Word Count 56: Tag and the Six Act Structure, Sex Education, John le Carré Scholarship

by Suw on August 15, 2023

Plus BBC Writers Room Open Call, Kindle Newsstand closes, fake books on Amazon & Goodreads, FTC lawsuit could break up Amazon, Filmmakers Podcast talks to Christopher McQuarrie, and Grabbity update.

Hi there,

I’m writing this on a grey and dismal day and it feels like we’ve not had a summer at all this year. Good job writing isn’t weather-dependent, eh?

Suw’s News: Tag and the Six Act Structure

Prompted by the BAFTA Rocliffe Competition deadline looming, I’ve started really, properly rewriting Tag, my six-part urban fantasy TV script. As you’ll know if you’ve been reading along for the past five months, it has been giving me a hard time, but I think I’m finally coaxing it into shape.

As I was searching for advice on how to structure a six episode TV show, as opposed to a movie or novel, I stumbled on Marshall Dotson’s Six Act Structure and his book, Actions and Goals. I’ve read quite a few books about writing, but this is possibly the most useful analysis of story structure that I’ve ever seen. Better still, it comes with a six act template, so my first step was to download and work on that.

I like working on paper, so I printed the whole series out, cutting and gluing the pages together so that each sequence (sometimes a scene, sometimes a few scenes that are related) was one piece of paper. As you can see, I do have some sequences that are, ahem, too long.

Then I went through the pilot and marked scenes for deletion, shortening or moving, and made notes regarding how to clarify character, goals and action towards those goals. I transferred those notes into Highland 2, and have started the hard work of actually making the changes. So far so good, but I just need to finish it in time for deadline of 18 September, which seems far away, but really isn’t.

First Five Minutes: Sex Education

As you might have seen, I have a new occasional series of essays exploring the first five minutes of a TV pilot. We all know that it’s crucial to hook your audience within the first five minutes, but what do we learn about the characters, their relationships, conflicts and themes within that time? How much information can a writer feasibly cram into just five or six pages of script?

I’ve kicked off with Netflix’s fabulous comedy, Sex Education, which takes a sometimes racy but always hilarious look at the sex lives, insecurities and relationships of a group of teens.

Written by Laurie Nunn and featuring Asa Butterfield, Emma Mackey, Ncuti Gatwa and Gillian Anderson, it treads an interesting transatlantic line, pulling out aspects of American teen culture to weave in with its ineluctably British attitude.

Opportunity: John le Carré Scholarship with Curtis Brown Creative

Curtis Brown Creative represented master spy novelist John le Carré (David Cornwell) for many years, up until his death in 2020. To honour his legacy, they run a scholarship “providing the full course fee for one talented writer of limited financial means to join our three-month online Writing Your Novel course (13 Nov 2022 to 11 Mar 2023)”.

Applicants will need to submit the first 3,000 words of their novel in progress, along with a one-page synopsis, via the application form. Deadline for submissions is 29 October 2023.

Opportunity: BBC Writers Room Open Call

If you have a script just waiting to be discovered, you have two months to get it all polished up ready for the BBC Writers Room Open Call, which will accept submissions  between 12 noon on Tuesday 7 November 2023 and 12 noon on Tuesday 5 December 2023.

They are looking for “Drama or Comedy/Drama scripts written for Film, TV, Radio, Stage, Online or Children’s TV/Radio scripts which are a minimum of 30 pages long (excluding title/character pages)” from writers who are over 18, based in the UK, and who have written an original script.

You cannot re-submit a previously submitted script, no matter how much you’ve worked on it, which is kinda pants in my opinion. How are writers supposed to grow if we can’t re-submit substantially improve scripts? Still, that’s a row for another day.

Read this: Kindle Newsstand closes

Not new news, but bad news nonetheless. Amazon is shutting down its Kindle Newsstand subscription program in September, which will be a major blow to literary magazines and other publications that have depended on it for revenue.

