Harlan Sez: “Pay The Writer!”

A memorable (and timely) rant from the feature documentary on Harlan Ellison, “DREAMS WITH SHARP TEETH.”

In case you’re unaware, Harlan is an abrasive and argumentative speculative fiction writer, whose published works include short stories, novellas, screenplays, teleplays, essays, a wide range of criticism covering literature, film, television, and print media. Sometimes he makes me laugh uncontrollably, sometimes he causes my blood to boil, but he represents my passion for writing. Hell, his short story collection “Strange Wine” was the reason I returned to it after walking away all those many years ago.

Sally forth and be collecting your paycheck writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Improve Your Screenwriting in 22 Steps

Everyone has at least one good story within themselves to tell, but not all people are writers, just as not all writers are screenwriters. Good news for you, right, you determined and spunky aspiring screenwriter? Well, yes and no.  The current rough odds of selling a screenplay to a major and minor Hollywood production company or within the independent market come in at 1 in 5,000. And that’s only if you’re a good screenwriter with a great script.

Part of your job as the aforementioned determined and spunky aspiring screenwriter is to cut those odds by half or even a quarter (don’t look at me like that, it’s doable). Here are 22 ways to set you on your path:

  1. Write every day.
  2. Read produced screenplays and search for what they did well. Read for a contest and see the difference between the winners and the ones that didn’t make it.
  3. Take screenwriting classes. I can easily recommend a few.
  4. Get feedback on your writing.
  5. Critique another writer’s scripts.
  6. Join a screenwriting group.
  7. Take your favorite screenplay and transcribe it, noticing the choices the writer made.
  8. Select a technique to improve and use it in one or more scenes.
  9. Write the same scene a completely different way: (Reverse a scene or character; Increase the stakes; Change who prevails in the scene; Use a twist to change the end of the scene; Put the characters in a worse position)
  10. Have another writer write one of your scenes in a completely different way.
  11. Take a character to an extreme to see what other possibilities are available.
  12. Take a line of dialogue or description and rewrite it 10 different ways or more.
  13. Stretch yourself: Give your character an unsolvable problem and then solve it.
  14. Pick a scene in a movie you like and write it. Once you have completed it, read the writer’s script for that scene and see how he or she wrote it differently.
  15. Watch a movie, stopping it at the end of each scene. Write down what happened in the scene, how the characters changed, what was the in and out points, and what was the most interesting part of the scene.
  16. Take your best idea and top it in some way! Sometimes, it is not about the writing. It is about the thinking and the breakthroughs and getting used to coming up with fresh ideas. Force yourself to top your best ideas on a regular basis and soon, you’ll have the best ideas in Hollywood.
  17. Find out what a producer or reader wants in a script. This can shift your chances dramatically. It may save you from writing something that has no chance of success.
  18. Take an acting class.
  19. Do a read-through with actors.
  20. Shoot a short on DV. For anyone who has done this, you’ve had the experience of seeing actors bring your script to life. Until you do, you can’t imagine the amount of pride and embarrassment you’ll experience. But directing even one scene will change how you write.
  21. Give yourself permission to write from your heart with no holding back.
  22. Decide that you will constantly improve your writing until you are one of the best screenwriters there is.

I know, I know, you probably won’t get around to doing everything on the list, but you should attempt to do at least one everyday. And that’s one in addition to writing (like I had to tell you that).

Sally forth and be writeful. And sell a script while you’re at it. I dare you.

How do you solve a problem like MARY SUE?


With Amazon stepping into the fan fiction game with its Kindle Worlds feature, there’s a lot of internet chat going on about Mary Sue —– typically a female character who’s so perfect as to be annoying (the male equivalent is the Marty-Stu). Usually written by beginning writers, the Mary Sue is almost always beautiful, smart, etc., in short, she’s the perfect girl that falls in love with the protagonist and winds up upstaging all of the other characters in the story.

Some say Sue is the RomCom female equivalent of a male action hero (best at what they do, expert in any and every situation) while others complain that she’s an over-idealized, vanilla, uninteresting, unbelievable character without flaws or insecurities.

She’s been around forever, as long as beginning writers have been scribing their own versions of their favorite books, movies and TV shows, but she first picked up the Mary Sue moniker in 1974 in the Star Trek parody fanfic:


“Gee, golly, gosh, gloriosky,” thought Mary Sue as she stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. “Here I am, the youngest lieutenant in the fleet – only fifteen and a half years old.” Captain Kirk came up to her. “Oh, Lieutenant, I love you madly. Will you come to bed with me?” “Captain! I am not that kind of girl!” “You’re right, and I respect you for it. Here, take over the ship for a minute while I go get some coffee for us.” Mr. Spock came onto the bridge. “What are you doing in the command seat, Lieutenant?” “The Captain told me to.” “Flawlessly logical. I admire your mind.”

Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy and Mr. Scott beamed down with Lt. Mary Sue to Rigel XXXVII. They were attacked by green androids and thrown into prison. In a moment of weakness Lt. Mary Sue revealed to Mr. Spock that she too was half Vulcan. Recovering quickly, she sprung the lock with her hairpin and they all got away back to the ship.

But back on board, Dr. McCoy and Lt. Mary Sue found out that the men who had beamed down were seriously stricken by the jumping cold robbies , Mary Sue less so. While the four officers languished in Sick Bay, Lt. Mary Sue ran the ship, and ran it so well she received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Vulcan Order of Gallantry and the Tralfamadorian Order of Good Guyhood.

However the disease finally got to her and she fell fatally ill. In the Sick Bay as she breathed her last, she was surrounded by Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Mr. Scott, all weeping unashamedly at the loss of her beautiful youth and youthful beauty, intelligence, capability and all around niceness. Even to this day her birthday is a national holiday of the Enterprise.

Afraid you may have inadvertently created a Mary Sue? Why not run her through The Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test?

Sally forth and be writeful.

This sentence has five words

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important.” —– Gary Provost

50 Redundant Phrases To Avoid


  1. Absolutely certain or sure/essential/guaranteed: Someone who is certain or sure is already without doubt. Something that is essential is intrinsically absolute. A guarantee is by nature absolute (or should be). Abandon absolutely in such usage.
  2. Actual experience/fact: An experience is something that occurred (unless otherwise indicated). A fact is something confirmed to have happened. Actual is extraneous in these instances.
  3. Add an additional: To add is to provide another of something. Additional is extraneous.
  4. Added bonus: A bonus is an extra feature, so added is redundant.
  5. Advance notice/planning/reservations/warning: Notices, planning, reservations, and warnings are all, by their nature, actions that occur before some event, so qualifying such terms with advance is superfluous.
  6. As for example: As implies that an example is being provided, so omit for example.
  7. Ask a question: To ask is to pose a question, so a question is redundant.
  8. At the present time: At present means “at this time,” so avoid the verbose version.
  9. Basic fundamentals/essentials: Fundamentals and essentials are by their nature elementary, so remove basic from each phrase.
  10. (Filled to) capacity: Something filled is done so to capacity, so describing something as filled to capacity is repetitive.
  11. Came at a time when: When provides the necessary temporal reference to the action of coming; at a time is redundant.
  12. Close proximity/scrutiny: Proximity means “close in location,” and scrutiny means “close study,” so avoid qualifying these terms with close.
  13. Collaborate/join/meet/merge together: If you write of a group that collaborates or meets together, you imply that there’s another way to collect or confer. To speak of joining or merging together is, likewise, redundant.
  14. Completely filled/finished/opposite: Something that is filled or finished is thoroughly so; completely is redundant. Something that is opposite isn’t necessarily diametrically opposed, especially in qualitative connotations, but the modifier is still extraneous.
  15. Consensus of opinion: A consensus is an agreement but not necessarily one about an opinion, so consensus of opinion is not purely redundant, but the phrase of opinion is usually unnecessary.
  16. During the course of: During means “in or throughout the duration of,” so during the course of is repetitive.
  17. Definite decision: Decisions may not be final, but when they are made, they are unequivocal and therefore definite, so one should not be described as a definite decision.
  18. Difficult dilemma: A dilemma is by nature complicated, so omit difficult as a modifier.
  19. Direct confrontation: A confrontation is a head-on conflict. Direct as a qualifier in this case is redundant.
  20. End result: A result is something that occurs at the end, so omit end as a modifier of result.
  21. Enter in: To enter is to go in, so throw in out.
  22. Estimated at about/roughly: An estimate is an approximation. About and roughly are superfluous.
  23. False pretense: A pretence is a deception, so false is redundant.
  24. Few in number: Few refers to a small number; do not qualify few with the modifier in number.
  25. Final outcome: An outcome is a result and is therefore intrinsically final.
  26. First began, new beginning: A beginning is when something first occurs, so first and new are superfluous terms in these cases.
  27. For a period/number of days: Days is plural, so a duration is implied; a period of or a number of is redundant. It’s better to specify the number of days or to generalize with “many.”
  28. Foreign imports: Imports are products that originate in another country, so their foreign nature is implicit and the word foreign is redundant.
  29. Forever and ever: Ever is an unnecessary reduplication of forever.
  30. Free gift: A gift is by definition free (though cynics will dispute that definition), so free is extraneous.
  31. Invited guests: Guests are intrinsically those who have an invitation, so invited is redundant.
  32. Major breakthrough: A breakthrough is a significant progress in an effort. Though major is not directly redundant, the notable nature of the event is implicit.
  33. [Number] a.m. in the morning/p.m. in the evening: The abbreviations a.m. and p.m. already identify the time of day, so omit in the morning or in the evening.
  34. Past history/record: A history is by definition a record of past occurrences, and a record is documentation of what has already happened. In both cases, past is redundant.
  35. Plan ahead: To plan is to prepare for the future. Ahead is extraneous.
  36. Possibly might: Might indicates probability, so omit the redundant qualifier possibly.
  37. Postpone until later: To postpone is to delay. Later is superfluous.
  38. Protest against: To protest is to communicate opposition. Against is redundant.
  39. Repeat again: To repeat is to reiterate an action, so again is unnecessary.
  40. Revert back: Something that reverts returns to an earlier state. Back is superfluous.
  41. Same identical: Same and identical are just that (and that). Omit same as a qualifier for identical.
  42. Since the time when: Since indicates a time in the past; the time when is superfluous.
  43. Spell out in detail: To spell out is to provide details, so in detail is repetitive.
  44. Still remains: Something that remains is still in place. Still is redundant.
  45. Suddenly exploded: An explosion is an immediate event. It cannot be any more sudden than it is.
  46. Therapeutic treatment: Treatment in the sense of medical care is by nature therapeutic, so the adjective is redundant.
  47. Unexpected surprise: No surprise is expected, so the modifier is extraneous.
  48. Unintended mistake: A mistake is an inadvertently erroneous action. The lack of intention is implicit.
  49. Usual custom: A custom is something routinely and repeatedly done or observed, and usual is redundant.
  50. Written down: Something written has been taken down. Down is superfluous.

