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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Q: How Best To Introduce A Character?

Thanks to my old mucker David Bishop, who asks:

"How best to introduce characters - list 3 attributes, a single sentence, or let their actions [and words] speak for themselves?"

First up, I'm going to be really annoying and saying there's no "best" way, just people's opinions. I could say any one way of the three David's listed is "brilliant" or "terrible"... and then you'll find *that* way condemned/praised when you submit your script somewhere. It's just a fact of (screenwriting) life.

HOWEVER there are obvious traps screenwriters fall into when introducing and maintaining characters throughout their narratives and these are the ones I see most often in spec scripts:

- Relying on what characters are wearing to say something about them (ie. Scantily clad woman? Loose morals! Goth? Must be miserable and depressed! Sigh)

- Relying on characters' accents (ie. German accent? Must be domineering, overbearing! Northern accent? Must be A SALT OF THE EARTH TYPE = yawn!)

- Relying on skin colour or ethnic origin (ie. Asian woman? OPPRESSED. Black man? Criminal... or chief of police! GNASH!)

- Relying on gender (Woman? Is a drudge everyone puts upon... or is a selfish vain cow who needs to know *what's important*! Man? Is a loser who doesn't realise *what's important* in his life... Marriage... Family... the works! Child? Girl children are sweet and serene and rarely cause trouble... Boy children climb trees and run away more frequently!)

- Relying on physical attributes (woman? TELL US ABOUT HER BREASTS. Man? Tell us about his SMILE and/or EYES).

And perhaps most alarming of all (though only because I see it challenged the least, the above makes grim reading too):

- Relying on disability/deformity (Character in a wheelchair? Then they are a VICTIM or have an ATTITUDE PROBLEM. Character with a facial disfigurement? Then they are ACTUALLY EVIL - OMFG!!).

I wish I was exaggerating about the above list. I AM NOT.

But let's assume you would NEVER write anything as crass, offensive or 2D as in my list. So what are my tips for introducing characters? In no particular order, here you go:

The Lawrence Kasdan School of Thought. Everyone knows- or should know - how he describes Teddy in BODY HEAT: "Rock n' Roll arsonist." Four words or pure genius. WTF is a Rock n' Roll Arsonist??? Who knows, who cares - YET WE STILL KNOW WHAT KASDAN IS TALKING ABOUT. This character is someone who is hip, cool, who has a dangerous edge. In my mind's eye I see a grungy 80s rocker type with long hair, tattoos and earrings and GODDAMN IS HE SEXY, yet somehow I know I should back off because he's going to cause me nothing but heartache. And whilst my own personal vision is not translated like this *exactly* in the film, this still sums up the character perfectly. If you can "sum up" characters like this, then GO FOR IT, I hardly ever see it and I always wonder why. I try and do it myself, with various modicums of success. I recall I wrote a script yeeeeeeears ago when I described a mere secondary character as a "Suburban Popeye". The script was never made (largely because it was otherwise pants) but you know what? Just about EVERY SINGLE BIT OF FEEDBACK I received had noticed and praised that character description! So I think it works.

The Callie Khouri School of Thought. One of my favourite lines of scene description in one of my fave movies THELMA AND LOUISE describes Thelma's husband, Daryl: "Polyester was made for this man." Daryl is a MILLSTONE around Thelma's neck; he's literally sucking the life from her. He's the type who wants his dinner on the table by a certain time, the type who doesn't give a toss about Thelma's own satisfaction - in sex, in life, in ANYTHING. Thelma is not his wife so much as his glorified serving wench. And what would a man like this wear? Polyester. Of course. Something mundane, cheap, doesn't-give-a-shit. Assigning *something physical* - a fabric, a car, a piece of jewellery, ANYTHING - that gives us a *clue* about that character's personality and motivations, ie:

MARC: so full of self righteousness, he's got a hair shirt on under his office clothes.

KATY: self esteem so bad, she covers her pretty face with far too much make-up.

SALLY: so disconnected and oblivious she's constantly on Facebook.


The Usual School of Thought. It's true that most spec scripts DON'T subscribe to Lawrence Kasdan or Callie Khouri's ways of introducing characters. Instead, they will make a brief intro to the character, followed by letting their actions and words speak for themselves. And do note: THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS. However, to avoid being dull with your character intros in this manner, I would recommend thinking about the following:

- WHERE do we meet them? You wouldn't believe how many characters I'm introduced to in bed (oooooh matron!). Whilst obviously this *can* work, we all need to sleep, wake up, get up, etc; even insomniacs usually go to bed for a bit! So what does introducing a character getting ready for the day actually achieve? 9/10 not much. I see a similar amount of characters at work and this is a big improvement, especially if said character has a particular skill of some kind (especially one that will come in useful later in the story) or an attribute (that again, will later come into play!).

- WHAT are they DOING? So many writers introduce characters doing dull things like walking, getting ready, waiting for buses or sitting in classrooms doodling. Let us KNOW what this character is LIKE via their ACTIONS. The more outlandish the better sometimes... Don't have someone just RUNNING, have them do a huge assault course to test their resolve, like Clarice Starling in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS which shows us her inner strength.

