Hi there,

Summer is drawing to a close and finally we have rain. We’ve also had our first BBQ of the summer and started to let Copurrnicus explore the garden a little. I’m sure that he and I will have a lot of conversations about my inability to stop it raining in future.

Suw’s news

I’m quite surprised by how much has happened over the last two weeks.

A colleague of mine submitted a proposal for a short film plus TV pilot script and treatment to funders just before the last email, and we’re already arranging the first conference call to discuss the project. Long way to go before funding is approved, but this is a promising first step.

I also submitted the first ten pages of my novel to a literary agent who has specifically said that she’s interested in pandemic fiction, and was delighted to get a request for the next 40 pages. Unfortunately, a few days later she sent me a rejection. Bah and, indeed, humbug.

The agent in question has said on Twitter that she’s had 750 submissions and was sending out a lot of partial requests, so the odds were always against me. Still, this is the first time that I’ve had even a partial request, so I’m happy with that.

Now I’m focused on revising my TV pilot script so that I can submit it to the Channel 4 screenwriting course, about which, more below.

Do you have your stories straight?

I learnt a lot on Yvonne Grace’s script editing for TV course, but one of the most useful was how to think about the structure of a TV show. I realised pretty early on in the course that I would have to go back to Tag, my spec script, and plot it out properly, episode by episode. I have known that it needed a rewrite since I finished the first draft back in March, but knowing you need to rewrite and knowing how to rewrite are two different things.

The other day I had the epiphany I needed: Although I thought that I had a plot and subplot, I realised that I actually only had one story and the subplot was just another strand of that story. I need two more. I need an A, B and C story to create the richness that people expect from a modern TV show. And those two extra stories need to be driven by characters’ wants and needs, by subtext, rather than by plot.

I need to get the pilot script rewritten by the end of September so that I can enter it into the Channel 4 Screenwriting Course competition by 3 October. It’s not great timing. My mother’s 80th birthday is on 1 October, and Ada Lovelace Day is on 11 October, but I’m going to have to just knuckle down and try to get everything done.

Read this: Clive Thompson on how to take notes

Sometimes, you read a piece of advice so simple you wonder how you made it through life without coming up with it yourself. In this case, it is Coders author and journalist Clive Thompson’s advice on how to take notes when you’re doing desk research. If I end up going back into freelance journalism after ALD closes, this will be very useful!

Oh, and if you haven’t already seen Clive’s talk, How The Way You Write Changes the Way You Think, you really must. It’s fascinating, and possibly my favourite ever talk.

Obligatory cat picture

Back in issue 7, I introduced you to a new podcast about cats, My Cat’s Tale, by my friend Ewan Spence. I was delighted get the chance to talk about Copurrnicus and the challenges we’ve had with our darling feral boy. When we adopted him, we had no idea that he was feral, nor that he’d been taken from his mother too young. We soon learnt that Copurrnicus was going to take a bit more work than your average kitten, but we did finally bring him round. Please do give My Cats Tale a listen!

That’s it for this week! The next issue will be out in two weeks’ time, on 27 September. If you’ve missed any previous emails, I’ve now got the archives up on my blog, Chocolate and Vodka so you can go back and catch up at any time.

All the best,

Suw

 

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Hi there,

Welcome to this week’s Word Count!

I’ve decided to shift this newsletter to a fortnightly schedule in the run up to the final Ada Lovelace Day (and if you like science and tech, get your free tickets here). Much as I love writing this newsletter, I need to make sure that I get everything done for ALD, focus a bit harder on finding a new job or some freelance work, and make more time for my own writing, which has certainly taken a back seat over the summer. I’ll go back to weekly once things have settled down a bit.

Suw’s News: I’m now a trained script editor!

Having tested negative for Covid last Tuesday, I was able to finish up the script editing for TV course with Yvonne Grace in person this weekend. And it was fabulous!

We had been given quite a bit of homework to do, which included editing a script written by a very successful TV writer, reading a Holby City script, and writing our own storylines for a fictitious ongoing drama. The first two were fascinating and hugely enjoyable, but the last I found quite hard, as I’m really not an ongoing drama kind of a person so my mind doesn’t automatically go to interpersonal conflict when I am thinking up stories.

It’s hard to summarise how much I’ve learnt as there was just so much to take in. I’m looking forward to applying it to my own writing. I need to go back to my fantasy TV series and not only rework the pilot, but plot out the story arcs for each character, think about how their relationships change from episode to episode, and make sure that I’ve got enough subtext in there to drive the plot. Indeed, if I had to choose one lesson to share, it’s that subtext – how your characters react emotionally – drives everything. It’s all about what people want, hate, love, fear… It’s all subtext.

I’m going to start putting feelers out for jobs as a script editor. It might not be easy to break in at my age, but I really enjoyed the script editing more than anything else, so it’s got to be worth a shot.

Tip-top tip: Giving feedback

A big part of script editing is finding a diplomatic way of giving feedback. We can all be sensitive to criticism of our work, but whilst gracefully receiving feedback is a core part of being a professional writer, it’s easier when that feedback is gracefully given. It is important to find a supportive and positive way to communicate feedback to a writer.

For example, it’s easier to ask questions rather than make negative statements. In the script we were given, there was a mother-daughter relationship that was quite paint-by-numbers, but rather than say “I found this relationship weak and unrealistic”, it’s better to say “I’d like to see more depth in this relationship. How long have they been at loggerheads? Is this a new development in the relationship or have they never seen eye-to-eye? Are there moments of warmth that could be expanded to give a sense that there’s more to their relationship than just arguments?”

