HOW TO SELF-EDIT YOUR WORK BY DAMARIS IRUNGU OCHIENG’

Congratulations! Now you have the first draft of your manuscript. What next?

Every writer needs to self-edit their work before submitting to an editor.  Whatever the format of writing. It is the writer’s duty to make sure their story is working. Most times when the word editing is mentioned, a lot of writers assume typos and grammatical errors, but even before you get to that, you need to make sure the story is working.

There are also different types of editors, there’s a copy editor or proof reader who deals with the grammar of your work, from the typos to grammatical sentences, to comas and so forth.

There’s a structural editor who deals with your story structure; is it flowing from beginning- middle- end, are stakes raised, do we have suspense and so forth.

There’s also a story editor or developmental editor who delves deeper into your story and characters to help your story and characters become the best they can be.

There’s a line editor and so forth.

 As a writer you need to figure out what kind of editor your story needs, so that you can do the best for your work and grow as a writer.

So enough about the external editors, today I’d like to equip you with some self-editing tips from knowledge gathered over the years as both a script editor and a writer, read below to help your story become the best it can be.

EDITING TIPS

  1. Check the pacing of your story. Does the second act lag? Have you given your audience a satisfactory beginning, middle and end with a great balanced pace? Is your story moving at just the right pace? Not too fast to lose the reader to confusion, not too slow to lose the reader to boredom? Pacing is key.
  2. Does your inciting incident come early enough? Ensure you’ve not over stretched the set-up of your story that it starts to drag and your reader gets bored waiting for the story to start. (Read more on the inciting incident in one of my blog posts on my website www.damarisirunguo.com
  3. Is the why of your character clear? Why is your character doing what s/he is doing? Have you motivated them enough?  Is your Protagonist also actively moving towards their goal or are they passive about every challenge thrown their way?
  4. Your antagonist or Antagonistic force. How layered are they? Are they a cliché antagonist or you’ve pushed the boundaries with the antagonist in this story?
  5. Have you fulfilled the promise you made to your audience at the start of the script/story? Did you make them a promise in the first place? If not go back, make them a promise in your first act, the promise gets fulfilled in act 3.
  6. Check for consistency in the story, from your character ages, characters background and anything about the character that might have changed as you wrote. Make sure the time span in your story also makes sense. Re-read your work looking out for the time span the story takes place and tighten any weakness. Make sure the beginning to end is consistent.
  7. Make sure the formatting is correct. Check the grammar and check for any spelling mistakes. Also make sure your English is uniform across the script, if you choose to use American English and spell color without the U, then you can’t spell flavour with the U because that’s British. Improve your chances of not annoying those who’ll be reading your work by being consistent in your language. (I know, it’s a burden but we have to do what we have to do)

I hope these tips inspire you to get on with your editing, make your manuscript the best it can be!

Happy writing!

TIPS FOR WRITERS ON DEALING WITH REJECTION BY DAMARIS IRUNGU OCHIENG’

Writers and creatives are often referred to as ‘sensitive beings’ and if this weren’t true we wouldn’t be able to write those great stories that move our audiences and readers emotionally. So please wear your ‘I am Sensitive Badge’ With Pride.  This sensitive side brings with it a downside, as most often we’re not able to deal with rejection very well, and if it’s not dealt with, rejection can stop you from ever putting your work out there.

So whether dealing with rejection from an application pitch, or dealing with rejection from fans who reject your work and call you names, I’ve got a few tips below on how I’ve been handling rejection for the past 14 years in my career as a professional writer. Hope some of these tips help you grow thick skin, lick your wounds fast and move on to be the best you can be.

