3 Story Lessons from Christmas Movies

by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)

The season is approaching for a category of stories that have been beloved by audiences since the earliest days of film and television. Though America’s customs have shifted and melded throughout the decades, and a number of different religious traditions are celebrated in mid and late December, only one has amassed such a number of films to establish its own genre. I’m referring, of course, to the Christmas movie.

Wrapped presents, decorated trees, nativity sets, stockings, home-cooked food, and perhaps even a visit from Santa Claus himself are all tropes that create an environment of nostalgia and joy for many moviegoers. However, without a solid story behind them, these elements simply become archetypal window dressing. When done well, Christmas movies remind us of the reasons why this season has become so special to so many people. Here are three story lessons we can take from Christmas movies.

1. Family Issues Always Make Great Stories

Examples: Daddy’s Home 2, National Lampoon’s Christmas VacationA Christmas Story

For many, Christmas involves travel, carrying packages, and seeing relatives that we only encounter once a year. There’s a reason why we love to laugh at the difficult cousin that insists on talking politics at Christmas dinner – because so many of us have been there. The holiday season is a time when people express their love to the ones they’re closest to, but when emotions are running so high, there’s bound to be a few road blocks along the way. While conflict in families can work as a powerful tool in any film, finding an organic reason to put families in the same physical space can be challenging. Christmas is an ideal way to accomplish this, but certainly not the only way. Weddings, funerals, births, birthdays, anniversaries, and retirements are just a few ways you can force characters into the same room together.

2. We All Sometimes Feel Like Fish Out of Water

Examples: ElfRudolph the Red Nosed ReindeerFrosty the Snowman

The holidays are not a pleasant time for everyone. Some are confronted with the absence of family members who used to gather with them. Others are faced with their own loneliness. The emotions of the season can highlight what we don’t have instead of those things we should be thankful for. Stories that remind us that we all feel out of place at different times can be of great comfort. Seeing a character that struggles to connect with those around them can both make us laugh and make us cry. These stories create a sense of empathy within us and give us hope that others may have empathy for us. Most powerfully, they can bring assurances that we are not alone.

3. Moments of Reflection Are Universal

Examples: A Christmas CarolScroogedIt’s A Wonderful Life

The reflective holiday film has almost become a genre unto itself. There’s a reason these films seem to resonate with audiences year after year. Our lives feel busier every year. Things never seem to slow down. It never becomes easy to find the time to process and contemplate the experiences we’ve had – and yet we all continue to recognize the importance of it. Seeing characters stop and smell the roses, be confronted with the unhealthy ways they are living, and decide to turn over a new leaf give us hope that perhaps we, too, are capable of doing so. As with family stories, we must give characters a reason to pause their lives. While the holidays can be a great excuse for this – an illness, the death of a loved one, and being fired from a job are all other motivating factors in stories that revolve around a character who ends up experiencing a reflection.


John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S.  Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.

Source: LA-Screenwriter

By | 2017-11-29T11:44:07+00:00 November 29th, 2017|Categories: General|Tags: |

















By | 2017-11-29T09:26:52+00:00 November 29th, 2017|Categories: General|

3 Basic Steps for Building Suspense in Your Screenplay

by Jeffrey Michael Bays (@BorgusFilm)

If someone were to say that they love your latest script, but it could use more suspense, what would you do? Suspense is a part of the storytelling craft that has traditionally been left to mysteries and thrillers. I’ve been saying for a while that any genre, including romantic comedy, can benefit from suspense. In fact, I use the romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail as an example of suspense in my book.

If your script does happen to be a romantic comedy, the suggestion of adding suspense may throw you for a loop. Lucky for you, I’ve boiled it down to three basic suspense-building steps that are guaranteed to keep your next audience riveted.


Suspense really isn’t about knives, screams, and chases. It’s more about provoking your audience into getting involved. It’s about connecting with your audience, making them care, making them so involved in your story that they want to reach into the screen and help. You want them to be so enthralled by your story that they forget about Facebook and desperately follow every turn of your plot.

The easiest way to do this is to play upon a secret. Your protagonist knows a secret. This secret can be anything – a hidden pregnancy, trespassing on private property, or knowledge of a crime, etc. If this secret gets out to any of the other characters, it spells certain doom for their outcome.

Bring the audience into this secret. Make them feel privileged to have this private access to the protagonist. Then you can begin to play upon the prospect of the secret getting out and protagonist getting caught.


