I love Boone Shepard. Of all my characters, he’s the one I most enjoy returning to because it always feels a little like coming home. Boone, unlike the vast majority of other protagonists I’ve written, is also a good person and an outright hero which, y’know, makes him a bit more palatable to revisit than some of the murderers, manipulators or worse who head up other stories.
The other great thing about Boone is that his stories are almost endlessly flexible. He travels the world and occasionally through time in pursuit of adventure, and this means that any time I settle in to write a new Boone yarn I can go just about anywhere. There also an inherent tonal elasticity built into the fabric of the series; the first novel, after all, goes from a vastly improbable fight on a train to relentless jokes about manatees to an overall plot about oppression and human experimentation. American Adventure features a scene where Elvis Presley appears speaking only in quotes from Elvis songs, most of the third act takes place aboard a literal flying casino, but at its heart it’s about what being a good person really means. Boone Shepard, to me, is able to be both meaningful and absurd (and scarcely anything in between), and so it stands to reason that different stories about him will lean more towards either extreme.
Boone’s adventures fall into a few categories. There are the three novels, which comprise the most consequential events and adventures in his life, there are the ongoing short stories, most of which take place in the months before the first novel and are, by and large, fun little jaunts. And as of yesterday there’s a new category that I’m not yet sure how to define.
I’ve been careful not to be too specific with Boone’s backstory prior to the first novel. The reason for this is that I like having big gaps in his life in which anything could have happened; the only rock solid canon for him is what you see in the books. I’ve never, for example, stated what countries Boone has been to or which famous figures he’s met or what kind of monsters he’s been up against. This flexibility leaves so much territory to be explored and very few moments where anything can be contradicted. That said, I’ve got a reasonable grasp on the timelines and various key events of his life, but there is period I’ve never given that much focus; that period being the time right after Marbier died. For those who have read the first novel, it’s the time immediately following the extended flashback sequence in the middle of the book.
There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I like Boone’s short adventures to be fun, and two is that, as this was a period of confusion and pain for him, we would be dealing with a Boone Shepard who is not fully formed and potentially a little unstable. Dramatically fertile territory, sure, but not the kind of thing a kid can read and enjoy.
But when a story comes it comes and the other day, listening to the song “Pilgrim (You Can’t Go Home)” by Dave Rawlings Machine, I had the beginnings of an idea, a melancholic tale about an aging gunslinger facing his last stand. It’s similar territory to Below Babylon, but that play never really worked on the level I wanted it to work, and furthermore I had much clearer ideas for this new one. And beyond even that, it took about five minutes from conception of the idea to realise that it was a Boone Shepard story.
When I realised how dark it was going to go I toyed with swapping Boone for a new character, but the more it developed the more I realised only he made sense. The play, weirdly, isn’t about him; the main character is very much Emery Quinn, the gunslinger, but a Boone Shepard nearing the tail end of his darkest hour was the foil Emery’s story needed.
And so I got to work and what I ended up with was something I’m not sure how to feel about. Boone Shepard and the Last Gunslinger is not a children’s story. I mean, there’s nothing overtly inappropriate in it, but it’s got a far bleaker tone than any of Boone’s other adventures and spends a lot of time exploring the kinds of themes that kids would probably find super dull. And that’s not even touching on where it takes Boone’s character, to a place that even I’m a little torn about.
But those concerns kind of dissipate in the face of how much I enjoyed writing it, or how proud I am of it. Whether it gets produced and whether said production paves the way for more Boone stage shows, some of which go to similar dark places, remains to be seen. I personally think it fits the Booniverse, but anybody who mainly enjoys the swashbuckling adventure parts of Boone’s stories probably isn’t going to get much out of this particular tale.
If nothing else it consolidates what I love about writing Boone Shepard; it’s hard to get bored of a character who in one story can muse on existentialism while trying to stop an old gunslinger committing one last murder, and in the next ride away from a gang of crossbow wielding skiers on the back of a moose.
Thinking about it earlier today, I’ve come to realise that a huge amount of my work either has a twist or at least a shock ending (the two are different, bear with me). Working backwards, Stars, Khancoban, The Commune, Heroes, Sunburnt Country, The Critic, Regression, The Lucas Conundrum, We Can Work It Out, The Last Supper, Windmills and Beyond Babylon all had something that could fairly be considered a twist. The only recent works of mine that didn’t were Springsteen and Moonlite, and that’s only because you’re a little bit limited when writing about actual people. Beyond this, and I could be wrong, I think that almost every one of my Movie Maintenance pitches has a twist at one moment or other. I can’t help myself. I love hearing the gasps of an audience. I love feeling like I’m a puppeteer leading people in one direction without them ever being aware of the piano I’m about to drop on their heads.
