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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Edge

No, this isn't a post about how close I am to the edge of sanity, though you'll notice my flat has sold already, despite being on the market only three days so I suppose you could make an argument for it, especially as we now have approximately five minutes (really) to find a new place to live as well as a school for my son.

Wow, that was a long sentence. Anyway.

We've had all the posts about finding your voice, practice makes perfect, etc etc - but now, I'm thinking of those writers who have gone beyond the beginners' market, have touched the *very real* possibility or got optioned, representation or commissioned. It's often thought, especially by new writers on their first or second script, that once you have an agent/your first option/your first commission/all three* (delete as appropriate), the work will come flooding in. Voicemail messages will have to be left since you're on the phone all the time or doing lunch with High Profile Media People. They will flatter you, beg you to work on their show/series/feature/etc and you will smile politely, make interested noises, but have to check your diary just to see you're not double-booked...And oh, if they add an extra "zero", then the deal might *just* be clinched.

Dream on.

I once met a writer whom I had actually heard of at a book fayre: I was mildy excited, wanted his autograph and was baffled that he was baffled I would want it. Anyway, he wrote on my programme "Keep writing...the more stuff you write, the harder it becomes". I remember thinking he was slightly mad and possibly drunk on success, if not the fourteen margueritas he'd bound to have had since 3 o'clock that afternoon because there was a free bar and everyone knows writers never turn down free booze (what?).

So anyway, fast forward two years and I find my programme stuck in the back of a chest of drawers. I know who this chap's agent is, so I write a letter and ask the agent to forward it to him. He does. After six months, he answers my question which was, "Why does it become harder, the more you keep writing?!"

He sent one line back in response, via email. It was: "Because they know you have The Edge but so do half a million others."

The Edge. I figured at the time he meant Craft, maybe the maturity to deal with rejection, half a dozen other things that could mean you're "better" than say, a newbie. I was "better" than I was when I first started, it figured then that I would be better in another six months, then another, then another...

And to some extent, that was true. My rejection letters went beyond pre-printed cards "Thanks for your submission but...", up the scale to "We're unsure of a market for this..." to "It's very nice but it needs a lot of work..." And then suddenly, something changed. People began to compliment my work. They liked my characterisation, they thought my arena was evocative, they "admired" the stand I had taken on a particular issue in the story, they'd thought my dialogue was funny.

This was a heady time and I enjoyed it a great deal. Rejections still stung of course, but it was alright: I was on the right track, I had The Edge. Except I didn't. People were still encouraging me. They'd might have enjoyed various stuff, but I still lacked that "cetain something" that would have taken my work through, so whilst I *thought* I was in with a definite chance, in the real world, probably not.

Then something strange happened. The tone of my rejection letters changed substantially. The same people who had "liked" my work six months' earlier suddenly seemed to not like further drafts. They questioned more, seemed to want more, demand more of me. No longer was my dialogue just "engaging" or "funny" - they wondered why this scene seemed to "stick out" in comparison to the others. No longer were some of my female characters "headstrong" and "capricious", they needed more "fibre" (I'm guessing the Reader in question here means motivation and/or substance here, not All-Bran!). After about the seventh letter in which the very same things were questioned, I emailed my Writer Friend and asked him what the hell he thought might be going on: had I just suddenly got incredibly crap and not realised it? Another one line email in response:

Congratulations. You have The Edge.

I got rejected again on Monday. The Company phoned me, never a good idea since I am a highly emotional person (can you tell?), so I always stand in front of the mirror and smile like a madwoman for fear of tears (it works!). Anyway, I was unsurprised they went with the "other guy" (I was in a "poor me" state of mind), I was more surprised by their admission when I asked what I could do to the script to interest another company, or possibly them in the future: "Nothing." Blokey said, "It's a great script."

So this is what I think my Writer Friend means when he talks about The Edge: people appreciate the effort you put in as you hone your craft and whilst you're still a new writer, will tell you so. However, when you've been round the block a few times, maybe had a couple of commissions or options, or a bunch of corporate work, they expect more. They work you harder, want you to justify the story-telling devices you use, expect you to have more finesse with various craft techniques.

Do I have The Edge? Well, it would be nice, sure - though applying a label to anything means the danger people can think they know everything there is to know, which I think is never the case in life, never mind screenwriting. But hopefully, maybe I'm getting nearer. Though not so near I fall off The Precipice, obviously. Who knows what's down there...

