Genre: Crime-Thriller
Premise: An alcoholic woman who becomes obsessed with a couple whose home she passes every day on the train, is convinced she knows what happened when the woman in the relationship goes missing.
About: This is Paula Hawkins’ first official novel, but she has written a few chick-lit books under a pseudonym, although you couldn’t’ get her to tell you the titles if you tried. A former financial analyst and journalist, Hawkins explains The Girl On The Train as her last-ditch attempt at becoming a novelist. Hawkins says of how she came up with the idea: “I used to commute when I was a journalist, from the edges of London. I loved looking into people’s houses. The train went really close by apartments, so you could see in. I never saw anything shocking, but I wondered, if you saw anything out of the ordinary, an act of violence, who would you tell and would anyone believe you?” Dreamworks has optioned the book, although the film doesn’t have a star or director attached yet. That could change soon. The book now has 10,000 Amazon reviews (Gone Girl had 20,000 when David Fincher became attached).
Writer: Paula Hawkins
Details: 326 pages


Just Monday we had a guest author chime in on how much freedom one has when writing a novel – being able to play with the narrative, taking different points of view – and boy does today’s novel support that claim.

There will be, of course, people who shrug The Girl On The Train off as a Gone Girl clone, a book that came along at just the moment Gone Girl movie mania was sweeping the nation. The novel, like Gone Girl, is a crime-thriller, takes us through different points of view in regards to a missing woman, and, in case you hadn’t noticed, has the word “Girl” in the title.

But what might surprise you is that “Train” is better than Gone Girl. I don’t say that easily. Gone Girl’s amazing first half and mid-point twist help it win the “first half of the book” award. But whereas Gone Girl starts running out of steam once it leads to its inevitable conclusion, “Train” only gets better as its climax approaches.

That was always my big problem with Gone Girl – the book, and then the movie. As much as Gillian Flynn tried to convince us that her dark weird ending was the way she preferred it, it was clear that she simply wrote herself into a corner – confirmed later in an interview where she confesses to not outlining – one of the most important aspects in writing a great ending. The Girl On The Train has no such issues.

Middle-aged Rachel Watson has pretty much given up on life. She ruined her marriage to the perfect man by drinking too much, then watched as he moved into the arms of a younger prettier woman. Rachel moved out of town, got fat, and now rides the train every day to a job she doesn’t have anymore, but which she must pretend to have in order to keep her flatmate from kicking her out of her apartment.  And oh yeah, she’s rarely sober.

The lone light in Rachel’s life is Jason and Jess, a perfect couple who live in a house she passes on the train every day. The two are always outside, kissing, hugging, living that perfect life Rachel once had. Of course, their real names aren’t Jason and Jess. Those are the pretend names Rachel has given them, which seems appropriate, given her happiness exists only in a fantasy world she creates.

Rachel first noticed Jason and Jess because their home is a few houses down from where she used to live. Her ex-husband still lives there, now with his perfect replacement wife, Anne. Rachel would like to say that she’s a big girl who’s moved on from that world. But the truth is, she gets drunk every night and stalks her husband, both on the phone and at the house. We learn very quickly that Rachel isn’t exactly… stable.

Then one day, everything changes. As she’s passing by in the train, she sees “Jess” outside her house with ANOTHER MAN. Her fantasy world destroyed, she’s unable to process this information for days. However, it’s what happens after that really shakes her foundation. “Jess” goes missing, and no one has any information on what happened to her. No one, that is, but Rachel.

Rachel, excited to actually have a purpose in life again, goes to the police to inform them about the man she saw outside with “Jess” (real name: Megan). But they dismiss her as a sad middle-aged drunk woman. It’s for this reason that Rachel must take on the case by herself.  Well, at least in her opinion that is.

The book jumps back and forth between the points of view of Anne (Rachel’s replacement), Megan (the missing woman before she goes missing), and of course, Rachel. What makes the investigation so fascinating is that Rachel is wasted half the time, so she’s just about the most unreliable narrator ever.

She wakes up each morning only vaguely remembering the night before, making her investigation a puzzle where all the pieces are upside-down. The whole time we’re excited as we get closer to the answer. But we’re always wondering: Can we really trust anything we know here? Or is Rachel just a sad lonely woman who’s making this all up?  Or is the answer much worse?  Could Rachel somehow be… involved?

96658293-419x629Michelle Williams, Hawkins’ dream acting choice for Rachel.

Whether you’re writing a novel or a screenplay, there’s one thing you’ll almost certainly need to succeed – and that’s a compelling main character. I don’t know if characters get more compelling than Rachel Watson. Imagine being inside the mind of a train wreck who does the most horrible things, but can justify each and every one of them, and maybe even convince you they’re not so terrible too.

At one point in the story, Rachel steals a baby. Let me repeat that. THE MAIN CHARACTER STEALS A BABY. And we still root for her!

Sound impossible? Well, there’s a bit of a trick going on here. In a movie, it’s hard to have a character do something like steal a baby and the audience root for them. That’s because we only see their actions. We’re not in their head with them. Girl On The Train has the advantage of placing us inside Rachel’s head. So when she explains WHY she steals the baby, it doesn’t sound all that crazy. I mean, she still shouldn’t have done it. But we can at least understand what she was thinking at the time.

This is why you’ll often hear voice over in movies when bad characters are the protagonists. The writers know you’ll never justify their actions from afar. But if you’re in their head with them, it’s possible to understand where they’re coming from. (House of Cards Season 2 spoilers). For example, in House of Cards, Frank Underwood is always talking directly to us, explaining why he’s doing the horrible things he’s doing. So even though we might not agree with him, we see where he’s coming from. When he throws Zoe Barnes into a train, killing her, a few words explaining how dangerous she was makes the pill a lot easier to swallow. And “Train’s” Rachel Watson benefits from this same “first person perspective” halo.

Another reason we’re lenient towards this character’s terrible tendencies is because she’s ACTIVE. Readers and audiences like characters who DO STUFF. Characters who are passive, who watch the world go by and do nothing, we have no patience for these wallflowers. But no matter how “bad” someone is, if they’re at least trying to do something, we’ll want to see if they succeed. And Rachel, while not exactly Sherlock Holmes, throws herself into this investigation with gusto. She wants to solve the mystery, so of course we want to see if she pulls it off.

In addition to this, Rachel is, at her core, doing a good thing. She’s trying to solve a murder. Sure she’s lying to everybody. Sure she steals babies. Sure she gets blackout drunk every night. Sure she stalks her ex-husband and leaves 20 screaming voicemails on his phone every night. But she’s trying to solve a murder and expose a killer.

As crazy as it sounds, I’ve read versions of this story where there is no killing. There’s just a drunk main character who stumbles around the city feeling sorry for him/herself the whole time. I’m much less inclined to root for that character than I am one who wants to solve a murder, who has an honorable goal to execute.

I don’t want to spoil too much here because the brilliance of this book is in its surprises, but I will leave you with one more thing. MAKE YOUR CHARACTERS LIARS. Everything becomes so much more interesting when people are hiding things. Part of the deliciousness in Girl On The Train is that Rachel lies to everyone. Seeing if she’s going to get caught is part of the fun.

For instance, when she approaches “Jason,” the missing girl’s husband, to let him know that she saw “Jess” with another man, she can’t tell him that she’s watched them every day for the past two years on the train. That would make her sound crazy, right? So she makes up a little lie about knowing “Jess” from her art gallery. Of course, as their relationship grows, Jason requires more information about her friendship with Jess, and Rachel is forced to add more to the lie. At a certain point, she’s locked into a story that’s completely made up. And when that story gets exposed to other people, like the cops, Rachel has to come up with more lies to explain away that lie.