  1. Keep busy: Don’t pause your life waiting for the results of whatever it is you applied for. Move on to the next project. Being busy with another idea I’m developing has helped me deal better when the rejection comes in. I’m able to move on faster because I was already busy and hadn’t pressed the pause button. So please, I beg o, apply for whatever you’re applying for, then move on.
  2. It is not you that got Rejected but the project: Most times we take it personal when ‘we’re’ rejected, forgetting that it was not really you but the story idea or script you pitched.  I’m learning to separate these two and it’s working for me. Of course there are some projects that will be more interested in you the writer and not the concept, but most times it’s really about what’s on the page regarding your creation, and it might not be a fit for them. It’s hard to separate the two but once you learn how to, you’re able to bounce back faster from rejection.
  3. Don’t put your eggs in one basket: Don’t apply for only one thing a year and then let that dampen the mood for the rest of the year. Apply for many things, apply wide, keep throwing the spaghetti on the wall and I guarantee you something will stick. This year alone I applied to Berlinale Script station (which FYI is open for applications with a September deadline) I didn’t get in, I applied to Follow the Nile, I didn’t get in. Did that stop me from applying for the just ended Netflix Pitch, No, will that stop me from applying for Berlinale again? No. I also applied to Cinephilia Bound Cannes 2020 and I was a TOP 20 FINALIST from thousands of applications, I didn’t make the top 5 after the cut off, but guess what, it gave me an energy boost, I wear my rejections as badges of honour because from each rejection I learn something new, I relook my story, look for gaps in my characters and keep growing as a writer.
  4. Stop comparing yourself to others: I know it’s hard to look the other way when your friends seem to be ‘winning’ and you seem to be ‘losing’. I remind myself that I am not on my friends’ journey, but on my own personal journey, this is why God created us differently, so anytime you start comparing yourself to others, stop and count your blessings one by one. You will be surprised.
  5. Work Harder:  Since change is the only constant in life. It calls for us to adapt fast and move on. When you get that rejection, lick those wounds, mop for a day and then pick yourself up and get back on the grind. There’s no other way to it. The faster you pick yourself up, the faster you get back to creating your stuff and making it the best it can be.  Keep creating because opportunity meets preparedness, you don’t want to be caught without a well thought out story idea when the next pitch call comes.  
  6. Believe in yourself: Invest in your craft, work hard, push boundaries with your work.  This belief in yourself might get shaken when you receive rejections, but do not allow rejection to make you doubt your capabilities as a creator, if this is truly your calling then you are made for this, consider rejection just part of your creative journey and keep shining your light.
  7. Your work might be a trendsetter: Another thing I consider when I get rejected for a project I really believe in, is that I might be a trendsetter. No one wants to risk on the unknown, so if you really believe in your project, don’t throw it away, perfect it and put it in a folder because a time will come when the world will be ready for that particular work.

I hope these pointers help you shift your mindset on how to deal with rejection. The arts are not for the faint hearted, Rejection is part of the journey, so let’s chin up and be the best we can be!

Hit reply and leave us some tips on how you’ve coped with rejection over the years.

TIPS FOR WRITING GREAT DESCRIPTIONS BY DAMARIS IRUNGU OCHIENG’

A writers’ greatest task is to create a great reading experience, preferably a better reading experience than what the actual film or TV visual will provide. This is because, before anyone can put money on the visual, they have to read the script and have a thrilling experience. Whereas the actual film and TV have the luxury of great directing, great cinematography, sound mix, music score, great acting and so forth, which work in harmony for the sake of the script, when writing, you are all alone, with only one weapon; your words. It is therefore our responsibility to thrill the readers and make them feel the same emotions, if not a better experience. And it is possible.

I watched twelve years a slave and was deeply moved emotionally by the film. Then a year or so later I decided to read the script of the same film ‘Twelve years a slave’ I will be honest and tell you that the script moved me to more tears, it had me literally crying like a baby (no I was not PMS’ing!)Years later, I’ve still not gathered enough courage to finish reading the script because of how emotionally drained I got, and also because I live in a small apartment with my husband and two kids and there would be nowhere to hide and cry my heart out, so I decided to spare my children the agony of watching their mother ‘cry like a baby’. That experience of being completely moved by a script emotionally was a strong reminder of how powerful words, if used in a great combination. It is indeed possible to move your audience to tears and laughter with just your words as your tool of trade.

This is my desire for you as is the desire for myself, that my written words would move some serious emotions in my readers.

Some ‘To Do’s for writing great descriptions

  1. You’ve got to eat from the table with the masters in this craft, you have to read their scripts and books to see how the pros do it, no short cut here.
  2. Study poetry- I hear some groans from those of us who are not big fans of poetry, but before you put this book aside because I’m suggesting you read poetry, hear me out. Poetry in whatever language has a way with words, where complex matters like love and emotions are explained in as few words as possible. This has made poetry writers become sort of geniuses in rhythm and balance. What reading poetry does for you, is help you get your rhythm; and your word choices start sounding melodious and if it does that to you, it will to the reader. So study poetry.
  3. Practice writing. Being a writer means exactly that. You have to wake up each morning and write. You have to channel and schedule time for that purpose exactly or else days will come and go, you will read up lots, you will study lots but if you don’t put everything you’re learning into practice then it shall all be in vain. No more wishing you were a writer. Simply get on with it. Put in those practice hours and your writing will reward you in future.
  4. Read read read! I cannot over- state the importance of reading. We read for many reasons. So read for content, read for context, read to expound on your grammar and read to see how words interact on a page. You will make your life easier as a writer if you make reading one of your life’s priorities.

TIPS FOR GREAT DESCRIPTION.

