Producer John Yorke has involved in some of the most popular British TV dramas over the past couple of years. A couple of months ago he talked to the Guardian newspaper about What Makes A Great Screenplay. Yorke believes the key ingredients are:
- The Protagonist
- The Antagonist
- The Desire
- External and Internal Desire
- The Inciting Incident
- The Journey
- The Crisis
- The Climax
- The Resolution
- Putting It Altogether
John Yorke is a British television producer. who is the current Controller of BBC Drama Production. What Makes A Great Screenplay was appeared in the Guardian news paper on the 15th of March 2013.
Another series of posts we haven’t had for a while has been The Guardian’s Ten Rules for Writing. The latest ‘rules’ comes from playwright Sir David Hare. He has written plays such as The Blue Room and films scripts of The Hours and The Reader. His rules are:
- Write only when you have something to say.
- Never take advice from anyone with no investment in the outcome.
- Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it.
- If nobody will put your play on, put it on yourself.
- Jokes are like hands and feet for a painter. They may not be what you want to end up doing but you have to master them in the meanwhile.
- Theatre primarily belongs to the young.
- No one has ever achieved consistency as a screenwriter.
- Never go to a TV personality festival masquerading as a literary festival.
- Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.
- The two most depressing words in the English language are “literary fiction”.
It has been almost a month since we last posted an author’s Ten Rules For Writing from the Guardian. This time we are going for Neil Gaiman who has written in almost every possible medium including comics, films and books. Sadly, he only provides eight tips. They are:
- Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
- Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
- Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
- Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
- Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
- Laugh at your own jokes.
- The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it’s definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
Here is another post from a source we haven’t looked at for a while. This time it is the Guardian and their Ten Rules For Writing Series. This list of seven rules (I don’t know why it isn’t the full ten) is from British author Esther Freud. Esther most famous work is Hideous Kinky which was adapted into a film of the same name staring Kate Winslet and in 1993 was named as one of the 20 ‘Best of Young British Novelists’ by Granta magazine. She has also appeared in Doctor Who!
Her seven tips are:
- Cut out the metaphors and similes. In my first book I promised myself I wouldn’t use any and I slipped up during a sunset in chapter 11. I still blush when I come across it.
- A story needs rhythm. Read it aloud to yourself. If it doesn’t spin a bit of magic, it’s missing something.
- Editing is everything. Cut until you can cut no more. What is left often springs into life.
- Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don’t let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won’t matter to you that the kitchen is a mess.
- Don’t wait for inspiration. Discipline is the key.
- Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they’ll know it too.
- Never forget, even your own rules are there to be broken.
Back on the 10th of February 2010, The Guardian asked many authors including Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle and Elmore Leonard to offer their Ten Rules for Writing Fiction. Here are Jonathan Franzen ten rules. Jonathan is an American novelist and essayist. His third novel, The Corrections (2001) won the National Book Award, and was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
- The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
- Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.
- Never use the word “then” as a conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.
- Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.
- When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
- The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than “The Metamorphosis”.
- You see more sitting still than chasing after.
- It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
- Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
- You have to love before you can be relentless.
Here is the 8th edition of the Guardian’s Ten Rules For Writing Fiction. These tips are from Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist and short story writer Richard Ford. His best known novels are The Sportswriter and its sequels, Independence Day and The Lay of the Land. His ten rules are:
- Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea.
- Don’t have children.
- Don’t read your reviews.
- Don’t write reviews. (Your judgment’s always tainted.)
- Don’t have arguments with your wife in the morning, or late at night.
- Don’t drink and write at the same time.
- Don’t write letters to the editor. (No one cares.)
- Don’t wish ill on your colleagues.
- Try to think of others’ good luck as encouragement to yourself.
- Don’t take any shit if you can possibly help it.
A major part of any fiction writing is the dialogue. Yet there are so many times you can say, “he said” or “she said.” Luckily Daily Writing Tips have produced a great list of 75 Synonyms for Talk.
This list includes everything from Backchat to Parley through to Schmooze. Each comes with a helpful definition if you don’t recognise the word or don’t know what context it should be used in.
However, remember what Elmore Leonard’s said he offered his Ten Rules For Writing Fiction to the Guardian:
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin.
Whether you choose to follow Leonard’s advice or not is up to you of course. Whatever you choose to do, I’m sure this list of 75 Synonyms for Talk will come in useful somehow.
It has been a while since I put up the last set of Ten Rules for Writing Fiction from The Guardian. We are now looking at the advice of Anne Enright, the author of The Gathering which won the Man Brooker Prize in 2007. Here are her tips:
- The first 12 years are the worst.
- The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.
- Only bad writers think that their work is really good.
- Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.
- Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn’t matter how “real” your story is, or how “made up”: what matters is its necessity.
- Try to be accurate about stuff.
- Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.
- You can also do all that with whiskey.
- Have fun.
- Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.
The sixth entry in The Guardian‘s list of Ten Rules For Writing Fiction comes from Geoff Dyer. He is an author and novelist who’s works include Paris Trance, The Colour of Memory, and, most recently, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi. His ten rules are:
- Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over – or not.
- Don’t write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés . . . Since then I’ve developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.
- Don’t be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.
- If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great autocorrect files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: “Niet” becomes “Nietzsche”, “phoy” becomes ”photography” and so on.
- Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.
- Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.
- Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.
- Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.
- Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.
- Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to perseverance. But writing is all about perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.
The fifth author in The Guardian‘s list of Ten Rules For Writing Fiction is Helen Dumore. She is a poet, novelist and children’s writer. During her career she has won a number of prizes including the Orange Prize. Sadly she only offers up nine rules but they are still very useful:
- Finish the day’s writing when you still want to continue.
- Listen to what you have written. A dud rhythm in a passage of dialogue may show that you don’t yet understand the characters well enough to write in their voices.
- Read Keats’s letters.
- Reread, rewrite, reread, rewrite. If it still doesn’t work, throw it away. It’s a nice feeling, and you don’t want to be cluttered with the corpses of poems and stories which have everything in them except the life they need.
- Learn poems by heart.
- Join professional organisations which advance the collective rights of authors.
- A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk.
- If you fear that taking care of your children and household will damage your writing, think of JG Ballard.
- Don’t worry about posterity – as Larkin (no sentimentalist) observed “What will survive of us is love”.