When it comes to giving feedback, I think this infographic from Mary Robinette Kowal provides a great guide. It’s aimed at book authors and their beta readers, but it’s actually relevant to everyone, including script editors.

Stop, look, listen: Scriptnotes Ep 563 – VFX Deep Dive

Have you ever wondered about the process for turning script directions into the VFX (visual effects) you see? Then you need to listen to this episode of Scriptnotes!

If you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy, or you’re dreaming up anything that’s going to require VFX, then understanding how VFX artists translate what you’re writing on the page into what we see on the screen may well change how you write certain scenes. Even things like wounds, which we tend to think of as being done through practical effects, can wind up needing VFX, so it’s worth thinking hard about how we describe them, so that we make sure there’s enough information to guide VFX decisions.

Obligatory cat picture

Grabbity playing with some packing paperWe are still unpacking here and will be for months to come. But the cats are over the moon with all the packing paper. Both Grabbity (right) and Copurrnicus just love tearing into the stuff. It’s fabulous to see them so playful!

We’re also getting a new sofa today, which is extremely exciting as we’ve been sitting on a wingback chair and a camping chair for weeks (although they were a step up from the garden loungers!). I’m sure that the cats will also love having somewhere more comfortable to sleep.

Right, that’s it for this week! I’ll see you again in a fortnight (that’s in two weeks, for my American readers!).

All the best,

Suw

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Hi there,

Last week, I took everyone’s advice and did as much of nothing as I possibly could. My four Pfizer jabs, (the US offered a second booster to the over-50s just before I left), have stood me in good stead and my experience of Covid has been no worse than a bad cold, although the cough does linger. I have been very lucky to have got away so lightly.

Suw’s news

Unfortunately, I did not test negative on Friday, so could not attend the Script Advice script editing course with Yvonne Grace in person. But, thankfully, I was able to attend by Zoom, which was just as good.

It has been an absolutely fascinating weekend and I’ve learnt a lot about how TV episodes are structured and how the script development process works. There has been just so much to absorb, I’m going to have to go over my notes again before the second half of the course next weekend. Fingers crossed that I test negative soon, so I can do it in person.

Review: The Cut, by Christopher Brookmyre

Confined to bed as I was, I asked some friends for book recommendations and Christopher Brookmyre’s The Cut was at the top of the list. Although it took me a while to get into it, it did settle down into a very good read. The characterisation was spot on. The protagonists are an elderly woman who did time for murder and a young film student trying to escape his past as a petty thief, and both are beautifully drawn.

Millicent Spark, who went down for murdering her boyfriend despite claiming innocence, is a particularly powerful character: damaged by her time inside, we see her slowly regain her confidence and, indeed, her will to live. At the same time, she helps young Jerry break away from his history of crime by, ironically, committing much, much larger crimes.

The way Brookmyre develops their relationship is warm-hearted and compelling, and it’s a great example of how a relationship has its own arc and is, very nearly, a character in its own right.

Review: The Appeal, by Janice Hallett

Written entirely in emails, texts, WhatsApp messages, notes, letters and diary entries, this murder mystery really shouldn’t work as well as it does. Hallett’s ability to draw characters so clearly from a few short emails is really quite something, and The Appeal is worth a read just for that. Hallett establishes personality and, again, relationships between characters with great economy, and then slowly subverts your understanding of a character’s personality by dripping additional nuggets of information in via other people’s opinions.

I didn’t find the murder mystery bit all that mysterious and had sussed the twists long before they arrived, but it was still a very satisfying and quick read. I’d say if you’re interested in non-standard story formats and how to establish character quickly, this is well worth your time. If you prefer be surprised by who the murderer is, this might be a bit too on the nose.

Tip-top tip: David Wappel on using design to tell story

Today I saw a great thread from screenwriter David Wappel on using elements of design to tell your story. By design, he means everything from set dressing to costume to location choice. Wappel echoes a point that Yvonne Grace emphasised repeatedly over the weekend: TV is a visual medium, so don’t use dialogue to explain things when visuals will do the trick.

In Grease, imagine at the end Sandy was described as “more rebellious, a new gleam in her eye, she’s different” or something like that. Completely unnecessary.

Leather jacket. Smokey eye shadow. Shoulders bared. Hair curled.

We see everything we need to know. That’s design.

Insight: What does “I’m not right for this book” mean?

This is a very helpful thread from Helen Lane, an agent with The Booker Albert Literary Agency, about what exactly an agent means when they say that they “like a book, but don’t love it enough to represent it”.

Being rejected is par for the course for authors, and indeed anyone who is creative, but the most frustrating form of rejection is “I loved it, but I’m still passing”. Not that I’ve ever had that myself, but it’s something you see authors bemoaning all the time. In her thread, Lane explains what that really means, and why authors should take it as the compliment it is. Read the full thread!

Read this: The Disappearance of John M. Ford

There is a fascinating piece on Slate from 2019 about how a seminal science fiction author fell from view, and how the journalist researching his story ended up helping bring his work back into print.

John M Ford was an immensely talented, inventive and enigmatic SFF writer whose career was cut short by that brutal combination of ill-health and America’s savagely expensive healthcare system.

“He would make art in the most surprising places,” Gaiman told me. “Once he wrote a short play based on the invitation and directions to my annual Guy Fawkes party. There was a typo, and he took that as the grounds for a play.”

Many, many obligatory cat pictures

Not long after I wrote last week’s newsletter, young Cici decided to give birth. The first kitten arrived easily, but after a four hour gap, Holly and her fellow fosterer Jenny decided that Cici needed some help. The vets gave her some calcium and oxytocin to help things along and she successfully gave birth to another two kittens, which is what we were all expecting. Then she gave birth to another four kittens, which no one was expecting at all.

