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

munchman: One-Sentence Reviews of July’s Premiering Series

dalek premiere

by munchman

Yer Friendly Neighborhood munchman promised LB he would review all the Summer 2016 shows – and then missed most of the June shows. (Or, rather, was sulking in my wi-fi challenged tent at a location I can’t divulge and didn’t get to see them. Don’t know how many I really “missed.”) But ole muncho is here now, so let’s get this over with started:

POWER

Power’s back and still nowhere near as enjoyable as the much more badly written Empire, proving that going over the top is always more fun.

BALLERS

Friends tell me I’d love this, but I’ve never been able to even give it a try cuz…Ballers?

VICE PRINCIPALS

Vice Principals tries like hell to give its characters all the energy, stupidity, and bad judgement of 8 year-olds and, unfortunately, succeeds.

DIFFICULT PEOPLE

Sorry, but I stopped watching this show halfway through the first season because it seems to me that if people are going to put on a show about my life I oughta get to at least star in it – or get paid…something!

SUITS

Suits is my ex’s favorite show, so ’nuff said, right?

MR. ROBOT

More of the same greatness we got last year featuring a protagonist I consider a kindred spirit except I smile less.

TYRANT

OMG!, it’s another series I just can’t get started on because I already deal with way too many tyrants for reals, kids, and definitely don’t need to put up with that shit when it’s just me, my VPN, and my iPad.

MARCO POLO

In the words of the Talking Heads, “same as it ever was,” even duller, dumber, and more historically inaccurate than DaVinci’s Demons (except I lurves DaVinci because…demons – and, hey, sex too).

DARK MATTER

Luvin’ on how well Dark Matter hides its low budget, but it screws up now and then by actually giving a character a positive worldview, for a few minutes anyway.

KILLJOYS

Killjoys is the same show as Dark Matter (I’ll bet there’s a point where we discover they share the same universe as well as the same night on Syfy), but it sometimes shows a genuine sense of humor that appeals to my smirkier side. (I said I don’t smile much, a few shows up. Didn’t say I don’t smirk.)

BOJACK HORSEMAN

This show is possibly my favorite TV series of all time because not only does it portray Hollywood perfectly, its hero has what really counts in showbiz – a genuine horse cock (even though we never get to see it). Oh, and because it’s my fave, I’m giving it a second sentence. Actually, this is for my ex to read but as long as you’re here, I’m cool with you sticking around: Sweetie, I’m sorry you hated my favorite show, but do you have to keep telling all your friends I’m just like Bojack except a whole lot – erm – smaller?

More to come in August – mehopes!

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There Really Is (a Little Bit) of Poetry in TV Writing

Apropos of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s decision to post his wonderful, award-winning poetry here on TVWriter™, we present this enlightening interview with Jessi Klein, head writer of in, hip and trendy (and also fucking funny) Inside Amy Schumer.

Cuz truth to tell, every writer we know is at heart a genuine, 24-karat poet. It’s just that so many of us them are too embarrassed to come out.

by Alexandra Talty

Jessi KleinIn her hilarious essay collection You’ll Grow Out of It, Klein, head writer of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer and a former Saturday Night Live writer, muses on what it means to be a woman who doesn’t ever feel much like one.

How does writing a book compare to writing for television?

I love writing for TV. But in terms of the experience of sitting down and being able to write for as long as you want, it is incredibly freeing to write a book. When you write for TV or movies… This is going to sound so pretentious, but there is a little bit of poetry in it, in that you are trying to stick as much comedy and story in as small a space as you can—especially in the cases of SNL and Schumer, which are both sketch shows.

Was it difficult to sift through personal information for the book?

Clearly I think if you are writing any kind of book like this, you are an oversharer. I am kind of okay to reveal anything about myself. It is important to know where to draw the line between what I might share about myself and what I might share about someone who is not particularly interested in writing a book about themselves. So I am really careful when writing about my family. Ex-boyfriends? Less so.

(Almost) Everything You Need to Know About the People’s Pilot Competition

We here at TVWriter™ love getting email and answering questions and all that stuff. In recent months, we’ve received even more than the usual number of queries about one of our favorite projects (and certainly our favorite writing contest), The People’s Pilot.

