Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Focusing on writing and NOT making new years resolutions

I haven’t blogged for a while. I’ve had a few ideas for blogs, thrown a few thoughts about, even started a few blogs but then I’ve been distracted by another thought that seemed would make an interesting blog. Truth is this is very reflective of me as a writer. I get very enthused by a new idea and rush off into development notes. I draw out the ideas for the story and then just before I start the actual writing I get another idea and off I go again. Or I see a competition deadline that sparks an idea so I rush off a half baked script in order to meet a deadline which at least gets a script on paper but it’s not really a finished script. So I’m surrounded by lots of developed ideas waiting to be written or half-written scripts, or drafted but not completed scripts. In the last year I’ve completed to draft stage a radio script, 2 short film scripts and a television script which doesn't seem that impressive for a whole year. I know that I need to get more focused on writing the scripts and re-writing the scripts and getting more scripts ready to be sent off as examples of my work. I want to be able to say – that script is finished and I wouldn’t change a single word in it.

Now I don’t believe in making resolutions because I believe if you want to change something in your life then you should do it, whatever the time of year. New Years resolutions are made to be broken but a change you make to your life at any other time is something that can be seen through. It is merely a coincidence that my new philosophy of writing is being birthed within days of the end of the year.

Or rather it ties in to the fact that my birthday falls on the 2nd January so getting a year older brings with it the inevitable thoughts of the declaration that I made aged 35 that if I hadn’t made it is a writer by the time I was 40 then I was giving it all up. But then I also used to say when I was 18 that by the time I was 26 I would be married with two children then I grew up and realised I believed in neither marriage or children. But I do still believe in writing, and I long since realised that I write because I love making up stories. I have a mortgage to pay which means I’ve also accepted that I do have to do that day job so I have a limited number of hours in which I can write but then who doesn’t and who wouldn’t wish for more hours of writing. But I’m not being very smart about the way I go about the writing and I need to get smarter.

So for my new plan. I’ve written a list of the projects that I currently have in development or waiting for re-draft on a large piece of paper in front of me. 10 projects in total (7 in development and 3 scripts that are waiting to be re-drafted). Amongst the 7 projects are a feature film, 2 tv scripts, 2 theatre scripts, 2 radio scripts. This time next year I want to look at the list and say – those scripts are finished and I wouldn’t change a single word.
So next week I will be starting the first draft of my new television script. I will be focusing on that and nothing else until the first draft is finished.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Be Bold


Back from my Writing for Performance course at Ty Newydd with the ever brilliant Kaite O’Reilly. I did intend to write blogs from Ty Newydd, but I was just too busy writing, learning, exploring process and meeting lots of lovely, interesting, supportive and inspirational writers.

Whilst there it felt as though things suddenly fell into place.

Ever since I listened to the Writers Guild podcast by Jack Thorne, amongst the many great things he said, the thing about working out your truth as a writer has been bugging me.

One of the speakers at the course was Mike Pearson who talked about his From Memory project - this made me think about my first novel now buried, with the copious research notes and rough drafts, in several boxes in my attic. A strange thought occurred to me, did I bury my truth as a writer with that novel?

The morning after I woke up thinking about my truth as a writer and the first thing I did was scribble a few things about the subjects that haunt my writing.

Now I’m fully aware that a lot of this is sounding, to phrase it as nicely as I can, a bit wanky! “Truth”, “burying” and “haunting”. A rash of metaphors waiting to be drawn out in a piece of writing. I do apologise.

Anyone would think I’d been on a writing for performance course in a house supposedly haunted by Lloyd George for a week.

But then that morning Kaite gave is a set of questions to think about;
What are your tendencies as a writer?
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
What needs to be addressed right now?
Is there some action you need to take?
What may be the way forward?

In the midst of these questions Kaite used the phrase “treading water”. She asked have we been “treading water” as a writer?

That was it for me, that was the truth. I’d been treading water for years, and occasionally sinking, only to make it back to the surface and tread water some more.

I’d been giving voice to characters, I’d been giving voice to stories, I’d been telling the truth of others but I’d lost my writers voice and lost track of my truth as a writer. I’ve been putting words on a page but I haven’t been putting me on the page.

It’s not just about getting specs out there it’s about getting my voice out there. It’s about making sure that my voice is loud and clear and shouts louder than all the voices.

I thought about the radio play I’ve just finished, the radio play I’m developing, the theatre play I’m developing and I can see the empty spaces in them but I know how fill those empty spaces.

Over breakfast one of the writers on the course said to me, be bold. And I will be from now on.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Spring Cleaning before the freeze sets in

So having found out that I didn’t shortlist in the LSWF shorts I decided to have a little spring clean of my writing head.

I’ve spent the last day or so pulling out all my old scripts, completed and partial scripts dating back to around 2003. My first baby steps in the world of scriptwriting are there from when I begrudgingly had to write a script as one of my modules on my MA in Creative Writing. Then about a year after I completed my MA and reviewed the start of the novel I had begun for the MA I had an epiphany. As I looked at the dialogue heavy pages I thought, maybe just maybe I was a scriptwriter. Damn it, I’d done the wrong course and should've done the scriptwriting MA.

So for the next few years I wrote scripts.

Looking at the scripts now, a couple of TV plays, several radio plays, a feature film , two theatre plays - I know one thing for definite, I have written a lot of CRAP over the years.

Even glancing at the scripts I can see too much dialogue, scripts with huge structural holes, two dimensional characters everywhere, exposition, exposition and more exposition, paragraphs of action that go on for pages, plots that don’t make any sense. Mistakes everywhere. It wasn't that I was a bad writer. I just didn't have a clue.

But to take something positive from it, because I am a glass half-full person after all, I have found the following
I’ve got better (couldn’t get any worse)
I’m a better script reader (I can tell that they’re crap)
I’ve had a lot of good ideas (just didn’t know what to do with them)

So okay to move on from this whole experience and get back to my plan. The plan. The plan that started this whole blogging thing in the first place. I still don’t have a set of scripts that I’d be happy to show someone as an example of my work.

I keep getting distracted by deadlines, writing half baked ideas up into scripts that have not been given enough attention. Chasing dreams of some miraculous moment when I get plucked from nothingness and recognised as a WRITER. I have to stop doing that. I know better. This is a dream that will only be achieved by hard slog. I am going to focus on the scripts and then once they're completed I will decide what to do with them.