14 comments:

Beezlebub said...

Me.

bhanibiina said...

Hi Lucy. Lovely writerly talk.

Your blog is like reading a car manual. Very useful..

but what car do you drive?

Lucy said...

Hello! Thanks.

In answer to your Q, I don't drive a car, I don't even have a licence. My husband does though and he drives some kind of silver car. Think it might be something beginning with F, a Ford probably, could be a Fiat or Fiesta (or is that a make?) though I don't know the diff. Never take any notice since I hardly ever go in it to be honest! Sorry to sound so typically "girlie"... : )

Lucy said...

P.S. Whoops, that last comment's bound to P*** LizH off, I bet you've got a whole fleet of racing cars right?? (sorry, couldn't resist! :)

bhiananaia said...

******* ****




Interest, Irony lost. Second sentence.

Clutching at names- lizh? Who ????????????

Bye

Lucy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lucy said...

Is "what car do you drive" some kind of weird double entendre?
Interesting.

Anya said...

I think s/he's making some reference to the sentence "lovely writerly talk." If it's supposed to be ironic, then I have no idea what s/he means. If it's supposed to be sarcastic, then gotta ask two questions: a) if they don't like writerly talk, then why read a blog like this? and b) don't they realise sarcasm is lost via the internet like this?

As for The Edge, I'm out in the car park. Three miles away. But I dream of the sea...

Lucy said...

Nice try Anya... I just don't get it!

I think everyone dreams of the sea, whether they're at The Edge or not. And unsure The Edge means anything more than that old adage: you guessed it, "practice makes perfect"!

Beezlebub said...

I don't get it either but can roast it out of him or her. I can fit them in a week on saturday...

LizH said...

Lucy, I'm still trying to get my head round the whole form and content thing, now you want me to wrangle with 'edge'???

As for cars - no comment from me. Can't drive (keep death off the road, I say - that'd be right/left challenged me) never owned one - everytime I mention one in a story or script I have to phone a friend and ask stupid questions about appropriate models. (When I wrote the novelisation of one of the Bugs episodes there was a chase scene and I literally had to phone a friend and ask her what a driver would do in various situations.)

Computers, now, I can get seriously geeky about. (I was expecting the 'what car do you drive' turn out to be comment spam leading to a link to a car sales site, but I'm just a raging cynic.)

pertatoe said...

Beezelbub

After Doctor Who please? :(

Oli said...

From your post, I think I may have got to the edge in this meeting. The e-mails were flattering, but when I got to the meeting, it was all about what didn't work and what had to be changed. Being slightly back from the Edge is more comfortable, honestly.

I drive a mini, when my driving instructor will let me.

Gavin said...

Hi Lucy.

Just found you via Danny's blog. Lots of really interesting stuff to churn through. Props. Really great to find a community of supportive scribblers-- damn, but it's a lonely biz!

Could be your Blokey lifted his concept of The Edge from a William Gibson story called "New Rose Hotel". Here, I'll quote atcha:

"'The Edge, he said, have to find that Edge. He made you hear the capital E. The Edge was Fox's grail, that essential fraction of sheer human talent, nontransferable, locked in the skulls of the world's hottest research scientists.'"

I take from what your Blokey said that what he means is that you've got It, got Something, an essential individual spark which marks you out from the peeps starting out, or on the bottom rung- when you get Edge, you've become a Credible Proposition, not a wannabe. But that also means you're being held to a much tighter professional criteria. When people take you seriously, they want more from you. It gets better, but harder. Lots of people have that Spark, but not everyone can put the work to fan it into a flame.

That'd be my take, anyhow.

Sorry to hear about your project getting bounced. Never gets any easier, does it? Aagh. Plus, it's even worse when there's nothing really to fix. You just got unlucky this time.

That's something I'm still struggling to get my head round about screenwriting-- that much of the time it feels far more important to be lucky than good (recently a big company was interested in a project of mine, the lunch with the producer was great, he said yes... then the money fella said, errrr, not so fast chaps we've run out of development cash for this quarter-- and then they got wind of something a bit similar already commissioned for beeb 2 and I was dead, gone, and back on the road again... sigh)

God, that all sounded bitter and jaded. Note to self-- lighten the feck up!

Right, now I'm off to slash my wrists with my own Edge.

Laters