Friday, 11 April 2014

Top 10 Writing Tips from Hollywood

Really enjoyed these top 10 tips from Hollywood screenwriter Tony Gilroy (Armageddon, the Bourne films) for the BBC. Many of them apply to novelists or indeed any kind of writer. Here are a few highlights:

1. I don't think there is anything you can learn from courses or books... Going to the movies, having something to say, having an imagination and the ambition to do it is really all that is required.

2. This is imaginative work - screenwriters make things up. Everything I have in my life is a result of making things up. There is one thing that you have to know that is a deal-breaker - human behaviour.

The quality of your writing will be directly related to your understanding of human behaviour. You need to become a journalist for the movie that is in your head.

3. Big ideas don't work. Start with a very small idea that you can build on. With Bourne I never read any of the books; we started again. The very smallest thing with [Jason] Bourne was, "If I don't know who I am and I don't know where I'm from, perhaps I can identify who I am by what I know how to do." We built a whole new world around that small idea.

You just start small, you build out and you move one step after the next and that's how you write a Hollywood movie.

4. My father was a screenwriter but it's not some pixie dust creative family thing. I learned from watching how hard he worked and learned about the tempo of a writer's life - you have to live by your wits.

5. A lot of writers are very excited about TV right now and it's a writer-controlled business. When writers are in control, good things happen. They are more rational, they are hardworking, they are more benevolent.

6. I have an office at home, I've written in a million hotel rooms, I can write anywhere now... I'm older and wise enough now that if something is going well, I don't stop. I call and say I'm not coming home for dinner and just keep going.

7. I spent six years tending bar while I figured out how to write screenplays. If you want to write, if you are a young writer and nobody knows you, find a job that pays you the most amount of money for the least amount of hours, so that you have the most amount of time left over to write.

8. Be interested in lots of things and stay interested. My knowledge is very wide and incredibly thin. It's much more interesting when journalists and cops and doctors and bankers become screenwriters than 20-year-old film students.

9. I think LA is probably very bad for you... I don't think Hollywood really helps a young writer feel any sense of romance about their life.

10. It's very important to be able to handle rejection. I think one of the reasons writers are shy is because we are all very suspicious of our own process because it fails so often. It's no different from being a novelist or a composer or a painter. When you get rejection from the outside world, you either move on or you don't. But I think the hardest times are all the days when nothing happens and everybody who has ever written anything knows what I'm talking about. A great day of writing tops everything.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

More eye kanji

A dear ex-Reuters-colleague in Tokyo saw my post about eye exercises involving Chinese characters ("Imagining that your eyes are a pen, write out the Chinese character "rice" 米 with your eyes.")

She raised me one: dragon!

Waaah! I won't be taking any calls today. Busy doing dragon.

Today's eye exercise

Today's eye exercise: "Imagining that your eyes are a pen, write out the Chinese character "rice" 米 with your eyes."

- What's wrong with just rolling?

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

My Newsnight rant

Newsnight invited me last night to discuss Timur Vermes' German bestseller, "Look Who's Back", about a fictional Hitler who wakes up in modern-day Germany and rises to TV stardom. I don't generally like giving harsh reviews, but this book did annoy me in various ways. You can watch the clip to find out why (it's right at the end, in the culture section).

I was actually extremely nervous before the show and had to keep reminding myself that I didn't have to defend any austerity measures, hadn't tried to expense a duck pond, and wasn't in any way responsible for unemployment. 

Anyway, I do love a good rant. I think at some point I even talked right over Jeremy Paxman. Timur, the author, was very gracious about it. We kept arguing about the book all the way down to the lobby, and then in the BBC lobby itself. I disagree with him, but I appreciated his willingness to listen to and engage with my views. He's certainly not afraid of a row. People in the BBC lobby stopped and stared at the two randomers having a go at each other in German, with every third word being Hitler. 

PS: An editor changed the headline on my original Telegraph piece about the book to 
"How Germans have fallen back in love with Hitler". I didn't love the headline and got some critical comments from readers over it. However, Timur himself actually said it was a good and appropriate headline, based on the fact that so many German readers are willing to spend 400 pages inside Hitler's head, laughing with him, sympathising with him. I disagree with him on this one, too - laughing at the jokes of a fictional Hitler in a modern satire doesn't mean you would have supported him in 1933 - but Timur's clearly not afraid of wading into controversy.