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.

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.