To Make a Long Story Shortest: #TwitterFiction

First there was the micro novel, or microblogging novel, a work of fiction intended as a full-length novel written and distributed in chunks, varying in size, depending on the social media site it was being published on. Then, flash fiction burst onto the scene (see: The Short and Short of Flash Fiction) and dared to tell big stories with extreme brevity. Not to be undone, a new arrival,Twitter fiction (aka tweet fiction), tossed its hat into the ring, boasting its ability to tell a story within 140 characters.

Thumb your literary nose up at it, if you will, but surely you can see the art in concise writing. Catching the key moment of a story and carefully selecting the proper words so that your audience infers your meaning and does all the heavy lifting of filling in the details themselves requires a level of skill and finesse. Not to mention the challenge of drawing laughter or tears from your reader, or filling them with horror or dread as you build suspense in such a confined space.

And this latest sub-genre hasn’t escaped the notice of well-known writers who have tried their hand at 140-character novels:

Geoff Dyer – I know I said that if I lived to 100 I’d not regret what happened last night. But I woke up this morning and a century had passed. Sorry.

James Meek – He said he was leaving her. “But I love you,” she said. “I know,” he said. “Thanks. It’s what gave me the strength to love somebody else.”

Ian Rankin – I opened the door to our flat and you were standing there, cleaver raised. Somehow you’d found out about the photos. My jaw hit the floor.

Andrew O’Hagan – Clyde stole a lychee and ate it in the shower. Then his brother took a bottle of pills believing character is just a luxury. God. The twins.

Jeffrey Archer – “It’s a miracle he survived,” said the doctor. “It was God’s will,” said Mrs Schicklgruber. “What will you call him?” “Adolf,” she replied.

SJ Watson – She thanks me for the drink, but says we’re not suited. I’m a little “intense”. So what? I followed her home. She hasn’t seen anything yet.

Charlie Higson – Jack was sad in the orphanage til he befriended a talking rat who showed him a hoard of gold under the floor. Then the rat bit him & he died.

India Knight – Soften, my arse. I’m a geezer. I’m a rock-hard little bastard. Until I go mushy overnight for you, babe. #pears

Rachel Johnson – Rose went to Eve’s house but she wasn’t there. But Eve’s father was. Alone. One thing led to another. He got 10 years.

Inspired and curious, I even took a stab at Twitter narrative one idle Sunday and among my favorites are:

A large stone, the opportunity, a swampside grave; all that was needed to end a lifelong sibling rivalry. Guess who’s Daddy’s favorite now?

Mother warned him not to look but curiosity was his master. Now he struggles to reverse the time of eye to unsee the horror.

Regardless of your personal views on Twitter and tweet fiction, I honestly think you should give it a go. If nothing else, you can consider it a warm-up exercise to get your mental juices flowing. Can you think of a better way to hone your craft than practicing clear, clean and concise writing? And what have you got to lose? Surely not time. In the moments wasted complaining about the artform, you could have written several magnum opuses.

Sally forth and be tweetful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

PS. If you’re looking for more famous author tweet novels, you can find them by searching #140novel on Twitter.

P.P.S. Not exactly #tweetfiction-related, but dealing with creating fiction, the NY Times ran an article on the importance of Twitter in today’s pop-culture era: How To Make a TV Drama in the Twitter Age.