To me a twist, no matter what point it comes in the narrative, is a subversion of expectations, a moment where the story reveals something that completely changes what you thought was happening. One of the most famous examples is the ending of Fight Club, where we learn that the two central characters have been the same person the whole time. It’s a great reveal, rightly lauded and there’s a reason for it; it’s very, very obvious.
A good twist should not, by definition, be unpredictable. A twist must be inevitable, and to achieve that you have to make sure there are seeds planted all the way through the story so that when the big moment comes your audience isn’t saying “wait what?” but instead are slapping their heads and yelling “how did I not see that coming?” A good twist is the “of course!” moment where you realise that there was literally no other way this could have gone and that you were the idiot for not noticing all along.
Consider Life on Mars, one of my all-time favourite TV shows. Life on Mars follows a cop who gets hit by a car and wakes up in 1973. In the finale of its sequel series Ashes to Ashes it’s revealed that the world is a purgatory for dead policemen with unfinished business. In the American remake it’s revealed that the characters have been in a simulation during a literal flight to Mars.
Far more people guessed the ending of the British show, but that’s because it made sense and was in line with the themes of the story we had been told. Literally nobody guessed the American ending because it was fucking stupid. Which would you prefer? The nonsense ending nobody could predict, or the satisfying ending that somebody can probably guess? Obviously you go for the latter because even if your twist is spoiled, at least the integrity of your story remains. A twist for the sake of it is almost always an embarrassment. Not every surprise is a good one.
The master of twists in modern storytelling, to me, is JK Rowling. Even in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them she delivered two moments that made me gasp, because when the reveals came they made sense. Each of her Cormoran Strike novels has the same effect. What Rowling does so brilliantly is plant the seeds at moments where she’s directing your attention elsewhere. When the twist comes enough seeds have been planted for you to buy it, but you almost never see it coming. There are so many clues that Quirrell is working with Voldemort, but they never happen in isolation. For example, Hermione knocking over Quirrell when she’s rushing to stop Snape apparently cursing Harry. In the moment it reads as a detail explaining how fixated Hermione is on her goal, in retrospect it clearly lines up with the moment the curse on Harry’s broom stops. Rowling is masterful at giving her clues multiple purposes – Sirius Black’s ramblings about Pettigrew read to us as proof of his insanity and fixation on Harry, Mad Eye Moody’s obsession with drinking from a hipflask underlines his paranoia rather than exposes his use of Polyjuice Potion, the Half Blood Prince’s increasingly evil spells and the date his spellbook was published suggest the work of a teenage Voldemort, not a bitter young Snape with a hand-me-down book. Hiding clues in plain sight means that the integrity of your surprise will never be in question; it’s just about making the audience look somewhere else while you plant them.
It can get too obvious, of course. Dexter Season Six has one of the worst twists of all time because the creators went overboard planting clues and seemed to have forgotten that Psycho and Fight Club left us all well and truly on the lookout for split-personality reveals. Broadchurch, largely a good mystery series, spends so much time focussing on a succession of red herring suspects that its lack of attention on the man eventually revealed as the killer becomes suspicious in its own right.
Not every twist has to be an explosive reveal of hitherto unknown information. The Last Jedi boasted a brilliant twist that was actually just a logical character choice, one that hit hard because it flew in the face of how we’ve been conditioned to think Star Wars films work. The Force Awakens was such a close analogue to A New Hope that it was easy to believe this new trilogy would follow the same rough trajectory as the old one, that it would all build up to the final defeat of Supreme Leader Snoke in Episode 9. Last Jedi played on our assumptions so well that when Kylo Ren eventually killed Snoke we were as surprised as the supreme leader himself – but not (a few angry corners of the internet notwithstanding) unsatisfied. Snoke was a dull villain precisely because we had seen his like done before and better. In retrospect, of course he had to go. It seems so obvious now, but through clever sleight of hand Star Wars got us good.
It bears repeating that a surprise ending and a twist are two different things; a shock character death in the final act of a film or an unexpected downbeat ending are not twists, because they don’t necessarily build on something carefully set up. Superman dying in Batman Vs Superman or Han Solo being dispatched by his own son aren’t twists, shocking and unexpected though they may be.
