J. Michael Straczynski Gave the Best Writing Advice at ComicCon

J. Michael Straczynski is primarily know these days as the creator-writer-producer of cult fave TV series Babylon 5 as well as of the slightly less cult favored Sense8. He’s also written a ton of other TV and won his fair share of awards.

So now that we’ve established dude’s cred, how about we see what he has to say about this TVWriter™ minion’s all-time favorite subject – writing:

by Dane Styler

Screenwriter, producer, novelist, and comics writer J. Michael Straczynskibelieves in sending the elevator back down. He believes in helping others, like he once was, who have talent but not enough information. So at San Diego Comic-Con 2017, Straczynski helmed another of his irreverent yet frank, funny yet informative Q&A panels as he solicited questions from a room full of aspiring writers.

Shall we begin?


“While we are in the process of writing things, we can’t be judged. But when we finish and put it out there among our friends and people who don’t like us, they could say, ‘You’re not very good.’ If you’ve been working on something for a long time, finish the goddamn thing and move on to the next project. The more you do and finish, the more you learn.”

For comic books, don’t be worried too much about the type of script format you choose; it’s really what’s inside the format that matters (i.e. the content).


“Attend workshops before taking writing classes. Classes are there to teach you how the teacher feels you should write. Workshops help you find your voice.

“Though the best way to learn how to write is to read a lot.”


“When developing a story, there’s two ways usually: Go from character to plot, or plot to character. I work from character to plot because I found that when going from plot to character, often you end up with characters who are service to the plot instead of their own thing.”


“After you have a general idea, begin answering each next logical question, truthfully, one after another. Who is the character? What does he want? How far is he willing to go to get it? How far is someone else willing to go to stop him?”

Straczynski quoted Heinlein, saying that part of science fiction writing is solving the problem for the next five minutes. To compel readers to read further, you hook them with mystery after mystery, starting with first page and/or scene, answering some along the way as you create more mysteries. In addition, he emphasized research, research, and more research, which will lead to more ideas, and make it easier to find yours answers in the process of questioning.

“So really, your process should be: Asking the next logical question, defining your characters, and doing everything in your power to poke holes in your story. Better to figure out those holes now, than 200 pages in.

“Because if you don’t find those holes now, someone else will….”

Read it all at Bleeding Cool

Allie Theiss: Seven Apps That Help Deal with Distractions

by Allie Theiss

You’re a writer – right? You must be if you’ve come here to TVWriter™’s little online slice of TV heaven.

However, you’re reading this post instead of writing. Does that often happen to you? You get distracted and wind up doing everything but actual writing?

I know I have a serious distraction problem.

With Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, the distractions are never ending. Plus, I have 21 cats, two dogs, and a teenager. My life is a distraction.

I’ve tried the setting the kitchen timer trick. I became too lazy to go into the kitchen and get the timer after week one.

I’ve tried taking Facebook, Twitter, and Netflix off my phone. I watch them instead on my tablet.

I’ve listened to music to keep the distractions down. However, this only allowed me to daydream enough to create other stories before I finished the one that sat in front of me.

I’m not even going to bother telling you how long it’s taken me to write this article. It’s too embarrassing.

What I will tell you about are the apps I finally found that give me a distraction-free zone. Here’s a short list of those that work for me:

Favorite Sound-Based Apps

1) Noisli 2.0: Drowns out distractions with ambient sounds, allowing you to concentrate and focus on your project. It also has a productivity timer and distraction free text editor.

Available: online, play store, app store, Chrome

Cost: free online/Chrome, paid apps

2) Brain.FM: This AI-generated music is fantastic for concentration and focus. Brain.FM claims that it only takes minutes to feel the difference.

Available: online, app store

Cost: free & paid

Favorite Block Distraction Apps

1) StayFocused: Manage distractions by adding the sites to a block list. StayFocused is the app to allow yourself a set amount of time to be distracted.

Available: Chrome

Cost: free

2) Freedom: Same company as StayFocused. You can block sites on a timer or do so manually. If need be, you can block out the Internet altogether. Select your devices. Schedule time. Distractions blocked.

Available: iPhone and iPad, plus all browsers on Windows and Mac.

