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.