Cici and her kittensCici cuddling one of her kittens

Cici and her kittensAll Cici's kittensCici and her kittens at dinner time

Seven kittens is a lot for a litter – it’s normally more like four – and sadly the smallest didn’t make it, despite getting lots of care and attention and extra food.

But Cici is now happily nursing her brood, who are all doing very well indeed. There are three tabbies and three tuxies, and they are all adorable.

That’s it for this week!

All the best,

Suw

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Word Count 14: The one where Suw has Covid

by Suw on August 16, 2022

Hi there,

Well, today sucks. I’m writing this Sunday morning because I just tested positive for Covid and I might not feel up to it later. My temperature is also creeping up, so I also have a fever to look forward to later today. When it’s 33C outside. And already 29c in our bedroom.

This positive test could not come at a worse time. My much anticipated screen writing course is next Saturday and Sunday, so I have just five days to clear this bollocks virus from my system. If I don’t, and I feel I can’t go, I shall be utterly gutted. With Ada Lovelace Day over, I need to find a new career sharpish, and the boom in TV production here in the UK made me wonder if there might be an opportunity in script editing. This course isn’t just a “Oh, fun thing to do that might improve my storytelling”, it’s more “Is this a potential career move for me?” so there’s a lot riding on it.

I’ve had four vaccinations, thanks to getting my fourth just before leaving the US, so I’m hoping to get off lightly. Apart from the incipient fever, I’ve only got a very mild sore throat, which started yesterday evening. I’ve already learnt not to cough because my lungs do not like that. My out of office is on, and I’m going to spend as much time resting as possible, as everyone says the fastest way through this is to just do nothing.

Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

Stop, look & listen: The Writers Panel with Tony McNamara

Whenever I come across a new writing podcast, I skim through the episode titles to see if there’s one that particularly appeals. The Writers Panel, hosted by Ben Blacker, has so many amazing guests that it was hard to pick an episode. I plumped for the one with Tony McNamara, creator of The Great, because it’s a show I love. And I’m glad I did.

McNamara raises a point about storytelling that I had never considered before: You mustn’t judge your characters if you are to write them effectively.

If you haven’t seen The Great, firstly, go and watch it now because it’s amazing, and secondly, it’s loosely based on Catherine the Great and her marriage to and then coup against Peter III of Russia. Throughout, Peter is a complete dickhead. A barbarous, murderous, cruel dickhead. But he thinks he’s wonderful, a kind, compassionate and generous leader.

McNamara explains that it would be impossible to write Peter if you had already judged him, because then you have no empathy for him and no way to properly get inside his head and see the world as he sees it. Indeed, much of the comedy in The Great comes from the conflict between Peter’s view of himself and Catherine’s (and ergo ours, as viewers) more realistic understanding of his character and behaviour.

“You’ve got to find what’s good about everyone and why they are coming from a place that makes sense to them […] you’ve got to believe that they believe they’re coming from a good place. […] So why is everyone right? Or think they’re right?” says McNamara.

I’ve always struggled to write villainous characters, because I’m a bit conflict averse and I find it difficult to write situations that I personally would avoid or work to de-escalate. I think it will be a bit easier if I focus less on how awful or obnoxious or nasty I think the character is, and more on where they’re coming from and why they think they’re right. Not judging the bad guy is definitely going to be a skill I’ll have to develop.

Huzzah!

Read this: Hemingway’s Tough-Love Letter of Advice to F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Marginalian (formerly Brain Pickings) features the best bits of a letter from Ernest Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald about Tender is the Night (full letter here). Hemmingway has a lot to say, but the best quote is this:

I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.

I mean, I’m not sure I produce anything that could be described as a masterpiece, but I definitely produce ninety one pages of shit.

Read… all these? 18 books about writing

It’s always fascinating to see people listing their favourite books about writing, and I always check off the ones I’ve got and have read (because we all know that owning and reading books are two very different things).

This list from Tor’s Leah Schnelbach includes many books I’ve never heard of, and one that I own and started reading but didn’t finish. At the moment, all my books are in a box, somewhere. Possibly in the loft. Maybe in the garage. Potentially in storage. Perhaps I should borrow one of these from the library and give myself some inspiration.

Bonus listen: Rule of Three, Ep 60: Andrew Hunter-Murray on The Meaning Of Liff

If you love Douglas Adams, John Lloyds or The Meaning of Liff, you need to listen to this episode of Rule of Three with Andrew Hunter-Murray (May 2020) simply because it’s both fascinating and hilarious. QI elf and co-host of the No Such Thing as a Fish podcast, Andrew Hunter-Murray also wrote for John Lloyd’s Afterliff, the most recent book in the Liff series, and gives us a first hand insight into the creation of a Liff.

Obligatory cat photo

At the time of writing, Cici has not yet given birth, though there are signs that she is going into labour. Given that I may well be full of fever by the time photos come through, here are Copurrnicus (left) and Grabbity (right) sitting on an antique red velvet settee we inherited from Kevin’s grandparents.

The throw isn’t that stylish, but given how much they both shed, essential. Since we unpacked the settee and put it in the dining room, they’ve both been glued to it. It’s nice that they have a spot that’s theirs and that they are both happy to share with each other.

Hopefully I’ll see you next week! But if not, don’t worry, I’ll email again as soon as I’m better.

All the best,

Suw

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Hi there,

It’s been another week of unpacking, sorting, putting things into storage and, because we clearly do not have enough stuff, visiting my Mum and picking up some of my late Dad’s belongings. You know, the usual stuff you inherit, like a vintage oscilloscope. I have absolutely no idea how it works or what I’m going to do with it, but it was something my Dad regularly used and I couldn’t bear the idea of it being thrown away.