Cost: paid

Favorite To-Do Apps

1) Wunderlist: An excellent planning and to-do app that allows you to make lists, get reminders, and work with collaborators. Access to-do lists through a variety of devices. (Rumor has it that TVWriter™’s very own LB uses this.)

Available: iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android, Windows, Kindle Fire and the Web.
Cost: free + paid (unless you want to collaborate, free will do everything you need.)

2) Todoist: Todoist is another to-do app that allows you to make lists, schedule reminders, and play nice with others. This app also prides itself on having a distraction-free environment when in use.

Available: web, Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and email.

Cost: free

Favorite Pomodoro Timer App

1) Focus Booster: If setting a timer is the best way to have focus, this is your app. Focus Booster gives you instant focus, keeps track of your time with timesheets, and trains you to have better work habits.

Available: web, Windows, Mac, iOS, Android

Cost: free for 30 days, then starts at $2.99/month

Sometimes it takes a whole village of apps to make us distraction-free. This is mine. Please let me know what you’ve picked when you find yours.

A big TVWriter™ welcome to Allie Theiss, a new TVWriter™ contributor and one of Larry Brody’s “Recommended Writers.” Check out her daily Story Prompts, Book Marketing ideas, and Script Magic on Instagram

Peggy Bechko on Writing Without Boundaries

Um, it’s a map, without borderlines. Get it? An outline without boundaries.

 by Peggy Bechko

All right screenwriters, TV writers and writers of all stripes. Have you ever thrown all concepts of structure to the wind, all outlining directives out and just written something on the fly?

Really. I recommend it. For a while forget the novel ‘structure’, forget the 3-act structure. Forget all those rules and directives you’ve been told and have been following.

Just sit down with an idea and write…and write…and write.

Complete a short story, a script, a novel without restricting yourself.

Result might be great! Could be crap.

But here’s the thing. It’s a very freeing thing to do. I’ve done it many times and many times from that effort sprang a published book or in a couple of cases an optioned script. Yes, I had to go back to tweak the said piece of writing.

I had to do a thorough edit and find all the places that things kind of went off on a track of their own. But the core was good. It was solid and the story great. And I was winging it the entire time through the first draft. Whohoo!

Only notes I had were ones I’d made along the way that let me keep track of characters, what they were doing, their appearance, their goals. No outline other than a rough sketch of a story idea that evolved as I wrote. Writing this way made the characters clearer in my mind. The story fell into line with what was, for me, amazing ease. This is the ultimate spill your guts onto the page with no restriction.

In the end it might not be something you can use. But, then again, it just might. And writing like this is a way of breaking all the rules and opening up new gateways for yourself. It’s a draft after all. And remember the first draft is usually (I know, some say always) garbage. But the first draft really is the place it all begins. It’s where the story is hung from sturdy limbs. And the characters step out from cardboard cut-outs into real live people with pasts, problems and desires.

Seriously. When we begin writing at the start of our careers we look for all kinds of tips and hints. We might hook up with a mentor. We search the web now for all sorts of tips from all sorts of resources. After all that, sometimes it’s best just to take our idea, sit down and write!

All the help you got from a mentor, all those tips and helps you collected before will come together as you write.

It might not be the best way to go for every project. It would probably trip you up if you’ve been signed on to write for a series on TV or maybe a series of novels since a formula will be in effect. It might make you nervous, typing those first words onto a blank screen without an outline or whatever method you’ve used to prepare.

And I know a lot of writers will gasp in horror. (Am I looking right at you, TVWriter™ Bossman Larry Brody?) But, take it from me, writing like this can be an amazing tool.

When you’re done, when you reread, the flaws will jump out at you. After that, I’m willing to bet molding the story into the form it must have to succeed will be an exciting adventure.

Go ahead and try it. And don’t forget to leave some comments on how it went and what you think.

Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. 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 and her terrific blog.

How To Turn Your Web Series Into A Full Time Job – @Stareable

Last week we brought you the exciting news that web series Stupid Idiots has a new TV deal, and today, in the same vein of productivity and achievement, we’re continuing in that vein with Stareable.Com’s Bri Castellini and her interview with Alex LeMay, who is making a name for himself via…well, hold on there. Y’all don’t need our set-up, you need the punchline.

