Monthly Archives: January 2014

I’m off to the cinema… to read!

I have heard people say that you can’t be a good writer if you do not read, read, and then read some more.

Well, that all depends on what you are writing, and how you choose to learn your craft. If you set out to write a novel, then yes, it might be foolish to have never picked up a piece of fiction and read it through. It’s a good investment for writers to spend the time looking at what other writers have produced. But, if you’re like me, perhaps you don’t need to take the act of ‘reading’ as literally as it sounds.

I am dyslexic.

I don’t enjoy reading novels. I can just about get through when reading non-fiction; something that is instructive, something I’m reading because I need to know how to get from A to B. But reading stories, no matter their quality, no matter how gripping their plot and characters, is a struggle. It feels like hard work, and it feels like I am being forced to wade through words, when all I want to do is close my eyes and let them slide into my mind effortlessly, like music. I envy people who can get through a couple of books a week. It must be a joy to read for pleasure. But some of us don’t find it so enjoyable. So, to those people, as I say, it’s fine to take the advice, but don’t take it so literally. There are other possibilities.

What I mean is, what can reading be for people who struggle with the process? What is reading, to you?

It can be a number of things. ‘Reading’ can be listening (audio-books, radio dramas, radio comedy, recorded stand-up sets, pod casts, and so on) and it can be watching (movies, TV dramas, comedies, and the endless amount of audio-visual fiction and factual available online). ‘Reading’ can mean engaging in discussion and debate, listening to a lecture, watching a play, hearing an influential speaker, observing the sounds and sights around you, anywhere, any time.

There is a reason that The Scriptwriters Academy has a YouTube channel, and a reason you are able to contact the author directly.

Because reading is not just sitting down and diving into a good book. Read what you love. Read in the way that supports your learning, and read the things that are a joy to ‘read’ – whatever form they may take.

To close this blog entry, I am going to publish a short monologue of mine, which was performed as part of Whispering Theatre, at 2013’s DYSPLA festival. (A festival which showcases the work of dyslexic artists and story makers). Be Loud!

Be Loud! By Melanie Hunter

“I firmly believe that if you are not a reader, you will never be a good writer. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.”

That’s what she said. And because it was written and published, people will believe it.

Y’know, we might not like to think about it, but we grow up believing people for reasons like: they’re older than us, they’re teaching us, they’re successful or powerful, or charismatic.

But what if I believed her? What if other people like me still believe her? What if you do? I mean, I dunno, you might agree. You’re free to, of course.

But… “Never”, she said. You’ll NEVER be a good writer if you’re not a reader. No room for argument. Would you argue with that?

I mean, she’s an intelligent lady. She’s successful. She seems to know the industry. It would be very easy to believe her.

But then I remember…

A wide vocabulary doesn’t always equal an inspiring story. The written word is not the only place to be moved by the creation of a beautiful, flawed character, or lost in a powerful journey. Attention to detail doesn’t just mean constructing the perfect sentence.

I want to tell people not to believe her. Especially those like me: the non-readers who write anyway; with passion, inspired by story, spoken word, a visual world, the world of feeling… of being moved.

I want to tell them: read stories if you love to read. But if it hurts, and if the words scramble in front of you, stop. Look around and be inspired by other things. The world is vast, and creativity – immeasurable.

I want to remind them to forget the ‘how’ and remember the ‘what’. How you write is only a means to an end, but what you write, and what you create, and the passion and guts it takes to expose the ‘what’ to the world… that’s where you should live.

I want to stand up and tell them to live inside the things that they believe.

Because you know what?

We’re louder than we think.

Are Screenwriting Courses Worthwhile?

OK, so it might seem that my take on this topic is obvious. After all, I have attended courses, and I have written a screenwriting course of my own. So, I suppose, in answer to the header, I will sit on the ‘yes’ side of the fence. However, I will say this – they won’t be for everyone.

Let’s put it this way: do you need to take a screenwriting course to write your first screenplay, or even to write scripts for a living? Well…No. And the proof is out there. It’s all about personal choice, and what you need, as a writer, to help you get from one step to the other.

For me, taking courses and reading self-study books was the best way to learn. It meant that I could give myself structure, I could progress through something and come out at the end feeling like I had the information and experience I needed to move forward. It was good to be given practical exercises, so that I could put my learning on paper, and review what I had done. For me, it was all about practising the craft – learning all of the elements that make a script what it is, and why they are important.

But what I would advise to aspiring screenwriters just starting out, is this: Look at all of your options and consider how you work best. Maybe watching films, reading scripts and joining writing communities will be enough to figure out what you want to write and how you need to write it. Perhaps a few self-study books will help give you some structure and additional hints and tips. It’s all about what works for you – it’s your process, it’s your work.

Perhaps you have the time and money to take a university or college course – that is something to consider, as the feedback and collaborative opportunities with fellow students, and maybe even with actors and directors, can offer invaluable experience. But there are alternatives. Not everyone has the time or bank balance to go down the qualification road. And, as I said earlier, it’s not an essential requirement. You can find collaboration and feedback opportunities elsewhere: writers groups, film festivals, social media – you can still find the experience you need, if you do your homework.

So, the way I would conclude my opinion is this: yes, I think screenwriting courses can certainly be worthwhile, but only if this is the road you want to and can afford to take. University and college courses are what you allow them to be. They can be an experience in which you immerse yourself in the opportunity to seek criticism, learn from others, listen to fellow students about their own experiences, network, and reflect. In a similar way, self-study books can give you practical experiences as you learn. They can offer advice, point you in the right direction, give you a solid foundation to work from.

It’s good to know the basics: the formula for creating a strong protagonist, the difference between simply writing a story, and writing a story for a visual medium, how the classical narrative works, and so on. So, no matter how you go about it: a course, a book, living in the cinema, reading the thousand movie scripts that you’ve downloaded online… seek this information as a starting point. It’s the best place to start!