I know a lot of you don’t have time to read books but this one reads like a screenplay. It’s really fast. And I highly recommend it.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[x] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Use LIES WITH LEGS over simple lies. A simple lie can result in a fun scene. Frank secretly takes some money from his wife to go gambling, comes home to see his wife home early, she asks him where her money is, and he makes up a lie. The lie doesn’t quite make sense to her, so she questions him about it. The suspense comes from whether he’ll talk his way out of the suspicion or not. But a much more powerful lie is a lie that has legs. It’s a lie that the character HAS TO KEEP BUILDING ON. That’s what’s so great about Girl on The Train. Rachel tells all these little lies. But they’re lies that matter in a detail-oriented missing-woman’s search. So they’re brought up again and again to her (How does she know “Jess” exactly?) and she has to come up with more lies to cover for her previous lies. That’s one of the areas where this book really shined. A lie was never just a simple lie. It was forced to keep growing.

  • S.C.

    Thanks for the review, Carson. Saw this book in a Waterstones book store and assumed it was a Gone Girl rip-off! Glad to be wrong.

    “outlining – one of the most important aspects in writing a great ending”

    I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for me to disagree on the importance of outlining (instead, hold your breath when Sandy Bullock does at the end of Gravity).

    I would say, though, that an ending can be fixed more easily than some other aspects of story, and (in many cases, I think a thriller like this might be different) a straightforward traditional climax (courtroom verdict, shootout, wedding) might be preferable over some clever-clever, “never seen before” ending.

    What I mean is, if I love Act I and Act II of a script, I’m not going to reject it if Act III heads in a wrong direction – I’d just want the writer to change it.

    Where I do think there is a problem – and Carson mentions this (I haven’t seen Gone Girl myself) – is running out of steam. Story, in my view, is quantifiable; maybe not mathematically quantifiable, but you can tell is there’s too much story or not enough. Most times, it’s not enough, and an outline/synopsis/treatment could point this out.

    One problem, I think, with a SLOW opening is that the writer doesn’t have enough story and is trying to stretch it out, waiting until page 30 to get to the one bit of the story they know.

    “Readers and audiences like characters who DO STUFF”

    Been a lot of talk (here, elsewhere) lately about the importance of characters maybe OVER story – simple story, complicated characters has become the mantra.

    I was thinking about what some people were saying about what has happened to House of Cards. I’ve not seen the US version, but I have seen the BBC original, so this is just my interpretation. They took the lead character – and his catchphrase and his breaking of the fourth wall – but not so much of the story.

    The story of House of Cards (original) is quintessentially British: Chief Whips, the Royal Family, Cyprus Emergency, etc. In the 1990s, when HoC was first broadcast, cameras had only recently entered “the Commons” and we didn’t have the US-style election campaigning (we do now, thanks). It was very different to today’s view of politics. Politician were (by and large) respected, mainly because we didn’t know what they were up to. Francis Urquhart’s actions in the original – his Machiavellian manipulations, his murders – were shocking in their day. Today, I’d say less so.

    Anyway, the point is you take a complicated, well-drawn character and then… well, it’s not as if American Francis has had nothing to do, but the fact that he is running out of things to do may have something to do with being a character from one story (and a very British one) transported into another.

    So as important as it is to develop your characters, it is important to develop them parallel with your story. And that means giving the characters goals and conflicts on the outside as well as a complex inner life. And making sure you have the right characters in the right script.

    Scott out.

    • leitskev

      “Been a lot of talk (here, elsewhere) lately about the importance of characters maybe OVER story …”

      Another thing to keep in mind: these types of stories make easier reads. A complicated script, which could be a the basis for a great movie, is also likely to be a difficult read as a script. Not as a book necessarily, but as a script. It’s an unfortunate but true fact that a simply plotted script will often be easier to win the reader over.

      • S.C.

        Very, very true point.

    • pmlove

      Re: House of Cards (spoilers etc) S3

      I thought it was still good, far from the mess Carson described. For me, the problems that it had weren`t Russia, or anything like that.

      1) Mendoza – they built him up to be the main adversary for the season. I think the actor then had a scheduling conflict, so he just drops out the picture and they have to find a new candidate.

      2) The problems don’t arrive early enough. One of the pleasures for me was seeing Frank and Claire get out of near impossible situations just by willing to go further than their opposition. Here, some of the conflicts are summarily resolved (eg Claire being UN ambassador – all that fight, then he just OKs it in a heartbeat). The problems do come – but too late to resolve them, leaving us in ‘half-season’ mode, which is always less satisfying.

      I also agree that Claire’s change of heart is uncharacteristic and would have been better, perhaps, if they had focused solely on the difference in ambition (him being successful at her expense), rather than any moral conflict.

      All that being said, I’ll definitely tune in for Season 4.

      • S.C.

        I think they may want to go back to the books to look for story ideas: fake acts of terrorism, an ambitious rival, Frank starting a war to boost his popularity, a man who wants revenge against Frank. All ideas from the books.

  • leitskev

    Great review. Thought provoking and stimulating. I encourage Carson to include more of these. Excellent practical observations about being in the protagonist’s head and comparing that to film. House of Cards is a great example too.

    These kinds of practical story telling techniques ARE useful for screenwriting. Cross pollination is usually beneficial when it comes to learning.

    I found an article the other day by Mark Twain where he discusses storytelling techniques he had learned from watching great story performers. The main thing Twain wanted us to know was the value of the pause before delivering the punch line. A pause, he emphasized, had to be the perfect length, and when it is, it creates a kind of power.

    It had me wondering whether a pause can be used in film or novels. And it is, of course. It just takes a different form. Within a scene, the story creates some question the audience waits to see answered. Once that question is created, any delay that is inserted before answering it is a pause.

    There are ways to learn from any kind of story telling.

    • S.C.

      I like lists! Things you could read or watch to lean story:

      Chat shows (for the anecdotes)
      Children’s books
      Kid’s films
      The news
      Reality shows
      Stand-up comedy
      Three-panel comic strips (in newspapers or published in books)

      Any others?

      • Randy Williams

        I haven’t seen a puppet show in years. Maybe it’s time to take one in.

      • leitskev

        I like to read reviews on Amazon, IMDB and Netflix. I like the amateur review much better than the pro review, which is usually more interested in impressing others with the reviewer’s knowledge. That’s why I like this blog too…it’s more practical problem oriented.

        • S.C.

          The What I Learned section is important. This isn’t just someone’s opinion or tastes (no matter what SOME say); Carson always draws a lesson from his reviews.

      • shewrites

        Documentaries. I recently watched “The Green Prince”. Regardless of whether one finds the narrative slanted or not, there’s a lot to be gleaned from a story telling perspective not unlike “Searching for Sugarman”.
        Thanks, Carson, for reviewing this novel. Can’t wait to check something that sounds even better than “Gone Girl”!

        • S.C.

          Definitely, documentaries; great stories and you learn things too!

          And so many documentaries become feature films.

    • martin_basrawy

      Speaking of pauses… I often include a “Beat” in my scripts to indicate a pause before the action/dialogue is meant to continue. But I also feel that I may be “directing” on the page, at it were. What’s you guys’ thoughts on writing pauses into a script? I think it informs the character’s actions, because it indicates they’re thinking about their next move.

      • NajlaAnn

        Once in a blue moon I’ve done the same thing.

      • S.C.

        If a character changes his mind while talking, or possibly reflects on the impact, what he is saying, then maybe.

