Story Tip Tuesday

When it comes to writing, nothing is more important than my memories. The time I got on the wrong train in France, the time I stood up in pre-school and announced that I was going to have a new baby sister (much to the surprise of my parents), the experience of that first crush and the crushing blow when I found out my cat had died.

Our lives are made up of endless moments and experiences and all of these provide seeds of inspiration that can lead to the most incredible stories, the most riveting scenes and a never-ending cast of vibrant characters.

Learning to tap into your memories takes practice and my suggestion to you is to set aside five to ten minutes each day. Just you, a cup of something and a piece of paper and pen. Don’t think, don’t edit, just let the memories come and write down whatever you remember.

Over the years I’ve filled up dozens of notebooks and every single one of my series ideas, scripts and storylines have started with this simple and ongoing exercise. I never hav...

My father was a man who loved his expressions, and this was definitely one of his favourites. Throughout the years, I've heard it probably a hundred times, but it’s only recently that I’ve realised its true wisdom and have been able to put its lessons into solid practice.

If you’re anything like me, your emotions carry you between soaring high above the clouds with excitement when one of your projects begins to get interest, to that painful crash when what was sure to be a ‘yes’ suddenly turns into a disappointing ‘no’. What I’ve come to realise is that the life of a writer is a never-ending journey of ups and downs and in order to go the distance, it’s important to be able to step away from your emotions and adopt a professional discipline.

One important trick I’ve learned is to ‘never to put my eggs in one basket’ and as a result, I always make sure that I have several projects on the go. At the moment, I’m in the midst of negotiations on a new series I created, and whereas the ‘old’ m...

Although most successful writers understand the importance of plot points and have mastered the art of telling a story through the use of action, they also know that dialogue will often be the thing that makes or breaks their career.

Some people think that when it comes to writing great dialogue, you either have it or you don’t, but I disagree. Of course there are writers who are born with a gift, and those brilliant lines seem to effortlessly spill out onto the page. I wish I was one of them, but the truth is I’m not. I’ve had to teach myself how to write strong dialogue and I truly believe that you can too!

And what better way to start than to begin to recognise what makes bad dialogue.

Bad dialogue is boring and generic. It lacks emotion and attitude and could easily belong to any character. Bad dialogue doesn’t have any strong meaning or make any important point. Bad dialogue is ‘on the nose’ and says exactly what is happening or what we as an audience probably already know. Bad dialo...

One of the most important steps to becoming a professional writer is to get yourself out there. You can be the best wordsmith, come up with the most compelling characters and stories, and write a killer script, but if you want someone to pay you for your work and produce it so that others will actually get to see it, you’re going to have to meet other people in the business – people who have a strong reputation and are actively working in the industry.

Now, I’m not saying this is an easy task, as most of these people are usually very busy. They travel a lot and have a pretty full slate. It’s hard to get them to return your e-mails and even harder to arrange a face-to-face meeting if you’re new to the game. But the great thing is, there’s another way.

We ‘Brits’ and, at least for now, we lucky members of the European Union, have the opportunity to attend several conferences and markets, and a great one is right here in the UK.

The upcoming Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield is a fant...

In a great script, nothing is wasted.

When I first began writing for TV, I had these seven little words written on cards all around my house. I looked at this sentence over and over again… while I was washing the dishes and while I brushed my teeth. I read it until it became my mantra and made it nearly impossible for me to write a sentence or line of dialogue without asking myself, “What am I trying to say?” or “How does this move the story forward?” or “Why is this important to my story?”.

Producers have often told me that my scripts really move and that my scripts hook people and keep them hooked. In fact one of the best compliments I’ve ever received was when we were in post-production on the pilot for Dead Gorgeous. I was in the edit suite working with a truly talented editor, and at one point he turned his chair around and said, “I hate you”. I was really surprised since we had such a great working relationship. But then he smiled and added, “You have left me nothing I can cut!”

I h...

When you pitch for a show, one of the first things you’ll be asked to do is to come to your meeting prepared with lots of story ideas. Each episode should have a strong story ‘hook’ that grabs us and a strong journey with a clear beginning, middle and end. But most important of all, you need to know which character each story belongs to!

Much of the time, your story will belong to the hero of your series. In other words, your main character is the one who experiences the situation and problems of the story – and the one who goes on the journey to fix those problems. But as with many shows, there are often multiple characters who will also need to have their own stories, with each one becoming the main character of a particular episode.

When I first pitched for Rugrats, I was told that the producers were looking for strong ‘Chuckie’ stories. Later when I was able to get my first original show Dead Gorgeous off the ground, part of my job as a showrunner was to make sure there was a balance...

There’s been a lot of talk over the past few years about how to pitch your screenplay or series. Pitch experts have been popping up all over the place and many writers and producers have attended workshops in order to learn the latest pitching techniques. But what I’ve also noticed is that suddenly there is a lot of anxiety!

I’ve just returned from Bordeaux where I was a Chairperson for Cartoon Movie – two days of approximately 60 pitches given by filmmakers from around the world. Some of the films were at concept stage, some were in development and others were already financed and well into production. As for the pitches? Well, some were really strong while others were weak.

Now I don’t mean to say that it isn’t important to learn how to clearly present your work and I know there are some experts out there that will teach you to do just that.

But I have some strong thoughts on this topic which I hope will help relieve your anxiety when it comes to pitching, and what I believe it comes do...

There are some interesting studies out there about how we humans think, and it is interesting to learn that some of us are naturally stronger and more skilled in the ‘detail’ while others are able to stand back more easily and see the bigger, broader picture. I’ve been doing a lot of consulting and teaching lately and have had the opportunity to observe how these different modes affect one’s ability to create, write and also pitch a great story.

If I’m honest, my personality type – and probably my comfort zone too – lies firmly planted in the ‘detail’. I spend hours getting to know what brand of toothpaste my characters would use and spend twice as long trying to choreograph a passing moment in a scene or trying to find the most perfect three lines of dialogue. But over the years I have also consciously trained myself to be able to pull back and see the bigger picture, and I realise that the combination of these abilities is what allows a writer to succeed.

In order for a story to have d...

My father was a self-made businessman and was truly wise. Born in LA during the Great Depression, with immigrant parents and little education, he began with nothing – but by the age of fifty he had built up a successful business with over sixty employees. His approach was simple: work hard, show up on time and always meet your clients and employees face-to-face.

My father taught me everything I know about business and I owe much of my success to him, but this one simple piece of advice has lasted me a lifetime and I am constantly amazed by the benefits.

There is something about sitting across a table from someone or meeting up for a coffee –  or even the connection that takes place during the few moments of that first handshake. This is the time when someone will decide whether they like you or not, trust you or not, and most importantly, whether they'll want to work with you or not.

This is not to say that these things will ever take the place of your actual work and what you bring to th...

If I had ten cents for every time someone said to me, “I have a great idea”, well, I’d be rich! Now please know that I don’t mean to put anyone down, and being an ‘ideas person’ myself, I know how exciting it is to come up with a great idea. The kind of idea that you know would be hugely successful if someone would just write it, or read it, or better still, make it!

But here’s what I’ve learned after all these years in the business: an ‘idea’ alone is worthless. I have hundreds of ideas written on napkins and scraps of paper scattered around my house. Some are OK, some are good, and some are even great. But even a great idea is just a fluffy white cloud floating around the cosmos, filled with promise and potential, and hopes and dreams – it has no value until you get off your butt and do something with it.

Your job as a writer is to turn that idea into reality and what that takes is your time, your skills, your sweat and tears – and a lot of hard work.

You are the first investor, and i...

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27: Use your memories

June 12, 2018

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