Welcome back for segment 2 of the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series, with an introduction to Bobby Nash, who shares how to manage the many tasks which being an author entails, to the Ask the Authors 2022 Writing Reference Anthology, and a Q & A on Pre-Writing Rituals.
Last week, we learned a little about myself and author Kevin Killiany, in addition to the Q & A session on Writing Life. If you missed it, you can find it here.
And now on to this week’s post.
Meet Bobby Nash
Bobby Nash is not a man of action, a detective, or a hero, but he loves writing about characters who are all of those things and more. Bobby is an award-winning author of novels, comic books, short stories, screenplays, and more. He is a member of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers and International Thriller Writers. On occasion, he acts, appearing in movies and TV shows, usually standing behind or beside your favorite actor. From time to time, he puts pen to paper and doodles. For more information on Bobby Nash and his work, please visit him at www.bobbynash.com, www.ben-books.com, and across social media.
Please tell us what genre(s) you write in and what type of research is required for your stories?
Mario Acevedo: I write commercial fiction—novels and short stories of supernatural fantasy, horror, and hard-boiled crime. My research is to make the story and setting sound as credible as possible.
Paul Kane: All kinds really. I’ve dabbled in a lot of genres and written in a lot of formats, from comics and audio scripting to TV and film. I started out doing journalism, so non-fiction, and had a couple of books out in that vein: The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy is probably the most well-known. Then I returned to writing short stories, because I was always writing those growing up; especially for English classes where the teachers would get exasperated at the length of some of them. I started sending these off to small presses and was lucky enough to get some printed, which then led to a collection. At the same time I’d been trying to write a novel, The Gemini Factor. I’d had a stab at a few before, so technically this was about my third or fourth novel, but the first I wrote with any serious intention of getting it published – which it was eventually, and there was even an anniversary edition which came out in 2020 through Gestalt Media. That was a horror serial killer thriller, by the way – and indeed most of the stuff I was doing back then was horror, and I carried on in that vein for a little while. Then around 2007, I pitched a book to Abaddon/Rebellion for their post-apocalyptic Afterblight series, which was a reworking of Robin Hood. They accepted that and it was my first mass market novel, so I’d shifted into SF at that point and wrote three novels altogether – gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man – plus a novella for them. I also wrote my first YA novel, The Rainbow Man, as PB Kane. At the same time I was writing short films like The Opportunity and The Weeping Woman, and then some audios – I adapted The Hellbound Heart into a full cast audio drama for Bafflegab – as well as working on and running conventions. More recently I’ve moved into writing straight thrillers for HQ/HarperCollins under the name PL Kane and the first of those, Her Last Secret, Her Husband’s Grave and The Family Lie, have all done very well. In amongst all that, I’ve written a couple of short plays too, one of which – One for the Road – was performed at FantasyCon 2015. As for research, it very much depends on the kind of story you’re telling. Crime research is very different to SF, as you can probably imagine.
Chris Barili: I write in just about every genre, and I wouldn’t say one genre requires more research than the others. Rather, I’d say one series of stories requires it: Hell’s Marshal. Because it is set in the old west, I do extensive research to make sure it is accurate, or at least believable in light of the story itself.
Bobby Nash: I write in whatever genre the publisher wants. So far, I haven’t done a lot of fantasy, nor have I attempted romance or erotica. Most of my work has a thriller element to it. I also write a lot of action and crime fiction. Research varies from project to project.
Robbie Cheadle: My YA and adult books are all historical and most have a paranormal element. I do a lot of research for each book, plotting the historical events on a timeline and then overlying the events of my plot. A Ghost and His Gold had over thirty historical sources and my current work in progress, The Soldier and the Radium Girl, will end up have at least the same number of sources, possibly even more.
I also read a lot of books in the timeframe I am writing about, especially classic books that were written during the period. This helps me gain insight into the everyday lives of people living at the time and experiencing the historical events I’m writing about.
Nancy Oswald: I write mostly Colorado-set historical history for young readers. It’s not always in the same order, but I typically start by reading history of the area, but not always. I like to visit the sites and glean as much as I can about the area. For me, museums and history centers are a huge wealth of material.
Kevin Killiany: Young adult, because the stories are more direct and revelatory of character. “Hard” science fiction (which means the fictional science is compatible with and based on real world science) and historical. Both require serious research, because accuracy is essential to the authenticity of the story.
