MZPtv/Fiction Vortex – Serial Box Prose Competition

Do you write prose? Do you want the chance to create a brand new series which will be self-published and sold as part of a wider, connected universe? Welcome then, MZPites, to an exciting new opportunity!

You see Lee Chrimes and I have joined forces with a really cool new project called FICTION VORTEX, who you can find here:

They recently ran a Kickstarter project to fund a new initiative called the ‘serial box’; imagine our own scripted series wrapped up in box sets and simply replace scripts for prose, and you’re on the right track. Weekly episodic stories, four shows as part of a bigger universe, a la Marvel or the Jossverse. With the help too of some MZP folk, they raised over $5000 to make the serial boxes a reality. And the best part?

One of them is an MZPtv Serial Box that launches in January… a box YOU now have the opportunity to be part of! Here’s FV head honcho David Mark Brown to explain a little more of what they are:

Lee and I are looking for someone excited at the prospect of writing a continuing prose serial. We have two shows already being written as part of a connected universe and yours, whatever it may be, would be the third. We’re looking for someone dedicated, someone who can write fast & write with passion, someone who will be willing to work tirelessly in creating a brand new fictional universe from the ground up. What do you get for all the work?

Put simply, you get to sell your work and call yourself a (self) published writer. Fiction Vortex will host the serial box on their site and you will make a small profit percentage from every serial you sell.

This is just the beginning too. Lee and I see this model as a major way forward for MZP and we ultimately hope to launch similar next year ourselves – you, along with the admin team, could help shape that future.

So! Here are the rules. The competition will be a three stage process:

1) THE PITCH – you present your show idea, with the emphasis on clearly presenting your concept, characters and where the show may go on a weekly serialised basis. How you present the pitch is up to you, however with this there are a couple of minimum requirements, so please ensure you include the following:

LOGLINE: a one sentence description of your show, i.e. two FBI agents investigate paranormal phenomenon.
PARAGRAPHS: minimum of two describing the idea.
CHARACTER BIOS: ideally a small paragraph giving us an insight into who your characters are.

If you are selected beyond this stage, we will ask for…

2) THE TREATMENT – a detailed treatment of your intended pilot episode for the show, with the emphasis on crafting an exciting story, intriguing character arcs and a thematically rich idea.

If you are selected beyond this stage, we will ask for…

3) THE PROSE – the first 2500 words of your pilot episode, with the emphasis on clear, well-written prose which propels your story while crafting rounded, interesting characters.

We will then select the best piece of prose in that word limit, combined with the strongest show concept and collection of characters, to be offered the third show development spot in the serial box. Lee, myself and Fiction Vortex head honchos David Mark Brown & Mike Cluff will be on the judging panel, with Lee ultimately having the final decision on which show is selected as chief of MZP.

Please do bear in mind that being selected for the commission means a firm commitment with regular deadlines. If you feel in any way that adhering to these will be a problem, I would politely discourage you pitching at this stage.

Okay, if that’s whetted your appetite, let’s present the parameters for the show you’ll be creating. The name of our upcoming serial box is…

The year is 2045. The future is here. Technology takes greater strides every day. Corporations grow larger. The world stands on the cusp of a new age. Yet danger lurks. Shadowy organisations, underworld creatures and ancient mysteries are awakening. Tomorrow is rising, but what will it look like?

In terms of a visual & aesthetic touchstone, ‘Futurepunk’ riffs off the more well-known ‘Cyberpunk’, which by definition is all dystopian near future settings, where everybody’s kinda screwed. The vibe we wanted with ‘futurepunk’ is more like ‘post-cyberpunk’, which is a more recent literary movement inspired by the big cyberpunk writers of the 80s/90s (so William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Bruce Stirling etc.), which focuses more on optimism, integrated use of tech into everyday life and generally is a degree more upbeat and hopeful. Examples: Tomorrowland, Fringe, Almost Human, Minority Report etc…

That’s all you’re getting. Let your imaginations run wild. Be as creative as you can. Let’s see something fresh and original.

