Peggy Bechko: Writers, Let’s Get to the Subtext!

 by Peggy Bechko

If you’re a writer of any stripe at all, then you’ve heard about and/or considered subtext. For the rest of you the beginners, those in need of review, let’s talk.

For starters remember, characters you create are always doing something. They’re not just sets of talking heads. They do things. They do a log of things and they go through all sorts of drama common to the human condition. And, as live people, they don’t actually SAY most of what they mean, they express it in some way, thus the subtext.

That being said, plainly it’s your job, as writer to get that across, in novels and especially in screen scripts.

One great trick to doing that is to substitute gibberish for your character’s dialog and see what’s left between the lines. In between the lines of dialog (what your character’s actually say) lies what those characters really mean to say. “Between the lines” so to speak.

Using this trick it’s easy to see what’s actually going on. On the other hand if you’ve made the dialog unintelligible and reading the bits left leaves you unable to know what’s going on then the scene is no doubt in need of more subtext.

In addition to giving yourself, as the writer, a way to double check thigs with the gibberish trick, The writer needs to supply the characters with something that drives them, a goal. A boy wants to get a date with a girl, or get a job, or solve a crime, or whatever. That goal will automatically add subtext to everything that character might say.

With a goal in mind a character needs some action to go with it. A detective might be walking a crime scene, a shy boy might be shuffling around a bit outside a gym, a job-seeker might be all dressed up, stiff and nervous.

All of this adds up to body language. In a novel you can describe at length (hopefully not too much at length). In a script a lot of it is dependent upon actors, but the writer can certainly give hints, especially when it’s an important bit of action that fills out the story or tells the viewer about the character. A girl blows a raspberry at the boy asking for a date. A job-seeker keeps adjusting the knot of his tie at his throat.

In a novel a detective can both walk a scene and have some thoughts going on about it on the page.

Giving your character a secret is a good idea as well. Remember the first Jurassic Park with the character about to steal dino embryos? That scattered subtext all over the place whenever he interacted with another character or when he took any type of action.

Then, for more complications there’s one character knowing the secret of another character. That can really set things off; open lots of doors to subtext in every scene.

So what do you think? Can you keep firmly in mind that your characters are alive? That they have lots of ‘stuff’ going on and when they talk to each other it’s just like you talking to a member of your family with opposite political beliefs? There’s lots of subtext!

Think about it. Watch people interact. You do this and the way people move and talk will never be viewed from the same perspective again. And you’re going to get plenty of subtext into your scripts and novels.


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.

PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 Finalists are Coming This Week

PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 FINALISTS
For contest ending November 1, 2017

Hope your enjoyed your week of celebration, PEOPLE’S PILOT Semi-Finalists. It’s time for you to start stressing again.

TVWriter™ is proud to announce that this Thursday, January 25, 2018, will bring the announcement of the PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 Finalists!

Are you on the list? Is your best friend? Your – choke – enemy?

Be here and find out!

LYMI

LB & Team TVWriter™

TVWriter™ Don’t-Miss Posts of the Week – January 22, 2018

Good morning!

Time for TVWriter™’s  Monday look at our most popular blog posts of the week ending yesterday. They are, in order:

PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 Semi-Finalists!

Looking for TV Pilot Scripts?

‘The Following’ Season 4 was Cancelled by Fox Because the TV Series Became a Victim of Lazy Writing

Herbie J Pilato: Thank you, “The Flash!” It looks like the dark and dingy days of TV may be over!

Empty Promises: My experience submitting scripts to Amazon Studios

And our most visited permanent resource pages are, also in order:

Writing the Dreaded Outline

PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 Writing Contest

THE PEOPLE’S PILOT: UPDATES

The Logline

SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED SECOND SEASON ARC

Major thanks to everyone for making this another great week at TVWriter™. Don’t forget to click above and read what you missed and re-read what you loved!

Are You Ready for Stareable Fest 2018?

As regular visitors probably already know, one of TVWriter™’s  favorite websites dedicated to helping creators of web series (and viewers of same) is Stareable.Com – conveniently located at (aw, you guessed it) https://stareable.com/

Stareable has helped thousands of independent filmmakers hone their craft, meet their peers, and get recognition through its discovery platform, online forum, and in-person meetups.

We’ve said a bit about this before, but we want to remind y’all that the gang at Stareable is bringing it all together in the real world with a two day celebration of excellence in independent television, focused on taking creators’ careers to the next level.

Stareable Fest 2018 will be held July 20-22, 2018, at Town Stages, Tribeca, New York City, NY.

Submissions are open right now, with an Early Deadline set for February 28th. Further info about such aspects as categories, awards, sponsors et al – which we just know you have to have – is HERE

Seeya there?

Let’s !EXPLODE! Some Writing Myths!!!

Whoa, would you look at that. An article heading with five exclamation points in one sentence. That must be against the rules of English writing.

Or maybe not…cuz the rulez we all know may not be what we think. In other words, it’s infographic time! (That exclamation is, of course, absolutely necessary. Right?)

Oh wait. Gee…not a word here about exclamation point usage. Guess that’s for the second ten.

TVWriter™ found this at one of our favorite writing sites, Writers Write

And they in turn found it HERE

PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 Semi-Finalists!