- WHY are we WATCHING?? Making us WONDER what will HAPPEN NEXT is key to introducing new characters. Remember I just said introducing a character walking is dull... But actually, it doesn't HAVE to be. Consider two famous characters introduced walking:

Tony in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. He's strutting his stuff down the street, in his gladrags. He's hip and cool and... CARRYING A PAINT CAN?? Intriguing... What's that for, etc? This leads us into the next scene in the paint shop, giving us insight into Tony's life and his job, hopes and ambitions.

Ace in ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE. He too is strutting his stuff down the street, carrying some sort of package, dressed as a delivery man which is patently some kind of weird disguise because he's ALSO got *something* stuffed down his shirt... and he's being decidedly weird on the way, "dropping" the package, kicking it, etc... Why???


CONCLUDING:

Introduce characters any way it works, which I'd wager are: 1) non-stereotypical 2) Not outlandish for the sake of it and 3) NOT DULL!

Good luck!

Friday, May 27, 2011

COMMENT TO WIN: Celtx Open Source Screenwriting Book

Want a FREE PRINT copy of Celtx: Open Source Screenwriting? Then look no further... The guys at Packt Publishing have kindly provided me with one for a lucky winner!

If you want to win this book, then comment/leave your name and email address IN THIS POST by 5pm, FRIDAY JUNE 3RD 2011, for a chance to win. I will get one of my spawn to pick one of the names at random after this and arrange for the book to be sent to you. Please pass this opportunity on to all your writery friends!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Looking For A Bang2write Intern

Looking for writing work experience? Are you good at finding links about screenwriting, novels, movies etc of interest to Bang2writers? How are your blogging skillz?

I'm looking for some cover for my Facebook page and my blog when I have my baby next month - otherwise I know what will happen, I'll end up updating them both again within minutes of giving birth!!! THIS TIME I'm having some time off, by hook or by crook!!!

I'm afraid I can't offer money 'cos I don't have any. What I can offer however is admin status on the Bang2writers FB page for approx 4-6 weeks posting 3 x a week and a guaranteed blogging platform for your thoughts on writing, the industry, etc up to two times a week on my blog at www.lucyvee.blogspot.com. You will also be able to write an "intro" blog with your photo so everyone can know who you are, your plans & ambitions, what types of people etc you're looking for. My blog receives in the region of 1500-2000 hits a WEEK now and my social network has now well over 3K members, so that's serious exposure for the right person. I am also happy to provide references for job applications, etc afterwards as this position will especially suit a screenwriting or film student.

The right person for the Bang2write intern position is:

* Predominantly interested in scriptwriting, script editing & novel writing
* Has some script reading experience (either trained or via MAs, peer review, etc)
* Has some experience of blogging/tweeting/whatever
* Is a good web surfer & can seek out interesting links
* Is not afraid of self promotion or PR
* Holds alternative/proactive views on the industry & how to get ahead
* Does not whinge!
* Is a good communicator and can get into interesting discussions etc without flaming people or allowing others to be flamed
* Has a sense of humour
* Is Feminist/forward thinking

TO APPLY: Please write to me at Bang2writeAThotmailDOTcoDOTuk explaining why you're perfect for the internship in 200-300 words max. Deadline: 12:00 MIDDAY, May 31st.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Surprising Characterisation: A Tale of Two Psychos

Yeah, yeah, yeah - soap is writing by numbers, a load of crap, blah blah blah. You finished? Good.

I've long been a fan of Hollyoaks. I was in right slap-bang in the teenage target audience when it started, so have literally grown up with it. I've watched it transform itself from just a few characters with the likes of Ruth, Lewis and Tony - the latter the only remaining original cast member - to what it is now, via multiple blowings-up of local pub The Dog In The Pond and its nightclub across the road The Loft; copious amounts of murder; the kidnapping and orphaning of various children; not to mention a series of rape trials, including the first depiction of male rape on TV via the Hollyoaks Late Night Edition.

What's most interesting about the show at the moment however is the fact it has room for not one, but TWO larger-than-life complete and utter psychos in it - and it works!

SO IN THE RED CORNER WE HAVE...


Warren Fox. Warren is very much your OLD SCHOOL psycho - and he's been in Hollyoaks for yonks. He's a big bloke, imposing - and has the war scars to match. Like everyone else in Hollyoaks there's NOTHING he won't do, including kill his own bride on their wedding day! He's also faked his own death, pretended to be a ghost and feigned amnesia; he's gone out with girls barely out of school and even dangled them over the side of buildings. But Warren has a softer side, too: he's got a foster brother with learning disabilities, Spencer - and we've seen his love and care for him. Since Spencer has gone, we've seen that same love and attention lavished on Theresa McQueen - not in a sexual way, but in terms of making sure she and her baby Kathleen-Khloe (with a "K!") are safe; he even saved them both from a broken lift shaft.