Monday, 4 October 2010

I hate the word serendipity but I like when I can justify using it in life, plots and blogs


I spend a lot of time resenting the 40 hours of the week that I have to spend working in, what I like to term, my non-real job. 40 hours that effectively slice away my writing time to left-overs and stolen moments. But it has to be done, the mortgage needs to be paid and I have addictions to fund (red wine and US TV Boxsets being in the forefront).

A while ago I listened to a local crime novelist, at the launch of her latest book, talk about the work she did as a creative writing tutor and merrily announce she would never want to write full-time even though her writing career would sustain it. I thought she was insane. Why on earth would anyone choose not to write full-time if they could?

I don’t like to talk too much here about my non-real job, well actually I don’t really like to talk anywhere about my non-real job (I have far better things to talk about) but it has to be said I can’t really complain, the non-real job is enjoyable about 70% of the time, requires about 50% usage of my brain (allowing stories to develop in the murky mire of the remaining 50%), offers me a certain amount of flexibility and access to print facilities. As a job , whilst attempting to make that leap to being able to put ‘writer’ in the occupation box of a form, it is far better than most and I’ve done a lot of other jobs at various points in my life (call-centre, bar-maid, chambermaid, secretary, arts marketing – a few examples).

In the last few weeks though I’ve had a few moments of feeling quite delirious with happiness that I do my job. Why? Because the non-real job has provided several vital story ideas.

I’m currently writing a short film for the London Screenwriters Festival competition. Two weeks ago I tried to come up with an idea for the competition. Nothing. Blank. And then even more blank.

I’ve only written one short film because I always thought a short script was not a good fit to me as a writer. I like expansive, complex story lines and even at feature length or one hour I struggle to reign in my developing ideas. My features want to be trilogies. My hour long TV plays become pilots for 6 hour series.

Earlier this year though I wanted to make myself try so I sat down to develop an idea. The core idea was literally a single image. I wrote probably an hours worth of script literally getting it all out. I let the conversations ramble on, I wrote all the scenes back and forth and from every direction. Then I went back and forced myself to find ways to express the things I’d written in dialogue as single visual images. I looked at pages and pages of dialogue and asked myself what words were really needed. I cut out all the peripheral dialogue and honed the whole thing down to minimal images and dialogue. This resulted in a 15 minute script which a friend recently read and fed back the comment, “expand some of the dialogue, I want to hear more of the conversations”!

The script is still waiting for re-draft but I found it a really useful exercise in thinking visually and thinking in essential dialogue only.

Anyhow, bearing all this in mind and the fact that September was my - write a radio play month - and October was my - write a theatre play month - I decided not to bother with the short film competition. Then I thought, “what the hell, I work in a university, and a number of the ideas I’m working on are set in universities surely I can come up with a thread from something around me.”

That was when it happened. A serendipitous day of my non-real job dropping a plot into my lap as I experienced magical moments of light-bulbs popping over my head.

First a political issue that I could see worsening and as I sat writing dull emails and reports for a briefing document the first light bulb flashed. I had my protagonist, my antagonist and my central idea. All shadowy and needing to be fleshed out but there, waiting.

Then visitors to my office for a seemingly dull exchange about logistics and the light bulb flashed again to drop one of the secondary characters into the mix.

An email arrived, at the bottom was a little jokey comment. The third light bulb flashed to bring the next secondary character.

A week on and those initial light bulbs have led to a story that is developing nicely into a short film. There is a nagging voice in my head that is telling me I’m trying to achieve too much in 10 minutes. I’m also slightly doubtful that my protagonist’s journey is believeable. She has one hell of an arc to achieve in 10 minutes.

The very next day, after the serendipitous day, an average looking email floated in my direction informing me of some church bells currently on display in Swansea that were to be returned to Chile. Slightly intrigued I dug a little further to find that the bells once hung in a church in Chile where 2,500 people died. I dug a little more fervently and uncovered a harrowing story that made the creative part of my inactive brain do little loop the loops of excitement. A recurring theme of many of my stories is how inanimate objects become infused with the stories around them. I’m not sure yet how I will use this idea but I look forward to telling the story of 200 year old bells.

So that’s not one but two stories that would not be in my head if it were not for my non-real job. If I dig a little deeper though and really think about the stories I’m working on at the moment. The radio play Witches and Eggs along with the feature film The List: Kill husband; Kill Boss all would not be floating in my head were it not for my non-real job. The Book of Lost Causes, the television play that just finished a first draft, that would not be in my head were it not for the non-real job I had before this one.

So there you have it my new philosophy about why I no longer resent the 40 hours of the week that I have to spend working in my non-real job.

Mind you it’s all well and good getting the ideas, the problem is finding the time to write them which would be so much easier if I didn’t have to spend 40 hours a week in my non-real job!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Book of Lost Causes, an ongoing journey or traffic jam?

So the good news, I have finished a draft of a television play. The bad news, it is far from finished. Unfortunately I need to get on with a few other projects before I can work on the re-draft but hopefully I can get my head around the major points and then let it swirl around in the background for a few weeks. Then ideally I will sit down to attempt the next draft and it will emerge fully formed into the beautiful creature I know it is capable of being. As if!

One thing I have to make sure is that I go back and re-draft because one of my biggest failings is my ability to toss a project into a drawer, from which it never emerges. My mind is consumed at the moment by the next projects, a new radio play, an old idea for a film that I want to re-visit and two ideas for theatre plays. I’m determined in the next few weeks to get a draft of a theatre play completed. I’m heading to Ty Newydd in November, for my annual treat to myself, and I want to make sure that my theatre writing head is firmly in place before I go. But I have promised myself I will go back and finish Book of Lost Causes.

To do that I need to make sure I don’t lose my grasp on it and that’s what I want to do here. I need to get my thoughts on how to move forward clarified and documented.

I decided in the run up to the call for second round scripts to send it to Lucy Hay for a read. I had lost my way with it and was struggling to see the faults. I knew they were there but I just couldn’t work it out for myself, I needed help. Lesson one (of many) learned on the process is to start the whole thing a lot sooner. Six months from now with several drafts completed Book of Lost Causes will be a great television play. Now it’s not. Lesson two (of many) learned is to always send my work to Lucy Hay, everything, absolutely everything. The cost of a script read equates to a night out drinking and if I can't afford to go out then I don't have a hangover the next day which means I spend the day writing in stead of lying on the sofa watching Buffy.