Twists are tough to pull off, because they need to be both surprising and inevitable. Pulling this off requires some deft storytelling; careful seed planting and clever distraction. But if you land a good one that gets a real reaction out of people, it can be one of the best feelings you’ll ever get as a storyteller.
The best way to figure out twists is also the best way to figure out literally anything else about writing; look at what works and what doesn’t and then look deeper until you figure out why.
People say that writing endings is hard, but I don’t think that’s true. Endings are only difficult if you aren’t sure how your story is supposed to end, and if that’s the case chances are you’ve either missed something or taken a wrong turn along the way. The end of a story is where you place the full stop that gives the sentence meaning; it’s the moments you tie your themes and ideas together and reveal exactly what point you were making all along. If you know what you’re trying to do then the right ending will reveal itself to you, and that’s only if you didn’t know what you were working towards going in.
No, endings are easy. But beginnings, on the other hand, suck.
It’s something I’ve grappled with a lot; what’s the best, sexiest, most intriguing way to start a story? After all, a clunky opening can lose an audience; you really need to nail it in order to make sure they stick with you. So many of the best TV shows or novels have weak beginnings because a first chapter has to do so much; you need to establish the characters, world and conflicts in a way that doesn’t feel like awkward table setting or an info dump. You need to give people a sense of the journey they’re about to embark on without giving too much away, you need to introduce intrigue and basically make a promise that it’s all going to be worthwhile. And all of that only matters if readers get past your first paragraph. So how do you land that hook and reel your audience in?
So many young writers, and I am as guilty of this as anyone, start in media res; with an out of context glimpse of a later, more exciting part of the story. In theory this makes the audience immediately engaged by teasing them with the good stuff; in practice, it often just comes off as a cheat, a desperate attempt to assure the audience that the story will get good if they can just stick through the boring early stuff.
I’m not saying in media res is an inherently bad way to start a story; Breaking Bad famously opened its first episode and many episodes thereafter with a form of it. But then so did Twilight. And in a recent episode of Rick and Morty, Morty bluntly tells a wannabe screenwriter who has tried to employ the trick that ‘stories should start when they start’.
Like anything, there’s no hard and fast rule; what matters is less what you do but how you do it. During my Master of Screenwriting I had this idea for a TV show about a couple of uni students who figured out a way to anonymously adjust internet banking numbers and turn anyone into a millionaire. My idea was to open the first episode with the main character lying in a gutter, covered in blood, dressed in an expensive suit, while hundred-dollar bills float around him. It would then jump back to a year or so previously, to show his life as a broke, party animal student.
My tutor at the time didn’t exactly roll his eyes, but I think it took him a lot of effort not to. I was thrown by his lack of interest in what was clearly an amazing, striking, iconic opening, but he went on to make a very important point; there was no real difference between the two presented versions of my character. One was rich, one was poor. They were still both the same reckless hedonist; the suit and cash revealed that much. That kind of juxtaposition needs to be very stark in order to be interesting.
Consider Breaking Bad. The first thing we see is a man wearing underwear, an apron and a gas mask driving an RV. The guy in the passenger seat is passed out. There are two corpses in the back, sliding around what looks like a drug lab. We hear sirens getting closer. Then the RV crashes. The man gets out. He’s terrified. He records a farewell to his family on a video camera, before picking up a gun and walking out on to the road, ready to face his pursuers.
Then we cut to a month earlier. The man is a downtrodden, mild-mannered high school teacher who works at the car wash to make ends meet. The two characters are strikingly different and yet the change came about in only a month. How the hell did that happen?
It works on a couple of levels; firstly it’s irresistibly intriguing, secondly it pays off by the end of the episode so it doesn’t force us into an interminable wait, and lastly it suits the theme of the show; terrible circumstances can change almost anyone. Now we’re going to show you how.
My TV pilot Windmills, which won the Sir Peter Ustinov Award and was recently shortlisted for the Monte Miller, starts in media res. We see the burnt remains of a prestigious private school. In the centre of the school’s courtyard is a blackened, dead tree. Cops are everywhere, body bags are being carried out but the lead detective is fixated on the tree. In the middle of a concrete courtyard, setting it on fire had to be deliberate. So why? As he says this the tree grows back and we pull out to see the courtyard years previously, full of students in immaculate uniforms, leading into the start of our story.