We’re happy to continue responding and answering specific questions, but it seems to us that one easy way to bring a large number of TVWriter™ visitors up to speed on what The People’s Pilot is and does is to re-publish, right here, right now, the “About” page on the web.

So, without further ado, here it is!

About the People’s Pilot
by LB & Team TVWriter™

With more broadcast, cable, console game channels, and original online video programming available for viewing than ever before in media history, all of it garnering larger audiences everyday, the market for bright, fresh, and original series programming ideas is at an all-time high.

The old pros who have been the traditional creators of TV series have had to share the creative load with newcomers of all sorts, but the creative demand goes on. Executives and audiences are more ready than ever before for new creators who can supply them with material unlike that ever before seen.

Some pundits call today’s entertainment situation “Peak TV.” Others pronounce this a “Golden Age.” We at TVWriter™ think of it as “The Era of the Unique Vision, a time when TV is more open to new writers than ever before. To help you sell yourself and your series ideas, we’ve updated our long-running (over a decade and a half!) PEOPLE’S PILOT COMPETITION to give our entrants the best possible shot at success.

We are all about giving agents, showrunners, and executives exactly what they now are looking for: Spec pilot teleplays that showcase you, the new writer operating at your very best. If the suits love the writing of a spec pilot, they have the best reason in the world to trust the writer to come through in the development process. A strongly-written spec pilot shows you’re ready for the gig.

Here’s a Really Important Bit

Winners, Finalists, and Semi-Finalists of TVWriter™’s past contests are or have most recently been on the staffs of:

  • LETHAL WEAPON (upcoming)
  • WESTWORLD (upcoming)
  • MOM
  • NARCOS
  • CHICAGO PD
  • CHICAGO FIRE
  • PERSON OF INTEREST
  • THE WALKING DEAD
  • RIZZOLI AND ISLES
  • COLONY
  • GREY’S ANATOMY
  • ONCE UPON A TIME
  • TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES
  • SMALLVILLE
  • THE LEFTOVERS
  • THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER
  • ANIMAL PRACTICE
  • KILLER WOMEN
  • NTSF:SD:SUV
  • GIRLFRIENDS
  • ROME
  • PRIVATE PRACTICE
  • New! Vesta Giles, a 2014 Finalist, is now finishing her second script assignment as a writer of LIFETIME TV MOVIES.
  • And that doesn’t include the various one-off writing gigs and staff jobs we don’t yet know about. We’d love to see you join this fine group of successes!

How the People’s Pilot Works

The PEOPLE’S PILOT COMPETITION is held yearly, opening for entries March 1 and staying open for 8 months, until November 1. We do our best to announce the Winners, starting with Semi-Finalists, over a two week period in January and February of the following year.

The contest is for scripted series intended for just about any media you can think of. Broadcast TV. Cable and satellite TV. Internet series on major sites from Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu through YouTube, Vimeo and other popular uploading channels and venues, to your own personal website.

Following in this new direction, the PP is divided into 3 prize-giving categories:

  • Scripted series One-Half Hour Or Less in length – including everything from broadcast and premium cable length shows through 11 minute Adult Swim and Cartoon network type shows to short-short 5 minute or less internet shows
  • Scripted series One-Hour Or Less in length – including broadcast and premium cable length shows and personal, idiosyncratic shows as short as 30:01 minutes and as long as 60:00 minutes
  • UPDATED!!! Scripted series More Than One Hour in length – including mini-series and other shows whose episodes will be feature film length (like several on seen on BBC and ITV in the UK. Especially welcome in this category are series deliberately designed to be binge-watched and viewed at longer sittings. (Can any other contest say the same?)

All three categories are open to all series genres:

  • Drama
  • Comedy
  • Action
  • Dramedy
  • Anthology
  • Science Fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Children’s
  • Soap Opera
  • Medical
  • Legal
  • Police & Detective
  • Historical
  • Live Action
  • Animation
  • Puppetry
  • Anything else we haven’t mentioned that you want your series to be

In other words, the PEOPLE’S PILOT is wide open to whatever you want to express and whatever expresses you as a creative force best.