        He was just looking for a place to spend the night.
        Or maybe he was looking for something else.

        If it’s a pause for dramatic impact, then I’m not so sure.

        I am you father.

        That seems more like directing on the page. To me. (Sorry my examples weren’t better!).

        • leitskev


          Scott puts on his jacket.

          …I am your father.

          • S.C.

            That would be better than:

            (puts on his jacket)
            I am your father.

            Beats are overused, but they DO have their uses.

      • leitskev

        I think it’s better to write a pause in such a way that the reader doesn’t realize that’s what you’re doing. Several ways to do that. You can insert some action. Or some interrupting dialogue. Sometimes what is needed to allow the pause time to build some strength. The audience wants an answer.

        • Eric

          I agree with this one. A beat is almost never just a beat. There should be something going on inside that beat and you should know what it is. Once you do, you’ll find better options than simply writing “beat”. For example…

          “awkward silence” for an awkward silence.
          “heavy pause” when the beat carries emotional weight.
          “(He) thinks it over/considers this” for the appropriate situation.
          “She sighs” for a beat from frustration or exhaustion. There’s lots of options.

          Now sometimes you’ll find yourself wanting to break up dialogue for no specific reason other than it sounds better that way. For me that leads to two options…

          1. Don’t. Don’t do it. Just write the sentences and stop over directing.

          2. Make the characters more active in the scene. By this I mean, have them cooking, opening mail, doing taxes, anything that would keep the scene from being just two people staring at each other and talking. This will require you to fill in action beats every now and then and you can use them in the places where a beat “just feels right” without looking too particular. It’s also vastly more interesting to read AND watch then the ‘two people on a couch’ scenes.

          • leitskev

            I don’t have a problem with using beat or pause. And I seriously doubt that actors, producers, directors really care. It’s so hard to find a good story…that’s what they care about. A good story well told.

            But people that are on the fringe of the business like rules. They LOVE rules. Because it makes them feel that by mastering rules they are a step closer. It’s comforting. College courses like to teach rules. Gurus fucking make their living on rules.

            So once upon a time someone said “don’t direct” with your screen writing.

            And like many things in this field, that went from generalized advice to a rule. An excuse for someone grading to get out the red pen.

            Fortunately, this is an easy rule to avoid. I LOVE to direct in a script! I just try to be tricky about it. So, for example, if I want a pause, I do it with action. It wastes a few lines sometimes. Oh well, anything to get past the rules people and through to the people that make movies and don’t give a shit about rules.

      • Felip Serra

        Personally my “beats” are used only in character dialogue and any “pauses” are kept in action lines. I have no justification or secrets to why this is; it just happens that way.

        I tend to use them to place a specific emphasis in a delivery of something, say, a monologue; to me it just highlights a critical timing of information I want delivered by a character. In a sense you are “directing” the page but in the right way. You are disseminating the information to the reader/audience when you think it needs to be shown and, frankly, that’s in our job description as screenwriters.

        On another level, it nicely breaks up larger speeches so your reader is not looking at a wall of words.

        • martin_basrawy

          thanks everyone, it’s cool to hear different approaches to inserting pauses.

      • Matthew Garry

        It’s best to use “(beat)” when it changes/makes clear the meaning, e.g.

        -No. I don’t think so.


        I don’t think so.

        The first one answers in the negative, and is certain about it. The second one, gives a knee-jerk negative response, and then becomes less sure on second thought. The same words but different meanings.

        Using “(beat)” or “(then)” just for dramatic pauses is usually a bad idea. Give your actors some credit.

      • brenkilco

        I would agree with others that beat is better than pause and should be used sparingly as should parentheticals. Only when the dialogue alone is insufficient to convey your character’s attitude If the beat changes the meaning of what is being said then yes. But if it’s only being used for emphasis like an ominous organ chord in a soap opera then no. And I think using beat in the body of a speech is really awkward.

  • Scott Strybos

    I’ve heard so many good things about this book. It is next in my book queue, after I finish the book I am reading now. (Which is why I am going to not read today’s post.)

    • S.C.

      Out of interest, Scott, is that a figurative book queue or some sort of Amazon/Netflix book rental thing?

      • Scott Strybos

        It is a figurative queue… During winter I do buy almost all digital books, and I download them through Amazon kindle, and read them on an iPad mini, but I have never used a digital queue… (In summer I buy almost all “real” books because I do all my reading outside and/or at the beach, which quadruples my reading rate.)

  • 3waystopsign

    I found this a somewhat diverting read. Rachel was certainly one of the more miserable protagonists I’ve come across recently. Without the murder angle I doubt I would have finished it – I actually got tired of hearing her constantly justifying her behavior. It was downright unpleasant at times. I was not very surprised by the big reveal. I thought the “who” was pretty obvious about halfway through even if I couldn’t be sure about the “why.” But a great example of unreliable narrators. That’s really what kept me reading.

    • Randy Williams

      I was reading the reviews on the Amazon page Carson linked to. Overwhelmingly enthusiastic praise. The ones who didn’t like it mostly cited the self-absorbed and depressing characters. Sounds like the people at the bus stop this morning.

  • Randy Williams

    I know, as a reader, a character who lies will keep me turning pages. If done well, I’m on pins and needles waiting to see that character be found out, and at one point the character will be backed into a wall and I think, now is the time for the charade to collapse and BOOM!, a twist and cover-up saves their ass.

    And the character quickly tells another…

  • mulesandmud

    Regarding GONE GIRL, whether Flynn outlines or not doesn’t seem to be the issue.

    It’s just as easy to write yourself into a corner in an outline as in a script, and in fact putting yourself in that corner can be an amazing opportunity to find a creative and/or thematic solution to your impossible narrative problem.

    But since Carson brought up outlines, let’s talk about them.

    I’m a fan of outlining, and would argue that this is the place where all of the most essential aspects of screenwriting happen. The term is broad enough that it leaves room to respect just about everyone’s creative process, so most claims that ‘I just don’t work that way’ are null and void.

    Now, we can debate what constitutes an outline, or what makes an outline effective, but the only question that really matters is this: are you giving your story the forethought it deserves? Or, more simply: are you doing the work?

    In my experience (prepare to be offended), most writers who reject outlining do so out of inexperience or laziness. They’re either ignoring the story problems that come from refusal to look ahead, or else they haven’t written enough to know those problems are coming.

    I admit, some rare geniuses seem to have an innate knack for story, neatly tying premise to character to plot on their very first try, but even their work would often benefit from an occasional outline. Stephen King comes to mind.

    If you believe that this view of outlining is wrong, or that you are an exception, I’d love to hear the details of your process. Meanwhile, here’s a simple test: does your current routine require less work than if you outlined your story in advance? If it does, be skeptical of yourself. You may have chosen your current path as a matter of convenience.

    If, however, your alternative to an outline requires more time and effort than the average writer would put into a beat sheet or treatment, maybe you’re onto something.

    Maybe you’re one of the aforementioned geniuses, or have already spent so much time mastering structure that you’ve internalized it into second nature (hint: not likely). Maybe you accept that by diving headfirst into a draft you’re setting yourself up for a longer and more winding rewrite process, often spanning years instead of months. Maybe you direct your own scripts, and so keep things loose in order to privilege experimentation or improvisation over story concerns.

    To each your own. The point isn’t the power of outlines, it’s the danger of complacency.

    Just check in the mirror now and then to make sure you’re doing the work, and not deluding yourself about the pros and cons of your own process. The only person you really have to answer to is you.

    That is, until you land a gig where they ask for detailed outline before you start writing.

