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Thursday, May 31, 2007

By The Power Of Greyskull!

It's an emergency, my friends. I need help, He-man/She-Ra style - and quickly! Rescue me!

After some stellar notes from my first Power of 3 earlier in the week, I now need three sets of fresh eyes cast over my 25 Words or Less package for the UK Film Council please. That's a 25 word pitch, a one page synopsis and ten pages of sample scenes (so about 11.25 pages, in effect). Since this particular story comes from the biggest WTF? Draft I've EVER written (it was my very, very first script!), I have reservations about its clarity and originality...

I will of course return the favour. First three people to leave a comment or email get it. And...Go!

P.S. All you lot can stop congratulating James Moran on all his ridiculous success, he already has a big head (ooooh, matron). And anyway, everyone knows he's living in a fantasy land, someone has to burst his bubble, it's the kindest thing I tell you. Don't worry James, I have your lithium ready, I picked up your prescription for you. Any time after six is great.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Scriptwriting Courses

Many thanks to Steve May, Course Director on the MA Screenwriting and Producing for Film and TV at Westminster University who reminded me to re-post some particularly important articles from the old blog! Long term Bang2write Readers will remember my post on short scriptwriting courses and its follow-up on Scriptwriting degrees: there were some very interesting, albeit mixed responses. With another academic year on its way out then and September sneaking up on us like the crafty so-and-so it is, I thought now was the time to revisit my posts, update them, add to them and see if we could get any new insights into whether the people who charge us all this moolah are really giving us our money's worth.

I realise a lot of you Bloggers have gone on a lot of courses this past year and kindly disseminated your views about them, but I'm trying to appeal to everyone, so even if you have written about a course you've taken already, by all means send your thoughts/links to me so I might compile a list of recommendations and/or warnings in one place for those peeps surfing the net.

So: have you gone on any short courses in scriptwriting (or any kind of writing, for that matter; I haven't seen many on novel writing and whatnot, but presumably they're out there): same goes for anyone who might have gone on a specific script reading or storylining course. Maybe you're a member of a particularly good Writers' Circle and want to promote it, or you've been to half a dozen Writers' Groups and would sooner pluck your eyes out than go to another? Have you been to any Writer's workshops where your work has been read (Lianne did the Open Page, but Rocliffe Forum anyone?) or you went for taught techniques to help you time manage, gain more self-confidence (I'm looking at you Jurgen Wolfites here). Or did you go to a course specifically wanting to know how to get an option, an agent or handle meetings (yes, fellow Meadsters). Perhaps you thought they were a complete waste of time or the best money you've ever spent? I want it all, warts and all please.

The same goes for those Scriptwriting degrees. I'm told that Bournemouth is not the only BA (Hons) in Scriptwriting now and that others do an undergraduate course now too, even just in part, so let's hear who those places are. There feel like a million MAs out there and those more in-depth training courses that do not fall under the "short course" remit as they demand commitment for ten weeks or more, London Metropolitan University's Metlab a case in point and some of those courses at The Lighthouse, Brighton for example. What are resources like? Are sessions well organised, or scrappy? Is pastoral care any good? Are you taught by working writers/readers etc with good understanding of the industry, or are you feeling as if you've been sidelined? Students are asked to pay tuition fees and sometimes give up careers for these courses: I'm sure I'm right in saying that everyone wants to hear if these courses as worth the considerable sacrifices that have to be made to embark on them and complete them.

So, you know the drill... If you have something to say, leave a comment or email me. Anonymity is assured for all those who want it - but do remember to tell me you do not want your name mentioned in the email! Also, please justify your reasons if you want to say that you feel a course is no good: we want to give others information, not a big moan! ; )

By the way, with half term almost over, you English Teachers out there might want to check out eBay for my very cheap, comprehensive resources on the poet Carol Ann Duffy or if you struggle with grammar take a look at my resources that could show you how to get to grips with this otherwise dull subject in a fun, informative way. And yes - they come WITH answers. Cheers!

Monday, May 28, 2007

25 Words or Less: The Debate

For those of you who don't read the Shooting People List any more because of the amount of cyber whining that seems to go on, there's a "debate" raging at the moment about whether it's fair that the UK Film Council exclude non-repped writers from the 25 Words or Less Scheme. Oh, and yet another accusation has been levvied at Adrian Mead. I love Shooting People, it's a fabulous resource, yet people are being put off posting - even their grammar and spelling is under scrutiny! This is crazy. Anyway, I waded in this morning: you know me, I can't keep my big gob shut...

So, Adrian Mead's a "Spammer". The UK Film Council are fascists who won't let people in on their scheme. On other lists, blogs etc: The BBC Writing Academy are being unfair by only allowing people who have a produced film or have completed Skillset-approved courses. People shouldn't expect others to work on their films or at their agencies, companies etc for nothing. The BBC Writers' Room take too long to get back to people. Only people with perfect grammar and no typos are allowed to post.

As I'm fond of saying on my blog: WTF?!

I've not met Julian, but I have met Adrian and as Andy says, he's one of the "good guys". He's personable, approachable and his classes are cheap, fun and you'll get a lot out of it. He disseminates information readily in an engaging way - and yes, it's your choice if you sign up for it. No one forces you to add yourself to his email list.

I totally concur with Julian on his assertion that the UK Film Council wants "quality, not quantity". It's a sad fact of life that when one first starts writing scripts, they're not going to be your best work. You're working through you understanding of what a story is and trying to find your voice. My very first script was a scary mess of mad structure, bizarre character motivation, on-the-nose dialogue and freaky arena choices. Not because I had no talent, but because I had no experience.

No one expects to be able to make the perfect table the first time they pick up a few tools, yet it would seem there are a lot of people who believe they can write a brilliant script first time by reading a few books, internet sites or going on a two-day course. Like any craft, screenwriting is something you have to practice and hone. It can't be perfect, "just like that". It's something one has to invest in heavily, over a period of years - not just through the actual writing, but as Julian says, through networking and studying the industry as well.

A year ago I was unable to enter 25 Words or Less. I made it my mission for the year ahead: I would get an agent and enter the next year. Guess what? I'm entering this year. Maybe I'll get through, maybe I won't, but I'll have had my chance and this is (in part) what the business is about: chance. Because it's about chance then (among other things obviously, like commerce), bodies like The Film Council want a more steadfast guarantee to counter-balance that chance, like the writer's experience. That does not seem all that unreasonable to me.

So, if you want something, go get it... No one and nothing is standing in your way. Make those "barriers" your goal.


...No doubt a few accusations will be chucked my way tomorrow. I'll let you know! ; )

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Top Ten Unproduced Movies

So you've written a wicked spec script. It rocks. You are the wo/man. Everybody loves you. Hell, maybe you even have some critical acclaim on other "big" movies, perhaps an Oscar nomination or two. Maybe this spec's even been bought! You're well on your way to fame, fortune and becoming a household name... Right?

Wrong. It would seem you can be the best spec writer in the world and still not get made. Several times over, even. Ouch. Read it and weep, my friends.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Competition

I got an email from a chap called Rory at the beginning of this week complaining that this screenwriting blog talks too much about screenwriting and not enough about novel writing. Sorry about that. So, in the interests of fairness, I decided to look for a few competitions on short stories since I know a lot of you out in www.land like to write them. This one, near me, may be of interest:

Twyford Writers third annual short story writing competition

Closing date: 30th June 2007

Twyford Writers is proud to announce the third annual short story writing competition on the subject of:

The Seven Deadly Sins:

Avarice
Envy
Gluttony
Lust
Pride
Sloth
Wrath

Which one is your favourite?

Avarice – when you just have to have it, whatever the cost
Envy – what’s theirs should most definitely be yours
Gluttony – another slice? Why not?
Lust – need you ask?
Pride – oh I’m good, I’m very good. Hey, look at me
Sloth – just can’t be bothered
Wrath – don’t make me angry, you won’t like me when I’m angry

Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there at one time or another - life throws a bit of temptation your way and you’ve just got to grab it with both hands. It’s only natural. Well, that’s what you tell yourself as you sit there in that swanky restaurant, tucking into yet another extra large portion of black forest gateaux. And as you sit there in your designer outfit with all your posh friends, you’re convinced that what you really want is their lifestyle, their partner, their everything. It might just make you mad, if it weren’t too much trouble. Not fair, is it?

So, can you come up with a story based around one, or more of the seven deadly sins? Have you got a tale of desperate desires or sinful situations? Yes? Then we want to hear from you. Let your imagination roam wild – any style or genre is acceptable.

Competition Rules

1. All entries must be previously unpublished and entirely the entrants’ own work and must be no longer than 3,500 words. Simultaneous submissions are allowed.

