Peggy Bechko: 3 Ways to Make Your TV or Film Script Stand Out

by Peggy Bechko

Let’s face it, the stories have all been told.

Truly original stories are tough to come by. We all have to get really creative. The screenwriting market is completely saturated.

Believe it or don’t. Like it or not. That’s the truth. The slush pile is deep. We may all think, “yeah, but” my script is one of those “truly great scripts” that “always get noticed and find their audience”.

Hmmm…

Think of it this way. Have you seen a herd of cattle? Sheep? Well, that’s the slush pile and the script we want to sell is in there… somewhere…one cow.

Now maybe you could teach that cow to tap-dance or you could try some other methods of getting noticed, so let’s talk, and I don’t mean about how to teach that cow to tap-dance.

Let’s all consider how to avoid the ‘thanks for the read, but not for me’ rejection we all dread.

First things first – imagination followed by fantastic execution. If the idea isn’t imaginative enough then no amount of polished, amazing execution and presentation is gonna help.

The writer NEVER wants his/her script to feel like just one of the herd. As a writer you’ll have to dig deep and force that creativity to the surface.

It’s not like you don’t have it, you know you do. And, you can write your own version of pretty much anything, but you’re going to have to come up with that new twist the audience hasn’t seen before or a new character no one has seen brought to the forefront in the past.

Creativity is a skill. Work on it. Develop it, and never stop working on it. Creativity isn’t something that you have or you don’t. It’s something you work at and develop, like public speaking skills or woodworking.

THEN apply the fantastic execution so the producer sees that film in his/her head when they read.

Another thing. Do you know your world, the one you created, down to the last blade of grass?

You’ve given your story a setting, Africa somewhere, Brazil, New York City. The goal is to make your setting a character in the story you write. It’s not a cardboard cut-out backdrop, it’s integral to the story being told. If not, why not? It must feel real and present and most important, original.

There are a lot of writers out there and you don’t want to get lost in that crowd. The writer has to know the characters in the story down to the bone as well – and create fully fleshed out characters.

The characters have to be ones the audience can identify with. Not necessarily like, but care about. Give them real lives, know them well. Everything YOU know about your characters won’t literally be up on the screen, but if you’ve created the characters well, it will shine through.

Create characters with depth the audience can bond with emotionally and you’re going to grip them through to the end. The combination of setting and character, both done to perfection is something that can’t be ignored.

And, lastly, take some time to invest in the genre you’re writing in. I

f you want to write mystery, watch mysteries, old and new. Science Fiction? Watch lots of it. And on and on.

Check out the classics, the recent hits and the ones that bombed. Why, why and why? Learn from the best. Really know about the genre you want to write in.

And, on that note, know how to take criticism because you’re going to get a lot of it, no matter what genre you’re writing in.

Very few scripts are great from the get-go. BUT, there are lots of scripts with potential if you, as writer, can examine your own work critically, listen to valid criticisms and be ready always to ‘kill your darlings’.

Listen to the feedback of others. They might not always be right, but they most certainly possess another perspective. And, if it’s a producer odds are pretty high they’re right at least in many of their notes – this is, after all what they do.

If you can’t take criticism because you’re unable to listen to it or unwilling to take action on it you might reconsider what your professional goals are.

Imagination. Stoke your creativity. Listen to criticism. Don’t settle and the skills you need will be refined until your script does stand out from the herd and that cow tap-dances.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

Peggy Bechko: Are You Living in Screenwriting Fantasyland?

by Peggy Bechko

Screenwriters, novel writers, pretty much ant writers have hopes and expectations…and then there are realities.

Here’s the thing. The process itself of writing pretty much anything is not bliss or anything close to it. It is, quite simply hard work. There are good days and bad days, but it still boils down to sit yourself in the chair and do the work.

So much for the happy belief that writing is the easiest job ever. That one just sits around in the perfect writing space, cup of coffee (or is that a beer?) in hand, ideas whirling through one’s head until the writer plucks one out of the firmament, jots it down, and it becomes the next blockbuster movie, hit TV show or bestselling novel.

Uh, no.

Then, early in one’s writing career it’s easy to visualize a life where we get paid big bucks just come come up with a great idea, write with complete freedom and move on to the next project.

