Storytelling Geekery

IWSG: Twenty Abandoned Drafts

This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, a way for writers to discuss their writing anxieties. Writers who take part in IWSG write about our writing anxieties and check in on each others’ posts on the first Wednesday of each month.


At the weekend’s Oscars Jordan Peele won the award for Best Original Screenplay for Get Out. A racially charged horror-comedy was a brave choice for the subject of only his second feature film script, and Peele admitted in his acceptance speech that he stopped writing it around twenty times. It’s interesting that even someone as experienced and successful as Jordan Peele could have this kind of loss of faith – for those who aren’t familiar with his work, Jordan Peele is half of the hit sketch duo Key and Peele, and had been writing sketch comedy for MADtv since 2003.

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Quote: Mel Brooks on seriousness in comedy

Mel Brooks at the White House for the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors by US Federal Government
Mel Brooks at the White House / Picture by the U.S. federal government
At the weekend (on Saturday February 17th) the BBC aired a special about Mel Brooks – Imagine…Mel Brooks: Unwrapped. As well as new material it included archive interviews, including this great quote:

“All my films are serious, if you examine any one of them. Because they are passionate and the depict human behaviour at given points in human history. They are not dramatic, and that’s the difference. You’ve got to be careful what you say when you use those words.

You can’t make a successful comedy that doesn’t have any passion. It will not be successful. You’ve got to say something about the system. About the social structure. About prejudice, about people, about behaviour. Comedy is not successful unless it deals with… even Laurel and Hardy, you could say they were cheap comedies, they have to deal with the system. The Marx Brothers always dealt with the system.

Every picture I’ve ever made has dealt with some aspect of the social system and human behaviour within it. I don’t want to get clinical about it but The Producers was about the dream of little Leo Bloom, about success. Zero Mostel in it says ‘Bloom, Bloom I’m sinking. I’m part of a society that demands success when all I can offer is failure.’ Blazing Saddles is about racial prejudice. It’s all about the hypocritical west shitting all over a black sheriff, wanting him dead.”


IWSG: Returning to my Vomit

This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, a way for writers to discuss their writing anxieties. It cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.

A popular piece of writing advice is that ‘a writer should no more return to their writing than a dog should return to their vomit’.* While I agree with the intent behind this – that a writer should keep moving forward rather than correcting what they’ve already written – I think that it’s a simplistic philosophy.

Firstly, the bit I agree with. I’m an obsessive perfectionist when it comes to writing. I can get wrapped up in a single, relatively unimportant part of what I’ve written, wondering if I did enough to paint a picture of the scene; narrator’s ignorance is too subtle for a joke to work, and if it’d be believable if it were less subtle. I think that often it is better to leave this kind of uncertainty behind, carry on writing, and come back with fresh eyes.

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IWSG: The Problem of Consistency

This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, a way for writers to discuss their writing anxieties. It cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge 2016

One of the biggest problems I have as a writer is writing steadily and consistently. Looking back through my blog there is plentiful evidence of this – I have often gone months without posting, and my posts seem to cluster around a few weeks of activity at a time.

Most writers will have felt the instinct to wait for inspiration to strike, to write when the ideas are flowing most readily. But sometimes ideas have to be wrung forcefully from our minds, so that there is at least a terrible first draft when inspiration does strike – a rough skeleton that a better version can be superimposed on top of.

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The Importance of Theme in Fiction

In fiction, theme is what the story is about. So a romance novel will be, on the surface, a story about two characters falling for each other. But looking deeper, the themes will be what the work of fiction has to say about the fictional universe which the story is set in, and to our universe. Love is worth the pain that precedes it; love is where you least expect it; true love conquers all, and so on.

For Jurassic Park the most obvious theme is that dinosaurs are cool, but few films can become as successful as Jurassic Park was if that’s all they have to say. There’s also a key theme that it’s dangerous for humans to think that they can control their new technology – Frankenstein ‘playing god’ theme. It’s a recurring theme in Michael Crichton’s fiction, including Westworld and Prey.  Another Jurassic Park theme is the importance of family, in this case the non-traditional ‘family’ that forms between the central characters in the process of protecting each other.

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IWSG: The First Draft

This entry is part of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group – a group of writers helping each other deal with insecurities that are part of the writing process.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge 2016

A consistent problem that I’ve always had when writing is getting the rough draft of the story down on paper. I enjoy the research and world-building – for instance today I’ve been looking at animals that are able to control electricity for background to a science fiction idea. I also enjoy structuring stories – building a kind of scaffolding to outline the key events, how the characters are going to change and when the key pieces of information will be revealed to the reader. But I struggle when it comes to writing the first full version of the story.

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Egotism, Storytelling Geekery

IWSG: Keeping up Forward Momentum

This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, which cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge 2016

Being a perfectionist, ambitious, and having flickering self-confidence is not a great combination.
At times I feel that I’ve stumbled across a great idea, an idea for a novel or other form of fiction which no-one else is writing, and turning it into a major hit is just a matter of putting it down on paper. Unfortunately, turning a vague idea into a practical reality is a little trickier than that.

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