Word Count 63: Draft Zero’s ‘game of the scene’, Michael Marshall Smith on writing for TV

by Suw on November 21, 2023

Plus resilience, Dan Sinykin’s Big Fiction, Warner Bros. Discovery’s Zaslav dicking about, and birthday boy Copurrnicus on a treadmill.

Hi there,

As I’m sitting here on a lovely, sunny day, gazing out of my office at the robin perched in our apple tree, I’m feeling really rather chirpy. Perhaps it’s down to having had a lovely weekend, or to how much I’m enjoying novelising Tag, or maybe it’s anticipation of the fact that I’m really only spending two days in my office this week due to a conference and two days off for Thanksgiving (as a transatlantic couple, we always celebrate).

Whatever it is, I shall savour it, and I hope that you have something fun to savour this week too!

Grist: Expanding our emotional vocabulary

Don’t forget, the first Grist session will be held on Monday 27 November at 19:00 GMT, and will focus on expanding our emotional vocabulary. We’ll take a look at the ‘emotional wheel’ and discuss the physicality of emotions via Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus.

If you’re a paid subscriber, or on a seven day trial, you can find details of how to register for the Zoom call in your email or on the Substack website.

Stop, look, listen: Draft Zero, E102 & E103 – Game of the Scene

One of the things I love about the Draft Zero podcast is that they often make me think about what I’m writing through a totally different lens. These two episodes deal with the idea that characters can be playing games with each other. Not Trivial Pursuit or Doom, but psychological games of power and status.

In these two episodes, hosts Stuart Willis and Chas Fisher “look at how considering the game that characters are playing — its rules, arenas, players, referees, and win conditions — can help you write more dynamic scenes.”

Both episodes are utterly fascinating and more than worth your time.

Read this: Michael Marshall Smith on writing (for TV)

This list of observations on writing for TV that Michael Marshall Smith shared last week contains wisdom for writers in pretty much any medium. I particularly like this bit:

If you don’t make them care about the characters, then you could be selling the meaning of life and they still won’t buy it.

And this bit:

It’s a partnership — together, you may get shit done. Find the smart people you trust. Work with them. That’s how things happen.

WAIW?: What does it really mean to be resilient?

Over on my other newsletter, I wrote about how some slightly difficult feedback combined with some fairly awful perimenopausal hormonal crap sent me into a six-day rage. I have spoken before about resilience, but this post is about the experience of exerting it rather than thinking about it as a shiny abstract thing that I never have to actually tap into.

Resilience is not just about working through negative emotions, it’s also about setting all that negativity aside and reaffirming your belief in yourself by getting on with the job at hand. 

Book: Big Fiction by Dan Sinykin

This review by Scott Stern of Dan Sinykin’s Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature is a fascinating read in and of itself. Sinykin’s thesis is that the “the increasing consolidation and corporatization of the publishing industry” has had a significant impact on the type of fiction that authors now write as they adjust to the realities of a more profit-driven publishing industry.

The review reminds me a lot of Cory Doctorow’s writing on enshittification – the process by which tech products, amongst other things, gets worse and worse as tech companies shift their focus from serving the users to serving business customers and then to pandering to investors.

At least Stern/Sinykin leave us with some level of hope, pointing out the benefits of WW Norton’s collective ownership model, the HarperCollins worker strike for fair wages, and “the rise of artists’ and freelancers’ unions, the flowering of writers’ collectives during the pandemic”.

Definitely a book I’m going to have to get!

Read this, two: ????

David Zaslav, who is not only the CEO Warner Bros. Discovery but also the main baddie on the studio side during the writer’s strike, has now said that the writers were right and that he has “never regretted overpaying for great talent or a great asset”. Well, why make the writers suffer through a 148-day strike then, you cockwomble? Also, he’s a fine one to talk about overpayment, given his compensation for 2021 was $246 million.

Zaslav has also done a full reverse ferret on Coyote vs. Acme and cancelled its cancellation. The film was not just completely finished, it had also tested incredibly well, yet WBD decided to can it in order to benefit from a tax write-off. I mean, firstly, how fucked up is it that? And secondly, this is a really great way to encourage the talent that Zaslav thinks he’s “overpaying” to avoid the studio completely in future. Who wants to put years of their life into a project that comes out really, really well and then gets binned in order to pump the quarter’s earnings?

Can someone please yeet Zaslav and his pals into the Sun?

Obligatory cat picture video

Back in late October 2021, I bought a cheap treadmill. In February of that year, my husband had wiped out on some black ice whilst out running and turned his little finger into a corkscrew-shaped mess. The treadmill was literally half the price of what we spent on healthcare and physio for him (two and half years later, it’s still not quite right) and it would mean we could both exercise more during the deep, icy Ohio winter.

So obviously, as soon as it was set up, I tried to encourage the cats to walk on it. This video is Copurrnicus’ first interaction with the treadmill and, as you can see, it did not go brilliantly! I did eventually get him to run on the treadmill, but it required huge amounts of inducements in the form of toys to pounce on and treats to reward the attempt. My hope that he’d find it fun and run on it willingly to burn off some energy were never fully realised, although that did also make me glad that I never invested in a cat wheel as he would never have used it and I wouldn’t fit in it.

Now we have an enclosed garden Copurrnicus can go outside whenever he wants although, right now, that doesn’t seem to be very often. We’ll all have to just put up with him tearing up and down the stairs instead.

Yesterday was, by the way, Copurrnicus’s 5th birthday which he celebrated by sleeping.

That’s it for now! If you’re a paid subscriber, I hope I’ll see you next Monday, and if you’re not, why not try a 7 day trial and join us for what will be a fun and fascinating conversation?

All the best,


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