So here it is:

Interview with Alex LeMay
by Bri Castellini

It’s a running joke in the web series community that none of us have money to make our shows, none of us make money off our shows, and none of us ever will. But what if I told you it didn’t have to be that way?

Alex LeMay @Alex_LeMay studied theater at DePaul University in Chicago and the University of Windsor in Canada, but he’s always been a fan of using cameras to tell stories. In 2006 he discovered a video streaming site called iFilm, which was a precursor to YouTube, and realized that online video was the future of media. In his words, “I put all my eggs in that basket.”

Today, Alex is a showrunner, producer, and director for two of the major studios, a bunch of digital studios, and branded entertainment divisions of various advertising agencies. He also runs AlexLeMay.com4, where he helps “ambitious filmmakers and video creators build [and] sell their web series.” How did he get there, and what can we all learn from his tremendous success? Read on.

Editor’s note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Stareable: What shows have you created or worked on that we might have heard of?

Alex LeMay: I just finished a travel food show with celebrity chef Fabio Viviani called DINNER IS SERVED for Endemol Beyond. I was a lead producer on a digital feature for YouTube Red called KEYS OF CHRISTMAS starring DJ Khaled, Mariah Carey, Ciara, Bebe Rexha, and YouTube star Rudy Mancuso. I was a producer on Nigel Lythgoe’s EVERY SINGLE STEP which was like the choreographer version of SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE. I was the showrunner/director on WORD OF MOUTH with YouTube star Josh Leyva for Shaun White’s Air+Style/Go90, I was the creator/show runner/director for ADVENTURE LAB for MSN. I was the show runner and co-creator of the online digital experience called BZRK which we ended up selling to Sony Pictures for Sam Raimi. I’ve been fortunate to create online content for companies like Starbucks, Johnson & Johnson, and Wilson Athletics as well. Right now I’m directing and producing the pilot episode of a web series by Jim Uhls, [who] wrote the movie FIGHT CLUB.

How did you end up producing and creating digital content?

In 2006 there was a video platform called iFilm which was the precursor to YouTube. When I saw that streaming video online was possible (which until then it would take you two days to download a two-minute video) I realized this is where media was going so I put all my eggs in that basket… Eventually, because I was one of the first producers creating digital video, I developed a reputation as someone who knew how to create for that space.

You’ve worked with some big digital production companies- how did you get in the room, let alone build long-lasting relationships, and what advice would you give to filmmakers, producers, and writers looking to follow in your footsteps?

I proved I could create content that builds an audience. I built an online series with a gaming component that Sony Pictures saw and they ended up buying it to turn into a movie. That allowed me to use that as a springboard into other work.

The reality is that it is a business like any other so as a creator and producer I had to show studios that I not only could deliver their series on time and on budget. I also had to show them I understood their business concerns, meaning that I understood how to deliver content that resonated with their particular audience… The advice I would give is that now it’s about creating social reach, so creators need to be proactive in building their own audience outside and separate from the traditional media system. That gets the industry’s attention more than anything else. Don’t think you need a distributor to make a living.

What is the most challenging part of working with larger production companies, and aside from funding, how does it compare to working on indie projects?

There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen. As a producer, director, and writer you have to fight, kindly, but fight nonetheless, to maintain your voice in a project. I never forget that it is my name on that piece of work so making sure I can be proud of it is essential. Also, most people in studios aren’t filmmakers in the traditional sense. They are executives whose aim is to make sure that the project is profitable. At the studio level, we as creators have to understand that helping studios profit is part of our job, but finding the balance between art and commerce can be challenging sometimes. The best way to avoid that conflict is to have a clear understanding of what the expectations are before making it. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised.

Working on indie projects is a blast- there is a huge opportunity to break some rules, experiment, and try new things. Not having a budget means I get to play the game of “how can I solve this problem with no money?” That stretches my abilities and strengthens my creativity, which becomes hugely useful on bigger projects. I use all those little hacks I discovered on indie projects constantly on the bigger projects. Simply, indie projects are just freer.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see smaller indie web productions make, and how can they course-correct?

