Screenwriters RK Nickel and William Stribling advise creative writing students

On Tuesday, March 16, RK Nickel and William Stribling met with members of WKU’s English department on Zoom to discuss screenwriting. Guest writers described the projects they’ve worked on and offered advice to creative writing students about writing and the film industry.

Nickel RK and William Stribling are screenwriters who have worked on TV shows, movies, video games, and apps. Nickel and Stribling frequently collaborate on projects. They co-wrote the comedy film bear with us and the comedy/sci-fi series Stellar People. Additionally, Nickel writes short stories and works on episodes of the horizons of dust podcast, and Stribling makes films such as Lies I told my little sister. They are currently working together on another film and a narrative video game.

Nickel and Stribling met while in graduate school at Chapman University. This is also where Dr. Jessica Folk met the screenwriters. One of their teachers said that the people they worked with at school would be the people they would work with throughout their careers. Nickel and Stribling found this to be true and advised creative writing students to keep this in mind when interacting with their classmates. Nickel and Stribling continue to be involved with Chapman University while teaching writing classes there.

Nickel described having a co-author as a “liberating experience” and he recommended students give it a try. The writers shared their co-writing process. First, Nickel and Stribling work together to come up with ideas and create a story plan. Stribling said most of the work happens before the script is written through planning and brainstorming. Then one person writes the first scene, and the other person revises that scene and writes the next one. The first person revises previous scenes and adds another, and the cycle continues until they have a finished draft. The writers have noted that they don’t always agree on each other’s edits, but can’t go back to the original version; they have to find a third option in order to address both people’s concerns. Once they have a draft, they read the script aloud several times – ideally once in a table read with professional actors – and revise each turn until the dialogue is flowing well.

Nickel and Stribling advised students to research story structure, a topic they often teach in their classes. They emphasized that structure is not a limiting formula; it helps writers develop a story. Nickel said, “The structure is made up of thousands of years of distilled storytelling.” Stribling recommended these resources: Write movies for fun and profit, save the cat, write pictureand The Hollywood standard.

The conversation then opened to questions from the participants. A student asked how the screenwriters got funding for their independent films. Stribling described how great content can be created on low budgets and how screenwriters are often limited in the number of scene locations and characters. Nickel talked about the importance of networking. For their first movie, Nickel called many people he knew who worked in the industry. He told the students that networking isn’t as daunting as it seems. “Networking is just a business word for having friends,” Nickel said. He reframed the idea as making friends with people you like to work with. Nickel and Stribling also advised students to be open to all opportunities. Between production processes for their films, Nickel and Stribling are still working on individual projects. Nickel encouraged budding writers and said, “If you have the will, you can make anything happen.”