Once you involve them in this dangerous secret, tease the audience about this secret getting out. This is where you write a close-call moment, where the protagonist forced to lie about the secret to another character who is very close to catching on. This lie provokes the viewer. We feel special, and our bond with the protagonist rises.

The key to increasing suspense is to milk this moment. Dance as close as possible to “getting caught,” but hold back at the last minute. This tease makes the audience anticipate and hang on, waiting for the excruciating inevitability, hoping that the secret will go undiscovered.

At the last minute, the danger goes away, and the secret is safe for now. The audience breathes a sigh of relief, and maybe even a giggle, that the protagonist has gotten away with it.

Close-call moments like these can be repeated. Each time the audience is pulled deeper and deeper into the protagonist’s situation. It becomes so real for us that we feel the urge to reach in. For some reason that kind of audience provocation is highly entertaining. It’s the same as jumping to your feet while watching your favorite football team get close to scoring.

In the gambling world there’s a psychological phenomenon called the Near Miss Effect. When a gambler sees three lemons lining up on a slot machine, but the third lemon spins away leaving only two, the gambler experiences a near miss. They believe they are now on a winning streak, and they try harder to win the next time. Psychologically they become addicted.

Just like the gambler gets addicted to their winning streak in the game of slots, you want your audience to become addicted to your story. Close-call moments get them hooked. How many do you need? You can write a couple of close-calls in Act 1, or several throughout your entire movie. The important thing is that eventually you do provide closure in a twist – the sleight of hand.


Relieving the audience after a long and entertaining dance of close-calls is important. Somehow the danger should permanently subside by the end of your movie, otherwise the audience will feel like they’ve wasted their time.

But, Hitchcock said, “The bomb must never go off.” What he meant by that is that if you’ve led your audience to believe the bomb will go off, you must surprise them with a twist so that the bomb doesn’t. If the expected outcome actually happens, the viewer will feel cheated. They’ll never watch your movie again.

It’s exactly like a magician, convincing you that the coin is in his left hand and then opening it to reveal an empty hand. If the coin appears in the hand as expected – that’s no trick! In the same way, movie audiences want to be tricked after being held in suspense. If you surprise them with a clever sleight of hand in the end, they’ll love you for it.


Jeffrey Michael Bays is a writer, indie filmmaker, and YouTuber known as the “Hitchcock Whisperer.” His new book Suspense With a Camera guides screenwriters and filmmakers on a clear path through the sometimes confusing territory of suspense. Bays also created the award-winning Not From Space on XM Satellite Radio (2003).

Source: LA-Screenwriter

By | 2017-11-28T22:44:35+00:00 November 28th, 2017|Categories: General|Tags: |

How Grammar-Savvy Are You? Take This Quiz to Find Out

You know you’ve got a knack for words, but being a strong writer doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a strong editor.

But who really cares if your writing has some mistakes here and there? Isn’t that what editors are for?


Poor grammar will stand in the way of your writing career whether you realize it or not. If you want to make a good first impression in your pitches and become a publication’s go-to writer, your writing needs to be nearly flawless.

It may have been a while since your last English class, so we created a short grammar quiz to put your editing skills to the test. Find out if you’re a grammar pro or if you could use some time brushing up on your editing skills.

The Write Life’s grammar quiz for writers

Each of these sentences features one common grammar or punctuation mistake.

Give it your best shot, then scroll down to see how you did!

  1. Local media is calling for the mayor’s immediate resignation following recent reports of his embezzlement scheme.
  1. It may be counterintuitive, but if your child is struggling with separation anxiety, quickly saying goodbye to them is the best short-term solution.
  1. Without having her address, it was hard to find her house.
  1. No one objects to the library’s closing more than me!
  1. “Have you seen my book? I left it lying on the table last night, but now it’s gone.”
  1. Your sister is still obsessed with Twilight—she showed up to the Halloween party wearing a blood red dress and pointy vampire teeth.
  1. My favorite Chinese restaurant doesn’t deliver, however, the one across town does.
  1. The editor-in-chief is retiring next May, meaning one of the senior editors are going to be up for the job.
  1. My doctor recommended I get the flu shot only in October.
  1. We’d like to publish your article, and pay you $1 per word.

Answer key

Feeling confident? Let’s see how you did!

Each correction appears in bold, followed by a brief explanation.

1. Local media are calling for the mayor’s immediate resignation following recent reports of his embezzlement scheme.

“Media” may sound singular, but it’s actually plural! (The singular form is “medium.”) This sentence represents a common error in subject-verb agreement.

