Peggy Bechko: The Path to Genius Ideas

by Peggy Bechko

 

Today I’m not going to talk about writing directly, but hey, we’re writers and we’re all geniuses, right? So let’s consider instead how to pump up those ideas, where they come from.

Have you ever pondered why you seem to get all the best ideas when you’re in the shower, taking a walk, or just drifting off to sleep? We’re all wired that way. If we’re not doing something that makes us laser focus our brains, some demanding task, then you’re in the open and ready to create.

I’m no scientist, but I’ve been told that when we’re doing something by rote or daydreaming, then we’re in a ‘resting state’. And when we’re in that state our brains apparently show greater activity when in resting states than when we’re doing a brain-demanding task!

Let that sink in for a moment. The brain is actually more active when you take a walk than when you’re doing your taxes.

Hmmmm.

And that means what for the creativity we writers all need to come up with that next great idea, the next blockbuster script or best-selling novel?

Your brain usually wanders when you’re in the shower or drifting off to sleep or maybe cooking or just daydreaming because you’re not focusing on what you’re doing. That, in turn turns on the part of our brains that leads to genius ideas.

(You’ll note I said “genius” ideas here – we’ve all had them, right? So now we have an idea as to why.)

So the goal would seem to be to daydream more. So why don’t we? Well, the world is a busy place. Everyone seems to think being ‘busy’ is best. Busyness and efficiency are prized. If we’re beginning as a creative writer odds are we have a job – and at that job we’re busy. People are proud of the many work hours they put in. All of that blocks out the creativity to a great extent.

Even if we don’t have a job in addition to writing it’s possible we remain so fixed on a project, so determined to organize and finish it that we’re actually tripping ourselves up. Do you take the time to just sit and daydream or are you focusing and ‘working’ at coming up with ideas?

I’m a great proponent of taking walks. And, walking is one great way to disengage and let the mind wander. So after you’ve worked hard, at whatever you’ve been doing, perhaps a short walk to relax and allow our unconscious start churning up those brilliant ideas.

Even fifteen minutes at the end of each day walking or simply sitting and thinking to ourselves will allow the unconscious the ‘elbow room’ it needs to start things flowing.

I think what this is telling us is we need to take stock of our lives and slow down a bit. Take the stairs. Don’t get on the phone when you drive. Don’t sit at your desk to eat lunch. Take a deep breath.

Now go take a walk. You know it’s good for your body. Now you know it’s good for your brain as well. Daydream. Let your brain wander down some unexplored trails.

Don’t let our current society trick you into believing you’re ‘sloughing off’, that you’re not as ‘productive’. Not true.

You’re treading the path toward creative genius.


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: “Tell The Damn Story!”

by Peggy Bechko

Whether you’re writing a TV show, a movie, a nevel, you-name-it, one simple truth stands out:

Tell the damn story.

What, you say, “simple? How the heck can I keep storytelling simple?”

Somewhere I heard, “a screenplay is a simple story complexly told.” Sounds reasonable. Having written novels (a lot) and screenplays (less so) I can tell you there’s a heckuva difference.

If the script you’ve written feels like a novel, you’re in a lot of trouble. For me, a script is tight and fast and sharp. A novel is more leisurely as the writer gets into the heads of characters and tells the readers things that could never be put up on a screen.

Even if it’s an action/thriller, the writer has much more leeway. The novel is much more dense; there can be a lot of set-up before the plot kicks in. (Actually these days the novel should kick in much more quickly with plot points as well, but that’s another issue.)

Look at it this way. If you’re already writing screen scripts you know you’ll need to come up with a logline and a treatment and a pitch. If you can’t come up with a crisp logline and/or a tight pitch, then you may have written a novel in screen script format.

How many times have you heard someone complain, “the book was better than the movie.” The simple fact is a novel offers more depth and detail. A screenplay simply can’t accommodate the broader scope of a novel and thus many times things the book reader loved won’t be up on the screen.

So going back to the story, simply put, it will be different from the viewpoint of the novel writer and the scriptwriter. The screenwriter who adapts novels to script well aren’t simply pasting scenes from the book into scriptwriting software and tweaking. Nope they’re using storytelling skills, pulling the spine of the book’s story forth and transforming it into the cinematic version of the story.
This frequently means great divergence from the original book and always means leaving things out. Sigh.

