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Melissa's Writing Tips To Remember
Foremost, Find Your Inspiration...
Without it, you will not find the desire or drive to keep writing whatever project you are working on. But if you are inspired by something (or someone) and truly have something to say because of it, it will give you the motivation necessary to face a blank page and create something unique, exciting, heartfelt, and (hopefully) wonderful on it.
Once you know why you are writing this particular project (and truly have something to say to others by doing so), then you are ready to keep these things in mind...
1. Every story is about a WHAT (the premise) happening to a WHO (the main character). Know what this is first to keep focused on your main character's main plotline, even if lots of other characters, subplots, and ideas get intertwined with it along the way from beginning to end. Keep focused on this to not go "off track" of your main story.
2. The biggest thing to consider before writing a story is whether or not it deserves to or should be written—mainly, will there be an audience for it? (And who is that audience specifically?) You will have a better idea of how to write your story if you know who you are intending it for in the beginning (think things like: "Is it for a mainly male or female audience? What is the appropriate age range? What kind of rating would it get—G, PG, or R?... things like that). If you can't think of a realistic audience who would be interested in your story, then think of another way to write it or think of a whole new story for the kind of audience you would like to write for.
3. The second thing to consider is in what way (medium) the story could be best told—as a book, play, movie, or TV series? (You need to pick one to start with and keep true to writing in it's medium's guidelines: book, thought-provoking prose; play, captivating, believable dialogue; movie, visual journey; TV, fascinating characters with on-going, open-ended storylines.)
4. Once you feel you have a great story to write for a specific audience, do some marketing research and see if it's already been done, or if you truly have a unique story to tell. (And if you find stories with some similar elements that's fine, but be sure yours is still "different enough" to stand out... otherwise, audiences will say they've already seen it. Focus on what's different and unique about yours at this point, and don't be afraid to make changes to it even if necessary to make it really different than other ones you've found.)
5. Once you start writing your story, remember that all characters have always represented themselves at their most worst or best moments—think of the “extremes” when creating where they are when your story takes place and what they have to learn, achieve, lose, or overcome by the end of their journey to be in a different place. Stories are about a character's growth, either for better or worse, but remember, no matter what happens they have to go through some sort of change that feels real for them at that point in their life in order to be interesting and believable to others (or else show a strong reason for why they do not change instead).
Note: Also read Creating Memorable Characters with Strong Character Arcs on Melissa's Musings
6. Combine characters by contrasting them—use “opposite types” of characters to bring out certain qualities in certain situations. Keep in mind that it’s what all the characters do together that creates the story’s effect and emotions.
7. Stories should go from “emotion to emotion” in every scene… be aware of the feelings each scene is creating as you write and make sure it’s coming across.
8. Conflicts, arguments, and obstacles all keep a story going and more interesting to engage in. Without these in every scene stories become boring fast.
9. Every single event and word spoken in a story is there for a reason—to move the story along in an interesting way. (If it doesn’t, it should not be in it.)
10. Get used to calling it "revising" instead of "writing," for you will most likely rewrite a lot of your story over and over as you go along. That's fine (and normal, for your should be figuring out the best way to write/show it unfolding and that doesn't normally happen the first time putting it down on paper). Play with it and have fun! Happy Writing!
Manuscript Format Does Matter...
Advice About Copyrighting Your Projects...
It's always good to register the first full draft of your project with the Library of Congress as soon as possible to ensure the earliest copyright date. You can also register it again once it's finished too if you'd like (the more proof you have that you've worked on it over time the better).
Melissa also recommends talking to an entertainment lawyer about how to protect your work/project to be sure you are creating the proper "paper trail protection" for it. (And BTW, do not do the "poor man's copyright" and mail your manuscript/project back to yourself through the U.S. mail-- that method no longer holds up as valid.)
1. In most cases, the publishing industry’s “standard, preferred length” for a book manuscript’s full page of text is based on 250 words per page (double spaced) using only Times New Roman or Courier fonts (12 point).
2. Manuscripts are counted by page rather than word count because authors write with varying amounts of “white space” (meaning some pages can have only short lines of dialogue while others are filled with lots of descriptive narrative). Therefore, the editor/publisher has to think in terms of the total number of pages, not the total number of words (though most do like knowing both, so it’s best to list both).