— Send your pitches via personal message to Tony Black no later than SUNDAY OCTOBER 25th, 11.59BST. No submissions will be accepted after that time.
DO NOT post pitches directly on the forums. They will not be considered. Click on Tony’s profile to send him a personal message.

Feel free to ask any questions in this thread for clarification, or to learn more.

Otherwise, good luck and may the best writer win!

Fiction Vortex – MZPtv Kickstarter collaboration

Dear friends! Here’s one part of that exciting news we’ve been talking about – MZPtv is joining forces with our friends at Fiction Vortex to get behind a Kickstarter campaign to create an ongoing set of ‘serial boxes’, shared story worlds publishing weekly episodes across a variety of styles and genres.

We’ll let co-creator David Mark Brown start this off:

Fiction Vortex – Kickstarter

But why should I pledge to this?

Because this is an extension of what MZP has been doing for the last ten years. It’s no secret things need a shove around here to get the activity going again, and with others now starting on the ‘serial box’ bandwagon, it’s already lead to some inspiration towards rebuilding the blog website and forum to better serve the present day audience.

Plus, there are all manner of sweet stretch goals and backer rewards, not least of which is the potential for an MZPtv-branded serial box! We’re currently deciding on projects to pitch, but with so many amazing shows in MZP’s glorious back catalogue, there’s no end of possibilities here.

So, wait, is MZPtv closing or something?

Hells, no.

All we’re doing is getting behind a new initiative, helping bring new content to our community and ultimately starting our own fresh drive of updates and new content right here on MZPtv. There are plenty of people out there who want to be told epic tales and sweeping stories of drama, mystery, fantasy and romance, and we are going to damn well stuff our story juices into their big, greedy mouths. Or something.

So let’s get behind this, guys – the Kickstarter is live now and runs until September 9th. Let’s see what we can create!

The MZPtv Forums — Benefits of Community

MZPtv has been around for almost 10 years now, and the core of our community are the DISCUSSION FORUMS. We started out with InvisionFree, and then a few years ago finally upgraded to our own self-hosted forums, using SMF as the software. Throughout the years the community has grown, shrunk, grown, and shrunk again, but the core has always been around. We’re a vibrant, jovial, friendly community, always welcome to new users and old alike.

But why join? Here are a few reasons why, in handy numbered format.

1. It’s Our Hub

While it’s true we’re expanding the scope of our website with lots of news, articles and tips, the forums continue to be the centre of everything. It’s where all of our screenwriters and script readers gather when a new release is hosted, it’s where we organise meetups, and where we help each other get better at what we do.

2. Competitions!

To take part in most of our competitions, you’ll need a forum account. It’s possible you’ve missed out on some cool swag because you didn’t notice all the neon signs and VERY LOUD SHOUTING we do on the forums whenever something exciting is happening.

3. We’re All Glorious Geeks

The forums aren’t just a place for writing, we’re also all passionate about pop culture and media. We’ve got forums to discuss Television (our favourite subject), Movies, Video Games, Books, Current Affairs, and all sorts. We’ve always got the latest news and videos, and a place to discuss them.

4. Learning Is Sharing

It can be hard to find a place to share your work — especially when you see all of those very experienced (and sometimes very strict) writers that demand professional quality and have no time for newbs. MZPtv is quite the opposite. We’re all about sharing and growing, helping each other improve at their own pace, and being supportive wherever possible. Most of us are still new to writing, so we know what you’re going through. While MZPtv does strive for high standards, we want you to get there.

5. Phone A Friend

The MZPtv forums are a great place to find likeminded writers and other creative folks. So if you’re looking for writers to bounce ideas off, or beta readers, or someone to tell you your grammar sucks (but it’s okay to want to learn), we’ll have someone who can help.

6. Have Fun

Sometimes after a hard day you just want to kick your shoes off, slump in front of the computer, and forget about your troubles. And that’s awesome. The MZPtv community isn’t all about WORK WORK WORK, we’re also about shooting the breeze and sharing our tales of woe. We’ve got threads for random chit chatting, posting funny or awesome Youtube videos, distracting forum games, or any other nonsense that comes to mind. Maybe you’ve got real life issues that you don’t feel comfortable sharing with friends — well, revel in Internet anonymity and share with us!

