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!