Monday, 22 December 2008

Big Plot Cards

Big Plot Cards often crop up in my own work, and in the work of my fellow strugglers. Especially drama. Don't know where your story's going? Play the BPC. Could be anything that lands like a bombshell on your script. Character not working? Make him a terrorist. Story fizzles out? Have the characters all get killed in a freak gas explosion. No matter what the problem with your script, you can fix it with a BPC, except you can't.

It reminds me of when I was a teenager, playing Dungeons and Dragons instead of going to parties where girls were. Whenever the role-playing adventure started to flag, leaving us in danger of remembering what total losers we were in real life, it would fall to the Dungeon Master to bring back the magic that made us forget. So he'd crouch down behind his Dungeon Master's Screen to summon something up. If he was good, he'd come back with just the spark you needed to get your imagination going again, and you'd be once more a seventh level assassin, on a mission of blood. But more often, he'd throw in a big treasure you hadn't earned or a big monster to kill you. Either way, the game was over.

It's the same thing when you get stuck on a story. You can try putting in bigger treasures (a wedding!), overpowered monsters (an evil psychopath!), or stronger magic (incest!), but it won't work. Unless it does, of course.

Oh, and a merry Christmas! If I don't see you.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Ouch! My brain!

Just made it. I was really stuck on this one. I put in a voice-over, not sure if I'd keep it, just using it as a scaffold, to make sure the story stayed focused on my new main character. That got me so far until the narrative began to drift from the outline, leaving me to hack it out in the script. Brain's wrung out; they should put pictures of it on packets of screenwriting as a caution to others.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Gone Fishin'

I'm off for more rewriting. Meantime, here's another chance to see me checking on my friend's boat (and no, that's not a euphemism for anything):

Saturday, 13 December 2008


Coming up for air and food now. Taking a couple hours off, then back to it. I've done it again; let a deadline creep up too close. Might have to give X-Factor a miss. Boo hoo! Yes I know; I've only got myself to blame.


Okay, here we go; rewrite time. I've made an outline of the changes, and imagined the scenes. Should be nothing which stretches the characters' credibility, but loads of difficult choices to stretch their moral fibre. Aim to do step outline today and rewrite it tomorrow. Correct it Monday; email it Tuesday.

Work, work, work! No slacking.

Monday, 8 December 2008


Had a bit of a eureka moment today. It just came to me, like a brain-gift, as I got in my car to drive to work. A story idea, high-concept, romantic comedy. Marketable, fun. Easy to sum up in one sentence. Really juicy female lead. Well, I think so, anyway.

I've learned to treat my eurekas with a bit of suspicion. So, as I wound my way up the Dartmoor lanes to work, doing a bit of car-skating on black ice (you get used to it), I tried to cool myself on this idea. "It's just as stupid as all the others," I said. "You always love new ideas, but most of them turn out to be lousy." But nothing worked.

"This one really does seem good."

"You always say that, and slow down or we're going to be grabbing some hedge."

"Oh yeah. Thanks. But listen, I do think this one is good. Let's just think about some of the cool beats."

"You already have enough to do. Forget it."

"No. I'm going to write it down, just as a logline. Then let it rest a day or so. Then, I'll just start making a few notes."

"No! Focus on your current projects. This one will turn out to be as lame as a...woah we have no control at all now, do we?"

"None. I'm going to make a few notes. Quickly, before I start setting up for the day. Post-it notes."

"Yeah right. You say post-it notes, but I know what you'll be doing by the weekend. You'll be going up to Exeter. You'll pretend it's for Christmas shopping, and you'll do some of that for cover. But we both know you'll be buying a new notebook at that trendy stationers. AAARRGHH!"


"Good thing that was only a hedge."

Thursday, 4 December 2008


Yuck. I don't get stomach bugs, but one got me. Last night, I went from feeling fine to retching my guts out within the space of about an hour. Stayed off work today, writing and reading scripts. Looks like I've held down lunch too, so that's good.

Speaking of holding down your lunch, I'm back on Trigger Street. Strictly as a reviewer for now, trying to master the difficult art of writing script reports, especially those pesky synopses. That's right, those lucky TS hacks are getting free 1,500 word script reports off me, roughly modelled on the Film Council format. I'm revisiting Danny Stack's Step One: Read Scripts.

I see the Recession Fleet is anchored offshore. If you want physical proof of the global downward trends, just take a look at our coastal waters. You will see ships anchored, light, going nowhere. They are shut down, except for a few cabins for skeleton crews kicking their heels. This is good news for us though, as those skeletons will want to be watching plenty DVDs.

The other day, I went on a course for maths teachers. The course leaders devoted significant time to the topic of building a supportive environment in the classroom. Research shows that, the more hostile the environment, the more energy children must devote to their own emotional survival, the less energy they have available for creative problem-solving. That's bad for maths. Teachers should build a supportive, safe environment, where children can focus on learning, not emotional self-defense.

Think on, writers. Nurture your creativity. Get into a positive, supportive space, where you feel free to take risks and make mistakes. It may be true that Primo Levi started writing If This is a Man while still in Auschwitz, but that's not the ideal we should be reaching for.