2. Each story must be accompanied by a £3.50 entry fee (Cheques/Postal Orders made payable to ‘Twyford Writers’).

3. Prizes shall be awarded as follows: 1st £200, 2nd £100, 3rd £50

3. Entries must be in English on single sides of A4 paper, page numbered and preferably double-spaced.

4. Each entry must be accompanied by a top sheet to include the story title, word count, entrant’s name, address, telephone number and email address (if applicable). The stories themselves must bear no identifying marks other than the story title.

4. The closing date for receipt of entries is 30th June 2007. Winners will be notified by August 31st 2007.

5. Entries should be sent to:

TW Short Story Competition
Oakleigh
Ashbrittle
Wellington
TA21 0LH

6. Entrants wishing their stories to be returned after the judging period must enclose a suitably stamped, self addressed envelope.

7. Entry into the competition shall be deemed as acceptance of the rules.

8. The judges’ decision is final and no individual correspondence shall be entered into.

May even have a go myself: entry fee is very reasonable. As far as I can see, you don't need to live in Devon or Somerset or even the UK. As always, let me know if you have a go. Remember: you gotta be in it to win it!

Deus Ex Machinas

Two different people emailed me on Friday and asked me what a Deus Ex Machina was 'cos apparently they'd both had feedback from course tutors saying they had one in their scripts and they were too embarrassed to say they hadn't a fig what that tutor was talking about. Jinx or what! Now they are both under my power, *evil laugh*. However, because I am feeling charitable, before I make them dance down the street in their underwear, here is my article from the old blog* that I wrote last year.
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I've said before that my lad is a chip off the old block; people always exclaim over how like me he looks (poor bugger) and he loves to write stories. This is one he brought home from school the other day:

THE CRAB AND THE WEASEL

One day there was a weasel and a crab and they were always fighting. They were fighting on a cliff. They both fell off the cliff. When they woke up from the big fight, the weasel was so mental he bit the crab's leg off and flesh was flying everywhere. Then the crab snipped the weasel's tail off. Then they got taken to the vet and became the best of friends.

"Flesh was flying everywhere"
- what did I tell you?? A horror writer in the making, obviously. However, in this story is what is known as a Deus Ex Machina. In other words, the participants in this story are conveniently taken OUT of the story by persons unknown (whomever took them to the vet.) Also, considering they were so "mental" they were carving chunks out of each other, five seconds later they're bezzie mates.

Now, my son is only eight. I wouldn't expect him to conclude his stories with the finesse of Roald Dahl. This is something that will come with maturity, the reading of more books and the writing of more stories. This article is not about how HE shouldn't use the dreaded Deus Ex Machina.

No - it's about you.

Yes! You there! Oi!

I've read more scripts in the last few weeks with Deus Ex Machinas than I have in the last year previous. Not even joking. What's going on, Spec Writers? Characters are having their lives tied up in knots...Only for something or someone to remove them from the story, just like that.

Not all of them are as obvious as my son's idea of the invisible person taking the crab and the weasel to the vet, but they're still there. I've had Sci-Fis with conveniently-placed programmes, viruses or buttons that "eject" characters out of computer games and space ships. I've had horrors and action-adventures that have police and rescuers turning up out of the blue ("I was just passing..." Argh!), even though our protagonist has had no phone or ways of contacting the outside world. I've had thrillers and comedies where people have to solve a mystery or task, only to be told it was really an initiation task or a joke all along.

Nooooooooooo!

Deus Ex Machinas just don't cut it in screenwriting. Sometimes, you can write them entirely by accident; I accept that. I've done it myself. In THY WILL BE DONE I had a character whose function was *supposed* to be a clue to the rest of the whole story; in reality, she was a Deus Ex Machina - she pulled another character OUT of the story, in effect. This undermined my script, so she had to go. Whammo: she was gone. You have to keep on your toes when it comes to the Deus Ex Machina, they can be sneaky. It was acceptable in Greek Times, when Zeus etc would come down and sort the characters' lives out. It's notacceptable now - whether it's a God, a computer programme or in my case, a teenage prostitute.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Some comedies use Deus Ex Machinas on purpose and this can work well. Anyone who watched Dodgeball for example would have seen the actual words DEUS EX MACHINA carved on the money chest at the end - and yes, the money was a Deus Ex Machinas to the plot. The Simpsons use Deus Ex Machinas constantly in this ironic way, the most notable time in my mind being Willie's video tape and admission that "Every single person in Scotland does it!" when he reveals he taped Homer and The Babysitter and the infamous gummy Venus De Milo. However, using irony in this fashion requires the ultimate understanding of what a Deus Ex Machinas is: one can only subvert expectations and genres etc with knowledge and, preferably, experience.

Basically, there are no short cuts to story resolution. Think of your story as a well constructed house. A Deus Ex Machina is equivalent to not bothering putting the roof on. It makes a draught. Readers roll their eyes and not believe in your story or craft. You must construct your end with as much thought and care as your beginning and middle. Don't just tie up all the loose ends in one go with something "convenient".

Of course, loads of films have Deus Ex Machinas - those bad, non-ironic ones - in. Which ones can you think of?
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* Remember - I'm cancelling AOL when I move, so the old blog will probably disappear. If there's an article on there you'd like to see here, do as Lianne did and request I repost! Email me.

Grammar Revisited

Since there has been the second outing of the tri-annual scrap about grammar on Shooting People this week and since the lovely Lianne requested it, now seems an opportune time to revisit an article on grammar from the old blog. Enjoy.
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The two things I correct most in people's drafts are grammar and spelling. That's the nature of script reading as far as I'm concerned and I'm happy to do it (maybe I'm an anal retentive). However, in the past on various writing initiatives in particular (my private clients usually do not do this, thank goodness) I have had to deal with some people who argue with me on a) whether I'm right to do this and/or b) what I'm actually talking about.

I'll explain. First, a). There is a school of thought (especially used in teaching at secondary and primary schools here in the UK) that as long as someone is coherent enough to get their point across, correct spelling and grammar are superfluous. On surface level, this idea has some merit (albeit tenuous in my book): if you, the reader, know the GIST of what the writer is talking about, does it matter if apostrophes are misused? Does it matter if tenses are mixed? Does it matter if spelling is incorrect?

YES! Screenwriters are communicators, first and foremost. A writer would not go to the trouble of trying to TELL A STORY if they were not; they'd go to the cinema or watch the movies on DVD instead with the rest of the audience. They would not feel a burning need to stay up late at night tapping at keyboards even after putting in a twelve hour stint at work. They would not annoy their family when trying to watch said DVDs by saying things like, "That narrative arc makes no sense! That characterisation sucks! That would never happen...!"

If writers are communicators then, HOW they communicate is crucial. This involves semantic choice (the way words are used) and ultimately, grammar and spelling. It may seem "old fashioned" to think a writer is "bad" if their grammar or spelling is bad, but think of it like this instead: those words are the tools of your trade. You have nothing else. The way you use those words can make all the difference between being optioned or not. As one literary agent told me once: "A writer who does not know how to spell or use the rules of grammar is like a carpenter who does not know how to make a chair." He then told me to take all those scripts with bad spelling and incorrect grammar in the first ten pages out of my in tray and return them. For real. When I complained that we could be overlooking the "next big thing", he shrugged and said, "Maybe we will. So will the other agents. Who's going to read the rest of those scripts? No one."

Now, he was particularly harsh - I have seen scripts sneak through with terrible grammar and awful spelling, just as I have seen scripts with godawful stories, unbelievably poor format and non-existent arenas creep across the radar at various initiatives, agencies and production companies I've come into contact with. There will always be screenplays where a reader thinks, "How the hell did this get here?" But that's just it. It's unusual. Even a small literary agent can expect thirty submissions a week. They will look for ways to reduce the pile. Bad grammar and spelling will give an overworked reader the excuse they need to send your work back. When you've worked so hard to produce this piece, why walk into this trap willingly?

Secondly, b). Some clients get confused because I might reccommend they break the rules of grammar in their screenplays. When I say, "break the rules", I mean "use sentence fragments", like this:

Lucy freezes. Her eyes roll back. She slumps forward across the desk, unconscious.

Using sentence fragments will mean your Final Draft software or MS Word etc will get covered in little green lines, but don't be fooled - this is not a bad thing. It gives the prose a sense of immediacy and means you do not end up using multiple sentences when just a few words will do. So many new writers believe every last detail of a scene must be included when just the points that give the "sense" of the scene need to be. I've had clients write about the length of a skirt on a woman, the colour of gloves when washing up, every item on a desk, dressing table, fireplace, floor... even the formation of spots on a dog. Unless it fits directly into the story and pays off somewhere, it needs cutting.