3. There are all kinds of books written in all different lengths, but most novels are between 70,000 – 110,000 words. The bottom line to remember is this: a book should be as long as it needs to be to tell the story (or subject) well.
4. Writing children’s picture books can sometimes include doing a “dummy book” and changing the manuscript format to fit with the tone/style/pacing of the book best. These kinds of books are the only book manuscripts that normally vary from the preferred, "industry standard" kind.
1. There is no “real standard” for how a play manuscript is written, but most writers do try to make their manuscripts look like a “published play” when submitting it. However, that also causes some confusion, for publishers of plays all have their own specific formats. So look at several different publishers of plays such as Samuel French or Dramatists Play Service to see how they vary and then adapt your manuscript to one of these styles. (Do still double space your manuscript though throughout.)
2. Lengths of plays vary according to whether it is a one-act play (which is usually about 45 minutes to an hour), or a two- or even three-act play (which can be anywhere from 2 to 4 hours).
3. How can you tell how long your play is? Read it out loud and time it.
4. Musicals are written differently than “straight plays” and need to include a score for the songs (with their lyrics) along with the “book” for the play/story part. Again, look at published musicals to see how they are written and adapt your manuscript to fit that style.
1. Standard Hollywood format for a screenplay for a theatrical movie is easy to learn from any of the writing software available for screenwriting. (Final Draft is one of the most common used.)
2. The average length for a screenplay is 90-110 pages (Courier font, 12 pt.).
3. Writing a screenplay for an M.O.W. (“movie of the week” for network or cable TV) is not done in the same format as writing one for a theatrical release. This is because they need to be done in specific act breaks according to commercial breaks. Find scripts of already produced M.O.W.’s on-line to read and study this kind of formatting if you are writing a movie script intended for TV.
For TV Show/Series Scripts:
1. Writing TV show scripts varies according to whether the project is for a sitcom, half hour one camera show, or one hour show. Find writing software that shows the difference of each of these, or look for scripts of already produced shows on-line to read and study.
2. Writing a TV series idea for an original scripted show means you need to create a “series book bible” describing the series as well as write the pilot episode to set the whole series up. Find both of these things on-line to read and study and make sure you understand all the elements that need to be included in a TV series pitch before submitting anything to anyone in the industry.
3. Creating a reality TV show series is not the same as creating an original scripted TV show series and the formats for reality shows can vary greatly.
Melissa has done all of the above formats and will be happy to help make sure your manuscript looks professional before submitting it anywhere. She also has writing templates available to help with each of these formats too if you are unable to find them on-line or in books. (This is the kind of information she goes over in her coaching sessions to be sure you are on track and look professional to others. Normally information like this is covered in only a 1 hour session too.)
Finding these tips helpful? Great! These are the kinds of things I go over (and much more) in my Writing Coaching Sessions. If you are interested in having me coach you, please email me to set up
a session! In 1 hour we cover a lot, and you are free to ask all the questions you have about writing.
But first, here are some more tips to consider...
Here are Some Recommended Books to Help with Your Writing...
1. Aristotle’s Poetics: For writing tips that are all "oldies" (or more accurately, the first ones really ever widely followed) but still timeless and relevant to great story elements today.
2. The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr.: Another classic reference book explaining the essentials of effective writing.
3. Making A Good Script Great (2nd Edition) by Linda Seger: Every chapter of this book has great writing advice and each one ends with wonderful "application" summary questions to ask about your project to keep you on track.
4. Grammar always matters: The Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition) by The University of Chicago Press is the "industry standard" grammar book to use for book publishing and is available both in print and on-line.
5. A Good Thesaurus Selection: Always have at least 3-5 thesauruses on hand to help keep your writing speckled with great words that keep it entertaining and interesting to read without any repetition.
6. Baby Name Books/Phone Books: Use baby name books (old and new) for finding strong character first names and a phone book for finding unique last names. Never use the name of a real person for fictional stories.
And For Marketing Your Work:
For Books: The Writer's Market
For Plays: The Playwright's Companion (discontinued/find old copies)
For Screenplays/TV Material: The Hollywood Screenwriting Directory
Have more questions about your specific project, writing as a career, or writing in general? Contact Melissa to see if she can help!
Don't forget to also check out Melissa's article from Script magazine
offering 12 tips for screenwriters to follow when entering writing contests... Click Here To Read.
Want more tips on writing? Check out the articles on