How do you prefer to conduct your research: Live? Online? First-hand accounts?
Mario Acevedo: While the Internet is the most used because it is right in my computer, I continue to surprise myself with what treasures you find in newspaper microfiche, libraries, and visiting a place.
Paul Kane: I mainly do my research through a mixture of online searches, books and documentaries. For example for Her Husband’s Grave I did a lot of digging into psychology and serial killers, because my main character Dr Robyn Adams helps the police with their serial cases. For The Family Lie, I watched documentaries about cults and stuff like Jonestown, which led to some sleepless nights I can tell you. The cult of personality and all that. You get first-hand accounts in documentaries about subjects like that, so I haven’t needed to go to the horse’s mouth yet. Apart from in one instance, where I had a weapons expert called Trev Preston who’d help me with some of the details in the Hooded Man series. I’d ask him bizarre things like, is possible to take down an Apache Helicopter with a bolas – and he’d say yes or no. The answer’s yes, by the way, and that scene is in Broken Arrow.
Chris Barili: I do almost all my research online. Just don’t have time or resources to go visit far away places. That said, I did do some of that during two recent road trips.
Bobby Nash: I enjoy meeting and talking to people who do the jobs. I’ve talked with FBI agents, police, doctors, etc. about their respective jobs to get a feel for what they do. That adds a personal touch to the characters I have in those roles. On-line research is an invaluable tool to have at your fingertips. I also like to travel and visit locations where I can set stories and scenes.
Robbie Cheadle: I do all my research on-line and I like to use diaries, letters, and journals from the time, if possible. Project Gutenberg is a wonderful resource for historical research.
Nancy Oswald: See above, but add first-hand accounts if they’re available. I usually save online for while I’m drafting, because inevitably I’ll need a piece of information that I couldn’t anticipate.
Kevin Killiany: I love a library—finding and searching through physical books—but these days the internet enables one to access more information quickly. Whenever possible, I visit locations used in my stories.
What are your best research sources?
Chris Barili: Town or county historians. As them the time and they will build you a clock.
Bobby Nash: Google is readily at my fingertips. Interviewing people is also a good source of information gathering and adds a personal touch.
Nancy Oswald: I like the online dictionary of etymology. Quick and accurate.
What do you look for in a source: Aim? Accuracy? Authority? Correlation?
Paul Kane: I think you’re always looking for accuracy, because it goes back to that thing of believability again. You need to be as accurate as you can with facts, just so the reader believes in what you’re doing. That said, it’s hard to research some of the things I write about, like monster cats coming back as ghosts and attacking people, but you just have to do your best. That’s where the imagination element comes into it. I recently wrote a story for a charity anthology that takes place in the universe of my novella The Rot, and I had to do tons of research into black mold to get that right – even just for short story. It’s that important.
Robbie Cheadle: I like my stories to be as historically accurate as possible, so I actively look for accuracy and correlate the information I find with as many other sources as possible.
Nancy Oswald: I usually check more than one source if I’m in doubt. For historical fiction I like to be accurate, but love, love, love historic photos for setting.
What pre-writing exercises do you employ: Outlining? Free writing? Brainstorming?
Paul Kane: I rarely need to brainstorm, because Ideas come to me all the time and I jot them down. This means I’ve got tons of notebooks to draw on if I ever go blank… And I do plans, outlines and chapter breakdowns for novels. I might not stick religiously to them, but I find it helps me focus and keep on the straight and narrow, to keep going whenever I lose where I might be in the story. Like a kind of roadmap. You wouldn’t set off for a destination without having one of those – or a Satnav, or your phone – so why set off on a journey of many hours of hard work and 80 or 90 thousand words without an idea of where you’re heading? Some people wing it, I know, but I suspect they’re just planning it all out in their heads or their subconscious.
Chris Barili: Yes. And more. Any tool I can get my hands on to make my writing better.
Bobby Nash: I rarely have time for pre-writing. Deadlines do not always allow for that. I spend my writing time writing. When I’m at the beginning of a project and creating characters, I will do free writing and just start jotting down notes as I get to know the characters. Sometimes, plot/story ideas will happen in this stage too.