It’s great to have an expert, outsider view on it. A straight forward, no-nonsense, cut to the cuticle, point of view that allowed me to very quickly know what was working and what wasn’t.

After re-reading Lucy’s notes many times and re-reading the play myself many times, what have I come up with?

What’s working? I certainly know that the idea is worth pursuing. The idea has been floating around for a while (started as a novel for my MA in Creative Writing and then developed into an abandoned radio play) so it’s nice to have validation that it is a good concept.

However my execution of the concept fails because I haven’t got to grips with the story and how it should be executed as a television play. Amongst the many things that I have got wrong are the following:-

The big one – Structure - how many acts, what is the story of the episode, what is the serial element of the episode.

Characters – Keira’s background confuses, who is she, why hasn’t she done anything about the book for 3 years, why does she choose to do something about the book now, who is Alan, do we really care about edie.

Character arcs – why does it take so long for Keira to act on the events unfolding around her, why does Danny keep trying to get her to do something, why does Virginia involve herself getting in Keira to act.

Story – why don’t I have something much bigger happening on page 1, why do I not have my characters and central concept established by page 10, why are so many key moments of the story happening so far into the script,

There are lots of mistakes that I make repeatedly in my writing. I hold onto a scene, and how it plays out rather than experimenting, I convince myself that how I originally saw the scene is the way to go even when I know it’s not working, I over-write, I complicate, I get distracted by detail, I forget the detail, I try to be clever and end up being obvious.

The annoying thing is that I knew all the problems. I knew the start was wrong. I knew that it didn’t make any sense for Keira to be chasing down the person in the book 3 years after it had happened. I knew Danny as a catalyst to Keira’s actions was really weak. I knew that Iwan was a an inexcusable deux-ex-machina. I knew that I shouldn’t have a teaser. I knew that I should have started from Keira’s POV. I knew that my premise was not established enough.

I’ve also realised that I watch too many US shows and not enough UK ones, and that I study too many US writers. My structure is based on David Chase’s technique for writing Sopranos after all and well, I’m not David Chase and I’m not writing Soprano’s.

http://lucyvee.blogspot.com/2008/05/plot-construction-2-dangling.html

So lots of work to do but I think, I think I know how to pull the whole thing to pieces and start again and build it up to make it better and brighter and the star I believe it truly could be. I think.

In the few days after I sent the play to Lucy, once I’d stopped thinking about it, I had loads of ideas for changes. I decided to change Edie so that instead of being an abused wife, she was a violent wife, which then pushed all the subsequent scenes to play out in hugely more interesting scenarios.

Mind you the biggest decision I have to make is between the Edie and Alan storylines. I need to choose one and lose one. Which should it be? Edie. No, Alan. Alan. No, Edie. Or maybe another one altogether?

But at the moment there is that voice in the back of my head that is telling me, move on, leave it in the drawer, there’s no point resolving the issues, if Red Planet didn’t want it then why bother sorting it out. You have lots of other ideas. Start afresh. Run away, spend time with your fresh faced film, (1) Kill Husband (2) Kill Boss, and your sexy little radio play, Witches and Eggs. But no, the only way I’m going to get better at drafting is if I get better at finishing. The point of my plan was to have spec scripts, calling card scripts, examples of my work that I could pull from a drawer and confidently hand over as examples of my work.

I do keep thinking that Book of Lost Causes would also make a nice little radio serial and funnily enough that’s just what Radio 4 are looking to commission, well this year anyway, who knows what they’ll be looking for next year.

But that comes later, first it has to be finished.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Pitching to the bloody squirrels: twitter not witter

My head hurts at the moment. Why? It’s that bloody world wide web and more specifically bloody, BLOODY social media.

I started this blog back in February as a way to give myself a bit of a kick in taking myself seriously as a writer, after all why should anyone else take me seriously if I don't recognise myself as a writer worthy of a blog and a url. I’m also not very good at talking about myself as a writer. I go on writing courses and hit the introductory moment, “tell us a little about yourself and your writing and what you would like to get from this course”. I hate talking in public let along talking about writing! So I usually witter on senselessly, expressing nothing about myself or my writing. So I thought blogging would be good for me, a chance to think it all through.

A couple of months ago I thought that really I should engage with my twitter account properly as a means to feed readers to my blog and attempt to raise my profile a little more effectively. Otherwise I’m just talking to myself and frankly I do enough of that anyway. At least in the morning walking the dogs, when I wander through the woods, talking to myself or practicing pitching my ideas, I know that the squirrels are listening.

So anyway, decision made that I should talk to the twitterverse as opposed to the squirrels.

I didn't consider myself to be particularly lacking in information before, I checked BBC Writersroom, visited a few blogs on a regular basis (Danny Stack, James Moran), I thought myself to be well versed on the world of script writing. PLEASE! The squirrels were more knowledgeable than me. In the space of a few short months I have found myself hitting complete and total overload of information on writing. Every time I open tweetdeck I find myself going on a little journey of writing knowledge. Which is good because stories are always about journeys, and overcoming obstacles, and conflicts and change. Now where did I see that again? Oh yes, every-bloody-where.

My desktop is littered every night with shortcuts that I've dropped to read later; to blogs, websites, article, that have been highlighted. There is just so much information out there, there is just no excuse, none for anything other than success. Admittedly it takes perseverance, bloody hard work and more hard work but there is advice out there telling you how to develop ideas, how to structure, the format to write in, where to send your scripts, what to do if your script is rejected, how to re-draft, and on and on and on. Pick a topic, look it up. The answer is there.

But it isn’t just the information that is out there it is the support too. I also quite regularly end up feeling like I've been given a group hug by the writers community and given little pep types on not giving up. In fact one writer this week (James Moran) did offer and give a virtual hug. Bloody hell that was lovely.

There are so many writers out there who happily share, FOR FREE, every bit of knowledge they have on writing scripts and how to succeed as writers. To me these people are like Gods. The ones who live the dream. They don't have day jobs, they fill forms in and put WRITER in the occupation box, they get commissions, they have agents, they have premieres of films.

