GoT Finale: 5 thoughts from the screenplay now online


, ,


On a previous blog post here (in fact the first of this new era of PK’s Writing Blog – I’m sure we all have that date in our mental diary since it marked a new dawn for civilisation), I threw some thoughts down on the Game of Thrones finale. Well the script of that final episode has just landed online.

(You COULD read it here on the Emmys’ homepage – though it’s currently down, so that may bring you to an e-pit of despair. It might go up again. Or might stay down. It’s either because demand has crashed it, or because criticism has been levelled against it. The other Emmy-nominated scripts are readable here.)

Various haters have used the script’s recent appearance to pull it apart even more – including how (SPOILER!) Drogon the dragon didn’t burn the Iron Throne deliberately – it was just “a dumb bystander”, as it’s described in the screenplay. Others have mocked their stage directions of Sansa and Jon Snow’s reaction to being asked what’s west of Westeros. “Jon and Sansa look at each other. They both failed geography.”

We’ll have none of that here. They say a screenplay isn’t a work of art – it’s a blueprint, an invitation to collaborate on making a work of art. They can use whatever scene descriptions they want to get the point across to the crew. So I shan’t pile in on that. Benioff and Weiss ended the show how they wanted (presuming with some sign-off from ol’ motorbike himself, George “Rrrrrrrr” Martin).

As I said in the earlier blog post, epics are hard to end when you’re telling a story of good vs evil, because everyone has to pick a lane by the end, and we end up with the goodest of the good and the baddest of the bad, and no shades of grey in the middle. The shades of grey, it turns out, was the fun part in the middle of the show, when characters betrayed each other, were redeemed, etc. The only way they could have upended expectation was to have Tyrion open a door and appear in present-day New York or something. But then that was done already by Amy Adams in Enchanted, so even that’s been done before…


Fantasy character appears in present-day New York: possibly the only way to have ended Game of Thrones.

Instead of pulling it apart, I want to draw some positive general writing pointers from a quick skim of the script. What can we learn from that script? Granted, now it’s offline again, you may not be able to read it. But I’ve had a skim, and here are some immediate takeaways (if the script reappears online, you can check the page numbers then)…


1. Epics look the same as everything else on the page

This script is still just 44 pages long, and adheres to all the usual screenplay layout formatting. The first thing that struck me about this script, is it looked surprisingly normal – just like my paltry attempts. From afar…

It’s also then still got all the same dilemmas re character choice and story beats as any other script. It’s also got jokes – and the moments of comedy leap off the page: see Bronn’s brothel comment on p.40, or Samwell’s laughable attempt at democracy on p.25. Two bits of comedy in a 44-page drama script seems about right I guess, when you’ve started off by referencing a camera shot from Son of Saul.


2. Epic doesn’t mean epic scene descriptions

Brevity is the soul of wit, so said Oscar Wilde (or he could have shortened it to ‘Brevity’s soul’s wit’ – even briefer). The scene descriptions may take up half a page or more, but they’re full of just the right amount of information to make the show. No fat on it. Regardless what you thought of the episode, this is how professional TV (and the biggest show on professional TV) is made. Give the crew what they need.

Look at that second line on the first page:

“King’s Landing is a smoldering wreck of a city.”

That’s all they need to say. We know from the previous episode that the city’s been decimated by dragonfire. Buildings are on fire. Flaming timber fills the streets. There’s a house there still falling down – another over there that’s now ash – another over there that’s… doesn’t matter. Let the production team make all that happen. Just get in the bare bones of what we need to know for the story.


3. The writers know when to let the visuals tell the story…

Page 4 is dialogue-free. So’s page 15, pp.20-21, pp.41-42… This doesn’t just apply to the very visual genre we’re in here. Many newer screenwriters (especially if they’re come from stageplay or radio) fill the script with dialogue and forget those moments when as viewers we just want to view. When the spoken words have given us enough to think on for now, we sometimes need the breather to take it all in. Again, those visual descriptions don’t direct, but give the director just enough to go on.

See p.20: “In a beautiful, terrifying tableaux, he [the dragon] roars to the sky, the embodiment of rage.”

…Let someone else work out what that looks like.


4. …and when to speak and speak and speak

Another rookie error is writing long speeches. Most speeches in most scripts last between one and four lines down the page. Yet us writers often earnestly think we need to have each character blurt out their life story, or exactly what they’re thinking down to their thoughts on what lovely weather it is for the time of year. Don’t need it.

