Join us today as we look at the world of screenwriting with Jacob Larch. An unique look at the differences with writing from screen to novel, and how you can learn a thing or two about Show don’t Tell.
More about Jacob:
Winner of an international screenwriting award and has regularly placed in quarter-finals or better of script competitions, he’s currently working with three separate producers in New Zealand, the UK and America to bring his work to the screen in genres ranging from modern to historical drama for film and television. He’s a self-published author of the science fiction epic “Legacy” which is available for kindle download on Amazon and soon also available on Smashwords.
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Clark: Welcome to the Book Editor show, if you’re ready for the next step in your editing process stop by the Bookeditorshow.com and learn how you can work with us today. Today on the show we are looking at the world of screenwriting with special guest Jacob Larch. I am Clark Chamberlain.
In a world saturated with spin offs and remakes one man must stand against the tide to create a work so unique and true, when people see it they weep. With only his trusty red pencil at his side, he brings originality with each word he edits. That man is my friend and co-host, Peter Turley. Peter, how are you doing today?
Peter: You know, so much better. It’s great to have you back. It’s been a long two weeks.
Clark: It has, it has been a long two weeks, especially for me.
Peter: How’s the part time good guy business?
Clark: Oh, you know we did a lot of work, it was very hot and humid. What’s a quick over to Celsius, we were at a 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Very hot. Then on top of that we work in this little tin box, it’s like an easy bake oven, so it’s just heats up the whole thing and makes it even worse. But overall great training. No-one got seriously injured, no-one got dead, which is always a win in my book, so…
Peter: That’s a great start.
Clark: Yes, yes. What have you been working on in the last couple of weeks?
Peter: Going to get some writing courses up on Udemy. I know we’re going to put a few of those together for a few of the listeners. And getting ready to re-launch the author site and get some short fiction pieces good to go on there. So, lots of wrestling with WordPress which is always fun. [laughs]
Clark: I know they’re always updating everything all the time and you try and figure out what the best theme is and how to make it look it look modern.
Peter: It’s a learning curve isn’t it? So many plug-ins, but I love it really.
Clark: Yes, it’s good, it does work really well. I’m putting together a couple of new websites as well kind of just increasing on the whole idea of that 90 day challenge program that we did on Facebook. We’re just finishing up with that, and I am excited to see where we can build that next and where we can help people out in the future.
Peter: Yes, I mentioned last week that the challenge is still open, the group for people to sort of jump in, and that obviously is an ongoing thing for us, isn’t it?
Clark: Yes, definitely will be.
Peter: So it won’t be too late to check that out.
Clark: Yes, and that was one of the things that I did get in my little bit of off time in the last couple of weeks. I jotted down a bunch of notes, just some different ideas. I’m excited to introduce those into the 90 day challenge group on this last 90 days we’ve got.
I’m really excited about today’s guest, so if you’re ready, Peter, I’m going to go ahead and make the introduction.
Peter: Yes, let’s do it.
Clark: Alright, so — winner of an international screenwriting award and has regularly placed in quarter-finals or better in script competitions; he’s currently working with three separate producers in New Zealand, the UK, and America, to bring his work to the screen in genres ranging from modern to historical drama for film and television. He’s a self-published author of the science-fiction epic, Legacy, which is available for Kindle download on Amazon and soon will also be available on Smashwords. Please welcome, Jacob Larch. Jacob, how are you today?
Jacob: Hello, good evening. You alright, I’m good.
Clark: Good, it’s so good to have you on the show. We love talking with people who do something different besides just regular book editing.
Jacob: It’s great to be here, thank you for inviting me.
Clark: Sure, certainly. So tell us currently right now, I’ve checked out your Facebook page; you’re working on a trailer right now, is that correct? So tell us about that.
