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 .
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).