Sunday, July 05, 2009

William Akers: Notes

Daniel Gritten won the ticket to attend the William Akers' talk on screenwriting last week. Daniel has written for radio, theatre and film. He currently has a screenplay in development with Milkwood Pictures.

I asked him to jot a few notes on the Aker's talk. Here's his report:-


William Akers Talk: Fatal Errors Beginning (and Experienced) Writers Make

William Akers has one ambition for your screenplay: to make it so good that the bored, busy, impatient, frazzled Script Reader finishes reading it. Too modest an ambition? Any one who has ever critiqued scripts will tell you not. During his recent London seminar, Akers described how beginning writers might achieve this.

Based on his book, Your Screenplay Sucks! 100 Ways to Make it Great, Akers provided a checklist for the screenwriter to improve their own work. The aim is not to beat the Reader, but to help the Reader. Help them visualise your scene, help them hear your characters, help them avoid distraction. In focussing on the mechanics of the industry and the importance of holding the Reader’s interest beyond page 10, Akers’ advice is more applicable to those polishing their screenplay than those staring at a blank sheet of paper. There are no dogmatic principles of story structure or mythic archetypes. Rather, in his cool Southern drawl, Akers relayed practical screenwriting nuggets gleaned from 20+ years of making a living in the ‘Entertainment Business’.

Here’s a couple of insights that chimed with me:


Names are a common cause of grief for all writers. Akers was hot on names. A common mistake writers make is giving characters names that rhyme:


The audience laughed, but go back and look at your screenplay. Apparently, it is a common pitfall. As indeed are alliterative names:


Avoid these mistakes, and use names of differing length. Thinking of the harried Reader, it must be easier to keep distinctions clear when reading “Hieronymus” and “Mike” than when reading “Tom” and “Tim”. Akers directs writers to IMDb, find a cast list which you then mix up, and combine first and last names. Simple, effective advice.

Scene Description

Akers notes that writers tend to ignore scene description. It’s not fun. It’s not sexy. But it is important. Your aim is to make sure the Reader understands what you want them to understand. As an example:

Bob picks up the body.

Akers assumed that ‘body’ meant the character was dead. But the writer just wanted the character unconscious. As the reader, Akers had to go back and re-read to understand what was going on. The words that go on the page are important. Just as important are the words that don’t make it. He advises the use of active verbs only; go through your screenplay cutting ‘to be’ and ‘is’. Also falling to the red pen are all ‘stands/walks/begins’, all adverbs and ‘seems/appears’.

Akers also drew attention to what he described as ‘Image Order’.

Andrew Jackson was captured and wounded by British soldiers.

Was Jackson handcuffed, then shot? No, the other way around. So help the Reader create the mental pictures in the right order.

Perhaps all this seems obvious, but groaning slush piles suggest otherwise. Akers’ advice (available via his website, where his book is also available) is an immensely practical tool for those difficult rewriting days. Take his advice, if not for your own sake, then for the sake of the poor Reader.


Thanks, Daniel!


Lucy said...

Great stuff there - and I can defo agree with Akers! I had a script recently that had names ONLY beginning with "M". I kid ye not: every last one. Bamboozled me no end. And of course scene description and making the most of it is one of my all-time mantras. William Martell's awesome article "16 Steps to Better Scene Description" is STILL the best info out there I reckon, plus it's short, free and readily available on the 'net!

Danny Stack said...

Thanks, Lucy. Here's the link to Martell's Better Description article.

Rach said...

Names. Aaah. I can spend ages choosing them and have books of baby names to help but I still end up with those rhyming one. A very bad habit.

Thanks for the info.

Antonia said...

Excellent stuff. Thanks for sharing.

Splinter073 said...

Great stuff! I always think that I'm maybe putting in too much description for how a scene looks. I like to portray the location as I would in a novel.

Mutt said...

I'm going to have to find a copy of Mr. Akers' book.

HighPitchLondon said...

Hi Danny

Well done in carrying the flag for emerging talent with your blog and the Red Planet competition.

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