In contrast then, the single most thing I correct is apostrophe use, principally "your" and "you're", "its" and "it's", etc. A recent furore on Shooting People (UPDATE: how unusual...)over Christmas revealed extreme reactions from script readers, copy editors, journalists etc on exactly HOW the apostrophe came about: some believe that it is derived from the Anglo Saxon, others from the androcentric (male-orientated) nature of the English Language, especially when it comes to the possessive form. Whatever the case (and I've found arguments for both in my own grammar books, both native speaking and TEFL) I find it helps to remember this simple idea:

A for Apostrophe. A for Abbreviate.

In other words, if you're not sure whether something is a contraction (an apostrophe word) or a plural (two or more) or a possessive (something belongs to it), then think about whether you are involving two words or one. For example:

You are = you're

It is = it's

Let us = let's

Two words, ergo an apostrophe is needed. Context is everything here. For example:

Its fur was spotted

It is fur was spotted X

The second sentence clearly makes no sense. This is because the "its" refers to an animal, the fur belongs to it. The word "its" becomes a pronoun (in place of a noun, a "naming" word like "animal", "dog", "cat", "alien" etc - again, context plays a role here), not a contraction (an apostrophe word).

The second thing I correct most is something I have seen provoke unbelievable reactions in other script readers, from howls of fury to chucking entire screenplays across the room and that is the mixing of tenses. For example:

I was sat there all day thinking about him.
sat = past simple; thinking = present continuous

Charlie is stood in front of the mirror.
is = present; stood = past simple

To say mixed tenses can be a pet hate of a lot of readers is an understatement. Unlike the misuse of apostrophes which can be forgiven (I've heard "typographical errors" and even "writer word blindness" cited as possible reasons for it) any screenplay with this trangression in the first ten pages is usually doomed I've found. I think the reason for this, certainly in a screenwriting sense, is that neither past simple or present continuous should be used in scene directions anyway; to use both in the same sentence is a death sentence double whammy! Present simple is the tense of choice, at least in the UK. For example:

Lucy sits at her desk, writes her blog.

Again, we're back on that notion of "immediacy". This is not possible with past simple at all and the word "is" and the "ing" participle (part of present continuous) conversely takes us away from that, even though it may seem at face value more "now":

Lucy is sitting at her desk, writing her blog.

I can see why new writers do it, I even did it myself. For a while, I would write my first drafts like this and then change it, before realising I could cut out some of the workload by just doing it in the first place (d'oh). Somehow the present continuous takes us away from the action, isolates the reader from the page, in essence reminds us this is a work of fiction, not right now.

Of course, grammar and spelling mistakes will happen. When you write something, you do see what you expect to see, especially if you have been staring at a screen for hours and hours. Readers will not crucify you for one missed apostrophe or one or two words misspelled, especially when some of these spell checkers are mental (my name has been changed to "Lucky" and even "Ulcer" in the past - I mean, HOW on that last one?!). Having said that, speaking as someone who was having a fag once and got hit in the head by one manuscript three storeys down from the offices of one agent, I would never even let ONE instance of mixed tenses go! : )

Read your work through when you're fresh and not tired. Get your Mum, your spouse, your kids to read it. Every pair of eyes help. Get coverage if you can before sending it to producers and agents - never send out first drafts. Last, but by no means least, remember spelling and grammar are important. Words are your tools. It's the basics or bust. You want to seem the best carpenter you can be.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Cyber Weirdoes Strike: Episode 3

How exactly does one spell the plural of "weirdo"? This is a matter of hot debate within my tiny mind, so I consulted my many grammar books. The good news is, no one knows. One school of thought (and the one I think looks best) says a writer should add "e" as in "do" becoming "does", though of course "does" is not actually a plural but a past tense of the verb "do" and "weirdo" is a noun. Another school of thought says it should be spelt "weirdo's" with an apostrophe, since it could be argued that it is in fact an abbreviation of two words "weird ones" and become a contraction when it goes plural. This however looks ridiculous. Then there's the old fashioned idea that perhaps we should just add an "s". Pah. Aaaah, the glory of posteriori knowledge (that is, knowledge no one really has any *real* authority on, since it changes so radically and from place to place, culture to culture, generation to generation, ie. grammar and language usage. This is why we don't all still say "Forsooth!" and "Egad!" Though, now I think of it, they are pretty cool.)

So anyway. I have several beers with my name on and Him Indoors is out foraging for a kebab as we speak, so gotta be quick; thought I would entertain you with some further random google searches that have brought the aforementioned weirdoes/weirdo's/weirdos to my blog in the last week:

I hate awards ceremonies
Ideas for scripts crime mother son
Great Malvern Chav
Format about to write myself
Friday 13th mask my Mum
Sentence for the word solipsistic
Torrington lemon Devon
God says about self hate
How to write a drama script feet with attitude


Enjoy the rain this bank holiday; I do apologise, I got married this weekend two years ago and it always rains on our wedding anniversary, so it's clearly my fault. Perhaps if we get divorced the weather will clear up? I will give it some thought and get back to you. Adieu.

Diary of A Wannabe Screenwriter...

...The things we do for writing. Read All About It.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Main Plot and The Sub Plot

I see a lot of scripts that are what I call, King Lear Drafts. King Lear drafts are screenplays with essentially two main plots: for those of you who have not read King Lear (shame on you!), we follow the fates of - unsurprisingly - a King called Lear whom is arrogant and proud and casts his good daughter Cordelia out of his kingdom for speaking her mind, keeping his evil daughters Goneril and Regan who plot to bring about his downfall. Pretty stern stuff one might think, but oh no: Shakespeare is a little worried perhaps we might not "get" the magnitude of this family's turmoil, so he mirrors Lear's fate with The Duke of Gloucester's. This other guy then has two sons: a good, legitmate son, Edgar and a bad, bastard son Edmund. Edmund, being evil (natch), arranges for Gloucester to believe that Edgar is making an attempt upon Gloucester's life. Despite the fact Edgar has been good up to this point is immaterial; Gloucester immediately believes Edmund and - you guessed it - casts Edgar out into the wilderness like Lear does poor Cordelia.

Now, who am I to question the Great Shakespeare? I'm not. I love King Lear. I've seen it a whopping seven times in various theatres across London and on DVD countless times, with actors as diverse Corin Redgrave and Ian Holm in the title role. As a study of character, it cannot be beaten: King Lear's metaphorical blindness is juxtaposed with Gloucester's literal blindness when his eyes are gouged out by Regan's evil husband The Duke of Cornwall is a fabulous touch. Lear's wails of distress when he find's Cordelia's body after she and France try to save Lear's kingdom despite his abandonment, "Howl! Howl!" send shivers down my spine no matter how many times I see it. The chain of being - that one's elders must be respected - is broken again and again, especially by the Regan: "Sir, you are old!" - in a way that would have been truly shocking to a Jacobean audience such as Shaky's, making it a really interesting piece. So, Shakespeare fans, don't have a go at me, I'm on your side.

But the structure sucks.

What we have here is not a main plot and a sub plot. It's two main plots. Gloucester's trials and tribulations get practically as much time as Lear's. What is this play called? KING LEAR. Not KING LEAR AND THE DUKE OF GLOUCESTER. Not even, HOW TWO OLD BLOKES GET TAKEN FOR A RIDE BY THEIR EVIL KIDS. It's called KING LEAR, ergo it should be mostly about King Lear. But it's not.

And this is something a lot of new writers share with Shakespeare. Too much time AWAY from their protagonist. Before you get the champagne out and toast yourselves on accidentally being the same as The Great Bard himself, I should tell you one other thing.

Readers don't like it.

When I see a protagonist, I want to INVEST in them: I want to see how they go from A to B to C in their character arc. If you take AWAY from them - ie. have another character share their journey too much - you obfuscate that protagonist's journey. We can no longer see who the most significant person is in this script. If you're unsure who the main character is then, you're not sure who you're supposed to be following; it figures then that this means you end up not really sure what the script is really about. It's kind of like one of those tile puzzles, where you have to move the squares around to form a picture. Just one tile out of place screws the entire thing up.

I read a lot of scripts that have two very different, distinct storylines as well as the ones in which the second main plot is supposed to the mirror the first. These still end up being King Lear drafts. Why? Because that very different, unconnected second storyline AGAIN takes away from that all-important main storyline. Let me explain.

We're writing features here. Not TV. TV has a very different model of writing: watch something like SILENT WITNESS, PRIME SUSPECT, CRACKER, TRIAL AND RETRIBUTION etc and you'll see a very obvious main plot like the protagonist going after a murderer or whatnot and then on the other hand, you have perhaps a personal story OF THEM (or one of the rest of the team) having difficulties at home. For example, in the last episode I saw of TRIAL, the main story was as usual a "work" story where the MIT squad had to solve a case of a girl who had fallen or been pushed down her cellar steps and died. At the same time, the Head Inspector was having problems with his son: he was smoking a lot of cannabis, kept running away and ended up killing a swan with piano wire when he thought it was looking at him. Two very different stories there. TV viewers want a contrast: characters in TV are not just their jobs; when we see them week after week or over a series of hours (as opposed to ninety minutes in a feature) we want more of an insight into the inticacies of not just their work, but the people they are behind those roles they perform. So, the MIT leader might have been a hotshot murder investigator, great; yet he is incapable of having a normal relationship with his increasingly rebellious and psychopathic son. Nice.