Suw’s News: Change of career on the way

As some of you know, I have been running Ada Lovelace Day, an annual celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths, since 2009. In 2015, not long after I moved to the US, I got enough sponsors to turn it into my full-time job. It has been an amazing experience, and we – myself, some freelances and a couple of volunteers – have achieved a lot over the years. But this year I just haven’t been able to get enough funding to carry on.

I’m not sure exactly what is going to happen next. I’m launching a gender equity consulting service and hope to be able to share all that I’ve learnt over the last 13 years with companies that value women’s talents. But I’m also looking for other opportunities that are more in line with my writerly ambitions.

In two weeks’ time I’ll be at the Script Advice script editing course in East Sussex, eagerly learning all that I can about script editing. I’m hoping to improve my own scriptwriting but, also, hoping that there’s some work to be had. TV and streaming are having a bit of a boom at the moment, so maybe there’s an opportunity. I am impatient to find out!

Stop, look and listen: UK Scriptwriters Podcast, Ep 74 – Hayley McKenzie

Staying with the script editing theme, I was fascinated by the UK Scriptwriters Podcast’s conversation with Hayley McKenzie (Dec 2020), who is a screenwriting coach, script editor, and founder of Script Angel. She talked about what a script editor actually does and shared her insights into the industry.

For those of you who aren’t screenwriters, she also gave some great advice on how to approach a story edit when you’ve read it so many times you can’t see the wood for the trees: Don’t try to edit the whole story all in one go, but instead do a number of focused passes. So, for example, you can do one pass to see whether each scene genuinely earns its place, another pass looking at the story just from the protagonist’s point of view, and other passes for other key characters.

Breaking an edit down into manageable chunks like this does make it feel much less intimidating.

Read this: Why a WIP can make you more productive

Every writer has some sort of unfinished work lurking in a drawer or on a hard drive somewhere. It’s part of the job, but it’s often seen quite negatively. Dr Hannah England suggests that a project’s unfinishedness can sometimes be exactly what makes us more productive. She says:

Unfinished tasks can feel overwhelming, leading to procrastination and slowing your progress. On the other hand, the annoyance of having all of these unfinished tasks on your to-do list may motivate you to tackle them at the next opportunity.

The trick is not letting unfinished tasks linger too long. Obviously, for writers, ‘too long’ can be anything from a few months to a few decades, but the key is knowing when something is past its sell-by date and then graciously allowing yourself to abandon it. Perhaps another trick is acknowledging that ideas never really die, and that you can come back to one at any time, should you choose to do so.

If you want to use unfinished tasks to make yourself more productive, just follow the five rules that England suggests in her article.

For popular science writers

Anna Ploszajski is a freelance materials scientist, writer, presenter and podcaster (and ALD alumna), and she’s just launched a new online course called How to Write a Popular Science Book Proposal. If you’re a STEM professional, journalist or science communicator, this course will help you to develop your idea for a popular science book and help you turn it into a proposal you can send out to agents.

Obligatory cat photo

You might remember a few weeks ago that I introduced you to Cici, a stray with three kittens who had already fallen pregnant again. Her vet suggested that she might give birth around 27 July. Well, we’ve been on Kitten Watch for the last two weeks and she’s not giving anything away. Here she is looking somewhat rotund and about ready to pop.

Cici, a cat, is very pregnant

If you’re lucky, next week there’ll be kitten photos. Come on, Cici!

That’s it for this week!

All the best,

Suw

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Hi there,

This week’s newsletter is a bit shorter than normal, due to the absolute chaos currently reigning in our house now that our belongings have been delivered from America. I have my desk and computer set up but am sitting in the middle of a sea of boxes with little idea where everything’s going to go.

Worse, the dongle for my keyboard got lost in the move, so I’m using another which has the page up button where the shift should be and it’s causing me a world of pain. New dongle should arrive this week, though, and typing will then be back to full speed. I am unreasonably excited about this.

Suw’s News: Racking up the rejections

It’s a good thing that I’ve become inured to rejections because I just got another one from Coverfly’s The Writers Lab UK & Ireland.

I don’t feel bad about it at all, possibly because I have other exciting writing things coming up. I’ve got a proposal to finish up for a project that could be a lot of fun and which, crucially, isn’t going to be judged on a treatment. I’ve got the two-weekend script editing course in the latter half of August to look forward to. And I need to finish up the Gates of Balawat for you all.

So I have a very full plate already, and that’s without thinking about all the unpacking I’ve got to do, or the bit where I’ve got to spin up a whole new consulting business before the end of the year.

Save the date: The Clarke Award

The Arthur C Clarke Award has just announced that this year’s award ceremony will be held on Wednesday 26th October at the Science Museum, as part of the Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination exhibition.

The shortlist is:

I have a very squishy soft spot for the Clarke Award, having collaborated with them on a number of projects. My favourite was The Science of Hypersleep panel discussion that we organised for Ada Lovelace Day 2021. If you want to learn cool things about hummingbirds, how humans might once have been able to hibernate and why we can’t now, take a look!

And of course, if you want to stay up-to-date with Clarke Award news, subscribe to their newsletter or follow them on Twitter.

Tip-top tip: What makes a short story?

Editor Farhana Shaikh wrote a great Twitter thread about what makes a short story stand out. Her list of ten things to consider when you’re writing is extremely on point. It’s well worth internalising before you start writing and checking over again before you start editing. Her advice also applies to longer stories, imho.