Psychologists looking into this question tried an experiment. They had three groups, who had to perform a cognitive task; I think it involved sorting and categorising. One group watched a funny comedy first; the second watched a neutral film about maths; the third watched a depressing documentary about the Holocaust. The first group did significantly better than the others at their sorting and categorising; the third group did significantly worse. A comparable result was achieved by giving the subjects of a similar experiment a present. It was a chocolate bar.

So, to sum up: have a laugh. Let someone give you a present, perhaps chocolate. Be in a supportive environment. And you'll do better creatively.

Just don't get too comfortable, okay? Those scripts don't write themselves.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Residential 3: Market Assessment

It's easy for a new writer to forget about the development, production and distribution side of the business. And on one level, that's fine; at this stage of my development, I need to worry about writing a great spec that will open doors and lead to other things, though it will probably never get made. But it doesn't hurt to have some idea how development executives and distributors think.

Bear with me now, I'm outside my comfort zone as I write up my notes from a lecture we had on...(shocking chord) Project Assessment.

We had a talk from Tom Strudwick, who has worked in development and distribution for many years. He introduced us to some basic concepts which could be useful to bear in mind, especially when you come to try and sell a spec.

The first of these is marketability vs. playability. Marketability refers to how easy the idea is to sell to an audience. A new Harry Potter film is automatically marketable. There is huge existing audience who will go and see a Harry Potter (or Bond or Star Wars...) no matter what. Or a film might be marketable because it has a great premise (Snakes on a Plane, 40-Year-Old Virgin...) or top acting talent. Playability is about the audience's viewing experience. If it's good, they spread the word, and the audience grows. Shawshank Redemption and Sideways are examples of less obviously marketable films that were playable. A marketable film, even if it's not very playable, can still get a release. These films typically have a huge first weekend box-office take, which then slowly drops off as the reviews and poor word-of-mouth circulate. Ideally, of course, a film is both marketable and playable, but marketable comes first. Marketable films make money in the long run, because the premise, talent, or franchise hooks people in.

The second basic distribution concept is upscale vs. downscale. Upscale films are review-driven. People who see upscale films typically read reviews and take notice of Sundance, Cannes, etc. Guardian didn't like it? Independent didn't like it? No Palme d'Or? Your film, Rasputin's Piano Teacher, is dead in the water. Downscale films don't need good reviews. Does anyone care what Time Out thought of Kickboxer III?

Is your film mainstream or arthouse?
Does it entertain or aspire to culture? Does it make the audience think or
feel? Will it do well at a festival? Is it intellectual? Are the stakes high or
low? Is it "feel-good" or "feel-bad"?

Next, you need to understand your core and secondary audience, mainly in terms of gender and age-group. Women tend to like romance, comedy and crime; Men go more for sci-fi and action. Comedy appeals to both sexes, as does horror, but horror attracts a younger crowd. The biggest group of movie-goers are the 16-25 year olds. A cross-genre film that appeals to this group, and was marketable and playable would make lots and lots of money. Titanic, anyone? Scary Movie?

Next up: Script Assessment.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Red Planet

Big congrats to all the several bloggers through to the Red Planet final, and heartfelt commiserations to those who didn't make the cut.

Me? I failed in the worst possible way - I failed to enter. I meant to. Had something I thought might be good for it, but...forgot to send it.

Not much else to say at the moment. Got my head down writing though, which is great.

Onwards! As Mr. Bishop says.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Residential 2: Apprenticeship

Novelist and playwright Nell Leyshon gave a talk at the residential. She told the story of how she got started writing, how as she puts it, she served her apprenticeship. Nell cut her writing teeth as her baby was cutting real ones. She just did it; she wrote with a baby on her knee. She wrote novels and stories and kept working at them until they were good. She describes her apprenticeship as the 'long, lonely time.' I think we all know what she means. No one asks you or even particularly wants to you start writing stories. It feels pretentious, presumptuous; anyone who starts out writing has ideas above their station. What the hell gets into us? It can't just be a simple craving for status and recognition. If that's all you have, you'll soon give up, because you ain't going to get it until you've paid your dues. There has to be something more to sustain you through the long, lonely time. A need to communicate? The joy of imagining? The pride of a job well done?

Sometimes I give myself the mountain-climbing lecture. It's like this: if you want to climb mountains, you have to enjoy the climb. Mountain-tops are cold, barren, inhospitable places; the goal can't be simply to reach the top. You have to be in it for the climb itself too. It's hard, sometimes scary, and no one can climb it for you. So, getting to the top is the goal, but there's no point doing it unless you like climbing.

I forget why the mountain climbing lecture helps. Somehow it does.

Nell had her break when she sent a radio play into BBC Writer's Room. It was good, and they took her onto a scheme with a commission at the end. Good old Writer's Room. Then she sent a story in to a competition, and it made it into a prestigious Picador anthology, and on the back of that, her first novel was published. Needless to say, her 'first' novel was actually her third or fourth.

So that's it. If you want to be a writer, you have to serve your apprenticeship. The more you write, the more you can write. And, if you really work at it, you can get good enough that people will want to come with you, and it's not so lonely anymore.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Residential 1 - honesty

I'm knackered and buzzing from the residential at Bournemouth. My memory and notebook are overflowing with ideas, plans, goals, lists and assignments. So much to say, so little active brain capacity. Sorry about that; it's going to be a ramble.