Jacob: I tend to juggle several projects at the same time. Right now, I’ve got a film project with a New Zealand producer, as you’ve introduced me. I have a British historical television series with a producer down in London who has interest in two production companies, and I have an American that I can’t really talk about because I’m sworn to secrecy. He’s trying to push a very large budget science-fiction show through various production companies there and that’s all I can say about that. In addition to all of them, I’ve been making a trailer. The American producer has volunteered to come on board to approach various production companies and to basically make introductions.
Now most people — when you’re a writer, when you’re looking to become represented and you’re looking to sell your work, you tend to have one of two options that you can use. Either you can enter the competition line, the first place in competitions are usually on the grounds of five minutes with a production company or a producer over the phone or webcast. All it will really do is introduce you to those people. The other way is to actually gain invitation in through the front door, and by that you need to have a way of being able to approach the production company directly. Now there are thousands of writers out there and all of us are trying to do the same thing. The production companies once they want new work, they’re faced with a Catch 22 — who do you turn to? Who do you actually sit down and read with who do you look at? For that reason any submission you make to them directly has to be very engaging, very eye-catching.
A lot of people have a script, a few more, or rather not that many within them, a few more special cases will produce a series bible. We’ve actually gone ahead and made a trailer to go with the series so that we’re actually hitting them with a threefold approach. We have a visual medium to tell the opening of the story to gain the interest of somebody, so then you can follow that with a pilot script and then with the series bible on top of that. I hope that with all those three things combined you can get across the whole nexus of the idea that you are selling. So that they can find it and hopefully rate it to be marketable, attractive and appealing enough for them to agree to sit down and talk with you and then discuss if we wish to go any further.
Clark: That’s really an interesting approach to it instead of just sending over just the words on paper. That they can actually have something to see. Because the whole purpose of making film and making movies is it’s the visual presentation of the idea of the writer.
Peter: It’s also the fact that when as any screenwriter will know or should know, when you’re making or crafting a screenplay, you don’t have the luxury you have when doing a novel. You’re not able to insert reams of paragraphs of descriptive text. A screenplay is best described as the minimum words possible to tell a story. For that reason, a screenplay has to be visually engaging. It therefore makes sense to make a trailer to go with that screenplay, which can be just as hard-hitting and just as effective as the screenplay itself. A separate script is being drafted for the trailer, originating from the screenplay. We haven’t just filmed the sample page or two or three pages. The actual script for the trailer itself is derived from the original pilot script and it encompasses no more than a page and a half but will run to approximately three minutes worth of footage once it’s completed.
Clark: Sorry Peter were you saying something?
Peter: That’s really great; that’s really interesting. So how did you get into… You’ve obviously got the science fiction epic legacy on Amazon. How did you then… Did that predate script writing or was that something that came alongside. How did you get into script writing and what was the appeal that initially drew you to that as a process?
Jacob: I was approached many years ago by a friend of mine to write a one off alternative medical drama for the BBC. My friend knew an executive producer for the BBC. Drafted a pilot episode. I had no idea what I was doing. I virtually had to learn script writing almost on the cuff, online and various other sources. Drafted a sixty-page pilot, edited the process myself; sent it down to him. He loved it so much, I got an invite down to Shepherd’s Bush about two weeks later.
Now in the end they didn’t buy it — a no is still a no — but it was a very very encouraging start. From that point I started writing properly and looking at the process of writing, the lessons you can learn, the online courses you can do, the books you can buy. There was an awful lot of advice for writers on how to writer. Most of it is good, not all of it is, there are pitfalls to fall into. Over the process I began to get better and better when the feedback I was getting for my submissions, and for my test readings just improved and increased.
Now the novel, The Legacy series, came out of a script around the time I was very early in my writing process. I came across a piece of advice that said — “sometimes it’s good to write just for you. You have no intention of selling it, you have no intention of anyone reading it, but you write just to get the words out on page.”
So the idea of Legacy came to me as if I were to write my own science fiction epic with no holds barred on the budget, what would I write? Legacy came out. One idea led to another, and before I knew it I was writing a whole season one of episodes. Part way through the process, my father had a first stroke of three. It took three years before he passed on, eventually cancer joined in the battle, as well against him. During that time when I couldn’t cope, when I couldn’t deal, when I think it became too much for me, when my wife and my children couldn’t help, I turned to Legacy. By the time he finally had passed over I’d written somewhere in the region of 55 hour long scripts. I mean, most of them are rubbish, they always are first draft — in fact they always are.
So, you sit back, you look at them and I thought — why not turn the first one into a novel. The four novels that are now out there on Amazon came from the process of script writing. They were written originally as very quick, pure enjoyment or therapy just to get something down on the page, just something to help me through the entire three year process. Then I went back; I looked at them again; I re-edited them; I streamlined the story, edited the whole process, and began to self publish. But it came about the same time in almost like a dual timeline, this script writing process.
Clark: That’s really interesting. I just wanted to say writing is exactly what you were just talking about. It’s such a great way to get through the difficult things in our lives. Then also to be able to take that and to move it into something else.
So what’s that process like? You’ve finished an hour long episode and like you say, first draft’s rubbish, but you’ve got have it out there so you can start editing it. What is the editing process like for the screen writing?
Jacob: The editing process takes… It’s almost like you’re setting several things going at the same time. You’re moving in the same direction. When you’re editing you’re hitting several things at the same time. You’re looking at the overall story, story arc, you’re looking at the individual character arcs, you are initially just telling the story. Once you’ve identified the main story arc, you then go back and look at the characters. You then look at the individual character arcs and you ask yourself the question — is that character doing what they need to do in that story to move that story forward? If they’re not, then change it, edit it, remove it. If the character arcs are serving the story, then find a way to attain it and streamline it.
You don’t just edit once, you end up editing about four, five, six times. Each time you notice something different, each time that you come to a scene that you think that’s perfect, that’s locked. You read it again and think, I’d could do better with that and you change things again. Sometimes I’ve taken entire six, seven, eight lines interchanging between two characters and reduced it to, character A gives character B a raise of the eyebrow and it says the same thing. Never forget that you’re writing for visual medium, not for the joy of a novel as such so you have very little time. You have 60 pages or thirty pages if it’s a comedy in which to write a script, in which to get across every nuance of those characters.
They often misuse the phrase, “show not tell” — “show, not tell” is one of the most misunderstood phrases in the industry. There are ways of showing and there are ways of not showing and I’ve read plenty of bad examples of people who haven’t been able to get across what they actually mean and I’ve read plenty of good examples of people who have.
So in all cases it’s a continually evolving process and as a writer and a writer editor you never actually stop. You finish something; you send it off; it’ll rate highly in competition; you’ll get it back; you’ll read it again and you’ll still think — I could do better at that.
It’s continuous — they say an artist never finishes editing their work or trying to improve their work and for that reason I feel incredible swells of pity for anyone involved in sculpting because you just can’t alter it once it’s done. In terms of painting there’s always something you can touch up, writing you can always improve, you can always edit, you can always make things better.
Peter: Yes so you —
Peter: Sorry go on Jacob.
Jacob: I was going to say the process is actually absurdly simple when you look at it. When you write a story there are many different lessons on how to write stories and how to write story arcs. Most of them are more or less good based on the genre you want to write. When you then — having written that story — look at your characters, the point then is to take each character, starting with your lead character, and say, “Where’s their own journey?”
If you’re following a fairly standard journey of a character you’ll have that character evolve during the script. Any characters who are to evolve, they have to have that process by which the story allows them to grow, to change. They will start with one thought in their mind that you will identify with that thought, you will know who that person is. They’ll then hit a brick wall. You are then forcing them to change, to grow, to evolve by altering their thought process; and thus they can come to the end of the story. Not every character has to do this. Many characters will be supporting, or in their own way they will be blockers. They’ll be opposed to the main character. Some of them you can slide in their own developments. Thus when you’re editing, you look at not only the individual characters that you’re writing for as a lead but every other character who’s on the page, and when you have a person in that scene they, themselves have their own back story. You don’t always have to refer to it but you should be aware of it.
Joss Whedon was a big fan of saying, “Everyone has their story. Even him, that guy on the left, two paces along from the hero, holding the spear and saying nothing.” Everyone has something to say within the script. Whether you let them say it is another matter but you should be aware of it and that depth to each character adds an overall richness without cluttering or confusing the overall process and the final finished product.
Peter: So you’ve obviously been fortunate enough to be in the position where you have translated a script and produced it for the screen. You’ve had that experience of what has worked and what, perhaps, hasn’t.
What are the logistics of when you’re actually writing and editing? You’re then considering, how this is going to look on screen. Obviously you’ve had the experience of knowing what translates well and what doesn’t. So is that something that’s always in your mind? When you are going through the editing, are you thinking — how is this going to translate logistically? Not just in an ideal world, how is this going to look, but am I going to be able to do this?
Jacob: Yes, you are. You tend to think on two lines, well I think on two lines. The “if money is no object” line and then, if money is an absolute object and it becomes a small budget indie production.
When I’m writing I tend to have a duality of thought at all times in terms of how you see that vision coming across. The focus for me is to engage with the actors, engage with the characters and how those characters are dealing with each other and dealing with the situation. It wouldn’t matter if two people are having a conversation across a coffee table, walking down a road or whilst sprinting across a burning Roman trireme slowly sinking into the Mediterranean. It doesn’t matter what level of budget you go for. The important thing is, what are these characters doing, who are they, how are they engaging? The process by which you consider how this will look, you will always have a vision. You have to have a vision in terms of how these things will come about. There have been plenty of stories of screenwriters who made very successful leaps toward directing as well as people who have not been quite so successful and become burdensome to the production company.
There comes a point at which when you are actually making something, that a writer has to be prepared step away. You’ve lived with these characters, you’ve created this story, you’ve put your heart and soul into it, but when you hand over to a director, they then take over. When you hand over your characters to actors they then take over. The cinematographer has their own view.
So when writing a script you are never prescriptive, you never put in camera angles or acting notes or camera shots or direction; you leave that to the individual professionals. They will then fill in their part. The role of the script, when you are writing is to be aware that you are engaging with other professionals and the script has to do, not only tell the story in the minimum words but also fire the imagination of each other department when they read it, whether they’re, building or artwork or costume or special effects or stunts, or production, directing or acting. They read it, and their imagination immediately leaps to life with that page and they think — I know how I can do that; I know how I can make that look fantastic.
So you’re writing with a view to fire off someone else’s imagination and to make them take the idea and run with it to the best of their ability and their strength. At that point, if you’re successful, you sit back and say, over to you, this is your world now, I created it, you take it and you run with it.
Clark: We’ve got a lot of people of course who listen to this show that are more on the side of book writing and I wanted to go back to that. You mentioned something about people not getting the “show don’t tell” right, and of course when you’re writing it, you don’t get to have any of this type of description, dialogue, or inner dialogue, or monologues going on, to help reinforce what a character is actually feeling.
How do you do that well, so that people can see that, can see exactly what you’re saying, firing the imagination there, and maybe, give some advice so someone could do that well in writing their novel.
Jacob: Interesting, OK. You set the scene, within the script format. I’m talking at the moment about the script before the novel format. You need to be able to set a scene. So if, for example, looking at previous films that are out there; you look at Die Hard — the first time you come across Bruce Willis, he’s in a plane, and when he stands up you see the gun under his jacket. So, he’s either a criminal or a cop, he then tells you he’s a cop, but his attitude also tells you he’s a cop. So you set the scene of who he is. The first time you see his wife — the picture of the husband and the children she puts face down on the desk, telling you there’s a problem with their marriage and their relationship.
If this was a novel, you’d have time to go into that with paragraphs, with more dialogue, with thoughts, with internalizing, with internal monologues — they don’t have that so it’s a very very quick shot.