There are a few common mistakes, but the biggest and most classic mistake is: “Build it and they will come.” This is the one where producers shoot 6 episodes of their series by racking up credit card debt. They then launch it by putting it out to their Facebook friends and in total they’re out $10k, 20k, 30k and only have 1500 views across all the episodes. I see this all the time. It’s sad, because so many of these projects are amazing.

Don’t make the series, make the proof of concept. When you make the entire series (or a major chunk of it) you don’t leave the distributor/buyer anywhere to go. Distributors only buy things that fit into the narrow parameter of what their audience wants based on their extensive audience data. Remember, this is the internet, not TV, so distributors have data on every view and click on their content and unless your series ticks all those boxes, chances are they won’t buy. Instead, bring them an idea that is 75% developed and let them fill in the other 25% with their knowledge of their audience.

What is something many indie creators overlook when making an indie project that you think they should remember that might make their project more appealing to wider audiences or larger production and distribution companies?

Many creators make their projects first and then find out who their audience is after. I think best practices show that successful series producers know exactly who their audience is before they make anything. In fact, before production begins, many creators have been building an audience by communicating with fans of their genre (the one they are creating in) long before that audience knows anything about their project. Once they have engaged the audience and built trust, they move ahead with production. This way, the project lands on an audience that already has a relationship with the creator….

Read it all at Stareable

John Ostrander: Hokey Smokes!

by John Ostrander

On Friday I learned that one of my childhood heroes died. June Foray passed on at the age of 99.

Ms. Foray was a voice actress working in animated features all her long career, as well as in comedy shorts and appearances on Johnny Carson and with Stan Freberg, Daws Butler, and Frank Nelson. She was the voice of Grandmother in Mulan, of Betty Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmasand, most important to me, she was the voice of Natasha Fatale and Rocky the Flying Squirrel on the various Rocky and Bullwinkle shows created by the legendary Jay Ward.

Rocky and Bullwinkle had a huge impact on me as a kid. All of Jay Ward’s stuff had a combination of sophisticated and low-brow humor. There were elements of satire combined with a lot of really bad puns.

Originally, the dimwitted Bullwinkle was the sidekick to the plucky hero Rocket J. Squirrel but the moose became the main character and Rocky became the plucky sidekick. As a kid, that irritated me. Don’t get me wrong; I love me some Bullwinkle but Rocky was my hero. He may have been small but he was clever, he was courageous and he could fly. If anyone was going to get him and Bullwinkle out of the traps devised by Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, it would be Rocky.

I identified with him, so it bothered me when his BF took over the lead billing. I saw it as sort of an act of betrayal. Stupid, I know, but that’s how my kid’s brain saw it and some of that brain still rests inside me. (They talk about “primal lizard brain;” I’ve got “primal kid brain.”) It didn’t seem to bother Rocky, though. Of course, it wouldn’t. He was not that kind of guy to hold a grudge.

I got the Rocky and Bullwinkle comics when I was a boy; they were oversized and cost a whopping 25 cents when everything else was a dime. But they delivered. They had the same skewed sensibility as the TV shows did. And they sort of had the voices; when I read Rocky in the comics, I “heard” June Foray’s voice. The animation was always rudimentary on the shows; it was the writing and the voices that truly made the shows live. When I heard June Foray had died, for me that sort of meant Rocky died as well.

Ms. Foray got a lot accomplished in her life. She helped get the Motion Picture Academy to create an award category for Best Animated Feature in 2001. She has her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

One last thought struck me the other day and it’ll make some of you crazy but here goes. June Foray voiced Rocky; June Foray was female. Could Rocky have been female all these years? Rocky wears the sort of flying helmet and goggles I’ve seen on pictures of Amelia Earhart. Bullwinkle is frankly too dim to notice. So – maybe.

Either way – Rocky is still one of my heroes. And so is June Foray.

John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Find Your Story – and Stick to It

by David Perlis

Find your story and stick to it ~ Not So Anon

That’s the moral, and it’s what I’m trying to remind myself as I move forward on my new project. These things always sound easy, but without a Post-It on every surface of your abode, reminding you what your story’s heart is, you may find yourself with great plot and great characters, but they’re bound to fizzle out at some point. That’s what I think, anyway.