Um, no.

Reality, kids, is writing can be, and usually is, a damn hard job. If you’re writing whatever you want and hoping for the best, that is one thing, but if you’re writing to a career, it’s another.

Novelist? Aside from getting a feel of what’s selling and where what you write might fit in, there’s editors, critics, delays and even at time cancelled contracts. But in this post I’m focusing mostly on screenwriting.

Screenwriter? There’s writing on spec and then there’s writing on assignment. Spec is a REALLY GREAT IDEA and carrying it out. But, on assignment is a different animal. Suddenly you’re not in your fantasy world of freedom. There are notes from producers and executives, deadlines, stories determined by others than you.

But wait a minute, let’s circle back and think about that spec script again. It’s yours, right? Wellllll, no doubt you’ll need to do rewrites because your original script lacks elements that would help make it more marketable, and that’s probably from your agent. Then development execs and the like will demand rewrites for pretty much any reason you can think of and a lot you can’t.

So you’ll have to come up with a way of applying your own way to tell a story while you balance it with dealing with the wants and demands of others who can actually get your script to production. And, if you’ve paid attention at all you know you can’t just say no…because that will be their answer as well and you’ll sprout a reputation of being difficult to work with.

Then there’s the theory that your first screenplay isn’t ready to market. By that it’s meant that your first script won’t be your best. Well, duh. Your first novel won’t be your best either. Your first anything probably won’t be your best and most people actually want to improve steadily.

Anyway, whatever happens with your first, it is a firm truth that you do need to have more than one script ready because presuming your work is liked, maybe you get a meeting or notes on it, you’re going to be asked that ‘age old’ question, “What else you got?”

With that in mind, it’s a very good idea to have more than one script complete and ready to go. Who knows, you might be pitching your third script and end up selling your first on the basis of just that question.

And, frankly, humans being what they are, if you don’t have a second and/or third or fourth script ready to fill in that empty space when the question is asked, they’ll probably lose interest and that’s the last you’ll hear from them. Few are interested in a ‘one-script-wonder’.

So, might I suggest entering a few legit contests (emphasis on legit) like TV Writer’s PEOPLE’S PILOT 2018 or for a film script maybe the Nicholl Fellowship for Screenwriting with that first script while busying yourself with writing numbers two, three, four, etc.

Once there are several scripts in your quiver, that’s the time to really hit the agents, producers, etc. The reality is, despite those hopes and expectations very few writers hit it on the first script. There’s a lot to learn about writing and the movie industry. And, the only way to learn is to try, fail, correct course, try again, fail again… and on and on.

Another hard truth to jolt script writers from their soft fantasy land is the simple fact that most spec scripts are never sold. They’re usually a sample of what a writer can do and hopefully lead to writing assignments.

Now, I, personally, optioned a script to a German production company and a couple to companies in LA for which I got paid, but did not reach production. I also wrote a couple of things under contract but be advised that receiving a screenwriting paycheck is not like winning a lottery.

We read all the time that so-and-so got $2 million or $3 million dollars for a script or Netflix or someone else commits huge bucks for a script. While it does happen occasionally don’t hold your breath. Something much more modest is likely to come your way.

So, the take-away from all this is simple. Strive for the top and be willing to take the steps along the way. This is the real world. You want Fantasyland head over to Disneyland.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

Peggy Bechko on Paring Down Your Prose

by Peggy Bechko

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Attention spans appear to be peaking…or is that guttering? Whatever, fact of the matter is we writers have to pay very close attention to what we’re writing and to creating white space.

Wait, you say, that may well apply to screenwriters, but surely not to novelists?!

Um, both.

Admittedly still even more to screenwriters, the newbies among them who need to strive for a script of less than 120 pages and hopefully closer to 100 pages for a real running start at selling that script.

BUT, it does apply to novelists these days as well. I’ll focus a bit more on screenwriters in this article, but apply the ideas to manuscripts as well and you’ll get a lot further.

White space is every writer’s friend these days. The goal is to create a breezy read whether a script or a novel. Yes, a novel is different in that a person sitting down to read is usually taking time to relax.