2. It may be counterintuitive, but if your child is struggling with separation anxiety, quickly saying goodbye to her is the best short-term solution.

This sentence has a problem with pronoun-antecedent agreement. Because “child” is singular, it should take a singular pronoun like “he” or “she.”

AP has recently accepted the use of “their” as a singular pronoun in limited cases, such as when non-binary people prefer to be referred to with a gender-neutral pronoun, but in most instances, you’ll want to choose a singular pronoun or rephrase your sentence.

3. Without having her address, I had a hard time finding her house.

This sentence is a prime example of a dangling modifier. In the original sentence, the phrase “without having her address” is modifying the subject “it.” Except “it” isn’t referring to anything!

The corrected sentence clarifies who exactly was missing the address and struggling to find the house.

4. No one objects to the library’s closing more than I.

I’ll admit this is an ugly sentence that should be rephrased before being published anywhere. Ugly or not, “I” is the correct pronoun here because it’s the subject of the sentence, so it requires the subjective case (rather than the objective “me”).

Issues with case are some of the most common problems editors come across. The rules are confusing even for professional writers! If you’re having trouble, try flipping the sentence around: “I object to the library’s closing more than anyone.”

5. “Have you seen my book? I left it laying on the table last night, but now it’s gone.”

Is there any case of mistaken word identity more prevalent than lay/lie?

In short, “lie” means to recline, while “lay” means to put or place an object somewhere. To make matters even more confusing, “lie” becomes “lay” in past tense!

6. Your sister is still obsessed with Twilight—she showed up to the Halloween party wearing a blood-red dress and pointy vampire teeth.

Hyphens can be tricky little buggers. The general rule is to hyphenate compound modifiers before a noun but not after (“Her dress was blood red”). There are plenty of exceptions, though, so be sure to consult a dictionary and your preferred style guide if you’re in doubt!

7. My favorite Chinese restaurant doesn’t deliver. However, the one across town does.

This run-on sentence is trying to slide under your radar by using the word “however” to connect two independent clauses (clauses that could stand on their own as complete sentences). The only words with that power are called coordinating conjunctions: “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so.”

8. The editor-in-chief is retiring next May, meaning one of the senior editors is going to be up for the job.

Subject-verb agreement strikes again! Don’t let the plural “editors” fool you. “One” is the singular subject here.

9. My doctor recommended I get the flu shot in October only.

“Only” is the culprit behind many misplaced modifier errors. There are even more options for this sentence depending on what the writer meant:

  • Only my doctor recommended I get the flu shot in October. (No one else advised this, just your doctor.)
  • My only doctor recommended I get the flu shot in October. (You have one doctor, not many.)
  • My doctor recommended I get only the flu shot in October. (Your doctor recommended you get the flu shot but no other vaccinations during October.)

Context is everything! When using modifiers like “only” or “just,” you can avoid confusion by placing them as close as possible to the word they’re modifying.

10. We’d like to publish your article and pay you $1 per word.

Many writers get in the habit of using commas where they’re not needed with conjunctions like “and” and “but.”

No comma is necessary if a dependent clause follows the conjunction (in other words, it couldn’t stand on its own as a full sentence).

Now that you know which tricky grammar errors to watch out for, make your writing even better with these 25 editing tips to tighten your copy!

How did you do? Let us know your results (and any other common editing errors we didn’t cover) in the comments.

The post How Grammar-Savvy Are You? Take This Quiz to Find Out appeared first on The Write Life.


Source: Writer Life

By | 2017-11-28T22:44:22+00:00 November 28th, 2017|Categories: General|Tags: |

'Coco' Scores Another Strong Thanksgiving Debut for Disney

With a strong, five-day debut Disney and Pixar’s Coco joined the ranks of the many successful films Disney has launched over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Receiving high marks from critics and audiences alike, the film finished atop the weekend box office and is looking at solid returns throughout the holiday season. Additionally, WB and DC Comics’ Justice League and Lionsgate’s Wonder played mostly as expected as the three films contributed to a healthy helping of receipts at the holi…
Source: Box Office Mojo

By | 2017-11-28T22:44:41+00:00 November 26th, 2017|Categories: General|Tags: |

3 Shameless Book Promotion Tips For Your Next Release

What was the last book you were really excited to get your hands on?

Think about it for a moment:

  • Where did you learn about it?
  • How did it catch your attention?
  • What made you need to read it?

For me, it almost always starts with an author I already love. Then, I read an update on the author’s blog, or catch word from a friend, or get an alert on Goodreads. It doesn’t really matter.

