Friday, 25 October 2013

Writing course - creating characters and writing better dialogue

I will be running two workshops at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on Sunday 3rd November and Sunday 1st December 2pm – 5pm. Creative workshops in creating characters and writing dialogue for all forms of script writing and prose writing.

I’ve specifically chosen subjects which are constant queries from my writing for performance group. Basically whenever I ask what subjects do you want me to do exercises on, the answers are always character and dialogue – and no matter how many I do they always want more.

For me creating characters is at the heart of my writing process – for me everything begins with characters. I build the character developing their past, their flaws, their personal history, imagining the big moments in their lives and working through how those moments have impacted on them. Once the character starts to talk to me and a voice emerges then I know I’m ready to start writing – and because I know the character in such detail whatever problems I throw at them in the course of the play I know that their reactions and behaviour are real. I also find that through the process of developing character the plot and structure of the play will inevitably unfold – scenes, other characters will start to spring. But first, always first is character. Without the character it is just faceless people on stage spouting words.

Over the years I’ve built a mountain of exercises – my box of tools that help me get ideas for characters, develop characters, resolve problems through characters when something is not working.

When I read scripts I find that more often than not, the main problem is bad dialogue. Scriptwriters, prose writers – it doesn’t matter really. Dialogue needs to be just that – dialogue. Characters speaking to one another as they would speak, not how you want them to speak so you can push in a cheeky metaphor or say – look how clever I am with words. I don’t care about your metaphors, I don’t care how clever you are with words. All I’m going to think is – bad dialogue. Just thinking about that made me wince. Because that’s what happens, bad dialogue makes the listener, watcher, reader – wince. It jars. It reminds us it is fiction. It will stop an audience engaging and investing in your characters because they don’t believe they’re real.

I like dialogue, I like real dialogue, I want to hear characters speaking as they would really speak, not how a writer wants them to speak.  I want to hear characters with accents flowing through the patterns of how they speak. I want to hear characters speaking grammatically incorrect because that’s what they do! I don’t want to hear the voice of the writer, I want to hear the voice of the character. I also like how theatre writing allows us to play with dialogue, creating rhythms, patterns, music –characters not talking to one another but dancing. I want to hear noise and overcutting of dialogue that reflects the way we converse. I like poetic text, I like stylized text. But how do you marry the demands of a more poetic or fragmented style with the need for characters to speak realistically. These are subjects I’ve been exploring for years in my writing and again I’ve found exercises that help a writer to resolve these issues.

The workshop is for writers of all mediums – theatre, film, radio, television, digital writing and prose. The workshops will look at the difference and similarities in creating characters and writing dialogue for the different mediums and what we can learn about from the different mediums about creating characters and writing dialogue.

If you’re interested in more writing courses then please let me know and I can keep you informed of any new courses in the future.
More information about me, my work as a writer and theatre producer here
To book a place on the courses visit the Aberystwyth Arts Centre website

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


Cursed by Sandra Bendelow. Image by Boz Groden
Cursed is an interesting one, a short play produced for the EarCandy project, an audio drama project from a web platform.

It was a really exciting project to be involved in, 13 writers exploring audio-drama, learning what works and doesn't by writing, recording and then presenting the plays. And also very importantly having the plays available so that anyone, anywhere can listen to them - for free.

But Cursed as a short audio drama was created from frustration. A story I'd wanted to tell but hadn't been able to find a way to tell it. It had been bugging me for a really long time. The story of the Bells of Santiago which I'd discovered on one of though random journeys on the web. You know the ones where you click a link and then click another, drawn along a pathway by interesting stories until there it was the Bells of Santiago.

Now bearing in mind that one of my writing obsessions is how objects become imbued with the history around them, a story about a set of bells that hung from a tower in a church in Santiago until a fire which killed over 2,000 killed destroyed the church in which they hung, at which point the bells were transported to the Gower to hang in a church for several hundred years before someone realised their origins and shipped them back to Santiago - yes that's a story which is going to interest me.

Izzy Rabey recording Cursed
It's a story about a horrible tragedy, fire and bells, so it always seemed to be a radio play.

I took the idea to a writing workshop with Kaite O'Reilly and used it as a base for writing exercises, imagining myself as the bell, voiceless, thousands of miles from my home, haunted by a memory of thousands of people screaming when they burned to death.

And yet still I couldn't find the way to tell the story. I still haven't. It's still there waiting for me to find a way in. I'm almost there but it's not quite there yet.

But in the meantime as I tried to think of an idea for a short audio play, the story of the bell came to me and I found myself creating a version of it, drawing some of the elements from it - Swansea, a church fire and then drawing some elements from one of my other writing obsessions - magic.