So, to sum up: Warren is an evil, imposing snake with a soft side. He's a ladies' man and can have any girl he wants. He's a clever businessman and as wide as they come, but is not afraid of the law or hiding his activities, though police can rarely pin anything on him. He takes care of those he loves and WILL SLAM DOWN ANYONE WHO GETS IN HIS WAY.

... AND IN THE BLUE CORNER WE HAVE:


Brendan Brady. Brendan's not *from* Hollyoaks, he's an outsider - and has left an ex-wife and two kids (not to mention a well dodgy past) back in Ireland. He's a more traditional style of businessman than Warren; he doesn't like the police poking around. Like Warren, he is prone to RAGE, but unlike Warren he is quiet, unassuming yet has an air of neverending menace - though Warren loves to bait Brendan, he nearly always stays well back. Brendan is the brother of Cheryl, who couldn't be less like Brendan if she tried. Most striking of all however: Brendan is gay. Though he has a tendency to sleep with women, it's local chef Ste he ultimately always goes back to... But despite loving Ste, he TREATS HIM LIKE SHIT and even beats him up. As Ste's own (female) Ex Amy says, "I feel sorry for you, hating yourself as much as you do." Brendan hates both the women in Ste's life - Amy and Rae - because they have the measure of him; it's his "Achille's heel" if you will... But crucially, it's worth noting: Brendan's NOT a bad person because he is gay; he's a bad person who happens to be gay.

Warren and Brendan are two VERY different takes on the antagonist role function: Warren is the more "traditional" approach, with Brendan coming out of the left field. Gay characters are so often the best friend or mentor for another character, yet why not gangsters and psychos? But it's important to note there's not necessarily anything wrong with taking the more TRADITIONAL approach either: Warren is a successful character in his own right - and again, why not? As fun as it is to see a character as original as Brendan - I don't recall seeing anyone quite like him in hundreds, perhaps thousands of viewing hours of continuing drama - role functions DON'T have to push the envelope automatically to be good. In short, IT'S ALL IN THE WRITING.

Concluding then, when creating characters:

1) Are you creating someone within the "expected" or "unexpected"?

2) If "expected", what differentiates this character from what has gone before?

3) If "unexpected", are your characters' traits organic to the story or just plain weird/unbelievable?

Good luck!

Pitch Up

Since launching the new format for the pitches last week, my Talent Circle inbox has been ON FIRE!!! Some great pitches have made their way on to the noticeboard so far, so well done to everyone who's grabbed this FREE opportunity: we've had all sorts, from TV series to shorts to features pitched so far and I'm genuinely looking forward to seeing what comes in next.

I've also had to make a rather large number of declines. This has largely been down to people not following the guidelines: the main issue has been - you guessed it! - TAGLINES INSTEAD OF LOGLINES and uber-lengthy synopses or bios. A few people have mentioned URLs to previous work that have not existed and I've had several writers insist in their bios they "have no experience"!!! Nooooooooo - we *all* have experience, writing-related or not! I'm not saying blatantly fib or anything like that, but you're creative people, that's why you want to pitch stuff, so get us interested in YOU, the writer!!! Do NOT hide your light under a bushel.

Of course there's also been a far share of admin to sort with this too, so please bear with us... I've had a few writers make duplicate and even QUADRUPLE postings when their pitches haven't gone up IMMEDIATELY. Please note there's ONLY ME overseeing the pitches and I want to give each of them a decent amount of attention, so if there are any problems I can offer some brief feedback etc and invite a resubmission. Many thanks to all those writers who've resubmitted pitches on this basis with good humour.

In addition, I've had a plethora of emails, FB msgs and tweets asking me how to register for Talent Circle etc. PLEASE check out all the information on this new page here, at the top of the blog. It details how to join Talent Circle, the pitch guidelines and how to put your pitch on the noticeboard.

And the good news: I'm already hearing from writers saying producers and filmmakers have got in touch with them about their pitches! This is fab and exactly what we want for everyone pitching on Talent Circle. HOWEVER, as with all things good, I've heard from one pitcher who says another writer got in contact with very negative/confrontational views on a particular pitch of theirs. Please be aware I take a very dim view of this - we're all in this together, so constructive criticism is always welcome BUT please be aware remote communication has its drawbacks, so even if your advice is well-meaning, it might not always seem that way to someone who isn't you, especially if they haven't invited it! The last thing we want is for writers to think twice about posting to Talent Circle because of daft stuff like this, so if you find yourself on the receiving end of negativity like this, DO let me know, plus the TC member's username and/or email if you know it.

UPDATE: Btw, a few people have asked when the deadline is for this initiative... THERE IS NO DEADLINE! Just keep pitching your projects as and when for as long as you want, all we ask is to wait for your previous posting to expire on the noticeboard before putting it back up! Also, please only pitch twice a DAY.

Finally, in response to the LOADS of emails about managing one's online presence via social networking, blogging, etc I get I have finally composed another page here with all my favourite links and a blog post I wrote a while back. Enjoy!