I like examining Breaking Bad. (By the way, my exhibits are almost always Breaking Bad. It just works, man.)

Breaking Bad sets you up with some pretty brilliant stakes: terminal cancer on one end, and the threat of prison on the other. Not a lot of wiggle room for good things to happen here. But how Vince Gilligan and his writers deal with the cancer part is what I find really interesting. Do they give Walt life scare after life scare with his diagnosis? Do they bring in his ex girlfriend whom he left at the altar to be his head doc? Accidentally give him an infected blood transfusion, or mix his chart up with someone else’s? Does Walt have an allergic reaction to the meds, which leaves him in a wheelchair? I admit, all of these things sound a bit “jump-the-sharky,” but they would definitely ratchet up the drama.

Nope. Instead, they hardly address the cancer at all. Sure, a few scenes in the early episodes, ’cause you can’t not talk about it, but the writers (being pros) knew what this show was—and more importantly, wasn’t—about.

It’s about reaching the breaking point. It’s about our ability to justify the unjustifiable. It’s about doing the wrong things for the right reasons. It’s about our need to be important. To be respected. To be good. It’s about every man being capable of absolute evil. It’s about “turning Mr. Chips into Scarface.” (Which was how Mr. G. always pitched it.) It’s not about overcoming cancer. Walt’s diagnosis in ep. 1 was a great catalyst for morphing him into Heisenberg, but that’s all it ever needed to be.

Now, if you were in Breaking Bad’s writer’s room, would you have intuitively left the cancer thread by the side of the road way back when? I know I wouldn’t have. Long story short: That, Mom, is is why I’ve got “Ignore the cancer” Post-Its papering my toilet tank.

David Perlis is a screenwriter and former People’s Pilot Finalist doing his best to break into the even Bigger Time. This post first appeared on his very helpful blog.

Peggy Bechko’s Tips on Character Descriptions

OMG! Writers have to do all this too – but with words!?

by Peggy Bechko

Writing descriptions for characters in TV and film scripts can be very tricky. We’re writing tight and yet want to transmit something about that character, something that will make an “A” list actor or actress salivate at the thought of playing that character. At the same time it has to be very visual. Unlike novelists, script writers can’t get inside the heads of their characters – at least not when it comes to descriptions. It’s a little like someone off-stage whispering instructions.

If you’ve read a lot of scripts, and if you’re writing them I assume you have, then you’re no doubt all too familiar with a description like: Carmen Smith (20s), slender and graceful, waits impatiently at the bus stop.

Okay, it paints a picture of sorts and we’re told time and again not to over describe, but is that the sort of description that would grab a star? I mean all we’ve said here is that Carmen is thin, impatient woman in her 20s. And, of course your script has to make it past the hurdles and pitfalls of a myriad of other folks who read your script such as readers, agents, maybe producers and others unless you personally know an “A” list movie star. Few of us do. And even if we do, would that person welcome reading your script…and then would that description captivate that person?

Okay, so no, no and no.

Now, presuming your script is otherwise worth reading and it get into the hands of a star’s agent, that agent is going to be looking to see if there’s a plum part in the script for their client. Is the character interesting with a personality, a background; a role that’s multi-faceted to stretch the star’s acting ability.

Isn’t that what you’d be doing if you were a rep for a high-powered star?

So we come back to that original (well, not really so original) description I came up with above. What if the description in your script was more like: The bus driver opened the door to where Carmen, an aristocratic woman more accustomed to limos than city buses, raised her steely gaze to his, then rose and strolled onto the steps plainly intending the bus could just wait a bit longer.

Now that’s a little more like it. What the heck is going on with Carmen? Steely gaze? Causing the bus to wait on her leisurely stroll? There’s a tone here, no? Are things like age important? Not really, unless it really has a bearing on the direction of the story.

Read through your script. Think about the descriptions. If you find one that seems a little flat, play with it. Think about who your character is and consider, can I bring the character through with action and movement, maybe a look or a certain attitude. Don’t depend on age, clothes, height or color of hair (ye gads!). What would make a star want to play that role?

Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. 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 and her terrific blog.