First things first: the tutorial. My tutor, a novelist, playwright, radio-writer and screenwriter, is a firm believer in organic story-telling and emotional truth. She asked me to name the aspect of the story that got me going; not the observational research or the terms of the assignment, but the spark that fired my imagination. I told her what I thought it was. So we took that and started again. It was quite a challenge to be confronted by such an honest, poetic writer. In her eyes, my script has problems of tone and conviction. To solve them, we're back to page 1, and the father-daughter relationship.

She also encouraged me to write it in a timeless, universal setting and tone. She wasn't being dogmatic about what's good, but a responding to the kind of story I want to tell, and the arena I've chosen. That means I've got to redo the dialogue and remove some of the slang and references to pop-culture, but still keep it contemporary. Contemporary yet timeless, if that makes any sense. The characters are going to be archetypal people like us.

What an exciting challenge! Write a totally convincing drama and turn it in to a professional dramatist. As ever, It's up to me. Oh shit.

Meanwhile, on the home-front, my play has taken another step forward. I'll be organising a reading in the near future, then rewriting it based on that for a performance in March.

Hmm. Short ramble. G'night.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Moon, Deadline Rabbits, Flashbacks and Tempo

Under the influence of a full moon and a looming deadline, I rewrote fifteen pages from scratch. Finished in the wee hours and emailed it, feeling very happy with the improvements. The Deadline Rabbit had made its appearance. Nice bunny. Why won't he show up any earlier? I check my several hats all the time, but can't seem to yoink a rabbit without a lunatic clock driving me.

Had feedback from my tutor on the first script. Interesting points made about tempo, and how it can be used to lend more or less emphasis to scenes and other units of story. Hadn't really thought about that much. I suppose I feel it, sometimes; just a sense that you want this bit to play out at length, and that bit needs just a flash. This script had quite an even rhythm, which made it feel flat.

My use of flashbacks was somewhat 'clunky and old-fashioned' in the way I had them play out as little scenes in their own right. The tutor would have liked more intercutting.

That said, the feedback was really good and encouraging overall, but I will be adding 'pace and tempo' to the list of drafts.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Well, that was fun. So close. I went into Pitch Up thinking it was an excercise, a learning experience. This was pitch practice, not the real thing.

Then it turned real.

Then it fell apart.

And now I'm left with a strange mix of disappointment and relief. And, just a bit of affirmation. Nothing yet has changed my view that if I just come up with a good enough story, and execute it well enough, it will be realised as a film. People will sit in the dark, or on their sofas, and get caught up into one of my stories.

And then, after the ups and downs of pitching and getting a nibble, there was last night's electoral euphoria. What a wonderful speech Obama made. So much hope, so much promise. I love the way he takes you back into history, makes you feel part of it, then turns and points to the future. I wonder who wrote it.

This next week, my main task will be to rewrite my 30 minute drama, based on the observational research I did in September. It's had a good rest. Time to work through the drafts.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Taking It Further

Looks like Pitch Up's still playing out for me!

Don't want to blog too much now, but just register my excitement.

Something to the tune of: Aaahh! Woo Hoo!

Quickly followed by sober reflections, list-making (lots to do), and writing outlines and/or proposals.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Pitch Update

As I walked over to Channel Four from Victoria Station, I kept pretending to be lost, stopping people for 'directions'.

'Excuse me, Miss, do you know Horseferry Road? I'm looking for the Channel Four building. You know, the big TV place, where John Snow and Skins and Davina McCall live? I have business there. I was specially requested to come, as a matter of fact. They have my name down at reception and everything...Oh, you know, the usual, just giving a pitch to a panel of Top TV Executives...'

But if random Londoners failed to look impressed by my having an appointment at Channel Four, the building itself did not disappoint. First, you can walk back and forwards out the front, making the 4 sculpture come together and break apart in your view, just like it does on the station teasers, or whatever they're called. Inside, the place is a mixture of the Death Star, a concrete bunker, and a Marriott hotel. I was shown down some narrow winding concrete steps to a circular chamber, where there were already about twenty people waiting, sipping wine and chatting in hushed tones. I had a couple glasses of red, just to oil and calibrate the pitching gyros.

At the appointed hour, the fifty or so of us were shown in to a screening room. Tom Sutton from Stellar Network introduced the panelists, Sarah Edwards and Madeleine Knight. He also thanked Alexandra Denye for doing most of the work, organising and setting up the event.

Then, without further ado, the pitching commenced.

My hands? Clammy.
My throat? Dry.
My mind? A blank.

Fortunately, the set-up was not as threatening as I'd feared. We pitchers pitched from our seats in the audience, standing if we wished. It was a bit like Question Time. As it went on, I relaxed and took notes.

There were several pitches I thought sounded very good. I should explain at this point that the pitches, with one exception, were all factual or entertainment, mine included. I'd read the mini-CVs of the panel, posted on the Pitch Up website. When I saw that they were all that way inclined, I decided to have a go, reasoning that factual programmes need scripts too. Why not?