Good short stories, she says:

1. Know their purpose

Stories with a clear purpose from the outset really shine through from those which are well-written (around 99%). These pieces are stories, rather than extracts, outlines, descriptions or something else.

So first ask yourself is this a story?

Read the rest of the thread.

Obligatory cat photo

I have gone back deep into the archives, to July 2009, for this week’s photo. Grabbity has always loved sitting on shoulders, which worked fine when she was a young kitten, but now she’s a 13 year old heffalump is a bit more problematic.

Here she is, sitting on Kevin’s shoulder and watching him do the washing up.

That’s it for this week. A small newsletter but perfectly formed, I feel!

See you next week!

Suw

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Hi there,

It is blissfully cool today as the weather normalises after the intense heatwave we had last week. In our garden, the mercury hit 41.4C in the sun and 37C in the shade. At one point, our bedroom was 34C, and pretty much all we could do was lie there and sweat.

Never have I been so glad for a chilly grey day in the middle of the British summer.

Suw’s News: And the winner is…

Last week, I asked you (and folk on my Twitter) to choose a perk and you chose very clearly indeed, with 68 percent selecting my parallel worlds short story, The Gates of Balawat.

All I need to do is prepare the ebook and it’ll be ready to go. I’ll do that as soon as I can, but there may be a bit of delay as, very excitingly, all our belongings are scheduled to arrive this week. I expect there’ll be a bit of chaos as we try to fit the contents of a four bedroom American house with a giant basement into a three bedroom British semi with a tiny loft. I suspect some storage might be required.

Read this: The Passion Economy

I recently spent a weekend reading The Passion Economy by Adam Davidson, on the recommendation of my friend and fellow Ada Lovelace enthusiast, Valerie Aurora. I initially borrowed the ebook from my library, but after the first chapter I knew I had to buy it outright.

The Passion Economy helps small business owners develop a strategy for growth that focuses on finding and serving a small, high-value niche. It’s a fantastic book and it’s make me rethink everything, from the work I’m doing for Ada Lovelace Day to this newsletter and whatever comes next.

Davidson draws a clear distinction between passion businesses and commodity businesses – the latter being those businesses that compete on price and survive through high volume sales. Unfortunately, I think a lot of authors allow themselves to stray into commodity territory: their books become fungible, interchangeable with any other book in the same genre. The key, according to Davidson, is to create a small but passionate market and superserve them. It’s a very similar outlook to the 1,000 True Fans theory that I talked about in Issue 09.

If you’re even vaguely entrepreneurial, this book is essential reading. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Stop, look, listen: London Writers’ Salon, Ep 17 – Natalie Lue

Natalie LueI enjoyed this conversation with Natalie Lue, author of the Baggage Reclaim blog. Lue started her blog in 2005 and has since spun off a podcast, three books, online courses and an audio series. It was fascinating to hear how she has developed her business and some of the challenges she’s faced along the way, including how she deals with her inner critic.

There are a lot of lessons to learn from Lue, particularly in terms of how she’s diversified her products to move into new content delivery niches such as podcasts and courses. This sort of thing is, of course, easier to do if you’re in the non-fiction arena, but it would be an interesting thought experiment to do for fiction too. What else can your content do for you?

Read this, too: Past Lives of the Paragraph

It had never occurred to me that the humble paragraph could have a history, let alone an interesting one. So I started this 20-minute read, Past Lives of the Paragraph, with some degree of skepticism, only to be utterly drawn in and then surprised: The paragraph as it is taught, in American schools at least, is only 130 years old. Indeed, the ancient Greeks didn’t even bother with spaces between words, let alone using line breaks to separate conceptual units of text.

But this history isn’t just interesting, it’s full of insights into how we can improve our writing style. It’s helpful to pay attention to how paragraphs begin, develop and end, even if you don’t subscribe to the idea of paragraph requiring a ‘topic sentence’ followed by supporting and then concluding sentences. I was never taught that at school and I don’t think that way, but I do consider carefully what belongs in one paragraph and what should perhaps go in the next or the previous paragraph.

Paragraphs are not just about grouping sentences that explore like ideas, they are also about emphasis and pacing.

Shorter paragraphs, like shorter sentences, create a sense of speed and urgency, even rudeness. Longer ones create a more thoughtful, sometimes even ponderous feeling. But all paragraphs need to feel complete, and to end on a note that satisfies.

Subscribe: Refind

I discovered the previous article on Refind, which will send you an email of interesting links based on your preferences. Apparently it learns from what you click on or give a thumbs up to, so it should improve its suggestions as I go. I’ve only been using it a few days but it’s already got a pretty high hit rate.

If you want to try it out, feel free to use my invitation link.

It me

Lifted from Ironclad Creative on Twitter and featuring filmmaker Taika Waititi.

I’ve never felt so seen.

Obligatory cat photo

Grabbity and Copurrnicus lie sleeping, their heads touching.When we first adopted Copurrnicus, we had no idea that he was a feral kitten. We learnt that the hard way, not least through his habit of interacting with the entire world through the process of biting it.

He and Grabbity have not always got on well and I have had to do a lot of relationship counselling over the last three and a half years. By last autumn, I thought we were pretty much sorted, but their relationship deteriorated badly whilst we were away for Christmas. In March, I was seriously considering rehoming Copurrnicus, because he was bullying Grabbity so badly. The idea of not bringing him with us to the UK just broke my heart and many tears were shed before I vowed to keep fighting for him.

We managed to resolve their problemsin April (or they resolved spontaneously, it’s hard to say), and the move itself has actually brought them closer. Here they are, asleep, heads touching – something I frankly never thought I’d see. Copurrnicus was the one who initiated this. Grabbity was already asleep when he came over and snuggled up next to her. Awww!

