Screenplay

Here’s the opening for a screenplay. I’m posting it here for your enjoyment, and as an example of what I can do. I hope you enjoy it…

*

EXT. CHURCH
We’re in a small American town. JONES is a female preacher. She’s shutting up the small clapboard chapel after the late night service. She’s wearing a dog collar and a thick coat. She waves goodbye to a couple of parishioners.

JONES
Goodnight, God bless.

Snow begins to fall. A rental sedan pulls away from the kerb. Two figures are inside but we can’t see who they are. A big rig passes on the highway. The diner lights are on. Fir trees rustle in the night. JONES walks up to the diner.

INT. DINER
JONES takes a seat at the counter. TINSEL, the waitress slouches over to her.

TINSEL
Hey, Rev. The usual?

JONES
Black coffee.

TINSEL
Slice of pie?

JONES
Not tonight.

TINSEL
You know, there was someone in here earlier looking for you.

JONES
Was it Eli? I already told him, there’s no way I’m going to bless one of his cows.

TINSEL
No, it weren’t Eli. A couple of city types I reckon.

JONES
(Suddenly suspicious but trying to act casual)
Really?

TINSEL
They had a picture of you. An old Polaroid. And they wanted to know if any of us knew where you were.

JONES
What did you tell them?

TINSEL
Told ’em you were at church.


TINSEL pours a cup of coffee and slides it over to JONES. JONES doesn’t break eye contact.


JONES
You told them?

TINSEL
They seemed like nice fellas. Very polite. I figured they might be part of your squad.

JONES
What squad?

TINSEL
You know. The God Squad.

JONES
(Thinks about this.)
What kind of car were they driving?

TINSEL
I don’t know. A rental sedan. Does it matter?

JONES
(Shrugs)
No, I’m sure it’s fine.

TINSEL
Are you okay, Rev?

JONES
I’m fine. Don’t worry about it. How are you doing? How’s Des?

TINSEL
Don’t even ask.

JONES
Still not paying child support?

TINSEL
Still a fucking child himself. Excuse my language.

JONES
No need.

TINSEL
Honestly, Rev, sometimes I envy you.

JONES
(Genuinely surprised)
Me?

TINSEL
You don’t have to put up with men, and all their bullshit.

JONES
(Laughs, but there’s a edge to it that TINSEL doesn’t notice)
No, that’s all… a long, long time ago.

TINSEL
In a galaxy far away?

JONES
I fucking wish.

EXT. DINER.
JONES exits clutching her coffee. The snow is falling hard now. She waves to TINSEL.

JONES
Goodnight!

TINSEL
Go steady.

The door swings closed behind her. The streets are caught in the sound-deadening snowfall. JONES pulls her robes more tightly around herself, and starts walking home.

EXT. JONES’ HOUSE
Jones’s house is a little way outside town. Maybe on a lake. There are definitely fur trees. She tramps up the driveway. There are no other footprints in the snow.

INT. JONES’ HOUSE
Jones enters and shuts the front door behind her. She stamps snow from her boots and shrugs off her big coat. Her cat comes to meet her and she feeds it, then sips her coffee in the kitchen. She’s mulling over Tinsel’s words. Finally, she shrugs and curls up on the sofa in front of the fire, pulling a blanket around herself.

FADE TO:

EXT. JONES’ HOUSE
Establishing shot. It’s the next morning. Sunlight on snow. The pine trees. Maybe even the lake. Glorious isolation.

INT. JONES’ HOUSE
Jones and the cat are in the kitchen. Jones is frying bacon and eggs and singing along to the radio. The cat is rubbing against her legs looking hopeful.

Reddit AMA

The Future of Wearable Exoskeletons

My latest column for the Engineer is now available on their website, and looks at where developments in exoskeletons and implantable electronics might ultimately lead.

“Maybe we could even replace the bulls at Pamplona with synthetic bulls controlled by gamers from around the globe, allowing thrill seekers to brave a trampling while sparing actual animals the stress of the event—and who wouldn’t want to remotely gore a few tourists, just for fun?”