LINKS

Join Bang2writers

Join Talent Circle here FREE

How to Pitch On Talent Circle

How to Connect With Other Writers Online

Pitching Tips Section on The Required Reading List

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Talent Circle - Pitch Online for Free!!! New Resource & Chance To Win LSF 2011 Ticket

Pitching - whether online or in "real life" - is an art, there's no doubt about it. However, whilst I've seen a definite improvement in one page pitches and stuff like series bibles, it would seem the notion of online pitching is pretty stagnant in terms of progress in the last few years. This is a real shame I think, since the internet is a BRILLIANT place to get ourselves and our work noticed. I spend a lot of time looking at online pitches everywhere I can and am always staggered by how bad some are. I'm sure you've read ones with taglines instead of loglines, lofty character descriptions or airy-fairy prose that just makes you go, "eh?" Other times, you end up just thinking "where's the story?" or worst of all, simply: MEH.

As many of you in my social network know, The London Screenwriters' Festival's parent company ScriptPlus recently bought Talent Circle. Now Talent Circle has long carried pitches on its daily bulletins, some of them very good, but we've decided to overhaul the whole process and make it a proper Talent Circle Pitch Resource, so writers might pitch their work AND themselves in order to get the best chance of attracting attention.

Drawing on my experience of reading and developing pitches with Bang2writers, we've introduced a set of guidelines for pitches, which are:

1) Title

2) Genre

3) Format (ie. short, feature, web series, treatment, etc)

4) Logline (25-30 words max)

5) Short Synopsis (60-100 words maximum)

6) Writer Bio (2 short sentences max – ie. Credits? Projects? Screenwriting MA? Blog URL? Etc)

We hope these guidelines will make pitches more attractive to producers and bring as many as possible to the resource. We want to make Talent Circle THE best, free online resource for writers' work to be seen. Writers are welcome to pitch IDEAS as well as finished scripts - and any format is allowed, so get pitching! Even better, pitch between NOW and June 30th 2011 and you will be entered into a prize draw to win a ticket to London Screenwriters Festival 2011.

For full details of The Pitching Resource, check out the Talent Circle noticeboard. Want to pitch? Then join Talent Circle for FREE here. In order to pitch, here's how you do it:

1) Log in and create a "submit a posting"

2) Select "Notice (or just about everything else)"

3) Choose your email response.

3) Fill in the details (remembering the guidelines above please!)

4) Under "classification" choose "Script Pitch" - Submit and you're done!

GOOD LUCK!

Please pass this great FREE opportunity on to all your writing friends!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Creating 3D Female Characters

Many thanks to Charlie Boddington who rounded up Aunty script reader NuttyNatter aka Katie B's thoughts from Twitter on the BBC Writers' Academy sample scripts this this year. Haven't seen them? Check out the post here.

Some of the more experienced amongst you will see the "usual" things bandied about - distinctive voice, strong dialogue, etc, plus the notion "structure can be taught". Bang2writers often express UTTER DISBELIEF to me when various scripts they've read get attention on the basis they're a shambles, but in real terms, there is that elusive "je ne se quois" sometimes that gets a writer through. Call it what you want - a spark, talent, etc - but end result is the same. If you read a lot of scripts - and the likes of me and Katie B have read a LOT of scripts - then there is that fact you "just know" what the good stuff is 'cos it smacks you in the face. (Not that this is any crumb of comfort of course to those writers left out in the cold - and I have been by the BBC Writers Academy, it smarts, but hey ho! Dust yourself down and move on. After all, who goes into this TRYING to write the most pedestrian script they can? Answer: no one).

It's disappointing but not unusual to see female characters are *STILL* being defined wholly by their sexuality - or lack of it. It's important to note too that it's NOT just male writers who create this dodgy female characters, but WOMEN WRITERS AS WELL. I always wonder why scribes should imagine women are *so* about sex, when the male characters I see are generally much more varied and/or flawed. Here's my thoughts on how to avoid the "usual" female character archetypes:

1) How do you describe her? If it's by her looks, breast size (or lack of them), hair colour or whatever, GET RID. Instead think, "how does my character FEEL about her life? How would she describe herself? What is her job? What are her hopes, fears and ambitions? Who are the important people in her life? Why?"

2) What is her goal? If her goal centres around OTHER PEOPLE - most notably a man or child - think again. Does she *really* put herself in second place as part of her CHARACTERISATION and/or to make a story point or because you've put her in that place automatically?

3) What does she DO? Yes, hotties that kick ass are fun. And yes, damsels in distress have their place; arguably we'd never have liked Ripley so much had she not shown so much compassion to Lambert in the first Alien movie. But these are two opposite ends of the spectrum - and roles that *could* be occupied by male characters too (Hudson in ALIENS was essentially only Lambert from ALIEN in his hysteria, after all). But give your female character SKILLZ - either literal OR metaphorical. All *real* women have them, from feminine wiles to building electronic gadgets out of household items; they don't just nag or scream. Think about the skillz of the important women in your life, how can you translate them to your characters?