Well, that’s it for this week! I hope that, no matter where you are, you’re enjoying some reasonable weather!

All the best,

Suw

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Hi there,

It’s hot here in the UK. Very hot. Really very extremely hot. And Grabbity is making it toastier by insisting on having a cuddle. By the time you read this newsletter, it will be brain-meltingly hot and even Grabbity will be wanting a cold shower.

If you’re in affected by this ridiculous heatwave, I hope that you’ve found a way to stay reasonably comfortable. Maybe by spending the day with your head in the freezer. That’s certainly my plan.

Now funding: Comedy Basic

Every now and again I see a crowdfunding project that I have to back right there and then. This time, it’s Comedy Basic: The secret rules that make you laugh by comedy writer Joel Morris, who promises to explain his “practical theories for how jokes work”. From the description:

Comedy is a universal human game, with big social prizes, and occasionally genuine hazards. So what are the rules? What happens when we make a joke? How does comedy work? Why do we do it? And what are our brains up to when we play the game of jokes?

The book is currently 35 percent funded on Unbound with the ebook priced at only £10, so if you need this book in your life as much as I need it in mine, take a look.

Stop, look and listen: Rule of Three, Episode 1 – John Finnemore on On The Hour

As I was doing a little background research on Joel Morris for the bit above, I discovered the Rule of Three podcast that he used to do with Jason Hazeley (they seem to have stopped in May 2020). I love a bit of analysis and really need to learn more about comedy, so I listened to their very first episode with John Finnemore, from back in May 2018. Finnemore’s Cabin Pressure and Souvenir Programme are favourites of mine, so I knew it would be a good listen.

The whole episode is gold, but the bit that really caught my ear was when they talk about how parodies of news broadcasts and weather forecasts rely heavily on getting the structure right. If the “bucket” – the tone, rhythm and cadence – are watertight, you can put any old verbiage in it. That was something that Chris Morris nailed with On The Hour, as did John Finnemore with his weather forecast sketch.

This is also why news reports in TV shows and films so often sound wrong: The bucket isn’t watertight. As a lapsed journalist, I really notice when writers don’t get it right. The inverted pyramid structure, where you put the most important information at the top, and the characteristic vocabulary create a feel to a news story that we all recognise. When we come across a scene that purports to be news but doesn’t have those characteristics, we’ll be pulled out of the story because something just feels off, even if we’re not sure what that something is.

There’s a great example of this in the recent Scriptnotes 3 Page Challenge episode, in the script Halloween Party by Lucas Abreu, Zachary Arthur and Kyle Copier (PDF). The first page includes a dialogue from a news anchor and, if you’ve ever really paid attention to how the news is presented, you’ll immediately spot the fact that it sounds all wrong. Big question is, can you see what would make it feel right?

Giving you a little extra

I have a couple of ideas for extras that I could send you, but I’d like to know what you’d prefer! Here are your two choices:

1: The Gates of Balawat

The Gates of Balawat is a short story that I wrote in 2015 and then promptly forgot about. I found it again as I was packing up to move back to the UK and discovered that I still really like it.

An aspiring artist, Ella spends a lot of time wandering round London’s museums and art galleries, learning from the masters whilst trying to pick up the courage to turn her passion into a career. Sketching in the Assyrian gallery in one of the capital’s finest museums, she becomes entranced by a fellow artist who is struggling with the same problem and who shares her habit of daily practice. But why does he never remember her? And what is it about him that’s always just slightly wrong?

2: I watch Away so you don’t have to

I’ll do an in-depth critique of the first episode of Away, the Netflix space drama, which is so terrible that the first time I tried to watch it, I had to turn it off after less than 20 minutes. Netflix says:

Commander Emma Green leaves behind her husband and daughter to lead an international crew of astronauts on a perilous three-year mission to Mars.

As the mission launches, Emma finds her mettle as commander tested by an onboard accident, a divided crew and a family emergency back on Earth.

I believe there’s a lot to be learnt from really bad TV, and I’m willing to put myself through 57 minutes of awfulness so that you can learn the lessons without the pain of watching.

To make your choice, click on your prefered option below (which will open a new browser window). Or, if you’d rather, vote in this Twitter poll, which will close on Friday.

Choose your perk!

  1. The Gates of Balawat
  2. Analysis of Away

Obligatory cat photos

This week, I’d like to introduce you to Cici, Hedgehog, Scamp and Chewbecky! My friend Holly Brockwell runs a small shelter for cats that no one else will take on, often cats with serious medical problems like cerebellar hypoplasia, aka wobbly cat syndrome. These cats were at risk of being put to sleep before Holly stepped in, as few people want to take on the responsibility.

Recently, Holly was asked to look after a young mum cat, Cici, and her three kittens, because all the local shelters were full. It turns out that not only does Cici have three kittens, she’s already pregnant with at least three more!

Because Cici and her brood are all perfectly healthy, Holly will be looking for homes for them as soon as they are old enough, as well as Cici’s second litter!

If you want to find out more about Cici and her kittens – plus all the other residents of Holly’s Merry Moggies including Smol Paul, Bumble, Biscuit and Stripes McKenzie – take a look a her public Patreon post.

All the best,

Suw

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Hi there,

This week, I’ve been fiddling around with Kittl, a graphic design website that’s a bit like Canva, but for logos and lettermarks. I’m not sure that this is the final logo, but it’s a start. We’ll see how it evolves as I get to know what Kittl can do and play around with more of its templates. (Though I must not let playing with logos distract from editing!)