Tips for Entrants

  • A good pilot combines the “origin” or series backstory with a typical episode of what the series will be.
  • A good pilot makes sure that the characters are clearly defined and interesting enough for us to want to see them week after week.
  • A good pilot describes things. No one’s ever seen this show before so don’t be afraid to take a few lines here and there to tell us about the characters and the sets. Paint a word picture so the reader can better understand where they are and who’re they are with and in that way fully appreciate your series concept.

A pilot script is our only requirement, but, optionally, you can also include a series proposal. In our experience, the best proposals contain the following elements:

  • A summary of the basic idea behind the show, including the setting, genre, theme, etc.
  • A summary of the main continuing characters, their background and appearance, personalities, and interaction with each other
  • A statement of the kinds of situation in which the characters will be placed, including what the basic structure of those situations will be, what effect these situations will have on the characters, and what effect the characters will have on them
  • Continuing character and story arcs if any
  • A short list of possible episodes with enough different stories to show that the series will be viable week to week

Jumpstart Your Career With A Contest Win That Counts

In recent years new online writing contests have been springing up with almost dizzying speed. Not all writing contests, however, are created equal. TVWriter™’s PEOPLE’S PILOT COMPETITION has been running online since the year 2000 – the dawn of the 21st Century. Winning or placing highly in PP means something. It’s a genuine step into your future. Jump start your career with a contest win that counts.

No matter who you are, no matter where in the world you live, this is your chance to do all you can to make contemporary media as good as you always thought it could be!

Home About Rules | Prizes Enter | Winners | Contact 

Dennis O’Neil: Guns?

Warner_Brothers

by Dennis O’Neil

Sometimes I ask myself whacky questions. Like, do rhino teeth get filled? Are we just computer constructs inn some alien game and if so are there rules and how can I get a copy of them? Who cleaned up after Hannibal’s elephants? How did Noah keep all those animals in the ark from eating each other?

There’s been a lot of bangedy bang in the news lately and so what else is new and the answer is nothing, but this prompts another whacky question: why can’t somebody do something about the gun problem? Nothing draconian: despite the irresponsible claims of some political types, Mr. Obama doesn’t want to take your firearms away. If that was on the agenda, you’d think that the presidential minions would have at least begun the effort by now. Dude’s been in office more than seven years and so far he hasn’t confiscated so much as a cap pistol.

Making an effort to forbid guns to known criminals or mental patients would be a possible opener. So would a national registry of folks who want to buy guns. In other words, let’s clamp down on the gunnies as fiercely and mercilessly as we clamp down on those young snots who want drivers’ licenses!

But wait! Enough of this: we’re not in polemic mode today. What we are in is question asking mode – whacky questions – and so here’s another: if there were no firearms, if that ninth century Chinese alchemist had misplaced the recipe and hadn’t bothered to look for it, what kind of action stories would we be writing? I’m pretty sure that at least some of our stories would be of the action variety because that kind of stuff is packaged with our genes. I’m sorry, but a liking for action – oh, all right, a liking for violence – is part of our survival kit. Our mythologies are, from the very earliest recorded history until now, full of warfare and combat and those tales are the offspring of the impulses that gave our ancestors the gumption to lift weapons and protect the family and the tribe.

Gilgamesh, meet James Bond.

Occasionally, I’ve allowed myself to wonder if I could create a hero, a rip-snortin’ justice bringer (possibly wearing a costume) whose adventures did not include dealing with guns. As a science fiction or fantasy piece, sure, easy, no problem. But a story set in our time and world, or a close facsimile of our world – not so easy. Guns are all over the place, wielded by bad guys and good guys alike. What would our world be without them? Has the centrality of guns in our national narratives taught us that gunfire is what solves problems? No need to look any further than the nearest Glock, to deal with it, whatever it is, this time.

Oh yeah, did I mention that another shooting made the news today?


Dennis O’Neil is one of the top writer-editors in comics, having guided the careers of just about every superhero the world has ever heard of. He’s also a damn fine writer of TV. LB still remembers that time he and Denny collaborated on a new series, without ever of them knowing they were doing so. Or knowing each other either. Ah, the magic of TV! This post was first published in Denny’s column at ComicMix.

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.