Tag Archives: writing tips

Writing Lessons From Gravity

I often say that Avatar was the first film I saw in 3D but that’s not true. It was a space documentary narrated by Tom Cruise in the London IMAX. So it’s quite fitting that when I finally saw Gravity it was in 3D; I’ve come full circle.

Gravity, of course, looked a lot better, but in a way it was very similar to the Cruise-narrated documentary; much was made of its looks (and the 3D) to the detriment of the story behind it. And don’t get me wrong, Gravity is a beautiful film. But the script has a few good lessons worth highlighting for a writer of any genre.

Careful, there are spoilers in low orbit…

Don’t Let Reality Interfere

Gravity is careful to be scientifically accurate. But when science gets in the way of the story, the Cuaróns weren’t afraid to ignore it. In practice there’s no real possibility of an astronaut just hopping from space shuttle to space station to space station. But that would have severely limited the story opportunities, and so the writers ignored reality in favour of the plot.

Make a Character’s Death Mean Something

Gravity kills on two occasions. The first kills a bunch of nameless characters to illustrate the danger of the situation and to leave astronauts Stone and Kowalski stranded.

The second kills Kowalski. This is a character you care about. Sure it could be Clooney’s rugged charm. But the writers also took time to show us his stories, his little dreams, and how much he tries to help Stone.

Kowalski’s death is working overtime. It reminds the audience that no one is safe, not even characters they like. It removes Stone’s last source of aid and comfort. And it further complicates her relationship with death.

No Place to Hide

Gravity is a perfect, if extreme, example of motivating characters to move on. At no point can your characters find a place, in the world or in their head, where they can find any permanent peace. Sure it’s good for them to catch their breath, as Stone does when she reaches the ISS. But if the ISS was too safe, the story would have ended. Stone would have waited for rescue or she would have hopped in a Soyuz and cruised back home.

Each point Stone reached was either perilous before she got there or became so shortly afterwards. This prompted her to keep moving and the story moved with her.

The Importance of Death and Rebirth

Gravity offers a very clear and literal interpretation of this stage of the Hero’s Journey. Stone settles down to die only to receive a heavenly visitation from the dead Kowalski. She then regains consciousness with the knowledge necessary to save herself and she makes her peace with the death of her daughter.

Ultimately your character has to be flawed at the beginning of your story. They don’t have to be a broken mess. But they cannot be the hero, not yet. It’s only when they go through the death and rebirth stage that they gain the quality necessary to defeat the antagonist.

Did you learn anything from Gravity? Or do you disagree with any of what I’ve said? Leave a comment!

Writing Lessons from One Fan at Hard Rock Calling

There were plenty of banners at Bruce Springsteen’s concert at Hyde Park, song titles held above heads in an effort to persuade him to play them. He’s known to do it and so their efforts aren’t in vain. But one man had put in so much effort it actually moved me.

This man was holding up a banner asking Springsteen to play “Take ‘Em As They Come”, an obscure track, and the banner also had the following list:


These were all the concerts the man had attended, a testament to cost, distance and devotion, in an effort to get Springsteen to play the song he loved. So Springsteen granted him his wish. The man is so happy it’s quite moving.

The moral? Never stop asking. Because one day the answer might be yes.

Writing Lessons from George Lucas

Last week I mentioned the three last-minute books I bought before I embarked on No More Books 2012. But now I have a confession to make: I was lying.

There was one other book.

That book was Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays.

A friend of mine called this purchase the geekiest thing he had ever heard. And he’s a huge geek himself. But I don’t care. I love stuff like this, the behind-the-scenes of the writing. It’s a chance to see how other writers work, a chance to examine how they do things and to learn from them.

To prove it, here’s three things I’ve learnt from the geekiest purchase ever.

Steal From Other Stories If Need Be

“I have a bad feeling about this”, a line which ended up in every Star Wars film, was originally in the script for Indiana Jones. But Lucas felt it would work better in Star Wars, so he took it out of Indiana Jones’ mouth and placed it in Luke Skywalker’s. If you’ve an idea that would work great in one project but you originally envisaged it in another, don’t protect one and hurt both. You need to make this current project as strong as it can be.

Remove Characters With Nothing To Do

In earlier drafts, Lucas didn’t kill Obi-Wan. But he found he was making no contribution to the film after the escape from the Death Star. Alec Guinness was going to be very expensive set dressing. So he killed him off.

If a character is a good one, killing them off should feel like a loss. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a loss to the story. Sometimes it’s a gain.

Don’t Be Precious; Change Whatever You Need to Make It Work

Lucas’ first treatment was radically different to the final film. About the only things that remain from treatment to screen are an empire, a rebellion, a force and a few names. Luke Skywalker was Annikin Starkiller. Obi-wan was after a Kiber crystal. Darth Vader was a bit part.

No writer should be afraid of the red pen, even if it causes the end result to be almost unrecognisable from the first plot outline. If it’s making things better, it can only be a good thing.

(Bonus Lesson: If you’re tempted to create a Jar Jar Binks? Don’t.)

Find out if I learned these lessons by downloading a free copy of my debut novel, The Fey Man!