Robbie Cheadle: I research each section before I start writing a new chapter. As mentioned previously, I have my ending plotted prior to commencing writing and that is the direction I write towards.
Nancy Oswald: Refer to answer about plotting or pantsing. Oh, it’s blank. None of the above. I think while I write most of the time, but I have used a time-line to plot on when I’m trying to track a fiction story-line and compare it to the actual historical events.
Do you try to write to market or write what you love?
Paul Kane: The quick answer is both. I’ve written stories just for the love it them, usually they’re new ones for collections – like ‘The Butterfly Man’, that was a story for a collection from PS of the same name. But I’ve also written for specific markets, like the Hooded Man stuff, or where an editor gives you a theme for an anthology. I wrote ‘The Shadow of Death’ for an anthology called Expiration Date, for instance, ‘Shells’ for an anthology called Terror Tales of the Seaside, and ‘Presence’ for Hauntings. So at that point you’re totally writing for a specific market or theme.
Chris Barili: Again, yes. I write to market within the boundaries of what I know and love. I won’t shoe-horn my writing into genres or labels, and while I write what I am passionate about, I don’t limit myself to things I know or share with the reader.
Bobby Nash: Write what you love. Writing to market can drive you crazy and often leave you unfulfilled. I speak from personal experience here.
Robbie Cheadle: I write what I enjoy and for my own pleasure. I would like others to enjoy my stories, but that is secondary to my primary aim of personal enjoyment. As a result, I have decided to continue to publish with smaller publishers rather than to try to get representation with a larger publishing house.
Jeff Bowles: I sort of try to do both at the same time, I suppose. I’ve always had this theory that solid, salable fiction can be fun and artistic, too. Crazy, I know, but that’s just how I feel! Anyway, I’ve sort of developed a unique style, and there’s certain subjects I seem to write about again and again, as it is with most authors, I think. When I try to write like other people, the results are mixed, so I learned a long time ago to try to hit the personal enjoyment metric and then sort out what I think is salable or not. It’s a fine line, one that’s almost always difficult to walk, but it’s almost always worth it in the end.
Nancy Oswald: I realized a long time ago I cannot write to a market. For one, living in rural Colorado, I can’t keep up with anything that resembles up-to-date or edgy. The last time I remember trying keep up with cool was when I was a teen (living in Denver) and I practiced doing “The Jerk” in front of a mirror.
Kevin Killiany: Obviously when writing tie-in fiction for a TV show or role-playing game, I have to write for the market. BUT I’m writing for that market because I love the game or show—you have to campaign constantly to get your foot in the door, and that requires a good deal of passion. With my own, original fiction, I write solely for me. If you guys like it, that’s fantastic.
That wraps up “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series for this week. Be sure to drop by next Saturday for an introduction to multi-genre author, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, and a Q & A on plot/storyline. (Okay, many of you already know Robbie, some of you quite well. Drop by anyway for the Q & A.)
You can get your copy of Ask the Authors 2022 at your favorite book distributors at the special price of 3.99 for the duration of this blog series, through the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e
I just took a short trip to Glenwood Springs, Colorado; one of many that I have taken in search of the truth about Doc Holliday; a curiosity that began while doing research for Delilah back in 2016. At the time, I found evidence connecting Doc Holliday with the mining camp of Leadville, where that story ends up, and I used that in my story line to give it authenticity. I learned a lot about John Henry (Doc) Holliday, but I also found a lot of facts which are conflicting, and those conflicts have tickled at my brain ever since.
Many of the facts which are not to be disputed are John Henry Holliday’s birthplace and date: Griffin, Georgia on August 14, 1851. In addition it is known that he attended the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery, but before he could get his practice well established, he was diagnosed with consumption, what we know of today as tuberculosis, ruining a promising career when no one wanted to be treated by “a lunger”, so headed out west to be a gambler, which was considered a legitimate way to earn a living in those days, similar to that of a professional poker player today, as differentiated from a gambler.
But it wasn’t until the 1881 events in Tombstone Arizona and the “shoot-out at the O.K. Corral”, involving Doc Holliday and the infamous Earp brothers that his noteriaty grew into legendary proportions. months to seek relief from the reported health benefits of the natural mineral hot springs and vapor caves located there. In those days there were close to fifty hot springs running up and down the banks of the Grand River (now known as the Colorado River), as this was before Walter Devereaux purchased the townsite of Glenwood Springs and secured funding to build The Hotel Colorado and The Hot Springs Pool, as well as the city’s first power plant in 1892.