4) How do I create equal opportunities for my characters? When I did teacher training, one of the valuable things they instilled in us was the notion that it is NOT that "equal opportunities = treating everyone the same". Different people have different needs, thus we must take these needs into account when assessing what needs to be done in our classrooms. As writers, we can do the same with our characters. I see WAY too many female characters that are simply men with their genders reversed and this is particularly yawnsome. Men and women ARE different, we're not the same and to pretend otherwise is foolhardy as our work ends up untruthful and 2D. You don't need to make value judgements - just look at those elements where men and women have different approaches or ideas. Why not?

5) "Strong" or "Good" - what do these mean? We hear a lot about "strong women" or "good female characters" and sometimes writers approach these notions a little simplistically. When a reader or audience member wants either of these, they don't necessarily mean they want a kick-ass Sarah Connor type, nor do they necessarily mean they want an Angel-type either. WE WANT VARIED, FLAWED WOMEN - just like we get varied, flawed men. Your female character can do ANYTHING and be ANYONE. She can be as great as you want; she can be as vile as you want. She can have altruistic ambitions or evil plans to destroy the world.

But whatever you do: avoid stereotype and MAKE HER 3D.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

More on Length (...dirty minds, the lot of you)

Had a couple of Bang2writers ask me this week about script length, with their query basically being:

"Is it **REALLY** one page = one minute in spec scripts?"

Yes. It is.

Except...

... I get this question LOADS and this is usually because of one of two things:

1) The scribe in question has seen a produced TV script online with its own format - ie. Hollyoaks is often in the region of 50-55 pages, whereas the episodes themselves are approximately 23 minutes long.

or

2) The Bang2writer wants to write a dialogue-heavy "rapid fire" script, like The West Wing or Studio 60.

Dealing first with 1), it's important to remember PRODUCED TV scripts are different to SPEC TV scripts. I began script reading yonks ago before there were that many TV Specs in circulation, so as far as I'm aware there are no *hard rules* saying you DEFINITELY CAN'T write "outside" of normal spec format standards - which is Courier 12 pt, one minute per page - BUT I would always advise doing so when writing TV specs. End of the day it just guards against any misunderstandings and effectively "reader proofs" your spec and makes sure it gets read, anywhere you send it. Gotta be good.

Looking to 2) then, this is where it gets more hazy. Some would argue Script Daddies like Aaron Sorkin can do what they like, whereas Speccers have more to prove - and there's certainly weight in this theory IMHO. After all, if you send your thirty minute spec sitcom somewhere, there may be a good chance a reader looks to the fact it's 50-odd pages long and sends it straight back unread, thinking you don't know what you're talking about cos "it's one minute per page, BIATCH!"

HOWEVER

As with all things scriptwriting-related, there's always more than one way of looking at this issue. The Speccer in question may just well be the NEW Aaron Sorkin. Why not? *If* you get a sympathetic reader, you could be laughing all the way to the bank, Hollywood and worldwide fame, etc etc.

BUT

Again, there's something else. Most scripts - even ones with "rapid fire" dialogue - have WAY TOO MUCH DIALOGUE that's often turgid or goes off at a tangent or basically just feels extraneous. If you DO want to be like your big mate Sorkin, you need to make sure you're as great as him. This doesn't just mean writing LOADS OF DIALOGUE. It means writing dialogue that is story AND character specific; dialogue that is insightful, amusing, with pith and pathos.

So basically you have to write the BEST EVER ****ING DIALOGUE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. And repeat that, over and over and over and over throughout the script so the reader cannot put it down (if indeed they *did* pick it up in the first place!). Pretty hard going. But people have done it, there's no reason you can't too. Unless your dialogue isn't that great, in which case I'd recommend "less is more" and all that.

Format people - remember it's NOT ABOUT THE "RULES". It's about not getting BUSTED.

ON THIS BLOG BEFORE ABOUT SCRIPT LENGTH:

Script Length - Too Long

Script Length - Too Short

Free download - one page ref guide for Spec Scripts (PDF)

The Format 1 Stop Shop

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Novel Writing # 2: Moving From Screenwriting to Writing Novels

Professional scribe, long time Bang2writer & mate David Bishop has blogged about his experience of becoming a screenwriter after publishing forty trillion novels (100% true factoid) and has challenged me to blog my experiences of doing the reverse, so here it is.

I've written on here before about how, as a child and teen, I *really* wanted to be a novelist. That was my dream. I loved movies and I loved TV - especially continuing drama - but it was books that made me go WOW. I thought the people who wrote them were the cleverest people in the world and I read stacks and stacks and stacks of them. In the alternative version of my life - and I think we all have several - I think there's a strong chance I would have done something like English at University and gone on to be a literary agent, before having some kind of meltdown, firing everyone, closing up shop, travelling the world and writing my first novel en route before settling down to write more with a house husband, two dogs and four children in a country cottage (and I would have made millions, natch. JK Rowling eat your heart out... I was never meant to be this poor goddamnit!).

But a very different version of my life played out and as everyone knows, I had my first child at eighteen alone and ended up going to university to study screenwriting. Had there been a degree in novel writing instead, I probably would have done it, but back in 2000 there wasn't. From there I fell into script reading/editing and you know the rest.

