Novel vs screenplay writing

This is an edited version of a comment I originally posted on the Passive Voice blog.

Writers get far less respect in the movie world than written fiction. Yet many are happy to work for free to get any kind of credit, and hope they actually do get their credit at the end.

There’s a big difference between novel writing and screen writing. If you have an unpublished novel, you can at least show it to your family and friends, whereas if you have an unproduced screenplay they probably won’t even know how to read it. The only way for a writer to prove they can write a movie is to write a movie that’s actually produced.

The other issue is that the screenplay is only the beginning of the work. Once it leaves the writer’s hands, the actors will improvise and the director will change lines or rewrite whole scenes. When the shoot is complete and the movie is just a bunch of files on a computer, the editor will cut lines, move shots around or even cut entire scenes which don’t work. The director may record new off-screen dialogue or some extra shots to fill in plot holes.

So by the end of the movie, it may bear little resemblance to the original screenplay. After many other people have interpreted it and revised it, the writer may justifiably be unable to take much credit for what finally reached the screen. In my case I take no credit for the ending of the one feature-length movie I wrote which was actually produced because the director threw out my wonderful ending and replaced it with his own.

By the time the premiere rolls around the writer thinks the director is a dick for rewriting their screenplay, the director thinks the writer is a hack because they had to change so much to make it work and the editor thinks the writer is self-indulgent because he had to cut out half the dialogue and the director is clueless because he had to spend six hours looking for any two shots he could cut together to make the final scene work.

Which has given me a good idea for Horror Movie. Damn, got to rewrite part of it again.


Categorising e-books

I have a couple of thousand free e-books that I’ve ‘bought’ from Amazon over the last year and after my Kindle for PC installation committed suicide I’ve had to wipe the original install and download them again.

As I do so I’ve been trying to categorise them, and one thing I’ve noticed is how hard that is based on the covers and titles. Is it a thriller, SF, both?

I’m going to have to think more in future about my own e-books to ensure they don’t suffer from the same problem.

But this also relates to another problem with the Kindle. On Amazon all books are categorised, yet that information is thrown away when they’re downloaded. Why don’t the same categories automatically appear as a means of finding the books you want to read?


Got up this morning hoping to see the Dragon in orbit, but there was a last-minute abort due to unexpected readings from the engine. When you’re making a test flight it’s better to abort than risk the entire mission, hopefully the delay will only be a few days.


SpaceX are finally preparing for their first Dragon flight to ISS in a few hours; hopefully it will all go well, I don’t think I can stay up late enough to watch.

It may not be as impressive as a space shuttle launch, but right now they’re the best hope for cheap access to space in the next couple of decades.

The secret to an easy life?

Some people like to turn every minor problem into a major drama, presumably because they’re bored and want something to get excited about. Personally I’ve found that 90% of problems solve themselves if you just ignore them, and the exceptions are usually obvious. For example, if you’re late for a meeting most people will have forgotten in a few weeks, but if you car tires are worn out they’re not going to magically fix themselves. Trashing your tires trying to get to the meeting faster will just turn a minor problem into a major one.

End of an era

At the KSC VIP site

I missed it, but apparently the Endeavour space shuttle was powered down on Friday, marking the absolute end of the shuttle program:

Endeavour Unplugged – Last Picture Show from the Flight Deck of a Living Space Shuttle Orbiter

I’ve seen several shuttle launches, many of them from the VIP site at the Kennedy Space Centre, including Endeavour’s first flight. It’s well past time that they were retired for a cheaper and more reliable replacement, but seeing the last of them turned off is still a sad day.

Oh, here’s the view from said VIP site:

Space Shuttle Launch


I looked at KDP recently and noticed that I’ve had my first refund from someone who bought one of my short stories. Which was an interesting coincidence because I also requested my first refund; I clicked to buy a book that was on a free e-book list and then realised it was no longer free, so I had to request the money back.

This is one reason why I don’t like the whole KDP ‘free day’ idea; before KDP Select if a book went free it usually stayed that way for some time because it was due to price-matching the book at another site and if the price increased at that site the change took a while to filter back. Now, though, a book can be for sale one day, free the next and back to the original price on the third… so by the time we read a post saying that it’s free and go to buy it we have to check that it really is still free first.

School Sucks

Fred Reed has a great post about schooling:


There are two things I remember about school. First, sitting in a classroom being lectured on things I really couldn’t care about while wishing I could get out and start doing something useful with my life. Second, in the classes that did interest me, having to put up with the kids who had no great academic leaning and didn’t want to be there; life was much better in the last few years when those kids all left.

The peculiar part is that many of the teachers had a dazzling ability to take subjects which were inherently interesting and make them boring as heck. I hated Shakespeare in school, but since leaving I’ve seen many of his plays performed. Studying the Registration of Births, Marriages and Deaths Act of 18-who-knows-what bored the hell out of me, but I have entire book shelves full of history books here. Kids enter school curious and eager to learn, and one of the greatest successes of the school system is the way they beat that curiosity out of them.

What particularly bugged me about history was that recent history, within about fifty years of the time we were at school, was considered beyond the pale. We were taught much about the Romans, but nothing about recent events in our own country. I can understand that historians may not be able to thoroughly analyse historical events until those involved have had the time and inclination to record their experiences, but we weren’t even taught about the recent history of our own Empire, the last vestiges of which were collapsing on TV news.

I certainly learned some useful things at school, but so much of it was just a huge waste of time that I could have put to better use myself. One of the reasons I don’t have kids is that I wouldn’t want to unless I had the time to home-school them so they wouldn’t have to go through the same experience themselves.

CUPS: disaster or what?

I have a printer on my CentOS machine, running CUPS, which I could print to from any machine in the house, be it Linux or Windows. It all just magically worked, but that machine is only used as a workstation so it’s turned off when not in use.

I wanted to move the printer to one of my servers running Ubuntu which is available 24/7, so I don’t have to turn on the workstation to print things.

You’d think it would be easy; after all, both run CUPS and one of them just works. So I’ve configured the printer on Ubuntu and… nothing works. Every time I try to print it asks for some kind of password.

I’ve been through cupsd.conf trying to figure out how to tell it ‘just print any damn thing we send you’, but the file is arcane gibberish. Even copying the cupsd.conf file from the CentOS machine to the Ubuntu machine doesn’t solve the problem. I understand that people running this in a business with thousands of users want a lot of control, but how can they make a simple configuration where it just prints so difficult to set up?

The best thing is that every time it fails to print I have to tell it to cancel the print job, I have to tell it that yes, I really did mean to cancel the print job and then I have to re-enable the printer and then I have to ‘apply’ the changes, even though I didn’t have to apply the change that automatically disabled it even though I’m trying to get the damn thing to work. I can hardly imagine a worse user experience.

I think this demonstrates one of the big problems with modern sofware: massive overconfigurability. If you can’t decide how something should work, allow users to configure it to work in any way they want. The end result is that only an expert can get it to work at all.

IPSEC is a glowing example. There is typically one way to configure it to connect properly and roughly ten trillion ways to configure it not to work; and when it doesn’t work there’s generally no way determine why it doesn’t. The end result is that when you magically find a combination which does work you stick to it, even if that’s a less secure configuration than just giving the users a choice of half a dozen options selected by the developers.