Clarkesworld have been banging the gong about this for a while, and hopefully their subscribers will move to their other subscription options, but because Amazon doesn’t share subscriber information there’s no way for Clarkesworld or other publishers to just port people over. Some publications will still be available via Kindle Unlimited, but as Clarkesworld points out, they get a lot less money that way.

Read this, too: Fake books turn up on Amazon & Goodreads

A slew of fake books about writing and self-publishing, probably written by people using LLMs, have turned up on Amazon under author Jane Friedman’s name and, on Goodreads, attached to her official profile. Friedman says in her blog post:

A reasonable person might think I control what books are shown on my Goodreads profile, or that I approve them, or at the very least I could have them easily removed. Not so.

If you need to have your Goodreads profile corrected—as far as the books credited to you—you have to reach out to volunteer “librarians” on Goodreads, which requires joining a group, then posting in a comment thread that you want illegitimate books removed from your profile.

When I complained about this on Twitter/X, an author responded that she had to report 29 illegitimate books in just the last week alone. 29!

Goodreads did remove these fake books from her profile, but when she reached out to Amazon, they were less helpful:

“Please provide us with any trademark registration numbers that relate to your claim.” When I replied that I did not have a trademark for my name, they closed the case and said the books would not be removed from sale.

The next day, however, the books were removed from Amazon as well.

Now imagine you’re an author without a big, public profile trying to get the  famously recalcitrant Amazon to behave. Honestly, is it any surprise that there is a lawsuit coming.

Read this, three: FTC lawsuit could break up Amazon

There’s no doubt that Amazon is a behemoth of a company, dominating not just book sales but online shopping in general as well as being a major cloud computing provider. It’s hard to really quantify the damage Amazon has done to the publishing industry and retail in general, but when a deserted mall near us in Cleveland became an Amazon distribution centre, the irony wasn’t lost on me.

Now the Federal Trade Commission is putting together an antitrust lawsuit against the company, according to Politico which says:

The FTC has been investigating the company on a number of fronts, and the coming case would be one of the most aggressive and high-profile moves in the Biden administration’s rocky effort to tame the power of tech giants.

Although the lawsuit would likely take years, it’s possible that it could result in the giant being broken up.

Just a few days ago, Reuters reported that Amazon is meeting with the FTC before the latter decides whether to file the lawsuit.

Amazon is expected to argue at the meetings with the commissioners that the FTC should not file an antitrust suit against the company

Well, duh.

Stop, look, listen: The Filmmakers Podcast – Christopher McQuarrie

You’d expect a conversation with writer and director Christophe McQuarrie to be interesting, not least because of his involvement in Mission Impossible and Top Gun: Maverick, but this interview from Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir includes way more practical storytelling tips than I had thought it would.

One of the more surprising insights was about how important it is to set your exposition scenes in locations that are easily to recreate because if you need to reshoot to cope with a plot change, it’s easier to do that in a car than halfway up the Burj Khalifa! His anecdote about how trying to ramp up the pressure on Pete “Maverick” Mitchell during the beach volleyball scene in Top Gun: Maverick threw off the following love story scenes was also fascinating. The temptation, he explains, was to cut the love scenes, but the solution to the problem was actually to ease up on Maverick a bit instead.

This interview is just so thought-provoking, from the way McQuarrie works to cut a gag that would cost $15 million to shoot, to how flexible the script remains throughout shooting, and how collaboratively he works with actors.

Obligatory cat picture

I have good news: We took Grabbity back to the vet to see how her corneal ulcers are getting on, and the ulcers themselves have healed! Yay! Poor girl has had me putting ointment or drops in her eyes nearly every day for 2.5 months, and although that’s not going to stop for another two or three months yet, at least now we’re down to once a day.

The damage to her cornea has been quite significant, so that’s going to take a long, long time to properly heal, if it ever does, but at least the ulcers are now in the past and we can focus on her recuperation. She certainly seems much bouncier and brighter than she has been for months, which is a huge relief.

Right, that’s it for now. See you in a couple of weeks!

All the best,


Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: