Wednesday, September 06, 2017

WRITING DIVERSE CHARACTERS FOR FICTION TV OR FILM - LUCY V HAY

Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film is a thought provoking, informed and well-presented book and Lucy's most assured to date, one you cannot do without. And I don't say that lightly.

Writing & Selling Drama Screenplays was a great debut and very informative, but as a writer, I got more from her follow-up Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays. Diverse Characters eclipses both of these and is where Lucy really comes into her element. But why is it so good?

It's good because Lucy knows her stuff and does her research. Did you see our 'debate' on Facebook recently about the Doctor being female? She really pushed me hard, countering all of my arguments with cool logic and well thought out points (even though I still maintain I won the debate). It's not easy debating with Bangers and certainly not for the faint hearted. It's precisely because of the amount of research she does that makes her so knowledgeable and there's an absolute ton of it in those pages, all of it used to great effect.

A quick question. If the spec pile is full of white male protagonists saving the world and your screenplay is diverse, which script do you think is going to stand out? That's exactly why this book is a godsend as it explores why so many screenplays are overlooked, even if the writing is great and how you can make yours stand out. And who doesn't need that kind of help?

The book is split into five sections so you can jump in where you want to and come back at a later date to refamiliarise yourself with whatever you want or need. Those sections are - WHAT IS DIVERSITY? - HEROES, SHEROES AND VILE VILLAINS: THE PROTAGONIST AND ANTAGONIST - SECONDARIES, SIDEKICKS AND SUBORDINATES - PERIPHERAL POINTERS - LAST WORDS.

Instead of waffling on like some books on characterisation I've read, Lucy is kind enough to keep sections short and sum up after each insight with a handy 'IN A NUTSHELL' or 'THE SHORT VERSION' paragraph. It's a great way to recap what you've just read and reinforces the information and her arguments. I find reading large paragraphs of information difficult as I get distracted quite easily. If I have to put a book down for some reason I have to go back and reread some of it to pick up the thread again. So it was refreshing to find Lucy has written this book in little bite-size chunks I could quickly read, leave and come back to when I liked, without losing any of its impact.

I also love the 'HOW TO FLIP IT' paragraphs that look at ways to avoid stereotypes and tropes, to help us writers find the 'same but different' producers are crying out for. These sections are especially thought provoking.

Lucy covers every angle as she explores her subject, even taking a look at the origins of story telling to understand why so many spec piles are full of screenplays with tired, overused stories and populated with the usual overused characters. She also explores what diversity isn't as well as what it is. And she doesn't just argue for more diverse stories and characters but also warns against positive diversity, as she advocates normalisation and banishing stereotypes and familiar plots. Writing Diverse Characters is much more than just talking about introducing characters of a different race, colour, gender, sexual orientation or disability into your work.

After finishing the book I had to go back over my old spec scripts that either haven't done so well or which weren't liked as much as others. With some simple changes, I can now see how I can easily improve those screenplays and make them fresh and appealing. It's also helped me look at the stuff I'm currently working on differently, providing me with new angles to try and helping to increase the chances of my specs being picked up. Most of all Lucy has shown me the importance of researching the types of characters and stories I want to tell, to identify those that have been overused, so I can avoid them.

I have to say, I enjoyed Lucy's book so much I've immediately started reading it again.

Diverse Characters isn't about telling the writer how and what to do, it's about making the writer think about how they approach their screenplay, the story they want to tell, the characters they choose, the reasons why they choose them and why some screenplays are successful and why others fail. Lucy often asks, 'Is there another way?' or 'Is there a better way?' There always is and Lucy guides the reader to find their own solutions to the questions she poses. In short, Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film isn't preachy but incredibly informative. Do you and your writing a favour and buy the book.

Happy writing!

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