Writing style

The narrative (the outline) is the skeleton. The dialogue is the meat. The narration (what somebody is thinking) is the nervous system. The body language, physical expressions and the scenery which encases them are the blood underlying the skin.

My ethos is that the writer shouldn’t make a character’s situation too easy or hard. This is because it makes the story more original, unpredictable and thought-provoking. If scenes get too long, interweave them like a movie or a TV series.

My novels have presages i.e. prophetic plot points e.g. Martin Scorsese’s Casino has a scene that takes place at a baseball game, which serves as an omen because it forebodes the beating of two characters.

It’s better to imply something versus stating it. If something can’t be implied, showing is better than telling. It’s also best not to say anything because people would come to the right conclusion about why something was said, thought or done.

Many novelists perceive writing a novel like playing chess i.e. planning moves in advance. For first-time novelists, it’s best to make it up as you go along because prematurely thinking about the outcome might be too overwhelming. It’s also why experienced novelists experience writer’s block. For a small percentage of writers, they could be afraid that the possibilities are so endless that there’s too much to choose from. Maybe they don’t like unleashing the dark recesses of their mind to the extent that they would be placed under analytical scrutiny.

One thing to avoid is having characters be named after similar ones. It just takes you out of the experience. In an episode of The Blacklist: Redemption, a soldier was named Braddock as a reference to the Missing in Action franchise starring Chuck Norris. Even an off-screen detective in Elementary, Lassetter, was an obvious reference to Monk. The best reference is a model in Royal Pains named Sloane Lerner (slow learner).

For a small percentage of writers, writer’s block is about the possibilities being so endless that there’s too much to choose from. There’s an even smaller percentage who don’t like unleashing the dark recesses of their mind to the extent that they would be placed under analytical scrutiny.

As for the plotting, I didn’t like planning the ending because things are more likely to change. I just write for as long as possible. It’s like what John Woo said about being a director – it’s like being a painter i.e. going where the mood takes you. Deadlines can make the writing forced (the same thing applies to records). This is why I’m lucky that my five (and only) novels were written before the contract stage. Coincidentally, most Hong Kong film directors don’t like planning endings because ideas are bound to spring up which change the course of the narrative.

Be open-minded about taking stories to their natural conclusions (no matter how dark). People pull too many punches and push fewer envelopes because they don’t want to depress themselves or others.

For a screenwriter suffering from writer’s block, it’s best to write a screenplay with an actor’s personality in mind. When journaling the development of Josiah’s Canon for 20th Century Fox, Brett Ratner explained that even though the script is important for a movie, it’s not necessarily crucial nowadays. He acknowledged this when talking about the script for Rush Hour:

“There were five different scripts, all buddy-cop movies and the one that became Rush Hour was the worst of the five. But it fits the actors well, and so we made that one.”

The following is taken from Keith Strandberg’s overlooked manuscript…

Most stories fit a standard model. The movie paradigm goes like this: START. PLOT POINT #1. PLOT POINT #2. CLIMAX. DENOUEMENT. The end is a few twists and turns away from the beginning. If a movie is too linear and easy to follow, it gets boring. Posted Image So, about 10 minutes into the movie, along comes PLOT POINT #1, which serves to spin the story in another direction. After that plot point, the movie goes along telling its story, the audience is settling into it, enjoying the story and thinking they know where it’s going.

Then comes PLOT POINT #2, which spins the plot in a completely different, and usually unexpected direction. After PLOT POINT #2 (which is normally about 20 minutes from the end of the movie), the movie rushes towards its CLIMAX, or conclusion. Sometimes after the climax comes the resolution, which wraps up the loose ends of the story. There are some movies that just do not fit into it the paradigm (such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind and true stories).

Die Hard is an almost perfect action movie. It starts with Bruce Willis flying to Los Angeles to visit his wife for Christmas. The audience doesn’t really know what the movie is about – could it be an action movie about a domestic relationship?

Plot point #1:

When Willis gets to the building where her Christmas party is being held, everyone but him is taken hostage! The middle section of the movie follows, where Willis tries to stay alive and tries to stop the bad guys. He builds a rapport with a sergeant who is outside the building. It turns into a pretty basic good guy vs. bad guys story.


The villain finds out who he is, and take his wife hostage while threatening to kill him if he doesn’t stop rescuing. The movie rockets towards its conclusion, with Willis beating all the bad guys (the climax) and getting his estranged wife back in the process. There is also a resolution after the climax, where the reporter who was seeking the story the entire way and who caused quite a lot of problems, gets sucker punched by the wife. It’s an interesting resolution, and unusual for an action movie.

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