A brilliant example of writing characters in screenplays – “The Thing”

the thing screenplay character buildingBill Lancaster’s screenplay for “The Thing” is a great read for a  number of reasons – one that struck me immediately, though, is the quiet brilliance of the first page. As a method for introducing a cast of characters, it’s at the same time somewhat unconventional and widely applicable. Unconventional because it presents the characters all at once as a list, rather than in-line as they appear (as the usual convention would have it) – but widely applicable because the characters are built so fully in so few words. If you haven’t read it, click the image to enlarge it. Continue reading

The parable of the man with an elephant’s head

elephant head storyI had what felt like a terribly profound dream the other night, concerning a couple who were walking in a valley as dusk was approaching. They had been out for a long time, and were growing tired, eager to get home before dark. The valley had steep, high sides, hedging them in, and their trail was chased by shadows. The woman started to grow anxious, convinced that someone was following them and that they should hurry. Looking back, they could both see that, for sure, a figure was walking behind them, a short distance away. The man brushed off her fears, though, saying that there were bound to be others enjoying such a beautiful walk; they had no right to believe this walk was meant just for them. Continue reading

How to use bridging words effectively

conjunctions bridging therefore thusThe following is adapted from a guide on my English Lessons site, as it’s something I think is relevant to writers everywhere. Something I invariably find when editing writing, particularly non-fiction such as reports, essays and general academic texts, is the over-use of bridging words, adverbs typically used as conjunctions or to connect ideas across sentences and paragraphs. It’s a widespread problem – when I edit my own writing I find a large number of these words. Expressions like thus, hence, however, therefore, as such, moreover, indeed and many more are useful to connect different ideas in writing – but must be used sparingly, otherwise they sound run the risk of becoming repetitive and redundant. Continue reading

Pauline Williams, in Loving Memory

lavenderPauline Williams was loved by all who knew her, because she so easily and so deeply loved others. She was a dedicated mother to myself and my four siblings and a mother figure to countless others. She was a hero who gave everything to everyone and took nothing for herself. My mother was a perfect, and rare, example of a person whose love was strengthened, and never diminished, by being shared with every person she met. Weeks after she moved down to Worthing, she told us she already had over 60 friends. She wasn’t sure of any of their names yet, but that she considered them all friends so quickly was testament to how quick she was to hold people dear.

She knew, cared for and was loved by more people than I think we could ever count, yet she was too humble to ask for anything for herself. She never set out to find fame, fortune or popularity, she merely set out to share and care, and live life fully, and through that simple principle she found genuine and lasting fortune in love. Every person that knew her could not help but feel how special she was, and would never forget her. It is telling that at the time of her death so many people have sent their condolences not as a measure of general sadness, but as notes of personal loss, without fail citing how she had made a lasting impression – even with those she met for the briefest of times. And in every impression the same qualities shone through; of love, of caring and of her spritely, lively nature.

As a mother, she dedicated her life to us, spending decades painstakingly cooking and cleaning and caring for us. She never forgot a birthday, for our entire extended family, and could always be counted on to send care packages to anyone who was not in direct touch. Not just for us, her actual children, but for anyone she had encountered that she felt needed a little extra love. She opened the doors of our home and her heart to any and all; our childhood home was a social hub, and as we reached adulthood, and I was frequently away, I found that whenever I returned someone new was living there. With all the attention that one of her actual children would enjoy. When other children grew frustrated with their families and ran away, for however small or large a slight they perceived in their own homes, in Pauline they found an unquestioningly caring surrogate mother. Like the perfect matriarch of a Dickensian miracle or a Disney fairy tale, she was always there, if anyone should need her.

whole family

A fraction of the people who loved her, our extended family.

The examples and details of the way she touched others’ lives are no doubt wider and deeper than I could present here and I myself know only a fraction of what she did in her roles as a devoted wife, an attentive aunt, sister and daughter, a devout Christian, a teacher, a nurse, an active member of various communities and a friend to all. None of us can ever know the full extent of the good she did. They may have often been little things, like an unsolicited letter in the post, but her actions had the greatest power to warm hearts and provide genuine comfort.

Her capacity for compassion and care was only part of what made her so special, though. She was full of life, with a wicked sense of humour and an uncontainable fun side. She disrupted serious classes with her cheeky antics. She turned a family barbecue into a carnival of colour and activity. She was creative for creativity’s sake, writing without readers and working tirelessly on her beautifully conceived garden. She made every holiday an experience, transforming our house into a glittering masterpiece at Christmas and striking terror into our hearts with her cackling witch character at Halloween.

Mum down the pub.

Mum down the pub.