Stop, look listen: Scriptnotes Episode 554 – Getting the Gang Back Together

I know it seems like I recommend a Scriptnotes episode every other week, but that’s because it’s such a good podcast – if you haven’t already, then you should just cut out the middlewoman and subscribe now.

Episode 554 is all about how characters interact. For me, the most interesting segment is on character relationships. John August and Craig Mazinmake the point that characters on their own just aren’t all that interesting – it’s their relationships that we care about. Woody is boring without Buzz. Shrek is just an ogre without Fiona (and, arguably, Donkey).

A lot of fiction advice focuses on character arcs: how an individual develops over the course of a film or series, how they learn and grow, and what they change into. But character relationship arcs are much more important and a much richer source of drama and, indeed, comedy.

How people get on or fall out is what makes a story compelling, not just in fiction but in our real lives. When was the last time you heard someone with a bit of gossip about how a colleague’s character had developed, as opposed to how their relationship with someone else had changed? Gossip is all about relationships and so are the best stories.

Indeed, I can’t help thinking about Apple+’s The Essex Serpent, which really isn’t all that concerned with the titular sea serpent, but about the development of Will and Cora’s relationship. The mysterious serpent is merely an excuse to throw Will and Cora together so we can see what happens between them.

I’ve listened to this Scriptnotes episode twice now, and it’s made think that I need to pay a lot more attention to relationships. Not only do I need to reread my script much more closely to see how well I’m developing relationships, I also need a Character Relationships section in my Show Bible. If I’m aiming for that depth and richness that good TV shows have, I have to make sure that my relationships are compelling.

Is 1,000 True Fans possible?

Back in 2008, Kevin Kelly suggested that a creative person could make a decent, independent living if they could jut reach 1,000 ‘True Fans’. That prediction never really came to pass, not least because back in the Noughties it was quite hard to take payments from lots of different people, even with PayPal. For many, the 1,000 True Fans theory has long since died a death.

When we look at really successful creative online projects, it seems like they are always run by people who already have huge followings. Whilst no one expected Brandon Sanderson to raise $41,754,153 for his recent four-novel Kickstarter project, there was no real doubt that someone with hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers could raise a decent amount of coin. But for most of us, Kickstarter isn’t a reliable way to make a living.

But could the 1,000 True Fans theory still turn out to be, well, true? Times have changed since 2008 and Cal Newport, writing in The New Yorker, provides several examples of how creative people and teams can make a comfortable living by finding and serving a committed community. It’s an attractive proposition and one I’d love to explore.

This newsletter is still in its baby stages, and if I do ever launch a premium service it will be in addition to this regular email. But I’d love to know what sort of things would be interesting enough to pay for. In depth written profiles of writers, agent, publishers and actors? A podcast? A serialised email version of my pandemic novel? What tickles your fancy? Reply and let me know!

Read this: WattPad launches new scheme to pay authors

WattPad is launching a new program that could see some writers earning up to $25,000 (~£20,800) from a pot of $2.6 million, if they publish their work exclusively on the platform. According to Variety, “More than 500 writers will be eligible for the cash stipends, the first time Wattpad is paying creators in this way. In addition, participants will be eligible for marketing and editorial support and sponsored brand partnerships.”

This is good news for authors who have already built an audience on WattPad already or who are writing in the genres that are popular there.

Tweet of the week

Please enjoy these words of wisdom from Gabino Iglesias:

Monthly reminder: Many people have a book in them, but it takes a special kind of freak to leave the Land of Laziness, cross the Plains of Procrastination and Insecurity Mountain, find the Blade of No One Made You Do This, and use it to cut your chest open and yank that book out.

Obligatory cat photo

Summer in the Midwest often got toasty, with temperatures sometimes going up to 35C and beyond, but we never really noticed it because we had aircon units in the windows and inside was always fairly cool. It would have to get really hot before we felt uncomfortable.

As I write this, however, we’ve reached 31C here in Reading and there’s no aircon to be had. Even if there was, energy costs are so high I wouldn’t put it on. So please enjoy Copurrnicus and his fluffy pantaloons, melting.

All the best,

Suw

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Hi there,

Happy Tuesday!

This week, I am trying to get back into a regular working and writing rhythm after six months of disruption during our move from the US back to the UK. Our belongings aren’t likely to arrive until early August, but I can’t wait until I get my desk to resume my writing habit. I’m just going to have to do the best I can with what I’ve got, which is a fold up table and an old dining chair.

Suw’s news

I’ve pretty much given up on ever getting an agent for my novel about a global pandemic, written long before Covid was even a glimmer in a bat’s watery eye. But last week I spotted that Gollancz had a month-long open submissions window for science fiction, fantasy and horror novels, ending on 30 June. As I had my synopsis, bio and sample ready, I thought why not? I’ve got nothing to lose.

Then I realised that they wanted the whole book, and I didn’t have that ready to go. So I spent an evening sorting out the chapter breaks (which are not where Scrivener thinks they are) and snuck my submission in just under the wire.

Doing that, I noticed a bunch of typos in the first few pages, pages I have read and edited again and again and again and thought were perfect. Just shows the value of letting a novel sit for a while. I’m going to have to do a really hard edit on it at some point, before I find a way to self-publish that neither relies on Amazon nor creates complicated problems with international VAT.

Cory DoctorowRead this: Reasonable Agreement – Cory Doctorow on the Crapification of Literary Contracts

Cory Doctorow is always good value, but this article on the way that publishers’ lawyers have been sneaking more and more ridiculous clauses into literary contracts is essential reading. From binding arbitration waivers that stop you from taking a publisher to court to ludicrous rights grabs, Cory goes through seven types of clauses you should never agree to.

