Smoking Pets

Exclamation markRelax. There’s no animal cruelty going on here, only bad punctuation.

Today is National Punctuation Day so let’s follow founder Jeff Rubin’s tips on how to celebrate:

  • Sleep late.
  • Take a long shower or bath.
  • Go out for coffee and a bagel (or two).
  • Read a newspaper and circle all of the punctuation errors you find (or think you find, but aren’t sure) with a red pen.
  • Take a leisurely stroll, paying close attention to store signs with incorrectly punctuated words.
  • Stop in those stores to correct the owners.
  • If the owners are not there, leave notes.
  • Visit a bookstore and purchase a copy of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.
  • Look up all the words you circled.
  • Congratulate yourself on becoming a better written communicator.
  • Go home.
  • Sit down.
  • Write an error-free letter to a friend
  • Take a nap. It has been a long day.

Or, if leaving notes to correct shop owners’ bad punctuation is not satisfactory enough, you can always thoroughly shame the shop owners in question by photographing their poorly punctuated signs and sending the snaps into Jeff for publication on the website. My favourite is the smoking pets.

You want some more punctuation fun? Try entering the haiku competition, deadline 30th September. There are some very funny haikus by Craig Harrison up on the site to inspire you, for example:

Dot dot ellipses
The yada yada of print.
So on and so forth.

I’m off to scour today’s papers to see what mistakes I can find. I’ll keep you posted. What’s the most amusing or unfortunate punctuation error you’ve come across?


Genomics Forum Poetry Competition 2010

I’ve long been a believer that the sciences and the arts go hand in hand, that one can inspire the other. I think too often we define ourselves as being either artistic or scientific when in fact both are about creation and discovery.

The Genomics Forum Poetry Competition challenges you to write a poem inspired by the mapping of the human genome, on the theme of ‘improving the human.’

Go ahead and prove me right, prove that science has a place in art and art a place in science. Meirion Jordan talked about reclaiming the moon. What do you want to reclaim?

BBC Writersroom Roadshow – Dundee 2009

Can you get a hernia from coughing too much? I have come down with a stinking cold and my cough mixture is only offering temporary relief. It tastes foul, too. I wish I were a kid again and medicine tasted like banana milkshake or strawberry Ribena. I am constantly too hot or too cold and my veering body temperature seems to be completely independent of whether or not the central heating is on. As I walked shivering through the streets of Dundee yesterday to go to the BBC Writersroom Roadshow, I had no idea if the abundance of people in t-shirts was due to uncharacteristically warm weather or to the hardy nature of Dundonians.

The roadshow kicked off with George Aza-Selinger telling us a little bit about the Scotland Writes competition. After that, Paul Ashton ran through some advice on what the BBC Writersroom is looking for in the first ten pages of a script.

I’ve already blogged about the Scotland Writes launch event and the Edinburgh Screenwriters meeting where we heard more about the competition so there’s not a lot of new information to add to that. Regarding the synopsis, they are looking for “a two page summary, just to give you that chance to add in information at this stage that we don’t know yet from reading the first ten pages.” You don’t need an episode or character breakdown in your synopsis – “If you need to describe the characters outside the script then the script isn’t really working”. You do need to say what the story is about and why you are telling it – “People need to know the whole feel of the story rather than the details.” About the impending postal strikes: “We will blog about it on our website and let you know. You can always send us an e-mail if you want to know your script has arrived.”

Now for the BBC Writersroom Guide to the First Ten Pages:

  • Start the story on page one, grab the reader’s attention straight away. Don’t preface, set-up or introduce story or characters.
  • Format is incredibly important. Master the format and make it your own. Watch drama, see how the stories are structured. “Too many people try to subvert the format before they’ve mastered it.”
  • Direct the action and the story. Write what an actor can show. Don’t direct the camera.
  • Know your world and story, genre and tone. There should be a focused way in to your story, “don’t try to set up too many storylines at the beginning.”
  • “Character is the most important thing.” Characters have to be compelling on an emotional level. Avoid cliche, subvert stereotypes. “Come up with people you want to spend time with. You don’t have to like or admire them, you just have to want to see what they are going to do next.” Your characters have to make the reader sweat, cry, laugh and cringe. “We spend a lot of time reading scripts that are really well crafted, well turned, but it doesn’t make you feel anything.”
  • There are only a finite number of stories so you need to have a fresh, unique perspective.
  • Good dialogue expresses character.” Don’t write on the nose, use subtext.
  • “You need that desire to tell a story – that’s got to be there or you can’t do great writing.”
  • “We need a sense, when we get to the end of a script, that the ending is inevitable but not predictable.”
  • Be yourself. “We’re looking for writers; we’re looking for people.”

Further advice on creating your best possible first ten pages can be found on the BBC Writersroom Website.