Writing Advice EP0101

As I emerge from an energy-crushing summer school holiday period (the first one’s a real killer, huh?), I’ve decided to try my best to write more regularly here. I thought, in the first instance, I’d curate some of the useful (screen)writing advice I’ve been picking up online. There’s a whole heap of good, practical stuff out there these days that I’m finding useful as I work through a new draft of my latest spec. Here’s episode one…

Tony Tost talks rewrites

Tony Tost’s Practical Screenwriting Substack is always a must-read. The current edition offers something you rarely get from pro writers – a detailed look at scene re-drafts. For obvious reasons, most screenwriters aren’t keen on airing early versions of their work – we all (have to) write shit to begin with, and knowing that no one else will see those initial fumbles is what makes the process less excruciating (only a little, mind…)

But I do think it’s useful to see how scripts evolve. Tony talks about rewriting the opening scenes of Damnation to shift the perception of his protagonist after lukewarm previews. It’s cheering to read a pro having to grapple with that age-old problem of audiences preferring the antagonist to the hero! Tony’s solution is influenced by how David Milch cracked the same problem on NYPD Blue (probably a first for me, actual practical advice from Milch – a writer I admire immensely, but who talks about screenwriting in intimidatingly esoteric terms in my experience!)

On a similar note, one of the best screenwriting exercises you can do is compare the original draft of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade with the Tom Stoppard rewrite. What Stoppard does is masterful, and you can learn loads by just taking some time to understand the decisions he’s made in punching-up scenes, adding subtext, killing exposition, and generally always looking to surprise with action/dialogue decisions.

Zwick’s tips

Edward Zwick drops the occasional tips session on Twitter. Today, there’s some useful advice for screenwriters. This (number five) resonated most with me:

Interview with the Master

The Many Saints of Newark is out soon. I’m nervous. The Sopranos is the greatest TV show ever in my opinion (yeah I know, really radical opinion…) I have the scripts to hand whenever I’m writing (see below). But we’ve not heard from David Chase for a long time… Ah, who am I kidding? He’s the master – the only person I’ve ever sent a fan letter (email) to in my life (he didn’t reply). It’s going to be amazing.

There’s a fascinating interview with Chase, by the great Alan Sepinwall (get all his books if you don’t own them already), on Rolling Stone – well worth checking out.

Screenwriting as poetry

Someone on Twitter mentioned this recently, I can’t remember who (actually, maybe it was Tony?) ‘Screenwriting-as-poetry’ always seemed a little too conceptual to me, but I’m coming to understand better how it’s good, practical advice. I’m considering poetry much more as I think about scenes, and what they need (and don’t need) to convey in support of the wider emotional narrative.

So, speaking of poetry – and while we in the UK wait for the release of The Green Knight (God, I want to see this so bad…) – I highly recommend the recent translation of Beowulf by Maria Dahvana Headley. It’s the first thing I’ve read in a long time that really made me fall in love with possibilities of language again (another one: the insane 1894 translation of Rabelais’ Gargantua by Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty – seriously, check it out). 

It’s writing to blow the cobwebs from your brain:

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Christian Ward

I write books and screenplays. I have been twice long-listed by the BBC Writersroom. I work as a trend forecaster for innovations advisory Stylus. I speak about media, technology, culture and advertising, at events including SXSW, YMS and the Stylus Summit. I host a trends podcast called Future Thinking with Stylus.

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