I grappled with whether or not to have this opening; generally speaking, I’m of the ‘stories should start where they start’ school, but Windmills is a special case. The narrative spans years and travels from a high school mistake to a higher stakes world of organised crime. The progression, I believe, is organic, but one of the biggest criticisms that every version of Windmills has been met with is that it feels like two different stories. I decided on that opening as a way of being honest with the audience, a way of saying that as much as this might initially seem like a high school drama, that’s not the story I’m telling, so be ready. It wasn’t a choice made to be clever or get to the good stuff early; it was purely made in the name of clarity. Although the fact that it pulls you in nice and early doesn’t hurt.
But, generally speaking, when it comes to opening a story I always point to the first lines of two of my favourite novels.
Will Graham sat Crawford down at a picnic table between the house and the ocean and gave him a glass of iced tea.
This is the opening line of Red Dragon, the book that gave us Hannibal Lecter and spawned a massive media franchise comprising several more novels, a bunch of beloved films including one that cleaned up at the Oscars, and one of the more beloved TV shows of recent years. As our first introduction to this saga, it could scarcely be more less significant or pretentious; there’s no description, no ominous foreshadowing, no sense of who these people are, what they look like or what they’re doing. Crawford doesn’t even get a first name.
I love this opening. It gives us no time to decide whether or not the book is for us, it doesn’t attempt to dress up a mundane conversation as something more portentous or powerful; it just drops us into the action and implicitly makes us ask questions. Who are these people? What are they talking about? The scene goes on with essentially just dialogue; the back and forth telling us enough to intrigue us, but still not what we want to know. There’s no flowery language, not potent imagery, nothing but this conversation that begins our story, because there doesn’t need to be anything else. It’s stripped back, efficient, and confident storytelling. It’s also my preference of how to start; just jump in. Don’t worry about sounding pretty or profound or anything. Just start. Because sometimes the best way to pull your audience in is to not give a shit about pulling them in. Trust that the strength of your story will do the work, and you won’t have one of those clumsy openings that tries to do everything and only succeeds at making people bored early. This is the trick I tried to pull off with the opening to Sunburnt Country and a few other things I’ve done recently; except it’s not a trick. It’s the complete opposite. Just honest, robust, blunt storytelling.
That said, how you start always depends on what kind of story you’re trying to tell. The book I probably consider to be my all-time favourite, The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper, opens with the following line:
Just a few scant months after my mother’s suicide, I walked into the garage, looking for my baseball glove, and discovered Cindy Posner on her knees, animatedly performing fellatio on my older brother Brad.
Apart from being simultaneously shocking and funny, it tells us a lot. It introduces the trauma that hangs over the novel. It implicitly establishes the relationship between the two brothers and it sets up Joe as somebody who accidently stumbles into situations that have nothing to do with them, only to make them worse. It also tells us exactly what kind of book we’re reading; one that lets humour and heartbreak sit side by side in a succession of deeply awkward encounters. In short, it tells us everything we need to know going in.
I tried to do a similar thing with Boone Shepard:
I always take the time to appreciate the rolling green fields and pretty woods of the English countryside, whether I am viewing them from the seat of my motorbike or, as I found myself on the day this story begins, hanging one handed from the side of a speeding train.
In one line I try to set up the tone of the book, (humorous and action packed), Boone as a character (someone for whom death defying scenarios are almost mundane) and the setting (England). It also throws the audience headfirst into the story and directly tells them that this is the proper start; no unnecessary preamble. Whether or not I succeeded is up to the reader.
In plays I often try to be a bit cleverer, starting with a line of dialogue that speaks to either the themes or overall plot. Moonlite, a play about the divide between truth and legends, starts with the line ‘I don’t believe him’. Heroes, about two best friends who try to use dark secrets to destroy each other, starts with ‘we need to talk’. The Critic, about subjectivity when it comes to art, starts with ‘maybe, in the end, it’s a matter of perspective’.
But then conversely, Chris Hawkins and Regression, probably the two best plays I’ve ever written, respectively start with the words ‘hello’ and ‘fuck’ so it’s hardly an exact science.
That, in the end, is probably the truth about openings; there’s no one way to do it, because stories are different and have different demands. What suits your story? A clever, layered opening line, a funny, quirky, surprising establisher, or a direct dive into the action?