Glenwood Springs is where Doc died in 1887. It is there that he was supposedly buried, although there are claims that the hillside cemetary was flooded and several graves were washed out into the streets below and bodies scattered, so that no one really knew whose bodies were reburied where, leaving the exact location of Doc’s final resting place a bit of a mystery. A more recent addition to the cemetary is a sign suggesting that because he was destitute and could no longer hold a job as a dealer in one of the saloons, that he may have been buried further up the hillside in the pauper’s graveyard where many were buried with no headstone. I find this assertion to be highly unlikely, and assume this sign was made in an attempt to deter vandalism.
Sign at the bottom of the trailhead to the hillside Linwood Cemetary in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
When talking to the locals, I learned that vandalism has been a problem for the cemetary and particularly for the grave of the infamous dentist, gambler and gunman, and the headstone which currently marks Holliday’s alleged gravesite in the Linwood Cemetary is the third headstone to mark the spot. The one prior to this one is displayed in Bullock’s Store, where the basement houses The Doc Holliday Museum with an interesting collection said to be connected to the man, as well as the only surviving pieces of the original building, which was destroyed in a fire in a 1945 fire. The building is in the loction where The Hotel Glenwood stood, Doc spent the last six months of his life, in a room on the third floor, destitute and dying of consumption. It is rumored that, broke and unable to work due to his failing health, and according to Bill Kight of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society, it is rumored that a friend, Walter Devereaux and his longtime companion, Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings, also known as Big Nose Kate, cared for him during his last days and were at his side when he died. (Glenwood Springs: The Official Insider’s Guide 2021-22, “Get to Know Doc Holliday”, by Bill Kight)
These are pictures of the older headstones that have since been removed from the Linwood Pioneer Cemetary. You can tell how old they are because of the grainy quality of the photos. The one on the right is now on display at Bullock’s Store. There was too much snow to make the trek up to the hillside cemetary on this trip, so I wasn’t able to get a picture of the current headstone.
A few doors down on the block from Bullock’s is Doc Holliday’s Saloon. I couldn’t find any evidence that there was any real connection to Doc here, but they serve good food and historical atmosphere make it a favorite of mine whenever I visit Glenwood Springs. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy a rib-eye sandwich and a game or two of billiards. Nobody said a research trip has to be all work and no play.
It seems a little bit ironic that Glenwood plays up the association with Doc and Leadville doesn’t, knowing that he spent much more time in Leadville than Glenwood Springs, where Doc visited in hopes of improving his health to make his last days a bit more comfortable. Another irony of this move was that the moisture of the waters and the steam, as well as the altitude, would have actually been detrimental to his failing health, which is why Doc did better in the desert atmosphere of Arizona, but he was forced to flee and seek sanctuary in Colorado, due to being wanted for murder after the Tombstone affair. (Gary L. Roberts, True West Magazine, “Doc Holliday’s Lost Colorado Years”, June 2013)
The story of Delilah takes place during the time when Doc would have been in Arizona, but Doc had visited Leadville prior to that and so he received a mention in my book, although he wasn’t present in the story. Delilah takes place in a very small time in Colorado’s vast history which I used bits and pieces of in my story, but there is much more history that the story didn’t cover, so don’t be surprised if Doc Holliday shows up in person in one of the books in the Women of the West Adventure Series, which Delilah may soon become a part of, now that I’ve spent all this time down a research rabbit hole.
I’m starting this bi-monthly blog series, The Making of a Memoir, which will chronicle my journey as I write my memoir of my teenage son’s suicide and my life without him, breaking down the memoir process into stages. I am sharing thios process for several reasons. One, Michael’s story deserves to be told. It needs to be told. Two, telling my own story may act as a catharthis and help me to resolve my own unresolved issues surrounding Mike’s death. Three, commiting to bi-monthly accountability to you, my readers and fellow authors, forces me to create and meet deadlines, assuring that I make adequate progress on the book. It is too easy to make excuses and avoid the emotionally difficult tasks if I’m accountable only to myself. And four, I believe there are those of you out there who are interested in the methodology behind creating memoir.
