Q&A with J. Gabriel Gates


by Andrea King Collier

J. Gabriel Gates will be joining us for two sessions at A Rally of Writers. One is on ghostwriting and the other is on screenwriting. Here’s what he has to say about his work. To learn more about him go to www.jgabrielgates.com

Q: What do you most remember about your first ghostwriting project?

A: The most amazing thing, to me, was how well I was able to intuit what my client wanted to say. I was writing a fictionalized version of one of the most difficult times in my client’s life. It involved intimate details of a marital betrayal, and to top it off, the client was the opposite gender from me. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to capture her experience. Of course a ghostwriter interviews his client to glean as many details as possible, but during the writing process, the writer invariably ends up filling a lot of gaps with details and feelings that he invents along the way.

These can be changed in a second draft if the client feels the ghostwriter hasn’t found the right tone, but in my case, the client felt I got the story right on the first try, capturing not only details, but the story’s emotional core. She was pleasantly surprised, and I was, too. It was like a sort of psychic trick, an experience bordering on the mystical, and I’m pleased to say it has repeated itself with other clients since. The moral is, trust your creative intuition; it may be better at leading you to the truth than you think.

Q: Do you find that taking on other people’s stories helps or hinder your own work?

A: It can help or hinder. The chief danger is that ghostwriting can suck time away from your own work. It’s important to manage your time so that both the client’s writing and yours gets done. The other danger is that working on someone else’s story might somehow pollute or water down your personal voice or style. I think the best way to avoid this is to work extra hard on revising your own work, to ensure that the voice is right. The benefit of ghostwriting, aside from the money, is that it allows you to expand your range as a writer. The business pushes you to write things that you would have never imagined yourself writing. And the knowledge that you can successfully work with such foreign subject matters and in styles so different from your own can give you greater confidence and freedom when you come back to your own work.

Q: What would you say to screenwriters who get discouraged before they reach the finish line and type THE END? What kept you going?

A: Half the battle is finding a story that you simply have to tell. Then think it through. Work out as many of the kinks as you can in the outlining stages. And dream up some cool scenes that will take place near the end of the story; come up with climax scene so great that you can’t help but write until you reach it. The pre-writing process—finding the right idea, letting it gestate, letting the characters grow in your mind, and thinking through the story a little ahead of time—can be just as important as the writing itself.

Q: With so many more venues that want to produce original scripted content has it become easier for screenwriters to break through?

A: Friends in Hollywood tell me that the proliferation of new content producers—Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, etc.— has created new opportunities, especially for people interested in writing TV series. However at the same time, the big studios are making fewer films, and the ones they’re doing aren’t generally small films by new writers. Studios are predominantly making big-budget, comic book / action films, which are almost invariably written by veterans writers. So on the whole, the number of opportunities that exist are probably close to unchanged.

Q: What’s the best handbook for getting started in screenwriting?

A: Screenplay by Syd Field is probably still the best first read for a beginning screenwriter. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler are also staples.


Andrea King Collier
Freelance Journalist and Author
for A Rally of Writers 2017
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