  1. Describe your characters in interesting ways. ‘Tall, dark and handsome won’t cut it anymore, Mills and Boons overdid that a long time ago when I was still in preschool. One way to describe your characters is by giving us a hint of the character instead of a whole explanation. Example while describing a nerd, the usual cliché description would be ‘ Baraka, 20’s wears thick rimmed eye glasses. You could simply say ‘meet Baraka, a young man who’d rather hang out with computers than a hot African goddess.
  2. Give your location descriptions life e.g ‘A huge palace stands majestic owning the space’ When you put it this way, we immediately visualize this huge palace that has a personality, it believes in itself.
  3. When describing location, use a good majority of the five senses; sight, smell, touch, taste and sound; But while doing so, remember which medium you are writing for, if a script, you have to be brief and to the point, if a novel, it allows you some room for lots of flowery descriptions. For example, a sense like sight, what do we see in relation to evoking emotions? How will what we are seeing make us feel?  Think about the same for the other senses.
  4. Let your genre dictate your description style.  If you’re writing a thriller then the words, mood and tone you set should be in exactly that genre, if writing a comedy, then humour us through your description as well; meaning, comedy descriptions will be lighter and fast paced than that of thriller.  If you’re writing an action adventure you better use active words that keep things moving along.
  5. Read your description out loud and get rid of bulky words, words that slow down your description.  Ensure that your description has some rhythm to it as that gives it pace and movement.
  6. More white on the page is more attractive than more ink on the page. Chop those extra words. If you however find you have too much description and it all needs to be in there, then break it into paragraphs so that it doesn’t intimidate the reader.
  7. Polish up on your verbs and adverbs so that instead of using more words on the page such as she runs fast, you can say she bolts, it also gives your description some power.
  8. Most importantly do not direct actors and don’t direct the director. Let everyone earn their money. I once fell out with a producer who wanted me to describe every little detail about the actor’s movements, camera direction, he thought I was being lazy and getting paid too much, so he wanted all the details in. I tried to explain how it’s done professionally but he didn’t want to understand. Anyway over ten years later I’m still writing, he’s not producing. All I’m saying with the above rant is that, don’t micromanage the actors, DOP, Director. You are not the boss, a film/TV production is a collaboration so let the director interpret things for themselves. The only time you are allowed to direct the director is in situations where you feel there is so much subtext that they might miss out on your message, then by all means tell them what you mean but don’t do that with all your descriptions.
  9. On the same note, do not put in camera angles for the DOP and director. They know their jobs, that’s why they’ve been called to direct your script.  Sometimes it all goes wrong during filming when directors haven’t done their homework and internalized your vision. But trust the system especially if you have no intention of becoming a director.
  10. Unlike novels where we can go on with internal monologues of how a character is feeling. In scripts we can’t, so you can’t tell us what the character is feeling or thinking, you have to show us.

Hope these tips help you as you work on your descriptions!

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book on writing: Get Writing! A beginner’s guide from Idea to First Draft.

HOW TO MAKE A STORY IDEA FRESH BY DAMARIS IRUNGU OCHIENG’

It’s been said there’s nothing new under the sun. Ideas are all the same! So how then do you make sure that Idea you have that seems very familiar to something you’ve watched or read doesn’t end up like a copy paste? I have a few tips below.

Mali, a Kenyan show I worked on had a similar concept to Lies that bind. A father dies leaving a gap as people fight over his property. The two shows were made completely different because of the characters involved and the twists and turns, the stakes were the same, the two families wanted the money, but the obstacles and complications were completely different. See below a few tips on how to make that story idea fresh.

  1. Swap the gender of the main character: I gave this example a few weeks ago, if you’re working on a story on domestic violence, switch genders and instead of the wife being the victim as is always portrayed, make it the husband…or even better a teenage child who is affected psychologically by the fights between his parents, seeing this story from another characters Point Of View will help bring in the freshness required to your story idea.
  2. Swap the setting:  If your idea feels close to a setting you know, how about changing the setting and seeing what that does to your story? E.g if you wanted to do an upmarket story but feel like you’ve seen that setting before, take the story to a ghetto, to a village or even better ‘Mathare’ (facility for the mentally unstable)
  3. Swap the genre:  Are you disturbed that the concept you have feels like something in a genre you’ve watched? How about trying to change the genre? If it was a drama how about pushing it to a thriller? Or a comedy? You will be amazed just how everything changes when you change the genre of what you’re working on. The rules of writing comedy are different from writing horror or thrillers and you’ll get different results.
  4. Make sure your obstacles and complications are different: Don’t give your protagonist the same obstacles and complications you’ve seen or read about, make the obstacles and complications fresh and new, something we’ve never seen before and even if we have seen before, make sure the way they react to what you throw their way is different. This will help your story idea stay fresh.
  5. Different Story, familiar Human emotions: If you forget everything else I’ve said above, don’t forget this. The reason we watch and read stories is because of what they make us feel, never forget that, so in as much as you want your story idea to be fresh, the emotions we feel as the story progresses have to be familiar so that we can go on this journey with your characters.

There you go, a few tips to help you freshen up that story idea.  Feel free to leave comments below on more tips or anything else related to story.

Happy Creating and Happy Writing!

AFFIRMATIONS FOR WRITING SUCCESS BY DAMARIS IRUNGU OCHIENG’

In my years as a writer I have had to battle the inner critic to be able to put my work out  here. I know writers who haven’t done much because the inner critic paralyzed them and they just froze.  To succeed in this game of writing you have to shut the inner critic up, and the most powerful way is by changing your mindset. Here are some tips and affirmations you can start practicing immediately to help you shift your mindset so that you can move on to producing your best work yet.