You can look at each film that you see and every TV program you see — look at the characters, look at what they’ve done in the background. If you’re telling a story, I mean, for example, the one I’m doing at the moment, the trailer — we’re about to film a scene with a witch, at the weekend, a Tudor period Wiccan. So the set will be dressed to give a very clear impression that this is somebody who uses the Wiccan, pagan arts rather than Christian prayer. And in setting that out, the audience immediately becomes drawn into the world, they see what’s going on, their mind makes the connection.
So really, when you’re writing a script to give that backstory, to give that internal monologue, you don’t say the monologue, obviously you don’t have the time or that luxury. What you do is you create half of a bridge, with the script. The audience fills in the second half of the bridge. It ties in exactly the same as what I’ve just said about engaging with a professional, with the artwork department or the production, or the director. You create a bridge, not only for the professionals, but also for the audience so that when they see it, they’re able to think, “I know that, I know what’s going on. I know who this person is,” and then before you know it, they’re engaged, they’re in. You’ve hooked them and they’re with you.
You then apply that to novel writing… The process — obviously you have the luxury in novel writing to go into as much detail as you want. So when writing novels, if you’re looking at transferring the novel to a script writing format, then you would consider what scenes you have within the novel. Do they add to the story? Do they add to the characters? How can certain sections be adapted to take almost entire scenes out of your novel and condense them and reduce them to a way which effectively tells the story in a script writing format.
That then becomes its own intriguing exercise because if you have a novel where you have spent an entire chapter where a father internalizes about a breakdown of his marriage and not seeing his children and you can reduce that to a visual image of a man stood by a bus stop looking at a photo of his kids, and feeling sorry about it, and feeling quite down and looking longingly at other parents with their children. And you would guess in a 5 second camera shot — all of that chapter in one glance — why can’t you put it in the novel and then edit the chapter out of your novel and give you more room to write?
If you are writing to a word limit. There’s no harm in applying the screen-writing editing process to a novel-editing process. So that you can look at better more effective ways of telling your story. In some ways that may free up more room for other scenes that you might have wanted to spend more time on, or bring more characters in, or develop the story in stronger ways that will benefit the story overall.
Clark: That’s fascinating. I think it is a fantastic idea, and I ought to put those things together.
Because you’ve done both, you’ve done the novel, you’ve done the screenplay — have you found that there are a lot of crossover techniques that you can use or have you found ones that you’re like — wow this is everyone should be using this more in writing their novel or vice versa.
Jacob: I haven’t really broken it down in my mind to that great an extent except to because I write screenplays and TV and film screenplays as well as writing novels — they are all in my head at the same time. It’s like if there’s a right way to cross the road you don’t change the way you cross the road based on the style of road necessarily. You use the best way and if you are writing regardless of what the medium is whether it’s a radio play, stage play, screenplay, television or the novel — you would apply the same lessons. I think the lessons are strong enough and the way in which you focus your mind and approach a project, to write something, to put it down, walk away, come back to it, reread it, grimace, put it down again, go and make a coffee, come back, and start working through and thinking what was I actually saying here, oh good god did I like this? And then suddenly improve it.
All of those aspects that every writer does when they are writing regardless of the medium they are all good lessons. I think each person has their own way and their own style. Now I know there will be people who may not think they have a style and therefore may be thinking well this is nebulous advice, it doesn’t actually direct me to any better way. There is no perfect formula. The reason being — we have the benefit of being one of seven billion of us on the planet. We are all individual. As are the people who read and review and critique work, whether they be in the publishing house, or a production company to assess and buy you work for film or television. Therefore, everyone who reads your work will be different and how they read it will be different based on — Did they go to bed late or early? Did they have breakfast? Did they run for the bus? Did they get to work on time? Did they have a good night with their partner the night before or did they come to work in an argument? Everyone will have a different mindset.