That said, in epic fantasy, some characters are prone to a bit more Wizardy-Dickens kind of speech. All “forsooth, a goblin” and “thou shalt verily fight me at dawn’s break”. Tyrion’s speech at the top of p.13 isn’t too Wizardy-Dickens, but it is seven lines then five lines (making twelve lines, maths fans), as he espouses on how “Sometimes duty is the death of love.” He’s got some big thoughts to convey before show’s end, and he’s always been a talker.


Edmure: The Boris Johnson of Game of Thrones (if only).

See also Edmure’s speech at the top of p.25. Nine lines, and these are the first words he’s said in about four seasons – because this is the moment where he thinks he’s being grand and claiming the non-existent throne, but then is comedically cut off by Sansa and put back in his place. He overspeaks, because it’s funny, because he’s rubbish.

I wouldn’t expect Greyworm or Bronn to waffle on quite so much. But in this finale of finales, this episode of episodes, sure, sometimes the writers need to let the characters have their last speeches and set the seven kingdoms to rights. Most of the time though, us writers (me included – this blog is aimed at teaching myself, ultimately), need to know when to shut (our characters) up.


5. Some bits still don’t quite make sense

pp.26-27 – Bran is chosen as the new ruler. I’ve seen it and read it and I still don’t buy it. Tyrion asks “Who has a better story than Bran the Broken?” I’d suggest: most of them. People didn’t tune in each week for Bran’s story. They tuned in for Tyrion’s. Jon Snow’s. Arya’s. Bran’s too, but he was never our favourite.

Then a few lines on: “Bran doesn’t look shocked. Simply uninterested.”

Says it all.

BUT it’s not up to me – it’s up to the writers – and fair play to ’em for writing this as they wished. I wouldn’t have written it that way. But then I wouldn’t have got to write any of this stuff…

…Because I’m still learning. And thanks to reading scripts like this (if it’s ever reposted), we get to learn from the pros.





Killing Eve & The Wobbly Stool of Greatness*

Don’t watch Killing Eve when you’re trying to finish a script.

“Oh why do I bother?” you’ll cry, as the superbly entertaining thriller glares from the TV screen at you, judging the paltry collection of words on your laptop. Nah, watch some trash instead.

But one benefit of doing script pass after script pass on my spec comedy-drama script, trying to knock the unfinished product into shape… was that Killing Eve reminded me of the Wobbly Stool of Greatness*. Never heard of it? No, I invented it, but it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2019-07-08 at 12.22.32

The Wobbly Stool of Greatness*: Beermats on standby.

If you’re a writer or wannabe writer or ever watched telly, you might be familiar with the concept though. Three things that make a watchable show watchable:


1. Character

It’s first because it’s first. Our way into the show is via a person (or a dog or an alien, but only if they’re really person-like). We make a connection with that person – normally because we like them, or sometimes because we loathe them but find them charismatic. Even a show with a baddy at its heart has to have SOMETHING to warm to (see Dexter – the serial killer with a moral compass, or Basil Fawlty – a misguided monster whose put-upon-ness and hope endears us to him). Inversely, even ‘good’ heroes have enjoyable flaws. Would we watch John McClane as much if he was just a kickass action hero, rather than also being “two steps away from becoming a full blown alcoholic”? Like they say at the end of Some Like It Hot, “Nobody’s perfect.”

Other characters might reflect our hero – to highlight their characteristics, or show that they’re not as extreme as we think. Their differences will create story – which we’ll get to.

Every scene, every page, ideally every line… should reveal character. The age-old writing advice applies: cover up the character names – can you still tell who’s saying what? If everyone sounds the same, your lines aren’t characterful enough.

Watch Killing Eve, and almost every line glistens with characteriness. Simply put, Fiona Shaw’s character says stuff differently to David Haig’s, who says stuff differently to Sandra Oh’s. So we stick around to see what else will be revealed about these pretend people. Not a cliched “We gotta get outta here” in sight.

So when it comes to my script, I make time for a character pass. Make sure as many lines as possible reveal something about that character, and their unique attitude to the situation they’re in. If it’s not unique, make it unique.

If you watch a TV show where this hasn’t happened, the Wobbly Stool of Greatness* feels like it needs a beermat under the Character leg. It might be funny or entertaining, and the story might bounce along, but we’re not relating to the people onscreen. Fix that leg.