Beyond that though is also the world of people like me who want to be able to put WRITER in that box, the people who enter the same competitons as me, who send their scripts to the same script reading services as me, and they too are happy to share anything they know, have learned or are in the process of learning.

This blog has ended up being much longer than I expected but that’s simply because I’m being fed so much to say. But to put it as simply as possible here are a few of the endless stream of things I’ve learned in the last week or so from twitter.

1. No swearing. Watersheds have to be considered. So what if the character would swear? Watershed won’t allow it. Take the swear words and put them elsewhere. (Write Here Write Now)

2. Script sprinting. Pick a project. Decide on timings. 30 minutes, 45 mins, 60 mins. Set a time to start and a time to finish. Then write, just write. No distractions. Just write. (Jane Espenson)

3. It isn’t just a myth, aimed to sell writing courses and writing books, that writers spec scripts can be picked up by producers. It really does happen that a writer without an agent can sell that script. (Kevin Lehane)

4. Script competitions with big cash prizes can be won by a good script (Andrew Carter) It was genuinely heart warming to see his tweet saying that he had won Scriptalooza

5. Writers work bloody hard. They write all the time. In the mornings, in the day, in the evenings, at night-time, in the early hours of the morning. If they’re working on something they write all the time. (Everywhere on twitter)

6. Writers work bloody hard getting writing work. They don’t sit around waiting for a phone call signing them up for the next big drama. They are pitching, meeting, scouring, developing, networking, whatever they need to do to get the next jobs lined up. If one idea is successful it isn’t enough you have to keep moving forward, marketing yourself, working the room. (Everywhere on twitter)

7. Rejection doesn’t end because you can put writer in the box on the form. Ideas will still be rejected, scripts will still be passed on. But writers get on with it, push another idea forward, re-work the idea. They don’t sulk for a few months and go on on-line forums complaining about why their script was rejected. (Everywhere on twitter)

8. How to make Swedish meatballs just like IKEA sells. Not strictly about writing but a very valid argument for engagement with twitter. (Lisa Holdsworth)

There is no doubting that the main advice to which any writer should adhere – if you want to be a writer then get writing, then write some more, then write some more. But there is also a very good argument for spending a little bit of your time each day checking out the world of writing on blogs, facebook, youtube, twitter and so on.

As for this over long blog, I promise from this point onwards twitter not witter.

Further blogs coming here soon
Why am I so scared of direct messaging?
Is twittering making me write more?
How can I be funnier, on twitter and in my scripts?
What the bloody hell is a #hashtag?

Monday, 16 August 2010

Writer in Search of Deadlines

Serious Screenwriting
2 page outline and 1st 10 pages for full length feature film
Tuesday 31st August

BBC Radio 4, BBC Wales, Radio plays Commissioning round
Proposals for radio plays
Before September 2010

Royal Exchange Theatre
Full length play for reading and feedback during the Script Window
October 1st - October 31st 2010

Pentabus Theatre: We are here
Call for full length plays for consideration for 2012 season
29th October 2010

Sherman Cymru, Script Slam
10 minute play to be performed script in hand at the Spring Script Slam
Deadline January 31st

Bruntwood Playwriting Competition
Full length play (1hr or more)
Will be launched on February 16th 2011

BBC Radio 4, BBC Wales, radio plays Commissioning Round
Proposals for radio plays
February 2011

Coming Up Channel 4
2 page treatment of idea for 25 - 30 min script, with a completed script of 10 - 60 mins
No more than 5 characters. Must be shot in 4 days on limited budget
Blog about last years workshops
Deadline tbc

Red Planet 2011
First 10 minutes of 60 minute TV screenplay either one off play or with potential for series
Deadline tbc

Sunday, 15 August 2010

What am I doing at midnight on a Saturday night, in an infamous dogging car park in Llangurig


Yesterday did not have the best of starts nor did it have the best of ends either.

It started with the inevitable rejection letter, a concise yet polite notification that I had not been selected for the National Theatre, Ty Newydd, Venue Cymru playwriting course, "I am writing to let you know that unfortunately this time you have been unsuccessful in your application to be a part of this course. I am writing to you later in the day than expected because we had so many submissions. They were all very interesting to read and it has been a very exciting job looking through them all. It is really wonderful to know that so many people are out there writing plays."

On the return journey from NTW06 The Persians the no-fuel light flashed on at 40 miles, approximately 10 miles short of the journey end. The perils of journeys through Wales are the lack of petrol stations open after 7pm and the lack of signal through most of the journey which means if you get stranded you would not simply be able to phone a friend.

In fact lack of phone signal is quite often a feature in my scripts as an element to heighten the danger surrounding a character.

We pulled into a car park in Llangurig the last reliable signal point and phoned a friend who agreed to drive out to pick us up. I was reliably informed that we were in an infamous dogging car park.

However taking a step back even the bad was good really, the rejection letter was for a piece of writing that I had barely a week to pull together due to clashes with the red planet prize. But the work I did on it was enough to give me an idea to develop further. I created characters that I really liked and want to re-visit.

Even the breaking down was positive because I am so grateful that I have such lovely friends in my life that are willing to get out of bed at midnight on a Saturday night and drive to pick me up.

So putting it all in perspective it was actually quite a lovely day.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

On to the next deadline

I've had my head down focusing on the Red Planet Prize, popping it up occasionally to try to think, "what the bloody hell am I going to write about for the National Theatre Playwrighting course?"

After a bit of dithering I've decided to pull from the deep recesses of my mind a very old idea about conversations between people involved in a motorway pile-up. Unfortunately my dithering just leaves me about 5 days to write 10 minutes.

I also want to explore the idea of the way, faced with extreme emotional situations, we actually leave out the most important words and dance about the things we actually want to say.

One of these days I should really try to make things easy for myself. Still what would be the fun in that?

Friday, 30 July 2010

Your Submission has been received


The words, "your submission has been recieved" should fill me with a sense of completion, a sense of hope, a sense of possibilities of new beginnings but it hasn't. My shoulders have hunched, I feel sick in the pit of my stomach and I find myself feeling very negative.