So, bear that in mind as you read this summary of the feedback, though much of it applies to drama and comedy, I would think.

  1. Feel-good. It's the credit-crunch, don't you know. People are going to want cheering up. They're going to be huddled together in the snow, watching through shop windows, so give them something happy to keep them warm.
  2. Accessible. Don't make snotty, stuck up programmes. Entertainment is for the masses.
  3. Watchable. Visual medium and all that.
  4. Noisy. Ever seen a circus come to town? Like that. Clowns, not ninjas.
  5. Big. Commissioners are always asking, 'Where are the big ideas?'

The panelists said it should be very clear. Commissioners ask, 'What will I see?'

If you're pitching something that needs a big presenter or celebrity, you should already have the talent lined up. Be prepared to answer the question, 'Who have you got?' (I hear Russel Brand and Jonathan Ross are looking for a gig.)

What's your subject? What sets it apart from the rest?

Be able to sum it up in 2 sentences. If you can't, rethink it.

When my turn came, I'd calmed down enough to make a coherent pitch. I kept it short and provocative, and was rewarded with being asked just the questions I'd hoped they would ask. I did not win, nor was I a runner up. (Yet read on.)

When it was all done, there were the usual huddles of writers and independent producers, swapping cards and talking about each others' ideas. I met some interesting, creative people, and will be sending them friendly hellos over the next couple of days. The panelists were swamped with people wanting a word, so I just waved and thanked them, and made my way out.

So it was a pleasant surprise when I got home to find an email from Stellar Network, letting me know that one of the panelists had asked for my contact details - she'd actually expressed interest in the idea! No word yet, so I've stopped holding my breath.

Never mind. I count it as a partial success. My pitch was good enough for someone to want my contact details. Okay, so she may not actually get in touch but still...not too bad. It just goes to show, you need to get out there, because you never know when you're going to be in the right place at the right time.

Thanks to Stellar Network, and especially Alexandra, for another cool event.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Pitch Up

I'll get around to posting a full write up of my notes in a couple days. For now, I'll just say it was a great evening, listening to wild, wacky, touching, worthy, and frankly bizarre ideas for films and series. The feedback was positive and constructive; I was impressed by how fluently the executives can discuss ideas.

My own pitch seems to have gone down pretty well; we shall see if anything comes of it.

That's all for now. Off on hols for a couple of days. Taking a notebook, instead of a laptop. Nice to write with a pen sometimes.


Monday, 27 October 2008

Son of a Pitch

Here I go, up to London to Channel Four with a fistful of hot, sticky pitch.

What I remember from the various bits of pitching advice I've received:

1. Make a good impression. Be someone they would want to work with. The first aim of any communication is to leave your interlocutor wanting more of you.

2. Keep it short, and to the point. Let them ask questions afterwards; don't splurge it all out too soon. (This is good advice generally)

3. Get a response: laughter, tears, and provocative thoughts, all in the right places.

4. If it's television, make sure you know the slot and audience you're aiming for.

5. Umm

I forgot number 5. What was it again?

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Rough Treatment

With my second assignment not due until November 12th, and the rough draft for it written and resting, I've decided to concentrate on the new project for another week or so. In that time, I aim to have a treatment and a step outline done, and hopefully a rough draft. Keep the momentum going to the end, until I have a thing to work on.

To every script,
Draft, draft, draft,
There is a story
Draft, draft, draft,
And a three act structure,
Which emerges organically out of your characters' desires, and escalating conflict.

An act to set up,
An act to develop,
An act to resolve,
And a surprising ending.
An act, you will cut out
An act you'll redo, in light of your emerging theme.

To every script,
Draft, draft, draft,
There are visual motifs,
Draft, draft, draft,
And inventive set ups, which you tie in in clever ways
To subvert the audience's expectations.

A draft to explore
A draft to cohere
A draft to tear up
A draft to despair
A draft, to show all your mates
A draft to redo in light of feedback.

To every script,
Draft, draft, draft,
There is pathos,
Draft, draft, draft,
And humour which also serves to underline the emotional resonance.

A draft to put in,
A draft to take out
A draft for transitions
A draft for dialogue
A draft to cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut
A draft oh bugger it I should shut up and get to work.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Pitch Up!

I'm through to Pitch Up. Yikes!

I just found out now. Should have known last Wednesday, but the stupid email ended up in 'Bulk.' So I was puzzled when I opened the Stellar Network email, to find instructions, time-limits...etc.

Whoo hoo! Yikes.

How cool!

How horrible!

On the upside, I've always wanted to see the inside of the Channel 4 building.


Saturday, 18 October 2008


I first experienced Theatre Alibi when they came to visit my last school with Bonjour Bob, by Daniel Jamieson. I walked into the school hall, having prepped my little darlings to behave themselves and not call out or fidget, to really listen and clap at the end. But no one prepared me for the emotional punch of this simple, beautiful story of two lonely old men. They write messages in the sand of their separate beaches, and find that someone's writing back. It's The Sea, carrying their messages to each other.