Unfortunately this does mean you could produce the best work in the world but if the person reading it doesn’t like your genre or doesn’t click with your writing style, you could be in difficulties getting it past them. If the person does, then great you’re on to a winner. All you can do as a writer is do the best you can to the best of your ability and be aware of your ability and play to your strengths. With the editing, with the writing, to go over it again and again, keep looking at it and get it ready to the point where you look at it and you have that feeling inside that you think — “Now I’m ready, now I’ll send this off. Now this can go.”
I have friends who are never ready. They will do a thousand rewrites and they’ll sit there and say “When is now, when is the right time?” Well the right time you have to feel yourself, no one’s going to come alone and tell you. All you can do is use the lessons you’ve learned yourself, you apply standards which you write and you edit. And when you feel that you can pick that story up and enjoy it and read it again and think, “I like that. I wouldn’t change that; that’s good,” then your in the business of sending it off and sending it around and going from there.
Peter: Yes, that’s fascinating. I think this is the first time we’ve really discussed screen writing in any great length and I’ve always sort of considered them like two quite different beasts and it’s a really interesting idea though that that essentially you’re a writer and with a particular tool set. You can reach into this tool set and apply them to whatever it is that you working on and that they are transferable. I really like that exercise that you mentioned, looking at a scene in a novel and applying these screen writing techniques.
But I’m going to ask you a difficult question now. Do you prefer one over the other? Do you gravitate towards one form of writing over the other? Are you a novelist that writes scripts or a scriptwriter that sometimes writes novels? In terms of your process, the majority process in your mind?
Jacob: It takes a lot of effort and time to write a novel, so you’ve really got to be into it. I have started countless novels and never finished them. Some I’ve not gone past chapter one. Some I’ve got half way through, I’ve got to 40, 50, 60,000 words and never gone back to them and picked them up. Some I intend to go back to again.
In order to engage with the process of novel writing, you have to know your subject and love your subject, and love what you do. Let’s face it, none of us are in this for the money. If anyone’s watching this and you’re in this for the money, you think you’ll write something and sell it, and you’ll make a million, and you’ll be Hollywood’s next big star — go and get another job. Because, very few actually end up doing this.
You write because it’s in you and because you love it. You write because it’s part of you. You write because, as Whoopi Goldberg said in Sister Act II, “when you get up in the morning and all that you can think of is writing, then you’re a writer.”
The process regarding each one, which one you prefer, is actually quite different. As I said earlier, I wrote Legacy, as TV scripts for me, first for fun and then for therapy. I then transferred them to novel, because I wanted to tell more, I wanted to go into more detail. I have the love of the story and the characters which are still burning very strong in me now. I’m currently re-editing all four novels using Grammarly, which is a very effective tool, despite earlier editing processes that I originally used and found I’ve improved on it.
So again, even a novel that I’ve already had out in the ethernet for the last three or four years, I’m now improving on again. As a result, you have to love the story that you’re writing, if you’re doing it.
Do I love story writing? Yes, I adore it. Scripts, I equally love for a whole different reason, they’re quicker, they’re faster. If you have a story that you want to get down in your head and you don’t think you can turn it into a novel, but you can turn into a TV script, or a 90-page, hundred-page film script — do it as a film script, do it as a TV script.
You can tell a story far, far quicker using a script writing medium, especially if you have something like Celtx or I use Final Draft. It automatically formats everything for you and the ability to write down sixty pages of complete rubbish until you go back and edit it later on is very, very easy.
The American project that I spoke about recently, the producer whom I’m engaged with asked me how quickly I could produce a pilot episode. I did it within seven days. I’d edited it by seven more. He had it just over two weeks later and it had gone through three edits by that process. It’s very very quick. I couldn’t write a novel in two weeks but I can do a TV script in very little time. I actually had the basic script written in about two days. But rough as anything, so the whole process of the editing and the refining and then the rewriting takes about a full seven, and then further editing beyond that.
So which one do I prefer? Am I a screenwriter who writes novels or am I a novelist who writes screen plays?