What matters is, it’s welcome news.

Done right, it feels organic and natural. But take it from someone with 10 years of public relations  experience — it almost never is. Building excitement takes planning and effort.

Now, before you blame your beloved authors for knowing how to promote their work — this is good news.

It means you can get your readers that excited for your books, too.

I’ve been paying attention to authors who do this well, and now, as my second full novel is about to hit the shelves, I’m getting my first chance to put my lessons to work.

Here are a few tips from what I’ve observed works best, and how to put it to work for yourself.

1. It starts with genuine enthusiasm

Just because you’ve got an end goal of promoting doesn’t mean it can’t also be authentic.

You know that feeling you get when you’re writing and you’re loving what you’re creating? Maybe it’s because of the myth of the tortured artist, but most of us don’t embrace this awesome feeling enough (guilty as charged).

The authors who build reader suspense really well, ride this feeling for all its worth, and they let their readers in on it.


“Did I just throw a hydra into a major fight scene? You bet I did. Not sure how our heroes are going to get out of this one…”

So pay attention to those moments of “yes!” and share them. Even better, remember them to share more later when the book is releasing.

book promotion2. Flaunt your signature flair

How does your favorite TV show get you excited for a new upcoming season?

Your favorite authors are using similar tactics to build your excitement.

Let’s take Stranger Things as an example. In season one, one of the most gripping details was the show’s monster — the demagorgon. In the final episode of the season, the show teased a new monster’s name, a thessalhydra. Now, the teasers for the new season are teasing a strange, shadowy creature through the mist.

So the question is, what do readers love about your books? Milk it.


If you loved Adem’s narration in book #1, I can’t wait for you to see him through Rona’s eyes in book #2.

3. Create insider treasures

Nothing makes a reader feel like an A-class insider like being treated to A-class gifts.

Many authors create incredible extras inspired by their writing, drawn from their characters or worlds. This can be anything from a map of an alternate world to lovely character cards, or a peek behind the curtain at your creative process.

If you create it and present it with love, your readers will feel special for having it.

For mine, I hired an artist with a unique visual style I felt matched the tone of my novels to create a poster for them. I am absolutely in love with the result, and readers have loved it, too.

Excitement is contagious!

Your book releases don’t have to just be about email blasts and promotion discounts. Just like your own favorite authors, you can take steps to build genuine excitement among your readership for your new books.

By sharing your own excitement, paying attention to what your readers love about your work, and crafting unique promotion offerings that make the experience special, you can build buzz that leaves your readers eager to grab your next release as soon as it’s on the shelves.

What gets you excited about a new book?

The post 3 Shameless Book Promotion Tips For Your Next Release appeared first on The Write Life.


Source: Writer Life

By | 2017-11-28T22:44:27+00:00 November 24th, 2017|Categories: General|Tags: |

'Coco' Hopes to Add to Disney's Legacy at the Thanksgiving Box Office

SATURDAY AM UPDATE: Coco has played well so far through the holidays thus far and brought in an estimated $18.6 million on Friday, pushing its domestic cume after three days to $40.7 million. At this time it’s looking as if a three-day weekend around $48-50 million is in the offing for a five-day gross around $70+ million.

At the same time, WB and DC Comics’ Justice League is holding on mostly as expected, pushing toward a five-day total that just might reach $60 million, but seems most…
Source: Box Office Mojo

By | 2017-11-28T22:44:44+00:00 November 21st, 2017|Categories: General|Tags: |

5 Huge Mistakes Ruining the Romantic Relationships in Your Book

I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a serious problem with romantic relationships in literature nowadays.

And worse, this issue seems to be overlooked by the large majority of writers — until it’s too late, that is.

The problem: The unrealistic and unhealthy portrayal of romantic relationships.

There. I said it and now people can take notice because yes, there is a serious lack of realism when it comes to the romantic relationships in books..

Authors are writing relationships that are meant to be exciting and intense, but their execution of those couples can be flawed in sometimes very harmful, although unintentional ways.

There’s nothing wrong with writing romance. In fact, adding a romantic relationship to your book can do it some good. The dynamic of love can:

  • Up the stakes
  • Make readers more emotionally invested in the characters
  • Create contrast in emotions, adding to the coveted “roller coaster” of emotions
  • Give your readers another reason to root for your main character

All of these powerful elements can make your book a lot better, but only if you can create a relationship that isn’t problematic for the readers.

Which means you’ll want to avoid these mistakes many writers might not even realize they’re making when it comes to the romantic relationships in their stories.