  1. I am Creative: A lot of creatives self-sabotage by procrastinating because they don’t believe they are good enough. Well I’m here to tell you that if the writing bug has bitten you, you are good enough to be the one to write whatever it is that is giving you sleepless nights. Ditch the mindset that you are an imposter and own your God given talent of writing. Believe in yourself, believe in your ideas, and stop self-sabotaging by letting doubt of ‘are you good enough’ cripple you. Go for your dreams, today! (more on self-doubt on a past blog post, check it out here www.damarisirunguo.com
  2. I’ll invest in my career: Investing isn’t just about money, but about time, how much time do you invest in your beloved career? Do you spend more time watching other people’s careers on the TV screen or on your social media screen, following people, wishing it was you and so forth? You have to invest time and energy into what you want for your writing life. Read scripts,(find scripts to read on www.simplyscripts.com) write write write, research, read books, cook up stories, the best way to learn is to practice it ,so learn and practice. And as you practice and start putting your work out there, this builds confidence and a lot of it over time. I have worked on many TV shows and Films and I am a witness of the confidence it builds over time. Go for it!
  3. I’ll deliver Value: How would you feel if you went to the shop and the shopkeeper sold you expired bread?(I’m writing this when hungry so the example had to be of foodJ but Indulge me. Then you notice the bread is expired and confront the shopkeeper about it, the shopkeeper says sorry, he didn’t know the bread was expired. You would be angry because it is the shopkeepers’ job to make sure he checks and sells you good products, the same way you as the writer is expected to deliver great writing that gives your audience a satisfying experience. There is no excuse, as a writer you have to deliver great value to your target audience/reader. This can only be achieved if you work hard on your craft, if you invest in learning about it and practice practice practice. There is no excuse. You have to deliver value, once you understand this, then your mindset shifts and you ask yourself questions that will help you work hard at making sure your reader/audience stay happy.
  4. I am unique:  It had never hit me just how unique everyone is until I stumbled upon the wise saying about finger prints. God gave you a fingerprint that no one else has, so you can leave an imprint that no one else can. Are you wasting your uniqueness by spending time comparing yourself to others and trying to be them, trying to follow in their path? Friend, you are uniquely created for your own path, when you take the time to digest this then your mindset starts to shift and instead of thinking that you’re in competition with others, you start working on your God given strengths and abilities and that is when the magic happens, that is when you discover your writing voice and make a mark with your writing.
  5. I’ll ditch the poverty support group: Wacheke Nduati of Centonomy says this and I’d love to borrow this line from her.’ Ditch the Poverty support group!  As artists we have been trained to think poverty, this is why sometimes we shortchange ourselves, we quote very low, we work so many times for exposure, exposure won’t pay the bills, if you are starting out, by all means work for exposure, you have to and need it, but once you become a seasoned writer you need to be taking yourself as a business and one of the things is to ditch those around you who believe artists should be poor, broke and living on breadcrumbs. I don’t believe in this, I make a comfortable living from my writing and it’s because I ditched the mentality that because I love what I do I shouldn’t get paid decent money for it. If the friends around you are comfortable being broke, ditch them! They will take you down that road with them because the only thing you guys will be talking about is how tough the industry is, how things are not working out. The tongue is a powerful tool, whatever you speaketh, becometh, so speak blessings and prosperity into your life and talent.  Aspire for more. Do the best! Be the Best! Money will follow. (read on multiple streams of income for writers, a blog post I wrote recently www.damarisirunguo.com

I hope these five pointers help you shift your mindset to be the best you can be!  Found this interesting? Please share with another writer who needs to hear this today. TIA

Feel free to leave a comment on this or anything else on writing below.

THE INCITING INCIDENT; What it is and What it’s meant to achieve in your Story By Damaris Irungu Ochieng’

The Inciting incident is also known as a catalyst or an inciting event. This is something that radically upsets the balance in your protagonists’ life. Your protagonists’ life will never be the same again until s/he resolves this mess they find themselves in. Your Inciting incident comes in just as you come to the end of your set-up.  If you did your set up right, then at this moment in the story we find ourselves going on this journey with your protagonist, we pray for them and hope that they get what they want/need to bring normalcy back into their lives.

The inciting incident can happen anytime in the set-up of your story, it can be the first thing that happens, can come in at minute 5 or 7, whatever the case it absolutely needs to happen within the 25 percent of your telling; for example in a 90 minute film, 25 percent of 90 is 22.5 minutes(Who knew math would follow us on this journeyJ)

In my years as a script editor I’ve noticed that there are some challenges that come with bringing in the inciting incident early, say at minute five. The audience hasn’t connected well with your protagonist and the world and hence if the inciting incident happens too early, the audience struggles to adjust to the world and feelings and trying to root for your protagonist, in turn they might miss out on a good size of the film and important bits. The 25 percent of the telling isn’t a formula but just a guide to help you see how to place your inciting incident. Your inciting incident also needs to be something strong enough that your protagonist cannot say no to; their life needs to be completely turned upside down by the inciting incident that they have no choice but to fight the imbalance in their life.

