Creator Blog: John August

John August is the screenwriter behind movies like Corpse Bride, Go and Big Fish. (And Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, but, hey, they can’t all be great.) He keeps a regular blog that covers what he’s working on and the more technical angles of writing movies. He had one post that I wanted to pass on. How Do You Become Successful. While he is talking specifically about the film industry, his answers apply to any endeavor where art and industry meet. Here are two of his five lessons:

1. You’re not entitled to anything. A film degree is basically worthless. You won’t get recruited, and no one will ever ask to see it. An MBA from USC gets you a $100,000 starting salary. A film degree from USC might get you an unpaid internship. All you get out of it is the education, so make sure you’re learning every second of the day.

5. Make your own luck. Sometimes, magic happens and Spielberg likes your wacky short film. But that can’t happen if you didn’t make it in the first place, and the seven others no one saw. You never know which script, which lunch, which random idea is going to be important. So treat them all as important.

Great stuff.

John August’s Blog

Funny Steve Martin Quote On Writer’s Block

From Steve Martin:

Writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol. Sure, a writer can get stuck for a while, but when that happens to a real author — say, a Socrates or a Rodman — he goes out and gets an “as told to.” The alternative is to hire yourself out as an “as heard from,” thus taking all the credit. The other trick I use when I have a momentary stoppage is virtually foolproof, and I’m happy to pass it along. Go to an already published novel and find a sentence that you absolutely adore. Copy it down in your manuscript. Usually, that sentence will lead you to another sentence, and pretty soon your own ideas will start to flow. If they don’t, copy down the next sentence in the novel. You can safely use up to three sentences of someone else’s work — unless you’re friends, then two. The odds of being found out are very slim, and even if you are there’s usually no jail time.

Read the rest of his essay on writing here

What should I say? – Help with writer’s block

The actual use for What Should I Say is for you to post situations where you don’t know what to say or help other people come up with what you think they should say. You know, it’s like having a group of friends giving you bad advice.

The next time you’re stuck while you’re writing, type the situation into this site, sit back and wait for the bad advice to start flowing in. Bad advice is great advice for characters. It means they’ll do the wrong thing and you’ll have plenty of drama.

Here’s one piece of advice:

What do a say to a friend who consistently breaks her promises? These promises are mostly things she offers to do, not things I request of her.

I would say, sort of poke fun at it next time she makes a similar promise. Like “Oh really!” or “yeah, sure”. Be sure to do it in the most playful, least offensive and least confrontational way. “Can i expect that by next year?” Something along those lines, I guess. Joke about it, that way it communicates your position on it in the least hurtful way. She’ll get the idea.

Great advice! Passive aggression always works in situations like that. It lets you raise the tension of the situation without actually dealing with it. Usually, you get three or four different pieces of advice, so you might get a character option you haven’t thought of yet.

If you are feeling kind, go give advice to the kids in the romance section. They need to know how to tell a girl that you like her…

Link to site

Billy Wilder’s Tips For Writers


Billy Wilder Tips for Writers

Billy Wilder wrote and directed some of the best movies ever made, including Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. In Conversations with Bill WIlder, Cameron Crowe interviews him in great detail about all his films. It’s one of the best books about making movies I’ve ever read.

In the appendix Crowe included Bill Wilder’s 10 tips for writers. I recommend picking up the book for a further discussion of all these points, but there’s a lot of practical wisdom in the list itself.

Billy Wilder’s Tips For Writers

  1. The audience is fickle.
  2. Grab ’em by the throat and never let ’em go.
  3. Develop a clean line of action for your leading character.
  4. Know where you’re going.
  5. The more subtle and elegant  you are in hiding your plot points, the better you are as a writer.
  6. If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is the first act.
  7. A tip from Lubitsch. Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever.
  8. In doing voice-overs, be careful not to describe what the audience already sees.  Add to what they are seeing.
  9. The event that occurs at the second-act curtain triggers the end of the movie.
  10. The third act must build, build, build in tempo and action until the last event, and then-
  11. -that’s it. Don’t hang around.

Link To Book

Free Movie Scripts? Great if you’re writing a screenplay

This is one of my favorite sites.
Drew’s Script-O-Rama

It links to movie and tv scripts that are available for free on the internet. There are even first drafts and unproduced movies.

My favorites are David Lynch’s Ronnie Rocket and One Saliva Bubble. Two movies no one was willing to make. Not to mention a first draft of a script called The Star Wars.

Pulp Master Fiction Plot

This essay on how to write the perfect 6000 word pulp story was written in the 30s by Lester Dent. Dent created Doc Savage which was the best selling pulp magazine of its day. He wrote quickly, a novel a week, and rarely rewrote. Reading this is like reading the pitch for Law and Order or CSI. The only difference is that current pulp shows ignore the warnings about getting to strange or grotesque. Strange and grotesque are the two main characters on CSI.

Why are we attracted to this structure? Is the difference between good pulp and bad pulp how closely it sticks to this structure? Is it the originality of the details?


  • First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved–something the hero has to cope with.
  • The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
  • Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
  • Hero’s endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.
  • Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.

Where do you get your ideas? Part two – Philip K Dick


From Selected Stories of Philip K Dick:

The majority of these stories were written when my life was simpler and made sense. I could tell the difference between the real world and the world I wrote about. The stories in this collection are attempts at reception–at listening to voices from another place, very far off, sounds quite faint but important. They only come late at night, when the background din and gabble of our world have faded out. Then, faintly, I hear voices from another star. Of course, I don’t usually tell people this when they ask, ‘Say, where do you get your ideas?’ I just say I don’t know. It’s safer.

Where do you get your ideas? Part One – Neil Gaiman

How do creative people answer the question, “Where do you get your ideas?”

From Neil Gaiman’s site, click on this link for the full, wonderful essay:

‘I make them up,’ I tell them. ‘Out of my head.’

People don’t like this answer. I don’t know why not. They look unhappy, as if I’m trying to slip a fast one past them. As if there’s a huge secret, and, for reasons of my own, I’m not telling them how it’s done.

And of course I’m not. Firstly, I don’t know myself where the ideas really come from, what makes them come, or whether one day they’ll stop. Secondly, I doubt anyone who asks really wants a three hour lecture on the creative process. And thirdly, the ideas aren’t that important. Really they aren’t. Everyone’s got an idea for a book, a movie, a story, a TV series.

Every published writer has had it – the people who come up to you and tell you that they’ve Got An Idea. And boy, is it a Doozy. It’s such a Doozy that they want to Cut You In On It. The proposal is always the same – they’ll tell you the Idea (the hard bit), you write it down and turn it into a novel (the easy bit), the two of you can split the money fifty-fifty.

I’m reasonably gracious with these people. I tell them, truly, that I have far too many ideas for things as it is, and far too little time. And I wish them the best of luck.

The Ideas aren’t the hard bit. They’re a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build: making it interesting, making it new.

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