    • Frankie Hollywood

      I always do a Step outline (figure out every scene), but I only write a 1, maybe 2 sentence summary for each scene. So I know WHAT needs to happen, but (95% of the time) I don’t know exactly HOW it’s going to happen until I start writing.

      I think it’s the best of both worlds. I’ve got a guide showing me where to go, but I’ve also got the freedom to make up most of what I write as I write it — the outcome just has to fit in with where the outline’s going.

      In my last script (tv pilot called Stimulant) my Teaser scene outline said: “Tara shows her abilities by breaking up a drug deal.” Tara’s a DEA agent who’s got a couple secret “powers.” At the time of the outline I had no idea the scene would take place in an abandoned warehouse, that she’d be alone (didn’t wait for backup), she’d let one of the gang bangers go free, she’d happily hand-to-hand fight the main dealer, etc.

      If you haven’t seen Dustin Lance Black’s video on outlining (Academy Award series), you should check it out:

      He goes batshit crazy with multiple index cards for EVERY scene. I’m the complete opposite. I could probably fit my entire outline on 1 index card. Different paths, same destination.

      • S.C.

        I’m not going to argue against that if that works for you, but I would be careful because lines like “Something bad happens to Tom” or “Sarah discovers her husband’s infidelity”, leaving out the how could lead to either or both:

        1). Long periods staring at the computer wondering what might happen.
        2). Obvious and not very creative solutions (Tom calls out another woman’s name in bed, Sarah finds condoms in her husband’s wallet, for example).

        But I’m not enough of a shit to poo-poo all over you working methods. I wish you nothing but the best for you and your TV pilot!

        • Frankie Hollywood

          You either try to figure it out during the outline phase or you try to figure it out during the writing phase. Same process, different times.

          Figuring it out during the outline phase in no way guarantees a more creative solution.

          That’s why I would never tell someone THIS is how you should do it. You have to find what works for you. I bought index cards for my first script, I threw them away after a day — thought they were annoying.

          Like Ninjaneer said, it’s all about story development. I do lots of that, and as a result I can usually knock out my outline in about an hour.

          Different paths, same destination.

          • Marija ZombiGirl

            My work method closely resembles yours except I still work with index cards. I find it very practical to just raise my head, look at the board and immediately see “what happens next”. I like the brevity of the index cards and I also write my outlines and treatments with brevity (unless the producer and the director want to read it – then I add a lot more detail) because it leaves more room for being creative along the way than having a precisely detailed scene written out that only needs dialogue to be complete. To each their own, as they say :) The only constant in my method over the years has been an outline, though. I’d never start a story without knowing where I was going.

          • Frankie Hollywood

            I do my step outline right in Final Draft. Slug line, then my 1-2 sentences in the action.

            “it leaves more room for being creative along the way”
            Exactly. Things change, new ideas always pop up. I want a fluid approach so I can easily adapt to changes. I don’t like being “locked” into anything.

    • S.C.

      Two questions I would ask of the outline naysayers:

      1. Do you want to work PROFESSIONALLY in features and especially TV?

      At some point (and definitely in TV) you will asked to write an outline, so it’s a good idea to get some practice working from them.

      2. How long does it take you to write your first draft, from FADE IN to FADE OUT?

      I think you can write between 500 and 1,000 words in an hour. One hour a day, you could a first draft in, well, let’s say a month. Slightly slower, due to circumstances, maybe two months.

      If writing a first draft of a feature film script takes you three months, four months, six months or longer your writing method is working against you. Again, do you want to work PROFESSIONALLY in film and television? You won’t have six months to write your first draft THERE!

      • S_P_1


        • Casper Chris

          S.C… Scott Crawford…

          HOLY SHIT.

          • S.C.

            Yeah. Who do you think’s been doing all the Sents!!! recently?

          • Kirk Diggler

            I didn’t think this was a secret. Now get crackin’ on your outline dammit!

          • Casper Chris


    • Ninjaneer

      I think people gut hung up on the term outlining. A better term is story development.

      I’d assume most writers do some form of story development. Outlining is one of the aspects that precedes the actual writing of the script but is certainly not the only thing.

      I’d wager that most writers, even the ones that reject “outlining” make notes about the story, characters, theme, scenes, plot, etc before the actual writing process starts.

      I outline (not in the Blake Snyder sense), but that is a natural flow of the other story development I do. I end up with 10’s of thousands of words in my story development document that are separate from the actual script. As I do story development various parts of the story naturally fill in more and more of the outline. That just kinda grows and grows until I’ve basically got an informally written script.

      Essentially the important thing is putting in effort up front where is it much much easier to make changes.

      • S.C.

        Yes, what I mean by outlining IS story development, or story preparation – I know we’re all writers, but we don’t have to get THAT hung up on particular words!

        Here are some things, off the top of my head, you might want to prepare before spending weeks, maybe months working on your first draft.

        A title (preferably).
        A logline that works.
        Character biographies (kind of like the ones you might find in some role-playing games!).
        Essential research.
        A map of the location you’re writing about (hand-drawn if it’s a fantasy location!).
        Some setpieces (not too many, but enough to fill a script).
        Photographs of your leading actors!
        A deadline/schedule.

        And then either:

        A list of maybe a dozen to two-dozen story points, so that at least you know what’s going to happen every five to ten pages


        sixty to seventy scenes, but all scenes should be scenes that NEED to be in the story (do a breakdown of a script or movie you like and count how many scenes there are, and try to aim for that number).

        I’m not an expert by any means, so is there anything I’ve missed?

        • Ninjaneer

          I know that is what you meant, my point is just that I think it is more useful to refer to the pre-first draft stage as story prep or development.

          • S.C.

            Reading that back I think it looks as if I specifically targeting you, Ninjaneer. Sorry.

            I was referring to a lot of people who complain when I and others talk about outlining. I always mean different forms of preparing your script, and not just the strict list of scenes that most people think of when they hear outline.

            Again, very sorry if you thought I was having a go at you. Trouble with these short comments, the meaning and the tone can get lost.

          • Ninjaneer

            No worries! I didn’t think that at all :)

            Yeah, there is def a more knee-jerk reaction when you mention outlining than story prep. I don’t anyone would push back when talking story prep. Various gurus have kinda tainted the word outline.

            The extent to how in depth story prep should go is prolly mostly genre/story dependent.

            I’m an engineer so I naturally gravitate towards the genres/stories that require more in depth thought/planning before writing the first draft but not every story requires that.

      • Paul Clarke

        Well put. The idea of outlining is rather moot because the first step is always the same – creating the story in your mind. We all do this, it’s just what we chose to do with this “mental draft” that differs.

        For me, I like to outline because it’s more efficient. It means that I can write out the basic points of the story in short hand and see how the overall story works. It’s very difficult to look at a 110 page script and see how it works, but if you look at a simplified version that covers a page or two then you can spot potential problems, and save yourself valuable rewrite time. Being lazy person, I mean an efficient person, I like to do it that way. But don’t think there’s any less creativity that way. If I have some specific details and lines of dialogue I really like I jot them down in a document full of notes that accompany the outline. Then when I think it’s ready I start writing. And much like the filming process itself, all sorts of other things come up in the details. That’s half the fun.

        When Gillian says she doesn’t outline because it spoils the fun – I think that’s very selfish. The book is for the readers enjoyment, not hers. Someone has to work at the hot-dog factory.

        • Midnight Luck

          But if writing isn’t for you, or Gillian or me, and if it isn’t fun for us, then what exactly are we doing?
          I don’t want writing to only be fun for the reader. Yes it should be fun for them, but it better be a gas for me as well.