I think it’s fair to say I’m a writer and I don’t think I can differentiate between the two and I think anyone who is a writer and who has that love of writing, has that story within them that’s burning to come out on the page will feel maybe the same way, I’d hope, that they are…
It doesn’t matter what the story is, if there’s a drive within you to get that down, whatever the format, whether it be short story, a one and a half thousand word, a couple of page short story, or a 120,000-word novel epic, or a 90-page film script, it doesn’t matter. The point is, you love what you do. The joy is there; you get the rush; you get the giddiness you get the excitement. When you’re writing it you feel something burning inside you. When you finish it you feel a little disappointed because you think you could do better but a little happy at the same time and you go back in and you can make it better.
The first time somebody reads it and they read it with a smile on their face and you get that rush and think, I’ve done well there. You get feedback and you think, “yeah that was good.” Even if the feedback is maybe critical, as it so often is with screenwriting competitions. Yes, positive but critical. You still feel good about it.
So I don’t think its fair for me to choose one or the other or one over the other. I like them both and I enjoy writing both. But I am careful because of time and investiture what I write in terms of the novel and what I will apply my time to for novel writing.
Clark: Certainly does take a lot of commitment and effort to get in and make sure you’re doing the writing on a daily basis and getting all that you need done, for sure. I have one more question about the editing that you do for your screen plays.
You said you’re going back again and again — do you ever seek out other writers or editors to take a look at the work before you’re sending it off?
Jacob: Sometimes, but the problem is, herein lies one of the big pitfalls in the industry. There are, I have discovered, a lot of very genuinely lovely people out there in writing, and all of us are in the same boat. There are also people who are not so generous, and I have found it is possible that when you talk to people, you can come across someone, if you don’t know them well enough, their view and their take on what you’ve written can be not entirely what you expect.
But equally, you can point the finger of blame at the writer, because if you turn around to someone and say, “I’ve written this and I want you to read it.” How many of us actually say, quite honestly — I’ve written this and I’d like you to read it, — when what we’re really thinking is — I want you to love this and tell me it’s fantastic and superb and do not change a thing.
Maybe a lot of writers approach this process with the wrong mindset. We approach it wanting to be told, “Oh my God, that’s brilliant. This is fantastic. Great, I’ll phone my lawyer,” rather than — I want you to read this and tell me is it any good. And, I don’t mean in the negative sense, oh this is no good, is it? Tell me it’s rubbish, I’ll throw it away. I’ll go back to my day job. No, be positive, be absolutely positive about your work. But, there is a great deal of fear that people will steal your work out there and this actually inhibits screenwriters talking to each other for help.
That being the case, there are plenty of people who do. Plenty of people who will actually post for help. If you’re a member of anything like the ISA, for example, which is a great website for advertising scripts and work and people who want to work together, but it doesn’t have any censorship over the job adverts that are put out there. You can make some great connections, you can also make some very bad ones.
I quite often see adverts on the ISA where someone says, “Hey, I’ve got an idea. I’m not a writer and I want to meet a writer, and you’ve got to have connections in the industry, and you’ve got to know producers, and you’ve got to know people, and you can come along, and you can write it, and you can do all the work and we’ll share it 50/50. That’s fair, isn’t it?” No, hang on, I’m doing all the work. What do you mean we share 50/50? Just because you’ve got this one idea, which could be no more than a sentence, you think that’s fair? No.
Do I approach other people? I have in the past. I’ve also been on number of groups in LinkedIn, which are great for writers getting together, but where you do get a lot of really genuine people who turn round and say — “I’ve written this I need someone to cast their eye over it and let me know.” I have lost count over how many times I have helped people and when I have given them feedback, you never hear from them again. Probably because I didn’t say — “Oh my god that’s fantastic,” and what you actually say is, “OK, I see what you are doing, what I’d suggest is…”
Most people I’ve found have varying degrees of difficulty accepting criticism based on the criticism from a complete stranger. Hence why there is an art to feedback, and I’d love you guys to do a show sometime on the art of giving feedback, on the art of looking for editing, and looking for help because I think it would be immensely valuable to a lot of writers out there, because most people, let’s face it writing is a solitary profession. I mean it’s up there with shepherds for things that you do on your own with nobody around you.
