The Blog Tour!

My blog today is part of the blog tour, where writers answer the same four questions about their work and career. Sally Abbott has passed the baton to me – or rather, passed on the four vital questions…


What am I working on?

Right now, I’m in the gap between finishing one series of Wolfblood and (hopefully!) starting to write a new one in the autumn – but I’m certainly not short of work! I’m writing an episode of a certain detective series (more will be revealed in due course.) I’m expecting to go pitch again to another existing series in a few weeks time, so I’m preparing story ideas to present to them – always a fun challenge, figuring out which of the many stories you could tell with the characters appeals most to you, and why…

Then there are new projects to be written! I’m starting to pitch ideas in the US now as well as the UK, so I’m working on a new feature script, an espionage thriller, for the US market, as well as ideas for the UK. Combining the two really is the best of both worlds for a writer – different markets, different kinds of stories, different ways of working…

How does my work compare to others of its genre?

I write a lot of different genres – science fiction, supernatural, action, adventure and thrillers – across TV and film, so that’s quite a complicated question. I’m undoubtedly a populist writer, someone who writes for the Saturday night blockbuster audience rather than the arthouse audience, but I still want my work to have depth and resonance. Some of the most profound and human fictional stories in the world are unabashed ‘genre’ pieces, that entertain as well as saying something about human nature, and that’s what I aspire to.

Why do I write what I do?

On a purely practical level, because my mother made the totally uncharacteristic decision to take me to see Star Wars when I was very young. And yes, she’s been regretting it ever since!

But really, I’ve always written to find out what it’s like to be someone else. I already know what ‘everyday’ life is like – now I want to know what it’s like to go into space, to be a soldier or a spy, to have superpowers, to deal with moral dilemmas no human has faced before. And by writing that story, I can live that story for a while.

How does my writing process work?

The more I write, the more convinced I am that careful preparation is the key. Though my process changes slightly from project to project, I usually start with a file box, and throw in everything I find that might relate to the project – photos, newspaper articles, scribbled scraps of dialogue or ideas for a scene. Then I’ll progress to index cards, each with a scene noted on it, and rearrange the order until I have some kind of structure and have filled in the gaps.

Then it’s time for the scene-by-scene outline – an outline so detailed it’s basically a script with no dialogue. This is a technique I’ve learned from writing for television, and now use on all my projects, because it encourages you to tell the story visually, and to iron out story problems before starting the script. Then, maybe after a few polishes of the outline, it’s time to begin the first draft…

3 comments on “The Blog Tour!

  1. Bob says:

    Uh … I’m not that sure how much you want to hear that is critical of what you’ve written. Some people want that type of feed back – others don’t. If you don’t … well then thanks for all the stuff you’ve passed on here (i.e. the link to the Writers Room) and you won’t hear from me again.

    I’m writing because you’ve said something that reveals what I think is a mistake.

    You wrote above:

    “I’ve always written to find out what it’s like to be someone else” (such as a soldier).

    The advice I always thought was best was “write about what you know”.

    I have been in the military – so I know something about what it’s like. I’ve read a lot and seen a lot of work by writers on the military – who know absolutely nothing about what they are writing about. It’s just silly. (Chariles Angel’s walking around in uniform with their collars turned up comes immediately to mind …).

    One of the female writers I’ve always enjoyed reading has been Elizabeth Moon (I assume no relation). She was an officer in the US Marines and her stories about people in the military have an authenticity I find lacking in much of what I’ve seen on TV.

    Other works which I have found well done – such as Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers – had military advisers (Dale Dye to be specific). Though … this isn’t a guarantee that things won’t be done for “dramatic effect” which would be very unlikely to actually happen … (the mutiny scene with the German prisoner in SPR comes to mind …).

    So … if you ever take it upon yourself to write about the military – I would advise you to talk to people who have been in the military and have them go over your work. That may sound like simple common sense … but I’ve seen so many horribly done productions (by otherwise talented writers (Joss Whedon)) that it is obviously not always done. I’m sure that the people who foisted this garbage on the public thought that they were successful simply because they had sold something. I recognize that there is some real skill involved in successfully selling a script or book – but then salesmen are successful in selling garbage every day.

    I also recognize that there are writers who, while their work is very authentic – can’t sell it – because it is not entertaining enough.

    The trick – is to be able to do both.

    Anyway, thanks for Wolfblood and good luck in your future endeavors.

    • debbiemoon says:

      Authenticity is a great thing – but then, if we only wrote what we know, there’d be no fantasy or science fiction, for a start…

      • Bob says:

        Here, I would point, once again, to the writings of Elisabeth Moon as well as those of David Drake. Both have written Fantasy and Sci Fi and their writings have benefited greatly from their experience in the military. Elisabeth Moon is also a fencer and horse owner/rider – which experience has enhanced her fantasy writings.

        J.R.R. Tolkien served in WWI and his life experiences, I believe, have added a poignancy to his writings they might not otherwise have. The man knew what it was like to strive and fail, to lose dear, close friends and yet – go on. He knew real tragedy on a massive scale.

        For many Sci Fi writers – their understanding of Science – enhances their writing. Thus, a Sci Fi writer might well be making up faster than light travel – but – he can take his understanding of real science and base his extrapolations on it – rather than just making something up out of whole cloth.

        But yes, you can get away with a lot more in areas where there is no broad level of direct experience by readers and even contemporary movies benefit from this. Someone who has never operated an M-60 machine gun is less likely to notice the blank rounds being fed into it in the ambush scene in Platoon. Or – how absurd Bruce Dern’s hair was in Coming Home. In the first instance – I had to see the movie several times to notice those blank rounds … but with Dern’s hair – at the beginning of the movie – I was like “No. He is not a Marine Corp Officer.” Instant lost of suspension of disbelief. He may as well have been wearing a Tu-tu. Now … I can be understanding about something like using blank rounds in a movie … you don’t want to be shooting live rounds about if you don’t have to – but there is no excuse for Dern’s hair … None.

        Much of the Sci Fi and Fantasy I’ve seen is also largely made up of interpersonal relationships – and that part – requires only experience dealing with other human beings.

        Also, such as Stephen Crane, who had little experience with war, if any, when he wrote The Red Badge of Courage – was never the less able to do a good job of it.

        So … it isn’t impossible to get by merely on your imagination … but it makes it easier and more likely to be ring true – if your writings are based on experience, either your own – or that of those you have interviewed or at least read.

        Now – to take Wolfblood as an example – no – there aren’t any real Wolfbloods – so you can make a lot of that up – but – the series is really about teenage relationships and there – you really need to have your characters portrayed as if they were real teenagers, doing what the teenagers in your audience are going to be familiar with. I could never write something like that. If I tried – the teenage viewers would be like – “What? What school is this? I don’t know anyone who acts, or talks or dresses that way.”

        We certainly need imagination – but imagination based on experience or research of some kind makes for a better product.

        So – the learning process of being able to produce something you were not initially familiar with can give you some idea of of what it’s like – and that learning experience can be very satisfying – you just do need some real learning and the more first hand experience you can get – the better.
        Elisabeth Moon – for example – was able to get her fencing club to practice fighting with swords and shields – in formation. Her back ground in Dark Ages history also shows.

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