Before I can begin writing the my memoir telling the story of my son’s death and the story of my own journey to find closure and my need to be sure that he will always be remembered, I must know what it is that I want to say, and have some idea of how I want to present it. After Michael’s death, I went through his writings and artwork, I went through every picture of him over and over and over. I listened to his music. And I cried and cried, and I thought I would never stop. It never has. At least not completely, but I did gain control over it by putting all his things away, to be dealt with at a later time. I knew I needed to tell his story then, but I wasn’t ready. Not then.
I actually made several false starts at writing his story at different times, I wrote poetry, some of it semi-epic, but the emotional wounds were still fresh. I was angry and overcome by grief, and I wanted by son back. I wasn’t able to portray what I was feeling with the depth of emotions I was experiencing. I had to set it all aside and heal some before I could undertake this immense task.
In addition, I wasn’t a skilled enough writer to undertake it at that point. I’ve since earned my M.F.A. in Creative Writing, published three books, and have short fiction and poetry featured in several publications and anthologies. Does that make me an expert now? No. But it has taken me down that path, and certainly I know more about writing books and my writing skills are much improved. I believe that I’m ready now to undertake the writing of my son’s story and my own.
There is no doubt in my mind that this book will be the most difficult book I could ever attempt to write. It is difficult because there is so much emotional investment in this book for me. I’ve collected and saved a mass of materials which may or may not end up in this memoir, but it first must be sorted and compiled. This is a difficult task because of the emotions attached to every piece of material I’ve collected and with the memories associated with each one. Michael has been gone from my life for a decade, but the compilation of these materials still must be taken slowly, a little at a time.
On the other hand, emotional investment in the author lends authenticity to the story and that, according to some, leads to best seller material that people want to read. If you go by that thinking, the more difficult the book is to write, the better it will be. You can let me know if I’m right after you’ve read it.
I thought I had the title. His Name Was Michael: How I lost my son to teen suicide. The title, “His Name Was Michael”, is perfect, for it reflects the feelings I had as time passed and others went on with their lives. Sometimes, I felt that everyone had forgotten about him except my husband and I. A title that would make people remember is a must, and I think it does that. But the subtitle, “How I lost my son to teen suicide”, although clearly and concisely telling the reader what the story is about, it doesn’t roll off my tongue smoothly when I say it aloud. I came up with the idea of replacing it with “No Happy Endings”, and although it states a truth about this story, the potential reader picking it up off the shelf or spotting it online, might pass it over because it sounds depressing and doesn’t really tell them what the book is about. At this point, I have to wonder if a subtitle is even necessary. Comments on Facebook reflect the idea that the title is strongest without any subtitle. So, I am rethinking the title and I’m open to suggestions or thoughts in the comments.
There is still much to do in addition to compiling material and deciding on a title, before I can begin the actual writing of the story, pre-writing tasks, if you will. There are still more materials to gather and research to be done. I know you may be wondering what there is to research. Don’t I know my own story? After all I lived it. But the fact is there is research to be done on every book. On this one, I need to know things like statistics on teen suicide, and I need resources for warning signs of suicide and other information on the subject. I may not use everything I dig up, but I will have it available if I decide that it has a place in this book. I believe it does but I haven’t worked out how I want to present it. There is so much that I want to say, but not all of it belongs. Finding my voice for this book will mean finding my true voice.
There are several people I need to interview, people who I haven’t seen since Michael died, people who have something valuable to contribute to his story. I must learn to control the emotional whirpool that surfaces when I anticipate these contacts, the memories connected, cause turmoil within me. But, I know his story must be told, and to tell it in the manner it deserves, and so, I must contain my emotions and silence the memories in order to what must be done. The very act of doing this very difficult task for the sake of his story will become a part of my own, for it is my story, as well.
There must be at least a vague outline, which is now begining to take shape in my head. I believe I know how I want to begin the story and the structure I need to use. The next step will be to get it down in print, so I have a clear direction in which I want the story to go which I can refer back to to ensure that I stay on track. Outlines are a valuable tool in giving any story direction and making sure it doesn’t veer off into left field and lose the storyline and the way I’ve chosen to structure this particular story demands that guidance.