I hate overly showy descriptions of weather or settings. I find them tedious. I’m someone who wants a story to get going and prove itself as worthy of my time. But I’m not everyone and my taste doesn’t always dictate the best way to proceed. My advice would be, if in doubt, take the Red Dragon approach. Dive in, start telling your story, and don’t worry about drawing out the beginning. You can always change it later, but you might just find that starting at the start is the best way to do it.
Creatives, inherently, tend to be dreamers with little grasp of reality. A passion and love for the make believe and a tendency to use stories to shape your understanding of the world are basically pre-requisites. Of course it’s all very well and good to wax lyrical about the values of those traits, but they also tend to be what hobble creatives when they reach the point of wanting to leverage their ideas into a viable career. After all, a mind full of stories is scarcely the kind that can identify brutal realities.
I’ve written at length before about how hard it is to make any money in the arts, how it requires almost pathological self-belief and refusal to listen to the people who tell you you’re not good enough. But one thing I’ve learnt is that you can save yourself a lot of pain if, early on, you educate yourself on a couple of tough truths.
A lot of people will tell you that art is a form of self-expression, and any time you see a tedious one-person show or pretentious piece of abstract performance art, you’re seeing that ethos in action. You’re also seeing an expression of profound self-indulgence. Here is the truth that so many people can’t seem to get their head around – nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, gives a shit about your self-expression. Your friends don’t. Your family don’t. The general public absolutely don’t. Even if they say they do, they don’t. At all. If you’re writing a script or book or whatever that’s very personal, then you have to ask why anyone else should care. We live in a world that is absolutely overflowing with entertainment options, and if you want to be a contender then you can’t be producing work that only your Mum will grudgingly come out and see.
Now that’s not to say that self-expression is a bad thing. It’s actually essential to good art. Self-expression is what makes your story unique and special. But it cannot be the only thing your piece has. Is your story funny? Sad? Gripping? Action packed? What does your story have that people might like to see? The trick you have to pull off as a storyteller is to disguise self-expression as something else entirely.
The Boone Shepard series is a zany, funny, action packed trilogy of quirky adventure novels with time travel and absurd cameos from heightened versions of famous people. They’re designed to take kids on a twisty, rollicking, entertaining jaunt through a world that’s a bit like ours but not really, with two central characters who, hopefully, are fun to be around.
But if that was all Boone Shepard was then I wouldn’t be so invested. I wouldn’t have spent a decade of my life working on it. The reason I care so much about Boone is that the three books are also deeply, deeply personal, exploring themes and ideas that mean everything to me. In a lot of ways, thematically, Boone is not all that different to darker work of mine like Windmills. The trick is that all those deep, meaningful, personal themes are not the selling point. They’re not what I mention when people ask me about Boone Shepard. I tell them about all the things that I think make the story appealing, and then trust that if and when they read it they’ll pick up on what I was trying to say. Basically a good story should be like a Trojan Horse; the heart of your intentions hidden in the shell of what someone else wants.
I used to be arrogant when trying to get my work published. I would send agents and publishers manuscripts that I figured would work just because they were there, without ever stopping and seriously interrogating why somebody would spend money on this thing. A reader might be willing to risk twenty bucks on a book that could be bad, but a publisher spends thousands of dollars on editing, printing, designing and marketing a book. And that’s where things get really hard; you’re not asking somebody to spend twenty bucks on a story, you’re asking them to spend thousands on an investment. If you can’t justify making that investment to yourself, then you really can’t expect someone else will.
I made a lot of mistakes early on. I sent out work that wasn’t ready and I took meetings with important people to discuss projects that had absolutely no chance of being picked up. Those people, if they remember me at all, won’t remember me as someone worth taking seriously. That makes a hard task nigh impossible.
If you’re a young writer, I suggest patience. Don’t take the word of a couple of friends telling you your script or novel is a masterpiece. Get an anonymous manuscript assessment. Put it in the drawer for a year before you come back and reconsider if it’s really where it needs to be and use the year in between to work on other projects. At every turn ask yourself what you have that people want. Think of your story as a product; is there any demand for what you have, and if there isn’t how can you change that? Basically, remove your perspective from the equation and look at your story as if you’re a publisher. How much would you be willing to spend on this thing?
Even once you’re 100% sure of what you have, stories are subjective and chances are you’ll start a handsome collection of rejection letters. But believe me, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself if you’re trying to sell a story that you know in your heart is worth that investment, rather than one you’re just throwing out there in the hopes that it might stick somewhere.