And so here it is a play about a girl and a bell, both cursed by a tragedy.

The bell magnificiently played by Robert Harper and the girl and every other character played by the amazing Izzy Rabey.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Getting the balance right

I’ve been thinking a lot about being a writer recently, mainly because I haven’t been doing much writing. I’ve been doing all the other things I do alongside my work as a writer producing, digital marketing workshops, running writing groups and of course when the mortgage gets too demanding and other projects aren’t lining up quite right to fill the bank account on designated days then I pretty much do any part-time job to hand which will fit around everything else in my life.

Earlier in the summer I worked in a cafe, at the moment I’m cleaning.
I used to have a full-time, decent wage earning type job and it was nice to not worry about bills about it was very difficult to manage production work and writing alongside it. I was made redundant - I had a choice to make and it seemed an opportunity to take a leap which I did. Mainly it’s been going really well with the things I do to sustain my writing - several creative projects heading in the direction of funding, more bookings for digital marketing workshops. As for my writing I’ve had a short play produced at the Royal Court. I’ll say that again because I like saying it. I’ve had a short play produced at the Royal Court.

My short play One Hour and Forty Five Minutes, written for Dirty Protest as part of their plays-in-a-bag project, was selected to be presented as at Royal Court’s Surprise Theatre.
I said it three times but who’s counting.

It was presented again at Theatr Clwyd’s Picnic Plays. It’s says on the website I’m an up-and-coming writer.
As most up and coming writers and more established writers know it’s difficult to earn a living from writing and I’m one of very many who find themselves needing to supplement their incomes. As I wander round town covered in bleach stained clothes at the moment I do find myself feeling the need to remind other people I’m a writer though I don’t need to remind myself.

The thing I know is that the decent wage earning type job I did for eight years may well have paid the bills easily but in eight years the job itself created exactly four ideas for scripts. Four – in eight years. Not a very good success rate really. All the other scripts I wrote in those years came from elsewhere – the magic box of ideas!
My play One Hour and Forty five Minutes was inspired by three months working in a cafe, and working in the cafe for three months gave me at least three other ideas for scripts and endless research on characters.  My play, produced at the Royal Court (okay four times) would not have been written had I not been working in the cafe. The idea germinated from a day of wandering about with a bag of sharpened knives.

My work as a cleaner has made me resurrect an old short play which featured a cleaner and it was a nice little idea but do you know what has made it burst back into life and become a sharper more focused idea? Working as a cleaner.
As I clean rooms imbued with the lives that have been lived in them and move abandoned belongings my head fills with fleshed out characters because they have houses, rooms to walk around, belongings to leave behind. I do workshops about creating characters and working as a cleaner has given me a new character building exercise – think about your character packing up to leave a house, think about them looking about them in an empty house, what do they think about, what are the memories of the home filling their mind as they switch the lights off, what belongings do they choose to throw into a black bin bag rather than take them with them, why don’t they want to take those belongings, what memories make them what to bin the belongings rather than keep them. Answer those few questions and I bet you have a fully fleshed out character.

I’m not really sure what advice I’m trying to give. A writer writes, that goes without saying. But also a writer feeds off everything around them. Everything is a source of inspiration, everything is a scratched note in a notebook waiting to find it’s way into a story. And if you're doing a job to sustain you while you work you really need to ensure the job is something that feeds not only your stomach but your writing. People talk about life/work balances but we're writers so the most important thing or us to check is our writing/life/work balance.
As new students start their courses at the university I see their eager faces filled with dreams of acting, writing, directing – as I walk passed them on the street covered in the dirt of their houses – and I hope their dreams come true but it’s likely their dream will take a little work, and a little work on the side. Many of them will abandon their dreams or drift from them towards careers they'll get the balance wrong and it can be really difficult to get the balance back once you start to sway. But it’s important to keep dreaming and keep doing whatever you need to do to keep the dream alive and give you enough hours to pursue it. And I think I’m not really advising anyone I’m just writing this for myself to remind myself it’s okay, two years ago I was an emerging writer, now I’m up and coming.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Objects as inspiration

Collection of shells
As writers we often find the same themes and subjects feed through into our work. For me I know that always my work has to have a strong female character either as a protagonist or antagonist, the flaws of relationships feature predominantly, female friendship also heads up many ideas but also too there is subtler repetition of themes and metaphor. Feeling isolated from ones environment, not being able to find your voice, suppression of abilities occur as themes regularly in my work and I know that nature, my garden, water, accent and bodily functions have been plundered for metaphor quite regularly.

