and pieces either. When a new idea on how to create the perfect story comes along let it join the others in your toolbox and see how it improves your writing. If it doesn’t, let it go. There is not right and wrong way to write the story.

And now – an Update!

Our latest comic in the Planet Of The Eggs Series, Eruption, is now available in paperback as well as Kindle editions. The latest newsletter just released as well. Join the fun atwww.facebook.com/PlanetOfTheEggs – tell your friends and click the sign up button to be sure to get your copy of the next newsletter filled with character interviews, freebies, contest notifications and more!


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 on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page