Did I spend enough time on this? Why didn't I spend more time thinking about the log-line? Why didn't I use a different idea completely? Why didn't I use a script-reading service? Why did I bother to build myself up only to face the inevitable knock back again?

Still shoulders back, deep breath and move on to the next deadline which is frighteningly close, 10 minutes of script by the 8th August, in the hope of a theatre writing course with Kate o Reilly, mentoring by the National Theatre and a rehearsed reading of script.

Monday, 26 July 2010

I must not use the word fragmented

It's just a few days away to deadline and after a major re-write this weekend my 10 minutes are done. The 1 page synopsis is almost done. Almost done apart from the very last line - the log line. I've written out hundreds of variations now. So many in fact it looks like the teacher has given me lines as a punishment. Not that I was ever given lines to do because I was a good girl.

I've gone back to some of my original notes and now I'm staring at a sheet of paper on which I long ago wrote lots of words and phrases about the Book of Lost Causes.

Altruism, detective, hope, boxes, disparity, catherine wheel, randomness, pretence, disconnection, insulation, impact of money, zombies, latticework, control, failure, making a difference, family, average, weaving, infertility, fabrication, fragmented, blinkered, death, memories, identity, archive, myth, star, family history, interwoven, malfunction, siblings.

It has to be said I should get the award for overuse of the word fragmented. I really can't remember the past time I wrote a synopsis and didn't use the word fragmented.

I must not use the word fragmented.
I must not use the word fragmented.
I must not use the word fragmented.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Playwriting Course for Welsh Writers

Welsh writers are invited to join a new play writing project, run in conjunction with the National Theatre tour of Alan Bennett’s new play The Habit of Art.

ONLY 9 PLACES AVAILABLE FOR THIS VERY SPECIAL COURSE
If you are interested in writing for theatre in English and would like to have an opportunity to write in a beautiful setting with advice and support from experts, then join this very special National Theatre project in partnership with venue Cymru and Tŷ Newydd, National Writers' Centre for Wales.

Artists from the National Theatre, London will work with you for an online feedback session, a residential weekend and a rehearsal day to help you to write a 10 minute piece of theatre. The pieces will be rehearsed for a read performance in front of an invited audience at Venue Cymru during the run of The Habit of Art.

To apply: Please send a 10 minute (approximately) script to Artscripts@nationaltheatre.org.uk before 6pm on 8th August with your name address and contact details. The piece must be a scene of a meeting of two people, they can be imagined, real, from history, contemporary, famous or not. You will be able to use a cast of 3 actors for the rehearsed reading.

All successful applicants must be able to attend the weekend residency at Tŷ Newydd, 24 – 26 September, and the day workshop and performance at Venue Cymru on 16 October.
On 13th August the National Theatre will contact you to let you know if you have a place on the project.

Residential weekend: 24th – 26th September. Arriving at Tŷ Newydd for 7pm meal on Friday and leaving after lunch on Sunday.

Saturday 16 October, 10am – 6pm plus the evening show of Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art from 7.30pm at Venue Cymru, Llandudno.

This course is highly subsidised and supported generously by The Dorset Foundation.
The cost of the course including a ticket to see The Habit of Art is £175.

Venues:
Residential weekend at Tŷ Newydd, National Writers' Centre for Wales, Llanystumdwy, Criccieth, Gwynedd.

Saturday rehearsal and performance day at Venue Cymru, LLandudno
For further information on this project, please email dingleson@nationaltheatre.org.uk

Discover: Mobile is supported by The Dorset Foundation.

Further information on the project:
The 10 minute piece can be a small part of a story of a longer play or scene or full sketch that lasts 10 minutes. The project is inspired by Alan Bennett’s new play in which he creates an imagined meeting in later life of the poet, WH Auden and his once friend and collaborator, composer Benjamin Britten. Therefore, we are asking all writers to write a piece of theatre that is a meeting of two people. These can be real, imagined, from history, current. You will have access to a cast of 3 actors.
If you are applying please ensure that you are free to attend the weekend residency at Tŷ Newydd from 24 – 26 September and the day workshop and performance at Venue Cymru on 16 October.

We will contact you to let you know if you have a place on the weekend residency at Tŷ Newydd and the day workshop at Venue Cymru on 13th August.

If you are on the course, you will be given feedback on your work and notes to support you through the writing of your second draft to bring to the weekend at Tŷ Newydd where you will work with a National Theatre writer and dramaturg. Here you will prepare a 2nd draft to take to the October rehearsal and performance day where you will meet the actors and National theatre Directors. You, one of three directors and the actors taking part in the project will prepare for the rehearsed reading in the evening.

The exact schedule of the day will be confirmed nearer the time, but it will be 10am – 6pm and the rehearsed reading will be open to an invited audience of interested parties, your friends and families. The approximate start time of this performance will be 4pm at Venue Cymru. You will then have a break and at 7.30pm watch Alan Bennett’s new play The Habit of Art.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Almost the end of June


It's almost the end of June. I've set myself a target of the end of this month to finish at least 30 minutes and the first draft of the one page synopsis.
I'm happy with my first 10 minutes but I'm going to keep going back to it until I make myself unhappy and then get myself back to happy again.
The problem is the one page synopsis. I'm rubbish at summarising projects. Ask me to write a full series bible and I'd be laughing but ask me to pitch the idea in one page and I just stare at a blank screen and force out a sentence every now and again. Then delete the sentence.
I keep reading and re-reading anything I can find on how to do it but still all I get is a blank screen.
I have lots to say about it, I've been developing it for about two months now, but summarise it in one page?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Lost causes

after noticing a brief mention by Danny Stack that there might be news soon about the Red Planet Prize I've pushed everything to one side to focus on "Book". This is the start of a novel written back in my MA days, turned into insipid radio play about a year after I finished the MA. The core idea is something I keep thinking about as I really do think it has a potential to become something much, much bigger if I let it. Its progressing slowly and so far I haven't had those vibes I often get that I'm forcing the story into something it doesn;t want to be. Still best not jinx it.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Thoughts on text-based character-driven theatre

I like words and I like stories. I like how words and stories play out across different mediums; theatre, film, radio, internet and television. I like how physicality frames words. I like how images create words. I like how a thousand words can be created by an image. I like how one word can say a thousand things. I like characters, I like to follow their words, their moments, their stories. I like how a single image or a single words can tell you a lifetime of stories about one character. I like words and I like stories.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

It's a marathon not a sprint!