I’m starting this blog series, The Making of a Memoir, which will break down the memoir process into stages, for two reasons. One, Michael’s story deserves to be told. It needs to be told. Two, telling my own story may act as a catharthis and help me to resolve my own unresolved issues surrounding Mike’s death. And three, commiting to bi-monthly accountability to you, my readers and fellow authors, forces me to create and meet deadlines, assuring that I make adequate progress on the book. It is too easy to make excuses and avoid the emotionally difficult tasks if I’m accountable only to myself.
Since I hope to get this memoir published traditionally, I will also need a book proposal, a query letter and somewhere around the first three to five chapters for that. We’ll cover that in the April segment The Making of a Memoir: Stage 2: Selling the story. I do hope you will join me on my journey.
Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.
As almost every writer knows, anywhere you go to discuss writing will always have someone proclaiming their tried and true rules for writing that you MUST follow. Post on any writing forum whether it be for screenwriting or fiction and you’ll find dozens, if not hundreds, of eager “expert” or “professional” writers ready to tell you exactly which rules matter and which are hogwash. Yes, many of these writers have published novels or sold scripts and are professionals in the industry, but does that mean their rules are THE rules to follow?
Let me say that again – Absolutely not. Just because someone has sold a script or published a novel or piece of writing doesn’t mean that they will be able to give you rules to writing that will be guaranteed to work on your story. If you put every writer who ever sold something in a room and asked them to come up with a master list of writing rules it’d be impossible. There’d be factions who think you can never write in present tense and others who think a description of the weather should never start a novel.
There’d be groups who think the epitome of literary or cinematic genius is one specific piece of work, and others who think that same work is a crock of shit. If the people who are actually selling works of writing cannot agree on what makes good writing, and which writing rules are always true, then how on earth can a newbie writer even dream of making it in the industry, let alone be brave enough to even try to put words on the page?
Ultimately, all of this boils down to one single fact about writing: There are hundreds of rules for writing, but one of those rules is that there are no rules. Now before you dip out of this article, because that’s a useless piece of advice in the previous sentence, give me a chance to elaborate.
Writing is a subjective thing. Every story is going to require following a different mix of rules to make it work. That’s why whenever I write a post about the “rules” of writing, I try to explain which situations the rule applies to, and where it might not apply. Also, every writer is going to have different opinions about what makes a good story, and every publisher/studio/audience is going to have a different opinion about what they find marketable and worth buying. If this is true, which based on the evidence presented through comparing a wide range of published and produced pieces of writing it is, then the one and only real rule for writing is that you have to know the “What” and the “Why” of your story.
Essentially, knowing the What’s and Why’s of your story is all about researching the genre or style of writing you want to write by studying the existing works in that genre, and being conscious about your story and your writing choices so that you can answer the following questions on each project you work on:
What writing “rules” do you have to follow for this particular story? In general, writing rules are not actually rules at all, but rather they’re typical or common guidelines of storytelling that work or don’t work based on previously existing works. So knowing what “rules” you have to follow just means you know which “rules” actually apply to what you’re writing, and which don’t. If you’ve done your due diligence and prep work before writing by studying other works that are similar to what you want to write, then you should have a general idea of what the common rules of that style or genre of story are, and which might apply to your story.
Why are you following or ignoring these rules? Every time someone tells you a “rule” for writing, it’s important to understand why the rule exists, and where it applies. For your own work, always be able to justify why you’re breaking one set of rules, and why you’re following other rules. You may not have to follow all the “rules” in your writing, but people come up with these various rules for a reason, so understanding why they exist will help you understand why you need to follow certain ones and ignore others in your work.
What is your setting, characters, plot, etc.? If you don’t know this when you’re writing, then your writing will probably be all over the place. Some people can free-write and discover a lot of these details as they go, but it is almost universally true that having these elements solidly in mind before writing will make your writing stronger.
Why are you choosing these characters, this setting, that plot, etc.? Ultimately, the core of writing is to make deliberate choices and to be able to justify those choices as being ones that serve the story. Every character, setting, plot device, and elements of your story down to word choice can have a major impact on your writing. The more deliberate and conscious you can be in your choices, the more your writing should come together to tell a successful story.