Each man has joyful memories of lost best friends. Bob has lost his wife forever, but he cheerfully bears up, sifting through objects in his beach hut, and remembering her with a heartbreaking smile. Pierre has lost his lovely grandson, who has moved away to a tropical island. I was in bits within ten minutes, almost wishing I could be distracted by a figeting or calling out child. No such luck. The children were all perfectly absorbed, entertained and nourished. The cellist didn't help matters either.

So I was left to focus on Bob's joyful memories, brought vividly to life, The Sea playing the part of his wonderful, adventurous wife, who teaches him to sail and fish and be brave, knowing full well the scene would end with him alone, looking into the empty picture frame. Cue cello. Cue tears.

I took the family to see Teapot today, also by Jamieson. Another lovely story, with cheerful, brave characters and a bloody cello.

Oh Dear

I write this with a thumping head and a creeping sense of guilty embarrassment. Last night, I drank too much, and argued loudly in the kebab shop.

It was a silly argument. I pointed out to my friends, can't remember why, that without modern infrastructure Britain could only support some ten percent of its population. Funny, last night, I knew that I was completely right about everything. Now I'm not so sure. Is it ten percent, or twenty? Did I forget to mention that this is a study I heard about on a YouTube video, and that it was commissioned in the 1950s, looking into what would happen in the event of a nuclear attack? (I think the figure was, 10% of those who died would die of the initial blast and radiation poisoning, the rest would die because of loss of infrastructure) I can't think why it was so important for me to convince my drinking buddies, the young couple, the bloke with the wrinkly dog, the staff of the Kebab shop...that I was right.

Kebab Shop Owner: 'People would find a way to survive. You only need a cow.'

Me: 'Oh yeah, where's your cow?'

KSO: 'Turkey.'

Me. 'How you gonna get to Turkey?' (In my scenario, there was no transport)

KSO: 'I will sail to France and walk from there.'

Me: 'Right. What will you eat along the way?'

Guy With the Wrinkly Dog: 'There's cows right here in England, mate.'

Me: 'What are you going to feed them?' (There will be no cattle-feed deliveries. This is a total breakdown of everything.)

GWWD: 'Grass. Cows eat grass.'

Me: 'How much grass do you need to support a cow? How many people can one cow feed?'

...and so on. I 'proved' to them that, according to my scenario, which is backed up by a dilligent and precise scientific and mathematical study, by highly intelligent and honest people, who dedicated their lives to it, and what have you done with your life that gives you the right to criticize them?... every item in the kebab shop, from Coke to lettuce, would be unavailable to us, and that we would all starve to death.

I ended up walking home alone, eating a chicken kebab as if it were my last.

When I got back, I tried to google up the study. I couldn't. So I watched the YouTube video again.

It's this one, in case you're wondering.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008


Funny how taking a couple days off writing sucked me into a cosmic timewarp. One minute, I was enjoying some well-earned rest. I watched a bit of telly. I went shopping. I longed for a camcorder. I read Obama's book. (Yay Barack! If there's a more reasonable man on this planet, I'd like to know about him.) Next thing I know, I rematerialise in a universe where I have to finish a final draft within hours. Harsh, and unfair.

So I did it, and have just emailed it, with 12 hours and four minutes to spare.

Funny thing about writing late at night. You can give the whole script one more pass. You can improve lines and put some fine touches on the ending. But can you manage to save the right file as a .pdf onto the usb disk and take it to the other computer to email it, or realise your mistake and correct it without swearing?

No you can't. You get it wrong, and you say all the really bad swear words.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Putting it together

Looks like my plan to stage a community production of my one act play will go ahead early in the New Year. Still lots to organise, but in principle, it's going to happen. I'm going to direct it and all. This is going to be a huge learning experience, a massive challenge, and the start of a new turn in my career. It's going to 'wrinkle my brain,' as my daughter says.

Naturally, I still want some producer to fall in love with one of my scripts, hire a director and crew to do all the work for me, like little elves, and present the finished work to me next morning. And who knows? Might just happen; the right script might just land on the right desk at the right time. Maybe. But I'm not going to sit around waiting for someone else to introduce my work to an audience. That's a connection I can start making myself. Loads of people go to community theatre productions. I'm going to give them something fresh, new and exciting, and I will strive for a professional standard. As writer-director, I'll be able to communicate to the actors exactly what the subtext is, exactly what the scene is about. And, by the same token, I'll learn from them, and rewrite accordingly. And ultimately, I will be able to experience the audience's reaction, and see how well it played.

So, while I will continue to approach people with my scripts, I'm also going to start making them myself, for (community) stage and (computer) screen. That's what will complete the MA, and make it a true education in dramatic writing.

I call this next stage of my career 'Putting it together.' It's not just about writing. I'm aiming to be a screenwriter, a playwright, and that means understanding the audience.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

I really, really, really want...

I'm yearning to have a digital video camera. I can afford a cheapie off ebay no problem. But I want a professional one, a Sony, or Canon, one that looks impressive. It's a long, long time since I've wanted a thing like I want a camera now.

I need it. I need a camera. I need to start making films. IWANNACAMCORDER.

But I can't have it.

