Tag Archives: movies

Lessons on writing from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air

For those that don’t know, Save the Cat is a book (and a computer application, an iOS and Android app, a set of workshops, and two other books) by screenwriter Blake Snyder. It’s aimed very firmly at other screenwriters looking for a bit of script-doctor type feedback on structuring their stories. Whilst it’s been criticised by some[citation needed] for its formulaic approach, and I wouldn’t advocate using it religiously to structure your work, I do recommend it (and the sequel, Save the Cat Strikes Back) both for a fun read and for providing a great vocabulary to use when talking about story structure… even if you’re only using it to talk to the nagging voices inside your own head.

What’s this got to do with Will Smith? Well aside from the fact that he literally saves some cats in his movies (the above shot is from 1998’s Enemy of the State, and the Internet[citation needed] pointed out that he saved the Scientist’s cat “from the demo-bot” in I, Robot), the theme tune to his 1990s sit-com, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, declares itself to be a story (“Now this is a story all about how, My life got flipped, turned upside down…”). So, I wondered whether the rousing ballad that Will wrote with Jazzy Jeff followed the “optimum” structure set out in Save the Cat.

In short, would Blake Snyder have thought the theme tune from the Fresh Prince was a “good” story…? Continue reading

Lessons on writing from Rocky

Before you go and get all “seriously?” on me, I’d like to share a few facts about the film and it’s writer.

Rocky was nominated for ten Academy Awards, winning three (Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing). Sylvester Stallone was nominated for two of those ten: Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay, making him only the third actor to ever receive those nominations for the same film (the first two being Orson Wells and Charlie Chaplin). Rocky has been recognised by the Writers Guild of America as one of their top 100 movies ever, and has featured in several of the AFI’s top 100 lists.

As for Sly himself, the press in 1976 compared Stallone to the likes of Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. In Rocky and Rambo, Sly helped create and develop(1) two of the very first modern movie franchises. Rocky itself spawned 5 sequels (6 if you count the spin-off “Creed” currently in pre-production) at a time when franchises were often built around bad guys instead of heroes(2).

The movie remains one of the most quotable and best loved films ever made. A key reason for this success is Sylvester Stallone’s deep understanding of characterisation.  Continue reading

Causes and cures for writer’s block.

A few days ago I was working on Chapter 19 of the WIP. I had brainstormed the chapter in my normal mind map fashion and then converted that to linear notes (basically bullet points). I sat down to start the first draft of the prose when it all slowed to a crawl. I just wasn’t feeling it.

First off let me get one thing straight: I do not believe in writer’s block. Read any interview with a journalist-turned-novelist and they will tell you the same thing: If writing is your career, then not writing is not an option. It’s the equivalent of [insert person with any job here] saying they can’t do [that job] because they aren’t feeling it. You just bought yourself a train ticket to Unemploymentville, calling at all stations via YourWifeIsLeavingYou and KraftDinnersForOne.

What I do believe in, though, is that sometimes the writing is harder than it usually is. When that happens, the worst thing I can do is try to push on through. The better solution is to pause for 10 minutes, make a pot of coffee, and spend a cup (or maybe two) worth of time figuring out why it’s harder going. I love writing. If putting the words down changes from feeling like strolling on a beach in swimshorts and flip flops to wading knee deep in snow up a steep Canadian mountain (in swimshorts and flipflops) then it’s going to feel like that for the reader too. In other words, I trust my instincts and spend a little time working out what’s wrong so I can fix it before I walk any further.

So what are the common causes? Continue reading

Disney’s strong females

I recently read a twitter post in which the author moaned about Disney. Now, I’m actually a pretty big fan of Disney and have a pretty low threshold for complaints about them, so I wouldn’t normally have even bothered to read the post… except the author said something that jarred so much with my own perception of the company that I had to (a) read the linked blog to make sure I wasn’t missing something vital and (b) write this to right some wrongs out there.

The author had gone off on some feminist rant about Disney using only weak “Save me! Save me!” type female characters.

Okay, let’s clear this up right now: Disney has some of the strongest, most capable, and the most modern women characters out of ANY studio. Not only that, they have been in this position for arguably well over half a century. Continue reading

Why can’t books be more like movies?

Some books have introductions, I’ll grant you. Typically they’ll only be included if a book is especially old, or has been turned into a successful movie(1). Other than that, I’m struggling to think of examples(2) where publishers have learned the marketing lessons of the movie industry and started including Special Features to help market and sell books(3).

Continue reading