1. Glamorizing abuse

This might be the biggest, most overlooked issue in books. There are way too many authors writing abusive relationships and passing them off as romantic, particularly in the young adult genre, though this can be seen in all types of books.

If you’re not sure what this looks like, it’s when writers portray abuse as love.

They write about a person being overly jealous and verbally abusive to their partner and have the main character justify it by narrating that the other person “just can’t live with the thought of losing” them. So the main character is written as seeing this abuse as true love.

This romanticization of abuse is simply harmful to anyone reading it. Young people might turn to books when it comes to learning about romance. If they don’t have a healthy relationship to learn from in real life, they might think the relationships in books is how it’s supposed to be.

Therefore, they accept abuse and pass it off as the person just “caring about them too much” because that’s what they’ve seen in their favorite books.

In order to avoid these types of mistakes, make sure your relationships are written consensually. Think about how you’d feel and act given the situation you’re putting your characters in.

A general rule is, if you’d be appalled by someone being treated that way in real life, it’s not right.

2. Instant romances

Think about the romantic relationships you’ve been in or have seen around you. How often do you hear two people locking eyes across a restaurant and falling madly and immediately in love with one another?

Not often. Because it’s not realistic, and that’s not the way love works.

For those of you unfamiliar with this term, it’s just as it sounds. An instant romance is when two people meet and are in “love” and in a committed relationship instantly. Or within a very, very short amount of time, which is not remotely accurate.

However, there are many novelists who write romances this way with the intention of creating an intense moment, but it sends a very harmful message to young readers and  takes away from the realism in your book.

You can write intensity without making your characters be “in love” right off the bat.

Relationships take time. You have to get to know one another first, build the chemistry and allow that spark to ignite before you can begin that romantic journey.

Why should your book characters be any different?

If you want the relationship to be realistic and keep your readers fully immersed in it, you have to give it the appropriate amount of time to grow and evolve.

3. Making a single person passive in the relationship

Relationships aren’t about one person seizing control of the other and making all the choices.

Both people should be equally as active in the ongoings of the partnership. Because it’s just that — a partnership.

This makes it a little concerning when writers make a single person who just goes with the flow and doesn’t really care about much. This person doesn’t initiate anything, make any choices for the sake of the relationship and when going gets tough, they sit back and let the other person do everything.

This is both unrealistic and just plain boring. It doesn’t add anything interesting to the dynamic of the relationship and readers won’t root for them.

Make sure you’re writing a romantic relationship between two people, not between a person and a passive robot.

4. Writing relationships without commonalities

If two people are in a relationship, they should have things in common. They don’t need to both like the same food, movies, books and activities, but they should have similarities at their core.

If you have two characters who are moral opposites and don’t share the same values, your readers are going to question why they’re together in the first place.

And if you can’t really answer why they’re together other than the fact that they need to be for plot reasons, you’ll have to do some adjusting. Characters can’t just be involved for the sake of the story’s conflict.

If those two people need to be in a relationship for your plot to work, then you need to put just as much effort into their dynamic as a couple as you do for the entire plot.

Otherwise, the plot won’t matter because readers won’t care about the relationship.

5. Never allowing for vulnerability

In order for your characters to bond on a deep enough level for love to be in the air, some vulnerability needs to happen. They need to open up to each other and express more emotions than lust and longing.

How else will they be able to grow closer? Allowing for moments of vulnerability shows their weaknesses. Not only will this be important for crafting a stronger emotional connection between characters, it’ll also help your readers connect with them more.

Here are a few ways you can create some vulnerability:

  • Have one character get injured
  • Create conflict involving something one is particularly sensitive about
  • Make a character break down from the stress of your plot
  • Have them share secrets

Even strong, tough characters need moments of vulnerability and weakness. Not only does this make the relationship stronger, your readers will also like the character a lot more because they’ll be able to relate. Two birds, one stone.

Adding romantic relationships to your novel can up the stakes, add a layer of interest and give your audience all the lovey-dovey feels, but in order to have those effects take hold, you’ll need to write them correctly.

And writing them correctly means avoiding these mistakes that can take your fictional relationship from realistically impactful to harmfully impactful.

Are there any mistakes you’ve noticed other authors making when it comes to romantic relationships in books and what tips do you have for writers trying to avoid these pitfalls?

The post 5 Huge Mistakes Ruining the Romantic Relationships in Your Book appeared first on The Write Life.


Source: Writer Life

By | 2017-10-06T05:45:59+00:00 October 6th, 2017|Categories: General|Tags: |