Recently I have found myself very specifically on a course of repeating either a theme or a source of inspiration. The flooding that wiped out so many villages near to me last year in particular Talybont started a creative bent that made me feel almost guilty that I had sourced so much inspiration from something that caused so much heartache. A feature film, a radio play,  a short theatre play and a full length theatre play are all in development in either my mind or on my desk as a result of it. The themes of flooding, destruction, hopelessness of man against nature just kept sparking more ideas and offering more for me to write. But then I think that is what we do we look at the senseless things about us and rewrite them so that we and hopefully others can make sense of it.

My last few projects though have found a repetition in a different form. I was approached by an artist Ruth Hogg to work with her on a piece for the Crash Test scratch night. She had an idea for an interactive performance theatre piece and she wanted me to write in response to her idea. Her idea was to create a mandala of objects that the audience could select and build. Each object would have a part of a story linked to it and based on the placing of the objects would be the presentation of dialogue. The audience would thus control the order of the performed pieces and also the emotional impact of the story. It was an interesting challenge to write in response to objects - those objects being a dead lightbulb, butterfly wings, shells, pigments, pebbles, driftwood, feathers, petals and seaweed. Ruth talked to me about stories she had thought of and then I went away and created two characters, and because I didn't have long then I inevitably pulled from my bag of writing tricks one of my predominate obsessions and a relationship in the process of breaking down emerged. I found writing around the objects a really useful exercise though, something that held the dialogue together, created metaphor and added layers to the piece.

The object focus continued though as I found myself writing a short audio drama for the Scriptography Productions project. I love the idea that objects are imbued by the history that surrounds around them and so I created a play with the ability to see the history of an object if she touches the object - she sees the joy and also the pain of thousands of stories embedded in objects and as such is cursed because there is not enough joy to overcome the pain the fills the world.

Then objects haunted me again when I asked to write for the Dirty Protest Theatre play-in-a-bag project. The remit being all the props for the play have to be in a bag. After a moment of inspiration about this I began a search to find the objects that people treasure most, the objects that they would save in a fire, the objects which with their loss would cause emotional devastation. And so again I've found myself responding to objects.

So if you're stuck for inspiration and trying to find an idea or maybe even trying to add more depth to a character try this as an exercise. Think of five random objects that your character would hate to lose, write about why they would be a loss, what is the importance of the object to the character. or if you're struggling with a scene, place a random object into it and let the characters talk about the object. Or take a look at the mandala objects - create two or three characters and create scenes which features each of the objects.

But also though think about what are your recurring motifs, themes and obsessions. It's important to know what they are and either embrace them as strengthening your voice as a writer or avoid them as a challenge to push yourself onto a new pathway of writing.

Cursed, my short audio drama for the EarCandy project will be available to listen to from 2nd June after 1pm here

Friday, 8 March 2013

Women in Wales who inspire me: Kaite O'Reilly

I am very lucky to have many females in my life in Wales that inspire me on a daily basis. It is undeniable that I respond to strong, opinionated, straight-talking women in my work and life. It inspires my work and invigorates my life. However there is one woman in particular whose work, friendship and mentoring has been insurmountable in terms of the inspiration it has given me.

As part of the first year of National Theatre Wales Kaite O’Reilly adapted Persians for Mike Pearson and I can still remember the chills the Messenger speech sent through me as I engaged with the words she had written spoken, on a small TV screen, by Richard Harrington. She deservedly won the Ted Hughes award for poetry for her adaptation, though she still denies that she is a poet even though the poetry of every single line of her adaptation takes your breath away with it’s richness of metaphor and rhythm and poetic eloquence.

Her next collaboration with National Theatre Wales, In Water I’m Weightless was stunning, not simply because of the depth of the imagery embedded in the writing and the force of the dramaturgy but also because you couldn’t leave the theatre without having had your views on disability radically altered.

Her knowledge of theatre texts is astounding and constantly reminds me that no matter how busy or how few hours there are in the day, as writers we should always be reading and seeing the work of others. The depth of research she undertakes for every project is mind-boggling, in writing Leaner, Faster, Stronger she became an expert on genetic and bio-engineering so much so that it was hard to remember she was a playwright and not a scientist. For Persians she read every single translation of the play including ones in languages she didn’t speak!

Her energy is simply frightening at times, on courses at Ty Newydd with her I watch with awe as she powers the group through a day of workshops then will be the last one at night drinking, laughing, singing.

She doesn’t sit back and wait for an agent, director or company to bring her jobs she creates ideas, develops them, she goes knocking on doors to secure the commissions or the funding to ensure that she is working on her terms and producing the work that she wants to write.