Read the whole thing here.

How to keep being creative in a crisis

Photo courtesty of Robin Frejd on Unsplash

This article was published in my book About Writing from Luna Press (2019)

*

As writers or artists, we’re often preoccupied with our work. But sometimes, real world events intrude and leave us feeling unable to summon the energy to be creative, or leave us questioning the value of art in the face of tragedy.

When there’s a disaster or an unfolding crisis on the news, it can sometimes paralyse us. Why am I writing books about spaceships or painting pictures of abstract nudes, you might think, when there’s been an appalling disaster or terrorist attack, or when the economy’s tanking and the threat of global warming seems so pressing and bleak? How can art possibly matter in such a world? What’s the point?

How do we, in short, keep functioning in a crisis?

When I start to feel that way, I think back to everything writers and artists have had to contend with in the past. Our Paelolithic ancestors daubed handprints on the walls of their caves, and carved figures from stone and wood. The Vikings told their sagas. Even as Rome fell, there were poets writing and sculptors sculpting. In the Dark Ages, people were still singing songs and telling folk tales. Poets wrote in the trenches of WWI. While the Cuban Missile Crisis raged, people were still reading and writing novels and short stories. In 1984, at the height of the Cold War, with nuclear obliteration seemingly imminent, movies and TV programmes were made and watched, books were written and paintings painted and sold.

Art doesn’t stop for history. In some ways, art is history. It’s the way we record how we feel about our present, and a window on the thoughts and feelings of the past. And it’s also one of the best means we have to influence the future.

The language of a civilisation determines its development. If that language is one of fear and exclusion, oppression and hatred, the phrases and concepts those words encapsulate become ingrained in the fabric of everyday thought. They become normalised, and therefore more readily accepted. But if the language employed is one that favours tolerance and empathy, it can be those qualities that come to the fore.

Art and fiction are important because they put us in the shoes of others. They create empathy and understanding, and promote education and intelligence. They allow us to share ideas and discuss what it means to be human, and unpack the fundamental commonalities we all share. They can reveal truths, expand our minds, and provide lifetimes of enjoyment. But most of all, they encourage us to dream of other, better worlds, and begin to imagine how we might reach them.

No single painting or novel can change the world, just as no single drop of rain can wash away a town. We may feel we have no control over global events. But culture is a cumulative phenomenon, and every drop helps create the flood.

We all need a little escapism sometimes. Life would be a drudge were we unable to escape into fantasy worlds now and again, and there’s nothing frivolous about providing readers with fictional boltholes. Indeed, it’s a vital role that bards have been playing right back into the dawn of prehistory.

As artists and writers, our work allows us to express what’s in our minds and hearts. As consumers, it can comfort and distract us; but it can also educate and inspire, and nourish our souls. If we ever lost our art and fiction – or simply gave up producing them – we’d have lost a fundamental part of ourselves, and be all the poorer for it.

Art is one of the candles of civilisation. If we abandon it, the bad guys win.

So, pick up that paintbrush. Open that Word document. Every stroke of paint or line of prose you make is a blow struck against entropy and ignorance, and a contribution to the net beauty of the world. You are not being self-indulgent, you are communicating – and communicating is what people do. We’re a social species, and we need you to help bring forth and express our shared inner lives. To add your voices to the chorus of those who have gone before, uncounted, into the darkness, and simply say to the universe, “WE ARE ALIVE!”

The Artist’s Prayer

From my book About Writing:

The Artist’s Prayer

When in doubt, do the work.
When in obscurity,
When the rain falls and everything turns to ashes in your hands,
When you are in love,
And when you are alone,
When the world clamours for your attention,
And when all have turned their backs upon you,
Do the work.

When tired, do the work.
When gripped by infirmity
Or paralysed by fear,
In the company of friends,
In ecstasy or desolation,
During the dark times and the light,
In anger and with compassion,
Do the work.

Becoming a Full-time Writer

Lots of people want to quit their jobs to become full-time authors. It’s one of the subjects I get asked most about. So, I thought I’d write a quick post detailing my experiences.

Twelve years ago, I was a marketing manager for a large European business software company. I had a small team of direct marketing people under me and co-responsibility for a £ half-million marketing budget. When the company restructured and my role became impossible, I left because a) I was sick of the stress and b) I wanted to write.

(Annoyingly, if I’d have stuck it out for another eight months, I would have been made redundant and received quite a nice redundancy package, as I’d been at the company for ten years. As it was, I left with nothing. But at least I didn’t have a heart attack or stress-related nervous breakdown.)

Since then, I’ve written and published 12 books, numerous short stories, and a fair few blog posts and articles. I’ve also been a stay-at-home dad for my kids, and over the last year become a full-time carer for my youngest.

However, it’s also been a financial rollercoaster. I’ve done freelance work as a copywriter and journalist and done some part-time work for local organisations in order to bring in some money, and there have been periods of barely scraping by, accompanied by many sleepless nights.

I don’t think I would have survived the past two or three years without the support of my awesome Patreon community, who have been extremely encouraging and loyal.

But since Embers of War was published in 2018, money has started to trickle in from foreign sales, royalties, audio rights, and TV/movie options. Not megabucks, and certainly not as much as I earned in my previous job, but enough to provide a little breathing space.

So, if you’re thinking of giving up a reliable income in favour of an artistic life, think long and hard about what that means.

The average advance for a novel is somewhere around £4k-£5k, and that’s not usually paid all in one lump sum. You get half when you sign the contact and half when the book is published, which might not be for another year, depending on schedules. So, after spending a year writing your debut novel, you could be looking at an annual income of £2,500, which is certainly not enough to live on.

An agent can help. They might be able to negotiate a better deal, and they will let help you hang onto your foreign publication rights, which can then be sold to generate more income.

But you are still going to need to find a way to generate more income, especially if you have dependents and a mortgage. So, you may have to consider a part-time job, or spend part of your writing time hustling as a freelancer.

You can also look at diversifying your channels. If you’re primarily a novelist, you might also consider writing comic scripts or screenplays. If your novels are traditionally published, you might consider self-publishing some shorter fiction.

Once you start to get established, you may be offered a fee to attend a literary festival, or host a writing workshop. But you have to accept the first few months, and maybe years, are going to be an uncertain time – unless you have a patient spouse with a well-paying job.

It’s taken me twelve years to finally start earning decent money in this business, and I’d still be lost without Patreon. So, think carefully, make a plan, and diversify your income streams.

And the best of luck to you!

The Joy of Helping

Back in 2016, as UK politics started to become ever more divisive and Twitter seemed to have become a hate-filled void of people shouting extreme opinions at each other, I got fed up. Reading my feed became some masochistic game of seeing how much stress I could take before I logged-off again.

Why can’t people be nicer? I thought.

And then, I remembered that I am a person (I can prove it and everything). If I wanted people to be nicer online, I knew I had a responsibility to lead by example. I had to be the change I wanted to see in the world. So, I muted all they key words that were causing dissent in my feed, and simply typed: ‘Is there anything I can do to help anyone today?’

The response was heartening. I was asked questions about writing and publishing. One person wanted a virtual hug. Others wanted encouragement or a kick in the pants. In fact, it went so well, I kept doing it, and have been regularly posting offers of help for aspiring writers ever since. I stay away from the drama and concentrate instead on helping people where I can.

I answer questions about my writing process, daily word counts, approaching agents and publishers, using flashbacks, chapter length, and many other writing-related subjects. I have provided character names to people who needed them, cheered writers on s they made progress, and told others to sit their butts down and get to work.

I’m a big believer that you get back what you put out into the world, and these acts of kindness on my part have resulted in a lot of goodwill from the rest of the writing community. Whenever I attend conventions, I get people coming up to me and thanking me for some piece of advice or kindness, or just saying how much they enjoy the positivity.