Various things happened on my screenwriting journey. There was corporate work. There were trial scripts for TV shows. There were meetings, pitches, options, producer workshops and collaborations. There were many, many near-misses in terms of other produced things - shorts, features, several web series - I may have even got paid for, but no one ever got to actually see.

Then something weird happened. The two elements that made me - Script Editing Lucy and Screenwriting Lucy - broke apart, somewhere around the end of 2009. Script Editing Lucy was still having a whale of a time and enjoying her work, especially stuff like Deviation and The London Screenwriters Festival. Screenwriting Lucy in comparison then was a moping wretch, not sure what to do next. It wasn't even that my writing had ground to a halt; I was still writing and developing my specs and I was still getting read. There was just... something... missing.

To cut a long story short, I needed a new writing challenge.

I changed agents to Blake Friedmann in 2010 and that's when things really got going: Julian Friedmann is well-known for his belief screenwriters should write novels as well and I've always agreed with him and championed the same view. I've always wanted to write a novel and have tried many times since 2008, even charting progress on this blog in the hope I'd finish. But of course I never did. I began to think maybe I didn't have it in me after all. In the very least, I just couldn't think of that elusive *right* idea that would carry me through from the beginning to the end. Super sad face.

But Julian changed that. Last year he wrote me an email, telling me he'd met publishers recently who'd complained there was basically not enough "real life stuff" out there in young adult literature meant for girls. Instead, it *felt* like that market was flooded with stories about luuuuuuurve, magic & vampires.

Hmmmm, sounded like me.

Since I had been a teen Mum myself, Julian suggested I had the kind of "real life stuff" girls reading young adult books would be interested in. He suggested I started reading some YA books and get back to him with my thoughts.

Reading those books, it was like a lightbulb switched on in my head. I COULD do this. I have worked with tweens and teens as an English teacher for years now and my own Male Spawn is one himself. I realised it was an audience I felt comfortable with and I could speak to. And Julian was right: my own experiences as a teen Mum could well fuel a narrative of its own. It was something I felt could be interesting and even important; I could believe 100% in what I was doing again.

Writing the novel was difficult and sometimes incredibly emotional, but I loved it. I hear some novelists start spec books without knowing the ending, but I didn't feel ready for that. The screenwriter in me demanded I write a detailed pitch before I could begin the manuscript. That pitch - approximately ten pages, with every single chapter mapped out - took months and months. In fact, it took almost as long as the novel itself. In lots of ways writing a novel is a completely different process to screenwriting, whilst in others it's very similar. But ultimately, what I loved above all else was novel writing's autonomy. I could write and get on with it. I didn't have to WAIT on anyone - yes, I had to wait for feedback occasionally, but not in the same way as screenwriting, which sometimes can feel awash with the stuff. The emphasis was on ME to get it done. After years and years of waiting and collaborating constantly with others, this felt a rare privilege. I kept wondering when someone would ring me up and say, "Oi, you can't do it like that." But of course no one ever did.

I'm not done with screenwriting by a long shot. I have a short going into production sometime this year and I have various scripts and pitches going. But from here, hopefully someone will buy the book and it will get published and I can go and live in my country cottage with my four kids and house husband... I suppose I better fill Mr C and the existing kids in. Think I'll not bother with the two dogs though.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Q: How Do I Analyse A Script??

Bang2writer Matthew Prince has been back in touch, this time asking:

So many bloggers and websites recommend reading scripts, but they don't offer a framework or checklist or step-by-step guide to use to get the most out of doing this. Sure, I can "read" each script for the story, but what do I look out for? What am I supposed to be noticing? How can I apply it to the scripts I am currently writing? It would be so easy if a screenplay website would actually provide a guide like an PDF file showing the comments made on a script or a checklist.

This is a very good question but one that requires a simple answer:

There's no such thing as a checklist on how to analyse a script. And if there is one floating around somewhere? There really shouldn't be.

There are many different stories - and by the same token, there are many different ways to tell them. This is a good thing and how we, as spec writers, avoid what I call "tick the box screenwriting".

On this same basis, readers/audiences take these scripts in different ways. Some scripts are notable for their characters or dialogue, others for their arena, storytelling techniques, structure or plot. But essentially, at the heart of every good screenplay should be a GREAT STORY. It's as simple - and as difficult - to quantify as that I'm afraid.

So I'm going to be really annoying and say to Matthew: JUST KEEP READING. Yes, it's true that at first a new reader won't have a clue what's good and what's not. Maybe certain things will appeal and others won't instinctively; perhaps those new readers will develop it over time. Certainly ALL new readers have various reactions they can't necessarily explain at first.

However, as someone goes on and becomes more experienced at reading - comparing various screenplays, techniques, craft elements, writers and stories in their mind - there will be one day when it all CLICKS! Suddenly you'll KNOW what YOU think about screenwriting and how YOU think it works, because at the end of the day it's your POV which is most important.

There are no rules here. That's why it can be a daunting process. But Matthew has made the first step and downloaded all those scripts! So, my advice: go off and read them, talk to friends about them, think about how they work and how they don't, watch the movie versions if they're available, see how they differ (and they will). But don't view those scripts in ISOLATION. Compare all of them to each other and think about what the "accepted" screenwriting methods are of the given moment (because they do change) and whether you even agree with those methods (because you don't have to!). Who are your favourite writers? Why? Whose scripts do you absolutely DESPISE - and why? What subject matters/genres/writing styles appeal? Are some writers' scripts better ON THE PAGE than rendered as image, or vice versa? Do read all the blogs and join all the FB and Twitter pages and hashtags like #scriptchat. Talk to your peers about writing, take part in online forums, find out what EVERYONE has to say - including much-maligned Gurus and yes, other newbies too. Everyone's voice is valid.

Good luck!

For more on screenwriting craft like structure, genre, format, character and what readers *might* look for, check out The Required Reading List.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

When Do I Give Up My Day Job?

Following a short flurry of conversation on Bang2writers yesterday (and having been asked many times before), I thought I'd address this question. [DISCLAIMER: obviously these are just MY experiences and thoughts on the matter, not absolute gospel, so please consider all the factors and important people in YOUR life before making any huge life-changing decisions... End of disclaimer.]

First, the obvious answer:

You give up your day job when the bills can be paid via writing and not a moment before.

Except there are the following problems with the above:

1) A freelancer's life is "up in the air" - there's no guarantees of work, ever. So even if you have a fair bit of paid work now and CAN pay your bills even for the next year? Maybe you won't be able to NEXT year. Then what?

2) Most of us won't make *that* much money. TV is where the money is and TV writers do get paid quite well, though they have to work extremely hard for their dosh. Freelance Journalism can pay OK (dependant on the title/company you're working for) and corporate work, ranging from things like play themes, adverts, text message alerts, toys and games to things like CD Roms, audio books, etc probably ties with that or closely brings up the rear. I hear radio can pay OK (I have never done a radio play, though I've written some radio adverts back in the day and the pay was fine). Film in comparison will most likely come waaaaay down the scale, ranging from a decent wage to absolute zero and EVEN LESS as people invest their own money in it, meaning a freelancer could end up in the minus figures.

3) We still need time to write specs to get noticed - and get any of the above or collaborations of our own. And spec writing means no dosh again.

Yet despite the very obvious downside of likely earning very little money, it's easy to see why the freelance life appeals. It's the life I chose and even allowing for some very difficult financial situations of various complications over the years, I'd choose it again without a second's thought. Here's how I did/do it:

I started on corporate writing jobs. It was a great learning curve, but ultimately I found it rather dissatisfying. Nowadays I work TO write: in other words, I involve myself in the industry via script editing/reading, the occasional DIY job or collaboration and write various things for various people/places (like Deviation or London Screenwriters Festival) and help organise stuff. I also do a bit of teaching/tutoring. In other words, I do a variety of *stuff* to create relationships with my peers and colleagues whilst earning dosh here and there when I can just like any freelancer. Freelancers work very much on a "famine or feast" basis, which can be very stressful - so if you're the type to freeze at sudden deadlines or have a heart attack when you get hit by unexpected bills, then a freelancer's life is probably not for you.

However, for me, this lifestyle has one big upside: it allows me to write on spec. I can structure my work *around* my specs or vice versa. I never have to wait for clocking off, nor do I have to justify anything to anyone, as long as I do what I'm supposed to do as well. I get to work alone for the most part (which I prefer), but know I have a contacts book full of people I can email, skype, phone, tweet or message when I need them. Though there have been dark periods in my working life where I have questioned what I was doing, 90% of the time I feel very satisfied. If you work in the rat race, I can see why a freelancer's life is appealing. I've worked in offices and whatnot; never again.

However, I always wonder if quitting TO write 100% full time is worth it, since writing for money invariably means writing stuff you don't actually necessarily WANT to write just in order to make money. If you love "writing, the process" then there's absolutely no problem and you should go for it... But if you dream of writing YOUR OWN STUFF, ie. your specs - as I've heard SO many Bang2writers desire - then perhaps keeping the day job might be your best option.

Yes, you heard right: don't stop writing... but KEEP your day job. Here's why & how:

1) Less stress. Money worries are incredibly debilitating, especially if you have a family. A regular pay cheque can not only keep you sane then, it can free up your creativity that will otherwise get blocked by very real concerns about paying mortgages, buying kids' school uniform, etc.

2) Inspiration. Working with other people - even if you hate them - can create observations for your own work. Some of my best characters started as students from my classroom. There's less opportunity for this if you're seated at home just in front of your computer.

3) Downsizing # 1. Some Bang2writers tell me their jobs give them no time to write or think. So what about getting a job that FREES YOUR MIND UP? I worked in a supermarket for a bit. Yes, it was dull as. But guess what - I had plenty of time not only to plot the gory death of half the rest of the staff, but to write in my notebook and plan various storylines, etc. Something I wrote waaaay back then just became part of my novel.