Even so, that reader usually wants to move it along and isn’t particularly pleased to be confronted by a dense page of text with few breaks and long, rambling descriptions.

Because of that, editors who might buy a novel aren’t thrilled either. Yes, the writer must meet number of word requirements for certain genres, but the pages need to be broken up for easy reading.

Okay, on to the script writers. Be aware that the first thing a producer might do with a script is flip to the last page to check how many pages there are.

Don’t make your script 140 pages or more and have that producer red flag your script from the beginning. 120 you might get by with. 100 pages is even better. Since a page of script is about one minute one can easily see where a movie closer to 90 minutes is better than one over two hours.

Oh, and keep in mind we’re assuming here that you know how to format a script correctly. If not, find out.

Nobody has time to mess with those who don’t learn the basics. Learn how to format a spec script whether you’re writing for TV or screen.

Now here’s a biggie, maybe the biggest biggie. Lots of white space. Yes, I know I already mentioned this above. That’s how important it is.

The fact of the matter is white space equals fast read. Readers and producers are busy. A quick read is much more likely to migrate to the top of the stack. More likely to get read first.

Lots of people will tell you if you want to write long narrative, write a novel. Well, even that is not as true as it used to be. Word count yes, but also more white space.

Look, many writers may find it hard to believe between rejections, but the people you hand your work to really want to love it.

Seriously, it’s true.

The goal then is to get a script reader to be able to visualize the film from the script you’ve handed them. If you can get a script reader’s eyes to keep moving down the page with smooth speed you’ve won half the battle.

Speed, I’ve been told, is part of the key. The faster they read the more they’re visualizing and that’s the goal.

So, white space. Fewer words equals faster reading equals visceral involvement with the script.

Of course that means you, as writer, need to provide words that are powerful, vivid and minimal. In other words the skill the screenwriter most needs to master is how to say more with less.

The written screenplay is a blueprint, a guide to what will be up on the screen. At the same time it has to catch the interest, rope in the reader and the producer.

Practice is your teacher. Get your hands on scripts. Can you tighten it, make it more engrossing and tight than it already is? Grab a couple of paragraphs from a favorite book. Whack it into script talk.

Things like, “the music started playing” becomes ‘music plays’. “A hall full of avid Senior Citizen listeners burst into applause” becomes ‘the old folks went wild’.

What’s happening is the writer cuts out all but the most absolutely necessary verbiage. Keep the essentials which keep the writing more dynamic. Focus only on what is important.

Read every line and consider – can what is being said be said with fewer, more powerful words?

Tighten things up by considering if every single word is visually interesting and adds color? Can the new version of what’s been written absorb some of the other lines around it?

Tighten, consider, tighten again and those scenes you write are going to pop. And that’s what it’s all about, right?


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

Peggy Bechko on The Art & Craft of Character Naming

by Peggy Bechko

Character names!

They’re more important than most people readers and viewers think, as pretty much every writer in every genre and type of writing knows. If you, as a writer, DON’T know that, then it’s time to step back and ponder.

“Bond, James Bond.” Who hasn’t read and/or heard that line? Now, what if he had been named Harold Schwartz by Ian Fleming? Not quite the same.

How about Harry Potter? It’s pretty darn English, easy to remember and it has a certain strength and stability to the name. Fitting for a Wizard.

Names are important. They’re important for the screenwriter and the novelist, the short story writer, and the play write. Say any name out loud and instantly preconceptions spring to mind in the reader, the watcher of a movie and even the writer him or herself.

Names are many things. They can reflect culture, faith, family backgrounds (surely you know someone who carries a ‘family’ name as a middle name) and more.

Names can even play a role in forming a personality and they can have impacts on interactions. Katherine can be Katy, Kit, Kate, Cat, Kitten, or some other variation.

And, usually, the person with the name will have ‘professional’ acquaintances who perhaps know her as Katherine, a mother who calls her Kit, maybe a boyfriend who calls her Cat, and friends who know her as Katy.

I’m Peggy. Many think it’s a derivative of Margaret but in my case I was named Peggy. I usually go by Peggy. Some call me Peg but I don’t much care for it so it’s usually people who don’t know me well. If I were a character, and others called me Peg, it would mean they weren’t as close to me as they probably thought.