 If your inciting incident is weak and your character can go back to their normal life after it has happened then we might as well say we don’t have a movie/show/story. An example of an inciting incident is; in Mali, a Kenyan soap opera that I worked on, the father of the main family dies, he had two wives and as soon as he dies, the two families start fighting over his wealth. The guy had to die for the story to start, without his death there would be no story as that’s what the entire show is set around. His death was the inciting incident. Take a minute to think of your favourite film or TV show, what was the inciting incident? Now imagine a protagonist ignoring the inciting incident and moving on with life; business as usual, would the film or TV show have potential to go on with nothing happening other than moving images?

Always make sure your incident is strong enough that your protagonist cannot ignore it.  This inciting incident is what gives your story direction, because of the inciting incident your protagonist positions herself to accomplish this purpose. Without purpose your story will only be a bunch of beautiful images with no stakes, no emotions and going nowhere.

Something to keep in mind is that; in as much as is possible, have your inciting incident as an action. Something happens to the protagonist, or they do something that gets the inciting incident started. As the saying goes actions speak louder than words, let’s see the inciting incident in action as opposed to hearing about it. Show don’t tell.

Your inciting incident should happen onscreen, not as a message being reported later. We must see the inciting incident in action i.e happening.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book on writing ‘Get writing; A beginner’s guide from Idea to First Draft. There are more excerpts on writing in a guide I give out for free! Subscribe to my email list to get it delivered to your inbox!

HOW TO FAST TRACK YOUR WRITING CAREER By Damaris Irungu Ochieng’

Many young writers see my writing career and always ask me for tips on how I got here. How I got to the point of choosing the projects to work on, where I can turn down writing work in an industry where some writers are struggling to find work. They look at my life and want the short cut. I simply smile and ask them ‘How badly do you want it?’ There are ways to fast track your career, it is not easy, but with dedicated focus and determination, you too can fast track your career. Below I share some tips that I used and continue to use to stay on top of my writing game.

  1. Switch off the TV: This will be my first point because I have watched far less TV shows and films than most people I know in the industry, but watching less has meant more writing for me. I have used the hours to write and develop concepts for paid and passion projects. Most writers feel they don’t have enough hours in a day to complete all the work they’d like to get done, but friend, if your daily life revolves around at least 2 hours of TV a day, then you are really shortchanging yourself and your career. I spent a big part of my life only watching TV at the weekends. I’m currently watching more TV in the evening because the pandemic means I shift some things around. Relook your life, how much time is spent watching TV, how much time is spent on social media. Those are time stealers, we’ve all been given 24 hours in a day. How will you spend yours?
  2. Read Read Read: Media personality Caroline Mutoko once said ‘Read read read or your mind will rot.’ I couldn’t have said it better. Words are your tools of trade. How do you call yourself a writer when you don’t interact with words? Aim to read a script a day and analyze everything that worked and didn’t work. A script a day is too much? How badly do you want to fast track your success? If you can watch a movie a day, you can read a script a day. Prioritize. Read books of different genres, both fiction and non-fiction, Read newspaper articles, re-fill your well of knowledge and you’ll never run dry. You can find scripts to read for free at simplyscripts.com
  3. Follow the right people on social media: As a screenwriting lecturer my jaw always drops when I interact with students and drop names of writers doing great in Kenya, Africa and beyond and discover the students have no clue who those people are. How do you know Kim Kardashian and not know or never heard of Nnedi Okorafor? If you want to fast track your career you have to start following the right people who will inspire you and this way you’ll fast track your career. Following the right people ensures you get access to important information that might be useful to your career.
  4. Beat deadline: There’s nothing that pisses off an editor more than a writer who doesn’t beat deadlines, one who sends in sloppy work. It is one thing to struggle with a story, it is another to spend 99% of the deadline time watching telly (procrastinating) then 1% of the time doing rushed work. We script editors can tell from a mile away how much time you put into the process and this is how you lose jobs or never get recommended for other gigs. I get called every week or two by a producer looking for writers, I recommend from writers I know and from my former and even current students, I never recommend anyone who will give grief to a producer.
  5. Have a goal and a plan:

What’s your plan for your next two months? What do you hope to have achieved by end of June? Write a feature length? Write a novel? Enter a competition? How many projects do you want to have written by end of 2020? What is your plan and how do you intend to get there? How much writing are you getting done in a day? You have to flex the writing muscle every day to propel your writing. There’s no shortcut. Writing is not an option, it is what you do every day.

  • 6. Network: No man is an Island.  You need people around you. You don’t have to attend functions physically, and with the current pandemic and quarantine there are so many FB lives and Zoom discussions, this is the time to step out of the shadows and shine by asking relevant questions during those Live events, the beauty is that this mode favours introverts so just type away your question or comments, get your name out there, get connected to the industry.