Do I:

a. practise self-denial, and continue to live without a digital camcorder
b. get a cheapie, and start making cheap-looking films
c. spend money I haven't got and get A REALLY COOL CAMERA LIKE WHAT i WANT
d. find a clever angle, and obtain what I want through other means
e. other

I'm leaning towards b, which will give partial satisfaction now. What's the cheapest one that would be okay for like posting stuff on YouTube?

Saturday, 11 October 2008


Today, walking around Exeter, I wished I'd brought a notebook. Everyone I saw was a character in a story. I was having some kind of empathy rush. I loved everyone.

Take the girl I saw, helping her drunk boyfriend onto a train. She brought him onto the platform with a few minutes to wait. He was falling-down drunk, and much bigger than her, but the girl was solid, strong. She stood on these massive tree-trunk legs and supported him, never let him fall as he clung to her. She radiated this tremendous confidence and stability. I thought 'Wow, what is she, 17?' She looked around at me and met my stare. I had the impression of a girl who's not afraid of anything, who would not be shocked by anything. But this guy's going to let her down one day. He's not going to carry her when she needs him to. And then, she's going to pick herself up and do something admirable.

I felt like one of the angels in Wings of Desire or something, connecting with strangers.

Maybe I just don't get out enough.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The Magic of Drafts

It's working! My cunning plan is magic. I'm already thinking about the draft, responding to the characters, asking questions about why they do what they do. Thinking like the audience, not buying certain things. And it's filling in gaps, awakening new possibilities.

The questions feed back into the structure, bringing new information to fit in. So you get your story hat back on (mine's a fetching wooly one) and set to work. 'Ah hah, I'm glad you asked that because...' And you've got more to get in, forcing you into cleverer, more energetic story-making.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

A bit shy

Finished the draft a little while ago. Came in at 25 pages, a bit short as I feared.

I'm glad I can work a lot quicker these days.

So now I leave leave it while I rewrite the other one.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Writing Day!

Yes! Looks like I'm set to have a writing day today. I'm back to full-time work, so have been writing instead of sleeping. Did okay all week, thanks to the magic of coffee. Then last night, I collapsed. I'm roughly at the half-way point of the script, page 14. My eyes were hurting, so I decided to lie down on the sofa to do a little deep imagining. I had my lovely wooly hat on (not quite poncho time yet, but it's coming) and a nice soft blanket.

Ah. This is what sofas were actually designed for. Next thing I know, it's 6:30 in the morning. I creep into bed. C stirs and asks if I've been up all night. I just said no, which is not a complete lie. She worries I don't get enough sleep, don't go out enough, spend too much time in front of a computer screen.

All true, so I've got to make the most of today. I'm aiming for 'Fade Out.'

Thursday, 2 October 2008


Step outline's working a treat. Got up to page seven, not bad for a late night stint. The first big turning point looks like it will fall around 9 or 10, about right for 30 minutes. Not that I'm trying to write by the numbers, but you have to keep a little eye on them when you've been given a page-count.

So what do you tell yourself when you're tired, and the sofa's whispering sweet nothings? How do you get yourself going? Sometimes I pretend I'm setting the laptop up for no particular reason, then just randomly sitting down at it. Sort of gently sucker myself into writing something.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

One More Step

Did a step outline, to try and gauge if I have the right amount of story for thirty minutes. Came in at five pages, fourteen scenes.

That's probably a little light, but I'm going to write it as is, just to get a draft on the table. Mark Barrowcliffe wrote, in his very funny novel, The Elfish Gene, that writing is a way of imagining. He gives the example of trying to visualise yourself parachuting out of an aeroplane. If you just close your eyes and do it, you might summon brief flashes of imagery, the sky, the ground, the blast of wind. But if you write it, you can scaffold your imagination, putting together each bit, until you've described the whole thing, and you're thumping down in a certain field in Dorset, if you want.

That's what I get from writing drafts. After a few, I'm telling something that I've actually witnessed in my imagination.

So I'm going to write this up now, just what I have, but with an eye to the father-daughter relationship, which needs a bit of setting up.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Sat up working on the outline last night.

Beats so far:

Angus pours out bilge water. Handsome yacht in a small port.
Sees a cormorant. Sees Kate. It's high tide, slack water.
Ship comes in; hull's shadow on Kate. She hides.
A. rows ashore, crosses ship's wake.
Cock of the walk.
Chats up Kate; she gets him to buy a drink.
Rows Kate out; Kate drinks. They go below, compare scars.
On deck tides rushing out too fast to row back.
Kate cries to go home; falls in fast current.
A. rescues, boat capsizes, they end up on sandspit.
D. picks them up. Drops A. back on the salty, takes K. shore.
Low water. Angus prepares escape, hears boat, hides knife.
Dad comes aboard. "She's in hospital. You're going to hand yourself in."
"What for?" Scuffle. A. pulls knife, D. knocks him senseless with fire-extinguisher.
A. Comes to. "Thought you were taking me to police." "Change of plan."
Bashes hatch with anchor. Door opens. Over he goes with anchor.
Climbs up anchor rope. D. unties. Splash. A grabs fender.
Both overboard; life and death struggle.
A. comes up. Tries to pull in D. with boathook.
A. tries CPR. No good.
Angus fires a flare, 'small boat in a big sea.'