4) Downsizing # 2. Maybe you have a well paid job you hate to keep up a certain level of rent/mortgage or lifestyle... Happens to a lot of people. Those obligations then often get in the way of someone approaching their dream - ie. writing - because MONEY essentially gets in the way. My argument is always thus: if you hate the job, get a new one and get a new, smaller lifestyle - you'll be happier in the long run going for that dream (whilst being poor). The reason I argue this is because I've NEVER heard anyone say, "You know what? I really regret downsizing my life and attempting to live my dream".

Sometimes people say they "can't" disappoint husbands/wives/partners/kids or ask them to live with less. But if they love you, why would they say no? [*without good reason* - thanks Steve! ; P ] You can negotiate terms and conditions - ie. "we move *here* for *this amount of time* to free up *this amount of money* to *do this*". Maybe it'll work out. Maybe it won't. My kids don't have any of the fancy stuff their friends have; I shop in Primark and Lidl. So what? My son wanted an XBox, but I can't afford big presents like that at Christmas or birthdays. Did he complain? Nope - instead he saved up various bits of money relatives gave him on those dates and when they visited, etc. It actually taught him a valuable lesson - you can't have things right away - and he's not missed out at all.

Similarly, if you're deathly poor - what's to lose? Once upon a time I was on benefits as a single Mum. I didn't want to be, but living where I did - in the middle of nowhere - jobs were scarce and those places that were hiring did NOT want an eighteen year old with a dependant when they could have a shackleless eighteen year old instead. I broke my back making application after application before realising I could be using my time a lot more wisely than banging it against a brick wall. So I wrote some scripts and applied to university. The rest is history.

So, concluding: I don't think it's so much "When can I give up my day job?" so much as, "How do I work TO write?" or even, "How do I alter my lifestyle to help me live my dream?"

You can make a start on that TODAY. So, don't wait - go on then.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Routine Vs Inspiration

CitizenNate over at Twitter asked about Routine Vs Inspiration when I put a shout-out re: blog posts, so here are my thoughts.

I've written before that time management is key when you're a writer, be that professional or on spec. However, whilst paying or collaborative jobs will often dictate various things such as deadlines, schedules, when to get feedback, etc, solo spec jobs are a WHOLE different ball game. Just where does one start?

Let's fast-forward the brainstorming, outline and treatment process. I don't think I've ever knowingly met a writer who does it the same as another. Myself, I tend to do it differently every time of my OWN stuff. Sometimes I don't do it at all and return to it in later drafts in order to iron out various story kinks (NOT recommended, arf).

But lots of writers I know go by minutes spent or pages written in terms of getting their specs' actual writing done. This can be a good strategy. When I was a "younger" writer, I worked on the same basis. I would work out how many pages of my spec needed to be done, versus how much time I had. Typically, that would be between 2 and 5 pages, given I didn't have that much time. But they all add up and usually, within 14 to 28 days I would have a "words on paper" draft, dependent on whether I was writing a 30, 60 or 90 minute script.

Yes, 14 -28 days. It can be done.

Of course, my first drafts are always shockingly bad. I read some of them now and LAUGH. And cringe at the thought of those who *have* read them. But hey, if those people are going to judge my first efforts so harshly - "oh I read a first draft of hers and it was shit - ergo she *must* be a shit writer" - then they don't deserve to be in my circle anyway. And luckily, I've not come across many from internetland who ARE so harsh... We're all grown ups here, we know how it works. EVERYONE'S first drafts are baaaad, even the lucky people who write good ones. End of. That's why you write MULTIPLE DRAFTS.

However, as my time has been compromised even further - by marriage, by more children, by more script editing or things like London Screenwriters Festival - I have discovered a whole new way of working on my specs:

When I can.

Yes, it's as simple as that. Whilst once upon a time I doggedly worked EVERY DAY on my specs, even for as little as 5-10 minutes if necessary (even including weekends), I don't tend to do this anymore. Instead, I take the good days where the inspiration flows and ignore the bad days when it doesn't. Some weeks I wrote as much as 9000 words on my recent spec novel. Other times I wrote as little as 800 words. Still got just over 60,000 words of a first draft finished in just four months, in-between working, family stuff, life stuff and everything else I was *supposed* to do.

I think as new writers, the routine is important. Before we get words on a page, we have to first work out a way of getting them on that page. We might set ourselves targets like "five pages a day" or "500 words a day" because we need to aim for something. We've not done this before or that many times, so we need to make the challenge "real".

However, as we get more experienced, we know we CAN create a story out of nothing and get it on paper. We look back at our old drafts - some of them very developed - and see our growth previously, but realise we can do better now. So we do... and we don't *always* have to impose a rigid routine to do so. For some of course, there will be comfort in the routine still; but for many of us, we will let go more and write when we can... and still end up with the draft we wanted.

So, do you need a routine? Yes and no. Depends who you are and/or on your experience I think.

Do you need inspiration? Unquestionably, yes.

But more importantly - you need CONFIDENCE... A belief you can DO THIS.