It's different though in a feature. We haven't got enough time, even in a longer film, to go King Lear. Having a completely different sub plot to your main plot is not a great idea. That's not to say it doesn't happen; it does. But the way audiences seem to favour is what I call The Jigsaw Plot.

What is The Jigsaw Plot? Well, you know those puzzles they make for babies? They maybe have three, four pieces, max. They're obvious to you and I and anyone over the age of about two, but your one year old will struggle with it. So, one of those - ours has four pieces. On the first, the biggest piece: MAIN PLOT. On the second, medium size piece, we have SUB PLOT. On the second medium size piece we have CHARACTERS. On the smallest, dinkiest sized piece we have ARENA. Main Plot goes down first, natch. Then the two medium-sized pieces, then the smallest. Well, Durr.(You still with me? I'm getting to the good stuff now, honest).

Main plot is the arc your protagonist follows: this is why your character jigsaw piece feeds INTO it. But the sub plot ALSO feeds into the main plot, as does Arena. Everything is ABOUT that main plot. Nothing should come away from it, else you have an incomplete puzzle. Let's have a look at this theory with the help of one of my absolute favourite movies, Mike Leigh's fabulous SECRETS AND LIES:

MAIN PLOT: An adopted girl, Hortense, wants to trace her birth mother after her adopted mother dies.

SUB PLOT: Maurice and his wife have been trying for a baby for years and it has been destroying their relationship.

CHARACTERS: It turns out that not only is her mother, Cynthia, white (Hortense is black), she and Hortense are worlds apart: Hortense has had a privileged life and is an educated woman with a promising future; Cynthia meanwhile has a job in a box factory and has a difficult relationship with her brother Maurice and his wife and her other daughter that she kept, Roxanne (who is white). Maurice has difficulties with both Cynthia and Maurice - his loyalties are tied to both of them, yet neither woman will back down from their feud: Cynthia is jealous of the wife because before she came along she and Maurice were close; the wife is eaten up with jealousy that Cynthia has had two babies and spoilt her realtionship with both of them, giving the first away and estranging the other.

ARENA: The "feel" of this piece makes the most of the contrast between these families. There is much juxtaposition: black/white, love/hate, rich/poor, dependance/independence... The list goes on and on.

As you can see, the subplot FEEDS INTO that main plot; they are not separate. Without the subplot - the wife's jealousy and Cynthia's resentment - it would be a lesser film. It adds character and most importantly, adds into that main plot. The moral of this story then? Only have a sub plot that ADDS to your main plot in features, not takes away from it. Sounds obvious, yet it's easier said than done. Let's have a look at another film that does this convincingly, but in a more obvious way, PITCH BLACK:

MAIN PLOT: After crashing on a barren planet, the survivors must run for their lives when a solar eclipse allows subterreanean, photo-phobic monsters to reveal themselves and attempt to eat them all.

SUB PLOT: The crash, followed by a power struggle for leadership between convict-murderer Riddick and Bounty Hunter Johns.

CHARACTERISATION: Fry, the first in command after her two superiors die in the crash relinquishes power: she keeps saying "I'm not your fucking captain". Throughout the piece, she defers to both Riddick and Johns in equal measures, playing almost "piggy in the middle" between their conflict, only withdrawing completely and running away with the rest of the survivors when Johns and Riddick have their big fight just before the end of Act Two and the start of the Resolution. Riddick if you recall appears to make a momentary lapse just before this fight, agreeing with Johns that they should kill the youngest girl, Jack, and drag her body behind them for the monsters to eat, thus improving the odds of the rest of their survival. This is an interesting character change, since he is a murderer and the antagonist, yet we're asked to sympathise with him and not Johns, whom we are asked to think of as a Junkie who is prepared to let Fry's superior Owens die in agony rather than give him some of his morphine as a mercy killing. Though simple in terms of plot, PITCH BLACK has some very interesting character conflict that feeds very nicely into both the main plot and subplot.

ARENA: Like its obvious predecessors ALIEN and ALIENS, the survivors are left with nowhere to run but THROUGH the peril if they are to survive. A staple of monster movies of course, as is the idea that situation worsens and worsens as their numbers drop (it even starts to rain when they only have flaming torches left to fend off the beasts), but done very effectively in my view.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Goodie Bags

Blogging is a great advertising tool, but I decided to start my new tax year with a "push forward" on the script reading front now I'm retiring from teaching for good (Yay!).

So, if like me, you salivate at stationary (I know the lovely Mark Greig certainly does), then I am offering the FIRST THREE PEOPLE TO EMAIL ME the chance to win a Bang2write Goodie Bag! In it are Bang2write post-it notes (oooooh), a magnet (aaaah), acknowledgement postcards (wooooh), stickers and even a discount voucher for script reading (eeeee)!

So, first three then, email me with your snail mail address... Go!

Debating

When I was growing up I had to live in a cardboard box! Luxury! When I was growing up, I had to walk three hundred miles to school and then do a full day's work down the coal mine! Luxury! When I was growing up, my father killed us before we were even born!

Aaaah. Ol' Monty P there, but I love a good scrap, me (who'd have thought it??), so if you do too, click here and tell me your thoughts about the state of education today.

Go on, you know you want to...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Grammar - Again

Another debate on grammar is raging on the Screenwriters' Bulletin of Shooting People. It's funny, but it seems nothing like the machinations of the English Language get us writers talking more: there have been so many interesting, controversial and bizarre questions regarding actual screenwriting posed on that list, yet the average poster is lucky if they get two replies... Unless they post about grammar. Then the floodgates open: insults, accusations and assertions fly with abandon. It's extraordinary.

Regular Readers know that I'm a bit of a Grammarian. I think when you send your work out it should be the best it can be - and that includes proofing for such things as mixed tense, apostrophe misuse, blah-blah-blah. However, am I hung up on grammar? Absolutely not. I'm very glad the average writer does not know that much about grammar; I'd be out of a job if they did (I imagine approximately 80% of my reports reccommends grammar and spelling checks!) but also, get too hung up on grammar and creativity can be affected, as Adrian Mead's very personal story about his friend's son and the football story illustrated on the list last week. For those of you who missed it, Adrian described a friend's child whom he persuaded to write a story about football, only for the child's mother to deflate his effort when, instead of praising his effort (this was a child who never usually wrote creatively), told him immediately, "You don't spell this word like that..." Argh.

Early drafts are always littered with spelling mistakes, grammar errors and bizarre typos. Mine are. Lianne, Scott The Reader, Danny Stack and Fun Joel have all seen them too, as I've sent my work to them for coverage (and very good they are too, check 'em out). Should I be embarrassed, then? I don't think so. A good Reader knows, when accepting a private client, that that work will have errors. That's the whole point of them sending it to you. They want a "trial run" if you like before they send it off to The People Who Can Get The Work Made. Us Private Readers can't get your work made. We can only help you. Which we will, without judgement.

So is grammar important? Of course it is, but in context. It's important on your script when you send it to an industry bigwig. Is it important on a list for Screenwriters? Now, we can make all kinds of assertions, like Writers who can't use grammar properly AT EVERY MOMENT OF THE DAY are not REAL WRITERS, etc etc but does it really matter? And who is correct every second of the day? This blog is littered full of mistakes I'd imagine, maybe even this post, but I expect to see what it's my head, not always what actually turns up on the page. Because of this, I get my scripts read first before I send them out - but it's just not viable to get my blog posts checked too! ; )

Anyway, there's my two pence worth. I've discovered how to make web polls (I know! I'm getting into this internet-lark - at last!), so you can leave your thoughts by clicking my sexy new grammar poll or kicking my ass in the comments section.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Q & A: The Accidental Script Reader

If you're wondering what I'm up to and I'm sure you are judging by the amount of emails I've had in the last week asking if I'm "still here" since I've "hardly written anything", then I can assure you, my lovely bloggers that indeed I am. Just stressed. And ill, thanks to James Moran. No, we're not having an affair, it's his blasted Space Virus. Somehow he's managed to transmit it over the radiowaves (or whatever the internet works on) and on to me. Cheers. Mate.

The lovely Anya, whom I read for recently, emailed with a few questions about being a script reader amongst other things, so here are my answers for your viewing pleasure. I'm hoping that once my brain has stopped melting and my cats have stopped tearing up my new carpet, I may have two seconds to write an in-depth article about something (anything!), so if you have any requests too, you just let me know on the usual address. Ciao!

How did you become a script reader?

Danny has a few thoughts on this over at his site and I've answered a couple of his posts, the most recent being last thursday, but to reiterate, I became a script reader completely by accident. I had no idea any one could make a living reading (okay, half a living) and when I went to university, I had no idea jobs like this existed. For my course I had to do a six week work placement - most of my class had places booked at amazing places like London and evn abroad; my then-boyfriend went to Scala, a chap went to some prodco in Amsterdam, two other girls went to ITN. I drew a complete blank however: I was a single Mum with no money and no prospect of making any: I couldn't afford the childcare to work for free: my parents did not live in Bournemouth and all my friends were on work placement too! In short, I freaked, because without this work placement I would not pass the course. Then one of my lecturers hit on the idea of asking the Script Factory to let me read for them - I could do it from home. Whilst the uni said this was okay, The Script Factory said no. No matter though, because it gave me the idea and I wrote to a whopping 79 literary agents and production companies begging them to let me do something similar. Of the 79, only 16 replied, 15 of which said no but thanks anyway, though about five were nice enough to let me have a look round their offices, meet people, that kind of thing, including Working Title. However, the sixteenth said yes and the rest is history. I read most of the summer from home, though I would usually go in on Mondays for the day as my son's father unexpectedly moved to Bournemouth that summer around July-time, which, though stalker-ish, came in quite useful.

Can you REALLY tell a bad script from the first page?

I would love to say no to this question, that I'm not prejudiced against various things, but you know what? I'm only human. All readers are. I do groan when I open a script and there's a ton of black on the page. Why? Because I know it's going to take twice as long to read and possibly not be as interesting as a lean one. Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised; an idea is so good, it shines through despite the dense scene description. Most of the time though I am confused as to which are the signficant bits of the story because there's too much distracting stuff and that does, in my view anyway, obfuscate even the best and/or most original story.

Since you say horror is your favourite genre, does that mean you get bored by others like drama, sci-fi and comedy?

Absolutely not. Whilst one of my favourite scripts ever that I've read through Bang2write, lit agents and initiatives WAS admittedly a horror, of the other two that share that fabled spot, one was a straight chase/thriller and the other a period drama. Story matters most to me, not genre. Another script that particularly sticks out in my mind is one about baseball, something I know absolutely zilch about plus I HATE sport, yet the story was so good I was gripped from start to finish.

How do you like to work?

In short sporadic bursts, mostly because I have to. I have no childcare which means I do the majority of my work in the evening at the moment, which is a mega-pain, though this will change hopefully when I move house and a nursery place becomes available for the little one. Having said that though, I DO still believe you can get far much more done in short bursts than sitting in front of your PC for hours on end. I would far rather do the washing up or even the ironing (yuk!) and think about my script - or even someone else's. I'll often read clients' work, then clean the house. (So I've probably come up with ideas for YOUR development notes whilst cleaning the loo! Nice thought.)

Do you read novels as well as feature and short scripts?

I read a lot of novels - or rather what some Lit Agents call the "starter pack", which is a one-page synopsis and the first three chapters, usually totalling approximately ten to fifteen thousand words. The idea is, if you can't interest someone with the starter pack, then it doesn't matter what the rest of the novel is like. I do this for Bang2write clients if they want me to as a "trial run" before they send off to Lit Agents. Once, a chap sent me his starter pack privately, then sent it to one of the Agents I worked for, so I got the revised version too! Publishing seems to be a small world. Occasionally I get huge tomes, unsolicited through the post, bound in Leather on that parchmenty paper and I freak out slightly when that happens, because it's such a labour of love for the author I wonder why they want feedback? When I first started I would read these manuscripts, but I just don't have the time any more unfortunately, so I send them back with a polite note saying the "starter pack" is the usual way to send stuff out. Also, asking first is kinda nice.

And finally, the best one in my opinion:

Do you really have children and a mad woodcutter-type husband, or is your family made up? (Well, you are a writer!)

Lol! Thanks but not even I have a twisted enough imagination to come up with their antics!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Parenthood

So my little boy comes home from school last night, minus his Tamagotchi. For those of you who don't know, these creatures are allowed in school now because they can be "paused" (in other words, manufacturers wised up to the fact kids had to leave them at home all day with parents who couldn't work them so they died and kids lost interest, it seems). They evolve too: Susan grew up, had a baby Keith which evolved to become Ned who had his own baby called Flib (Ned and Susan are in the old folks' home: Flib can visit them on the internet! They think of everything.)

I digress. Alf comes home WITHOUT Flib - I ask: did he leave her in his tray at school? "Adam has it." The boy replies. Adam? Who's Adam? Why has he got Flib? I get all maternal and overprotective, but Alf merely says: "He's babysitting tonight. I needed the night off."

Kids, hey.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

How To Write An Ode Google Style - links to info and lesson plans [updated 11/04/08]

Teachers this is just for you!!! Links to information, lesson plans and step-by-step guides about odes all in the same place! Don't say I never give you anything! : )
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Since I get on average a whopping THIRTEEN people a day average coming by this blog in the hope that I tell them how to write an ode (I know, weird - I think I owe it to Crampon's Nads if you recall), I've decided to take the bull by the horns and provide some links for you lovely surfing teachers:

Fantastic lesson plan about the ode "To Autumn" by John Keats

An analysis of Keats' "Ode To A Nightingale" with other information, vocabulary and questions for discussion.

Some information on the different types of Ode

Steps For Writing An Ode

How To Write An Ode (Yahoo answers, includes more links)

How to Write An Ode (excellent eHow Guide)

How To Write An Ode (By Poetry Feast)

Some interesting history on Odes
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Don't forget: I used to be a teacher myself, teaching English Language and Literature to nartive speakers (including creative writing) and also English as a Foreign Language, so I'm always interested in what teachers out there have to say. If you have any questions or tips for other teachers, let us know - email me on bang2write"at"aol"dot"com.

Thanks!

Now I'M looking - for Geeks, that is

Hello my pretties. Quick query today re: this computer stuff (so if you know nowt, like lil' ol' me, tune out, you know you want to.)

I want to do two things but don't know where to start with either of them.

a) I want to put a sitemeter on my other blog. (I know I have one here, but no idea how it got there, presumably someone else did it - or it's a gift from the sitemeter fairy and in which case, ta very much but can I have another one please?).

b) I want to upload documents on to this blog (just single Word docs, one or two pages, that kinda thing) or find out how to do site hosting so I can upload documents SOMEWHERE and then link to them from the blog. Some of you out there do this already - I'm looking at you Lee Thomson - so PLEASE tell me how to do it too, I want to join the club.

Any info gratefully received, MWAH...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Directors etc Looking For Screenplays

If you want to find somewhere to send your unsolicited manuscripts, you could do worse than adding this blog Hollywood Screenplays to your favourites and/or links.

Apparently it's a re-launch of a website of the same name, only in blogform; Chris reliably informs us over on Robin's blog he remembers a few success stories and "no horror stories". Worth a try, anyway: gotta be in it to win it, no such thing as failure except not giving it a go, blah blah >INSERT CLICHE HERE<.

Let BANG2WRITE know if you approach anyone, whether they read your screenplay and what they had to say! I'll do the same, of course.

Travel Writing # 1: Combe Martin, North Devon

Devon is a bit of an enigma: people outside the area look at a map of the UK and think it must be pretty small; that all Devonians must know someone Cornish since the two counties are bang next door to each other. The reality is, it takes longer to go from one end of Devon to the other by car than it takes to get to London by rail from the town I live in. The reason for the unfair comparison between car and rail by the way is because there are practically no trains IN Devon: the network is, in short, totally shagged. Apparently North Devon was served pretty well until about 1966: trains ran all the way out to Lynton and Lynmouth right on the tip of North Devon coast, but then some bright spark up in Westminster decided country bumpkins didn't really need trains and all the services were axed. As a result, the whole of North Devon, though served by bus, is pretty much cut off from the rest of Devon: as us teens always lamented growing up, unless you drive, you're screwed! (The buses always used to leave my village out, natch...They were supposed to pick us up, but frequently didn't bother, but that's a story for another time). The upshot of that was, my siblings and I were incredibly fit as we had to walk everywhere or stay in with our parents on a Saturday night. No contest! Ah, the nights I spent walking along country roads in my Goth dress and Morticia make-up, getting beeped by passing Fiestas as Young Farmers would hang out the windows shouting, "FREAK!" Those were the days.

So anyway: I didn't live in Combe Martin, I lived next door in Berrynarbor, a small village that had once been owned back in medieval times by some French Overlord apparently; this accounted for its strange name, in that it was a bastardised version over time of his surname. I moved there when I was about thirteen, the eldest of five children with an attitude problem, bad hair and my parents' house was falling down. We were Darling Buds of May with Wednesday Adams tacked on. Niiiice.
Anyway, Berrynarbor is a tiny place, beset by flowers and more strangely, flower pot men the villagers make in some kind of countryside tradition, though my parents never indulged (which may or may not account for our estrangement from the rest of the village). These things were sometimes life-size and usually engaged in gardening acts outside people's houses, though once I saw two flower pot men doing it doggy-style near the school. I was severely traumatised.

Just like Berrynarbor, Combe Martin is named after its original owner, a bloke called Martin, though whether this was his first or second name is unconfirmed (a "combe" is apparently an old Devonian word for "valley leading to coast"). Back in my day there was a curious rivalry between Berrynarbor and Combe Martin, its reason long-forgotten and logic disregarded. Us Berrynarborian teens called people in Combe Martin Combe MARTIANS and the teens there called us, originally, T***s. It backfired anyway, since those people in Combe Martin delighted in their Martian tag and there was always a team in the annual carnival going by this name.

Combe Martin is a place of tradition. The Top George Inn (named after St. George and unsurprisingly at the top of Combe Martin high street) is the home of the fabled Combe Martin "Hobby Horse", a kind of jester horse May Bank Holiday sees the Earl of Rone: over the four days of the Spring Bank Holiday weekend, the Barnstaple Grenadiers, Hobby Horse, Fool and villagers hunt through the village for the 'Earl of Rone', finally finding him on the Monday night. He is mounted back-to-front on a donkey and paraded through the village to the sea. He is frequently shot by the grenadiers and falls from the donkey only to be revived by the Hobby-horse and Fool, re-mounted on the donkey, and carried onwards to his fate. At the final shooting on the beach, he is not revived, but thrown into the sea. Apparently this never actually happened and this Rone guy fled to Spain instead, so why this has come about is a mystery, but it's fun and 600 villagers do this every year.

The village is a small town really, but North Devon seems adversed to calling any of its settlements towns unless the population hits about 20,000. As a result, villages have become vast with not so much as a W.I in sight. Instead, there is a Carnival Committee, since there is a massive Carnival every year in Combe Martin in August, which has a variety of events: the parade, the knockout and the wheelbarrow race the jewels in the crown. The parade is self-explanatory, but the knockout consists of a variety of teams basically competing on mad things like skipping and three-legged races. The winners get pride of place in the parade. Needless to say, I've never taken part, thank you. The wheelbarrow race is a slightly odder tradition: grown men and women dress up and run down the massively long high street with wheelbarrows down to the sea front. They used to stop in the multitude of pubs along the way but this was knocked on the head since the race then took three million years and also there were loads of crashes. The perils of drink-driving, my friends.

"Nothing ever happens" is something often whined by kids in the country and certainly nothing ever did in Berrynarbor as far as I was ever aware (apart from Buses not picked us up and highly-sexed flower pot men), but no one could ever make that accusation of Combe Martin. At three miles long, its high street is arguably, if not the longest, in Great Britain and it has a vast array of pubs on its way - at my estimation, one every 500 yards. Nice one. Its most famous is of course the legendary Pack O' Cards, named for its 52 windows and Combe Martian and Songs of Priase Presenter Harry Secombe's regular when he was still alive. Some of its windows are still bricked up thanks to the window tax of some weirdo king back in the seventeenth century, but you can appreciate the history. Another favourite place to eat of mine is The Fo'clse on the sea front itself: it has an amazing view out into the cove. I worked here for three shifts as a waitress when I was about 16 before I was "let go" for crying off one night to go and sing Karoake in Barnstaple one night instead. Some git taped it and gave the Publican the evidence. Forget Big Brother: Combe Martin will get you!

So there you have it: Combe Martin in one article. Any Combe Martians out there, please give us your view of the village too. Other interesting facts include the fact I was swept out to sea in a dinghy at Combe Matrin; my husband and his triplet brother and my sister were once in the carnival dressed as failed bungee jumpers (mind boggles); my wedding reception was at Combe Martin, at my parents' house (they moved there after I left home and have since moved again). I also spent my wedding night there at a very nice B&B on the sea front, but let's not dwell on that too much ; )

If you like the sound of the place, here's some links:

Here's a map of the area.

You can find Combe Martin by road here (if you're starting in London!).

Here's some good tourist info, including places to stay and go.

Here's Martin Strickland's fabulous blog, complete with his amazing photographs of the village and surrounding coast and countryside.

The BBC have some interesting pages on Combe Martin, here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Please Hold

Normal service will be resumed shortly...As soon as my head is not going to explode, anyway. For those of you who don't know, we are moving house and I have to get this hellhole sorted by a week next wednesday to get new carpets down and to feng shui the joint for the valuers. Please talk amongst yourselves or cast your eye over these links that I have arranged for your viewing pleasure:

Because we're screenwriters, we all love useless facts and statistics.

If you want to see some Disco Daleks and Cybermen, click here.

Here's some great articles and info about UFOs I found.

If you want to join a conversation debating which are cooler, vampires or werewolves, click here.

Yes it's old, but if you enjoy Badger Badger as much as Lilirose, click here.

You think the words "disturbing cartoons" are an oxymoron? Apparently not if you click here.

Finally, if you feel you NEED HELP and want to actually procrastinate less, check out this article.

Friday, May 11, 2007

What Constitutes "Good" Feedback?

Many thanks to Elly-Jane who asks this question:

"You talk alot on your blog about coverage and feedback and taking on board what Readers, Producers, Execs, etc say: that they're not out to "get" new writers and they want to help... But what if you get feedback like this?

"(This script) has no subtext. Not one single character has anything interesting to say, they're just going through the motions, so The Reader is treated to what amounts to a series of day-to-day conversations... yet not amounting to a real, holistic story."

I feel hurt and confused. This is so negative... I tried really hard. How should I respond to this? Just move on? I know you say we shouldn't write back to Readers explaining stuff, but I just can't get this out of my head."


It's never pleasant to get rejections: it's not easy in real life, so it comes as no surprise that it hurts when writing. This script is your "baby": when someone attacks it then, you feel as Elly-Jane describes, hurt and confused. I have too. Only recently a close associate barked at me, "Not up to standard... Go back to page one." about one of my scripts. When I objected, saying it would be more helpful to say WHY it wasn't "up to standard", s/he softened considerably, even apologising, saying they FELT it wasn't up to my usual standard since I had missed various opportunities in the story, perhaps I had rushed it? They were right; I had. And I did need to go back to page 1.

But there's a way of saying it.

It's this that is crucial in giving feedback or coverage in my view. I've not read Elly-Jane's script and nor have I read the rest of The Reader's thoughts or know who it was. However, in my opinion the comments above are not only very negative as Elly-Jane complains, they are incredibly solipsistic - rather, it says the script is a particular way, for no other reason than the Reader says it is. They are using their own feelings as justification for what they say: "This script has no subtext": who says? They say. Perhaps it doesn't have a definable subtext to this particular Reader, but does that mean Elly-Jane did not include any or more crucially in the case of the newer writer, try to include any. And we all know that one man's meat is another's poison: I've had one script derided as "incomprehensible" on one end of the scale right through to "overly simplistic" on the other... This is the same draft. Just different Readers.

When we read other people's work, whether we're professionals or amateurs or students or whatever, I believe we should not only appreciate it takes guts to get one's work "out there", we need to realise our view is just that - ours and therefore fallible. Sure, I've read scripts and groaned; others I've rejoiced. Which is the better opinion? Neither. As I've said before, I have my own prejudices and my own influences. I'm fallible, like everyone else.

However, by adding phrases like "In my view...", "in my eyes...", "it did/n't work for me...", you're showing the person whose work you've read not only your opinion about the material, but the notion that you know you're fallible as well. This immediately takes the sting out of a bad report or keeps people's feet on the ground when you say their script is good. One view is just that: one. But perhaps yours is the one that makes or breaks another's dream. You don't have to be a big wig producer either to do that: a friend of mine hasn't written a word since she was nineteen, because her sister derided a single line in a poem of hers. She'd said the rest was great. Yet all my friend heard was the ridicule of that one line.

So: to Elly-Jane, do move on. Don't explain yourself or your script to this Reader, that won't help, but if it will make you feel better, perhaps send a politely worded email about their use of language like I did regarding my "standard" and my associate. However, like mothers tell their daughters that "being happy" is the biggest revenge when they're dumped by some spotty oik of a boyfriend, the biggest revenge is keeping writing, keeping your work out there. And proving those solipsistic Readers wrong, even if that takes twenty years.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Marathon, Not A Sprint

If you're wanting a little career guidance or want to check you're doing what you should be doing regarding this ol' screenwriting lark, you could do a lot worse than read this article. It's long (22 pages, and a pdf) but very engaging and worth saving on your desktop to dip into in coffee breaks.