2. Story

Equally I’ve read scripts where the characters are colourful/interesting/unboring, and it’s funny, but the story’s lacking. The fab Scriptnotes podcast read the first 3 pages of writers’ scripts. The fab Sitcom Geeks podcast read the first 10 pages. Both have complained regularly that by those first 3 or 10 pages, the story’s not got going. It’s understandable for the former – you might have a vague plot set up but little more – but if you haven’t got underway in ten pages, something’s up. Especially if it’s a sitcom. (A feature film script might still be setting the scene in the first 10 pages, but even then, that’s one helluva scene).

No. Get moving quicker. Even in a seemingly ‘slow’ TV show (Mum? The Royle Family?), story is happening all around. It’s just not as ‘big’ as car chases and assassinations. Instead it’s whether someone’s going to give someone else a lift, or whether someone should wear this shirt or that shirt for their birthday party. It’s all story. In Killing Eve of course, there are those car chases and assassinations. And each scene, each page, and pretty much each line, things move on.


Killing Eve: A show in which things happen. A lot.

If not? Wobbly stool.


3. Comedy

I’ve known drama script readers who still look for these three things, but instead of Character, Story, Comedy it’s Character, Story, Dialogue. Do the words sizzle off the page? Do the lines entertain, move or intrigue you? Each scene/page/line shouldn’t just reveal character and story – it should also give us a good time as we go. Otherwise this rollercoaster is a train track for ages, only dipping and thrilling for rare turns in the story/track. So let’s make the rest of it fun too.

It doesn’t have to be a laugh-a-minute (no that’s way too long to wait – laugh-every-ten-seconds) show like Not Going Out (I’m biased), Modern Family or Brooklyn 99. Going back to Mum, the jokes are subtler but they are there. It’s beautifully funny throughout. Critics will say it’s through character – and it is – but it’s also through cleverly crafted dialogue that is simply Funny.

Another off-peak example of three perfectly balanced stool legs is in BBC1’s daytime sleuthcom Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Detectives. Who needs 2hrs for a Midsomer Murders when this show cracks through a convincing whodunnit plot in 44mins? The characters are a joy (Mark Benton’s Frank Hathaway is a downtrodden hoot, Jo Joyner’s Luella Shakespeare is a brilliantly spiky foil to Frank, and Patrick Walshe McBride’s fed-up actor-turned-secretary steals every scene) – and it certainly passes the cover-up-the-character-name script test. The story moves on apace, and it’s laugh-out-loud funny – in both dialogue and in great visual setpieces.

So I ensured my recent script had all 3 passes, for character, for story, and for comedy/pithiness/interesting dialogue. Look at each line. Is it doing at least two of those things? Then it can stay? One of those things? Hmm… it’s on borrowed time. None of those things? Then what in the world is it doing in my script?


Gerrouta my script!

Test each line in your script for those three things. And meanwhile wonder at those shows where the Wobbly Stool of Greatness* is rock steady. Killing Eve? Not a beermat in sight.


*It has been pointed out by Jim Vine that a 3-legged stool can’t wobble. It can only slope or slant. While I want to blow a raspberry in his face, he is of course quite right. I should have done another pass at this blog for geometric sense.

Years and Years: Family first

BBC1’s (or more to the point, Russell T Davies’) fab series Years and Years has just finished what HAS to be its only series.

RTD has said it’s a one-off, and given that it projects into the future, by one year each episode (it mostly spans 2024-2030), it would be tricky to see a series 2 without it going full sci-fi. This prophet-warning show has its futuristic elements sneak up on us while we aren’t looking – like the Weeping Angels in Doctor Who (reference included to annoy Whovians).

Years and Years has no lasers nor spaceships. It builds up to internet brain implants and consciousness stored on water, earning their place over several episodes. Episode 1’s science fiction was nicely restrained: an artificial island, an Alexa-esque smart speaker called Señor, and a funny scene involving a sex robot and Noel from Hear’Say.


“Pure and Simple, gonna be there.”

Years and Years doesn’t feel like a sci-fi, although it does dwell on science and fiction. It never forgets that at its heart, it’s a family drama. Superior acting talent helps (Anne Reid, Rory Kinnear, Russell Tovey, Jessica Hynes… though for me scenes were stolen by relative newcomers Ruth Madeley as feisty Rosie and Lydia West as can-play-15-or-25 Bethany). But this blog’s about writing, so what can we learn from Russell Typewriter Davies (to give his full name)?