Keep it simple. Beware your own lack of faith in your story to the point where you are cramming in lots of characters, complications on top of complications, red herrings, flashbacks and amazing action sequences that just don’t belong.

All of that’s a distraction from the story. Instead of exploring the idea behind your story you’ve buried it and hidden its beauty. The script reader will spot it immediately.

In the end, however, the script and the novel have a lot in common.

There’s the simple story complexly told. It’s the writer who brings the execution to the story telling. It isn’t simply a great ‘concept’.

There’s the premise that delivers on a promise and manages to bring something clever and new to the genre. Think about the movies you’ve seen and loved and the novels you’ve read and loved.

Script and novel need a hero folks can root for – one with a flaw that traces right to the center of the story.

There’s the conflict that must escalate apace and the added twists that grip the audience.

The place where script and novel diverge is the description. Novel is allowed more depth and detail. Script must be lean, but with such sparkling description that it creates the environment with such targeted detail that brings forth the tone of the story while managing to convey subtext.

Supporting characters of both novel and script are complex, compelling, and dimensional.

Dialogue is crisp and real and allows reader or watcher to know that character just by speech.

Finally there is the satisfying ending.

Always we look for the storyteller with a voice. Script or novel. The writer, the one who tells the story must know what their story is truly about at its very core.

Keep it simple. Know the core. Do this and your writing will reach the heights you’ve envisioned and aspired to.


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: The Writer’s Mindset

by Peggy Bechko

Being a writer is not easy, no matter what kind of writer you are. There’s a certain Mindset one needs to develop when one decides one is definitely a writer.

What, you say, might that be? Well, it consists of many facets in fact, things we need to get implanted in our brains that bolster us and keep us moving forward to be successful.

Want some examples? Of course you do.

A writer needs to be curious, open and engaged. Check out the details of life. They do come in handy when creating characters and settings.

Don’t hide your light under a bushel as my Granny would say – tell people you’re a writer. Write, a lot. Don’t hesitate to say what you do when asked. Of course don’t shove it at folks when they aren’t interested.

Accept criticism. Yep, from everyone and everywhere. You’re going to get it. Now, that doesn’t mean you rewrite at a drop of a hat. It means you consider what’s said and see how it would affect what you’ve written, then decide if that rewrite is warranted. But, whatever you do, don’t get angry at the criticism and reject it out of hand. There can be some real nuggets there.

Always, always think of your readers whether they be editors at a publishing house or readers of scripts that could lead to producers. What’s your message? What story are you trying to get across. How do you think they’re reacting? Are you making assumptions? Are they right? Take risks with your writing. Don’t be afraid to shock your readers.

Learn to live with a passion that encourages yourself to expose yourself to new experiences and break out of your comfort zone. It can be big. It can be small. I have a husband who has a fear of heights. He’s worked on it and now climbs ladders. He calls that change euphoric. If you’ve experienced amazing new things or have broken out of an old fear how does it make you feel? How would that affect a character in a script or a book?

Know when to walk away. Have an idea that won’t quite gel? Have you worked on it excessively, turned it every angle you could and it still won’t work into the story you want? Maybe it’s time to walk away and begin anew. A fresh idea could be what you need to push forward. Yes, work with an idea, but don’t allow it to become your one and only to the point of blocking out other, better ideas.

Be yourself and keep yourself fit. You don’t want to turn into a ‘toad’ writer sitting behind a desk all the time, never moving, never treating your body right. You remember, that body that feeds and supports your brain. A fit body leads to a clear and creative mind. Believe me, it’s true.

Time to face your fears, recognize them and come out on top. Writers are prone to fear of rejection, fear of derision, fear of the ability to complete what they start, fear the next won’t be as good as the last, fear they’ll never get produced/published/whatever. It just seems to go with the territory. Look inside. Any of these, or others, you? Realize it and come up with your own personal way of dealing with it. Believing in yourself as a writer is one of them. Find your way. Do it.

Here’s a last thought for you. Picasso said “Every act of creation is first of all an action of destruction.” The takeaway was, destroy something regularly. Did a scene not work? A chapter is sludgy? Want to throw your coffee mug across the room? (that one’s up to you.) Tear some aspect of that idea or the writing to support it apart. Put it back together – or not. From that Picasso tells up something new will spring. Something even better. I tend to agree.

And finally, never, never give up. You may be ridiculed, criticized and told you’re just not good enough. But, if this is what you really want, own that writer’s mindset and never give up.


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: 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.