I hope these pointers have helped you rethink how you can fast track your career. It is possible to fast track your career but it won’t be easy, it takes a lot of sacrifice, hard work and hours to speed things up for yourself. If you want it badly enough, you will get it.

Happy writing and Happy Creating!

DIALOGUE – WORDS ON THE PAGE BY DAMARIS IRUNGU OCHIENG’

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book on writing ‘Get writing; A beginner’s guide from Idea to First Draft. There are more excerpts on writing in a guide I give out for free! Subscribe to my email list to get it delivered to your inbox!

In my years as a script editor I have come to the conclusion that amateur writers love ‘over’ writing. If it’s not overwritten description, it is overwritten dialogue, where the writer has the character telling us exactly what s/he is feeling, the character reveals it all through dialogue. If you are writing a novel you can get away with some of that, but for the medium we are discussing, you need to ‘show NOT tell.’ You need to give the audience room to join the dots and not just spill to them everything through dialogue. Below a few qualities of great dialogue that will guide you.

QUALITIES OF GREAT DIALOGUE

  1. Has purpose- From our definition of story, story is simply someone wants something badly and is having difficulty getting it. Same principle applies to your dialogue. Who wants what from your dialogue? How do they go about getting what they want using dialogue or not? Human beings are hard to understand and we rarely say what exactly we mean, we rarely say what we are feeling, we sugar coat things, we use other words to try express what we are really feeling. The same applies to film and TV, so use dialogue to propel the emotions at play. When used together, dialogue and action can work in great harmony e.g if a husband asks his wife, how are you? Wife replies ‘I’m fine.’ But her body language says the complete opposite then this dialogue has purpose in this scene.

When you give your dialogue purpose, it helps you focus better and avoid ‘on the nose’ dialogue.

  1. Moves the story forward:  Dialogue needs to give us important information that moves the story forward. To do this effectively, the dialogue needs to be packed with elements of emotion that get the audience invested as the story moves forward. Example, if we say the dialogue needs to move the story forward, so girl comes and tells her mother that father wants to see you, then mother tenses. Girl starts going back, mother stops her, did he say why he wanted to see me? Girl throws mother a confused look, shakes her head then heads off. Mother stands pensive clearly conflicted on if to go or not. Already we the audience are glued to see the next scene, the dialogue was only four words from daughter ‘father wants to see you.’ The words moved the story forward and also foreshadowed what’s to come. We obviously expect tension when mum and dad meet and that grabs us emotionally.
  2. Evokes emotions: Off the back of the point above.  Great dialogue needs to evoke some emotion in us. Continuing with the example above of the reaction of the mother when her daughter tells her ‘father wants to see you’. Depending on where your audience are emotionally, they might perhaps even pick a side and start rooting for the mother, hating the father who makes her this miserable and so forth. Your aim as a writer should be to touch your audience emotions and get them invested in this journey you are taking your characters through.
  3. Sounds real: Dialogue needs to sound as real as can be, minus the stutters, the uhm, aah etc that we usually say out loud as we think and talk at the same time. You need to make sure your dialogue has some rhythm, I find this mistake in beginner scripts where I see a chunk of dialogue followed by another chunk and another chunk. That is not representative of life. In real life, some people speak more than others, we know for a fact that very few men can outdo women when it comes to talking. So vary the length of sentences and number of words between characters as they go back and forth in their dialogue to create an almost melodic piece. It takes lots of practice to achieve this. I believe by reading this book you are taking your career seriously and will keep practising.
  4. Different character, different dialogue: We all speak differently, we use different choices of words, arranged differently and so forth. One mistake I’ve seen in some scripts I’ve edited is that one could easily swap character name and put another character in that place speaking the same dialogue and you wouldn’t be able to notice the difference. This is wrong. As a writer, it is your responsibility to ensure the characters you create are as dynamic as can be, and one of the ways is by their choice of words. Some writers believe that the actors will take on the characters and own them, bringing them alive and bringing out their diversity, but unless you write the characters down with their diversity on the page, it won’t come out. These sound like small things but they are really a big deal when you watch it on the screen, after all, the camera is the dreaded CT- Scan machine and will see through all those weaknesses.
  5. Tells the relationship between characters: Great dialogue should show us the obvious, the obvious being the relationship between characters as they interact. Example, a couple that has been married 20 years will interact differently from a couple that is newly married. A father and daughter interaction will play out differently from the same man (father) interacting with his side dish (mistress) who would be his daughter’s age.
  6. Should be true to the characters previous moment: If I lose my job then get home and I have to tell my spouse, much as I want to stay upbeat and lie that everything is fine, something will give. There are times in scripts you find writers forgetting the characters previous moment and so when we see the character the next time, they are not in the same headspace we left them in and hence the audience who were in the emotional headspace of the character feel lost and confused. Some writers argue that everything cannot be shown on screen hence the jump cut (having other things playing off screen) Jump cuts are a necessity, but emotional jump cuts are a no no.  You have to resolve the emotions you set up on screen.
  7. Matches the genre: This goes without saying, if you’re writing a comedy, your dialogue should be witty etc. If writing a thriller, your dialogue should denote mystery, tension and all emotions that come with thrilling.
  8. Shows doesn’t tell: Since we are in the visual medium, great dialogue shows us the action instead of telling us.  Example, when a character brings the other character a glass of water then says. ‘Here’s your water’ Isn’t that a repeat? They could simply hand the glass over or place it on the table without repeating the words that follow the action that we’ve already seen. If you show it, don’t tell us about it.
  9. Starts late, leaves early: You should ideally start your dialogue in the middle of its action. As long as we know the characters previous moments then we don’t need the greetings, and how is the weather today information. Dive right into the action. And when your character has hit the nail home with their punch line or dialogue, don’t stay there, cut to the next scene. This way, your dialogue stays sharp, to the point and moves faster.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book on writing ‘Get writing; A beginner’s guide from Idea to First Draft. There are more excerpts on writing in a guide I give out for free. Subscribe to my email list to get it delivered to your inbox!