Still pretty rough, not quite got it yet, but starting to come together.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Tutorial 2

Had the tutorial tonight, on my second assignment. I've got a stinking cold, feels like it's clogging up my brain as well as nose, but the tutorial went well in spite of that.

The tutor asked me what the point of it was. Hmm, good question. I told her I was trying to write a contemporary story that had the feel of a dark folk ballad, of the sort that might have been sung here in the olden days. She liked that, and asked some questions about the characters and their arcs, etc. The conversation soon homed in on a problem area, namely the father character, and how to make sure he was believable. Then something really cool happened. As I was talking it through, I hit on something that worked, just like that. Just said it, and she's like, 'That's it. Try that.' Now I've got everything but the very, very ending. I know what's going to happen, but not how, exactly. My tutor suggested I work through some more outlines and see what happens.

Need to do the Unit One rewrite by October 15th, but will put it off for a week. Work on this one while it's hot.

Sunday, 28 September 2008


Now my blog is called pancakes. I'll try to keep them light and fluffy. Sorry for when they get gluey or stodgy. You can pick your own toppings, and have them for breakfast, tea or pudding.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Writer Song Meme

I've been tagged by the ever lovely Potdoll, to post a song about writing.

Since she's already taken Chumbawumba, I'll have 'Love, love me do,' by the Beatles.

I tag anyone who's not done it.

Thursday, 25 September 2008


I've written a rough treatment for the 30 minute arena script. Still loads to sort, but I've got a story I believe. As I was writing it, I started having the feeling of folk ballads, especially House Carpenter. I like the simplicity and strong emotions. In House Carpenter, an unfaithful woman goes to sea with her lover, but finds he's Satan taking her to hell - When you listen to the song, you feel her fear and regret, though she made the choice of leaving her home and children for the lover's promised riches, power and freedom.

So I had that tone ringing in my thoughts as I wrote, and it pushed me out off Gale's Hill, into the harbour and the salty, letting the tide play a full role in a story of three characters, a lover, a daughter and a vengeful father. I'm going to write another treatment of it, then jump in in a couple days time.

Just found out who my tutor's going to be. Very excited!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Tutorial, Arenawatch Wrap-up

Tutorial went really well yesterday. I have very clear notes on what to do for the next draft. Something between major overhaul and minor tweakage required. I need to show, through action, something that I'd only alluded to in the voice over: a new sequence to be blended in. I need to fix a few lines which were too pat, knowing, on-the-nose. One or two cuts. A couple typos as well.

Today, I need to do the final installment of my observational research, and also write up yesterday's notes. Still don't have a story, which is mildly concerning, since I need to have the initial outline in by Wednesday, noon.

The final script is supposed to be substantially related to what the outline says it's about. That's a tricky one, an aspect of my writing that needs serious work: being able to stick to an outline. The more I write, the more I realize I'm a dive-in-and-write-it sort of person. The story only really emerges in the second draft. That's no good in the real world of TV writing, where you sometimes have to write an episode already roughly blocked out by story-liners, and you also have to deliver what you pitched at the meeting.

I've got some serious work to do between now and Tuesday night, when I'll have to email the outline. At the least, I think I should write a full treatment, and preferably a rough script. I can actually write a thirty page script in a couple of days, at a push.

Okay, here's the plan. Spend a couple of hours down on Gale's Hill, hopefully getting whacked upside the head by a great story idea. Come home, write it.

Ready, break!

Saturday, 20 September 2008


Just printing out the 20 minute voice-over script for a pre-tutorial read-through. I purposely have not look at it since turning it in, so I should be reading with fresh, clear, critical eyes in a minute.

I'm actually feeling quite nervous about this tutorial. It's my second one, but the first one with a tutor (a writer with more screen, stage and radio credits than I have rejections) who's read my work. What's he going to say about it? I find out in a couple of hours.

Yikes! Better get reading and making a few notes of my own. I take comfort from looking at Jason Arnop's mug, and reading Danny Stack's article, The Three Stages of Feedback. I'm at stage one.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Arena Watch 2

Went down to Gale's Hill with thumping headache last night. It was a high spring tide; Gale's Hill under water.

I sat in the dark with the water lapping near my feet, making notes. A bunch of kids were fishing off the fish quay, wearing headlamps. Lots of dogs were running around. A big ship tied up at the commercial quay. It all felt sort of menacing: rising water, boys with lights on their heads, a big ship, dogs, dark. A car came and drove down the boat ramp. Stopped a moment, then reversed back out again. What that was about?

Got a story idea. Rejected it. Must keep an open mind and see this process through.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Arenawatch, Day 1

Went down to Gale's hill this morning, to start my observational research. Gale's Hill is not a hill at all. It's a beach on the Teign estuary. As I arrived, the boys from a local shellfish company were loading up their oyster barge, or challand if you want the French. I told them what I was up to, and they were all quite friendly and happy to chat, and explain a bit about seeding and harvesting shellfish.

There's been a managed shell-fishery on the river for over a thousand years; the Teign provided shellfish to the Bishop of Exeter and his cronies.