7. You Can Be Anything

Continuing the end of #6, MZPtv isn’t prejudiced against pseudonyms. You can be yourself, or you can post under a fake identity if privacy is your thing. We’re open to anyone. We’ve got users who are happy sharing their life stories, and others who don’t even use their real name. It’s cool by us.

8. It’s A Global Thing

MZPtv isn’t just limited to one country — we’ve got users from England, Scotland, Australia, America, Canada, Finland, Italy, and South Africa. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, my friends.

9. Virtual Series, Baby

But when it comes down to it, the greatest thing about our forums are the Virtual Series. Writing, reading, discussing, quoting, pitching — it’s where it all goes down. By becoming a member of our community you can start pitching your own series, sharing your work, and joining in. Once you become a member and get onto a staff (or get your own show), you’ll also earn access to our special Backstage Boards — a private forum where you can develop your work with others. And there’s nothing more fun than breaking stories.

10. Round Numbers

I don’t have a #10, I just really didn’t want to end on an odd number.

Go on, join up. We promise you’ll find something to say.

Secret Ingredients: Goals, Stakes, Urgency & Conflict

If you’ve been writing long enough you’ve probably heard of GSU, which I believe was first coined by ScriptShadow. I also like to add in a ‘C’ to the end. These are four of the core components of a great scripts (though, of course, there are more). But if you have these four, you’re already on the right track. Before you write each script, each act, each scene, ask whether it has GSU&C, or at least some combination of them.


Everybody wants something. Love, money, power, attention, happiness, a shiny new cape. Something. There are two types of goals: internal and external. Some kind of physical item or glorious resolution (a suitcase full of money, escaping from prison, climbing a mountain, finding the Ark of the Covenant), or a personal shift that brings about a positive outcome (fall in love with a fireman, gain acceptance from the chess club, overcome a fear of chopsticks). A character with a goal is an active protagonist, and active protagonists are A Good Thing. Everybody wants something. Make that something clear at every opportunity.


The stakes of the story are what your character has to lose. If they don’t overcome that fear of chopsticks, they’re never going to win the sushi eating contest and the $1m prize! If they don’t find true love they’ll never be happy! By showing that our character has everything to lose, you’re also showing that they have everything to gain. Make your audience perch on the edge of their seats hoping that your active protagonist is going to reach that shooting star. Establishing stakes is key to keeping the audience engaged in the fate of your characters.


What’s the time limit on when your character can complete their goals? Tomorrow? Next week? 20 years? By adding in urgency, you can up the ante and ensure your readers are gripped by your tale. Establish ticking clocks whenever possible so that your goals and their stakes aren’t too wishy-washy (that’s a technical, screenwriting term). Ticking clocks can come in many forms, with the most obvious (perhaps even cliché) one being the bomb timer. Throw in mini-clocks whenever possible to ensure your read isn’t boring. Instead of “we have to find that donkey!”, make sure it’s “we have to find that donkey before sundown or he’ll be lost forever!”


One of my favourite elements of any script, and one of the most vital, is conflict. As much as we like to have characters banter all night long, it’s better when they don’t see eye to eye. Figure out what your active protagonist wants, and then make sure everyone else wants the opposite. Now your main character has obstacles, and leaping over a hurdle is far more tense than simply walking along the track. Conflict is the beating spine (yes, beating spine) of a top notch script. It boils down to three simple words: Make. It. Harder. (That’s what she said).

The more you write, the better you’ll get at infusing scenes with these elements. These aren’t the only things you need, but they’ll darn sure help.

For some extra homework, pop in your favourite movie on VHS (people still watch VHS, right?), and see if you can spot these elements. (“We have to reunite your parents before the photograph is wiped or you’ll be lost forever, but Biff wants your mother instead!” — GSU&C in Back to the Future).