Happy writing and Happy Creating!

COMMON WRITING MISTAKES AND HOW TO AVOID THEM BY DAMARIS IRUNGU OCHIENG’

One of the best things that happened to my writing career earlier on was becoming an assistant script editor, then a script editor and story developer. Reading people’s scripts sharpened my eye to what works and what doesn’t work in a story and script.  The season that accelerated my writing career was when I worked on the MNET commissioned Africa Magic Original Films (AMOF) 2013-2014, the beautiful films are on showmax, catch them now that we have a lot more time to watch!

For us to have 71 TV movies to shoot, meant that I read through hundreds of scripts. I rarely got a script that blew my mind, at times some would do a good job, but again, when you are working under so much pressure, you sometimes yearn for a story that knocks you off your socks.

What broke my heart most was reading scripts with mistakes that could easily have been avoided, had the writer put in the hours in learning the art and craft of writing. Read below on some common writing mistakes and how to avoid them.

  1. Never submit your first draft: This seems pretty obvious, but a number of writers seem to have no problem at all sending in a first draft to an editor.  Friend, if you are serious about your writing career you will know to keep your first draft for your eyes only. No first draft is ever good, unless you’re a pro with many awards to your name, but still, most pros would not submit their first draft to anyone. A first draft is more of a vomit on the page, spend your time re-looking and re-editing before you give another person to look through your messy thought process.  I cannot emphasize more. Your first draft is for your eyes only!
  2. A cliché idea with no twists and turns:  Yeah we all know there’s nothing new under the sun, all ideas have been done. An idea can however be freshened up by adding a twist to it. E.g if you want to write about domestic violence, how about writing it from the point of view of an abused husband or from the eyes of a teen who lives through his parents fighting and how that affects him/her? It’s a done topic but a different POV adds a twist to it making us curious enough to watch/read it.
  3. Predictable plots: Off the back of the point above on cliché ideas, the idea/premise might be great, but  as the writer, you don’t surprise us or get us curious because your twists and turns are predictable, we can tell your characters next move, next emotional reaction, next line of dialogue. Let’s strive to surprise and give our audience an unpredictable experience by making the obstacles and complications unexpected. They will love us for that.
  4. Weak Inciting incident or comes in late or too early before we connect with your audience. Friends, you can place your inciting incident anywhere…but unless you have mastered your craft, you just don’t experiment, place it within the 25 percent of your telling, if you’re writing a 90 minute feature, what is 25% of 90? If you place it after the 25% the story starts to drag, if you place it much earlier like the first 5 minutes, it might backfire as we haven’t connected with your character well enough to root for them. Don’t listen to the pros who tell you to do what you want, even in school, you had to know what the rules were to break them! Know the rules then break them, otherwise you’ll be serving us ‘mathogothanio’ (a mishmash) Your inciting incident also needs to be powerful, if your protagonist can say no to your inciting incident and their life goes back to normal, you have no story, the inciting incident has to be so strong that it completely disrupts your protagonists life and they have to react to it and try to bring back normalcy to their lives.
  5. You make it easy on your protagonist: I know you love your protagonist and might be tempted to make life easy for them, DON’T! The harder you make your protagonists life, the more we love you as a writer.  The reason most of watch fils/TV and read books,  is to escape our boring lives for the excitement of the protagonists life, so go for it, torture us, we are paying for it!
  6. Not delivering on what you promised: If you say your script is a comedy…my friend, you better deliver those laughs, if a thriller, better thrill us, if an action –adventure, we better see some action in there. You have to deliver on what you promised, you can’t promise me Indian butter chicken and serve me githeri curry (mix of beans and maize). That’s a NO!
  7. No increased jeopardy/ No raised stakes: Fellow writers, we are in the emotional delivery business. You need to raise stakes, their needs to be jeopardy for the character through whom we experience the story.  You have no excuse to give us anything short of that!
  8. Underdeveloped characters: As a script editor I can tell from the first few pages how much time you’ve spent with your characters, from the first few pages I can tell just how bored or excited your characters will make me feel. Please don’t take shortcuts here, get to spend time with your characters, know them inside out, and let them make you laugh and cry before you bring them over to us to move our emotions.  Observe life, observe the people you know in life, no one is one dimensional, we are multi- dimensional humans. Make sure you do the same for your characters.
  9. Characters sound the same- weak and clichéd dialogue: We are all different in life, we all have different vocabulary, I don’t sound like my brother, husband, sister or daughter, we sound very different. We might have a few catch phrases that go around but the rest of the words, how and where we place them are very different. Why then do we expect our characters to sound the same and use the same choice of vocabulary?  In as far as clichéd dialogue goes, a husband says to his wife, ‘I love you,’ the normal response would be, ‘I love you too’, which becomes cliché…but Imagine him saying ‘I love you’ and her asking ‘Why? Why do you love me?’ or anything else…find ways to spice up your dialogue and see where that leads you.
  10. Pacing:  I know of many writers who say how much they hate the 3 act structure. Ignore them if you are starting out your writing career. The three act structure will help you so much in your writing, as I said earlier, you have to know the rules to break them, understand the three act structure and how that can help you with the structure of your story(pacing) Think of it as a guide and not a formula.  Screenwriter &Director Akiva Goldman once said ‘Screenwriting is like fashion. All clothes have the same structure. A shirt has two sleeves and buttons, but not all shirts look alike.’