As you can see, this one and only writing rule really boils down to being conscious about each choice you make in your writing and constantly asking yourself why whenever you are presented with a “rule” that someone thinks is universally true. All of these “rules” people come up with regarding writing are the results of people looking for the magic formula to a guaranteed sale on a piece of work, and they find it by looking for common elements across sold pieces of writing. While it is often true that these elements do exist, there are also just as many pieces of writing out there that break these trends.
Every story is its own thing and has its own identity, and I’m a firm believer that if you focus on serving the story rather than trying to force it to fit pre-existing rules or expectations, then your story will be better for it. I’m not saying you’re guaranteed to sell it, no one can guarantee that, but I am saying if you stay true to your story even if it means breaking the rules, your story will be stronger.
The important thing is to know what “rules” exist and to be able to justify why you broke these preconceived rules that people have and to show that you did so consciously. Ultimately, people aren’t going to focus on whether you broke the “rules” or not with your writing when deciding to buy it, they’re going to focus on whether you’ve put in the work to construct a compelling story that people want to read. If you do that, nothing else matters.
Robin Conley offers great writing advice once a month on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next month to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.
Many students of literary writing issue moans and groans when it comes time to do the research for their book. After all we’re writers, not researchers, right? But the fact is, that in order to write the story, even though it may be fictional, you half to know your stuff, and with literature, that could mean being familiar with the time period you’re writing about, or when certain items or words came into use, or being familiar with the place in which your book is set. If you’re writing a science fiction novel, you must at least be somewhat familiar with the science of the technologies you’re writing about, and even in fantasy works, you must be familiar with what the fantasy creatures you’re writing about are capable of.
It’s no different in screenwriting. You need to be familiar with the time period and location your screenplay takes place in, as well as being familiar with what the tropes are for your genre and what has been done that is similar to your story. But, I haven’t heard screenwriters complaining, maybe because the research is a little bit different than literary research. In fact, research in screenwritng can be fun.
Both literary writing and screenwriting require research. The type and extent of research required depends on what you’re writing. I watched every documentary on Bonnie and Clyde that I could find, as well as every DIY film on YouTube I could find, in order to get a feel for who these two people were. This helped a lot in determining what their bios would look like and how they would be portrayed in the film. I also visited websites with information on them and websites on the depression era, where I picked up slang from the 20s, which I salted my screenplay with to give it the proper feel.
But there’s a different kind of research you do in screenwriting, in addition to the research mentioned above. In screenwriting, you examine movies that are similar to yours in some way to learn what’s been done, and what worked and what didn’t. Sometimes you may chose a movie just because it has a scene similar to one you’re trying to do and you want to see how they went about it. This is one of the neatest things about screenwriting, you get to sit around and watch movies and call it work.
For my thesis, obviously any fictional portrayals of the outlaw couple needed to be on my list, but I also wanted to watch other gangster type movies to get a feel for the lifestyle, and the era. I watched biographical pictures to learn how they make real life events fit into the screenplay formula, and buddy love films to see how they allow one character to lead another into things, without portraying the leading character as a villain. It was amazing when I realized the different things I learned from each one.
Bonnie and Clyde, 1967, written by David Newman and Robert Benton – this was the original movie that we all think of when we think of the outlaw couple. It glamourizes Bonnie and Clyde, what they did and how they lived, and portrayed them as cold, blood-thirsty killers. This was not how I wanted to portray them, and I didn’t want to do what had already been done, so this film showed me what I didn’t want to do.
Bonnie and Clyde 2013 miniseries on the History channel – this portrayal of the couple really played up the cold blooded killer image of all of them, Blanche and Buck, as well as Bonnie and Clyde, and it’s a ruthlessness that I don’t believe was truly there. Again, I learned what not to do. I wanted my screenplay to be very different from this.
Donnie Brasco, 1997, adapted by Paul Attanatio from the book by Joseph D. Pistone and Richard Woodley– I found this to be one of the best mob movies I had ever seen. I was truly impressed with the craftsmanship seen in this film. I chose it because of the similar situation, getting caught up in circumstance and events beyond the character’s control.
Black Mass, 2015, written by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth – Not only is this film a crime drama, but it is a bio-pic, based on the true story of the criminal career of mobster Whitey Bulger. The similarity here was found in the way the character Whitey Bulger rationalized his actions, which I considered when having Bonnie rationalize her actions, and what she was willing to do in order to be with Clyde. I also looked at this film in regards to how they set the events to the beats in the film.