Character Character Character — Let’s Talk Building Characters


One of the most common problems I’ve seen when reading pilots (or scripts in general) is that characters aren’t properly defined. People are unique, yet in the script all of the dialogue sounds the same, none of the characters do anything different, and you could swap the names about and nobody would notice the difference. But here’s the thing: plot only matters if it’s affecting characters we care about. If they’re just ciphers for exposition then every action becomes boring.

Here are some of my TOP TIPS (stolen from far better writers) for defining characters in a pilot:

Know Their History

Some people build detailed backstories, some use questionnaires, some just keep it simple, but you should know who your character WAS to get into their head. If you know their past, then you’ll know how they’ll react to things. In Lost, Jack has a history of wanting to fix people, which we see with his heroic actions after the crash and his stitching up of Kate.

Homework: next time you plan a pilot, write a prose backstory for your character, going into as much detail as you feel happy with.

People Talk Differently

Is your character eloquent or thick? Are they a pop culture fanatic or a book nerd? Are they sarcastic or dry? Do they speechify or keep it blunt? The things your character says shouldn’t be the same thing another character says. For instance, just look at the contrast in Person of Interest: you’ve got Finch, who’s more emotional and likes to talk, who is completely the opposite of the concise and unemotional Reese. They read totally different on the page, and you’d NEVER confuse the two. In Lost, snippy sarcastic Charlie wouldn’t read the same as offensively blunt Sawyer or stoic Jack or creepy Locke or rambling Hurley.

Homework: jot down 5 characteristics your character would display, either negative or positive, then constantly refer back to them when writing your pilot.

Give Them A Quirk

Quirks aren’t a replacement for character depth, but giving each character their own “thing” acts as a handy totem for the reader to quickly remember who is who. It makes them instantly memorable. Some people call these “tags”. It can be anything from a type of clothing they wear (Frank’s comedy hats in 30 Rock), to something they always bring up no matter what the discussion (Walter’s food obsession in Fringe), to a habit that they have (Bert Cooper’s love of Japanese culture with the Bonsai trees and making people remove their shoes in Mad Men).

Homework: think about your family/friends/school/workplace and jot down whatever quirks the people display, and then give them to your characters.

Show Them In Action

There’s no better way to define your character by showing them in action. Don’t just tell us what the character is like, immediately show them in action. It’ll be far more memorable, and it sets the tone for the script. In Fringe, we first meet Peter as he’s scamming a couple of Iraqi men (and showing his charm and intelligence, too). Olivia’s voiceover tells us who he is, and then we SEE IT in action. Show, don’t tell (or, combine the two).

Homework: look through every scene where you introduce a character and ask yourself: what is the character doing that defines them as unique?

Give Them Contrasting Beliefs

No surprise here: people believe in wildly different things. Religion, politics, sport, the opposite sex, life, death, aliens, marriage, taxes — if there’s a topic, we’ll find something to argue about. Think about what your characters believe in, and then make sure they’re rubbing up against their polar opposites. Conflict is the key to great drama, so don’t make it easy for them. Give them a passion, and then ensure there’s someone whose mission statement is to find that passion stupid. The most obvious example is the skeptic (Scully) and the believer (Mulder) on The X-Files.

Homework: make a checklist of major topics (such as the ones mentioned at the start of the previous paragraph) and jot down your character’s beliefs about each one.

Give Them A “Moment”

Make sure each of your main characters has their own “moment” in your pilot. Their big speech, their big heroic action, their funny scene, their declaration of love, their cool stunt, their amazing escape. Something memorable that also defines who they are (which goes back to the Show Them In Action heading). In Lost, we see Jack’s heroism after the crash, we see Sawyer shooting the polar bear, we see Sayid fix the transceiver, Locke smiles with the orange in his mouth, Shannon translates the French message, etc. It doesn’t always have to be huge, but it should be important and/or memorable.

Homework: go through each main character in your outline/pilot and see what scenes they’re in and what they do, one by one. Do they have their own “moment”?

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