Hope this article helps you avoid some common writing mistakes. Share this blog post with a friend. TIA

Happy Writing and Happy Creating!

WRITER’S BLOCK By Damaris Irungu Ochieng’

Writer’s block…The two words most writers are afraid of, words that might mean doom or the end of a career if the syndrome persists.

So what exactly is this dreaded writer’s block? Is there really such a thing as writers block or is the afflicted writer just being lazy?

Honestly I believe there’s nothing like writer’s block, but before you throw stones at me for belittling your very real life challenges, hear me out.

Imagine you having a conversation with your child, if you don’t have a child just imagineJ So Imagine you waking your kid up to get ready for school and your kid refuses to get up, you ask why, they say they don’t ‘feel’ like going to school, in disbelief you respond ‘excuse me, what do you mean you don’t feel like going to school?’ And your son or daughter says they just feel uninspired, they’re not sure if they’ll understand anything that day at school because they’re just not feeling like it. What do you do as a parent? Cut them back to size by telling them to get up in the next few minutes or they will know who is the parent in this house, that would be me, If you’re more of a diplomatic parent you talk persuasively to them and convince them of the importance of going to school even when they don’t feel like it and that once they get there they will feel like it and will have an amazing time.

I have a strong feeling that many of us parents would not entertain our child who doesn’t ‘feel’ like going to school.

If we wouldn’t entertain our child’s ‘feelings’, why are we so quick to entertain that ‘feeling’ when it comes to our very own writing? Writer’s block is simply a feeling, ‘I feel uninspired, my brain feels foggy, I have no clue how to end this story, I don’t know what the mid- point is and many other crippling feelings.

Friends, if we entertain those thoughts then we’ll never get any writing done. The secret to beating writer’s block is to simply show up for your writing appointment and just do it! Banish that feeling and get writing. Here are some tips to make sure you don’t get trapped in the writers’ block excuse.

  1. Plan ahead- planning ahead helps and saves you so much heartache especially on the days you feel less inspired (read writer’s block) When you know ahead of time what you will be working on the next day then your brain will not have a reason to freeze because you already have some plan of what to expect when you sit at your work station.
  2. Show up- If you don’t show up then you will never know what writing you could have done that day. The best gift you can give your career is to show up every day.
  3. Know thyself- Are you a morning person, a night owl or anything goes? When are you at your best creatively? Sometimes we end up confused when we find that our role model works best in the morning and yet we are night owls. Don’t compare yourself to anyone, you are the only one who knows what works for you. Find your fit and don’t waste your most productive time.
  4. Fill up your well- Sometimes writers block manifests itself because your well is empty, when you have reached the end of your knowledge on a particular topic and yet the story demands more. What do you do at this point? You go in and do more research, read on the topic, watch a documentary or movie or TV show on the topic, read articles, get your hands on information that will help give you  new insight that will help jump start your writing.
  5. Have a road map- Where do you want to go and by when? How do you plan on getting there? If you know you need to write a 90 page feature length script, you start breaking it down, perhaps 5 pages a day *20=100pages so you know in roughly 20 days if you’ve already mapped it out then you should for sure have your first draft.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book on writing. For more on the mindset and craft of writing, sign up to my email list by clicking on the sign up button on my FB writer’s page – Damaris Irungu O – Writer’s page, fill in your details, confirm the subscription from the email you receive and more excerpts from my book on writing will be sent to you.

Happy Writing and Creating!