#MondayMusings – Alternative Workspaces


I live a part of the year in the US and the greater part of the year in the UK.  I am very happy to return to my adopted home now through May.

I do have my own office in Bristol but something draws me out and I find I am happiest at my dining table (inside with doors flung open or outside in my little courtyard). or in a nearby poolside coffee shop/restaurant around the corner.

Another favorite spot is in a nearby poolside coffee shop/restaurant around the corner.  Lunch, coffee, or a tea time dessert can be had as swimmers stroke back and forth.

Writing is a lonely vocation.  Sometimes I need people around me and a few hellos to friends. Lots of creative people hang out/work poolside at The Lido.  (You’ve nothing on Bristol, LA!)

Sometimes I just need a bit of air.  The value of good weather in the UK isn’t to be taken lightly! It is always a cause for celebration.

Where are you happiest writing or thinking?









#MondayMusings – Packing for Business Travel

Monday Musings

I am on my way to Copenhagen as you read this.  Looking forward to a wonderful time meeting new and old friends. The conference has a big treat in store, a boat ride to a fantastic dinner location.  Then back to Bristol for just enough time to unpack and do laundry. Then I am immediately on to Amsterdam! Watch my ETBScreenwriting  INSTAGRAM for pictures,

This is typical of my schedule, I’m a frequent traveler, traveling back and forth between the UK and (mostly) continental Europe and Scandinavia.  I’m not quite in the same league as the main character in “Up in the Air.” In that film, George Clooney plays a frequent flier who is on the road 270 days a year. As Clooney’s character reports, the difference between having to check luggage and fitting everything into a carry-on is a week’s worth of time spent waiting in line.

So that’s tip #1:  Travel Light.  Limit yourself to one cabin sized roll on bag and a compact computer bag. Being the first through customs, never waiting for luggage, and no one EVER losing your baggage is a tremendous advantage in my book. I can easily get two weeks of travel out of one carry-on.

Tip #2: Start with a Dark Base Color.  Personally, I’ve been transitioning from black to navy.  I think navy blue is more interesting than the more expected black. I am lucky to work in the entertainment business where the dress is casual.  I usually pack two pairs of navy business casual trousers and a dark pair of slim jeans. I also bring three nice tops, two sweaters, and a light leather coat.  A couple of soft tee-shirts (cotton and cashmere), and a night gown completes my basic wardrobe. I also usually throw in a packable light down vest.

Tip #3. Limit Shoes. I usually wear ankle boots or trainers on the plane and pack two pairs of nice flats. I’ve picked out trainers that can double as casual shoes– I have good sturdy suede ones.

Tip #4: Add Color with Accessories. I pack a couple of colorful silk scarves to brighten things up.  And I always wear a big soft cozy scarf on the plane.  It’s can be cold on board.

Tip #5:  Wear a Denim Dress on Board.  This is one of the best tips I’ve ever gotten from a fellow female traveler.  A loose denim dress and silky leggings are like wearing pajamas.  I bring a belt to cinch the dress pre and post flight. The denim dress can be dressed up for dinner at the location, while still being casual.

Tip #6. Find Tube and Pencil Versions of Makeup. They fit more easily in the required zip lock bags. Lipstick can double as a blusher.  I snag travel sized toothpaste at the dentist and 2 oz contact solution at the optician. I also have a travel size of my favorite Hermes perfume.  There’s no need to bring more liquid than that.  AND there are drug stores all over the world. Buy what you need on location and leave it behind when you go.

Tip #7: Save Your Back. A roll-on with a hook that holds your computer case counterbalances the load so that you can cruise through the airport quickly. If your bag doesn’t have such an add-on bag strap you can easily buy one.

Tip #8: Test ALL Your Batteries. Make sure your rechargeables are fully charged (Kindle, iPad, FitBit, Computer). Know the capacity of your batteries. You might be surprised by how long a trip you can make without lugging along a bag full of chargers.

Tip #9: Always Bring Backups. “A high-resolution scan of your driver’s license, passport, visas, and credit cards on the SD card of your smartphone or on your computer HD can be a life saver if anything is lost or stolen.  I also recommend a paper print out as well.

Tip #10: Put Medications in the Safe. I once had medication pilfered at a high-end resort. I didn’t notice until I ran out, way ahead of schedule. In some countries, there’s a big black market in prescription medicine.

All that is left is: Relax, bring a snack (food on board is iffy), listen to a downloaded audible book, and enjoy the ride!




#MondayMusings – Coincidence? Or Not?


I love Charity Shops in the UK and Thrift Stores, as they are called, in the US.  I bought a colorful large silk scarf in Bristol and yesterday, about a year or so after my original purchase, I saw the same scarf in Madison, Wisconsin.  I bought it  (and now have one scarf for each place, the UK, and US).

What a strange coincidence to find the same donated scarf in resale shops worlds and years apart. That got me musing about coincidence in stories.

Let’s say two women buy the same silk scarf in different countries and at different times and their lives are changed.  How?  Mistaken identity? The forging of an unlikely friendship? The purchase some how spirals one woman into tragedy and spurs the other woman toward fulfilling her dreams?

It’s the stuff of stories. Or is it?  The Atlantic published a wonderful piece on coincidence in stories.   My favorite excerpt is:

(M)aybe … what makes coincidences special is that they present a piece of evidence that the world doesn’t work how you thought it did. Did you run into your friend at the grocery store because cosmic forces were pushing you two together? Did you hear the same song everywhere you went one day because it contained a message for you? Probably not, but it can feel that way, at least at first, and that’s what makes a coincidence startling. It’s unsettling to feel a ripple in the fabric of your reality.

The takeaway here is if you use coincidence don’t just use it to push the plot forward.  Instead, or in addition, use it to show how this event knocks your protagonist of his or her stride or rips a tear in the fabric of their reality.

Read the full Atlantic article HERE








#MondayMusings – Packing for Bristol

Monday Musings

I am back in the UK at the end of August and will be starting a series of Screenwriting Roundtables starting in September. Watch this space!  I am anxious to get back to my secret weapon and screenwriting guru, Mr. Otto Longi.  His expert advice does come at a price.  Packing the toys and treats he requires.





P74StHP5This is a guest post by my friend and writing coach Michael Colleary:

Mental health professionals agree: isolation is bad for your emotional well-being. But dramatic isolation is very good for your screenplays. Pick a movie, any movie – old or new, comedy or drama. Its structure is almost certainly comprised of a process of dramatic isolation.

Dramatic isolation can be expressed in many forms. Physical isolation can be central to a movie’s design, as in the recent Oscar contenders “The Revenant” and “The Martian.” Often more than one sort of isolation is at work in a movie, although the different forms are often interwoven in the service of theme.

For example, when Sandra Bullock finds herself alone in “Gravity,” her sudden physical isolation takes on special poignancy when we learn that she has also isolated herself emotionally when her daughter died some years previously. Thus her superhuman efforts to return to Earth reflect her drive to recommit to a fuller, healed Self.

Similarly, James Franco’s character in the true story “127 Hours” spends his time trapped alone in a crevice ruminating on the cost of the emotional and spiritual isolation in which he has lived his life. The poignant coda of “127” hours reveals how Franco’s real-life counterpart, Aron Ralston, did choose to pursue a more emotionally-fulfilled life.

Perhaps the most fundamental use of isolation is simply to scare the hell out of audiences. “The Shining,” “Alien,” “The Evil Dead,” “Cabin In the Woods,” “Paranormal Activity,” “The Babadook,” “The Witch,” – and pretty much every slasher movie ever made – all rely on the isolation of their victims to create suspense, dread and, ultimately, terror.

Isolation as a structural tool is not unique to movies.

The works of William Shakespeare abound with its use. As Romeo and Juliet fall more deeply in love, we can only appreciate the life-and-death stakes as, one-by-one, they lose their relationships with their friends and families. MacBeth, Lear, Hamlet, Richard III – each of these legendary characters, in their own ways, finds themselves increasingly alone before meeting their fates.

Even movies crowded with characters can create – are required to create – an atmosphere of emotional isolation to successfully convey their stories. The journalists of “Spotlight” have no intimate experience of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, but even so their relentless pursuit of the story threatens them with increasingly painful consequences that are expressed by isolation. Thus the relationship between Rachel McAdams’ character and her grandmother comes under intense pressure. Michael Keaton’s character risks the loss of lifelong friends in the Boston establishment.

Many of cinema’s greatest masterpieces don’t merely hinge on this dynamic process of isolation – they are “about” isolation. This subtext has a profound influence on how the story is told – on what scenes are about, even the structural purpose of secondary characters.

Why is Kay in “The Godfather,” if not to mark for us Michael Corleone’s slide into spiritual isolation and emotional oblivion? Indeed, when the 3-film saga of “The Godfather” is viewed as a single narrative, we can trace isolation as its most central theme.

In Part One, Michael becomes the Don – literally shutting the door on his wife Kay, who represents a life away from the Corleones. In Part Two, Michael’s determination to protect his family leads him – ironically – to destroy it. In Part Three, Michael’s purpose is to repair his fractured relationship with Kay and their children once and for all – thus ending the isolation he chose in Part One. This simply-articulated goal of Michael’s becomes the seed from which all subsequent creative decisions grow.

This design is not limited to dramas. “Bridesmaids” certainly made lavish use of its R-rating. But all the fun was rooted in a very simple, well-designed structure that saw Annie (Kristen Wiig) lose her job, her apartment, her good-guy boyfriend, and – most crucially for this story – her best friend.

And the list goes on. Jailed for murder, Gustav H. loses his privileged life at “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and must fight to regain it (and his innocence). The hapless actors of “Tropic Thunder” find themselves in a very real jungle fighting a very real war. “Inside Out” kicks into high gear when its hero, Riley, runs away from home – beginning a process that threatens her memories and her emotions.

The uses of isolation as a dramatic strategy, as a construct, are limited only to the writer’s imagination. But its purpose is always the same – to create (or aggravate) stress and therefore ratchet up tension – and hence increase engagement – for the writer’s desired audience.

MICHAEL COLLEARY is a screenwriter and producer. His produced credits include “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” and “Face/Off,” which the New York Times named as among “the 1000 Best Movies Ever Made.” He received his MFA in screenwriting from the prestigious UCLA film school, where he is now a frequent lecturer and instructor. In addition to teaching UCLA’s famed “434” screenplay workshop, Michael also consults with aspiring writers for the acclaimed CineStory Foundation, and has mentored veterans via the Writers Guild Foundation.

“Isolation” appears here as a preview chapter of Michael’s up-coming book, “Screenplay DNA.” You can find Michael at MichaelColleary.com, follow him on Twitter, Facebook and/or opt-in to his Hollywood Insider newsletter.

#ThinkpieceThursday – The Comedy and Drama of Change


CHANGEWriters are advised to write what they know. What writers (and all other human beings) know the most about is change. Living, by definition, is to change. Nothing in life is static. Change and transformation are all around you. Both impact you every day.

You live in an unsettling and constantly changing world. Your world is full of uncertainty, evolving relationships, personal and professional ups and downs and conflicting responsibilities, loyalties, commitments and desires. Your characters should experience their world in exactly the same way.

You know exactly how painful change and transformation can be. You have experienced extreme, dramatic and sometimes excruciating change. Your life has been full of unexpected reversals, complex di- lemmas and difficult growth experiences-and so should the lives of your characters. (And there’s no reason why all this turmoil and pain shouldn’t be hilarious. Great comedians know- If it don’t hurt, it ain’t funny.)

Change doesn’t come easily and it isn’t without opposition. No change ever continues unchecked. Someone or something always stands in the way. Transformation is always upsetting. Emotions run high. The situation and characters are in turmoil. Someone or something resists the change with all his or her might. Who or what stands in the way? Is your character resisting the change or is someone or something resisting the transformation your character is bringing about or is undergoing.”

What kicks this change off? Who or what action changes or transforms your character? What is lost? What is gained? Who opposes the change? What does your character want? What does your character need? What is the cost of either choice? What does your character fear most? How much is your character willing to sacrifice? To what extreme is your character willing to go? The answers to these questions form the emotional core of your story. They also get to the heart of who your character really is. They give depth and meaning to your story structure.

John Cleese on Creativity

The brilliant comedian tackles the serious subject of creativity

#TypesTuesday – Tracy Flick and Hillary Clinton : Power of Conscience

Tracy-Flick-Hillary-Clinton-EtbScreenwritingHillary Clinton and Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) in the movie Election are a great examples of hard-driving intense Power of Conscience characters.

I found a fantastic clip of Tracy and Hillary intercut in a scene from Election.  It is a wonderful sketch of everything that is most important to this Character Type.  The clip refers back to Clinton’s run against Barack Obama (a Power of Imagination character) in 2008.

Power of Conscience characters believe that leadership must be earned by dedication, hard work, thorough preparation, and devotion to duty.  Leadership must be deserved. One must be worthy in order to lead. At their worst, these characters can become rigid, accusatory, sanctimonious, judgmental, and hypocritical.


Valdimir Putin and the Power of Will

putin and horse

Valdimir Putin,  the President of Russia, has been much in the news lately, specifically regarding the Russian invasion/annexation of the Crimea.  The New Republic magazine has an interesting analysis of Putin’s personality and goals.  He is described in the magazine and in other news reports as a classic Power of Will character.