    • Linkthis83

      For me, outlines end up being a result from breaking story. By going through and trying to figure out what happens, why, what you are building towards, what’s the goal/intention, etc. By answering all these questions while exploring the concept/story, I end up with outlines by default.

      I feel like it would be a natural outcome when creating the story.

  • carsonreeves1

    I tried to think of some big April Fools joke to play today but the internet has ruined April Fools day! It’s impossible to be sneaky without someone saying, “Check the date” in the comments.

    So instead I’ll share my WORST April Fools Day experience. One year my ex-girlfriend who I hadn’t talked to since we broke up five months prior called out of the blue and informed she was pregnant. I wasn’t even aware of the date (I rarely am) and freaked out for the next ten minutes until she told me what day it was.

    Needless to say, I haven’t conversed with her since.

    • Scott Strybos

      You could have picked one, or all, of the Amateur Friday writers, wrote them that you mentioned their script to a Hollywood producer yesterday, he or she was intrigued by the concept, has since read the script, loved it, and now wants to buy it.

      Granted, on a cruelty scale, that would have been on par with your ex-girlfriend’s pregnancy scare

      • carsonreeves1

        lol. Yeah, that’s more like April Cruels.

    • Felip Serra

      Ouch. I would have hid an angry Doberman in her car…

    • Randy Williams

      There’s still time! Members in L.A are just getting up.
      Change that Amazon link from “The Girl on the Train” to your own book!

    • klmn

      This is the day for SS readers to pull jokes on you.

      Wait for it.

    • Scott Strybos

      I found this April Fools joke online. A fake trailer for a new Back to the Future (aka. the best film of all time). I’ve watched the trailer four times, smile big every time.

  • Jeaux

    Another good read, in my opinion, is The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, if you like some end-of-the-world, P.A. type fiction. A bit disjointed prose-wise but a cool story.

  • Poe_Serling

    Thanks for the review, Carson. It’s always nice to have a recommended book or two for your summer reading list.

    From the plot details, this novel would’ve had all the ingredients for a potential Hitchcock film. Even the title, The Girl On The Train, has a Hitchcockian ring to it.

    • S.C.

      Which director is the MODERN Hitchcock? (i.e. who should direct this book?)

      • klmn

        I say Brian DePalma, (in some of his films).

        In the context of today’s review, check out Body Double, if you haven’t seen it.

        • S.C.

          I’d agree de Palma was Hitchcock IN HIS DAY, but he’s practically retired now.

          Then again, maybe “The Girl on the Train” could be his comeback film!

        • Kirk Diggler

          Body Double was a movie of it’s time, it could never be made today the way it was then, which makes me think it doesn’t hold up all that well. I more or less enjoyed it, although that ridiculously choreographed ‘porn audition’ scene almost ruins the whole film for me. But the set up with the telescope/peeping Tom was rather brilliant. If I was Craig Wasson, I would have done the same thing he did. I kind of like the idea, the notion that we are so drawn to our baser instincts that we can’t help ourselves. If he doesn’t look in the telescope, there’s no ‘witness’.

          • klmn

            Hitchcock’s films were even more products of their time.

        • Poe_Serling

          Ebert gave it a glowing review back in the day.

          • klmn

            What dates it more than anything is the use of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood Song.

            That’s a tip: if you have to specify music, don’t use the current flavor of the month.

      • Poe_Serling

        “Which director is the MODERN Hitchcock?”

        None. Hitchcock was a one-of-a-kind filmmaker in my opinion.

        But if I had to pick a director for this project, I might go with Peter Weir – a noted fan/student of Hitchcock’s films. Plus, I think he could easily handle the mystery/thriller aspects of this particular story based on his own work such as Witness and Picnic at Hanging Rock.

        • brenkilco

          Yes, Hitchcock was so often imitated but never duplicated. No other director has ever combined so much visual imagination with so much visual precision and economy. Cutting, moving, framing to convey exactly what he wanted to convey in exactly the way he wanted to convey it. Weir and Fincher are visually gifted. They can create a mood. But they are nowhere near Hitchcock. It’s too bad theses days that the fall back visual scheme for most thrillers and dramas is this faux verite style, the camera drifting shaking, going in and out of focus. Like an assembly of bad cell phone video. Hitchcock’s formal excellence is really missed.

          • Levres de Sang

            At his absolute best in the late 1960s (Les Biches, Le Boucher, Juste Avant la Nuit) Claude Chabrol certainly equalled Hitchcock to my mind.

          • brenkilco

            And I like La femme Infidele. Interesting director. But he was coming from or heading toward a different place than Hitchcock. Viewed strictly as thrillers his late sixties movies may seem to come up a little short. Certainly he lacked Hitchcock’s technical brilliance. And maybe first rate thrillers require a degree of cruelty that goes against the Gallic grain. But then I guess the thriller elements were really just the peg on which he hung his real concerns, his analyses of bourgeois motive and mores. Was he deeper than Hitchcock? I’ll leave that to experts to fight out.

          • Levres de Sang

            I’m pretty much in agreement with you here. Chabrol was eternally fascinated by bourgeois motives and never really went in for anything overly technical in terms of the camera. By the way, there’s a great 1979 article entitled “The Magical Mystery World of Claude Chabrol” by Dan Yakir that’s well worth seeking out.

            ** The other masterful (and ‘deep’) Chabrol pic from this period was Que la bete Meure. Although only latterly did I realise that the novel it was based upon was English.

          • brenkilco

            The novel is by Nicholas Blake who wrote another thriller called The Smiler With The Knife. Have never read it but have always been curious to since Orson Welles was at one time set to direct an adaptation of it as his film debut before he settled on Citizen Kane.

          • Levres de Sang

            Thanks for the Welles snippet as I did not know that. Must also remember to add Nicholas Blake to my reading list — alongside Agatha Christie!

      • S.C.

        Answering my own question, not in terms of SUSPENSE movies necessarily, but in terms of recognition – public and artistic – and, most importantly, longevity and consistent output (almost a film a year), the only filmmaker who comes close would be Clint Eastwood.

        No, I’m not saying that Clint Eastwood is the modern Hitchcock, but in terms of where Hitchcock was, a celebrity director who works CONSISTENTLY (sorry, Spielberg), it has to be Eastwood. And the French love him.

      • Magga

        Spielberg. Easy. Even Hitchcock thought so

    • Levres de Sang

      When I looked at the blurb of this book recently I immediately thought Rear Window.

      • Poe_Serling

        You’re right – it is sort of Rear Window on rails!

        Another ‘looking out the window and witnessing crime’ thriller that I highly recommend is the aptly titled The Window.

        Here “a boy who always lies witnesses a murder but can’t get anyone but the killer to believe him.”

        Of course, it’s based on a Cornell Woolrich story. Directed by Ted Tetzlaff –
        Hitch’s cinematographer on Notorious.

        • Levres de Sang

          Now there’s a pitch / concept: “It’s Rear Window on rails!” And reason perhaps for the novel being such a phenomenal success…

          Thanks for The Window recomendation. Have heard of it, but don’t think I’ve seen. Again, the concept is utterly compelling in that it’s the boy who cried wolf.

          • Poe_Serling

            “…the concept is utterly compelling in that it’s the boy who cried wolf.”

            According to wiki, the original title of Woolrich’s short story was The Boy Cried Murder, and The Window was eventually remade in ’66 with that title.

