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

by Suw on 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 my TV script to the Scriptnotes podcast’s Three Page Challenge for screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin to critique. Welp, they picked my script, along with a couple of others.

Before I listened, I had a think about what they might say. My guesses were that there’s too much description in the first scene, that it’s too slow to get to the point, and that maybe there’s a bit of genre confusion going on as it starts off in a war zone but doesn’t stay there very long.

You can listen to the whole thing on the Scriptnotes episode page – my bit runs from 35:15 to 49:41 – and read those first three pages.

I do have to say that Craig and John’s critique was extremely useful. The script has been read by many people and has had several rounds of revisions, but there’s always room for improvement. Craig and John’s critique picked up on a lot of things that no one else had mentioned, so gives me the chance to think it all through from a very different perspective.

The first thing to say is that they spotted some mistakes that I should have seen before I sent it in. To my great chagrin, they spotted two typos. I could honestly die of embarrassment because I know they’re hot on typos and these days there’s no excuse. But two slipped through anyway. I should have copied and pasted the whole thing into Word or Google Docs and just looked at it in a different context and with a different font and spellchecker.

I’ll also admit that I did not Americanise the script at all because of the whole intercontinental house move thing, so a few of the issues they spotted are down to British vs American English. I don’t even know what ‘pedestrian precinct’ is in American, but the greater point is that it’s irrelevant to the story so I should have just deleted it.

Now, were my predictions right? Not in the slightest! There are three sections to the sample: The first set in the trenches of World War 1; in the second a character wakes up; the third is a character reveal.

Rather than the first section being too dense, they felt that it was missing some critical information. That’s actually an easy fix, as it ditching some of the more WWI-specific jargon. They also pointed out that there’s some stuff that just happens, and as a reader we need to know why. Again, an easy fix.

My second guess was that they’d think it was too slow, but again, I was completely wrong. They liked how much happened in the first three pages, though I could do a lot better on how I introduce my characters.

They also pointed out something that I should have seen, and that I think I’ve known all along, which is that the second section is unnecessary fluff and I should just ditch it. It doesn’t achieve anything for any characters, nor does move the plot forward. Looking at it now, I don’t know why I kept it when I had my doubts about it all along. I need to listen more to my gut.

The third section is tolerable, but needs a bit more thought and detail. The reveal is not the most original, so maybe that needs just simplifying and, again, I should focus more on character.

And as for the genre confusion? They didn’t mention that the way I thought they might, but it did pop up in the logline discussion. I’ll let you listen to the episode to hear the full glory of John and Craig’s surprise when they read the logline.

Finally, the takeaway for me is that, yes, this needs work, but it has some promise. And although they could never have known it, that’s exactly what I needed to hear after the BBC and Wildseed rejections.

So, I have my marching orders: Fix this script, write my show bible, fix the hot mess that is episode 3, and then polish the other episodes whilst generalising this feedback to the rest of the series.

Huge thanks to John and Craig for reading and critiquing my work!

And if you are a screenwriter, you should absolutely subscribe to Scriptnotes and submit to the Three Page Challenge!

Tip-top tip: James Oswald on finishing first drafts

This week marks the beginning of an occasional series of guest contributors who’ll be sharing their writing craft tips with us. Kicking everything off is James Oswald, author of the Detective Inspector McLean crime series, epic fantasy series The Ballad of Sir Benfro and and the Constance Fairchild undercover cop series. In his spare time, James raises pedigree Highland Cattle and New Zealand Romney Sheep on his farm in North East Fife.

The thing I always tell new writers is ‘your first draft doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be done.’

What does that really mean, though? I’m not much of a plotter. I like to have an opening scene, my characters and then I work out what’s happening while I write. For me, it’s important to get to the end of the first draft, as that’s me telling myself the story. There’s little point in trying to edit until I’ve got that nailed down, or at least loosely tacked. My first drafts can be hopelessly rough, full of contradictions and changes of direction. I’ve changed names and even genders of characters halfway through, but I never go back and correct the earlier work until I’ve reached the end.

There’s a well known military saying that no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy. The same can be said of writing your first draft, even if you plot meticulously. Writing is yet another stage of planning, and you will be ambushed as you go along by great ideas of how things can be done differently. Characters you thought would be pivotal instead wander off, or die. Other characters hog the limelight, demand all the attention, and drive the story far better than you intended. This is the magic of writing, and why I love doing it.

It is, however, a messy process. No matter how well you’ve planned, or if you’ve not planned at all, your first draft will not be the book your readers see. It’s allowed to be dirty, incomplete, rubbish. If you think it’s perfect and ready to go, then you’re not yet ready to be a published author. But until you’ve finished it, any attempt to make it better is doomed to failure.

So write that first draft – vomit draft is what I call it – start to finish. Guddle around in what you’ve done and find the best bits. Only then can the real work of polishing and honing begin.

Writing women: What’s a strong female character?

We hear the phrase “strong female character” a lot these days, but what do we really mean by “strong”. It doesn’t mean that the character herself is strong – she does not have to be physically, mentally or emotionally strong in herself to be a “strong character”.

We’re talking about “strong” in terms of her characterisation, meaning that she is nuanced and three dimensional with strengths and weaknesses. She needs to have agency and make her own decisions, even if they’re really bad ones or her choices are limited by her situation. She needs to be interesting, to capture our attention, to make us want to cheer her on or hope she gets her comeuppance if she’s a villain.

StudioBinder’s Chris Heckmann has an in-depth article looking at 10 strong female characters and what makes them so compelling. Although he focuses on movies, everything Heckmann says, especially his five aspects of characterisation, is relevant to novels as well.

Getting to know you: Getting to know all about you

I know that some of you used to subscribe to my old newsletter, whilst others of you only recently found this newsletter via Twitter. I’m curious to know if you’ve read any of my short stories or novellas, so here’s a quick survey. Click on ‘Begin’ to open this email in your browser, and then check the box for each story that you’ve read, or choose the last option if you’ve not read any. (You don’t need to click the button again when you’ve finished – your answers will register automatically. I hope.)

  1. Argleton
  2. Queen of the May
  3. The Lacemaker
  4. I haven’t read any

Obligatory cat photo

Copurrnicus in the snow

This week’s photo is one from the not too ancient archives. Although Shaker Heights, OH, is far further south than the UK, its continental climate means it snows much more often.

Copurrnicus always wants to go outside, but that was verboten thanks to the coyotes, racoons, skunks and other dangers that lurked in our neighbourhood. Still, snow provided an irresistible opportunity to see just how much he really, really wanted to explore.

Bizarrely, Copurrnicus’s response became door dependent. The back door was treated with extreme suspicion, but the front door became his favourite dash zone, regardless of the weather. Despite my assumption that he wouldn’t like the -15C cold, he got very comfortable going outside. So here he is after one particularly generous snow storm.

That’s it for this week! It’s been a bit of a bumper issue, so congratulations if you got this far. I hope you enjoyed it – please tell your friends if you did.

All the best,


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