Putin, sees the world according to his own logic, and the logic goes like this: it is better to be feared than loved, it is better to be overly strong than to risk appearing weak, and Russia was, is, and will be an empire with an eternal appetite for expansion. And it will gather whatever spurious reasons it needs to insulate itself territorially from what it still perceives to be a large and growing NATO threat.  New Republic Magazine

From the LA Times this week:  Across a resurgent Russia, Stalin lives again, at least in the minds and hearts of Russian nationalists who see Putin as heir to the former dictator’s model of iron-fisted rule. Recent tributes celebrate Stalin’s military command acumen and geopolitical prowess. His ruthless repression of enemies, real and imagined, has been brushed aside by today’s Kremlin leader as the cost to be paid for defeating the Nazis.

As Putin has sought to recover territory lost in the 1991 Soviet breakup, his Stalinesque claim to a right to a “sphere of influence” has allowed him to legitimize the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and declare an obligation to defend Russians and Russian speakers beyond his nation’s borders.

Power of Will characters believe that expanding their power base, extending their territory, protecting and defending what is rightfully theirs (according to them) and swiftly avenging any wrong (or perceived wrong) is how one gets along, gets ahead and stays ahead in the world.

These characters take what they want, fight for every inch of turf, refuse to show any weakness themselves and pounce decisively on the weakness of others. They have a kill or be killed framework for everything. They believe absolutely in the Law of the Jungle and divide the world into aggressors and victims, hunters and prey, and the strong and the weak. They believe it is better to be feared than to be loved. They never want to be seen as “soft” or vulnerable. They show no mercy and they expect none.

Power of Will characters fear showing any sign of weakness or vulnerability. They fear that remorse, compassion, empathy, compromise or forgiveness leaves them soft and open to possible attack by others. These characters believe there is no mercy in the jungle that is the world. There is only survival of the fittest. The biggest, toughest, meanest dog wins. Might makes right. Speak decisively and back it up with big guns.

For more on the Power of Will character visit the ETB Screenwriting Shop.


#WritingAdviceWednesday – Great Comedy Advice from Bill Hicks

This advice from comedian Bill Hicks (who died of cancer in 1993) is applicable to many other activities besides stand-up comedy.

  1. If you can be yourself on stage nobody else can be you and you have the law of supply and demand covered.
  2. The act is something you fall back on if you can’t think of anything else to say.
  3. Only do what you think is funny, never just what you think they will like, even though it’s not that funny to you.
  4. Never ask them is this funny – you tell them this is funny.
  5. You are not married to any of this shit – if something happens, taking you off on a tangent, NEVER go back and finish a bit, just move on.
  6. NEVER ask the audience “How You Doing?” People who do that can’t think of an opening line. They came to see you to tell them how they’re doing, asking that stupid question up front just digs a hole. This is The Most Common Mistake made by performers. I want to leave as soon as they say that.
  7. Write what entertains you. If you can’t be funny be interesting. You haven’t lost the crowd. Have something to say and then do it in a funny way.
  8. I close my eyes and walk out there and that’s where I start, Honest.
  9. Listen to what you are saying, ask yourself, “Why am I saying it and is it Necessary?” (This will filter all your material and cut the unnecessary words, economy of words)
  10. Play to the top of the intelligence of the room. There aren’t any bad crowds, just wrong choices.
  11. Remember this is the hardest thing there is to do. If you can do this you can do anything.
  12. I love my cracker roots. Get to know your family, be friends with them.


I would modify this list for screenwriters–

  1. We’ve been telling stories for eons.  There are no new stories.  The only thing that make you commercial (or unique) is your voice and your perspective.
  2. How can you tell the story in a new way?  Don’t fall back on cliches.
  3. Never follow the market.  Tell stories that excite you– not ones you think the market wants to buy.
  4. Tell the market yours is a great story by how you tell it.
  5. Don’t keep going back and rewriting old bits every day, just move on.  Finish the story.  Let the first draft be crappy.  Or you won’t ever have a first draft.
  6. Just jump right into the story.  Don’t waste time with long introductions or back story.
  7. Write what entertains you. Be interesting. Have something to say and then say it in a uniquely personal way.
  8. I close my eyes and walk out there and that’s where I start, Honest.
  9. Read what you are are writing, ask yourself, “Why am I telling this and is it Necessary?” (This will filter all your material and cut the unnecessary words, economy of words).
  10. Play to the top of the intelligence of the reader or viewer. There aren’t any bad audiences, just wrong choices.
  11. Remember this is the hardest thing there is to do. If you can do this you can do anything.
  12. I love my own Wisconsin roots. Get to know your family, be friends with them. Learn from the storytelling of your tribe.