She works in collaboration with performers and directors embracing different styles of collaboration, performer led with Good Cop, Bad Cop, director led with Phillip Zarilli and John McGrath and the performer/director/designer/writer melds of the Llanarth Group work.

She debates on forum and panels about the development of new writing or new work but her strongest argument for why writers should be firmly embedded in the development process for performance is proved in her work. She proves with her work that writers should be part of the idea process, the development process, the devising process and the rehearsal process.

She cares fiercely about everything, a quick glimpse of her blog and you will see her writing about disability, feminism, arts funding amongst a host of other issues whilst promoting the work of other companies and artists like Maya Krishna Rao, Sophie Partridge and Agent 160, whilst also providing inspiration for writers.

She makes me believe that I am a better writer and person then I probably am and it is in living up to her belief in me that I find my way through days when the writing seems too hard and the work seems too overwhelming and so become a better writer and a better person.

She has held my hand firmly, given me the occasional prod, shove and kick up the arse, through every step of my journey setting up and running the Writing for Performance group, setting up a theatre production company and as a writer working on my own projects. Even when is chained to her desk working to a deadline or even when she’s on the other side of the world she always takes the time to support, inspire, challenge and sometimes determinedly push me into action. I know that if I asked “how many women are currently being supported, inspired, challenged and pushed to write, direct, produce, create, do something by Kaite O’Reilly?” the list would be endless, and it wouldn’t just be Wales or the UK it would be throughout the world. Because I know it is not just me who is lucky enough to be firmly embraced by her support but a whole mass of women who are embraced by this very special writer, teacher and woman.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Getting my head around too many hats

I’ve been struggling to find subjects to blog about here for some time now and have come to a realisation that this blog doesn’t sit well with the work I am currently doing as a result it needs to change. Strangely I have been making the mistake with it that inexperienced writers so often make in their scriptwriting. I have been trying to force my voice into the subjects I think I should be writing about to suit the audience and market as opposed to just writing about what I want to write about.

In the years since I began this blog I have developed, thankfully, into a very different writer and indeed person.
I have set up and run a very successful writing group and launched a theatre production company. As a writer I am still treading the pathway described when I began the blog working on my scripts for TV, theatre, film and radio but also I have become increasingly interested in developing my writing practice for theatre along more collaborative and innovative digital platform based aspirations. My work is increasingly not just about developing myself as a writer but developing other writers and developing projects that allow my work and others to be produced.

The other thing I have realised is that the separation I created between the different aspects of my work, the needs to earn money through digital marketing and freelance project work, the running of the writing group and the running of the theatre company is less applicable as the strands merge and impact on what I’m writing, what I’m doing and where my interests lie.

You know that moment when you introduce yourself to people? I have three or four of those introductions in my head and draw on the most appropriate one according to the room. But in economically challenged world of fast changing technology where a unique voice is ever more important I need to recognise that my diversity is a positive aspect.

I can see that in projects like EarCandy for the writing group all those diverse aspects of me are required. I am not a writer on one blog, a producer on another and a digital marketing person somewhere else. I need to stop changing hats and recognise that I need a hat that suits all.

This week I have been preparing a tender for a digital marketing film project, writing a short radio play, designing a digital marketing course for creatives and submitting a funding application for a collaborative text/choreography project. I run two facebook pages, three blogs and two twitter accounts and I’m about to launch another blog, another twitter account and another facebook page.

But what’s important is that here on these pages I’m not trying to force myself into being the writer me but that I use this blog to just be me. I am very aware that though I talk to other creatives about the importance of making sure you’re on-line presence reflects your creative practice and your personality, I’ve not really been practicing what I preach, nag and cajole other people into doing.

And so a refreshed website and blog is needed here, I need to stop separating out the strands and let them merge. I am Sandra Bendelow and I’m a writer and producer. I run the Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s Writing for Performance Group for whom I’ve produced three showcases of work and the next project for the group EarCandy is an audio drama project from a web based platform which will include stories using social media as a platform. I launched a production company Scriptography Productions in November 2012 and produced a new play by Catrin Fflur Huws, To Kill a Machine, about Alan Turing which was presented at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Sherman Cymru Foyer and was also presented as part of a science cafe event at Swansea University. As a writer I work in all mediums, and through all those mediums my work is about gritty realism, narrative drive, physicality and the extraordinary. I am especially interested in interdisciplinary platforms including digital mediums. I also run a small company offering digital marketing services and courses for creatives and I am extremely passionate about social media both for marketing and creative output.

And though I will be blogging elsewhere about the Writing Group, about Scriptography and about my digital creatives work - here on this blog I’ll be sharing thoughts about it all including those moments when juggling becomes jibbering.