26th PEOPLE’S PILOT SEMI-FINALISTS
For contest ending November 1, 2017

COMEDY SERIES SEMI-FINALISTS
(alphabetically)

ADORBZ by Marci Buehler

ALLENTOWN by Terry Gehring

BEARD MOUNTAIN by Erica Lies

BITCHES IN SEASON by Sasha Feiler

CHOSEN by Cody Varney

CON HEADS by Steve Boudreault

GFA (GREAT F’ING ADVICE) by George Tonelli

MADE TO ORDER by Dan Ingram

SINGLE SEX by Claire Bostrom

THE CHEDDARBOX EXPRESS by Allie Theiss

THE PINSTRIPED PRIMATES by Kenneth Kleeman

THE WINTER WHITE HOUSE by Merdith Bagby

TIL DEATH DOES PART US by Terry Gehring

TRINITY LOFT by Roland Zistler

DRAMA & ACTION SERIES SEMI-FINALISTS
(alphabetically)

AFTER WE FALL by Gustave Cadet & Jacob Chattman

CONNECTION by Jace Lacob

DRIVEN by Susan Hippen

NORIEGA by Juan Francisco de la Guardia

ORLONDSKI IS MISSING by Hank Isaac

SHADOWS by Anne Marie Caluwaert

SIDEKICK: THE RED RAPTOR FILES by Christopher Valin

SONS OF WITCHES by Eugene Ramos

STRUCK by Elaine F. Chekich

SUPER by Kathryn Graham

THE CHOIR SINGER by Barry M. Putt Jr.

THE MEEK by Steven Zurline

THE NAKED EYE by Sean Skelton

THE SHARP CO. by Joe Lee

THE STRANGE REALITY OF SALLY PARKER by Diana Black

TO BE SEEN by Susan Hippen

WRECKAGE by Ryan Stack


TVWriter™ congratulates all the Semi-Finalists. Your work is awesome.

We keep saying this, but that’s because it’s true: This time around, the overall quality of the entries greatly exceeded our expectations. Last year, we explained how difficult it was for the judges to make their decisions by pointing out that literally every Semi-Finalist in that year’s competition could have been a Top 5 placer in previous runnings of the PEOPLE’S PILOT. This year, the same holds true.

This time around, the median entry score in the Comedy Script category was a whopping 7.95, while the median Drama & Action category score was  7.75. The competition in the upper atmosphere of entries was especially strong in Drama & Action, with 5 different scripts scoring 9.00 points or more out of a possible 10.00 and the cut-off point for Semi-Finalists was an incredibly high 8.40.

Inasmuch as the PEOPLE’S PILOT considers a score of 7.00 as signifying Professional quality, it’s clear that on the whole the PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 entries were Very Professional Indeed.

In short, we believe that all of those who entered this year should be very proud of themselves…and hope that at the very least all of the Semi-Finalists above will treat themselves to the most awesome celebration they can!

NEXT WEEK: The 2017 PEOPLE’S PILOT Finalists

Secrets of the TV writers’ room: inside Narcos, Transparent and Silicon Valley

Everything – within reason – that we’ve all wanted to know about how some of the top shows on TV are written today. Let’s put it together for showrunners Eric Newman, Jill Soloway, and Alec Berg, not to mention the kindly folk at The Guardian.

by Tim Adams

Every age creates its signature way of telling and consuming stories. The Jacobeans had the blood and lust of popular tragedy. The Victorians had the great social novel. The 1960s had new journalism. The chosen form of our own age is the downloaded serial drama. While the energy and ambition of screenwriters was for nearly a century invested in two-hour feature films, for the past 10 years, ever since The Wire and The Sopranos and The West Wing showed what might be possible, it has been in the 10-hour arcs, and annual seasons of streamed drama.

Those shows – Scandi-noir, Game of Thrones (and its progeny), Breaking Bad and the rest – have created a new kind of relation between creators and viewers. The stories are made not only for total immersion, but also presuppose the potential for binge-watching. Since Netflix started uploading whole series, days and nights are lost to the “just one more episode” of unfolding dramas, in the way that we might once have been invited to lose ourselves in books.

The idea of bingeing on drama has some negative connotations, but the facts suggest that far from seeing this habit as time wasted, we tend to think of it as fulfilling in the way that time devoted to great fiction always was. In 2013, Netflixdid a study into why 73% of viewers felt overwhelming feelings of comfort when immersed in these dramas. The company sent an anthropologist, Grant McCracken, into viewers’ homes to discover the reasons for this: “TV viewers are no longer zoning out as a way to forget about their day, they are tuning in, on their own schedule, to a different world. Getting immersed in multiple episodes or even multiple seasons of a show over a few weeks is a new kind of escapism that is especially welcome.” The usual attention deficit of the internet was replaced by something more complex and satisfying.

The huge demand for such shows and the intense rivalry between Netflix and Amazon, in particular, to create has led to a new kind of mythologised creative space: the writers’ room. The creative pressures of producing multiple series of 10-hour dramas in short order have changed the dynamic of traditional scriptwriting practice. Rather than pairs of writers, or single auteurs, the collective and the collaborative is not only prized but essential.

As favourite shows build their own addictive fanbases – more fragmented than the audience for broadcast TV ever was, but often more cultishly engaged – the writers’ room, the place where the drama begins and ends, has become the subject of intense curiosity and scrutiny. The room is largely an American creation, a development of the comedy bunkhouses that produce The Simpsons or Saturday Night Live. Inevitably there are websites and blogs and memes devoted to gossip about these sacred and profane spaces, places to get a fix of favourite dramas before the next series is uploaded. Some shows – Orange Is the New Blackand The Good Wife pioneered the practice – provide the backstory to the genesis and creation scenes in live Twitter feeds, with whiteboards and interview links and photos.

What they mostly reveal is that having ideas – even in groups – and writing them up into scripts is no less painful and laborious than it ever was, but that it now has a kind of endless forward motion….

Read it all at The Guardian