I think the headline has to be Family Is Everything. And that doesn’t mean a nuclear family (pun noted, given the literal fall-out in episode 1). As RTD is fond of doing, notions of traditional family are swiftly discarded as plus-ones and minus-ones are added/subtracted to the family dinner table. From ex-wives to gay lovers to lesbian partners to stepchildren… all are welcome at Gran’s. And as Gran kisses on the forehead an unlikely ally (no spoilers here as to whom), the message is clear: your place at the table is not based on your relationship, but your attitude. Kindness is rewarded. Selfishness is not. Good eggs are invited back. Be a good egg.

But traditional family roles are still there. Anne Reid is our forever Gran – whose tea and timing is impeccable. The middle generation switch flip-flop between being responsible parents and petulant children, before ultimately assuming responsibility and taking charge of their own futures (and ours). The youngest generation master the tech, have a few tantrums, and ultimately grow up. Characters keep changing roles in terms of ‘who’s playing Dad’, ‘who’s playing Mum’ etc – but the writer’s love of family, and of this family, always shines through. Davies has chosen to look into a crystal ball and focus on one family – the Lyons clan – rather than give us unrelated individual survivors of the post-Brexit, still-Trump era.


“Everybody eats when they come to my house…”

This family focus helps ground us. Whenever the plot goes a bit weirdy-AI-upload-to-the-cloud-dystopian, we’re brought back to reality – well no, back to familiarity – with a cosy line about one of them being most “happy when he finds a big crisp”. Keep bringing us back to the family table, and you can get away with a lot more plot-wise.

The crisp line reminds me: this isn’t a comedy show, but its use of occasional comedy kept us going through the dark times (and there was a lot of dark in this grim satire). The final moments included a passing reference to the Leaning Tower of Pisa finally falling over. It didn’t relate at all to anything else in the story. But “fun” bits like this (I know, it’s not fun for the people of Pisa) help us on our merry way. Comedy connects with our brain differently – and after such heavy story work, a little humour goes a long way.

Two blog posts ago, I waffled on about how Game of Thrones was doomed when it dropped the unpredictable shades-of-grey fun and games for a predictably binary Good-vs-Evil finale. It’s a problem in almost all films and TV series, and Years and Years is no exception. So sure enough, the final episode felt a little more predictable (good HAD to win) than its mid-series shockers (the beach – oh my…). Series finales are rarely the place for those stand-out memorable moments.

So when you’re writing your six-part TV series (and may that please happen), when you face that final episode conundrum, where everything needs to be tied up a little too predictably… if you’ve got a tight-knit family of likeables like the Years and Years‘ Lyons lot, then lovable characters will help bolster any thread-tying plot points. Great characters help carry us over those gaps in the road – whether it’s a predictable story beat or a just-go-with-it chunk of wibbly-wobbly sci-fi.

So I’ll miss the Lyons family, knowing we probably won’t see them again. They told a great story – or more correctly, the granddaddy did: so thank you, Russell Typewriter Davies.

Chernobyl – an opening that throws you in at the deep end

“What is the cost of lies?”

The opening line in HBO/Sky’s astounding miniseries Chernobyl. It asks a question, then spends five hours answering it.

Apparently it’s IMDB’s highest-rated TV series of all time. It’s not one I’ll revisit, but in terms of efficient, compelling (terrifying) storytelling, it absolutely delivers. In my new blog attempting to decode why good/bad storytelling is good/bad, I thought it’s worth looking at why Chernobyl is so effective. So having spent the first post of PK’s Writing Blog looking at endings (Game of Thrones‘ in particular), let’s go now back to the start.

Many writing tutors suggest verbalising your story’s theme in the first few minutes/pages. Blake Snyder suggests having a secondary character blatantly state the theme to our protagonist by page 7. In Casablanca, Ilsa tells Rick he sounds “like a man trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe in his heart…” – and Rick then spends the film trying to act on his convictions. In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne tells Red: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” Red spends the rest of the movie learning what he means.


What is the cost of lies? Or a cassette recorder in 1986?

It’s no hard and fast rule though. Main characters can state their own theme, or it’s not stated at all. In Chernobyl we find a Soviet state fixated on swift cover-up and deceit. It’s efficient to its core, so it’s appropriate to be efficient in its own storytelling. No hanging about – the show opens with our protagonist, Valery Legasov played by Jared Harris, reflecting on two years of failed nuclear clean-up, by asking that opening question. By the end of the series, he summarises the answer to that question: “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, the debt is paid.”

The true story (revealed in the excellent accompanying podcast interview with the show’s creator Craig Mazin) is that Legasov recorded these confessional and accusatory tapes, then committed suicide exactly two years to the day since Chernobyl’s accident (this isn’t really a spoiler – it happens in the first two minutes and sets up the show from there). He didn’t ask that question in real life, but TV necessitates condensing reality into palatable gripping dialogue. By having the hero ask that question in the very first line, writer Mazin gets to the nub of the show immediately.

How I Met Your Mother‘s opening line similarly sets out its stall from the off: “Kids, I’m going to tell you a wonderful story – the story of how I met your mother.” Arrested Development tells us what (or who) it’s about: “This is Michael Bluth.” Goodfellas famously sets things up with “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” No messing.

Others aren’t so swift to establish theme – and that’s fine too. Reservoir Dogs begins: “Let me tell you what ‘Like A Virgin’ is about.” Breaking Bad and Four Weddings & A Funeral both start with a string of expletives that set the chaotic-yet-fun atmosphere of a normal character thrown into chaos. They establish tone, if not the big theme.

The excellent ScriptNotes podcast (co-hosted by the aforementioned Craig Mazin, who wrote Chernobyl, as well as two Hangover movies and two Scary Movies – it turns out you don’t have to be confined to one genre) made a good point about theme. Theme, they said, isn’t a one-word subject matter. It’s not ‘Brotherhood’ or ‘Family’. Instead, your theme should be an arguable point. An explorable question. Like Chernobyl‘s opening ask, or When Harry Met Sally‘s ‘Can men and women ever just be friends?’ Ask a question, then answer it. When you have, roll credits.

Sitcoms have a similar theme thing going on. What the show’s really about isn’t what it looks like its. Perhaps Absolutely Fabulous isn’t about the fashion industry, but about the quandary: ‘Can a daughter play mother to her own mother?’ Blackadder Goes Forth is arguably about how class intermingles at life’s worst moment – and it compellingly ended with class making not one iota of difference when Darling joins Blackadder, Baldrick and George as they left the trenches via the wrong route.


Cunning plans no help here.

I’m trying to write a political comedy-drama right now. It opens on election night, so I had my first couple of pages full of aides zinging around with coffee and stats. Scene-setting panic – all urgent calls and reassuring the candidate. Then I saw Chernobyl‘s opening. Why not start with a question then?

My new start has my candidate staring at a TV screen, asking: “Did we win?” That touches on my show’s theme too – asking at what point politicians have truly won. There’s a much pithier opening line I’m sure – it’s a work-in-progress. But I vastly prefer those three words to the two pages of waste-of-time chaos I had in the first draft.

I’ve taken too many words to talk about efficiency of words.

Next post: irony.

Comedians With Books #1: Rosie Wilby, Matt Parker, Aidan Goatley


, , ,


The all-new PK’s Writing Blog continues below (and above) – right now, here’s a one-off podcast…

A one-off (or at least very occasional) pop-up podcast with an excerpt from a recent Comedians With Books show, recorded live at The Star Inn with Guildford Fringe. It’s a new thrice-yearly hybrid comedy night meets book festival. This panel discussion features anecdotalist Aidan Goatley, relationship ponderer Rosie Wilby & stand-up mathematician Matt Parker, hosted by El Capitan Paul Kerensa.

Come see the next Comedians With Books live! Mon 8th July 2019 at Guildford’s Guildhall, with James Cary, Pierre Hollins & Dan Evans, hosted again by PK.

The next night, Tue 9th July 2019, new theatre compilation show Three Times Tables hits Guildford’s Star Inn:

Our 3rd Comedians With Books will be on Tue 8th October 2019, at Guildford’s Star Inn, acts TBC:

More of Paul’s gigs:

And this podcast’s books:

Never Eat the Buffet at a Sex Club by Aidan Goatley:

Is Monogamy Dead? by Rosie Wilby:

Humble Pi by Matt Parker:

Hark! The Biography of Christmas by Paul Kerensa:

Share this pod / Like / Review / Donate / Thanks!

What Game of Thrones could have learned from Noel’s House Party

Many good stories start with an ending.

So too on this new variation on a blog thing – my occasional attempt to decipher writing foibles, learn from what does/doesn’t work in TV, film, books, or in story generally… and especially to see if some kind of skeletal structure helps keep the meat on the bones.

And yes, in this opening post, we’ll ponder what Game of Thrones could have learned from Noel’s House Party. In one show, a sinister bearded in a crumbling castle battles rivals guarded by a twisted man-mountain. In the other… oh you get the idea.

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 12.24.24

The Mountain was silent, but for one word: “Blobby.”

So this first post is about an ending. Endings make great beginnings to stories. The end of an old job. The end of a relationship. The end of the day/the working year/the near-end of the marriage of John McClane (all roads lead to Die Hard).

Game of Thrones (which I’ll talk a bit about in this post… not too much, and not too spoilery) starts with the end of Jon Arryn. Who he? He’s talked about but we barely see him. He just sparks things off – in this case, he sparks the Starks. If you’ve not seen GoT and you think all talk of it sounds like elfy witchy nonsense, basically Jon Arryn was, pre-show, the king’s right-hand-man, and his early exit meant Sean Bean’s Ned Stark could reluctantly take his place. Arryn’s demise sparked eight seasons of backstabbing, frontstabbing, sidestabbing and other horrible ways to die.

Arguably the show itself found another horrible way to die. Many fans thought it ended with a whimper, rather than a bang – which is almost impressive, given the final season’s sheer urban devastation, with dragons breathing more hot air than Piers Morgan. Yet still a bit boring?

Other fans quite enjoyed the final season. A generous assessment might call it a mixed success. A less-generous assessment might say it went down in flames (though they could be from the dragon). So where did it all GoT wrong?

I did a Radio 2 Pause For Thought last week crowbarring in this very thing. The link is here if you fancy. On that daily inspirational/theological/philosophical message, I tried linking GoT’s meh finale with a stand-up comedy event I’d just done for Dying Matters week – an initiative to focus on planning our own finales. What do we want to leave behind? Have we thought through the practicalities? Where do we want it to happen? Have we tied up loose ends? Same things could be said for ending a TV show.

If you’re writing something yourself, planning ahead may make or break your ending. It’s satisfying when seeds planted in season 4 bear fruit in season 8. Some GoT apologists point out that some final plot points were foreshadowed in season 1’s poster, or in muttered dialogue in season 2. GoT grumblers have equally pointed out that as soon as George R R R R R Martin (you know he just added the Rs to sound like Tolkien?)’s books ran out, the TV show’s plot and pace started wavering.

Personally I’m somewhere in the middle. On the one hand (of the king), I think it does a disservice to the very talented showrunners to say they were only ever copying the books. They’ve skilfully created a completely separate work of art to Martin’s books – and at its peak, it’s been the best television out there. On the other hand, I didn’t find much to like in the last season. The fun and games had passed. But maybe that’s because… the Fun and Games had passed.

Screenwriting guru Blake Snyder maps out a story structure of fifteen or so ‘essential’ story beats. And halfway through a story is what his calls ‘Fun and Games’. Also known as ‘The Promise of the Premise’, this is the bit in the trailer, the reason you tune in or to buy that cinema ticket. While Snyder’s beat sheet is meant for single movies or episodes, zoom out to a full series like all 73 Game of Thrones episodes, and the structure still works. Snyder has a catalyst near the start of each episode – but equally Ned Stark’s, ahem, downfall at the end of season 1 is a catalyst for the show as a whole. He sees the dark drawing in about 80% through an episode – and sure enough, at the about the same point in the series as a whole, ‘undefeatable’ White Walkers swamped the landscape. And those ‘Fun and Games’, due halfway through a story, were long gone by the final season. The Game was still in the title, but the Fun was long gone.

We love midway surprises: good characters choose bad, bad characters triumph. No hero too good, no villain so irredeemable – everyone’s in the middle. In epic stories though, the good aren’t just good – they’re the saviours of everything: Frodo Baggins in Middle Earth, the Pevensie children in Narnia, Luke Skywalker in, er, space. The baddies aren’t just misunderstood heroes, they’re hell-bent on destroying everything: Darth Vader, Sauron, Voldemort. They’re blacker than black – but it was the shades of grey along the way that were interesting. Because none of us are whiter than white or blacker than black, but pingponging around in the middle.

If stories help us understand ourselves, we enjoy watching them when they’re doing that middle moral muddle. But by the end of an epic saga like GoT, everyone has to choose a side. Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen were all flawed in their fun episodes, but in that last season they all picked a lane. And I think that’s when the plot started plodding. Fun’s over.

Think of the best TV endings. Don’t they just stop? Yes they spend their last episodes tying loose ends, but they keep the fun and games going as long as possible. Our flawed hero stays flawed and our villains stay endearing, rather than picking noble heroism or pure evil. From The Sopranos to Breaking Bad to, yes, Noel’s House Party, the fun and games keep coming as long as possible, flawed heroes and gunge and all.

So what could Game of Thrones learn from Noel’s House Party? NHP just stopped. At one point Noel cancelled the run by broadcasting in protest from the BBC broom cupboard: “Enough. They’ve cut our budget and the show’s rubbish.” (paraphrased) It all stopped. The show came back but Noel finally left Crinkley Manor covered in gunge by Freddie Starr. Don’t drag out a goodbye – keep the antics going till the closing credits.

I’m not saying that’s the ending GoT should have gone for. But by forcing characters into Pure Good and Pure Evil, it fell into the Epic Ending Trap. Remember the last Lord of the Rings film? They took 45 minutes to say goodbye. Goodbye Sam. Goodbye Frodo. Goodbye Gandalf. Goodbye Legolas. It was like the end of The Waltons (“Goodnight Jim Bob…”).

Perhaps as an epic fantasy, GoT doesn’t have the luxury of nuance. Other genres can enjoy shades-of-grey fun-and-games (nothing to do with E.L. James), right up till the last. M*A*S*H‘s great finale benefited from its war-zone setting, where tragic heroes veer between right and wrong all the time. The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Dexter all had at their core a bad guy whom we loved – a mobster, a druglord, a serial killer – all anti-heroes who went down in a blaze of glory (or a lumber yard – yeah that one didn’t really work).

In cinema, I often find fun action films become boring in the final act. It looks ‘not boring’ (explosions, guns, baddie’s lair)… but you’re not as engaged in the story. They’ve thrown stuff at the screen to distract you from the fact that the tale’s run out of track.

So if you’re writing, maybe look at what you love in the early part of your story, and find a way to keep that going in some way. Things will be different – your characters will have moved on, but say farewell too early, and you’ve GoT trouble.

Do comment with your thoughts on this. And especially if you’re writing an epic (maybe fantasy?), how do you avoid the pure good vs pure evil problem in the final pages? How do you keep ’em guessing till The End?

The End. (For now. More soon.)


Who will sit on the Gunge Throne?


New News about a New Thing

Hi old friend. I mean, you’re not that old. You moisturise?

This blog has been, in its most recent incarnation, my ‘Yule blog’. Loads of Christmas historical nuggets. They’re still there. But now they’re there, rather than mine that festive trove any more (history of swede mash? Bit tenuous), I’ve decided to move on to my latest fascination.


Or more correctly, writing stories.

Or even more correctly, the bones that make the skeletons of stories. This should, I should note up front, apply to writers of novels or scripts of any length or medium – books, TV, radio, film. Any narrative story – mostly fiction, but also non-fiction. Stick around to help develop yours.

For a while, I’ve been quietly obsessed with story theorists – from mythologist Joseph Campbell, to the guy who turned Campbell’s wisdom into writing advice Christopher Vogler, to Hollywood wunderkind Blake Snyder, to Eastenders guru John Yorke, to many more. We might explore bits about some, all or none of them in future irregular posts.

Posts will be irregular. I shan’t post too often here. But it’s part of an ongoing project to collate my thoughts on story structure, if there is one, what works, what doesn’t work, why it works, and can I get a book out of it.

Alright, I steered into that one a bit abruptly. But yes, I’ve got a half-started Word doc on my laptop, crystallising some thoughts on all this, in I THINK a new way. I wasn’t going to do much with it, but in the last few years I’ve given occasional talks/workshops/seminars (all the same thing – only difference is how much you let others talk) for BBC Writers Room, London Screenwriters Festival, and various other gaffs. We’ve looked at the aforementioned writers-who-write-about-writing and their fave structures – but a new story pattern has come out of it too.

A few ‘students’ (they were only my students for a day, but I’m calling them students) have asked me if I’ve put this in a book. I haven’t. Maybe I should. Maybe instead I should use this pattern to write some big new telly show and see if it works. Maybe.

But first, this blog.

We’ll get to My Big Idea in a few posts’ time, perhaps. But first, I wanted to dwell on a few other story motifs, mis-steps and mental meanderings. So we’ll look at starts and middles and ends. We’ll ponder why so many scripts fail to get to Act 2 quick enough. We’ll speculate on which are the trickiest bits to write right. We’ll wonder if we should be plot-plot-plotting before writing any dialogue.

But first, what Game of Thrones can learn from Noel’s House Party.

Yes, you read that right. It’s a genuine opinion that I shall attempt to convey in the first proper blog post… next time on the all-new PK’s Writing Blog.

(While you wait for it, you can read about the history of Christmas if you want. You don’t have to, but it’s right there \/ \/ \/)

26 Steve Chalke & co – Beyond the Redgrave


, ,

Can it be? Our final episode? Yes. Yes it is. Stay subscribed for the future podcast that’s currently percolating, due to replace this within the year. But for now enjoy 7 final conversational titbits from everyone’s favourite 7-sided chat bunker…

– Charity mastermind STEVE CHALKE on his world-record-breaking feud with Sir Steve Redgrave
– BGT semi-finalist NOEL JAMES on televising ‘the frog joke’
– Beatboxing champ GAV TYTE on teaches Paul to beatbox using a bag of cabbage
– Nomadic funnyman TONY VINO on Fijian language problems

– Vicar, author & prop-maker CRIS ROGERS on Butlins’ secret swimming pool

– Presenting guru LEE JACKSON on why short is tough

– Comedic collator SIMON JENKINS on apocalyptic jumble sales
Thanks for listening! Look forward to bringing you something new soon…
Our Amazon Guests’ List of books remains here:
Donate to the podcast if you’ve liked it here:
We’re still very ‘like’-able on FB:
More of Paul’s latest at
Paul’s mailing list is at 
Music by Rob Halligan: 

Rate us on iTunes + share and share alike. Mind the closing doors…

25 Christmas Special 2018 – The Nonagon Club!


, , ,

Ho ho whoa! 9 guests?! In a tribute to the 9 Lessons & Carols, Paul our Host of Christmas Past flies his sleigh back through festive history. There are no live guests a-guesting – instead for our penultimate show, we drop in on influential Christmassy words from:

– Astronaut TOM STAFFORD on pranking NASA 

– Private HENRY WILLIAMSON on sharing tobacco

– Writer CHARLES DICKENS on humbuggery

– Writer WASHINGTON IRVING on Christmas the English way

– Devonian clergyman RICHARD SMART on Christmas the man

– Puritan minister HEZEKIAH WOODWARD on Christmas the heresy

– King HENRY III on Christmas the dinner

– Saint HILARY of POITIERS on the first carol

– Charles M Schulz creation LINUS on the true meaning of Christmas

Phew! One more episode to go, for now. Join us in January. Merry Christmas!

Amazon Guests List – our authors’ books:
Donate or Patreon here, reduce our debt, keep us podding:
Rate & review us on iTunes – even if we are ending soon, it’s still nice, cos the episodes will still be here and need your recommending words!

24 Paul Kerensa & co – We’re Not Here Right Now…



A stopgap podcast, to report on our temporary absence (due to a busy month), then our permanent absence (to follow early next year after a two-episode send-off). A couple more episodes will follow, then, well, the future’s bright – but it may, alas, not be heptagon-shaped.

An update is contained herein, plus snippets of guests from our fnar-fnale to come in January.

Amazon Guests List – our authors’ books:
Donate or Patreon here, reduce our debt, keep us podding:
Rate & review us on iTunes – even if we are ending soon, it’s still nice, cos the episodes will stick around…

23 Noel James & co – Rhodes? Where we’re going…



Britain’s Got Talent, Storm Troopers, beatboxing, comedy, Rhodes… Welcome to October’s pod-party. Mingle with the likes of this lot…
– Comedian NOEL JAMES
– Other comedian TONY VINO
– Other other comedian NATHAN RAMSDEN-LOCK
– Storm Trooper/Vicar CRIS ROGERS
– Ship of Fools founder SIMON JENKINS

– Beatboxing tutor GAV TYTE

– Songster & biscuit fiend PAUL BELL  
…Your ‘Bring A Bottle’ contribution is to visit their websites, so seek ’em out online, and while you’re there…
Amazon Guests List – our authors’ books:
Donate or Patreon here, reduce our debt, keep us podding:
Rate & review us on iTunes + it helps us find people (or you could just tell strangers in the street, but rating and reviewing is less weird…)

22 Rob Parsons & co – Happy Creative New Year!



It’s Creative New Year! Time for new projects and new products, including books, CDs, beatboxing tutorials and just good advice from these 7 wonders of the world…
– Care For The Family head honcho and author ROB PARSONS, OBE
– As oh-so-recently seen on This Morning, beatboxing vicar GAV TYTE

– Author and parenting guru KATHARINE HILL

– Songster & biscuit fiend PAUL BELL


– Presenting expert LEE JACKSON

– Car Share writer, creator and creative genius TIM REID
Amazon Guests List – our authors’ books:
Donate or Patreon here, reduce our debt, keep us podding:
Rate us on iTunes + it’s good to share…