Dillinger, 1973, written and directed by John Millius – Not only is this a bio-pic, but they make mention of Bonnie and Clyde in this movie, which gave me the idea to make mention of Dillinger and other well-known gangsters of the time in my own screenplay as a means of marking the time period.
Scarface, 1983, written by Oliver Stone – This is an excellent movie, but I didn’t take a lot away from it which could be used in my screenplay. Bonnie and Clyde weren’t anywhere near the big time criminal that character Tony Montana a.k.a. Scarface, was in this bio-pic.
The Untouchables, 1981, written by David Mamet – This movie gave me a feel for the times, and the public sentiment towards the criminal element which was prominent in the times.
Public Enemies, 2009, written by Michael Mann, Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman – This is a period film that was set in the same time period as my own screenplay. It deals with the gangster subculture of the times, of which Bonnie and Clyde ran on the fringes.
Thelma & Louise, 1991, written by Callie Khouri – This buddy love is similar in circumstance to my screenplay in that the protagonist gets swept up in the circumstances, and that the circumstances were created by the choices the protagonist makes, and that they both die in the end.
The Falcon and the Snowman, 1985, from the book, The Falcon and the Snowman: A Story of True Friends and Espionage, by Robert Lindsay and adapted by Steven Zaillian – I viewed this movie for some of the same reasons I viewed Thelma & Louise. The protagonists gets caught up in circumstances of their own creation, brought about by the choices that they made, which send them on a downward spiral. Plus it is a biographical film, based on a true story.
Natural Born Killers, 1994, written by Quentin Tarantino and revised by David Veloz – Although this movie is very bizarre, the protagonists are lovers on a crime spree. Like previous portrayals of Bonnie & Clyde, these two are portrayed as cold-blooded killers, ruthless, killing for the fun of it. That is not the story I wanted to tell, therefore this movie showed me more of what I did not want to do in my own screenplay.
Blow, 2001, adapted by David McKenna and Nick Cassavetes from the book by Bruce Porter, Blow: How a Small Town Boy Made $100 Million with the Medellín Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All – This is a biographical film of cocaine smuggler Gorge Jung, so I was looking at how the events were shaped to make up the beats of the movie, and it is another story where the protagonist gets caught up in the criminal elements due to the choices made, and their life spins out of control in a downward spiral.
Coal Miner’s Daughter, 1980, written by George Vecsey as an adaption of the biography of country singer, Loretta Lynn – In this film I was looking for how the events were molded into the beat sheet formula of screenplay, as well as the romance elements.
What’s Love Got to do with It?, 1993, adapted by Kate Lanier from the book I, Tina, by Tina Turner and Kurt Loder – This biographical film tells the story of how Tina Turner found the courage to break out of an abusive relationship. What I took away from this film was the way that Tina rationalized staying with her husband, Ike, how she kept telling herself that things would change, which is very similar to how my Bonnie rationalizes staying with Clyde, first believing he will change and go straight, and when it became obvious that wasn’t going to happen she allowed herself to believe they would go away to California.
Of course, this type of research, the fun stuff, has its equivalent in literary writing. It’s always good to read books in your genre to see what’s out there and know the tropes. The real difference is that in literature, the author is always trying to come up with a totally original idea, but in screenwriting, its acceptable, in fact encouraged, to use movies that have already been done successfully in describing what your movie is about in thelogline or pitch, where you explain how your movie is the same as (a movie that’s already out there), but different. It is common practice in Hollywood, apparently, to describe your movie or television series as: (Title of existing movie) with a twist. For example, I described the pilot series that I wrote, titled Unhappily Ever After, as “A reverse Once Upon a Time combined with a humorous Into the Woods.” You can tell a lot about my pilot series from that, but I’ll have to save that for another post.
The point here is, in screenwriting it’s okay to do the same story someone else has done, as long as you give it some kind of twist to set it apart from the rest. For my thesis, I told the story from Bonnie’s perspective and that made it a very different movie from the other portrayals of the same story.
Next week we’ll take a look at the last step in creating the finished screenplay, rewriting. A screenwriter rewrites constantly, for as many drafts as it takes to get the desired results and make her screenplay tell the story she wants to tell, the way she wants to tell it.
Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted.