This weekend just gone was another fantastic weekend full of screenwriting goodness delivered in bite-sized sessions – London Screenwriters’ Festival of course!

As always, I was there to try and live tweet as much as I could for all of you who couldn’t make it. Below, you’ll find a Storify list of all my tweets from the festival, but I thought I’d pull out some key pieces of advice for you in this blog post to summarise the excellent learning experience…

DON’T write a spec for an existing show – they won’t even read it. Much better to show YOUR story/voice in YOUR OWN script – and you might get a trial!

– Session on writing SPEC scripts

Create a rooting interest via elevating the emotions in your stories. Do you know what your wound is that informs your writing? Understand how you use your emotional fuel – why do characters want what they do? Hone in on these things to write in a universal way that will impact upon a reader/audience – it will set you apart!

– Session on placing emotional truth in our stories

Kids these days are digital natives. You need to understand the teen mindset and what they want to see. Embed messages through relatable everyday life – don’t censor so much that it’s inauthentic. Television is still number one media so long-form content is still relevant, but you’re competing with other media. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not about being addicted to the screen – kids just want to be in contact with their friends. Teens want stories to be relatable, but do respond more to positive rather than negative plot consequences.

– Session on writing for teens

With cash cows Corrie and Emmerdale gone from an Irish TV network, a new soap was needed. John Yorke jumped at the chance. Budget was so low. Rather than copying other shows they reinvented the format thus making the budget work to their advantage. Scripts are so important to elevate the show as they couldn’t afford sets and stunts, therefore they aim to treat writers really well including nurturing writers and processing the story before it goes to script.

– Session on the creation of successful new soap Red Rock

A well-written bible forces us to know our characters really well – like a novel. No two bible documents are the same and they can have different purposes. What is it? General description in one line. Define in ways the audience can understand. Briefly introduce characters – it’s not the place for detailed bios. Back story is important for knowing where the characters have come from. De-risk is something you want to convey; does it have longevity? Write lots of premises (episode outlines) to show reliability and clarity – you know what you are doing.

– Session on writing series bibles

So much material gets cut in certain countries – finance can therefore be hard to come by. Investors want a financially viable genre and known stars… The industry needs to be pushed forward. It should be that people can buy into a character no matter what. TV show Boy Meets Girl is groundbreaking in that it is a love story; a romcom with a female lead who happens to be trans. Years before, a trans character may have been just a token guest character. Now, doors are opening – and minds. Perceptions need to be more varied – a cross-dressing period for a character neednt just be a phase but a part of their journey. There can be little difference between writing an LGBTQ character & non ones. Write a character for who they really are.

– Session on writing strong, relatable & authentic LGBTQ stories & characters

A scene can be any length but it must be engaging. Goal+ difficulty = tension. V. important: WHAT’S AT STAKE? Introduction, inciting event, debate-dillema, commitment, strategies to solve problem. Midpoint, solutions to solve problem, all is lost, climax, resolution. “Spectacle” scenes don’t have to have conflict but must be short: think ET flying bike past moon.

– Session on writing great scenes

Thrillers can be pretty much anything… except drama. Horror and thriller can overlap… but in essence horrors are just scary/chase but thrillers are about the solving of a mystery. A character-led hook makes the audience wonder what they would do in the protagonist’s shoes. We need TENSION. “Heightened reality” – it *could* happen to YOU! Life or death – no threat? Not a thriller! We want a struggle of some sort. Story and characters go hand in hand – find out about protagonist through how they deal with story. What makes a good thriller character? Overcoming adversity.

– Session on writing thrillers


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