Next up for launching were a couple of serious fishermen from Tiverton. They looked the business in waders and camoflage and greasy hats. They told me they were headed out about ten miles to fish a wreck.

And so it went. Men came to launch all manner of craft; I interrupted them with silly questions, and they all responded amiably, except one. This was an older guy, who rowed up and unpacked a skiff, carrying rods and buckets and other bits and pieces away to his car. 'Been out fishing?' I asked. 'Nope,' he said, and that was the end of the interview. He was the exception though. Most men love to tell you what they're up to on Gale's Hill. I didn't meet any women there.

The assignment I'm working on, a 30 minute script, based on observational research into a place, is designed to help us screenwriting students get to grips with arena. I had heard about arena from Lucy Vee (a graduate of the Bournemouth screenwriting program), but I didn't quite know what it meant.

Arena means using your setting as a character in its own right. Snoopy understood the importance of arena, when he began his novel, 'It was a dark and stormy night.' That's an angry, dangerous arena to get mixed up with. Billy Crystal's character in Throw Mama From the Train was also struggling with arena, when he was tyring to describe a 'warm, moist' night. The Watch-list the tutors provided includes films such as:

Miller’s Crossing (Coen)

I’m Not Scared (Salvatores)

Psycho (Hitchcock)

Red Road (Arnold)

Tsotsi (Hood)

My arena is going to be Teignmouth Harbour (top right, though you're looking at Shaldon), and specifically Gale's Hill. Various snippets of story ideas keep occuring to me, but I'm ignoring them. I want to keep an open mind during the research phase. If you pushed me to say what I'm going to write about, I'd say 'A stranger comes to Gale's Hill.' I won't go further. In fact, I'm not even going that far. It's a story which takes place on and around Gale's Hill, a beach. It was in a pleasant, accomodating mood this morning.

Maybe next time I go down it will be a dark and stormy night.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Keeping an Open Notebook

I've got a week or so before the phone tutorial on the 20 minute voice-over script. That gives me time to start the research on Unit 2: the 30 minute research-based thing.

I like this one. You have to make observations on a place, and then use them to write a story. I'm going to go into it with an open mind, and just see where my notes take me.

The point of this assignment is to get you writing from life, developing your point of view, not writing something that reads like you saw it on TV.

So, this week, I'll be hanging around Teignmouth Harbour with a notebook and a flask. If weather demands it, I'll don an anorak.

Oh, oh, I know. I'm going to be a life-spotter.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Happy With It

Had a read through the 20 minute assignment. As usual, I found lots to cut, but was basically happy with it. It's about a guy who goes to a beautiful cove to scatter his wife's ashes, but they're sealed in a tough plastic packet, and he tries all these stupid ways of getting it open. Might sound like I'm trying to be funny, but it's pathos, really. Maybe a little sad-funny in places.

So, after an hour or so's reading and chopping, I had a tinkle at the piano, to express a little writer's joy. With a sad song, of course.

I had a go at Ben Harper's Walk Away, which sort of expresses the emotion I was after with the story, especially the lines,

'They say, time will make this go away,
But it's time that's taken my tomorrows
And turned them into yesterdays...'

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Sharps Planet

Last June, I entered the BBC Sharps competition. My entry made the second round, and WritersRoom kindly sent some feedback. Frustratingly, it was all positive. I was like, 'Well, if you liked it so much, why didn't you put me through?' The answer's obvious, of course. They liked other scripts better than mine.

Anyway, Red Planet is looming, so I'm going to rewrite the Sharps entry for that. I think it can stretch to 60 minutes, and improve and mature in the process. In any case, I have a pretty killer first ten pages, good enough to get through Red Planet? I think so.

But then, it's not up to me. Whatever. Red Planet is free to enter, so silly not to, with the fabulous prize they have on offer.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

On the Blog Again

Apologies first. I'm sorry about the title of this blog. It sounded cool at the time I thought of it. Apologies especially to Paul Campbell. I realise I must have done a bit of a 'My Sweet Lord' with his blog title, Scriptuality.

I gave up blogging for a while. Just got tired of it. Now I'm tired of not blogging. Well, to be honest, my friends are tired of me not blogging. I don't know if any of you have noticed this, but civilians smile and nod politely whenever we writers-wannabe start going on about our latest script. What this means is, 'Shut up! Shut up! Oh please God make him shut up before I die.'

So, if you have already started to smile and nod, click away now, because I'm going to go on about my scripts.

I'm just tidying up my 20 minute assignment for the MA Screenwriting course at Bournemouth Uni. Yeah. An MA. In screenwriting. Is that a cry for help, or what? I had to write a 20 minute script, with voice-over, no dialogue. I have hated being deprived of dialogue. Every time I thought up a cool story, I'd have to reject it as unworkable without dialogue. I've written four different scripts, and am now totally away from the outline I submitted at the end of July. Hope that's okay.

Don't get me wrong. I understand their reasons for giving this assignment. It makes you think in visuals, and develop your ability to write in a character's voice. It's just that, well, I like writing dialogue. When I was a kid, I liked to draw monsters. The fun bit was putting in the teeth and claws and blood and fire and destruction. Writing with no dialogue is like drawing monsters without all that.