I’ve just realised, as I sit down to write a negative blog, that my blogs so far have been about positive moments. I read a lot of books and blogs about writing. Yesterday I read two new blogs that referred to things writers do wrong. As I read the references I found myself saying, “I do that”.

http://lucyvee.blogspot.com/

Write here, Write now is Lucy v Hay’s networking and tips blog for her Bang2write Script Reading service. The blog, The Final Hundred Metres, is the blog that deflated my, previously quite effervescent, writing ego. The thing is, I hate making predictable writing mistakes. There is so much information out there about writing, so many blogs, books, articles, courses. I have no excuse for being amateurish particularly when it comes to common mistakes.

But The Final Hundred Metres has got me so sussed its scary. I absolutely, “default, just before the finish line”. I absolutely send out scripts that are “not the best they can be”. I also have a real tendency to get a script back from rejection and put it into the terminal drawer because I can’t face trying to throw myself into trying to resolve the problems. I always begin another script instead. Arguably each script gets better but that’s not the point.

Then I found myself reading Kim Revell from BBC Writers Academy blogging on BBC Writersroom about the incredible experience she’s had during the last year.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/writersroom/2010/04/do_it_1.shtml

A few things she said had a little too much meaning for me,
“I thought I was a writer before I went on the Academy. I wasn't. Not really. I was playing at it. Winging it with a knack for dialogue.”

“Thinking structurally has really transformed my approach to stories. I used to always get stuck... stories that began as promising ideas all too often fizzled out, ran out of steam, lurched to a grinding halt.”

Again I have lots of stories that began with promise but ground to a halt before being consigned to one of my many crates marked “Ideas”. So pulling these two things together it means I’ve always been rubbish at beginning and finishing a project properly. Effectively I’m grinding to a halt just before the finish line.
What do I need to do about it? I need to work more, I need to think more, I need to write more and I definitely need to polish more! I need to stop getting it wrong and start getting it right.

However in an attempt to pick myself up and move on from this I want to believe that this is all to do with the old me, the pre-New Year, pre-room of my own, pre-blog me. I am a new writer who is developing new ways of working. I think I've already made the changes needed to make it to the finish line. Hopefully it's a marathon not a sprint.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

I love it when a plan comes together


A strange thing happened a couple of days ago. I was working on the other blog and needed to write a quick profile of myself. I decided the best thing to do was a quick summary of the 3 projects I'm currently developing, so sat down at the computer to attempt to summarise each project in a few words. In just a few moments of writing the synopsis for each was finished. The strange thing was, in trying to sum up the mountains and oceans of thoughts and ideas I have about these projects into a few sentences I'd managed to find the core of the play. Each of the plays had suddenly clarified for me.

The synopsis of each of these plays can be found here

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

When a project sprouts legs and runs


As so often happens with a project, Dirty to Me has evolved into something very different. Obviously this is a good thing. If a project doesn’t evolve then it ultimately ends up going back in the drawer (metaphorically and organisationally as I have my folders structured as On The Table, On The Mind, In The Drawer and In The Attic). Take First/Second Person?, for example, which has unfortunately gone back into the -In the Drawer - folder. I’ve done masses of work on it, the characters are developed, the idea strengthened, the different threads have emerged, the synopsis has been written and the plot has been developed but it just hasn’t started to form into something beyond the idea in my head. It hasn’t sprouted legs and run away with me in pursuit trying to keep up with it. The characters haven’t started to talk to one another, the story hasn’t started to hammer itself out, the plot hasn’t formed. The epiphany moment when themes and metaphors materialise is missing. After the epiphany point then usually the moment when the whole thing crystallizes follows but with First/Second Person I still need to help it find its legs. For now though it will go back into – In the Drawer.

Dirty To Me however has been a very different creature. I set out with it, as my first venture back into writing for performance, determined to approach my writing from a very different place. Because this is what I’d learned about my writing from my week course with Kate O’Reilly at Ty Newydd last year. The course was a brilliant week of a great tutor whose enthusiasm for writing was infectious and inspiring sessions that provoked ideas from very different sources than usual for me. I knew that if I wanted to write the kind of theatre that I enjoy watching then I had to work in a very different way. With Dirty to Me I set out with a fragment of an idea which was to explore how a relationship can reach a sexless relationship stage within a society where we are supposedly able to talk about our need for sex, talk during sex and discuss in lurid detail our sex lives with those around us.

I then very specifically set about working on the idea whilst restricting myself from thinking about characters, story, plot, dramatic moments – most definitely and determinedly not a narrative structure. All of them barred.

I asked friends to answer some questions about sex, noting down their words and images. I wanted to create a mass of unlinked thoughts and ideas. I found myself with random words, figments of characters, brief moments, all swirling around. I researched the subject of sex; sex in myth, sex in religion, sex in literature, sex in film, sex in the media. It was going to plan, figments, abstract conversations, images, film, music – unstructured chaos as I’d so carefully planned swirled faster. The swirling turned into a very definite dizziness and then suddenly the whole thing sprouted legs and ran off, characters started to talk amongst themselves with one character in particular emerging, then somehow dramatic moments started to hammer themselves out into a story and a plot, and then the epiphany moment of themes and metaphors spewed out into a ………..

-oh no, how did that happen- a linear narrative structure.

What can I say? I guess I’m just an old-fashioned narrative-structure girl at heart and no matter what I do there’s no avoiding it. Apologies Ash, I tried really hard.

I’m not quite at the Crystallize stage yet but getting very close at which point I will actually be able to do some writing.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Why would a mermaid have stairs in her house?






A friend of mine illustrates children’s books http://www.patriciamoffett.com/, recently at lunch she related the various discussions she’d been having with her editor, one was about the colour of gold being used for a mermaid’s letterbox and the other had been about whether mermaids would have staircases in their homes. I immediately wanted to live in her world. Discussing décor and lifestyles of mermaids and fairies and pirates just seems such a wonderful world to live on a daily basis.

I suppose though on reflection my world isn’t so bad if a little less delightful than contemplating how a mermaid travels from the upper floor to the lower floor of her house.