Last year was the first year in which writing really became a job for me. Between various creative projects, freelance stuff, Movie Maintenance and creative writing tutoring I didn’t have a single source of income that wasn’t directly tied to storytelling. Which is the dream, right? I mean, obviously I’m pretty ambitious and have bigger designs, but making a living from writing work was something that, not long ago, seemed pretty far off.
The problem, of course, is that making a living from something means it’s your job and the thing about jobs is that sometimes you get over them. Sometimes stuff gets ahead of you and you find yourself burnt out and at a loss. The things that used to excite you don’t anymore.
I’m well past the point of fretting about whether or not I’ve ‘lost it’. At least once a year I have a mini crisis with my writing, wondering if I’m as good as I used to be, wondering if I’m ever going to get better, wondering if it’s actually what I want to do and so on. Inevitably, I’ll find a new project that excites me or something good will happen or I’ll just get over myself and these times pass. I don’t let them drag me down anymore because history has proven that, once I’ve had some time away, I’ll be back to storytelling with renewed energy and focus.
The thing is, I burnt myself out badly last year. My production company did four plays, three of which I’d written. I co-produced a web series, launched a line of radio plays, celebrated the release of my second published novel and wrote my quarter of an anthology that I collectively published with some friends. Well, actually, there were two anthologies. And none of this is to mention my work for Den of Geek or Sanspants Radio. The point is, I wrote a lot last year, most of it for money, a lot of it stuff I wasn’t especially proud of. And that takes a toll. Because when you’re working to a deadline, no longer writing for yourself, some of the sheen has to go. And that’s something I don’t think I’d ever anticipated.
By December I wasn’t writing. I couldn’t. Whenever I tried it came out clunky and awkward. So I just… didn’t. I didn’t try to force it. I went away on holiday and just waited. It would come when it came.
I started slow. I wrote a novella over the new-years period, a sequel to Sunburnt Country that had no reason to exist other than it being a story I wanted to tell. But even after that, I had no burning story to tell next. I had ideas, but those ideas were all being held at bay by responsibilities. Deadlines to meet and all the rest. So I just didn’t write.
It didn’t help that Moonlite pretty much dominated my January, or that it was a singularly difficult, stressful season of theatre, difficulty and stress that didn’t abate once the show was actually underway. When people asked me what was next after Moonlite I didn’t answer because there was no answer. I hadn’t thought about it. I was just focused on getting to the end of that show.
Meanwhile things were falling by the wayside. I had so much to get done but all of it would be handled tomorrow. That was my ethos through January; ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. Never mind that I was supposed to hand in a second draft of Boone Shepard 3 by the end of that month. I’d do it tomorrow.
Then, last Thursday February 1st, one day after the Boone deadline I had not met, I attended one of the weekly Words and Wine nights I do with the Melbourne Young Writer’s Studio, the first of the year. Words and Wine, where incidentally I am writing this, is basically what it says on the tin; a weekly catch up of writers where, for two hours, we drink wine and write words. That’s it. Last year I treated W&W as my holiday, the place where I wrote things that I wanted to write.
At the start of last week’s session we were given a challenge, to come up with three loglines for new stories on the spot. My plan was to cheat and use pre-existing ideas, then I looked out the windows, into the dimming sky, and an idea struck me. An idea about an aging astronaut who wants to return to the stars.
So I wrote that story, something I came up with on the spot, something that, from concept to completion, took less than two hours. I wrote that story and it was the best thing I had written in ages.
After that, I could focus on Boone. I could approach it from a new angle and finally get productive, finally get the rewrites done I needed, including some scenes I literally teared up writing because I was plumbing some character depths I’d never before touched with Boone Shepard. I got back on top of my freelance jobs and then, two days ago, I learned that I was one of three people shortlisted for the 2017 Monte Miller Award, which got me on to the Pathways Program – a collection of the best unproduced scripts in the country.
Despondency and flatness were gone so quickly. Not because I wrote that short story and it changed things, because I kept in mind at all times that, even if it seems counterintuitive, telling stories will always be what makes me happy and, if I’m in a funk, then chances are telling stories is the way out of it. It’s just about finding the right story.
Writing is the best thing in the world. It also sucks as a career. You make very little money, you’re constantly rejected and it takes a long time for anybody to take you seriously, if anybody ever does. But if you are a writer you’ll persist because, honestly, what the fuck else are you going to do?
The last couple of months have reminded me of all the worst things about what I do. The last week has reminded me of the best.
And if you’re interested, below is that short story.
Writing words about writing words.