  • brenkilco

    The basic situation seems inspired by Lady on a Train, a forties mystery thriller in which a teenage girl traveling on a train thinks she sees a murder being committed in a building she passes. Also 4:50 from Paddington by Christie, filmed under some other title as one of the Rutherford Marples, in which the sleuth see a murder being committed on a train traveling on an adjacent track.

    Carson seems to be promising a brilliantly constructed plot. Anybody else know whether this delivers. Saying a book reads like a screenplay is not necessarily a high compliment, even for a beach novel.

    • S.C.

      There’s a long history of train-based stories. Oddly, I mentioned that there were no train-based TV shows (at least recently) and someone replied that he hadn’t heard of many train movies either! Oh, well, mustn’t mock.

      Also DERAILED is a thriller about strangers meeting while commuting by train. Not sure how successful it really was. Liked parts of it.

      • brenkilco

        There are literally dozens of movies, including a fair number of classics, set entirely or largely aboard trains. Always thought of a train as the ideal movie conveyance. Small enough to force character interaction, large enough to permit multiple plots, and even when the story isn’t moving at least the train is.

        • Citizen M

          Most recent: Snowpiercer.

          • S.C.

            The Taking of Pelham 123
            Source Code

            Not as many as there used to be, but still some. BBC remade The Lady Vanishes a few years back.

          • brenkilco

            Personal top ten: Shanghai Express, Twentieth Century, Lady Vanishes, Night Train to Munich, The Narrow Margin, From Russia With Love, The Train, Dark of The Sun, Emperor Of The North Pole, Pelham 123.

          • Malibo Jackk
          • brenkilco

            Wilder and especially Wilder were in there pitching. Still, never got the love for this picture. Both script by Colin higgins and direction by Arthur Hiller are pretty pedestrian. Goes double for Higggins’ other Hitchcock pastiche Foul Play.

  • Malibo Jackk

    Strange how you read something like this and begin comparing it to something
    you’ve written — (without all the success).

    Was listening to Billy Bob Thornton talk about his character in the tv series FARGO.
    And after reading this article, began to realize something.
    Here’s what’s interesting: He never mentioned FLAW.
    (Had I listened to the full 2 hours, he may have mentioned the term. But compare that

    to an amateur who uses the term FLAW seven times in the same paragraph.)
    What he spent a lot of time talking about was his character’s POV.

    His POV on life. His POV on other people. His POV on situations that he encounters.

    Looking back on the tv FARGO (thought it was amazing), each character has a distinct POV.
    The protag, his wife, the sheriff, ect. are defined in great part by their POV.

    In a sense, the story plays out — each acting on their POV. .

    • S.C.

      I’ll be honest with you, I would have agreed with you more had you not used the derogatory term “amateur”. Personally, I’d like to phase that word out as an insult – it gets thrown around too much. I prefer the terms serious writer and not-serious writer, though I admit it may take time for those terms to catch on!

      But saying amateurs talk a lot about flaw as if to say they’re wrong to do that, maybe that’s not what you fully intended, but I think is flaw is a perfectly valid way to examine character. POV too. And dramatic need vs personal needs, and all kinds of other things. All valid, all worth exploring.

      Anyway, nuff of that.

      On POV: something I’ve thought about, giving you some insight into the kind of movies I watch, but if you watch a sci-fi movie like THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, SPHERE or even SPECIES, you have a bunch of scientists (and some non-scientists) all trying to solve a problem. And they all have their individual skills. And they each have their own POV – pessimism, idealism, scientific discovery vs. the fate of mankind, so on. And the two are linked.

      I can’t really describe it much more, but if you like that sort of thing – or any ensemble cast movie where they all have the same goal – it’s interesting to look at each character’s point of view.

      Interesting post, Malibo!

      • Malibo Jackk

        Not really interested in arguments.
        Everyone is entitled to disagree.
        Amateur seems to indicate that a person hasn’t reached a certain level. They can be perfectly serious — and still not reach that level.
        And there may be good reasons why they don’t, other than not being serious.
        (Sorry if that sounds like an argument.)
        I have absolutely no problem saying that I’m an amateur.

        I can tell you from experience, I’ve listened to hours of pros talking about screenwriting. Two things I’ve noticed.
        1) Given the importance amateurs place on flaws, it’s remarkable how infrequently the pros mention it.
        2) Unlike amateurs, few will praise gurus and screenwriting books.
        What this suggest to me is that there is probably a reason why.

        • klmn

          To me, amateur means not making a living from it. That’s it.

  • Midnight Luck

    I am sorry, but what is this?

    “I know a lot of you don’t have time to read books”

    I said something about this just the other day.
    Seriously, if anyone imagines they want to be a writer, or think they are a writer, it is pretty much impossible to be one without being an avid, freakish, determined, crazy READER.

    If you don’t have time to read, but have time to write, sadly what you spill out onto the page will be regurgitations of your favorite films and TV, or rehashing your own daily life of hanging out with your two best friends drinking Bong water. It Will be lacking in so many departments because you are missing that KEY ingredient. That THING which can only come by stretching your brain, widening your creative muscles, increasing every inventive synapse in your cranium.

    The amount someone reads has been scientifically and directly connected to their ability to be creative, to write well, and to think both logically and creatively.

    So, back to the quote, if you can’t find it in your life to sit down with a book, I feel scared for you. If you think you can dash off the greatest script or novel, yet you haven’t read a book since JURASSIC PARK came out, well, I think your ideas of hitting the big time with your writing are just your inflated ego talking, or at the very least childish daydreams.

    Pick up a book, or twenty. Dig in. Then go write that book, novel, or poem you’ve been dying to get down on pixel or paper.

    • S.C.

      Totally agree, and I’d add one other thing, although you may have covered this too, but…

      … writers, serious writers STEAL. Big secret of Hollywood! Writers steal! Anything that’s not nailed down. So not well known stuff. But obscure ideas, sure.

      So the more you read (not just the latest scripts) the more ideas you’ll find… and can use!

      Otherwise, as Midnight Luck says, you’ll just be copying out the same stuff as everyone else (please, no more Django rip-offs – if you want to write a western, at least watch a hundred before doing so).

      • Midnight Luck

        yes, please, no trying to mimic or redo DJANGO, so far that has been the poorest of Tarantino’s scripts and movies (aside from JACKIE BROWN). So anyone who is trying to copy it, just stop. It had serious issues.

    • Eric

      Reading is obviously important in knowing how to write. Reading novels would be essential for understanding how to write novels, but reading novels to understand screenwriting isn’t a straight line for me. I do read a lot. Mostly short stories, articles and nonfiction sort of stuff. It’s been awhile since I read a fiction book.

      I do believe you can learn most of what you need to know about story structure from watching movies. I also believe that documentaries I watch have given me far better insight into possible situations and characters than fiction books I’ve read. Of course you need to know how to use language to the best of your ability, but creativity doesn’t live and die by the written word. I’m sure many musicians and painters would agree.

      • S_P_1

        Typically when I’m not enjoying a movie I’m reverse engineering it in my mind how it the script was written. Watching the finished product versus reading multiple scripts or novels keeps my interest high and my perspective fresher.

      • Midnight Luck

        I am not talking about reading novels to be able to write scripts. I am not talking about reading just so we can get the technical details down of how to lay out a script or a novel. Those things come at the end. You can read books specifically about how to lay those things how, how to create a manuscript or a screenplay.

        I am talking about the expanding of the brain and creativity.
        The more people read, the more open their minds get. The more capable they are of creating something, and hopefully something new or fascinating.

        The less someone reads the more trapped in a box they are. The more short sighted, small minded; they cannot see very far from what they already know.

        Reading is a thousand lifetimes of knowledge released to you in some pages of text. Hell, I learned what it was like to have my dog contract Rabies and what he was thinking as he went insane. I learned what it is like to fight for my life in the Amazon, contract a deadly disease, fight to make it out alive, fight off wild animals and flesh eating ants, only to die before I emerged on the other side. I learned what it was like to jump out of an airplane as it plummeted to the ground, pulled my cord right before it was too late, and luckily landed in an African desert, only to then get burned alive.

        All these amazing lives I have lived and learned about, from reading.

        • Eric

          Reading is obviously awesome. It’s the main vehicle for knowledge and knowledge plays a huge part in creativity. But at the end of the day it’s the knowledge that’s important, not the reading. I don’t believe a blind person who listens to audio books would be at a necessary disadvantage when it came to their knowledge or creativity. Reading and writing are just vehicles for these things, they aren’t the things themselves.

          To read something is essentially no different than to watch something, or listen to something. But to experience a book, or movie, or song and want to replicate it; to have the drive and ability to create one of your own, that is not a trait that is equal in everyone. We can tell from prehistoric cave paintings that creativity predates written and verbal language, so I don’t think it is dependent on it.

          Knowledge gives our creative minds something to work with, and the more knowledge we have, the more colors we have to paint with; the more instruments we have to play with. But knowledge can only amplify these things. It can’t lend creativity to those who don’t have it in the first place. Creativity is something different. That was the distinction I was trying to draw, in long form.

    • S_P_1

      Reading as a requirement or expectation is a logical fallacy to obtain writing success. The volume of what you read isn’t a direct correlation to the quality of your writing ability.

      Personal example I can listen to the most complicated jazz passages and read sheet music, but it doesn’t translate to me playing an instrument any better than my abilities and talents allow.

      Reading is an art form in itself. Whatever I read it isn’t to supplement my screenwriting ability. I’m either reading for enjoyment or information.

      99.9% of the time I listen to music for enjoyment. Rarely am I trying to figure out what another musician is doing. Missing the forest for the trees is very appropriate in this circumstance.

      Everyone’s approach to screenwriting is equally valid. Being a successful screenwriter is a matter of ONE person believing in your vision.

      I totally get your point the importance of being well read. I disagree on how it impacts your writing.

      • Matthew Garry

        The quality of what you read, however, does have a direct correlation to the quality of your writing. It touches on diction, pacing, plot, character, just about everything important to screenwriting.

        “Being a successful screenwriter is a matter of ONE person believing in your vision.”

        Disagree. Becoming a successful screenwriter is a matter of understanding drama. Comedy is drama, Horror is drama, Sci-fi is drama. It’s when you don’t understand drama you’re relegated to pitching your stuff around, hoping the concept by itself is appealing enough to find that one person that’s interested, and who will subsequently hire someone who does understand drama to rewrite the whole thing. Success in writing is as random as you want it to be.

        • S_P_1

          The quality of what you read, however, does have a direct correlation to the quality of your writing. It touches on diction, pacing, plot, character, just about everything important to screenwriting.


          What works in book form doesn’t directly correlate to screenwriting. Killing Them Softly is a prime example of a direct book to script to screen failure. The EXACT diction, pacing, plot and character of the BOOK was on screen.

          Essentially you’re adopting a reductionist view point. There is no empirical data to support your assertion.

          If you read War and Peace, The Art of War, The Bible, The Torah, The Koran, And all of William Shakespeare’s plays it still wouldn’t directly correlate in you becoming a better screenwriter.

          • Eric

            Similarly, there are people who are extensive, intensive readers who barely have a lick of creativity in them. They’re smart. They can recite answers to some of the most random questions you ask them. But ask them to create something and it’s crickets

      • Midnight Luck

        I would put it this way, and then leave it at that.

        I am sure there is someone out there who hasn’t ever read a book, or a short story, or a poem, yet has somehow managed to sell a novel, and maybe (maybe) a screenplay.

        If there is someone out there who fits this description, hell, I would love to see what kind of script or novel they have written.

        If reading has no bearing on writing, and if the writer has never read anything, yet has a firm grip on how to write a novel or script, and is able to hit it out of the park, well, I am monumentally impressed. They are a miracle of sorts.

        Also, I wasn’t talking about the volume of what you read having a direct reflection on how well you write, nor was I referring to any other “Artistic” endeavor. I would never say that a painter had to read in order to paint. A painter has to be attentive to the world, to light, and texture, and shading, and details, has to train their eye.
        A musician has to be attentive to pacing and harmony, and whatever else (i am not a musician), but it has little to do with writing a novel (even though both a Novel and a Script have a lot to do with pacing).

        See, I disagree. I am not saying that someone should be reading and all the while tearing it down, breaking it into pieces and analyzing it while they are trying to read it. Reading is an all encompassing thing. If you read a ton you learn a myriad of stylistic things, everything from Turning a Phrase, to construction of ideas and paragraphs, to inventive descriptions and dialogue that works. You see how others do it, you mentally note what works and what doesn’t for you, all in a very subliminal way. It is just constant information you are taking in. So over the years, as you grow and learn you end up with a skill and an ability, without planning it.
        However, if you have never read anything, your idea of what a Novel or a screenplay should be are going to be (most likely) severely lacking.

        I think there is a DIRECT connection between how well someone writes and how much they have read, and still read, in their life.

        Stephen King in ON WRITING details this out as well. He makes a point about how important it is, that if you want to write, you have to be a VORACIOUS READER.

        Then again, like I said above, if someone has never read a book, but writes a captivating and killer Novel or script, well, I would be forever impressed.

  • Jeff D

    Like the novel review! Interesting to see the same story principles played out in a different form. I get the sense seeing the same principles in a different form / context can only help inform how we approach each!

  • Nicholas J

    Just want to say that this is a solid post! Gonna go read this now…

  • Linkthis83

    “That was always my big problem with Gone Girl – the book, and then the movie. As much as Gillian Flynn tried to convince us that her dark weird ending was the way she preferred it, it was clear that she simply wrote herself into a corner – confirmed later in an interview where she confesses to not outlining – one of the most important aspects in writing a great ending. The Girl On The Train has no such issues.

    Hold on a GD minute…

    This is not FACT. This has been written in a way to support your opinion of what you believe to be a disappointing ending. And then linking that ending that’s disappointing to you to the fact that she didn’t outline. Your usage of the word “confesses” is what prompted me to dig into this. That’s basically saying she admitted that she messed up the ending and it was possible not outlining is what led to this.

    Also, I could make the case that the ending was appropriate to the story’s conclusion. The worst thing that could happen to both these characters, especially Nick, would be to have to stay together.

    When in reality, this is what she said…and for those who think they have the ability to pass judgement on other writers regarding their processes, pay attention to the bolded words (she’s not the only professional who states this – far from it):

    ”I’m always curious too. I think the reassuring thing is, the more you hear about other writers’ processes, the more you realize there is no one right way to do it. You write in whatever way gets the job done for you. I personally don’t outline: That would take the fun out of it for me. I like to spend a lot of time on my characters, figuring
    out who they are and what led them to whatever awful situation I’ve put them
    in. For Gone Girl, I knew Nick and Amy had to be very believable, so I made
    ipod playlists for them, and knew their netflix queues. I wrote scenes of them
    in childhood from other people’s points of view: A scene of Amy in highschool,
    written from her friend’s POV, or Nicks kindergarten teacher writing about
    parent-teacher conference night. Stuff I knew I’d never use, but would help me
    flesh them out. I do that a lot when I’ve hit a writer’s block–it keeps me
    writing and sometimes helps solve a problem. Amy’s Cool Girl speech started as
    a writing exercise, but that one I liked so much I kept it for the book. Once I
    have a first draft, then the actual real work for me begins, because then I can
    see the novel as a whole and see what needs work. I do tons of rewriting; it’s
    where the book becomes a book.”