Only this morning, someone called me “UK science fiction’s honorary, lovable Uncle.”

Helping people with their writing problems has also helped distract me from some of the stresses and strains in my personal life, meaning I’ve benefitted from these advice sessions at least as much as they have.

And although I didn’t set out to sell books this way, it seems to have had the added side effect that folks who appreciate the effort I put in for others check out my novels, and my writing guide.

So, if people tell you that Twitter isn’t a good place for selling books, they’re probably right. Hard sell tactics don’t really work. Nobody wants to follow a megaphone. But, Twitter is a great place for helping and encouraging people, and if that results in a few extra book sales, that’s fantastic–but you have to concentrate on the helping rather than the selling!

You can find me on Twitter here: @garethlpowell

Who Goes There?

My November column for The Engineer magazine is now available online too. It discusses some wild speculation about the future of face recognition technology.

What if neighbourhoods and shopping malls refuse entry to known or suspected offenders? What if airlines deny service to customers they consider ‘high risk’ based on their ethnicity? Journalists and stalkers could easily track the movements of celebrities using drones able to scan and recognise faces. On a more disturbing note, this technology could be used for assassinations, allowing a drone carrying a few grams of high explosive to select and pursue a target.

Read the whole thing here.

Awards Eligibility 2019

As the year draws towards its close, we’re entering awards nomination season again. The BSFA Award is already accepting nominations from members, and it will soon be time to put forward works for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. So, with that in mind, I’d like to remind you of the three works I had published this year.

  1. Novel: FLEET OF KNIVES (Titan Books, Feb 2019)
  2. Novella/Short Fiction: RAGGED ALICE (Tor.Com Publishing, April 2019)
  3. Nonfiction: ABOUT WRITING (Luna Press, June 2019)

In addition, I *think* the Embers of War trilogy is eligible to be nominated as Best Series. I might be wrong, though. You might have to check the rules.

Your support is VERY MUCH appreciated. Every award my books win attracts more readers, and the goal is to share my work with as many people as possible!

The Secret Formula for Pitching a Novel or Movie

One of the hardest things about writing a novel or screenplay is succinctly summing up the plot–but that’s exactly what you need to do if you’re going to pitch it to an agent, editor or studio.

To help you out, here’s the formula I use. I find it incredibly useful to fill it out at the start of the process, before I start writing, in order to make certain I’ve got all the essential ingredients of the story in place.

Here it is:

In order to [avoid problem] a [flawed character] must [try to achieve goal] but when [complication] they realise they must overcome [antagonist] and [personal flaw] by [action] before [deadline].

Wherever you see brackets, insert the relevant parts of your plot.

Want an example? See if you recognise this:

In order to ensure others haven’t fallen victim to the monster that killed her crew, a trauatised spacer must return to the planet where the killings started, but when she and her marine escorts are trapped on the surface, she realises she must defeat the aliens and her own feelings of loss for her daughter by facing the queen alien and escaping before the nuclear power plant explodes.

Yes, it’s ALIENS. How about this one:

In order to respond to a distress call from a princess, a naive farm boy must travel to the stars in order to return the plans she hid in his newly acquired R2 droid. But when his hired ship is captured by the Empire, he realises he must deliver those plans to the rebellion and exchange the cynicism of his uncle for a belief in the Force before the rebellion is forever destroyed.

Still not convinced? Here it is applied to my novel, EMBERS OF WAR:

In order to redeem herself a disgraced warship who accidentally developed a conscience must rescue the passengers of a crashed star liner. But when she comes into conflict with former comrades, she realises she must learn how to outhink rather than outfight her opponents, and solve the mystery of the alien objects in the star system known as the Gallery, before their skirmish sparks another devastating war.

Try it with your work-in-progress. It might point out gaps in your plot, and it will certainly make your pitching easier!

Any input? Comment below!