Remember, if you want your fave article or even one of your own on The Bang2write List of Wonder, then email me the link! We're particularly low on ones about effective dialogue. Equally, if you'd like to see ones on a particular topic that you feel I've missed, drop me a line.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

There Can Be Only One!

So, I'm on a Power of Three hunt, but I actually only need one, since two other mystery Readers already bagged their places in advance on this one. Soz.

It's the usual: a feature and yes, need feedback ASAP please. I will of course read your feature in return as well.

I'm going to have to be a total fascist re: this project: I'm looking for a person who is a) a professional Reader b) a graduate or attendee of a UK film/scriptwriting-related course or c) has read this particular project before in a previous draft (all my previous Readers, if interested, email to check which "this" one is if you want it!). Also, if you happen to be female too that would be fab - this project has NEVER been read by a woman!!

Sorry if my perimeters leave you out in the cold - it's nothing personal, honest. It's just that this draft is on the "cusp" of being "ready" (or as "ready" as spec drafts can ever be), so I just need some tweak advice re: story and possibly characters, as opposed to structure, hardcore development or streams of consciousness. Promise - next time McCloud!!!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Travel Writing

I could not have had a busier or noisier day yesterday than if I had actually purchased a ticket right into the jaws of Hell for a one-day round-trip round Satan's lair. I got on a train from Devon to Paddington at 9am only to be greeted by a multitude of already-drunk Arsenal and West Ham fans, complaining Rugby fans (who were still drinking, but apparently in a "sensible" fashion, unlike their football-obsessed counterparts) and an old Chap from Sidmouth who wanted to tell anyone who would listen about his charity work and his dog, Sarah. I asked why he would call a dog Sarah; he said it was in honour of Sarah Ferguson. I'm not to sure if the former HRH would see it as a compliment, but it takes all sorts.

My Metlab clients were all in fine form as usual - hello Elinor, Ben and Rich - though this was our last session before the course ends >SOB<. Still, they've all produced rather marvellous and very different first drafts, exactly what they were supposed to do, so I think everyone's got a lot out of it. I then went to a script meeting with a director over at Ealing...Or attempted to, for the chaos on the tube yesterday can only be described as catastrophic. With engineering works putting the Central line out of action altogether, an army of tourists, commuters and weirdos were gathered on the District Line all shouting and screaming at one another. One chap was having a huge argument with what I imagined was his girlfriend on his mobile: "Well that's nice! You could have effing told me before I got effing stuck at Earl's Court you selfish cow....Excuse me, WOULD YOU STOP LISTENING TO MY CONVERSATION!!" Whoops, guilty as charged. I politely (alright, sort of politely) said that perhaps he shouldn't be shouting and screaming in public if he didn't want others to listen, to which a kindly-looking Indian Man muttered "Here, here" and Mobile Man jumped on a train to Wimbledon, possibly just to get away from us.

So it took me an hour and half to actually get to my meeting (which seemed to go well, thanks)....And 7 minutes on the above-rail train to get back to Paddington. I felt a little like Dr. Who in a very small Tardis full of annoying People, travelling through time only to find that I could take Willy Wonka's glass elevator back and bypass them all. A slightly bizarre mixing of analogies there, but then it was a very, very bizarre day.

One other good thing to come out of it though was I had plenty of time to get into the fabulous Pies and Prejudice by Stuart Maconie. A Broadcaster and journalist (for those of you who don't know) Stuart goes in search of The North (of England, for again those of you who don't know) and what it really means to be Northern. For our American Friends' benefit, I should explain that being Northern is somewhat of a curious state of being, in that, though this Island might well be larger than the aforementioned Tardis, its North/South Divide could stretch into infinity, again like that paradoxical Time Machine. If that makes any sense. Probably not. You get the gist though, right??

So I was inspired. I've always enjoyed Travel Writing since Anna Funder's amazingly fabulous Stasiland (before that, Travel Writing to me had meant Michael Palin in baggy shorts and Judith Chalmer getting steadily more orange whilst entreating us, "Wish You Were Here...?). People often email me and ask me about the lovely place in which I live, Devon and though I am prone to slag it off on the basis that I would rather pluck my eyes out and fry them in garlic than live here, I am forced to admit that it is indeed beautiful, has some awe-inspiring scenery and fabulous history. It is also the place which my husband hails from and my two lovely children were born, where my parents and youngest sister live and where Exmoor, a place that will always have a little piece of my heart, resides. So, grudgingly, I do like it here, if only a little bit: I have the kind of relationship with Devon I might have with a doddery old aunt who sings when drunk and has the habit of saying, "I told you so" when you break up with a boyfriend. I can't wait to get away, but I'd miss her when she's gone.

So: today I am announcing that I will write twelve articles about Devon over the coming months and indulge my Travel Writing bent. Maybe they'll be god awful and dull or maybe they will prove a revelation. Who knows. I'm promising nothing. However, if you want to know what is going on in Devon beyond cream teas, The Famous Five and yokels with trousers done up with string, now's the time to ask while I'm researching this series. Perhaps you want info on Ilfracombe, advice on Appledore or Tales from Torrington? If I know it, I'll write about it. Put a request in the comments section. Or, if you're a complete townie-type and wouldn't know a Devon village, town or place if it hit you in the head with a wet herring, click here for a list of places that may tickle your fancy. Over to you!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Your Voice, Re/Presentation

In response then to SK's questions in yesterday's post regarding one's voice and the notion of RE-PRESENTING one's concerns, issues, etc. A quick reminder:

I would be interested to see what you have to say about really developing a 'voice', that is, how to re/present your concerns in a work. For just knowing your concerns and your story can't be enough to have a voice, can it? You have to not just know what your story is about, and it be something individual to you, but also to somehow get that individuality across to the reader. So how do you look at something you're written and tell whether it has a 'voice'; how do you identify areas where the voice is strong or weak, and how do you rewrite to bolster the weak ones? If you do know what you're writing about, and you do have something to say, but you don't have a voice, how can you learn to put a voice in? Can you?

I believe knowing your concerns can absolutely help in developing your voice. Knowing what you want to talk about, what message you want to send, can help you choose not only genre but subject matter and the way in which you structure it and why. As an example here, if we were to take the philosophical notions of existence and epistemology - that is, the theory of knowledge; how we know what we know in essence - these concerns lend themselves particularly well to the sci-fi and supernatural thriller genres. As we've seen, multiple times, writers have taken these notions and produced such stories as I, Robot, the Matrix, The Final Cut, Stigmata, Dust Devil and Stir of Echoes. Behind all of these films, whether you like them or not, the writer/s have a something to say: they have woven their thoughts, opinions and experiences of real life into these very (paradoxically) unreal films (hyper-real), involving dystopian views of the future and/or the ways in which we all perceive the world around us.

So, having "something to say" (that all-important message in effect), can be the spark or catalyst that starts off the chain reaction of ideas that leads towards your story in my view. Having "something to say" that's personal to you - and not a copy of someone else's POV - is what shows your individuality to The Reader. I'm very interested in those notions of epistemology and existence too; it's no accident then that these form the basis of both my horror and supernatural thriller. The ethereal can re/present the unreal well in my opinion and from the desire to show my concerns, two very different, hyper-real stories grew from the same message, which is You have to face up to who you really are. I believe this in my own life; I believe it even when sometimes the "truth" is unpleasant and I've had to face things about myself and my own personality that are not always palatable. However, I also believe that good will come in the end and as a result, it's therefore no accident that all of my scripts have a "happy" ending, even when on the surface they may appear negative.

The Reader can tell from the page who has something to say and who has not. It's somehow tangible. Think of it in this way: you read a confession to a murder on a piece of paper. You don't know who wrote it, but SOMEONE asks you to tell them whether you think it is true or not. In this case, you believe it is true. You're not really sure why; it's a gut feeling thing. Perhaps there's lots of detail or the Writer of the confession appears to know things they shouldn't. The Person who asks you whether it's true or false congratulates you: you're right. It is true. Gut feeling has a lot to do with "voice" - either on your behalf or the Reader's. If you feel like you've put your heart and soul into a project, chances are, a good Reader will see it too. I've read lots of scripts that have been interesting, yet I've recongised too much of other films, books, whatever to make the story part of the Writer who wrote it - it's second-hand, if you like. However, I have read just as many scripts that have read like that confession to murder: I've got the gut feeling that this is THEIR story, or THEIR feelings on a particular issue or concern. It's that sense of THEM that communicates their voice.