    • S.C.

      “I like to spend a lot of time on my characters”
      “Stuff I knew I’d never use”
      “I do tons of rewriting”

      Good for her. Bad habits for others. Here’s Ken Follett:

      “I finish up at the end of the elaboration process with between 25-40 typed pages. That is the outline. The outline says chapter by chapter what happens in the book and it contains potted biographies of each of the characters. Most importantly though, it tells me and my editors what the dramas are. I then show this outline to various people including my editor in New York, my editor in London, my agent and actually anybody else who is interested. Some of my kids are very interested in this process, some are not, so I send the outline to the ones who are interested and they call me or send me a note.”

      Ken Follett has written 31 books and sold 150 million copies around the world. For more on how Follett writes his outlines, read this book which contains all four of his outlines for “The Man From Saint Petersburg”. In particular you can see how the story evolved from the first to last outline:

    • Linkthis83

      What did you want to accomplish with the ending?

      First of all, I didn’t write it as an open ending
      to set up a sequel at all. It was the only thing that made sense to me, that
      made sense to what was true to the book and true to the characters. Amy’s not
      going to end up in jail. She’s Amazing Amy! You’re never going to find the aha!
      clue because she thinks she’s already thought of everything and that’s who she
      is. People think they would find that satisfying, if she were caught and
      punished. You know, when I’m at a reading or something, people will come up to
      me and are very honest about saying, “I hated the ending!” I always say, “Well,
      what did you want to have happen?” And it’s like, “I wanted justice!” I promise
      you, I just don’t think you’d find it satisfying for Amy to end up in a prison
      cell just sitting in a little box.

    • Malibo Jackk

      Work with us, Link.

  • S.C.

    You can be paid millions to write books and still write outlines like this!

  • S.C.

    Fairly long extract from the book Writing Movies for Fun and Profit by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon. Highly reccomended:

    “Here’s the big secret no one tells you: writing screenplays is easy and fun! And why is writing screenplays so easy and fun?


    If you write a good outline, the screenplay will write itself.

    If you sit down with a blank Final Draft file open on your computer, cursor blinking at you, taunting you to write a 105-page screenplay with no map at all, you will fail. The process will soon become frustrating, and you’ll end up giving up on what was once a great idea and squander the rest of the day watching funny cat videos on the internet.

    Yes, writing outlines sucks, and it’s not fun or sexy. Nobody sits at his Mac at Starbucks all day telling people he’s working on an “outline.” It doesn’t sound cool.

    And once you’ve worked out all of the problems in an outline, writing screenplays really is fun and easy. If you’ve written an outline and examined your story from every angle, all the writing you’re doing is creating dialogue, action, and gags. That’s the fun part.

    Now, when we say “outline,” we don’t mean a few notes on a cocktail napkin.

    We mean write out the whole movie. Almost everything that happens, minus dialogue, should be in your outline. Your outline should be long. (Ours run around 20 pages.) It seems like silly mathematics, but the longer your outline is, the more problems you’ve worked out in advance and the less likely you’ll hit a wall while you’re writing the actual screenplay. Keep in mind, if you have an outline, there should be NO WRITER’S BLOCK. You know exactly where you’re going and what the next scene is, and you never have to slow down (except to watch funny cat videos).

    Of course, things will change from your outline to your finished screenplay; this is the nature of the creative process. But if there’s a problem, it’s way easier to remedy in the outline stage. When you’re in the actual screenplay stage, problems that arise become a game of Jenga—undoing work in your screenplay is time-consuming and frustrating. Remember: always write an outline. Fixing a blueprint is a lot easier than fixing a skyscraper. Get the hard stuff over with in the outline.”

    Now buy the book!

  • andyjaxfl

    OT: Anyone have the old script NAUTICA by Richard McBrien? Here is the old review in case anyone needs a refresh.

    • S.C.

      Yes. Please leave an e-mail address.

      • andyjaxfl

        Thank you!

        • S.C.


    • Ninjaneer

      Nautica (Riptide) is one of my favorite unproduced scripts. Hopefully it will eventually find its way out of development hell. I think I’ll give it another read this week.

      Leave your email and I’ll send it your way.

      • S.C.

        Leave off, he’s mine!

        • Ninjaneer

          LOL, Well now that we’re talking about it does anyone have a more recent copy than the 2001 draft?

          • S.C.

            Peter Morgan did a rewrite but I don’t have it.

            I fear the project may be… wait for it… DEAD IN THE WATER.

          • Ninjaneer

            Wait, dead in the water… nautica… I see what you did there.

            Well I guess when I become a famous writer / director I’ll have to resurrect it.

            I’m surprised Smoke and Mirrors hasn’t been made yet either.

          • andyjaxfl

            Have you read the David Hughes book Tales from Development Hell? The chapter on Smoke and Mirrors might be the best in the book (and I’m a complete CRUSADE fanatic — just ask Poe!).

            I won’t do the chapter any justice in my summary, but rewrite after rewrite after rewrite for Sean Connery killed the project when it had momentum. It stripped away the elements that made his character interesting. He dropped out, Michael Douglas climbed aboard and went back to the first draft, but by then 9/11 killed any chance of the project being filmed.

          • S.C.

            It’s a great book, very well researched. I don’t agree with all Hughes’ conclusions (I can understand why some of the projects didn’t soar; not all the stories were great) but it and the previous book “The Greatest Science Fiction Movies Never Made” are well worth reading.

            Want to know what went wrong with SUPERNOVA? Read “The Greatest Science Fiction Movies Never Made”!

          • andyjaxfl

            I agree. Some, like the Stallone/Basinger ISOBAR flick, just had awful stamped all over it.

            Is the Superman Lives chapter in the Greatest Science Fiction Movies Never Made lifted from Development Hell?

      • andyjaxfl

        Thank you for the offer but I didn’t see your post until after I saw S.C’s post…

  • ripleyy

    I’ve been starving for a good book to read and this might be it. Thanks for the recommendation (of course, others are allowed to recommend me crime novels as well or anything else that is just generally a “must have”, especially if the book is science-fiction).

    As for Gone Girl, just to show how absorbed I was into the movie, I had already known – but forgot – the twist (thanks to reading the review here, funny enough) and when the time came, I was still just as shocked. A good twist should throw you off even though you already know it.

  • S.C.

    Yawn. Getting tired now. Here’s something to help you all sleep. Night-night!

  • Panos Tsapanidis

    YES to book reviews!

  • Malibo Jackk

    Starting to see a pattern here.
    No cats.

  • Midnight Luck

    do you actually keep a list of what books you have read, and when?

    whew, now I feel so disorganized.

    There are two types of writers in the world I believe.
    1. Chaotic
    2. Methodical

    I think you must be the latter, and I am definitely the former.
    whatever works, it’s a personal thing.

    • Linkthis83

      In 2008 I had decided that I really needed to start reading more. Especially classics and books I should’ve read that I didn’t/haven’t.

      I only kept a list just so I would know what I had read. Early on, I assembled reading lists from all over and would randomly pick.

      BTW, I would actually say I’m chaotic. I occasionally get methodical. I bounce back and forth.

  • fragglewriter

    A lie that a character has to keep building on is great because once it spirals out of control, that’s when all of the fun happens.