Read this as well: My Writing Life – No Place to Run by Mark Edwards

It took Mark Edwards seventeen years to get his first book deal, having decided aged 23 3/4 that he wanted to be an author. Now, aged 51 1/2, he has chronicled the ups and downs of his literary career. I’m sure his experience will feel familiar to a lot of you. Indeed, my literary career has been similarly like a rollercoaster, except without the ups. Found via crime writer Steve Mosby.

What I’m watching: Lindsay Doran – Saving the World vs Kissing the Girl

Ever wondered what is at the very core of every successful movie? Film producer Lindsay Doran comes to a surprising, and yet also very obvious, conclusion in this 18 minute TED Talk: It’s relationships. Although we remember characters’ impressive achievements, what we really crave is to see people’s relationships develop – to see relationships created, nurtured, mended, reinvigorated. If a film ends without that, we feel cheated. And it’s the same with novels too, so pay attention to your relationships! Found via Scriptnotes.

BookTok returns meme punishes authors

I was really sad to see that there’s a TikTok trend that encourages people to buy books from Amazon, read them and then return them for a refund. Amazon has a two week window for ebook returns and it’s something that’s been abused for years. But Amazon refuses to do anything about it. Trouble is, this doesn’t just mean that author misses out on royalties, but the download fee they have to pay Amazon isn’t refunded, so they actually lose money and some have even ended up with a negative earnings balance. There is a petition, but having covered Amazon for years when I was a journalist, I can’t imagine it will have any impact on Amazon at all. Nothing else ever has.

Today I Learnt: The Archers wasn’t just a radio drama

During a trip to the University of York, where I’m a Visiting Associate, my colleagues and I were talking about the poor representation of academics on TV. Academics in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) especially tend to turn up on TV as stereotypes: the maverick (always a bloke) who understands Something Big That No One Else Gets, the nerd with no social skills, or the boring tweedy don who gets murdered/murders someone in Morse.

I know a lot of academics, and they’re all normal people. None of them wear tweed. As far as I know, none of them are murderers. I’d suggest that this mischaracterisation of academia is down to a lack of scientists going into TV writing, and it means that opportunities to connect academia and academic knowledge with wider society are completely missed.

It was at that point that my colleague told me that The Archers, the world’s longest-running drama with over 19,500 aired episodes, was originally created in part to educate farmers after World War II. Launched in May 1950, during the post-War era of rationing and food shortages, BBC writers worked with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to develop stories that would teach farmers how to produce more food.

Some modern TV shows do a great job of examining social issues – Sex Education springs to mind as an exemplar, with reliable factual information sprinkled in amongst the gags and teenage angst – but scientific knowledge is harder to find. Wouldn’t it be great if someone somewhere started a scheme to encourage more scientists to become writers, and to encourage more collaborations between writers and scientists?

Bonus link

Struggling to find somewhere quiet to write? Preferably surrounded by other creatives? Matthew ‘Maf’ Vosburgh tweeted about how his father, Dick, found himself the perfect spot to write whilst working as a freelance TV comedy writer.

There’s a legend that my dad wrote his TV comedy on the Circle Line due to the six children at home. He did that once or twice, but I prefer this other story.  During a meeting in a TV producer’s office, the producer got a phone call, said “I’ve just been fired!”, and walked out.

It’s worth clicking through for the whole thread.

Obligatory cat photo

We currently have no sofa and are making do with two garden loungers on loan from my mum. Here’s Copurrnicus lounging on a lounger and doing that weird thing he does with his paw to create a little chin rest.

Copurrnicus doing his weird paw thing

That’s it for this week! Don’t forget, if you’re interested in any of the authors or books I’ve mentioned in my newsletters, I’ve added them to my Bookshop list where possible. And if you’ve enjoyed this, please do feel free to forward it on to friends!

All the best,

Suw Charman-Anderson

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Word Count 7: Story indecision, Invisible Women, an innovative book marketing campaign and CokeZero

June 28, 2022

Hi there, Last week, I was congratulating myself on making a swift decision to book a spot on a script editing course. This week, I am vacillating over whether to take Robert McKee’s three-day Story and one-day Comedy courses in November. McKee’s book Story is a classic of the story analysis genre and his in-person […]

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Word Count 6: The biggest mistake of my writing life, plus J Diane Dotson on finding time

June 21, 2022

Hi there, The weather is absolutely glorious as I write this, and the urge to bunk off and go sit in the park is very, very strong. But alas, it is not to be. I have far, far too much to do. I used to think that being self-employed would empower me to spend days […]

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Word Count 5: The stories we tell ourselves in the dark

June 14, 2022

Hi there, The theme for this week’s newsletter was inspired by a mashup of the title of Robert Shearman’s We All Hear Stories in the Dark, an amazing three volume set of 101 short stories that you navigate by answering a question at the end of each story, and something that Tom Hiddleston’s character, Will […]

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Word Count 4: They picked my script! Find out what John August and Craig Mazin said about the first three pages of Tag.

June 7, 2022

Hi there, Welcome to Word Count! Last week you voted overwhelmingly in favour of the name change, so from now on you’ll be seeing Word Count in your inbox, rather than Suw’s Writing Newsletter. Suw’s news: OMG! They picked my script! You might remember that a few weeks ago I submitted the first three pages of […]

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Word Count 3: Getting meta – a newsletter about newsletters

May 31, 2022

Hi there, Welcome to the meta issue of my newsletter. I’m not talking about Facebook’s recent (terrible) rebranding, but a newsletter about newsletters, which is what this is. I am really enjoying writing these newsletters. It reminds me of the olden days of blogging – it feels warm and personal and pleasantly anachronistic. Like blogging, […]

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