My mother lived every day of her life to the full. She was one of the most active people I know, who found multitudes of ways to keep so busy. From tai chi to tap dance, from choir singing and church activities to reiki and orchid societies, from volunteer work and hosting coffee mornings with friends to calling and writing to everyone she knew. Behind all of which she was running a household, cooking meals, maintaining a glorious garden and looking after herds of pets. A day in her life was so full of variety and so productive that it shames those of us who can happily spend a day in front of a computer.

When she became ill, she did not want to cause a fuss for herself, and struggled with cancer long before any of us realised how serious it was. After her chemo and operation, she was up and about, getting on with her life. Even in her last days, in the hospice, we turned up to find her cheekily wandering around the halls when by all rights she should have been bedridden. She fought long and hard against the illness, so hard that we had time to gather our whole family to be with her at the end. Even in her final week she found the strength to wait for the right moment to pass on, not on the many occasions when we sat with her alone, in sad reflection, but at the one time when we were all finally in the room together. With music playing, and everyone laughing.


To know her was to love her, and her memory will inspire all of us to do better with our lives. Through the widespread and lasting impact of her spirit, I know for certain that, whatever feelings anyone has about the afterlife, my mother will live on. She will be felt, forever, in the love that she gave us all. She will be felt forever in everything that any of us achieves thanks to her support, and that support will never wain for as long as we remember her. Though her body is finally laid to rest, a rest she has long deserved, my mother’s spirit will continue to grow and spread. If every day we try to live a little more as she did, in the strength of her memory, then her love will outlast us all.

One Scene of Bad Dialogue to Stand for them All

true detective bad dialogueEver had a conversation with a friend where you’re recalling a fond, or not so fond, memory, and one of you describes everything that happened detail by detail as though giving a police report? To which the second person might respond, “I was there, why are you telling me this?” The second season of True Detective offered this up in abundance, as one person after another tried to fill in backstory holes in a desperate attempt to get us to care about the characters’ eventual demises. A lot of people have complained about a lot of failings of the show, but it’s the way characters talked to each other that bothered me most. And in the season finale there was one scene, I felt, that summed it up perfectly.  Continue reading

Using Grammar in the Art of Editing

grammar for editing sentencesCorrect English sentences are formed of some basic rules that start simple but allow a lot room for manoeuvre. Especially true of more complex, longer sentences, we have many options to rearrange what has been written, and to explore varieties in word order. This is useful if you want to restate something, to add some variety, or to add emphasis to particular points – all options when you want to present the same information, just a little…different. I decided to produce an article exploring basic word order in a more advanced way, originally aimed at foreign learners – but I think this has a place here, too, to show how a solid grasp of the fundamentals of English word order can offer a lot of room for creativity. So, here I’ve demonstrated how a single example sentence can be deconstructed and reconstructed. Over and over again… Continue reading

21 alternatives to “say” or “said”

alternative speech verbsWhen describing speech in creative writing, it’s tempting to rely on simple verbs like “to say”, but while this can keep your text fairly neutral (and I would never advise consistently using different verbs just for variety’s sake), you may want a few alternatives to keep things interesting – and to add a bit more depth to described speech. The following article was a vocabulary building list that I produced for my English Lessons website, which seems pertinent to post here too. With, of course, some different examples. So if you’re looking for a range of different meanings and emotions when describing what someone is saying, try a few of these alternatives to the verb “to say”:

Continue reading

5 ways to make your use of English language more interesting

5 ways interesting englishIf you feel like you repeat yourself a lot, and that everything you can say has already been said, every word has already been heard, there are a few simple tricks that you can use to spruce up your use of the English. Life hacks, as the children are calling them these days. These tricks can be applied at all levels of learning, to ensure that you get new reactions to the things you say – and to make sure people are really listening to you. Or just to amuse yourself. So, here’s how to make English more exciting: Continue reading

Cutting out words to improve Mad Max’s summary

mad max fury road summaryI don’t know who’s responsible for the summary of Mad Max: Fury Road that’s currently loitering on the film’s IMDB page, but it’s got too many words and reads like someone’s trying too hard to sound dramatic. It may be that some random Joe has written this summary, someone with nothing to do with the film itself. Or it may be the production put it forward themselves. Whatever the case, it’s a good candidate for improving. So here’s a little challenge – can this descriptively over-the-top summary be improved simply by removing some words? Have a look below, and you decide: Continue reading

A Treatise on Lindt Chocolate Advent Calendars

lindt advent calendarFor the past few years, I’ve been trying to reconcile the prospect of a waking each morning to the indulgence of a Lindt chocolate Christmas treat with the expense of such an advent calendar. £6 seemed an awful lot considering it’s a piece of card with a moderately feeble gram value of chocolate content, especially as it’s really aimed at children and a grown man shouldn’t be partaking in such tomfoolery. But hey, this year I thought I’d go for it. And received a sharp, burning lesson in everything that is wrong with Christmas. Continue reading