How you identify areas where your voice is strong or weak and how you re-write bolster weak areas is a real toughie, since I'm not too sure it's so black and white. I'm also unsure a script can be weak on voice at the same time as strong. Even a deeply flawed script can be "good" if its voice is strong. It is possible to see the maddest of stories, the biggest mess of structure, the hugest soup of visuals and say: "This has something to say. I just don't know what" like that agent I told you about yesterday. As for not having a voice but can you learn to put one in, as Matt says in the comments in yesterday's post: if you write about something that really "fires you", how can your voice NOT come out? I'd venture that only those writers who let themselves be influenced too much (whatever "too much" means) bu other people/writers/films etc will be voiceless. However, as this is such a contentious issue, I'd be interested to hear what other Scribes have to say on this as well though. Over to you...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Your Voice, part deux

A lot of new writers believe that having a "voice" is somehow accidental. That other writers somehow are blessed with it, as a gift from The Writing Fairies or maybe THE MUSE OF SHANE BLACK/QUENTIN TARANTINO/SYD FIELD/ROBERT MCKEE/LINDA SEGER * (*insert "cool" screenwriter or script guru here).

Newsflash. If your voice is YOU, then only YOU can discover and develop your voice. No amount of reading scriptwriting books or even scripts will make you pinpoint that certain "something" that only YOU can give your scripts and absolutely no one else. Craft is craft and whilst it's certainly advisable to be as polished as one can, especially in the spec market, you're an individual. Don't sell your voice short or ignore it altogether; chances are you won't "stand out" if you do, and "standing out" is a very good idea in this biz; even if people hate your material, they'll remember YOU.

Having a voice is not something that "takes time to show" through a body of work in my opinion, it's a conscious effort, a lifestyle choice when writing, if you like. I have long term clients and colleagues with very strong voices; even without a title page, I can guess who is who, not because I've read so MUCH of their work, but because every single script they have written, regardless of genre or subject, regardless even of of the stage the draft is at development, first, fifth or fifteenth, has one thing in common - their voice.

I believe it's possible to develop your voice from the very first script you write. I blew off the dust from this rejection letter from an agent regarding a script I wrote when I was just 19. I hadn't gone on a scriptwriting course at this point, I didn't have the internet at home and I had read one book, the legendary Teach Yourself Screenwriting by Raymond Frensham, so it's pretty fair to say that the script was a bit of a mess. However, the agent in question was really kind and gave me two pages of feedback, of which this is an excerpt regarding my "voice":

Though for the most part I must confess that I didn't really understand your story, I really liked your style. You have good imagery in there and a vital way of writing that really communicates something - even if I wasn't exactly sure what that "something" was!

She went on to reccommend Bournemouth and I applied, got in and went the following academic year: the rest is history, showing rejections are not always the end of the road.

But anyway. I had "something" apparently; no one knew what that was yet, least of all me. I was a little terror-struck at first: what could I do about it? Writers were just writers... Weren't they?

No. I believe that old adage: creativity is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Those Writers who "make it" in my view know they have endless rewrites and copious learning on the job: they also know they must have a voice and know how to go about developing theirs. So this is how I believe you do it...

1. Copy. When I was a small child, I wanted to be a novelist. Whilst under ten, I spent a lot of time reading myths and legends and Grimm fairy tales, but also more innocent stuff like Enid Blyton. However, by double figures I had graduated to the creepier tales of Robert Westall (just thinking about The Wind Eye makes me shudder, even now) and Robert Swindell (Daz 4 Zoe, anyone? What a book!). When I hit 12, with a reading age of 18+, I had exhausted the children's section at my local library and started on the adults' section. Much to the chagrin of my parents, I developed a liking for Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Shaun Hutson and Clive Barker. Like most kids, I believed that somehow stuff on TV was "accidental" - that you left a camera running and stuff just "happened". So when my mother brought me a book from a charity shop - the aforementioned Teach Yourself Screenwriting - suddenly, a whole new avenue opened up for me and I started to write short scripts. They were all awful and just about every single one had vampires and warlocks and supernatural stuff in, just like my novelist heroes, but this copying between about 14 and 21 is the major contributor to how I write now.

2. Write what you know. This does NOT mean if you're a nurse, write just about being a nurse or whatever. Absolutely not. If everyone wrote only what they had actually ever done, how boring would that be? The thriller and horror genres would be a lot smaller and sci-fi most likely non-existent - how many writers have gone into space? I can just imagine telling "Write what you know" in this regard to a writer like HG Wells: "You can't write a book about a Time Machine you fool, you haven't invented one! And by the way, when did those Aliens invade Earth again and then die of the cold virus?" Eeek. So, instead, think of "write what you know" both metaphorically AND literally. You have actual experiences, yes, but you have opinions, morals, politics, etc too. Which ones do you want or feel you should reflect in your work? Why? Then there are all your influences to consider, too. By now you should be beyond copying and drawing inspiration instead from aspects of books, other films, people or in my case in particular, music. This is also leads into number 3.

3. Re/presentation. No, this isn't anything to do with format or getting an agent; it's about RE-presenting who YOU are through your work, thinking about what concerns and issues you have and how you want to disseminate this information through your script/s. Though I have written vastly different genres - family, horror, supernatural thriller, psychological drama - all share one thing in common: the theme of responsibility. In reality, people who live in denial or shirk their responsibilities, especially absent parents, really gets my goat. It's no accident then that this has made its way, covertly and overtly, into my scripts. I have a big interest in both psychology and philosophy - yet again, these two things have made their way into my drafts, some more obvious than others, as have literary allusions, given my background in English teaching.

4. Arena. Arena is such an under-used tool in reflecting Number 3. One of my scripts has a twisted Alice in Wonderland motif running right through it from beginning to end; some Readers have picked up on it, some haven't, but that does not mean you shouldn't use these devices in developing your voice.

5. Know your message, thus know your story. So many new writers want to write a series of images that looks cool rather than an actual story. I did when I first started. I had a mess of stuff in my brain that just came spewing out in a stream of consciousness. The key here is in getting to the root of what you're saying and why. If your story is a tree, then your message is the acorn it grows from. If you don't know what your message is, then your story may not make sense and your voice will go unheard.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Your Voice, Part 1

As requested by the luscious Lianne, here are my thoughts about what constitutes a Writer's "Voice".

Sometimes a writer will be praised for their craft by a Producer or Reader, yet they will assert that they wanted "more" from that script or selection of scripts; they will feel there's that certain "something", that je ne se quois, that vital ingredient "missing" somehow. Perhaps they will say that what's there are the "bare bones" of a story, yet the feeling of the writer's personality is missing. If this is the case then, there's a good chance you need to develop your "voice" as a writer.

Yet just what is your "voice"? This is notoriously hard to nail down. What is someone's "voice" to one, is perhaps not to another. Shane Black is an obvious example here. Some applaud his voice as bearing obvious talent, humour and a slick style. Others may call his scripts a mess that break all the supposed "rules", which is ultimately annoying for them.

So, having a "voice" comes with drawbacks. It's the thing that may win you friends, but also make you enemies. Yet, in my humble opinion, it's far better to have a voice than not. Those writers who write very competent, very craft-laden scripts without a voice may be a television producer's dream since a "house style" is more important here (though it's important to note that TV Writers should and absolutely do have their own voices too: the brilliant Sarah Phelps on Eastenders is an obvious example; her episodes are always apparent to me, even before her name comes up in the credits with those famous drum beats.) Yet, when making features, writers without a voice can become a nightmare. Can you imagine the British Film Industry having a "house style"? Yuk. What I like about Brit films is they take risks: they can be irreverent, political, horrifying, satirical, sometimes all at once... The list is endless.

What sets films apart then is not always premise, actors, or even the production team behind it sometimes. Often it's the script, the voice behind it: what its theme, its message is - and most crucially why it's being said. Alot of Bang2write Readers read James Moran's blog as well I daresay and this is a writer in my opinion with a very clear voice. He's very vociferous on his blog, not only about his love of computers and computer-related items, Torchwood (and everything I would call "geeky": love you really James, MWAH!), but also his disdain of people who believe in social status and represent a false image to the world of who they are and their own sense of grandeur or self-importance. As he says, the idea for SEVERANCE came when he "wanted to kill some yuppies." So he did. Metaphorically of course, but as Aristotle was keen to point out: this writing lark is often cathartic! Also a point borrowed by a crime novelist I read whose name I forget, but who said in her book intro that she stayed awake every night thinking about how much she wanted to kill her then-husband, but knew she'd muck it up and get sent to prison, so wrote it into a book instead, made loads of money and divorced him. Revenge!

So, your voice is YOU. Why you write the stuff you do. Knowing WHY you want to write a particular story, knowing WHAT your particular concerns are and HOW you want to disseminate this information through your script/s is what will set you apart from the writers who are obsessed only with craft. When you get feedback that says something like, "This story has real heart", "You have a clear interest in the story you are telling", "I got a sense of you within the narrative" etc, for all the quips I make about such phrases, they do mean you have something, if not the perfect script: you have a voice. That's something to be applauded, since it's something often underrated.

TOMORROW: part 2 of this article, where I go into my thoughts about how a writer can develop his or her voice...