As a result, there is… It’s quite normal to feel very alone as a writer where you are slaving away day in day out, week in week out, whatever spare time you have, and then when you get this finished product you feel great about it, you give it to someone to read and they trash it. Maybe they weren’t in the right mindset or they don’t like the genre. But if they’re someone who you don’t know then they are probably more capable of being able to give objective feedback and criticism to turn around and say, “that’s good, don’t like that, like this, don’t like that.” I have come across so many scripts where people don’t understand the basic rules of script writing and you read things and you think you can’t do that, you can’t internalize.
I read a script for one writer a number of years ago and they had the line in — there was a line in there about a character, and the descriptive line was, “He thinks about what life would have been like if he’d had a mother, but he didn’t, so he doesn’t.” Full stop.
How are you going to show that on screen?
Jacob: It’s double feedback loop of an internalized monologue of a character who’s sitting on his porch smoking a cigarette, and you think — great, yes, it will be great in a novel. Be perfect in a novel; has no use in a screenplay because you can’t show it, you can’t describe that.
How on earth are you going to get a director and an actor to convey that? You can’t. So when I said this, this is one of the people that never contacted me again or even said thank you — which is fine. I get that a lot. But I also get a lot of people who are very genuinely grateful for the feedback that you give them.
There are a lot of great writers out there who approach the whole process brilliantly and they have a very mature, very adult attitude, and they are quite open to taking feedback and criticism. Sometimes, it’s the only way for someone to look at a story and say, “I don’t like this, I don’t like that. Not sure that works; that works but I’m not sure it works the way you’re doing it.”
Sometimes these people can bring about great ideas. Even if, rather than thinking, “Well, they clearly haven’t got what I’m writing,” it may make you think, “I haven’t put across what I’m writing,” and therefore, you can make it a more reflective process whereby you receive feedback and think, “This hasn’t been received the way I wanted it to be received, so my writing hasn’t been good enough at that point,” engaging you in the process to go and re-edit that particular section or the entire piece, so you then can get it across what it is you’re trying to say. The next person who reads it comes back and says, “Oh I love that scene, I got that so completely with that character.” Great. My job is done. It’s a success.
Peter: Yes. Feedback is so important and obviously the ability to also take it. We definitely do need to get a real live beta reader on the show at some point. But you know, they’re easily spooked and standing behind them with a large net is a little off-putting, so we have not managed to capture one just yet.
Jacob: Good luck with that.
Clark: Jacob, if people want to find work and find out more about what you do, where is the best place to go online?
Jacob: I have a Facebook account under Jacob Larch. I also have a website www.jacoblarch.com. International domain name, and I’m easily found. I am so busy writing, I’m terrible at updating the news on it, because I do that much. This is one of these other writing points — I’ve had a writer I know who has written one script and he turned around to me and said, “Why do you have your fingers in so many pies? Why do you engage in so many projects at the same time?”
I said, “Well, if you scatter gun the industry, something may come home one day.” Plus, my mind doesn’t stop with one project anyway. I naturally think of seventeen things at once as most writers tend to. So I’m usually too busy writing, I don’t tend to update my website very often, so I apologize for that. So if you come on there be prepared to see tumble weed across the screen.
But jacoblarch.com is my website. I keep up to date on LinkedIn and Twitter, I’m also on Twitter as well and you can find me on Facebook.
Clark: Perfect, perfect. Well, I really appreciate you coming on the show today. It’s been a real pleasure having you.
Jacob: Thank you for having me, it’s been an absolute pleasure as well.
Clark: Good listeners. if you like the show please us a review on iTunes, a plus on Google or a like on YouTube. If you’re an editor who’d like to be a guest on the show, stop by the bookeditorshow.com and drop us an email. I’m Clark Chamberlain, for my co-host Peter Turley, keep writing, keep learning and build a better book.