Ever notice how much clearer so many Industry pros are when they tell you what they don’t want than what they do? The fact is, that knowing what won’t work for you as a writer may well be even more important than knowing what does, which makes the following article worth its weight in gold:
by Lucy V Hay
What’s In the Spec Pile
Don’t know what to write? It can be difficult to understand what the industry wants, so sometimes it’s easier to work out what they DON’T want!
When human beings prize novelty, standing out from the rest can be half the battle for writers … Equally, so can utilising a tried-and-tested trope or character in a unique way. But what IS unique? I rounded up 20 Industry Pros I know and asked them:
What types of stories, tropes, characters, genres, story worlds (etc) feel stale, cliched or overused to you at the moment?
The Industry Pros below include agents, publishers, producers, script readers and script editors, proof readers, copy editors, writing contests, coverage and other writing service providers. They read our spec screenplays and unpublished novels every day. This means they’re in a good place to see what the spec pile looks like, plus they know what feels samey, cheesy, tired and old.
What Writers Can Learn
Whenever I post anything like this, some writers get irate and say, ‘Don’t tell us what to do!!’ But this is the thing: no one is doing that. You can literally write whatever you want. If you want it published or produced however … That’s a wholly different thing. Then it’s not just for you!
The Industry Pros below have some great pointers on what makes ‘good’ writing in 2019 … Note how many of them say similar things, especially when it comes to diversity and genre. Several also make the point you shouldn’t write stuff that emulates popular works, too.
Remember, it’s NOT about writing *to the market*, or ‘selling out’, but SELLING. It’s what professional writers do … ie. write stuff people actually WANT, in a way that showcases your talent and writer’s voice. Like anything, it doesn’t have to be ‘either/or’ … So, here we go:
1) ‘Strong women who don’t do much’ – Kate Leys
Hmm. Apart from all the obvious clichés and stereotypes, the characters I’m almost done with are ‘strong women’ who are so busy being strong women, and bonding, and marching bravely forwards, that they forget to have a sense of humour or enough to actually do in the plot. I don’t think I’m fed up with any genre now that the romcom has remembered to shut up and keep quiet for a few years. Tropes: I’ve definitely had enough caravans, and I have long since banned the overhead shot of a woman lying underwater in the bath.
BIO: Kate Leys is a story editor (this year Pin cushion, American Animals and Benjamin), and can be found at www.kateleys.co.uk
2) ‘Old-fashioned genre’ – Annabel Wigoder
Old-fashioned horror scripts are ten a penny – it isn’t enough just to write a story set in a haunted house. I also read a lot of sci-fi scripts where the main child either turns out to be a cyborg or holds the key to saving the world.
BIO: Annabel Wigoder is Head of Development for Salon Pictures, working across film and TV. She has projects in development with Channel 4 and the BFI, and just produced her first feature documentary….