At the moment I have three ideas in development. “In development” varies from floating around in my head, to flip-chart notes (I find big pages and big pens a huge asset to pushing and pulling an idea from my head to the page), to outlining. Blogs Home is in my head, Dirty To Me is being drawn out on a flip chart and Today is the day you’re going to die is being outlined. This is alongside all the research that I’m doing around these ideas at the moment. So at the moment I’m imaginatively undertaking the following – a beginners welsh class, a history lecture on Lancashire and Welsh witches, a sex therapy session, a female stand-up sex-based comedy act, an 18 year old girl losing her virginity, being stalked, being in a 35 year marriage and only having had sex three times and being a Chinese international student on her first day at university in Wales.

Still I can’t help myself being drawn back to the conclusion that mermaids would NEVER have stairs.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Schedule


Above my desk is a schedule of writing for the next few months. I drew up the schedule at the start of the year to give myself deadlines and keep myself on track. it is the beginning of March and I'm already behind.

I am behind schedule for an excellent reason though. A few weeks ago I had an idea for a short film. At the same time, an old "thread" for a radio play idea crashed into another "thread" and thinking about these two "threads" I found a third. I usually only start fully developing a script once I have three "threads". I think this comes from something Sarah Maitland said many years ago on a short story course.

I find this a useful tool to use for just about everything. Once an idea has three different, diverging or converging "threads" then it has enough to move it from an idea in my head or in scribbled notes to start fully developing. Both the short film and the radio play have distracted me from my schedule but in a good way.

I've been trying for over a year now to come up with an idea for a short film. I wanted to write a script, with minimal budget that could, with the help of various friends and resources at the disposal of friends be filmed.

The idea is a very simple one and I've been forcing myself through an exercise in developing it - thinking visually. I've outlined the whole idea in detail then I've worked through it pulling the dialogue from it so that what I'm left with is an story presented through visal images and minimal dialogue. I've written the dialogue for scenes that I have no intention of using to get the dialogue out of my head.

Though it has struck me that the scenes that I've written could be used for a radio play so that both projects work together but also seperately as a means of exporing the different requirements of the different mediums from the same source material.

I'll keep the schedule on the wall though, its good to be taunted by it. As long as I'm writing and producing scripts then I can taunt back. Its the great advantage of writing for oneself rather than a commission. I can jump to whichever idea feels the strongest and in most urgent need of writing.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Room of My Own


It's usually the "black hole" of writing for me, round about now. The time when one deadline is history and another is far away in the future. I find myself drawn to nothingness. Or rather to thinking, lots and lots of thinking. Reading, lots of reading about writing or reading other people’s scripts. Or watching, watching other people’s scripts. Then suddenly a month, or two or three, has passed and I haven’t started another project. It is just over a week since I submitted the radio play and I’ve re-watched several episodes of Six Feet Under and the entire second season of Street and read Now You’re Talking: Drama in Conversation. However I have also done more work on the idea for First/Second Person?, written a synopsis for an idea for a short film and done quite a bit of work on DTM.

This weekend I plan to draft some of DTM, as a test of the characters and ideas.

It’s amazing the difference a room of one’s own really does make.

At the age of 41 I have finally got a room of my own. A room that has my desk, my PC, my files and my books all in one place. A room with a door that closes out the world. A room in which I can sit for hours undisturbed. A room in which I can read my words out loud without having to worry that someone is going to walk past and think I’m insane. A room of my own in which I can spend many isolated hours which is a very good thing. Especially good because the reason I have a room of my own is that my lodger has moved out, which means I have less income, which means I can’t afford a social life, so I have nothing to do now other than enjoy the room of my own. I anticipate being able to complete spec scripts for short film, theatre, tv and radio, and possibly even squeeze in a feature film, by the end of 2010.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Pass The Parcel


A weekend later and several drafts further down the line I think the script can be submitted. It isn’t finished but I never get to the stage of thinking a piece is beyond further changes.

There is also the problem that I have lost the ability to judge this script. It needs to go in a drawer. After a little time apart we will be able to resolve our issues and focus on the bigger concerns rather than getting bogged down within the small details.

Pass The Parcel is a radio play that I began work on about a year ago. It’s about two sisters who discover their dead father’s porn collection (a father who was very strict and religious - and very much in opposition to porn). The play is an exploration of secrets within families.

The main issues that I still have with it are as follows:-

I’m still not sure about the beginning. I always wanted to start with the opening of the cupboard as a teaser scene then go back into the build of the day before this. But going back in time is confusing in radio unless you are using a technique like narration to clarify. I did draft some pages with the Reverend narrating (he was talking as though to God but then there is a realisation that he was talking to Mair as though she was an angel) but it was dropped in the second draft.

I do struggle with the use of narration as a tool. I hate to use it to clarify or move a script along as that just feels as though I'm not doing my job properly. Though I absolutely love writing it. Inner voices are very effective on radio though and so I have no problem using it as long as it is fundamental to the telling of the story. Incidentally also in that first draft the Reverend was in love with Mair, which I also dropped as a dynamic to explain the Reverend’s actions because I thought it cliche.

The problem with the beginning now is that the play could start with either the teaser scene or equally with the phone conversation that follows, but that worries me. There should simply be a right way to start it and there should be no other way to start this play and make it work.

This play originally started using the discovery of the porn collection to unveil a bigger family secret but in the first draft I found that element becoming a sub-plot. I wanted to understand why this man would have such a significant collection of porn and I found myself exploring that idea more. By the time I reached the end I had written a very different play to the one I began - whilst still using the hidden porn as a metaphor for hidden family secrets. The one thing I keep thinking now is, have a merged the streams of the different stories into one coherent whole or does it have bumpy bits that need more smoothing. Does it make it a more multi layered story? Or is it a piece of wallpaper over a crack of ever-shifting subsidence?

In terms of the structure I still think that maybe the final scene should be split into two scenes. We should be there with the sisters briefly on their drunken escapade around town and then with them the morning after. But I think I have to leave it for now because as I wrote the draft I felt very strongly about the point in the story to which I moved. I will look at this again after a break from it.

In terms of the pitch – the proposal is for another radio play, Fault-lines. I’ve outlined the story and feel that it is strong idea with a very strong start but if I’m honest I wish I had longer to work through the idea to form the style of the play more, but I’m out of time and have to hope that the core of the story is reflected in the pitch.

Finally I have to add some information about myself onto the application form, I have to tell them about me, what I like and what I like to write. Now this part of the submission is the thing I find most difficult. Summing me up in a few words. Nightmare!

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Checklist for a Perfect Script


I thought it might be a good idea to create a checklist to test the script before I send it off to the BBC Writersoom/NTW New Welsh Writers Call, so I’m going to check it against Perfect 10 (writersroom advice about what they look for in a script), Jessica Dromgoole/D.J. Britton’s advice about the start of a radio play and Jessica Dromgoole's Central Question graph.

Perfect 10
-Know the medium/format
-Get the story going (the start of Shameless in a nightclub, back to the house, Frank unconscious on -the floor and then Steve waking up the house)
-Coherence (make the story hang together)
-Character is everything
-Emotion (the script has to connect on an emotional level)
-Surprise (O Brother Where Art Thou is Odyssey but a very unique and original telling of it)
-Structure (story is structure, every scene must be there for a reason)
-Exposition and Expression (Dialogue – is it the voice of the character? Subtext?)
-Passion (unquenchable desire to tell the story)
-be yourself

How to start a radio play?
The first 3 minutes are the most important of the play. This is when the listener turns off. You have to grab them at the beginning. In radio more than any other medium you have a contract with the audience. If you break that contract they will switch off. In the first 3 minutes you establish the contract with the audience of what the play is going to be. You then have to maintain it. If you don’t they will be disappointed or turn off. You can’t start naturalistically then have a surreal scene 20 minutes in because this is not the contract you established.

Central Question?
First of all think about what is the central question of your play? It should be a simple question? Is there a God is too big an issue for the central question although your play might also be about “Is there a God?) in fact a really good play would have a central question that feeds it whilst also dealing with a much bigger philosophical question. The central question is the blood that feeds the story. It should be a question that can be answered in a yes/ no answer. Think though each scene and ask the question of each character in the scene, then rate the character on where they stand on a yes/no response on a scale of 1-10. 5 is indifferent, responses of 1 and 10 are both extremes on the scale. Characters respond to one another and their views. If characters are on the scale are too far apart then they would be screaming at one another. Similarly if they are at the same level then it would be dull to watch/listen. Characters should have a few points apart. Characters should also move through the scales as their opinions change by the experiences of the play. If they change they are on a journey, if they stay the same they have not been taught anything by the experience of the play. If a character has no view on the central question then they are a superfluous character.

So as long as I've managed to successfully embrace all of these aspects I'm laughing!

"New" Welsh Writer!


I went along to the BBC Writersoom/National Theatre Wales surgery and masterclass in Cardiff on 26th January. It was a great day with lots of valuable information being shared, though it was rather daunting to be in a room with about 250 people who all want to be New Writers in Wales.
It was a great to see a few faces I recognised from Ty Newydd courses , as well as a few people I hadn’t seen for some time like Lotty, though I am still in shock about the TV screens on buses In Cardiff. We don’t have those in Aberystwyth!

At the event the call for New Welsh Writers was launched .
http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/opportunity/new_welsh_writers.shtml
So requirements are a completed script (any medium) and a 2 page pitch (any medium). The deadline is fast approaching but timing wise it’s not too bad, certainly it could be worse. My radio play, Pass The Parcel is at least completed though it does need a good deal of work yet.

Putting together a pitch is also not too bad as I’ve spent the last two months outlining several ideas with a view to getting spec scripts completed which means I don’t have to come up with an idea from scratch, outline the story, then work on a pitch. The problem is which to choose? I am submitting a radio script as a sample so it seems to make sense to submit a radio play (that leaves me with a choice between Fault-Lines and Second Person). I could also submit Book of Lost Causes, as the pilot episode has been outlined however this is the idea I wanted to submit for the Red Planet TV Scriptwriting Competition. The piece for performance Dirty Talk is in far too early a stage of development to submit and beside I’d like to workshop some of the ideas for that first. I need to make a decision, and fast.

But not quite yet, I still have a whole weekend! In the mean time I can focus on getting a few more drafts of Pass The Parcel done.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Journeys are always so important in writing



As long as I can remember, I ‘ve wanted to be a writer but it's only sometime in the last year, between turning 40 and 41 that I realised, I am a writer.

I need to write, I have to write, I want to write. Stories just pervade every day, and toying with how best to tell them is constant. I don’t ever stop thinking about stories.

Over the years I’ve had peaks and troughs of focused attention on writing. Distractions such as crippling debts, personal crisis and confidence disasters, have taken me to the troughs. But the peaks have been; the year after graduating when I spent a year writing short stories and researching my first novel; the two adaptations I wrote for Fallen Angel Theatre Co – Odyssey and Lady Chatterley’s Lover; the completion of a draft of a first novel; the MA in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores; the near-miss on a writers bursary after submitting the start of my second novel and the “didn’t quite make it into the mix for the final selection” for the New Writers Evening Plays submissions.

A major turning point in my writing came during the MA when I had an epiphany -though I believed I wanted to be a novelist and had always focused on prose writing, I was in fact a scriptwriter. It came as a bit of a shock especially as I’d written two scripts for performance without really acknowledging them. I had written them then returned to my overriding desire to walk into a book shop to see my novel on a shelf.

The weirdest thing about the latest epiphany about being a writer is I’d always said that if I hadn’t made some kind of breakthrough by the time I was 40 I was giving up writing. But then I hit 40 and realised that I had made breakthroughs, I had become a better writer. Not only had I become a better writer but I had gained a much better understanding of the industry of writing, for film, television, radio or theatre.

With this new outlook I knew that I had to get a few things sorted that I’d not really done before, firstly I needed to get some spec scripts completed and secondly I needed to recognise my being a writer with an on-line identity. The spec scripts are in hand but the on-line identity was harder to create largely because I find it hard to justify being on a computer for any other reason than writing. But a story has been developing for a while about a woman who has several conflicting on-line identities who starts to get confused about who she is and seeks the help of an on-line stalker to clarify, who is she really? So here I am, in the guise of research but also to help me clarify thoughts about my writing and most definitely as a writer on a journey to find an agent,(because journeys are always so important in writing).