Whether writing a screen script or something else, a name helps define the character, expose the real personality. It can be fun searching for just the right name to put that character’s personality across or it can be a sort of hell.

Sometimes we just kind of go blank. One resource I check in on is, here it comes – The Social Security Administration’s records of baby names at https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/

If you’re writing something with a Victorian Era flavor you might check out http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~poindexterfamily/genealogy/OldNames.html

If it’s something SciFi/Fantasy, quirky, or you just need something really unusual you can try http://www.nexi.com/fun/rw/index.html

Nexi.Com, by the way, offers a cool bonus: “…if you want to generate some new girl’s names, feed it a list of girl’s names, and it will take them apart and discover how to make girl’s names, then come up with a list of words that are very similar, but probably never before seen.”

What makes that cooler, if you think about it for a minute, is that plainly that also would apply to any words you’d want to put into the generator.

All this is great, and I especially enjoy researching names and checking out the etymology. There are lots of name search engines out there and lots of baby name books and resources. Poke around and you’ll find an endless stream.

The KEY, though, is getting the right name for the right character and that said, being willing to change a name if it just isn’t right…and the ability to recognize, perhaps half way through, when a name isn’t right.

There’s no magic to choosing that name. It’s up to you. Just dig in, try to settle on realistic names that fit, don’t have everyone’s names begin with the same first letter, and be open to those few times when a story may demand an exceptional name.

Try to stay historically and geographically accurate. Don’t be afraid to use good ol’ stand-bys like Joe and John and Katherine, or even Margaret. And, in general, steer away from gender-neutral names as they just complicate things. Keeping those few things in mind just makes everything that much more real.

Name your characters like they’re your best friends. For many of us, readers and viewers and writers, they are!


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

Peggy Bechko on Subtext

by Peggy Bechko

Do you always say what you mean to say? No?

Neiither does maybe 90% of the rest of the human race. It’s kind of weird, this word play. Almost like we’re constantly playing games with each other’s emotions and thoughts.

It’s also the beauty of making interaction between humans fascinating. And if you’re not taking advantage of subtext in your writing as you do in your life, then you as a writer are missing out on a big chunk of how to make your script or novel worth reading.

So let’s talk about subtext and what is really ‘in between the lines.” How can you inject some really juicy subtext into your tale?

Think about people. How they operate.

Then give your character some objective to strive toward.

There are big picture objectives like winning a war, and there are smaller picture objectives like riding into town. Either way, an objective gives your character something that drives him or her.

It’s a goal. That underlying goal which will almost effortlessly add subtext to every character interplay in your story.

But don’t stop there.

An action when the character is speaking or trying to convey a point is another great way of opening the door to subtext.

You can’t just have your character ask for or demand whatever it is they want. Instead it’s much more revealing to rely on things like body language and tone of voice.

If we’re talking young kids on a swing set there might be some sticking out of tongue involved. An adult might give someone the finger behind their back (or to their face).

Whatever it is that conveys their actual feelings, no matter what they’re actually saying, is subtext. And that action in your script or novel allows your audience to read between the lines of your story to get at what those characters really want.

No explaining on your part necessary (or wanted).

One good way to teach yourself how to handle subtext is to write your scene (make it a short one, especially for the first go-round) and then replace the dialog with, well, nothing.

Type some placeholders but no actual dialog. All you’ll be left with is things like, man blows a smoke ring, woman steps back, man puffs the cigar, woman makes a sour face.

Even without dialog your scene should be pretty clear. In the example the woman plainly doesn’t like the cigar smoke and the guy is plainly using it to antagonize her.

Get it? Try it a few times and see how it reveals where the weak points are in your storytelling subtext.

Another great way to bring in subtext is to give your character a secret or – better yet, how about a character who knows another character’s secret? –  right smack dab in the middle of pursuing that big picture goal? Subtext there like crazy!

Play with it some.

Get a real feel for subtext.

Watch the people around you interact.

If your dialog is ‘on the nose’ and your scenes playing out with no subtext then back up and try another tactic. Our lives are riddled with subtext, so don’t allow your scripts and novels to go without.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.